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Pauline Davidson Oral History Interview, 1993

Oregon State University
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STUDENT 1: ...Pauline Davison. We're just going to ask her what it was like being here in Eugene.

STUDENT 2: Where did you live before you came to Eugene?

PAULINE DAVIDSON: I was born in Atlanta, Georgia.

S1: Why did you leave to come here?

PD: I came here with an aunt who was one of the first settled here in this area.

S2: What kind of jobs was there for African Americans in this town?

PD: My uncle, my father-no, two of my uncles and my father read an ad in the paper back in Atlanta. They were advertising for, I think they called them gandy dancers for the Southern Pacific Railroad. So, they came to Oregon to work for the railroad. My uncle and my father, I was told, they left, went back to 00:01:00Atlanta. But one of my uncles stayed. He got a job, he worked for a while then he came back to Atlanta and got his family, and that's how I came along with my aunt.

S1: How did you feel when you came here?

PD: I was very young. I had no feeling, except it was really exciting that I rode the train a long way. It took almost a week to get here on the train. I can remember that. That was very exciting, especially to a young child. It was different because there wasn't any black peoples here other than some friends, my uncles, and auntie, who was Reynolds. That was different, very different. But 00:02:00eventually I just took it.

S2: How were you and your family treated?

PD: As a child, I can't really say that I had any serious problems because I played with the kids and they treated me fairly and we fought. We did everything that young children do together. There was a lot of people at the time that we came here had never seen a black family, so that took some adjusting for them. That took some adjusting for my family and I because the only other family in 00:03:00Eugene at that time was the Reynolds family, so in order for us all to get together, to see another black family, the Reynolds family and Mr. & Mrs. Washington, we had to go all the way across town to see the Reynolds.

S1: When you moved here was there a lot of racism?

PD: When I moved here, when I moved here racism wasn't a concern of mine because I was too young to know anything about racism. As I said before, being a young child I got along with my playmates very well, and we did everything that children normally do. We played in swings and we climbed trees and we went to movies together and I do remember there was a lot of stares, you know like kids 00:04:00that never seen black families, black people before. They would stare at you. That made me a little uncomfortable, but I finally got used to that.

Were there very many racists? I guess so-there were. Not guess, there were some racism here, but I didn't really-to tell you the truth, when I first really run in and found out what racism was all about was when I started working on the job that I have now. That's where I really encountered racism. That's when I really felt different. I felt left out. I don't really feel like I was really accepted. 00:05:00It was like a cover-up. It was phoniness. Like, oh I was a nice person you treated nice, but I was the last person to get the training I needed. People were easily take you for the scapegoat. Like if something is going on wrong and they are having a bad day they would take it out on me, but being the person that I am I would retaliate, too.

S2: Do you remember any of the laws in Eugene that were maybe biased, or, just unfair?

PD: Yes, I do. There was a special law that black men were always stopped by the policemen, questioned, and sometimes there were arrests, unnecessary arrests made. There were people who couldn't get housing because of their race. There 00:06:00were people that couldn't get jobs because of their race. There were people who had to live in tents because they didn't, they couldn't find a house. When we were across Ferry Street Bridge, which is in the Coburg Bridge area, there was, people used to set up, black people used to come into town and set up tents to live in. We were fortunately, we meaning my family and I, was fortunate because my uncle who had secured a job with one of the big rendering companies here in Eugene-and this company furnished a house for the employees. So, we had hot and cold running water, inside toilet and all those things, which was, we had it a 00:07:00little better than a lot of people and that's the Johnson family.

S1: So, where did you live when you first moved here?

PD: I lived in Glenwood. I lived in Glenwood. At that time we had a school there. I used to attend that school up until-we didn't live in Glenwood very long. It was shortly after that that we moved to Eugene and my uncle, Charlie Thompson, who got a job with Eugene Rendering Works and we moved there.

S2: How was it like to raise kids here?


PD: Okay. As the years went by, I was only...twenty children, yeah...well, we had our little run-ins and my kids had some run-in, but they also had-well, to be honest, my kids seemed to have done pretty well, pretty good in school. My oldest son, now, he was going to Springfield and because he was so good in football, I remember one year that the coach at the school wanted to hold him back another year because we had junior high here in this area then. My son was 00:09:00in junior high and was getting ready to graduate. Because he was doing so well, the coach wanted to hold him back another year. So, what I did, I went over to the school because that's what was typical, black people had to excel in sports and all of that in order to be recognized. That was really in those days, that's really what they-hold on, I'm losing my voice-so, I went over and I talked to the principal and the coach and got that straightened out. There was problems that my son more than the other ones at the high school, there was situations where him and his sister was going to Springfield. I'm not sure if you call it 00:10:00racist or what because my daughter, she was such an honors student, they kind of had favoritism going between those two. That was bad on him.

