Aileen H. Clyde 20th Century Women's Legacy Archive: African American oral histories
African American oral history project, ACCN 2840
The African American oral history project (1971-1973) contains interviews with people who resided in Utah during the Depression and World War II era. Those interviewed discuss their experience being African American in Utah during this time. Items discussed include difficulty finding housing and jobs as well as discrimination in public areas and from neighbors. Audio is also available for the interviews.
Adams was born in Greenwood, Michigan, where she worked as a gym teacher. She moved to Salt Lake City in 1943. She was employed by Mrs. Daniels (presumably at a beauty salon) in 1944, where she worked for eight months. In 1945 she opened a beauty shop of her own. Because she was African American, it was difficult for her to find a shop to rent. She was eventually able to get a store space between State and Main Street from 1951-1960. When Adams came to Utah she was unable to find a house and rented a two-room duplex for a short time, because of her race. In 1944 she rented a house from one of her white friends, where she still lived at the time of this interview. All three of her children attended Granite High and graduated from the University of Utah. While her children didn’t have too much trouble with discrimination in school, Adams recollects encountering discrimination in movie theaters and restaurants. She states that NAACP involvement in the fifties improved the situation. She also cites that there were not many black professionals in Salt Lake City at the time she moved there.
Mrs. Howard Brown
Mrs. Brown was born in Lansing, Kansas in 1914. She only encountered school segregation through elementary school. She attended the University of Kansas, which was integrated. Her husband was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1912. He attended school through high school, which was segregated throughout its entirety. The couple moved to Carbonville, Utah, in 1931, to help Mr. Brown’s mother, whose husband had fallen ill. She owned a farm. Mr. Brown worked in the mines during the winters, which Mrs. Brown explains was the one job open to African American men at the time, and helped his mother on the farm during the summers. The couple eventually relocated to Salt Lake City in 1939 seeking new jobs and opportunities. In Salt Lake, Mr. Brown began to work as a porter for the railroads, but was unable to get full-time work until 1941. Mrs. Brown recounts that it was very difficult to find good jobs in Utah for African Americans, even for those with a college education. This left many African Americans without an incentive to pursue higher education. Mrs. Brown relates that no jobs were available for women outside of domestic or janitorial work. She says that the Depression hit African Americans harder than it hit whites, because they were the last to be hired and the first to be fired. She recalls that the most ridiculous case of racism she ever encountered in Utah involved a prominent white man trying to get a law passed by the legislature that would have forced all African Americans to move far down Beck Street, close to the dump. She faced similar prejudice from her neighbors, who considered African Americans “undesirables” in the neighborhood. Although it was difficult for African Americans to find housing at this time, she distinctly remembers that you could get a home for as little as fifty dollars down. Mrs. Brown recounted that her children had problems at Franklin Elementary because the principal was prejudiced, and that many other African American families experienced similar problems. Primarily, she was frustrated because she felt that racism was nearly impossible to fight before civil rights laws were passed, even for bigger organizations such as the NAACP. In terms of racism that continues today, she feels that housing was still extremely difficult to get, and that African Americans are often kept out of jobs because employers overstate necessary qualifications as an excuse not to hire African Americans, although they hire white people who fall short of the same qualifications. For her, many of her job-related frustrations were not because she felt she wasn’t paid enough, but because she felt she wasn’t challenged enough and was stuck doing menial, uninteresting work for the majority of her life. On the occasions that she did have a more interesting position, she was demoted or let go, which she attributes to the prejudice of her employers. She stated that prejudice and difficulty finding good jobs had not improved in Utah at the time of the interview, and cites the LDS church as being one of the main roadblocks. Mrs. Brown says that the KKK was not active in Salt Lake City, but in smaller towns such as Price there was at least an occasional presence. She says that when they moved to Price, an African American man had recently been hung from one of the bridges, although she could not remember why.
Mrs. Eberhart was born in Columbus, Mississippi on January 20, 1912. She attended school up through eighth grade and came to Utah in 1946, where she started work as a housekeeper. She later worked for a doctor. Because of discriminatory housing practices, she was forced to live in a hotel for an entire year when she first moved. During the Depression, she says she struggled to find adequate food and relied on food stamps, coupons, and other aid. During this time she worked at a furniture store as a maid. She spent the majority of her time working. Outside of attending church and work, she had no time for recreation. She had many LDS friends but found the Church’s overall discrimination unpalatable and the doctrine difficult to believe. She belonged to the NAACP. Mrs. Eberhart feels that young people today get a better shot at a good educational experience as compared to when she was growing up, and encourages young people to study hard so that they can reach their desired occupation. She wishes that African Americans had a better opportunity to learn about their own history in order to develop a better sense of self. Her own knowledge of history came from her grandmother, who was a slave. Mrs. Eberhart believes that in Utah, a lot of racism stems from differences in religious doctrine. She states that when she lived in Birmingham, Alabama she was treated better by white people, although she says white people are friendlier to her now than when she originally moved. She also believes that housing is more difficult to find in Utah than elsewhere. There were few black professionals in Salt Lake City when she moved, but she says that there are more job opportunities now. She states that in spite of the problems she has encountered being African American, she is proud to be black and wouldn’t wish to be anything else. She now takes care of foster kids.
