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

Lucinda Posey

Brief Biography:

Lucinda Miller's father was a farmer and teamster from Tennessee, and her mother was a member of a family who had lived in Bloomington since before the Civil War. Lucinda was born in Farmer City, but grew up in and attended school in Bloomington. She was a graduate of Illinois State Normal University. Throughout her professional career she was a ground breaker. She worked at the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Home as a secretary for nine years. Then she worked twenty-six years as an administrator in the medical records department at Brokaw Hospital. She was very active in professional and social organizations, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, and community organizations.

Transcript

Interviewer: Mildred Pratt | Date: August 7 1985

Side A

MPThis is July 7, 1985 [sic].
LPAugust.
MP August 7, 1985. Mrs. Lucinda Posey is being interviewed. Mrs. Posey just tell us as much as you can remember and feel comfortable to discuss in terms of your early childhood and your family, your growing up, and we really want you to tell anything else about your life experiences that you feel comfortable to discuss. In any format that you want.
LP Well, when you get to be as old as I am you have a lot of remembering to do, so I'm not too sure how much you're interested in. You already have the history of my mother and her family. My father was born in Barboursville [Barbourville], Kentucky. His mother was a slave girl in the big house. His father was Miller, the owner of the plantation. And my father told my mother this history that the plantation owner, Samuel Miller, for whom he was named-his [Miller's] wife knew that this was his son, and when he was a good boy, he played in the front of the big house with all the rest of his white brothers and sisters. And when he was naughty, he got sent to the back of the house to stay with his Black mammy, as she was called. He moved or he came to Farmer City, Illinois, which is about thirty miles east of Bloomington, with a load of horses, and everybody down there I understand thought he was white. He was highly insulted, and I got this from one of the white neighbors after I had grown up and married. So when he brought the second load of horses back, he decided he would stay, and, of course, with my mother dead and gone, it never dawned on me to ask Mama how she and my father met. But Mama lived in Normal. And she belonged to the [Mount Pisgah] Baptist Church, and evidently my father came to the Baptist church because in the old church history, there is an article-I was born down in Farmer City on the farm that they had. And there's an article in the church history where Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Miller came to Mount Pisgah to church, and he put in the large sum of fifty cents, and they brought their baby daughter with them. The baby daughter was me. So I guess fifty cents was a lot of money in those days. But I read that in the church history. I had a half-brother and half-sister. My half-sister was twenty-one years older than I, and the half-brother was twenty years older than I. And both of them were married when I was a child coming along. My parents were married eleven years before I showed up. It was like having three sets of parents. My brother nor sister neither had children. So they mothered me. And of course my own parents mothered me. So what I couldn't get out of one, I got out of the other. Papa died when I was six. I was six on the fifth of February, and he died the end of February. And here is a woman up in her forties left with a kid to take care of and a house to finish paying for. When my father contracted to buy the house, he had my name put on the deed; not his wife's, but his daughter's. He had never given Mama a wedding ring until after I was born, and I now have the wide wedding band in which he inscribed my initials S-L-M-Sarah Lucinda Miller-and February 5. And that was the wedding ring he gave my mother after they'd been married eleven years.
? What did your father do for a living? You said he brought horses to Bloomington.
LP That was to Farmer City. When he moved-they moved from Farmer City to Bloomington Mama said, when Jim Reeder was elected sheriff here in Bloomington. Jim Reeder was formerly from Normal. He was a Normal man, and I remember Jim Reeder. But Mama said he came down to the farm, and offered my father a job as janitor here at the courthouse-McLean County Courthouse-if we would move to Bloomington. They sold the farm. And they moved to Bloomington from Farmer City when I was three years old. And I can remember my father taking me to the old courthouse here in Bloomington and opening a door and showing me an engine room with a whole lot of machinery, and I was scared to death of it. He worked there for awhile, and I don't know how he happened to leave there, other then I have a sneaking idea that the sheriff wasn't re-elected as I look back now. I imagine maybe Jim Reeder was not re-elected, and those appointees of his were let go. We had a Johnson Transfer Company here which is now Allied Vans on South Center Street, and they had great big moving wagons that they carried furniture in, and I remember my father coming home for lunch driving six horses. And one day he had eight horses, and he took me way up high on this wagon seat with all of these reins-I guess that is that you call them-for these horses, and that day there were eight horses. And I screamed and hollered. I was scared to death. It was too high up in the air. But they called them drays in those days, but that's what they moved furniture in. He worked for Johnson's Transfer Company until he died.
MP Was it common practice to put property in the names of children in those days? Do you know?
? Did your mother work outside the home before your father died?
LP No. In those days when Papa died, I don't think they had all these things that they have now-all these aid things. If they did I never heard anything about it. Mama worked out in service for two families, Dr. Brown who lived about five blocks from us and a family by the name of Mitchell over here on East Grove Street, those two families. And Mama would go-those women in those days did their own washing. Mama went and ironed all day. Mama did the cleaning. Every Christmas Mama went out to Mitchell's and cooked Christmas dinner and served it. I had a place set in the dining room. They had one daughter, Frances. I had a place set in the dining room. I sat in the dining room with the Mitchell family for Christmas dinner. I had my gifts under the tree. So you see I've been integrated all my life. That's where I had an advantage I guess you would say. The Browns lived within walking distance of Lincoln school where I attended. They had one daughter named Bernice. When Bernice got a new dress, Mrs. Brown bought me a new dress. When Bernice got shoes, I got shoes. Everyday after school if Mama was there that day, there was a piece of fruit. Anything on the kitchen table was mine. There would be a polished apple and her specialty was taking canned pears and putting red blush on them and a stick of mint in if she'd had a party or something. Well, if they did have a party, Mama went down and served the party, and whatever was left Mama brought home which I loved. But those people kept me clothed, and as a result I was a well-dressed child, which didn't help me psychologically at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. You get the picture? Because I had new coats, and I had long hair, and I had pretty hair, and I had bows, and I had new shoes. And some of them didn't. And I was persecuted because of this. I cried many a time because my feelings had been hurt. But it was through the goodness of these families you see. I was sixteen years old before anybody bought me a coat, and I worked and bought my own coat.
