||When did you start to work?
Well, when I was sixteen years old, there was a Negro man George Nuckolls in this town
that had a cleaning and pressing shop on North Center Street across from where Miller's
Hardware Store is. There's a little hotel there, and it was down underneath. He asked
Mama if I could come and keep his books and be his cashier and whatnot for him that summer.
And I was sixteen, and he would pay me for it. And this is what I did. I saved my money,
and I started my first charge account at Rolands, which was next door. Anyway, when I got
through work, I had enough money saved to buy my first brand new coat that I had worked and
paid for, and I bought my first pair of silk stockings, too. But he was very nice to me,
and I really enjoyed it, and I think this was good. I learned to meet the public, and I
learned to make change. He was a patient teacher. He was a deacon in our church. He had
kids of his own, and he was a patient teacher. You learned how to greet people. It was a
good education for me.
||Did you just do this over the summer?
||And what happened in the fall? Did you go back to work?
I went back to school. I went to dear old Bloomington High School, where in
that day and age we had so much prejudice in this town that we could not go
swimming in Bloomington High School. And it didn't matter to me. I couldn't
take gym anyway because as a youngster I had had rheumatic heart disease. I
had to stay out of school a year. When I was in Lincoln school with all the
Germans-now Caribel and Kathryn. Caribel Washington and Kathryn Dean went to
Lincoln school too, but I was ahead of them. And I skipped-we had two semesters
a years. So I skipped a half of fourth grade. I skipped a half of third grade
and a half of fourth grade, which put me a year ahead of my class. Then I got
sick, and I had to stay out of school a year. So when I went back into fifth
grade, I was with the kids that I had left to start with. And we had a marvelous
fifth grade teacher, Miss Voight, who finally ended up to be Mrs. Nierstheimer
of Nierstheimer Drug Store up on North Main Street. And that woman went beyond
the call of duty to bring me up to study habits and what was going on. I still
can't do story problems. They must of had story problems while I was out of school.
I can't do them yet. But anyway, as a result, when I was in high school, I only
went a half a day one year. And I only climbed one flight of stairs. I took my
time doing that because when you have rheumatic heart disease, you knew you
weren't supposed to live long. Well, I'm still kicking around here.
||And very well.
But we had a lot of problems about gym, but it didn't bother me. One of the things I
thought of when I was at Miller Park last Saturday for a picnic-we lived about six
blocks from Miller Park, and as a child our children could not go in Miller Park Lake.
So of course, knowing my mother, Mama decided that she was working and paying taxes,
and, therefore, her child should enjoy Miller Park Lake. So Mama proceeded to take
me, and, of course, they proceeded to come and tell Mama to take me out of the little
wading thing. And we had a great big Irish policeman named Jack Penn. Everybody was
scared to death of Jack Penn. I remember one time my mother looking-I was in the water,
but I remember Mama standing with her hands on her hips talking to policeman, and I
heard her say, "Go get Jack Penn. I'm not afraid of Jack Penn." So they might have
of threatened Jack Penn with her. However, I think I was probably at that time the
only Negro that did go in Miller Park because nobody else would come. They were
afraid I guess to come and stand up to the police. Nobody ever took Mama to jail,
but she stood her ground. So whenever we wanted to go, Mama took me to Miller Park.
And I started to tell you Mama worked. They didn't have all these helps that they
have now. She worked and took care of me, and Grandma would come from Normal.
Mama's mother would come from Aunt Lucy's, and she would stay two or three days,
or if I was sick, Grandma would come and stay a few weeks. But the Germans raised
me-we were in the midst of a German neighborhood. "Old Lady" [Mrs. Augusta] Flink
was next store. The Bisingers with their sons were across the street, and when
Mama came home if it got dark as it does early, I was either at one house or the other.
All she had to do was open her mouth, or I'd see her coming. Sometimes I had two
suppers. I ate at Mrs. Flink's, and Mrs. Bisinger always had great big beautiful
steaks that she could buy for a quarter in those days. And the boys had supper
with "Old Man" Bisinger at six o'clock. And if I was going eat-and I was always
there to eat-there was always a place put on for me. Or if there wasn't, I got
one put on there for me. If Mama was real late, I got put to bed in the featherbed,
but I wouldn't let them cover me with the featherbed. But the Germans really raised
me. And then Mama got so she cooked like the Germans. On Saturday mornings-I had
the only swing in the neighborhood because we had a corner lot. There were about ten
of us kids all the same age. I was the only Negro in the crowd. We made the rounds.
Mama baked every Saturday morning. Mama didn't work Saturday and Sunday and sometimes
not on Friday. We knew just what time to hit which house. Ten o'clock the hot cinnamon
rolls came out at Mrs. Snyder's. 10:30 something else came out at another house. We
made the rounds. Now, I only weighed ninety pounds-ninety-one pounds when I married
so you know I should have been big as a house, but I wasn't. But it's a wonder we
kids didn't get sick with all the stuff we ate Saturday mornings.
||You were so active I guess.
I suppose so. I had one little friend, Bernadine Morris, who lived on East Baker
Street. She was in Lincoln school with me until they finally moved someplace else.
She had long black hair and I had long brown curls, and we played almost every day.
And then we'd get mad and slap one another, and she's go home and tell Mama she was
never coming back to see me. And the next day I'd be at her house, and I'd get her
and smack her and come home and say I'm never going back to play with her. But this
was the way we got along.
