Interviewer: Michael Murray, Folklorist, Westchester Arts Council
Date: November 15, 2001
Location: Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Yonkers, NY
INTERVIEWER: Okay, I can hear myself great Mrs. Fields O.K. this is Michael
NARRATOR: Are these going to be the questions? [Looking at the cheat sheet]
INTERVIEWER: No these are just notes about
These are things that we
might want to talk about, but we don't have to talk about all of this or any
NARRATOR: Good, I wouldn't be able to answer all of them.
INTERVIEWER: No, this isn't some kind of a test. This is just a list of topics
so I can keep track of them.
NARRATOR: You see they have a record, my record anyway, because, see, they
use it on mother's day here. And yeah, so they have record of when I came,
the school I went to, and all things like that. That record is here in the
church. When I joined the church and the things like that.
INTERVIEWER: That's just part of the parish records? [pause] When would you
update something like that? Say when you got married? You'd add the marriage
certificate to the church records? That sort of thing?
NARRATOR: What, yeah?
INTERVIEWER: Your file at the parish. What sort of information would you
update it with? [Some confusion about the question and then Mrs. Fields daughter
tells her, "Let him ask you the questions."]
NARRATOR: I'm trying to think, information that
go ahead. There's
no information that I could give.
INTERVIEWER: Your full, born, name is, Addie Beatrice Johnson
and you were born, where?
NARRATOR: In 1910, 1910 August the 4th.
INTERVIEWER: And where was that?
NARRATOR: Portsmouth, Virginia. I see. Okay, I'm a twin. Don't forget to
put that down. I'm a twin.
INTERVIEWER: I'm writing that down. And, how long did you live in Portsmouth,
NARRATOR: From the time I was born until I was fourteen. You mean before
I came here? Hmm, hmm, 'til fourteen.
INTERVIEWER: And what was it like living there?
NARRATOR: What was it like there?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, what was it like living in Virginia?
NARRATOR: Well it was the city, just like
Well, I don't say it was
like New York City. Not as big as New York. It was a regular city. You never
heard of Norfolk, Virginia?
INTERVIEWER: I've heard of Norfolk.
NARRATOR: You have? O.K.
INTERVIEWER: I'm from Virginia. Fairfax, Virginia. Up north in Virginia.
NARRATOR: Oh, you're further west I think it is, or something like that.
I'm near Suffolk and Norfolk, Chesapeake Bay. That you may know that big bridge
where you go across?
INTERVIEWER: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel?
NARRATOR: Yeah, well you go across that to get into Norfolk. You go across
that to get into Norfolk. And then you, and there used to be a ferry that
took you over from Norfolk to Portsmouth. That would have been Portsmouth.
And then you take 58 and you go to Suffolk, Virginia. That was my home, all
through there. I lived in Suffolk for a while. I lived there until I was 14
and then I came to New York.
INTERVIEWER: What did your family, what did your parents do in Virginia?
NARRATOR: My father worked for a furniture company
and my mother was a laundress. David Pender. If you come from the South then
you hear talk of David Pender. It's just like the A&P. Like that
you know. So my mother was with them and all.
So, now you want to know how many children?
INTERVIEWER: Sure. See you're doing fine. You don't even need me here.
NARRATOR: Nine. Nine children. Five girls, four boys. One girl passed as
baby. It was eleven children, but nine of us lived to be grown. And the other
one little girl died at the age of two and the other two were still
born. So that's the children.
INTERVIEWER: Now what else do you need to tell me about growing up in
NARRATOR: Well, I guess it would be like any little child that is born. Because
we, it was a city and we had to stay you know in the home. We had a day nursery
across the street from us. The people used to watch over use because my mother
didn't want us to stay in the day nursery so she'd leave us home. And the
lady next door used to take care of us. When the people in the day nursery
used to see that we didn't go out in the street and all of that and all. It
was a kind of happy home. Like all little children, you know, when their mother's
away they get in trouble or something like that. But I can't find no fault
with my childhood. I grew up just like mostly any other children. I can remember
good when the war broke out. The first World War.
INTERVIEWER: World War I? What year was that?
NARRATOR: World War I. I was seven years old.
INTERVIEWER: And you remember that? What do you remember about it?
