Ethel Murray (1917 — 1990)
Ethel Murray was born in Lincoln. She remembers a childhood relatively free from racial prejudice. However, her home was near the gathering place for the Ku Klux Klan. She moved to Bloomington in her late teenage years and began to do day work in domestic service. At one point she was a full-time worker for Mrs. Hazel Buck Ewing. Mrs. Murray speaks in detail about her work relationships and about her involvement with the Civic Women's Club. Later she worked in social service, and she talks about becoming a Ba'hai.
November 4th, 1985Interviewers: Mildred Pratt
MP: I am now interviewing Mrs. Ethel Murray who lives at 404 East Market Street in Bloomington. The date is November 4, 1985.
EM: I was born in Lincoln, Illinois-St. Clara's Hospital, which is now torn down, and a old folks home built. I was born August 14, 1917. My mother is Birdie Lynn. That was her.
MP: Maiden name. Yes.
EM: Maiden name. And my father was Sam Alexander. I don't remember when my mother and father married, but under that marriage there was two sets of twins, which were-they had deceased at a very young age. I didn't know them. And I had a sister. There were two of us. Eighteen months apart in the two of us. My sister is now deceased. My mother and father both are deceased. My grandmother was born in Kentucky and my father...
MP: That's your mother's mother? Your mother's mother was born in Kentucky.
EM: Yes. She was born as a slave, and my mother's real father passed away. She didn't know anything about him. My grandmother married a gentleman by the name of Camper, and they - there was under the Lynns, there was, let's see, one, two-four boys and three girls whom are all dead at this time.
MP: Now you said that your mother didn't know her father and that was because of slavery, right?
EM: No, that was because of death.
MP: Oh, of death. Oh, I see yes. All right.
EM: They moved from Kentucky to Lincoln, Illinois.
MP: That was after...
EM: My grandmother and grandfather Lynn moved to Lincoln, Illinois after they married and...
MP: Did they ever talk with you about what slavery was like for them? Of course you never knew them, did you?
EM: Yes. I knew my grandmother and my step-grandfather. And he was ill though when-quite ill, you know, when I was old enough to recognize that he was my grandfather. And he had what they call pleurisy or something, but it's a new name for it now. And I can remember my going to the cow pasture with my grandmother to get fresh cow dung.
MP: Cow chip, yes.
EM: ...to make poultices for my grandfather's leg. And she was, you know, quite into this-she wasn't a mid-wife or anything, but she believed in.
MP: The folk medicines. Yes.
EM: Yes. And when we'd get hurt or anything, we'd run to Grandma.
MP: Tell me all the kinds of different medication things that she used.
EM: Oh, for colds she used turpentine, snuff, and lard to rub our chests in and the bottom of our feet. And she'd put us in an old featherbed with bricks, you know. She'd heat bricks and irons and wrapped them and put them in the bed to sweat us out and believe me.. And these old comforters was made out of worsted, and those covers would be so heavy, but never-the-less, we got up and got going.
MP: You got better, right?
EM: And if we had a little cut or anything, she'd say, "Come here," and she'd dip snuff and she would spit this snuff on our wound, and it would burn like the devil. It would burn. But, you know, it seemed to work, and things have changed so much, and they didn't really have iceboxes. They had these old- fashioned iceboxes, and they didn't hold food like... And my grandma would buy about maybe a block of ice which was about twenty-five pounds. When it ran out, why she would sink her butter and stuff down in the cistern. You know the bucket in the well. The bucket was tied to a rope, and when you wanted anything, you had to go draw it up. All her boys were in the First World War, and one daughter had-one of her daughters had one child. Another daughter had four, and the youngest boy had ten kids, which lived. He had some that died. And my mother had six. And the rest of them didn't get married. Well, I had one uncle to marry, but they adopted a girl. The one that lived with me I was talking about. Well, they used to have carnivals, you know, come to town. And my grandmother had a little one-room shack on the end of her lot, which she let these carnival Blacks, you know, rent and she would feed them breakfast and dinner. I don't know what the pay was, but it was very little.
MP: That's interesting,
EM: And, I loved to go to my grandmother's especially when the carnivals were in town because I loved music, and I could go down to this little shack and hear them practice. And the ladies danced, and so I become interested in dancing. And they wanted to take me with them.
MP: Oh the carnival did? Do you remember the name of the carnival?
MP: You don't, that's all right.
EM: And course, my mother and father was very much against it. So we went to the carnival that night, and I always wanted to get up on the stage and dance, and my mother called me a little fast-assed heifer, and she wouldn't let me. So I thought, well I'll fix you. So they had a contest, and when my-I slipped away from my mother. When she knew anything, I was up on that stage. And there was nothing that she could do, but I seen them eyes, and I saw this face.
MP: I'm gonna get you, right? (laughs)
EM: So I knew I was in for it. So I just.
MP: You said you're going to enjoy it while you could? (laughs)
EM: Yeah, I really cut my stuff. And when it was over with, I won the contest, which was five dollars.
MP: Is that right? Yes.
EM: So I come back, and my mother told me, you know, I was in for it. So I gave my mother the five dollars. She scolded me good, but she didn't spank me.
MP: She didn't spank you?
EM: She scolded me good.
MP: It helped that you danced as well as you could then, right?
EM: Yeah, but you know them scoldings-sometimes you'd rather take a whipping because they didn't know when to let up.
MP: When to stop. (laughs)
EM: And I thought that five dollars would shut her mouth.
MP: Well, at least it kept you from being spanked though.
EM: Yeah, so when I started to school, and I got up to about the fourth grade I guess it was, I enjoyed all of my subjects but history. I just couldn't-and I didn't know why, but I just couldn't stand history.
MP: Now did you go to school in Lincoln?
EM: Yes, to the Monroe School. It was the Monroe School and...
MP: I see, now that was an integrated school?
EM: Yes, and I just couldn't stand history, and I would get very bad grades, but all of my other grades would pull me up from it. And, so-but I couldn't understand why until I got older, and it was because when you read one thing, you know, it was bound to end up the same way. The white man always winning, you know, over the Indians and the Blacks and so on so forth. There was just nothing. So I just didn't find it interesting. I got paddled. I was made to stay after school. My mother was called in on it, and I couldn't tell them why, but there was just something there that I just couldn't.
MP: Now they didn't teach you about the accomplishments of Black people, did they?
EM: No, no, no. I really didn't know anything about prejudice because Blacks lived all over Lincoln in white neighborhoods, and I didn't know anything about it until I come to Bloomington where you were segregated.
MP: Now, let's go back just a little bit now. Your grandparents owned their home, is that right?
MP: And your parents owned their home?
MP: Do you know how your grandparents first acquired that land? Now they moved from Kentucky, right?
MP: And when they went there, did they immediately but the property?
EM: As far as I know. As far as I know.
MP: I see, yes, yes.
EM: I'd never known my grandmother to live any place else but this one house.
MP: I wonder if-let me just ask now do you think that when they were freed as slaves that their masters gave them some money?
EM: It could be. As I say, you know, they kept a lot of that hid from us kids.
MP: They never talked with you what slavery was like?
EM: No, no. My mother always told me, you know, you don't go in places that you don't have money to spend. If you got money to spend, you can go there. And she seen that we didn't have the money rather than teach us hate or whatever or about slavery. And there were certain days that we could go into the-what did they call it now-the ice cream parlors, in Lincoln. And my dad cleaned one; my mother cleaned the other. There was two of them. And Sunday mornings we could go, and we could have all the candy that we wanted for nothing. All the ice cream we wanted for nothing. And you know, we'd always take the candy-get enough to take the candy to school Monday morning and share with other kids. And as far as-I know one family- but I couldn't quite get that together either. They moved in our neighborhood from a little town called Emden, and the little girl called me a "nigger" and I thought she was cussing me. I didn't know. And my dad had just shingled the house, and he had some shingles left over, and I got me a shingle and busted it, and I didn't finish with her butt until it was black and blue because I thought she was cussing me.