Tell us about your schooling once you left high school,
and how you eventually went to work and where.
Well, I graduated from high school. In the midst of high school Howard Brent had come
on the scene here in Bloomington. And Howard was in our choir. He was unmarried and
had a beautiful tenor voice, and was the son of "Old Man" Brent who was a deacon in
our church. And I was looking at Howard, and Howard was looking at me, but in the
meantime, I had a boyfriend down in Springfield, Illinois who was a little taller
than I and had his own service station. In fact, still has. So between the two of
them I was kind of looking at them, and then there was a tenor who lived in Gibson
City that I was interested in who came on Sunday to sing in our choir when he could.
And my mother told me that I was never, never to get in (unintelligible) car without
her permission. This was the boy from Gibson City. So to show you how I minded my
mother-one Sunday morning when church was out-now Mama knew (unintelligible) was
coming because he had been invited to come for dinner-one of those sudden spring
downpours came up. And I had eight blocks to walk from Mt. Pisgah home, and
(unintelligible) was there with his car. Do you think I got in that car and rode
home to my house even though he was coming for dinner? No way! My mother had told
me not to get in his car so he drove slowly up Lee Street hill while I walked in the
spring downpour with my hair straight down completely drowned home. And when I got
home, and I hit the front door, Mama looked at me, and she said, "Well what happened
to you? Where's (unintelligible)?" At that time he's hit the steps, and he said,
"Well Mrs. Miller, she wouldn't ride." "Why didn't you ride home?" I said, "You
told me never to get in his car." "Well there are exceptions you know." Well, I
didn't know that. Everything I had on was drenched. Now, that's how I minded my
mother. But anyway those two boys-the one in Springfield especially and Howard was
in the picture here. So then I went to IS[N]U. My father had died when I was six,
and Mama was a widow until I was eleven, and she worked and got our home paid for
and took care of me without any of these helps that-I don't even know whether they
had them. Anyway Mama married a man who came from Springfield to do some work on
our church. And he had never married. And he had been at one time a coal miner
in Springfield. So anyway they got acquainted with each other, and I remember
Mama asking me if I cared-I was eleven. I had a smarty mouth I guess. Did I care
if she married Mr. Scott? Well, I thought Mr. Scott was marvelous because he bought
me ice cream you know. I thought he was wonderful. And I said-I'll never forget my
answer because my mother looked at me with an awestruck face-and I said, "Well, you're
the one that has to live with him." Wasn't that terrible? I think my mother's eyes
flew open, and her mouth flew open. I don't know what the conversation was after that,
but I remember that. Anyway, Mama married Dad, and that man couldn't have been nicer
to me had he brought me on this earth. If there ever is a saint in heaven, he was
ought to be one. But anyway, she married Dad, and then I went to school at ISU, and
in time I married Howard. And Dad got to the place he couldn't work, and he didn't
want Mama to work. He made her stop working. And Dad had a heart problem, and there
was no money coming in. Howard and I had married, and eventually by that time Jeannine
was a baby. So there was nothing to do but for us to give up our rented house. Mama
stored part of her furniture, and I got rid of part of mine. We put some in the attic,
and we moved back home because there was no paycheck coming in. Then I got a job at
the Children's School [Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home]. That's where
Mr. Lawrence Irvin came in. Governor [Henry] Horner [1933-40] came in as Governor.
And I took a civil service examination, and with a few strings pulled I got in as the
first Black institutional secretary at the Children's School in Normal, and that's where
Mr. Irvin was my boss for nine years. We lived at home, and in order to save Mama's face,
I paid Mama each week to take care of Jeannine, and Howard and I paid everything on the
house-the taxes, the heat, everything, but I wouldn't pay Mama's insurance. I felt she
should pay her own insurance. I drew the line there. But Mama stayed home and took
care of Jeannine. Then when Mama got sick and couldn't do that I hired somebody to
come and take care of Mama and Jeannine and the house, and all of that.
||Jeannine is your daughter?
Did you have difficulty getting the job? Was this unusual for a Black person
to get a job such as the one you got at Illinois Soldiers and Sailors?
||Yes, it was.
||What time was that?
This was-I went there in 1933. When I was at ISU, I was a Business Ed major, and my
typing teacher is still living. In fact, I saw her about three months ago. She lived
in the house where Leslie Smith lives now. That was their home place. A lovely, lovely
person. Her sister went through high school with me, and when these firms in this town
wanted extra help-like now they have Manpower-they would call ISU and say I need a
typist for two or three days or a day. Would you send me somebody? Eureka Williams -
what do they call it now? Williams Oil-O-Matic? No, I don't know what they call it,
but then it was called Williams Oil-O-Matic. Then it went to Eureka Williams. [They]
were making vacuum cleaners and oil furnaces, whatnot. They needed somebody, and I
was her best typing student. So she sent me. Well, when I went in I had to visit.
Here was a whole row of desks. The kids working there were young people who had
finished high school with me-boys and girls. "Hello, Lucinda."Well, I said, "Hello"
to everybody as I went in. This woman met me and took me way back down the hall and
gave me a form to fill out, which I filled out. Irene Johnson had supposedly sent
her best typist. She told me to come to work the next morning at eight o'clock because
you'd be excused at ISU from your studies, you see, for whatever-two or three days this
was. "Oh, yes," She was very happy with my record, and I should come to work tomorrow
at eight o'clock. I've often wondered what would have happened if I had walked out then
instead of stopping and to visit all the way back down this row. And I stopped and said,
"Hello" to the different ones. As a result, I didn't get out quickly. I was almost to
the door and somebody said, "Ms. Miller," and I turned around, and it was this woman.