NARRATOR: Oh sure. Well I can remember when the papers came and my uncles,
uh, got the papers that they were called into the war. And , uh, how the women
See the women folks did not go out and work like they do today.
The men worked and the wives stayed home and took care of the children. But
when the war broke out, then the women went out and went to work and then
the men went to war. And, uh, I can remember how they were crying and screaming,
"my son." And my grandmother crying. And all of that. And I still
remember when they came back and they had on all of this army stuff and everything.
And they brought back different little things for us to remember by: the badges
and different things like that and all. So, I had about, I had four uncles
in the war and I had um eh, about eight or nine cousins in the war and they
all came back safely.
NARRATOR: We didn't lose one person. They all came back safe
So naturally if I knew about the First World War, I'd have to know about the
second. Yeah so the Second World War, naturally, I was in New York. So, that
was scary. The second one was scary, the first one wasn't because I wasn't
really old enough to know what was really going on. I know people were fighting.
That's all I knew, but I figured they were so far away they couldn't get to
us. I didn't know like today when they have these planes going to and from,
killing people and all that. I didn't know when I was growing up. But the
Second World War was a little scary. But I had brothers and I had cousins
and all that was in there, the second world war. But, thank God, they all
came back safe.
INTERVIEWER: Again? That's Super.
NARRATOR: Again. Everybody came back safe. I didn't, have not, didn't loose
a cousin or anybody. So that was that. And then there was the Korean War.
That came right after the Second World War. I didn't pay too much attention
to that. I was too busy working and carrying on. I didn't have nobody to go
to that, but maybe some 'of cousins' and I didn't know until they had gone
and come back. So that was it. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: When the First World War came out you were only seven, so you
were in elementary school then. Right?
NARRATOR: Yeah, I was seven years old. I was born in 1910. And 1910, that
When our boys went I think it was 1919 or 1920. Something like that.
I think I have the papers home, some of the papers any way. But I think that,
that would make me some where around seven years old when they went.
INTERVIEWER: What was school like in Virginia? Was it segregated?
NARRATOR: Well, it was like kinda
I don't know
what you would call it, it was just half-and-half. We rode the same bus, we
rode the same trolley, we went to the same store. But, the thing of it is
we didn't sleep together, we didn't eat together, we didn't live in the same
house together. But, the people were nice. We had very nice people. The races
got along very good together. It was not exactly like it was when I came to
You see, when I came to New York, they didn't want
the races all went
to the same school. See, we had a separate school.
INTERVIEWER: In New York?
NARRATOR: No, no, Virginia. See, we had a separate school. The white children's
school would be about a block from ours. They were let out, one half an hour
ahead of us. And, so we could never catch up with them to have a fight! You
understand? So that was that. And it was a lot of fun. We thought it was fun
anyway. I don't know what the older people thought about it, but we thought
it was fun because we figured they were scared of us. And we wanted to be
the rulers, you know so
And all of that was okay. Nobody got hurt. Nobody
Some of the people, I've seen them since then, and all. Most of
them all have passed away. I don't think I have anybody that I know, just
a few, that I knew when I was a teenager growing up. Almost all of them have
passed away. They passed away in their seventies, eighties. A few of them
have lived to get ninety. I had a cousin who lived 103, yeah, uh huh. And
now I only have just my twin that is living today.
INTERVIEWER: And um, sounds like school and life wasn't that bad in Virginia,
right. So why did you end up leaving?
NARRATOR: Well, no I think all I can say is people is people you see. And
you either love them or like 'em or you don't. That's the way I feel about
'em. I don't care who you are or what you are. If a person like you, if it's
There's a lot of make-believe and all of that. But, uh I don't
run up with those kind of people so much. If I'm around you and you act, just
act, like you like me I can tell. I can tell if you have that feeling and
if you want me around you, I'll stay around you. I'll do what I can for you.
And if not, I'll go away and you won't have no trouble. I won't come back.
(Laughs) Yeah so I find that life is just what you make it. That's the way
I feel about life. You see.
INTERVIEWER: And that's your attitude towards life in the South or the North
or wherever you were?
NARRATOR: Yeah well, you see the South, the South
I know a lot of people
that have been in the North
You were born in the North or were you born
in the South?
