200 North Main Street | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428

Howard and Elaine Bell

Brief Biography:

Howard's grandfather came to Bloomington shortly after the Civil War. His father had a clothes cleaning and repair shop in Bloomington in the early twentieth century. Howard went to Bloomington schools, and served in the United States Army in India during World War II. Elaine was born in Canada where she and her family were involved with the UNIA of Marcus Garvey. She and Howard became acquainted through a Chicago Defender pen pal exchange. After Howard's visit to Expo '67 they married, and Elaine left Montreal and moved to Bloomington where she became involved with many community organizations.

Tape 1

Interviewer: Mildred Pratt | Date: March 7 1986

Side A
MP I am interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Howard Bell, who reside at [address omitted] in Bloomington. All right, you can start, Mr. Bell, with giving your name and..
HB My name is Howard Bell, I was born in Bloomington, Illinois November 9, 1922 and have lived here all my life since then.
MP And you were saying Dr. Covington delivered you?
HB Yes, Dr. Covington delivered me.
MP What was his full name now, do you remember?
HB Let's see, I think I'll get my birth certificate. I was delivered in the world by Dr. E. G. Covington.
MP Were any of your other, your brother and sisters delivered by Dr. Covington, or did you have any brothers and sisters?
HB Yes, all of them were.
MP Oh, is that right? How many brothers and sisters you have?
HB I had, let me see, one brother and four sisters.
MP I see, and they were all delivered by Dr. Covington. That's interesting. All right, would you tell something about, as much as you can remember, about your ancestors, your grandparents, great-grandparents, and.?
HB Well, my grandfather, William Bell, came here right after the Civil War, around 1866, to Bloomington. He was really on his way to Chicago. He was a construction worker, but work was good here in Bloomington so he stopped here. And my family had been here ever since then.
MP Is that right? Where did he come from here, your grandfather?
HB Baltimore, Maryland.
MP He was living in Baltimore, Maryland? Now you said he came here about a year after slavery ended, right? And was he himself in slavery? Was he a slave, or he was a free man?
HB He was a slave, but they freed him to join the army in the Civil War.
MP Oh, I see, in the Civil War, isn't that interesting? Yes. How did that happened that a Black man was in the Civil War?
HB I don't know, I guess they was so hard up for men or something that they just took some of the slaves and just freed them to, you know, let them be part of the army.
MP To fight in the army. I think that's interesting. Yes, any other things that you remember about your grandparents, or father's or grandmother's- great grandfathers?
HB No, that's about all I can remember. I had one aunt that was married here in Bloomington at the Methodist Church in 1883, and she still has a daughter living out in New York now. And that leads down to my father which he was born here in Bloomington December 29, 1884, and...
MP What kind of work did you father do, would you tell me?
HB Oh, he done a variety of work, but mostly he done more in the tailoring line of work. And mostly he was in business for himself, had a small shop himself.
MP Yes, how did he learning tailoring, did he ever tell you?
HB He never told me, but he may have picked it up from his mother. His mother was a seamstress.
MP Oh, I see, yes. And did your mother work?
HB No, my mother never did work. She was always just a housewife.
MP Would you tell me about your father's business and, you know, did he have a lot of customers and any famous people?
HB Yes, he had a lot of customers. Mostly he done cleaning and repair work on clothes. And he had a lot of customers, both Black and white.
MP Did he have a pretty good business, would you say, as you remember?
HB I would say it was until the Depression come, which kind of hurt.
MP So he discontinued his business when the Depression came, right?
HB Yes, shortly after the Depression.
MP Shortly after that. What was life like during the Depression for you and your family and for other people in Bloomington that you recall?
HB Well, life was pretty good. We had plenty to eat, but there was much discrimination and segregation here. It probably wasn't too much different here than it was down in Mississippi somewhere back there then.
MP Oh, that's interesting. Yes. What kind of work did Black people basically do during that time, during the Depression era?
HB Most of the Blacks were employed on the WPA which was Work Project Administration, and outside of that there were a few that done-had janitor jobs at places and maybe some was cooks. But that was primarily what they done.
