Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

Si Greene Oral History Interview, Part 1

August 13, 1983

Audio: “Si Greene Oral History Interview, Part 1” . August 13, 1983

Location: Location Unknown.
Interviewer:  Michael Grice

0:24:33 - Download Transcript (PDF)


Si Greene: And sent down the road for him to travel, like mine did for me.

Michael Grice: Yeah, well I told him I couldn't come—

SG: Yours did for you.

MG: Yeah, sure you're right.

SG: Shoot, ain't no way for you to go wrong. You stay anywhere close, boy you got it made.

MG: Just stay anywhere close huh? Yeah, well that's becoming easier; as it becomes easier then it's more pleasurable.

SG: I think we have always been prideful people. I think that's the basics of the whole thing, the whole heritage. I hate to speak for anybody else, I really do, and I can't speak for you or for the young lady here, I cannot do that, but I would like to point out to you that I think these are the lines that you're living along. I think these have been the basics of what you're after even today.

MG: What's that?

SG: The basics of where...

MG: Where you all been.

SG: Your parents and all have led you up to this point.

MG: Oh definitely, definitely.

SG: And I think that's what it's all about.

MG: That's when I—Ted Freeman [spelling?] was really a little bit reluctant to talk to me until when I told him that one of the things, one of the reasons that I'm interested in doing this, personally, is a way of recognizing—which otherwise is going to go totally unrecognized—the tremendous contribution that people like himself, like yourself, Chappy and them made. Tremendous contribution so that you can.

SG: Someday I will talk to you on another plane about some things that have happened along the way.

MG: Along the way. I hear you. Well now, putting that in the context of the picnic the other day, then I can definitely...

SG: See what I'm—

MG: Sure.

SG: Yeah, what I'm leaning toward. I don't—I would not—I don't blame anybody if they see different than I see the picture.

MG: Right. Don't hurt me in the process, yeah.

SG: There probably are some...ameliorating circumstances.

MG: Yeah.

SG: Ain't that nice?

MG: [Laughs] yeah, some other factors—

SG: Wasn't that nice? Oh golly, where does that come from?

MG: [inaudible] just benefit of the doubt.

SG: Did that come from me?

MG: It come from a kind heart, yeah. Let me ask you these questions and get this stuff out of the way, because there's only two pieces of tape. Where'd your parents was born?

SG: Arkansas, both of them. And I had the very pleasurable—

MG: Where was your own?

SG: My own?

MG: Yeah.

SG: I was born in Arkansas too.

MG: Are you?

SG: Uh-huh, north of Little Rock.

MG: North Little Rock?

SG: Mhmm, that's where I was born. My mother was born in Wrightsville; my dad was born in Little Rock. No, he wasn't born in Little Rock; he was born out there in the country somewhere.

MG: Somewhere, huh.

SG: Uh-huh. Little Rock, Sweet Home, somewhere out there. And I had the very kind observance of the great father to have my step-mother born out in the same area, although she didn't know my dad or mother at the time. She was much younger than they were. But she did herself a good job and I'm very proud of what she did for me.

MG: She helped you out, your stepmother—

SG: Oh, she made me very aware of almost everything.

MG: She was your second mom, then? She married your dad the second time?

SG: Uh-huh.

MG: Oh, I see. And you lived with them too?

SG: Yeah, in fact I lived with—I know more about her than I do my own mother.

MG: Than your original mom.

SG: Because my mother died when I was two.

MG: I see.

SG: And I came here when I was eight and she passed when I was, well I was grown and then some.

MG: At what age did you encounter whites? From the very beginning, or did you—

SG: More so after I got here. I am very conscious of having encountered at least one white person, a little boy named Henry who had the audacity to call me an SOB. And I knew that—

MG: Before he knew you [laughs].

SG: [Chuckles] no, him didn't know nothing about me. Of course I tried to push his head through a sidewalk [laughs]. But I was just starting school, the first time I started school in Kansas.

MG: Up till to the time that you were in Arkansas or what have you?