"Come back." So I went back. Now, what would have happened in my life if I had gone
out right fast? I don't know. She said-in that day and age you put down the race.
You don't do it anymore. "Race?" I put down Negro. So she said, "What race are you?"
And me with my flip tongue I said, "I'm anything you think I am." And then I thought,
"Oh, oh. Here we go." And then she says, "But you have put Negro on the application."
And I said, "That's right." "Well you are not a pure Negro." I said, "I know that."
She says, "I can't hire you if you are a Negro. Will you put down that you're Indian,
Mexican, anything except Negro, and I can hire you. But I cannot hire you if you put
Negro on here." And I said, "Well, I'm Negro," and with that I got up and walked out,
completely crushed because here was a job and God knows I needed it. So I went back
to school, went right straight to Mrs. Johnson, and I guess it was on my face. I
hadn't cried. I was just crushed. And she said, "Lucinda,"-no, "Miss. Miller, what
is the trouble?" And, of course, with that the floodgates opened, and I went to bawling.
And I remember Irene hugged me and talked to me, and then I finally told her. She said,
"Come in my office." And I sat there while she called the woman. And she said, "I sent
you my best typist. You refused to hire her because she was a Negro. Don't ever call
this office again for help because I won't send anyone, Negro or white." But that was
my introduction to prejudice in this town. Well, I was just crushed.
||And you never got that job, is that right?
||Because I was a Negro.
||So after that you went and took the civil service exam
||... and got placed?
At the Children's Home. I was there nine years, and I quit on my own free will because
I was tired of working. So I went there with the thought-I went there in July, and I
thought I will work until December, and I'll get some Christmas money, and then I'll quit.
||This was in the 1930's?
That was July, 1933. I'll quit when Christmas comes. Well, then they told me you
shouldn't quit because if you work until July you get two-week's paid vacation.
Well, that sounded interesting. So I stayed nine years, and by that time I was
tired of working. So I told Howard I was going to come home. Well, his response
was, "I didn't tell you to go to work, and I'm not going to tell you to come home.
You can do as you please." Anyway, I did come home, and I stayed home. I worked
till 1943, and I came home, and I read everything there was to read. And one day
I read Reader's Digest, and I read a page three times before it went through my brain
what I was reading, and I thought I'm getting sluggish mentally. I need to do
something about it. And in the meantime I had met a nurse who was talking with me
about medical records.And she said, "Why don't you enroll in a correspondence course
or go down where you can go just every so often to St. Louis University and get some
courses in medical records." That's how Sister Mary Antona got into medical records.
Did I tell you she was here the other day? This is beside the point. Well anyway,
I'll tell you that later. So this is what I did. Well, in the meantime there was an
ad in the paper that they wanted a medical record librarian at Brokaw Hospital. And
they had a history of not even wanting Negro patients, let alone a Negro employee at
Brokaw. So I called Howard at work, and I said-by the way, all these years he was
working as a janitor for the theaters in case you get home and wonder what he was
doing. He had the Castle, the Majestic, and the Irvin, and it was all owned by one
corporation. He went from one to the other, and then they built the Normal Theater.
To go back to work."[He said,] "Well, why do you think you'd like to go back to work?"
And I said, "Because I'm bored. I can get somebody to come and help with the kids."
And by that time we lived near Booker T. Washington Home, and they were always anxious
to earn money to do anything. So I said, "There's an ad in the paper." And his words
to me were, "Don't go out there and apply and they won't take you because you're a
Negro, and think you're going to come home and cry on my shoulder." That was his
parting shot. So I went to Brokaw and told her my qualifications and what I had been
doing and whatnot to the superintendent of nurses, and she said, "We haven't had anybody
for a month. Do you know how to make a payroll?" And I said, "Yes, I made the payroll
for over a hundred employees for nine years at the children's school so I ought to be
able to do your payroll?" She said, "Well, you're hired. Can you stay this afternoon
and do the payroll." And I said, "The payroll has nothing to with medical records."
[She said], "I know, but we need the payroll done." And that was on Friday afternoon.
And I said, "No, I can't stay this afternoon, but I'll be here at seven o'clock Monday
morning, and I'll make your payroll for you." Still nothing to do with medical records.
Well, in the meantime the business manager came down the hall, and he said, "Well Mrs.
Brent, what are you doing here?" And she said, "She's applying for medical record work."
In a small town everybody knows everybody. "Oh," he said, "you go ahead and hire her.
She can do the work. If she applied, you go ahead and hire her." Well, all well and good.
I got the job. And on Monday morning I had to go to her office, and Dr. Edgar Stevenson,
McLean Stevenson's father, was head of the medical staff and was also our family doctor.
He had known me when I had pigtails. And I was in Ms. Bierman's office getting directions
around eight o'clock and who came down the hall but Dr. Ed. And he was always loud, and
he looked in and he said, "Lucinda, what are you doing in here?" And she said, "Well, I
have just hired her. She's going to be our new medical records librarian." This cinched
it. He said, "She can take my medical dictation anytime." That was all I needed. I had
the job. So I only stayed twenty-six years. But I ran into prejudice there. One day I
wore a white uniform because you wore your Sunday clothes then. You know when I was a kid
we had school clothes and Sunday clothes. Well, I wore my Sunday clothes to work because
I didn't have to wear a uniform. But I discovered between the ink and the desk and rooting
around for eight hours, I got pretty ratty. So they told me if I wanted to wear a white
uniform I could, and they would launder them for me. So I bought three white uniforms,
and I went to work in my white uniform, and I knew I looked good. You know our folks
when we get a uniform on, we always look good. I knew I looked good. And this great
big old buxom white nurse said-put her hands on her hips and said, "Since when did-who
told you you could wear a white uniform?" And I said, "You know when they sold them,
they didn't specify they were only for nurses." And with that I walked out. So Dr.
