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Aletha Chavis Oral History Interview, May 2, 2019

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RUTH KORNBERG: Okay, well good morning.

ALETHA CHAVIS: Good morning.

RK: I think you probably know mainly what the purpose of the interview is, that we're taking these life histories of people that have lived here for a long time so that we can get a good historical record of the experiences of African Americans living in Oregon.

AC: Yes.

RK: We'll just start with the beginning of your life. Can you give us some idea, a little history of your childhood? Where you were born? Where you lived? Kind of just start from the beginning of what you do remember.

AC: What I do remember [laughs]. Well, I may not remember all of this, but I have looked it up, or I've been told. I was born here in Portland, Portland, Oregon. I was born at Emanuel Hospital in 1931, June 29th. At that time, my 00:01:00parents, my mother and father and my brother, my older brother who is 1 year, 1 month, and 1 day older than I am, we were living in a very small house off of Peninsular Avenue in I guess the area of Kenton, Portland, the neighborhood of Kenton. My mother always called it St. Johns, but it really wasn't St. Johns. Our last name was Emanuel. My dad's name was Norman Emanuel and I was born in the Emanuel Hospital. So, it seems like I should have gotten something out of that, but I didn't. I grew up in that neighborhood until-I went through first and second grade there. Then our school burned down. I think the school must have burned down when I was in first grade. Second grade, we had a choice of going to Woodlawn School by bus. We would have been the first bussed students, 00:02:00or we could walk to Portsmouth School. Here I am, a second grader, going on the bus or walking to school. Well, we did take the bus, my brother and I, who is 1 year older, took the bus to Woodlawn and my brother, that first day, missed the bus coming home. My mom said, enough of that. We were only bussed for one day, and then after that we walked to Portsmouth. That was quite a walk, now as I look back at it. You know, kids don't care. They're just skipping along.

I spent one year at Portsmouth School, second grade. By third grade, we moved to the area where I now live, which is Lents in Portland. Quite a move, but my 00:03:00folks were able to get a house with 3 bedrooms and a kitchen, dining room, living room, which was much bigger than the house we lived in Kenton area. So, we lived in Lents area. At that time Lents was very undeveloped. We lived near, across the street was a wooded area that was just jungle: blackberry vines and bushes and things for kids to run through and hide and catch snakes and things, oh goodness, like that. Only four houses. I think four houses at that time were on the block, maybe 5 houses. The street was not paved, did not go through. We skipped up and down and had a lot of fun. The lot next to my folks' house was 00:04:00filled with blackberries and just a jungle. My folks fenced that lot in and they had chickens. Then our big project my brother and I had was to take care of the chickens. We loved chickens, but when they were baby chicks. We didn't like them after they got to be grown. They were kind of mean, actually. Anyway, that's where we grew up. [Break in recording]

RK: You were talking about taking care of the grown chickens, as opposed to the chicks.

AC: Right. We loved baby chicks, and we had names for them and had a lot of fun with them. Then, they grow up and they go out and they're kind of mean sometimes. We really didn't like, my brother and I did not like having to take care of the chickens, but that's what we did. We walked a block and a half to the old Lents School, which was one of the last almost 3-story wooden buildings 00:05:00in existence still in the city. Came home for lunch every day. Mom insisted that we go to school and come home for lunch every day. That's how we grew up through, I was third grade, my brother was fourth grade, through eighth grade. After that, we went to Franklin High School. It's kind of an interesting thing, a little factor: when my brother was, well he would have been first and second grade, he somehow ran into a neighbor kid. I remember his name, but the neighbor kid was kind of bigger. Actually, I don't know where the kid lived but he was in our neighborhood, and he always picked on my brother. My brother was very 00:06:00gentle. He wasn't like me. He wasn't mean and hostile [laughs]. He'd always want to fight with my brother, and Brother never really enjoyed fighting. When we moved down here to Lents, who should we encounter but this same individual, who was, I think, a year, maybe, or two older than my brother, always wanted to fight with him.

I remember one time coming home, my brother and I always walked together and came home together, generally speaking. Well, I came running home because on the way home this character, this young man, accosted my brother and wanted to fight. So, I run home and tell my mother: Milton's fighting! Milton's fighting! And she asked me, what are you doing here? You better go back and help him [laughs]. I had to turn around and go back a block or two. I don't know what I 00:07:00did, but I remember going back and probably hollering and screamed and made a lot of noise and brought a crowd so that it stopped the fight. We got along. My brother was a very gentle person. As I say, he didn't pick fights or anything like that, because he was very creative. He was very artistic, and music, he had a beautiful voice. We had taken piano lessons, but we really, neither one of us, played very well, but we had taken piano lessons from... I think we had a WPA piano teacher. She might have known, but she was not a very good teacher. Anyway, we did learn to play piano. In our grade school, it was kind of interesting because I don't' remember at Peninsula, because I think I was too young, I don't remember if there were any Black kids. The only family I knew that was not Caucasian, White, was, we had a family of Native Americans at that, 00:08:00for some reason we had befriended, and the mother, I think there were 4 or 5 children. Of course that was the time when nobody had any money. Nobody had any, you know, means of anything, but you just did the best you could. Mom was very generous with food, and she loved to cook and we could, she could prepare food out of a little bit of nothing that would serve the multitude.

RK: What kind of food?

AC: Just anything. She was from Barbados. She was very basic: rice and beans and a lot of vegetables. We had our own garden. We grew corn and beets and tomatoes 00:09:00and lettuce and cabbage. Just everything. She was very, I don't know what you'd call it, just creative with food and she was very generous with sharing food, so I remember we always shared food every time the family, the Native American kids, I think there were about 5 of them. If they'd come with their mother, it was interesting to watch because she was very strict with them and she'd have them sit and they'd fold their hands and they wouldn't move. They had to answer in a complete sentence, like we had to answer in a complete sentence, too. Even though you didn't have very much, you really didn't suffer. We didn't want for anything that you really needed. There were no frills. When we moved out here 00:10:00from North Portland, I was 8, 7 or 8, and we started picking berries in the summertime. Somehow we had a connection, my dad had a connection with a gentleman who had a farm in the Gresham area. Every summer, we would go picking berries. Well, that's what most of the kids our age did at that time.

RK: By then, you were how old?

AC: Eight, Nine, Ten. As I was thinking the other day, I think I picked berries until I went into high school. Of course, that was not cool then to be picking berries if you didn't have to, but I'm sure we might have picked berries for a few years. You'd start with the strawberries and then you'd go into raspberries and then there were Logan berries and then blackberries. A lot of kids in our 00:11:00neighborhood also picked beans. My brother and I never got into bean picking. I don't know why, it was just a different activity, I guess, and I know that a lot of our neighbor kids would take a bus that would pick up in the Lents area and drive out to the bean fields. We went with Mom. That was serious berry picking. No throwing berries. Now, you could eat with as many as you could get away with, but there was no playing in the field because you were there to make money. That was a very serious thing. I was talking to somebody about that the other day. We drove out to Gresham. She went to pick up some plants for her garden and for her, what do you call it? Oh, plants for her pond, I guess, and she went to this special place. I said, I remember this area. This was the area where we picked berries from the time I was like 8 until 12 or so. That's how we spent our 00:12:00summer. I never felt persecuted or put upon. It was just what we did. We were grateful to have the money that we were allowed to keep. If you wanted anything extra, like when you get into high school and you want to buy your yearbook or your other things that high school kids think they have to have, I wouldn't have had them if we hadn't pick berries, because berry money was what I had to spend.

RK: How did your mother divide up the money? Do you know?

AC: If I remember correctly, the money we made was ours, pretty much.

RK: So, according to how much berries you picked, you had your own buckets.

AC: Oh, yes. We had our own buckets and you were responsible for them. You did 00:13:00the requirements, like you don't put green, you knew what you were supposed to put in there. it was not playing around. Mom was serious about it. When she said that's what you'll do, that is exactly what you did. That's the way we were raised. Everybody in, when we first moved out here, okay we're on 96th Street, and if I'm not mistaken, 97th Street was the boundary of the city at that time. We were one block within the city. The people on 97th Street, there were two families and they each, each one of those families had a cow. We got milk from the Wilsons on one week. The next week we'd get milk from the family, I've 00:14:00forgotten the name now. Those two families, they lived right across the street from each other and they each had a cow. Because the neighborhood wasn't, there was not a lot of housing on our street, but there were 5 houses on their street. There might have been about 3 or 4 houses. That was the boundary of the city at that time. Outside of that boundary they could put their cows and stake their cows out to you know just eat grass out in the field. You remember a lot of things that, there were a lot of woods around and places for kids to run and hide, chase each other, and that kind of stuff.

RK: Were the neighbors, the people around, were they African Americans?

AC: There were no African Americans that we knew of in the Lents neighborhood, except there was a man that everybody called Long Tom, I believe. We found out 00:15:00later, he was a tall, very tall, imposing Black gentleman. We found out later that he lived in the Mount Scott area, which at that time was so rustic and rural that if you went up there you would find the caves that were there that they indicate that Native Americans had lived there. That's now where a lot of the cemeteries are located. It was all very rustic. As I say, our street was not paved. 97th Street was not paved. It was just kind of a wild area. You'd see, what are the birds which we no longer see anymore that fly in the morning? Oh, 00:16:00shoot, I can't think of the name of it now, but we always heard those birds flying up out of the fields every morning. A lot of that has gone now, now that housing has come in. The city limits, of course, have expanded from 97th to at least a hundred. I don't know how far.

