Oral History Interview of Laura Jackson
Sylvia K. Lockett
Interviewer - Sylvia Lockett
My name is Sylvia Lockett and I am interviewing Mrs. Laura Jackson of Robinson Road here in Wooster, Ohio.
One of the first questions I would like to ask Mrs. Jackson is: About your ancestry and your date of birth, can you tell me a little bit about your family the places you lived, what you did here, what your forebearers did here and we'll talk a little bit about community and religious activities from early Wooster.
Question - can you tell me about yourself; where were you born?
Answer - Wooster, Ohio. I don't mind saying October 23, 1908 and I was born on North Grant Street.
Question - So that means you were not born in the hospital; was there a hospital here in Wooster at that time?
Answer - I don't know..It wasn't Beesons Clinic because I can remember when Beesons Clinic was founded.
Question - So you were born about the same time my grandparents, John and Sarah Saunders came to Wooster from Virginia. Tell me about your family.
Answer - My father was Peter Woods, a barber; he came to Wooster I imagine about 1900 and my mother was brought to Wooster with her family in 1898. My mother was Alice Follis. Her family was Katherine Follis and I'm not sure about Everett Follis. He was dead before they came to Wooster.
Question - How did your forebearers come to Wooster?
Answer - I really don't know what brought them to Wooster.
Question - Where did they come to Wooster from?
Answer - From Virginia
Question - When you were born, approximately how many African Americans were in our community, or can you tell? About how many families?
Answer - (Laughter) - When you're young you don't hardly think about those things, umm, I imagine maybe ten families.
Question - And where did most of those families live?
Answer - They lived over on Palmer Street district, and umm, my grandparents lived on Spink and Stibbs Street; that house is still standing... Let me see some families lived on South Grant Street and on Larwill Street.
Question - Do you know or remember some of the names of those early Wooster families (besides Follis and besides Saunders?)
Answer - Yes, Tarpleys and Reynolds, and the Prices lived outside the city limits then, and the Johnsons were here right across the street from my family, and there was another name besides Johnson who lived up there (I can't think of it now).
Question - Tell me what life was like in Wooster when you were a little girl in 1910? What are your earliest memories of Wooster?
Answer - I was born on Grant Street; and then my father worked for Richard Morrison, Sr. and we lived on Leroy Street beside "their" (the Morrison) home. And I can remember that the Church was on Vine Street just a block from our home, and I remember my mother played the piano/organ from the time she was sixteen (16) 'till she died, and everytime the Church door opened I was there with my mother (laughter).
Question - So your mother came here as a very young girl?
Answer - Oh yes, because she went to school here at Wooster, because I graduated exactly twenty five (25) years after she graduated; I graduated in 1926. She graduated in 1901 from Wooster High School, 'cause Lura Keen was the principal of the school, when she went to school and also when I went to school.
Question - So is that where Keen Elementary School comes from?
Answer - Um Hum, Yes - isn't that neat!
Question - Do you have brothers and sisters?
Answer - Yes, I have a brother Vernon Woods, and a sister Helen Woods, both deceased; both raised in Wooster.
Question - What was it like when you were a teenager?
Answer - Well when we were teens there was nothing to do particularly but go to school and go to Church; we were talking the other day how you go to Church but how you couldn't buy certain things or couldn't go to certain places, you know?
Question - What were the places you couldn't go to?
Answer - When we came up very few people had cars - we walked; everybody walked up Buckeye Street and that was the only time I got to walk up the street with a "bunch" of young people (the boys included!) but your parents were two steps behind us. remember people would sit on their porches on Buckeye Street to listen to us sing as we walked up the street; as we walked up people would "drop out" at Henry Street going to their homes on Callowhill and Palmer and walk up to Liberty; we would leave and go West just these two families, the Neullins (they had a daughter), and Woods, to go to Marble (?) Street, and Oh! and before we got there, on South Street, the Saunders' would leave Buckeye Street - and that's where Mr Sam (Saunders) had a little restaurant there on South Street.