MP Now, did your father work in the Works Project?
HB Yes.
MP And what specific jobs did he do, do you remember?
HB Well, I remember when they-they were just building Lake Bloomington during the Depression. I remember he worked on that project up there and then at Miller Park. They were dirt road out there and they were black-topping those, and he worked on projects like that one at the park doing that.
MP I see. Now, could we go back and if you could tell me what your childhood was like and your education?
HB Well, I went through Irving Grade School in Bloomington, and I graduated from Bloomington High School, and, as I said before, there was much discrimination and segregation here. The boy that lived across the street from me and the one that lived behind me, I didn't know more about them than if they lived fifty miles away from me. Their parents didn't allow them to play with me.
MP Where did you live then? When you grew up where did you...?
HB I grew up on the West Side of Bloomington.
MP On the west side? What street, what address, do you remember?
HB I have lived for four or five years on Mill Street, and rest of the time I've lived on Taylor Street.
MP Did your family own the home, their home?
HB Yes.
MP Did they construct it or...?
HB No, no.
MP Do you remember if they had difficulty purchasing a house because of discrimination?
HB I don't think that they did here on the West Side of Bloomington 'cause it was primarily a Black neighborhood that we lived in.
MP I see, all right. Now, did you experience any discrimination when you were in school, in the high school or grade school? Can you speak about that?
HB Ah. (pause)
MP Any racist remarks ever made?
HB Well, yeah, there were a lot of racist remarks made during my childhood, and (pause)
EB Job wise. You know someone told that there was a job in the bank, but they wouldn't tell you.
HB Oh yeah, like I say, job wise, you run into discrimination, segregation, too. I graduated from high school about 1940, and the only two jobs available for me was washing cars or else working in the bakery twelve hours a day doing the cleaning work. And so at that time, I took my first job in the bakery working twelve hours a day doing the cleaning work. And I worked this job for about six months, and my father got so mad that I couldn't get nothing better after going through high school, he told me just to either quit that job or to look for something else.
MP And then what happened? After the bakery job?
HB Well, I worked this job up to about 1941, and it's close to the time of World War II, and I was drafted right after the war so I didn't have to...
MP Tell me about your war experiences, could you?
HB I spent three years in the services-six years (sic) on the state side, and I spent two and a half years in India and Burma. I didn't say I enjoyed it, but I probably seen a lot of the world that I otherwise wouldn't have got a chance to see. And I really was not in a war zone so I wasn't in too much danger where I was located at.
MP Oh, you were very fortunate. How were Black people treated in the Army by the Army itself and also in the country? You say you were in Burma in India. How were Black soldiers treated in there?
HB Indian, Indian people seemed to have the feeling that Blacks were inferior to them. They couldn't speak the same language we spoke, but they'd point up their hair, then look at yours, and then you'd see them smile, you know. And they just kind of in their actions kind of showed that they thought that they was better than you. Although they were poor and destitute, you know.
MP The troops were separated, right?
HB Yeah, yeah.
MP Did you experience any racism, discrimination, segregation other than the troops being separate? I mean, could you speak about that?
HB Really, I never run into it because all Black companies were stationed together, and really, we didn't have nothing to do with the white that were around.
MP Oh, I see, so there's no relationship at all with it, I see.
HB No, no, we had no relationship at all at that time. They were completely separate.
MP Now, when Truman, Truman was responsible for integrating the armed forces, is that so?
HB I believe so.
MP Were the armed forces integrated while you were in the armed services or no?
HB Let me see, I was discharged from the Army the sixth of January 1946, and well, let me see, I think Truman was-did he take over after Roosevelt?
MP Yes, he did. Yes.
HB Well, anyway, it was later in the administration that that happened.
MP I see, so it didn't affect you then? Yes, all right. Now, when you came back, when you got out of the armed services, what happened?
HB When I got out of the armed services, my father wanted me to go to work at Eureka Williams. By that time they were hiring Blacks for nothing but to sweep the floors, so I really didn't care to do that. So I never took that job. So finally after about a year, I got a job at ISU, and I worked at ISU in the bakery and as a janitor.