Stevenson come in, and at that time we took all the dictation in shorthand. And all
the medical shorthand I had learned I had to shorten the shorthand because the doctors
talked so fast. And the charts were piled clear to the ceiling. And I said, "What did
the girls do?" She had two employees. They sat back there and read magazines instead
of doing the work. This is what I walked into, this mess. Well anyway, Dr. Ed went
down the hall, and I guess he said something to her because the next day he said, "She
won't bother you anymore." They had a dining room, and I was a department head at Brokaw.
The only thing they ever had was a Black gal-a Negro girl they were called, who had been
a maid for a while. They had a dining room for the department heads, but I was not
invited to eat in the dining room. I was to eat with the student nurses. So one day
Dr. Stevenson wanted me at noon, and he went barging in, knowing him. He never was quiet.
He always charged in, and I can just picture him charging into the dining room looking
for me. My office was across the hall, and I wasn't in there because he later charged
into the student nurses' dining room where I was. He wanted to know why in the "H" I
wasn't in there eating because that is where he had looked for me. I said, "I eat with
the nurses." [He said], "That isn't what I asked you. Why are you not in there with
the rest of the department heads?" And I said, "Because they don't want me in there.
They never asked me to be in there. I'm a Negro, and I'm not allowed to eat in there."
That's all I needed to say. Well, in a week that had changed. I was invited to eat in
there. But you know by that time what I said? "You didn't want me in there when I came
here. I'm the same Negro now I was then. I don't want to eat in there." And I never ate
in there until they built the new cafeteria, and everybody ate together. When they
decided they wanted me, I was still the same Negro. And the nurses and I had such a
good time at noon together-the students. I was "Mama" to them. I still hear from some,
and when my daughter died, I heard from girls all over the state of Illinois. One of
the girls in Arizona, one of "my" girls, Marjorie Zehr, wrote me. So you see we struck
a friendship. But this is what I ran into at Brokaw. When I decided to remarry in 1969
and take early retirement, they gave me this watch. They had a history. Didn't matter
how long you stayed there, but nobody stayed, I think, as long as I did. They had a
reception for me and gave me this gift. The first gift Brokaw had ever given in the
history of the hospital I received. And the lady who picked it out was the woman in
charge of the safety deposit boxes at Banc Midwest, Alice Lind, because her husband
was personnel manager at the time. But I did stay the twenty-six years. I tried. I
did train-I had one Negro clerk who was marvelous, and I pushed her and pushed till
she even got beyond doing admissions in my department. And I don't think they've had
a Negro-they hired Mildred Stratton in the Business Office. But as far as medical
records, they haven't had one of us since then.
Did you participate in any kind of professional organizations
in which there were other Black people?
We organized-there were eight of us. I was the only Black person in the American
Association of Medical Records in Illinois. Finally Rock Island got one, but I was
the first one. The girls in Central Illinois decided in one of the state meetings
that we should have our own Central Association as a portion off of the state because
we could meet once a month and talk over problems-Jacksonville, Danville, Springfield,
Decatur, Bloomington, Pontiac, Peoria. So there were eight of us that organized the
Central Association of Medical Records, and I'm the only one that's living. That's
left. We met every other month for anyone who wished to come to Brokaw and I passed
on whatever I was learning in "Hospital Law."
||And there were no Blacks?
Oh, no. And then when Betty Lu came along-Sister Mary Antona. She decided to go into
medical records, and her cousin, Dr. Sandra Brotten Mayo, Mary Drake's daughter out
in Buffalo, she decided to go into medical records. I've talked to her about it,
and she went on to Emory and got her doctorate in medical records.
Do you think Sister Mary Antona made that decision based on her relationship with you?
||She told me she did.
||That's what I wondered.
She told me she did. So that was two record librarians I got out of it. And I went to
a state meeting in Chicago. I held offices in the Central and I held offices in the
State, and I had State meetings here three times because they liked to come here
instead of Peoria because of transportation. And we had Tilden Hotel downtown at
the time that bent over backward to make them comfortable. So we had State here
three different times. I went to Chicago for three different State meetings in the
Blue Cross Building up on North Michigan. And three different times at luncheon they
asked me to say the blessing. There were all kind of Catholic Sisters there and
everything. Finally, the third time, "I said I have said the blessing the last two
years. There surely is somebody else here that can pray besides me. Look at all
these nuns you have." But anyway, this was just a little funny something that happened.
I belonged to a Redbird chapter of the American Business Women and-oh, I've got to
show this trophy to you. I was their first "woman of the year." I was their first
and only Black member-still I think the only Black member-and the first "woman of
the year." And I went on vacation, and when I got home, I had a great big sign on
my front door, and that's what I got.
||This is for the state of...?
||The American Business Women.
||Is that right? That's quite a distinct honor.