Question - "My Uncle Sam Did?"
Answer - Yeah, I'm sure it was a restaurant; you know where the alley comes down from the Bank on Liberty - straight down. there was a mill there and the next door to that was this restaurant.
Question - What was the name of that restaurant? Did you have that restaurant because you couldn't eat in the "White" restaurant?
Answer - Oh yes, I'm sure that's why it was established.
Question - So this would have been in about 1920? Were there other Black businesses? Tell me about the Black barber shops
Answer - Well, Mr. Morrison had his barber shop. He was the first one to have a shop on Liberty Street..... Mr. R. L. Morrison, Sr. And that is where the Daily Record is now. And Mr. Taliferro had a shop right along where the Hallmark shop (on Liberty) is now; and then my dad had his shop on Liberty where Best Western is now.
Question - So there were at least three (3) Black Personal and Laundry Services; and then there was the restaurant. Were there other Black businesses?
Answer - Oh yes.... Mrs (Edna) Flowers at one time had a restaurant where Sprosty's Bag Company is now.
Comment - Interviewer states she is aware of the restaurant, but can't find out any information about it. Does not know how long it was there.
Question - Did you "eat out" much as teenagers?
Answer - No! (Laughter) Mothers fixed meals at home, you didn't eat out. Oh, when you came home from Church on Sunday night you could stop in Kalcas (Ice Cream Parlor, spelling?); you could BUY ice cream but you could not sit down and eat it there.
Question - So it you had to take most of your meals at home that means, were mothers working, were our women working? They did not work (in "our" community)?
Answer - No! No! Not too many of them worked and if they did it was just domestic work.
Comment - Yes, I've seen a couple of household records and census records and it says "housekeeper" or "domestic" etc.
Answer - Yes but they weren't employed by any businesses; But Aunt Lucy played for the silent movies because I would be thrilled when we got out of school and went to the picture show, go down that long aisle and sit down there where she was playing, you know? (Laughter)
Comment - She (Aunt Lucy Follis) lived in your family home on Spink Street for many years.
Question - How old was she when she played for the silent movies?
Answer - Oh gosh! I imagine she was probably in her 20's or 30's.
Question - Well, when someone in the Black community died who buried them? Did you go to a funeral parlor or what?
Answer - Oh yes we went to the funeral parlor. Now I can't remember funerals at the Church on Leroy street (I know I was there because my mother would be there) playing but I can't remember a funeral.
Question - The reason I asked is Mrs. (Virginia) Blackwell played for funerals when she was 13 years old (she told me that) She says she remembers who died and often times they would "lay people out" in the home.
Answer - Oh yes ! They did that because when anybody died the body was brought to the home and people visited at the home and then the day of the funeral the body was taken out and taken to the Church. As a -matter-of-fact, I don't think may White people were viewed at the funeral home then either.
Question - Well tell me if you remember who the Pastors were of our Church in those early days?
Answer - Well, I can remember Rev. Freeman, and an Adams before Leroy Adams, oh, and..... Rev. Payne and Rev. Taliferro.
Question - so did most of the social activity take place in and around Church?
Answer - Oh yes, although at one time there was a club (you known where the Rubbermaid Place is right there on the corner?) it was called the Carver Club.
Comment - I do have a picture of people in the Carver Club. I know that Mrs. Pearl Morrison used to run the Carver Club. Did you go to the Club? Do you know who started it?
Answer - Well I think it was a group of men and they had this place up over the the (now present) Gift Corner.
Question - Well, you talked about mothers being at home, so did they have gardens.
Answer - Well, Oh yes! My mother was never a gardner ... My father would plant potatoes and corn, and you know in those days being a barber the shops stayed open until 8 or 9:00 PM cause my father wasn't home hardly ever before 9:30 Or 10:00 at night.
