Calvin O'Neal with co-workers at Yonkers Motor Corp., c. 1970,75

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Narrator: Calvin O'Neal
Interviewer: Jamie Mariconda, Marymount Student
Date: September 30, 2001
Location: The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY


INTERVIEWER: Hello, I'm Jamie Mariconda and I'm here with Mr. Calvin O'Neal who's going to tell us about his experience migrating North from the South. Mr. O'Neal, where in the South did you come from?

NARRATOR: I was born in Washington, North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of area is that?

NARRATOR: Um . . . that area was a small neighborhood. About 500 people was in that area. Most cousins and uncles, people in that area.

INTERVIEWER: What did your family do in that area?

NARRATOR: Most, um, my father worked on a farm and my mother was a housewife.

INTERVIEWER: Were you the only sibling?

NARRATOR: No, um, my-I had eight brothers.

INTERVIEWER: Eight brothers, wow. Are you the youngest?

NARRATOR: I am in the middle.

INTERVIEWER: Really (??)

NARRATOR: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: When you began thinking about moving to the North what did you think of it?

NARRATOR: At that-I started when I was in high school, and when I was growing up with the desegregation and the only things - I went to school from the first until the twelfth for agriculture, and I didn't wanna be working no farm, so I decided either go to army, either I come to New York City.

INTERVIEWER: Did any of the other members of your family go into the army?

NARRATOR: Yes, my oldest brother he went to the Navy, his name was Lonnie, Junior.

INTERVIEWER: Did he serve any-in the war?

NARRATOR: No, he spent 24 years in the Navy.

INTERVIEWER: Wow.

NARRATOR: He retired, ah, chief of staff at Puerto Rico.

INTERVIEWER: When you thought about the North was it scary? Or, what was your image of . . .?

NARRATOR: To me, to me, I wanted to make a better life and a better opportunity because I didn't have that chance in the South. Cause I went to an all Black school from the first grade until the twelfth. Only major subject because, because my parents wasn't rich enough to send me to college.

INTERVIEWER: Were there other people in your town that went to college?

NARRATOR: Only a few, not that many. Because back in them days, um, when I graduated, the Vietnam War and they were drafting people right out of high school and things like that.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any memories of your high school?

NARRATOR: Yes, um, every year we have, um, we have homecoming, every May. And I see a lot of teachers and I see a lot of people come from different places which I haven't seen in a very long time.

INTERVIEWER: So you go back South every year?

NARRATOR: Yes, yes, very often, three to four, five times a year. Cause my mother and father is still living.

INTERVIEWER: Oh that's wonderful. Um, so your parents didn't come North with ya.

NARRATOR: No, no.

INTERVIEWER: Did you-

NARRATOR: They used to come until they got their particular age; my mother had open-heart by-pass about five years ago. But now they older now and they don't like to travel because theys in their eighties now.

INTERVIEWER: Um, did you come with anyone when you first came?

NARRATOR: No, uh, I left North Carolina when I was 17 years old. And when I left, I remember when I came to New York on the bus; I had a dollar and 25 cent in my pocket.

INTERVIEWER: And that got-how much did it cost to get here, do you remember?

NARRATOR: About 25 dollars.

INTERVIEWER: Was that the Greyhound?

NARRATOR: Yes, yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Did you stay in this-the New York City area first?

NARRATOR: Um, I used to live 120th Street and 5th Avenue with my, uh, older brother, Estra O'Neal, he was my oldest brother.

INTERVIEWER: Were there any other family members around?

NARRATOR: I had a lot of people that was raised up; my cousin lived in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

INTERVIEWER: And what did you do for entertainment?

NARRATOR: Um, when I first got here I used to go to the Apollo Theatre. A big-
small, um, club and I used to go to a lot of parties in Brooklyn. We had a North Carolina Club in Brooklyn.

INTERVIEWER: Um, what was your occupation at the time?

NARRATOR: Well, at that particular time I had, ah, no kind of trade. Because when I graduated from high school, growing up in North Carolina, we only took agricultury. And I don't wanna be no farm boy. This is why I came to New York. I had no trade at all besides that.

INTERVIEWER: So, what did you do in order to find your way?

