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NARRATOR: Deacon Roy Fields
INTERVIEWER: Barbara Davis, The Hudson River Museum
Date: November 15, 2001
Location: Mount Carmel Baptist Church, Yonkers, NY


INTERVIEWER: I'm Barbara Davis, I'm here today at Mount Carmel Baptist Church with Deacon Roy C. Fields. It's November 15th. Thank you, Deacon Fields for joining me today.

NARRATOR: It's my pleasure.

INTERVIEWER: I'm going to ask you about your personal history. Just feel comfortable talking with me. Where were you born?

NARRATOR: I was born in Lunenberg County, Virginia. That's about eighty miles south of Richmond, … County. And I was born March 13th, 1912. And I came to Yonkers, New York, where my grandfather in the year of 1929.

INTERVIEWER: So you grew up in that town in Virginia.

NARRATOR: In the country out there. I left there when I was fourteen; in fact, I was probably fourteen a couple days after I left. I was fourteen when I came here.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me about that town in Virginia. What was it like there?

NARRATOR: We were out in the country and it was the nearest town, which was Chase City, Virginia, about twelve miles from where we lived because we lived out in the country and the, we had the farm our there with my grandmother and my grandfather and then I, that's where I started to school there. And at that time they had, in the country … in Virginia …. and I went to the Hollywood Grammar School there.

INTERVIEWER: What kind of school was it?
NARRATOR: That was just a, it went up to seventh of eight grade there. Then I left there and came up here. My grandmother came first to visit my uncle, because they were up here. And she came for a visit during the Christmas holiday. At that time, she wrote back because we didn't have no telephone, she wrote back and said my aunt's husband, my grandmother's sister, her husband, Uncle William, he was into the Otis Elevator Company. And he said that he could get my grandfather a job there with him at Otis's. So we just closed the house and came on up here and my grandfather went into the Otis Elevator Company and that's where he worked until he was hurt in an accident, on a job there. And then he had to go out on disability. And so that's where it all started. Then I started to going to school here.

INTERVIEWER: Now back in Virginia, before we leave there, you were living with your grandparents?

NARRATOR: Yes. Yes. 'Cause, my mother was up here in New York, see?

INTERVIEWER: Did you have brothers and sisters?

NARRATOR: Yep.

INTERVIEWER: How many?

NARRATOR: I have eight brothers, five sisters.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, my Lord! And were they all living down in Virginia with you?

NARRATOR: Everybody practically born up here.

INTERVIEWER: So were you the oldest?

NARRATOR: I'm the oldest of all. I'm the oldest one now that's living. Of course, now I have two brothers in Richmond and I have one here in Yonkers. That's all the brothers that's living now. I have two sisters in Charlotte, one sister in Richmond, and one sister in New Haven, Connecticut. That's all us girls and boys that's living now.

INTERVIEWER: So when you, they, your grandparents received that letter they started making plans to move north?

NARRATOR: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And do you remember what that was like when they closed up the
house and you were getting ready to leave?
NARRATOR: Well, to tell you the truth, down in Virginia where we lived, everybody was like one. Like if we lived next door to you, course, we said next door, but them hardly was local.

INTERVIEWER: It wasn't right next door.

NARRATOR: … It wasn't this close. …, and that's the neighborhood.

INTERVIEWER Right.

NARRATOR: And the neighbors there in Virginia, I like all of them, but I mean all of them that I can remember myself, if my grandmother took sick, those neighbors, my aunts, whoever it was, they came from their house to come to my grandmother house; whatever they could do, that's what they did. I mean that's what you call neighbors. That's what they did.

INTERVIEWER: And they would bring food, my guess is?

NARRATOR: They would cook, wash, anything they could do there in the house. And the minute my grandfather … the fields if they were plowing corn or raising tobacco or whatever, they would all go there and help. If they came back in there, it's the month of November, October/November, they would call it hog-killing time. That's when … Because we had hogs. … "We're going over to Chester Fields' house today. He's gonna kill a hog this morning. We going over and we gonna kill the hog. Big hog.

INTERVIEWER: Make it a whole day affair? The hog killing?

NARRATOR: It was probably a whole day affair, practically. And then the neighbors would come over, and the women would come over, they all cooked.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what they cooked?

NARRATOR: Well, they would have ham, fried chicken, baked chicken, whatever the women decided they wanted to prepare, three or different meats to cook. And when it comes down now to the, to their, um, desserts, sweet potato pies, apple pies, layer cakes. You name it, they did it. And those women, they got together like that; it was just like a regular family affair. That's what it was down there when I was coming up. And then, and I don't care what it was, … lived a half a mile from each other. I don't care what it was, when something happened, they would be there. Don't ask me how they got to know it so fast, but they would be there. And then when I was going to school, there in Virginia, coming up in school, my grandmother said to me, "Alright, now, you're going to school this morning." … And the school wasn't around the corner like the children are having today here. There was no buses to ride to school, or no trolley cars to ride to school; you walked. And you was on time. My grandmother said, "You go to school. Don't … You go to school." And if you was late coming in, that teacher in that school would ask you why you was late. And don't try to tell her no story now, because when you'd get home, grandmama gonna to know about it. Not only that, sometimes she would go home with you. My grandma said, "…. (my teacher) ….." Anyway, I forget her name, "Roy was late coming to school this morning" and he said that, whatever I said, you know, my grandmother said, "Oh, yeah? He did, huh? Well, I told him not to be late." She was very quiet.