Mrs. Fagen was born in Texas December 7, 1897, and completed school up until the fourth grade. She moved to Ogden in 1942 because of an opportunity to work at a hotel. She recalls thinking it was “the worst place in the world” when she first moved. In Ogden, she met her husband who was doing labor at the time but eventually became employed by Southern Pacific Railroad. She says that most of the married African American women she knew in Ogden also had husbands working for the railroad. She herself worked at Brown’s Repair Shop. When talking about the process to acquire property, she was very adamant that this was a huge problem but that it had improved at least a little due to the passage of anti-discrimination laws. When questioned about discrimination at eating and recreation places, Mrs. Fagen credits the NAACP for making restaurants more available. When she first moved to Ogden, there was only one restaurant that would serve African Americans so she usually ate at home. She recalls a specific incident where an African American performer refused to play a show at Lagoon because other African Americans were not allowed in the venue, and Lagoon ended up letting them in. Many African American performers boycotted Ogden venues for this reason. Swimming places are mentioned here as they are in many other interviews, and were something that African Americans were very frequently barred from. Mrs. Fagen discusses several things relating to cultural tradition, such as her family history and whether or not she believes in witchcraft and voodoo, which she doesn’t. Her grandmother was a slave, and passed down the stories to Mrs. Fagen. She particularly remembers a lot about spirituals, and how they were not only songs but a call to rise up against slavery, and that slaves were not free to worship God as they chose and had to do it in secret. She mentions KKK presence in the South, and the trauma and anxiety she felt in relation to that organization. She mentions that the KKK was much more undercover in Utah than it had been in the South, where she recalls seeing several parades. She discusses her strong preference against interracial marriage. She justifies these views primarily because she does not believe that “first class” white girls are interested in African American males, and will be a bad influence on them and potentially get them in trouble. Mrs. Fagen talks about the great opportunity that younger African Americans have as opposed to what she had, and mentions that many of them do not take advantage of their opportunities, particularly in education. Like many others interviewed, she talks about the phoniness of interactions between African Americans and whites, and that she feels that Utah is “one-hundred times” more racist than any state in the South. She says that she would much rather live in Texas but is now stuck here in Utah. She also discusses her frustration with the derogatory words she has been called here and how she reacted. When talking about welfare she highlights the overt racism shown in interactions with African Americans.
Lily Haley and Emma Leon
Mrs. Haley was born in 1889 in Sedalia Missouri, where she only made it through the sixth grade. She came to Ogden in 1922. At the time, the economy was based around the railroad, where her husband got a job. She states that the economy has since shifted to an emphasis in government defense plants, and that the city has grown since they first arrived. She claims that the main jobs available to African Americans when she moved were for waiters, cooks, domestic service, and railroad jobs and that no African Americans owned property at the time. Most of people’s husbands worked on the railroad. Mrs. Haley did not have a job. She currently lives off her husband’s pension and does not require welfare. During the Depression, which was particularly difficult in Ogden, Mrs. Haley recalls potatoes and rabbits being given to the poor. In discussing property discrimination, she does not seem to think race had as much to do with lack of property ownership as did lack of money among African Americans. She did not recall anything about the KKK in Ogden or lynching. She did mention segregation of theaters and restaurants, but states that she was used to it having grown up in the South. She acknowledges that schools and opportunities have increased for African Americans. She worked briefly with the NAACP and believes they were instrumental in making more jobs available to African Americans. She also mentioned her distaste of the word “black” as a descriptor of African Americans, believing it to be generic and inaccurate. Mrs. Leon, Mrs. Haley’s sister, joins the conversation and describes how she gradually adapted to Ogden after she moved there. She grew up in Texas and attended school up to the eighth grade. At the time that she moved, she was separated from her husband. She relocated with the intent of helping her sister, Mrs. Haley, who resided in Ogden. Mrs. Haley owned a restaurant, called the Haley Restaurant, which was the one restaurant that allowed African Americans at the time in Ogden. Leon relates that she had a difficult time adjusting to the segregation and feeling of being alone in Ogden.