MP: You had not heard that word before, right?
EM: No, and so her mother called my mother or brought the little girl over to talk to my mother. And, so my mother kind of taken up for me. And it come to find out, when we were younger, we used to have cattle drives. They unloaded them down at the train station. They would come down the street and cross our yard to go to the slaughterhouse. And then-I didn't realize, once every week there would be a bunch of men all dressed in white riding horses. They'd go out behind us, across the railroad tracks over to an old mine, and later I found out what that was about. That they were Ku Klux Klans, but I didn't know what the danger or what they meant, you know. And I found out that one of our neighbors was a Klan, and his son would make me mad. We had a board fence around the house, and I'd get up on that board fence, and I'd get mad at the boy about something. And I'll tell him about his dad being a Klan, and I'd call him, "You Ku Klux Klan. You Ku Klux Klan." And I had a little dirty mouth, and I would swear. My daddy happened to come home one evening and caught me up on the fence calling this boy a Ku Klux Klan. And he called me to him, and he tried to explain to me what that meant and not to do it anymore because we could be in danger. And so for several weeks there, whenever they'd come through or get together to ride out to this "hole" as we called it, my dad would call us in the house and sit there with a shot gun.
MP: Is that right?
EM: And so I finally made-to get my dad to put the shotgun up, I finally made friends with the boy. And the way I done that-he got in a fight, and he was being whipped, and I jumped in on it and helped him. And we became friends from that fight. And, but as far as I say, I didn't know what prejudice was until we moved to Bloomington, and I was about fifteen years old then. And because we played together. We went to school together. We slept together. We ate together, you know.
MP: This was in Lincoln, right?
MP: Now do you, did you know about the Springfield riots? The riots in Springfield around the-was it around the early 1900's. You don't know about that do you?
EM: I know a little something about it. I had a-see, I lived in Springfield for about a couple of years.
MP: Before you came here? Before you moved to Bloomington?
EM: No, after.
MP: After, all right.
EM: I went to Springfield to work, and a friend of mine-I was having a hard time in getting a steady job here, so she invited me to Springfield. She would help me. Well, I went to be interviewed, and it was in the home, working in the home. The mother worked, and her daughters went to school. But I gave it up. The woman sit there, and she interviewed me and she said she would consider me. But there was a white woman that she interviewed, and she liked her and everything, but she felt that a white woman shouldn't be doing housework. That she could get an office job. So I thought about that after I went back home, and I decided I wasn't going to work for her. You know I felt I was just as good, or that white woman was just good as me, or I was just as good as her, whichever way.
MP: She thought it was all right for a Black woman to do that kind of work, but not for a white woman to do that kind of work.
MP: I see.
EM: Our place was to clean up their filth and everything. So I decided, I left the woman hanging. I didn't even go back and tell her why I didn't want the job. But in years I thought maybe I should have told her, you know. But I met another Negro family there, and we become real good friends. And we was riding around Springfield, and she showed me the tree where her father had been hung. As far as I know, the tree is still there in Springfield.
MP: Is that right? So that was a part of that riot situation. Yes. You were going to start to tell me now about when you came to Bloomington. You were fifteen years old when you came to Bloomington, moved to Bloomington, right? Would you tell me the circumstances under which you, your family moved to Bloomington?
EM: Well, my sister was going with a young man in Normal, and they got married. And my sister and I are only eighteen months apart. We was always together, and I couldn't stand the separation. So I'd come up on weekends, and then go back home, you know, where my mother was. And my sister got sick, and she was pregnant at the time when she got sick. And they had to rush her to the hospital. They called my mother. So we came up. They done an emergency operation on her-appendicitis. Well, a few days later, she gave birth to this little girl. It was the cutest little thing. It fit in a shoebox. They laid her in something like a shoebox. At least, that what I called it. And, so I stayed up here to care for her and, you know, clean her house, cook, do whatever. And I really enjoyed that because we were together. Her husband for some reason didn't particularly like me so he asked me leave. He said I stole fifty cents from him, which was a lot of money at that time. And, which I didn't, but he accused me of doing this. And my sister told me she couldn't speak up for me or anything, and I thought that was terrible. I got very much upset with her, and because after all I fought for her and done so many things for her because I was a bully. I was quite a bully.
MP: Yes. Yes. You protected her, right?
EM: And so my mother had a friend up here who was supposed to be a spiritualist reader. We called Auntie Harris. Her real name was Lucille Harris. And so I went to her home, and I told her what had happened. So she let me stay with her until my mother came that weekend. So in the meantime, a lady by the-I can't think of her name. Williams was her last name, and her husband's name was. They called him Pearl. He was on the police force.
MP: This was a Black person?
EM: So I stayed with her, and she was a diabetic. And she was awful sick. And so I stayed with her and done her cleaning and laundry and shopping and cooking. And I went from there on my own. She-I don't know how I stuck it out because that lady was something else. She was-you couldn't hardly please her.
MP: Oh is that right?
EM: And she wanted me to go to three or four stores which would start up town, and then we'd go out east, and then we'd cut back across out to where Krogers used to be, and just to save maybe a nickel or dime on something. And so finally-well, our home burned in Lincoln, and so Mother come up here. She got a job with the Beichs.
MP: Oh is that right?
EM: So we stayed far west of town here, out by Sunnyside. And this man had a boxcar made into a house. So my mother and I lived in.
MP: You rented that?
EM: Yes, and so she worked and.
MP: Now the time-this was around in the late 1930s or the mid-1930s would you say?
EM: Yes, or the early forties.
MP: All right, yes.
EM: And so. No, I believe it was thirties that we moved here, and I got day work. I worked for a teacher for six dollars a week. And I had to go every day including Sundays. I had Thursday afternoons off. So this one Sunday, she had company, and her mother and father lived with her. And they were farmers, retired farmers, and they had company come. They never said anything about it, and I had to make the bread and all those kinds of things, you know. And so I was a little upset that I had to go there on Sunday morning and find out that I got about ten people to fix breakfast for, and I don't know whether you remember the Southernairnes or not-the Black spiritual singers that used to come on the radio every Sunday morning.
MP: I don't remember. No.
EM: Well anyway, I had fixed their breakfast.
MP: Oh they were the ones-the Southernaires are the ones visiting them?
EM: No, no. They would come on radio.
MP: Oh, on radio? All right, yes all right. You had prepared these people's breakfast now, right? Yes.
EM: Yeah. So-which they sat around the table and was talking. And this-I don't know whether to call her name or not-but anyway the woman I was working for, her mother said, "Oh, it's time for these 'Darkies' to sing," and they went upstairs, and the "Darkie" hit me wrong. And they went upstairs, and into the living room, and turned this radio on to listen to the Southernaires. And I'm standing out there in the kitchen swelling more than what, you know. Oh I got-I just I couldn't-I tried to clear the table off, and I was too upset. I was shaking. Dishes were rattling on my hands and what not. And I just threw the towel down, and I said, "The hell with it." And so I went upstairs and I-because I got paid on Sundays. I said, "You can write me my check." "Why, what's a matter Ethel?"I says, "Just write me my check. Don't say no more to me, let me alone, and give me my check." Well, she didn't want to do it. I said, "You give it to me or else." I didn't know what the else was going to be because I had had it, and sometimes I think this goes back to because my mother and dad didn't explain to me, you know. And these little things just-I just guess I didn't know how to handle it. I don't know. And because I don't know what-if that woman hadn't paid me, I don't know what I would've done to her. But she finally wrote my check, and I walked out. I left food, bread rising, dishes, all over the dining room table, and I was so hot. I walked from Whites Place clear out to West Washington street-ten hundred block West Washington.
MP: That was a long walk, yes.
EM: But I was cool when I got home. But I couldn't wait to catch a bus. I just was so beside myself. So she called me, and I told her to go get one of her "white Darkies" to do it. I wasn't coming back. And so she hung up on me. She seen that I wasn't.
MP: She understood then your position, right?