SG: No, I was in Arkansas a very short period, only until I was two years, less than eight.

MG: But you moved here when you were eight, right?

SG: I moved here in Portland when I was eight. I went to school in Kansas City, Kansas.

MG: Did you go to an all-black school there?

SG: Almost, it was probably predominantly black, very much black.

MG: When you came here it was the other way around, eh?

SG: It was the other way around.

MG: Where'd you go to school here?

SG: Holladay.

MG: At Holladay school?

SG: Uh-huh. In fact, they—


MG: They had Eliot School, was over on [00:05:05 unintelligible] street, but Holladay was where it was located when [inaudible]—

SG: Eliot was not—well it was and it wasn't over there at that time. Eliot was a very minor school at that time. Holladay was the existing school at that time. It was a, what do they call them? I'm trying to say exemplary, but you know what I mean by that.

MG: Magnet schools.

SG: One of them type things, yes.

MG: What year was it that you got to Portland when you was eight years old?

SG: I was about eight years old, which nineteen, nineteen and eight. No, that was too young.

MG: So 1927, around there?

SG: No, before that. After that, I mean to say.

MG: Okay. Were you here when the Depression was hit here?

SG: Yes. I came during that year, it seems to me.

MG: What area of Portland did you live in first?

SG: Northeast Clackamas and Benton, in that area. That was north at that time. It was northeast, but they changed later and it was northeast.

MG: It came north.

SG: It was down below [00:06:13 unintelligible]. You remember where they lived across Williams Avenue? I lived down this side of Williams Avenue.

MG: Right. East side of the river, though.

SG: Mhmm.

MG: Yeah, Chep told me that a lot of people lived out in the southeast and some on the west side down by Larry Hill Park?

SG: Yeah, in fact that's where he lived, I believed, out in that vicinity of—

MG: Right, on the west side.

SG: Sheryl? Some—

MG: [00:06:33 unintelligible]?

SG: Somewhere in that vicinity.

MG: Off of Corbett Avenue?

SG: Uh-huh. In fact, Lawrence had an uncle who lived out in that vicinity named Dejanet [spelling?].

MG: You know that Alberta's out?

SG: Uh-huh, mother, Aunt Bessie [spelling?] passed, uh-huh.

MG: Was she a Ferguson?

SG: Ferguson, right. She was married to Neil Ferguson [spelling?]. Because that didn't happen until after we were big boys.

MG: Yeah, but I had went out to they farm at one time. They used to live up in Oregon City, early—

SG: Not Oregon City, Oswego.

MG: Oswego, right, Oswego. I'm sure you're right.

SG: Yeah, he had property out there way, years back.

MG: That was, there was no other black people lived out that way.

SG: Uh-uh. In fact, Lawrence wanted to build a home out there when he and Bernice [spelling?] were married, and he had some property out there, but Bernice didn't want to live out there.

MG: Did you have—affiliate with any organization like NAACP or [00:07:25 unintelligible] or Rotary, or?

SG: No, we—there was a time when we would have liked to have an affinity with almost any group, and I'll say that because we were accused, as young people in the Baptist church, of not having any goals or rules of—

MG: Yeah, of not being achievement-oriented or whatever.

SG: Uh-huh. By the pastor. So we started to play basketball, football, anything we could do to try to get some—

MG: Organization or fraternity?

SG: Yes, with the church. And when we approached the church about it—

MG: Well who, tell me this here—when you approached the church about it what?

SG: Negative.

MG: They wouldn't support it?

SG: Did not support it. We had to get some people off the streets to support us, to buy us uniforms and stuff.

MG: Is this where the Rockets came from?

SG: Yes.

MG: Yeah, tell me about the Rockets, I have never heard this, you know—

SG: We had a minister who was here and had only been here a very short time who came about and sponsored us, verbally and in presence.

MG: Materially, uh-huh.