MP What year was this? Do you remember what year you got that job?
HB Oh, I say it's in the neighborhood of 1950.
MP I see. Were many other Blacks there at that time?
HB No, there weren't many Blacks there. So then I worked the job at ISU until 1962 when I got a job at the post office as a clerk.
MP Oh, did you have trouble getting that job as a clerk?
HB Well, you might say trouble in a sense. I waited until a long time to get it.
MP How did it happen? Can you say?
HB It took me a period of about four years to get the job. I took the examination once and passed it, and your name stayed on the list for two years. If you wasn't called in two years, then you had to re-take the exam. So I re-took the exam the second time and just about as the time it was going to expire on that, I got a call from the post office.
MP That was quite a long time, wasn't it, to wait?
HB Yeah.
MP And were you the only Black there-clerk, at the time?
HB No, there were two others there, Noble Thomas and Robert Nuckolls.
MP Is Mr Thomas dead?
HB Yes, he is.
MP I remember when I came here, he was at the post-a clerk there in Bloomington, downtown post office, and I wondered if he was still alive. And he died, I see. All right, let's see now, what do you-I had the impression from what you say that your father was a very proud gentleman who very much disliked discrimination and segregation, is that right? Did you talk about that much at home?
HB Well, to a certain extent. He didn't have much education, maybe a third or fourth grade education and he didn't expect much, but on the other hand was me where I went through high school. He thought that I should have-I was qualified to have a lot better.
MP Yes, yes.
HB That things should have been better for me.
MP I see, yes. Let me ask you about-Mary was asking you about Black businesses. Could you tell me what you know about Black businesses, barbers, or restauranteers?
HB Black business. I knew that when I was a child coming up there were two Black barbers in Bloomington. There was one Black doctor, and there was one Black dentist.
MP What was the name of the dentist, the Black dentist, do you remember?
HB Dr. Thompson.
MP Dr. Thompson, yes. And what about the barbers, what barbers were here?
HB Tom Turner was one barber, and Robert Levi was the other one.
EB Wasn't there a Black undertaker?
HB A Black undertaker.
EB Yes, what was his name?
HB His name was Holmes, and he was here during the Depression years.
MP Yes, and did he go out of business during the Depression or shortly after the Depression or how?
HB I would say that he stayed here for a period of maybe three years. At the time that he come business was good. Seems as if there were a lot of Black people dying, and then they hit a spell when there weren't many Black people that were passing and financially he wasn't able to just stay here.
MP And so no white people came to him for business?
HB No, no, no.
MP What about white undertakers, would they-when did they begin to provide services to Black people, do you remember?
HB If my memory serves me correct, there was one white undertaker that would always take Black and that was Beck. But most Black people, as long as there's a Black undertaker here, they would go to the Black undertaker.
MP What about the barbers now? You mentioned two barbershops right in Bloomington. Did they only cut Black people's hair or did they also serve the whites?
HB They just cut Black's hair.
MP Just Blacks, I see.
HB They had one Black barber in Normal that cut nothing but white hair.
MP I see, who was that now?
HB That was Mr. Dabney.
MP Dabney.
HB Yes.
MP Was there any reason why he only cut white people's hair, do you recall?
HB I really don't know, but on looking in the early history in Bloomington I've noticed that when a population of Blacks was real small, there would be four or five barbers. So evidently those barbers were cutting white hair in those years.
MP Yes, I see, all right, all right. Let's see what else I wanted to ask you about - theaters and restaurants, could you speak, and other kinds of entertainment?
HB Theaters. There was, let me see, the Castle, the Irving, and the Majestic. Course the Majestic closed the early part of the Depression. There was discrimination in the theaters. There was just one section that Blacks could set in in the theaters.
MP How long did that-do you remember how long that lasted? When was it discontinued?
HB I would say around 1947 or [194]8 to the best of my memory. Shortly after World War II.
MP And was that the same thing about restaurants? When did restaurants open up to Black people?
HB I would say it was up in-around the middle fifties before that did here. Previous to that, they did not serve Blacks inside.
