Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

Si Greene Oral History Interview, Part 3

August 13, 1983

Audio: “Si Greene Oral History Interview, Part 3” . August 13, 1983

Location: Location Unknown.
Interviewer:  Michael Grice

0:24:48 - Download Transcript (PDF)


Michael Grice: A long time ago, because I was telling her Chappy always had such recall of different things. Well he—on the one hand he had good recall, but on the other hand he was experiencing things that was new and exciting to him which was not so new; it was taken as common everyday for a lot of other guys, you know.

Si Greene: Well like me for instance, things that he found notably exciting were not exciting to me because them was the things that I had to live by.

MG: Yeah.

SG: And them people was, had their feet on my neck and all that stuff, you know, and I wasn't finding that too exciting, you know. But he just had a knack for remembering stuff like that anyway. That was the basic issue of the whole thing.

George: When do you start your vacation? Monday?

MG: Tuesday. Well, I got to work Monday just to clean up everything that—

George: What does your tomorrow look like?

MG: Tomorrow I'm open. Working all day tomorrow.

George: Let's try again.

MG: Okay. I got a couple people lined up; George Canada, just a couple—

George: I think Sunday isn't a bad day.

MG: It depends on everybody else's schedule.

SG: Yeah, really, because tomorrow I think we're going to be busy, because of Lawrence Alberti and his mother and their family; we're going to try to do things for them.

MG: But I've talked to a number of people so that—

SG: Your mother, in fact, is involved in that. What time of day, I don't know.

MG: [Inaudible] I talked to your mom. I told her that you'd be asking her about— [MG continues conversation with George in the background].

SG: I've been reading your column from time to time too, let you know that I—you're not totally strange.

Unknown Speaker: Okay, yes [00:01:41 inaudible].

SG: I might not pronounce your name right, but I know who I'm talking to, anyway. No, I enjoy it.

Unknown Speaker: Thank you.

SG: Who was the young lady who was investigating, at one time, the band thing?

Unknown Speaker: The band thing?

SG: The first bands in the Rose Festival, do you remember who—

Unknown Speaker: I don't know; it wasn't me.

SG: No, I know it wasn't you.

Unknown Speaker: Evelyn [00:02:15 unintelligible]?

SG: I think so, but you know, I found—

George: See you later Mr. Greene.

SG: You bet George, okay. A little disappointing; of course I don't know what her motives were, I never talked with her or anything, but I was getting questions from time to time about this or about that or about other things and I volunteered to do interviews or whatever with her about...it doesn't make any difference whether I was in the first band or the last band, that part was—but she want, as the way I got it, some history on bands in the Rose Festival, and I would have tried to give her some of that. Then it seems that it evolved into something else, and—

Unknown Speaker: Yeah, yeah. I'm—yeah. The railroad, certainly there's been a lot of changes in it, because people have changed. The government—

SG: Mhmm, and the railroad has changed, the whole job concept has changed.

Unknown Speaker: In what way? In what way has the job concepts changed?

SG: Jobs pay—comparable jobs now pay more money than they did then, and white people will accept these jobs now where they didn't then. I think this is the basic thing that went with it. Where we could get hotel jobs waiting table, they got women doing it now. They will also see that those women get ten percent of whatever the bill is now. They will notify you at the time that you make the appointment. They didn't do that for blacks back during those days. If you were lucky enough that the people wanted to pay you something, then you got it. If they didn't, which was the case many times, then you didn't.

Unknown Speaker: Right.

SG: So they've got all the best of it, so now jobs will pay ten dollars, five dollars, seven dollars an hour or whatever the price is, but those menial jobs will pay. Shoe shining: a dollar a shine now, a nickel a shine then. You could have all those jobs. See, you were welcome to them. I worked for nothing out there on 28th and Burnside. Not Burnside; Ankeny, little old barber shop there, cleaned up the shop. The man was glad to have me out there because he could go home when six o'clock came and leave me down there to clean his shop, and it would be clean the next morning. He didn't have to do it. I haven't earned a dime all day shining shoes, because there ain't been nobody in there. You know, but these are things, these are the types of things that go on now.


MG: I've often thought about rekindling something called the Real Good Service Corporation and to have it as a training ground for young people, not for the purpose of training them to be shoeshine boys or gardeners, but for training them for the purpose of how to show up every day, how to take orders from your supervisor.

SG: How to learn how to work.

MG: How to learn how to work?

SG: Yeah.

MG: Where do you learn how to work?

SG: The average one of them doesn't know, doesn't have any concept on how to go about doing a job.

MG: That's true. And you know, the only thing that keeps me from—

SG: I worked as washing houses before I worked at the depot. I worked for a man named Tuman [spelling?]. He taught me at least how to work, how to show up every morning at a certain time, how to do certain things. You know; how to organize a job. At least I learned that. I haven't forgotten it still this day.

