Skip to Content
200 North Main St | Bloomington, Illinois | 309-827-0428
/ Research / Oral Histories / Oscar and Ruth Waddell

Oscar and Ruth Waddell


Oscar Waddell's parents came to Bloomington from Jerseyville, Illinois. He served in the South Pacific during World War II. Upon his return, his employment prospects were not good. He did get a job at the Meadows Company and later got a job as a hydraulic press operator at General Electric. Mr.Waddell was active in the Christ Temple Pentecostal Church.

Ruth Gaines Waddell was born in Lincoln, Illinois but lived most of her life in Bloomington. When her husband served in the army during World War II, she went to work in domestic service. Two of her compelling stories are about how she saved money for her dream house and how she struggled to get a job at General Electric. She became the first African-American woman to achieve full-time factory work in McLean County and helped to integrate the Machinist Lodge 1000 labor union. She was the recipient of the 2000 City of Bloomington Human Relations Award.

Tape 1

Date: July 15, 1986
Interviewers: Mildred Pratt

MP Today is July 15, 1986 and I am interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Waddell. Mrs. Waddell is going to speak first.
RW I am Ruth Waddell, and I was born in Lincoln, Illinois in the year of 1923. My mother is Marie Whiteside and my father was Luther M. Gaines. At the age of one and a half, I came to Bloomington, and this is where my parents lived. There are six of us, and I am the oldest of the six. Four boys and two girls. Right now I have one brother that's passed away, and my mother lives in Michigan and my father is deceased. My father worked for Fords for forty years, and this is why my parents moved to Michigan.
MP He worked in Detroit?
RW In Detroit, Michigan. And then I have one brother that lives there and a sister, and I have one brother that lives in Oakland, California and I have one brother who lives in Oahu, Hawaii. They are retired Navy men.
MP Could you tell me now, were your parents born in Lincoln, Illinois?
RW My mother was born in Lincoln, and my dad was born in Bloomington, Illinois. My mother's family there were just two girls. Mother had a sister, and my dad had-there were seven in that family. There were four girls and three boys, and of that family now there are only four living. And that is Rose Anna Bell and Edward Gaines of Chicago, Frances Gaines of Bloomington, and Leota Jones of Chicago.
MP Now how did your family, where did your family originate, your father you said was born in Lincoln, is that right?
RW My mother was born in Lincoln.
MP Your mother was born in Lincoln. Your father was born in Bloomington? Now what about your mother's parents?
RW On my mother's side my grandmother was a Hardin and she came from Sparta, Illinois, and my grandfather he came from a town not too far from here and it was called... I forgot the name of the town. They were farmers, and they came east of town. Then my dad was born and raised in Bloomington, but his father came from West Virginia.
MP And how did his father happen to come from West Virginia? Do you know anything about that early history at all.
RW I don't know how he came here. He was a railroad man for many, many years. But I don't know how he happened to come.
MP Would you tell me about your education?
RW I went to the Raymond School. I first started in the Irving School, which is over on the corner of Jackson and Mason. At the third grade, my folks built a house out on Sunnyside, and so we moved, Then I had to go to Raymond School. They called it the old Raymond School. It was way out on the 1400 block West Grove Street. There weren't too many Negroes out there. In fact, in my neighborhood I was the only Negro in that neighborhood. So I grew up with all hard ankle white boys.
MP How was it with you?
RW I got along fine. We were just like one family. What one had, the other one had. And then the Beacham family was another Negro family-they moved there [1623 Indiana Street]. But in the block where we lived, my grandfather owned all of that ground that was out there, which is now right across the street on Illinois Street from the projects and it is a playground now. And my grandfather owned from the corner clear down three-fourths of that area. My uncle, who was Walter Gaines who has passed away, who is Aunt Rose Anna's brother, he had built a little house, and he was going to Illinois State University. He just had two children, and they built a house. My grandfather gave the ground to the boys, and so then he gave the ground on the corner to my dad. So we owned the corner lots, and then the next lot my dad built the house. He was working at the Railroad, but then he worked part-time at the Corn Belt Lumber Company.
MP So he actually constructed the house.
RW The Corn Belt Lumber Company built it for us. We didn't have a big house. We had three bedrooms, a little dinette, and a kitchen. But then we had the corner, which was double lots. We had fruit trees, and we had a big gardens. We raised chicken and pigeons and ducks and geese. My aunt and uncle lived-well, there's a lot in between. My aunt's sister owned that, Mildred. She passed away. She owned it. Then the next lots were my Uncle Walter's, and he raised Rhode Island Red chickens, [unclear] and they had guineas, too
MP And he sold them, is that right?
RW Well, when they had an abundant amount of eggs or whatever, he would sell a few because out at Sunnyside at that time... There was nothing out there at that time but corn, cows, and pigs and children. (laughter) Then I went to the old Raymond School. Then they built the new Raymond School, which is on Magoun Street. It was called Magoun then, but, I think they call it "McGowen" now, and it was right off of Olive Street. Then we went to school there, and that is where I graduated from and then went on to Bloomington High School. And I only went three years because I had a very, very bad scald on my leg when I was in my junior year. And I had to stay home for an extended amount of months, and I just didn't go back. So then I just went to work.
MP So what kind of work did you do initially?
RW Well, I did house work at that time.
MP You weren't very old then were you?
RW No, I was only thirteen, I would go out and help somebody like after school and go on Saturday. I remember I even helped a lady on West Locust Street. He was a blacksmith, and I used to go over and help her, and she didn't pay me very much, but I liked to work for her. (Inaudible)] were nice. And then when I got into high school, I worked for the Three Sister Dress Shop [310 E. Mulberry}.
MP What did you do there?
RW I pressed the clothes and hung them up, uncrated everything you know, and brought everything up to be hung (inaudible), and then in the evening when the store closed, I vacuumed. For four dollars a week. I worked there after school every night. Four dollars a week.
MP And that was a lot of money then.
RW It was. Then there was a lady her name was Ruth Kaplan-she was the manager, and one time she messed up my money and I got very angry with her. And she wouldn't pay me when it was payday, and I had to go home and get my father and bring him up there to get my money. And I told her I was mad at her and wouldn't work for her no more. I quit.
MP You are a pretty assertive lady.
RW Oh yeah, I had a very bad temper. Then after that, I just did housework on Saturdays. And I remember I worked for a family, the Ronald (unintelligible) and I used to go there and work. They always wanted me to a lot of cooking. And I wasn't really experienced, I could do a little cooking at home. But like when it came to pies and things like that, I wasn't experienced, but he would let do it. And he would say it was so good, and I knew it was a mess. But I worked for them for quite a while. This was when I was sixteen. I started going with Mr. Waddell at that time. He thought I was quite was young-I mean older than I was. He used to would come get me of an evening after supper. He get me and bring me home. My junior year I was seventeen so then I went out to Country Club, and I worked for the Davis family, and I really liked it out there. And we had a cateress here in town-she has passed away now.
MP Was this a Black lady?
RW This was a Black lady.
MP What was her name?
RW Her name was Mrs. Henderson, and she lived on the corner of Oak and Jackson Street. She was a good cook. Whenever they had any big thing, they would hire her to come out and cook, and I would work with her.
MP Now this Country Club was once owned by the Davis' right?
RW No, they just owned a part of it, but then they owned everything around it.
OW The Country Club-the nine acres they got now, they owned it.
RW Everything where the shopping center is clear over to Empire Street, Washington Street, Oakland Avenue and Veterans Parkway they owned all of that. And if you go Oakland Avenue to Mercer and you turn left, right on the corner is where Mrs. Pillsbury lived. The white house with the awnings. But then there is a little buff (inaudible) house next to her, and this is where David, the father, and the mother, lived. Then if you go past their drive and look through to the right and you will see a white house and they have a big awning over a big dining room window and this is Bob Davis and that's where I worked at. But then they owned all that ground. When you go around the curve, it says "dead end" if you go in there and when you go in there the first house to the right was the Davis's daughter, and she was married to Dan Holder. But now they've built a big house back. The last house I think on the left-hand side of the street. It's a real big place right off the golf course. But they used to run a hardware store. Mr. Holder did. So they had lots of money, and they have been in insurance and everything down that line. I enjoyed working for them.
MP How long did you work for them?
RW I worked for them until I got married. But when I got married, my husband was in the sanctified church, and he didn't want me to work.
OW I wasn't in the church then.
RW No, but you came and you were born and raised in it, and you didn't want me to work. My husband was quite [inaudible whisper]. He worked nights at the bus barn, and he worked 5:00 [PM] to 1:30 [AM]. And we lived over a little tavern-the Nathan's Tavern. And we just had two rooms because he lived there before we got married, and he had a bedroom. And then when we got married Quilla Smith owned it, which is our sister-in-law's father, and he gave us another room.
MP He owned the tavern you mean?
RW No-well, he owned the whole place except the tavern, but he owned that big building [1101 West Washington] right at the railroad track on West Washington Street. He owned all of that, and it was all into apartments. And Mr. Al Nathan had the tavern, but there was a Black barber shop in there and that was owned by Aquilla Smith, too. And it was run by Adolph Young and Catherine Young .
MP There are Black people, right?
RW They were Black. And Catherine Young was my dad and them's cousin, and they're both have passed away now. So then we lived-we had our kitchen on one side and our bedroom on the other. And we stayed there for about a year because he was about to go in the service, and he didn't want me to stay above the tavern. And so then we moved with a lady and her mother, and it was Mrs. Anderson and Myrtle Davis, and they lived at 1101 West Mill Street. And we stayed there for about a year. So when he decided-when he was going into the service, I wanted to live by myself. So we rode around and rode around and called around, and nobody would want to rent us. They would always tell us, I would rent it to you, but the neighbors would complain, the neighbors. So we just rode around and found a little place where our lot is now, and they had just put the water in the house and had a nice little front porch to it. And it had a sign on it. So I went up and read the sign, and it was for rent. It had this address so we went over there, and my husband wanted to rent it, and he told him he was going to service. He said he was sorry, but the neighbors in this neighborhood would not permit no Negroes. So this was a big lot, and it had a great big sugar pear tree in this lot. Over here was a lot, and the people next door lived-and they had a great big garden out there and bushes. So my husband he wasn't very kind to the man. He really talked bad to him, and told him he was going to service to protect (unintelligible), and he wanted a place for me to live. So later the man went to one of the bus drivers and told him to have him come over, and when [my husband] went over, he rented the house to us. We paid twelve dollars and fifty cents a month. We had a living room and a bedroom and a kitchen, and he had closed in the back porch and of course we had a big backyard over there. And that's where I was when he went into service. And while he was gone to service-he left Friday, and Monday I went to work for a doctor and his family, but he didn't know I had a job. Because when we first married, the first year we were married I was sneaking out doing day work and getting back before he got up so I would get his lunch and his supper, you know. (laughter) But I needed some money for myself, and he only got paid every two weeks. So he left Friday, and I left and went to work Monday morning to work for Dr. Ed Stevenson on Clinton Boulevard, and I worked out there for about six or seven months.
MP Was that the Stevenson related to the Adlai Stevenson.
RW No, I don't know.
OW Yes, he is related some way. You know the Stevenson on television, McLean Stevenson. It was his father.
MP Oh, so they are related? You worked for his father. They are related.