EM: I hope so. I hope so. But you know she never gave me a bad recommendation.
MP: Oh. is this right?
EM: And because I put her on an application for a recommendation, and she never gave me a bad one. I guess I was just ignorant or lucky. I don't know which. And then, as I say, my mother was working for the Beichs.
EM:\[. . .\] And so mother worked for them for years, and I worked in and out of there with Mother on parties and things, and they helped me to get other jobs, you know, which was with the Baxters, the DeManges, and I done day work. Course when you get with one or two, you know, you can always pick up more at that time.
MP: So that means you worked in several homes at the same time, right? Different days?
MP: I see.
EM: And so I done that up until I went with the Ewings, "Mother" Ewing. We called her Mother Ewing.
MP: When did you start work for the Ewings, do you remember?
EM: That's been so long. It was back in-I'll say the fifties. I worked for about-you know she always hired couples. And the chauffeur \[Herman Edwards\] that she had, his wife died, and she didn't want to let her chauffeur go. So she hired me through the DeManges, and she explained to me, you know, about how she hired people, so on and so forth. And at the time I thought was just making more money than the law allowed because she paid me sixty dollars a week, plus sleeping at home. At that time, you know, you could get a sleeping room for about seven dollars a week. So that meant twenty-one dollars on top of that sixty, and I would say a dollar a day for meals, and so I traveled with her to-during the summer, you know, she'd always go up to around New York, and then to the ranch in Crivitz, Wisconsin. So I went to Crivitz with them for the summer, and the lady who was her companion was sick, and of course, Mother Ewing was Christian Science.
MP: You say her companion, meaning her friend? Yes.
EM: Yes. A lady companion. And I called her Aunt Julie \[Julia Hodge\]. She was Mary Lou DeMange's aunt, who I worked for, too, doing day work. I'm sort of ahead of myself here. You know when you get to talking you get to thinking back, and the Mary Lou got-she married a guy from Philadelphia who was an orphan. You know-Pennsylvania. He was a Quaker. And of course, you know, they don't care anything about Negroes either. So I was serving a party that night, and they didn't come home. This was after they got married. They had this big party, and they didn't come home and didn't come home, and I cleaned up and everything and straighten up. So I decided I was going home, and Mary Lou always-anything I wanted to do, you know she'd let me do. I could use her credit until she finally opened up one for me, and anything I wanted to do Mary Lou was behind me. So she had gotten her a new car, a convertible, for I guess her wedding gift. So anyway, they didn't come home and they didn't come home, and I didn't know how I was going to get home that time of morning. So she left her keys there. She always had a set of keys, you know-because I could use her car anytime I got ready. Her car. So l left a note. "Don't call the law. I got it. And I'll be back at a certain time Sunday morning." Well, he didn't like that, and he thought I was just gonna-but all I did was drove myself home and drove myself back to work on time like I said. That put faith in him to like me 'cause I done (laughs) what I said I was going to do. And so she came to me, she said, "You don't know what I went through." I says, "Through about what?" Then she explained to me about Herb didn't care for me. In fact, he didn't care for Blacks. And she says, "I'm glad that you came back the time that you said you was going to." So anyway, they decided that they'd buy me a car. So they did. And they let me pick my own car out. I went to a place by the name of Yates, which is no longer here. And I bought me a car. She gave me the check to pay for it. And I went to Lincoln and on the way back, I blew something in it. I don't know, but there was oil all over that car, the windshield and everything. So I went back to Yates, and they claimed I drove the car too fast, that I wasn't supposed to drive over thirty miles per hour. Anyway, I went back to Mary Lou and Herb, and I told them about it, and he went to Yates and he made them-he called me up told me to come down there. I was at their house. I went down there, and he handed me a set of keys to another car. So I drove it home, and it was a good car. And I never had any trouble with it. And but something come up between he and his wife. They separated, and she moved to Florida. And I don't know what happened. And then this problem happened to Mother Ewing so they decided since they were going to Florida that I could go ahead and take the job. Well, I went to the ranch with them that summer, and Mother Ewing liked to ride. And she was a beautiful rider. She trained all her horses? She asked me would I like to ride with her. I told her, "Yes." And so Aunt Julie gave me her riding habit, and I really though I was something, you know. Of course, I was used to riding bareback, you know-old horses. And I didn't know anything about these spirited horses and bridle-wise horses, but I could ride a horse.
MP: You could ride a horse?
EM: So I was willing to try. So she called up and made the appointment, and we went drove down to the corral.
End Side A; Tape 1 Side B; Tape 1
But anyway, we got on these horses. Mine didn't want to go out of the corral. And one thing, I can't look a horse in the face and ride it. Mine didn't want to go out of the corral. So the hired hand hit the horse on the butt, and it taken off. And I couldn't-I didn't know what bridle-wise meant. And so it meant that, you know, if you just lay the rein on one side, it would go that way. You lay it on the other, it would go the other way. Well, I didn't know what I was doing, and I thought the dog-gone horse was going to jump the gate. We got out, and Mother Ewing was way ahead of me. So I thought, "Well, I'll catch up with her." We had a branch to cross, and I thought the horse was going to throw me over the branch. I saw it, you know, because it was going one side of \[unintelligible\]. That was because I was laying the reins, you know, wrong. So we finally got out there. She stopped. She got so far ahead of me she stopped. So I guess she saw that I didn't know what I was doing. She stopped. She pulled her horse right up beside mine. She said, "You hold the reins like this, loose, you know, and the horse will go straight. You want it to turn." She told me how to lay the reins. And I said, "Okay." So we rode and had a real nice. And she was nature wise, you know, and she taught-we got way there, and she taught me a lot about nature, which I really - and we was late getting back to the ranch, to the ranch house for lunch. And on the way back the horse turned, went back nicely until we got to the gate to go in, and she started clowning on me. You know, showing her teeth, and rearing up and going on. And come to find out her colt was out there, and the horses-all these other horses. The colt started running towards its mother. And then here comes all these other horses, and she got to rearing up, biting and kicking and going on. I didn't know what to do, but I could see Mother Ewing going over the hill, and I called her and she didn't turn back, or didn't hear me or something. Finally, I said, "Hazle." You never called her Hazle. And she whipped her horse around, and she taken her-what do you call that? Crop. And started hitting horses, and she pulled me up along side of her and then her horse started in. So she says, "You hang on, and I'll go get some help." And I thought that help never was coming, and when she-when they got back, one of my feet was under the horse like this and the other one across the top. And I was just barely hanging on. Just barely. So the help came, and they got us back to the corral, and Mother Ewing ate them out because she didn't know that this horse had given birth to a colt. They should never have put me on that horse. And she read them out good. So we walked-we had to walk back to where we ate-the guesthouse, I guess you'd call it. We had to walk back. And on the way back we got up to it, and there was two steps to go up before you opened the door. She got up on the top step and she shook-stood up, you know, she was always such a straight and beautiful woman. She shook her finger at me. "Don't you ever tell me you can ride again."
MP: Is that right?
EM: And that really hurt my feelings. So the next morning she wanted to ride again. And I reminded her-I says, "You remember you shook your finger in my face and told me not to ever tell you I could ride again. No, I'm not riding today." And so she cancelled it. So she was walking around there all huffed up, and I was walking my way huffed up. And but finally we got together. Finally we got together. We moved. That woman had a determination that you wouldn't believe.
MP: Is that right? Tell me why did she want people to call her "Mother" Ewing?
EM: She didn't want to, but see we started it. She-the chauffeur and I-because she was always telling us what to do, you know, in a motherly fashion. And we got to calling her "Mother" behind her back. Well, one day it slipped out with me, and she kind of enjoyed it. So from then on, it was Mother Ewing unless she had company or we were out some place. Then Herman got married again. He married Ruby \[Meadred\] Edwards. So that let me out.
MP: Oh, the chauffeur. Oh, is that right?
EM: So that let me out for that time. And so she gave me a pretty good check.
MP: Severance pay, is that right?
EM: Yeah, severance pay until I could find another job, but it didn't take me long.