MG: Well that's the same thing that—I guess I got it from Chappy, you know what I'm saying?

SG: Sure, you did. That's where you got it.

MG: So the thing is of knowing how to work, you know. That's—

SG: I tried to teach my son. He wasn't interesting, but I tried to teach him.

Unknown Speaker: Yeah, yeah. Why do you think that the youth today—

SG: He's got it together now.

Unknown Speaker: don't know how to work? Is it because there's no one there to train them how, or what?

SG: There's a large amount of unwillingness to learn, too. I think this is the basic difference. I may be old-fashioned, and I'm going to take that upon myself, perhaps I am. If I am, I take responsibility for that, but I think this is the basic responsibility. I think another basic responsibility goes with the parents. In fact, I would classify that more than anything, because sometimes we get carried away by not making our kids go through the same things that we went through. Maybe they were good, maybe there was some good in what we did at the time.

MG: Right.

SG: And I think there's a great deal in that. My parents didn't back up, and with my boy I didn't back up either. I let him know that you may not be doing what I'm asking you to do, but one day you're going to have to do it. And I think he's found that out. That's one of the basic things that he has found out, and he found out much easier than a lot of our young people do, although he found out the hard way too, you know. But...

MG: But still much—

SG: You get gradients of grey and black. That's life, I think. That's my connotation. And I'm not brilliant, by a long shot. Am I, Gwen?

Gwen: Nope, not at all.

SG: [Laughs].

Gwen: Not at all.

SG: See there, there's my amen corner there.

[Tape cut]

Somewhere along the line we've got to lay down some rules and regulations and how to conduct ourselves too, because we're not totally right.

MG: No. That was one of the things that I had to learn about myself. Even though I often had good ideas, I couldn't be always right. And that's a, even—

SG: And if you be truthful with yourself, if you will come face to face with it and you say "I'm only partly right, at best."

MG: [Laughs] at best, huh. Most of the time, at any time, at any given time, we're just partly right, at best.

SG: Yeah.

MG: That's taking into consideration all the options that there are in the whole world.

SG: Mhmm, yeah.

MG: Yeah, I was fortunate since I've been able to travel.

SG: Mhmm, that helps.

MG: That helped.

SG: That's a big help.

MG: That helped. How did you first meet your wife in Portland? At church? At a social function?

SG: It was through your brother—it was through your father. He was the promoter.

MG: [Laughs].

SG: Prime promoter, because he went back there and he saw her and he saw the poor girl was suffering.

MG: He's like "come on, I got somebody for you."

SG: Yeah, out there. "Old buddy of mine there, he'll take care of you, girl."

MG: [Laughs] I know he will.

SG: [Laughing] look at her. You—that isn't total fabrication.

Unknown Speaker: Well they still, they still do that today.

SG: That isn't total fabrication [laughs].

MG: And knowing Chappy, one of the things he had—

SG: He had her all primed up and so finally she got out and here I is, with another lady.

MG: Uh-oh.

SG: Oh, he say? Uh-oh? That's what I said too, but I said well, be brave boy.

MG: See if you can be brave, huh.

SG: You know what I told her?

MG: What?

SG: Famous last words: "not now. I'll tell you when." Can you imagine that?

MG: You was young, though.

SG: [00:10:09 unintelligible] [Laughter].

MG: Get around Chappy. Well obviously—what was he doing in Chicago? Oh, he had been in the service, huh?


SG: Yeah, he was at, was it Kankakee, or wherever that fort is over there?

MG: I don't know. In Michigan?

SG: Yeah, where they make the potato chips and stuff, that's where he was.

MG: Battle Creek?

SG: He said the town—Battle Creek, he was stationed in Battle Creek. Smelled like [00:10:36 unintelligible] all day.

MG: Yeah, see he was talking about [00:10:41 unintelligible].

SG: Oh, shucks. And he didn't prime Margaret up, shoot, she was ready to see some kind of mental giant I guess or something and all she saw was me when she got out here. So I made my smart remark and earned my place in history [laughter].

MG: "Not now," huh? "Maybe later." That kept the door open though. Opened the door and kept it open.

SG: Boy, you have to put your foot in the door. We had a nigger around here named Foot in the Door [spelling?] around that time, too, yeah [laughter].

MG: Now this brother had his foot in the door just like you—

SG: Sure.

MG: ever was. Sure, that was Foot in the Door, I remember him because...

SG: Sure, Raincoat and Foot in the Door, they was buddies.

MG: Well, Rainy Day—

SG: Raincoat had one. He wore it winter and summer. And Foot in the Door, his mouth was flapping all the time, and that's the way he kept his foot in the door, you know. He was opening up all avenues all the time.

