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

Robert and Lillian Boykin

Brief Biography:

Mrs Boykin was born In Tennessee; Mr Boykin was born in Mississippi. Their families both moved to Arkansas where they met and married. Their early years were filled with hard farm work. After coming to Bloomington, Mrs. Boykin worked in domestic service for various prominent Bloomington families and socially was involved with women's clubs and church. Mr. Boykin was well-known as a gardener or yardman.

Tape 1

Interviewer: Mildred Pratt | Date: January 13 1986

Side A

MP Today is January 13, 1986. I am interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Robert Boykin, whose address is 104 North Eugene Street in Bloomington, Illinois.
LB The initial is L. Augusta. Lillian Augusta was the name, but we just used the L.
MP Lillian Augusta is your married name-your maiden name?
LB My maiden name was Lillian Augusta Heaston.
MP Lillian Augusta. Spell Heaston for me.
LB H-E-A-S-T-O-N.
MP All right. So if you will tell me when and where you were born?
LB I was born in Randolph, Tennessee. I was born in Tennessee. The year was 1908, February 22.
MP Now who were your parents?
LB Doshie Heaston and Jake Heaston.
MP Now were they involved in slavery or their parents involved in slavery?
LB They wasn't involved in slavery, but I think they parents was. Now I really couldn't go back to that.
MP Now did they ever talk with you at all about slavery and what it was like?
LB It was bad, they said slavery was bad. Now I don't really know about that. I can't remember. They said it was a pretty rough deal-that slavery was. Now he may be able to tell you more with his mother and father than I can tell you.
MP How did they happen to come to Tennessee, your parents?
RB They were there when I was born.
MP But I thought they may have told you how they came there. Tell me what life was like growing up in Randolph, Tennessee for you.
LB It was real good. It was nice.
MP How many children did your parents have?
LB Now my mother had thirteen. And it's only two of us left. But she was the mother of thirteen children, my mother was-and father.
MP What kind of work did they do?
LB Farm-work. They were farmers.
MP Did they own their own farm?
LB No, they-sharecroppers. They had the cotton and the corn and the beans and peas and stuff like that. The main object was the cotton. They raised an awful lot of cotton and corn.
MP Now did the children help on the farm?
LB Oh yes, we chopped cotton, and we picked cotton, and we did that kind of stuff. Then we left Tennessee and came to Arkansas.
MP How old were you then?
LB I was about ten, and my sister was about eight. Yeah. About ten when we left there.
MP Why did you go to Arkansas?
LB I don't know. That was my mother and father's idea to do that.
MP I thought they may have told you.
LB For a better living, I am pretty sure of that.
MP Yes. I think you're right. So what do you know about that experience in Arkansas? What part of Arkansas?
LB Luxora. And we farmed there. And we done farming there and then my mother she done laundry work you know for the people and stuff of that sort, you know. We done our farming there, and we lived in Arkansas until I was married. And then I came to Illinois.
MP Now when you say your mother did washing and laundry and that type of thing- she did that for the family that you were sharecropping for? Or any white family?
LB Any white family that needed it.
MP Do you remember anything about what life was like for Black people in Arkansas where you lived?
RB Very, very rough. (laughs)
MP Tell me what you mean by that.
LB It was really kind of a rough deal. They paid you nothing much and, of course, the laundry didn't amount to anything you know, but it was kind of a rough life in Arkansas. And then as the years grow, it got a little better and a little better.
MP Do you remember any lynching taking place there?
LBNo, no. They told us what to do, and we did that. And for my parents they didn't have any trouble, you know, because they obeyed. They knew what they had to do and they obeyed them, and they didn't have any trouble. And we lived there for many years. Then later on, my mother and dad moved from the farm and bought them a little house in the town of Luxora. And that is where they were when I came to Illinois.
MP Now what about your education?
LB My education was very poor. Seventh grade was as far as I could go in school because I had to help work and help with the other children. Now my other sister got a better education. The ones that died got a better education. All of them got a better education because I was the oldest. Mama, would take me to do the laundry and that's what I learned, and that's what I'm doing right these days. I've retired but I do a little laundry around to kind of keep us moving along.
MP Now then you-when you got married, you moved to Illinois. And how old were you? Do you remember how old you were then?
LB When I moved here?
MP Yes.
LB Twenty.
MP You were twenty. And how did you happen to decide to come to Illinois?
LB Well, his brother was here. His brother lived in Illinois in Bloomington so we come up with him. And then we got us a little cottage and kind of rented along, you know.
MP You rented a small house?
LB We rented a little house here in Bloomington.
MP What year would that have been when you came? It was around 1928, right?
LB Yes.
MP Now, did you have difficulty renting a house?
LB No, because while we didn't-we rented from a Colored women. She was more of a Jewish.
MP She was Jewish, but she was Black?
LB Un-huh. She was mixed-Jewish and Black. And we moved in with our brother-in-law for a while, and this woman's brother lived right across the street from us. "Curly" Shields was his name, and Jenny Johnson was her name. And they kind of felt-Jenny asked me did I want a little house to myself? And I told her I would like to have it. And she give me a key and told me to go out on Howard Street, and it was a little three-room house out there. And we lived there I think about twelve or thirteen years. And then we found this little place, and then we bought this little house. And we have been here ever after. We moved here in 1941. Paid for this little house in [19]42. [19]43 my little girl was born.