MP: But you'd worked for her for how long?
EM: For about two years.
MP: For about two years, yes.
EM: It didn't take me long to find another job doing d
ay work. Until I got to working for the Loomises, and they talked to me about hiring me by the week. So I felt, well, now how am I going to tell these other people that I can't work for them. So she taken it upon herself to explain to these other people that I was working for her, that they wanted me by the week and so on and so forth. So there was no animosity there. So I worked for them for a little over a year, and that's how the house business came up about me.
MP: Oh, yes. Now I remember. I see.
EM: And you know I don't know what it is with people-they're superior supposedly. They are afraid of their boss. And so I was cleaning the office on evenings, and working in the home through the day, and the summertime it was a lot of late work. They done a lot of parties and things. There was beautiful marble and woodwork in this building. It was old, but it was beautiful. He had a lot of brass, and his office was antique furniture and whatnot. When I went there that place was a mess, and I got my son, my mother, and Reggie and myself. We went in there and we cleaned that.
MP: Now who is Reggie?
EM: Reginald Whittaker, a boy I've been going with for thirty-three years. (laughs)
MP: Who is that now?
EM: Reginald Whittaker. He and I been going together for thirty-three years.
MP: Oh I see. All right. Thirty-three years. (both laugh)
EM: Isn't that awful? So we went in there and about five o'clock in the evening, and we didn't get through until two-thirty in the morning, or maybe later. And I mean we cleaned and we polished and. So, I got really disgusted, and his brother-in-law was sort of his chauffeur and whatnot, and he'd come in and see that things were being done right, you know. So he came in one evening after we'd done all this cleaning, which was they had their meeting on Saturday. All the insurance people come in from the field. And I'm telling you that place was a mess. They had a lot of folding chairs they'd brought upstairs, and left them. And the desks was pushed-papers.
MP: This was after you had done all this cleaning?
EM: Cigarette butts put out on the floor and ashes. They didn't know what the wastebaskets or ashtrays was for. And I got really disgusted, and his brother-in-law come in, and I was cussing and just raising all kinds of hell, and I said to him, I says, "Well, I'm gonna tell." They called Mr. Loomis "H. L." And of course, that wasn't for me to call him that. I was to call him Mr. Loomis. He says, "Oh, you don't talk to H. L. like that." I says, "Well, hell, he's a human being isn't he? Or is he an animal?" And I says, "Just because he's president of this place doesn't mean he can't be talked to." I says, "Yeah, I'm going to tell him." And I said, "Because I feel my work is art." You know, all this beautiful stuff. I don't know why people want to put down a maid or a janitor. They spend all this money for this beautiful stuff, and it takes talent and art to keep it up, but I always considered my work as that. And, so I didn't finish 'cause it was in such a mess, you know. I wanted to - but I had to come out 'cause it was one of those things again my temper came up. And I locked the door, and Sunday morning I got up and I went out to his house, and I unlocked the door, and I started hollering the minute I got in the door. "H. L. H. L ." I said, "We need to talk." And he put on his robe and house slippers and came downstairs. "What in the hell's the matter?" And he says, "Make me some coffee" real gruff like. I made the coffee, and in making the coffee I told him how I felt, and what I felt I was worth. And I talked about how their homes might look, you know. All he could see is that dollar coming in, but he didn't see the dollars in his furnishings. And we sat and we talked, and he cussed and I cussed. I smoked. He smoked. We had coffee. We drank that whole pot of coffee. And so then I left, and he didn't say he would or he wouldn't. But I left. I went back down to the office, finished cleaning. I felt good about myself (laughs) because I told him exactly how I felt, and so come the next Saturday they were meeting everything was straight. Ashtrays had been used. Now, he gave it some thought about what I had said to him, and he explained to them how I felt about my work, and how I felt about the things that were there in the office, you know. Because I had named off to him several different things, you know.
MP: That you had observed.
EM: Yeah, and you know there's no replacement for them. And they couldn't be replaced. And anyway, everything from then on went very smoothly.
MP: One thing I wanted to ask you, how did people that you worked for, how did they address you? By your first name?
MP: But did they want to be addressed by their last names, Mr. and Mrs. so and so?
MP: Did they tell you how to?
EM: No. There's one time, and I don't remember-it was a day work, and I was called down. And I was serving the party. And I was called down one time, and that was by the Loomises-by her. Of course, I found out she was a Kentuckian, and a very poor woman, and had married into this money, you know. So I went on, you know with the handle of "Mr. and Mrs." you know. I went on with it, but again the next day we talked about it.
MP: You were called-you said you were called down. What did you mean now?
EM: Oh, I called her Susie.
MP: Oh, yes. All right.
EM: And so again, you know that hit me wrong.
MP: So the following day she wanted to talk with you about calling her Susie?
EM: Yes. So I couldn't-I still can't get in my head, you know. I don't know whether you noticed out at the party or not, but I called them by name.
EM: I didn't put a handle on it. And I don't know why. It wouldn't be like.
MP: What did she say to you? What did she say when-how did she express it to you?
EM: She explained, you know, that it's all right if nobody's here, you know. "But when people come in, the proper way, you know to address me is Mrs. Loomis." So I did for the rest of the day. But we talked about it 'cause I thought a lot of them people, you know, and so I told her I just couldn't do it, so.
MP: You couldn't call her Mrs. Loomis?
EM: I couldn't.
MP: You couldn't call her Mrs. Loomis. Yes.
EM: And so I said, "From here out you're 'Sweetie' and that's going to be it." So I don't care who come around or whatever, it was always Sweetie.
MP: Why did you happen to call her Sweetie?
EM: 'Cause I wasn't going to call her Mrs. Loomis.
MP: Oh, that's interesting. And did she recognize the difference in your having to call her Mrs. Loomis, and the fact that she called you by your first name? She didn't understand that?
EM: No, apparently not.
MP: That's interesting. But you resolved the problem, right?
EM: By this time I have heard a lot about prejudice, you know and this North and the South and whatnot, and I guess it was just in me the way that I raised.
MP: But you resolved it I think in an interesting way.
EM: All of this come back to me, you know, the way I was raised and everything. And I found no difference when I was a kid, and when I got grown I certainly wasn't going to, you know. I was willing to take the blows and whatever, you know, and I'm kind of glad in a way because-that I was brought up that way. First, I resented it, but I'm kind of glad because it doesn't leave hate with me. I can work with it. It leaves anger, but in certain times, you know, only certain-like on the job now, you know they talk about, when you carry your own dish, what is it?
MP: A potluck?
EM: Potluck. And I can not go along with it, and they know it. When they talk about potluck, I guess I get a look on my face that tells the story, you know, because when we used to have-when we used to travel so on and so forth, Mother would fix shoeboxes.
MP: That was because you couldn't eat on the trains, right?
EM: Un-huh, and in the restaurants, and Mother would fix shoeboxes of lunch. We each had our own, you know, and the church socials and things, you know, you carried your own baskets, and so on and so forth, and all that had to be cleaned up, you know, and brought back home, put away or whatever, you know. And I've had enough of it. I'm to the point now where I can dress up and go in places and sit down and let them wait on me and pay for it. If I can't, then I.
MP: You've waited on other people so long that you feel.
EM: Yeah, even though I have to pay for it, you know. It's all right, 'cause I know those people have to make their living. We got to really traveling where it was in the fifties, late fifties, or maybe early sixties. We were going to drive to California. Now, this is with the Whittakers and myself, and they had opened up restaurants for Blacks and things, and this one restaurant-I don't know why I wanted to stop at it. It looked so pretty and everything, you know, and so we went in there and the waitress. I know they taken a long time waiting on us, you know, but we sat it out. And now I'm on vacation, and I'm limited with money, and so finally one gal come to wait on us. She taken our order. I taken my napkin and kind of wiped the table off a little bit better or dried it. She'd smeared it, and I-she brought our coffee and our water and with her hands over the top of it. And you know, I'd always been-you don't do this type of thing. So I taken another napkin, and I wiped off the cups and things. I wanted them to see me. And I let them see me doing this, and I set the cups where they were supposed to sit and the glass where it was supposed to sit, you know. And our order came, and we ate so on and so forth. She never come back to see if we wanted any more coffee or anything, although I did. But I just let it go, and we got ready to leave. I left her a nice little tip. You know, I wanted to show her that all Negroes are not like they think they are, and I felt, "Well, now if I can open up for another Black, you know." And we were very dignified which-you know, we knew how to act.