MG: Yeah, kept his door open, yeah.

SG: That's why we like nicknames, didn't you know that? That's why black folks always have nicknames.

MG: Yeah.

SG: You never call a fella by his name, unless you just can't help yourself.

MG: Chappy [00:11:57 unintelligible], yeah I remember that.

SG: But you call him by his nickname, and he had an appropriate nickname at all times.

MG: Yeah, Foot in the Door, huh. Did you know my grandfather Big Chappy? Do you remember him?

SG: Oh no.

MG: No?

SG: Never saw or heard of him before.

MG: I'd like to hear something on him, because nobody knows nothing about him in my family.

SG: Chappy? Old Chappy, the Old Good'n.

MG: The Old Good One, that's what they called him?

SG: Old Good'n, not Good one; Old Good'n.

MG: Yeah, Old Good'n.

SG: Yes sir his shoes, his shoes and head was shined at all times. You never caught him without both of them being shining. A day like this you could see your face in his shoes and on his head, because that's what it was.

MG: He was buffed.

SG: Oh, you better believe it.

MG: Was that not common for the guys his age, or?

SG: Not to go through the extremes that he did, because he always, that was an everyday thing as far as he was concerned. He always; any day, every day was a holiday as far as that was concerned with him.

MG: Pat hasn't told me today, every day is a holiday.

SG: A holiday, you bet your life. Yes, sir. And that's where he was. He believed in that and that's where he kept himself at all times. Back during those days shining shoes was almost a fetish.

MG: An art, Mhmm.

SG: It was a state of being really, I think, because you—how should I—denigrated yourself if you had shoes like this. You didn't wear none, uh-uh, you didn't go—

MG: But you weren't going nowhere in them.

SG: Uh-uh. And you didn't—in polite company you didn't wear no shoes like this, like I'm out here now. No, no, your shoes were shined at all times. No, this is one of the things that your daddy grew up with that; it was a part of the culture at that time, and a very big part of it. You stayed sharp all the time. And this is what your grandfather—that's the way he lived. That was part of his life. That was his life, as far as that part of the matter was concerned. And he was never caught short.

MG: Never caught short, huh?

SG: Never caught short, no.

MG: Has an interesting—

SG: He may not have many shekels, too many to bounce against in his pocket, but nobody ever knew it. In fact, one of the things that made a very lasting impression on me during my growing up days was a friend of my family's, name was Lawrence Miller [spelling?], and in the course of my growing up I guess I must have been seventeen, eighteen years of age, and he said to me one day, one Sunday, he said "Si, I don't care how much money you don't have, nobody will ever know it unless you tell them." So he said "one of the best things that I can tell you is pay your bills. That's what your daddy lived by too. Pay your bills and be a man." And the two have always gone together, as far as I'm concerned.


MG: Pay your bills and be a man. I remember Chappy telling me. Pay your bills.

SG: Yes. And if I don't go around complaining to you about I don't have no money, you will never know I don't have any money, if I don't tell you. If I don't have any money, I've got ten million other things to tell you. I think I'll run down the street a minute, and what you going to say about that, hmm? What are you going to say about that? Ain't nothing left for you to say, is it? It disarms you but you don't know I don't have no money. It's as simple as that.

MG: Yeah, that's true.

SG: So I don't have to go around crying broke to nobody. All I have to do is say "I don't particularly care to participate," whatever it is. And any time. Another lesson I learned as a young man which I think was very valuable to me and I think that some of these people around in the streets today, if they had any inkling, that the only thing that they have to do when they see something going on that they don't like, you don't have to argue with anybody about it: "I'm going to the bathroom, I'll be back in a minute."

MG: Okay.

SG: No, I'm not going anywhere.

MG: Oh.

SG: But that's all you have to do: "I'm going to the bathroom; I'll be back in a minute." Now if he wants to follow you to the bathroom, now we have some words in there, but that'll be strictly between you and us in there.

MG: Right.

SG: But when I tell you I'm going to the bathroom; it must be something I'm trying to get away from.

MG: Yeah.

SG: And all I have to, if I don't like what's going on, is tell you that I'm going to the bathroom. I've done that many times. See, when I come out of the bathroom, now I didn't say I was coming back here where you are and what you got going.

MG: You excuse yourself of the situation.

SG: Yes.

MG: Diplomatically.

SG: Yes.

MG: Yeah, that's what I say—

Unknown male: Mike, can I interrupt you?

MG: Yeah.

[Tape cut].

SG: But there are all kinds of things and I think, since I'm talking on this thing, I think sometimes it—I think the greatest thing that I could ever do would be to give credit where credit is due, which is not me. It's the people I was associated with at a very tender and early age who had the foresight, in particular, to have patience with me, to try to teach me something.