RK: How did you get along with the neighbors?

AC: We got along fine, my brother and I. As I say, my mother being from Barbados, she came here as, she was still in high school when she came here. She came to join her mother and father who were from Barbados, and apparently her mom and dad had left Barbados to work on the Panama Canal. There was a lot of 00:17:00people from the islands were. How they got from working on the canal to Portland, I do not know. I wish to goodness I did. I know that they came first to San Francisco, but why they came from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, is a mystery to me, but they did. But they left their children all in Barbados, who were being raised by grandparents. Well, my mother said that when she got to be about 15 or 16, she wanted to come to the United States to be with her parents, who had been here for several years at that time. She was only 16. So, she was still in high school. She had a younger brother who was, I think, 8 and a 00:18:00younger sister who was like 12. She put her age up to 18 so she could be responsible for her younger siblings and she brought them up. Well, they came through the, what's the gateway in New York. By train they came to Oregon. It turns out that a guy who was working on the train, which is what a lot of Black people, Black men, did in those days and probably still do to some extent, he knew their parents and when he was told that their kids were coming, these three children, Mom was 16 and a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old, this guy took care of them on the train. My mom was, she said she was frightened to death. She was afraid of everything. She did not recognize food items and she was afraid that 00:19:00she was being given, if it was bologna, she had never seen processed meat like that, and she thought that was something she shouldn't eat. Anyway, they made it from New York to Oregon. Mom said that she didn't know a lot about name-calling and racism, and my dad had come to Oregon from, he was born in Georgia and he graduated high school in Kansas City, Kansas. I don't know how that happened. He went to San Francisco as a young man because he wanted to sing. He wanted to take lessons at the opera or something in San Francisco, but he was not allowed to do that because of his color.

So, how he got to Portland, Oregon, I'm not quite sure, except that I know he 00:20:00worked and he worked at like a sheep ranch or something in Idaho. When he was there, he met the man who became my grandfather, because he married my grandmother, but my dad met August Lopez, who had come from California and they met at this sheep ranch in Idaho. August Lopez, somehow had property or bought property, in Vancouver, Washington, in Orchards, Washington. He persuaded my dad to come with him and work on this property. He was going to have a chicken. He persuaded my dad to work with him. My dad was a young man and my dad then 00:21:00introduced August Lopez to his mother who was working in Salt Lake City as a seamstress. When they met, they got married and then they started a chicken ranch in Orchards, Washington. Now I have a stepdad and then my dad who'd come from working in Idaho. When he came to Portland, he met my mother when he was selling eggs and chickens along Williams Avenue to more predominantly Black people, and that's how he met my mother. Then they became married. Well, so, my dad comes from the south, but for some reason he, I don't know, he was not, I 00:22:00don't think I ever heard him talk about being, maybe he just didn't talk about it, being traumatized or abused or mistreated other than being not allowed to do things, like he wasn't allowed to join the opera or whatever in San Francisco. But Mom, coming from Barbados, first of all, she said she had never heard the word nigger until she came to Portland. That's interesting because apparently, so she didn't have any bad feelings about people who were not Black. People were just people. My grandmother from Salt Lake City, although they were originally from Georgia, but they weren't burdened with hostility and hatred. My brother 00:23:00and I grew up, thinking what's the problem? Okay, you're White. I'm Black. I don't have a problem. What's your problem? Really, if you're taught that way, it's hard to be hateful. My mother would always tell us, my mom and grandma, grandfather, grandmother especially, she would just lecture us about you are, you know, you're one of God's people. You're intelligent. You have good sense. You don't need to feel bad about yourself. We looked at people as people. We didn't say they're White. We're Black. It wasn't a big issue. I was the only Black person in my class all through grade school. My brother, I think, was the only Black person in his class all through grade school. Then in my high school 00:24:00class I think I was the only Black person. You know, you just, eh.

RK: As far as the other children were concerned, did they just accept you as another person?

AC: Well, probably not. Because, like I said, this boy who followed us we met when we came out here. He, evidently, had a problem with color, and he wanted to fight my brother. My brother was just not a fighting person. I can't imagine why anybody would want to fight with him. You can't fight with somebody if they won't fight and they just, you know, like go away. Leave me alone. My parents and my grandparents always said, you know, you don't have, it isn't about fighting. You're not a fighter. You should love people. God loves you, and you should love people, that kind of thing. We just learned if somebody called you 00:25:00nigger, you just like, well, they got a problem. I'm not going to be bothered with it. When you hear that enough, it's serious. You don't care. It's their problem, not yours. Don't assume it. My grandmother was kind of a crazy lady. She had a notebook, and she took it everywhere she went and she would set up situations just to see how people would react, so she could record it in her notebook. I wish to goodness I could have acquired that notebook when she died, and I don't know what happened to it.

RK: Did she tell any stories from it?

AC: She would tell this story about in Orchards, Washington, then, that would have been in the '30s, there was one big grocery store down on Fourth Plain Boulevard, and everybody had to go there to shop. When they would bring in the 00:26:00load of watermelons from Hermiston, Washington, or something, she's this big Black lady, and my quiet, reserved grandfather, who would, I think when he got to the store he disappeared quickly because he knew Grandma was going to set up something. Anyway, she'd see this pile of watermelons stacked outside, you know. She would call him. She'd say, August! August! August! Come here! Come here August! See all these watermelons! We got to eat all these watermelons, August! He's like, oh my goodness what's she doing now? Then, she'd take out her notebook and she'd write what reactions she got. You know? She'd do things like that. Grandma Lopez was loved by everybody. She loved to cook. She loved to have people come over, and the next door neighbor they're all White. She just, it just didn't matter to her. That's how my brother and I grew up. Eh. Not my problem.


RK: What kind of food did your grandmother cook?

AC: Grandma? Grandma cooked just plain southern fried chicken and rice and corn. Of course, Grandpa had 12 acres of that at that time. He planted every kind of vegetable you could imagine. In the '30s there were a lot of people who needed food, and he would provide food and he'd take his little truck and he'd drive down into Portland or wherever and just pass out food.

RK: Sell it or pass it out?

AC: Pass it out. Right. No he did not sell it. He did grow peonies in one part of his yard, and he sold those to the florists in Vancouver, Washington. But he was a masonry worker or something like that. That was his other job plus this 00:28:00big farm that he had.

RK: What about your mother? Did she work other than?

AC: Mother did, I think when she came first, before she got married, I think she was a housekeeper, which is the job that Black ladies had. But she didn't work when we were young. I think she might have worked for a short time at some cannery for a very short time, but not very long.

RK: Okay, now let's keep going. So, I think we got you up to high school.

AC: We're at high school.

RK: What were some of your experiences in high school?

AC: Well, I was telling somebody a couple days ago, I don't know what brought it up, but I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist. First of all, that cut out a lot of contacts with people, because we didn't go to movies, and my dad might have 00:29:00snuck us off to a movie or two that Mom didn't know about because Mom was raised, she had come from Church of England when she was in Barbados, but when she came to the United States, she did not want anything to do with Church of England. She became Adventist because of her connection with my grandmother Lopez. Her mother, my mother's mother, and father were instrumental in setting up the church which is still existing, which I can't think of. It was episcopal in downtown Portland. But Mom never went to, she just abandoned that, and for some reason she got into the Adventist. Well, then she was really strict. We didn't do this. You didn't do that, and you didn't go to movies. You couldn't wear makeup and this that and the other.


Since my brother and I never went to movies when we were young, I didn't know anything about movies. Well, this experience I had in high school, this, I'm sure this guy was a senior, this White guy, and he would always run by my locker and when he, he never touched me or anything, but he'd always stop by my locker and he'd say... oh, what's the Little Rascals girl? Anyway, whatever her name was? See, since I didn't go to movies, I can never remember it. He'd call me, oh, shoot. I can't think of the name of-do you know the Little Rascals? There were two groups of little kids that were on radio and then TV when TV came into existence. There were 2, 3 Black kids. They were little ragamuffin kids. He'd 00:31:00always call me, oh shoot--

RK: Buckwheat?

AC: Buckwheat, or something like, yeah, you know. He'd run by my locker and he'd tap me on the shoulder, and he'd call me Buckwheat or something. I'd just look at him and start laughing. I didn't know what he was talking about. He thought he was hurting my feelings. It wasn't even coming close to my feelings, because I didn't know what it was. Even if I did know, I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered me. It's just not my problem, you know? As a freshman, I remember one experience I had. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. When freshman girls, they got an assignment, kind of a set up, so you had a senior boy assigned to you the first day that after they do the introductory things and you go and they show you around the school. Then, they assigned you a senior boy 00:32:00to be with each freshman girl. So, the freshman guys seemed like they were all seated in some kind of order and then the freshman girls would come up. They had your name, and the senior guys had your name, and they were supposed to greet you and then they were going to take you around the school and then you were going to go have refreshments in the cafeteria. I don't know what else we were supposed to do that day. Well, I was with my real good friend, who I just, she just died a little while ago, a month or so ago, and I was really disappointed, but we had been really tight friends since third grade. We were together, and we walked up. So, I guess you have a name tag or something. This one senior guy 00:33:00said to her, Darlene, oh, I'm your senior guy. There was a guy sitting next to him, who was sitting kind of with his head down and kind of slumped in the chair [laughs]. He didn't say anything. So, we were like the last two, and so nobody was going to greet me and Darlene didn't, I guess she didn't know what to do, so her senior guy said, oh, well come on let's go. She said, well, Aletha you're just coming with me. So, I went with her. I went on down to the cafeteria and had cookies and punch, or whatever it was. So, this other little quiet guy, he kind of came along, too, but he never acknowledged that he was with me or that I was supposed to be with him. I'm like, oh. I didn't think about. I was like, 00:34:00well, he's kind of a, I wonder why he's going, you know? Darlene said, well, whatever I'm doing, you're doing with me. So, that's how that went.

