Skip to Content
200 North Main St | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428
/ Research / Oral Histories / Kathyrn Dean

Kathyrn Dean


Kathryn (nee Williams) Dean grew up in Normal and moved to Bloomington where she attended Lincoln School. As a high school student, she worked in a neighborhood grocery store through her father's influence. Later she became one of the first African-Americans to work for State Farm Insurance Company. She began working in janitorial services, and later as opportunities opened up, she took on office responsibilities. She was involved with Wayman A.M.E. Church as well as civic and club activities.

Tape 1

Date: September 30, 1985

Speaker Text
MP Today is Friday, September 20, 1985. I'm interviewing Mrs. Kathryn Dean. Mrs. Dean, I know that you are a long time resident of Bloomington and that you have a lot of interesting history, so if you would just begin by telling us your name and kind of following through with the outline we have there and telling in your own way the story of your life.
KD Well, I was born January 14, 1910. My mother's name was Mae Gertrude Williams. She was one of eleven children from Amos and Anna Williams. My mother was born March 19, 1893. I didn't know my father, but I came to know his people in later years. My grandfather was Jeremiah Williams. He was born in 1847 of slave parents. He was born in Georgia, and when the war started, he joined the Union Army and was with Sherman's Army on his march to the sea. After the war, he came to Bloomington and settled in Bloomington and Normal. Then he met and later married Anna Foster.
MP Excuse me. Do you know how he happened to have come to Bloomington?
KD He came with a man by the name of Dunn, and they stayed here for a little while. Then they went to Washington D. C. Then he came back to Bloomington, and then he married Anna Foster. They had eleven children. One of them died. My grandfather died in [1905]. Anyhow, he was a Methodist preacher for thirty-eight years, and they lived at 606 South Main Street in Normal. My grandmother was born in Du Quoin, Illinois in 1855, and she came to Bloomington in 1872. They moved to Normal in 1887. They lived in that house, and I was born in that house. That property was in our hands until finally about the fifties the Shell Oil Company bought it. We lived there all that time.
MP Now, did your grandparents construct that house?
KD They built it in 1887.
MP They built it. Now your grandmother, you said, was born in.
KD Du Quoin.
MP Du Quoin? Is that southern Illinois?
KD It's southern Illinois.
MP Southern Illinois and so that . . .
KD She didn't know anything about her parents. My grandfather's parents were slaves.
MP I see.
KD I attended the schools in Normal until about-well, my uncles and aunts raised me until I was eleven. Then when I got eleven, I decided I wanted to go live with my mother. I had an aunt who was going to take me to Chicago to live, and I guess I didn't want to do it. I ended up moving to Bloomington to live with my mother. I was eleven years old then, but my uncles and aunts raised me. I don't remember too much about my early childhood. I can remember during the war, I guess they were getting toys for kids. I can remember taking some money from my uncle and buying a brand new doll and taking it to school. But I don't think I got whipped. I know my folks sat me down and explained how wrong it was, but they let the school keep the doll. They were getting these toys for the unfortunate kids, and I guess I felt I'd better have a doll. There was a grocery store maybe a block and a half. It was called Laskey's. I think on that corner now is where McDonald's and them are out there in Normal.
MP Oh, in Normal.
KD It used to be Laskey's Grocery, and that's where we used to get groceries and whatnot. That's where I got the doll. I was either second or third grade. I got that doll at that store and took it to school, but anyway he told me how wrong I was, and it was one of those things.

MP Now, this was World War I.
KD World War I. I remember how when my uncle came back from World War I, I jumped on his back, and he rode me around. I was eight then-eight or nine. I remember once when I was living with one uncle, the Scrivners, on a farm out near where the Camel Back Bridge was, they said someone set the place on fire. I don't know, but that's what they claim. I remember my cousin and I were bundled together and set out away from the house, and we sat there wrapped up in blankets watching this house burn. My early childhood was being raised with a couple of cousins.
MP In this-in Bloomington?
KD In Bloomington, un-huh. No, in Normal. I guess both of them were in Normal because Uncle Pearl lived in Normal then. He lived there on what is now Church Street.
MP That's near where Mrs. Calimese lives.
KD I lived in that house.
MP You lived in the Calimese's house?
KD For about maybe a year or so as a child. Well, uncle rented that house.
MP Did he rent it while the Calimeses were in charge of the Home?
KD I didn't know anything about the Calimeses, but I do know we lived in that house for about a year. There was a church right across from it, and I went there to Sunday School there.