Comment - I remember discussions in my family when my Uncle Chester (Saunders) was a barber how he was not permitted to cut the hair of African American men, at least not during the "open" hours. Comment - "My dad and Vernon later when they were trying to break segregation but it was talked about whether you wanted to "earn a living" or not; and they had a lot of worries about the matter; and finally when one barber started to do it well the others followed suit.
Question - Did men like your father go to Barbers School or did they just start cutting hair.
Answer - Oh I don't know, my father Peter Woods, was a barber before he came here to Wooster...he was a barber in Lisbon, Ohio and Mr. Morrison brought him here, because he was the only barber here because at that time Dick and Charles weren't even born (Mr. Morrison's sons) 'cause I have pictures of them in those bloused knickers (laugh).
Question - What did your family do for recreation besides go to Church?
Answer - (Laugh) People had "socials" then, because I remember when our Church was being repaired we had Church upstairs over Boyd's Drug Store because I would sit near the window and watch the cars passing and the band concert was down on the square, the pavilion, and that was right underneath the window, around where the Rubbermaid store is now. Because the streetcar lines would come down to there and back up to go out to the car barns. The car barns were at the corner of Grant and Liberty.
Question - So Wooster had a streetcar line?
Answer - Of course - to Cleveland. I was allowed to go up there once by myself. I had an Uncle Jimmy in Cleveland and they had a son named Carl and we would go up to "Emancipation Day" at the Park and was about 9 or 10 and was allowed to go to Cleveland by myself.
Comment - I know that the men who were Masons - the masonic lodge used to meet up over Boyd's Drug store.
Answer - "Oh Yes, Vernon and Vivian (Woods) lived up there when they were first married; and Scottie and Christine lived up there....but I remember so well we'd have socials there in that hall. The McCoy family, Cotta McCoy's grandmother lived two houses above us on Larwill Street and Cotta would go to the "box socials" - you would fix a picnic basket and set it up and the men would bid on whoever's box they wished and then ate with them! - Sort of like a refined "spin the bottle" (Laugh) And people had lawn fetes, and at our house we had a lot of lawn in the back, even our neighbors loved those too.
Question - When you were older, when you graduated from High School, did you work here in Wooster?
Answer - No I didn't. When I graduated in June that Fall I went to New York with Aunt Lucy. I first went to Pennsylvania where Bechtel Alcock lived - he was married to an Opera singer (Merle Alcock) and they were good friends with these people who had all this money - Oh, Charles Schwab, you know the stockbroker - Bechtel Alcock was in the stock market and a broker with Schwab and had this country place in Loretta Pennsylvania, and they called and asked Aunt Lucy if I could come out and work as a "maid" - she was a cook. So I left as soon as I graduated and went there and eventually to New York.
Question - And how long did you stay away from Wooster?
Answer - Oh about three years...cause after the first summer in Pennsylvania I went to New York and worked at the Metropolitan Opera.
Question - What did you do there (at the Met)?
Answer - Took care of the costumes, around 1929 or 1930. I worked there until my mother died..I came home when she died. I probably went there in 1928 because my mother died in 1930. I cam home and began to work here as a "housekeeper" I did work for the Alices (?) who lived on the corner of Beall and Wayne. Mrs. Bell Reynolds was a cook, and asked my mother if I could come up and do the dishes.
Question - So by the time you came back to Wooster we were out of World War 1 and we hadn't yet started WW II - so there were a lot of African American men and women who were living and working in the community?
Answer - Yes and the Church membership began to grow - there were a lot of people who came into town like Pearl Morrison. Every year the Notesteins would bring somebody up from the south and "they" would eventually stay and marry someone, because that's how Ms. Annie Wooten came to Wooster.
Question - So most of the women who worked, worked in "private families" during the 20's, 30's and even the 40's.
Answer - Yes, that's right because there were no places that would hire us to be clerks, or anything other than maids or janitors.