Mrs. Haynes was born July 14, 1881 in Mississippi. In the interview, she is difficult to understand and there are many gaps in the conversation. She was unable to attend school of any sort because she had to help her mother take care of her eight siblings. She came to Utah in 1927 because her husband’s family, who had originally come to Utah with Brigham Young, was here. She tells stories about the family’s trip to Utah, and a bit about their history, describing how she cared for various family members. Mrs. Haynes herself had two daughters, one who died when she was a baby, and the other who appears to have had medical troubles as well. Mrs. Haynes describes being a primary caretaker for her grandchildren. Mrs. Haynes worked all over Salt Lake: as a waitress, in an airplane hangar, at Hill Field, for Fort Douglas, as a cleaning woman, and a seamstress. She lived on 200 South (Second South), which was just down the street from Minion Richmond, and describes it as being difficult to find housing at the time. She says at that time there were a few African American lawyers and only one or two African American doctors. She describes her experience with hospitals and doctors in Salt Lake, as well as some of her own medical conditions. For recreation, most African Americans engaged in outdoor activities such as sack races but that there really wasn’t much to do. She believes that the Mormon Church has a great influence on the state of Utah, although it has not had as big an impact on her life as she grew up Baptist and didn’t convert when asked. She states that she is on welfare but does not receive enough money from it. She also believed that the KKK was still active in Utah at the time of the interview, operating out of Sugarhouse. She and the interviewer talk at length about mutual acquaintances. Mrs. Haynes also discusses her job working at a drinking rehabilitation center for a time. She goes on to discuss church matters such as women preachers and her distaste for the practice of changing religious doctrines. She says there were basically no African American owned businesses when she came to Utah. She mentions the Depression, stating that they had to stand in bread lines and used cheaper products such as powdered eggs and milk.
Henry was born in Holsten Louisiana in 1920, where her father was tenant farmer. She then lived in Topeka Kansas where she lived with her grandfather, who was a minister. She describes feeling like she knew more than others her age while in school and that she was athletic and a bit of a tomboy. She went to segregated schools until junior high, which was integrated and she says she found this jarring. Her husband was a college graduate and worked as an aid to the state capitol while in Kansas. She later divorced him because of their differences in religion and their thoughts about children. She came to Utah in 1949. She encountered discrimination from a young age, which was even more prevalent in Utah. Before her divorce, she fell extremely ill with appendicitis. She felt that God had a lot to do in her recovery, and that after she recovered she had a purpose which led her to Utah. In Utah, she married Mr. Henry and worked taking care of people’s children. Like other interviewees, she mentions segregation both in entertainment and public places, difficulty finding housing, and limitation in the jobs she was able to get. Once she moved to Utah, she started a student group in 1960 directed at students who wanted to attend college. She wanted to supply scholarships for students to go to college to prevent them from going to mines or out of state. This eventually became the Alberta Henry Foundation which she goes into detail about later in the interview. Henry discusses her church, National Baptist Incorporated, which is predominantly black. She feels that non-Mormon churches in Utah have less power than they would elsewhere, and that it is in part because of the Mormon Church. She states that one of the only reasons African Americans have joined the LDS church is for economic reasons. Henry also discusses the different school districts in Utah, and which ones she believes are better for minorities. She believes one of the main problems facing minorities is teacher attitudes. She discusses many instances of discrimination in schools throughout Utah, and the role she has played in stopping it. When Henry started the Alberta Henry Foundation in 1966, there were only five African American students at the University of Utah and many students left the state after graduating because they couldn’t get good jobs in Utah, which Henry attributes in part to the Mormon Church’s attitudes about African Americans. At first, the foundation was sponsored by a radio show called the “Gospel Hour”, at which Henry was the only woman broadcaster. The foundation received its charter in December of 1967. One of the key points that Henry makes throughout the interview is the disadvantage that African American students experience due to differences in cultural backgrounds: one of the reasons her foundation mainly focuses on students with lower grade point averages. She talks about the foundation, how it came about, and how she gathered funding for it. In addition, she also talks about how she feels the foundation helps students with maintaining better grades throughout college because they feel a sense of community with other students in the program. She also notes that the minority community in general has started to shift in terms of interest in college, with many younger high school students as well as parents showing great interest in their children attending college. She doesn’t believe that high schools have gotten any better at helping African American students succeed, however. Henry mentions being involved in the NAACP, but she and many other members were disillusioned by the lack of African American members, the lack of action, and the feeling of it being an exclusive club. She believes that many of the positive changes that have come to Salt Lake City were due to federal laws rather than NAACP involvement. She also touches on the problems that stem from exclusion at an early age, primarily because of the way that African American students are left out of many activities due to race, religion, or socioeconomic standing. She believes that discrimination is worse in Utah than it is in the South, and even with changes in laws that require companies to hire African Americans she states that it can still feel very lonely. Henry cited instances of her being an active participant in trying to sustain and promote laws that help African Americans. When the Utah Education Fund was cut, for instance, she protested it. She believes that some of this can continue to be a problem even in the workplace after graduating high school or college much in the same way it was an issue during school. Part of this she attributes to the fact that African Americans, minorities, and poverty are not concentrated in any one place in Salt Lake, creating a feeling of exclusion for many minority students. Henry won the Elks Citizen of the Year award in 1970, the first time it had been given to an African American, for her service to the community through the foundation.