INTERVIEWER: I was born sort of in between, Washington, D.C.
NARRATOR: Oh, you were born in Washington.
INTERVIEWER: So, I know a little bit about both.
NARRATOR: (Laughs)Yeah. Well, anyway. If, if, you were down there. If you
Today is different. Today is different. You're talking about
back in wartime down there. You see, that was years ago. And that was, when
they and one would have almost as much as the other would. There's some rich.
All kinds of nation is rich now. It used to be, one man could own a whole
block, but he has to have a lot of money to own a whole block now. I don't
know no one person that owns a whole block. It takes a lot of people to get
together and associate to be that one block. Take 100 people or more to cover
a whole block.
INTERVIEWER: Black or white?
NARRATOR: That's right. That's right. they have the chance, they have the
chance now, you see, they have the chance. That all they have to do is go
out there. And there's no saying that they're not going to be stopped. There's
no saying if they do the wrong thing, they'll be stopped. If they have faith
and say, I can do it, they'll do it. And they'll get along, they'll get along.
INTERVIEWER: That's today, right? But when you were coming, growing up in
Virginia it wasn't that way?
NARRATOR: Well, the people didn't go after things the way they do today.
You see that's the difference in the world today. People all races go after
what they want. Then, all the people wanted was a roof over their head--take
care of their family, take care of their children. They couldn't buy homes.
You buy a home, they don't want you in all of them homes if they can help
it. But if you got the money and the man owns the house, he's going to sell
it to you. Well whether the next door neighbor wants you or not. I don't see
nothing wrong. I don't see nothing wrong all you got to do is work and get
what you want.
INTERVIEWER: So were you looking for something in particular when your parents
sent you North?
NARRATOR: When I came here?
NARRATOR: Well, when I came here I wanted to finish
school for one thing. Because where I was going was more of a country school
and they taught different. Then we didn't, it wasn't college people that was
teaching us. It was people that maybe had finished their high school or they
had gone through maybe a first couple of years of college and they could come
back and take the first, second or third grade or like that. And we didn't
go to school until we were seven years old. You see the children today are
in school at two and three years old.
INTERVIEWER: Pre-school, they call it.
NARRATOR: Well, they call it school! Don't tell my granddaughter she's not
in school. (Laughs)
INTERVIEWER: School at three years old?
NARRATOR: She's five years old, but she's in school. She'll tell you. (Laughs)
INTERVIEWER: So, what kinds of things were they teaching you at the country
NARRATOR: Well, see, your ABC's, Roman numbers, all
these different things your parents had to teach 'em to you at home. When
you went there was no kindergarten. The was no a such thing as a kindergarten,
see, because we couldn't get on a bus and go. We had to walk four and five
miles to school. When I went to school I wasn't in the city. I was with my
grandmother in the country so I went to a country school. And the people were
the teachers weren't graduated into higher classes and things like that, so
what they did was just put
Maybe a girl of twenty could teach it, if
she finished the high school. She had to finish high school.
But then, when you come to north and you go to school they'll tell you right
away, you didn't learn nothing. So, they'll take that grade from you and drop
you down. You had to be better than the principal, better than the
the one that tests you. Now I don't know what they do now I don't know if
they test you or what, but when I came here they test me.
INTERVIEWER: When you came to New York?
NARRATOR: Yeah. Sit in a straight chair and
Well, they test you. Well,
I got an argument with the principal, it's true.Because I worked my exam the
way that I was taught to work it, and I didn't work it like he wanted me to
work it. So he took the two grades from me. And I had to work the two grades
over to get back, you see. In other words, I had to do the work the way that
this school did it, not the way the one in the South did. But you see, when
they were teaching me in the South, they didn't know I was coming to the North.
Maybe they would have did a little differently, if they had known. But, if
they didn't know any better, it was just the way the do it. But even that
is different now, see. They're learning now math down there just as well as
they're learning up here.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, everybody has standards now. So, when you were going to
school in the country school what were they educating you for. What did they
expect you to do when you graduated?
