Oregon State University
Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection

Cliff Jackson Oral History Interview, Part 2

August 23, 1983

Audio: “Cliff Jackson Oral History Interview, Part 2” . August 23, 1983

Location: Location Unknown.

0:17:23 - Download Transcript (PDF)


Cliff Jackson: My parents was born in Slater Missouri. Mother told me she was born in Slater Missouri. Papa was born in Oklahoma. It was—I don't remember, but I know the state of Oklahoma. Been so long I don't remember.

Interviewer: How many children do you have, Mr. Jackson?

CJ: I have no children; I'm a stepfather. One son.

Interviewer: Oh, okay. And what about brothers and sisters in your family back in Missouri? How many brothers and sisters did you have?

CJ: I have two sisters.

Interviewer: Okay.

CJ: There were only three of us in the family.

Interviewer: Three, alright. And where are they at now, Mr. Jackson?

CJ: One's in [00:00:48 unintelligible] city Kansas, married. Her name is Robertson [spelling?]. The other girl lives in Kansas City Missouri; she's married and she's name is Sweat [spelling?].

Interviewer: Okay. Sir, is there anything special about your years in the railroad that you'd like to share with us? Anything special about those thirty-eight years? That's quite a bit of time.

CJ: I would like to say that service improved. Where the dining car of the train would look like it, all that time you said train looks like the old time train and you see this [00:01:23 unintelligible] express you see on the TV, an ad from Fred Meyers; "put your money on the right track." That's the only thing makes you think about the railroad. I went down on a train to go into Eugene last month. You get on, you walk up some steps, you set [00:01:42 unintelligible] if you want to, but the fool that bring it to you, it's on one little old tray and that's it. I went back to Kansas City and I—wife don't care to ride in a plane, but she's done changed and ride in a plane now. Had to go clean over to Chicago to come back to Kansas City on my pass. Well, the Santa Fe didn't go on to Amtrak, Santa Fe stayed out of there independent, but I was—it had fare on a train coming back here. I went to Union Station, [00:02:17 unintelligible] the seat in the Union Station, and that big iron gate closed over where they sell the tickets, so I said to the guard, said "what's a matter?" said "man," said "there's so much robbing and everything so we just can't keep the station open." So, I went out to get a cab. I had a cousin in Kansas City—I mean in Chicago—but I didn't know her address and forgot to bring it with me. So I said to the man and says "I know a colored lady," said "I want to go"—"oh," he said, "I don't go to that neighborhood at night." I was in awe. I said "what is the closest hotel?" I go "I got to leave in the morning." He said "well the closest hotel, it's right at Holiday," said "only three blocks away from here." So he got us there and that's where we stayed. But I think today that Negroes get some support [00:03:16 unintelligible], because I worked in Kansas City with the Democrat machine, and I used to have to go out and beg Negroes to vote and pay them to vote.

Interviewer: What year was this?

CJ: Back in 1924, '24 when Harry Truman was coming to be the president. I was a waiter at the club up there with him, see. And he was a cocky man and he'd take no stuff off nobody.

Interviewer: Yeah.

CJ: See. So the waiter made a remark about him, and Cash Waltz [spelling?] was the head man and had to took him to the hallway and give him his ticket, went right on the chin. And Cash said "long as you come in this meeting here with us you'll make no remark I will want to talk to question, see." So, I went back home; I went out to live in a city named 15th street Truman Road in Kansas City after Truman, see. And I went over to see Mrs. Truman—Bess Truman, that's his wife—I went over to see her that time. She's gone now. And they all has faded just the same. And I said "Mrs. Truman, maybe you don't remember me," I said, "but I worked at the [00:04:28 unintelligible]. "Oh," she said "I remember 12th [unintelligible], I got some pictures of it." She went back and got the picture; I said "well that's me right there, waiting table." "Oh my God," she said. Well see, I used to have a full head of hair, but see it got away. It used to be longer than yours, see. But I'll tell you the truth; I regret maybe a lot of things, but after I've been married so long and my wife has made investments and I got a good income now, I worked at the hospital, and one thing I miss, well I don't miss the railroad so much now because it's changed so bad it's pitiful.


Interviewer: Why do you say it's pitiful, Mr. Jackson?

CJ: Well the service ain't no more, see? And you don't wear a uniform like you—I don't mind women being engineers; I came on the train and got on the train and looked up there, when I went to Eugene [00:05:30 unintelligible], boy here come a woman engineer coming in, see. I believe in equal rights with women; I think nothing wrong about it, but the conductor, the porters, they look like they're coal miners. They have overalls on, see. Go down to the station now, you know, you ought to see what's out there Red Cap now. McGuire [spelling?] was the last one to retire down there, he was the last one retired. He retired last year. Chick Wellins [spelling?] used to be with us down there. You know Chick Wellins?