Polly James was born August 3, 1919 just north of Texarkana, Texas. She had two brothers, six sisters, and attended Burns High School. In the fall of 1937 she attended Prairie View St. College for one semester before dropping out to get married. Her husband went away to join the army for two years and eight months. They moved to Salt Lake City in the October of 1946. At the time, her husband was employed at ANSR, and they had five children: two boys and three girls. When they moved to Salt Lake City, they lived in a two-room attic that did not have running water. Mrs. James remembers a huge variety of excuses including clauses in property ownership that didn’t allow for sale or rental to African American. She and her husband ended up renting a two-room house where they were the only house on the block. They lived in the house for fourteen years and often had trouble because the snowplow would not plow their street because theirs was the only house. Her husband eventually became a pipe fitter, a step up from his previous position. He received free education from Kennecott, a company Mrs. James claims did not discriminate in their hiring practices. Mrs. James states that her kids experienced discrimination in their education. Because summer jobs were not available to African American teenagers at the time, Mrs. James and her husband started their own janitorial service and made a point of employing younger kids, many of them minorities. At the time, she says that the only African Americans working in retail stores were doing maid work, that it was difficult to get a job, and that employees often faced suspicion and distrust from their employers. She claims that it was difficult to find places to go for recreation as African Americans were not allowed in many restaurants and were limited to the upper balconies of theaters. Mrs. James feels that church is an important part of family life. She was brought up as a Southern Baptist and did not believe in many of the tenants of the Mormon Church although she believes that as long as anyone believes in God, they are on the same road, just not the same path. Although she was not Mormon, she enrolled her children in LDS primary in order to give them interaction with other children in the neighborhood. She says that the other children were nice to her children when they were in church, but unfriendly out of the church setting. For recreation in Utah, many people went to parks. Mrs. James didn’t like parks however; she encountered discrimination and people calling her names when she went, something that didn’t happen in the South. This angers her because she was taught that everyone is equal in God’s eyes. She was a member of the NAACP, but notes that though they were a good organization they weren’t able to make much progress in Utah because their leaders were not heard. In her opinion, lack of capital has held back African American businesses because banks are unwilling to give business loans. She states that she herself tried to get a business loan but was repeatedly turned down. At the time of the interview, she owned an antique business. She mentioned that the Salt Lake City Tribune had interviewed her about her business. If she got the capital, she would like to be able to upholster, paint, and restore the furniture she sells. She believes that being in this business is one of the fastest ways to become a millionaire. When asked her opinions about young African Americans, she states that she believes they have just as much potential and intelligence as white people, but believes that since they can’t get backing for businesses or to do what they really want out of college, they are limited. She says that she herself experienced an emphasis on African American history in her own education, and that she wishes young people at the time of the interview experienced the same. She said she enjoyed school. It was segregated, but she believes that segregation allowed for her to learn a lot about African American history. Her grandmother was a slave. Mrs. James believes that slaves were incredibly brave, seeking education even when they were punished for it. She had heard of the KKK being in Utah in the early fifties, and that there was an instance of a burning cross when African Americans wanted to buy a place in a predominantly white neighborhood. She has never been on welfare, and thinks that it is a danger because it makes people dependent. Growing up, her father worked on the railroad for seven years, than purchased a farm, which she cites as instilling a respect for independence in her. Her mother was a seamstress. During the Depression years, her family didn’t suffer. Although she didn’t like farm work, she says that at the time it wasn’t acceptable to question your parents. To young African Americans, she suggests that they apply themselves and take care of themselves rather than asking for help. She says also that they should go into a profession with the goal to help all people, regardless of race.
Mrs. Kinsey was born January 24th, 1897, in Heflin Louisiana. She went to school in a one-room schoolhouse and made it through the fourth or fifth grade. Both of her parents were born into slavery in Louisiana, although her mother was half-white. Her father was a farmer; she recalls that he grew cotton and corn primarily. She had six brothers and three sisters. She says that while African Americans face a lot of discrimination in Utah, she was treated worse in Louisiana. Mrs. Kinsey moved to Ogden from Kansas City Missouri after she was first married, November 1919. Her husband was a cook for the railroad for the rest of his life, and she did not work, choosing to stay home to keep the house in order. There were not very many African Americans in Ogden at the time, and most of them were railroad men. The couple experienced difficulty finding a place to live because people were not willing to sell to them. During the Depression, Mrs. Kinsey’s husband was able to keep his job so they did not feel a huge economic strain. She had five children who went on to get college educations in architecture and medical social work. One of her daughters was one of the first African American teachers in Utah. While going to school in Ogden, however, her children were discriminated against and were excluded from many clubs and organizations. Her daughter had trouble finding a teaching job in Salt Lake City due to discrimination, so she had to become a teacher in Ogden. Mrs. Kinsey feels that education has improved and that there are more opportunities to be involved in activities, but that Utah still has a long way to go. Mrs. Kinsey had heard about the KKK in Idaho, but not in Utah. Going forward, she thinks that getting an education will be very important for young African Americans and hopes that children will be able to participate in school more. She also believes that getting an education can greatly reduce the racism African Americans face. She recalls African Americans being barred from all recreational activities when she first moved to Utah and that she found it quite lonely when she first moved because there was no African American community. She tells a story about an African American war veteran who had lost one of his arms in the war and was still unable to sit downstairs at a theater. She mentions being a member of the NAACP. She can’t remember any occasions of lynching in Utah.