MP Yes, I know. That is the same church that is there now.
KD I think it is.
MP Were there quite a few Black people in that community-in that area around Church Street at that time?
KD No, we were the only ones that I can think of because, you see, where we lived on 606 South Main Street, the Malones lived back on Kingsley Street.
MP Now, Malone, is that-there's a kind of a monument or something on Kingsley where that's the first Black person.
KD first Black house was built.
MP Is that the person you refer to-the Malones?
KD Yes.
MP Do you know the first name?
KD No, I can remember there was an Edith. I just don't remember the Malones.
MP Yes, all right.
KD They were up around the back from us. I can remember they used to wash my hair for my uncles and things like that. I was a little girl then. Just some of those things I remember.
MP Where did you go to grade school?
KD I went to Metcalf until I came to Bloomington. Then I went to Lincoln School. I came to Bloomington in [19]21 to live with my mother and my stepfather.
MP I see.
KD I attended the Lincoln School.
MP Now, did your mother work? Did your stepfather work?
KD No, they didn't work. They had a kind of a rooming/boarding house, that type of thing, because my father-stepfather, I called him Father-was kind of a cook. They served meals from the house, one of those things. We lived here and down the block or so was the sporting part of the town.
MP I see.
MP Oh, the entertainers?
KD The entertainers would stay at our house. Of course, we didn't come in close contact with them because our house was situated so that we were on this side of the house. That side of the house was the kitchen and dining room, and upstairs was the rooms that people rented, one of those things. And back over here was our living room and two bedrooms where we lived.
MP Do you remember any famous people who came in for the vaudeville?
KD Oh, right now I just don't, but I do know that they came to Bloomington, and they had no place to stay. People kept them in their home.
MP You say they had no place to stay?
KD They couldn't stay in the hotels.
MP Black people could not stay in the hotels?
KD See, then if we did go to the theatre, we had to sit up in the balcony, those things. Either up in the balcony or-down on Front Street there was a little show, and we would have to sit way down in the first two or three rows, something like that. But at the Majestic, we had to sit up in what they called the "crow's nest." I guess, we went to the show on Saturdays as kids and sat down in the front, something like that. Sundays we went to the park with the rest of the kids, something like that. We went to the band concert, but we didn't listen to the band concert. (laughs)
MP Tell me about the band concerts. I've heard something about them.
KD Well, the city band would always have a concert on a Sunday from three to five o'clock, and that's where everybody went on Sunday afternoon.
MP And there was no problem with Black people being able to sit wherever they wanted to for that concert?
KD Oh, you were probably sitting on the ground or something like that. There was a few benches, but we didn't pay any attention. We just got together with a bunch of kids.
MP Just for fun?
KD For fun. As soon as the concert was over, we started for home.
MP What was school like. You said you went to Metcalf and to.
KD I don't remember too much about Metcalf School, but in Lincoln School I had no problems with school.
MP Now, Lincoln was a grade school?
KD Grade school.
MP Grade school and high school-where did you go to high school?
KD Bloomington High.
MP Bloomington High.
KD which is now the junior high.
MP Oh, I see.
KD I went to Lincoln School from the time of fourth grade to graduation because when I left Normal School, I was supposed to go into the fifth grade. They decided I should be in the fourth grade.
MP I see.
KD So, then I got in the fourth grade, and I had no problems with school.
MP Now, you graduated?
KD I graduated in 1925 from the grade school and went into the high school.
MP What did you do after high school?
KD After high school for a while-well, while I was still in high school, I worked in a grocery store.
MP Do you remember the name of it?
KD Utesch's Grocery Store. There's a picture of (inaudible) in there. I went in there to just help around in the store sacking potatoes and dusting and one of those things. Eventually, I was helping in the bakery on Saturday nights because all of the bakery goods were sold at half-price, and things like that. And sometimes I helped the clerks, you know. My stepfather was a very good friend of Charlie Utesch. He hired me, and he said he didn't "give a damn" what everybody thought. So I was hired, and I worked down there through high school. Then after he died in 1930, of course, that was a different story. Then I didn't have a job. There was times I would even go to the bank-take the money and go to the bank, one of those things.
MP When you said he didn't give a hoot, I assume...
KD because I was Black.
MP You were Black. Does that mean not many places were willing to hire Blacks?
KD In that capacity.
MP In that capacity, yes.