Question - Did you have lots of books in your home?
Answer - On yes, and we went to the Library all of the time, the public library, because it was not segregated.
Comment - It was just in social situations - like eating downtown and that kind of thing that were segregated.
Answer - "Gradually if you went in, someone took you and would serve you...I have been in situations like that.
Question - So would you say, then, that most of the African American community was reasonably well educated in the early 1900's?
Answer - Oh yes, I would say so, because they all went to High School, because Mr. & Mrs. Neullin had a daughter they adopted, Olivia, and she went to high school, and most of my other friends women graduated from high school.
Question - Did a lot of the young women that you graduated from High School with just get married or did they graduate and move away?
Answer - You know, I disagree with people who say that Oh, we can't get any jobs here and you always have to leave town, but White kids don't want to stay in their hometown either...they leave and go someplace else. So it isn't necessarily that they had to leave to get a job, I disagree with that, because you can get a job here.
Question - So by the time you left the Metropolitan Opera, which is just fascinating in itself,
Answer - I met all the principal opera singers, Lawrence Tibbett - you know he was a leading Tenor and I worked for a singer called Queen Amerry O (?) And I met Lucretia Borey, she was a leading soprano in those days Oh it was just thrilling to be at the Opera Company. I have never seen a complete opera from "out front" Not yet in my life, always from the wings, standing there with the powder puff and mirror, so when they'd run off I was ready.
Question - Did you ever see Paul Robeson?
Answer - No because he was still in college at that time...he was younger....He only did Othello - the only opera at that time for a Black man.
Question - So after you left the Met, came back home (about 1930) your mother had died so here you were here in Wooster with your father whose still barbering, and your brother who is a barber with your father.
Comment - That was when Vernon and Helen were still young when my mother died. She wasn't ill long...I don't think she was in the hospital a week before she died... She was 49.
Question - The reason I asked about illness is because I have just a very small amount of knowledge that during that time a lot of people died because of TB or something.
Comment - She probably died of ....you know in those days they did not say Cancer, they said ill health...but she probably died of Cancer, I imagine, but she probably ailed before that I remember she would be working she's hold her side or something like that.
Question - Our community went to the Doctor regularly...there was no segregation there?
Answer - Oh no because, what was the woman Doctor who lived on Bowman Street, who tended to my mother when I was born. You know on Bowman street and College Avenue, opposite the Church, then the next house is a house with pillars...she lived in that house. And then when Vernon and Helen were born Mrs. (?) a "colored midwife" came over from Massillon...I'd known her daughters. She came and stayed a couple of weeks.
Question - So most of the people you know enjoyed relatively good health?
Answer - Yes, I can't remember anybody being sick a long time. In those days though, sad things and gossipy things were never discussed in childrens' hearing, and illnesses were called by different names - "just in poor health" - or they had "the colley mobbles" which was the cholera marables. People took good care of themselves too, through home remedies, I used to wear Asifidia around my neck (and it would stink in the wintertime) and when I had sore throat they'd have like a little stick with flannel wrapped around it, soaked it in something and stick it down your throat, I think it was turpentine or linseed. (Laugh)
Comment - But home remedies were used a lot. One because people couldn't afford to buy a lot of drugs, and they used what worked. And they didn't have all the things that have been invented to correct illness. From 1908 till now, just think of all the inventions!
Question - What's the most marvelous thing you think you've seen from then 'till now?
Answer - Oh laser - all laser work - because the Doctor said I needed laser on my eyes, and I'm not going to do it....at my age (and the expense).
Question - On a personal note - I know that you love singing... What started you singing?