Mrs. Ledbetter was born in Salt Lake City, in 1923. She had both a brother and a sister. Her family lost their house during the Depression and moved across from Pioneer Park. She dropped out of school after junior high to help raise a nephew, while her dad worked a variety of jobs that included janitorial work, the railroad, government, and store clerk. Her mother was in music and accomplished her goal of being played on the radio before she died of cancer during the Depression, a death which Mrs. Ledbetter says was difficult on her family. Her father stayed with the children after that, which Mrs. Ledbetter says is not common. She says she was a “daddy’s girl”. Like her mother, she also developed an interest in music and entertained in Salt Lake City during World War II. She was on welfare when her children were young, and when she was on her own before she was married, she reported that it was very difficult for her to find a place to live. She was almost denied welfare for her second child because the child was mixed race. She discusses her views on welfare, and believes that it made life difficult because people who had not had money before had no knowledge of how to spend it wisely. She believes the system is improving, however. She says that during the Depression it became extremely difficult to find work and her father worked for the WPA, and she developed a hatred for biscuits because they were forced to eat them so frequently. When asked about superstitions, she tells a story of her father turning a car around in the middle of a trip because they saw a black cat cross the road. When Mrs. Ledbetter was growing up, most of her friends were white and she did not face much racism during school or have any problems with other students. She talks about racism in theaters, a practice that she believes to have ended during the Second World War due to picketing of Intermountain Theaters. She also talks about being prohibited from using swimming pools. In addition to this commonly noted racism, she recalls that stores would not allow African Americans to try on clothing before they bought it. Mrs. Ledbetter had seven children, five of whom were alive at the time of the interview. Her son experienced discrimination in his schooling, and was not treated fairly in the context of disagreements. She believes that Salt Lake City would be a better place for African Americans to live if they owned more businesses in the city. She believes that African American women seek love from white men because their own men do not treat them well and abandon them to raise children on their own. In her second interview, Mrs. Ledbetter goes into more detail about her singing career, which she pursued under the name of Nina Hobbs. She thinks that she was one of the first African American entertainers in the state. She mentions that right now is one of the greatest times for African Americans to be alive in terms of education, although she believes more African Americans need to be counselors and politicians as they are the only ones who truly understand the progress that needs to be made. She believes that a prevalent reason that people leave the state is the underlying current of racism here. She briefly discusses religion, stating that she is concerned that the younger generation doesn’t believe in God, because it is “getting close to the end of time”. She believes that it was not the church, however, but violence that was responsible for sparking progress for African Americans.
Mrs. Little was born in 1906, where she attended school in Brown and Caldwell, Texas. She went to school through junior high and came to Utah in 1933. She decided to move to Utah because her husband’s parents were living there. She did not like Utah at first because of its lack of minorities as well as a lack of recreational activities. Mrs. Little recalls that the first time she went to church in Salt Lake, pistols were drawn during the service by two people including the preacher, and it took her a long time to attend a church service again. She also recalls that there were not many available jobs, and recreational activities such as swimming were off limits for African Americans. She worked at the Greyhound bus station by Temple Square as a maid, and at the time lived on 900 South. She recalls this as being a very lonely time, because work was the only activity she was able to participate in. Her husband worked as a janitor, even though he was certified as a mechanic. Over time, he was able to show his expertise in mechanic work and opportunities opened up for him to do that instead. When World War II started, he went to work at Fort Douglas as a mechanic. Mrs. Little believes that there are not very many African American homeowners and even fewer African American business owners in Utah. She had no difficulty finding her own house, but was harassed for a time after she started living there. She briefly discusses her family history, particularly how her grandmother was a slave and her experiences. Mrs. Little also mentions that she is afraid of voodoo and that she knows of some people who moved from the South that are practicing in Salt Lake City. She also talks about her fear of the KKK, and an incident of the organization harming a black man in Salt Lake City. Mrs. Little relates that she is a member of the Church of God and Christ, and she had no problems with the Mormon Church or any church in particular. She has two sons, and discusses how she had jobs taking care of other people’s children that she enjoyed. She believes that children growing up now have a better opportunity to move up socially and economically than she did because they do not have to drop out of school to help their families. She believes that the only problem is that young people need to take advantage of available education while they are young and their minds are still sharp. She briefly discusses what she sees as problems in the education system as well.