RW I worked for his father and at that time McLean and Ann, his sister, were just young, and they would go to camp. And then the mother was a very sickly type person, and she just laid around a lot, but she wasn't too sick to have guests in and play cards and stuff like that, you know. But the kids were always gone during the summertime. They all went away one summer, and they wanted me to come out and check the house, do the flowers, and this type of thing, and they didn't want to pay me my-you know, half of my salary. I guess he thought he had a little, young crazy girl, you know, twenty years old (unintelligible)
RW I had to be to work at seven o'clock in the morning, and I didn't get off until nine or at nine-thirty at night because you never know when Dr. Ed was going to get home. And then I would walk home from way out there on Clinton Boulevard. I would walk. That was across Empire Street.
MP You would think that they would have bought you home, right?
RW I would walk and cut through the cemetery and come home to the house. And then-they got a contract with the Eureka-Williams, and so I decided the heck with this. I am going to quit.
MP Do you know how many years you worked with them?
RW I only worked with them about seven months.
MP That was too much, huh?
OW He was something else. He had the money, but.
RW (unintelligible) and he didn't pay very much. And I had to walk over there or catch the bus and be there at seven o'clock and get off at nine or nine-thirty.
MP That's terrible.
RW And I think he paid me $23.00 every two weeks-that's all he paid me. So I quit when they got the contract over at Eureka-Williams, I went over there.
MP Now when you mention contract, was this a war contract?
RW Yes, it was a war contract. So I went over there and I went to work over there, and I worked seven to three for a while. Then they changed us to three to eleven. Then I worked a four o'clock shift until two in the morning. And my Uncle Walter he worked there too. And I had a real good girlfriend, and she lived up on West Oakland Avenue, and when we would get off at four o'clock in the morning-my uncle lived up on South East Street so he would walk us home. He would drop me off, and then he would walk her to Oakland Avenue and Main Street, and she'd go home, and he would go home.
MP So that worked out really nice?
RW It really did.
MP Did you have any trouble getting the job?
RW No. I really didn't. Before that time I had tried to get on at several places, but they wouldn't hire us.
MP Now they wouldn't hire you because you were Black?
RW Because we were Negro.
MP How do you know?
RW They would just let you know and sometimes they would just come right out and tell you, "Sorry." But when I went out to Eureka-Williams to get a job, I didn't have any problems getting a job because they were hiring because they had a war contract.
OW They had to hire Blacks.
MP That's what I was wondering.
OW But see, they wouldn't let them get into the union. That way they didn't have no seniority.
RW And some of the girls that just retired after say forty or forty-one years-I worked right beside them, and they belong to the same union I belong to now, but they wouldn't allow me to belong to it. They put all the Negroes mostly on burr jobs and things like that, but we did a good job, and they paid a good salary. Twenty-six months I worked there, and then they let us all out except one person and that Erma Doage. And she lives over in the eight hundred block on East Walnut Street, and her husband's name is Ralph.
MP That name rings a bell, but I haven't interviewed them.
OW She is related to La Verne Smith.
RW Sister-in-law.
MP That's how I remember that name because I remember her mentioning Doage.
RW She didn't work in the factory with us. She did the bathrooms with a white lady. Her husband was a sweeper there at the time before he went into the service. He and Oscar were raised together. So when they let us out, they kept Erma and she still worked in the bathrooms and the toilets. I think she was there a couple of years after they let us all out. And then of course, her husband came home, and they let her out too, after that. After that, I tried to get on at a place called (unintelligible). Do you remember that copper scratcher for pans? It was on Center Street right across form the People's Bank upstairs, and I went to the unemployment office, and they sent me there. I went in and sat down and I sat and I sat and I sat, and I could see then walking around looking, but they didn't want to hire me. So they ignored me. So when they finally came to me, they said they didn't have any work. So I told the unemployment office don't send me anymore because I wasn't going where they sent me. You know when you send me, they are not going to hire me. You couldn't get in State Farm, so I decided-they had and ad in the paper asking for-the telegraph people wanted somebody to deliver telegrams. So when I got there, you had to skate. And I didn't know how to skate, and I couldn't ride a bicycle. So I told them I couldn't do the run. So they said they would just work me around downtown. So I went around to all the businesses downtown. I walked and I did that for four or five months. Then I decided I have to get me something better then this walking around in the sun. So I decided to get me a house job. I answered an ad. This lady who wanted somebody to come in at twelve and work to four-thirty. This was the Stern family. Stern's Furniture. David Stern. They lived down on hundred block on Woodland. [417 Woodland] And I went out there and worked for her. I just did a little cleaning and helped with supper. And she had two girls and a boy. And when she would go play bridge or whatever, I would watch the kids, and I did the laundry and ran the vacuum. [text omitted] So it got so that David really liked me, her husband. So I got so that I had full run of the house. I could order the groceries. I was in charge of the children, and a lot of times, she would get real nervous and upset, and she would take off for eight or ten days. And then I would go up and stay with the kids, and have supper ready for Mr. David when he came home and see that each of the kids were put to bed. Then I could go home. Lots of times, I wouldn't wait for the bus. I would just walk Oakland Avenue and come through the cemetery. And if I rode the bus, I would get off at Gridley Street and walk to the cemetery anyway. At that time, there was a center, and the center was right where the city hall is now. And my Uncle Walter was over the center because he was a graduate from State Normal University. So he had the center, and I would want to hurry up and get home so I could go down there and work in the center. When we first started the center, the center was across the street from where Montgomery Wards used to be. There was a hotel along in there at that time. And it's right now where the Hundman building is. Right along in there, and we used to have a center upstairs.
MP Now, that was a center for Blacks?
RW For Blacks, right.
MP Now, who financed it, do you know?
RW I don't.
OW The city helped with that. See, there really was no places for the Blacks could go.
RW Then the businessmen like the Sterns and Ensenbergers-people like that would give money to help, too, you know. Uncle Walter was a pretty smart man. Then we moved over on Main Street, and we had a real nice building there. It was really nice. It had a big yard and everything, and of course, he lived over on South East Street which is right over behind it. We'd would go there and work, and we would sell pop and hot-dogs.
MP What kind of activities did they have at the center?
RW They had ping pong and basketball, and they had skating parties and things like that.
OW They had a basketball court outside, didn't they?
RW They had a basketball court outside. They had painting classes and all kinds of crafts. But at one time-well, it wasn't the Relief.
RW or something like that, and they had classes in the bottom of the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church where I was born and raised, and we would have leather work and painting and things like that.
MP When was the center discontinued?
RW Well, I think that building was torn down, wasn't it Oscar?
OW I think, when the city bought that land for the city hall.
MP So that was around the [19]70s, wasn't it? It wasn't torn down until then?
OW Yeah, around [19]70.
RW And then, we didn't have anymore center after that. They moved it to the school. Remember they used to have the basketball games there.
OW That was coordinated with the center, too. Basketball.
RW We never really had another center after that. That was the last of our centers.
OW Before I went into the army we used to go play basketball and they were affiliated with the center. We would go to different schools, like Jefferson School and then Raymond School and sometimes we would go over to Bent to play.
MP There were activities at the schools then.
RW They had girls' basketball, too, and once in a while, the girls would play the fellows. But we always out at 9:30 [P.M.}you know. We had to be out of the building by 9:30. After my husband came home from the service, I worked for the Sterns, and then we moved to the Bloomington Country Club. And they were Jewish, of course. At this time, no Jews were allowed in the Country Club.
OW They were the first.
RW And who bought that house for them, I've never known.
MP The Sterns moved out there?
RW We moved from Woodland over there. And when you go in off of Washington Street and go around the jog, you will see a white house with blue on it and it looks like a castle. That's where we moved. It was gorgeous.
MP So somebody else must have bought it for them, is that?
OW Yes, and they about died, when they found out they were Jewish.
RW Somebody had to.
MP I am sure they did.
RW Somebody had to buy it, and it was very, very quiet. Nobody said a word or anything. There were no demonstrations or nothing. So we moved there from Woodland to there. My husband hadn't come home yet. The house had something like five bathrooms and bedrooms and the boys' room had a little washroom and stuff. Great big dining room had wrought-iron gates going in the dining room, and it was really gorgeous. And so she told me, she said, "Well, I want you to work for me, but I need someone who is going to climb around like a monkey and clean this place, and I know you are not going to do it. So she hired a white women. She was German, and she is still working as far as I know, unless she died.
MP Still working for that family, and she does the monkey work?
RW Because now they have built a little house. They moved out of that, and they live on Ruth Drive, right off of Washington Street at the dead-end.
MP Is it a smaller house?
RW It is a little (unintelligible) house. And this German woman was still working for her at the time. But I used to go out and run the vacuum and clean the face bowls and things like this. They had these marble floors and you could put your lipstick on in them floors. Oh, this woman had to really work. Oh, man. And I'd go out there, and they'd let me.
MP You know that is interesting that this German woman was doing this monkey work for this Jewish person and that was during the Second World War then, right?
GE came-was going to come-I decided I was going to leave this place because I was sick of nuns...
MP and bedpans. (laughs)
RW "I need a better paying job." And so I put my application in at GE. In the meantime, I was working at Saint Joe, but I worked a split shift, and I had apartments that I was cleaning. In between time I was doing this. And so I put an application in, and they called me to come to take the test. There was this big hotel called the Rogers Hotel, and it was on the corner of Grove and East street. This is where we went to take our dexterity test. There were sixty-one girls. We took our dexterity test. It was in August, and in September they started taking physicals. We took our physicals. They hired the first girl, December 1, 1953. She was a white girl. Her name was Phyllis Whiteside. And they made a lead person out of her. The lead girl, they called it. Then they started hiring them one a month. The girls would see me, and they would say, "When are you coming Ruth?" At this time, they had what they called a training center and it was on Grove Street where now it is the Bloomington Glass Company. So I'd say, "I don't know, they haven't called me." And at that time we were still living over there. When my husband was in service, though, I got this lot. I bought the lot for $400.00 dollars.
MP Did you have any difficulty purchasing the lot?
OW You see we wanted to buy the house that we was in, and Mr. Gant said,"No." It was an investment for him. "But we will sell you the lot, and maybe one day you can build a new home." Not knowing. He didn't realize-we had kept this place up. When we come back, if it needed painting, we painted it. The very man that said he didn't want Negroes-when I came back, all these guys around here I had went to school with. And they were in our house more than I was. (Unintelligible) would come over. "Ruth, Grandma Lee." He'd come, "What'd you got for supper, Ruth. Grandma, what's you got. I am going to eat at Ruth's." We were just a family out here.
RW Because when we moved into this neighborhood, the mother, Mrs. [Gussie] Lee, lived in a little house there, and on the other side was her daughter and she had two little boys and they were something like two or three years old. And they just came down, and they just accepted us. The daughter right now is like our daughter. She lives in Waynesville. I introduced her to her husband and helped them to run away to Michigan state to get married, and now they have two children, a girl that is a junior and a little boy that's about ten years old. But they are just like our family. They have a key to my house. They come to see about us. So then anyway, they didn't never call me when I lived over there. In the meantime they built this little house over here next door for $10,500.00. It was a little National house. Mary Johnson, she lived over there, and they were alcoholics. He still is, but she's passed. But everyone was getting hired, but I wasn't getting hired.
MP Now, were any Blacks getting hired?
RW No, Blacks were getting hired.
OW No, she was the first.