KD So, that was 1930 when I left there. Then, I went to a shop on Center Street-I don't remember the name-and run the elevator, and by that time I guess the Depression was coming. I was in Chicago for about three months, but I couldn't get a job, so I came home. Then I didn't work until in 1934.
MP Because you couldn't find a job?
KD That's true.
MP Tell me what it was like.
KD We didn't have any problem because my mother had some money left from my stepfather and his mother. So we really didn't have any problem. I mean we didn't suffer during the Depression. We weren't rich, and yet we weren't poor because we helped other people out. You know, they'd bring food stamps and things to our house, and my mother would give them a piece of change or something like that. Because during that time we even had a doctor and his family-well, wife and child-living at our house who were on relief.
MP Is that right? Because they couldn't pay?
KD They couldn't make it. That was during the same time the dentist was in Bloomington. I think they came around the same time. But this dentist had an office on the west side of town. But at that time, people just didn't have the money to exist. They were on relief.
MP You were saying that people came to your mother.
KD Oh, neighborhood people that we would know came with food stamps or a shoe stamp or something in exchange for some money.
MP Explain [the stamps] would you?
KD Well, you were allowed so many pairs of shoes or something like that. But when they were on relief, they got so much food, canned food or something like that. They would bring some of it to our house for some money.
MP Yes.
KD And my mother would give it to them.
MP Now that.
KD Well, during the bank change, my mother lost quite a bit of money and never did get it all back. We still didn't suffer because even after she died, I think we still got a little money from the bank. My stepfather he just knew all types of people-the rich, the low, the middle-class-he just knew them all, and he catered to all of them. I know there was times when the Booker T. Washington Home, which is across the street from me now, and he would take-we had a horse and wagon-and he would go to the grocery store, Utesches, and get vegetables that were bruised and leftover bread and stuff like that and take it to the Home. He knew farmers who would bring a lot of things in-vegetables and things like that or rabbits and things, but what we didn't use was taken to the Home.
MP So your father-your stepfather was very well known in the community. Do you know if he was involved in politics in any way? Do you remember?
KD No, I can't say he was involved in politics, but everybody knew him. Every judge, every lawyer, and everything else because I do know in 1921, I think, he was arrested for bootlegging. 1921. well, like he didn't serve any time, one of these things. But everybody knew him-the judges, the lawyers, the doctors. His mother was a fortune-teller, and she lived at 606 South Madison. I stayed nights with her until the time she died which was 1925. She lived alone so I spent my nights there, and in the morning I'd get up and go home. At night before dark I'd go back. The neighbors next door were the McClelands, and we became very good friends. And to this day one of the girls-we are still very good friends.
MP This is the McClelands that lived next door to the fortune-teller?
KD Yes. Well, where are we now?
MP We are at the point where you said you didn't work until 1934.
KD Then in 1934, my sister in Springfield got married. We had a kind of big wedding for us, but it was at my aunt's house who lived at 606 South Madison. After her mother died, then she and he husband came back to Bloomington and lived in her mother's house. My sister was married there, and that is where I had my twenty-first birthday party in that house. I got a job working for Mr. and Mrs. Wight.
MP Is that W-H-I-T-E?
KD W-I-G-H-T. I worked there from 1934 to 1940. But I did the cooking. That's where I learned to cook. I didn't learn sewing because I got sewing in high school, but Fridays was always mending day. She had a laundress, and she had a woman who did the heavy cleaning and someone to do the yard. But I worked for her for six years.
MP Your basic responsibility was cooking?
KD Cooking and the house. I made the beds and dusted and those things.
MP Did you live with the family?
KD No. I stayed at home.
MP You stayed at home?
KD And went back and forth.
MP Now, the Wights-did you know what was their occupation?
KD He was a lawyer and had quite a bit of farmland, but she did nothing, of course. When I went there, he did nothing then but go to his club because he had, I guess, retired from being a lawyer. That's what he was, a lawyer. They had quite a bit of farmland. Sometimes, I would go to the farm with them. I think the farm was in Ellsworth. When I left, they were very unhappy, and she often said she wished she had given me more-because I was only getting, I think, ten dollars per week.
MP Was that the going rate?
KD When I was working for her then?
MP Was that the going wage?
KD I guess it was. Anyhow that's what I was getting, ten dollars per week, and I left there to go to State Farm for $12.50 per week.
MP How did you happen to get the job at State Farm?
KD My godmother worked at State Farm, and what she did was keep the medical room clean and check the restrooms, one of those things. Then she left there and went to Geneva as a housemother. So I got the job.
MP That's Geneva, Illinois?