It's probably got some dust on it. And I still go every once in a while. I still go
every once in a while just to let them know that's there's some of us still around,
you know. I took membership at large. And interspersed in all of this working nine
years at children's school and twenty-six years at Brokaw at Mount Pisgah I had three
choirs. I had two children, Jeannine and Myrna. I had three choirs. When Mr. Calimese
got tired of being the Sunday superintendent, there wasn't anybody to take it, and I
was a Sunday school teacher so I took Sunday school superintendent till they got
somebody else. I was a member of the missionary society, and I served as president
in that. One year we decided we were going to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" without
any music in front of us. I said, "You're going to do it or die." And when I did
break up housekeeping, we had an oriental rug in the living room and an oriental rug
in the dining room. And I couldn't figure out why the one in the dining room was
beginning to show wear, and my little daughter piped up and said, "Mommy, remember
all those choirs you rehearsed in the dining room." But along with that were all
the business girls' clubs, my social club-my Three C Club that I joined. I joined
my medical records organizations-the Central and the State. I went to the National
meeting down in Tulsa. They sent me to that. And raised a family. I look back now,
and I don't know how I did it other than I had a husband who knew how to wash and
iron and cook. He was a marvelous help, and the girls helped.
||And supported you then?
Definitely. The reason I went in to the Three C
Club-you wondered what we did for entertainment.
||What is the Three C Club?
|End Side A|
I'm going to talk about what we did for enjoyment. The Three C Club-and what the Three
C stands for is a deep dark secret. But it was organized in 1908, and I still belong
to it. It's a group of ladies in this town, and we meet once every three weeks just
for the fun of it. One week is literary, one week's pleasure, one week is program
and one is business-I mean one meeting. We're getting ready now to have a fall harvest
party. But those old ladies got together and formed this club for the pleasure of it.
The Three C is a secret. There is another ladies' club in this town called the
Progressive Club. They just had their May party out at Ramada Inn. They meet just
for the pleasure of it. So when we entertain, we invite Progressives. When
Progressives entertain, they invite my Three C Club. When Howard and I were married,
there was nothing to do unless you went to the show. When I was a kid coming along,
you sat up in the gallery as far back as you could sit until that was broken down.
But we made our own fun. We had a card club. We had five tables, and we met from
house to house, and you served something. And those of us that had children, me
included, we took our kids and put their little nighties and diapers on them, and
we took them with us and lined them up on the bed at whoever's house we were. And
if yours hollered, you knew it was yours and not one of the other eight or five or
six that was in there on the bed. Well, we did that, and we always had a New Year's
Eve Party. We made our own fun with our own friends. And that's where I told you
that years ago they had that chauffeur's club, you know. That was the elite of
Bloomington. This was when I was a little girl, but I remember Mama talking about
it. Mama's entertainment was church oriented. Her little old ladies they'd meet,
and they'd have a pot luck, and I had to go because there was nobody to stay with me.
Of course, you sit there and listen to all this old folks' conversation, and I think
you learn, you know, from it. But, I belonged-when I was in my teens, we had a young
girls' club, not church oriented. It was made of young girls in this town, and our
parents encouraged this. And we paid our little money in so we could hire an orchestra
to play or a band to play for our spring party, and we served punch and cookies. It
was an invitational affair usually at Jefferson School gymnasium And I can remember our
parents lined up around the wall while we danced. Watching us. And don't dance too close.
And this boy that I was going with-Howard wasn't on the scene now-but I remember one time
I had a gorgeous dress, and this boy came from Springfield. And they played "Stardust,"
and I danced just as close to him as I could get, and my mother scolded me. Oh, and we
did waltzes in those days, you know, but this was wholesome recreation. It was over with
at midnight, and all of us went home-and those of us that had out-of-town guests and-we
could invite out-of-town guests, and I usually did. All the kids came to our house and
stayed all night. We put pallets on the floor and opened up the davenport, and they went
home on Sunday morning. This is what we did. And then we had in our church a girls' club
that was made up of girls my age. This was church oriented, and we met once a month.
So everything that you did was more or less supervised. It was either church oriented,
or if it wasn't, then it was still under supervision. But we made our own entertainment.
These kids come to ISU now, and the first-I was on a committee out there- and some little
Black student got up in this committee and was ripping everybody up and down the back
because the Black students came to ISU, and there was no planned recreation for them.
Well, my point is they come here to study, to learn to be something, and why should my
tax money have to go to plan recreation for somebody out there? They can make their own
recreation like we made our own recreation. And I kind of voiced my opinion on that subject.
||The chauffeur's club. Did you know anything about the chauffeur's club?
||No, nothing other than hearing the old folks talking about it.
||What did they do?
They had dances. I know they had dances because my sister was a gorgeous
looking woman, and she always wanted to be invited. I can remember that.
Before the tape was turned on, you talked about-in a little more detail, you talked
about the chauffeur's club. Would you go back over that for us please?
Well, Honey, I was too young other that just to sit and listen to them, but they
looked down on everybody that wasn't in the chauffeur's club. If this man-and it
was made up not necessarily of church people. You had to be a chauffeur with the
black tie and a white shirt. If you happened to be a-they had Negro brick layers
in those days. If you happened to be a bricklayer, then you were looked down on.
This was the elite society of Bloomington. And, of course, their wives had their
nose just as high in the air. Maybe "mama" was sitting home not working, but her
husband was in this club and therefore...
||So that was the highest-status type of job that Blacks could have?
