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

Caribel Washington

Brief Biography:

Caribel Washington has lived most of her life in Bloomington.  She graduated from Bloomington High School during the Depression  and then for several years worked in a WPA educational program  for preschool children. Later she worked at State Farm Insurance  Companies when opportunities for Blacks there were very limited.  She witnessed changes within the company over time, and was involved  with union activities at State Farm. She has been very active in  church and community affairs throughout her life. In 1999 she became the first Bloomington recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award.

Caribel Washington

Interviewer: Dr. Mildred Pratt | Date: January 30 1986

Transcript: This is a January 27, 2002 version which incorporates Mrs. Washington's additions and corrections


Side A: Tape 1

MP Today is January 31, 1986, and Mrs. Caribel Washington is going to speak primarily about her various community activities and the way she got started in them.

CW My name is Caribel Washington, and I live at 506 West Jackson Street here in Bloomington. I've been involved in community work for forty years or more. You might say I kind of backed into doing community work when as a girl we were YMCA people, but we were a segregated group of young girls known as Girl Reserves. Some of us made a bit of an impression on those in authority at the "Y," and they continued to give us little nondescript chores to do until the time came that I was asked to become a committee person at YWCA. In those years we had International Services, which was the group that earned money through the YWCA to help bolster treasuries of YWCA's through out the world, and it was known as World Fellowship. For a number of years, I was chairman or a member of the World Fellowship Committee, and each fall we would promote what was called "the hanging of the greens," where we would invite people in to help us decorate the Y for Christmas. It evolved into where we would pass out little red stockings to people anytime they wanted them, and they would bring them back in at the "hanging of the greens" full of pennies, and we were able to really have a good offering of those pennies. Whether that is still carried on or not, I don't know because I haven't been involved. Then I became a member of the Board of YWCA. These was in the years when Black people did not eat in the restaurants, nor clerk in the stores, nor associate very much with anything that was not purely a Black enterprise.

MP Do you remember approximately what year that was? Was that in the forties?

CW Well, it was in the forties. It was in the late forties. Maybe I should back up and say it was in the fifties because I worked in YWCA about fourteen years, and I left then after my husband died in 1961. So it was possibly in the fifties yet. And the board finally decided they would see what they could do about opening up the restaurants or tearooms or whatever here in Bloomington. At that time even the YWCA tearoom did not feed Black people. We started there, and I guess I was the guinea pig. As long as one Black person went along with any group of people, they would be served. Well they saw me in so many places that I just was more or less known as probably the one Black person they could take along. At the same time they were trying to interest J C Penny's and some of the other stores which were around the square at that time-because Bloomington was a thriving business district-to hire Black clerks in the stores. Every now and then one would get in as a stock girl, and if business rushed, she could wait on people, and this sort of thing would occur. And oftentimes those who were in the stores, some of them would walk up and say; "Can you wait on me?""Well why can't you wait on me?" Which really illustrated very much the ambiguity of segregation through these things because many people didn't care. They wanted to get in a store and get out of a store. (laughs softly) They weren't particular who waited on them. These trends probably helped break down some of the segregation. There were selected places you could go and some you couldn't. The hardest places to break down were the greasy spoons like the hamburger places, you know, and these little hole in the wall joints who weren't too particular. But on the other hand, I think many Blacks weren't particular about going to them either. So it didn't really matter much.

MP So what you're saying is that the YWCA kind of helped, and at that time you were serving on the board.

CW I was on the board. The real thrust in Bloomington-Normal for Blacks to be hired came when General Electric moved into Bloomington. They came in, and they did not make selective employment. They hired people, and there were instances when people would refuse to work because they weren't going to work with Blacks. I learned that the personnel man said to them "Well, we come from New York, and we have shareholders in our company, and we could not let them come into any plant and not find Black workers." So this really was the initiation of pretty much open employment in Bloomington. Now Eureka Williams is a home grown organization-has been here all the time-but they did not hire blacks per se until the war. In the time of the Second World War, men who were too old-you know who were still in the draft but too old to go into service, had to go the war plant to work, which, of course, meant they were sweepers. And then if they showed a little aptitude toward minor machinery and that, they worked. Which is not true because both men and women work at Eureka Williams now. It is supposed to be or it was in the time of the war, one of the finest precision tool shops in America, and they had a lot of contracts for the armed services. Whether that's still true or not, I don't know, but I would almost believe that partially it is. (tape stopped)

CW One of the nice parts of being in YWCA was that you were not only involved as a local person, you were involved as a national person, and even as international person. I was privileged to attend the centennial anniversary of YWCA in New York City. This was a time when the really big people of New York did a great deal for YWCA. I can remember that Rockefeller Center was planted with blue and white flowers in deference to Mrs. Rockefeller, who at that time was interested in International World Fellowship. (phone rings and tape is stopped) Rockefeller Center was very beautiful at that time, and we learned that this was a very exceptional thing for any one group, any one organization, to receive that kind of recognition at Rockefeller Center. Mrs. Rockefeller also had a luncheon, which I think was very wonderful, and I was a part of that not because of who I was, but the very fact that every chairman of World Fellowship was invited to the luncheon. And there, I met Dr. Ralph Bunche and Henry Cabot Lodge. This was really a high moment in my life. I think that's one of the reasons why I'm not very impressed with people much. They were very human people. I would never have met them in any other circumstance, I believe. They were kind, they were interesting, and I really felt proud that I was able to be a part of that particular luncheon.

MP Did you get a photograph?

CW No, no, I'm not a photograph person. And I don't even remember if photographs were taken at that time, but both Dr. Bunche and Mr. Lodge then had other appearances on the schedule of YWCA because we were there for a week. It was a very . . .

MP Which Rockefeller was this now?

CW It was the one that's governor.

MP Oh, Nelson Rockefeller. Yes.

CW This was his first wife, not his second wife. That was back in the late fifties. I also-well, I went to New York twice for YWCA. We had a very outgoing, very interesting director at that time. I believe it depended on who was the director and how much interest she had in international affairs is why this happened, but she had been all over the world. She had lived in India for a number of years.

MP Do you remember her name?

CW Yes, Elizabeth Burnham. She's still living. I learned that she is. She's quite old. She's in California. I can't tell you exactly where. But after she retired from the YWCA, she married. I might be able to find that for you because there's someone in this area that corresponds with her. And I'll have to think of who it is. But she is-she was still living, but she was a very interesting, interesting woman. And so I felt like these experiences came to me more because of her than for any other reason. Then I became president of YWCA, which was a nice time, too, in my life because . . .

MP Was that after they became integrated? The Y was integrated?

CW Well, see I did fourteen continuous years, you know, and there were changes all along the way. By that time, yes, anyone could become a part of, or work in, or be a member of, or even be board members and committee members.

MP And so that was around the late 1950's.

CW 1950s, yes.

MP That's interesting, because in other sections of the country they still had separate Y's.

CW Yes, yes, it was in the fifties. I can remember because my husband used to chauffeur me and Miss Burnham around different places. Out of probably any publicity that I had gotten through YWCA, I really believe we did a good work. I think we were able to pave the way for other organizations to start a movement toward integration, which was interesting. One other thing that really happened to me that I thought was-of course, all of this to a Black person looks funny. You know? You think, "Well." But anyway I had a very dear friend who was a part of the Methodist Women at that time. This was about the time, and I believe this was 1948 I think, if I'm correct. I'll have to look back on that. The Methodist Women adopted the interracial charter, So the women of Illinois came back, and they decided, "Now, we've adopted this charter. We really must do something about it." So I became a member of the Methodist Church. I was loaned to them for eight years. I did district work in Christian Social Relations and I did state work, because four years I was a district officer, and then four years I was a state officer in the Woman's Society of Christian Services, called something else now. But it's still the women's work. That-that was very interesting because right here in Central Illinois is one of the largest strongholds of all-white communities anywhere, I think, in the world. The church, the Methodist Church, of course, is very strong through this area. It would just be extremely funny. I would-in some places I would have to go by bus, and when I'd get off the bus and walk, I would see window curtains, you know, flash back. And I said, "I know telephone lines got busy." (laughs) Everyone knew I was in town.

MP And they knew why you were there, too.