KD Yes.
MP Do you remember your godmother's name?
KD Lela Morris.
MP And so she recommended you for the job?
KD And I got the job. Of course, in later years I started making more money, but then in 1945 when they started adding on to the buildings, mysister came and, of course, we were maids. We needed a job, and it was paying pretty good, so we thought. Then I stayed at State Farm for thirty-four and a half years.
MP You were doing the same type of work?
KD Oh no, no, no. Eventually, I got to work as a file clerk. I was running the elevator when-I got sick. I was running-my blood pressure went quite high. Then when I retired I was running the elevator at State Farm.
MP Please go ahead.
KD I think, I stayed at State Farm as a maid until after Caribel-and we had two, three white women came on doing the same thing. Then when I left that to do this file clerk, I guess that's when they started bringing them in. I guess in the sixties. Must have been the late fifties. No, the fifties-fifty-five, fifty-eight or something like that. Because I remember-that would be sixty-one. I guess I was a maid until sixty-one, something like that. I guess it was sixty-two and sixty-three when all of these changes were taking place all over.
MP What changes are you referring to?
KD Well, I mean affirmative action and like that. And so of course, State Farm was changing, too, along with the rest of them.
MP So, then State Farm started hiring Blacks in secretarial type work?
KD Now, when we were doing maid work, my sister and I and one other person were the only three Blacks in State Farm. We were the only three. Then in sixty-five, I guess, when they started this affirmative action, then they started bringing them in then. Then there were quite a few of them,
MP In secretarial type positions?
KD Well, they were at the time probably just getting file clerks and then doing some secretarial work, but they weren't called secretaries. Melba Moore she was one of the early ones brought in. Mary Hursey was another early one brought. There were several. I can still remember some of the early ones who came in. I think Mary has been there fifteen years or something like that. Some of them are still there, you know, in that capacity, but, of course, they've advanced 'cause there was room for advancement. When we were in there, there just wasn't. Of course, it was a job, and I just didn't ever think about wanting to leave. I was just content. I was married the first time, in 1943 when everyone was getting married to the soldiers, one of those things. But we were divorced in 1945. Then I married in 1952, and he passed in 1961. He had leukemia. He passed in 1961. That was Virgil Dean, and he had been married before and his wife had passed. His father was one of the earlier policemen in Bloomington.
MP Is that right?
KD Jacob Dean.
MP Now what time was this when he was-approximately?
KD Oh, I don't know. It's on those records you've got. It should be in some of the records you've got.
MP Oh, all right. That will be it. Yes. All right.
KD I guess that's when he lost his leg, when he was a policeman. I guess my life wasn't just terribly exciting, but yet and still it wasn't humdrum.
MP I can see that it wasn't. Now, how did you happen to move from a position of being a kind of domestic, cleaning person at State Farm to file clerk? Did you get any special training for that?
KD No. But then during adult education I took typing.
MP And that's while you were in the position of cleaning person or when you got the job?
KD No. It was when I got the job.
MP Then you went back to school to...
KD Because it was just answering the telephone, you know. 3-8-0. I can hear it now and taking work orders, you know. Someone might have a light out, and you fill in the blank, and the man would take the order and go do what had to be done and that kind of thing.
MP And then after that position?
KD And sometimes when the secretary was ill or something, you'd move over there and take her desk and do something like that. Then eventually my sister got that particular job.
MP And that is when you began to operate the elevator?
KD Oh, I don't think I operated the elevator over four or five years.
MP This is a difficult question for you to answer I'm sure, but when you worked as a maid for the Wight family, was this generally the kind of work that most Black women who worked did at the time?
KD Some of them were day workers. They did heavy cleaning, one of those things. I didn't do heavy cleaning. I think that the hardest thing we had sometimes was when she had company. Maybe there might be eight or ten people. Sometimes there would be some help, and sometimes there wouldn't. That's possibly the hardest thing. It wasn't hard work because there was no hard cleaning, no window washing. In the kitchen area you'd just wipe it up. They had a cleaning woman who did all the heavy work.
MP You were saying that most Black women who worked, in general, they worked in service?
KD That's the kind of work there was-service.
MP Is it your impression, and this again is difficult for you to answer, that any of those women, who worked in service, were competent or were trained adequately to take any other kinds of jobs or were they pretty much stuck with that? Do you think that Black women got stuck with that regardless of what their training was?