NARRATOR: To read, write, arithmetic. Or to sew, to
go out and work in the fields, anything you wanted to do. But as long as you
could know where you were. You had to know how to cross the bridge if you
went into another city. If you didn't know how to read and write, you'd cross
it but you couldn't get back because you wouldn't know your number, see. First
you have to know where you live, you have to know the street you're on
Well, they didn't have what you'd call streets in the country. They had what
you'd call roads, you know, and alleys and little things like that. But you
had to know. If you went to the store to buy something but you didn't have
any arithmetic how in the world could you buy anything? If you couldn't count
your money, you know? So, these are the things that you learn. These days
what do people learn? They learn everything. There's nothing, I think
that you can name that they haven't learned. And if they want to learn it,
and they know about it, they'll go after it and learn it, you see. But before
you couldn't get to it. And that's why I was in school up here. Because, I
wanted to be a nurse, see. There were no schools in Yonkers. I had to go to
New York City. New York City I had to go. But I was too young to be traveling
on the subway to New York City and I didn't know anything about New York City,
see. Then after the end, I just got bullheaded. I just say that I was bullheaded.
I wanted to go back home. So I went back home!
INTERVIEWER: How old were you then?
NARRATOR: I was 17.
INTERVIEWER: And you'd finished high school?
NARRATOR: Yeah, uh, uh. One grade before I finished.
INTERVIEWER: What made you want to go home?
NARRATOR: Well, because they had no school here that I wanted to go into.
But the thing of it is only way to duck the truant office was that to get
out of town. Sure, they had a funny little life but I had to get out of town
because I had a mother to get back to so they didn't bother me. So I went
and I stayed almost a year. And up until the school busted I think they thought
I was still down south. (Laugh) No but uh laying all jokes aside, I didn't
see nothing else I wanted but that and it was years before that they had a
school up here for nurses and then I was too old. I wasn't too old if I had
really wanted to go after it, but I didn't. Yeah, but I'm satisfied
INTERVIEWER: Your daughter's a nurse?
NARRATOR: She's a nurse.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do then when you went back to the south?
NARRATOR: Oh, I got a little job. Got a little job. We could go around and
do things for people and everything, but I came back. I came back and I got
a job being a mother's helper with a girl about twelve years old. So I just
had fun. We skated and did things like you know young girls would do because
they didn't think I was no older than the child to tell you the truth. Because
she was so big and I was so little. She looked like she was taking care of
me. So we did that and these people were very, very nice. So I stayed with
them until I
I guess about six years, I guess, or more. And then, little
by little, I begin to get a job here and a job there cooking or whatever that
the people would ask me to do and I would do. And then, all of the sudden,
I said this is foolish and I'll go out and see what I could do for myself.
So, I got a job in the what you call these laundries where you have to have
almost education to work in because they were
The kind of clothes that
we had were all kinds of ruffles and all of those things and they had the
curtains had ruffles and all that
INTERVIEWER: So you had to be trained to know how to treat them right?
NARRATOR: You had to really know what you were doing. You see, my mother
had did it all of her life. And I had said I want to do it. And she had really
taught us how to do it. And so I got the job and I become instructed. [Rake
and Bronswell?] right across from the hospital over there. And I stayed there
INTERVIEWER: Really, now that's in Yonkers, though?
NARRATOR: No, no where's that? That's in Bronxville.
INTERVIEWER: Wait you lost me. When you were 17 you dropped out of high school
in Yonkers and you went back to Portsmouth and you worked as a nanny for a
while. Having fun and playing with the girls. And then you came back to Westchester
NARRATOR: And got a job
yes uh huh.
INTERVIEWER: When was that? That was about six years after
NARRATOR: I was about, yeah something like that. 19 when I was 19. I married
when I was nineteen. I forgot I got married.
INTERVIEWER: And you married Mr. Fields?
INTERVIEWER: So, you married when you were 19 in Virginia?
NARRATOR: No, I married in New York.
INTERVIEWER: So, why did you come back
NARRATOR: I never went back to live more than that one year in Virginia.
I went every summer to see my parents and stayed a couple of weeks or something
like that, but I never made a home down there no more. No, this has been my
home 76 years. I've been here 76 years.
INTERVIEWER: Since when you came when you were 14.
NARRATOR: Yeah. 76 years. You'll never get the whole history of my life.