S1: How many kids did you have?

PD: I had five kids on my own, and then I have three kids that belongs to my sister that I helped raise.

S2: How many grandchildren do you have?

PD: How many grandchildren do I have now? About 14.

S2: What do you remember about when you were going to school?

PD: You know, believe it or not, there's always someone that they would make exceptions out of. I didn't have any real racist-type or was treated that way. 00:11:00I've always got along very well with people. They've always seemed to like me and those that did not didn't bother about associating with me. I had two buddies, one little blond and a brunette and we got along fine together. We did everything together. We ate together, slept together, run together, fought together, and just never had no problem. There was one, an elderly white lady who was very well-off. She wanted my aunt to let her adopt me because she said she could educate me and give me all the things that she couldn't, my aunt couldn't afford to give me. But of course my aunt wouldn't let her have me. I don't know if I regret it or not.

S1: What did you do for fun?


PD: What did I do for fun? When I was younger? Like a child? Or when I got to be older?

S2: Both.

PD: What I did as a child, I went to ice skating. We had an ice-skating rink in Eugene then. I went roller skating. We went hiking, especially Skinner's Butte. We loved Skinner's Butte. We used to climb up Skinner's Butte. We used to do things that a lot of kids don't do today. We used to throw rocks at each other. We used to play tag, go to the movies, and of course you didn't have no, a lot of crime rate then like they do today. We didn't have that to worry about. Now, we're afraid to leave our house because we're afraid someone would, we always left our doors open and why wouldn't we want to? Never had to worry about 00:13:00anybody coming in and breaking in and stealing anything.

S1: How about the music in those days? What was it like?

PD: It was pretty good. Some of the old guys are still around: B.B. King and Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Tina Turner. Very good.

S2: How about like clothes and what were the styles back then?

PD: The styles then is pretty much what they have in today. You know, it's sort of like a recycle. What we wore then is what you are wearing today: the long 00:14:00skirts, the short skirt, the knickerbockers, the boots, and everything so the style is here today what we had yesterday.

S1: What did the black community do back then?

PD: Well, actually we didn't have a black community, really, per se back then other than they had, for a brief moment they had the peoples that lived in the tents across Ferry Street Bridge, right? What did they do: they went to church, they got together and did parties and had feast. Everybody used to get together, especially on the Fourth of July and we all went out to Fern Ridge and had a big picnic, you know, a lot of food. People was more friendly and more together 00:15:00then, because you knew each other. Another thing, as time went on and we got where we wasn't used to seeing other blacks, now. So, when you go downtown and the train stopped and a black person would get off, and oh that was really exciting because then you would race home and: "oh guess what I saw today!", which was Negros then [recording cuts out].

S2: ...food and games or did you play at those family gatherings, or, not family gatherings but like just community when the community and people got together for picnics, what kind of foods did you eat and stuff?

PD: We at the same kind of what they call soul food that they eat today: baked 00:16:00ribs, baked chicken, barbeque chicken, barbeque ribs, greens, potato salad, all that good stuff. That has not changed. It's still the same.

S1: Can you tell us anything about the church St. Marks?

PD: Yes. St. Marks was, there was a minister that moved here and I can't remember his name, but he started that church about 47 years ago and it grew from a handful of people to I guess the congregation is maybe about 100 now? Or more? That was the church that everybody went to. You didn't have to 00:17:00worry-there's one thing that people would do then: they would go to church on Sunday and practically every black person that was in Eugene would go to church on Sundays, including me. I used to load my kids up in my car, a station wagon, and I was there also.

S2: Did you go through the Depression years here?

PD: That goes way back. I wasn't born in the Depression. I was born after the Depression.

S2: Okay.

PD: That was a little before my time.

S1: Did you hear anything about the wars?

PD: Yeah, I heard about them.

S1: Can you tell us anything about them? What you heard?

S2: Stories and stuff.


PD: Yes. I can remember like, let me think... I'm not too familiar with the wars. All I know, that was a lot of, I just used to see mothers with-now, which war are we talking about? Korean War? I can remember that one, but not the other one.

S2: Just like any of them that you can remember.

