Interview with Oscar Fendler
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QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

So it was different to keep labor, black labor, versus white labor. Can you tell me the difference?

OSCAR FENDLER:

Well, really, you really wanted to treat them both. That same old stuff, equal, but, you know, equal facilities, remember in the schools. We haven't mentioned the schools. We segregated the schools down there. Lee Wilson did. Had a beautiful school for the whites, about a three-story building and just very modern and everything. Go from the first grade to the twelfth grade. Just had excellent gymnastic facilities. Just everything you wanted. All, all sorts of stuff in your laboratories you know. He also built then a real fine school for the blacks. And—

[audio only]
OSCAR FENDLER:

—can you stop?

INTERVIEWER:

Roll out. OK.

OSCAR FENDLER:

Does this get what you want?

[cut][slate][change to camera roll 315:87]
INTERVIEWER:

OK, so the difference between black and—yeah, OK.

OSCAR FENDLER:

The treatment of the labor down there at, and I'm now concentrating on Lee Wilson Company, was very favorable toward looking after the labor. He tried to do everything he could to see that they were happy and, you know, that they were getting along and satisfied staying around there. With Lee Wilson either on the place down at Wilson or one of their various satellite places that they had. Now, when it came to treatment with, treating the whites and the blacks, there was definitely this feeling of segregation in 1933, no question about it. But I, I don't believe that you could say that Boss Lee, who was R.E.L. Wilson, who was a founder there, or Mr. Crane would make a real distinction. What, necessarily when you had overseers of the farms, you know, who were all white, of course, there wasn't any doubt about it that there were favors, that the white tenants, maybe even the sharecroppers, I don't know what you say about the sharecroppers, but certainly the white tenants as opposed to the blacks were, were, were favored. To my recollection, I can't remember very many black tenants down at, on the Wilson place. I remember some black tenants at other plantations. But the blacks didn't expect as much. They never had received that as. Remember, we're talking about 1933. The War is just over in 1865. So there wasn't a long distance between the Civil War. Blacks got their freedom and everything, but for the most part the blacks would stay and did stay on this county on the same plantations where they'd been slaves before. And there wasn't a lot of movement. In fact, neither whites nor blacks tenants could move freely. Arkansas has a law that said before they could leave they had to pay the boss man whatever they owed him, and most every year they wound up in debt. They had to come out with a surplus, you know, and they always carried them over on the books. And if you left you violated Arkansas law. And if some other competing landlord wanted to take him and knew that Joe was a good tenant, white or black, he'd have to go into the office at Wilson and pay whatever they owed before he could move them. If he didn't he'd be violating the law, he could be prosecuted and pay a fine and the tenant would have to come back until he paid them out. I need to tell you, though, I thought I had been talking about education, about the comparative schools. Well, the, the, Mr. Wilson built in his time a real good black school, back in the early '30s. And after he got it all built and everything it burned down in about, within two or three days. He immediately turned around and re-built it to be sure that those black children had schools. And their schools, for instances, in contrast to the white school, was, I think the biggest difference was maybe teachers. The white teachers were so much better than the black teachers, you know, and, and there weren't any white teachers as I can never remember down in the black schools. And there weren't any black teachers in the white schools. Separate but equal. And, but the Wilson system for blacks had, had a very good system and did a good job. And that can't be said for a lot of the other plantations or parts of our county. It wasn't true otherwise.