Mrs. Myers was born in Salt Lake City on August 14, 1928. She attended Jordan and Roosevelt Junior High and graduated from West High in 1945. Her great grandparents came to Utah with Brigham Young as slaves and members of the LDS church. She didn’t run into many problems with housing or job discrimination, which she attributes to her LDS faith. She seems to have great regard for the Church and the extent to which it helps its members. Mrs. Myers does not remember any African American-owned businesses, and only one African American lawyer and no doctors. She says the NAACP, Elk’s Club, and YWCA were prominent organizations in the African American community when she was growing up. She believed that the NAACP was primarily concerned with finding recreation opportunities for young people, and had helped in creating a center for African American youth recently. Growing up, she learned little African American history as it was not taught in schools nor a major topic of discussion in her home. She had heard of the KKK in Utah, but never seen them active. As a child, she went to Pioneer Park to play, as well as going to dances and movies for recreation. She mentions having aspirations to become a nurse after high school, but she got married instead. She says that at the time she was growing up, there were few drug problems and a lot of African Americans went to college. She says that there was discrimination in restaurants and theaters at the time. She feels that younger generations are less racist than their predecessors. Mrs. Myers had occasionally been on welfare, but never had any problems with it. She and the interviewer discuss drugs and she says she believes that drug use primarily stems from a poor family life.
Mrs. Nathanial was born January 17th, 1907 and attended Edison Elementary School, West Jr. High, and West High School. She was very shy in junior high and had few friends. She worked mostly as a maid for private families, beginning when she was thirteen years old. She didn’t have trouble getting jobs and says her employers were nice people. During the Great Depression, both she and her husband experienced wage cuts but were ultimately okay. The first time Mrs. Nathanial ever saw another African American was when she was twelve because all of her childhood friends were white. However, she rarely ventured out with her white friends because she felt she would be discriminated against or turned away from a place of business such as theaters. Mrs. Nathanial had no trouble buying her house, possibly because she bought it from African Americans. She was often turned away from restaurants based on her race and mentions that people weren’t allowed to try on clothes at shops. She mentions clubs that protested these restrictions, such as the Women’s Federated Club. There were also many social clubs. Mrs. Nathanial belonged to the Calvary Baptist Church. Although she didn’t hear anything about the KKK in Utah, she remembers a campaign that occurred trying to get African Americans to move out near the oil refineries. She only knew one African American lawyer and no African American doctors. As far as she knew, the only African American businesses were cafes or similar places to eat. She had not heard about drug problems in the youth until 1944. She says that she doesn’t believe that young African Americans get educations to better the race, but themselves, and she believes that if everyone did this it would help the race overall. She says that her views on race relations have changed: it took her a while to trust white people, but that getting into the Church of Religious Science has helped. She mentions instances when African Americans were harassed by having their cars and houses painted when they moved into predominantly white neighborhoods. She says there are more opportunities now, but that people aren’t taking as much advantage of them as they could because they don’t realize that to get what they want they have to put in the work.
O’Neal was born May 31, 1916 in Salt Lake City County Hospital. She attended Jackson and West High School. She noted that there were about a dozen other African American students at West High School at the time she was there. She mentions a bit about her family history, including that her family was from Topeka, Kansas and that her mother had Cherokee ancestry. She grew up with seven siblings. Her family mostly worked in janitorial work. She remembers that the Great Depression was difficult, and that her parents struggled to find work and her mother was on welfare. Her father died when she was eleven so everyone in the family had to get a job and work until they were married, although this did not cause her to drop out of school. O’Neal relates that before World War II, there were not many African Americans in Salt Lake and they did not own property. Unlike many others who were interviewed, she did not find property ownership to be difficult except that it was difficult to get enough money. She did not work when she was married. Her husband worked on the railroad and shined shoes and later worked as a cement finisher. O’Neal has been on and off of welfare. The first time was when her husband became sick and was unable to work and she went completely on welfare after he died. She didn’t know anything about the KKK or lynching in Utah. She has nine children, three of whom made it through high school. She says they never experienced discrimination in school that she knows of. Her children have not had problems finding jobs, and O’Neal feels her children had a better opportunity than she did because they do not have to work to put themselves through school like she did. She says she believes there are more jobs available to African Americans now, though she does not know what they are. One of her sons went to college to become a doctor, and she does not know why the others did not go to college. She mentions that her grandfather came to Salt Lake City with Brigham Young. She says that restaurants excluded African Americans for many years in Salt Lake. It didn’t bother her, however, because she didn’t go out to eat. African Americans were also excluded from Lagoon and Liberty Park.