INTERVIEWER: You got a licking'?

NARRATOR: I don't care what you call it. It was more than that. She said, "What can I…I'll take care of him. I'll talk to him." I said to myself then, "Well, here I go."

INTERVIEWER: Tell me, was there a church in your community?

NARRATOR: Oh, yes. The Calvary Baptist Church. That's where I raised up, baptized at that church and everything. And that's where I … in that church until I left there and came north, and then I've been back three or four times since then. And believe it or not, every time I walk in the front door of Calvary Baptist Church, it's just like when I walked in there when I was going to Sunday school. And my Sunday school teacher was my aunt. That was my father's sister-in-law's wife…no, my father's brother-in-law's wife. Aunt Annie.

INTERVIEWER: And where was your father?

NARRATOR: He was in Virginia. [inaudible sentence].

INTERVIEWER: So you would walk to church also?

NARRATOR: Yes, ma'am.

INTERVIEWER: With your grandma and grandpa?

NARRATOR: (We) would walk to church then I was going by myself to Sunday school.

INTERVIEWER: Right. I see.

NARRATOR: But going to a regular church service, you get in the buggy and the
horse, and going to church. And was there on time. You were there on time. And I remember one time when we … you know how boys are when they're …, my cousins, most of us was relatives, you know. We was all playing, and I was coming from the store, I guess, somewhere. I don't know. …. sisters and … come home. But don't be late. We were playing. And one of my grandmother's friends, the old lady, well I mean, I shouldn't say the old lady, but she was an old woman, and, uh, Pop got her home, and my grandmother says, "Roy?" I say, "Yes ma'am." Everything was, "Yes, ma'am." And my grandmother say, "Why didn't you speak to Susally?" "Susally?," I said, "I didn't see her, Mama." I called her Mama; I never called her grandma. I says, "Mama, I didn't see her." She said, "You didn't?" I say, "No, ma'am." "You calling her a liar?" "No, ma'am." "Are you calling me one?" "No, ma'am!"
[Laughter]

NARRATOR: She says, "Next time that you see her in the room, you speak." Now, I didn't see the woman, but you know … The next time, I went up there going to the store, I was looking to see if I could see her. Looking to see if I could see her, 'cause she, (she could have been anywhere).
[Laughter]

NARRATOR: And you wonder how did they find out with no telephones? Oh, my Lord, no telephone. And I remember one day, I'm going up to the store to … one of those little country stores, you know. Candy, kerosene, everything you expect in a country store, you know? And I was going up there, I don't remember now what I was going for, but I knew I went.

INTERVIEWER: Right.

NARRATOR: And whatever grandma sent me for…

INTERVIEWER: You were going to get it.

NARRATOR: I got it. Going up the store, I saw my grandfather on the side of the road, as I was going to the store, that's my father's father. He says, "Roy?" I said, "Yes, sir." "Come here, son." Oh yeah, I'd go over to see grandpa, you know, he … along and had a talk with me. "So where you going?" I says, "I'm going to store for Mama." Sorry, … "Yes, sir." I go to the store, I'm coming back, Grampa's still up there on the side of the road. He says, "You going home now?" "Yes, sir." "Alright, you go home. Don't play." "Yes, sir." I went home. I went home. It wasn't like today when you take a lot of the children today, you don't know if they're gonna come home or not … Whatever my grandparents told me, but my grandfather, he more than any elder person, say anything to you, you'd better respect them. There weren't no such thing as you didn't respect them. If you didn't, you'd wish you'd had. And you didn't see no child then, and I'm only talking about, 'cause I don't know.

INTERVIEWER: About others, uh-huh.

NARRATOR: Then. I don't care where I saw an elderly person, I spoke to them. "How you do? Good evening. Good afternoon, Miss So-and-so, Uncle So-and-so, or Mr. So-and-so. You spoke. I don't care if you didn't, you spoke, see? If you don't speak because you don't know 'em, you'd better speak, because if you don't, when you get home, you gonna find out why you didn't speak. And that's the way it was in my home country down there where we were. I mean, there everybody was like one big family. I don't care … It was like one big family.

INTERVIEWER: So when you got, your grandparents got this letter to come up, and you said they had to close up the house.

NARRATOR: They had to close the house up.

INTERVIEWER: And do you remember how that felt? Were you, what were your feelings after leaving this big family?

NARRATOR: Well, I'll tell you how I felt. I'm coming up here to see Mama. That's Grandma. I'm coming, Grandpa and I be coming up to see Mama, now. Mama was coming back, but after Uncle William, which is my grandmother's sister's husband, told my grandfather to the Otis Elevator Company. And we just closed the house up and no one, we just closed up and said to my Uncle George and Uncle Lee, and all of them that, that was my uncles and all, but they was all neighbors, and they would whip me just as quickly as they would whip their child if I did something. … that's my child, don't hit him. He will whip you, or she will whip you, and I'm telling you the God's truth; when you go home and you told grandma, she would whip you and then grandpa might whip you. But you, you're gonna get two, anyway. You're gonna get two. And you respected those people. I don't care where you saw the people when I was coming along, you had respect. And there's no such thing as you didn't respect people when I was coming along. And today, to tell you the truth, when I look at some of these children today, how they speak to their parents, how they disrespect other people; I think back, when I came along, and sometimes it makes me feel like crying. I don't know why. I still don't know why. And when I think on how I came along, God has blessed me. And he's blessing me right now. From my early childhood right on through. He guided me, he led me, he protected me from all of the many ups and downs and everything. He let me stay here and see my oldest daughter grow up to be a grandmother, and the daughter I got right now, that's the baby girl, my oldest daughter passed. And, uh, now I, see my youngest daughter here? She's got a new granddaughter.