NARRATOR: The first job I had I worked at, ah, Yonkers Motors. 210 South Broadway. I was a service adviser.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of cars were around then?

NARRATOR: Well, we had Honda, Mazda, AMC, Chevrolet. And I was, I, I used to go to Honda School, Morristown, New Jersey, two weeks in a year. I went to Chevrolet school in Tarrytown, it was just like, something like a vacation.

INTERVIEWER: What was Tarrytown like at that time? Did you get to explore the area?

NARRATOR: Well, I remember Tarrytown was a very very rough area. I knew there was a bar there that a lot of people came down from Connecticut, Ossining and things. There used to be a lot of fights in that bar. So Tarrytown was not a very easy place to party. [laugh]

INTERVIEWER: What music did you listen to at that time?

NARRATOR: Well, mostly, I like, um, blues, back in them days and, um, James Brown, Otis Redding-those were my favorite two artists. I remember, um, every Wednesday night I used to go to the Apollo Theatre. To see the amateur hour that was on Wednesday night. That's what mostly I liked to do.

INTERVIEWER: Did the church play a role in your life at this time? Did you continue to go?

NARRATOR: Yes, um, when I was raised up in North Carolina my mother was Christian, my father was Baptist so we had to go to Sunday school every Sunday and church-that was automatic. Automatic, so there wasn't too much different in the religion, uh, just a matter of what you had to do. We had to go.

INTERVIEWER: Did you go to your mother's church or your father's church?

NARRATOR: I went to both, uh, both. My mother, uh, was the first Sunday and my father was the fourth Sunday.

INTERVIEWER: When you came to New York whose church did you decide to go to?

NARRATOR: Well, when I, I, I wasn't very technical about going to church up here because there were too many religion. So I just go to Mount Carmel and Community Baptist Church. So I figure religion is religion.

INTERVIEWER: Was it practiced any different up here? Did you notice any major differences?

NARRATOR: No, no, no, there was not any difference at all.

INTERVIEWER: Did you feel any difference in the way people were communicating with each other?

NARRATOR: No, no, no.

INTERVIEWER: Um, what holidays did you celebrate in the South and did you celebrate any differently in the North?

NARRATOR: Well, in the South we celebrate, uh, about every holiday there is. Christmas, Easter, your birthdays, family reunions. That's how we all keep the family together, as a whole.

INTERVIEWER: Does the family ever come this way for a reunion, do they ever come up North?

NARRATOR: Um, before I had four brothers living in New York City. I had my oldest brother live on 120th street, I had three brothers live here in Yonkers, Croton Terrace, and they took me under their wings and showed me the ins and outs about New York City.

INTERVIEWER: What's your favorite lesson that they taught you about the city?

NARRATOR: Well, number one: don't be afraid because when I first came up here there were a lot of gangs in the city. And to me, I was a little scared cause my mother always told me, "Please, I taught you right from wrong," okay, and she gave us an understanding that you have to grow up and be a man, don't always follow somebody. You always have to believe in what you believe in. And that's the way that I was raised.

INTERVIEWER: Your mother sounds like a very wise woman, she seems to have lots of pearls of wisdom.

NARRATOR: Well, well, I thank her for guiding me the way that she did. Number one she taught me how to wash clothes, she taught me how to cook, she taught me how to take care of my self. Cause she told me one day, she said, "Calvin, if you ever get married and your wife leave you, then you on your own." So this way I had to prepare myself coming to New York City.

INTERVIEWER: So why did you leave New York City, why did you come to Yonkers, or was that your first stop?

NARRATOR: My first stop was in New York City and then I reside over here in Yonkers. I been in Yonkers over 30 years.

INTERVIEWER: What attracted you to Yonkers?

NARRATOR: Well, Yonkers to me is just like being out in the country and that is where I was raised up, in the country. Yonkers gave me more opportunity than the city. Because number one, I knew nothing about the subway, I had nobody showing me around because my brother was working. So this way, in Yonkers, I had three brothers already living in Yonkers, so this way I have somebody to guide me.

INTERVIEWER: Had you ever visited up here, New York and Yonkers, before you moved?

NARRATOR: I came a couple time, a couple of time, I stayed in the city about maybe two months, two months, and that was enough because it was time for me to get me a job. So, I figure since I have brothers over here and they know somebody so this way I got a job over here.