That I knew anything about, but I was a kid. Now, there may have been something else,
but in sitting listening to the older folks talking, and as I say Fleta was twenty-one
years older than I, this is what I was aware of. Now, I know that had the Three C Club
going at that time. I don't know about Progressives. Kathryn Dean can tell you about
Progressives. But when Three C's-we still discussed this here just recently in 3 C Club.
When the 3 C Club had their parties, you had to send in an invitation list, and the full
club had to decide on whether they wanted you to come as a guest. If one person objected,
then you didn't get invited. This was all secretive. And to show you how elite they tried
to be-my aunt Mrs. Dabney was one of the members of the Three C Club. And when she had
club, she would invite Mama. Mama couldn't belong because Mama had to work. When Mama
went, I got to go 'cause Aunt Lucy had nine kids, and, of course, there was always room
for one more, including me. And those of us, when we got big enough, could help pass
plates. Well, anyway, Aunt Lucy called Mama. My sister was here at the time, and my
sister worked in service out for Gardner's-off Thursday and Saturday. Aunt Lucy took in
Mama's name as a guest and took in my sister's name as a guest. The club voted not to
have my sister as a guest because my sister worked out in service. And Aunt Lucy was
furious and called and told Mama this. That's how I heard this conversation. Now, this
was when I was a kid, but that's how picky they were. Isn't that something?
You spoke earlier about something you were going to talk about. Most Black women worked
in service. That was the kind of work that Black women did in Bloomington. Would you
tell us more about that? And if you remember when Black women were able to get other
types of work, would you speak about that?
Well, as a kid I can't tell too much about it because it didn't mean that much to me.
See Mama had these two families that she worked for. Some of the women didn't work at
all. They had husbands who did this, and I hope that when you interview Kathryn Dean
that Kathryn will remember to tell you "Old Man" Dean was the first [sic] Black
policeman we had, and this is before Kathryn came along, and she may not know this.
There used to be a picture in the Dean home of Mr. Dean with this big high hat, but
he was our first Black policeman. I don't know that she would even remember. I know
she wouldn't remember it.
||Well, what did you ask me?
About the kind of work that women did-that Black women particularly did.
I can't tell you other than the service, and I told in my note about this woman who was
a secretary for the lawyer that was my ideal. One of the things when I got my job and
felt secure in it-some of our kids were beginning to come out of school and couldn't get
jobs, and one of the advantages of living in a small town is you make acquaintances.
This is what I missed that eight years I lived in Peoria. If I wanted something done on
an organization that I belonged to over there, I didn't know that key white person to go
to get it done. Here in a little town, you do. So we had one girl who got out of school
who wanted a job, was a business ed major, and I heard of a job that was in one of the
offices. I won't call any name. And I called a key lawyer in this town, and I said,
"This girl is qualified. I don't know the people over at this office. There's a vacancy
there. I'd like to see this gal get the job. Can you help me out?" "Yes," he said.
"You call me back in about an hour." So I called back in an hour. He said, "I've
already called them. You tell her to go." So I told her to go. She did get the job.
She worked there three or four years, and she finally got married, and she quit. And
they loved her. She got pregnant. Oh, she got married, and she quit. They took her
back after she got married. She got pregnant. She went home and had this child. And
they took her back after the baby was born. That's how well she did. She stayed there
till they finally moved to California, and she went on and got her doctorate in library
work and is working out in Oakland. We had a little boy who lived here in Bloomington,
and I used to pick him up as I went to Brokaw. He had a brain. He was an "A" student in
math. He really had a brain. He didn't have bus fare to come from the west side of town
to Bloomington High School, and I picked him up many a morning as I came around that corner.
He hardly had shoes to keep his feet out of the snow, and I'd pick him up many a morning
and say, "Here's bus fare home. You've got a brain, someway or other get into ISU, work,
get a job, do something. I'll help you all I can." Well anyway, to make a long story short,
he did go on, and he finished at ISU, and he got a job. And I think he'd been gone about
six months, and one night about 9:30 somebody knocked on my door, and there he stood.
He was in town. He wanted to come to thank me for pushing him and what I had done to
try to help him. I still see him once in a while. I had a little girl who came back
to see me this year. She was here for ISU's Homecoming. She tells me that the Black
students at ISU are now organizing or have organized. This is the second year to have
their own little homecoming deal. When I was at ISU, we were raising all kinds of sand
to be part of one homecoming for all of us and not be segregated. So she and I sat here
for a while and batted that around. Now, she tells me they are organized- not organizing,
they're already organized and have had their second Black homecoming affair. So we kind
of tangled about that. But anyway, she came to thank me for something that I had done for
her that I had forgotten about, and she waited until her husband who was with her left the
room. And when he got up to go to bathroom, she said, "I was friends with Jeannine" -
that's my older daughter-"and I have never had the opportunity to thank you for what you
did for me when I was a teenager and got of school, and I want to thank you for it." So
it has done my heart good. I had a phone call just this spring from a little girl who
lived over behind the coal mine. We used to have a coal mine here in town, near Kane
Homes, out there. Her stepfather was in our choir. He was a deacon. He was in our choir.
And with the environment that darling little girl had two strikes against her to start with.