INTERVIEWER: So you're a great-grandfather?

NARRATOR: Yeah. And my oldest daughter had, uh, Charlotte had six children: three boys and three girls, and out of that union there is about 14 grandchildren, I guess. Dolores, she has one grandchild and two grown children. And they married, except one.

INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful. Well, we have a big space in time now that we need to talk about. And that's after you left Virginia. So you weren't nervous when you were leaving, because you were coming up to see family?

NARRATOR: Yeah. Well, I was nervous.

INTERVIEWER: And how did you travel up here?

NARRATOR: We came by train.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the train trip?

NARRATOR We left, lemme see. Where did we catch that train? Out of Chase City, Virginia, I think. I think that's where we caught the train, yeah. Because that's the, yeah. And we traveled all the way from Chase City to New York. But I don't remember now if it was my Uncle … that met me…met us, or if it my mother's brother, because that's my grandmother's second son, 'cause she was living with Uncle … when she came up here. I don't remember…I can't remember just where, but I know it was either, it must have been Uncle Anderson, though; I'm almost sure that met us. And we went to his house.

INTERVIEWER: So you were fourteen at the time, is that correct?

NARRATOR: I was fourteen after I got out, turned fourteen.

INTERVIEWER: You were just turning fourteen.

NARRATOR: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Um, so to get back to the train trip, I'm just envisioning you at almost fourteen on that train. You must have been very excited.

NARRATOR: I was …

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what you brought with you when you packed up the house?

NARRATOR: [inaudible sentence].

INTERVIEWER: You don't remember?

NARRATOR: I don't remember what … I don't remember. I don't remember. Yeah, naturally I had on a suit or whatever. But I don't know what it was. And my grandfather …, a nice trip. It was exciting to be on a train and ride that far, because down there we didn't ride no train, we didn't have to ride a train. We … go to town, or, you know…

INTERVIEWER: Was that your first time on a train?

NARRATOR: Yes, it was.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, so that must've been very exciting.

NARRATOR: It was exciting. And I'm just looking. I'm looking, I'm looking. I'm looking all over.

INTERVIEWER: I know this is a little bit of a sensitive question, but I'm curious. Were there white people on the train also?

NARRATOR: Oh, yes.

INTERVIEWER: And they could be in the same car with you?

NARRATOR: Oh, yes. As far as I know there were, 'cause I weren't paying no attention.

INTERVIEWER: You weren't paying attention to who was in the car? You were looking out the window and…?

NARRATOR: Right, right.

INTERVIEWER: And when you arrived in New York and your uncle met you and took you to his house, was it a house that he lived in?

NARRATOR: He lived in a big apartment. Right down here on School Street.

INTERVIEWER: School Street in Yonkers?

NARRATOR: Uh-huh.

INTERVIEWER: And how did Yonkers look to you?

NARRATOR: Oh, it was exciting. … people and then when you … you see different people and you meet different people. You're playing with different boys and girls. And this way it was, like there's a mixture. It was no …. Everybody. And where we live there, then, with all the, uh, the Italian, and you had … running around, and all those kids, we played, under 18 school I went to, there were Italian children, and one Jewish girl, Silvia [Corn?] That's the only Jewish … I think was in 18. Or that I can remember anyway. And, uh, and a lot of the girls I went to school with, I'd see them years later, since I graduated, and I forgotten them and they've forgotten. One day I met one down here, "How are you?" I said, "Oh, my God," I says …

INTERVIEWER: You were all kids.

NARRATOR: We were just all, you know, in the family, you know, … very nice schools, very nice … We just, I mean, I enjoyed it … Not bring it up. I didn't have the …

INTERVIEWER: It was all the same. So you were living in the house with your uncle?

NARRATOR: Uh-huh.

INTERVIEWER: And for how long did you live there?

NARRATOR: Then we lived there for a while, then my grandmother and my grandfather …then we got another apartment next door.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, isn't that perfect.

NARRATOR: And then, then we had our own apartment, then. See, and my grandmother, she worked for a family out in … up there …

INTERVIEWER: So she'd go off to work in the morning and your grandfather would go off to work at Otis, and you'd go to school.

NARRATOR: Right. Yeah. And it was very nice, because my aunt, from where we were living in first, they lived in the next building upstairs, and so … And then a friend of ours, his son-in-law, they would come over and …

INTERVIEWER: When you finished school at eighteen, did you then go to high school?

NARRATOR: You start, I started in, I had the first year to go through…Ben Franklin. But, uh, after my father had that terrible accident, then I went to work.

INTERVIEWER: You had to make the living for the family.

NARRATOR: I mean … because my grandmother and grandfather couldn't work…

INTERVIEWER: What was your first job?

NARRATOR: My first job was…a lotta money. A lotta money. After school, three dollars a week.
[Laughter]

INTERVIEWER: And what were you doing for those three dollars?

NARRATOR: Oh, I was in a Italian restaurant upstairs, around the corner.

INTERVIEWER: Really.
NARRATOR: …and I was up there in the Italian restaurant, you know, working, I don't know [laughing]

INTERVIEWER: So are you a good cook of Italian foods?