KD I think they were stuck with that until wartime when the factories opened up in order to take them because there wasn't too much for them to do. There was one woman, I remember, who worked in a beauty shop in one of the-I guess it was Newmarket-one of the big stores. My sister, when we were coming up, she worked in Emma Smith's bath parlor which [Emma Smith] had for these rich people. And my sister worked there for her. That was the only job she had in Bloomington. My sister in Springfield, that is. Now, my sister Caribel worked on recreation, that type of thing, in the forties.
MP You were saying some of the women once World War II got started, went to work in some of the war factories. Is that-from Bloomington they.?
KD Well, at Eureka Williams, you see. You could work there, and I guess-I don't know what year General Electric came to Bloomington. I know that these women were hired wherever they were doing defense work. They were hired and worked there. I had a pretty good job, so I thought, and there wasn't any point in me changing. I was content where I was because when we first started out we had to work five and a half days a week. Then eventually we got it down to five days a week.
MP So when you began to work at State Farm, you worked five and a half days a week?
KD Five and a half days a week. The half-day was on Saturday.
MP Then later only five days per week. When you worked in service, how many days a week did you work?
KD Oh, you had Thursday afternoon and Sunday afternoon off. Sunday afternoon I'd break my neck to catch the two o'clock train to Springfield.
MP That's where you spent your weekends in Springfield, right?
KD Well, I didn't go down for the whole weekend because you had to be back Monday morning. There was a train that would leave at two o'clock, I think, and I'd get that two o'clock train. I'd take that one coming back left at two something in the morning.
MP And be back in time for...
KD I spent many a Sunday down in Springfield because my sister lived there.
MP Oh, yes.
KD I lot of my friends lived there. I think I had more out-of -own friends than I did Bloomington friends.
MP How would you account for that?
KD I don't know. We run around in a group out of Springfield. Of course, I had acquaintances here. I think I had only one real close friend, and then she moved to St. Louis. Most of our friends were out-of-town friends.
MP Do you think that is because you had relatives who were located in different sections of the central Illinois area?
KD Well, only one. My sister was in Springfield, but all of the kids would come to Bloomington. I say "kids" because that's what we were, and we just run in a group. Most of them were some of the fraternity boys from Champaign, and the boys from Springfield. We just run in a group. Nobody dating anybody. You just run around in a group or a pack, if you want to call it that. But you didn't get into any trouble. You didn't do anything you weren't supposed to do. And then we'd go to dances, and I guess that's why we got close to a bunch of Springfield people.
MP Transportation was pretty available?
KD Pretty good. We didn't have any car, but you rode the train. Of course, my stepfather had a car, but he always took us. We did not go out alone then. In fact, I didn't date until I was nineteen years old.
MP Was that pretty much what the practice was?
KD Well, our stepfather was strict, and we just did not go out with boys, and we did not go out at night. And coming up if we went to BYPU, which was the Baptists, we could do that on a Sunday night, but there was a neighbor lady who had to take us. When we had parties like Halloween parties and things like that, she'd take us to that. We didn't go alone. We just didn't go alone to anything. I was nineteen years old-after he died.
MP When you began work, your first job was after high school, right? How old were you when you graduated from high school.
KD I started-my first job I was seventeen.
MP You were seventeen then?
KD Yes.
MP So, when you graduated from high school and began to work you were.
KD Nineteen.
MP Nineteen. But you were still at that point living in the home, and therefore your parents were responsible for you.
KD I lived in Normal in probably two different houses. Then, I lived at 511 South Wright Street from [19]21 until [19]52, and from [19]52 on I lived where I am now.
MP I see.
KD So, I really don't know what moving is. I've only really moved once in my life, and that was in 1952 when I married and went to 1202 West MacArthur.
MP So the house you're in now.
KD belonged to the Deans. It belonged to my husband's parents. Well, not his parents. It was his father and mother. It did belong to his parents. Then they passed on, and it belonged to he and his two sisters. We bought the two sisters out. So then it became our house.
MP It became your house. So that is a very historic house then, isn't it?
KD Well, yes. I have the original deed to that house, and I think on that ground was a mill of some kind. It wasn't a house at first.
MP Who constructed the house?
KD I don't know.
MP You don't know.
KD I took the original deed uptown to the bank. It was constructed in 1901.
MP There is one thing I want to ask you before I go. I want to talk about any clubs, civic clubs, social clubs, organized by Blacks in Bloomington, let's say, from the earliest time you can remember. Do you know anything about if there was an underground railroad in Bloomington or Normal? Do you remember any talk about that.
KD Well, they say that our church was, Wayman A.M.E. Church.