Part 1

Interviewer: Paul Bushnell | Date: July 31 1990

Side A; Tape One
PBThis is Paul Bushnell, and it is July 31, 1990. I am talking with Caribel Washington at her home on [address omitted]. Let's talk about the neighborhood in which you grew up, Caribel.
CWWell, from 1919 to 1957 I lived at 511 South Wright. That was our childhood home, a huge house that kind of sat on a hill that had a lot of outside doors and great big rooms, which was just wonderful to roam around in. 511 South Wright was in the neighborhood of what was known as "the line." This was the "red-light district" of Bloomington, which was just across the street from where we lived, which consisted of probably five houses on MacArthur, which was then Moulton Street, and four houses on Wright Street. Of course, we lived across the street. We knew what was happening, but we went about our own business anyway.
[text omitted]
PBWas there a neighborhood store near there?
CWWell, yes. We had two stores at Main Street. One was the Feicke Brothers, Feicke's Grocery Store, which was in the five hundred block. And then there was Kumle's Grocery Store, next to the poultry house, which was on the corner of Main and Oakland Avenue. Next to it was Kumle's Grocery Store. And this was a very elite grocery store, which had quite an extensive meat market, and all the groceries that could be. This was the time when you went into the store and clerks waited on you. You didn't go pick up things and put them in a basket and go to the cashier. A clerk would wait on you for everything, and you could buy the crackers loose and the rice. And everything was in bins, and buckets, and barrels. And it was kind of fun.
PBSo even in a grocery store you didn't go around picking things up for yourself?
CWOh, no. Oh, no. You walked in.. If you were going to buy meat you told the butcher what you wanted, and he would throw that big chunk of meat on the big block and cut off what you wanted if you didn't see it in. So it was a very-it was a service to into a store. Someone waited on you for everything you wanted, and they counted it up. And if you were charging it, they put it on a bill, and if you were going to pay for it, they would tear the bill off and mark it "cash."
PBThere was a fair amount of charging in those days at the grocery store?
CWOh, yes, yes. A fair amount because the big organization was the shops, and it paid once a month, you know. So you had money at the first of the month, and you settled your bills, and then you charged until the end of the month.
PBYou mean the railroad workers and people of that sort?
CWOh, yes, yes. And there were many men on the railroad and they were called the section hands, and that sort of thing, you see. And then people just simply-there was not weekly wages, I think, in many things in those days. There were times when it was pay time, and those were times when the bills got paid.
PBYour family had a charge account there too?
CWOh, yes. We had a charge account at the Feicke Store, I believe. But our dad always traded uptown at a store that was at the corner of Main and Market Street named Utesch. That was U-T-E-S-C-H. Charlie Utesch was our father's very good friend. My father had some very, very good friends among the business people. If he really want something, he would go to Utesch's to buy it.
PBPerhaps he was buying wholesale.
CWI don't know that there was an account there. We were pretty much a cash family, for the most part. There might be a bill for a little while, but not very much. I don't recall much charging in our family.
PBWell you father may have bought wholesale from Utesch, I suppose.
CWCould very well have. I really... I was too young to know how all that went about. We never had any creditors hounding, so I expect he paid his bills.
PBDo you know anything about the family that owned the store, Kumle's?
CWNot really. I knew John Kumle all of my life, since 1919. And they lived in the neighborhood, and all I know was just that Mr. Kumle was the grocer. The Feickes-there were two brothers called John and Fred. And that was spelled F-E-I-C-K. It was a strange spelling of the name. And they lived a block and a half west and a block south of us. They lived in two houses, and the houses are still there, beautifully kept houses. Robert-no, I guess their names were Rudolph and Robert-because Robert lived in one house, and Rudy lived in the other.
PBWhat street did they live on?
CWThis was East. South East Street. And I believe that was south of Woods Street, so it might have been... We lived five hundred, which was Moulton. Six hundred would have been down... It was probably eight hundred south. The houses are still there. They were shopkeepers for all of our young life.
PBYou mentioned the poultry house? What was that?
CWWell, the poultry was a huge building, a big white building that was a poultry house. It dealt in chickens. It might have dealt in other things, but all that I can recall are the chickens. And this was a business that hired the Black folks, because they killed the chickens, dressed the chickens, and did all of the work that one would do. I can recall-sometime you'll have to have Rose Anna Bell tell you because she worked in the poultry house. But this business was one of the going businesses for Black people. I supposed that maybe ten or twelve at a time would be working there in the poultry house. Now I can't tell you who had it or anything like that.
PBIt sounds like a business a little like Lakin's.
CWWell, yes, but this was huge building with a back dock on it where the trucks would bring in the chickens in coops-live chickens I'm talking about-in coops. And the people would take those chickens, and I don't know how they kept them in the house, but the ultimate result was that those chickens would go out to the markets ready for resale.
PBA major supplier then for all the area stores.
CWIt was called the Poultry House.
PBDo you know what family owned that?
CWI have no idea. Probably could pick it up from the...
PBBut there must have been a lot of people working there?
CWOh, there were. There were. I can remember part of the Stoner family worked there. I can just remember that because one of the children that I used to know well, his father worked there. The Stoners. And then one of my friends told me one time that she worked at the Poultry House. I don't know what she did there. But that was work for Black people.
PBWhat street was that on again?
CWIt was at the northeast corner of Main and Oakland Avenue.
PBMain and Oakland, yes.
CWWhat's now the bus station. Now, that was the Poultry House. And just north of that was Kumle's store. There were those only two things that were on that side of the street leading down to the railroad.
PBSo there was some really important business within the neighborhood.
CWWell, yes. You see at one time, but I can't remember that... At one time just as Wright Street ran into Oakland there was a huge building there which was a brewery at one time. But when we were children the brewery had closed, and it turned out to be a horse barn, where they had all types of horses there. I don't know what the purpose of them was. But the one man that I can remember operated that was named Stevenson. L... L.--either L. G. or L. T. Stevenson. I can just remember that. I can remember my father walking down to visit at... What did we call it? Maybe it was just the barn. I don't remember. But there was always something in the area.
PBWere there other businesses in the area?
CWJust offhand I can't think of anything.
PBWere there any doctors or lawyers in the area?
CWWell that didn't come until the Depression. That would be the late thirties. And we had a Black doctor. His name was W. B. Hatcher, who came into town. And of course, they, like all other Black people, fell on hard times. He had a wife named Estherlena and a daughter named Wilma. They ended up like everybody else, I think, on the relief and needing assistance. And for one while they lived with my mother. And he had a practice. Of course after the project started and that sort of thing, they had a couple of Black fellows who worked for the government in this relief effort. The one was named Edelbert Rogers and the other one was named... I ran across his name a little bit ago. But there were two of them, and they would write work orders for people and grocery orders. And even for the doctor I can remember I saw one of his orders once where he delivered a baby for thirty dollars. And so the government, of course, paid for that. They finally left Bloomington when the World War I soldiers' pensions were paid off in the forties. I don't think they were called... I don't guess they were called pensions, but those soldiers received a sum of money in some way. I was not involved with it any further than knowing that Dr. Hatcher and his family left when they paid that money. It had a particular name, but I can't even think of that name now.
PBYou once said, I think, in one of the earlier conversations that you had a girlfriend that lived across the street from you when you were growing up. I think a white girl that you got to know pretty well.
CWOh, yes. Her name was Ethel Lambke. That was L-A-M-B-K-E. And her father and her stepmother worked at Campbell Holton's. I forgot that Campbell Holton's was the one big business in the area. This was wholesale grocers, which took up the whole block from MacArthur Street to the railroad really, which is now Home Sweet Home. But it was huge thing then. Since then much of it has been torn down. But Campbell Holton had the big wholesale grocery of the area. And then of course Humphrey had the other one. I forgot. As I go along-Humphrey had his grocery at the viaduct, what is now, I believe, is part of the storage-the moving company people's. So there were those two things, but no Blacks were hired in those places.
PBIn the wholesale grocers?
CWNo. No. But Ethel's family... Her mother and father were speaking people, but Ethel was a lone girl, and she and I have been friends all our lives. All our lives. She came to see me last year. She finally left here and went to Albuquerque, New Mexico. And she and her daughter came back last month, and I saw her. But we grew up together, went to school together. At least to high school. I don't think she finished high school. But she would come to our house, and we'd braid her hair and smooth out her dress and see that her face was clean. But we were just really good friends.
PBHer parents both worked?
CWBoth worked all the time.
PBDo you know where they worked?
CWThey worked for Campbell Holton. That's how I happened to remember. They worked at the wholesale grocers. And her father... Well, of course, she married and left the neighborhood. But after her father died she came back into the neighborhood and that was one of the houses that-her house was at 502, I guess. No, 602 South East Street-which was part of the neighborhood that went. The housing-the urban renewal took all of that property for the housing, for government housing.
PBIn a sense your family helped to raise her.
CWWell, yes. Ethel and I did all of the little devilish things together. If one of us got in trouble, the other got in trouble because we were together.
PBDo your Halloween pranks together?
CWYeah. Well, we didn't do much visiting when mom and dad were home. They felt that she should be at home. But when she was alone all day long, then we went to school together and did everything together.
PBDo you think her parents disapproved of her playing with you?
CWI don't know that they disapproved. I think they... I think it would have been foolish to disapprove in the daytime when they were at work and they didn't know what was happening anyway. But we just didn't do a great deal of associating, but she didn't associate with anybody else either, you know. When her parents were home, they insisted on her being at home.
PBYou needed each other during the daytime.
CWYes. And she admitted the one little dark spot in our whole lives were when she took her-when my mother died in 1945, she had a two-year old son and Harvey my younger was two years old, and she kept him for... She kept him. She said, "I have a baby and you bring him." And every morning he went across the street and stayed with Ethel until I got home, and then he would come home. And she would just take him everywhere together, you know. She was just that kind of girl. She didn't think of me, I think, anymore of being Black than I thought of her as being white. And she did not think of the children that way. But her husband always did some kind of work. They were farmers... They were involved in building elevators for farmers, so he was not in Bloomington very much. But in the late years he came home. I say late years because the boys were teenagers by that time. And he came home. I think maybe they were sixteen-maybe not quite that old. But anyway, they went everywhere together. [text omitted] And when I see him now... I don't see him very often. But when I see him now he'll put his arms around me and say, "Carrie, I'm so glad..." He's the only person I let call me Carrie. "Carrie, I'm so glad to see you." But I don't what there was about him that-but he never did. I know he wanted to be married, and he came to me and said, "Carrie, I want to be married. [text omitted]" I can't remember the dates of all this. But anyway I went with him up to Holy Trinity Church and vouched for him to the Father who was there, and they were married. I don't know if that marriage is-I think it is still in existence. And I believe-he works for an automobile parts company. I don't know. But Harvey knows where he is and where he works. And I don't see him very often, but it just shows you how lives go.
PBA very strong bond.
CWYes. They were. They were really... They were like Ethel and I. Only I just, you know... It puts a bitter taste in your mouth. But it changes. It changes.
PBIt must have come at a very bad time in his life.
CWBecause when her husband died... When Father Eikenberry died, I thought well Ethel was my friend and I must go. And so I went and you would have thought I was one of the family. The children have always treated me like that. All of them are grown now. All of them are older. They are late forties and fifties just like my children. But I went. I thought, "No, she was my friend. She's still my friend regardless of." and we became very thick again then, after that. Until she left-she even told me when she was leaving. She wrote to me for a long time, and now we're down to periodic letters. But she did come to see me last summer, and it made me very happy. It made me very happy.
PBYes, I can imagine it did. Well, in that neighborhood there were then quite a fair number of Black families within those two or three blocks and perhaps some others spread out too. Were there?
CWWell, yes. It was always a mixed neighborhood. There were always. On East Street the white people lived and maybe on the cross streets to Wood, but there were always just across the street there were Black families. And we all went to school together, and we all played together. I don't know that families associated much with one another, but then Black families didn't do a great deal of associating. They were working people. And when they were home there were all of the home chores to do. So. But it was an amiable association. People recognized the fact that they were in the neighborhood and that sort of thing. So I don't think... I think the East Street people probably resented the fact that right down the street from them for many years was "the line," but you couldn't wipe it out. It sort of died, "the line" itself died of its own volition when in the war a soldier was found-an airman from Rantoul was found dead in one of the houses, and then they closed.
PBWas that during World War II?
CWYes. And they closed the whole bit down then. That was the whole end of the whole business.
PBSo it survived the thirties then, did it?
CWWell, off and on. Off and on. It had always been there in some forms or others. Once it started to go to a Black neighborhood then there were not so many houses because at the time that they cleared that neighborhood there were very few white people in that area. The area which was known as "the line." All of that was Black people. See in the Depression then it all kind of went down. And that's when Black people begun to acquire the houses. I don't know how, because we'd always lived in ours. We'd always had it, so you don't think about those things.
PBIn a way the Blacks acquired the houses just as it was going down.
CWYes. Yes, that's right. Rentals... I guess some of them owned them. I don't really know how it went. But you see in the Depression then they lost their houses. I can remember east of the railroad, along Gridley and Oakland Avenue, that was all a Black neighborhood. When the Depression hit, the only family that ended up there, in that 400 block of Oakland, were the Waltons, who-well, you see, he had been a policeman for years, you know, and had a livelihood which meant security. And so all the other people were gone, and that never became a Black neighborhood again.
PBNever recovered.
CWNever, never. Because I think as the economy began to change again, those houses were bought by white people and it's always been that way.
PBSo the Blacks were just getting a really secure foothold in the late twenties only to have their hopes dashed in the impact of the Depression.
CWThat's true. That's true. I can remember... Of course, our dad died in [19]29, and that was kind of like the beginning of it. By [19]30 and [19]31 there were just nothing, and that's when people lost everything. I see part of the banker's family now that my mother had some money in, but they never paid it.
PBThey didn't?
CWI think I said part of that in this so I don't want to repeat all of that. But you see they did not pay the money back, you know.
PBThere was nothing like the present savings and loan situation where everyone gets their money back.
CWNo, no. See Roosevelt-what did they call it? The Bank Moratorium. Some of that's here, so I don't want to include it. But you see that was the point. There might have some banks that did pay off, but American State, and that was-of course my father-those people lived right on Main Street before they built the viaduct. Beautiful homes there. And then of course they built the viaduct and they moved out. But my father was acquainted with all of those people, and so naturally you do business with those that you know and trust. But at that time they did not pay.
PBSo your mother lost everything?
CWYes. She lost the cash, her bank account. It was always a little money.
PBHer property she still had.
CWYes. And that sort of thing. You keep roomers, and you do all the things you have to do. We always had a big house. That's why I'm uncomfortable in a little house.
PBYou're used to the big house.
CWIt really makes a difference.
PBIt does, yes. I grew up in a big house too.
CWMy sister in Springfield has got the most beautiful little house you ever saw. And I just-I can hardly stay inside. But it's a lovely place. It's just like a box.
PBIn this neighborhood, was there a church in that neighborhood that you attended, or did you have to leave the neighborhood?