INTERVIEWER: What was that job?

NARRATOR: Working at Yonkers Motors, 210 South Broadway.

INTERVIEWER: And how long did you stay there?

NARRATOR: I worked at Yonkers Motors as a service advisor for 15 years.

INTERVIEWER: Um-

NARRATOR: The reason why I left that job because every five year they changed ownership. So, I would have been 37 years old but I wasted 15 years on that job for nothing. But the most important thing, it was on training job as a service advisor, I got training on the job.

INTERVIEWER: What part of Yonkers did you live in?

NARRATOR: I lived, ah, matter of fact, I lived Croton Terrace over by Waverly Street. It was a nice area.

INTERVIEWER: Has it changed since then? What things have you noticed changing?

NARRATOR: Well, one thing I noticed they put a senior citizen building on that street. That's what I noticed best.

INTERVIEWER: Is that a center open for everyone or…

NARRATOR: For seniors, for seniors, yes.

INTERVIEWER: How is Yonkers different from the South?

NARRATOR: Well, comparing when I first came and compared to now because the South has opened up for the blacks because I graduated in desegregation. The whites went to the white school, the blacks went to the black school. So in other words, to my school was a small school from the 1st grade to the 12th , about 500 people went to the same school. So in other words, um, like I'm saying, so there was no trade besides being a farmer. And I did not want to be no farmer.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any contact with the white school at all?

NARRATOR: Yes, yes, yes. I lived in the neighborhood with white people. We got along fine, ah, there were Dutch people from Holland and which they attend Bible school in the summer time. There is one thing about-I didn't like the idea why the black and white couldn't go to school together. Because their school was right across the street, we still played together in the same neighborhood so there was no hate, our parents always told me to love love-love-love your neighbor. So I had no problem with that.

INTERVIEWER: When you came to Yonkers, is that where you met your wife?

NARRATOR: I met my wife in Ossining. Um, I got married when I was 21 and she was 17. And my wife died at the age of 46 of breast cancer. The first two kid died at birth, my son Calvin, Junior, is 33 years old. He live in Greenburgh.

INTERVIEWER: Calvin is still alive, Calvin, Junior?

NARRATOR: Yes, yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Do you get to see him often?

NARRATOR: Yes, as a matter of fact, him and I were together last Friday on my birthday. His birthday is Monday, October the first, and we are still very close.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of experiences did Calvin have in this area?

NARRATOR: Well, he graduated from Yonkers High School and he went to the Marines for four years, and my son has a nice family, a girl and a boy, 11 and 9.

INTERVIEWER: What were the schools like when he went to school? Did you have any problems with the school district?

NARRATOR: No, no, Yonkers High was a very nice school. Ah, the principal was Mr. Joe Farmer.

INTERVIEWER: That sounds really familiar. Did you encourage him to go into the Marines?

NARRATOR: No, no, he thought he was a really tough guy.

INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give him for his family?

NARRATOR: Well, number one, the only advice I can give him is t'be successful, take care of your family, and stay out of trouble.

INTERVIEWER: And he comes down to the reunions with you?

NARRATOR: Yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of food do you have at those reunions?

NARRATOR: Well, we have fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, a lot of homemade cakes and pies, things like that.

INTERVIEWER: Anything that you can't get around here?

NARRATOR: Well, it is very hard in Yonkers now because we-we don't have a soul restaurant in Yonkers, so the nearest one is Mount Vernon. And plus I can cook myself so I don't have to go to a restaurant.

INTERVIEWER: [Laugh] Have you taught your son the recipes, does he cook?

NARRATOR: No, no, he different from me in that area. He like a lady to do that.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of stores are there in Yonkers?

NARRATOR: Well, for the last few years a lot of stores left Yonkers and moved to White Plain, Cross County and they trying to rebuild the waterfront, downtown Yonkers.

INTERVIEWER: Did you go to the waterfront when you first came?

NARRATOR: No, no, I never did.

INTERVIEWER: What did you do at that time, what was your-

NARRATOR: I played softball for Cozy Corner for Yonkers recreational league for 15 years, right here in Trevor Park.