MP When did you start to work?
LP Well, when I was sixteen years old, there was a Negro man George Nuckolls in this town that had a cleaning and pressing shop on North Center Street across from where Miller's Hardware Store is. There's a little hotel there, and it was down underneath. He asked Mama if I could come and keep his books and be his cashier and whatnot for him that summer. And I was sixteen, and he would pay me for it. And this is what I did. I saved my money, and I started my first charge account at Rolands, which was next door. Anyway, when I got through work, I had enough money saved to buy my first brand new coat that I had worked and paid for, and I bought my first pair of silk stockings, too. But he was very nice to me, and I really enjoyed it, and I think this was good. I learned to meet the public, and I learned to make change. He was a patient teacher. He was a deacon in our church. He had kids of his own, and he was a patient teacher. You learned how to greet people. It was a good education for me.
? Did you just do this over the summer?
LP Yes.
? And what happened in the fall? Did you go back to work?
LP I went back to school. I went to dear old Bloomington High School, where in that day and age we had so much prejudice in this town that we could not go swimming in Bloomington High School. And it didn't matter to me. I couldn't take gym anyway because as a youngster I had had rheumatic heart disease. I had to stay out of school a year. When I was in Lincoln school with all the Germans-now Caribel and Kathryn. Caribel Washington and Kathryn Dean went to Lincoln school too, but I was ahead of them. And I skipped-we had two semesters a years. So I skipped a half of fourth grade. I skipped a half of third grade and a half of fourth grade, which put me a year ahead of my class. Then I got sick, and I had to stay out of school a year. So when I went back into fifth grade, I was with the kids that I had left to start with. And we had a marvelous fifth grade teacher, Miss Voight, who finally ended up to be Mrs. Nierstheimer of Nierstheimer Drug Store up on North Main Street. And that woman went beyond the call of duty to bring me up to study habits and what was going on. I still can't do story problems. They must of had story problems while I was out of school. I can't do them yet. But anyway, as a result, when I was in high school, I only went a half a day one year. And I only climbed one flight of stairs. I took my time doing that because when you have rheumatic heart disease, you knew you weren't supposed to live long. Well, I'm still kicking around here.
MP And very well.
LP But we had a lot of problems about gym, but it didn't bother me. One of the things I thought of when I was at Miller Park last Saturday for a picnic-we lived about six blocks from Miller Park, and as a child our children could not go in Miller Park Lake. So of course, knowing my mother, Mama decided that she was working and paying taxes, and, therefore, her child should enjoy Miller Park Lake. So Mama proceeded to take me, and, of course, they proceeded to come and tell Mama to take me out of the little wading thing. And we had a great big Irish policeman named Jack Penn. Everybody was scared to death of Jack Penn. I remember one time my mother looking-I was in the water, but I remember Mama standing with her hands on her hips talking to policeman, and I heard her say, "Go get Jack Penn. I'm not afraid of Jack Penn." So they might have of threatened Jack Penn with her. However, I think I was probably at that time the only Negro that did go in Miller Park because nobody else would come. They were afraid I guess to come and stand up to the police. Nobody ever took Mama to jail, but she stood her ground. So whenever we wanted to go, Mama took me to Miller Park. And I started to tell you Mama worked. They didn't have all these helps that they have now. She worked and took care of me, and Grandma would come from Normal. Mama's mother would come from Aunt Lucy's, and she would stay two or three days, or if I was sick, Grandma would come and stay a few weeks. But the Germans raised me-we were in the midst of a German neighborhood. "Old Lady" [Mrs. Augusta] Flink was next store. The Bisingers with their sons were across the street, and when Mama came home if it got dark as it does early, I was either at one house or the other. All she had to do was open her mouth, or I'd see her coming. Sometimes I had two suppers. I ate at Mrs. Flink's, and Mrs. Bisinger always had great big beautiful steaks that she could buy for a quarter in those days. And the boys had supper with "Old Man" Bisinger at six o'clock. And if I was going eat-and I was always there to eat-there was always a place put on for me. Or if there wasn't, I got one put on there for me. If Mama was real late, I got put to bed in the featherbed, but I wouldn't let them cover me with the featherbed. But the Germans really raised me. And then Mama got so she cooked like the Germans. On Saturday mornings-I had the only swing in the neighborhood because we had a corner lot. There were about ten of us kids all the same age. I was the only Negro in the crowd. We made the rounds. Mama baked every Saturday morning. Mama didn't work Saturday and Sunday and sometimes not on Friday. We knew just what time to hit which house. Ten o'clock the hot cinnamon rolls came out at Mrs. Snyder's. 10:30 something else came out at another house. We made the rounds. Now, I only weighed ninety pounds-ninety-one pounds when I married so you know I should have been big as a house, but I wasn't. But it's a wonder we kids didn't get sick with all the stuff we ate Saturday mornings.
MP You were so active I guess.
LP I suppose so. I had one little friend, Bernadine Morris, who lived on East Baker Street. She was in Lincoln school with me until they finally moved someplace else. She had long black hair and I had long brown curls, and we played almost every day. And then we'd get mad and slap one another, and she's go home and tell Mama she was never coming back to see me. And the next day I'd be at her house, and I'd get her and smack her and come home and say I'm never going back to play with her. But this was the way we got along.
? Tell us about your schooling once you left high school, and how you eventually went to work and where.
