|Narrator: Robert Gaston|
|Date: February 28, 1986 |
|Interviewers: Mildred Pratt |
|RG||You might verify it by going up to the county courthouse and checking out that name. He was a property owner there at one time. Now how much property he owned out there, I really don't know. |
|?||Today is February 28, 1986, and we are interviewing Mr. Robert Gaston. |
|RG||Now you want to know about Ike Huggins again. |
|MP||Ike Huggins. You started telling me about him.|
|RG||Mr. Ike Huggins was an old-timer. He rode around in a horse and wagon. When I first remember him as a child, he used to ride a horse and wagon, and everybody in town knew him, Black and white, and he would come out every evening in his wagon. And he would come downtown and go behind all of the stores and collect their garbage, I guess, or whatever he wanted to out of the garbage can. After then he would head back home. Sometimes he would be so drunk, he wouldn't know how to get there, but his horse knew how to get there. His horse would take him home. He was one of the jolliest, pleasantest people that I have ever knew in my life. Everybody just loved the man. He was just a real nice man. He owned a lot of property out there out around Miller Park, overlooking the lake out there. Now, how much of that property he owned and where it went to after he died nobody knows because I don't think he had any relatives around here. The same thing with to his sister down in Clinton. When she died, we knew where her property went. Her lawyer got it all. That was some prime property right there on the square in Clinton, Illinois. The highest stuff in town. That's all I can tell you about him. |
|MP||I guess we could check the records and find out what happened to the property, right?|
|RG||I'm sure you can. |
|MP||You don't know how they happened to come to this area?|
|RG||Well, I heard the story that-you know they were light-skinned people. I heard that they came here with a bunch of Gypsies. They were with a Gypsy band, and they just stayed here. They had plenty of money when they came, and they bought a lot of stuff. |
|MP||Were they categorized as Gypsies, also?
|RG||They were Black people. (voice is lowered) If they were with this band of "Gypsies," I
guess they escaped the pressures of being Black. They would call themselves Gypsies. That's the whole thing. That's what it is all about, I'm sure, in those days. As far as me and this business here of being a barber-you say you wanted to hear that story? |
|MP||Yes. (hum of electric clippings in background)|
|RG||It's just a simple story. I had seven boys, and I couldn't afford to send them all to the barbershop so I became a barber just by cutting their hair. I got so good at it, in fact, a lot of people came to my home for haircuts. I was working-I finally got a job with General Electric, and I worked there for eight or ten years. |
|MP||What were you doing there, Mr. Gaston?
|RG||I was-well, I had several jobs there. I started out as an order clerk in purchasing. I
advanced from that to a production specialist. Then supervisor of lines, work lines. I finally quit because I was supposed to get a promotion, and I didn't get it so I just quit the job and decided I'd become a barber. I got tired of fighting the white man and his prejudiced ways. So I said I'm going to find something I can do for myself so I won't even have to come in contact with him. I was doing so well as a barber that when I got off work at GE in the evening, I would have people waiting for me in my house-lined up. Kids and grown folks waiting for a haircut. So it got so I was making as much money at home working as I was working for GE. So I just decided that I would legitimize myself. I would go to school. So that's what I did. I quit GE, and I went to barber college. |
|MP||Was that here in Bloomington?
|RG||No, in Peoria. I had fought the system for so long. I had lost so many jobs because of
racial prejudice, and I had been fighting racial prejudice for years, and all these factories-Eureka Williams and General Electric and everybody else in town. And I did it alone. That's the way I always ended up alone because everybody that was with me when the fight was going on, when it was time for the showdown, the confrontation with the white folks, I was always there by myself. I was always the one that ended up either being offered something to be quiet or quitting the job. That's the way it was. That's what happened at Eureka Williams. I was offered jobs to keep my mouth shut, and I wouldn't take them unless they took all of us along. Finally, actually I am the cause of Black people being there right today and doing the jobs they are doing out there. I can verify that with any older person that ever worked there that I sacrificed myself for all of them, you know, years ago. Some of them retired from there as machinists and supervisors and other people because Bob Gaston fought for 'em. That's right.|
|MP||Some people have spoken about how Black people were eventually able to get jobs there.
I was wondering how it happened because is just doesn't happen. |
|RG||Well, what happened is during the war this was like any other city. They had to hire
Black people into those factories. And when they first hired them in there, they hired them in as sweepers. |
|MP||You said they had to. What do you mean by that?
|RG||Well, there was an executive order issued that they hire some Black people. So they
did. (door closes) I was one of the people that was hired out there. They hired thirty-five or forty Blacks in Eureka Williams that I knew of, and all of them was sweeping the floors. They was running into each other, bumping into each other sweeping floors and cleaning toilets. There wasn't that much sweeping in the world. The floor was so clean out there it looked like a cafeteria instead of a machine shop where you make parts. That's right. So, I was constantly on those people out there about better jobs for Black people. I stayed on top of them all of the time. I threatened them, and I did everything and finally they eventually did put some on there, but I had to leave there. I left there, and I don't know what I did after that. Oh, I went to work for a place uptown, a bookstore, until GE came to this town, I guess, after I went to the service. I mean, I don't know what to talk about. You guys...|
|MP||Well, how did you-you got started in barbering in your own home, right? And then when
did you buy a shop?|
|RG||When I came out of barber college, I went to California, I think, for about-I decided I
was going to move and leave this town. I was going to go to California because maybe there'd be a better life there for me. So I put my house up for sale-the one that I owned at the time, and I went west. I got out there, and I ran into such a turmoil out there because it was the time that the Black Panthers and everybody was on the rise out in Oakland.|
|MP||So this was in the sixties?
|RG||Yes, it was back in the sixties. I looked around and saw how terrible things were out
there, and I didn't want to take my family out there. So I decided against it. I stayed out three months, and I came back home. That's when I decided I'd open me up a barbershop here, which I did. I went out and got me an old building, fixed it up, and put a barbershop in there. That was back in 1961. |