INTERVIEWER: Were your brothers on the team or-

NARRATOR: Yes, yes, I had two brothers on the team.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anyone else from the town that you came from living in this area?

NARRATOR: Ah, yes, yes, yes, everybody that left North Carolina, matter of fact, I guess about 12, 15 families and moved to Yonkers from North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER: And do you all stay in touch?

NARRATOR: Yes we do, yes we do, yes we do.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of things do you do together, do you-with the families from-around here, do you have-

NARRATOR: Well, number one, everybody used to be very close together since now everybody got to a very particular age now we don't party as much like we used to so now everybody just go their separate ways. Most of the time that I go to the Elks Lodge on North Broadway and I meet a lot of people which I haven't seen going to the different dances and things like that.

INTERVIEWER: Would you ever think of returning to the South?

NARRATOR: No, I call Yonkers my home because if North Carolina back in 1964, 65,66, if they had given me an opportunity to do better then, I would have stayed. Because, number one, it was very hard to get a good job, because then, number two, you need transportation because where I stayed was 25 miles from the nearest city and that's where all the jobs was at.

INTERVIEWER: If you had gone to live in the city there do you think your life would have been different?

NARRATOR: No, it still would have been hard because back in the day blacks could not get a good job, okay. Either you, either you have to put up with whatever you could find, either move to New York City where opportunity was better. And this is why everybody left from down there. If the desegregation bill had passed, a lot of people would never came up here.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have a favorite story about Yonkers? Since you've been here?

NARRATOR: To me, to me, Yonkers it been a beautiful place for me, I have no regrets about anything.

INTERVIEWER: For family weddings and events-do you tend to hold them in the North or in the South?

NARRATOR: Well to me, it doesn't matter-it doesn't because I would say the South has nice places for weddings and parties, things like that..

INTERVIEWER: Okay, well thank you very much, and I hope we can talk again, your-your life has been so insightful, thank you so much.

Part 2

Narrator: Calvin O'Neal
Interviewer: Lori Ramos-Marilla, Marymount Student: Session I
Date:
Location: The Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY


INTERVIEWER So, Calvin, you had touched upon leaving the South and the lack of opportunity, so what I wanted to get into was, what did it feel like to be a young black man in the South?

NARRATOR Okay, being a young black man in the South at that particular time, okay, it was the one thing that I deserve to live better than what it was. This is why when the opportunity arise, number one, if I did get a good job, I was 25 miles from the city part, there was no cabs, no buses, in other words, in my particular area in which I was living, it was like being out in the country. Country was something like a farmland, being a farmer. And that is something that which I don't like to do in life.

INTERVIEWER And your impressions of being a farmer, what did you-

NARRATOR I figured that being a farmer, that's not a life, which, in other words-I went to school and took agriculture for four years. To me to be a farmer, a lot of dirt a lot of grease, lot of long hours, no I want something better.

INTERVIEWER So, I mean-I just-in the South, you always hear this disciplining of a child being raised in the South, particularly a male child.

NARRATOR To me, I didn't have to grow through all that, with the hate and the violence, through the Ku Klux Klan, things like that. I was nowhere around that, at all. A lot of demonstrations, I was not around that either.

INTERVIEWER So being in the country, it sort of isolated you from the impact of all of the turmoil that was going on-

NARRATOR Yes, and, and the-near-and the city part there was more disturbance in the schools and gangs and things like that. But not in the country school, we didn't have that.

INTERVIEWER Good for you. What year about was this?

NARRATOR Between 1964 and 1966 before the segregation bill passed and that's when the school integrated.

INTERVIEWER Were you there for the school integration?

NARRATOR No, no, no, I had left.

INTERVIEWER And, and, for your siblings, I think you had mentioned that there were seven or eight of you all-

NARRATOR There was eight of us.

INTERVIEWER Eight of you.

NARRATOR Eight boys no girls.

INTERVIEWER Where did you fit?

NARRATOR I was in the middle.

INTERVIEWER You were in the middle, so for your older brothers it must have been a different-

NARRATOR Well for them, I used to look at my oldest brother, he, when he graduated from high school he went into the Navy, and my next oldest brother Estra Cornelius, he left, he did not graduate, he left with no degree and he came to Harlem. My next brother Jimmy, he left North Carolina and he resides in the city of Yonkers. My next brother Joseph he stayed in New York City about maybe ten years, then he moved back to North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER Oh he came back, now did the oldest brother that went into the Navy, when he came back what was his impressions on, did he come back and start speaking to you about any of his experiences?