SG: Reverend Sandiford [spelling?], we went down to the Y and read them off about not giving us a period of time to use the services. They're supposed to be a religious organization, yet here you deny these children the opportunity to come in and use your facilities, this, that and the other, because this is—they denied us and they didn't bite their tongues about it, at first.

Unknown Speaker: Did they deny you, sir, because you were...

SG: Black. That was all it was. That was the only reason. You know.

MG: Was it—your church was denying you? No, the Y.

SG: No, but we couldn't get—

MG: The church to back you.

SG: To back us.

MG: And go to the Y.

SG: Yeah. Except for Reverend Sandiford. He was the only one. He was the first—

MG: Was it Sandiford or Standiford?

SG: It was Sandiford, really.

MG: Okay.

SG: And he did that for us. He promoted me for many years after. He encouraged me to go to school and get a degree and come work with him, because he had made it, at that particular time as far as making it was concerned; he was a big executive with recreation in the government concept. He was regional director of recreation in the housing groups throughout the Northwest. That was Washington, Oregon, Montana, and I believe Idaho. And he was going to make me his assistant if I would go to school, except that I saw some things that he wasn't telling me about.


MG: Yeah [laughs] he didn't tell you the whole story.

SG: And decided that it might be better if I didn't cast my lot with him, and it worked out just to that.

MG: Just right, huh? Yeah. What about the Rockets though, you was telling me about the Rockets. Who all were on the team—

SG: That was our ball team.

MG: And you played for the Y, in the Y League?

SG: That was associated mostly because we played at—we did our practice and all at the YW, and Mrs. Summers [spelling?], who had a...she had a liking for us because she knew us individually, and our families and such. Mrs. Summers was in charge of the YWCA, which was there where the Elks Club is now.

MG: Where the Elks club is down here in Williams?

SG: Uh-huh.

MG: That used to be the YWCA?

SG: It used to be the YWCA.

MG: Had a gym inside?

SG: Uh-huh.

MG: Where was that?

SG: Yeah, it was right there in that big hall. It's when you walk in and go to the right, that hall there, that was—

MG: Yeah.

SG: As diminutive as it was, that was it.

MG: That was it.

SG: And when we got them white boys in there...

MG: If you were—[laughter]. Now who all played with you? Who all played on the team?

SG: Oh, who all were players on the team? James Brooks, Roy Kellogg, Chappy Grace, Alfonzo Scruggs, I can name them all. We got pictures that will show.

MG: Okay. I'd like to see them.

SG: Okay. Now, in addition to that, the band came along and they practiced, the band practiced downstairs. Then we left the band practice and we went upstairs and played basketball for the rest of the evening.

MG: The same guys?

SG: Mostly.

MG: Mostly the same guys. Yeah, Chappy said he played the trumpet, and this was the—

SG: Mhmm. And you got through playing your saxophone or trumpet or trombone, whatever, you would go upstairs and we'd play basketball the rest of the evening. All close-knit, very close-knit, all of us were.

MG: It was at that [inaudible]—

SG: This is why I think young people miss something nowadays that can't be translated into things, because—

MG: You have to slow things down in order to get it.

SG: Yes, you have to bring them down to—and I think this is why this particular group, you take the SOBs, for instance, we're so sentimental. We have a love for each other because we've been through so much together.

MG: That is, yeah, it is really hard for anybody else to really appreciate and understand, because these organizations—

SG: Yes, because they don't have this kind of contact.

MG: Right. No, they've been operational for—

SG: And especially white people—

MG: twenty or thirty years.

SG: White people don't—

MG: They have no officers and they have no rules and they don't have no problems.

SG: And they're meeting, they're meeting right now. They're ironing it out, whatever it is. When they get through it will be beautiful. You wouldn't believe it. It's true. It doesn't even sound possible.

MG: Consistently, yeah, consistently so.

SG: But it has been true these many years, almost thirty years, but it has been true all these years, but you wouldn't believe it. Now they don't always get along and they don't always speak to each other—

MG: Right, right. And they talk about each other, yeah.

SG: Yeah, but it's only brief.