LP Well, I graduated from high school. In the midst of high school Howard Brent had come on the scene here in Bloomington. And Howard was in our choir. He was unmarried and had a beautiful tenor voice, and was the son of "Old Man" Brent who was a deacon in our church. And I was looking at Howard, and Howard was looking at me, but in the meantime, I had a boyfriend down in Springfield, Illinois who was a little taller than I and had his own service station. In fact, still has. So between the two of them I was kind of looking at them, and then there was a tenor who lived in Gibson City that I was interested in who came on Sunday to sing in our choir when he could. And my mother told me that I was never, never to get in (unintelligible) car without her permission. This was the boy from Gibson City. So to show you how I minded my mother-one Sunday morning when church was out-now Mama knew (unintelligible) was coming because he had been invited to come for dinner-one of those sudden spring downpours came up. And I had eight blocks to walk from Mt. Pisgah home, and (unintelligible) was there with his car. Do you think I got in that car and rode home to my house even though he was coming for dinner? No way! My mother had told me not to get in his car so he drove slowly up Lee Street hill while I walked in the spring downpour with my hair straight down completely drowned home. And when I got home, and I hit the front door, Mama looked at me, and she said, "Well what happened to you? Where's (unintelligible)?" At that time he's hit the steps, and he said, "Well Mrs. Miller, she wouldn't ride." "Why didn't you ride home?" I said, "You told me never to get in his car." "Well there are exceptions you know." Well, I didn't know that. Everything I had on was drenched. Now, that's how I minded my mother. But anyway those two boys-the one in Springfield especially and Howard was in the picture here. So then I went to IS[N]U. My father had died when I was six, and Mama was a widow until I was eleven, and she worked and got our home paid for and took care of me without any of these helps that-I don't even know whether they had them. Anyway Mama married a man who came from Springfield to do some work on our church. And he had never married. And he had been at one time a coal miner in Springfield. So anyway they got acquainted with each other, and I remember Mama asking me if I cared-I was eleven. I had a smarty mouth I guess. Did I care if she married Mr. Scott? Well, I thought Mr. Scott was marvelous because he bought me ice cream you know. I thought he was wonderful. And I said-I'll never forget my answer because my mother looked at me with an awestruck face-and I said, "Well, you're the one that has to live with him." Wasn't that terrible? I think my mother's eyes flew open, and her mouth flew open. I don't know what the conversation was after that, but I remember that. Anyway, Mama married Dad, and that man couldn't have been nicer to me had he brought me on this earth. If there ever is a saint in heaven, he was ought to be one. But anyway, she married Dad, and then I went to school at ISU, and in time I married Howard. And Dad got to the place he couldn't work, and he didn't want Mama to work. He made her stop working. And Dad had a heart problem, and there was no money coming in. Howard and I had married, and eventually by that time Jeannine was a baby. So there was nothing to do but for us to give up our rented house. Mama stored part of her furniture, and I got rid of part of mine. We put some in the attic, and we moved back home because there was no paycheck coming in. Then I got a job at the Children's School [Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home]. That's where Mr. Lawrence Irvin came in. Governor [Henry] Horner [1933-40] came in as Governor. And I took a civil service examination, and with a few strings pulled I got in as the first Black institutional secretary at the Children's School in Normal, and that's where Mr. Irvin was my boss for nine years. We lived at home, and in order to save Mama's face, I paid Mama each week to take care of Jeannine, and Howard and I paid everything on the house-the taxes, the heat, everything, but I wouldn't pay Mama's insurance. I felt she should pay her own insurance. I drew the line there. But Mama stayed home and took care of Jeannine. Then when Mama got sick and couldn't do that I hired somebody to come and take care of Mama and Jeannine and the house, and all of that.
? Jeannine is your daughter?
LP Yes.
MP Did you have difficulty getting the job? Was this unusual for a Black person to get a job such as the one you got at Illinois Soldiers and Sailors?
LP Yes, it was.
MP What time was that?
LP This was-I went there in 1933. When I was at ISU, I was a Business Ed major, and my typing teacher is still living. In fact, I saw her about three months ago. She lived in the house where Leslie Smith lives now. That was their home place. A lovely, lovely person. Her sister went through high school with me, and when these firms in this town wanted extra help-like now they have Manpower-they would call ISU and say I need a typist for two or three days or a day. Would you send me somebody? Eureka Williams - what do they call it now? Williams Oil-O-Matic? No, I don't know what they call it, but then it was called Williams Oil-O-Matic. Then it went to Eureka Williams. [They] were making vacuum cleaners and oil furnaces, whatnot. They needed somebody, and I was her best typing student. So she sent me. Well, when I went in I had to visit. Here was a whole row of desks. The kids working there were young people who had finished high school with me-boys and girls. "Hello, Lucinda."Well, I said, "Hello" to everybody as I went in. This woman met me and took me way back down the hall and gave me a form to fill out, which I filled out. Irene Johnson had supposedly sent her best typist. She told me to come to work the next morning at eight o'clock because you'd be excused at ISU from your studies, you see, for whatever-two or three days this was. "Oh, yes," She was very happy with my record, and I should come to work tomorrow at eight o'clock. I've often wondered what would have happened if I had walked out then instead of stopping and to visit all the way back down this row. And I stopped and said, "Hello" to the different ones. As a result, I didn't get out quickly. I was almost to the door and somebody said, "Ms. Miller," and I turned around, and it was this woman. "Come back." So I went back. Now, what would have happened in my life if I had gone out right fast? I don't know. She said-in that day and age you put down the race. You don't do it anymore. "Race?" I put down Negro. So she said, "What race are you?" And me with my flip tongue I said, "I'm anything you think I am." And then I thought, "Oh, oh. Here we go." And then she says, "But you have put Negro on the application." And I said, "That's right." "Well you are not a pure Negro." I said, "I know that." She says, "I can't hire you if you are a Negro. Will you put down that you're Indian, Mexican, anything except Negro, and I can hire you. But I cannot hire you if you put Negro on here." And I said, "Well, I'm Negro," and with that I got up and walked out, completely crushed because here was a job and God knows I needed it. So I went back to school, went right straight to Mrs. Johnson, and I guess it was on my face. I hadn't cried. I was just crushed. And she said, "Lucinda,"-no, "Miss. Miller, what is the trouble?" And, of course, with that the floodgates opened, and I went to bawling. And I remember Irene hugged me and talked to me, and then I finally told her. She said, "Come in my office." And I sat there while she called the woman. And she said, "I sent you my best typist. You refused to hire her because she was a Negro. Don't ever call this office again for help because I won't send anyone, Negro or white." But that was my introduction to prejudice in this town. Well, I was just crushed.
MP And you never got that job, is that right?