CWNo. No. No. There were no churches. We would leave the neighborhood. We always went to Wayman A.M.E., which is 804-806 North Center, and we walked from the neighborhood. Those were walking days, although there were streetcars and there were buses. We would walk through town although we had a car. Our father had a car. He never, never drove it. He always had somebody that drove for us and that sort of thing. But we would walk for the most part. Walk. To and from school. I see the buses now pick up everybody. But we walked. There were not those kind of accommodations in those days. But there were no churches in our neighborhood at all. The closest one was that one there that used to be down on this corner. We would... We would be Methodist on Sunday morning, and then we'd be Baptists in the evening. That way you could go and be with all the kids.
PBThat's right.
CWBecause-there've always, I guess, been more Baptists than Methodists.
PBSo there was a Baptist church closer to home?
CWYes. Right down at the corner of Jackson and Oak there was a Baptist. And there's always been the big church at Oakland and Lee. And so we would... And the people in our neighborhood went to night church, so we could go.
PBThat was the pattern. More than morning church maybe?
CWOh, yes. You went to night church. You went to the young people's group, and then you'd go to night church. Maybe you wouldn't stay inside from that church, but you'd go.
PBBut you went to the vicinity. That's where you met everybody.
CWYes, yes. That's where the kids would kind of-in the daytime you could find them all up to Wayman because we always had more girls than anybody else. And where you find the girls you find the boys. And so we always-until four o'clock or five o'clock on Sundays we had what we called Lyceum, which was a late afternoon get-together for young people. And then after that you'd come home and maybe have lunch, and then you'd go to the Baptist church.
PBHow early did your Sunday start?
CWOh, well, we'd get up and always have a glorious breakfast. Breakfast at our house on Sunday morning was always something real great. We'd have all this big breakfast, and then we'd go to church. And then you were in Sunday school by nine o'clock. So you got up, and dressed, and ate, and went to church. Maybe you'd be home by 1:30. And our dinner would always be done because our mother was always there. Always there. That was the one thing I remember about my childhood, you-she was always there. That really means something. We would have delicious cookies and real good pots of stew and all those good things.
PBDid she stay home from church in order cook?
CWMother stayed home. She didn't go to church. She stayed home. The only way we knew she would go out-she had a beautiful blue serge skirt, and she always wore a cotton dress. But she would put on this blue serge skirt, and then she would powder her face. She was a beautiful woman. The only thing she detested was the fact that she had short hair. And we could tell when we got home that Mama had had make-up on her face, and we'd know she'd been out-been to town for something.
PBBeen to town.
CWBut that's all she did. She'd go to town, or she'd be home. Or she would be helping somewhere in the neighborhood. Everybody would come. Most people called her "Tine." Those who got really got perfect would say "Tiny." And why they ever called her Tiny because she was a big woman. But she would help in the neighborhood. Anywhere there was to help with sickness or anything like that. Other than that she was home.
PBDid she cook when your father was the cook?
CWWell, she was the cook. Papa could do a lot of things, but Mama was the cook. Was the cook. I can recall they used to do... I've seen them cook lobsters in twenty-five gallon lard cans. Everything was in bulk those days. And when they'd have a lobster dinner, men would come from uptown, you know, down for lobster dinner, you know. And they'd cook those...
PBWhere'd they have that dinner usually?
CWIn our dining room.
PBIn your dining room.
CWThere was always a dining room there. People could come in and eat. And anybody could come in and eat. They'd come eat in the dining room because there were small tables and chairs.
PBHow many could they accommodate there would you say?
CWI don't know. If I remember correctly there might have been four tables with little ice-cream chairs. And I don't know that that's correct. I was pretty young then, too.
PBYou were young.
CWAnd didn't pay too much attention other than we always had to wash the dishes.
PBThat would get your attention.
CWI still have one old platter from the time they did that.
PBOh that's nice. They don't make platters today like that.
CWIt's not any bigger than that. And I have my father's spatula which is of such thin steel you can almost bend it together. And we use it for everything. We pick up water even with it. When this goes I don't know what I'm going to do.
PBThat's right. That's right. Well, I think working in the home like that was a real advantage for people at that point.
CWWell, yes. Yes. Of course, our mother never went out even after that was over with. I think she probably... After my son Harvey I think she went out for just a little while and did some day work or something. But she never did. She never did go out of the home to work.
PBWhat school did you attend?
CWWe attended Lincoln School. And that was at Miller Street, considered West Miller Street because it was west of Main, and I believe at Cook. Miller and Cook Street. When we went to school, the school was on the southeast side of the block, and now it-when they built the new school, they put it on the northwest side of the same block. But it's still there. Lincoln School.
PBSo you surely walked to school.
CWOh, indeed you walked to school. You had so much time to walk to school and then you had so much time to come home, and then you had your lunch and did the dishes and then you walked back to school. And you were not allowed to be late. Do not be late. They knew exactly. And then when we got out of school, we had so many minutes to get home because you had to change you clothes and do the work. Before furnaces, it was chop the wood and haul the water and bring in the coal and empty the ashes. There were no boys at our house. We were the helpers.
PBYou had equal opportunity.
CWYes we had. Everybody did the things that was necessary to keep the house. Our daddy loved service, and he didn't do anything for himself that his girls could do for him.
PBHe knew how to get the best out of everything.
CWHe was so kind, though. I think the nicest thing that was said about me-I can remember-our old house had two areas of steps, and we were sitting down on the sidewalk, and this was in the days when Gypsies came around. We would always say "Mama's baking today." If we saw Gypsies we'd say, "Mama's baking today." And it seemed like when we got home there were fresh cookies. I don't know if the Gypsies had a thing to do with it, but we would always say, "We're going to have cookies today." Well, anyway, my dad was sitting down at the sidewalk end of the house, and I was just sort of standing on the sidewalk and leaning back, and he had his arms around me.And this Gypsy came along, and she said to him, "Can I tell your fortune?" And he said, "No daughter, I have my fortune in my arms." I never forgot that. And when I begin to feel sorry for myself I always, "My daddy said I was his fortune." And so that's wonderful.
PBIt is a beautiful statement.
CWYes, he did.
PBWell, what were your best times in the family?
CWI think our best times were-our best childhood times. Our dad was a grown-up boy. He had been involved with one of the World's Fair. He loved the circuses. He loved the carnivals. He loved parades. He loved anything that was going on. I can even remember we went to Pontiac to a Chautauqua once, and that was in the time when Black folks didn't go around. And we washed our faces in the water fountain in order to be clean. There wasn't any place to wash your face. But...
End Side A; Tape One
Side B; Tape One
CWWe would go to the carnivals and invariably Papa knew somebody. If he didn't know somebody, he would become acquainted with somebody. And if the carnival was in town for a week, why some of those men and women who were in the minstrel shows they would end up at our house for a meal and to visit, and that sort of thing. We really had a good time. But we would go fishing. And after we got up a ways, we would go to the dances, but Papa would take us.
PBHe made sure.
PBThey'd better play checkers or they wouldn't.
CWThey would come in the yard, you know, and one could play checkers while another visited a little bit. But we never let on that that was the reason. I'm sure he knew. But all the visiting that we did was in our yard.
PBThat's where the checker matches [took place].
CWYes.
PBWere there any other neighborhood places that you gathered for fun?
CWYes. We always had... There was always a vacant lot somewhere. We always played ball. And we always had swings. We played night games in the streets-kick the can and hide and seek and. I can't think of any others right now, but there was always bunches of children. Bunches of children.
PBWere these always mixed bunches of children?
CWOh, yes. Mixed bunches of kids for the most part. More Black than white I would say, but they were always mixed. Always mixed.
PBBecause that part of the neighborhood was more Black than white, wasn't it?
CWYes, yes. But whoever was there mixed together. And so there never any feeling of being outside or left out or anything like that.
PBWhere were the dances held when they were held?
CWOh, there were some of finest dance halls everywhere. I guess they did not dance at the Consistory. But at the American Legion Hall, which is now McBarnes where the Historical Society is had one of the finest dance floors in town. We danced summer times at O'Neil's Park. They had dances. We danced at what was called the Coliseum, which was at the corner of Roosevelt and Front. That had a good dance floor.
PBThat's not far to go.
CWWe danced at-no, those were about the-before WJBC was up on Washington, that used to be a dance floor. And we danced there. Of course, you had to rent the floor. There was no place where you could go every night or every week and dance. I can remember once there was one of the prominent orchestras playing at what was Houghton's Lake-Bon-Go's Park I guess. It had been changed from Houghton's Lake to Bon-Go Park, which is now State Farm Park. But that used to be a dance floor. And we went out there one night because... We knew we couldn't dance, but we were just silly enough to go. (laughs) So we went out there, and we asked if we could dance. He said, "Yes, you can dance at the tune of a forty-five." (laughs) It was really funny, but it was gutsy to do it. We really shouldn't not have done it because we knew we couldn't do it. But we weren't boisterous or militant at all about it. We just turned away and had the biggest laugh about it afterward. It was one of the jokes of the season, you know-"We went to Bon-Go."
PBYou could tell that story a lot of times.
CWOh, yes. It was fun. It was fun, but we knew we couldn't.
PBWell, you walked up to the line and challenged it in a sense, too.
CWYes. We couldn't dance. We really wanted to look at the orchestra. They used to have some of that finest Black orchestras that would come through here, you know. And then, of course, there was the theatre with live theatre, and the Blacks could not stay in the hotels. So they would stay at the rooming houses along East Street, which are now gone in favor of the city hall and all that sort of thing. So you got to know them and see them, maybe talk to them a little bit. But you felt like you had seen them, and you knew them. That always helped, too.
PBOf the musicians were there any local musicians that played in these bands?
CWWell, not in the-oh yes. See there used to be two or three little orchestras around.
PBDid Blacks play in them?
CWOh yes, they would be Black orchestras.
PBAll-Black?
CWYes. Wilson Burton, who was a homeboy, and his brother Harold was a drummer. And then men who've come in. Young fellows come in and come out and probably our resident musician was named Orlander Dyer, and he worked for one of the-Jimmy Raschel, I believe. I hope that was the name. There were so many of them. But then he finally left the orchestra and come in. He married a girl here and went to work here.
PBYou say his name was Orlando?
CWOrlander Dyer. D-Y-E-R.
PBSo he settled down here?
CWHe settled down and worked at Woolworth's-F. W. Woolworth Company until he died.
PBIs that right?
CWYes. And then there were others. Jerry Lynch, Mack Willis, a whole bunch of them. They would come in and they would come out.
PBWere these mainly be in the twenties that these musicians.?
CWThe majority of that was probably thirties and on into the forties.
PBEven in the Depression there was employment for musicians?
CWOh, yes, there was music. There was always music. I can remember there was a group came in called The Four Clefs. These were four boys out of Springfield. They would play... There was kind of a bootleg joint south of town, tavern-like, and they hired them to play there. And they'd play at night, and they rented a room across the street from us. And every morning then they would come and give their tips to my mom, and she would make them a meal, you know. She'd make the best stews in an iron pot and bake big doughnuts. You know it wouldn't take very much money back then. That was in the thirties. The times were still kind of hard. Things did not really open up until they begun to blossom at the beginning of the war, and that was in the forties. See people were still working on the W. P. A. when they opened the war plants here, and that sort of thing. So it was during the thirties.
PBA little money went a long way.
CWYes. Went a long way. People don't realize it either. Yes, it went a long way.
PBThere's a whole segment of the community that could be employed in music and entertainment.
CWWell, yes, there were a lot of them. There were several orchestras. I can't remember any of their names. But they always had little jump-up orchestras. I can't remember anybody that's living now who played in them.
PBWho sponsored the dances usually? Were they social clubs?
CWWell, not really.
PBOther organizations?
CWThe Redd-Williams Post of the American Legion would have them. And then we had a fellow here named Revy Rhoades who was sort of an entrepreneur, and he would just decide to give a dance.
PBAs a money-making proposition for him?
CWYes. Yes. There might have been a club or two. A bunch of people would get together and say let's have a dance. But then you could just hire the hall and take care of your orchestra, and whatever. Used to be nice dances. Really nice.
PBDid it cost you to go to the dance?
CWOh well, yes. It depended. It depended. If you were kind of looking at one of fellows in the orchestra-but then it wasn't very much. Maybe two dollars and a half, you know, a couple. Something like that. When you paid dollars a couple, you were really going to something extra-special.
PBSomething grand.
CWExtra-special.
PBDid your father let the young men take you to a dance?
CWWell, now this was after Papa died. This was in the thirties. He died in 1929. No, no, nobody ever came and took us to a dance while he lived. But then we could go. Our mom would let us. In fact we had a preacher came to town and brought a son. Had a young son. Late teens--something like that. Our own ages anyway. He said he walked downtown one day and said, "I'd like to meet some young people." And they said, "Go down to Schields's. That's where everybody is on Sunday." They just sort of congregated at our house because we played cards, and we danced. And just altogether had a good time. They'd just gravitate to our house.
PBAnd they had daughters.
CWWe still had this big room, this big dining room, you know, and a piano, and we could dance. So.
PBAnd where there are all those things plus daughters it's a good place to gather.
CWI guess that's so. He just died-Herschel Barksdale just died this last year, and he said, "I'll just never forget that I came...". Then of course we were in the church together. We were in social life together, you know, and all that. We stayed good friends until he passed away this past year.
PBWas he the minister's son, did you say?
CWYes.
PBThat you met then? What church was he minister of?
CWWayman A.M.E. His name was Barksdale, but the minister was King. It was his mother's husband who was the-but Herschel we just called him the minister's son. And he was. (tape is turned off)
PBWhen we're talking about the churches and some of the gatherings that took place there, I'm not clear which Baptist church it was that you gathered at in the neighborhood.
CWWell, when we would go to night church, we would mostly go to Union Baptist, which was at the corner of Jackson and Oak Street. We went there more because our neighbors went to night church and that was our way of getting to church. There were two Baptist churches. Mt. Pisgah, which was always considered the big Baptist church, which was at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Lee Streets. I can remember the minister who was the pastor there for many, many years. His name was Peter Fields. And when he did leave Bloomington, then he took a church in Decatur, Illinois. But the church we were more associated with-beside our own church. Let me hasten to say we were really good Methodists. But at nights we went to the Baptist church, and that was Union Church.
PBThese were all-Black churches?
CWOh yes. All-Black churches. Black churches have always been a going concern because they were the locations of most of our social functions as we grew up. The things that happened happened in the churches. Union had such wonderful Halloween observances. You would go in all costumed up, and the person who could not be guessed got the prize. I got the prize one year because I had a pair of shoes that looked like boys' shoes. But they did fit me, and I loved those old shoes. So I wore them that night, and everybody wanted to make me out a boy because the shoes looked like a boy. And when they gave up, then... And you always got a big cake. So I got to take the cake home that night, just because of my shoes looking like a boys'.
PBThat was a clever ploy. What other kinds of social life centered in the church?
CWWe would have study groups. We would have debates. Now, the nicest thing that Wayman used to have were the debates. This is after we got old enough to become associated with the students at the colleges. And for the most part they would come to our church in early afternoons to what was called Lyceum. And we would have debates, and extemporaneous speeches, and sing-a-longs, and all kinds of things. And those were the kind of things we did.
PBI wonder when that Lyceum began. You have any idea?
CWWell, let's see. That had to be... (laughs) Wish I knew.
PBWas it begun during your life?