MP: When you say the Whittaker, who are the Whittakers?
EM: They live in Normal. Josephine and Reginald.
MP: Oh, they are some friends of yours? Yes, I see all right.
EM: Hopefully, you will get to interview them.
MP: Oh, yes, I hope so.
EM: They know quite a lot about the Fells and.
MP: Oh, great, that is a name I don't have, so I'll get that from you I hope. I want to be sure I get it from you before I leave. Now I want to ask you one thing. I don't want to forget this. Do you know anything about a Domestic Arts Club?
EM: Domestic Arts Club? I didn't belong to it, but.
MP: Would you tell me what it was about? I mean, I think it's an interesting name, and I wondered.
EM: Well, they were sort of-they were a civic club like the Civic Woman's Club. They weren't a pleasure club. They gave scholarships, and they belonged to the District and the State.
MP: So it was a state domestic arts.?
EM: Well, they belonged to the District, the State, and the Regional, and the National.
MP:Was it an organization of people who did day work or was that the meaning of it? People who worked in service or.
EM: No. I don't know why they picked that name. I'll tell you who could tell you more about that-Luvada Hunter 'cause she used to be in the Domestic Arts Club.
MP: All right. That name rings a bell. Let me get my list of names down here. I think I did interview her. Does she live down here on Main?
EM: On Chestnut Street.
MP: She lives on Chestnut Street.
MP: No, I didn't interview her. That name rings a bell. Let me write this down then. Let me get the other. Make sure I get these names. One is the Whittakers, right? Do you know what is the first name?
EM: Well, Reginald and his sister Josephine.
MP: Do you know what street they live on?
EM: 303 East Willow, in Normal.
MP: I can find their telephone number in the directory, right?
MP: And the other person is Luvada Hunter?
EM: I don't have her address right at hand, but she lives on East Chestnut Street.
MP: It would be in the directory, right?
EM: Or her son is in there, too.
MP: East Chestnut?
EM: Un-huh. I can get you her telephone number.
MP: All right.
EM: 'Cause she now belongs to the Civic Woman's Club. (pause as Ethel Murray gets the phone number)
MP: You're going to tell me about some of your organizational activities of your own and your parents or grandparents.
EM: My parents belonged to-what was the name of that lodge? The only thing that I know they belonged to.
MP: It was kind of a fraternal organization of men, is that right?
EM: Men. Then they had the division of the ladies.
MP: Oh is that right? Yes.
EM: And I was trying to think of the name of it, but I don't remember.
MP: Your parents were members of that?
EM: And then my sister and I, we were juveniles of the same organization, but that's the one thing that I know.
MP: Were your parents involved in any kind of political activities in any way?
MP: Now we'll talk about you and your organizations. You have-this one here, the Illinois Association of Club Women, would you tell me about that one?
EM: That's why I say Kathryn Dean is better on this than I am. I just belonged. It's made up of individual clubs. And then they had all over the state. Then each state is set up in districts. Now in the state of Illinois it's Northern, Southern, and Central.
MP: Now is this just a Black organization?
EM: Yes. It's all Black.
MP: And so your Three C's Club is a member of this?
EM: No. The Civic Woman's Club.
MP: Civic Woman's Club. All right.
EM: And so we.
MP: Tell me about the Civic Women's Club.
EM: Which is. (sound of shuffling papers and a pause).
MP: When did you join?
EM: Oh, gosh.
MP: Just around. Was it in the fifties or sixties?
EM: In the sixties. And I folded out for-I call myself quitting the club for about two years, and then I went back. I resigned when I started working for the state because of my education, you know. I just couldn't keep up with everything that I was doing, my mother was sick, and I went into the nutritional part of it, and I was going to school with all these professors and you know.
MP: Where were you going to school?
EM: Over at Champaign.
MP: What school?
EM: It wasn't-well maybe I should.
MP: Was it a junior college?
EM: No. It was a private type thing, and where they were-they had all these professors and whatnot come in to teach us.
MP: Was that a part of your work with the state?
MP: Family and Children Services?
EM: Yeah. And nutrition. And so I just couldn't keep up, and I didn't understand what they were talking about.
MP: The Civics Club?
EM: No, the-I was telling you why I taken off from the Civic Club. 'Cause I couldn't have my meetings, and I wasn't being fair to my club or myself.
MP: This took a lot of your time at work and going to school?
EM: So after I got over with it-and there was a lot of controversy, you know, about Ruby and I. Ruby Edwards and I. And so I just got out of the club.
MP: What was that-did the Civics Club-was it primarily social or what was the function of it?
EM: No. They gave scholarships. There's several different departments that we paid into: scholarships; senior citizens; camping; mother, home and childcare; and all kinds of little civic things.
MP: So I see what you're saying. So you provided social welfare benefits then. And was it primarily for Black people?
EM: Yes. Definitely. This whole thing is Black clear up to the National.
MP: Yes. Now is that the one that Dorothy Height is the president for-National Association of Negro Women?
EM: I think so.
MP: All right. All right. Now so that's the Civic Women's Club?
EM: Yeah, we belonged to that.
MP: And this is the state body of it, right? And do you-you were distinguished service, right?
EM: Yeah, I worked in the State.
MP: You worked for this state organization? What did you do?
EM: I was on the board of directors for four years. I had a four-year term on the board of directors. Then I was a-oh, gosh, isn't that awful. And of course, I worked in the District too. See, the District-as I say there's four districts in Illinois, and I worked in the District. I'm a life member of the District. I'm a life member of the State. And the District first. Then it would go to the State and every other year, it's the.
EM: Yeah, every other year. The year that-then the other years in between is the Regional.
MP: Regional? Yes, I see. This is marvelous. It's marvelous.
EM: I got several State awards.
MP: All right. All right. Could I see those please?
EM: Sure if I can pick them out.
MP: I see this is a National. Yeah, all right, this is a National Association of Women's Clubs. Now what other organizations are you active-have you been active in?
EM: Just this one and that's enough.
MP: Yes. Now are you-you're still. You are now active in this one, right? Yes, so it seems that this organization does a lot of public service.
Yeah. I came in the time in the National, the time that we was working on the Frederick Douglass Memorial.
MP: Oh, oh. I think that is marvelous. Now why did you have-you had a Frederick Douglass Memorial here-ceremony here in Bloomington?
EM: Yeah, see, well we made his home a shrine.
MP: Where is that?
EM: In Washington DC.
MP: Oh, I thought so. Now, I thought I heard. Tell me about that would you please? What you know about that.
EM: Well, you know about his life.
MP: Oh, yes. I know about Frederick Douglass, and in fact, he worked very closely with Ida Wells Barnett. Does that name ring a bell for you?
EM: Yeah. And of course, you know, they-I guess they were going to tear his home down. And there's-I don't know what else they have done, but his home really stands out in my mind. And when I went to Washington, I went to visit his home. They hadn't quite gotten it put together. And I made suggestions for upholstery, and I guess that was about it of what I was asked to do.
MP: Now you were asked by the national organization to.
EM: I was asked by the State.
MP: By the State to assume some role in helping to establish that?
MP: Now why did they ask you to do that?
EM: Well, see each-well, one thing Ruby was the instigator of it.
MP: All right. She recognized that you had some skills in that area and talent?
EM: Un-huh. And each state would participate and so, in fact, I went to Washington with Ruby when she was president.
MP: Of the.
EM: The State.
MP: The State, yes.