I thought back to a seventh grade experience that I had where first I missed school for a whole day to get glasses. My mom took me downtown to get glasses, and so when I came home, Mom and I came home, and on our porch we had about 5 or 6 of my classmates, girls. They were upset. They said that the seventh grade teacher, I wasn't there, that whole day, told them that Black people, they didn't say Black then: Negroes. Darkies, I guess you said, they were ignorant. 00:35:00They came from monkeys. They can't learn. I don't know what all she said, but they had a list of things. They were, there were about 5 of them. They were so upset. They didn't know what to do. They wanted my mother to know that this had happened so that something could be done. I truly don't know what-I know my mother was a very calm person, probably went to the school and very calmly told them to do something with that teacher because you better not say those things again, that's not true. My girlfriends were, you know, they were just incensed. They were like, I thought they need-I thought that was a good teacher. She's not a good teacher. She needs to go. We don't want her. Well, she wasn't there the next year, of course, but I don't really know what action was taken, but that 00:36:00was one experience that I don't remember feeling bad about it, except feeling that I thought that was a nice teacher. I never had any experience with her that let me know that she was hostile or evil or stupid. But, my friends they were going to make sure that somebody knew because they knew that both my brother and I were not stupid. We were outstanding students. They just thought it was horrible. It's really interesting, because I never suspected anything with that teacher. I never felt she treated me any differently that I was-but I was such a giggler and so silly all the time, that if she was doing something I probably didn't even know it. You're wasting your time, woman, because I'm not getting it. That's kind of the way we grew up, without getting all shook up or hurt. 00:37:00You're wasting your time trying to hurt me, because I have sense enough not to get hurt.

RK: Then, as you finish high school?

AC: Finished high school. My brother was a year ahead of me. He had already started at Vanport Junior College. Naturally, I'm going to follow Brother to junior college. By that time, he had already had a name for himself, because he was a very quiet, not assuming, not a show off or anything, but he played football. He played in the band. He played about 3 instruments. He had a beautiful voice, so he sang all throughout high school and started thinking at Vanport. He was well-known, and he was a terrific artist. Everybody wanted to copy all of his diagrams for the science projects, because they were perfect. He 00:38:00just would draw, you know, just he was marvelous. His eighth grade artwork went into a display around the country and never came back to us, so we never got it back, but anyway. He had a lot of skills, and he was just a quiet, unassuming, guy. Of course, I was a little bit loud and obnoxious most of the time. Followed him to Vanport College. I got into the choir and started. Vanport at that time was a lot of military men, maybe women, too.

RK: That would have been what year?

AC: Okay, '49 I graduated from high school. So, '49-'50 I went into Vanport. That's how the school kind of got started with military, as a place for young 00:39:00men who had gone to, not Korea. Yeah, maybe Korea. Was Korea before Vietnam?

RK: Yeah.

AC: Yes. As they came back they were given, that school developed. It was on the administration building, or land, the building of the administration for the shipyard was what was the college site.

RK: That was before the flood?

AC: No, it was after the flood.

RK: After the flood.

AC: But the shipyard was not the flood. The shipyard was not flooded area. Vanport was on the other side of where the shipyard was, kind of a strange 00:40:00thing. They chose land for Vanport construction that was not good. Should not be used because it was a floodplain. When Kaiser wanted to build housing for shipyard workers, the city wouldn't provide any other land for him to build the housing. There was a levy, a dike, and they said, oh it's safe. It's safe. It's safe, but it wasn't, because it was at almost he confluence of the Willamette and the Columbia. But where the Vanport College was built was higher. It would have been like a little bit east of St. Johns area, housing area. It was a big, 00:41:00open area that they had used for the administration, for the shipyard, which was part of the Willamette area. Anyway, so I went there 2 years. At Vanport, then, you did have a mixture of people, and you had people from like Jefferson High School, Roosevelt, who were Black who started going to Vanport College. You had quite a mixture of ethnic and racial people there. So, people I think got along. You'd run into something every now and then, but I grew up thinking it ain't my problem. You got a problem, you just deal with it. Not mine. I remember all I did every noon was dance, because that's when the swing came in, and I just 00:42:00loved to dance. All noon I was on the floor dancing.

I went two years to Vanport and then I could have probably stayed and taken another few classes, because my brother stayed 3 years at Vanport, but I got a chance to go to Salem for a job. A friend there who had been at Vanport College said they're hiring people at Fairview Home. Well, I didn't know anything about Fairview Home, but I said, well, I need some money if I'm going to continue college, so I said, well, I'll go check it out. I went there and applied and I got the job. I had a real good friend who worked there and she had been hired that summer, and just this past year I had a lunch with her and she informed me 00:43:00something that I really did not know. She said she and two other, she was White and another White girl from McMinnville or somewhere, also was hired at the same time. She said that she and this other girl and some other new hires were called in for a meeting. I wasn't called in as a new employee to that meeting. She said that they were told they were going to hire a Black, I don't think they used Black then-negro-and they wanted to tell them that these new employees, because they were opening up a new one of the buildings for children, infants, and it 00:44:00was going to be a nursery kind of setting. They were hiring all new employees for that, and they wanted them to know that they were going to hire this Black person and they wanted to know if anybody had any problems with that. I said, they said what? She said, oh, you wouldn't have known because you weren't invited. You were the one they were talking about [laughs]. So, I didn't know. Here again, I was just, I was so oblivious. I just thought of myself as everybody else. A lot of stuff probably went by me that was going on that I wouldn't even had had a clue. When I found out, I didn't waste any tears over it. I just was kind of like, it was not my problem. If you got to worry about 00:45:00it, and you got a problem, you worry about it, but it's not my problem. I grew up that way and I guess I've retained that all my life.

RK: What was your job, then, at the home?

AC: I guess we were called, kind of aides? Nurses' aides or something. Because we weren't nurses. It was built for, this particular building was new, it was built for infants. They had children, infants, from birth, actually some of them were up to teenagers, 15, 16, but they were completely incapacitated. They had not ability to anything, except the down syndrome kids, which although they were all on one ward, and they had equipment like wash basins and toilets and showers 00:46:00and little tables and little, every little chairs and things that they could use, the person who was running the ward at that time did not think that they could be taught anything. That's why I only worked there 2 years because I got fired because I told her that, you know, we're wasting a lot of equipment. We have little chairs. We have little tables. We should be training these kids to sit in the little chairs and help feed. Help them feed themselves, teach them how to feed themselves. She told me, oh, you don't know what you're talking about. You think you're smart because you went to college. I'm like, oh my goodness. It's like, that is only common sense. Why do we have all this 00:47:00equipment if we can't use it? So, all these kids could do was go from the play area of their ward where they had all kind of little tricycles and little bikes and stuff to their bedroom, to the beds. You'd put them in the bed and put the side up and lock it. You couldn't take them to teach them how to use the toilet, which is a little toilet there? Wash your hands? We had a little table, little chairs were we could have put them to sit and use plates and teach them how... oh my goodness. So, anyway, I only worked there two years, but that was quite intense. Then, oh, I was, at that time I was attending Willamette and I worked a 00:48:0012-hour shift. It was hard to find time to sleep, so usually I'd sleep in class by 10:00 every morning.

RK: Was that Willamette-?

AC: University, yeah. So, I only went there for about a year.

RK: What courses were you taking?

AC: I know I started out taking French, and then I couldn't handle that because it was at 10:00 in the morning. I'd go to sleep. I don't know what all I was taking. I wasn't majoring in anything. It was only my second year, third year. Then, I came back to Portland and worked at the telephone company for a short time, and then I finished up my degree at, it was Oregon College of Education then. Now it's Western Oregon State College. That was education teaching.


RK: What were your-at the telephone company, what were you doing?

AC: Very, very boring, reading, it seems like we were reading, figuring out the amount of time people had... we were reading tickets or something on long-distance calls, or something. I can't quite remember. It was very boring and very tedious and monotonous and not very long, not anything you'd want to do over a long period of time.

RK: What was your experience, then when you went back to college?

AC: Well, you know what, I have very little remembrance. I just remember taking classes, and I lived off-campus because at the time that I enrolled there was 00:50:00not another person of color that I could room with. So, there was a family that lived, they were kind of a historic family, owned a lot of property. I can't remember their name now. It was in walking distance to the campus. I somehow, I don't even know how I, someone at the college must have said maybe you could get a room because they had a cabin that wasn't, it was on their property but it wasn't a part of their house. That's where I roomed. That did not bother me. I thought that was wonderful [laughs]. I didn't have to be on campus. I didn't have to follow any of their rules. I did my own cooking, my own laundry, and I was just on my own.

RK: Where was the lodge?


AC: It [takes a deep breath], I don't know. It was in Monmouth. It was in Monmouth. It would have been '53? '52, '53, or '54? 1953. You didn't have a roommate, so you got to room somewhere. I don't even know how I got in touch with that family.