Interviewer: Yes, sir.

CJ: All of them Red Caps, we gave—had a little party when Chick Wellins retired, but he got a little old cap on his head, you know, little bitty thing, and it says [00:06:10 unintelligible] Red Cap, see? But Reagan says that the railroad's going to have to come back. See, the governors there were smart; the railroad dropped the passengers, so the governors, they take the freight. And look at that railroad, look at that big wreck down on railroads yesterday.

Interviewer: Yeah.

CJ: Two trains run into each other. If you ain't got qualified people going out there they don't know what the hell to do, see?

Interviewer: Right. Well—

CJ: Because see, years ago [00:06:39 unintelligible] car, one of them going to the [00:06:42 unintelligible] and when the train would slow down, see, and if that signal was done turned down, turned red, he stayed there, see. Now if the switch—the wreck wouldn't have to get off—up front, had head man to walk up the track to see what's going on, see. And he didn't move, see. But things are changed now. Airports having trouble—I don't think—I think the passengers, the travel for the people today's going to have to change a whole lot, but I would love to see the railroads come back, because there'd be a lot of people put back to work.

Interviewer: Exactly.

CJ: I'd love to see it.

Interviewer: So, what advice would you like to give young people here in Portland, Oregon?

CJ: Get you an education, because if you ain't got no education, ain't nothing out here for you to do. I's gone back home in Kansas City; people used to sweep the streets, sold newspapers, [00:07:40 unintelligible] shine the shoes. I shined the shoes Union Station down there in Kansas City years ago in the [00:07:49 unintelligible]. That day is gone. You shine the shoes, you shine the shoes for a dime, see. Everybody give you a quarter. I got to shine—the shop [00:08:00 unintelligible] out there in Johnson Beach out there I was out there [00:08:03 unintelligible] white folks shine the shoes and it costs you a dollar, see.

Unknown Speaker: And they probably use a machine now.

CJ: Yeah, that's right. Well, they got a machine up in Seattle. I went up to visit station in Seattle and went over to get my shoes shined while I was waiting for the train there and they got a machine. Of course it gave me a good shine; oh man, it'll give you a good shining, but it's all machine work.

Interviewer: So, what would you like to see more of in this community? What would you like to see more of?

CJ: I would like to see...I think in Oregon, Portland Oregon, relationship with the people, with black people, Chinese, Indian and everything else is 100%--there's no place in Portland now where you can't eat. I've ate at every place in Portland; I've never been turned down at no place. The Hilton, everything else, see. But the only thing I would like to see is clean the city up. I wrote—we wrote Frank Iverson [spelling?] a letter: get the prostitutes off of Union Avenue.

Interviewer: Yes sir.

CJ: Years ago when I came to Portland Oregon they had the red light district but the poor girls wasn't standing out there on the streets, see what I'm saying?

Interviewer: Where was the red light district at?

CJ: Red light district was different houses down [00:09:31 unintelligible] in that part of town. See, and you'd be surprised; Seattle was wide open for it, see. [Unintelligible] had [00:09:45 unintelligible] an arrangement with white girls was in Seattle, see. I knowed about that, I got scared when Rock said to me, said "we'll go to one," and I went, I said "oh no," George Candy [spelling?] said—I said "oh, not me." I went up there and I said "well, where are the prostitutes all at?" [Laughs]. I stand there and they all come out like "hello." They said "are you ready to go?" I said "yeah, I'm ready" [laughs]. I said "lord, if mom would see me now, man, she'd kill me, see." But that's the way it was I came to Portland.


But see, I never had been around nothing before. I didn't know about no red light district. First time I know a thing about it right here. I heard they had it in Denver but I didn't know about it, see. When you railroad—see you're railroading you couldn't take no chance of fooling around, see. I'll never forget what my father told me: "you gettin' up in age now. I want you to be careful, because you can run around and you get gonorrhea." I didn't know what that was; he told me. He says—he bought me them condoms, [00:11:09 unintelligible] and said "now if you going to—you know what you doing?" Well I had me a [unintelligible] Abel, a friend of mine, I said "well Abel"— "Abel said what?" I said "if you don't [00:11:25 unintelligible]," so I probably said "take some wax out here and rub it. If she burning, oh, well," I said "she's hot," and she said [laughter] "I'm telling you something, see, if she's hot," said "get away from her." Boy I'll tell you, I learned a whole lot of stuff [laughter].

Interviewer: [00:11:51 unintelligible] the times were really like that.