LP Because I was a Negro.
? So after that you went and took the civil service exam
LP Yes.
? ... and got placed?
LP At the Children's Home. I was there nine years, and I quit on my own free will because I was tired of working. So I went there with the thought-I went there in July, and I thought I will work until December, and I'll get some Christmas money, and then I'll quit.
MP This was in the 1930's?
LP That was July, 1933. I'll quit when Christmas comes. Well, then they told me you shouldn't quit because if you work until July you get two-week's paid vacation. Well, that sounded interesting. So I stayed nine years, and by that time I was tired of working. So I told Howard I was going to come home. Well, his response was, "I didn't tell you to go to work, and I'm not going to tell you to come home. You can do as you please." Anyway, I did come home, and I stayed home. I worked till 1943, and I came home, and I read everything there was to read. And one day I read Reader's Digest, and I read a page three times before it went through my brain what I was reading, and I thought I'm getting sluggish mentally. I need to do something about it. And in the meantime I had met a nurse who was talking with me about medical records.And she said, "Why don't you enroll in a correspondence course or go down where you can go just every so often to St. Louis University and get some courses in medical records." That's how Sister Mary Antona got into medical records. Did I tell you she was here the other day? This is beside the point. Well anyway, I'll tell you that later. So this is what I did. Well, in the meantime there was an ad in the paper that they wanted a medical record librarian at Brokaw Hospital. And they had a history of not even wanting Negro patients, let alone a Negro employee at Brokaw. So I called Howard at work, and I said-by the way, all these years he was working as a janitor for the theaters in case you get home and wonder what he was doing. He had the Castle, the Majestic, and the Irvin, and it was all owned by one corporation. He went from one to the other, and then they built the Normal Theater. To go back to work."[He said,] "Well, why do you think you'd like to go back to work?" And I said, "Because I'm bored. I can get somebody to come and help with the kids." And by that time we lived near Booker T. Washington Home, and they were always anxious to earn money to do anything. So I said, "There's an ad in the paper." And his words to me were, "Don't go out there and apply and they won't take you because you're a Negro, and think you're going to come home and cry on my shoulder." That was his parting shot. So I went to Brokaw and told her my qualifications and what I had been doing and whatnot to the superintendent of nurses, and she said, "We haven't had anybody for a month. Do you know how to make a payroll?" And I said, "Yes, I made the payroll for over a hundred employees for nine years at the children's school so I ought to be able to do your payroll?" She said, "Well, you're hired. Can you stay this afternoon and do the payroll." And I said, "The payroll has nothing to with medical records." [She said], "I know, but we need the payroll done." And that was on Friday afternoon. And I said, "No, I can't stay this afternoon, but I'll be here at seven o'clock Monday morning, and I'll make your payroll for you." Still nothing to do with medical records. Well, in the meantime the business manager came down the hall, and he said, "Well Mrs. Brent, what are you doing here?" And she said, "She's applying for medical record work." In a small town everybody knows everybody. "Oh," he said, "you go ahead and hire her. She can do the work. If she applied, you go ahead and hire her." Well, all well and good. I got the job. And on Monday morning I had to go to her office, and Dr. Edgar Stevenson, McLean Stevenson's father, was head of the medical staff and was also our family doctor. He had known me when I had pigtails. And I was in Ms. Bierman's office getting directions around eight o'clock and who came down the hall but Dr. Ed. And he was always loud, and he looked in and he said, "Lucinda, what are you doing in here?" And she said, "Well, I have just hired her. She's going to be our new medical records librarian." This cinched it. He said, "She can take my medical dictation anytime." That was all I needed. I had the job. So I only stayed twenty-six years. But I ran into prejudice there. One day I wore a white uniform because you wore your Sunday clothes then. You know when I was a kid we had school clothes and Sunday clothes. Well, I wore my Sunday clothes to work because I didn't have to wear a uniform. But I discovered between the ink and the desk and rooting around for eight hours, I got pretty ratty. So they told me if I wanted to wear a white uniform I could, and they would launder them for me. So I bought three white uniforms, and I went to work in my white uniform, and I knew I looked good. You know our folks when we get a uniform on, we always look good. I knew I looked good. And this great big old buxom white nurse said-put her hands on her hips and said, "Since when did-who told you you could wear a white uniform?" And I said, "You know when they sold them, they didn't specify they were only for nurses." And with that I walked out. So Dr. Stevenson come in, and at that time we took all the dictation in shorthand. And all the medical shorthand I had learned I had to shorten the shorthand because the doctors talked so fast. And the charts were piled clear to the ceiling. And I said, "What did the girls do?" She had two employees. They sat back there and read magazines instead of doing the work. This is what I walked into, this mess. Well anyway, Dr. Ed went down the hall, and I guess he said something to her because the next day he said, "She won't bother you anymore." They had a dining room, and I was a department head at Brokaw. The only thing they ever had was a Black gal-a Negro girl they were called, who had been a maid for a while. They had a dining room for the department heads, but I was not invited to eat in the dining room. I was to eat with the student nurses. So one day Dr. Stevenson wanted me at noon, and he went barging in, knowing him. He never was quiet. He always charged in, and I can just picture him charging into the dining room looking for me. My office was across the hall, and I wasn't in there because he later charged into the student nurses' dining room where I was. He wanted to know why in the "H" I wasn't in there eating because that is where he had looked for me. I said, "I eat with the nurses." [He said], "That isn't what I asked you. Why are you not in there with the rest of the department heads?" And I said, "Because they don't want me in there. They never asked me to be in there. I'm a Negro, and I'm not allowed to eat in there." That's all I needed to say. Well, in a week that had changed. I was invited to eat in there. But you know by that time what I said? "You didn't want me in there when I came here. I'm the same Negro now I was then. I don't want to eat in there." And I never ate in there until they built the new cafeteria, and everybody ate together. When they decided they wanted me, I was still the same Negro. And the nurses and I had such a good time at noon together-the students. I was "Mama" to them. I still hear from some, and when my daughter died, I heard from girls all over the state of Illinois. One of the girls in Arizona, one of "my" girls, Marjorie Zehr, wrote me. So you see we struck a friendship. But this is what I ran into at Brokaw. When I decided to remarry in 1969 and take early retirement, they gave me this watch. They had a history. Didn't matter how long you stayed there, but nobody stayed, I think, as long as I did. They had a reception for me and gave me this gift. The first gift Brokaw had ever given in the history of the hospital I received. And the lady who picked it out was the woman in charge of the safety deposit boxes at Banc Midwest, Alice Lind, because her husband was personnel manager at the time. But I did stay the twenty-six years. I tried. I did train-I had one Negro clerk who was marvelous, and I pushed her and pushed till she even got beyond doing admissions in my department. And I don't think they've had a Negro-they hired Mildred Stratton in the Business Office. But as far as medical records, they haven't had one of us since then.