MG: Yes. It is only true.

SG: But they're—and you better not get in it. If you get in it, you in trouble.

MG: Yeah, [unintelligible].

SG: Shoot, you in trouble. What did you say? [Laughs]. Man, your mother can make 'em mad as anybody, but she—and somebody says too much against Ali [spelling?], who you talking about?

MG: Yeah, yeah.

SG: You better explain yourself [laughs].

MG: Yeah, it's what the government calls check and balance.

SG: They got—yeah, and they got plenty of that going for them.

MG: Okay, how many—

SG: Look at my damn dog running around out there. Now he know he ain't used to that.

MG: He ain't going far from—

Unknown Speaker: They're okay.

MG: Okay, thanks.

SG: But he ain't going too far.

MG: Yeah he, well he ain't that far—

SG: He's about his limit right now.

MG: He's not too far from his dish, that's what I've noticed.

SG: No, and he says "leave them gates open, because I may want back in there any minute now" [laughter].

MG: That's good; he'll figure that out, he'll work it out. How you girls holding up? Okay? You'll get you some more pop? Okay.

SG: They know, they know how to act right at Nana and Papa's.


MG: Yeah, I just don't want them to get too—

SG: That's alright, let them do what they going to do.

MG: Let me ask you—

SG: They ain't going to do nothing but play.

MG: This up here: how you first came employed by the railroad. The pop is in the cooler. It's just over there.

SG: [Laughs] I'll be glad to tell that story.

MG: Well, this was your father? Through your father? Okay, go ahead.

SG: In fact, my dad did not want me to become employed as a Red Cap because he'd had some difficulties with the supervisor in the [00:15:30 unintelligible] and supervisor of the Red Caps in which he had to assert himself because of some holdings that they had, like the fraternal hall. And I got barred out of the fraternal hall just a few weeks prior. I was already breaking in as a Red Cap and I was up there one Sunday in my finery watching the fellas play pool, because I had no money in my pocket [laughs].

MG: Right, but you still came in your finery.

SG: And set down there and I'm watching them play pool and going and enjoying myself, you know, and this fool come in off the street and one of my first run-ins with drugs, he was full of pot or whatever—

MG: Whatever, uh-huh.

SG: And he come in and his whatever told him to drop his old dirty handkerchief onto my clean—and I was clean.

MG: Yeah, you was clean.

SG: Britches.

MG: Right.

SG: So I knew him so I didn't say anything to him and just going to consider the source and let it go at that, so I opened my legs and let it drop on the floor. So he told me to pick it up and I said "you dropped it here, you pick it up." So he looked at me and I looked at him and we looked at each other for about five or ten minutes there. So he said well, this nigger don't scare too easy so I'm going to pick it up again and throw it in his lap again.

MG: And see. He said [laughs].

SG: And see if what I thought was going on is going on [laughter]. So Herman [spelling?] was his name, he picked it up, and by that time I'm sitting there cool and nice and I re-crossed my legs, because I just know that's the end of this incident, you know. So he picked it up and threw it in my lap again. So I...

MG: [Laughs] had—

SG: Ain't no need to get in no argument and fight with him, because I know I can whoop him already, I know that in front, so ain't no need of me whooping him. So "Herman, I'm going to let you go if you just let this thing go."

MG: Right.

SG: So then he out with his knife.

MG: Uh-oh.

SG: So then I got to get up now.

MG: Yeah. Excuse me—

SG: [Laughing] excuse me just a second. I got to get up now. So I back up to the pool table and I get both hands full of pool balls, so I said well, I better move around to this side and get me a little moving room here. So he's still coming at me with his knife, so about this time the bartender comes around the bar and he can't see nobody out there but me. So he grabs me by the arms and pins my arms behind me, and here this nigger is with his knife in front of me. So I said now what am I going to do? What do you do now, coach?

MG: [Laughter] you're the coach.

SG: So I said well, if the old boy keep on coming I got to kick him in his—do whatever else is necessary.

MG: Right.