INTERVIEWER: Well, now you've got me interested. You're giving me just enough
pieces so I want to keep hearing about it. You know I wanted to hear about
when you first got here. When you were 14 and your parents sent you on the
train to Yonkers.
NARRATOR: When you first came independent?
INTERVIEWER: Your first trip here.
NARRATOR: That was the one I was telling you about at first.
INTERVIEWER: I don't know that we got that on the tape though. That your
parents had put you on the train and
NARRATOR: Oh, oh, I wanted to come, but my older sister wanted my twin sister
to come. And my twin sister didn't want to come and said, take Addie. So that
is how, that's what broke the ice right there. So they asked me if I wanted
to come and I said, yes if I can go to school and become a nurse. Because
I used to go over to the hospital and they used to let us take water and different
things and help and all that around the hospital. And go in and see what a
patient was doing and different things. And this was segregated. This part
was segregated. The white would be on one half and the colored would be on
the other half.
INTERVIEWER: Patients and workers?
NARRATOR: Well, I had an uncle got sick. And I think he had a horse or mule,
something kicked him in the stomach. They didn't have any room for him so
they put his bed in the hall. And they didn't have nurses to look after him,
so his daughter and I would go there and stay all night. Of course she was
about twelve or thirteen years older than I was. That was during that one
year that I stayed down there. So then when that year was up I came on back
up to New York, with the help of the social services. You see my mother couldn't
come and bring me. My sister couldn't come and get me. Although I recalled
it cheap comparing to the day because you could get a round trip ticket--to
come and go and keep that ticket for six months if you wanted too--for only
$12. That's right.
INTERVIEWER: Now that was Portsmouth to Grand Central?
NARRATOR: Portsmouth, Virginia. That the train went down to Cape Charles.
It went to Cape Charles you get off and you get a boat. And you went down
uh past Elizabeth City down there somewhere They called it Davey Jones's Locker,
or something like that. And then you go over in Norfolk and then you go into
Portsmouth. It was just like leaving here and going over the Hudson River
that's all. But you had to have a boat. So that was that. And after I came
here there was Number One school in Nepperhan. I think part of that is there
now and it's a church there. And I got acquainted with the storekeeper of
the store on the corner and I got acquainted with this man's daughter and
she and I became very good friends. He owned the store. And all of the sudden
my sister decides that she doesn't want me to go to school out there. It was
Number One, they called it Number One School. She said we're going to move
back into Yonkers, this is Nepperhan now, we're gonna move back to Yonkers
and you're going to go to Number Six. So we came back.
Then we started investigating to find out where I could get nurse training.
Then she wanted to get all of this down because she worked out most of the
time. And whenever she could make the engagement and go different places she
had to do it on her time when she was free because she had. Most people at
the time had what you call 'sleep-in jobs' see. So they stayed
INTERVIEWER: So she worked in people's houses and she stayed over night?
NARRATOR: Yeah. She just had one person she was staying with. Not two or
three houses, just one house. She was their maid, in other words. That's what
they called them, maids. You know she wasn't a housekeeper. She was supposed
to do what the people asked her to do. Well and then they told her that there
was no school here that I could go to train. I had to go to New York City
and I had to put in three years. She said, nothing doing. So she wanted me
to go back home. And I said, Well I don't think I want to go back home because
the only school I could go to in Portsmouth was ?? and I wasn't high enough
to go to that school. My brother was there, but I hadn't finished enough grades
to go. I had to go and start with the twelfth grade in that school and all.
So we let that go. We let that go. And then I got another job. That's when
I got the laundry job. And then I fell in love with it.
INTERVIEWER: The laundry job?
NARRATOR: That's right. And after I was married and everything I opened a
Fancy, I called it a 'fancy laundry.' Because I only did it for
certain people, see. I didn't it wasn't a public. I didn't do know public
work outside. I did curtains, table clothes, everything but it was always
private. Private people. I had about, I guess about ten people in White Plains,
INTERVIEWER: How did they find you?
NARRATOR: Well, my husband picked them up. This was after I moved though.
I lived in Yonkers, but I have been in White Plains now for 52 years.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you leave Yonkers for White Plains?