MP How many children do you have?
LB I only have one, but my husband was married before I was. And I have one little gal. Of course, she is a big one now. She is grown and is forty-two years. She was born right here in this little house. She married right here in this little house.
MP A very historic house, isn't it.
LB Now, I tell my little daughter-she had a little home down on Empire, and then I bought her that house up here on the corner, and when I got this little house, I said, "Now that little house up there is yours." "Oh no, Mama," she says, "My husband puts on a pair of pants like my daddy. And if I get a house, we'll buy one." So then that's for rent up there, of course. So I said, "Well okay, if that is the way you want it." "But this house." she says.I said, "When you're gone, you do what you want with it." Well she said, "This one will never be sold as long as I can half way manage because my whole life is here." And that is true, she was born here, raised here and married here. So this little house is her whole life. She said, "How many houses we get or however well we do, this will always be home with me." And that is the way she felt.
MP I am sure she feels very close to the house. Now when you came here, did you work? Did you get a job? And what did you do?
LB I worked in a hotel. Make beds and thing like that.
MP What hotel do you remember?
LB Now it is torn down. It was American Hotel.
MP How did you get that job?
LB A friend of mine, a lady friend of mine. This Mr. Shields, he had an awful lot of friends, and he was friends with this woman and she asked, "Would you like to make beds?" I said, "I would like to do anything for a quarter." Nessie Crawford was her name. And we worked in that hotel. We would go at about 8:00 [A. M.] and worked to about 1:00 [P. M.] and make beds and do things like that. Then later on in life I started kind of doing day work. I done quite a bit of day work. In fact, I have done day work until I retired. And then I've done a little laundry, too, but then when I retired that devilish paper there put me into doing what I am doing because I was just doing just a few little shirts. Here come the Pantagraph, and that man and woman they got to talking, and I told them when I retired I would do a little laundry work. Well, of course, when I told them I did laundry work, I went to the doctor-he [Mr. Boykin] and I both. And when I went into the medical center they said, "Would you do my laundry." I said, "No, I am not going to do all of this stuff. I am going to do my own doctor and my nurse and that's it." And that's the way I got into this mess. And I have just enough laundry to keep me going.
MP And not make you` too tired.
LB No. When I get too tired I just sit down and rest. Then I'll do something else and, of course, by the looks of this house I don't do much cleaning. Just don't look too hard because I don't.
MP I wish mine was this clean.
LB I don't have time to give it really what it needs, but I enjoy my little work that I do, and that is the way it is.
MP Now tell me. You said most Black women-I gather in the early days the primary work they did was working, doing day work, right?
LB Yes, that's right, day work.
MP Now was there any kind of organization that you know of that recruited Black women to do that kind of work to your knowledge?
LB Not that I know of. You know these people would have their ads in the paper and call different ones. So maybe I would do a day's work for this woman, and she'd tell that woman and then on and on. At one time I had about five days that I was doing. And the most we did-the Black people-was cook and do day work. And then after these plants opened up and things of that sort, then we got away from that stuff. There ain't too many day-work women doing it now. And there ain't too many cooks because most of the people, the older folks that they had-chauffeurs and cooks and so forth and so on, and I cooked too some-they died out.
MP And so now the whites do their own work.
LB They mostly do their own work, and I used to serve parties. I said to a friend of mine whenever any older person would die- white- you can rest assured you were going to make some good money because you would go there and serve hors d'oeuvres, and the men would work at the bar. But now there isn't too much of that anymore.
MP I see. How would you describe life for Blacks in the early days in Bloomington? Was there very much discrimination, segregation? Would you tell me what you know about it?
LB At one time they did not even let you eat in a restaurant here. I remember you would go and get your hamburger, get in your car, and get on down the road. You couldn't sit down and have a hamburger. Bloomington has changed an awful lot since I have been here. Well, in the line of fifty years it should, don't' you think.
MP Yes, that is right.
LB Can't stay the same thing. It was pretty, pretty bad and they had places where you could sit in the theater. Places where you'd go to the bath downtown.
MP A special bathroom for Blacks?
LB For Blacks. And places-you couldn't go and sit down and have a decent meal in none of these restaurants. And if you wanted a hamburger, you would have to go there and order it and get on out. You couldn't sit there and eat a hamburger when I first came to Bloomington. But it have really, really turned around. Now you can practically, you know, eat any place you want to eat, go anywhere you want to go, and then we have Blacks working in stores and things of that sort. When I came to Bloomington, it wasn't that way.
MP Blacks did not work as cashiers or clerks.
LB No, they didn't do that.
MP Now tell me, I know in the South when Black people worked for whites, you had to go through the back door. Was that true in Bloomington?
LB Yes, when I went to work, I would go around to the back and come in.
MP Was that because they required you to do it or because that was custom?