PD: Yeah, I can remember the Korean War. Mothers was just like they are today, was worried about their children and wanted them to come home safely. They didn't want wars. They figured they should find some other way to work this out, 00:19:00rather than wars.

S2: What kind of books did you read and stuff?

PD: Believe it or not, Of Dick and Jane, Bob and Betty...do you mean in school?

S2: Well, just like, yeah out of school, or in church, or just-?

PD: Well, number one was the Bible. I like a lot of novels: Aga[tha] Christie, Sherlock Holmes... of course we all read Shakespeare. That's the part I didn't major study that, you had to learn something out of there.

S1: Was there any good-well, what kind of entertainment was there?

PD: Entertainment? Mostly entertainment we had was house parties. We used to 00:20:00give a lot of house parties and, like I said, everybody came. Everybody that was old enough to come, they came. We were party hardy. Just had a real good time. We didn't have very many fights. Once in a while, someone might have had one or two drinks, but we all looked out for each other.

S2: That's nice. Did the African American community organize to change anything in Eugene?

PD: Yes. There was CORE: Racial Equality, and I was a member of that. We worked hard and it was not only just blacks. We had whites that came and joined and helped us change things in Eugene. They fixed the-we worked on housing. We had a 00:21:00committee for housing. We had a committee for jobs. We had a committee for everything. People really worked together and worked hard. We got out on the picket line and picket when things weren't going right. Just, everything. We were able to, like, we then were able, what had been done today it was because people like me, Willie Mims, the Reynolds Family and all of us and all the other good people from the university that got out and made it possible where we could all get good jobs regardless of our race, creed, or color. Even with the university we made things better for that. When you hear peoples coming in 00:22:00saying they were going to change things, things have already been changed for them although they can even make things a little better. I'm not saying they're not doing their job. But they're only carrying on what we have already done.

S1: What kind of changes have you seen in Eugene since those days and now?

PD: Oh, well, like I said when I was a child coming up we didn't have all these drugs, and kids going out and drinking, smoking dope, and killing each other and all that. None of that. We might throw rocks at each other and throw some sand in their face, but we definitely wouldn't kill anybody. We definitely wouldn't use drugs. That was out. The only thing that most of us might have done was a cigarette. We would take cigarettes and blow big smoke rings because we thought that was fun. We couldn't buy cigarettes, either. I couldn't buy cigarettes when I was a girl. So, no, we didn't have what you have today. Today is truly 00:23:00changed. We have kids out in the street using drugs and killing each other and some kind of terrible things which it doesn't have to be like that.

S2: From what you said what do you think about the younger generation and where they're headed.

PD: I think, I don't think all the younger generation is drug-addicted, dope heads, and going to end up in the gutter or in the penitentiary. I don't think like that. I think there's a lot of good young peoples out there that's really striving for something better in life so they don't feel like somebody owes them something. They know that in order to get that they have to get out and make it for themselves. You can't sit back and blame somebody all your life about what's happening to you. You have to strive for that yourself.


S1: Who are your heroes?-huh? Okay, if you have a message for young people, what would it be?

PD: I think it's pretty much what I got to saying, you know. Continue on your education. Through education is how you make it. Really. That's how you make it. If you have, like my job, you cannot get into where I'm working without a college degree. You have to have education. Education will buy your freedom. Keep yourself clean. Continue in school and say, hey, even if you want to drive a Mercedes Benz-you know how you drive that Mercedes Benz. You drive that Mercedes Benz by getting the education, getting the job that can afford you to get that Mercedes Benz if that's what you so desire. But you're certainly not 00:25:00going to get it if you're a high school, if you're going to drop out and start using drugs or start running around in the street in gangs and stuff. That's not going to get you anywhere. It's going to get you killed or something else for the next 10 or 15 years in the state penitentiary.

S2: Do you have any heroes nowadays and when you were little who did you look up to?

PD: My heroes was Lena Horne and boy, we really had-Dorothy Dandridge and Ethel Waters and Rochester, Nat King Cole, and you know, John Wayne, [?] Scott.


S1: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

PD: Yes. I think I'm going to repeat myself. I think you kids are doing a very good job. I appreciate what you're doing. I appreciate them bringing you kids over here. I think it's been really nice. It's nice talking to you. Just continue going to school, getting your education. Stay out of those streets. Don't let your peers tell you, oh you don't know what it's all about unless you try that. You don't want to know what it's all about because you got your head on your shoulder and they don't. They don't know what it's all about because they're in a cloud.

S2: Thank you very much.

PD: You're welcome.