MP Any other Black businesses? Restaurants? Did Blacks have restaurants to your knowledge?
HB Arshell Barker ran a restaurant for a few years here in Bloomington.
MP Was his wife-do you know an Axel-a woman, let's see, I'm sorry, I can't remember the name, but I-it escapes me now. All right.
HB And there was a lady named Mrs. Rush.
MP Rush?
HB Yes, they run a restaurant on East Street at the top of the hill.
MP Where many-that's very interesting, was business very good for them? Were there enough Black people around to make the businesses go or viable or...?
HB Well, yeah, at that-I would say "yes" because it's like I say they served, you know, just Black folk's food. At that time, their businesses were good.
MP Yes, tell me about hotels. Could Black people take rooms at hotels in Bloomington to your knowledge?
HB That would be something that I wouldn't be too familiar with-(inaudible) they could or not in a hotel, whether the hotels were segregated or not.
MP I see, all right, all right, well. Let me just pause to ask you (directed to an unknown person present) if there are some things that you want to talk about that I've not mentioned already.
? How about organizations and churches? You're a Methodist, right?
HB Yes.
? OK, you've always been? Your parents were?
HB Yes, yes.
? So you belong to the same church that your parents belonged to?
HB Yes, and my grandparents belonged to that church.
? So that church has been around for a long time too.
MP Which one? What's the name of your church?
HB Wayman A.M.E. Church.
MP Oh, Wayman A.M.E. Church, I've been hearing a great deal about Wayman A.M.E. Church in terms of its concern about Black people, its involvement in, you know, the affairs of Black people and particularly someone said that the Wayman Avenue Baptist Church (sic) years ago was a place of refuge for runaway slaves. Do you know anything about that?
HB Yes, I had heard the story, you know. I hadn't seen it in black and white, but I had heard the story that that's true because the Wayman church was started in 1843.
MP Oh yes, so they could have very well been, right?
HB When slaves were going north to Canada, well, this was along the route so this was-it was always said that this was one of the stops.
MP I see, I see, all right. You asked about-what else was that you asked about? Churches and civic organizations, clubs, Black clubs.
HB There used to be three or four women's clubs. I couldn't think of the-I couldn't tell you the names of them. And then the men's fraternal organization. I know there was a Mason, and I believe there was an Odd Fellows lodge here.
MP And those were about the only ones, men's organizations, that you know about, all right. Were you active or your family active in any political organizations, Democratic or Republican Party, in any way?
HB No, we were never active. I know that during the lean years, during Depression, that my father used to take a handout from the political party to haul people back and forth to the polls.
MP Oh, I see, yes, yes. Now that was Republican party, right?
HB Yes.
MP Yes, yes. I know that many Black people were members of the Republican Party for a while particularly after-during reconstruction, and some people-that's when Blacks got started in the Republican Party, and they have kind of continued because of Lincoln. Would that have had any relationship to your father's involvement with the Republican Party?
HB It may have had, and then all politics in this central Illinois community was Republican, and to get a job or any kind of help you had to go Republicans. And so I think that may have had something to do with it.
MP What about social warfare organizations, any kind of relief agencies that you knew about or that you knew people were using or your family might have used in addition to the WPA? Did you know about the Booker T. Washington Home, for example? Did you know anything about that?
HB Well, I-yes, I knew about it. It catered to Black children. Is there anything specific you wanted to know?
? No, I was wondering about any relief agencies that Black people have used during the Great Depression, other than the WPA. Where did Black people go to get help from if they need to have food or money?
HB Well, I think they had this-what did they call this county place down here in the Eddy Building?
MP Oh, township relief?
HB Township relief, I believe that's the other place that they would go for help.
MP All right, all right. Let's see, what else did I want to ask you that I haven't already? Yes, do you know of any outstanding Black people other than the two dentists who lived in Bloomington or who passed through Bloomington? Dance troupes, dancers, singers, or bands or...?
HB No, off hand, I can't think of any.
MP All right, all right. When would you say in general, the situation in Bloomington got better for Black people in terms of jobs, housing, how do you say, in education, and why do you think it happened? When did things begin to get better and why?