LB That was the custom. When I went to work, that is what we did. I have worked for some very, very nice ones. They said, "Come in this way, Augusta" And so many of them would say, "Let's sit down and have a bite to eat." Well I could see the change was being made. And I'd say, "I have a little bit I'm doing." "Now come on now we are going to sit down and eat and talk," And they were very-I will say they were very nice to me. But being from the South I knowed my cue, and I know what to do, how to do it, and the way to do it. But it worked out real good, and when I retired from doing day work, I had some very nice people I worked for, and they were very nice to me. And I got along. But the South, that was a rough deal. I left there when I was twenty years old. I got tired of the cotton sack, chopping cotton, and picking cotton and I was scared to death of worms and snakes, and I was just had a terrible time. But after I grew up I said, "Well now, I don't have to stay here and do this kind of stuff," and then we moved on up. And we have gotten along real well since we have been here. When they didn't want us in their places, we'd go get us our little hamburger or go get whatever we wanted to eat and get in our little car and just a bunch of us, and we'd go out and eat and enjoy it.
MP So Blacks had their own social life. Would you describe what social life was generally like?
LB Now here in Bloomington we have a very nice social life, I think. You know when I got here, they had clubs and they had the Civic Women that is a Federated Club. And then they had a Domestic Arts, which was a Federated Club.
MP Now tell me about Domestic Arts Club.
LB Well I was a Civic Woman, but I never was-the Domestic Arts did just about the same thing the Civic Women did. They both worked-because they're Federated Women. They worked together. Then we had a couple of clubs, Progressive and the Three C's. Those are what you call social clubs.
MP Now to your knowledge do you think Black people did anything at all to bring about the changes you refer to-that now Blacks could eat in restaurants? Do you know if Black people did anything to cause the change?
LB Oh yeah. You see we had a-what was that? The NAACP. I remember one year the president of the NAACP was going to be a Black Santa Claus, and they caused an awful lot of trouble for whites about that. But, Honey the NAACP they didn't stop. And the people that was here that wanted to stand up, they stood on their feet and when the deal was ended up it was a change made, but it was the people who had the better education and that understood and had a little something to go about. And then they got it working until they worked it up. Now it is altogether different than what it was. I know when we couldn't-let me see, it was this house. There was about three houses here on this side of town that Black people could live in. The rest of them you could go no further than-I had a little friend that said, "The furthest we could go out east was with a uniform." With a white uniform we could go as far as we wanted out east, but we'd have to have a white uniform. But anymore wherever your money can buy a house, you can have one anywhere in this city.
MP So it was pretty much Black people could not move beyond where you are living now?
LB That's right. Now we had about three or four Colored over here on this side of town, but anymore-now I worked for a woman who was working with the real estate, and she just didn't approve of the way they were (inaudible)-Mrs. Adams. And she would say, I am going to Peoria and get my license, and if you can buy a house next door to me then you buy that house.
MP Adams. What's her name?
LB Adeline Adams.
MP Do you know her very well?
LB Oh, very well. She was a jewel.
MP When did you learn about her?
LB Well, I learned about her through Mrs. Hazle Buck Ewing. That castle out there. I worked for Mrs. Adams. She came one day and asked me to do some shirts for her husband, and I was home and I did it. Then she just kind of got acquainted with me. She'd come in. We'd sit down, and I would have coffee and everything. Then her husband died, and then she was Mrs. Ewing's secretary. And she said, "How would you like to work for Mrs. Ewing?" And I said, "They tell me she is pretty hard to work for." She says, "I don't think so. I think you will get along with her." And I went in there and worked for her for eleven years. I did her laundry and then when her cook went away, I did her cooking. I would do some of everything over there, but she was a little old woman-real old with plenty of money, and I often think of that kitchen window there in my dining room. Now she came to me one day and said, "I am going to give you a little something and you use it." She knew I had a little house. "I want you to get you something for your little house." I tell you I held that $50.00 dollar bill about two years. I went to Seattle, Washington. I pinned it on me. I went to Memphis, Tennessee. I pinned it on me. One day I was sitting in my kitchen, and I said to my husband, "You know what I am going to do." It was two little windows on that side. We did a lot of mess to this house, and I said, "I am going to put in a picture window in it from Hazle Buck Ewing. And $50.00 did that window. That put that window in there-that picture window. But there was two little windows there, and I wanted a big window and I said, "You know what I am going to do with her $50.00. I am going to have me a window." And that is what I did. And she was very nice. And she just kind of sit down, she'd say, "I don't want you.." I quit her one time. She kind of got on my nerves. Then she came by, and she was crying. I said, "Don't cry." Boy, it was raining. I said, "Sit down. Don't cry." And she said, "Well, I want you to live with me until I die. I don't want you to leave me." And I went back that next week, and I was there. And I hate that she died. And she passed on.
MP Now you didn't stay in the home did you?
LB No, I lived here.
MP So you worked for her until she died?
LB I worked for her until she died. And then I had another couple I worked for. They call them the Sopers [Horace and Anne]. They used to own the American Foundry. And that little old woman come to me. I worked for her four or five years, and then she come and said, "Now you stay with me until I die." I said, "How do we know who is going to die first?" And I was looking right down on her when she passed and so did her husband. She had a stroke and they had to take her to the hospital and then her son-she had two of the sweetest children. She had three but one died. And he says, "Now Augusta, somebody's got to be with mother every day." I said, "I'll take one from seven to three." Then I said, "I want you to get a nurse from three until eleven. Then get another from eleven to seven because she is going to have someone around the clock." He said, "I'll do that. I'll do that." And he told the nurses now when you fix her breakfast, fix Augusta's breakfast. And he said, "I want you to treat her as-because she is our Mama." He wanted to say my Black Mammy. (laughter)
MP You understood that?