EM: And we worked together and whatnot. So they recognized each state for doing something for this Frederick Douglass memorial or shrine.
MP: Now, is this why they recognized you?
EM: Yes, and so I went there twice. But the first time you couldn't get in, and when I went with Ruby, it was a time that we could get, and there was no reason why, I felt that the furniture that needed the upholstery couldn't have been done, you know. Take it apart, re-glued and.
MP: Did they accept your suggestion?
EM: I believe it was 'cause when I went back the-I haven't seen it since it's all done. The things had been removed for that purpose. So I don't know whether I was the only one in on that or not.
MP: Do you have any photographs or anything about that?
EM: I didn't take any pictures.
MP: You didn't take anything, and they didn't give you anything? All right. I think that must have been a marvelous experience for you.
EM: It was. It was. Then the next time I went back-our club.. The National had bought their own headquarters and moved from one to the other. A long time ago I don't' remember the address now, but I guess that (inaudible). But anyway, our club went in itself. We furnished the towels and you know..
MP: The Bloomington chapter?
MP: Is that right? Isn't that remarkable? That's marvelous.
EM: So, I don't know whether we furnished all of them of not, but we did furnish some.
MP: Oh so now it is opened for anybody to come and see. Is the building used for any other purpose?
EM: Not as I know of.
MP: But does your organization assume responsibility for administering it and taking people through the building or who does that? Do you know?
EM: No, I don't. Well, see I haven't been-I've only been actually been to one National meeting because I just can't afford it, and our club can't afford it because we're all kind of up there in age, retired and whatnot. But I was lucky to get to go to at least one National meeting.
MP: That's a marvelous experience.
EM: Well, yes it was and I met Adam Clayton Powell.
MP: Oh, you did? And you did, did you take photographs of him? No.
EM: No, I didn't. Ruby did though. So, but I don't know where her pictures and things went to after she passed.
MP: Oh, you don't know who took her-did she have a close relative here in Bloomington?
EM: Not in town, no.
MP: She didn't. I see.
EM: She had her nephew who lives in I believe New York. Well, he's not her real nephew. It was Herman's nephew, and I don't think he really knew the wealth of the stuff that Ruby had. 'Cause we all just sort of left it up to her, you know.
MP: Yes, I understand.
EM: He was an alcoholic and.
MP: He was not have recognized it.
EM: No, and he didn't turn any of that stuff back over to the club as I know of. But she had a wealth of information and things that I would've loved to have saved.
MP: Now, I wanted to ask you, you told me that you knew about Ida Wells Barnett, is that right?
EM: Nothing personal. Just you know.
MP: How did you happen to know about her?
EM: Through some of the club members. You know like when we have our State meetings, and they would bring up some things about Black History, you know. And they-what was the Under.. What was her name, she ran the Underground Railroad?
MP: Oh Sojourner Truth?
EM: I guess that was her name.
MP: And Harriet Tubman.
EM: Harriet Tubman. I learned about her through the State so. I don't know, there is a lot of Black History that comes up in the State meetings, and I haven't gone as a delegate for the last three or four years. I just kind of feel like I need to settle back and let some of the younger ones. Course it's-I know why, but it is so hard to get these young people into civic work. I've tried to get the young adults, and I've tried to organize a girl's club, but they're just not interested.
MP: It's difficult, yes. Tell me something about, have you been active in the church are you active in church?
EM: I'm a Bahai.
MP: What? You're Bahai. Have you always been?
EM: No, I was born and raised a Methodist, so. I'm active in the Bahai faith.
MP: When did you-were you a member of the Methodist church here?
EM: In Lincoln.
MP: In Lincoln, but when you came here, you no longer were active?
EM: No I didn't associate.
MP: So when did you become a member of the Bahai faith?
EM: Back in 1953 or 1954.
MP: How did that happen?
EM: Reggie. Again, it's Reggie. His brother was a Bahai who lived in California. He passed and the Bahai sent a memorial or something in his name, and they got a letter from them stating that this had been done. His mother and them. So of course, his mother was dead when I met him. And so they wanted to see it, you know. They thought it would be something that would be standing out in the temple. And they went up to see it, and it wasn't and so anyway I started - I guess this was near the time before she died. When Reggie and I started going together, we went to the temple to visit, and it was so breathtaking and overwhelming.
MP: What temple? Where is this temple at?
MP: In the Chicago area. Yes.
EM: It's the Bahai temple. It's a beautiful place. And so then we went to a meeting in Peoria. We met some people there from Peoria so they invited us. So we went over and this lady would come here every Sunday and talk to us and tell us about the faith and whatnot. So we would go to Peoria on their feast days, and it was such a beautiful thing that we really got interested. And we started to going. And it was closer to go to Champaign we felt because of a Black couple over there who worked and lived with Rita Busey. The Busey's are a very famous.
End Side B; Tape 1
Side A; Tape 2
MP: All right. We are continuing the interview and at this point-let's see, I forget, Mrs. Murphy, right?
MP: Mrs. Murray is going to tell a little bit about the kinds of organizations, clubs that she has been a member of and anything that she may remember of her parents' involvement in any kind of political activities.
EM: I know my mother and dad were Democrats, and one time my mother worked for \[Robert\] McGraw, what's his first name?
MP: Is that the publisher?
EM: No, he was mayor of the city of Bloomington.
MP: Oh no, I never knew. That was before I came up here.
EM: Oh, okay she worked in his campaign, and I belonged to the Civic Woman's Club since 1969 I believe. And I joined recently joined the Three C Club about two and a half years ago. The Three C Club is a pleasure club. The Civic Woman's Club is a civic-minded club. They do all types of civic work and which I enjoyed it. And I've been president of the Civic Woman's Club a total of six years.
EM: And I've been the president of the Three C Club since I joined. Well, I guess I was a member about three months before they voted me in.
EM: And I really didn't want to take that presidency because I didn't feel like I knew enough about the club. But they knew I had been a president of the Civic Woman's Club, and they said, "Oh, you can handle it." So I told them I'd give it a try, but I wanted them to understand that I was going to rely on Mrs. McGee and her daughter Sarah Nuckolls to back me up, and that I would be calling them and talking to them, getting their advice about certain things, you know, because I didn't want any "hereafter" about it. So I told them in front.
EM: And that was they agreed, and that was the only way I taken the presidency there. But going back to the Civic Woman's Club, I came in under Ruby Edwards who was quite a club lady for years, years, and so I had a lot of help there. And we also worked together and she could help me, you know, and I learned a lot about the different organizations, such as the Central District, the State, the Regional, and the National, and so it was quite interesting. And I love doing things, you know, with and for other people.
EM: And oh, by then for my work, I was in doing-let's see what do you call it? You want to turn it off for a minute?
MP: All right. All right. (tape is turned off)
EM: Nutrition for the state.
MP: You were doing nutrition for the state?
EM: Yes, that's when.
MP: Could you explain that?
EM: That's when food stamps came out. The Illinois State University had a program going on nutrition so I started work. I was always interested in cooking, so I got into that, and I'd go around to people's home and help them with balanced diets and menus, and.
MP: Now, you were working for Illinois State University?
MP: In what department?
EM: Nutritional department.
MP: Nutritional department, all right.
EM: And shopping. And I would go around to their homes. And also with these families, some people didn't know how to cook, and I'd help them go along in the cookbook. And we also had little fliers that we would leave with them and explain to them how to prepare this dish and so on and so forth, and in working in that I found out that people had other problems. They weren't too interested in this meal (unintelligible). You know, getting them to sit down a have a nice family meal. They had other problems and they wanted to deal with them, and in this one particular family the lady had been-her husband was hit by a car, I mean a train and he was in the hospital. She'd be home at night with the kids by herself, but she was a lonesome type person. In fact, it was her husband was Black and she was white, and she was sort of ostracized in with him.
EM: And she had two little boys, and she would put them in bed at night, and she'd just walk up and down the court. Well, she was turned into the Department of Children and Family Services. And when they went out to follow through on the report, well she wouldn't talk to them unless I was there, or they talked to me.