SG: So about that time somebody came along and broke the thing up, but...

MG: Out of that, coming to the railroad.

SG: I'll tell you his name; we called him Flatfoot Floozy, Tom Mayfield [spelling?]. You probably know Richard. You know Richard? That's his son. But anyway, he's been married to Sara [spelling?]. But anyway, later on I got a job out at—extra job out at Libby Cannery, and he was real big out there. And then him, he realized then, by that time, he had begun to realize that he was wrong and all, and man, I made more overtime for doing nothing. Because he was in my corner, he was always "him, him." I worked longer than anybody [laughs] everything, the whole thing. I made all them bonuses and all that stuff. But he was still wrong. I never forgave him for that, though, because he left me a sitting duck for this fella to do what he, you know, and there's no excuse for that. My dad didn't like that either and my dad went up there and he—


MG: He didn't want you to work for the railroad as a result of that.

SG: Well, they barred me out.

MG: Why?

SG: They barred me out of the fraternal hall because—

MG: Because of the incident?

SG: Mhmm. So my dad went up there and he wanted to know from Clarence Ivy [spelling?] and Phil Reynolds [spelling?], who were more or less in charge of the whole operation, what it was about his son that his son couldn't come in that place and everybody else could. And my dad was a very hard man to convince. If you didn't bring him some facts, he wouldn't—

MG: Yeah, he wasn't sold on it.

SG: No. So he told them, he said "well, if he can't come in here, nobody else had better come in here, because if they do I got my [00:20:56 unintelligible] with me, you know, and I will be back."

MG: And I'll be back to check and see if the policy's being followed according to his specification.

SG: Yeah, he told them that. And so behind that he couldn't hardly afford for me to go to work down in the depot, you see, because I would be at their mercy more or less down there, which I was, because in 1944 Phil Reynolds [spelling?] caught me in the hallway one day—this is something that most people don't know—but he caught me in the hallway one evening after—during lunch hours, and he said to me, he had a way of pronouncing "mister"—

MG: Phil Reynolds?

SG: In a very indicative way, "Mis-ture Green this is—now you're fixing to have trouble, you're fixing to have problems, boy," see. So that's what he said to me. I was, I had been to lunch and I was coming back, which would have been about seven-thirty, eight o'clock, somewhere in that vicinity. And he cornered me and he said "I would like to speak with you." Oh, he got very proper—

MG: Uh-oh.

SG: And all of this business. "I would like to speak with you a moment." "Yes, Mr. Reynolds?" Because I'm thinking nothing.

MG: Yeah.

SG: [Sighs]. There was some auspicious occasion which made me think that I had no—that I—not even think about having any problems, and he was good at catching you off-guard this way. So what he said to me was that "I've been thinking. I think you should go uptown and get you a job. Now, they're short of Red Caps." And that's what he said to me. So while I was trying to suggest that, he—

MG: Considering the source.

SG: Uh-huh. He and Clarence had been at odds for some reason. I don't remember, I can't piece it together anymore, but they had been at odds. It was a power struggle between the two of them, really.

MG: Right. Apparently both of them had, as you said—

SG: He was in charge of the railroad end of things, Phil was.

MG: Phil Reynolds?

SG: Clarence, his assistant, had moved in and was in charge of these civic things, like [00:23:40 unintelligible] Vanport, Keizer-oriented stuff; getting people situated and that sort of thing, and he had grown very large in that. And Clarence—

MG: Human resources.

SG: Yeah, really is what it boils down to. But one in one area and one in another, one more or less a—

MG: Civic, and—

SG: Well, a small area. And Clarence had moved out into the large area, see. And it was kind of a power struggle. So when Clarence came to work, came back to work off his lunch hour, I was still there trying to fathom out what in the devil, why do I have to go uptown and get a job, you know--

MG: When I'm doing fine here.

SG: Yeah. So Clarence came in and after he sat around a while he says "Si, what's the matter with you?" [audio cuts out].

[end of interview 00:24:35]


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