RK: How did you choose that college?

AC: I was just going to finish education. It was a school for teachers. It was a teacher training school at that time. So, I walked to school. I remember walking up, it would have been highway, it had a number... to campus, take my classes, 00:52:00then my spring we had student teaching. Seems like, and I can't even remember how we got to the school. It was a school that probably almost everybody went through there did their student teaching there. I remember going into the classroom and I was with two guys and both of them were petrified of the kids. It was like a fifth grade class. They were just shaking. I'm like, they're just little kids! What are you worrying about? I got a lot of up front with the kids, because every chance I got a chance to be in front of them, I liked to show off and I just loved the kids. It was just a lot of fun for me, and it was, I think it was a fifth grade class and I said, I have two other student teachers with 00:53:00me. I remember the kids, you know, they didn't seem to have any problem with a Black lady, colored lady, or whatever. They just, they were fine. At least to my observation, but probably as skit-zy as I was, I wouldn't even know if you were making fun of me or if you had problems. But if you did? You know, it's your problem. Not mine.

I remember those two guys, one of them was so, he just, he never could go into teaching. He just was such a nervous wreck. It was too much for him. The other guy did come back to Portland and taught. That's where I got my degree, my bachelor's. I remember one time, oh, by this time my mother had adopted one of her foster kids and she was like, she was an infant. I had to bring my infant 00:54:00sister to school with me for like a week, or a few days, because my parents went out of town for some reason. So, I had my little sister. I took her, I was doing student teaching then, so I took her to the class with the little kids, my little fifth graders. I remember them saying, when she starts talking what language will she speak? I said, well, what language would you think she would be talking? What is she hearing? They couldn't conceive, I don't know what their problem was, but they thought because she's an infant and she's black. I don't know what they thought. I thought, what did you start speaking when you were an infant? You spoke English because that's what you hear, you know? They were just 00:55:00not informed.

RK: At that time, what kind of friends, who were your friends?

AC: Other than the girls at Fairview, those became my real close friends and we, even after I left Fairview, we were friends. My grade school, that group that were on the front porch, they were still my friends then while I was in Portland. Then, when I graduated from, and started teaching in Portland, my first school was Arleta School, which was from here, almost walking distance. It was my first classroom assignment. It was a half-day assignment, and I was a seventh grade home room, but I only had them for a half-day. My friends were 00:56:00college friends and the group, the grade school friends we got together all the time, even though some of them already married and were having kids and everything. I was not into that. So, college people that I met. You hang on to some of your high school friends, you know, Black and White.

RK: What kind of things would you do with them?

AC: By this time, I'm dancing now. I'm going to movies. I'm doing all the things I was not allowed to do when I was in grade school [laughs]. At that time, Portland was very separate and segregated, and you couldn't go to downtown dances when name people came into town. Very rarely could you. You could go to 00:57:00McElroy's Ballroom, I believe. But then there were places on Williams Avenue, where Black people had clubs and White people could go if they wanted to, but, you know, Black people could go. Those were the kinds of things we did. We'd go to Citizens and sit and drink. We'd only take one coke and make it last for four or five hours because you didn't have any money. McElroy's, we went to a ballroom. There were several places anyway that we had. Then, when I started teaching, I only taught for a half year. My first assignment which was at Arleta School, because, as I say, it was a half day and I wanted more money. I got a 00:58:00chance for a full-day assignment, but it was at Kennedy School, which was clear across town. At that time, my dad would drive me to school because for some reason he wasn't... was he retired then? I guess. Anyway, my first year I taught a half-year at Arleta and then the next half of the year I moved over to Kennedy School. I had a little experience with Kennedy School that I just have to share with you. That's almost out to where we lived before, out in Kenton. Those are neighborhoods that are very close. But, by this time, there were a number of, there might have been a few Black people in the neighborhood, but not too many. The classroom that I was assigned to, I didn't know who the kids were, but it 00:59:00was a full-day assignment. That's all I was concerned about. It turns out, that when I take over the classroom after Christmas break in January, my class is about half Black and half White. It was special ed. Nobody told me that. I did not have special ed certification or even any training, other than working at Fairview, which wasn't teaching then. Anyway, it was a full-day assignment, so that will work for me. I worked there that year, the rest of that year until June.

I decided that an offer came through the school district or something that anybody who wanted to work selling, I don't know, some kind of magazines or 01:00:00books or something during the summer, could sign up to do that. I thought, well that will be more money. I'll do that. So, I sign up. I get a call one afternoon, evening, from this lady. She said, oh, I see you signed up to work the summer to sell these books or whatever it was. I'm just calling to tell you that we're going to have a meeting at my house for people who've signed up so we can explain what the process is and what needs to be done. The director of the northwest project is going to be at my house and she'll take over and explain everything. So, she told me all these details of the fact. I said, oh, fine. That'll be good. In the course of her talking, she said, oh what school? What 01:01:00school do you teach? I said, well, I'm at Kennedy. Was it Kennedy then? Whatever the school was. She said, oh. Now we're on the phone, okay. She said, well, is that the school where the darkies teach? I said, oh. Darkies? [Laughs] My mother and dad were in the other room, and they heard me say darkies and they both came out to where they could see me on the phone because they knew I was going to do something [laughs]. I said, darkies? I said, I don't know. I said, what are darkies? What do you mean? My folks said, oh Lord, what is this child going to do now [laughs]. I kept that woman talking for over a half hour. I'm not kidding you, about darkies. I asked her all kind of asinine questions that I could think 01:02:00of, and what, well, what are darkies? What do they do? What are they like? Well, why do you call them darkies? [Laughs] This lady's just explaining all this to me. I was cracking up, because I thought wait until I...So she said, I said, well, now tell me. Her name was Mrs. Lee. I said, Mrs. Lee had you ever had any darkies at your house? She said, oh no. Oh no. I said, oh, well, why not? Well, I just, I guess I don't know any darkies. I don't know any of them. I said, oh you don't. Oh, okay. Well, thank you very much. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon.

I go into the classroom the next day and I couldn't wait to get to the principal's office. I said, Mr. Berkheart, you are just going to flip. I said, you don't know what reputation has in the city. He said, now what are you up to? 01:03:00[Laughs] Because he had worked with me for a half year. I said, well your school has a reputation as the school where the darkies teach. He said, oh my God. What are you saying? I was the only darkie in the school teaching. I was just hysterical. He said, oh, my goodness. He said, oh, well, are you going to go to that meeting? I said, if I have to crawl up those steps, I'll be there. So, I did. I did go. But I have told that story about the school where the darkies teach. I went to Mrs. Lee's house. I walked up the steps and knocked on the door. Mrs. Lee came to the door. I guess it was Mrs. Lee. She said, she opened the door, and I said, oh, Mrs. Lee, I'm Mrs. Emanuel. I talked to you last night on the telephone. She never said come in, go away. She turned around. She turned 01:04:00red as a beet and I never saw her again.

RK: She closed the door?

AC: No. I opened the screen door, walked in, got my cup, and put my tea in and sat down, had a cookie or two and everything. I never saw her again. I'm sitting in her living room with all the other people and we were just chatting and everything. Finally, the person who was going to take over the meeting. I said, I need to speak to you. I told her, I wouldn't work for your company. You have hired a person that had this conversation, I told her about the conversation, over a half hour on the phone. I said, I can't work for a company like that. You need to get this straightened out. You need to take her off of representing. She should not be talking to anybody on the phone. I said whatever else I said. I was pretty mouthy in those days [laughs], and I didn't mind saying anything I 01:05:00felt like saying. She was oh so apologetic and everything. I said, you don't have to apologize to me. I don't have a problem, but you have this person talking to someone on the phone to whom she has not met, she does not know, and this is how she's carrying on. That was my experience with, anyway, but I stayed at that school for another year. I was teaching special ed kids and I loved them. I guess they loved me, because they gave me a dog for Christmas, a Christmas present. They knew I loved dogs. I had read them a story about Sir Oliver, and it was about a boy and his dog. They gave me a dog and said you have to name the dog Sir Oliver, and that's what I did. Then the next year I got a call to come to Oakland. I had interviewed there, and I wanted to go away from home, because I had never been away from home.


RK: You were how old by then?

AC: I would have been...that was my first year teaching, so I would have been 22 or 3 something like that?

RK: Where is Oakland?

AC: Oakland, California.

RK: Oh. Before you go to California, I wanted you to elaborate on your dancing experiences.

AC: Oh.

RK: Where you danced. Who was dancing there, what the whole social milieu was like.

AC: Oh, I can't even name-I probably have stuff listed, but I mean, just fun dancing. There was the, it wasn't the Elks Club. Oh, geeze, see my memory is pretty shot if you haven't noticed. Oh what was the name of the club? Every Saturday, Friday/Saturday night my girlfriends and I would go out.

RK: Where was the club?

AC: It was off of Williams Avenue and south of Broadway off of Williams Avenue. 01:07:00There were several clubs and they'd play, they had some bands, local bands, and we'd just go and dance until we couldn't dance anymore.

RK: What kind of music?

AC: The swing. Mostly swing.

RK: Was it mostly musicians?

AC: There were local musicians that played at several clubs.

RK: African Americans and White?

AC: Some of them were mixed. Mostly, those clubs were African American, Black.

RK: Was it mainly Blacks that were dancing?