But she came to me one day, and she said, "I'd like to be like you. What can I do?" And I
tried to tell her some of the little things. She was a business ed major, and I said,
"You're going to run into all kinds of prejudice. I ran into it. But don't let it get
you down. You keep right on going and have faith in God, and it will work out." And I had
forgotten about the child. She finally got out of school to teach, and she called me this
spring from Chicago, and I bet she talked for an hour. She said to me what I told you
about that Black lady that was a secretary to a lawyer? She said that she thought so many
times of things I had said to her, and she wanted me to know that after all these years that
she appreciated what I had said to her and the encouragement I had given her. So those
things have made me feel good. Somebody did that to me, pushed me along. I had some white
teachers that I know I would have quit the Children's School and I would of quit Brokaw had
it not been for some of those things those teachers said to me. You know that fifth grade
teacher that I told spent time over and above the call of duty to help me when I was a kid
and I went back to school. I only saw her about once a year or so because she had married
this guy, and they lived up on North Main. Do you know that when Howard Brent died, I went
to the front door when the doorbell rang, and there she stood with a great big German
chocolate cake she had baked and brought to me. Can you imagine that? Wasn't that sweet?
She was an old, old woman by that time, but she made this cake and brought it. In a small
town, you have these friends that mean a lot to you, you know it. They mean a lot to help
you get some things accomplished. And when you get prejudice problems thrown at you,
there's always somebody over here that you can go to to kind of help you.
I was going to ask you-I remember that several people have said that in the early days
ISU did not permit Black students to live in the dormitories, and I was wondering if
you had any Black students who lived with you during this time?
No, there were homes-the Black ladies in Normal. Mrs. Headley built a house purposely
large enough there on Willow Street-not on Willow-on Locust Street. The house is still
standing. She had it planned so that the students didn't have to come through her part.
But she had a first floor room right here so she could see who came and went. They did
a lot of entertaining there, and I always felt badly. On the weekend, you know, those
kids could talk about catching such and such a train or an inter-urban to go home, and
all I had to do was get on the streetcar and ride for a half hour and I was home. And
I always felt left out, but we had a lot of good parties out at Mrs. Headley's. Irene
Thomas, who lived there on Willow Street at Fell Avenue where they have now built two
or three dormitories-one was Irene Thomas and one was Mrs. "Wash" Thomas. It was two
brothers' wives, and they kept students. And we used to have some-I was invited-nice
parties out there. This is a different subject, but I don't know if anybody else in
town can think of this to tell you if they even know about it. But I want to tell you
about two Black businesses in Normal. These two Thomas-one was Wash Thomas. Everett
Thomas and Wash Thomas were brothers. They had houses on the corner of Willow and Fell
Avenue, and one right next door on Willow. They had a blacksmith shop on Linden Street,
just north of College Avenue, the northwest corner. It was Ash Street then, but it is
College now. Down there kind of catty-corner from what's now Laesch Dairy. Kind of to
the left across the street. And they had their own horseshoe business. They were there
when I was a kid riding the old loop streetcar to go to Dabneys'. And they owned their
home, and I told you where they were located. And the women kept the students, and the
men had this blacksmith shop. And one Thomas died, and then finally the brother died, and
I guess the women probably sold the land. But I don't know that anybody else in town would
even remember that or know that. Loretta Reeves Thomas is the daughter of Everett Thomas.
||Maybe Leslie Smith might. I'll ask him.
I doubt it, because the Smiths-so many people stayed within their own little circle.
We didn't get around in cars and things like we do now. The only way I know it was
because if I got off downtown in Normal and walked to the Dabneys', I walked by there.
This wasn't something that was discussed. You just saw it. I would stand and see
them hammering the horseshoe in, you know. And to me this was interesting. But these
two Mrs. Thomases belonged to these [clubs]. I think one was in Progressives and one
was in Three C's, or maybe both of them were in Three C's.
Did the Three C's-someone had spoken about a center, a community center for Blacks that
was located somewhere near where the city hall is located. Do you know the name of that?
Someone was trying to think of the name of it.
All I know is just Community Center. Because Myrna wanted to go, and we
wouldn't let her go unless some of us went with her, which was seldom.
||It was operated by the Three C Club?
No, not the Three C Club. I don't know. Who could we ask? Maybe Leslie [Smith] will
remember more about it. If Jeanine were living, we could ask her. Ask Kathryn [Dean]
and Caribel [Washington] about it. I know Jeannine. It was at the time Jeannine was
wanting to go, and sometimes they didn't have a very good reputation coming out, and
we wouldn't let her go, and she'd slip off and go anyway. We did have a Three C party
there one day, one afternoon. You could rent it for parties, but it was on the grounds
just a little to the north of where Bloomington City Hall is right now. But I can't
tell you. Ask Caribel. One of the things, when my friend came from Indianapolis a year
ago, she wanted to know where the Negro ghetto was, and we told her we had no Negro
ghetto-Black ghetto she called it. I said we didn't have any. Well, she couldn't believe
it. So while she was here, she had Myrna put her in a car, and Myrna drove her all around
town. We as such really didn't have one. Now we had areas that had maybe a whole block
or two blocks predominantly Negro, but there'd be one or two white families stuck in
there some place. And there was a time when Howard and I were hunting for a house.
You could buy anywhere in this town if you had the price to pay.
||So housing was (unintelligible)?
||They were just scattered all over the town.
Neighborhoods were more on a class basis than a race basis, on an economic class basis.
Wherever you could buy a house. Now, I don't know if they could of ever bought up with
the "fighting Irish" up on the northwest end of town or not, and yet there is an area
up there where the Hoseas and the Sargents and all that group of people. And I think
you ought to interview some of those Hosea girls. H-O-S-E-A . Because they lived up
in the northwest end of town, and there was a little settlement of us up there. But as
I say, there were white folks across the street or next door. They all went to school
together and worked together and ate together. The parents were friends, but this
girlfriend from Indianapolis that came over with Myrna she just couldn't believe this.