NARRATOR: Because I wanted a house. You see I tell that you if you want something
you have to go for it., you see. And Yonkers is still kind of a
know what to call it. If you want anything here you have to really almost
beg. It's a store here, it's no public place that you can get a house and
and and be happy in. I couldn't be happy in it you know. I wanted a yard.
I wanted someplace that the children could stay out and they wouldn't be in
the street. And things like that. And it worked, it worked. I had it for twenty
No, one lady I had for 40 years. 40 years, I've been married 54
years. Soon it will be 55. That's this marriage. This is the second. I told
you'd never get it . I can't give you all of it! (Laugh)
INTERVIEWER: I know. You should never tell your whole story.
NARRATOR: We could be sitting her until tomorrow. I haven't got anything
INTERVIEWER: One thing I was wondering was
When you were living in
Yonkers and White Plains, would you go home to Portsmouth to visit?
NARRATOR: Oh yeah, we went every summer. Practically every summer we would
go. It was our vacation to go until my mother passed. My mother passed, my
father passed, all of my sisters and brothers have passed and all. So, the
closest I have down there are nieces and nephews. Some of them don't even
know me because they all were babies you know. I think it is three or four
who knew me before I came up here. But the rest of them, all they know is
Aunt Addie is in town. And, good-bye Aunt Addie. (Laugh) So, that's that.
You see, we used to go back. It was a lovely place to go to all of the time.
INTERVIEWER: Would you do some of the same things? Was it like going home?
NARRATOR: Would I do some of the same things there?
INTERVIEWER: Would you do some of the same things when you were a teenager
that you would've been doing in Yonkers? What did you do for fun?
NARRATOR: I think I was like in and out
I don't know what you mean
INTERVIEWER: I guess I'm asking what you'd do for fun. And was that different
from how things were
NARRATOR: I don't know what you'd call fun, though. See that's what I'm trying
to find out. What do you call fun? Maybe what you call fun isn't what I call
fun. I'm a little old fashioned. You think, when you've lived in this world
91 years you know you go off the rocker sometimes and all, but I was ready
to fight anybody that was ready to put the hands on me. If that's what you
mean. We'd skate in the winter time. Snow was our fun. We sleigh ride. We
did all of these things. We played baseball. We did all of the things like
that. We went to the movies. We did all of that. When I was a teenager I went
to dances. But that wasn't to me, at that time, having fun. But as I got older
and older it wasn't fun anymore. Good time is not fun. We can enjoy ourselves
and everything, but to take things like that serious
I never took it
serious. I could do with it or I could do without it. That's the way I was.
I danced, yeah. I could dance if you'd like to know that, too. I could dance.
INTERVIEWER: Were you going to dances here in Yonkers?
NARRATOR: I don't know about answering that question now. No, I don't think
INTERVIEWER: No? You don't want to go there? Okay, that's fine. You had mentioned
before we started the tape that one thing you wanted to say that was, the
North was just as Jim Crow as the South.
INTERVIEWER: Didn't you say that? Or that there was plenty of Jim Crow in
the North? Is that what you were saying?
NARRATOR: No.uh uh I did?
INTERVIEWER: I don't know. I thought that you did. How was going to school
in the North? What were your classes like? Were they different than the schools
in the South other than the curriculum? The schools were desegregated now
in Yonkers right at that point?
NARRATOR: (pause) Hmm, hmm. Wait, I'm trying to think. I would call it
To tell you the truth people don't call it segregation, but it was. It was
it was If you were
Say for instance if there was a house and the white
people moved in that house and if they put colored in there, the other white
would move out. Because they didn't want you there.
INTERVIEWER: That's just the way it was in Yonkers.
NARRATOR: Yeah, that's what I would call it now. I would call it segregation.
If you were on the trolley car and I come in and there was a seat and I sit
down, and there was a white person sitting there they would get up. then I
started in school there was only one seat, at the front of the school. And
one girl would sit in there and I sat on the seat next to her. Not on the
seat she was on now, just the seat across from her
There was an aisle
between us. She looked over at me and looked behind, just to see if there
was another seat back there. And she got up. But, see I didn't blame her because
the parents is the fault. The parents is the fault. So I would call it segregation.
