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Mattie Reynolds Oral History Interview - Session 3, 1993

Oregon State University
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MATTIE REYNOLDS: Yeah, the light's on.

STUDENT 1: We're here with Mrs. Reynolds, and we were-[as an aside to co-interviewer] Might we say first... [trails off].

STUDENT 2: Alright, first we'd like to know where you lived in Eugene before you came here?

MR: I lived in Shreveport, Louisiana.

S1: What kind of jobs were there for African Americans... [trails off].

MR: Here in Eugene?

S1: Yeah.

MR: The railroad and the sawmill.

S1: Why did you leave to come here?

MR: Well, wages was a little bit better here than it was in Louisiana.

S1: How did you feel when you came?

MR: Pardon?

S1: How did you feel when you came?

MR: How did I feel when I came here? Scary.


S1: How were you and your family treated?

MR: Pardon?

S1: How were you and your family treated?

MR: Oh [sighs]. Very poorly. Very poorly.

S2: When you moved here, was there a lot of racism?

MR: Yes. Very much so.

S2: Can you tell us about the laws and how it was in those days?

MR: Can I tell you about what?

S2: The laws. How it was.

MR: Oh, sure. When we first came to Oregon, my husband was working on the railroad, so we moved up to Pry [?], which was just a little railroad switch. We left Pry and came down to Fall Creek. We still was with the railroad. Then he came to Eugene one weekend and met a man that owned the sawmill, so he asked him did he want a job? He said, yeah. So, he thought as soon as he could find housing for us, he would send a truck down to bring us to Eugene, which he did. 00:02:00In May he found us an apartment down on Sixth Street. He sent a truck, and they came and packed us up and brought us down to Eugene. When we pulled into the apartment and went to unload and stuff the landlord came over and said, well, I'm sorry we don't rent to colored people. I thought your boss man wanted it for himself. The young man that came to get us he had fought in the service. So, he told her, he said, lady I fought for this country. Saying, if it was left up to me, they would live here. But it wasn't left up to him, so they moved us out. We went on across the overpass and got a motel room, and the manager there told me, don't let the kids out because he would lose customers. Then, we moved back downtown between Sixth and Seventh on Pearl Street in a rooming house. As we 00:03:00moved in the back, white people was moving out the front. Then he found us a house on Seventh and Van Buren, on the corner of Seventh and Van Buren. We moved in there, and oh, we was there about a week and then some people came by to buy the place. So, Sam's boss just went on and bought it so we would have somewhere to stay.

In the meantime, I had gone back, went to Louisiana and picked up my other two kids. I only had two with me. I left two in Louisiana, so I went back to get them. When they came back, oh, all the white neighborhood kids would come over and play in our yard. One morning I got up to get Sam off to work and a policeman knocked on my door. So, I went to the door and I asked him what the problem was? He said, is these your bikes out here in the yard? I said, no. I 00:04:00said, it's probably some of the kids from the neighborhood because they all play around here. He said, no, he said we had a call that they were stolen. So, somebody had placed the bikes there to say that we had stole the bikes. But they said, no, they knew better than that because they had left all the tools that they had in the midst of them. Then a man came by and asked us did we know where an army camp was around there? He said, no, well, you better find one.

S1: Was there an African American community when you came here?

MR: No. It was only two families, plus one family had some roomers here when we came here.

S1: Who was that?

MR: That was the Washingtons and the... mmm... I forgot the other family's name, but they did now anyway. Mrs. and Mrs. House. They came here with Roseburg 00:05:00Lumber Company.

S1: Where did you say you lived when you first came here?

MR: Homestead. We lived on Seventh and Van Buren. Then my husband bought into the sawmill, and we moved out on Loraine Highway.

S1: How many black people were there?

MR: When we came here?

S1: Mm-hmm, when you first got here?

MR: It was two families, plus they had three or four roomers. So, it was about eight of us here when I first came here.

S1: Were you friends with all of them?

MR: No.

S1: What do you mean by, "they had roomers?"

MR: Huh?

S1: What do you mean by, "they had roomers?"

MR: Well, a lady and her husband had a big house, so when black folks, colored people, came through they would stay there.


S1: How was it to raise your kids here?

MR: How was it to raise the kids here? It was, well, the kids had their own friends. When my kids grew up they had, it was quite a few black people had moved in the town then. They had friends to play with. When we first came, it was only my kids, only my four kids here. They had white friends.