NARRATOR: I liked it. I liked it. I liked it, and I still like it. But naturally now I can't eat any of it because the doctors got me on a restricted diet.

INTERVIEWER: Would you see your mother and your brothers and sisters?

NARRATOR: No. When I came up, I didn't see them anymore until after, must've been about four years, I guess. And then I went back to Virginia on a vacation, and that's when I went to my mother's house and met everybody. Saw all my brothers and sisters…

INTERVIEWER: Oh, she had moved back to Virginia?

NARRATOR: She moved back to Virginia. She came back to Virginia … my stepfather's father passed, I believe it was, and they came back there. Because when my mother pulled up in front of the school where I was going in Virginia, her car looked to me as big as this room, and she said, "Roy?" And remember, when somebody called you, you gotta answer. … I said, "Yes, ma'am." "Come here." … "How are you?" I said, "Fine." I'm looking at her, I'm looking at her up and down to see who this is. "How's Mama?" I said, "She's fine." I still don't know who it is. "I'm going over to Mama's now. You come on home from school." I said yes, ma'am. Oh, you should have seen me getting from school. I went the short way through the woods and cut through. ………………… Now I don't remember, now, that that's my mother, you know. You don't remember. And I'm getting next to grandma, getting next to, you know how cute …

INTERVIEWER: Right, right, snuggling up.

NARRATOR: And she looked at me and she says, "Come over here now, let me hug you." I looked at her now and I walked over. I better go, you know, and that went on like that, and after a while, a she tried to let her … Then my grandmother told me. My grandfather, that I should carry my right name. You know those old people like my mama. "We raised him in our name." So actually, sometimes you'll see me with a J in my initial. That's my father's last name, Johnson.

INTERVIEWER: A-ha. Your grandparents, they were very much a part of your, a big, big part of your life.

NARRATOR: Oh, yes. And my grandparents on both sides. My grandmother on my father's side… My grandmother, we was in the country then. We went to her house to visit. … I'll never forget it. Laying in the bed sick, but I didn't know her, I mean, … She says, "Come here son. Roy, come here." My grandmother said, "Go to her." So yeah, I'm going, right. … She put her arms around me, and, uh, and I remember. I'll never forget it. As I grow older I think about the love that they had for me. But I didn't know. But the love that my grandparents had for me.

INTERVIEWER: You know it's inside you. It's inside you now. You carry it with you all the time.

NARRATOR: It'll live with me 'til the day I die. When my grandmother passed … She says, "Now you're grown, you're married, I think I'll go stay with you for a while." 'Cause my mother was the oldest child. I mean oldest girl. And I'm going down to stay with her." Alright, put Mama in the car, and my brother and I had been, the two of us went down, we carried her down to my mother's. And, uh, and she … The last time I visited my mother that time, come back, and then one morning the phone rang. I was living, where was I living then? I think I was living where I am now, up in Greenburgh. And my niece called. That's one of my sister's daughters. "Mama says Grandma's sick, wants you to come home right away. She isn't talking." I said, "I'll be there as soon as I can." So, I knew she was … I said she must be passing. And she, we took her to the doctor, and then my mother said, my grandma's sitting there in the chair, "This is it."
INTERVIEWER: And it was?

NARRATOR: Died. Right there.

INTERVIEWER: Were you there at the time?

NARRATOR: No. I hadn't got there. But it hurts. Even now.

INTERVIEWER: Even now.

NARRATOR: They were such good people. I mean, everybody says their parents was good, but I mean, I can only talk for Roy.

INTERVIEWER: Through and through.

NARRATOR: See? And I mean, I just liked my parents. And they brought me in a way to know people, regardless the color you is, you were loved because it's a human being. It's a human being. Everybody's a human being, regardless to what color creed or what you are. God has no restricted person. You have to die just like I gonna die and somebody's … and we either going, he said, "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust." … He don't want this body. God don't want this body. He wants the soul. That's his. He wants the soul. He told the Devil, "You can touch the body. Don't touch the soul. That's mine.

INTERVIEWER: Religion has been very much a part of your life, hasn't it? When you came to Yonkers originally, did your grandparents start going to church? Did you continue your…?

NARRATOR: … I went in the service. I never went to church … but when I came back from the service, I met my wife's …my first wife passed. I met her in this same, Mount Carmel Church, there was a small house that was …, that's where I met my wife.

INTERVIEWER: In that church.

NARRATOR: In that church there.

INTERVIEWER: What's your wife's name?

NARRATOR: Addie.

INTERVIEWER: Addie. Did she grow up in Yonkers?

NARRATOR: Partially in Yonkers but she was from Portsmouth, Virginia.

INTERVIEWER: Was she really?

NARRATOR: Uh-huh. And she, she gave me … but I didn't know her until I went to the church.

INTERVIEWER: …went to the church. Now, before you went into the service, you had a number of different jobs. You started at an Italian restaurant and then you…

NARRATOR: Yes, and the next job I had, you know where the, um, I know you know where it's at too, Bronx Terminal Market?

INTERVIEWER: Oh, absolutely.

NARRATOR: I drove for the Mambo Brothers. They had a store …, and I drove for Mambo Brothers. And that's when the Army called me. And so…

INTERVIEWER: You were drafted?

NARRATOR: Yes. I was drafted. And I had come to Yonkers … so I was living in the Bronx then, but I came to Yonkers … And I'll never forget that my grandmother, God bless her, she walked with me down to the train station in Yonkers and another friend of mine, they walking and she says, "That's alright, son. You'll be back."