HB Well, I don't think things really got better here until Martin Luther King come on the scene, and I think that he made a lot of difference. I would say the early sixties probably. Things didn't get better here until then.
MP I understand that since you worked at ISU for awhile that you may know about this - that Black students for a long time were not permitted to live in the dormitory at Illinois State University. Do you know about that?
HB Well, yeah. I can remember back at the time that they couldn't. This was before the war.
MP And so when did they open up, do you know to your knowledge when they did?
HB I would say at least the late fifties.
MP All right. And so do you know any families who had Black students live with them? Room and board with them?
HB Yes, my mother and father had.
MP Oh, did they?
HB Yes, a brother and sister that stayed with us. The boy went to high school here [U High], and his sister went to ISU.
MP Oh, I see, yes, all right. What were their names?
HB James Matthews and his sister's name was Alice Matthews.
MP Do they live here now?
HB No.
MP They left, all right. All right. Anything else that I've not asked that...?
? Do you know anything about the Bright house? Did that sound familiar to you? That's one of the houses that Black students were supposed to be able to stay at.
MP Bright?
HB That don't ring a bell.
MP Okay.
HB In fact, like I say, students mostly just stayed anywhere they could. Some of them roomed in Normal, or some of them would stay in Bloomington with a family, you know. There was no-I can't remember now one location where a lot of them stayed at.
MP I know that it seems that most women, Black women, who did work, worked in service, you know, as domestics in families, in white families' homes. Did any people in your family do that kind of work? I know you said your mother did not work outside the home.
HB Well, I had one sister that did for a short time. After she got out of high school, she worked a year or two. Then she went to Chicago to live.
MP Is that pretty much what Black people did who simply didn't want to, to work in service or serve as janitors, that they just left the area?
HB Yeah, they just had to go to some place maybe there's more opportunity for them.
MP Yes, one of the things that I am finding out is that most Black people owned their homes in the early days in Bloomington, and I find that rather interesting. Is that your experience that most Black people owned their homes?
HB Yes, yes, they did.
MP Was it easy for Black people to own their homes then in those years?
HB Yes, it was easy for them. The homes didn't cost that much in the first place, and then when they were mostly concentrated in Black neighborhoods, you know, it didn't take much down payment or anything to get them. It wasn't too hard then to purchase one.
MP What about mortgages? Did they have difficulty getting loans from banks?
HB If they had some kind of steady employment and where the payments were small, I think that-I don't think that they had too much trouble with it.
MP What about renting? Did Black people have difficulty finding housing to rent?
HB As I can remember, that they didn't have trouble renting.
MP But that means renting in Black communities?
HB Yeah, that's right. You were concentrated in one neighborhood.
MP Anything else you wanted to say?
? I was going to say, I think one of the reasons perhaps that Black people had such an easy time buying was because whites didn't rent to them. They didn't want to rent the houses out to Black people, nine times out of ten. So they made it easy for them to buy. And so if I can remember when I came here, there were certain realtors where you can go and buy a house directly from the realtor. You didn't need to get a mortgage-like (inaudible). You could go to certain ones and put three or four hundred dollars down and buy the house directly and never have to get a mortgage and that, I think, that was a big practice. And so you didn't have to qualify. And it was-to me it was easy, but I also think that many times there was some exploitation there. But they knew that the market was not there for the rentals so Black people bought.
MP That reminds me to ask you this one. Was there very much cooperation with Black people among Black people in the early days? Did Black people help...
End Side A
Side B
MP - cont. help each other very much in instances where they may need housing or was there very much cooperation amongst Black people, support or providing loans to people if they needed it? Can you speak about that?
HB I would say that Black people worked closer together then than they do now to help each other out.
MP In what respect? How did they help?
HB Well, if one would come to town or something, why generally people run rooming houses where they would give them a place to stay and maybe their eats or something until they could draw a paycheck to kind of get started, and things such as that.
MP What would happen in instances where, for example, parents-because there were a lot of orphanages and orphans in those years. What happens if their parents died? What happened to the Black children generally?