S1: What do you remember about the school's system?

MR: Hmm?

S1: What do you remember about the school's system?

MR: About the school system? Now, you have to ask my kids about the school system. Lois?


MR: What about the school system when you was going?

LRW: Basically, the school system was fair in the sense that they taught us that 00:07:00being of color that we could only graduate and become housewives or maids. They didn't teach us that we could be all that we could be if we worked hard. We couldn't be anything like airline stewardesses or anything of that sort. They would tell us that we had what we call "counselors," and they would counsel the white children. All the black children were illiterate, and they said that we didn't know how to read, so all the black children that went through the black system when I was going had to have special classes, special reading classes. So, it was... and they taught about black history. They would always point out that there was one right here. It was hard. It was really hard. The system here 00:08:00didn't do anything for the ones that came in through the '50s and '60s as far as an education goes.

S1: How many kids did you have?

MR: Twelve.

S1: Twelve? What about grandchildren?

MR: Huh?

S1: What about grandchildren?

MR: How many do I have now? Oh, about forty-six and thirty great grand.

S1: What did you guys do for fun?

MR: What did we do for fun? We visited one another, played dominoes. When we lived across the Ferry Street Bridge in my house we had a juke box. People would come over and play that and dance. We built a church.


S2: Did you have family gatherings?

MR: Have what?

S2: You had family gatherings, right?

MR: Oh, now we do. We didn't at that time.

S2: You didn't have family gatherings?

MR: No. Not at that time.

S2: Can you tell us about your family gatherings now?

MR: We have our family reunion every 2 years up at Jasper Park now.

S2: Did you have any special foods that you used to make?

MR: [Laughs] We had barbeque and we had potato salad and we had baked beans and we had whatever... potato pie.

S1: How about the music in those days?

MR: How about the what?

S1: Back when you lived here, what kind of music did you listen to?

MR: We had jazz and we had blues and classical.


S1: How was the clothing... [trails off].

MR: How was the what?

S1: What kind of clothes did you guys wear?

MR: [Laughs] We wore common clothes. We didn't wear no costumes or nothing. We wore common clothes just like y'all wearing today, but we didn't have them real short dresses and them baggy pants like y'all wear.

S1: Did the black community do anything together?

MR: Well, we really didn't have a black community until [pauses to think], oh, in '48 we had a black community across Ferry Street Bridge when we lived in houses and tents over there. Like I said, we got together and did things.


S1: What would they do together?

MR: Hmm?

S1: What did you guys do?

MR: Oh, we had parties and danced, played cards.

S1: Can you tell us about the church? You go to St. Marks, right?

MR: Yeah, I go to St. Marks. I'm a chartered member. My husband helped to build it. We enjoy it.

S1: It's the oldest church, isn't it?

MR: Yes, it's the oldest church in Eugene.

S1: Did you go through the Depression years here?

MR: No, I was in Louisiana in the Depression time.

S1: Can you tell us about the Depression was in Louisiana? Was there a Depression in Louisiana?

MR: Yeah. There was a Depression all over. My husband was making $0.25 an hour working 10 hours a day.


S1: What was your family's experience with the wars?

MR: Hmm?

S1: What was your family's experience of the wars?

MR: I had three brothers in the service. I had two sons in the Air Force and two sons in the Army, but the war was over then when they went in.

S1: Can you tell us about the... [trails off] never mind. What books did you read? Did you read books?

MR: Did I what?

S1: Did you read books?

MR: Oh, yeah, we read westerns. We read comic books. We read the Bible. We read love stories. All that kind of stuff.


S1: Was there good entertainment?

MR: Do what?

S1: Was there good entertainment?

MR: Was it good entertainment? Yeah, for us at that time it was.

S1: And you guys listened to jazz and blues?

MR: Mm-hmm [yes].

S1: Did the African American community organize to change anything in Eugene?

MR: Yeah, we organized a club called CORE. We had sit-ins in these grocery, in these clothing stores and things to give people of color jobs and put pressure on them.

S1: Well, that it. So, thanks for this interview.

MR: Was it what?

S1: I said, we're through, so...


S2: Have you seen a change in Eugene from those days?

MR: Yeah. It was quite a change for a while, but now it seems like it's getting right back where it used to be.

S2: How would you describe the changes that there have been?