Reverend and Mrs. Halsie Owens
Rev. Owens was born on May 4th, 1907, in Oklahoma. He went to school through the ninth grade and came to Utah in October of 1945. Mrs. Owens was born in Crescent, Oklahoma January 6th, 1909. Mrs. Owens attended school through ninth grade as well and came to Utah in 1953. The couple experienced a lot of problems with racism related to housing. When Rev. Owens first came to Utah, he struggled to find housing that wasn’t near the railroad tracks. When the couple moved, neighbors signed a petition trying to keep them out of the new neighborhood (although they both say that over time the neighbors grew to be friendly). They bought a ranch in North Ogden, where they ran into an absurd number of problems including disputes, property destruction by their neighbors, and attempted foreclosure of the ranch even after they had made all the payments. They were only able to deal with this after consulting numerous lawyers, and finally managed to get legal help in 1962. The last straw came when the neighbors put glass in their cow feed, causing many of the cows to die. They were forced to sell the ranch out of fear that someone might set fire to it while the couple was away. The Owens experienced trouble finding jobs despite qualifications, and found that African Americans struggle to get jobs even if they are qualified for them. Mr. Owens found that he was only able to get a job in a dining car, and Mrs. Owens was unable even to find a job at the laundry. She eventually found work as a nurse and in emergency rooms in hospitals. At the time of the interview, it seemed she was working as a teacher. The couple stated that jobs were much more available when they lived in Oklahoma, and say that it has improved here but not enough. They also stated that there was favoritism toward Mormons. There was no recreation except the USO, which was dangerous because it was not well-lighted at night. The couple had not heard of the KKK being in Utah until after President Kennedy’s death. They were still members of the NAACP at the time of the interview, though they didn’t feel it was able to get much done. Rev. and Mrs. Owens both believe that by getting an education, children can achieve better occupations and a higher quality of life. They cite the availability of libraries, something they didn’t have, as an asset to young people today and state that African Americans often have to pursue their own education because whites will not give them an adequate one. The couple disagrees on the subject of the past: Rev. Owens is frightened that young minorities will be so angry in learning about the past that they will simply hate white people and riot instead of working for a better future while Mrs. Owens believes that the past is a necessary tool that whites try to keep hidden, and that it is only just to make it available to young people so they can understand why the world is the way it is. They discuss discrimination, and how children often learn it from their parents. They state that most people are taking advantage of education, but that they need to know why they are seeking education and do it with intention in order for things to advance. Both believe the church is key to instilling good values in children. Mrs. Owens talks about Utah being the best place for them because they can help more here than anywhere else. They don’t feel that the level of discrimination has shifted much from when they moved to Utah. They both say that houses were often bought through individuals because realtors would not show houses in nice areas to minorities. They had not heard about lynching in the state, but did know about an African American getting shot on a bus before they moved. When they moved, there was one African American doctor. They think they were the first black-owned business in the area, and the Depression did not hit them very hard because they were on their farm at the time. They both believe that many educated African Americans, especially doctors, leave Utah because of discrimination within work and without. They both agree that education is the key to a better life, but also express concern that the youngest generation has a sense of entitlement that is detrimental to making it through school. They state that the keys to advancement are cooperation and will power and that a hindrance is drug use.
Mrs. Minion Baker Richmond
Mrs. Richmond was born in 1897 in the northern part of Salt Lake City near the capitol building. Her brother died at three or four years old. She grew up on 500 West between 100 and 200 South She did not know any other African American families near her, and as a result often played with white children who lived on the street. Her father was born a slave and her mother was white and from London. Her father died in the 1920s, her mother in the 1930s. She had two brothers who died at birth, another who died in childhood, and one sister. They moved once during her childhood, once again to a primarily white neighborhood. Although she went to church as a young child, she began to feel discrimination in church around seventh or eighth grade and subsequently stopped going until she joined the Calvary Baptist Church just after college. She first remembers feeling true discrimination during seventh or eighth grade when the family she was working for went to Saltair to swim and she was not allowed to join them. To avoid similar prejudice in restaurants she would often go to them with a YWCA group so that she was not turned away. She remembers segregation within troops during the Second World War. She did not remember the KKK being too active in the past in Salt Lake, but states that there was a branch of it in Salt Lake at the time of the interview. She states that there was a lynching that she remembers happening in Salt Lake, although she could not recall the circumstances. She also discusses the areas that were predominantly black in Salt Lake during the 20’s, as well as the formation of the Second South area. Mrs. Richmond attended college at Utah State because she felt that the Home Economics program was better than what was offered at the University of Utah. She was the only African American there, but did not feel too alone as she attended with a few girls she had graduated with. The program included an emphasis on painting, plumbing, woodwork, and other things that were not common at the time in comparable programs. Mrs. Richmond eventually got a job as a maid at the University of Utah’s home economics department which she felt was due to the influence of her dad. While she lived in