AC: Be a mixture of, no, be a mixture of Whites and Blacks. Since Blacks couldn't dance downtown, if you have White friends, they'd come and dance in the 01:08:00Black clubs. McElroy's Ballroom was one place we'd go frequently. I think that was right on Williams Avenue, right at... see, I can't think of the streets that were, it would be south of Broadway, but that was a real popular place. People like Duke Ellington came there once. There were some name places and there was the, what was the club? South of Williams Avenue, no, west of Williams Avenue, there was a club there. There was the Cotton Club. There was Paul's, Paul's Paradise. We'd just make the circuit.


RK: How were the Whites received in those clubs?

AC: Nobody bothered them to my knowledge. They felt very comfortable. See, my problem is, and I'm probably not explaining things maybe the way somebody else would because I couldn't come up with a problem if I had to. I just didn't bother with it. It was not something that bothered me. The way I was raised is that we didn't focus on Black and White or not-Black or not-White. Even growing up we went to an all-White church. We used to walk right down the street about 4 blocks to Lents Seventh Day Adventist Church, and we were the only Black folks in it.

RK: At the dance halls, just describe the way they were. Was it dancing as 01:10:00swing? You danced with other men? Make friends?

AC: Yeah. It was.

RK: Give a picture.

AC: [Laughs] My memory is... you know how long ago that was. I'd usually go with a couple real close friends, like one friend, Betty Jean, Betty Duke, her father was instrumental in bringing some name Black artists to Portland. Stanton Duke brought, what's his name, Lionel Hampton, and, see I'm not going to be able to name, but some known people because he had, I don't know how he had contacts. He was a railroad person. The railroad jobs that Black people had were porters on the railroad, or, another job was when they had the Portland Hotel, which is 01:11:00where Pioneer Courthouse now, a lot of Black people worked, young guys, that was one of the first jobs a young Black man could get working as a porter in the Portland Hotel. You know, and railroad jobs, and other than that, if you weren't a cleaning a school or cleaning, like my father worked for a long time, he was a, what do you call it? He did metal work in a garage on Division and 52nd for years. Then, he worked at Adventist Hospital as kind of an interim clean-up, 01:12:00doing that kind of stuff. He did that for years and then moved out to Adventist Hospital here at east Portland area. Like the dancing scene was, there were just a number of clubs up Williams Avenue area in the '40s, '50s. As soon as people got a little money, and they got money from the shipyards and from that kind of work, and then, I mean, Friday and Saturday night the joint was jumping.

RK: Did you go with a group of girlfriends?

AC: Usually, usually-

RK: Was it mixed with girls and young Black women?

AC: Mainly I went with my girlfriend Betty Duke, because we both lived out here 01:13:00when we were driving, one or the other of us would drive. We also had, the only other thing that I remember, because being an Adventist I didn't do a lot of things that other people did until I got old enough to not worry about it, when I decided that was foolish and didn't need to be doing that. We'd go skating. Monday night was all-skate Black out on Sandy Boulevard. I don't remember what the name of it was, but it was on Sandy Boulevard and Monday nights was skating night. It would be filled with Black folks, only Black folks. That was the night to go skate. That was all through high school. I don't remember doing that in college. I don't know why I stopped. I just probably didn't want to skate anymore. You couldn't go to Oaks Park, which was the amusement park area. You 01:14:00couldn't go to Jantzen Beach, which had the amusement park area and all the rides and the equipment. You certainly couldn't go in the swimming pool. Some of those things, because I guess I was raised Adventist I didn't do anyway, like dancing and that kind of thing, until I got to college and then I was like Adventist or no Adventist. I was still playing piano at the Adventist church, but dancing all Friday night practically hung over it on Saturday morning trying to play the piano [laughs]. Anyway, whatever.

RK: Now, we're going to get you to Oakland where you had your next teaching job.

AC: My next teaching experience. You're right. I was called to Oakland because I was interviewed as a graduate right out of college. I went to San Francisco and 01:15:00Oakland, because I just wanted to leave home. San Francisco looked to me like, hmm, go away, girl. So, I came back to Portland. Then I went to, when I interviewed at Oakland, they said, well, we don't have any vacancies right now, but we are anticipating maybe some vacancies within a year or two and we'll surely give you a call. I said, yeah right. But, in two years, Oakland did call me. So, I went. I didn't know anybody in Oakland, and I have stayed at the YWCA, and I met a lady who lived in east Oakland. She said, well, you can't stay here. No. You're going to come to my house, and you're going to spend the night there. I thought, oh okay! So, I did get hired and it turned out that the school where 01:16:00I was hired was walking distance from where this lady, who I had met at the YWCA, lived. I stayed at her house for a while and then I got an apartment in a new building that was just like a block away from where she lived. It was walking distance to the school. I started teaching at that school that September. I could walk to the school and it was just really nice. It was east Oakland. At that time, Oakland did not have reputation it has, because it was it was '56, I guess? '56 or '7, something like that. It was the first time I had any dealings with Hispanic kids. I had quite a few Hispanic kids, some really 01:17:00sharp kids, some really, oh, pitiful kids. So, it was quite an experience. I had the sixth grade, and I was there for 2 years and then I got married. Then I moved to San Diego. That's kind of my history to... so, teaching in Oakland, I just loved my class. I loved my kids. I had good neighbors, and I lived where I lived. Then, I got married. That was downhill from there [laughs]. That's my opinion now, so, anyway. There you go.

RK: Do you want to give us a little bit about that part of your life?

AC: Well, teaching fifth grade in Oakland was very enjoyable, really. I really enjoyed it. It had a nice faculty. Here, of course, was the first time, as I 01:18:00say, here in Portland I was the only Black at my first school, and I think I was the only Black that I knew of, maybe there was one more Black teacher at Kenton School where I moved to, but when I went to Oakland there were several Black teachers in the school. A nice faculty. A nice mixed faculty. You know, I wasn't paying any attention to whether, I didn't care whether they were Black, White, or purple, really. I didn't care. But that was my first real close contact, except for the Black people that I met in Portland that were teachers. I guess I met them through the, well, I became a member of the sorority while in Portland, so I met a lot of Black teachers, then. I forgot about that, because I was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. That was my, actually that was my 01:19:00first real contact with any large group of Black people, because the church was White until I was 15. Then, I guess, oh, I know what. My folks helped open a Black church. They were bringing a Black minister who had been the first one to come to Oregon in maybe '55 or something like, I don't know, somewhere around.

RK: That was the Seventh Day Adventist?

AC: That was the Seventh Day Adventist church, and they brought a Black minister. The theory that they had in mind was that all Black people needed to go to the Black church. Well, my folks didn't buy that, but they got talked into it because you need to help us build up a church. Then, if you want to go back 01:20:00to your neighborhood, well, by this time, my brother and I decided we didn't want to go back to the neighborhood church anyway, because-you know what? We ran into more problems with the White church than we did with the White school, now that I think about it. That's another long story.

RK: Well, tell us about that.

AC: [Laughs] Well, okay. We were the only Blacks in our church, my brother and I and my mom and my dad. Nobody, you never really felt mistreated. You just felt overlooked. As I say, my brother and my dad had beautiful voices. My mom and I could manage harmony, but my brother had a beautiful voice. My dad had a beautiful tenor voice. They always wanted my brother and dad to sing. Of course, 01:21:00they were glad to oblige because they loved to sing. My brother and I, as we were growing up we were paying attention to the things people were saying. Like, the church group would have picnics or parties and stuff, and you never really felt like they were welcoming you to come to the fun things. Yeah, you could come to the church and read the scripture. As I got older, about 12, 13, 14, I had a little attitude anyway, and my brother was so much calmer and [laughs] unconcerned as I was. I'd get all upset and irritated at something. My brother competed in a competition that the church would have, all the Adventist churches would have, this amateur hour. My brother entered one as a contestant, and so he 01:22:00was going to sing. He had such a beautiful voice that there's just no way... he should have, in his category he should have won. Okay, so, he was up against a couple, a man and a woman, I guess they were husband and wife. Their skit they put together had Rastus and Magnolia, I think it was, on the porch washing, she was washing clothes. Well, they were in blackface. I'm like, oh no. Really? So, she's washing clothes and so she's splashing the water and Rastus is losing some 01:23:00of his color on his blackface, which really was funny, but it wasn't appropriate.

My brother sang in that same category of whatever that category was, and they won over his beautiful singing of whatever it was. I said, I'm done. I am through with this church. It's nothing but a bunch of stupid, bigoted fools, and I don't want to be bothered anymore. We kind of did go to the Black church and help them get started. I played the piano for them for a couple of years. Then when I was really through with them was when my mother adopted one of her foster kids and people in the church were saying it was my kid! I'm like, are you serious? I've been here playing the piano, how did I have this child? Every Saturday I played the piano and I had this child? I'm through. I'm done with 01:24:00y'all. It doesn't take that much to get me out anyway. You know, when you go to Oakland, you don't, you run into, I wasn't going to church anymore, then. I'd go to visit somebody's church or something, but Oakland was just, Black people and White people and they weren't worrying about, to my knowledge, they were not worrying about who's, you know, are you this or are you that. You look back at your experience at the church and maybe other places here in Portland and you're like, oh. Is that what that was? Up to that point, because it wasn't something I bothered about or worried about. Did that answer part of the question?


RK: Yes. Yes. That's very interesting. Now, we're-

AC: We're in Oakland.

RK: Now you're in Oakland. You got married.

AC: Yeah.

RK: Then what happened?