Answer - My family ...when I talk about Bechtel Alcock..they lived on the corner of Spink and North Street (I think the house is still standing) and one of the monuments on the square used to have the Alcock name on it, cause his family was very prominent. When Bechtel would come back to Wooster he sang with Aunt Lucy and Uncle Joe and he's come to the house on Spink Street and Sing, away! We sang hymns, and at High School there would be a talent show once a year and Anna Saunders, Mabel King, and Chet Saunders and I performed at the theatre that they just tore down. We sang "How come you Do Me like You Do Do? and danced and swayed, I had someone laughing about that the other day. And other people were on the show.
Comment - Because I remember Uncle Chester used to do Soft Shoe dancing and of course my dad (Darwin Saunders) did a little of it. Dad would play the Ukelele and sing and I remember Uncle Chester letting us walk across the top of the piano - we could do no wrong...He'd be playing and laughing and singing, and I think he was like that with us because he had lost his two children and his wife to illness. Those were some interesting times.
Question - Did your parents own their own property?
Answer - Umm Hum (Yes) Larwill Street I think they bought that when I was 7 or 8 years old. The Neullins lived a couple of doors away. Art Millers last wife lived in that house before we did.....in later years when I would see her she would always remind me that we'd lived in the same house.
Question - When you were a young person in Wooster, were you politically active, did you vote?
Answer - Oh my parents did, but by the time I was of age to vote I had gone to New York.
Question - So in what year did you get married?
Answer - I got married in 1934 (I think) I met my husband when he came to Wooster with Isaly's Ice Cream Store - he was a cook, a chef. It was right on the alley where that auto place is now, that's where Isaly's used to be...after we were courting I came down North street and down that alley going to Smith's or the Meat Market, and Charles on his one day off would bring a quart of ice cream to our home.
Comment - Isaly's was very important in our community - Grandma Saunders would buy a quart every Sunday and she'd take it out of the carton and put it in ice trays and put it back into the freezer.
Comment - That's how I met Charles - his home was in Oil City, Pennsylvania and he had worked for Isalys in Pennsylvania. I knew Mrs. Mickey McCracken - a black woman - her husband had a shoeshine place in the alley where the bank is now, as you go down to South street. Mr. McCracken was the first one to have a shoe shining place - so he had his own business, also. And then later some Italian had it, because he got disabled. All down from Liberty to South Street, the Miners lived upstairs, and Sam and Mattie Saunders lived in that area, and Mrs. McCracken and her husband lived in that area. She and her husband took in "Roomers" and Charles had a room there. When we first were married we went to his Aunt's house in Pennsylvania, Mrs. McCracken had a beautiful Hudson automobile, and on the way back Charles said "Let's get married" and we turned the car around, got married....I knew my father was going to re-marry (to Mary) I thought "I'm not going to be there when they get married" so we got married, and Art Taliferro and his wofe "ran off" and got married at the same place we did. Later I found that out. We borrowed Mrs. McCracken's wedding rings (laugh) because we got married by the Mayor or Justice / Police order / and Safety of the Peace or something like that in authority, and we came on back to Wooster..... see, my mother had died before this, and I thought "Hmm, how am I going to tell my dad". I was maybe 20-23 years old at that time.
Question - You talked about this Hudson car, did most people have that kind of transportation in those days?
Answer - No the McCracken's had the biggest car in town. She worked, I'm sure, 'cause they couldn't live off shoe shining money. When I stop to think about it, I've had a fascinating life in my early days, all those things that occurred.
Question - After you were married, where were you employed?
Answer - Oh, Charles and I worked for J.E. Harris the paint place...he was married to a Russian Woman Ty Harris. Charles was a chauffer and I was a maid. The Harris's built this big house, where there are apartments now that overlook the County Club golf course.
Question - And then you were employed at the OARDC. When did you go there?
Answer - Oh I went there after Charles died. We had boxer dogs when he died in Mansfield and I gave that dog away, because then I moved back to Wooster. I'm not sure of the year he died about 1956. I've lived in this house for 40 years.
Comment - I definately want to do another interview with more specific dates and names of members of the African American Community. I must end this interview now. I want to thank you for your time and your good cheer.