RW I was the only one Negro that had took the test. So my milkman was a Sealtest [Murray Dairy] milkman, and he was born in Sunnyside raised out there with me, William Ahlers. So one day, he came and he said, "Ruthie." Ruthie, he calls me. He says, "I'm not going to be your milk man in two weeks. I'll be gone." And I said, "Oh, really," I said, "Where are you going? He had been my milkman four or five years. He said, "I'm going to go to General Electric." I said, "Well, good for you. I have my application in and I have been accepted, I have had my physical, but they have never called me." This was in August, 1954. So he went, and it wasn't too long, a few days later and Mary Johnson came over and said, "I am going out to GE and put my application in." She went out to GE put her application in and they accepted her and put her to work, she came back and told me and I broke down and cried. She said, "I got hired." This is in August, too. Everyday, I had been calling, you know, asking when I was going to get hired and "Well, we're not calling and so and so."
MP And you knew people were being hired.
RW And I would go out there. I would get off from work, my split shift. I would go out there and I would see them running and hiding. I would ask for Mr. [Robert] Hildebrand, who was the personnel man. "He is not here." And I had just saw him go hide. So after Mary got hired and I had cried, I decided I was going to go out there and find out why they don't hire me. And this was getting toward the end of August. So I would call Mr. [R. C.] Ehrman, he was the big-shot out there at the time. I'd call him. "He's not here." I would go out there. "Well he's busy." So one day I got my dandruff up, and I went out there, and they told me that Mr. Ehrman wasn't' in. And I had just seen Mr. Ehrman go through the office, and I was very angry and I snatched a chair. And I told them you may as well put Ruth Waddell's name on this chair because I am going to sit here until you hire me.
MP You had a one lady sit-in right? I think that's fantastic. (laughs)
RW I pulled the chair out and sat on down. It wasn't too long, Mr. Ehrman came out and talked with me-but he wasn't' there. He came out and talked with me, and he told me, and he said, "Well, I tell you what. You call me next week." Then he said, "I will have some information, I don't know how many we are going to put on, but" he said, "I'll be able to tell you something then." I called for two whole weeks and never got no answer. So finally one day, I just went in there and I was really mad. I was burning that day, and I just had on fit after another and said my piece and came on home. He called me up, and he told me to come in that next day. Then the next day on Friday, he put me to work. And I didn't know-it was three four years later that I knew because by this time we had 17 years of marriage, and we decided we were going to build us a house. We tried to get a GI loan, and they wouldn't let him have it.
MP Why wouldn't they let you have a GI loan?
RW Because of our color.
OW The man told us that it was too good for Negroes.
RW We couldn't get a GI loan.
MP You were not to good to serve in the war, though.
RW But he wasn't too good to serve in the war. We had a Negro friend, Mr. Willis Stearles, and he was over the animals in Miller Park, and he lived out on Fell Avenue. Well the man that built that house across the street from him-we liked that little house so much, we just kept going over and looking at it. We met the builder. And we asked him would he build us a house. He said he would. He was Amish, and he lives in Deer Creek. So I knew what I wanted. It wasn't anything elaborate. I just wanted a little house, all my own house. I always wanted a brick house. I grew up with Ken Miller, and his father and him own some lots down the street. We used to play together and skate together. We said, "One day we might get married, and we're going to build us a brick house."
MP I understand.
End Side A; Tape 1
Side B; Tape 1
RW Just took a little piece of paper and drawed me up what I thought was a little house, and this was it.
MP This perfect house.
MP You designed it. Isn't that fascinating.
RW It's only two bedrooms, a living room and a dinette and a full basement.
MP That is sufficient. So how did you finance it. You said your husband couldn't get a GI loan.
RW My husband was gone for three and a half years in the service. He left on Friday, I went to work on Saturday, and I worked the full time until he came home. And everything I earned, I saved and everything he sent me, I saved and all his war bonds I saved. And when he came home in three and a half years I had saved six thousand and some odd dollars. So that is what we had as a down payment for our house.
MP I think that is a marvelous story. When did you have the house constructed?
RW We had the house constructed. They started working on it in 1958 in June. We moved into it in December of 1959.
MP I think that is fascinating that you had saved all of that money. This is really an interesting story.
RW So we got this man. He came, and he said he would build it.
MP I bet your husband was surprised that you had saved all of that money.
RW Oh, he was, and my mother just told me that he said he was really surprised. But when he came back home of course, he went back to work for the bus barn, and he worked for his step-brother in Model Window Washing, but it didn't pan out. So then he went to Chicago, and worked as a mail clerk on the railroad. He stayed up there for about a year, but he didn't like up there because I was down here. So then he came home. Then he went to work for Meadows [1100 East Bell] which was a washing machine plant, but they were making shells, and he went there and went to work. I was working at the hospital, and he was working out there until GE came up. Then they needed a hydraulic press operator, and I told them my husband could run one because they could not find one. I told them my husband can run one. They asked me, "Are you sure?" And I said, "Oh, yeah, I'm sure." So they said, "Have him come over." So he went over there and they gave him the test, and they hired him. So he started working there a year after they hired me. I had went to the training center, and I was the first Negro. The bosses would hide around and peek and watch.
MP That's what I was going to ask you-what was it like when you were employed.
RW They would sneak around and watch between the racks to see how well I was going to get along. When I went into the place, I knew four or five of the girls that I had gone to school. But they had worked at Admiral. And Admiral didn't hire any Negroes. They would not even let you clean the toilet over there. And these women all came from Admiral to General Electric because Admiral paid $1.10 and GE started out paying a $1.15 an hour. That's what they started out at. So they all came over there. But they got the good jobs because they got the lead girl jobs. They had put me in this zero and one line. I'm still in the zero and one line, and I have never been in anything else.
MP You had not been promoted at all?
RW No, I have always been in this one line, and I stayed there because I was on incentive and I made good money.
MP So that was all right with you?
RW Fine. And we did starters, and I think it was 1956 they built the new wing, and they chose me-I was doing reversers at that time. It's a two-(unintelligible) starter. They chose me to go down to the new wing, and I went down there and did reversers, and I have been on reversers ever since then. I would do a starter that's a forward and a reverse starter that I wired. I've wired missiles for launching pads. The starters made for elevators to go up and down. Anything that goes forward and backward, whatever. So I have always been in that line all the time that I have been there. I've never been laid off and this is my thirty-second year. In September it will be thirty-two years.
MP And they do lay off occasionally, don't they?
RW Oh yeah, they do lay off. But, I have never been laid off.
MP You had established a reputation.
RW The line I was in was what they called 9520101300f the business-magnetic switch line. This is where I have always been, and this is the job I have always done and I'm still doing it. I will do it for a few more months, and then I'll quit. But they have taken pictures of me and put them in different magazines.
MP Do you have any of these?
RW Yes, I do. (tape is turned off)
MP Mr. Waddell, I want you to tell me about some of your experiences.
OW I didn't know anything about white or Black or anything like that. I was raised up with white, and we went to school together and played with the white gals and stuff like that, and I didn't know nothing about it.
MP The neighborhood you were in-you were in the west side of Bloomington, right? It was an integrated neighborhood, right?
OW I lived on West Jackson Street. You see my father he had a business here in Bloomington.
MP What kind of business did he have?
OW He had a wash rack business. He had one of the first pressure hose...
MP Where was it located?
OW It was on Center Street. I mean East Street and that was downtown at that time. Wait a minute. I'll tell you what is there now-the telephone company is there.
MP Yes, I know exactly where that is.
OW That is where it was located. Before that he was in the police department. He drove horses, and then when they got automobiles, he was the first Colored patrol driver in Bloomington.
MP Is that right? He was in the police department then?
MP Do you have a photograph of him?
OW There used to be, but I don't know where it has gone now. It's been years ago that he was a policeman. He give that up, and he worked for the American Express Company, too. Then he worked for Doc [John] Fenelon even though he had a business of his own. He still took care of Doc Fenelon. Doc Fenelon he brought both of us boys into the world and we were his boys. And back in those days, we had a Negro doctor here.
MP Was that Doctor Covington?
OW Yes, that was Doctor Covington. But Doctor [John] Fenelon took care of us boys. He would always call, "Reet, bring the boys up. I want to give them a shot." He was on the sixth floor of the Griesheim Building [219 North Main]. The building that burned. We would go up there -two little Black boys coming in. It would be loaded. And the nurse would say, "Yes, Mrs. Waddell, the Doctor has been expecting you. You're the next." We'd just come in the place. He'd come out. "Oh, Reet , you got here. Come on in. Bring my boys in here. Art and Oscar come on in here." "What are you going to do Doc?" "Come on in here I got some candy for you." You'd hear them say, "How come they get ahead of us?" The Doctor would give us a shot and tell, "Now Reet, they're going to be sick." He give us for diphtheria and everything that come up, we got a shot. He would tell her what to do. Back in them days, Dad never did buy us no Easter, Fourth of July or anything . Doc would always get that. We were just brought up with people. So when I went into the army, I left here and went to Fort Custer, Michigan, but that was all right. Then sent me to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. My grandfather lived in Alton and so that was just eighteen miles, and that wasn't too bad.
MP Your grandfather lived in Alton?
OW He lived in Jerseyville, Illinois.
MP Is that near Alton.
OW It's about 10 miles from Alton. My dad's father.
MP Did your dad's father grow up in Alton?
OW Oh no, no. My grandfather was a slave.
MP Yes, that is what I want you to tell me about. Now where was he a slave?
OW He was a slave in Virginia around the West Virginia area. Now he had a twin, and they were sold. [My grandfather] went to around Richmond, but he don't know where his twin went to. Someone else bought him.
MP So he never made a contact with his twin?
OW Never could, never could find him. So in Richmond the war started and they had the Underground. So Grandpa went underground to Pennsylvania, and he joined the Pennsylvania Regulars in the Civil War, and after the Civil War, he didn't go back. He settled in Illinois. He settled in Jerseyville, Illinois. And he married my grandmother and raised a family in Jerseyville. He was an ice-cream maker, my grandfather. He worked at a...
MP Did he have a business?
OW No, he worked for a white man there. But he made good money. He raised a family. Dad was born and raised in Jerseyville. And one of the ironic things, my Uncle Jim and Dad they had a mare, and they hung around the race track. There was a great horse, a guide-less horse, and they let him sire the mare. They liked the kids so they let them sire this mare. But they brought the mare home, and Grandpa didn't know she was pregnant. So they tried to tell Grandpa, "We're going to have a colt, Dad." "You going to take care of him? That's just a lot of trouble." And they did. The kids took care of him, and they raised this colt. And it was a beautiful colt, and the man seen the colt again-that had sired. He knew bloodline, and he told my grandfather he would give-I think it was a thousand dollars for the colt and back in them days that was some money. So Grandfather took it, and Dad said they cried, and [Grandpa] said, "Look, that colt could die tomorrow and you need clothes and stuff..." So the man went on and trained this colt to a guide-less runner to go around the track by itself. Then they come to the Springfield Fair, and Dad said-they was nothing but little kids, and he sent a ticket to Grandfather and said, "I want these boys to see this colt that they raised." So they went there, and Dad said they got to the colt, and the colt knew them. Dad said the colt neighed and stuff, and the man said, "Well, he knows the boys." So the man said, "Now boys when he is performing, don't say nothing to him or he'll break." And Dad said he had a sulky on him, and he went right on around that track just as nice. And that was the last that he seen him. Dad said the horse was worth a lot of money. And he went back and told Grandfather, "You made us sell that horse." And Grandfather said, "Yeah, and he could have died." But you know the ironic thing is that my Grandfather was in the Civil War. Now his son Aaron-Abe was in the Spanish-American War, and he was at San Juan Hill where Roosevelt was supposed to been so wonderful. If they told the truth about it, if it hadn't been for them Colored boys, he wouldn't have took that Hill. That infantry-Colored infantry was the cause of them taking San Juan Hill over in Cuba.