MP Did you participate in any kind of professional organizations in which there were other Black people?
LP We organized-there were eight of us. I was the only Black person in the American Association of Medical Records in Illinois. Finally Rock Island got one, but I was the first one. The girls in Central Illinois decided in one of the state meetings that we should have our own Central Association as a portion off of the state because we could meet once a month and talk over problems-Jacksonville, Danville, Springfield, Decatur, Bloomington, Pontiac, Peoria. So there were eight of us that organized the Central Association of Medical Records, and I'm the only one that's living. That's left. We met every other month for anyone who wished to come to Brokaw and I passed on whatever I was learning in "Hospital Law."
MP And there were no Blacks?
LP Oh, no. And then when Betty Lu came along-Sister Mary Antona. She decided to go into medical records, and her cousin, Dr. Sandra Brotten Mayo, Mary Drake's daughter out in Buffalo, she decided to go into medical records. I've talked to her about it, and she went on to Emory and got her doctorate in medical records.
MP Do you think Sister Mary Antona made that decision based on her relationship with you?
LP She told me she did.
MP That's what I wondered.
LP She told me she did. So that was two record librarians I got out of it. And I went to a state meeting in Chicago. I held offices in the Central and I held offices in the State, and I had State meetings here three times because they liked to come here instead of Peoria because of transportation. And we had Tilden Hotel downtown at the time that bent over backward to make them comfortable. So we had State here three different times. I went to Chicago for three different State meetings in the Blue Cross Building up on North Michigan. And three different times at luncheon they asked me to say the blessing. There were all kind of Catholic Sisters there and everything. Finally, the third time, "I said I have said the blessing the last two years. There surely is somebody else here that can pray besides me. Look at all these nuns you have." But anyway, this was just a little funny something that happened. I belonged to a Redbird chapter of the American Business Women and-oh, I've got to show this trophy to you. I was their first "woman of the year." I was their first and only Black member-still I think the only Black member-and the first "woman of the year." And I went on vacation, and when I got home, I had a great big sign on my front door, and that's what I got.
MP This is for the state of...?
LP The American Business Women.
MP Is that right? That's quite a distinct honor.
LP It's probably got some dust on it. And I still go every once in a while. I still go every once in a while just to let them know that's there's some of us still around, you know. I took membership at large. And interspersed in all of this working nine years at children's school and twenty-six years at Brokaw at Mount Pisgah I had three choirs. I had two children, Jeannine and Myrna. I had three choirs. When Mr. Calimese got tired of being the Sunday superintendent, there wasn't anybody to take it, and I was a Sunday school teacher so I took Sunday school superintendent till they got somebody else. I was a member of the missionary society, and I served as president in that. One year we decided we were going to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" without any music in front of us. I said, "You're going to do it or die." And when I did break up housekeeping, we had an oriental rug in the living room and an oriental rug in the dining room. And I couldn't figure out why the one in the dining room was beginning to show wear, and my little daughter piped up and said, "Mommy, remember all those choirs you rehearsed in the dining room." But along with that were all the business girls' clubs, my social club-my Three C Club that I joined. I joined my medical records organizations-the Central and the State. I went to the National meeting down in Tulsa. They sent me to that. And raised a family. I look back now, and I don't know how I did it other than I had a husband who knew how to wash and iron and cook. He was a marvelous help, and the girls helped.
MP And supported you then?
LP Definitely. The reason I went in to the Three C Club-you wondered what we did for entertainment.
MP What is the Three C Club?
End Side A
Side B
LP I'm going to talk about what we did for enjoyment. The Three C Club-and what the Three C stands for is a deep dark secret. But it was organized in 1908, and I still belong to it. It's a group of ladies in this town, and we meet once every three weeks just for the fun of it. One week is literary, one week's pleasure, one week is program and one is business-I mean one meeting. We're getting ready now to have a fall harvest party. But those old ladies got together and formed this club for the pleasure of it. The Three C is a secret. There is another ladies' club in this town called the Progressive Club. They just had their May party out at Ramada Inn. They meet just for the pleasure of it. So when we entertain, we invite Progressives. When Progressives entertain, they invite my Three C Club. When Howard and I were married, there was nothing to do unless you went to the show. When I was a kid coming along, you sat up in the gallery as far back as you could sit until that was broken down. But we made our own fun. We had a card club. We had five tables, and we met from house to house, and you served something. And those of us that had children, me included, we took our kids and put their little nighties and diapers on them, and we took them with us and lined them up on the bed at whoever's house we were. And if yours hollered, you knew it was yours and not one of the other eight or five or six that was in there on the bed. Well, we did that, and we always had a New Year's Eve Party. We made our own fun with our own friends. And that's where I told you that years ago they had that chauffeur's club, you know. That was the elite of Bloomington. This was when I was a little girl, but I remember Mama talking about it. Mama's entertainment was church oriented. Her little old ladies they'd meet, and they'd have a pot luck, and I had to go because there was nobody to stay with me. Of course, you sit there and listen to all this old folks' conversation, and I think you learn, you know, from it. But, I belonged-when I was in my teens, we had a young girls' club, not church oriented. It was made of young girls in this town, and our parents encouraged this. And we paid our little money in so we could hire an orchestra to play or a band to play for our spring party, and we served punch and cookies. It was an invitational affair usually at Jefferson School gymnasium And I can remember our parents lined up around the wall while we danced. Watching us. And don't dance too close. And this boy that I was going with-Howard wasn't on the scene now-but I remember one time I had a gorgeous dress, and this boy came from Springfield. And they played "Stardust," and I danced just as close to him as I could get, and my mother scolded me. Oh, and we did waltzes in those days, you know, but this was wholesome recreation. It was over with at midnight, and all of us went home-and those of us that had out-of-town guests and-we could invite out-of-town guests, and I usually did. All the kids came to our house and stayed all night. We put pallets on the floor and opened up the davenport, and they went home on Sunday morning. This is what we did. And then we had in our church a girls' club that was made up of girls my age. This was church oriented, and we met once a month. So everything that you did was more or less supervised. It was either church oriented, or if it wasn't, then it was still under supervision. But we made our own entertainment. These kids come to ISU now, and the first-I was on a committee out there- and some little Black student got up in this committee and was ripping everybody up and down the back because the Black students came to ISU, and there was no planned recreation for them. Well, my point is they come here to study, to learn to be something, and why should my tax money have to go to plan recreation for somebody out there? They can make their own recreation like we made our own recreation. And I kind of voiced my opinion on that subject.