CWWell, I think it kind of evolved after we become teenagers and found out that the college kids were coming in, too. There was always a group who were congenial with the students, and in those years the students' life was off the campus. There was no place for them on the campus. In fact, they did not even-there were not dormitories. There was only one dormitory for whites, so there were none for Blacks. And they lived in homes of the people. So naturally they gravitated to where things were going on, which was at the church. And that's how we got into the activities that one would get into and that sort of thing. Choral groups. I can remember once we had a play, and we had more fun with that play. We turned our pulpit area into a stage. Of course, some of the older people didn't like that at all, but we did. Put on a play called The Wild Oats Boy, and it was the most hilarious thing you ever saw. But we enjoyed it. And then we decided we were going to make a little money on it. So we contacted the Pontiac church and asked them if we could bring our play to Pontiac. And we did. And so we put on The Wild Oats Boy in Pontiac too. But there was always something you did to make the... Well, you had to make a little money to let the church continue. And then it was a place to congregate. There was always something to have a banquet for. Always something to have a tea for, and those sort of things.
PBWas there a Wednesday evening church too or service of some sort?
CWThere was always a prayer meeting. We never ever went until weekend church.
PBI wonder whether children went to such things.
CWBut we never ever did. I don't say there wasn't. But I know that we would go when they would have revivals. They used to have nice revivals. And I was looking through our old church records, which I guard very carefully. I don't even let them go to the church because there's no place to really keep them. And I looked in the church [records], and we three girls, I guess, got religion at the revival.
PBAt the same time?
CWWe were baptized in 1925. And I had a opportunity to tell some of these people in the church, you know, we'd been there a long time, because 1925 is two or three days ago. So we we've always been involved with the church and have always done things that were necessary to it. We had an aunt who her project for the year always culminated in a banquet, and she could get more money out of businesses than I ever saw. And that was one of the ways that we got money for the church, this big effort. I don't even remember if it had a name. But I do know it would culminate in a banquet.
PBWhat's your aunt's name?
CWHer name was Grace Williams. She was married to my mother's brother Bill Williams. And Grace could move out, and she'd come in with six and seven hundred dollars, which was a lot of money.
PBThat was a lot of money.
CWIt a lot of money back then. And that money always came in the fall when it was about time for conference, and we were able then to pay our assessments and things like that.
PBDo you have any idea what businesses contributed to that...?
CWOh, yes. She worked in the home of the Biasis. For many years she worked in the home of the Biasis. But she would ask everybody. She didn't mind who they were. She could go out, and she could really bring in the money. And always we'd say, "Grace'll have it" because Grace could go out there and get it. I always admired that because I can't even ask anybody even to buy a ticket. It embarrasses me. But I guess some people do have that knack. But that was the way we got the money for the church in those days because Black people didn't have very much money. You depended on sustenance from your white friends and white businesses to make things go. I saw in the paper the other day seventy-five years ago. Did you see that little squib "How Time Flies"? It's laying here someplace, and I'll have to find it for you. (tape is turned off)
PBSo seventy-five years ago, 1915?
CWIn 1915 a group of white women came to the church and assembled a musical in order to pay the debts off in the church. I read this in our paper probably a month of so ago. I have it some place, but as usual I can't put my hands on it right now. So we've always depended on assistance from white people, until late years. But now we're able to have jobs that permit us to keep our churches moving.
PBIn those days did people give a little bit each week? If they could afford to in the collection?
CWYes, if they could. In some of the old records there was a dollar or there was fifty cents. And then they would have a rally where they would assess the people five dollars. Back in that time five dollars was a lot. Now we ask for a hundred just as easily and probably get it by working at it. But yes, there was always some little money in the church. And in the Methodist church then they had classes in the church. You belonged to a class, and you had a leader, and you would pay maybe ten cents a week or something like that. And the class dues then would assist the pastor in his salary. For many years that was done. Many churches still do it. Other churches claim they don't need to or something like that. But basically it's there, and the laws of the church say you should do it. But it's pretty much up to pastor these days whether they do it or not.
PBYou said that they used to have revivals. I think there was a revival season, wasn't there?
CWIn the spring. In the spring you had revival. It seems that in our church it was probably a spring revival, and...
PBSuch as the one when you joined the church?
CWYes. As I say, we got religion and we were baptized then in 1925, into the church. So we've been in the church all our lives.
PBWere you and Kathryn both baptized at the same time?
CWOh, yes, and then our other sister too. All three of us. We're all listed in the same little spot in the records as...
PBWhat's your other sister's name?
CWGeraldine.
PBGeraldine, yes.
CWWe were all baptized. Kathryn and I still go to church. Geraldine, of course, married fifty-eight years ago, and she has lived in Springfield. Most people in Springfield think she was born and raised there. She really wasn't.
PBBeen there that long.
CWYes. We've always been active some way or other in the church.
PBDid the church support social programs? I know the Methodists are fairly famous for their social conscience.
CWNot as such I think. Well, in the hierarchy there are colleges that we, as a local church, in our appropriations make possible. There are colleges. There are foreign missionaries. Well, I think the money goes to colleges and missionaries more than anything else. Morris Brown and Wilberforce and some of the schools which are basically A.M.E. maintained are done that way.
PBA.M.E. schools.
CWAnd that's probably the extent of our social programs.
PBHave they brought speakers to town?
CWWell, yes. I have an article here where they had a speaker out of the colleges or so. They don't do that so much anymore because I think most churches feel like in their programs they would do better by having someone that's known in the area, rather than to bring someone in just because of what they do. I sort of feel that way with the Human Relations too, that there are people right near us that can do us as good a job as some of those people who come in demanding eight or nine hundred dollars or a thousand. And I think that's what it's getting to.
PBThat's true.
CWIt's getting entirely too expensive, I think, to bring many people in. Somebody told me that Maya Angelou wanted eight thousand dollars, or something like that, you know.
PBThat's right.
CWThat's a lot of money.
PBAnd Jessie Jackson doesn't come for that kind of money.
CWOh, no. At time point Human Relations thought they were going to bring Andrew Young in, but they could never fix the time for it. You just don't get them anymore for. Nobody is that philanthropic anymore that they'll come across country and speak for you for a pittance, see.
PBThat's right. That's right. They expect to do well by it.
CWYes, yes.
PBDid the church enter into the lives of people in the twenties and thirties to a large extent? Or was it just a Sunday thing?
CWNo, I think they entered more then than they do now, because there were those clubs in the church that tended the sick, that knew when there was trouble in the home, would send to take care of the children. The family was in a position, if they were part of the church, who could gain services and help in times of need and in times of trouble from the church. The funerals and wakes used to really big things because before they took them into the funeral homes the bodies always came back into the home, and you had a big wake. They were really picnic-like things, you know, party things. Everybody stayed all night, and they ate, and they drank, and they told stories, and all those sort of things, until morning. And then the next day there would be the funeral. And it was all a community, neighborhood, church sort of a thing where everybody just knew that this is part of you now that needs some assistance in some way.
PBSo there were a lot of support mechanisms then?
CWOh yes, more than now, I think. When there's a death, yes, you go. You send a card. You go to the... You sign you name, and you stay a little bit and that's it. But for many things... Even in sickness... And the lodge people, I think, were much more conscientious in those days about their brothers and the brothers' families. They were really sustainers.
PBIt was a kind of social security that a person had.
CWReally. You knew that this was going to happen because this was a part of their obligation. I don't think they take it that deeply anymore.
PBThey assume that everybody has some kind of support.
CWYes, they think they have money now.
PBThat's an interesting practice you were just describing about funerals and what happens when there was a death in the family. There was really a kind of bonding experience as well, too. Do you remember as a child and some of your first exposures to that sort of thing?
CWWell, we were... Death was a part of life for us. Nobody ever said, "Well, you don't take the children, you know. We have to keep this from the children." If is was death, it was death, and you accepted it as so, and you did what was necessary because a body always came back to the home. I don't know of one that stayed at a funeral home overnight. The body was prepared and brought back to the home. Sometime it would be there two days.
PBSame day?
CWWell, I don't know if it was the same day or the next day. But always you knew that if John died yesterday that tomorrow that body would be at home. And then people would bring in food, and there would always be coffee and tea and spirits if one wanted them. And so you just visited through the night because you stayed with that body, not necessarily right in the room, but with the family, able to visit and offer condolence if necessary. But just to be there, to be there. That's a wonderful thing just to be there, just to know there's somebody there. Just families were not permitted to be left alone. They just were not. And then, of course, after that funeral then they would go back to the homes, you see, and some people would stay maybe until the next day. But it was always you didn't just turn and walk away.
PBIt was a shared experience and it also wrote an end to somebody's life that in many ways is more celebrative of the life than anything else you could do.
CWI think that one of our memories of our sister Geraldine-they say she had a goiter. Whether that was true or not I don't know. But somebody told our folks once that if someone had died, and they would take her and rub that hand before if got cold over her neck, the goiter would go away. Well, let me tell you she never got close enough to anybody during those times for them to take her. And it sort of built up a bit of fear in her about it. I don't if that was true or if that wasn't, but we never got to prove it out. She never got that close to anybody.
PBShe wouldn't come that soon.
CWNo, no, no. But that was just one of the little phobias, I think, that old people had about what would happen. This is probably, they thought, part of folk medicine, which there wasn't a bit of truth in, but we were never able to prove that one out.
PBWere there any wakes or funerals of fairly important people or close people that you remember especially. Of course, our daddy... There was a wake for our dad at home. But we would just go as church members, or as neighbors, or family you would go where the wake was going to be. I don't know of any extra special ones that we ever went to. We just went if there was a connection. We just went.
PBIt was simply a common practice.
CWIf there was a connection there, you went. And we, of course-my goodness, that's the first time I've seen a Black mailman on this route. I didn't know there were any. (laughs)
PBI haven't seen any in my part of town.
CWWhy I'm sure that's what he was. I hope that don't get in there. But I don't know of any special ones. It was just something that you did.
PBThe common practice.
CWBut with the coming of funeral parlors being places where bodies are kept, and one can go then that has just died out.
IIthough, wasn't it, that that changed.
CWOh no. Oh changed? Yes, the change probably came like that, but we've just done it all our lives that I can recall.
PBOne of the interesting documents that we ran into was this issue of The Advertiser, the race Advertiser [The Weekly Advertiser, Race Publication]. This is from 1916. And it has advertisements.
CWOh, Miss Lillie. She lived next door.
PB"Mrs. Lillie Bacon. Hairdresser."
CWYes. And Josie Johnson, yes. "Dolton, Barnett, and Roselle." Dolton?
PBWhat's that? "Home made pies."
CW"Dolton, Barnett, and Roselle." Now the Barnetts-he ended up marrying one of Kathryn's husband's sisters, and the Doltons were another part of that family.
PBWell, I noticed there was an advertisement in here for Goodfellow, funeral director.
CWBut that's not a Black, no.
PBAnd I was surprised because I remember from one of the other interviews that there was a Black funeral director who came here for a couple of years who was a Catholic and apparently didn't catch on and went on to St. Louis.
CWI don't think he was Catholic though. He just didn't... I don't know. Here, I told you about our Aunt Grace. This is before she married she married my uncle.
PB"Miss Grace M. Woods is attending the O. R. Skinner School of Dramatic Art and Expression."
CWThat was the most beautiful elocutionist you ever heard.
PBIs that right?
CWOh yes. There you go.
PBAnd where was that school, the O. R. Skinner School?
CWI think it was in what was now the Eddy Building. I think so. Oh, Aunt Grace. How about that.
PBAnd did she stay around the community?
CWShe stayed here until she died. She had a rather peculiar death. Grace Woods was the editor of it. For heaven's sakes.
PBShe's was the editor. You say a peculiar death?
CWYes. They never ever quite decided what was wrong. She had a breast that just really... Well I don't know. I never quite knew that much about it. But they didn't quite know. It was not cancer or anything like that, but it was just a kind of debilitating... But after the breast was taken off, it was not a cancer because it was-I'm sure even by then they were... But after that that she just sort of deteriorated, you know. But they never ever quite decided what it was.
PBWhy I noticed there was a notice there of a girl, "Miss Glendora Patton, who leaves for Chicago..."
CWNow, this is Howard's father, Harry Bell.
PBAnd there's somebody here who's going to attend Illinois Wesleyan we found out that's mentioned here. "Miss Maud Allen of Jacksonville, Ill. has returned to enter the Wesleyan."
CWOh, that's Ike Sanders. Now, this was Anna Clark's husband.
PBWe have a couple of good pictures of them at the Historical Society in their restaurant and bar. Any other names here that you recognize?
CWHerb Dice-the Dices went to our church.
PBSays here he's the representative of The Chicago Defender. I guess sold he subscriptions to The Defender.
CWProbably, probably.
PBDo you remember ever having seen a copy of this Advertiser before?
CWNo. I have never seen a copy of it.
PBBecause Mildred apparently found this one somewhere, and the original has been deposited at the Historical Society. But this...
CWI don't think this is the... You know Kathryn had a paper, but I didn't think this was it.
PBWell, this could have taken different forms. But it suggests a number of businesses...
CWCarl Stearles. See Carl was brother to Willis Stearles, and I'm in touch with their nephew now. Their sister was named Edna, and she married a Trent, and they lived in Lincoln. And after he became grown, he went to Springfield, and then the last two months I've been asking him if he will sort of put some meat on the bones about the family for us.
PBIt says here that Stearles was... Stearles was...
CWWell see, that's not right. That's not spelled right. See that's Carl Stearles. S-T- E-A-R-L-E-S.
PBSo he made a typographical error. It's his paper.
CWNow Sandy Claiborne, he was... I don't know what Sandy did? I remember him as a great Mason. He was one of the most prolific men when it came to the ritual of the Masons.
PBHe knew it all
CWOh, man, if a Mason died, look out. Everybody went. It was just a high moment. He could go through that death thing like you wouldn't believe.
PBBackwards and forwards.
CWLet's see. This is "Newton B. Gaines." That was Walter's father.
PBDo you know what he did?
CWHe was a barber.
PB Okay, because he's listed here as the Business Manager for this.
CWI think I can probably find out from those things what Sandy did, too. He was a great, big man with a handlebar mustache.
PBDo you know who this J. Morris is who was Secretary?
CWThat I don't know. Morris. No.
PBNow was Stearles then a printer?
CWI don't really know what they did or how they had this printed.
PBBecause he's listed Stearles and Company as publishers and printers.
CWI'm sure that was a typographical error. Because Carl was a Stearles.
PBDid you say you knew Mrs. Lillie Bacon, the hairdresser?
CWYes, she was...
PBWhat's "Poro" hair dresser mean?
CWPoro was a product like most of the... What do they use now? Ultra Sheen and those. Poro was a product. And "a dealer and all kinds..." But you see Poro was a... Well, what's her name? The woman who they give credit to for all this, for bringing pressing oil? She used the Poro system."George W. Brown." Now this contractor Brown, he used to live right on the alley of Main Street, just south of Olive. They had a home in there. He had a bunch of kids. Yes.
PBAs a contractor that's a little more ambitious kind of job. I wonder if he did jobs then for whites?
CWWell, he worked around town. He was always... I'm sure he did it for whites because Blacks didn't have the money.
PBThey didn't hire a lot of concrete sidewalks to be built.
CWBut I think he just had general work in the town.
PBIt says "Coal, Sand and Gravel." Maybe he delivered those things. Do you think he delivered?
CWWell, he probably did deliver them. But he was considered... We always called him Contractor Brown.
PBOh, you did?
CWAlways. He did have... See here, you can find the name spelled correctly here.
PBYes, "From Stearles, THE ALHAMBRA." What is the Alhambra?
CWWell, the Alhambra was... That's a white organization. The Alhambra was just off the corner of Monroe on Center Street. It was a big men's club...
End Side B; Tape One