MP Now, that was your uncle was in the Spanish-American War.
OW Yes, that was my uncle. My dad was called to the World War, but.
MP Now that was World War I?
OW then I come and that saved him, but he still called up to go, and they signed the armistice just before he went. Now, his boys, my brother was in the army. He went in before I did. He enlisted.
MP This was World War II?
OW Yes, World War II. I was drafted. He went to Europe, and I went to South Pacific. We both got letters at the same time. One going over to Europe, and I got mine and said, "Big deal, (unintelligible), I don't know what he is talking about."He got a letter from me, "(Unintelligible) going too. Like I said it was quite an experience for me because I went South.
MP What state in the South did you train in?
OW The first time they put me off (unintelligible) was Tampa, Florida. And Honey, was it hot. Then they took us to Greenville, South Carolina, and it was a prejudiced town. They had a lot of prejudice there, and they were beating up the Colored soldiers so bad down there that if we went to town, we had to go to town at least three or four guys together. But the only time I went into Greenville was I went there on a furlough. I didn't realize that (unintelligible). I went into Greenville. After Greenville, we went to Tallahassee, Florida. We was stationed in Tallahassee, Florida. During that time I made corporal. I was a pretty sharp kid, and I really liked it in the army. I got into it, and my officers liked me so they started sending me to school. Well, I never had traveled down South. Back in them days you traveled in the back. When you went to a rest stop, you couldn't go in the front. You went around to back, and there was a little window, where you would get a sandwich. If you had to go to the bathroom, there was for Colored and white. I couldn't get along with that.
MP That must have been quite an adjustment for you then?
OW Going along. I never will forget, one time, an old gray-haired Colored man with whiskers got on the bus, and the man hollered at him and told him, "Get on Boy." He was mean to him and stuff like that there. I can remember-I'm in uniform-and the way that he talked to him, and I couldn't do nothing. Here I was just there by myself. All I could do was tears running down my eyes. But I said, if I ever get out of this South, I'll never come back. We were stationed in Tallahassee, Florida, and it went back purt near to the Everglades. I will never forget. We was-A Company went back for point to bring in-we was on problems of jungle training and stuff like that. And we went back in there with all them rattle snakes and all that stuff. This was just before we went overseas. We had a German captain. We had all white officers. He was full German. He fought with Germans in there First World War, and he come here and got into our army and made master sergeant, and when the war came along, they made him an officer. He was our captain. We were on reconnaissance to what we had to do to bring in heavy equipment, and we come to this one-horse store out there in the boondocks. He said "I'll buy pop." We said, "Okay, Captain." We went in there and he said, "We want some pop." And the man said, "I can't serve these fellows." He looked at him and he said, "Fellow you don't know what you are talking about. These men getting ready to go overseas. You see them guns they're carrying? They have enough fire power in them guns to blow this thing right on down to the ground." He said, "But we ain't going to do that." He said, "Don't you worry. I'll serve them." So he served us the pop and throwed the [glasses] on the ground. We drank the pop and went on. It was just things like that. You're in uniform. One thing I remember, we were recognized in Tallahassee as one of the finest Negro outfits there was. We had the opportunity to serve as MPs down there. They had a lot of trouble. They had Negro MPs down there beat the Colored boys worst than the white ones did. You know sometimes you give us authority. You know, they had so much trouble our Colonel said, "Well, we'll just put MPs on with them." And I never will forget the first night we went there. We had a first sergeant. Small fellow. Last year we went to see him. Sergeant Riley. He was a man. He was a little fellow, but he was a man. He didn't back down off of nobody. Matter of fact, he had been at Fort (unintelligible) with what they called the "buffalo soldier," and that was the Black soldier that Cochise feared. That was the same outfit he come out of-the Buffalo Soldiers.
MP They called them that in World War I? Didn't they?
OW Yes. "Buffalo soldiers," yeah. It was cavalry. Anyway he come into the outfit, and he was the man. Anyway, we went to Tallahassee that night, and we was all in trucks. The highest rating man they had in the MP was a buck sergeant. Well, they sent our First Sergeant, and he wouldn't take nothing but a buck sergeant with him. Well, I was a buck sergeant weighing around 275 [pounds] and there was more weighing like that, and he got of the truck and they said, "Huh, is that all they sent. They'll chew you up and spit you out." "That's all right, I've some men behind me. All right, `Fall out,'" and here we come. He looked up and he said all these buck sergeant they out rank me. And he said, "That's right and they are going with everyone of your men." So we took the town over, and we didn't have no more problems from the time we was in there. We made a name. 1895th made a name. The white people would watch parade. You know a Colored man, he was something else. They loved to watch us come out and watch us parade. I will never forget, one Sunday, they were honoring a white WAC that had come back who rescued somebody at home. And they was honoring her. The guys was getting ready to go to town, but they called over and they said that they got a special parade. They had a general down and everything like that there. (Unintelligible) said, "We can't go on liberty until we parade.""Parade. This is Sunday." And he said, "Orders from the Colonel. Got to parade." So we paraded and I never will forget that day. I was buck sergeant and the right guide was sick or something.So the Captain said, "Sergeant Waddell, can you right guide?"to right guide at Jefferson Barracks.""Okay, you take right guide." My corporal filled in for me. We had another sergeant-H and S was master sergeant, and he was closing file. H and S and A company followed them. He was short and fat, and I am big and fat. We turned the corner there. You guide out and post and stuff like that there and Captain Goodwin looked at me-we post and everything, and he said, "Pass and review." And them white guys they were doing one of these things, you know. And we would come up the line and at the corner you turn, and when we turned, they were playing every kind of thing, but when the Black boys turned the corner-we was Army Air force-they stepped it up, that cadence. And you could hear the crowd, say, "Here they come." And Honey, we come on. I was guiding off of Master Sergeant, and I had a right guide. I was guiding that company. I looked over at Captain Goodwin and said, "Don't get ahead of me. I'm the guide." "I'm sorry." We come down there and all you could hear was, "Look at them two big sergeants. The Colonel wanted to take the salute, but the General said, "No, I'm taking this salute." He jumped up and took the salute. He said, "Them boys is walking." The General-when we got back said, "All night passes." And Captain Goodwin said, "Say what you want to. We was looking good sergeant."I said, "I know because I had my eye dead on you. You weren't going to get ahead of me." When we got ready to go overseas, we had a boy-that boy would go over the wall, and he was a guide, and he knew that army. He made us guides. Old Chick. The night we were going overseas, we was confined to the base. Chick said, "Sergeant I'm going." I said, "Chick, if you go you know it's court marital." He said, "I'll be back." But I'll never forget that. That morning at reveille -no Chick. I had reported him as he was there. So after we broke up, I told Sergeant-the first sergeant. I said, "Riley, Chick ain't here." He said, "He ain't here." He said, " Oh Lord." "He said he'd be back here. So what are we going to do?" He said, "When we get ready to go, you've got to report him." Well, I know my stripes is gone.
MP Oh. That was a terrible responsibility.
OW I know. I said, "I ain't got no more stripes." We had breakfast, and we thought that we was just going to walk over. And here come some trucks. The Colonel said, "Load your gear in the trucks and the band is going to be there. You all is going to walk to the train today." He said, "Do you know that pretty near the whole city of Tallahassee is here." We was on a hill. They said they had never done it before in their lives, "but you boys is walking with the band to the train." Captain Goodwin said, "Oh, oh, we'd better not mess up. You boys better be looking good and that is all I can say. And if anybody mess up, I am going to court marital him." So we got ready to leave-Goodwin, he was a sharp captain anyway. I was the first sergeant asked to report, and I was just getting ready to say, "One person unaccounted for" and here he come around the corner. "I'm here Sarge. I'm here." I looked at him, and Captain Goodwin looked at me. He knew what was going on, you know. He said, "I knew he wasn't here and you reported him didn't you? And you knew that was your stripes, didn't you." I said, "Yes, Sergeant." He said, "Chick you get your so and so in here and get back out here."
MP You must have been a happy soul.
OW And we walked. And we walked. That whole-there were white people there from Tallahassee, and when we got to Hawaii, they wrote a big thing about the 1895th. It was one of the finest outfits that had ever been in-and they was prejudiced down there. That is the kind of things that happened to us, and when we did things overseas, we should have got a presidential citation and the Colonel wouldn't even put in for us. He was white. But we didn't care. We were proud.
MP Did the Black soldiers become kind of disheartened? Or depressed?
OW You know, Girl. I'll tell you, the Black soldier thought more of his country than the white soldiers with everything that they did to him. He was a proud man. And he was proud of what he did. They told us that the outfit that we had, aviation engineer, that we didn't have sense enough to do it. We had guys from Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois who were college men, but most of your non-coms [non-commissioned officers] were maybe high school graduates, stuff like that. Even though with wisdom, they couldn't handle men. But guys that could handle men. They had the batteries all made up before we got there. A lot of us guys bumped them out of the batteries. I had a chance to be staff sergeant, but I turned it down, because at the time they weren't paying a staff sergeant allotment, but they were paying the buck sergeant. So I made more money as a buck sergeant and sent it to her. But when I finally made staff overseas, I took it. I had a chance before I come back home to make sergeant major, but I'd have had to went on into Japan. So I told them that didn't concern me.
MP You didn't go to Japan. Now, you were in the Pacific?
OW I was in Guam. We built North Field where the B-29 were based. And that atomic bomb was flown from Guam, and we didn't even know it. The thing purt near went off, and we didn't even know it. One guy got killed-one of the scientist got killed trying to stop the army (unintelligible). We didn't even know it and could have blowed that whole island up, and we wouldn't even know anything about it.
MP So you didn't know this was going on.
OW No. Not until after they dropped it.
MP How did the people in Guam treat the Black soldiers?
OW They were (pause) pretty good to them. Now, Hawaii. The Hawaiian men, liked the Black soldiers, but the Hawaiian women liked the white men, the blue-eyed boys. The Hawaiian men they would whoop them all the time about those white boys. The Guamanians, they were different. They had a hard time. I mean them "Japs" really abused them. But you know, the funny part about it is that we experienced so many things that we knew that the Japanese didn't want us. Because if they did, I would have been dead a long time ago. And that is one reason why they infiltrated the army because the Black men...
OW No, they finally made-instead of having Black soldiers and white soldiers, you know after World War II, remember Harry Truman.
MP He integrated them.
OW Integrated them. That's why.
MP I was going to ask you when you became aware of the fact that Truman had decided to integrate the army?
OW You see that was after World War II that he did that. But up until that time see-now we worked with a white outfit, 854. And when we first come there, we had to prove ourselves. I will never forget, they sent me out on-I was a heavy equipment repairman. I was sent out there one night, and a white sergeant said, "You." He was having problems steering and stuff. The clutch and stuff needed adjusting, and he said, "Seergeaant, you know I am from Georgia." I was ready to go then. "Yes." He said, "You know when I get back home, I got a story to tell." He said, "We thought you guys were less then dogs. You some of the best soldiers we ever soldiered with."