INTERVIEWER: What year was this?

NARRATOR: 1944.

INTERVIEWER: 1944. And where did you go when you served?

NARRATOR: My, naturally I went to Fort Dix first. From Fort Dix, went to Fort Benning, Georgia. And then from Fort Benning, Georgia back up to Massachusetts, Fort Devons. Then from Fort Devons I headed out west. Out to…I'll come to me And then from there, well…but the funny part, when I went to Fort Benning from Fort Dix, we was out there, now Benning now I think is six weeks. Then you can come home for a weekend. So I asked the sergeant, "Can I go home for the weekend?" He says, "Yeah, you can go. You're a good soldier. You ain't giving us no trouble. Sure, you can go home for the weekend." … Oh, I'm getting all ready, then after a while here come, calling names. That street was lined with soldiers, … and after a while, "Private Fields!" "Yes, sir." "Front and center. Go get your bag."

INTERVIEWER: Oh, no. What a disappointment.

NARRATOR: …I went to Philadelphia first, the Third Street station, and it seemed to me that train, instead of coming …. on the train. Because you don't get no place in the day. …and around about eleven o'clock, that night or the next night, I wound up in Columbus, Georgia. When I got there, there was two trucks waiting for us. … But you get up at 5:00. Reveille, and I don't care what you get there.

INTERVIEWER: Even though you had been traveling all night.

NARRATOR: You get up at 5:00. They train you that way. In other words, when they trained you in the service, they don't cut you. They train you the hard way, 'cause you don't know where you're going and what you're gonna run into. … Here come this fine looking man. He was … the commander. He was the boss at that fort. Pretty white hair and, I mean, that … suited him. … "This is my company. You are in a trucking outfit. Everyone in of y'all," he said, "is going to drive. And they're not … my trucks."

INTERVIEWER: He took it very personally?

NARRATOR: Oh yeah. "My trucks." … I said, "Be calm. You'll be alright. Calm yourself down. You can drive.

INTERVIEWER: Right. So you were experienced, that was good?

NARRATOR: Didn't bother me.

INTERVIEWER: So where did you go from Georgia?

NARRATOR: Then I went from, left Georgia, then that's when I came to Fort Devons. Then when we stood some went to Kentucky, some went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I think. Some …, but that man's uniform fitted him just like a T, and he was proud. He says, "Hey, soldier," "Yes, sir." "Where you from?" "Fort Benning, Georgia." "Oh yeah? How'd you like it down there?" You know I wanted to say no. I said, "Fine." "Oh, yeah. What'd you do?" "Driving a truck." "Oh you did?" "Yes sir." "You like to drive?" "Yes sir." Says, "Sergeant, give this man some license." He don't know me from Adam, but I'm just as nice as I can be. "Alright, you licensed to drive a truck. Now give him a test." You should've seen the test they gave me. [laughing]

INTERVIEWER: It was a hard test or an easy test?

NARRATOR: Huh?

INTERVIEWER: Was it a hard test? No, easy. It was no test.

NARRATOR: Far as I'm concerned it was no test at all. I just rode around and down there and back again. He put me on the big truck too to do it. …and says, um, "I want you to go up to the driving school this morning. You're going to drive for Captain Duggan this morning. You're gonna drive for him." "Yes sir." Get over there in this jeep …. "Hey soldier?" "Yes sir?" "What's your name?" I told him. … "PFC Fields." "Oh, that's your name. You're gonna drive me today." Yes sir." A long time the man didn't come up, didn't come out of the room. … Time for chow. He says, "Go get your chow and come back." Go back down to the … "Ah," he says, "I ain't finished with what I was doing yet. Come back tomorrow." I had it good

INTERVIEWER: How long did you do that?

NARRATOR: As long as I stayed in Fort Benning, that's what I did.

INTERVIEWER: Wow.

NARRATOR: Then I go to Columbus, Georgia …

INTERVIEWER: Right. Right.

NARRATOR: Drove him up there then I come on back.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know what? Your grandparents' training for you to be so polite paid off, don't you think?

NARRATOR: It did. It did.

INTERVIEWER: Don't you think?

NARRATOR: And you can never forget that. You know, …

INTERVIEWER: Right.

NARRATOR: And I tell you right now, when I think of some of the things, some of the things that's happened, and, uh, I know I can't help everybody, but it hurts me sometimes to see the way people treat people. Even the grown ones. They don't have no respect. Everything "Me, me, me." I mean that's what it looked like to me. It's just, "Me, me." … That could be you.

INTERVIEWER: Absolutely. It's the golden rule.

NARRATOR: That could be you, you know. Don't, think about the bridge you came over, 'cause you may have to go back 'cross that bridge. And if that bridge isn't there you can't get back. But I just thank God for my grandparents and all. They really, and not only, my uncles and all. They just like my parents. 'Cause …

INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Your extended family. Very close-knit. When were you discharged?

NARRATOR: I was discharged in December 1945.

INTERVIEWER: And you came back up to Yonkers?

NARRATOR: Came right back to Yonkers here, and that's in that December. I was discharged on December the 18th. And I'll never forget … come back and I stopped in the … And then, guess where I went first.

INTERVIEWER: To church?

NARRATOR: No. Grandma's.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, of course. Grandma's first. Grandma's first. And she was very glad to see you.

NARRATOR: …well I went home, because I was living in the Bronx then.