MP Wayman A.M.E. Church?
KD That's what they say, but I have no idea. But our church is where they first printed the first Sunday School literature-in our church, in Wayman. It is the only church that has been on the same spot because when it was built, it was nothing but prairie then.
MP So, you would say that's the oldest church in Bloomington?
KD That's been on the same spot since being built.
MP On the same spot?
KD Well, it's 150 years old where the church is.
MP Let me ask you this. You said you think the church was used as an underground railroad. Would you have any idea where I might be able to find some sources?
KD I don't know unless there is anything in the historical society.
MP The church does not have.
KD No. Our church never did keep very good records for some reason. So much would be left to this person to take care of and then somebody else. They just didn't keep very good records.
MP I think that they would likely not have kept records about underground railroads because it was kind of illegal. What about social clubs or civic clubs or Black organizations?
KD The Colored Women's Club was formed in 1901, and that is the oldest club in Bloomington still in existence. I'm secretary so I know that it's still in existence.
MP Who founded it, and could you tell me a little bit about it? What it's purpose was?
KD Well, it's a federated club, and I can't tell you who founded it. It's part of a district, then state, and then national-it's part of a national organization.
MP What's the name of the national body?
KD It's called the National Association of Colored Women's Club. Then in, I believe, 1903 the Progressive Club was formed. I think it's the next oldest Black club, and it's still in existence.
MP Is that for women and men?
KD No, just a women's organization. A group of twelve women got together and just formed this social club for something to do. It's still in existence because I belong to that. Then I guess the next oldest one would be the Three C Club, and I couldn't tell you when it was formed.
MP And that's women's only, too.
KD That's still a women's club.
MP Is it pretty much a social club?
KD It's a social club, too. Nothing but a social club.
MP Those are about the only Black women's organizations that you.
KD Well, early ones, yes.
MP Did they perform any civic responsibility or social welfare functions of any kind to your knowledge?
KD The Three C's and the Progressives didn't. They were strictly social. The Colored Women's Club did various things, but I couldn't tell you what they did in those years. In can't speak for them until 1952.
MP When you were involved?
KD When I joined, one of those things. But I don't know of any other Black women's organizations in the early years other than just little clubs that probably didn't last.
MP What about Black men's clubs, social and civic?
KD They were the Elks, the Masons, and the Young Men's Club that was from the YMCA. That was a social get-together. There might have been some that just didn't last.
MP Do you know anything about a Chauffeur's Club?
KD No. That was before my time.
MP What about any Black bars or.?
KD "Jugs". (laughs) They had them. Of course, I didn't go to them until the fifties. The forties, I guess. There was one down on West Washington Street. There was one up over what is now Lucca Grill. I think that was Turner's Social Club. Of course, there was the one under the railroad tracks which is still there. I haven't been to that for years and years and years. And then, I think, I heard them tell of another one. (inaudible) Of course, there was the Social Center Cafe up on East Street. The Rush's had that. We used to go to that quite a bit.
MP The Social.
KD The Social Center Cafe.
MP What happened there?
KD Well, the Rush's had a big house. Of course, it's gone now. That's where the city hall and them are in that property now. They had a cafe in the basement. We went there quite a bit. In fact, we even had some parties there. I can remember their daughter-in-law would have a party in the cafe.Then there was another cafe around on Main Street on that side of the viaduct. I don't remember the name, but it didn't last too long. Then there was one on this side of the viaduct. Things like that that we went to.
MP I'm glad you remembered the one on East Street because several other people had made a reference to something being there, but they didn't remember the name.
KD Well, it was the Rush's Social Center Cafe. It had to be there a long time because it was there in 1916, and I know we were going to it-in the forties we were going to it. So it had to be there a long time. And Ike Sanders, I guess, was the one who had the one on South Main Street. He was married to the woman whose name is now Anna Clark.
MP Oh yes. She told us.
KD You see, that was there in 1916, and Fred Rush had this cleaning place. When I knew it, I think, it was over on Center Street. (inaudible) I don't know anything about it then. What else did we do? Oh, in the forties we would attend those "moonlight" dances which were over on the east side of town. There was a place-I guess it was near where Sunset Center is now, Sunset Hill is. It was a big kind of a dance place out there-open air. We would go out there from midnight until five o'clock in the morning. There would be dances. Kids would come from out of town for that.
MP Now, was that operated by a Black organization?
KD Yes. They'd rent the place.
MP Did you experience what you would define as discrimination?