OW They used to go to the town the 1895th and 854. The white boys and Colored boys, and you better not bother them. Neither one of them. They would fight together and everything else. So really overseas, even though we were segregated they did us a favor. We went into a Marine patrol. About two miles into the jungles there was a village, and we went back there one day. We was out of meat. We hadn't had any fresh meat. So somebody seen a deer. And you know when you get a bunch of Colored folks together, they were hollering and carrying on and everything like that and they went through this village. And they seen fire, but they didn't see nobody. Went through it and right close to the village, we got the deer. And we put him on this thing, and we was happy. We was singing. We were going to have deer and everything like that and still didn't see nobody. Went back out to the road, and we met this white Marine patrol going in. They said, "Did you see anybody up at the village?" And we said, "No, we didn't see nobody." We went back down to our camp, cooked that deer and the next day people said, "Did you hear about that Marine patrol?" "No, what about it?" "Up there at that village. They got wiped out." "They couldn't have. We went through that village." He said, "You went through that village?" I said, "Yeah! We didn't see nobody. We seen some fire." And then a lot of times we would be out working the roads in the jungles. One boy went out, and he was off from the rest of them and a Japanese women said, "You got cigarettes Soldier?" He looked at her. She said, "We ain't going to hurt you." He looked around and he didn't see nobody. He said, "We?" Said, "We won't hurt you." "I have a package of Camels." She said, "Fine." So he gave her the Camels, and she kissed him and went on back into the jungle. He came back and said, "Hey the 'Japs' are-we went there and you could see where they had been all around."
MP So they would not harm the Black soldiers?
OW No. Well, the first night we was there, they put our heavy equipment to dig coral and they were digging in a hole or something like that and they had lights all around and one boy on guard said, "You know, I feel like somebody is watching us. I just got a feeling." (Unintelligible). "You don't know what's you talking about. You're scared is all. We're all scared." In the morning about dawn up on the ridge he said there was about ten or twelve Japanese sitting down there watching us work, and when we said, "Look at that," they waved and went on into the jungle. You know before-they sent me to Americus, Georgia to oversee packing. Americus, Georgia to oversee packing.A fellow had just come back from the Kwajaleins. He told me. He said, "Sergeant, I want to tell you something." He said, "Where are you going?" I said, "We're going to the South Pacific." He said, "Let me tell you something. When you get over there. Don't be too gung-ho. If they don't move, don't you move." I said, "What are you talking about?"
MP Was this a Black person who told you this?
OW -It was a Black sergeant. He said, "Man, I was over there on guard duty and we had the posts, and there were a clump of bushes where we used to go to." He said, "I went to the bushes went by the one boy we was guarding." He said he noticed that he looked all funny. He said he didn't say a word to him. "I stopped I looked all over my area and stuff like that." And he said, "A Japanese raised up with his gun in the fore arm and we looked right at each other." I said, "What did you do?" He said, "I ain't did nothing. I was so scared I ain't do nothing." I said, "What did 'Jap' do?" He said, "'Jap' didn't do nothing either." I said, "What happened?" He said, "The' Jap' squatted back down and I turned around and started back and went to the dude and said, `Nigger,' why didn't you tell me there was a 'Jap' out there." He said, "He didn't do nothing did he?" He said, "No." The guy said, "Did you do anything?" He said, "No, I was too scared," And the other guy said, "He was the same way." He said, "He's been out there. Just go out there and look and go on back." And he took me he said, "Let me tell you. They don't want us." He said, "Now you take it for its worth. You get out there and don't get all gung-ho, now." I had it happen to me Girl. I was on nights. All of them leave at four o'clock in the morning to six o'clock. I was at the asphalt, I was a mechanic and had to get all of the machines going. Well, I got all my machines going, but the island was secure then, but there were still Japanese out there, you know, and they were killing the white folks. You could see their lights and stuff. We knew they was out there, and I was at the border and this night I forgot my gun and I went to sleep, and I dreamed that the Japanese was all around me in a circle. I was dreaming Girl, and I woke up in a startle, and I could hear something but couldn't see nothing. The coral was soft and around me you could see footprints in a circle where I had been asleep. Now if I had had a gun and probably reached for it, they would have killed me. I come in that morning and I have a buddy. He's dead now, Calvin (Unintelligible), I will never forget him. I started cleaning my gun. He said, "What's you doing?" I said, "Cleaning my gun."He said, "What are you going to do with it?" "Put it away." He said, "For what?" I said, "I don't need a gun." He said, "What happened?" and I told him. He said, "You lying?" "No." He said, "I'm going to clean mine, too." So the only time we got our guns out was when inspection or something like that. Me and him worked on trucks and we worked the night shift and we go all through the jungle road testing trucks and never got shot at. Never had no problems at all. The white guys would go down there (Mr. Waddell makes shooting sounds). and Calvin said, "You know one thing. They don't want us, do they?" And just before I went home, we had Japanese prisoners. We would go get them and I was guarding them. One Japanese spoke English. He was a sergeant and I said, "You speak English. I am going to tell you what to do. You get `em going and I'll sit here. You can go anywhere you want." He said, "We aren't going anywhere Sarge. We are eating good." Why, I take maybe twenty-five and take them back and have thirty. "Where did they come from?" "They come on in. I told them that everything was all right. That you were okay." See the Japanese thought that you wouldn't take captives-we would kill them. He told me-he I found out where I was and stuff like that. He said I've been in your home. He told me different installations and everything else. He said, "We were sent to school." He went to Wesleyan.
MP The Japanese did.
OW Yeah. They knew everything about the United States. The only reason why the Japanese didn't land, they didn't know where that aircraft carrier was. That one aircraft carrier kept them away or they would have come right on to the coast. We'd still be fighting. Another thing they feared-you see there's a lot of people trying to get this handgun prohibited. That is another thing that stopped them. Because every man with a handgun is a potential soldier. And the United States is known to have handguns. That is one reason why Russia was in here trying to get this thing stirred up. So they could take these handguns away.
MP Oh, yes. I see your point.
OW -You see in the South-you see, before World War II, the Black man didn't have too many guns or anything. Now the white man had them all. Now the white man's still got `em, but there ain't a soldier that was in the army ain't got some kind of gun in his house today. You might come in his house, and you might lynch him, but he is going to get somebody before he goes. You see, white men might be saying if you got as good as he's got, you going to think a couple of times.
MP He's going to stay away, right?
OW He's going to think a couple of times. They said that we weren't good soldiers. But the Black man was a good soldier. They said that we were cowards and stuff like that. The Black man was a good soldier. We wasn't no cowards.
MP I wanted to ask you about the Red Cross. Did the Black soldiers get any benefits from the Red Cross?
OW Well, I'll tell you. I don't think the Red Cross was prejudiced, but the Red Cross to me didn't use the money like other organizations. Like the Salvation Army gives the people, you know...
MP The Salvation Army did help the soldiers? Is that right?
OW -Now don't get me wrong.
RW If you got any money or anything from the Red Cross, you had to give it back.
OW See when I went overseas, Ruth was very sick. You see, I was on the water better than a month, and I didn't know the child was sick or nothing. By the time I went to Guam, I got all the letters. She'd been in the hospital, had an operation, just about dead...
MP Now was that you daughter or you?
RW It was me.
OW -Yes, it was her and I didn't even know it. I was on the sea. Then, that is when me and my first sergeant-he went with me. We went right to the Red Cross.
End Side B; Tape 1
Side A: Tape 2
Note: I have not heard nor have I been able to locate tape two for Ruth and Oscar Waddell (July 15, 1986). An early
transcription of tape two was made apparently by the same person who originally transcribed tape one. Be aware that
the original transcription of tape one contained errors.
What follows is a retyping of the available transcription with obvious omissions and spelling errors having been
corrected. There is good information here, but be aware that there may be errors. With careful reading the errors
should be possible to detect.
Jack Muirhead
January 20, 2002.
Side A; Tape 2 begins here
MP I am continuing to talk with the Waddells.
OW My name is Oscar Waddell. I was born in Bloomington, Illinois, April 17, 1917. I can remember that back in those days, it was pretty tight. About 1920, 1921 things were pretty rough. I can remember my father, he had a business, a car washing business and he made a good living for his kids. We were fortunate not to... we didn't have elaborate stuff, but we had a good living for Negroes. We had good clothes, good food and a shelter. Now he didn't own the house, but he was renting it.
MP Could you give us the address of the house where you were born, if you can remember?
OW Now the house I was born in was on West Front Street, but I don't remember the number, it was right next to tracks on Front Street, the New York Central [seems to be an error in transcription] tracks. Then we moved to Oakland Avenue. My mother died in 1918 or 1919 when they had the flu epidemic. She died in Chicago. She went to Chicago to get me and she caught a cold and died. My dad tried to raise us. At that time we lived at Oakland Ave and that was about the 600 block of Oakland Avenue. My grandmother owned that older than I am. He was working at that time for the police department, my father did. My father, having no wife, he did the best he could. My great grandmother would come down to raise us and she was a church women. My father would put food in the house and the preachers would eat up the food from us, and my dad couldn't afford that. He tried to do the best he could. My father's cousin had married a women and his cousin had died. My father liked this women. She lived in Minnesota. So my went to her and talked to her. We were just kids then. He told her that he had two children to raise and that he liked the way she was and everything like that and that he would marry her if she would take care of his children. He knew they didn't love each other then, but maybe they could grown to love each other, but he wanted a women to take care of his children. So he must have talked pretty good because they got married at Thanksgiving and she came to raise his children. I can remember Dad saying that right after she came, we must have come down with everything. My father said, that he said to her, "Mom, are you going to leave my?" She said, "Leave you for what?"He said, "These kids have got everything and you are working yourself wretched." She said that they will get over it. She brought us through the different sicknesses, but I can remember, she was the only mother that I really knew. Mother and I was talking this morning about how I was on her coat-tail all of the time. She had a son, a grown son. He was in the army. He had gone to World War I, but he had come back. So after she moved here, him and his wife stayed here and they stayed with us until they got on their feet. Anyway, I was fortunate to have a good stepmother. She was just like my mother and like I said I was closer to her than her own son. Different things would happen and I always turn to Mama, never to Daddy. Even back in those days, things were hard. We went to Washington D.C.-the family moved to Washington D.C. My mother knew the man. They were raised up together, and he was a page in the Senate, and he had a farm out in Osborn, Maryland and they were raising hogs. They went out there, not checking the thing out. He just took the man's word. It did all right, but he died, the other man. So Dad and his wife couldn't get along too well, but they had get the farm on a paying basis that they had raised hogs and sold them. Back in those days, I think they were sold for $100 and some odd dollars a piece and that was big money. But they were choice. So Dad said they couldn't get along. So we moved in Washington D.C. and my brother got a job with the Pullman people cleaning cars and dad got a job taking care of apartments on occasion. I can remember I would work over at the Piggly Wiggly, washing hams or whatever, delivering groceries and things like that. Then I had another little job-a Colored lady had a business on Sundays. She would serve dinners and I would delivering groceries and things like that. Then I had another little job a Colored lady had a business on Sundays she would serve dinners, and I would deliver dinners for her all around there. So we had learned to help out. We would just pull our money together although things were tough, we did pretty well. This was the training that we got. That you have to work with your hands or whatever you could do as long as you are making money.
MP Now this must have been during the Depression period right?
OW Yes, this was during the Depression. We didn't like it out there so we wanted to come back to Illinois. So we came back to Chicago. My brother got transferred from the Pullman in Washington D.C. to Chicago, and we lived with my Uncle Clarence and Aunt Gert for a while and then we got an apartment . Dad couldn't get any work. He would go out and get a job or something like that. The Saint Valentines Massacre on the West Side, my father was a block from there when it happened.