Logan, there were only a couple other African Americans there and one of them got in trouble for supposedly harassing a white woman. Mrs. Richmond discusses her first husband, who was a gambler. She felt discrimination at stores occasionally, where she noticed she had to wait until all of the white customers had been served before she would be helped. She also felt that when applying for jobs, her qualifications would often be overlooked because of her race. She was made a member of the American Association for University Women only with great difficulty during the fifties. She discusses what her responsibilities with the group were as well as her involvement with the USO and the YMCA. When asked about racism that Mrs. Richmond saw elsewhere in the community, she tells a story about a teenage girl who was killed on New Year’s Eve, ending with two African American men being arrested despite highly suspect evidence. She tells a few other stories related to discrimination in Salt Lake as well, though some are disjointed. In 1928, her father walked all the way to Saltair after disappearing for three days, ended up getting arrested, and died after a blow to the head in jail. It turned out that his symptoms were actually due to ear syphilis, and this caused Richmond some amount of anxiety. When talking about religion, Mrs. Richmond says the believes that many of the problems in the African American community stem from a lack of leadership, too many churches with too few people, and the engrained Mormon culture working against African Americans in both obvious and subtle ways, particularly the Second Ward. She mentions her involvement with organizing a black caucus as well as the NAACP, and some picketing of a Woolsworths she was involved in. Mrs. Richmond says that the passage of laws against discrimination has improved the situation of African Americans, particularly in terms of where they are able to eat and in terms of recreation areas. However, she says that jobs are still limited.
Mrs. Ross was born in Salisbury, North Carolina. She attended high school there and then came to Utah in 1954. She made this decision because the climate in North Carolina was not conducive to her health and she felt Utah’s weather would be better for her. Additionally, she had a brother living in Utah at the time. Mrs. Ross said that she wanted to work as a waitress or a cook, but that those jobs were not available to her. At the time, the only work available to African American women was maid work. She also found that housing discrimination was common. She would often call and hear a property was available, only to be denied when she showed up because she was not white. Like others, she also experienced discrimination in theaters and in eating places. Mrs. Ross ran for school board because she felt that teachers were disinterested in learning and more interested in keeping their reputations. She was also frustrated with the number of children placed in special needs, which she often felt was due to teacher deficiencies rather than student deficiencies. She felt that these programs targeted minorities because the teacher did not feel they should spend the majority of their time on a minority student. She argued that instead of focusing on keeping the students who were already doing well ahead of the curve, teachers should focus on not leaving those who struggle behind. She also thinks that parents need to pay close attention to how their children are doing in school. She cites her father as being influential in teaching her values, one of which was that white society is extremely cutthroat. She sees this as being reflected in the current political system. She also learned a lot about slavery from him, and relates some of these stories. She also talks about trying to determine her ancestry. She says that the NAACP was involved in voting procedures in Salt Lake. She does not agree with the LDS Church’s stance on African Americans, because she thinks Christians are supposed to believe everyone is equal, and she discusses this in length. She also mentions that members of that church don’t seem to think for themselves. When talking about discrimination in jobs, she says that much of discrimination comes from minimum requirements that overvalue education and undervalue prior experience. She feels that students should focus on trying to become doctors, lawyers, and business people in order to increase their standing. By doing so, she said that they would avoid getting jobs where they are patronized but have no real opportunity for advancement. She says that counselors in Utah do not steer African American students in this direction. She says there were about twenty or so African American-owned businesses in Utah at the time of the interview. She states that not many African Americans end up staying in Utah after college graduation because they are looked down upon in jobs here. Mrs. Ross says that only federal programs have opened up more jobs to African Americans, but that attitudes are beginning to shift, especially in the younger generation. She is hopeful for the future of African Americans because of this and says that housing is improving if you have the money. She and the interviewer discuss low-cost housing being put up on 800 W, noting that it is not particularly low-cost nor is it very high quality housing. They also discuss drug use by the younger generation. Mrs. Ross thinks that this stems from rebelliousness, but also not having enough hardships to deal with and the subsequent feeling of entitlement and lack of responsibility. She also states that a problem with the youth is that they are not taught African American history. She did not remember much about the KKK being in Utah, but she did say that she thinks that religious racism that is experienced in Utah is the most dangerous kind. She thinks that young people are more open to make their own decisions now, which is an asset and she thinks there is hope for the future. At the time of the interview, Mrs. Ross was an employment specialist also going to school. She says that she thinks there will only be progress when people start acting selflessly, not to get their names in the paper. She also mentions the issues she sees with black men at the time, and how they are not being loyal to black women, which she attributes to society’s projected image of what beauty is. She and the interviewer discuss what needs to be changed in the future, as well as a boutique Ross owned in Salt Lake and why she had to give it up, mentioning that many African American businesses are set up to fail.