LB And when the old lady died-when she died, I was sitting there looking at her, and her daughter had just left out. Am I keeping you?
MP No, no.
LB Now, he ain't a talker.
MP We'll give him a chance.
LB Her daughter came from Denver, and she asked, "Augusta do you think I ought to go?" I said, "She had a good breakfast. I think you should." And the mother was just telling her, "Go ahead. Now you all go ahead and get started." I got kind of mad with Mrs. Soper, pushing her daughter out like that. So when the girl got to the elevator, her and her husband, he said, "It won't be very long." And Mrs. Campbell started crying and I started crying. And he said, "Now, don't you all do this. Now, Augusta, you stay here and tell us just how she' s doing."I went back and sat down by the bed, and Mrs. Soper said, "Is they gone?" And I said, "Yes, they gone." And I was reading the paper. She said, "Take my hand"-one hand was paralyzed. She said, "Take my hand here and put it across my stomach." So I did. And I said now, "You go to sleep." I was sitting there reading, and I looked over there at her and I said, "Oh my God." I just went to the nurse's station which was just around the corner, and I said, "My little girl is in trouble." And they went there and looked, "Oh my God, she has had a heart attack." So they struck out, and I was running trying to get over ahold of Clint. That was her son. So the nurse said, "I will get him." I knew he was out at the club playing because I had told him to go ahead. And she got him and he said, "She's gone." But I'm telling you I was first in the room, and I was first to get a cup of coffee and I run and sit down. I had called him to come. I was waiting for him. I was going up the elevator and down and up that elevator and down. Pretty soon he's staying over there talking to the nurses, and he said, "Here she is." And he grabbed me and just hugged me. And I said, "Don't be crying." I done cried from the beginning. I said, "Don't be crying. Don't be crying. She's better off." I said, "My coat is in there, but I don't want to go in there because they have covered her head up." He said, "Well, you get your purse, and the rest of the stuff we'll have brought to you." He said, "Can you drive?" I said, "Oh, yeah. I can go home all right." He said, "We'll talk to you." And I said, "I did my best." He said, "You have." [I said], "But I want to see her"-because you see when she died, she was kind of struggling, and she didn't look just like Mrs. Soper. I said, "Now, I know you all don't like open caskets, but you all are going to open it for me. I'll tell you that." He said, "We'll do whatever you want us to do." So I went to my club meeting, and then that Sunday I went to church, and when I come from church, my husband said, "Them Sopers have called all ready." They called me that Saturday and told me to come over and get her clothes. He said, "Now we don't know what to put on her." So I went and picked this out and I picked this out and I had to do the same thing for the mister-twenty days difference in their deaths. He died first and then she died. I said, "Now, here's her clothes. Now, when you get her all fixed and get the beautician and everything, I want to see her." And when I looked at her, she looked so nice, you know, just like Mrs. Soper should. "You going to the funeral?" I said, "I'm not a funeral goer." But I had to go. Both of them. Now, that's to show you they can be nice. This woman was from Virginia. Mrs. Soper was from Virginia. But she was the nicest person you ever want to meet and so was Mr. Soper. I call them my little children. Every evening I'd take them-they would go to the front room and watch TV and have their evening meal I cooked for them-their little tables, TV tables. And I would say, "Now come on little folks. Come on my little children." And I enjoyed them-every job I worked on I really truly enjoyed. Because I had to work, and I had a kid I was trying to educate, and it takes money to educate your kids, and I had to work and my husband was doing his little bit, but it took two to do it right.
MP But that is why you people made it through the Depression pretty well because you both had jobs.
LB We both worked. And at that particular time they were paying a dollar a day and two dollars a day for work. That is what they paid. A dollar or a dollar and a half-if they give you a dollar and half a day to work you were making nice money. But things were cheaper then. You could get five nice pork chops for a quarter.
MP I understand what you are saying.
LB But you can't do it no more. And you could get a sack of flour for about twenty-five cents. The price was cheaper for the labor, and everything else was cheaper. We paid two dollars a month down through the years for a telephone. You can't do that no more.
MP Now you were telling me that Adeline Adams was one person who helped to open up housing for Blacks, was that right?
LB Uh-huh. Un-huh.
MP Now were there any other realtors who helped to make housing available to Blacks?
LB Well, most of the Black folks did, but Adeline Adams was strictly a friend. And I mean a friend to the Black. She wasn't only a friend to the whites. She says-now she was working for Mrs. Hastings and when she purchased a house, she said, "We don't sell (inaudible)." She said, "Then (inaudible) sell that house within a year." And that's when she stopped working for her and went on to Peoria and got her license, and then she had girls working for her. She was just a wonderful person and is up to today. She was a nice, nice person. And she said, "Augusta, why don't they want you people?" She said, "There are some white are just as dirty and ornery as the Blacks. Why don't they want you?" But Honey, she really was a good women, Adeline Adams.