MP Tell me about the Saint Valentines Massacre?
OW This was when they lined up all those gangsters in the garage and shot them and just run out on them. Well, my father was just a block from there, and he seen it. People run toward it, and he ran away from it. And so Mom said we are leaving. At the time, he had an application in for the police department, and it had came through to be in the police department in Chicago. They were killing policemen in Chicago like flies then. Mama said we are not staying. We are going back to Bloomington. So we came back to Bloomington. It was rough but Dad got different jobs and stuff like that and would around and stuff like that. So he went to work for C. U. Williams, the Eureka Williams, the old man and he was a chauffeur and he was making $15.00 dollars a week. That was pretty good money in those days. At the time Art was working . I was still gong to school. But I was a caddie out at the country club and back in those days-I was a big then and I could take four bags and carrying them. Most of the other kids could only take two.
MP And you got paid by the number of bags you carried?
OW And that was thirty-five cents a round and if I carried four bags, I got $1.40 per round and I would go eighteen holes. So I got some money. I had a buddy Andy [sic] James. We used to caddy together and Dad used to come get us. And was just like a brother to me. So he would pick us up every night. On tournament, we would have maybe five or six dollars so we would always tell Dad, "Go to the gas station and filler up!" And back in them days, I think gas was ten cents a gallon. Anyway it would take maybe twenty gallons of gas so it would be about a dollar apiece and something like that and I never did tell Mom. Dad would say, "You know what those "niggers" do? You know they filled my tank up." She would say, "They filled up?" He would say it was about two dollars a piece. Then I would give her what I had left and keep fifty cents. I would go to Mom and pass him up and he said you pass me up like a bad street car he would laugh. Because I would go to Mom. Anyway, we made good money and was taking care of his family what he was making and I would give it to Mom and I bought my clothes and my books and everything. She would give me money, if I needed it you know for whatever and that is were I went through school and made good money. They had rich boys caddying-some of the boys I know now. John Brokaw I know him very well. His dad is wealthy. I ran into him the other day we were talking about how we used to caddie together and the different things we used to do. We had so many, many, many experiences. We didn't know anything about segregation.
MP Yeah, you were saying and I think that is very interesting that...
OW We didn't know, because the rich kids and the poor kids their parents made them work, and they knew the value of that dollar. They had to do the same thing with their money as we had to with ours and this was good training. The rich kids these days, they just give it to them now. Back in those days, it wasn't done that way. They had to work. And you know people are like you say, they think it is dishonorable to work with your hands, but that is what God told us to do. A man is supposed to work the sweaters and all and a women because of her disobedience and his disobedience she is to bear a child with pain. If you are not working with the Bible you aren't doing what you are supposed to.
MP I want you to tell me what you were going to tell me about your wife. I don't want you to forget that.
OW Andy, the fellow I was telling you about-we were buddies for years, we were raised up together. We worked together and everything like that. So they had him around the world where you went to different houses and you represent different countries and stuff like that. So we had been two young men with cars, which young men didn't have at time, most invited us, so they would have transportation. So Andy talked me into going. He said I would get a free meal. At that time, I was a bachelor. My mother and father had died and I lived by myself, so I said, "Okay, I will go with you Andy." So we went over there we went and picked them up. We went over to the Gaines's house ,and Ruth was the hostess and she was such a cute little hostess...
MP Would you explain now, what this going around, that idea, because I don't know what that means.
RW A club of young girls twelve years old, and it was the Phillis Wheatley Club. We went once a week and we would need someone's house and we would raise money. We would go swimming and a lot of the time we would go to the country for the summer. We would go up to Lexington and we would have school and crafts and swim and things like that. So we had just enough money. This around the world trip was to represent America. My mother would have pop corn, hot dogs and things like this.
MP One more question-how did you club happen to be named the Phillis Wheatley Club?
RW Phillis Wheatley was from the northern part of Chicago she is one of the older women and she lived up around Harvey. She was very old at that time. She had started this club all over Illinois. So the club was named after her-the Phillis Wheatley Club.
OW You heard her say she was twelve, didn't you?
MP Oh yes, I understand.
OW So we got over there she was twelve and I was eighteen. She was such a good hostess. I told Andy boy she is going to make somebody a good wife. After that, I don't think I seen her for about three years. We were out swimming one day, she had a friend of hers and we would take them home. This was the first time I had seen her since then. I asked to take her to the basketball game. So we went. Then I wanted to ask her if I could take her to the show. So she said, "All right, Sunday." So that Sunday, I got all dressed up, get in the car and drive up there and blow the horn. Ruth came out. Now she hadn't told her mother until I was just about there that I was going to take her to the show. So she said, "Mama wants to talk to you." I said, "What does she want to talk to me for?" So we walked in the house. She said, "Sit down." Her mother said, "Young man."I said, "Yes ma'am." SShe said, "You don't come to my house and blow your horn. You come to the door and knock for my daughter, is that clear?" I said, "Yes ma'am." From then on I have been tearing her door down ever since then.
MP You knocked on that door right?
OW Her mom said, you can always tell Oscar from his car breaks and he knocks, "Bam, bam, bam, bam." And they would say let Oscar in.
RW That is the way we were raised. You don't meet these boys around on the corner. You come to their house.
OW When we started going together, kids were kids. I was working at the bus barm. I was making about $60.00 a month. I didn't make a lot of money, but I would ask Mom if f I could take the kids with us, and she said you are responsible for them. So I would take them off and line then up and look at them and tell them, "You know I have to be at work at such and such time so you be here at ten o'clock. I am not going to look for you. You better be here." And I would always have a nickel to give them so they wouldn't have to "bum" from nobody. I would tell them that a nickel was enough and don't bum from nobody and that was the way it was and they never made me late. So at ten o'clock, they would be lined up like little soldiers. Then when she got eighteen I married her, and like Mom said that day we got married, it was a good one. But that was light as a feather.
Mrs. Waddell's mother [Marie Whiteside] I told him don't you mistreat her or bring her back home.
MP Now you should try to pick up now and tell about when you were in service and Mrs. Waddell became ill.
OW I was on my way from Hawaii to Guam on LST. Well it being a slow moving boat, we were combat-loaded and we didn't know just where we were going and we went through (unintelligible) where they exploded the bombs now. At that time that was the main place in the South Pacific to get your orders. We stood out in the harbor for about two days before we got our orders. Well we got a couple of orders, and then they changed them. So at the time we didn't know that the first orders we got, the outfit that went in to the island got wiped out completely and we didn't know that. Then they sent us to Guam. We went into Guam, Halloween night-October 31. We had been on the water thirty some odd days. We went in combat-loaded. We drove our vehicles on in, and I was motor repairman and I had the record and I was supposed to follow then. And one of the trucks were down and the Captain went back, and he stopped me and said, "Sergeant, where are you going?" I told him that I had a truck up here. He told me, "You don't have a truck up here. We are fighting up here."I said, "What?"He said, "You better turn that truck around and get out of here." We turned it around and finally found my outfit and that week we got our mail, and I found out that she had been sick, had been in the hospital and had had a very serious operation and she.. I didn't know if she had come out of it or not. So we went down to the Red Cross, the First Sergeant took me down there, and they wired back home. At that time, she was at home and she was with her mother. They had sent the Red Cross lady out there to see if they couldn't send me home. But one of the things that Mom.... Before we were married I said I didn't want a woman that couldn't have children. She had had two miscarriages, and this was she couldn't have anymore children. So she was afraid that I didn't want her. So Mom told the Red Cross lady to make sure that I wanted her. They wired right back, it was back and forth for about one day. I told the man, tell her it don't make no difference. So finally they got across to her from the Red Cross lady. That was really, as far as Red Cross is concerned that is about all the help that you got from them.
OW I went to work after the army for my brother at Model Window Cleaners for about one year. After that I went back to my old job at the bus station. Over a series of jobs, I finally went to metals, and they had a government contract that all the Negroes could do was labor. But as labors we took the job and watched what was going on, and I finally got into a place where they cold mold the hydraulic press section. The reason was it was a dirty hot job, and white men didn't want to do it. The had trouble keeping operators on it. So one night they asked if I could run the machine. I told him I thought I could. You see the union has to let you run it because if they won't the whole third shift goes home. So he came back and said, "I guess you are going to run it." He said, "I know you can run it to production, but keep us going for the night." With God's help I ran production the first night and kept them going . So the next night the operator was there so I went back to greasing shelves. So finally the foreman came in and said, "What is wrong with the machine." I said, "Nothing the operator is here." He said, "I am sorry, I meant to tell you as of this morning you are the operator." I said, "What?" He said, "We broke the union down. They are going to let you operate." So I was the first Negro machine operator in Bloomington and by that it opened up for the rest of them. So they started putting Negroes on it, and we haven't turned back. I worked with then until the time the wife went to GE and the opportunity came up where they needed a hydraulic operator. And so they interviewed me and they had a seventy-five ton. I had been operating a 300 ton press. When they interviewed me they asked it I could operate a seventy-five ton press, I told them I operate a 300 ton press. So they hired me. Well, I was on the job and I set the machine up and was running it. There was supposed to be a man named (Unintelligible) that was supposed to come and show me how to operate the machine. So in the meantime I was running parts and adjust it the way I wanted it adjusted and when he came to me and that machine was working out and he stood behind me and said, "I am Jack (Unintelligible) from New York. I was supposed to show you how to operate it." He said, "How come you don't let the ram go forward or clear up?" I said, "It don't have to." I said, "All I need is thirteen ton. This is seventy-five tons. Why use it all when I can short-dog-it and shorten the stroke and make better parts and you won't need all that pressure. You are splitting the ribbertor(?) with too much pressure. It hod the iron out better.nothing," and from then, I took over. We organized a union-a first union committee out there at General Electric. A Black man started. Then I moved up to the Multislide. I run in to a lot of opposition with the new machine. Not many people knew anything about it. The toolmakers were white, and one of them operated and set up and everything else and he didn't learn me anything because he was getting all the money in overtime. So they finally got on to him, and they fired him and they gave me another old man who was kind of prejudice and he got sick. So I asked his wife to work with me and I said I was joking and she looked at me and said, "Well he is better." I never paid any attention to her so I just went on about my business. We went to the fair out in New York and we had another friend that was a toolmaker, John. We went him out there and he said, "Have you seen Joe What?" I said, "No." He said, "He is all over this prairie looking of you." I said, "For what?" He said, "I don't' know, but he want to see you." So when I got back he came to work, and he told me, "Oscar, Eddy told me that you are the only one to ask how I was." He said, "My boss didn't even ask how I was." He said that if there was anything he could do, he would help me with anything I wanted to do. But in the meantime they had put another young fellow on there and together we worked with the machine and really got good on it. So I stayed with it until I retired. I had got to the place where I could set the machine up and go to sleep and let the machine operate. I have the chair downstairs. I would sit up there and go to sleep. Guys used to come to Ruth and say, "I was just down to see Oscar, and he was sleeping," And she would say, "That is no big deal. He has been sleeping on those machines for twenty years."
MP Now, this chair, you got that when you retired?