HB Well, I tell you they had-every parent when their children were born, would have a godparent, and a lot of times when something happened to them parents or something, the godparents would take over and finish raising that child. I saw a lot of instances of that.
MP I see, all right. Well, I think what I'm going to do now, if we can talk - would you tell me about your brothers and sisters, Mr. Bell?
HB I had one sister, Bernadine Bell. She's born February 6, 1919, and she died December 18, 1919, and the cause of death for her was pneumonia. I had one brother, Harry Waldo Bell, who was born January 13, 1917, and he died January 13, 1917-excuse me. And he died January 21, 1917, and he died of hemophilia. And then I had one other sister, Virginia Sue Bell. She was born August 27, 1915, and she died January the 10, 1916, and the cause of her death is listed here as congestion of the lung.
MP I see, I see, yes. So that, during that time, there were a lot of diseases, I know, right? Very dreaded diseases. (tape turned off)
HB Yeah. My mother's family is from Bowling Green, Missouri.
MP And when did your mother come here?
HB My mother came to Bloomington in 1905.
MP And she came with her family? Did she come with her family?
HB No, she came alone. She came here and married my father.
MP Oh, I see, yes, yes. And so she was-when she came here, she came to take a job or did she come to live with relatives, or. she heard about your famous father and came and married him? (laughs)
HB Yes.
MP Yes, yes. I know that many Black people were members of the Republican Party for a while particularly after-during reconstruction, and some people-that's when Blacks got started in the Republican Party, and they have kind of continued because of Lincoln. Would that have had any relationship to your father's involvement with the Republican Party?
HB It may have had, and then all politics in this central Illinois community was Republican, and to get a job or any kind of help you had to go Republicans. And so I think that may have had something to do with it.
MP What about social warfare organizations, any kind of relief agencies that you knew about or that you knew people were using or your family might have used in addition to the WPA? Did you know about the Booker T. Washington Home, for example? Did you know anything about that?
HB Well, I-yes, I knew about it. It catered to Black children. Is there anything specific you wanted to know?
? No, I was wondering about any relief agencies that Black people have used during the Great Depression, other than the WPA. Where did Black people go to get help from if they need to have food or money?
HB Well, I think they had this-what did they call this county place down here in the Eddy Building?
MP Oh, township relief?
HB Township relief, I believe that's the other place that they would go for help.
MP All right, all right. Let's see, what else did I want to ask you that I haven't already? Yes, do you know of any outstanding Black people other than the two dentists who lived in Bloomington or who passed through Bloomington? Dance troupes, dancers, singers, or bands or...?
HB No, off hand, I can't think of any.
MP All right, all right. When would you say in general, the situation in Bloomington got better for Black people in terms of jobs, housing, how do you say, in education, and why do you think it happened? When did things begin to get better and why?
HB Well, I don't think things really got better here until Martin Luther King come on the scene, and I think that he made a lot of difference. I would say the early sixties probably. Things didn't get better here until then.
MP I understand that since you worked at ISU for awhile that you may know about this - that Black students for a long time were not permitted to live in the dormitory at Illinois State University. Do you know about that?
HB Well, yeah. I can remember back at the time that they couldn't. This was before the war.
MP And so when did they open up, do you know to your knowledge when they did?
HB I would say at least the late fifties.
MP All right. And so do you know any families who had Black students live with them? Room and board with them?
HB Yes, my mother and father had.
MP Oh, did they?
HB Yes, a brother and sister that stayed with us. The boy went to high school here [U High], and his sister went to ISU.
MP Oh, I see, yes, all right. What were their names?
HB James Matthews and his sister's name was Alice Matthews.
MP Do they live here now?
HB No.
MP They left, all right. All right. Anything else that I've not asked that...?
? Do you know anything about the Bright house? Did that sound familiar to you? That's one of the houses that Black students were supposed to be able to stay at.
MP Bright?
HB That don't ring a bell.
MP Okay.
HB In fact, like I say, students mostly just stayed anywhere they could. Some of them roomed in Normal, or some of them would stay in Bloomington with a family, you know. There was no-I can't remember now one location where a lot of them stayed at.