MP Well, that is interesting to know. Well, I guess I can tell you I know her very well too.
LB Do you know her?
MP We bought our house from her. We feel the same way that you do about her.
LB I think that she is a dear. I really, really do. And you bought your house from her?
MP Yes, we did.
LB She's not working anymore, is she?
MP She is retired.
LB She was the most sweetest person that a person would want to meet. She would come here and sit down. Now, we was trying to buy a place for Union Baptist Church, my church.
MP Now, I haven't talked to you about your church yet. That is the next thing we are going to talk about, and then we will get to your husband.
LB Hastings had this house, and Mrs. Adams was working under her at the time. Well, one of the trustees had talked to Mrs. Hastings. And I told my husband (several words are unclear) for that person. And he called Mrs. Adams and I think we got that house for a thousand or two thousand cheaper than what Hastings wanted. But she came down to church and she said, "Now Augusta you be there for my support, and me and her sitting there together-my black face and her white face. But she was the sweetest thing, and when we bought that piece of ground, and she gave them $50.00 from her what she had made off of it. And then I decided my eyes was bad, and she gave me $50.00 to buy some glasses. She was just a wonderful person. And you bought your house from her.
MP And that is good to know because somebody told me about her brother and how he helped Blacks in various ways.
LB Chester (inaudible). Yeah, he was pretty good.
RB Yeah, he was good.
LB But I am telling you I haven't met not white, black or gray that was any nicer than Adeline Adams. And every now and then I'll call her and every now and then she would take a fit and she'd run over here. Now one day-I went with her a couple of times she was trying to sell some houses in Normal, and she said come on and ride with me. And one man she was going to sell a house to the family, she came with six packs of beer. She said, "Now I'm going to take this. Maybe he'll have."
MP Now I want to know about your church.
LB Union Baptist.
MP Have you always been a Baptist?
LB That's right. I was baptized when I was eleven years old. And I have been a Baptist every since.
MP Are you pretty active in the church?
LB I used to be, but not too much. I am president of my Mother Board right now.
MP How active were you before?
LB At first I was president of the BTU, president of the choir, vice-president of the mission. I was an all around person. And then I organized me a junior choir. I was president of my senior choir.
MP So you play music?
LB No. I don't play music. My daughter did though. And I sold her piano not too long ago because she told me, "Mom, my house is too little for it, and the boys is playing the guitars." But anyway there was a little preacher there one day, and he said, "Let's get these children something to do." So we gathered them girls and boys together, and we organized this junior choir. And they growed and growed, and I'd take them to Springfield. I had them to Peoria-different places for them to sing. The pastor would be along with us, and I worked awfully hard. When I was carrying my little girl, I was at choir rehearsal that Friday night, and she was born that Sunday.
MP You were active.
LB We wore robes, you know, and my little pastor Rev..

Side B

Side B
MP Something I was going to ask you too, how do you think the situation of Black women is different now than it was when you were growing up as a teenager, a young adult, and a young married person? Do you think that Black women have a more active life now? What do you think about that? Any differences?
LB It's a bit of a problem, isn't' it?
MP What do you think?
LB In my day, the womens were ladies. They didn't go out and find babies and come back and get on-what do you call it?
MP Welfare. Public Aid.
LB When you had a child, you were ignored in my day.
MP Oh is that right? If you had a child out of wedlock?
LB You wasn't considered, but now-anymore it's just.
MP What happened to the girls in your day if they had a child out of wedlock? What happened to them?
LB Well they had to come out of whatever they were in and rejoin. Now, the way we do it at our church when they get messed up, they have to come before the church and apologize for what they had done. And then they go on. But I don't know, it just seems so different now than then, but as my little daughter tells me, "Mama, you from the old school." Well, I guess I am from the old school because I have my thoughts and my ways.
MP But it seems like from talking with you, though, it seems as though you had a lot of freedom. You worked and you went around to a lot of activities. So you had a lot of freedom. Do you think as much freedom as women have now? Your husband gave you a lot of freedom.
LB He didn't bother me. I could do what I want to do. He never was as churchy as I was.
MP What about other women? Do you think that Black women had-they have the women's liberation movement now, you know about that, right? Do you think that has ever been a problem for Black women that they.?
LB Well I tell you. I worked all the time, and then I went with people that I thought was pretty nice folks, and I guess it's so much I didn't get into. Now, as my little daughter tells me all the time now, "Mother all you need is an ironing board and a television." Because I have always felt that my home was where I belong. And my family, I always loved my family. Now, I have a stepdaughter that I love as dear as anybody has ever loved because she has been a real little girl to me. She is older that my daughter, but she has been sweet and nice, and I loved her. I have loved her children and out those seven grandchildren I have a pair of twins, and the day those boys was born-my boy calls me up, my grandson, and says, "Mother, sit down." He said, "(unclear) is in the hospital. She's got a little boy. In fact she's got two." I was so happy.
MP So apparently your family means a great deal to you.
LB Well, that's what I have always admired-my family, and when I would do for my little family and those little kids, I just didn't have time to see what the other women was doing. I was just doing my thing. Now I love my little club-Three C. It's nice.