OW They bought for me. That is my chair. It is downstairs in the basement. (tape is turned off)
OW I taught one boy before I left, and he was loudmouth and he was a "cracker." When he came there, he told the toolmaker that worked with me, that Oscar is not going to learn me to work that machine. The other man said, "Wait a minute now. You don't know Oscar." This white boy and another Colored guy couldn't get along. The other man said, "He is not like most guys, and if you prove yourself to him that you are a man then he is a man." So when he came, I didn't know he had already talked to the fellow. He was a little short thing anyway. I told him, "Now you are a little loud-mouth and that does not go along with me. Now if you want to learn, I will learn you and if you don't I have it and you have it to get. Now it is up to you so what do you want to do." He said, "I want to learn." So I started teaching him and that dude was all over me, when I would do something, and he would say, "What are you doing that for?" I would look at him and say, "Do you really want to know?" And he (?) would say, "I am going to show you this and if you show anybody, I will kill you." He said, "I believe you would." I said, "That is right." So I showed that kid and he was good. He learned real good. The other boy that was there-he was the older man, I showed him once and he didn't want me to show him anymore.
MP Now, Mr. Waddell, how did you learn this skill? How did you get this knowledge machines in that way?
OW The man upstairs. I prayed...
MP So it was a natural talent that you had, right?
OW Well, some...
MP Did you do some of this in the army?
OW Now, I worked on trucks and stuff, machines in the army
MP So you had a natural talent for that would you say?
OW Well, you see we got to the place where we could adjust that machine and run parts the way they wanted and my foreman, that man that recommended me for the job, was called into the office five times. He was asked, "And, do you know what you are doing? Can this Black man run this machine? Do he have the mentality to run it?" He said, "If he didn't, I wouldn't have put him on the machine."
MP So they were constantly questioning your competence to do this?
OW It took me about a year to get it. It looked like it just all fell into place.
OW Well, sometimes I think we expect too much. Our ancestors being slaves we didn't get the opportunity to do different things, but as we check back even in slavery, the Black man, in some instances were foremost. There were great men in slavery. We have the tendency to be ashamed of our color, but I would say this if you as young Black Americans would read your Black History and dig down where the white man don't take, in every instance in the history of the country, the Black man was there. Crispus Attucks for example. There was a Black man, when George Washington crossed the Delaware. In every war, the Black man was there and as a Black man we have nothing to be ashamed of cause we wrote the history of the United States and we will continue to write it because we are wild (?) people. They might try to keep us down, but as God said, "Ethiopia will spread forth her wings." That is God. The Black person spread forth their wings. All we can do is lift up our heads.
End Side A; Tape Two
Ruth Waddell talking about medicinal practices

Date: July 1, 1986
Interviewers: Renee Hopkins

RW I was talking, and I listened when we were at the meeting the other day when they were talking about the turpentine and sugar. And sometimes for cramps, stomach cramps, they would use a teaspoon of sugar with ten drops of turpentine. It was kind of bitter, but I've used camphor. And I still use camphor.
RH What is camphor?
RW Camphor is something that you rub on your skin. We used to have it for external and internal, but you can't buy it for internal anymore. So I buy external, and I put six or seven drops on a teaspoon of sugar. Like if I'm just sore on the inside, I'll take that.
RH Wow. It seems to work?
RW Yeah. It works.
RH For cramps it used to work, too?
RW Mom used to grow peppermint, too. In the yard, you know. She used to give us that for cramps. We used to have that. For colds Mother used goose grease. She'd cook a goose. And then the grease comes off you know. Mostly, they'd rub you. She'd heat it. Then she'd rub you. Then she'd put a piece of flannel over you. And she'd use that.
RH What would that do?'
RW Well, that would draw that phlegm and stuff out of your throat. And they'd rub your feet with it, too.
RH Wow.
RW And then she'd make like a syrup out of whiskey and sugar and honey for when we had colds. She'd give us that when we had colds. Then we'd have whiskey and sugar with hot water, and she called that a toddy.
RH Hot toddy.
RW You know, you'd get in bed, and it would make you sweat. You would sweat a lot. You'd really sweat. So she'd use that. And then sometimes she'd use onions and sugar and put a little honey in it. She'd make a syrup out of that. That was good for coughs and things that kids would have. With six kids you had to come up with all kinds of things.
RH Sure.
RW And if horehound candy was available,....
RH What kind?
RW Horehound. H-O-R-E-H-O-U-N-D. Sometimes you can get it now, and it used to come like in barrels, you know. Now, once in a while, you'll find it, and it will be in a little bag, you know. And it doesn't taste very good, but it is good for coughs.
RH If it works, nothing tastes good that works for colds.
RW For boils and infections, she'd use flaxseed. She'd make a poultice of flaxseed, and put it on there, you know. And put a bandage around it.
RH And that would take it out?
RW That would take out the core of the.... Or she'd use the fat of the bacon or slice of potato and put it on there or break an egg and then you take the skin from inside the shell. It's got the white on it. You'd put that on there.
RH And it would take the core out of like a boil?
RW Yeah. It takes the infection out.
RH Would that do for like a cyst, too?
RW Probably. Oh, for diarrhea she'd toast bread, and then she'd pout hot water over it. And it would make like a tea.
RH Strain it, would you?
RW Just pour the water off of it after. It comes off kind of brownish-like, you know. And she'd have us to drink that for diarrhea.
RH Wow. Some of these.
RW What else? For fever she would use salt. She'd put the salt in a rag, and she would fold it over, and she would wet that. And then tie it around your wrists or your ankles. Once my brother was sick, and she put one on his chest. And it draws the fever out of the body. The doctor was really surprised, but her father had told her how to do that. He was Indian mostly. And he told her how it do that. And the doctor was really surprised because my brother's temperature was so high. And just dry. The body's so warm that it will just dry that salt right out, but then it takes the temperature down. So that was a good thing to do. And they used to put water underneath the bed when my brother would wet the bed. She would put a pan of water under the bed. This was supposed to stop him from wetting the bed. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. And I used to have nosebleeds a lot, and she'd tie a key around my neck. Put a string on a key and just put the key down my back, and it would stop my nose from bleeding.
RH No. Are you serious? I was going to say that sounds like a wife's tale.
RW She'd just put that cold key down my neck, and stop my nose from bleeding. I used to have nosebleeds terrible when I was a girl and that really worked. I used to wear a key around my neck 'cause I could just bend over and my nose would start bleeding. So I'd wear that key for four or five days around my neck. Now, they put an ice pack.
RH Yeah, they do all these kind of things. Kind of makes you wonder the stuff they do now.
RW Nowadays the doctors are just after the money.
RH I think you're right.
RW Because I burned my arm about a month or so ago. I burned it clear around here and around here. I reached across a can of corn. I was cooking boiling corn, and I didn't have the lid on all the way. And the steam burnt me. I should have run cold water on it, but I put butter on it.
RH Butter is not supposed to be good.
RW No. I put butter on it and it blistered. (at this point the conversation about medicinal practice ends)
Tape Side A
Oscar Waddell - Military Life

Date: January 1, 1986
Interviewers: Unknown - Date Unknown

OW I'd like to give the military history of the Waddell men. It started back when my grandfather who was a slave, his name was John Waddell, and he was around Richmond, Virginia-the owner. When the Civil War started, he come underground to Pennsylvania, and he joined the Pennsylvania Regulars and fought on the side of the North. After the Civil War was over, he come to Illinois and settled in Jerseyville, Illinois. Married and raised his family. He was an ice-cream maker by trade. He had three boys and two girls. Out of which was my father, Oscar. My dad come to Bloomington, Illinois in the early 1900s. I would say around about 1908 or 1910, His brother, Abe Waddell, served in the Spanish American War. He was on the hill with Teddy Roosevelt and the "rough riders" were supposed to have conquered the Spanish. But it was his infantry outfit that had to go get them. That's the only way they went and made it up the hill, San Juan Hill, but they don't tell that. That was a Black outfit that helped him get up that hill. That was in the Spanish American War. My father was supposed to go to war and then I come so that stopped that for a while. But, my step-brother he went in World War I, Taylor Cisco. He served at Brest, France. He fed the troops that came in and docked at Brest, France in the mess hall. He was First Sergeant over the mess hall. Then, I guess at the close of the war, my dad was called-the night the war ended, he was called up, but he didn't have to go. So we come down to his sons. Arthur Waddell and Oscar Waddell. Now, Arthur enlisted in World War II. He wanted to be sure his children were taken care of. Of which they were. Matter of fact they had a news thing about the Waddells in a jeep. Louise Waddell drawed more money that any woman in town, six kids. They had them in his jeep and they showed them what he had done. Of course, I was drafted so we were both in the army about the same time. It so happened that Art was going overseas and I was going overseas. We went within a week of each other. Art went to the European Theatre and I went the South Pacific. We both got letters at the same time that we was going overseas and we both said big deal. Art served in Germany. He was First Sergeant to the Quarter Master. Trucking outfit. He supplied Patton on the Bonn Highway. That famous German highway. That's what he did. I served in South Pacific. I served on Guam. We went in with the Marines and we built North Field on Guam. And this is the same field that the atomic bomb was flown from. We also-Art's son got a little taste of the army. I think it was Vietnam. He didn't go overseas, but he served. So the Waddells have been well represented in the Army from day one, and we're pretty proud of that. We've all seen some action. We all was proud to serve our country and as I say a lot of times, "I'm a Black man, but I'm proud Black man" because nobody-so many Black people say they don't have a country. We have a country because my family fought all during the time that Black peoples got a country, and we're proud of it. We're proud of our record. We all come out with honorable discharges, and we're proud of it. That's the reason I went into the Legion and stuff like that. I had an opportunity to serve in the Legion as the County Sergeant of Arms, District Sergeant of Arms, 4th Division Sergeant of Arms, State Department Sergeant of Arms. They used to call me "Tiny." They'd say one thing about Tiny, he's a proud American. He's not a Black man. He's an American. This was the whole thing. We as a race, we minimize what we've done, but we've been in the history of this country from day one, starting with the Boston Tea Party-the Black man's blood was spilled there at the Boston Tea Party. And if you notice Washington crossing the Delaware, there's a Black man in that boat. So all during the time Black men have had something to do with the history of this country. We as Negroes should be proud of what we've done and accomplished. I know it's hidden, but it's come from hand to mouth from different ones telling what we've done. But now, it's coming to the light. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
IThat was good, too. You've definitely inspired me. Maybe I should go join the service.