MP The chauffeur's club. Did you know anything about the chauffeur's club?
LP No, nothing other than hearing the old folks talking about it.
MP What did they do?
LP They had dances. I know they had dances because my sister was a gorgeous looking woman, and she always wanted to be invited. I can remember that.
? Before the tape was turned on, you talked about-in a little more detail, you talked about the chauffeur's club. Would you go back over that for us please?
LP Well, Honey, I was too young other that just to sit and listen to them, but they looked down on everybody that wasn't in the chauffeur's club. If this man-and it was made up not necessarily of church people. You had to be a chauffeur with the black tie and a white shirt. If you happened to be a-they had Negro brick layers in those days. If you happened to be a bricklayer, then you were looked down on. This was the elite society of Bloomington. And, of course, their wives had their nose just as high in the air. Maybe "mama" was sitting home not working, but her husband was in this club and therefore...
MP So that was the highest-status type of job that Blacks could have?
LP That I knew anything about, but I was a kid. Now, there may have been something else, but in sitting listening to the older folks talking, and as I say Fleta was twenty-one years older than I, this is what I was aware of. Now, I know that had the Three C Club going at that time. I don't know about Progressives. Kathryn Dean can tell you about Progressives. But when Three C's-we still discussed this here just recently in 3 C Club. When the 3 C Club had their parties, you had to send in an invitation list, and the full club had to decide on whether they wanted you to come as a guest. If one person objected, then you didn't get invited. This was all secretive. And to show you how elite they tried to be-my aunt Mrs. Dabney was one of the members of the Three C Club. And when she had club, she would invite Mama. Mama couldn't belong because Mama had to work. When Mama went, I got to go 'cause Aunt Lucy had nine kids, and, of course, there was always room for one more, including me. And those of us, when we got big enough, could help pass plates. Well, anyway, Aunt Lucy called Mama. My sister was here at the time, and my sister worked in service out for Gardner's-off Thursday and Saturday. Aunt Lucy took in Mama's name as a guest and took in my sister's name as a guest. The club voted not to have my sister as a guest because my sister worked out in service. And Aunt Lucy was furious and called and told Mama this. That's how I heard this conversation. Now, this was when I was a kid, but that's how picky they were. Isn't that something?
MP You spoke earlier about something you were going to talk about. Most Black women worked in service. That was the kind of work that Black women did in Bloomington. Would you tell us more about that? And if you remember when Black women were able to get other types of work, would you speak about that?
LP Well, as a kid I can't tell too much about it because it didn't mean that much to me. See Mama had these two families that she worked for. Some of the women didn't work at all. They had husbands who did this, and I hope that when you interview Kathryn Dean that Kathryn will remember to tell you "Old Man" Dean was the first [sic] Black policeman we had, and this is before Kathryn came along, and she may not know this. There used to be a picture in the Dean home of Mr. Dean with this big high hat, but he was our first Black policeman. I don't know that she would even remember. I know she wouldn't remember it.
LP Well, what did you ask me?
? About the kind of work that women did-that Black women particularly did.