MP But that's about the only club you belong to now?
LB I used to belong to the Civic Women, but it was a little too much expense trying to educate a child, and I just couldn't take it. So I gave that up. But I got into this little social club, and I do enjoy it. We do have fun. And my daughter says to me, my younger daughter says, "Mama, all of you is old folks, ain't you." I said, "That's all right." We play our little bingo. We just enjoy it. And we meet about twice a month, and if the weather is bad. we don't bother with it.
MP That's great. I think you have an interesting life. Now he can talk, right? And then if there are some things that we're talking and you [Augusta] remember something.
LB I'll cut in.
RB All right. (tape is turned off) Tell me your full name.
RB Robert Lee Boykin.
MP Where were you born, Mr. Boykin?
RB I was born in Mississippi.
MP What town in Mississippi?
RB Macon, Mississippi.
MP Oh. Macon, Mississippi. That's southern Mississippi?
RB Yes.
MP What were your parents' names?
RB My mother's name was Jane Boykin, and I never seen my father.
MP You never saw your father. Do you know if any of your parents or grandparents were in slavery or anything.?
RB Oh, yes.
MP Tell me what you remember that people told you about how life was like then.
RB Well, I had Uncle Lee. He was in slavery at that time. He said he was in the service, in the war. He was just coming out of the Civil War, and he always said, "Son, when you get to be as old as I am and think about what I know," he said, "you'll be all right." But I said, "I don't think I will live that long." And the next thing about it, my mother she told me she was born during the slavery. So she couldn't remember nothing because she was young at that time. Course her brother was older than she was and so therefore, I don't know too much about back there. Now she worked. She had to work because she had quite a few children.
LB Twenty-one.
MP Your mother had twenty-one children.
RB So I picked cotton. I didn't go to school very much. I couldn't. I had to work. You know down south you raked cotton stalks. Knock cotton stalks and you rake 'em and burn the corn stalks, you know, and you had to do all of that. And yet and still if you didn't, something else would take place.
LB A whooping, huh?
RB I am not lying about that. When I was nine years old, I never will forget, I started picking up peaches-you know, separating the good from the bad. The man had a big peach orchard. And I would go out and pick, and I had separate baskets to put them in. As far as the peaches, I always separated them and always put them in the baskets to get them ready for shipping, And so I'd have a limit to get every day to get twelve bushels. I had to do that. You know they fall down on the ground. I get all them peaches and put them in the basket and wipe them off. So after I would get twelve I would take them and put them out on the (inaudible). They had the white girls come out and do that. Then the next thing, I started in the apples. I got twelve baskets of apples, and she would come down and fix them up for the shipment.
MP So is this man you worked for-your family worked for him, is that right?
RB No, I worked for him.
MP You worked for him. So he had a business then?
RB Oh yes, he was on the farm, a big orchard. My sister worked for him sometimes, doing the washing. And Mama she was laying in.
LB With twenty-one children she didn't have time.
RB She had my oldest sister-she was the one doing the supervising over us. And if you didn't do things right, she'd tear you to pieces. So I stayed there old enough until I got to working for (inaudible).
MP So you made a little more money then, right?
RB I made a little more money. They gave you $30.00 a month. They called that wages. And so I made out pretty good there to help my mother out because I had to do it. And so he had a little patch of corn there and I get in there and chop it out and take the old horse and run it around it. Put dirt up to it. I get through there get back on my orchard and picking up peaches. So I had a limited time to do that work.
MP So you didn't have any time to go to school.
RB No, Ma'am. I didn't have time to go to school.
MP Did you get any education?
RB I got a little bit. Not too much. Grade school. My teachers were named Addison Loveless and Willie Loveless. Back in them days they'd whoop you.
MP Oh yes, I know. Oh, yes I do. You obeyed your teachers then, or you got in trouble.
RB Another thing about it-what I try and tell them all-you never go to school if you ain't there when that prayer begins, you get a whooping, don't you?
LB You had to be there at school.
MP Oh, I see.
LB They had a prayer and a song. Then you'd get a whooping for being late.
RB But at that price-well, it's paid off. So I couldn't learn very much, and I looked at it my mother had so many kids I just had to help. And another thing, I missed quite a bit.
MP You helped with the children. Took care of the children.
RB We had a big watermelon patch.
LB You wasn't going to talk very much. (laughter) Got him wound up. (loud laughter)
MP What year were you born?
LB He was born April 23, but we have to figure that up.
RB I figure it was about 18.
MP That would make it about 1890 something.
RB 1896. I was born in [18]96.
MP 1896. Oh, you were born at a time when life was really rough for Black people. Particularly in Mississippi.
RB Ohh.
MP There were a lot of lynchings weren't there, at that time?
RB That's right. I know because we used to go to Alabama. I did not live far from Alabama. Alabama is just like Bloomington and Normal. Only it was a lake between you. When we would go across the lake, we'd be over in Alabama. But you wouldn't be caught over there at night either. And I didn't.
MP I am sure I know what you mean. You stayed out of there.