But if you found somebody and they really, really liked you, they'd show it
to you. They would show you that they like you, you see? But otherwise from
Some people would say, no they just don't like colored people don't
care what they look like or what. But uh some people
[END of SIDE A]
[BEGIN SIDE B]
see, they don't even like their own family. You know that
they didn't. You know they didn't. I heard a girl said about her mother's
brother, and she said my uncle so and so, I hate him. Well he was just the
same as she was. You can't judge people by the way they act. You think you
can but you don't know what's inside of 'em, you see? It could be hate. It
could be they've been treated so mean, or something like that they think everybody
is mean and all that. So, you just have to take it as you see it as you feel
about it. I would call a lot of it segregation. But then I had my own race
that did me the same way. So which is it? I really can't say yes and I can't
say no. That's the way yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Did that play any part-people's attitudes-did that play any
part in when you were looking for a house
the fact that you looked outside
of Yonkers? Did you think that White Plains was
NARRATOR: They never wanted colored to live. You take up here in Scarsdale.
Colored people have a hard time living up there. (Pause) They almost as bad
as the people down South. Down South they used to burn crosses. They called
them the Klu Klux. Well there's a lot of Klu Klux in New York. (pause) They
break people's windows, they break people's doors. They don't do it now because
they have thrown so many in jail. I guess they're tired of going to jail.
But, that's what they used to do. The used to break out the windows and different
things like that. And um throw garbage and stuff in the yard. Take one lady
up on I think it's McLean Avenue, they took her fence away. You know, part
of the front fence, they took the gate. Things like that because they didn't
want 'em in the neighborhood, didn't want 'em in the neighborhood. Now I can't
say the person next door did it or what because it happened in the middle
of the night. The people woke up the next morning and
This way you can't
judge people because you don't know. Some times they paid people to do things
for 'em. They didn't do it, but they paid somebody else to do it. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Sometimes you don't know if they're racists or just bad people?
NARRATOR: That's what I said because if you, if you dislike your own, how
in the world
If you disown your own people I don't even look for you
to love me see because that is your blood. So so I never tried to figure people
out that way. BecauseI imagine that push comes to push maybe I have some of
that I wouldn't want to deal with, see. Especially if somebody is getting
in trouble all of the time.
INTERVIEWER: You know, with all of that said, what's your favorite thing
about living in the North? You know, Yonkers or Bronxville or all of the places
you have been up here. Do you have a favorite story or memory of that?
(Pause) I don't know, but my favorite thing is my church.
This church, right here [Mt Carmel] is my favorite. I've been here 67 years.
Came here when I was 25 see and this is where my work has been. This is what
I like. But now, I call myself resting now, see. I'm not doing so much like
I used to. I used to like singing, plays. I loved to make stories and plays
and all of that.
INTERVIEWER: You used to do plays here?
NARRATOR: We always had stories and plays. My favorite play was "The
12 Tribes of Israel. That's my favorite yeah.
INTERVIEWER: When would you do the plays? You'd do plays at Christmas time
or Easter time or just all of the time?
NARRATOR: We used to have a theatre at different times, we would have it.
They still have it, they still have it you know, but I'm not the head of it
anymore. And then umI love the singing, I love the singing but they're getting
out of the type of singing that I grew up with. You know it's a lot of noise
and bang-bang-banging and drums and everything
And electric guitar
Yeah. The guitar is nice and all, as long as it's not so
loud. And as long as it's words that you know! But I half of the time I don't
really know what they're playing.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of songs do you know? So you grew up with piano and
NARRATOR: Organs! Ours was organ, most of the time. Most everybody had a
piano. Even in the country they had organs and pianos and everything and all.
Outside of that
I think the church has been what I always loved. I think
I loved it from a kid growing up. Sunday school and all because my mother
kept us in it all of the time and we thought we couldn't live without it you
see. See my two brothers, I had two brothers they both were ministers. My
older sister was a missionary. My mother and my father both
to tell you the truth, he could read the bible backwards, it looked like to
me. He had special times, though to read it. And my mother was always in church.
And grandmother all of them. And I still have nieces and nephews that are
ministers. My mother's brother was a minister, my uncle and everything. So
I grew up with church people all of the time, all of my life.
So I can't pick much favorites from the street. I couldn't tell you what really
was going on outside no more. If I didn't read the paper I wouldn't know.