CJ: Get some wax out here [laughter].

Unknown Speaker: [Laughing] get that wax out here.

CJ: I didn't know about that kind of stuff but I had a lot of stuff told to me. And of course I—about the most beautiful thing after leaving the railroad was the other fellas [00:12:10 unintelligible], they gave a big party to me at that Hospital I retired. Gave me a nice check and everything, and I got a plaque back there when I retired from that Hospital. I'll show it to you before you leave.

Interviewer: Okay, yeah.

CJ: And I never told nobody I don't know, see. If you working on a job and everything and got your credentials on your name and everything, you wouldn't ask a question if you don't know yourself, see. So, "could you tell me where the lab is?" "Just a minute." I'd walk down the hallway and I'd go "it's down the hall over there, turn right and it'll be the first door. It's a sign across there that's laboratory. Go in there," "I got to have a test." But I had a little Japanese girl, her name was Aretha Wall [spelling?]and she told me "Sergeant, I'll help you all the time." I was a sergeant there. So I met so many people there. So Mr. Hansen [spelling?] says "Jackson, you've increased so much, you've got so many people." I had them all—I turned in a list of people coming every day and I had all kind of people come to walk and they kept—and had a cancer room. You know what a cancer room is? It's all aluminum. And I'd take them in and so take them down there to go. And Sylvester [spelling?] what's his name, Jack Parr [spelling?], the [00:13:43 unintelligible] company? Dan Kato [spelling?], the [00:13:45 unintelligible], Dan was a very close friend of mine. I would have to look after him, see.

Interviewer: They're in the cancer ward?

CJ: Yeah, that was the cancer ward. And of course Kato, well I made a good impression when I met Kato; he was a great lover of the racetrack. So with Henry out there he was going [00:14:04 unintelligible] Henry hadn't made a deal out there for years. When I was worked on him, when he was on the road, I [00:14:09 unintelligible]. And Ralph, old Mr. Kato, he's always down the stairs. See, they had the track up here, that's where the rich people were, see, and down here was other class, see, and Kato'd always down there, try to talk with all the young gals, and Mrs. Kato would say "Jackson, you seen Mr. Kato?" "I haven't seen him but I can go find him for you." I knew where he was, in this alley right down there on the main floor, see. Go down there and Jacob'd say "yeah, he down there." I'd say "man," I said "come on and get dressed up, Mrs. Kato is waiting for you." "Okay, I'll be right, come on"—I said "oh come on, go now." I'd say "you get on the elevator, go on up," I said "I'm going to walk up the steps so she won't think I found you, see." Better get up there, that old man Kato. And like today, I got out to Kato store, that's where I trade. I buy ten dollars' worth of grocery so I can cash a fifty-dollar check. At 33rd?


Interviewer: Yeah.

CJ: Okay. That's where I trade at.

Interviewer: Sir, what are some last comments you'd like to make about your years on the railroad? Now that, you know, you're retired, you at home in your good chair smoking—

CJ: Well, I'm glad that—the salary wasn't good but I got a pass, I could ride the train any place free. That's one thing, and I loved that. Yeah, I got a pass, I can ride the train anyplace free.

Unknown Speaker: Do you travel a lot?

CJ: Well, my wife will—see Bob had his company in Eugene and we'd ride on the train. And of course I got that car from a girl, she was in the hospital, she was having some bad luck and she couldn't keep it up, so she wanted—she had a husband busted up and he was quite...and she came here one night and he jumped on her, and she said "Clifford I want you to take the car, because I can't keep it up all [00:16:05 unintelligible]." I said "okay." She says she had [00:16:11 unintelligible]. I went over, and so she told the man who wanted to have it she would just lease it. It was a balance on three thousand dollars. I says "you have the car ready, I'll be back for it." Went to pay her, I said "you have the car ready, I'll be back for it." I went back and give them a check for three thousand dollars. I said "now that's" ...I had to have the license about everything, she had to give me one, I brought it all the way here. So I've had it here now. And I went down, I went down to what's the name, then [00:16:45 unintelligible], I found out [00:16:47 unintelligible], best thing if you got a General Motors car, take it to General Motors.

Interviewer: Yeah.

CJ: And have it all taken care of, see. And I take it down there and I had to—a lot of work had to be did on it, see. I don't—and them big cars you don't get a lot of miles, you buy super unleaded gasoline, see. But one thing about it, today's it's a '78, you see today what the price on them, I was looking, I want to trade over; my wife said "no, we ain't going to get no more car." Because I don't use it that much. So now we going to go down the beach— [tape ends].

[end of interview 00:17:24]


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