INTERVIEWER: Oh. And you were married at that, you had a wife in the Bronx?

NARRATOR: And the two girls, my daughter, Delores was nine, I think, or eight. Charlotte was nine when I came back. Then I went home to see them.

INTERVIEWER: But first to grandma. To Mama's

NARRATOR: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Wow.

NARRATOR: And I went to Grandma's.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, isn't that wonderful.

NARRATOR: But, uh, I don't regret it; because there's so much that I have seen that now I wouldn't be able to go those places.

INTERVIEWER: I was gonna say, that's one thing. You got to see a lot of the country, at least.

NARRATOR: Yeah …. Sometimes now I wonder what Saipan looked like, over there in the Pacific. And … I was over there. But when I was older, God protected me. The whole time I was over there.

INTERVIEWER: And how long were you overseas?

NARRATOR: I was overseas almost two years.

INTERVIEWER: Oh.

NARRATOR: God protected me.

INTERVIEWER: Did you see, … were you in the fighting?

NARRATOR: No. I was still with the, these trucks.

INTERVIEWER: Because you were a driver.

NARRATOR: Yeah. And I worked for a trucking outfit there, and all I would do, ammunition from where I would pick it up to the ammunition barn. And see, in the Army, they don't play with you. They discipline you. And you obey.

[END OF SIDE A]

[SIDE B]

NARRATOR: …so I want you to go over here, bet that load there, take it up to the ammunition dock. So you going up there and loading all that …, and nobody with me. All I had with me was that truck and a rifle. Nobody with me, you know. Say, well, I found …, unloaded the ammunition, come on back, and that's where, the whole time. Just like that.

INTERVIEWER: When you returned, and there was, I'm sure everyone was just so glad to see you, did you go right back to the same job, or did you…?

NARRATOR: No, when I returned from the army, God bless, the man is dead now. He had a …, Hope Newman, where he … and he says, uh, "You want a job?" He says, "I tell you what you do. You go down …" But see, I was going for truck driving.

INTERVIEWER: Right.

NARRATOR: Because I was used to truck driving.

INTERVIEWER: Right. Right. Yeah, you're experienced.

NARRATOR: So I … the fellow was in charge of the trucks, he must've had a bad weekend. You know, he didn't pass one person for the test on those trucks? Didn't pass one. He was mad at…

INTERVIEWER: He was in a bad mood.

NARRATOR: Oh, a very bad mood. So, he was in such a bad mood, when I gave him the stick to take it back to personnel at 33rd St., he forgot to do one thing. He didn't seal the letter. I stopped him in the lunchroom over there on 10th Avenue, got some breakfast.

INTERVIEWER: [laughing] Peeking on the letter.

NARRATOR: The man looked at me, he laughed, you know. He said, "You want to work?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "I'll tell you. You can go to work tomorrow, if you want. A custodian." "Good." A custodian.

INTERVIEWER: Foot in the door.

NARRATOR: I started right there with the custodians, and worked in the custodian department from elevators to … to floor sweeping. … And then every new post office that opened up in the Bronx, in the upper Bronx, we did those … Set up …, then we pack up all of our stuff, put them in a truck, go to another station and do the same thing …

INTERVIEWER: They were opening a lot of post offices at that time.

NARRATOR: Yeah. And even if they weren't open, we'd go to the old ones and do the floors.

INTERVIEWER: So were you, you were a postal employee, then?

NARRATOR: Yeah. Yeah. Thirty-eight years.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. That's remarkable.

NARRATOR: Thirty-eight years.

INTERVIEWER: Very steady job, good benefits?

NARRATOR: At that time, a lot of people don't believe it, but they weren't taking out Social Security then, in the post office. After I retired, about a year after, then they started taking out Social Security. So I would've had thirty-eight years of Social Security.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, my. So you did have a pension?

NARRATOR: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well we all go the pension. Forty years of pension.

INTERVIEWER: Forty years.

NARRATOR: … two years overseas.

INTERVIEWER: Oh. Now what about…

NARRATOR: …my Social Security that I had, you know.

INTERVIEWER: What about the GI Bill? Did you take advantage of that at all? Were you able to get any kind of benefits having served in the War?

NARRATOR: No, I didn't, uh; I didn't get anything from …

INTERVIEWER: Right.

NARRATOR: But no. Like a lot of benefits I didn't. I didn't, I could've been getting another check … Before I left, that morning before I left from the Pacific, I had a little pain in my liver. So I imagine when you go to the dispensary and all …

INTERVIEWER: It was right by your ear.

NARRATOR: But it would start here.

INTERVIEWER: Start at your jaw and go up.

NARRATOR: And go right to here. And when it hit there, boom, just like something hit you.

INTERVIEWER: Perforated eardrum?
NARRATOR: … looked in my ear, I told him I had … pain. … said, "I don't see anything." Just like that. … and had I known that, I feel as though I could've gotten something, but I didn't get one nickel for that. But if you ever put …

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever find out what it was?

NARRATOR: After I came back, and the first time I was ever in a hospital, was Cambridge. And that's when I had that trouble. … And they didn't know any more than I knew, but they just had position there. And they was taking advantage …

INTERVIEWER: But did they ever find out what it was?

NARRATOR: I went to several doctors, and thank God I went to a doctor who … He says, "Why don't you try my doctor. Maybe he can tell you what it is and how it is and, you know, what happened." So I went to his doctor, and he had a small office on … Street. He looked at me and he … I told him how I felt and what, and he said, "I know what you got. My wife has the same thing," he says, "but hers is a little different. He says, "I know what it is. When you went overseas, … And he gave me …, and sometimes I drive from my house to […

INTERVIEWER: And you're also in good shape.