EM: So the caseworker got in touch with me, and so we made an appointment and went over, and we talked and we talked and she said to me why wasn't I working with them. Well, at the time I didn't know nothing about homemakers. So she explained everything to me. So I went to the director of the homemaker services and talked to her about employment, and so she hired me. She says, "I can only pay you $2.80 and hour." Well, that was below what I was getting, but they wouldn't let me combine the two things, and so I said, "No." One of her other workers had talked to me also, you know, and she was making three something an hour. So I wouldn't go in no less than that. So she gave me $3.75 an hour. So I kept getting one client on top of the other, and it worked out real well. They were-all the social workers were pleased in what I was doing. I had a lot of training in it, and then I find most of the training was-it didn't work with all families, you know. You just had to take bits and pieces. Well, they were satisfied with the pieces (laughs) that I would choose, you know, or my choice.
MP: Now when did you get this job? Now, when did you start working for them?
EM: I'm going on fourteen years.
MP: Oh, is that right? As a homemaker, right?
MP: You work part-time?
EM: I did work part-time.
MP: You work full-time now?
EM: And I just really liked the job, but I as I said I was sick for eighteen months. I went back. They hired me back part-time. Then that part-time went into full-time. So they just decided they might as well put me back full-time so I can get the benefits.
MP: Yes. Now how much-did you finish high school?
MP: You didn't finish high school.
EM: No. You know I was sickly practically all my life as a young girl.
MP: Oh, is that right?
EM: Un-huh and I was so far back in school. Even with a tutor, I was so far back that I just didn't want to go back to school, knowing I was, you know.
MP: Yes. Yes.
EM: And then my sister had gotten married and.
MP: Yes. I remember you wanted to come here.
MP: So all right. That's good.
EM: No. All my education has come by listening to other people, and I guess I just I don't like to talk much, and I can't. (laughs)
EM: And so all of mine comes from listening to other people. Mother Ewing taught me a lot. She knew I hadn't a full education. So she taken me under her wing and tried to teach me different things, you know.
MP: For example what things did she.
MP: Horse riding, I guess. Horseback riding.
EM: Horseback riding. She was a nature person, and she taught me a lot about nature, and she talked a lot about the history of Bloomington and Normal. And she would give me books to read. She had a huge library, and sometimes, I guess she'd be kind of lonesome. She had a little old stool, a little bit lower than this, and I'd sit down. She'd call me into the living room. I'd go in there, and we'd sit by the fireplace. She had me sit in front of her like a pupil. And she would read and explain and explain and read.
MP: Is that right?
EM: Uh-huh, to me. And I don't know-I guess there was so many big words I just couldn't pronounce, and she didn't like my reading. So she would read to me. Then, I'd have to read back to her.
EM: And she was a tough teacher. She was a tough teacher.
MP: Un-huh that's interesting. So now the job as homemaker did not require that you have a high school education?
EM: Not at that time.
MP: I see.
EM: Not at that time.
MP: But now they do?
MP: But since you came in at a time when it wasn't required, then you can.
EM: I can follow through.
MP: That's interesting. That's really interesting that you managed without..
EM: And that's just been since they been with Scott Center. And well a lot of things have changed. I've seen a lot of changes. At first, you know, we signed a contract, individual contract with the state. Then we went on salary and that didn't work out. Then they put us back on contract. Then they was about to take our contracts from us, so we organized ourselves as Tri-Counties. And then the only thing Tri-County had to depend on was the state.
MP: Yes, that's right.
EM: The contract from the state and I was sick when they went from Tri-County to Scott Center.
MP: I see.
EM: So I don't know what that transaction was.
MP: So I think. I think that what you're saying is that you always wanted to improve yourself. And you sought every opportunity to do so even though it wasn't formal education. I think that's interesting. Is there anything else that you've not said about your life that you want to say?
EM: Well, I said everything-I said everything good about my life. I was laying up in bed thinking, well you know, there's some downs with these ups. I've told all the ups and none of the downs because you can't climb up with-you have to start some place, you know.
MP: That's right. Absolutely.
EM: And there's no interest in climbing if you don't have some downs.
EM: So, yeah there's plenty downs in my life. (laughs quietly) You know, I never heard an argument between my mother and dad in my whole life. My mother and dad separated when I was about ten years old, and I just couldn't understand it. Just couldn't understand it. Well, what it was all about-and since I got older, my dad had a nervous breakdown, and but I didn't know what it was and, you know, they never talked to the kids.
EM: Kids have a place.
MP: Yes, that's right.
EM: And I know my dad done some very peculiar things. He wanted to kill everything that had "the devil" in it and preach.
MP: Is that right? Oh, he wanted to be a preacher?
EM: Un-huh. And my mother worked for a lady doctor for twenty-I believe it was twenty-seven years. In fact, she had brought us kids into the world. This lady doctor did.
MP: Is that right? Yes.
EM: Her name was Bertha Anderson. And she had gone to Connecticut, and she had a Wire-haired Terrier that my mother was keeping for her, and my dad killed the dog 'cause it had the devil in it. And every night at a certain hour, he would gather up like a butcher knife, a ax, and a few other things, but I do remember the butcher knife and the ax. And he would go down to the river, call himself baptizing people, you know, to get the devil out of them. It could be a log or anything and I guess people-and he'd take me with him, and guess people talked to my mother about fearing that he might kill me or something, you know. And so my mother got a little fear in her, and she was afraid to let me go. And I can remember telling her, I'm not afraid of my dad.
MP: Un-huh, yes.
EM: And I continued to go, until they put him away, and I wasn't afraid of him. I didn't have no fear. I thought what he was doing-he was doing right, you know.
MP: Yes, well you were a child, and you found it interesting, too.
EM: Yes. And after they put him in the hospital, we would go every Sunday to see him. We'd catch the inter-urban and go to Peoria to see him. There was a mental hospital over there, but that still didn't mean nothing to me.
MP: Yes, as a child.
EM: I was so glad to see my daddy, and I know he wanted to come home. And so one Sunday we went and my dad was packing ready to come home with us. When he came home with us, he spent the night, but the next day he packed all his things and left. And I still didn't know what was between he and Mother. Mother always called him Sam, and he always called my mother Mama. Well, that was it all through that life, you know, and so my mother-there's a guy from here who used to come and see my mother, and I didn't like that. And I didn't like him. But one Christmas-you know we was very poor, and one Christmas, he bought us a ham and Mama an electric iron and us kids some toys. Well, you know, you giving kids something, you know, then they begin to like you.
MP: That's right. That's right, yes.
EM: So that's the way he got to me, by giving me things and all through that winter come summer, a carnival came to town, and we wanted to go to the carnival. Anything we asked Daddy for he would give, you know. So I went to my Dad and got the money for us to go to the carnival-didn't know he was a gambler, didn't know what a gambler was.
EM: Well, my mother didn't know either, nothing about gambling. And so he borrowed the money-our money from Mama, and he lost it gambling at the carnival. And so, he was ready to go and course us kids weren't ready to go. And Mama asked him about the money. And he said something about he'd lost it, and went on and on cussing and going on and so he reached back to strike my mother. Well, by that time I hopped his back. I jumped on his back. I'd taken my shoe off, and I beat him all up in the head with my shoe, and I was scratching him and biting him, and he was hollering, "Birdie get this gal off of me. Get this gal off of me." And he backed me into a tree. And that just give me more strength, you know.
EM: And I mean I beat that man until his head looked like-and his face. Oh, it was awful the way I scratched it up. So finally my mother asked me to quit and I quit, and I made him promise not to ever, ever put his foot on our property, or ever lay another hand or even look like he wanted to lay a hand on my mother.
MP: Yes. I'm sure that was enough, right?