NARRATOR When my oldest brother, Lonnie, Junior, returned from Puerto Rico, after spending 25 years in the Navy, he lived in Virginia, he did not come back to live in North Carolina. From where he was staying to where my parents were staying about an hour and a half ride. So he used to come every weekend, every weekend. But he-

INTERVIEWER Did he make any interim trips, being a career Navy man, interim trips, you know, leaving this country and going someplace else, you know, to come from the southern part? Did he come back any different?

NARRATOR Not to me, to me he still a typical brother, and he encourage the rest of us to try and follow in his footsteps. Obey your parents, obey your grandmother, obey your aunts, stuff like that. So our family was very close, very close together, growing up.

INTERVIEWER So coming into Harlem and those experiences.

NARRATOR When I first arrived in Harlem, 17, living 120th Street and 5th Avenue, my impression was that there was gangs back in those days, which I was very, very scared of. Cause I had walk from 120th Street to 8th Avenue to catch the subway train. The number 8 train going to Brooklyn to Bedford Stuyvesant area. There was gangs over there. So, I was raised to be honest and love one another. Not coming from a family that was violent, things like that, no.

INTERVIEWER And, and coming to Harlem and we always hear about like the nightlife, we see it in the movies, and how different was that from coming from North Carolina?

NARRATOR To me, to me, there was a very new experience because we didn't eat pizza, Spanish people-I couldn't understand what they were saying, so I saw a lot of nationality of people which I didn't know their language. Because it was a little bit frightening, for me anyway, anyway. And, and, that was, that was, a little hard, just trying to learn another language, trying to make friends and things like that, so it was very hard. And as a kid, 17 when I first came up here. During that particular time, I think matter of fact a policeman shot a black guy and there was a riot, there was rioting down there every night, every night when I first came up here.

INTERVIEWER Down where?

NARRATOR Down in Harlem, yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER And this is when you first came here?

NARRATOR Yes, when I first came here when I was 17.

INTERVIEWER Sounds like you left the South with no unrest and came into it, and how did you feel?

NARRATOR Well, I tell you I was scared, I was scared, and plus when I used to leave from my brother house to go to the train station I used to see a lot of people get stabbed, people get shot, people get robbed.

INTERVIEWER And you came into Harlem about 1964?

NARRATOR Something like that.

INTERVIEWER Then that was the rise of the Black Muslim Movement. At that time what was it like with Malcolm X?

NARRATOR Well to me, to me, I was very, very frightened. And I could never understand it. My brother, he always told me whatever you do, leave the house at a proper time if you going to Brooklyn because there was fighting all day and fighting all night in Harlem. I was very frightened, very frightened until I moved to Yonkers and this was heaven on earth. I was not around all that, so I felt more free.

INTERVIEWER So Yonkers was like the end of your journey. What you were always striving for.

NARRATOR Yes, yes, yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER So, you came into Harlem as a young man and experienced all this and came to Yonkers that you found your heaven, I can see why you never thought about going back.

NARRATOR Well, to me, I like Yonkers because people are much, much friendlier, and in Harlem at that particular time, well, maybe I used go there every once in a while but since there was still gangs there I had no desire to live there at all, no desire. I visit my brother and that was it.

INTERVIEWER Did your brother stay in Harlem?

NARRATOR Yes, yes.

INTERVIEWER Is still there to this day?

NARRATOR No, he moved to South Carolina, Spartanburg (??) South Carolina.

INTERVIEWER He went back?

NARRATOR He went back, went back, Spartanburg, South Carolina, is what he and his wife desire.

INTERVIEWER How many of your family have moved back?

NARRATOR My brother Estra, he moved to South Carolina. My brother Jimmy, he moved to North Carolina about maybe 10 miles from my mother. Joseph live about 18 mile from my mother. And Leon live about 18 miles from my mother. So they all close together.

INTERVIEWER What was it like leaving your mother?