MP I know that it seems that most women, Black women, who did work, worked in service, you know, as domestics in families, in white families' homes. Did any people in your family do that kind of work? I know you said your mother did not work outside the home.
HB Well, I had one sister that did for a short time. After she got out of high school, she worked a year or two. Then she went to Chicago to live.
MP Is that pretty much what Black people did who simply didn't want to, to work in service or serve as janitors, that they just left the area?
HB Yeah, they just had to go to some place maybe there's more opportunity for them.
MP Yes, one of the things that I am finding out is that most Black people owned their homes in the early days in Bloomington, and I find that rather interesting. Is that your experience that most Black people owned their homes?
HB Yes, yes, they did.
MP Was it easy for Black people to own their homes then in those years?
HB Yes, it was easy for them. The homes didn't cost that much in the first place, and then when they were mostly concentrated in Black neighborhoods, you know, it didn't take much down payment or anything to get them. It wasn't too hard then to purchase one.
MP What about mortgages? Did they have difficulty getting loans from banks?
HB If they had some kind of steady employment and where the payments were small, I think that-I don't think that they had too much trouble with it.
MP What about renting? Did Black people have difficulty finding housing to rent?
HB As I can remember, that they didn't have trouble renting.
MP But that means renting in Black communities?
HB Yeah, that's right. You were concentrated in one neighborhood.
MP Anything else you wanted to say?
? I was going to say, I think one of the reasons perhaps that Black people had such an easy time buying was because whites didn't rent to them. They didn't want to rent the houses out to Black people, nine times out of ten. So they made it easy for them to buy. And so if I can remember when I came here, there were certain realtors where you can go and buy a house directly from the realtor. You didn't need to get a mortgage-like (inaudible). You could go to certain ones and put three or four hundred dollars down and buy the house directly and never have to get a mortgage and that, I think, that was a big practice. And so you didn't have to qualify. And it was-to me it was easy, but I also think that many times there was some exploitation there. But they knew that the market was not there for the rentals so Black people bought.
MP That reminds me to ask you this one. Was there very much cooperation with Black people among Black people in the early days? Did Black people help...
End Side A
Side B
MP - cont. help each other very much in instances where they may need housing or was there very much cooperation amongst Black people, support or providing loans to people if they needed it? Can you speak about that?
HB I would say that Black people worked closer together then than they do now to help each other out.
MP In what respect? How did they help?
HB Well, if one would come to town or something, why generally people run rooming houses where they would give them a place to stay and maybe their eats or something until they could draw a paycheck to kind of get started, and things such as that.
MP What would happen in instances where, for example, parents-because there were a lot of orphanages and orphans in those years. What happens if their parents died? What happened to the Black children generally?
HB Well, I tell you they had-every parent when their children were born, would have a godparent, and a lot of times when something happened to them parents or something, the godparents would take over and finish raising that child. I saw a lot of instances of that.
MP I see, all right. Well, I think what I'm going to do now, if we can talk - would you tell me about your brothers and sisters, Mr. Bell?
HB I had one sister, Bernadine Bell. She's born February 6, 1919, and she died December 18, 1919, and the cause of death for her was pneumonia. I had one brother, Harry Waldo Bell, who was born January 13, 1917, and he died January 13, 1917-excuse me. And he died January 21, 1917, and he died of hemophilia. And then I had one other sister, Virginia Sue Bell. She was born August 27, 1915, and she died January the 10, 1916, and the cause of her death is listed here as congestion of the lung.
MP I see, I see, yes. So that, during that time, there were a lot of diseases, I know, right? Very dreaded diseases. (tape turned off)
HB Yeah. My mother's family is from Bowling Green, Missouri.
MP And when did your mother come here?
HB My mother came to Bloomington in 1905.
MP And she came with her family? Did she come with her family?
HB No, she came alone. She came here and married my father.
MP Oh, I see, yes, yes. And so she was-when she came here, she came to take a job or did she come to live with relatives, or. she heard about your famous father and came and married him? (laughs)
HB My father, for a short period, lived in Bowling Green, Missouri as a child going to school, and he met my mother down there.