And sometimes I don't think the papers are all right. I don't believe everything
I read. I'd see it and everything and read that somebody did something and
then find out that they had the wrong man see. The other week they found that
the man had been some 20 years in jail, another man got sick and before he
died he called the police and told them he did it you see. So you can't
Everybody going around saying oh Mr. so and so did this, did you read it in
the paper? Now the man is an old man coming out and all of his life is gone,
for somebody lying. See, so you have to be careful with that.
There's very little on the outside that I can
We had fun, we told jokes
and we did things like that
They were things that didn't last long
all like that.
INTERVIEWER: But the church was always
NARRATOR: Yeah, the church was mine. This is all I know now. If you've been
in a place 67 years
Yeah, I think this past September it was 67 years,
this past September. I can go right down to the first time I came in here
at 25 years old. I came out from my house and a friend of mine was standing
on the corner, right here on Riverdale. And she said, 'What are you doing
standing out here?'
I said, 'I'm trying to think of where I want to go.'
And she said, 'Come and go to Nepperhan.'
I says, 'Where?'
I said, 'I don't want to go to Nepperhan.'
She said, 'Anywhere you want to go I'll go with you.'
I said, 'Let's go to church!' (Laughs)
She said, 'Ohh! She said, Let's go to church.' And she thought I was joking.
And she said, 'Come on and go to my church.'
I says, 'Okay.' I didn't know where her church was.
And she said, 'It's on School Street.'
I said, 'There ain't a church on School Street.'
She said, 'Yes it is. It's right on the corner near a saloon over there.'
I said, 'I'm not going down there in no saloon! Suppose those people in there
get to fighting or something?'
She said, 'Oh, no. They're not going to fight. They're going to respect the
church.' And we went there. It was about nine people in the church. That's
all there was in there, in this church about nine people. And I went in and
I sat down. And it was a lady in there and this lady looked and she saw the
other lady-she didn't know me. She saw the other lady and said, 'Oh, I see
Sister Coleman. Sister Coleman come up, come up. I want you to read the
the um.' It was something she asked her to read.
And she said, 'I'm going to kill you when I get outside!'
And I said, 'What did I do now?'
'You wanted to come to church and you had that lady telling me to come up
there to read. I don't know what to read!'
So, anyway we went up there and when the service was over-still nobody but
the nine of us-and they'd say, 'Well we've got a stranger. Maybe she would
like to come up.' So I found word of First John-never forget it-and I gave
it to her to read.
And then he said, 'Would you like to join church?'
And I said, 'Yup, I would.' Now that was 67 years ago that I joined. The pastor
wasn't there. The pastor wasn't there And when he came they told him we've
got a new member. And they invited me with the right hand of fellowship. I've
been there ever since.
INTERVIEWER: That's a beautiful story.
NARRATOR: Yeah so that's my favorite story, too.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, that's a nice one. Do you think you've had enough of this?
INTERVIEWER: Let me see if there's anything on here
NARRATOR: See, you've got a book already!
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything that you wanted to add?
NARRATOR: I don't think so. I think that's about it.
INTERVIEWER: I think you did an excellent job.
NARRATOR: I don't want to add anything. I just wanted to say, I'm so thankful
to God. I am because there is so many that I grew up with. I had lots of friends,
nice friends, good friends, good people. And they've all gone. And I know
some day I'm going to follow. I don't know about this shaking hands with Jesus
and all such of that. I don't know about that but I know he's been guiding
me all of these days. All the days of my life. And I know without him I could
have never made it. So that's the way I feel about life.
And I'm so thankful I've got a wonderful daughter. A wonderful daughter. I'm
not leaving her out. And I've got grandchildren. Beautiful, beautiful from
the baby righ on up to the oldest one, they're all nice. They live their own
life. I stay out of their life because what ever they find in their life is
going to be different from my life. Because we all come in this world at a
different time and different things are going on. Just like your life is not
going to be like your father's life, you see. Not going to be like your mother
or your sister or whatever you have there. Everybody, every tub stands on
its own bottom. If that bottom falls out, it's your fault. I'm just thankful.
So,I'm thankful for the church and all of that. I've learned a lot.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. And I'm thankful that you took this hour to talk with me.
This was great. Thank you.