AC: Well, I bought a '49 Cadillac. I bought it. Then, my husband.

RK: Wait, what year is this now?

AC: This is '57 or '58? Yeah, it was about '56, '57, something like that because I don't have a child yet, and she was born in '58.

RK: So, it's about a 7-year-old Cadillac.

AC: Right [laughs]. Well, I thought it was in good shape, cool. I'm living there, so I have a car. I marry this Navy man, who's stationed... Vallejo? He 01:26:00wasn't in Oakland then. Anyway, when he was in town, of course we were together, and so I get married in Oakland. I knew that night, I said, this is the wrong thing. You are not doing right. I called my mom. I'm saying, Mom I don't want to get married. She says, where are you? I said, I'm in Oakland. She said, I'm in Portland. What do you want me to do? I'm like, I don't know but I don't want to get married. She said, well, don't tell me. It ain't my problem. Anyway, okay, so he has the car sometime when he's in town. Then he gets transferred to San Diego. I still have the Cadillac. Then he comes up one weekend and he says he 01:27:00needs the car in San Diego. I'm like, why? You're on a base. You don't need... but anyway. So, he took the car. The car, within a week, is wrecked. Don't know how it got wrecked. He said he was teaching a girl to drive. I said, oh, I'm done [laughs], but I wasn't really done, because you know. But, he had the car. The car was gone. He's in San Diego. Then, at the end of my school year, I moved to San Diego. I don't like San Diego. I don't like where we're living. I don't like... anyway.

RK: Why?

AC: It was just a rundown area in the place he could find. I didn't like it. Anyway, then I get pregnant. My daughter, Gerri, is born in San Diego. It's just 01:28:00not, it's just not quite right. I know it's not right, but I'm in it. What do I do? No sense in talking to my mom because she said you made your bed, you lay in it [laughs]. So, we're there two years, and I get pregnant again. So, he's getting ready to be transferred to a place called Beeville, Texas, and I'm pregnant. I said, no child of mine is going to be born in Beeville, Texas. How is that going to sound? That ain't even right. I come back to Portland. The second child, Maureen, is born here in Portland. I stay here until she's about 9 months or so, and I substitute teach here and whatever.

RK: Are you living with your parents?

AC: I'm living with Mom next door. Mom's house is this house next door, 01:29:00actually. This was the chicken yard. So, then we go to Texas, and it seems that the day that we arrived he had gotten orders to go to Michigan. Because he had been there over a year. Then he gets order to go to Michigan, so we're going to drive to Michigan. So, I don't have any experience with Beeville except the house where we stayed with some people that he knew for like 2 days or something. I went to, oh the night that he was asking me to come and join him on the base for a going away something or other. I said, well, I don't have any appropriate clothes, so I've got to go somewhere. He said, well, ask the people at the house where you're staying and they'll tell you. Those people gave us, me 01:30:00and the two girls then, the baby and Gerri, their bedroom. It was a luscious bedroom, bath connected. I don't remember going any place in the house, but I must have gone to the kitchen or something. Anyway, so I asked them, I need to buy something kind of spiffy for, you know, for this party that's going on. Where can I go downtown? Now, we're in Beeville, okay? They said, oh, just go to Joanne's downtown. We always shop there. Okay, so I go to Joanne's. I walked into Joanne's. The two ladies standing there, salespeople, they do not say hello, good afternoon, get out. They don't say anything. I'm, oh, okay. I look at them like, oh, that's the way you're going to be. I walk all through the store and I'm looking around and finally I said, I'm looking for kind of a cocktail type dress, size, you know. We don't have anything like that. I said, 01:31:00oh. Well, would you know where I might find something? Oh, Sears next door will probably have something. I said, oh, thank you very much. I go out, and I go to Sears next door. Sears is just about as bad, but not quite as bad. But they won't let you try on anything. I thought, oh this place is way too crazy for me.

Anyway, I picked up something and I thought. I thought to myself, now why do these people who live here, military people, who live in this town tell me to go to Mrs. Jones and say that they shop there all the time and Mrs. Jones didn't acknowledge my presence. I'm like, oh they're all crazy, Black and White. They're all crazy. So, that was my decision. That's how I comprehended that. So, then we drove up from there to Michigan. I had the two kids. It was quite 01:32:00interesting. My husband sends me to get coffee. I think the first morning we got out. He sends me to get coffee and it was across the street from, he's going to get gas. So, the gas station's on one corner and the bus depot's on the other. I said, well, I can go in the bus station and get some coffee. Well, I walked in the front door of the bus depot. The people, all of them are looking at me like, uh... I don't even pick up on it. I'm like, why are they just standing there? Are they all, what? I'm not thinking. So, I don't know where we are. We haven't gotten out of Texas yet, so I'm like, okay. I said, excuse me. I'm looking for some coffee. Can you tell me if you have coffee anywhere? Oh yeah, we have 01:33:00coffee. But you have to go next door. I said, oh. Okay. So, instead of going out the door and around into the other door, there's a side door, and I walk through that like a dummy. I don't know. I walk through from the White side to the Black side. Well, I shouldn't have come through that door, because the Black door had an attitude. I said. They're just standing there looking at me like [staring expression], where'd you come from? You know? I don't pick up on it. I'm not thinking. I said, I'm trying to get some coffee, one with cream and sugar and one just black. They start slinging stuff at me, just here! Here's the cream. 01:34:00I'm like, oh, my God. They're all... and I said, well, I'd like a few donuts, too. I thought, well, all of these people are crazy [laughs]. They're all crazy in this town. Let me get out of here. I just had no. I'd not experienced that to that extent. I'm like, well, okay. But I'd come through the wrong door for the Black people. So, I got my coffee and I went out. Then we drove on to Michigan. That was different, too.

RK: What about the ride as you went to Michigan? Did you stay overnight?

AC: Don't remember anything. No, I don't remember. I think, I do not remember stopping, but I do remember when we left Portland and landed in Corpus Christi, we could not overnight in any hotel of name. We found some little old crappy 01:35:00hotel the first night in Corpus Christi that was just, we could stay there. It was cockroach-ridden. Oh, it was just a mess. But, that's what was available.

RK: Then you got to Michigan.

AC: Right. Got to Michigan. We were in Navy housing.

RK: What town were you in?

AC: Can't say it right now... to Michigan. Michigan we were in... it was a Naval air station. I hope I wrote it down. I'll think of it when I don't want to, but right now I can't think of it. It was outside of Detroit. It was on an island. Grosse Ile! Gross Ile, Michigan. It was a Naval air station. It was Navy housing, and it was kind of old and creaky, but it was okay. We stayed there, 01:36:00oh, let's see... over a year? Then, he got orders to go to some place in the south on...I can't... why can't I remember these places?

RK: What were some of your experiences in Michigan?

AC: Michigan? Nothing to speak of. I remember dancing. I remember dancing and I was pregnant again/ By the time I got to Michigan, I got pregnant again there and dancing with the youngest one and this tummy going, and I'm just tearing it up. That's when the, what's his name? That played... see, why can't I think of 01:37:00anybody's name? Anyway, everybody was doing the twist then. I was twisting away. The only thing I remember about Michigan is-

RK: What is Chubby Checkers?

AC: Yeah, Chubby Checkers, the twist [laughs]. It seemed like they had a dance very Friday night and I don't remember him being there, though, so I'm not sure why he wasn't. There were a couple of gals in the housing that always, we'd get together and pay for a babysitter, because everybody had babies. We'd go to the dance and just dance by ourselves just to do the twist and what not.

RK: So, your husband didn't go with you?

AC: I don't remember him. I don't remember why. It's a mystery, but I don't 01:38:00remember why. I don't remember our husbands being there. I don't remember what was going on, if they had some kind of off-base activities or something that they had to go to. Don't know.

RK: Then, were you teaching?

AC: The only teaching I did then was I started a little nursery school for all the little kids in our unit, in our housing. Everybody had little kids, 3, 5, 6, 3-year-olds. I had all this equipment. I had all this, the letters and the numbers and pumpkins and art stuff. We broke into one of the empty units and I set up a room there and I worked with the little kids. My oldest daughter, then, she didn't want me to talk to the other little kids, so she wouldn't participate, but she had to go in the room with me. She's learning, but she's 01:39:00not actively learning, but she's learning [laughs].

RK: There at the base was mixed?

AC: Right. We were the only Blacks, I think, in our housing. We became close friends with several families there. We'd drive to, there wasn't any close shopping, but there was military shopping an hour drive away. I can't remember the name of the town, but we would get together and everybody would have their grocery list and bring back stuff for people who couldn't go and load up the car. Somebody would babysit. We had it organized, but then when he got orders to go to, it's not Corpus Christi... it's on the coast. Tell me some military 01:40:00establishments on the coast?

RK: Which coast?

AC: East coast, like North Carolina. South Carolina?

RK: Norfolk?

AC: Could be. Yeah. It would have been a Naval something.


AC: Norfolk, Virginia. That sounds good. But I said I wasn't going to go and take my kids to the south, so I didn't go. Where did I end up? Philadelphia with my husband's mother in her crowded little apartment, which it was amazing that she could put us in there. But we stayed there. I stayed there until my youngest daughter was born in Philadelphia, and then I moved to an apartment out of her house. She lived in south Philly. South Philly was a little too wild for me.


RK: Explain that.

AC: [Laughs] What I remember is my mother-in-law was the sweetest lady in the world. Her house was tiny, tiny. It was one of those, I don't know if you'd call it a shotgun house?