NARRATOR: And I think I'm in pretty good shape.

INTERVIEWER: What year was it when you retired from the postal service?

NARRATOR: What year?

INTERVIEWER: Uh-huh.

NARRATOR: 1985. Fifteen years ago.

INTERVIEWER: Did they have a party for you?

NARRATOR: Did they? I didn't give them time.

INTERVIEWER: You didn't? You…
NARRATOR: I was ready to go.

INTERVIEWER: You booked out of there quickly.

NARRATOR: […]

INTERVIEWER: Now you tell me that you met your wife at the first Mount Carmel Baptist Church over on School Street, and that she'd already been a member there?

NARRATOR: Yes, she'd been a member there about twelve years before me.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. Twelve years. And then once you started going and you got to know her, what was your involvement with the church?

NARRATOR: Well when I first went in, my mother's oldest brother, he was … My wife knew him, and he was the chairman of the deacon board there. … And also when I came back I went to church … When you open the doors to the church …

INTERVIEWER: They knew. They knew you were good material.

NARRATOR: […]

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever live in Yonkers again, after the Bronx? Or you went from the Bronx to Greenburgh?

NARRATOR: No, I went from the Bronx to…no. I was in Yonkers for the time, long again, but then when I got married I was living here in Yonkers. And then, when I got married, then, about two years, I think, after we got married, I was in the hospital at the time when the … so she says, "I see where they're building some houses up there in Greenburgh." She says, 'cause she always wanted a house. She said, … So she went on up to see about it and everything, and that time, property wasn't like it is today. It was very, very cheap. We bought this piece of property … went on up there, … Built that house, and then like I said, it was a one-family house. Even added our garage to it, and everything, and today…
INTERVIEWER: And you're still living in it?

NARRATOR: No…

INTERVIEWER: Oh.

NARRATOR: We almost had it completed, then here comes that urban renewal.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, no. Oh, no.

NARRATOR: You either sell it or they'll take it. But you know what? … we fought 'em for five years.

INTERVIEWER: Did you? Good for you.

NARRATOR: Fought 'em for five years. I knew I couldn't get them, … At that time the best I could get for that house was $18,000. Told my lawyer. Oh, they had people coming over from town hall, coming in. "We want to buy your house." I says, "I don't want to sell." Say, "Yeah, but, uh, we like this property. We want to make this a … After a while, … came back again. Another man came. Oh, he come up there. …. "In the first place, I don't want to sell my house. In the second place, I'm not going to sign nothing unless my lawyer advises me to sign it." My lawyer said, "Don't you sign nothing until I see it." …. you bring it to me. And God bless … when I …his office he ….
[inaudible--background conversation]

INTERVIEWER: Was it as nice as your first house?

NARRATOR: A little larger.

INTERVIEWER: A little larger?

NARRATOR: We got six rooms, full basement and garage. And instead of one lot we got two lots. [UI phrase]

INTERVIEWER: Why would you choose Greenburgh over living in Yonkers, for example?

NARRATOR: Well, I'll tell you, she looked in Yonkers before we went to Green burgh, but she didn't see anything at the time that she really wanted, and I'm glad we didn't. We saw another house on Palisades Avenue here, but it was …

INTERVIEWER: You were looking for something with a yard.

NARRATOR: With a yard, you know. And then we had the two daughters, then we had the dog

INTERVIEWER: Right. When you go back to Virginia to visit, what strikes you the most about the difference in the life in Virginia and your life here?

NARRATOR: Well, I'll tell you, I haven't been back now in about four years …. [Background conversations--inaudible]

INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have family reunions, or do you have family reunions?

NARRATOR: Every August.

INTERVIEWER: Every August.

NARRATOR: Every August went down for what they call a homecoming.

INTERVIEWER: Homecoming.

NARRATOR: And what a homecoming that is. People from Baltimore, I guess California too. I don't know. All of them …

INTERVIEWER: And is it, it's with the church? Through the church. So it's the neighbors you grew up with and their children and grandchildren.

NARRATOR: Yep. And their children all…

INTERVIEWER: And do they still have this every August?

NARRATOR: They still have it, but … I understand it wasn't, naturally, as good as it used to be. And the church that I was baptized in, that I grew up in was still there, but now they built a new one right beside it. And you couldn't tell them apart. Now they tore all of them down, I understand. But I walked in that front door, and I looked to the right, that's where my class was … my teacher, and everything came right back to me.

INTERVIEWER: It just comes rushing back.

NARRATOR: Came right back to me. In the center where my grandmother used to sit, and all up there, all that came back to me. And the minister that baptized me, he's dead, and the one that took the church over …, now he's dead. But he didn't know me too well.

INTERVIEWER: If I asked you "where's home?", what would you say?

NARRATOR: Well, I guess I'd have to say here.

INTERVIEWER: You would say here.

NARRATOR: I can't say it's home there because I haven't been there for a long time, you know? It's home in a sense, but it's not home anymore, because I guess I'm almost sure that the house that I was raised in, I'm quite sure that that's gone. Because I understand that that property was sold … So that isn't there anymore, but I would like to go there. I mean next time, if I do go down again, …

INTERVIEWER: Still there. Absolutely.

