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Pearlie Mae Washington Oral History Interview, April 6, 1993

Oregon State University
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MICHAEL CLINT: I'm Michael Clint, and I will be interviewing Mrs. Washington today. It's Tuesday, April 6, 1993. I'm going to give Mrs. Washington a chance to tell her story about Eugene. She was the first African American to come here, and I'd like to give her a chance. [Camera cuts to different subject]

MC: Okay, Mrs. Washington?


MC: Okay, you ready?

PMW: Yes.

MC: Alright. Where did you live before you came to Eugene?

PMW: Davis County, Arkansas.

MC: Arkansas?

PMW: Mm-hmm.

MC: When you came to Eugene-

PMW: Yes.

MC: -what kind of jobs were there?

PMW: To Eugene?

MC: Yes, in Eugene.

PMW: When we come to Eugene? We'd come to take up a job of homework. Living in our home and working for some people.

MC: You were working for some people? Alright, how did you feel-

PMW: Mm-hmm. They was real nice to us.


MC: They were?

PMW: Mm-hmm. They was paying, and then they told us they wanted us to be part of the family. We worked there for them. We didn't work too long for them because my husband got a job working for the railroad.

MC: Your husband got a job working for the railroad?

PMW: Mm-hmm.

MC: Okay. How did you feel when you came here?

PMW: Well, I felt alright because there was a couple ahead of us. They had been here for, made two trips in a year, and they knew these people. These people that talked with them was named Russells. They wanted somebody to come out and work for Bill. These friends of ours told them about my husband and they wrote to us and so we decided to come out and take up the job and work with them. That 00:02:00was how we got started.

MC: That's good. Was there a lot of racism when you moved here?

PMW: A lot of what?

MC: Racism.

PMW: Well, not too much to me. They didn't naturally take up with us because they didn't know much about our race. Of course-you have to wait a minute [pauses]. Of course, we got to go into church, and they were very nice to us and friendly with us and all of that. But you know how it is: you meet people you never associated with long. They didn't understand us. We didn't understand them too well. But we went on and started building a church with them and they were 00:03:00very, very nice to us.

MC: That's good. Were you the first black family here?

PMW: No. Well, that lived, a homestead here, yes.

MC: You were the first black people to live in Eugene?

PMW: MM-hmm.

MC: Okay. How was it to raise kids here?

PMW: Well, we had-I never had no trouble with mine. But we did have some people and they had trouble with their children. I can't tell you what happened or nothing like that. But I never did have any with mine. My girl went to enroll in school, and of course they wouldn't accept her-what is the corner street name [1571 Alder Street]? I've done forgot it now.


MC: That's alright.

PMW: Mm-hmm. But anyway, they wouldn't accept her to their school, the University High School. That's what it was.

MC: They wouldn't accept them?

PMW: No. Then I went over to the Eugene High School. They accepted her. After they accepted her, they got to be in different things. They had a parade. My daughter was short. For all of their age groups they had to put her in front because they wouldn't see her. She was so short. But she got in through the Eugene High School. After she started in Eugene High School, the University High found out about her. Then the wanted her to come over there. I told them no.


MC: Did she have any problems at Eugene High School?

PMW: No, she didn't. That I know of.

MC: How many kids do you have?

PMW: Just the two?

MC: Just two?

PMW: Mm-hmm. At the time.

MC: At the time?

PMW: Mm-hmm. I didn't have but two, really. These I have now are mine husband's niece's children. I raised them up. I didn't have no trouble with them. One of my boys, he's just funny you know, and do things. But having trouble with them-I didn't have any.

MC: That's good. What did you and your family do for fun when you came here?

PMW: When we first come here?

MC: Yes.

PMW: Well, I was working for this family of people. So, I had been here about, 00:06:00around about 2 months I guess, and I hadn't been to church or anything. Just left the house working all the time. Of course, I told [unclear], and she says to me, I want you to feel at home, now. You're part of the family, just part of us. I said, well, I can't feel that way. She said, why? I said, well, I'm used to going to church. I've been here two months and haven't been to church. So, she said, oh Pearl. Why didn't you tell me? You can go to church. On that day I started going to church on Sundays. We didn't have a car back then. I feed them and [unclear] for them, and then I'd go around and go to church wherever I wanted to go.


MC: You went to the church St. Marks, right?

PMW: Not at that time.

MC: Not at that time.