RK: They're kind of straight through?

AC: Yeah. She had room one, room two, room three, then the kitchen and the bathroom was off the side of the kitchen and then she had a backyard. She had a basement, too, a cellar. It was a cellar. It was a house that had been reconstructed because those original houses had living quarters, family quarters on the first floors. Second floor was probably bedrooms and third floor. They had reconfigured so that one family was on the first floor, all those rooms were 01:42:00their bedrooms and you walked through the living room, what not, two bedrooms to get to the kitchen. So, then, they had a stairway for another family for the second floor and the third floor. Anyway, we survived for a short while. Then I got my own apartment. South Philly, with my mother-in-law, who is the sweetest woman in the world, and every morning, every morning, she would get up early and go through the house and dust and vacuum all those rooms. Then, she would cook breakfast, and breakfast was always, you had to have biscuits or cornbread. One meal was biscuits and if you had biscuits then you'd have cornmeal for dinner. 01:43:00If you had cornmeal for breakfast or lunch, then you'd have biscuits for...I was like, oh, my goodness. I can't bake a thing. I don't know how to bake anything, and she cooked greens. They had a little garden area in the back and she had her collards and onions, green onions and that kind of stuff. Then, she'd walk to the grocery, which was like 2, 3 blocks away. I went with her after the kids were born. I had the little wheely thing, and we'd go into the grocery store and I'd start to touch some apples. The man slaps my hand and tells me you don't touch. You don't know. You don't touch. I said, well, how am I going to buy it if I don't touch it? I'll pick for you. Oh, my goodness. Well, I ain't buying no 01:44:00apples. Inside the store you could not touch anything, either. All the groceries boxes, boxed things and packaged things, were behind a glass or some kind of barrier. It might not have been glass at that time. It was just lined up. He had a ladder that wheeled along. You would just tell him what you wanted and he would get up there and get it and put it on the counter. I'm like, oh my goodness. These people. Because I was used to doing Navy shopping and out here going to my own grocery store and picking out your stuff, your own stuff you want. Well, I tried to talk to her that we could, there was Navy shopping we could do close by in Philadelphia, but she didn't like that idea. She wanted to do it the way she'd always done it. So, I moved quickly.


RK: Was that not touching just for everybody?

AC: It was for everybody. Right. Right. So, those were just differences I wasn't used to. You'd go to, I went to a dress shop once with my mother-in-law and my husband's cousin. We called her big Maureen. She lived in that walk-through house, too. I'm going to try on some clothes, and they told me, well, you can't try it on. Well, I have to try it on. They'd hold it up to you. So, I said, well, I guess this will fit. Then, I notice a little, it was kind of a, well, I guess it was a hole where they had marked where the pocket should go. I said, 01:46:00oh, well this one has a hole in it. I don't want it with a hole in it. She snatched the thing out of my hand and pushed me out the front door of the store and told me, you don't know what you want. You don't know how to shop. I said, oh, excuse me. I didn't like Philadelphia at all. Anyway, after the youngest child was about, maybe, I don't know. She wasn't a year. She was still an infant. I got a babysitter, and the oldest one was starting kindergarten. So, I had a babysitter for little Mo and the baby, and I started teaching at, I can't remember the name of the school, but it was different. It was called the, it was in north Philly and it was called Nicetown-Tioga. I kept looking for the 01:47:00Nicetown part. I never did find it. The school, you could enter one door if you were like a parent or somebody coming to the office. You could enter one door at the end of the building. The kids all had to come in the playground area or teachers could come in that front door, sign in at the office, then they would go out the backdoor and meet their class on the playground area behind the school. Kids never came in the building from the front, that one door. They had to come in through the back playground area and line up. The principal would walk back and forth and he would select which school could take their line and go in the back of the school and go up, and we were on the third floor.


I had a fifth grade. Fifth and sixth, I think there were 5 fifth and 5 sixth grades on the top floor. Third and fourth were on the second floor, and kindergarten and first were on... first and second, I guess, were on the first floor. They didn't have a cafeteria. You had to take your whole class to the restroom from the third floor. You had to go down the stairway into the basement. Your whole class had to. That's how. I was not used to all that, but that's what we had to do. My classroom, all the seats were on runners, like in the olden days. There were 5 classrooms along the front of the school, and two 01:49:00had to come from the wing. If they had an assembly, the middle room was the platform, or auditorium, stage area. Their seats were nailed going this way and mine were, anyway... the kids that came from the side had to sit in double seats backwards. It was just really, really, really, really uncomfortable. My seats were going, my kids stayed in their seats. We just opened this folding doors between the rooms. So, this room was the middle. Then you had one room here that had to sit backwards to look toward the middle. My room could face the middle. The room behind me could face, and then the kids that came from that side had to 01:50:00double up in room x or y or whatever. It was crazy, but there were some good assemblies that they had there, because that's where I learned the song "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" that's written on the Statue of Liberty. I never heard that song before. It made me cry every time I heard it. I taught there one year, and then moved from there to Connecticut. My classroom in Philadelphia was all Black except for one little blond-haired White kid.

RK: How was that child treated?

AC: I don't know if he knew, he was just fine. Nobody paid any attention. You know, he just-I never knew of any problem. He doubled up in the seats with the 01:51:00other kids. I never noticed any problem with him. It was just different, really different.

RK: When you were living there, was it in a Black community?

AC: Predominantly Black in south Philly, yes.

RK: But you didn't particularly feel more comfortable there than any other place?

AC: No. I think what I was comfortable with my mother-in-law, because I thought she was a fine person, a wonderful person. But, well, her other son, her older son also lived there. He had a group of guys that would always, the weekend was taken up with them drinking and smoking and playing cards the whole weekend. They were not rude. They were very polite and very, they just kind of treated me 01:52:00like eww. You know? You're just kind of. You're not with the group, you know? And I wasn't. I didn't know what was going on half the time. I didn't know half the time what they-they would talk about things and the way they would talk I'd miss a lot of their language, not language...

RK: Jargon?

AC: ...yeah, jargon. But they were always really courteous and I guess, they must have thought of me as somebody really, really different. I'm pretty sure they did, because I was a teacher for one thing. A teacher, goodness. So, but it was, they were really gracious to put up with us in such close quarters for that long, for a year.

RK: Just in terms of your own response to the difference of teaching in a school that was mainly all Black, as opposed to teaching where it's all White?


AC: To me, they were just kids. They were just kids. I didn't differentiate. I talked to them just the way I talked to White kids.

[Break in recording]

RK: So, you were talking about how you were, kind of a comparison, of how it felt for you to now be living in Philadelphia in a pretty much totally Black community as opposed to the rest of your experiences where you were living pretty much in White communities.

AC: As I look back on Philadelphia, on the street where my mother-in-law lived, there was, I think there were a couple White families that were there. South 01:54:00Philadelphia was somewhat mixed. It had Jewish families that had been there a long time and some Italian families. I don't think people... it seemed people just had their way of operating in that neighborhood, and they just went about just was customary for there to be people of color on the street where they lived, although, I know there were at least two White families on that block. While I was there I didn't spend a lot of time, I walked as far as the park and the grocery store two or three times, but I didn't spend a lot of time finding 01:55:00out about the neighborhood, either. My school was completely out of south Philly, but it was a whole different neighborhood. It's like, it was a different economic area from south Philly, as far as housing and wasn't as congested. The houses, they were row houses in a way, but they weren't as cramped and connected. They didn't divide them into thirds and fourths and stuff as much as they did in south Philly, it seemed like, to me.

RK: Okay, so then it was Philly and Michigan.

AC: Michigan to Philly.

RK: Michigan, Philly. Okay, now.


AC: From Philly, we're going to Connecticut.

RK: Okay. Just give from Connecticut, just a short-

AC: Okay, Connecticut was not a very long time. I taught there one year in a school where there were no kids of color, no teachers of color, and my daughter was, well, my daughter was first grade in Connecticut. My group of kids were just, I don't know if they knew I was Black or paid any attention to it. I didn't notice. The staff of teachers, it was a primary school. It only went up to fifth grade? Maybe sixth grade. Fifth grade. Maybe sixth grade. Then the kids went to another school. So, I had fourth and fifth grade combination there. The 01:57:00kids were just like any other kids that I've worked with. We got along fine. I didn't hear any name calling. My daughter was first grade said she remembers being called four-eyes, because she had to wear glasses, and people picked on her because of her glasses.

RK: You were living on the Navy base then?

AC: We were living in, yeah, military housing then.

RK: Then, after that, where did you go?

AC: From Connecticut, we went to New Hampshire, and that was for just one year, and I taught a fifth grade. I took over a class like middle of the year in New Hampshire.

RK: Then New Hampshire to?

AC: Portland.

RK: To Portland.

AC: Back to Portland.


RK: Okay, so now let's get to Portland. So, was your husband transferred?

AC: No.

RK: So then, that's...

AC: That's where we split.

RK: Okay.

AC: I left him.

RK: Alright.

AC: It was not going well. I came back to Portland, back home.

RK: With the children.

AC: With the children.

RK: Three by now?

AC: Right. One of them had started kindergarten, Mo had started kindergarten in New Hampshire. So, Gerri was in fourth grade I think? Or fifth grade? I can't remember exactly. Ginny started kindergarten here. That's where their schooling all mostly took place. I started teaching, let's see, what was my first 01:59:00assignment when I got back here? Why can't I remember that? When I came back to Portland? I can't see where I was?