RB It was terrible over there. Well, the fact of the business after I got big enough, and the first crop I made was with my first cousin. And my step-daddy come over there, and he wanted to make me come back home. Well, I told him, "I ain't making nothing, and I can't help my mother with her kids." You see I had a little piece of ground with my cousin. And what I made on that ground-I helped pick there. We picked their cotton, and they helped me pick mine. And when I got a load of cotton, when we carry it to the gin, you would get half of the money for the seed, and I could help my mother with that. So he come over there and he said, "When you take that cotton to the gin I am going to tell the man not to pay you for the seed. I'll pick it up." And my cousin told, "You can't do nothing like that. You go on back on your farm. If you do that I'm going to hurt you." And so he whooped him. He whooped my. And my Uncle Jim, my uncle he come over there. He said, "Don't you ever do that again. If you do I will kill you because that is the only thing he's got to help his mother." And, of course, he had three of us working, and Mama had a lot of kids and it takes a lot to do them. So we done the best we could, and so I went on then after I got my part of the crop together. That was 1912. My brother came from Arkansas down to Mississippi, and we stayed there and finished up that little cotton, and we got the money and we left there. We come on back to Arkansas.
MP And that is where you met your wife?
LB Yes.
RB And another thing, after we got back there, we three boys stayed there.
LB Well, that's the man ain't going to talk. (laughter) The more you talk the more it comes to you.
MP The more he remembers.
RB We came back to Arkansas, and we sent our mother every month $60.00 for fourteen years. Sent her $60.00 a month.
MP That was a lot of money.
RB Sure it was a lot of money. Well, my father-in-law tried to take it, and Mama what she done-she would take that money as fast as she got it she would put it in-what's that old man's name? That old man he used to take care of us-name of Bob (unclear). He had turnip greens, buttermilk, corn bread, and sweet potatoes. (laughter)
LB You've got to be at work at one, don't you, Honey?
MP I have a class that starts at two.
RB That's the way that goes.
MP So you and your three brothers went to Arkansas. Your three brothers worked, and you did share-farm work, is that right?
RB Yes, that is right.
MP The when did you get married. First get married?
RB I got married in 1918.
MP And then, when did you come to Bloomington?
RB Wait just a minute. Let me see.
MP You came here in 1928, right?
LB Now he got married to Catherine's mother. She is sixty-eight. So you figure from sixty-seven. How much. Now Catherine was born in 1918, wasn't she? Well, you must have got married in 1917.
RB That's what I know. Yes, I got married in 1917. I will never forget that.
MP And what kind of work were you doing when you got married?
RB I was still doing farm work. I was farming in Arkansas.
MP Did you own the farm?
RB No. We were working as sharecroppers. After she was born, then I came back-I was in Osceola. Then I came from Osceola back to Luxora. She was born in Osceola. Then I came back to Luxora, Arkansas. Come back to (unclear). Then we left [there], and went to (unclear).
LB That's settled. You done a good enough job. You was supposed to be sleeping.
RB You know it comes to you.
MP And then when you were married to this nice lady, then you came to Bloomington?
RB Yes.
LB And we married in [19]23.
RB 1923.
MP Were you still doing farm work then?
RB I was working in a stave mill in Luxora, Arkansas.
MP What does that mean?
LB Make lumber.
RB You have seen a barrel. Like you used to buy these barrels by the-flour by the barrel. That's what we were making. Cutting staves for the barrels. (a couple of unclear sentences). We did that. The (unclear) Company from Saint Louis. They had two mills down in Osceola and two in Luxora. Then he had two in Burdette. You heard talk of Burdette, Arkansas? We got all of our lumber from a place we called (unclear) Bend.
MP Did you find it difficult to learn that skill, to make barrels?
RB Oh yeah. I had to learn it because.
LB Was it hard to learn?
RB No. No.
MP So you had a knack for doing that?
RB You go over in a (unclear)-you've seen a tin cutter, haven't you? You work up and down just like that. You could cut your hand.
MP Well, when you came here, what did you do? When you came to Bloomington, what did you do?
RB Well, I worked around different places. The first place I made $18.00. This old lady over on Jackson Street.
LB You worked at C and A.
MP C and A? Is it an insurance company?
LB Chicago and Alton Railroad, and then he worked for the IC [Illinois Central Railroad] on the tracks.
MP Oh, you worked on the tracks, repairing the tracks?
LB Un-huh.
MP How did you get that job?
LB Well, through different friends.
MP Did Black people have difficulty-Black men have difficulty getting jobs?
RB No.
LB Excuse me. Not on the tracks. They wasn't putting no Blacks up in the office. You worked on the tracks. They had to keep the tracks clean and keep this going and keep that-that is what most of the Blacks did on the railroad. That was about all they could do. The white-collar men was in the office. You understand what I'm saying.
RB No, I couldn't get up in there.
LB And then he done a lot of yard work. That's what he ended up doing, was yard work.
MP Gardening?
LB And cutting grass and trimming and stuff like that. When he retired that was what he was doing.
MP So the situation for Black men was pretty much the same as it was for Black women? What would you say were basically the kinds of jobs that men were doing in the 1920s, [19]30s, and [19]40s?
LB Chauffeuring and some of them did cooking, and some of them done yard work. And then some men done housework, too, like we women did. Cleaning walls and doing like that.