Part 2

Interviewer: Paul Bushnell | Date: July 31 1990

Side A; Tape Two (continuation of discussion about a newspaper they were looking at)
CW The Isenmans were white businessmen. There were three or four of them, and they operated The Alhambra until just recent years.
PB Was it...?
CW They were beer distributors, too.
PB I wondered, the name of it the way it is written there looked as though it may have been a hotel or something.
CW No.
PB It's a store.
CW It's just a... It was more a saloon-like, pub-like, eating-all of that sort of thing. It was one of the big. Well, women didn't go so much. It was a men's thing.
PB Little like a club perhaps. Only public?
CW Club? Yeah. It was a going concern. I never ever heard The Alhambra called a tavern, but that was its basic function. Was to serve whatever.
PB But Black men wouldn't go in there, would they?
CW Well, Black men worked there. One of the ones that worked there for years and years and years was named Woolridge. Jim Woolridge. He had a son named Harry. And in late years some of the Thorntons worked there. You see because that hasn't been gone too long. Probably... What went in there? See it-because the last Isenman only died here within the last four or five years. But they probably sold off that business. See there were four of them. There was Heinie and they had a sister, and the sister was the cook. But that's a white establishment.
PB Well, since the funeral director was white that surprised us, but we found that out. We assumed then...
CW In fact, he didn't even take Black bodies.
PB Well, I was wondering, Why is he advertising in here?
CW They probably got the money. Here's Mount Pisgah Church see. "Makes a loan."
PB Yes, "They made a loan on the new church property sufficient to meet all requirements."
CW There's "Sandy Claiborne who has been seriously ill recently."
PB "Getting along as well as can be expected."
CW Un-huh. I didn't know...
PB Is that Leona Walker or Leora? It says Leora Walker. Wouldn't that be Leona more likely?
CW It probably is Leora. [Leora Walker was a maid for the Florence Bohrer family at 503 East Walnut]
PB Okay. It's interesting then that Goodfellow was probably advertising in here simply to support The Advertiser, but he didn't actually take Black...
CW Oh no. And these are probably people who have just helped Stearles. You know they were great. What? They were the kind of men who could...
PB Community minded?
CW charm you into doing things. Both Carl and Willis. They were tremendous men because they had a whole lot of outgoing....
PB Promoters. That's interesting. Who handled Black funeral arrangements in those days? There were Black undertakers here?
CW No. There was a white undertaker who would bury Black bodies. What was...? Let's see the predecessor to Kilber-Smith was Carl Stamper and his predecessor was...? His wife lives up here on Wood Street now. There was always a white undertaker that would take Black people. Isn't that awful, I can't think of who proceeded Carl Stamper. But it was not the Goodfellows, and it was not the Becks. I'll have to think about it. But that's always the way it was.
PB But the firm that did it was the one that's now Kibler-Smith?
CW I can recall that Kathryn told me some man called and asked her if he could call on her from Beck's. She told him, "Yes." She said, "I'm going to let him come." Of course, they were trying to sell insurance. And she told him that she wouldn't buy it. She said, "You know that there was a time that Beck would not even take Black people." And this man was shocked. He couldn't imagine, you know. At least, he probably just had never thought of it. You see, this is why much happens. People never think. They are never in a position for that situation to cross their minds, and he became very embarrassed about it. But she just told him, "No." And this is why most Black people gravitate toward Kibler-Smith, you see, because he's always been one of the ones who.... I'm going to tell you that man's name in a minute if I keep talking, but there's always been one. Well, Coleman would do it. He had one at... He was in the five hundred block of Main Street. But that's not the name that I want. Of course, Carl. You see, the man who's gone in with the Main Street undertakers now... He was with-what is his name? They were together, and he pulled out because he did want to work on Black people.
PB Is that right?
CW And then he went over to Chestnut Street. Is it Chestnut or where is it over there? What do they call the Main Street one now?
PB I'm trying to think. Should we look it up in the phone book? (tape is shut off)
CW Carmody. Who was with Carmody? He died. He was a real fine looking man. And they were where the dentist is now at Main and Empire. Isn't that funny? I can't think of his name. And then Carl went in with him. When Carmody left here, Carl Stamper came out of Lincoln and went in with... And then the other fellow's health kind of begun to fail. And Carl took the funeral home over all together. I can't think of it, and I'll have to find it to make things right. His widow lives at the corner of Wood and Summit now. That big house there just across from the park. Hold off and let me call Kathryn. (tape is shut off)
CW Because their building was at Washington and Gridley. Fine beautiful building.
PB Well, Goodfellow moved around we discovered. And finally when he reached that location, he took in a partner he was so busy perhaps.
CW Stevenson? What is his name. I'm so ashamed that I don't know this man's name. He was such a fine person and always so conscientious. But you leave that place blank. I'm going to find out that name.
PB But that's the one undertaker who would take Blacks. But Goodfellow would not?
CW No. Nor would Beck, nor ... I've always thought, but I can't be too sure of that that Black people that died in Normal the undertaker there would take them. It believe it is still the same name it's always been. But I'm not at all sure of that. But there always was just one undertaker who would bury Black people. Then, of course, when Black people begun to have a little money like everybody else, then everybody wanted to. People'll go to Metzler now, you know, and I go, "Why are they going there?" I'm still hidebound about it, you know, because I just think that the people who have always befriended the Blacks should be the ones that would have advantage of it. It's just only fair, you know.
PB That's right.
CW I'll haunt anybody that doesn't take me to Kibler. That's awful. But you see at one time, Kibler.... See, there has been a time in through that, you see... Flinspach, that I'm sure did not bury Blacks. But I won't say that-Kibler married one of the Flinspachs. Married the daughter of Flinspach, but I won't say that he did not because I told you just a little bit ago that Flinspach., but they didn't make a big practice of it, you see. But Kibler went in with Flinspach when his health begin to fail because he married the daughter. Then when Carl Stamper's health begin to fail, he went in with Kibler because they did both of them for a long while. Then Kibler decided that they would get rid of that property and move the whole thing. (pause) I haven't said his name yet and that's too bad because he was the one who was really kind about it.
PB Let's go back to the thirties. I think you had an interesting picture here of the NAACP. No, it was the forties. The NAACP that had done so much to help establish a recreation center. We covered a little bit in one of the other interviews. We said something about the recreation center, but we need to get a little clearer picture of how that developed.
CW The recreation center developed initially under the promotion from the NAACP, and it was at a building at Front and Roosevelt Street I believe.
PB We have the newspaper clipping here.
CW The NAACP did operate there. This came out of the old... (tape is turned off) Front and Madison Streets and this was a garage that was given to them, and they moved into it and from all accounts it was fairly successful. However, they branched out, kept on with their project, kept moving forward and advancing until they moved into what was the John Scott Home. I don't know the particulars of that. It seemed that I was involved in the beginning of it because the article says so. But it was probably among so many other things that I did, that I don't remember. I did not work for very much for the one that was in Madison Street. After they moved to Main Street, and Walter Gaines was instrumental in this one, I believe they had received a bit of a stipend from the Community Chest at that time, but Mr. Ulbrich from the clothing store was one of the main promoters of this center after... There was a group of businessmen. Mr. Ulbrich was one of them that were pretty much the board of it and saw that things came because they did have a bank account in the People's Bank, and Chester Wilson who was one of the tellers at that time who has since retired always took care of the recreational business through the bank. So it was a bona fide business... Had some bona fide business purposes about it. But they were always strapped for money. Membership... They would have membership drives in order to get money. I can't even remember what those membership were. Different clubs and organizations would give to them. They were never at anytime a full-fledged part of community services, United Way. They always got a little there, but never a whole lot.
PB They always served people that couldn't afford to support them probably, too.
CW That's right. This again was all before the war.
PB Before World War II.
CW Yes. Before World War II. So naturally people were just beginning to get back to work at that time. Then, I think, it's demise was because the city had finally gotten into that property. Until the last heir of the Scott estate was gone, it just sort of sat dormant, and then finally that woman died someplace in the southern part of the state. And they begun this long, long process of deciding who was going to get that money. And they had two court cases before the city really got it.
PB Well, was it even in its earliest form when it met at the garage. I don't know, whose garage was that?
CW Otto somebody. I've been reaching for that name, too, but I can't...
PB Even at that stage was it an NAACP project?
CW Its beginning was an NAACP project. It grew out of the recreational project of the WPA. You see, that was the beginning of it. In those years when the WPA hired people on the recreation project, that's when the schools were opened nights for recreation purposes. And somehow or other it gravitated to Jefferson School for the Black people. I don't know how that ever happened, but it did. It might have been because John R. Ford who was a Black man was the janitor at that school. And of course, the schools have always in some way not opened their buildings unless there was supervision of some kind because I can remember John Ford always being there. And by him being a part of the NAACP when the recreation project ended, they filled the gap of what would happen to young people in the recreational area after school. And that sort of thing.
PB Were the schools themselves segregated at all?
CW Oh, no. Oh, no. Schools in this town have never been segregated. There have been some schools that more Blacks have gone to than others, but there has always been an open school policy.
PB But in terms of the recreation, that came to be...
CW That... I don't know how that happened.
PB to be somewhat segregated.
CW Yes. I don't know if it was because there were three or four Blacks both men and women that worked for it or what, but it ended up that the Black recreation was at that school.
PB Were there ever any Black teachers at all?
CW No, not really. Not until later years.
PB How did the teachers in the elementary schools and so forth treat Black children in school?
CW Well, of course, I'm speaking from way, way back. (laughs) We were treated like anybody else that I can recall. I never felt like I was being put upon in anyway, but I was always a bit of a fighter, too, so....
PB You wouldn't have made an easy victim either.
CW I sort of stood up for me and everybody else. But I just don't think there was... We never, ever had great number of them like they had in the West Side schools cause there have always been more Blacks living west. But there were always eight or nine or ten or something like that. I don't ever recall... If you got your lessons, I think that was what is was. I had heard that...
PB Was high school?
CW High school was entirely different. When I went back in the very early thirties, Black kids were not encouraged to take gym because swimming was a part of gym, and they didn't want them to swim. But that was broken down through some people who just persisted in their.... This was after I left school because I graduated in [19]33. And many changes came. I hear kids now say that they're not getting fair treatment, but I look at things about them, and I think Black kids are expecting too much to come to them too easily anymore. That might be a selfish statement, but I do feel it. I feel like they don't apply theirselves, and they are looking for the easy way out. And parents are not involved enough with their kids to sort of put them on a (unintelligible) system and get your lessons. We got our lessons. In fact, they didn't settle for anything but the very best that we could do and sometimes they would question if that was best.
PB So you say that in terms of the way you were treated, gym class was primarily the biggest area of obvious...
CW That was the only area probably that young Blacks were encouraged not to take. Otherwise, you could go to school...
PB You could still take a college preparation course?
CW Oh, yes. I did. You could do anything that you were capable of doing. Then it was school back then though. You took your math and history and science and English, which were required things. You took them. Even I can recall that when I went to Bloomington High School after you made your junior year, if you couldn't pass the rhetoric test, you couldn't be a senior. Everybody had to take the rhetoric test. Everybody. Regardless of whether... And that was the only test I ever took in school.
PB Something we are beginning to edge back toward actually.
CW But you had to have that. Always we had a semester of rhetoric and a semester of literature. And we did all of the Shakespeare things, and I don't know how much else because that was just a part of (inaudible). And history all the time.
PB What about the social things about school? Such as school clubs and so forth, were those...?
CW No. I don't know that anybody was kept out. On the other hand, I don't whether anybody went. I can't speak for after I came out of school.
PB But while you were in school, did Blacks and whites belong to clubs together?
CW Well, I don't know that many Black kids belonged. I don't know that any of them were kept out either. I know I never ever belonged to any of them. I think when I went to school, the thinking was don't even try. That might have just been my opinion, too. But there were some unspoken norms that you just sort of observed unquestioned. I don't know that that is true these days in school. I know that I was so surprised three or four weeks ago when I learned that a young Black girl belongs to the Rainbow Girls. I don't believe this. I can remember the time. She was asked. She was asked to join by her friends, her white friends. And I read in the paper the other day where she has become an officer or one of the whatevers, you know. She's become one of those things. And I always thought that the Rainbow Girls were attached somehow to the Masons.
PB I think they are. Yes.
CW Well she's there.
PB The Masons were not an integrated outfit.
CW No. You see the Masons are not integrated now. The Black Masons are AF and AM and the white Masons are F and AM, and they claim the man who organized the white Masons was out of Africa somewhere. I ought to be able to tell you that. I should, being a good Eastern Star. I ought to know it, but I can't dredge it up at the moment. But that is the difference. Although somebody told me not too long that they were trying to bring them together. Whether they ever do or not....
PB In the period that you went to school, it's very likely it seems to me that people didn't try to join activities where they felt they were not going to be accepted...
CW I think that's it.
PB Because there was always the sense that there wasn't a lot of social closeness in the North.
CW Well, none really. No. There never has been. (laughs) There's probably more now than there ever was. But there never was an inter-group relationship among Blacks and whites.
PB I think it was just starting when I was in school.
CW Probably.
PB And there it was rather self-conscious and was promoted by groups like the "Y" or promoted by church groups.
CW But just to say that everybody's welcome because we're all one...
PB But to join a debate society or to join a dramatic society to help put on school plays. Now the musical things might have been earlier integrated than some of the other things.
CW Probably. I know my cousin Bill that I told you was in that 42nd, he belonged the big chorus out to Illinois State where they traveled. All summer they would travel. He was a part of that all the time he was in school, in [19]42 you see. So I think things changed because every generation has its different concepts, too. Nowadays I think they go in with a feeling that they better not tell me I can't belong, you see.
PB That's true.
CW I has just been a growing thing. It always will be a growing thing, I think.
PB It's a very interesting project that the NAACP sponsored. It reflects the fact that if you couldn't belong to social groups in school or weren't likely to that your opportunities for recreation for doing things outside of school were limited and a club of some sort, a recreation facility would be a very nice addition to the community.
CW Yes, and I think that was the thinking of the NAACP. But I do believe that they became... And if I remember correctly they became a charter. Is that what it is? Incorporated. Incorporated with a charter and after they moved to Main Street, they became an incorporated... Because by that time I believe they had a board made up of both Blacks and whites. And money was coming from some areas that were of concern, and they had to. More or less had to keep an accounting of what was happening. I wish I could tell you that whole structure, and probably Elaine Gaines, Elaine Williams, somewhere in the files has much of that because Walter was there for quite a while. And I'm sure that-but it was a bona fide organization which did get some little support.
PB It's interesting to me that you have traced it as growing out of some of the New Deal efforts...
CW Yes. That's what it is. That's what really happened.
PB of the thirties that provided the roots for something that then the NAACP picked up on.
CW Picked up on it.
PB That could be one reason you were involved because you were so involved in the program of the WPA.