There had to be a ghetto. Two more things I want to ask you about,
and one is you mentioned the Springfield riots and that somebody...
My stepfather was in Springfield when this went on. Other than he just said it was terrible.
||He just observed it.
But I see there's an article in here about it. (pause) When I was at ISU, Old Main
was there, and, I think, I told in my notes there was a tree still out there that my
grandfather had planted with a plaque on it. They had on the corner what we called a
Station Store that sold books like that Co-op. Is it Read's? Well, anyway, the Station
Store was on the campus side where the old student union is. We could go in there and
buy food, but we couldn't stay there and eat it. And down in the basement of Old Main
underneath the steps was a corner that was designated, at least that's where I was told,
we had to eat our lunch. And I've eaten many a lunch that I've taken from home down
under the steps of Old Main because that was the only place we could eat. You want to
hear something funny? We had Sunday dresses, and we had school dresses. Dean Barton
was Dean of Women. Dean Barton was six feet tall, very, very thin, a "dried up, old
maid." She was the Dean of Women. And by Mama and Aunt Lucy being born and raised
in Normal, they had been in school with Dean Barton. And I had a red dress, a red
pongee silk dress, with a white collar and a white dickey. It was a tailored dress
with white cuffs. And it was a Sunday dress. It was washable. So I had to take my
Sunday clothes and wear them to ISU to school. So one day I had on this red dress
and I was in class, and somebody came and told the teacher that Ms. Miller was wanted
in Dean Barton's office. And I thought, "Oh, Lord, what have I done now?" So I went
down to Dean Barton's office, and she said, "You have on a red dress." And I said, "Yes."
[She said] "I do not want you to wear that red dress to school anymore." And I said,
"Why?" [She said] "Well, red arouses passion." And I said, "But this is one of my
Sunday dresses. This isn't a school dress. This is one of my Sunday dresses." She
didn't care what it was. "Don't wear this red dress to school anymore." So I went home,
and I told Mama that I got called into the Dean Barton's office. Mama called her Lillian.
"What did Lillian want?" So I told Mama what she said, and Mama said, "You should of told
her that's it too bad that she didn't wear red more often. She wouldn't be a dried up,
old maid." And I said that if I'd said that she would of expelled me. "I can't answer her
like that." So I didn't wear the red dress right away. I waited about a month, and I wore
the red dress back to school. But I was kind of prepared for her that time and, of course,
I no more than got in Old Main, and I walked into her. She looked at me, but she didn't
||She knew you were trying to provoke something.
||Wasn't that terrible?
I know what I wanted to ask you. What prominent Black people would you say passed through
Bloomington-in the sense that they came here to perform, to speak? That you remember?
(Mrs. Posey offers guests something to drink) When I was a child, Booker T. Washington
came here, and he was at the Union Baptist Church-the old Union Baptist Church there on
Jackson Street. We didn't know what air conditioning was in those days. They didn't
even have electric fans in those days. And Mama dressed me up in this little white
dress, and we went real early so we could get a good seat. Mama got a front seat.
And we sat there and waited, and, of course, the seat was hard. I don't know what
the man talked about, but I remember what he looked like. But that was the first
time I saw Booker T. Washington. I don't know how old I was, but I was a kid, and
I can remember this, and the church was packed. People were outdoors, and he'd talk
loud with the window open so that they could hear. And then ISU brought wonderful
people here for programs. Marian Anderson was here a couple of times. [William]
Warfield was here. [Paul] Robeson was here. I can't-who was that who married Adam
Hazel Scott. All these marvelous actors ISU had. I think the tickets were only a
couple of dollars, and we could go. I've got all kinds of programs back there. They
had them in Capen Auditorium. They didn't have all these other buildings then.
Any other entertainment brought here by the Black community that you remember?
The Black community didn't do anything that I can remember. Maybe
someone else will remember. If they did, I didn't get to go.
Anything else that you think we've not covered? Do know you know about that-what was
called the National Council for Negro Women? Were you involved in that? (partially
audible mention of Mary Church Terrell and Council for Negro Women)
What is this? I belonged to it in Peoria. It ends in Colored Women. It's a state
association. They gave my granddaughter a scholarship-a state association. Federated
Clubs or something. Yes. Kathryn Dean will know all about that. Because I transferred
from Peoria to Bloomington's club when I moved back home, and they met at night, and I
pulled out because I didn't want to be going and coming in here in the parking lot at
10:00 or 10:30 at night. But I belonged to it in Peoria-can't even remember the name
of the thing, but they gave my granddaughter a scholarship.
||Well, thank you.
Really, would you say that you were about the most prominent
Black professional person in Bloomington for quite a long time?
||I wouldn't want to say that. That's a loaded question.
Time came along Caribel [Washington] got very active in many, many things. Things that
she will have to tell you about because she has really done a nice job here in this town.
When I came along and was working underhanded, quietly, the little things that I managed
to do, the people I managed to help get jobs in this town-it was all done quietly without
any big conversation about. It was just done quietly, so therefore a Negro popped up in
a job, and nobody knew how they got there. But they got there and stayed.
||There was no organizational effort you're saying.
No. If there was, I didn't know anything about it.
But then I had my hands in so many things.
|End Side B|