MR: Well, colored people got more jobs. They got better housing.

S2: How do you think it's starting to change back to old ways?

MR: Because it's hard for them to get jobs and it's hard for them to get housing.

S1: So, what do you think about the younger generation?

MR: Huh?

S1: What do you think about the younger generation?

MR: The younger generation? Well, I think they is smart, and they got changes to go places. But one thing they first got to get an education. You have to hit them books and stay in there and get a good education. Then someday you may be president of the United States, hopefully.


S2: Who are your heroes today?

MR: Huh?

S2: Do you have any heroes?

MR: Do I have any what?

S2: Heroes.

MR: Martin Luther King. It was lots of heroes out there: Jackie Robinson from ball and Joe Louis for boxing, in my day.

S2: If you had a message for young people what would it be?

MR: To stay in school and get a good education and stay off of drugs. That's the main point: to stay off of drugs.

S1: Would you recommend for young African Americans, like young African Americans, to come to Eugene?

MR: Would I what?

S1: Would you recommend for young African Americans to come to Eugene?


MR: Yeah. You know, Eugene ain't too bad. There are places worse than Eugene. Yeah, I would recommend for them to come here.

S1: Is there anything else you'd like to say before we end? Is there another story you'd like to tell us or something that happened?

MR: Well, when, after we moved to the Loraine Highway and had the sawmill and then when we lost it, we had to come back to Eugene. So, we couldn't find nowhere to live. We went across Ferry Street Bridge and built the house and stayed over there until they put us all out from over there. Then, they moved us all out on West 12th in a mudhole where white people had been living and they found out that we needed a place to stay. They put all their houses up for sale. 00:17:00They said, put them all out there on 11th Street. So, that's what they did: they put us all out there on 11th Street in the mud. In the winter-the Amazon wasn't like it is now; it was just a little creek running through there, and then in the winter it would overflow. They would have to come in and move us out. So, then we moved from out there we moved back uptown and moved back on High Street and then they took that place for something else and we had to find other places to live. I just got tired and bought a house.

S1: Well, unless there's anything else you'd like to tell us that's about it.

MR: Hmm?

S1: Unless there's something else you want to tell us, that's about it?

MR: Nah. That's about it.

S1: Alright, it's been a good interview and thank you.

MR: Mm-hmm. I enjoyed it.


TEACHER: Thank you. Appreciate it.

[Cuts to interview of Lois Reynolds]

S1: We've got Lois Reynolds-Wilson here and she would like to share a few things.

LRW: Okay, first off, I'd like to say the part I really remember is when we lived down on West 11th and there was no inside facilities. We had to go outside to use the bathroom. We had no water. My brother and I had to carry water from, I'd say about 3 to 4 blocks in a milk can. We took baths on Saturdays because of the water shortage. In going to school, I started school here in the first grade and I went through high school, South Eugene, but in grade school I remember my fifth-grade teacher telling me that I was adopted. I asked her, well, why would I be adopted? My mother has 12 children. It was hard for black children because 00:19:00of the fact that there wasn't any. We had a lot of-I had no black friends, because I didn't know the black children. All of my friends were white. I moved from here in 1982 and I went to Louisiana for eight and a half years. I had a hard time there with blacks because of my diction. They always said that I was white, or I sound like I was white. I would try to explain to them it was just the culture of where I was raised. It was kind of hard, you coming from Louisiana. They don't talk the way we do. My children went through the school system here. All my children went to Jefferson. I was at Jefferson just about every other day because of things they were saying my children were doing and the principal there, we always had it.

I think what's happening now is there's not enough parents, black parents, who 00:20:00get involved with what's happening at the schools and we don't know what's going on with our children. My nephew had a lot of problems at Churchill, and he had to transfer to South. But it's just because we're not as involved as we should be as a community, as a parent, as a grandparent. So, we need to be seen more in the school system so that they know we are interested in what's happening to our children. I don't want what happened to us to filter down through the years. It has to stop. They have to learn. Our children have to be taught. My daughter was taking swimming lessons and they said she couldn't float because her body structure was different. You know, a lot of little things that make children not want to go to school. I feel that we as a black community needs to get behind our black children and to let them know that we are there whenever they are 00:21:00having problems in the school or anywhere, that we're there and we will always be there and all they have to do is come and we'll get out in force and try to change whatever it is. [Whispers] And I got to go.