NARRATOR Well-

INTERVIEWER You were 17 …

NARRATOR Leaving home at 17, I was … very, very I miss her, I was lonely. I only called on a Sunday once a week. Just to hear her voice. And I miss all her meals. I ate good until I came up here, then I had to cook for myself.

INTERVIEWER The role of your mother in your life and the role of black women in your life coming from the South. How did it feel to leave?

NARRATOR I would say, I would say, the difference between the Southern ladies and the New York ladies was too different.

INTERVIEWER How so?

NARRATOR Way of living, in the South people try to work together, keep their marriage together and keep your family together. That's why we strive to be a true husband, take care of your family. And make your parents happy. That's the only wish that I had when I got married. That's my parents' life. They together, I wanted to be together.

INTERVIEWER How do you think moving up North, coming to New York City, sort of sundered that sense of community? That connectedness.

NARRATOR Could you repeat that again?

INTERVIEWER You stated there is a difference between northern black women and southern black women and a part of that is that sense of connectedness that you feel within a family as a unit.

NARRATOR I believe, I believe, there is more divorce in the city then in the country. That's what I believe there. And to me, I had a lot of experience with people, a lot of broken hearts, and some wanted something, some did not.

INTERVIEWER And do you think that was attributed to moving away from the community? Sort of losing that connection with the community. Like you had your parents as a role model. You wanted something that this is I am comfortable with, this is what I know and it works.

NARRATOR Okay, now one thing I can say if there was better opportunity, okay, before I left North Carolina. If I had stayed and when the segregation bill passed then maybe I would have stayed because it's opening up for all black people. This is why.

INTERVIEWER That was mainly the spur was for a better opportunity, to come up here for a better opportunity but it sounds like in coming here for the better opportunities there was something lost in that sense of connectedness that you were used to within the smaller community or within a community of people where the rituals are the same.

NARRATOR I believe, I believe, from the old school, it's better to have something then nothing, that's the way, I was never a very ambitious guy. All that I wanted from a life was to live good, and to be honest with people, be nice. Enemies, I don't have any enemies. That's the way that I was brought up and I'm far from home.

INTERVIEWER And in North Carolina you found that those opportunities weren't there to live good.

NARRATOR If the problem was you couldn't get a good job, that was number one problem. And number two, number two, I didn't like the idea that we had to walk behind a store to go into a store, a whole lot of things that black people couldn't do.

INTERVIEWER As a black man how did that make you feel? The whole notion of going to the back, stepping off the curb, the ability to hold your head up, how did that make you feel?

NARRATOR To me, to me, I felt lost in North Carolina because of that because with me I figure everybody should be equal, that God is not white or black. And just being part of that it was a very, very frightening experience. I don't want nobody to live like that, nobody because number one, I believe in everybody should have an opportunity, equal opportunity to make a living. And back in those days working on a farm, or whatever, you make 25 cents an hour, 50 cents an hour. That's no kind of life for me, no, so I figure I wanna do something much, much better to make myself a better man.

INTERVIEWER An underlying theme, it was heading North to opportunity to be a man?

NARRATOR The reason why I am saying that to make my family very proud of me, because leaving from a school from the 1st grade to the 12th , in one school. Population of the school was about maybe 500 people, okay? I don't wanna be a burden on, both my grandmothers still living, I don't wanna be a burden on anybody. Because living that kind of life, I looking at them in the field everyday, you know, and I don't want to live like that.

INTERVIEWER How did you feel-I mean so often, especially coming from the South, your father and your image of your father?

NARRATOR My father, my father I can say was a very, very strong man to raise
eight boys. No girls. And we built the same house, up and down. Every time a child was born we'd ad another room to the house. And I used to look at my father and I'd say to him, I say "Dad, maybe one day my opportunity going to come so I can help you" because there is no possible way that the money that he was bringing home, 20-30 dollars a week and feeding a family-I used to feel very, very sad about that.

INTERVIEWER And what about the treatment of your father as a man, it so impacted you to live under segregation once you left your community, the rules-the different way-some written, some unwritten?