LP I can't tell you other than the service, and I told in my note about this woman who was a secretary for the lawyer that was my ideal. One of the things when I got my job and felt secure in it-some of our kids were beginning to come out of school and couldn't get jobs, and one of the advantages of living in a small town is you make acquaintances. This is what I missed that eight years I lived in Peoria. If I wanted something done on an organization that I belonged to over there, I didn't know that key white person to go to get it done. Here in a little town, you do. So we had one girl who got out of school who wanted a job, was a business ed major, and I heard of a job that was in one of the offices. I won't call any name. And I called a key lawyer in this town, and I said, "This girl is qualified. I don't know the people over at this office. There's a vacancy there. I'd like to see this gal get the job. Can you help me out?" "Yes," he said. "You call me back in about an hour." So I called back in an hour. He said, "I've already called them. You tell her to go." So I told her to go. She did get the job. She worked there three or four years, and she finally got married, and she quit. And they loved her. She got pregnant. Oh, she got married, and she quit. They took her back after she got married. She got pregnant. She went home and had this child. And they took her back after the baby was born. That's how well she did. She stayed there till they finally moved to California, and she went on and got her doctorate in library work and is working out in Oakland. We had a little boy who lived here in Bloomington, and I used to pick him up as I went to Brokaw. He had a brain. He was an "A" student in math. He really had a brain. He didn't have bus fare to come from the west side of town to Bloomington High School, and I picked him up many a morning as I came around that corner. He hardly had shoes to keep his feet out of the snow, and I'd pick him up many a morning and say, "Here's bus fare home. You've got a brain, someway or other get into ISU, work, get a job, do something. I'll help you all I can." Well anyway, to make a long story short, he did go on, and he finished at ISU, and he got a job. And I think he'd been gone about six months, and one night about 9:30 somebody knocked on my door, and there he stood. He was in town. He wanted to come to thank me for pushing him and what I had done to try to help him. I still see him once in a while. I had a little girl who came back to see me this year. She was here for ISU's Homecoming. She tells me that the Black students at ISU are now organizing or have organized. This is the second year to have their own little homecoming deal. When I was at ISU, we were raising all kinds of sand to be part of one homecoming for all of us and not be segregated. So she and I sat here for a while and batted that around. Now, she tells me they are organized- not organizing, they're already organized and have had their second Black homecoming affair. So we kind of tangled about that. But anyway, she came to thank me for something that I had done for her that I had forgotten about, and she waited until her husband who was with her left the room. And when he got up to go to bathroom, she said, "I was friends with Jeannine" - that's my older daughter-"and I have never had the opportunity to thank you for what you did for me when I was a teenager and got of school, and I want to thank you for it." So it has done my heart good. I had a phone call just this spring from a little girl who lived over behind the coal mine. We used to have a coal mine here in town, near Kane Homes, out there. Her stepfather was in our choir. He was a deacon. He was in our choir. And with the environment that darling little girl had two strikes against her to start with. But she came to me one day, and she said, "I'd like to be like you. What can I do?" And I tried to tell her some of the little things. She was a business ed major, and I said, "You're going to run into all kinds of prejudice. I ran into it. But don't let it get you down. You keep right on going and have faith in God, and it will work out." And I had forgotten about the child. She finally got out of school to teach, and she called me this spring from Chicago, and I bet she talked for an hour. She said to me what I told you about that Black lady that was a secretary to a lawyer? She said that she thought so many times of things I had said to her, and she wanted me to know that after all these years that she appreciated what I had said to her and the encouragement I had given her. So those things have made me feel good. Somebody did that to me, pushed me along. I had some white teachers that I know I would have quit the Children's School and I would of quit Brokaw had it not been for some of those things those teachers said to me. You know that fifth grade teacher that I told spent time over and above the call of duty to help me when I was a kid and I went back to school. I only saw her about once a year or so because she had married this guy, and they lived up on North Main. Do you know that when Howard Brent died, I went to the front door when the doorbell rang, and there she stood with a great big German chocolate cake she had baked and brought to me. Can you imagine that? Wasn't that sweet? She was an old, old woman by that time, but she made this cake and brought it. In a small town, you have these friends that mean a lot to you, you know it. They mean a lot to help you get some things accomplished. And when you get prejudice problems thrown at you, there's always somebody over here that you can go to to kind of help you.
MP I was going to ask you-I remember that several people have said that in the early days ISU did not permit Black students to live in the dormitories, and I was wondering if you had any Black students who lived with you during this time?
LP No, there were homes-the Black ladies in Normal. Mrs. Headley built a house purposely large enough there on Willow Street-not on Willow-on Locust Street. The house is still standing. She had it planned so that the students didn't have to come through her part. But she had a first floor room right here so she could see who came and went. They did a lot of entertaining there, and I always felt badly. On the weekend, you know, those kids could talk about catching such and such a train or an inter-urban to go home, and all I had to do was get on the streetcar and ride for a half hour and I was home. And I always felt left out, but we had a lot of good parties out at Mrs. Headley's. Irene Thomas, who lived there on Willow Street at Fell Avenue where they have now built two or three dormitories-one was Irene Thomas and one was Mrs. "Wash" Thomas. It was two brothers' wives, and they kept students. And we used to have some-I was invited-nice parties out there. This is a different subject, but I don't know if anybody else in town can think of this to tell you if they even know about it. But I want to tell you about two Black businesses in Normal. These two Thomas-one was Wash Thomas. Everett Thomas and Wash Thomas were brothers. They had houses on the corner of Willow and Fell Avenue, and one right next door on Willow. They had a blacksmith shop on Linden Street, just north of College Avenue, the northwest corner. It was Ash Street then, but it is College now. Down there kind of catty-corner from what's now Laesch Dairy. Kind of to the left across the street. And they had their own horseshoe business. They were there when I was a kid riding the old loop streetcar to go to Dabneys'. And they owned their home, and I told you where they were located. And the women kept the students, and the men had this blacksmith shop. And one Thomas died, and then finally the brother died, and I guess the women probably sold the land. But I don't know that anybody else in town would even remember that or know that. Loretta Reeves Thomas is the daughter of Everett Thomas.
MP Maybe Leslie Smith might. I'll ask him.
LP I doubt it, because the Smiths-so many people stayed within their own little circle. We didn't get around in cars and things like we do now. The only way I know it was because if I got off downtown in Normal and walked to the Dabneys', I walked by there. This wasn't something that was discussed. You just saw it. I would stand and see them hammering the horseshoe in, you know. And to me this was interesting. But these two Mrs. Thomases belonged to these [clubs]. I think one was in Progressives and one was in Three C's, or maybe both of them were in Three C's.
MP Did the Three C's-someone had spoken about a center, a community center for Blacks that was located somewhere near where the city hall is located. Do you know the name of that? Someone was trying to think of the name of it.
LP All I know is just Community Center. Because Myrna wanted to go, and we wouldn't let her go unless some of us went with her, which was seldom.
MP It was operated by the Three C Club?
LP No, not the Three C Club. I don't know. Who could we ask? Maybe Leslie [Smith] will remember more about it. If Jeanine were living, we could ask her. Ask Kathryn [Dean] and Caribel [Washington] about it. I know Jeannine. It was at the time Jeannine was wanting to go, and sometimes they didn't have a very good reputation coming out, and we wouldn't let her go, and she'd slip off and go anyway. We did have a Three C party there one day, one afternoon. You could rent it for parties, but it was on the grounds just a little to the north of where Bloomington City Hall is right now. But I can't tell you. Ask Caribel. One of the things, when my friend came from Indianapolis a year ago, she wanted to know where the Negro ghetto was, and we told her we had no Negro ghetto-Black ghetto she called it. I said we didn't have any. Well, she couldn't believe it. So while she was here, she had Myrna put her in a car, and Myrna drove her all around town. We as such really didn't have one. Now we had areas that had maybe a whole block or two blocks predominantly Negro, but there'd be one or two white families stuck in there some place. And there was a time when Howard and I were hunting for a house. You could buy anywhere in this town if you had the price to pay.