RK: We'll get to that. So, where did you, so you came back here. Where did you go to live? How did you find your housing?

AC: Okay. That's an interesting little bit of a story. When I left Portland and made all those, and came back to, I usually came back to Portland every year for the summer for a few weeks with the kids when they were little, but when we came back from New Hampshire, well, in fact, one visit I came back from, it must have been Connecticut then, and the house, which was an empty lot next to my mom's 02:00:00house where the chicken yard was.

RK: So, that's here.

AC: That is in Portland. Next to Mom's house was our chicken yard. The chicken yard had been, they sold the property and some people built a house in our chicken yard. It was a young couple with a couple of kids. Then, when I came back the following year and I was moving back to Portland, I moved into Mom's house. I didn't move my furniture or anything, but I just stayed at Mom's house and I was going to locate a place, a house to stay.

RK: So, where was your mother's house?

AC: Right next door.

RK: Okay, that's what I'm-yes.

AC: Right. Oh, I did not say that initially, didn't I?

RK: That's what we were interested in. So, the point is this place where we are sitting is your original place?

AC: It's the chicken yard.

RK: And this was the chicken yard, and that's your mom's?


AC: Mom's house was next door.

RK: Do you still own that house?

AC: I don't own that house, but my grandnephews are in it.

RK: And they own it?

AC: It turned out that my brother took that property, my mom's house, and there's two lots on the other side, which was just open yard where Mom had equipment for her foster kids and everything. Anyway, my brother owned that property, and I own the property in Orchards, which was my grandfather's house. So, we split the property when parents were gone and not able to be out there and take care of the property anymore. So, the house next to my mom's house, which was the chicken yard, was owned by a couple and their children when my 02:02:00folks sold the property. Then, I don't know what happened to the family that were living in the little house that they had built, but they disappeared and then the house was available. So, I bought it.

RK: That's?

AC: This house.

RK: This house.

AC: Right.

RK: Which had been the chicken yard.

AC: The chicken yard. I live in the chicken yard [laughs]. Right.

RK: You're saying your nephews live next door?

AC: Right.

RK: They or their father or mother own that land?

AC: The owners are now deceased. My brother's deceased, and his son is deceased. It's son's children that now, with all their hundreds of people in and out of the house. I don't know. But, it's my grandnephew who is responsible for the house.


RK: So, it's still in the family. Then, this is the land that was in your family for a long time, but somebody else was living in it. Then you bought the house.

AC: Right. Bought it from them.

RK: So, now you're back.

AC: I'm back home.

RK: Back home.

AC: [Laughs] Right next to home.

RK: In the chicken yard, and you have no chickens.

AC: I don't have any chickens, thank you very much [laughs]. Chickens are a mess [laughs].

RK: Okay, so. Now tell us about this life now that you were having.

AC: Okay, back in the house, or the chicken yard. That's where the kids grew up and they went to the local schools. The school I attended, the Lents school that I attended, was torn down, the old wooden, three-story wooden building. The 02:04:00school, the rebuilt school was just across the street from Mom's house. They just walked up the block across the street and they were in their school. All three kids went to the new Lents school, that I had gone to the old Lents school. Then they all went to the high school that was built walking distance about, probably about 6 blocks away. Marshall High School was one of the new Portland schools that was built. They all attended that school, graduated from that school.

RK: Why did you want to come back here in this part of Portland?

AC: I'm not sure if I gave it any thought except for convenience. My folks were, 02:05:00all their foster kids were gone. They were there. They were getting older. Well, when my kids were little, though, Mom was still cooking every day and she loved to cook. You couldn't give kids enough food. She made sure that they had enough food. It was convenient in the house next door. I thought why not? I guess it was a good buy, as I think about it, because it had been abandoned. The yard was a total mess. I thought, well, I'll just work on the yard and I made some diagrams for where to put the trees, and I just went crazy fixing up the yard and being next door to parents. So, I think it was just a matter of convenience, 02:06:00and so every evening kids coming home from school had snacks and care and I'm working and didn't have to worry about them, because...

RK: Because Grandma was...

AC: Ma was taking care of them, and she loved to cook and feed kids. So that was convenience.

RK: Then you were teaching?

AC: Mm-hmm.

RK: Then what? Oh, well, before we do that, so now compare your teaching that you were doing back here in Portland and what were those experiences and how do they compare to your others?

AC: All of them were wonderful, really. The principal of the first school where I taught when I came back interviewed me in this room. It was December. So, when 02:07:00I came back at first, I didn't start teaching. I think that's when I worked for a short time as a library aid at, it was a school in north Portland, a boy's elementary school. It was almost entirely Black, but it was a school that was going downhill. Teachers were leaving the school all the time. The library was within walking distance of that school, and so I don't know how I got connected with, I think through the kids coming into the library or something, I knew about this school and that the principal, that they were looking for a teacher. So, I applied, of course, for a teaching job. I guess the way it happens is if a 02:08:00principal has a vacancy in his school, or her school, it was mostly his school then, they go to the central office and they put in a request for a teacher. Then, if you want a job, then you go to the central office and you put in your application for a teaching position. Somehow those two things came together: the request for a teacher and a request for a job. The principal of the school which was just across the street practically from the library, he found out where I lived and what I was doing in the library. I knew some of the kids that attended the school. Somehow, he interviewed me. I remember it was a snowy day in 02:09:00December and he drove through the snow and we had the interview and he put in a request for me to accept the job that was open. So, it was in December and so they would have vacation almost all of January, or part of January, end of December and into January. I started the first of January right after the spring, the summer, no, Christmas break is what it was. That was, let's see... I taught there, I think 2 years. Then, I started moving into different assignments.


RK: What were differences in the different schools and the neighborhoods?

AC: Well, the boy's school here in Portland, like if I compared it with the last school where I had been in New Hampshire, the kids in New Hampshire, a lot of them were military kids. It was not on a military base. It was in the town of New Hampshire, Portsmouth, but a lot of the kids were military kids, and I found out that, and also the kids in Connecticut were almost all military kids, and they had been, many of them had been to many places in the world. They had traveled. They were just good students. They knew how to use the library, how to do research and all that kind of thing. When I came back here, boys was in a 02:11:00part of Portland that was not perceived as worth very much. The kids, the school was kind of, was a good looking school. It was just not well-thought of, and the people in the neighborhood, the neighborhood was kind of going downhill. People weren't keeping their houses up. Kids, they weren't getting the best teachers. There were teachers there that were really good and had been there for quite a while, but most of them were in the primary grades. Where they were having trouble with keeping teachers was from about fifth grade up.

Well, I got a fifth grade class. I got a class where when I took over the classroom it's in December, end of December, January. The kids, okay, I'd get in 02:12:00the classroom and I said, okay everybody open your books. I don't know whether it was language arts or social studies or whatever. They said, we don't have any books. I said, you don't have any books? Where are your books? Our teacher took our books away. I said, your teacher took your books away why? You have to have books. You're in a classroom. You have to have books. You have to read stuff and write stuff out of the book. Well, because we were writing in our books, drawing in our books. I said, why are you drawing in your books? You got art paper. You draw on your art paper. You don't draw on the-no, he took our books away because we're drawing on them. I said, what are you drawing in your books? He said, afros. They were drawing afros on every picture that had a head in the picture. 02:13:00So, the teacher took away their books. I said, well, listen. Your books are coming back. You're not going to draw in them. You're going to have art paper and if you can't draw on the art paper, then I guess you're not going to draw. I don't want to see not one drawing or writing or any-that is called destroying, destructive. You cannot do that and you will not do that. Everybody got that clear? I was kind of a mean teacher. I was mean. You might say I was firm. I basically was mean. So, got their books back. There was no more drawing on the books, but everybody was into the era of afros. I didn't realize what effect that was having on kids. It took me a long time to realize how important it was that they try to see themselves in the pictures that they had in their 02:14:00textbooks, which they did not see anything relative to themselves. So, they were going to put themselves in the book. It took me a long time to realize that.

Anyway, we got the books back. The school was working very hard to get the community to work with them. It was the era of Black Power and many of the kids were going to the breakfast programs that were being established for neighborhood kids and they were learning, you know, Whitey's no good and Black Power. I wasn't at that place. I had not gotten there and did not intend to get there, because I was not in the neighborhood where kids and their parents were being mistreated and not understood and not receiving the kinds of-and parents 02:15:00didn't come to the school and teachers didn't go to the home, and that was one of the first things I did. I said, well, you know, I guess your mother needs to know that you did x, y, and z, so I will be at your house this afternoon. Oh, no. Don't come to our-oh, I'll be there. At the same time I took over that classroom, a White girl who became one of my best friends, who had trained to be a nun, had taken over the fifth grade across the hall, and she was not afraid to go to those kids' parents. She'd march right down to their homes and sit down and talk. I'm a human being. Your kids are human. We're there to teach them. We're not trying to make them evil. We're not trying to make them mad. We're not 02:16:00trying to hurt them or take things away. We're trying to teach them what they need for the next grade and for the next year and whatever. That was quite, that was a new experience. A lot of visitations with homes and families. So, I moved from fifth grade to seventh, eighth, and then I started a reading, I was in charge of the reading. They started a new program in reading where they wanted kids to do speed reading and stuff. So, then, this school was one that, I mean, they really did a lot. They had a parent-teacher retreat. We went up to [recording cuts off].