CW Yes. Probably was true. Those who worked in the schools with the WPA sort of moved on. But you see when the war came-when Roosevelt came in, everybody, all the Blacks became Democrats. Well, I never did. I never changed because I always remembered that when I was a child my folks instructed people how to vote because many people didn't read and write. They instructed them how to vote. I've seen them come in and sit at our dining room table, and my dad and my mother would tell them that the ballot is going to look like this and even though there is a circle, don't start monkeying with the little blocks, do the circle and showed them how to vote. Just simply because Blacks were Republicans in those days, and I thought, "Well, that's all right I'll stay a Republican."
PB The party of Lincoln.
CW Yeah. But you see after Roosevelt come in, a lot of the people who had been in the government projects sort of moved into Springfield and were given jobs that way and all. So there was an entirely different make-up of the people in recreation, and I believe the last young man who was the director of it was a graduate of Illinois State. He was married to Dorothy Stewart's sister. And they're now in Ohio. But it was just the fact that there was no location for them anymore, nor probably the demand during the wartime. That was just the end of recreation here, as a going thing.
PB Were the Blacks tied in the Republican political structure through their efforts? They must have tried to garner a few votes.
CW I think they did, but it wasn't like big rallies. I can remember they'd move into the neighborhoods. "So and so" is going to come in tonight, and he's running for mayor or this or that. And then they would have little socials. They'd see that there were the doughnuts and the coffee and the hot dogs and the buns and all that sort of thing. And it would be a kind of neighborhood thing. It was not. And the person's whose house it was at would get maybe twenty-five dollars or thirty dollars or something. I don't know what they got, but there was something in it. But not a big thing. Not a big thing. The politicians would come into the neighborhoods and cultivate the people which is different now because they want great numbers and big rallies and a lot of money. So it has taken a whole different turn.
PB They want media events now, but back in the thirties and so forth the local politicians here in Bloomington, the people running for mayor or running for council, would they come in and try to cultivate Black votes?
CW Well, they did. I think they still do. I can remember when Jesse was going to run for mayor, he called me, and he said, "Caribel, I want to run for mayor. Do you think the Black people will accept me?" And I said, "Well, we just have to talk to them. If you feel like you want to run, then I would do what I can?" And anybody who asks me to work for them, I promise I will tell at least a hundred people. And then I really go out and try to tell a hundred or more people about that person so they will know about them. So I think there's always been a sort of a cultivation of neighbors and friends and people that you know as far as that goes, but it's just... The same with Steve Brienen. We worked for Steve Brienen just because we knew Brienen as a (unintelligible), and we supported him. But it's only through just contacting people that you do it.
PB Did your father have political connections?
CW Oh. I don't know that he ever wanted to be in them, but he always had connections with somebody who was influential. He could walk uptown and sort of open the doors.
PB I gathered he could do that part of it very well.
CW I think that was the extent of it. I can remember that even before these programs, these social programs were in now, I can remember the time that he would go to Utesch's Store on a Saturday night and pick up all the bakery goods and the fruits and that sort of thing, and on Sunday morning we would all get in our wagon and horse and drive out to the Home, the Booker Washington Home and give that food to those children because in those days they were not supported by any welfare programs of any kind. There's always been a medium of help, I think.
PB They are all working hand to mouth there.
CW All they got was what people did for them. I can remember a whole lot of things, but they aren't all relevant.
PB Well, they're relevant to other things maybe.
CW Then we get off these little tangents, and I begin to wonder if it is going to make sense.
PB Some of these tangents are good because there are individual topics that we need to plug into. We'll pick them out.
CW I must tell you, though, about my school.
PB We've got the pictures here of your students.
CW And how I happened to...
PB You know what year that is from?
CW I'm reaching for that year. It has to be 1940. No, that's not right.
PB I count seventeen children in the picture. (tape is turned off)
CW Let me think one minute. I want to be sure that I have this.
PB This is probably 1939.
CW [19]39. Un-huh.
PB Your own son is there in the middle.
CW Yes, that's him. Now you can turn it back on. The picture that I have of the children from my little school, and these schools were held under the direction of the recreation project. At that time there were not schools. Not pre-education in the public schools because they were very, very poor. In fact, if I can recall properly there was a time when they were not even eligible to be in the North Central Association. Since then they've come to be very good schools. But under the recreation we would have these little morning schools, and my husband would always pick up all the children that would come to school, and they would come and they would bring maybe a cookie or piece of bread and butter or peanut butter or something like that, and then they'd have some milk. Of course, school was over then at noon because there were no eating facilities, nor I doubt if many of them would have had the money for a daily lunch. But the children in my school and some of them are still around. I looked at this picture, and it saddened me a little because several of them are dead now. Two of the Hursey children were here. That was Bobbie and Shirley Hursey and Arthur Waddell and Albert and Earl Moore and Jonarthur Washington and Carroll Alexander. One little white girl that went to my school was named Treeva Houk. Who the other one was, I can't just recall at the moment. I said Carroll Alexander. There were two children here who were cousins to the Moore children. And I can not think of their name at the moment either. But I always had maybe fifteen or sixteen kids who would come. And I believe we did this maybe four years. Then...
PB Where did the school meet? What was the building?
CW We at one time at Western Avenue Community Center. One year we had a room upstairs. Then the next year they decided they needed the room for something else, and they wanted us to go into the basement. Well, we did for just a little bit, but it was kind of unpleasant there, and so I said, "No. We won't take the children there." So then they made room for us in a building uptown which is now the parking lot of the Pantagraph. There used to be the inter-urban. It was the old inter-urban station. Then they turned it into a building, and I believe the downstairs was an employment office, a government employment office, but the upstairs was a part of the recreation project. So we had school up there on the second floor for probably two years. It was kind of fun because we were able to really give the children a few basics.
PB This was a little like Head Start in a sense. This is pre-school.
CW We didn't try to teach them a great deal. But it was a little more than play because there would be little things that they could do which would further their learning to some extent. In fact, I taught mine to write.
PB I was going to say that I remember your mentioning in an interview that somebody had stopped you on the street.
CW Yes. Nettie is not in this picture, but she was one of the ones in one of my classes. She had told her boss that Caribel Washington had taught her to write.
PB She still appreciates that.
CW Most of them do. Every one of them that I know now when I see them. And you see, they're all past fifty-four years old. And I'm going to try to get all of those names and put them on the back of there because when Jonarthur sees that picture, he will probably be able to tell me all of them.
PB That's a really nice picture. It is very distinct.
CW It is a cute picture of them. This is one of the Dixons. She's dead now. See there are so many of them who are dead. Both the Moore boys are dead. It gets a little sad when you begin to think about them.
PB That's right. You didn't expect to outlive so many of them.
CW No. I'm outliving so many people until sometimes I wonder, you know.
PB Where is the picture of the NAACP members who are having their...
CW They must have had...
PB Was it their annual meeting of 1942?
CW I was trying to recall why all those flags were there, but I don't remember that part. I don't know if that was a part of the recreation because this is at the recreation center. That house was a beautiful, beautiful house.
PB So that's inside...
CW That's inside the John Scott House. It was a very beautiful place. In the picture here are many of the older people.
PB If we start at the left.
CW In the front row, that's John R. Ford. He was the man who was janitor at Jefferson School. Harriett Allen was next. She was a member of Union Church down here and was civic minded in many things. She and I used to attend things, and we'd wonder why others didn't come. This was Joe Henderson. Delores Shavers. Mabel Henderson who was N. J. Henderson's wife. And the Henderson men were very instrumental in the recreation center.
PB What did they do?
CW They were Pullman porters. Both N. J. and A. J. Henderson. No. They were not Pullman porters. They were mail clerks on the train. Both of them. I'm sorry that I made that mistake. They were not Pullman porters. They both worked in the mail service on the trains. Carrie Wakefield was one of our citizens and was one of our leading singers around town.
PB She's the one who was also a member of the Melody Gospel.
CW Melody Gospel Chorus. I must name those people for you. This is Golden Manuel. She
End Side A; Tape Two
Side B; Tape Two
PB This is tape two. Side two. With Caribel Washington.
CW I believe I cut off as I said Beulah Thornton, and that isn't correct because she is now Beulah Kennedy. Next to her is J. Henderson who was N. J. Henderson's son. I believe the next person is a Thomas. I can't just recall his name at the moment.
PB He's the last one in the first row on the right-hand side.
CW Just about him, the first one in the second row on the right-hand side is of the picture is Aubrey Hursey. He was a very prominent Black minister in his older life here in town. He was one of the most well thought of men in Bloomington.
PB Which church?
CW He was the Church of God in Christ. It's down of the corner of Taylor and Mason Streets.
PB You had a couple of his children in your class.
CW He had four children. Shirley, Robert, Aubrey. Those were the three I knew well. Shirley, Robert, and Aubrey were the three older ones, and they were the ones I had in school. Next to him, second from the right, is Carson Terrell.
PB What did he do?
CW I believe he worked uptown for the most part. I'm just not sure what he did. W. S. Caldwell who was a retired railroad man in his later years. Ed Thomas was a chauffeur for one of the families that I don't recall right this minute either. And I'm in the middle of the picture. And I don't know why.
PB Looks like the featured speaker or something. But there is a young woman. Who she is?
CW That's Caribel Washington.
PB All right.
CW I can't even recall why this picture was made.
PB I'm sitting so far from it at the moment that I can't even... Okay, so that's Caribel.
CW A. J. Henderson then who was a brother to N. J. Henderson. Lela Morse Brown.
PB With the hat.
CW Yes. She was Kathryn Dean's, who is standing next to her, play mother. She was our extended family. Just a delightful person. Some of my sister's choice treasures came from her.
PB Did she work somewhere?
CW Yes. She always worked in service. She ended up working at the reformatory for girls in Geneva. That's were she died. She worked in service here for Mrs. Wakely for many years. W-A-K-E-L-Y. Mrs. Wakely was the final owner of the Roland Store. Lela worked for Mrs. Wakely. I wish I could tell you what the event was.
PB Do you know why she left town?
CW Well, I think she had the opportunity to become a housemother at Geneva. At that time they were really in dire straits for housemothers. Three or four of the women from here went up to be housemothers. The person on the left who is sitting facing the people in the picture was Mrs. Louise Calimese. She was N. J. Calimese wife. I can't tell from the back who that one was. I'm sure this is Louise Calimese. She was always such a supporter of good causes.
PB She must have been.
CW That must have been on a Sunday afternoon, I imagine.
PB Do you know what you were speaking about?
CW I have no idea. I've begun to look over programs back then. My goodness, that seems to be all I did back then. This I'm sure is part of the NAACP's effort in the name of recreation. But I just don't recall it.
PB Did the NAACP have other programs? Did they promote? Were they active in any kind of effort to secure better employment for Blacks?
CW I believe that you have something from Merlin Kennedy, don't you?I you don't you will have, and he will be better able to tell you about that than any body else because Merlin has worked harder, and I think taken more abuse....
PB When I came to town, he was doing both. He was working hard and he was taking a lot of abuse in the late sixties. And I met him in connection with some project...
CW With the Black Santa Claus probably.
PB ... or other and I couldn't imagine why he was getting so much abuse because it seemed to me he was doing so many good things.
CW Well, I think just the connotation of NAACP, Merlin Kennedy new in town (laughs), and that sort of thing, and vocal and vocal.
PB And of course all the agitation in the South had taken place by then or was taking place.
CW I'm sure. But I don't think we can sell him short though because of the things he did. A lot of it I didn't agree with, but I gave him his right to do it and say because that was the thing he wanted to do. But I think he kept the NAACP people going in the years when it might have just faltered. And it's now a viable organization again which is good because I thought at one time the NAACP had outlived its usefulness. That shows you how you change your way of thinking (laughs) because it will never outlive its usefulness. You get foolish thoughts, you know. You want to move on to other things.
PB Sometimes it looks like it will be replaced by something, but it still is the organizing center now.
CW I don't think it ever will, and I think Merlin has done a tremendous job in it, but it's just one of the things that you have opinions about. But I've changed some of those. (laughs)
PB After you finished teaching in the WPA program, it must have been shortly after that picture was taken. I suppose that program didn't go on through the wartime.
CW Oh, no. You see, when my husband came up for the draft, he was old enough for the draft, but he was too old to go in service. And it must have been a rule that you had to go to work in the war plant. And Eureka Williams was considered the war plant at that time. So when he went to work, then I, of course, could no longer work in a government program. Then I quit by request, of course. (laughs) Then in 1946 I went to work for State Farm.
PB So that was really your next job, working for State Farm. How did that come about?
CW Well, in those days, 1946, their personnel program was not as sophisticated as it is these days, and my sister-Lela Morris Brown there, had worked for them as a maid and when they decided that they wanted to have a second maid, they asked her and she thought of her precious child, my sister Kathryn Dean, who was working up in the four hundred block of Washington Street for eight dollars a week. Cook, maid, chief bottle washer, and everything else, and so she asked her. She asked the boss if he would hire her, and he did.
PB How much of an improvement in wages would that have meant for Kathryn?
CW Oh my. Double, I guess, and better. While we did not earn so much in those days. We would laugh because in the late years, they would always send you a list of what you earned, and I can remember my first one was forty-six dollars and some cents. I can't tell you for what period of time that was, but anyway she left service.
PB Do you know who she was working for?
CW Yes. She was working for the J. W. Wights. John Wight and that is W-I-G-H-T. She was a Cheney, one of the old-line families of this area. So then she went to work for State Farm in 1940. After my mother died, I just thought, "I've got to get out of here. I've got to do something." So one day she came home with an application in her hand and asked me did I want to go to work. Yes, I did. So the boss hired me. At that time you were just responsible to your boss. You never went in to personnel, or this or that, or anything else. I think shortly after that they become much more sophisticated in their hiring practices. They had a personnel department, but I believe hiring practices especially for the administrative services people was left up to the boss.
PB Who was the boss?
CW My boss was named H. H. Stevenson, Howard Stevenson. He was called the building supervisor or something like that. There are so many departments and sub-departments in it now until it is hard to tell where he stood. He was the big man for the building.
PB For the building downtown.
CW But you see in those days that was the only building there was. That was the State Farm Insurance Company, and it did not become the Fire Company until the big corporate office went in. That was what-[19]66?
PB Relatively recent.
CW Yes. Relatively new. But it was always the home office. In 1946 I went to work for State Farm, and I worked there until 1979.
PB But you didn't work as a maid all that time.
CW Oh, no. (laughs). I was hired as a maid. All of that is in here.
PB Well, some of it is.
CW Most of it is. (laughs)
PB There's mention in there of a traveling maid.
CW That was it. When I went on, it was because there were departments in so many different buildings in town. There was the Beck Building which was no longer a funeral parlor, but there was space there and they had offices there. They had offices in what was the Humphrey Building where you entered from the top of the viaduct. They had offices in what at one time was just a part of the hotel which ended up to be the Mar-Len {Hotel at 302 North Center]. They had offices there. They had offices at the Bloomington Club, and then they took offices in the basement of the Consistory for two years or more. Now these are people ranging from a 100 to 250 in these different places. And the first people that moved out were the people, I believe from the Consistory, who went to Dallas, Texas. At least, the people who were at the Consistory went to Dallas, Texas. They might not have been the first ones. It might have been the people out of the Humphrey Building who moved out first and I can't tell you where they went because State Farm moved people in and out so fast after that. And they are still doing the same thing. I noticed here just yesterday they bought and are building another California office which surprised me. And you see they are going into Georgia now. They are transferring a great many people into Tennessee. And so they are everywhere.