NARRATOR: But I know … they all dead now, and none of them know and none of their people know me. ….

INTERVIEWER: That'll be really fun to go back.

NARRATOR: [inaudible phrase]

INTERVIEWER: That same road that you were made sure that you said hello and greeted every, all your elders along.

NARRATOR: Oh, yeah, I forgot another place there named Roger St. John. No, not …

INTERVIEWER: And he, they were right.

NARRATOR: Yeah. We all …

INTERVIEWER: Were, did white kids attend the same school as you in Virginia?

NARRATOR: No. No. They didn't attend the same school.

INTERVIEWER: But you played together.

NARRATOR: We played together where I was. Now, a lot of us, but it was so many of us, 'cause we …But I thank God ….

INTERVIEWER: Uh-huh. Right, right. It was a sign of respect.

NARRATOR: … I don't know where, any other place down there where they didn't, but I'm only talking about the ones that I knew.

INTERVIEWER: Right.

NARRATOR: If there … that you couldn't talk here and you couldn't do that and you couldn't, don't talk here, don't, and, uh…

INTERVIEWER: And that stayed with you. That's the way you were raised, and that's the way …

NARRATOR: That's the way, I mean, I'm gonna tell you the truth, a lot of people say, "Are there stories …. I don't go for that. The stab in the back? …. I got God on my side, so you can stab all you want.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Deacon Fields, this has been a wonderful talk with you. I really thank you.

(Formal Interview Concludes)

INTERVIEWER: Uh, I have a few more questions to ask you.

NARRATOR: Well you can ask me.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. I'm gonna turn the tape recorder off now; actually, I'm going to keep it running.

NARRATOR: Wonderful. One moment.

INTERVIEWER: Um, just to continue a little more with a couple of more questions. You said you worked for the New York Central Railroad for a time?

NARRATOR: …maybe a month.

INTERVIEWER: Oh, it was just a short term. Right. And about other things that you might have, you don't recall any photographs from Virginia? Anything?
NARRATOR: No. No, I don't have anything from Virginia.

INTERVIEWER: But you think you might have your discharge papers…

NARRATOR: Yeah, I got my discharge.

INTERVIEWER: …and your uniform?

NARRATOR: Yeah, I don't…

INTERVIEWER: We'll have to go up in the attic and take a look for that, okay? Or we'll send your wife up. And your certificate from the Post Office…

NARRATOR: Yeah, I have that.

INTERVIEWER: Um, so when you came up you didn't save any train tickets or souvenirs or postcards from your hometown?

NARRATOR: No.

INTERVIEWER: Nothing?

NARRATOR: Nothing.

INTERVIEWER: Was there anything of your grandma's that she left you? Quilts or any kind of handicrafts?

NARRATOR: The only thing I have from my grandmother is her picture.

INTERVIEWER: So you do have her picture.

NARRATOR: [inaudible sentence].
INTERVIEWER: If we could borrow these just for a week, and make copies of them and return them to you, would you be willing? They'd be very safe.

NARRATOR: I'd have to ask my wife here ….

INTERVIEWER: Okay. She's the one. Okay.

NARRATOR: Yeah, or my daughter, either one of them two.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. You know, we are the museum, so we're very, very careful with the things, and we'll just be making a…

NARRATOR: My grandmother and her picture, with her white hair and all…beautiful.

INTERVIEWER: Oh. Oh, I would love to see that picture.

NARRATOR: A black and white picture.

INTERVIEWER: Uh-huh.

NARRATOR: Because …

INTERVIEWER: Oh, I would love to see that picture.

NARRATOR: There's one picture, my daughter's picture's right beside it, and my wife's granddaughter, and my wife's mother, I think …My wife got …

INTERVIEWER: She, she was a saver. So many times the men, I don't think, are, think about saving these kinds of things. It's usually women. Um, I guess that would, I can't think of anything else, but, uh, when you became a deacon, did you get some kind of record of being some…?

NARRATOR: A certificate.

INTERVIEWER: A certificate.

NARRATOR: … November the 7th, 1950.

INTERVIEWER: Oh. I would love to see that also.

NARRATOR: I got that out of my …

INTERVIEWER: And no scrap books or, um…

NARRATOR: No.

INTERVIEWER: Can you spell the name of the town in Virginia that you grew up in?

NARRATOR: Oh, Lunenberg County. L-u-n-e-n-b-e-r-g.

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

NARRATOR: County.

INTERVIEWER: County.

NARRATOR: Virginia.

INTERVIEWER: And was there a particular town, or they just considered it the county?

NARRATOR: … the county, well…

INTERVIEWER: In the rural areas it goes by county.

NARRATOR: … She, maybe she can give you some … too.

INTERVIEWER: Ok. Well, I think she had an interview also.

NARRATOR: Ok, ok. Yeah, uh-huh.

INTERVIEWER: Lunenberg County. 'Cause that's just the way they referred to it.

NARRATOR: Yeah, at that time, yeah. And I think now it's, no, I couldn't say because, I mean, there's so many changes since I was there, and names, you know, and …

INTERVIEWER: And, um, the nearest city was…?

NARRATOR: Chase City, Virginia. That's Chase: C-h-a-s-e.

INTERVIEWER: Chase City. Ok. That will help us. Well again, thank you so much. I think we'll be talking with you again, because we might come to your house to see if we could borrow a few of these things, if that would be okay with you? But I'll check with your wife.

Roy Fields

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



 

 

 

 


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