MG: Who were they?

SG: Like the Cantrells, Jim Cantrell, Mack Oliver, Old Man Jones, Patilla, [spellings?] those people, those kinds of people in particular.

MG: Uh-huh, and what was—

SG: Who were older, they mature people but they had the patience and perseverance—

MG: And didn't give up on you.

SG: to keep telling us over and over, not only me but any of the young fellas who were around at the time. And they did this to all of us.

MG: Where did you encounter them? Was it at church or at school, or—

SG: Down at the depot in particular. That was the greatest educational training ground that I have ever seen or heard of. I can't pay enough plaudits to the place because they had so many things that they did that were so much out in front of everybody and every other organization in the same field, even. All they were promoting was employment, really.

MG: Right. Which helped with survival.

SG: But they had a bunch of young people there and they insisted upon a certain strata of excellence. Carl Diaz [spelling?] will remember and probably can tell you. Doctor Reynolds, Lewis Fuller, [spellings?] oh they're, oh golly. Let's see, I hate to leave out anybody. James Brooks, can tell you about the things that went on down there. I can—the thing that impresses me greatly is that white people in the baggage room down there, which was totally dominated by white people, they like to brag about the things that they did. They would not accept us as employees in their department. Still, we overshadowed them in the things they would like to brag about, like non-commissioned officers and the commissioned officers coming out of the armed services. We had a higher percentage in the Red Cap force, it's hard to believe. I'd bet you that no organization in this country had a higher representative rate of commissioned officers for the clientele that they were dealing with.


MG: On a per capita basis, yeah.

SG: Per capita basis. They couldn't have had. It's almost impossible for any—

MG: You talking about guys who were Red Caps who were commissioned officers.

SG: Yes, commissioned officers.

MG: I know Lawrence Alberti was.

SG: Air Force we had—most of them were in the Air Force. Now would you believe that?

MG: Who were they?

SG: Bob Diaz, Jack Holsclaw, Richard [spellings?] ...what was his name. These are high officers now that I'm—they had—

MG: But they had been Red Caps, and they were black guys?

SG: Yes. Doctor Reynolds was one, Robert Reynolds was another, Carl Diaz, Bob Diaz, Jack—I named him already—Rich, Old Man Stanton, Richard Stanton. Oh, there were ten of us that were going to start out, and the CAP.

MG: But they all had come as commissioned officers into Portland?

SG: Huh?

MG: They had come to Portland when they got out of the service?

SG: No, no, no, they went in the service from down there.

MG: From Portland.

SG: And made it...

MG: To commissioned officers.

SG: To commissioned officers, some as—well no, they never did come back, because you know they retired from the service up in the officer's ranks. Some of them colonels and captains and—

MG: But they had been Red Caps prior to going into the service.

SG: Yes.

MG: Okay.

SG: They were prior to going. And so many other organizations are, if they get one or two, like they had a colonel out of the baggage room, his daddy was a big man and a Masonic and plus being the big man in the baggage room and he bought his son's way in, but we weren't buying. Benny Hamilton [spelling?] was a non-commissioned officer. Almost, in fact almost all the Red Caps who went in came out—

MG: Commissioned officers.

SG: Non-commissioned officers, at least. You see what I mean?

MG: Sure.

SG: But the biggest majority of them were commissioned officers. Carl Diaz was a commissioned officer when he came out; Bob Diaz was a first lieutenant or a captain, we had colonels, and I think Jack Holsclaw was a major—

MG: And this was from Portland Oregon, all these guys had been—

SG: From Portland, from the Red Cap Department.

MG: Yeah.

SG: In 1939, well 1940, we were—there were ten of us who were enlisted in the CAP at Swan Island.

MG: Civil Air Patrol?

SG: Mhmm. And most of these fellas came out of that and went on with the 499th, and they were the best trained group ever, but that wasn't their fault.

MG: Right.

SG: But anyway, they did their job and they went over there. Billy Bell was another one. Well, I think of all of them—

MG: Now, is Billy Bell related to Mrs. Bell?

SG: No, no.

MG: I just got time to ask you one more—

SG: He's a Jefferson's High School student, that's all, about all I—in fact Stanton was too, and...

MG: Can you think of what impact it had? You were here obviously during the time when more blacks came to Oregon to work for the railroad. Did it change things or was there a big impact, in a word or two, that took place? Did the whites give more respect, less respect, have to change policies, did employment opportunities open up, close up, or did the community expand the number of schools?

SG: They tried, whites tried to keep it down to a certain level which would make blacks on the lower end of the spectrum, but I think it began to look up somewhat, although I don't think anything was ever done about upgrading— [audio cuts out].

[end of interview 00:24:50]


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