MP Oh yes, I see.
HB And they kept in contact, and then my father moved back to Bloomington, and so he and my mother kept contact. And when she got of age-nineteen, well, she came here and they got married.
MP Oh, I see, yes. Yes, that's interesting. And you and your wife here got married when?
EB That's another story.
MP That's another story, right? Did you go to Montreal?
EB Some folks go to Bowling Green, Missouri. Some people go to Montreal.
HB You tell them the date. I never get it right.
EB You can tell us.
HB What? When we got married?
EB Oh, no, we got married December in 1967. Tell them what happened before. You're a better storyteller than I am.
HB Well, they used to have the Chicago Defender paper, and they had a Bud Billiken page.
EB For pen pals.
HB For pen pals. So Elaine and I started corresponding as kids together.
EB That was back in 1943.
HB That was back in 1943.
MP Is that right? Isn't that fascinating?
? I've known you all this time, and I didn't know that.
HB Yeah.
MP Did you start the process? Did you start-you said that you wrote first?
HB I believe I started the process. Yeah, I wrote first. Okay, this was during the war. So after the war - Elaine got married shortly after the war. I didn't hear from her till later on, but anyway I think she sent me a card that Christmas or something and told me that she was married. And then shortly after that, well, I got married. And then we went for twenty, about twenty-three years, and once in a while, we'd send a card to each other. So then Elaine wrote and told me in 1966-said that she wasn't married at the time. And I was divorced too, and so then Expo 67 was coming up. So I decided to go to Canada for the World Expo, you see.
EB So he says.
HB And so that's when I met her. That was in June of [19]67, and as she said, we got married December 30, [19]67.
MP I think that's a fantastic romantic story, isn't it?
? I didn't even know that.
MP I think that's a beautiful story. That's a beautiful story. I think that's delightful, really, really delightful.
EB He had sent me when he was in India-he had sent me a forty year calendar. Was it 1944? I still have it, and he also sent me some other little Indian things.(inaudible)
MP So, Mrs. Bell, you were going to tell us a little bit about your parents' involvement and your involvement with the Marcus Garvey movement.
EB Right, well, like I said, my mother used to quite interested in the Marcus Garvey UNIA movement back in 1929, and I can remember as a girl, as a child coming up, every Sunday, we'd have to go to the UNIA Hall and learn about the Marcus Garvey philosophy and what he stood for. And I think he was a brilliant person because I did have a chance to meet him back in 1938.
MP Oh, you did?
EB He came to Montreal to speak at the UNIA.
MP Is that right?
EB Yes, he was a remarkable person.
MP So it was in Montreal then when you were involved-your mother was involved. Yes?
EB I know, and I used to also be the secretary for the UNIA committee, and we'd go to conventions in New York, and I've been to Cleveland, and I've been to Detroit and Chicago.
MP Is that right?
EB And I was secretary for that UNIA movement at the time. They're still existing in Montreal.
MP Oh, is that right? And what's the focus there now? What is the focus of the Marcus Garvey Movement now?
EB Now, they're more or less interested into schools and education. Schools for the Black children there, and they're doing really a tremendous job.
MP Oh, is that right?
EB And they have a newspaper that they have once a month called Afro-can, and they're stressing, you know, education for the Blacks. It's really quite interesting.
MP Is that right? That's very exciting, exciting. Did many-did he really - was he ever able to get many Blacks there to go back to Africa?
EB No, not really. He just more or less preached the philosophy that we should go back to Africa, and we should have things-have our own businesses, you know, do our thing basically.
MP Did that have an impact there in terms of-did Blacks really develop businesses?
EB Well, I don't think they developed that many businesses, but they did get together as a group, as an organization, and were quite effective.
MP Yes, that's interesting. Now there is a-isn't there a monument in Jamaica in honor of Marcus Garvey?
EB Marcus Garvey, yeah. I believe it was in London, and they took it from London and brought it to Jamaica.
MP Oh, I see, that's what they did. I wasn't sure. Yes, I think that's really interesting.
End Side B