PB Your work took you from building to building.
CW I went from building to building. Yes.
PB How long did you do that?
CW For possibly...
PB Somewhere along there you became a secretary.
CW Yes. The strangest thing about all this was that Kathryn, my sister, was the secretary every time the secretary went. She wore her little gray uniform and everything and took care of the superintendent's business. You know, "Carolyn's gone so Kathryn will work the desk." And we used to laugh about that because she was the maid-secretary for a long time. And then when they begun to say, "We must hire Black people," you had to move up. You had no choice.And I said, "I don't want to go. I'm happy." I'm not of the nature to stand back and take a lot of guff. And knew I wasn't and I knew I wasn't going to so I never ever tried to. And after I became the secretary there, I never even tried to change jobs because I thought, "Well, you know, I'm getting along here." And I probably worked... They've never had a person who worked the shops like I did because I worked with all the men. There were no women there. So you worked... You did the job certificates for the men. You took all of the phone calls. You wrote all of the contracts. You paid all of the bills for that part of the building. For the building service.
PB For the maintenance?
CW We did our own purchasing then which I don't think is being done now. Because the whole thing has just changed entirely. But when I went there, it was to be to secretary for the building superintendent and then I ended up working for the shop supervisor. That's when you scheduled all the work. At one time I could tell you where the corn grew and how much. Where the cherries... You see they had territory in Oregon for years where they produced cherries before they ever built in Salem, you know. And when they had ground, they made it pay. Even though it wasn't insurance, they made it pay. And you see all of that area where they are building now used to be their cornfields. And they produced corn off of it. It didn't go through like State Farm's corn, but you knew that's what it was. Did you ask me another question about that?
PB I just wanted to know the sequence there and what affected that.
CW We moved in under affirmative action.
PB I think the first time I ever met you was at a meeting that State Farm had called to try to do something to promote Black employment.
CW Oh, that was probably under Jerry Strickland.
PB I think so. That was about 1966 or 1967. 1968.
CW Yes. That's when they begun to take in the younger people into the offices really. By that time, I had been in the office work for some time because we were pretty much forced into it, you see. They asked me to do something-I don't know what it was-oh, run the elevator. It was somewhere unwritten that at certain times you ran the elevator. It was one of the things I could not do. It bothered me. And so I came off the elevator one day, and I said to the boss, "Now if running the elevator is part of this job, I want my old job back today. I'm not going to run the elevator. It bothers me." Well, they ended up where I even had to go to medical. A doctor had to sit there and talk to me. I said, "It bothers me and I'm not going to do it." That's when they decided that I didn't have to run the elevator. They said, "You can't go back to being a maid. You can't.""I can't. Why not?" Well, you know how it is. So really the only reason why they started hiring Black people was because of inter-state commerce and that's all in this. I don't know how you are going to inculcate this together.
PB Yes. They were promoting and requiring minority employment in Federal programs.
CW And Jerry Strickland is the one who really decided that he would start this program where they would bring in these people and train them. Because my contemporaries... One of my prayer partners says, "Well, I walked in from high school and walked in and got a job." She said, "When I first saw you I was working in personnel, and I called-His name was Pick Baldwin who was head of personnel-And I said, 'Pick'-No I called him Mr. Baldwin-'What's Caribel Washington doing doing maid work.' She said, 'I went to school with her. I know that she has capabilities,' and he said, 'But Helen you know we can't.'" It was always known. Then when the government said, "You will." And now you see they are attempting to move some of them into managerial because they are wondering why at this point there aren't some in managerial.
PB They've been so long in the lower ranks.
CW Yes. So it's just. I don't think it will evolve to where State Farm will ever have a regional vice-president who is Black. I might be wrong, but I don't think so. If it does, it will be years because they are not training them. When you read in their publication where someone has gone in to the president's office, that means he is in that area where they are getting ready to groom them to go out as regional vice-presidents or assistant regional associates or something like that. And I have never yet heard of them moving a Black into the president's office. You don't really go into the president's office, but you are in that department.
PB That whole higher echelon.
CW Yes. And then maybe it might be two years, but then you'll read where so in so is going to be regional vice-president of something. It might come. We are watching a young girl now who is a very dear, dear girl who came in from Alabama about eight years ago. And she has just gone up, up, up. Well, she is in St. Paul now. Sort of managerial. And they are talking about bringing her in and she's expecting within the next eighteen months or so to come in. Just what they will do with her I'm not sure.
PB It will be an interesting test.
CW You see they are moving the women faster than they are moving the men. Men are a threat to white woman. (laughs). Please don't put that in. I'm just being factious there, but I think this is the reason why women are moving.
PB I always thought that the Black male was at a disadvantage.
CW In anything.
PB Viewed as the greater threat or whatever.
CW I don't say that in a prejudicial way. I say that because I see men who are very, very capable who are not getting those chances. The time might come. It's slow. It's very, very slow in coming.
PB One of the things I realized I didn't know much about in terms of your family to turn back one hundred and eighty degrees from where we've just been, I realized that in terms of your family, I didn't know very much about your mother.
CW Well, our mother was the youngest daughter of the Reverend Jeremiah Williams, who was an A.M.E. preacher. He was only just a little while in the church here. He was always... His last pastorate was in Chester, Illinois. From such records as we have, and I have begun to change my thinking on that since our July meeting. We had always believed that our grandmother came from Du Quoin, Illinois because that's where she and grandfather were married. But I came across a bunch of papers that were done on marriages, and I tried to find out how those papers came into our possession and that day nobody could really tell us why. But it had marriages and in our grandfather's and grandmother's marriage it said Missouri which means we are going to have to go to Du Quoin and then do the trail backwards to really see. But I talked to Alice Schlenker and Jo Munro, and they could not remember how this group of papers had come together. How those papers got where I found them I don't know.
PB Sometimes knowing where they came from is important.
CW I said that I must have at some time taken them out of that box, then put them with whatever it was I found them in. But I took them and gave them back to Mildred Pratt because I knew they should have been there, but I think that might shed a light on more than our family because.... My mother married my father who was named William Houston Webster, and we were born in Streator, Illinois because the Websters were glass workers. And they left the glass factory in Alton and went into Streator to (Unintelligible) Ionize, and I understood there was also a factory in Ohio, but we were born there just because there was work there in the glass factories. But my father left my mother, and she brought us back to the home place at 603 South Main in Normal.
PB That was her home place?
CW Which was the Williams home place. All of them were born there. I can find a listing as far back as 1880 where they lived at 603 South Main, Normal. So that was always their home place. That, of course, ended up being... Well, my husband and I were going to buy it, but we had an aunt who somehow knew a lawyer who ended up getting the place. But it was later sold to Taylor Cisco who in all of his venturings into Africa and around lost all of it. So I think the university got it just in the course of things. But for years... It must have been clear into the forties it was in our family.
PB So your mother came...
CW Mother came back and then...
PB When did you move to Bloomington then?
CW Well, I can recall a time in Canton, Illinois. A very short time. That was during the epidemic, the flu epidemic during the war.
PB 1918.
CW I can recall we were in Canton because our stepfather whom we always called our father, who was named William E. Schields, was a night nurse in Canton. I don't if we went there for that reason or what, but shortly after that we came back to Bloomington. Now, I can't tell you the whole sequence of all of this. But we left Normal and went to Canton and back to Bloomington.
PB And that led to South Wright Street in Bloomington?
CW Where we lived all our lives pretty well. Well, 511 South Wright Street belonged to our stepfather's mother at that time named Josephine Raiford. That's a name that hasn't come to you yet. That was our stepfather's mother's name, but it's in the books.
PB So his mother's name was Raiford. Where did he get the Schields from?
CW He was a Schields. Don't ask me all those things. Both he and his sister were Schields. I don't know how they came to be so. They were people out of Mississippi that came into here. I think I begun to pick up Mrs. Raiford around-when I say "pick up" it is some of the work I've done in the directories-around 1890 or something like that.
PB When your stepfather moved to Bloomington, he must have switched occupations?
CW I guess he did. Papa was one of those chameleon type people who had a great many different abilities who did what I think was necessary at the moment. But I can remember our time in Canton even though I was fairly young, but we did come to Bloomington, and we came in on the train at the Big Four Station [424 South Main]. I can recall that. I believe the first time I ever saw gravel used on a walk I thought it was as white as snow, and that was at the Kumle Store that I told you about as we walked up from the station up to Oakland Avenue because Grandma Raiford lived at 606 Madison Street. We were always right in the area. We walked up, and I saw all of this gravel in front of the store and that was a new experience for me. And I always remember how white that gravel looked as we walked up there.
PB What did your father then set about to do to support himself?
CW Well, I think for all of that time he was a Spanish-American War veteran. He had been a Spanish-American War veteran, and he was wounded, and I think that there was always that pension there as a means of livelihood, but he also always did other things.
PB Was he a cook?
CW Yes. I told you how we had the restaurant, and that was the only thing really I can remember him doing here in Bloomington. Then he died in 1929.
PB Was it he who went to the side show in the circus and was the barker?
CW Yeah. He was the one. He was in the World's Fair when it was in St. Louis because he always talked about it. I think it was a kind of exciting time in his life, you know. Then I'm not sure what he was.
PB He liked a good time. He knew how to celebrate. It's interesting, and yet he had a rather strict notion of what he wanted his daughters to do.
CW Very strict. Very, very strict. Both of them were disciplinarians. There were just things we did, and we used to say, "When either one of them called, start moving. Even if you don't know which direction to go, start moving." But they were very kind to us though. When they thought we needed punishing, they punished us, but they also had many things for us. I can remember if we wanted a new dress, the girls would say, "Babe, tell Papa we need a new dress." Somehow I'd get around him, and we'd all end up with a new dress.
PB That was probably a wise piece of advice to let you work on him.
CW Most anything that I would want, he would kind of see that I got it. But then I kind of knew what the parameters were, too. You didn't ask for too many unreasonable things.
PB You were the apple of his eye.
CW Well, yes. I think I was.
PB What was the relationship between Blacks in Bloomington and Blacks in Normal?
CW Well, I can remember that some of my mother's really fine friends were the Rileys who were out of Normal. And of course, my sister's play mother, Lela Morris Brown, was out of Normal. And the Malone girls and my mother were very good friends because they had been neighbors. So there were some of the Normal people. And then of course during those years my Uncle Bill and Aunt Grace lived at the house in Normal. So it was always just sort of a kind of reciprocal friendship if you knew people, you see. I believe there has always been a friendly attitude because many of the Normal people always came to Bloomington to church, and that sort of thing. The churches in Normal more or less just closed after a time because of the lessening of residents there. And they came to the Bloomington churches. So I think there has always been a close association. Again let me say just like there are so many more Negroes now-Hey, how about that word. I reached right back for it-There are so many more Black people in Normal now, just like there are so many more in Bloomington. Many more different employment jobs and this sort of thing. We find out for the most part that there are many more Black people in Normal associated with the university who do not do any even civic things in Bloomington. They might be doing some things in Normal, but not in Bloomington. Because many of them that we know are there unless there is something involving the two cities then you don't know them.
PB I was wondering. People in Normal have never voted to join Bloomington and become one city again. They have almost considered themselves above some of the problems that face Bloomington.
CW Well, I think Mayor Harmon is kind of perpetuating that attitude, too.
PB But I wondered if there has ever been any feeling among Blacks that there was any difference that you could see. Whether they were holding out...
CW None that I know of. I've never been closely enough involved with people in Normal, even Blacks, to ask what is your attitude about that sort of thing. But as far as the people of the town, especially the Black people of the town, have always moved in and out because it's only been in late years that Normal has had an enterprise outside of the university.
PB Well, as I understand it, there was a pretty strong family of Kentucky blacksmiths that moved there some time ago, but when horses gave way to cars, I think they probably lost most of their livelihood.
CW The Thomases. We knew them, both of them Everett and George Washington, as old men because they always went to our church. We knew them and their wives.
PB There wasn't any aloofness on the part of those who lived in Normal.
CW She's not in this picture. She's here somewhere.
PB That is an interesting picture. What is this church?
CW This is our church that went to the Pontiac Church for something, but the majority of these people are Bloomington. Now that woman there is Mrs. Everett Thomas.
PB The third one in on the first row.
CW That's Mrs. Everett Thomas. That's Mrs. Blanton.
PB Right next to her.
CW Un-huh. I told you Reverend King. Now that's Mrs. King.
PB The second one in on the first row from the right.
CW Mary Roach. There's Delores Shavers. And that's Leona White. Her husband was a policeman here. And Mary Drake, and there is Anna Clark who was probably a Sanders at that time. Our church used to go to the Pontiac Church. We came across the word Dice. This is Mrs. Dice.
PB The third one in from the right on the first row.
CW Most of these I can name. This is Mrs. Ward. I was trying to figure this because I saw Williams there. That's Dorothy Williams's grandfather. Of course, he's a little man. I think between Mrs. King and he I might be able to come close to that date. This is Paul Ward's brother and I think by asking there we might be able to come up with a. If I can (unintelligible) that preacher, who was our preacher, I can tell you what it was and I'm sure Paul Ward is going to be able to tell me that. And then I'll be able to name most of these.
PB Was this picture taken in Pontiac?
CW Well, yes. See this is the church. I can remember the front door of the old church. It's not there any more. If it is there, it has been sold to others, you see. But I can recall the front door of that church, but I'm sure I'm going to be able to date this picture for you.
PB That looks like a picture we'd want to have copied for the archives.
CW You don't have to copy it. I'm going to give it to you because they are really not... And we don't have the safekeeping. I'm sure Paul Ward... This is Elaine Gaines.
PB Third child in from the right.
CW And that is Jesse Henderson.
PB The second one in from the right.
CW And that's Paul Ward's brother, Harold.
PB Standing (inaudible) the left.
CW Here is the Ward girl, Claudia.
PB The third child in from the left.
CW But I can name most of these, you see. And this is Minnie Anson and this is Mrs. Blanton.
PB Oh, Minnie Anson the second one in from the left on the first row. Is she the family of the Chat and Chew?
CW Yes. She's the other side of it. See, there were two brothers, and Luther was the one who had it. And this woman was married to the other one. And after he died, then she married a man named Bailey. I think between me and my sister Kathryn and Rose Anna Bell, we'll name everyone on here who is not out of Pontiac. This woman I know is out of Pontiac, and that man, and where is Jessie Babb. She's out of Pontiac. And this woman's husband was a Pullman porter on the C and A for a long, long time. So we'll get it together for you.
PB Now, what sort of distinctions existed among Blacks in the twenties in terms of. Were there some class differences?
CW There might have been among the women, but I don't think there were with men. (laughs) We used to laugh, you know, because most of the women that worked in the kitchens had Thursday afternoon off and Sunday afternoon, and that was the time they became Mrs. "so and so" and dressed up and went to club and all that sort of thing. But I don't know that for the most part... I think there were women who probably had a high opinion of their self and probably some of their associates, but I believe that's all gone by the... (tape runs out)
End Side B; Tape Two