OW My name is Oscar Waddell. I live at 311 East Lincoln Street [Bloomington]. I can truthfully say that I was one of Willis Stearles' boys, brought up from my youth under his guidance. He was a friend of the family and like pretty near all the boys could say, white and Black, he was a great inspiration to the boys. How to get along with your fellowman. How to conduct yourself. I can truthfully say that Willis Stearles truly was an American. His ways and his actions is what all Americans should be like. I can remember he was like the family when we was kids because my father and him were friends, and his brother and my father were very good friends. They were buddies together. Back in them days you were just automatically-if you was children, you answered unto them and respected them, your father's friends and stuff like that there, and that's the way it would go.I can remember I used to go as a kid swimming. It was segregated, but Willis would always tell us to go along with it and one of these days it will be right. Even if you didn't have money to swim, he'd let you do a little something so you could swim if you didn't have money. He knew the ones who could and who couldn't. And he was always interested in that swimming house, folding towels and stuff like that-he would let little Colored kids and the white kids earn their money and stuff like that there. He was a fellow. He never met a stranger. He was always congenial, and if you asked him something, he would always take time to tell you about it. I used to go over there and ask him a million and one questions about the animals, and he could always tell about the animals and stuff like that. I asked him one day, I said, "How did you learn so much about these animals, Mr. Stearles?"He said, "When I first stated to work I didn't know nothing. I got this job and I got books and I read, and then by experience and stuff like that I gained knowledge." And I know that I can remember a lot of times that different zoos would call up Willis about different things like how did the lion do, how he was acting and stuff like that. And Willis would tell them what he done, remedies and stuff like that, and it worked. The animals loved him. They just loved him, and lots of times we would be out there, and him and Mr. [Charles] Poll. They worked together so long together, and they were just two alike. Mr. Poll and him got to be friends of mine, and as I grew into manhood I would continue to go out there.But one thing foremost that I could remember as a kid on Labor Day we always-the Negro families, good families, would go to a house-the families would bring the baskets and stuff like that there. It was the Skinners, they lived out on Livingston, and we would be in the yard. They had a big yard and stuff, and us kids would play. But I can always remember one thing, at five o'clock Willis Stearles used to down that flag, and he draped that American flag acrost him, and he'd tell us kids that there had never been a Black man that was a traitor to the American flag. And that stuck with me all of my life. He'd walk with that flag draped around him-I can see him now just as proud as proud can be. But he had a way to tell his story to young men and young women. It was indelible in our minds as we are older now, and we know what he was saying to us.And then as time went on I was called to the service of my country and served in the army myself. He used to tell us how he served in World War I, and at the time it used to thrill me, but I didn't realize what he was talking about until I got into the army, and the things that he said to me was indelible. I was like him. I was proud of my country, and it was an honor for me to serve my country. I can remember many times on retreat-I did basic training in Jefferson Barracks, and we'd have our retreat parade, and when they pulled that flag down, I am not ashamed to say tears would roll down my eyes. To see that flag come down, let me know that I was part of that flag.I went from there-basic training and further training and served in the 1895 Aviation Engineers. It was a company not too many Negroes was in because they figured that Negroes wasn't smart enough. We were men from Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio. They formed this company battalion, and we went overseas. We shipped out of Tallahassee, Florida to the South Pacific. I served in the South Pacific on Guam, helped build North Field, the field they flew the atomic bomb from. All during the time in the Army I remembered Willis. And every now and then I'd write him a letter, he would write me a letter of encouragement.When we come back after the war was over, naturally Willis was in the Legion, and you know being as close as I was to him, the first thing he said, "You got to join the Legion." And that's what I did. And he-at the that time, Willis was sergeant at arms of the county, sergeant at arms of the Seventeenth District, sergeant at arms of the Fourth Division and assistant state sergeant at arms. So he served in four capacities, and I had the honor to be able to take him around to the different meetings he would go. He would always take me with him, I not realizing at the time that he was grooming me to replace him.
JMWere those all-Black Legion posts?
OW Oh, no. The county was all of McLean County-all the posts in the county-all the posts in the seventeenth district. Now he served the Seventeenth District. Les Ahrends-you see, him and Les Ahrends was good friends. Willis was a diplomat, and he knew all these big legionnaires [and] politicians. See, this is Black and white. This was the conventions and stuff where you go around to different ones, and I had the honor to go with him and to meet all these men and stuff like that there. They were friends. And he trained-at the time I didn't realize what Chief was doing. He put me up. He'd conduct meetings, and he'd let me work in there. I said, "Well, Chief, you're it." He said, "You don't know, one of these days I might not be here. You'll have to take my shoes."" Oh, no." He said, "You do what I tell you." And sure enough - one day Chief had a nosebleed. That is the only thing that saved him that time-he had a bad nosebleed, but it kept coming till he had a fatal heart attack. And then at that time he had worked me into every office that he had held. I didn't realize what he was doing. And then after he died, I took over, and I got every office that he had held-sergeant at arms county, Seventeenth District. I served a big deal at Melvin where Les Ahrends had. We took the guard over there. I never forget that night. Les made a speech, and he told them he was so happy that this sergeant at arms had brought his colors to Ahrends. Les Ahrends (unintelligible) and he was such a fine fellow-Les Ahrends was. He told them that he knew "Tiny." They called me Tiny. (unintelligible) when Willis Stearles was there. He said, "My good friend, Willis Stearles." And it made me proud to be associated with Willis, and the many great things that he had done. And there's a lot of people in the state of Illinois that don't know Willis Stearles, but there is a lot of legionnaires in Illinois that respect Willis Stearles today for he stands for. He was in my eyesight one of the greatest Negro men here in Bloomington. Not only-what I liked about him he not only helped his race, his race, but he helped all races because he instilled in them the love of their country, and I don't believe there's no man that loved this country any better than Willis Stearles.
JM Now you said he was one of the founders of the Redd-Williams Post.
OW Willis Stearles was one of the founders.
JM A charter member?
OW Charter member of the Redd-Williams Post.
JM At that time after World War I were the legion posts segregated for a reason or just because they felt more comradeship?
OW It was segregated to a certain extent. What happened is they formed different posts. Now see, Redd-Williams Post was 163. It was one of the oldest posts in the state of Illinois. Now Louis E. Davis is 56, and we were 163, and I think the next post to us was Anchor, 164. And at one time Redd-Williams Post was looked on as one of the better posts of the state of Illinois-it was recognized by the efforts of Willis Stearles and how he worked in the Legion. You see we was a Colored post, but when you went from there to county we come in together-it was a county organization then. We were a member of the county. We were a member of the district. A member of the Fourth Division and so on. Even we were a member of all over the United States.But there was segregation. I'm not sure if it is still that way. They call it the forty and eight-it was segregated. I'm not sure if it still is or not, but I know one thing, I went to Washington D. C. (Unintelligible)Winters and all them from McLean County was there. There wasn't supposed to be no Negroes in the forty and eight, but I rode the train in the national convention. My wife-(Unintelligible) and (unintelligible) said, "Come on in. You can ride with us, Oscar. We'll bring him back Ruth." If it is still segregated I'm not sure, but I know they told me if it ever desegregated, they wanted me to be one of the first in McLean County. But any function the forty and eight had, I was there anyway. So I really-there was no segregation. But I think now you can belong to the forty and eight. I think at one time there was a policy you couldn't. But I'm pretty sure you can now. But you see I haven't been active in the American Legion for twenty-five years because I went into the church. I'm a deacon in the church. It's a wonder that I have a wife today really because I was gone every Sunday-either a district meeting or the seventeenth district meeting or a department meeting.
JM In the American Legion?
OW Yeah. I had to go. So when I went into church, I resigned all my offices, but I still had my membership, but Willis Stearles was to me "Mr. Legionnaire." He was Mr. Legionnaire. In Bloomington I think everybody knew him as the zookeeper.
JM Could you tell about when the administration changed, and he lost his job and what happened there?
OW Well, that (chuckles) was kinda comical. The administration was Republican or Democrat was - think Willis was a Republican if I can remember right. And the Democrats got in so Willis and Mr. Poll lost their jobs, and the animals would not eat. So it got to the place where the animals were getting so poor they had to do something. So they met-I think the council met-and said, "What are we going to do?" Some of them said, "You know what you got to do. If you don't get Willis and Poll back there, they ain't gonna have any animals. You got to give them men their jobs back." It was kinda comical. They said, "The animals are smarter than you anyway." The (unintelligible) out there said, "We know that Willis is a Republican, but Willis was a man and you better put them back on." And that's what they did. I guess the day that they went back the people that was there just applauded them when they walked in to work, you know. Willis Stearles was there until he died. Whether it was a Democrat or a Republican, they didn't fool with Willis Stearles or Mr. Poll. Mr. Poll was a white man and Willis Stearles was a Colored man, but you never seen two men as close as them two men. I seen them from a young kid to manhood. They were two men alike. I never heard an argument, a hard word, never. They just worked together. Just like in the obituary I heard Charlie Poll tell many a time, if he had it to do over again, he'd chose Willis Stearles. There are so many things the man has done, you can't name them, but his life was an indelible mark on the lives of young men and women in Bloomington. He knew how to make character-make your character better. Knew how to get along with your fellowman, and I never-one time he was. They used to have to guard the park. Willis had a stick, I can remember. Now they have guards in the park, you know, with guns. Willis Stearles. Never was a time-Willis would come up to a car and say, "Come on now, let's break it up.""All right, Willis, I'm gone." Everybody knew him, everybody knew him. He used to say-I called him Chief. I'd say, "Chief, what do you carry that stick for. You ain't gonna use it." He'd say, "I gotta to carry something, but I don't need it. The people are cooperative." But sometimes other guys walking it would have problems. Willis would never have problems.
JM They had no children of their own.
OW Never had. He called me his son. He never had no children of his own, and she, Kathryn, was a fine lady. (unintelligible) Like men and women, they'd get to arguing, and she'd tell him - I can hear her say, "Now, Willis, don't get too smart with me, I'll put you out. You know this is my house." (laughs)"Now Kathryn." But I'll tell you, they were close.
JM Do you know anything about his education? Did he graduate from grade school or anything?
OW I think he graduated from high school.
JM From high school?
OW I think he did.
JM It's hard to find any records. I'm going to check this. I'll turn it off. (tape is turned off)
OW Kathryn and Willis didn't have no children of their own so they took in Normal students that stayed in her house. I don't know how many. I think they had four.
JM Girls.
OW Girls. And they would keep them, and they would give them the run of the house and stuff like that there. Back in those days, they didn't have dormitories and stuff out in Normal for Negroes. And that's the way the Negroes stayed. They stayed in homes. As a matter of fact my people kept girls when we lived in Normal, and lot of Negro families kept homes. The university screened you to see what caliber of people you were. They wouldn't let them stay in just any place. So many, many people stayed in homes. I know you met Professor Barton [Wilbur Barton] from Indianapolis. His people kept people in their home. They'd either would keep boys of girls. This was the way that they did. Like I say Willis and them would keep girls and stuff like that, and of course, it was a livelihood for them. I think Kathryn's people left her some money. I couldn't swear to it, but they had fine things, you know, what I mean, good things. I know I used to bring Chief home from the zoo, and he would stop at maybe the A & P or something like that. There would be sales and stuff, and he'd buy stuff. They just had a store in. They had a pantry. They had everything you wanted in that store. I don't know if you remember Dale Jaspers or not. He graduated with us.
JM I remember the name.
OW He used to work at IPL, and Dale got into buying different things. He had kinda like a discount house. Matter of fact, I bought that lamp from Dale. Several pieces around here I bought from Dale. Anyway, someway, somehow after Mrs. Stearles died, Dale bought the stuff she had in the house, and she had sheets brand new. She had canned goods never been used. He told me, "Oscar, you wouldn't believe when I went in that house to get the stuff, to take the stuff." I think he give them a price of $200.00 or something for the whole thing. He said, "I just took a chance on it." He said, "I'm going to tell you the truth. That was the best investment I ever made." He said, "I gotta tell you-books and stuff." He said, "For some reason or other, I just open up a book." He said, "I leafed through there. Here's a ten-dollar bill. Here's a five-dollar bill. Here's a twenty. I went through the books and stuff like that there." He never would tell me what he got. But he said, "You wouldn't believe the money that I got." They just put it in the book, you know, and set it back up there. He said, "The same way under a rug, you might find a ten or a twenty." He said, "In the closets, the dressers, you might run across a ten or a twenty laid way in there, too." He said, "The money alone. I got more money, cash money, than the merchandise I got. A lot of that merchandise was brand new. Sheets and pillowcases and stuff like that there. They'd just buy it and put it away. So you never know about people. When Willis died, she more or less-she didn't know what to do.