MP Painting maybe?
LB Yes. Yeah. Painting and scrubbing and cleaning. But most of them was chauffeurs and yardmen.
MP Now, somebody told me there was a chauffeur's club. Do you know anything about that?
LB No, but I will tell who would know about that is Ethel Murray. You talked to her that day. They called her the "sweetheart." She was the head of that. She was the woman that planned things. Now Ethel could tell you about that.
MP Now, would you say chauffeuring was the top job for Black men?
LB That's right. And then some of them they would let in these hotels as bus boys.
MP Washing dishes?
LB Un-huh.
MP Were you active in any organization Mr. Boykin, any clubs? Or you left that to the ladies?
LB He was a Mason at one time.
RB I was a Mason and a Knights of Pythias.
LB And then he worked in church for a long time. He was a trustee for down through the years, and then he was the president of the men's club of the church. He was a trustee for years.
RB Chairman of the trustees.
LB For many, many years. And then he-they had a regular men's club. I forget what they called the name of it now.
MP Men's social club maybe?
RB What did they call it?
LB Laymen's. Now they call it the Laymen's. The mens calls it the Laymen's Club. That's the mens get together, and they have a regular day for men's day as well as we have a regular day for woman's day. And he worked in that for quite a long time. Till he had-he had surgery about three years ago in his leg, and then he retired.
MP So you were a pretty active person then, Mr. Boykin?
LB In his day he was a very active person, but he kind of cut down with his health running down. It brings us all down. I sung in the choir down through the years. One day I come down. They said, "What's the matter?" I said, "I'm too old for climbing these steps." I said, "I'm going to sit right here and sing right along with you all." But I sung in the choir for years and years and the pastor and all, "Why would you." I said-I said, "I'm too old. Climbing those steps with arthritis." So I gets me a seat and sits down. I say, "I can sing just as loud as they do." Now I got on the Mother Board. We have a Mother Board. And the president of my Mother Board moved away and my pastor said, "We've got a very good vice-president, Sister Boykin. She'll take care of it." I said, "I don't want to be doing too much of nothing."
MP You want to rest. I guess you're right. What you are saying is very interesting. That both of you worked all of your lives because you had to. It was kind of hard work, physical work. So now you feel like you just want to rest.
LB To rest a little bit. I enjoy the young people. I enjoy their choir and I enjoy them singing, but for me for my part to get up there-honest to God, we've got a choir that we getting organized now for the senior citizens-we older people, you know. Our first appearance we was doing pretty good. Our voices was breaking and tearing up, but we were enjoying ourselves. And I told my husband, "Why don't you come and join the senior citizen choir. The men is joining it, too."
MP Did you join?
LB No, he ain't join.
RB But the thing about it. Don't nobody know what a fellow's feeling.
LB No, they don't.
RB I had trouble with my foot after-that's what knocked me back so much. And another thing about it, climbing those steps and on and on.
LB We got a new church there now, and down in that basement. I went down-trying to get down them steps, and the girls and all were trying to help me down. And I got down those steps and I stood and I looked, and I said, "Well I won't hit this no more." And I said to my little Mother Board- I said to them, "I have to go to the bathroom." So my pastor's wife said-I said, "We wants to go to the bathroom, but we're not going down those steps no more." She says, "Go right into the pastor's study." She says, "There's a nice little place there. You don't have to..." Here we go about four or five of us. And anymore I haven't bothered them steps because it's too hard. We can go right on out and go into the pastor's bathroom. They got a nice little vanity in there, you know. And Mrs. Bush said, "Now you older people go in that pastor's study, and if Reverend is in there tell him to be excused." Because it's just too hard for us older people. That's the reason when I get down in my basement, I stay. I got my telephone, my radio and washer and dryer and everything, and I just sit in the basement until I'm through, until we get ready to come up and have a bite to eat. And we come up and have our little dinner, and then we go back and look at TV, or either we go in the bedroom and turn that one on. But we can't- the things we used to do we just can't do anymore.
RB But you don't, don't-I ain't quit.
MP Oh, I know you haven't. But that is true, you have to keep active in some way because it makes life meaningful for you, right? Now one of the things I think is amazing and I'm going to ask you this, and I haven't asked the others, and that is, given that you didn't earn a lot of money in your working years and you've got your own homes, how do you think you people managed it when a lot of young people can't.?
LB Make enough money.
MP How do you think you managed?
LB By cutting and not trying to eat all the steaks. Not trying to have all the pork chops. Now when we bought this little place, my husband was working up here at what was called Hubbard's Cupboard at that time-the Steak-N-Shake. And the french fries that they would have today-they didn't use them, he'd bring them home, and I'd warm them up and use them. The hamburger they wouldn't use, he'd bring them home. We'd cut corners. We knowed what we could afford, and neck bones at that time wasn't but a nickel a pound or ten cents a pound. We ate cheap food and what little we did make, we put it together and saved it, and when the deal went down we had a place to stay. Then this little house up here was on the same block my house was on, and they were renting it to everything up there and I said-the man who owned the place lived in Chicago so when he came down, I told him, "Now if you give me a good deal now, I'll buy that. I don't know how."