Life in Bloomington

Interviewer: Jack Muirhead | Date: August 11 1992

JM I'm asking Mrs. Washington to tell us about the last fifty or sixty years of living in Bloomington. We'll start with your memories of the Depression and let you work on up to the present.
CW I remember the Depression clearly because our father died at the very beginning of the Depression, and there were three girls of us and we were in high school. We found it very difficult to get through school and to live. There were no jobs for Black people because when the economy was lost then most all the working Black people had no jobs. That was the time when Black people lost everything, really, that they had because with no money they were unable to pay their taxes or to keep their homes going. Any progress that Blacks have made has been since the Depression. They have been able to restore some of their homes and to accumulate things that were lost during the Depression. The war years, the Second World War that is, saw a great change in theeconomy and saw many Black people come into this area because of the work situation. There were war contracts with Eureka Williams. I believe it was still Eureka Williams at that time. They had to use draftees who were too old to go into the active army. So there were many Black people who worked for Williams although they worked in menial jobs for the most part which led in later years to machinists, but in the early years they were not into machinist jobs. The war did a great deal, I think, for most people. It opened up work everywhere.In the government even during the Depression, after the government begun to make changes, we saw many people go to Springfield to secure work that way. After the war things became a little shaky because many of the men coming back felt like they had the right to have jobs and employment and living conditions equal to anyone else because they had worked hard during the war. Had given a great deal of both time and energy in the war only to find out that things had not really opened up like they should have for Black people. So there was a time of stress, I think, with people very impatient to advance, but not having the opportunities because employment had not really opened up at that time.But we saw the sixties come with the great emphasis on civil rights. There were groups who had been working. I was connected with the YWCA, and the women there were very adamant about attempting to secure Black saleswomen in stores or to open up the lunch counters and restaurants to Black people. Up until that time, they were not able to go in and sit down and enjoy a meal unless they were with someone white. One was never, to my knowledge, refused if they were with a white person. Otherwise, they could not eat. All of that changed, of course, with the sit-ins and the marches-all of the protest that happened during Martin Luther King's time until the Civil Rights Act was passed. Of course, that then changed a great many things, and then the Equal Opportunity Program and the pretty much open door to work for people because they were no longer required to ask the race questions anyway in employment. So we saw many, many people come in to General Electric which started in the early fifties. There in [19]53, [19]54, and [19]55 they moved into full production in their plant out on Veterans Parkway, and then many Black men and women had work at General Electric. State Farm after the Civil Rights [legislation] begun to bring in "choice" people. And I say choice people because they picked the best they could find in the colleges, the graduating seniors. To bring them in and train them then for work. There was however a small thrust from one of the personnel men who had a Black intern program among the local people which enabled some of the younger people to start work even before that. But this was a bit touchy because some departments did not want to hire Black people and would refuse. And they were given that right until the time of the Civil Rights Act. Of course, education changed too during that time regarding at least Normal University. I can't speak too much for Wesleyan. I can recall that Dr. Bone was the president of Normal when they were to bring in the first Black professor. And when he came to town and found out that living conditions were such that he could not buy a home were he wanted to, he just left. He felt like he could not subject his children who had lived in an open society to come meet the prejudicial attitudes of the people in this society. So they lost their first one. I can't tell you who came after that because at one time there was a community committee at Normal, and many people belonging to this committee were able to bring connection with the university with the community which worked very well in those days. I don't know whatever happened to it because it goes, I guess, like the way of all things-each person has their own idea of what they would like to do. Since employment opened, I think in this area Black people have lived as well as could be expected under the circumstances because it's always been common knowledge that they didn't get paid as well. Nor were they advanced as often in jobs as the whites were, but they have had work. And I believe in late years, and I can only judge by what I know about State Farm and GTE, more Black people are getting an opportunity in managerial areas that they did not have before. Of course, the economy in this area is better than most anyway. So that probably relates to Black people having more work, and in some cases more prestige in the work they do than they would have in other places.
JM I have some questions that I would like to ask you Mrs. Washington. Do you remember if there were sit-ins here or not?
CW The NAACP did some protesting. Merlin Kennedy, who was the president of the NAACP during the those years, protested-that group protested, they marched, they wanted a Black Santa Claus in the parade and were refused, they tried to open up barbershops and were not successful, they did some bit of restaurant/lunch counter sit-ins. So yes, there was to some extent, and there was a group at the university, too, that sort of went along and cooperated in that sort of thing. I don't know that any grave results came of it, but at least it did publicize the fact that these problems exist.
JM Do you remember what years that would have been approximately?
CW Well, not really. I'd have to look back, but that was during the sixties. That was when the marches were going on in the South. The students were for the most part cooperative-I don't say cooperative as much as the ringleaders in the revolts and the protests, but no it was all during the time of Martin Luther King.
JM Then changes occurred here as a result of...
CW I think most changes that came came because they were forced to change in the equal opportunity measures that forced business and industry to hire people. That's the time of probably the greatest advancement in civil r rights. These days we wonder if it has gone backwards because we see many things that have changed. Subtly sometimes. Underground sometimes. I don't think that as many people are as interested in good race relations as there used to be. You used to find many people siding with it. These days what not necessarily frightens me, but make me anxious is that we would see the Ku Klux Klan and some of the other separatist groups really openly marching and protesting and even David Duke to go so far as to try to be the president. To think that kind of attitude exists in a free country is amazing, I think. And yet it happens because we're so free that oftentimes freedom is detrimental, I think, but then we have to all be free to speak and to act as we think as long as we are not injuring other people.
JM Do you see other areas locally where there seems to be a retreat?You've mentioned some of the national political things and the fact that there doesn't seem to be as much support.
CW I think we see it when we hear that in the schools there's Black-white confrontation which concerns me, and I'm sure it concerns most right thinking people, but when we have it not only in our colleges, but in our high school and grade school. These confrontations among the young, I think, worry me because you wonder how can this be if everyone is thinking of progress. And it's been said before and probably holds true that no one progresses as long as you're holding others down because you are not advancing if they aren't advancing too. There are many things that are open, but there are also many things that I think could stand improvement a lot. Sometimes in the streets you see an attitude. You know, just body language and reaction of people sometimes that there is a resentment there. And then when you hear of reverse discrimination when other people begin to think that Blacks have had too many favors and are getting too much advancement to their detriment that hasn't been as successful as it could be. Where to go from here is sort of questionable because you wonder where the government is going. And we'll probably be surprised.
JM Is there anything else that you'd like to...
CW No, other than I do believe we are moving toward a more gentle time probably when people are beginning to realize there are some very grave problems. And it's probably easier to educate and employ than it is to keep our prisons so full because we do that very well, you know. And it's very expensive.
JM Well, thank you very much Mrs. Washington.
CW That's all right. I don't know if it's served any purpose.
JM It certainly has.
CW There is one program now that is worth mentioning and that is the fact that the younger members of the NAACP have a mentor program wherein they are attempting to move into the schools that do not have many Black teachers. Very few Black men teachers. Where they are bringing people into the schools to visit with them, talk to the students in such a way as they will have a different opinion of Black people. That they will know that there are professional Blacks and that there are educated Blacks. There are people of some distinction who have been able to accomplish their goals in every day life even though they are not white. I think that is one of the nicest things that's happened in the recent years.