NARRATOR I would say living, I would say, living growing up like that, okay, I used to look at television, after Dr. Martin Luther King died, and my part of whatever I was doing, okay, we didn't have a whole lot of environment like the rest of the states, we didn't have it. But I don't think, I don't think that-I really missed, I missed the schoolteachers. They taught us about people, okay. If you step out of line there is always someone to put you back in line. Because number one before you leave from, from North Carolina, you gotta know right from wrong. And that's what they believe in. Because if you didn't go to school down there you ended up going to reform school. Now if you get somebody pregnant then you are automatically out of school because you are going to take care of somebody's daughter. So, that's the way it was down there, okay. I was raised up in the house, we could never back talk to our parents, they taught us how to be polite and very mannerful. That whatever they say goes. That was it.

INTERVIEWER Do you think up here, up North, the kids were taught differently?

NARRATOR I think so! I think, I think, right now for the last, I would say present, at the present, okay, the New York State law for kids-they should throw it out because it if something happens to your child the law gonna to blame you. This is a problem. When they say a child is being abused by their parents. Okay, now we got beatings when I was growing up, okay, and to me that was a good experience to me. If I do something wrong, yes, yes I deserve it. But here, in New York, here kids continuing doing whatever, come whenever they want to. Disrespect their parents because they don't care. The law should be changed. And this is a problem.

INTERVIEWER Now I wanna go back your impressions, what was your first memory of your contacts with segregation, as far as the first time that you became aware that the society you lived in was different, there were different rules for you?

NARRATOR I would say about, I would say about, probably the age of maybe 15, 15, and when we went into the town section and you see the sign say, and you walk into a store, it say "White Only" and you walk behind the store, "Blacks Only." Now when you go to a restaurant there was blacks on one side and whites on one side. And to me, to me, I could not adjust to it because I believe that that anybody should be equal to one. And plus, we all live in the same neighborhood. For me, I didn't like it, I didn't like it at all. And this always going to be lingering on my mind.

INTERVIEWER I was wondering how would that impact you just having to live under those conditions?

NARRATOR Because number one we could not speak to white girls. You say something to a white girl you end up going to jail. And I have seen this done. I seen a lot of people in jail, they didn't even commit the crime. So in other words, when you raised in the South, just like saying you didn't have no freedom. Just that, you stay on your side of the road, I stay my side of the road.

INTERVIEWER Did your parents have anyway of preparing you for it so that you wouldn't cross that imaginary line, like speaking to a white girl?

NARRATOR: Well, we lived in a community with whites, but they were Dutch people from Harlem.

INTERVIEWER What Dutch people from Harlem?

NARRATOR: No, there . . . from Holland.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, but what, what is that, I mean, I don't understand-

NARRATOR Those people, those people, they had a dairy farm, they raised cows, they raised horses.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, okay.

NARRATOR: They raised flowers, things like that.

INTERVIEWER Oh they-

NARRATOR They were farm people but lived in the same community.

Side B

INTERVIEWER Then you would separate, it's like we are playmates outside of school.

NARRATOR: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And as soon as we went to school we would separate.

NARRATOR: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Now how did those kids, if they saw you on your way to school, how did they enter, did you all go to school with the townspeople?

NARRATOR: That school was right across the street. This is one school, this is a white school. Okay. We went on different school buses.

INTERVIEWER: Did you talk to one another?

NARRATOR: You couldn't say anything to one another. We didn't want anybody getting in trouble because we speaking to them. So everybody just kept to themselves, like wave your hand or whatever, things like that. But we were not allowed to go on their campus and they was not allowed to come on our campus. For nothing and that's the way it was.

INTERVIEWER: Was there ever any incidents of someone trying to cross that line?

NARRATOR: No, no.

INTERVIEWER: Just understood, just don't.

NARRATOR: Nope, nobody, nobody.

INTERVIEWER: Did a lot of people from your hometown, did they wind up leaving, or did a lot stay?

NARRATOR: A lot of people from our hometown they left and came to New York City. A lot of people went to the service, a lot of people came up here and stayed until they retired. And a few went back, a few went back. Living in a community I would say of about 500 people, 500 people, as soon as you graduate we all went our separate way to make a career.

INTERVIEWER: Not much opportunity.


NARRATOR: Opportunity down there was nothing, you couldn't work in the factories.

INTERVIEWER: What part-was your wife from the South?

NARRATOR: No, my wife from Ossining.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, originally her people are from Ossining?