KD Well, in the movies and restaurants. There was no place to eat, and you couldn't try a hat on. I think that was about it where I was concerned.
MP What about employment? Did you experience what you would define as discrimination in any of your efforts to get a job?
KD I didn't look for a job until 1934 when I went to Mrs. Wight's.
End Side A
Side B
? I was interested in the clubs the men belonged to like the Elks.
KD Elks and the women had the Bronze Temple, but they weren't integrated.
? They weren't integrated.
KD At the time, we had a hall up on Front Street. It was a place to go on Saturday nights. It was in the fifties when the lodge finally went down as a lot of things do in Bloomington. They just don't last. I don't even remember the name of the Elks. But I know the women's was Bronze Temple Number something. Then of course, we had the Masons and the Eastern Star which went downhill, and then, of course, in later years the Masonic Lodge was revived in Bloomington. In fact, I guess there's two now. There's the York one and Prince Hall. After the Eastern Star folded, I did not take my membership anywhere else although my sister did take her membership to Decatur. And of course, she still has it in Decatur, but things have a way of starting in Bloomington and then just going downhill.
MP Now, your sister was active in the YWCA, right?
KD She was president of the YWCA.
MP Now, how long have Black people been able to participate in the YWCA? To you knowledge, has it always been possible for Blacks to be members of the YWCA?
KD Oh, in the fifties.
MP That's when it was open to Blacks?
KD To my knowledge. The kids went before that because they were-what were the girls in earlier years? My sister and them took up tap-dancing in the "Y" when they were still in high school. So they were going to the "Y" then.
MP So the "Y" was open then?
KD When they were in high school, I know they were going to the "Y". Girls' Reserve, I think they were the Girls' Reserve then, and they were in high school. I'm sure they weren't swimming then, but they were going to the "Y". And the men were going to the YMCA-the boys were.
MP Can you think of any organization, which was organized by Blacks at any point before the sixties where the basic focus was to help deal with problems Black people had in Bloomington, for example, like going to a restaurant or the theater. Do you remember, at any point, if Black people organized to try to deal with these problems?
KD All I think it came out of the NAACP and that type of thing which was, you know, a national organization. I don't know of any local something because we could all belong to the NAACP and just work from there.
MP There was nothing before that?
KD Not to my knowledge.
MP We talked about your church experiences. I think you answered that when you said that your family made contributions to the Booker T. Washington Home. Can you think of any other personal or family experiences related to social welfare like contributions, membership on boards, etc.?
KD No, not until later years. My mother just didn't become involved in anything. She stayed at home, and that was it. We always knew where she was.
MP Was that pretty much what women who didn't.
KD Who didn't work? Well, I think they did because even during the Depression years, she was always there. A lot of kids-young people- would come to our house to play cards, and she baked pies. We were just at home. We didn't do too much going away from home unless it was out of town.
MP Do you think that there was any difference made? How many brothers did you have?
KD I had none. We were all girls, and I was the oldest.
MP I was going to ask you if you thought that your parents made any special differences between you and your brothers in terms of their aspirations for you or careers, but you can't speak of that since you didn't have any brothers.
KD No, they encouraged us to go to school. I know I had to read the newspaper to my stepfather until I got to the place where I think I hated the newspaper. I think he always felt I was skipping something. That was one of my jobs. I had to read the newspaper to him. Then, of course, I had to read it to my grandmother. They both could read, but it was still my job to read it to them.
MP Why did they want you to read it to them?
KD I don't know. I guess they did it in order to make me learn how to read.
MP To teach you to read?
KD Yes, to teach me to read. My job was to read the newspaper. They had the Bulletin and the Pantagraph, and we'd get two newspapers, and I'd have to read them.
MP Well, that's one way to do it.
KD One of my sister's jobs was to keep the victrola going. You know, put the record on it and wind it up. Our holidays were always big events like Christmas, Fourth of July, and all like that. Just big events, you know-make something big out of it.
MP So, yours was a very close kind of family?
KD Yes, it was. I remember one year I got some roller skates. I must have been twelve or something, and the other two didn't get any roller skates. But before the day was over, they had roller skates. I remind them of it to this day that they nearly wore mine out, but yet they got their own roller skates.
MP They got their own.
KD Yes. My stepfather had Somers Drugstore open up and get them some roller skates. And that was on a Christmas that was just as warm. I can remember out roller-skating, and they were using my skates, too, but they got their own pair before the day was over. We were a close knit family. Even now, we're just as close even though there's only the three of us now. I'm the oldest in my family. We had no uncles and no aunts, nothing like that. We've just always been a close knit family.