EM: And so he left, and mother was making beer. Her youngest brother bootlegged. And my mother made better beer than he did so he'd always have my mother make beer. My mother was capping beer on this particular summer afternoon, and-I don't remember what he got in jail for in Lincoln. And he was-they put him on trust, as a trustee. He could wash and polish a car like you wouldn't believe. So he was doing the city cars. He had the sheriff's car, and I don't know why he come by the house. He come and knocked on the door, "Is your mother here?" to me. I said, "Yes, she here, but she don't want nothing to do with you." And he went out to the car and he got a gun. I hollered, "Mama, here he comes with a gun." She broke out the back door across the neighbor's back yard and in and out between the houses. My mother was running so fast, she didn't have any shoes or stockings on (laughs) when I caught up with her.
EM: I got this butcher-I still got the knife-this butcher knife and I for some reason, I just wasn't afraid.
MP: You were a brave person.
EM: I got this butcher knife, and I couldn't catch him 'cause I was going to run this knife through him, and I couldn't catch him. So he got-run back and jumped in the car, went to take off, and I'm hanging on to the side of the car.
MP: You were still.
EM: I was still after him. So I.
MP: You were sure that he would not harm you, though?
EM: No. I wasn't-I didn't think about that.
MP: But you didn't think about that. Yes.
EM: And so I was sticking the knife in his tires, you know, as he was driving. And he was swinging in and out, and in and out, trying to throw me off, you know. But I was hanging on, but I couldn't understand why this knife didn't go in the tire 'cause I was hitting this.
MP: Maybe they were a certain kind of tire-a sheriff's car (inaudible) protecting.
EM: Well, I guess it was the impact of the weight of the car and the wheel rolling.
MP: Perhaps so.
EM: The knife was just bouncing off. I didn't have enough strength to get it in there.
MP: That's right. That's right.
EM: One of the neighbors seen what was happening and called the police. When they got there, I was still hanging on the car with this butcher knife, trying to cut them tires up.
MP: Oh, my goodness. It's a wonder you weren't harmed.
EM: Yeah. But he stopped it. They taken him on back to jail, and l let out my little language that my uncles had taught me. He was everything but a "child of God." My uncles-my mother had two other brothers that never married but they drank heavy, and they got a check from the government once a month and.
MP: Were they veterans?
MP: Yes, military.
EM: So-and they liked to drink so they bootlegged over in North Lincoln. My dad used to call it "Hunkie" town.
MP: Hunkie town?
EM: Yes, because he couldn't understand them. You know, they were Germans and so on and so forth.
MP: Oh, yes.
EM: So he called them Hunkies. You know, with all that language that we couldn't understand. So they'd go over there. They bootlegged over there. So they'd go over there and buy liquor. Well, this place where they'd buy liquor from, they let them put on the cuff, and they could only go up to so much and then they'd cut them off. Well, they'd get cut off. They'd take me and sit me up on a table or anything, you know, and have me to do my little dance and cuss 'em. They done told me what to say, you know, all the way over there.
MP: Yes, yes. They had you all prepped. Un-huh.
EM: Yeah. 'Cause they know they wouldn't do nothing to me, but they couldn't do it.
MP: Ah, yes.
EM: So I'd go over there and cuss them out for them and get them a drink, and then everything would be all right. My dad didn't like one of my mother's brothers 'cause he taken me over there. He bought me a tricycle. We went from town over to Hunkie town to get his drink, and he got me drunk.
MP: Your uncle?
EM: Yeah. And I'm trying to ride this tricycle back home, you know, not realizing I was drunk.
EM: And the tricycle wouldn't go across the ties, you know, and that really upset me and I was riding, falling, and cussing. Riding, falling and cussing. So meantime my dad was digging a ditch to put water in from out in the barnyard, run it up to the house. And I wanted to help him dig this ditch, and so he went-he stopped, went and bought me a little shovel. As fast as my dad would throw the dirt out, I'm throwing it back in and calling him a "son of a bitch."
MP: He knew something was wrong. (laughing)
EM: Daddy got out of that-he come out of that ditch and he would spank me. Sit me down on the porch. Soon as he'd get back in the ditch, I was right back out there. So he said, "Well, I guess I'll have to wait to your mom comes home." And the lady, who used to take care of us, her name was-we called her Auntie Annie. She was coming down the tracks. She'd wear a big black hat, you know, with a wide brim on it? And she smoked an old cob pipe, and she had-wear a skirt, shirt and a apron, and she had some of the biggest feet you ever wanted to see. Looked like she sewed them moccasins. She was a big woman. So.
MP: She took care of you while your mother worked?
EM: Un-huh and so we called-us kids called her Auntie Annie, and Mom and Dad called her Sis. And so Dad says, "Sis, do something with that gal." She puffing on her pipe, you know, and \[she says\],"What's wrong?" I says "Auntie Annie, I can't sit down. Daddy beat me." And he hadn't hurt me all that bad 'cause if he had hurt me, I wouldn't have went back to that ditch.
MP: That's right, you wouldn't have gone back.
EM: So, "Sam you quit hitting that gal." And she went in the house and got a pillow and put it in my pants. 'Cause my butt-I said, you know, my butt was sore, and I couldn't sit down. So she got this pillow. I wasn't sore. I could sit down. I was sitting down before she got there. I picked up my-when she got this pillow in there, you know, I picked up my shovel and went on back to the ditch. Daddy come and he grabbed me, hollering, "Sis, Sis." He went to hit me, and he hit the pillow. Well, it was.
MP: You had your revenge, right? (laughing)
EM: Well, you know they really spoiled me because I was sick. You know, I was telling you about I didn't like history, and this particular day, you know, I just folded my book up, laid my head on the desk, and the teacher tried to wake me up-make me get up. I couldn't, and I couldn't tell her why. And she done it some three or four times, and I can remember her saying, "Well you don't go out for recess." 'Cause I was the kind as soon as the bell rang for recess.
MP: You were gone.
EM: I was gone. And I just laid there. So she come to shake me, and I guess she felt I was warm, you know, hot. And so I could feel her shaking me, but I couldn't tell her to let me alone. But later they said that I mumbled. Anyway, she called my sister in from the playground, and I can remember my sister telling me to scoot over so she could sit down beside me, and she was rubbing my head. They called my mother, and she worked for this doctor, and the doctor came with her. And they taken my temperature and everything, and then the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance. And I could see all these kids standing, you know, on each side of the wall. And they rushed me to the hospital. They had to do surgery, right away. On the way to the hospital, they almost lost me then.
MP: So they gave you a lot of that stuff then, right? To drink, is that right?
EM: No. I had appendicitis.
MP: Oh. You had-oh my goodness-a ruptured appendix then?
EM: And they operated on me right away. And penicillin wasn't quite-you know they hadn't used too much of it. And in fact, there wasn't none that could be found in Lincoln. So they flew it from Chicago in an airplane to Lincoln. And, you know, in them days they put a crisis on if you was sick. A ten-day crisis. Well, if you don't come around in ten days, they give you up. So that tenth day was coming around, and they finally got this penicillin, and that's the only thing that pulled me through.
MP: That's the only thing that saved you.
EM: And I was out of school seven months out of the nine. Yeah. I was really sick and always have been.
MP: Kind of sickly? Un-huh. But you somehow, I mean even though you've had an illness recently you were saying, you somehow keep going, right? You're able to keep going. Because you're very active, not only in your work, but also in these clubs and organizations, which is good.
EM: Yeah. My son said to me the other night, "Mama, why are you pushing yourself?" I said, "I don't know." And I don't.
MP: Yes, but that keeps your life interesting, I think, doesn't it?
EM: But I get up about 5:30 every morning, and I can stay around here until about 7:30. Then I got to hit the door. I got to go.
MP: You got to go. You developed a habit of doing that.
EM: I guess I have. But work don't start until eight.
MP: But you have the habit of getting up and getting out.
EM: If I don't do no more than ride around or go get me a cup of coffee, or something.
MP: You feel better. Yes, well I think it's marvelous that you are able - you're now doing the kind of work you enjoy doing. I think that's very good. All right. Is that about it, do you think?
EM: Can't think of any more.
MP: All right. Now if you find any. (tape shut off)