NARRATOR: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Oh.

NARRATOR: I have a lot of ex-girlfriends in Mount Vernon.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Lord.

NARRATOR: Yep.

INTERVIEWER: None of those girls were white, you know that?

NARRATOR: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

INTERVIEWER: So then how was the social life then, going to the movies. Talk about partying, you all had your own-

NARRATOR: Oh, we used to go out, okay, my father wouldn't let me have the car, my brother always had to chauffeur me around. That was embarrassing for me, but-and we used go to the beach on Saturday nights, we would go to the drive in movies on Friday nights, and we'd have a movie at the High School during the week on a Wednesday, a Wednesday. But, but, there was a lot things to do, a lot of things to do but I wouldn't-

INTERVIEWER: It seems like the social life was rich in spite of the segregation.

NARRATOR: Yeah, yes.

INTERVIEWER: Well, Calvin, I wanna say thank you. We wanted to get some more of your story and I want to say thank you.

NARRATOR: It's no problem, it's no problem, okay. Number one, number one the one thing I gotta say, okay, when I was growing up, okay, I only had about three or four pair of pants to wear to school, okay, four or five shirts. And the first thing my mother always told me, just as long as you wash your pants and shirt-

INTERVIEWER: You'd be alright.

NARRATOR: Everything be fine, you just as clean as the next man who got ten pairs.

INTERVIEWER: I wanted to ask if there is anything we left out? The story is so rich, and it's so difficult to think ahead of time.

NARRATOR: Because when I was being raised up by both grandmothers, my grandmother was smart.

INTERVIEWER: You were raised by your grandmother?

NARRATOR: Grandmothers, both grandmothers, and we all lived close together, and plus I was an A student in school, until I got to high school, then-

INTERVIEWER: Oh, then the ladies…

NARRATOR: We had the same subject over and over every year so I already knew, so I said, well.. . . So my parents asked me why your grades dropping, I know why they was dropping because I was running behind the girls, that's why.

INTERVIEWER: Hmmmm.

NARRATOR: So you only got a 70/75 so you could pass, and that's what I'm going do, just make enough to pass.

INTERVIEWER: Uh huh, you saw the ladies and that continued on.

NARRATOR: Yes, yes, that went on. But all the subject we had was major preparing you for college. Now, when I graduated they gave me a scholarship to go to North Carolina E&G, for engineer. But my parents were poor so that's why I had to come to New York City.

INTERVIEWER: The scholarship didn't cover the room and board.

NARRATOR: They wanted me to go to Fayetteville State, Fayetteville State, and that's too close to the army base, I said now wait, Fort Bragg. I said the only thing I wanna do is get out of North Carolina.

INTERVIEWER: You didn't want to go into the army?

NARRATOR: When I first came up, when I first came up they draft me right here in Yonkers. I had to go down to Whitehall Street and I flunked the test and I took some soap so my blood pressure go up. Because number one I told them back in them days only one brother of a family could be in the service so, Lonnie, Junior, was already in the Navy, so that's why I didn't go to war. I wasn't going to war at 17, no I left the war in the South and I wasn't going to Vietnam, no too young, too young, and that is why I flunked the test.

INTERVIEWER: You intentionally flunked the test?

NARRATOR: Yes, I most certainly did. [laughs]

INTERVIEWER: You felt like you had left your war and that I'm not fighting this one.

NARRATOR: No, no. I was too young to die. And have them ruin my life, no, no.

INTERVIEWER: Well I wanna say thank you for sharing your story with us, we appreciate it.

NARRATOR: No problem.

INTERVIEWER: We appreciate it.

NARRATOR: No problem.

INTERVIEWER: And you are going to be back here for the exhibit, right?

NARRATOR: Yep, I am already here. I am always here, I am always here, I am always here.

INTERVIEWER: Well, make sure you bring the girlfriend for the exhibit, okay.

NARRATOR: No. I been knowing this lady for 25 years.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any children?

NARRATOR: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: How many?

NARRATOR: Yeah, one.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's Calvin, Junior.

NARRATOR: Yes, he's 33.


Calvin O'Neal

Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY, Museum Purchase Fund.
Photograph 2001 Hudson River Museum
, Yonkers, NY


 


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