MP You didn't have any children?
KD No, and my sister in Springfield didn't have any children either. Just my sister here.
MP Well, I think I have asked everything that I wanted to ask you. Is there anything that you remember?
KD As I said that it just went on? It was just any easy-going life, I guess. Of course, you had to have had some hardships like everybody else, but they must not have been too much.
MP Would you say that yours was a typical kind of life for a Black family when you were growing up, or was yours an unusual one in the sense that your economic situation was better?
KD Well, I know some of the kids had harder times than we did. I mean their-both of their parents were working. Ours wasn't. I don't know where the money come from. My stepfather didn't work.
MP But he had a business.
KD He had a business. My mother didn't work.
MP So, yours was not a typical Black family as far as you are concerned?
KD Well.
MP In that you didn't you have a major economic problem even during the Depression?
KD No, during the Depression we just didn't. There was always enough food. We always had clothes to wear. Of course, my sister, when she was working for Miss Smith, she wore the best shoes there, but we all had shoes on our feet and things like that. And food, we were never without food. Might not have been the best food, but we had plenty of food and plenty of clothing. We didn't have to pay rent.
MP You owned your house.
KD Yes. I've always been in a house that some part of the family owned. My stepfather owned there, and his mother owned over there. And we owned in Normal. Where I am now his family owned. Just never had to pay any rent.
MP As I understand it, though, in the old days, most Black people owned their homes as opposed to renting.
KD Well, I can think of people who eventually bought when they cleared out that area down there. I can remember people who bought several places down there.
MP When they cleared out what area?
KD The "red-light" district area.
MP What was the red-light district?
KD The sporting district.
MP What, what.?
KD It didn't bother us because we might go to the store for somebody, but they were down there. We were up here. We didn't come into contact with them. That was on Moulton and Elm. Blacks went in and bought down in through there. Then of course, it was eventually torn out which is now Woodhill. Because the picture of the house where we lived-they had a Black and white photo of it taken, and it still hangs in the office of Woodhill.
MP Would you say you lived in a Black community, an integrated community, or a community that was predominantly white in various places where you lived?
KD Well, in Normal, it was mostly whites around. Then when I got to Bloomington maybe three or four [Black] families in that area. Then eventually it become all Black except on East Street where there were whites. So, it used to be Black down here, and white up through here. It wasn't a big Black community where we lived.
MP So, it was a fairly integrated, right?
KD Of course, when I got up on this end of town, it was Black, but then there was still some white in there. I just really have never known an all, total-Black community. They were just scattered all around. We kids, we were on the east of-Main Street was the division line. We were the East Side kids. Over here was the West Side kids. The West Side kids and the East Side girls, you know-you just didn't mix.
MP There was a major distinction, right?
KD Oh, yes. There was the East Side and the West Side, and we were East Side. And the West Side boys would come over where the East Side girls were, but there was a division.
MP What was the basis for the division?
KD I don't know.
MP That's interesting. It had nothing to do with race?
KD No. Black kids-East Side and the West Side kids, and we were the East Side. Most of them, you might as well say, were on the West Side.
MP Most of the.?
KD Of the Black people were on the West Side. The East Side people were where we were and on Empire Street. You know where Empire is? They were East Side kids. But most of them was on the west side of town.
MP And you don't know the basis for that distinction?
KD No.
MP The people on the West Side had more money, more education.?
KD No, I can't say they had any more, but it was just where they lived.
MP So, as you grew up there was the distinction? This distinction continues to exist?
KD I don't think so. I don't think it has since maybe the forties. But when we were in high school, it was the East Side kids and the West Side kids.
MP Was there an animosity between the two?
KD Not animosity. You just knew who was the East Side and who was the West Side.
MP You didn't associate too much?
KD Not too much. At least the girls didn't, but you knew who they were. You could almost name the East Side girls on your hand. That was in the forties-thirties rather.
MP That's interesting. Well, thank you very much for this information, and if anything else occurs that you think we should know.
KD If I find any other clippings, I'll let you know. I think you ought to find a lot of stuff about people in that material.
MP I know, I've gone through it. I've found a great deal, that's right, but we don't want to miss anything.
KD That was gathered when they started doing that before, you know. They never did finish it. Mrs. Munro brought the material to Caribel because she knew it would be taken care of. 'Cause I looked through some it. There were several duplicates of stuff.
End Side B