? So housing was (unintelligible)?
LP They were just scattered all over the town.
? Neighborhoods were more on a class basis than a race basis, on an economic class basis.
LP Wherever you could buy a house. Now, I don't know if they could of ever bought up with the "fighting Irish" up on the northwest end of town or not, and yet there is an area up there where the Hoseas and the Sargents and all that group of people. And I think you ought to interview some of those Hosea girls. H-O-S-E-A . Because they lived up in the northwest end of town, and there was a little settlement of us up there. But as I say, there were white folks across the street or next door. They all went to school together and worked together and ate together. The parents were friends, but this girlfriend from Indianapolis that came over with Myrna she just couldn't believe this.
MP There had to be a ghetto. Two more things I want to ask you about, and one is you mentioned the Springfield riots and that somebody...
LP My stepfather was in Springfield when this went on. Other than he just said it was terrible.
MP He just observed it.
LP But I see there's an article in here about it. (pause) When I was at ISU, Old Main was there, and, I think, I told in my notes there was a tree still out there that my grandfather had planted with a plaque on it. They had on the corner what we called a Station Store that sold books like that Co-op. Is it Read's? Well, anyway, the Station Store was on the campus side where the old student union is. We could go in there and buy food, but we couldn't stay there and eat it. And down in the basement of Old Main underneath the steps was a corner that was designated, at least that's where I was told, we had to eat our lunch. And I've eaten many a lunch that I've taken from home down under the steps of Old Main because that was the only place we could eat. You want to hear something funny? We had Sunday dresses, and we had school dresses. Dean Barton was Dean of Women. Dean Barton was six feet tall, very, very thin, a "dried up, old maid." She was the Dean of Women. And by Mama and Aunt Lucy being born and raised in Normal, they had been in school with Dean Barton. And I had a red dress, a red pongee silk dress, with a white collar and a white dickey. It was a tailored dress with white cuffs. And it was a Sunday dress. It was washable. So I had to take my Sunday clothes and wear them to ISU to school. So one day I had on this red dress and I was in class, and somebody came and told the teacher that Ms. Miller was wanted in Dean Barton's office. And I thought, "Oh, Lord, what have I done now?" So I went down to Dean Barton's office, and she said, "You have on a red dress." And I said, "Yes." [She said] "I do not want you to wear that red dress to school anymore." And I said, "Why?" [She said] "Well, red arouses passion." And I said, "But this is one of my Sunday dresses. This isn't a school dress. This is one of my Sunday dresses." She didn't care what it was. "Don't wear this red dress to school anymore." So I went home, and I told Mama that I got called into the Dean Barton's office. Mama called her Lillian. "What did Lillian want?" So I told Mama what she said, and Mama said, "You should of told her that's it too bad that she didn't wear red more often. She wouldn't be a dried up, old maid." And I said that if I'd said that she would of expelled me. "I can't answer her like that." So I didn't wear the red dress right away. I waited about a month, and I wore the red dress back to school. But I was kind of prepared for her that time and, of course, I no more than got in Old Main, and I walked into her. She looked at me, but she didn't say anything.
MP She knew you were trying to provoke something.
LP Wasn't that terrible?
MP I know what I wanted to ask you. What prominent Black people would you say passed through Bloomington-in the sense that they came here to perform, to speak? That you remember?
LP (Mrs. Posey offers guests something to drink) When I was a child, Booker T. Washington came here, and he was at the Union Baptist Church-the old Union Baptist Church there on Jackson Street. We didn't know what air conditioning was in those days. They didn't even have electric fans in those days. And Mama dressed me up in this little white dress, and we went real early so we could get a good seat. Mama got a front seat. And we sat there and waited, and, of course, the seat was hard. I don't know what the man talked about, but I remember what he looked like. But that was the first time I saw Booker T. Washington. I don't know how old I was, but I was a kid, and I can remember this, and the church was packed. People were outdoors, and he'd talk loud with the window open so that they could hear. And then ISU brought wonderful people here for programs. Marian Anderson was here a couple of times. [William] Warfield was here. [Paul] Robeson was here. I can't-who was that who married Adam Clayton Powell?
MP Hazel Scott?
LP Hazel Scott. All these marvelous actors ISU had. I think the tickets were only a couple of dollars, and we could go. I've got all kinds of programs back there. They had them in Capen Auditorium. They didn't have all these other buildings then.
MP Any other entertainment brought here by the Black community that you remember?
LP The Black community didn't do anything that I can remember. Maybe someone else will remember. If they did, I didn't get to go.
MP Anything else that you think we've not covered? Do know you know about that-what was called the National Council for Negro Women? Were you involved in that? (partially audible mention of Mary Church Terrell and Council for Negro Women)
LP What is this? I belonged to it in Peoria. It ends in Colored Women. It's a state association. They gave my granddaughter a scholarship-a state association. Federated Clubs or something. Yes. Kathryn Dean will know all about that. Because I transferred from Peoria to Bloomington's club when I moved back home, and they met at night, and I pulled out because I didn't want to be going and coming in here in the parking lot at 10:00 or 10:30 at night. But I belonged to it in Peoria-can't even remember the name of the thing, but they gave my granddaughter a scholarship.
MP Well, thank you.
MP Really, would you say that you were about the most prominent Black professional person in Bloomington for quite a long time?
LP I wouldn't want to say that. That's a loaded question.
LP Time came along Caribel [Washington] got very active in many, many things. Things that she will have to tell you about because she has really done a nice job here in this town. When I came along and was working underhanded, quietly, the little things that I managed to do, the people I managed to help get jobs in this town-it was all done quietly without any big conversation about. It was just done quietly, so therefore a Negro popped up in a job, and nobody knew how they got there. But they got there and stayed.
MP There was no organizational effort you're saying.
LP No. If there was, I didn't know anything about it. But then I had my hands in so many things.
End Side B