PMW: St. Marks wasn't here at that time.

MC: Can you tell me about St. Marks?

PMW: St. Marks was set up in my home. We didn't have a black church here, so we had a presiding elder come in here and want to set up a church. He asked me if he could have services at my home. That's where we set St. Marks up, in my home.

MC: St. Marks was set up in your home?

PMW: Yeah.

MC: I didn't know that.

PMW: We worshipped there, met there, and got together. Then we had a little, got 00:08:00a house on 11th street where we are now. They started having service there. The pastor lived right there. So, in his home we had service until we could get it built. [Interviewer switches]

MC: Can you tell me about the entertainment in those days?

PMW: In those days?

MC: Yes.

PMW: Well, I was-my part of entertainment was just going to church like that, you know. Sometimes we would go to the moving pictures show or something like that. Most of mine was going to church on Sundays and through the week they have 00:09:00meetings and different ones would invite me to their church and I would go visit with them. Some of them I'd just go with them and work with them, you know. That's where I got started.

MC: Do you-

PMW: For a while, I don't know how long it was, but about a year I was about the only black woman in Eugene. So, I would go up and down the street and the people wasn't used to black folks, you know. So, the children, had the children in the cars they honked at them as I'd go by for them to look and see me and watch me. I would be looking out of the corner of my eye. They didn't know I saw them, but 00:10:00I did.

MC: So, the family you lived with was Caucasian?

PMW: Uh-huh. Yes.

MC: So, you were-okay. Do you remember about the music?

PMW: Well, I don't remember too much about that. You have to talk to somebody else about that.

MC: Okay. Do you remember anything about maybe the clothes or some of the foods you ate?

PMW: Say now what? I'm sorry. You have to repeat that. I didn't understand what you said.

MC: Do you remember anything about some of the clothes that you used to wear or some of the foods that you used to eat?

PMW: Well, I ate about the same thing I eat now. Some things are here they didn't know anything about. I said I'd cook some black-eyed peas. They didn't 00:11:00know anything about that. They thought they were black eyed beans. I told them, no, they're black-eyed peas. So, finally they got to eat them and liked them. I began to cook for them so they could have some, too. At first, I'd just cook them for myself and my husband. After the found out, they began to eat them, too, just like other things. Like going to the store and buy turnips. They'd take the top of the turnips and throw them away and just take the bottom of the turnips and cook those. I went and bought some one day, and I looked around at 00:12:00them twisting the top off. I said, don't do that. He said, why? What are you going to do with them? You can't do nothing with them? I said, well, you just leave them. I'll take care of that. I started to eat the turnip greens. There are other things, too, they didn't eat. They learned to eat whole lots of things. Collard greens, they didn't fool with those.

MC: They didn't know what collard greens were, either?

PMW: Mm-hmm, huh-uh.

MC: So, you brought a lot of new foods to Eugene, then.

PMW: Oh yeah. Lots of them. We black people brought lots of different foods here.

MC: Did you have any heroes, like Martin Luther King?


PMW: You mean would stop in at my place?

MC: Like, in your heart. Did you have any heroes?

PMW: In my house?

MC: No. Just in your life.

PMW: Did I hear any of them?

MC: Did you have any heroes in your life?

PMW: Well, no. I lived-Martin Luther King and his brother, and what's that child's name? The Davis boy. I can't think of his name now. Sammy Davis.

MC: Sammy Davis, Jr.?

PMW: Mm-hmm. And his brother like that, I believe his father, also. I used to listen to them. In fact, they used to room with me when they came into town.

MC: They visited you?


PMW: Mm-hmm.

MC: Sammy Davis, Jr.?

PMW: Yeah. They'd room with me. What is that other man's name? Was so great. And sang that song with his brother?

MC: Do you have a message for young people?

PMW: A message for them?

MC: Yes.

PMW: Yes. I have a message for them. Tell them I tried to live for the Lord and serve Him and do the work that the Lord would have them to do. I know they are young and things that they do, they don't always do that. In working with them and talking with them and keep in contact with them you can change them and the changes are the Lord.


MC: Alright, that's good. Is there anything else that you'd like to tell us?

PMW: Well, no I guess not.

MC: Alright, then. Thank you for the interview.

PMW: You bet.

[Camera cuts]

PMW: Lord in heaven. Hallowed by Thy name. They kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen. Group of Students: Amen.