Camera Rolls: 317:48-50
Sound Rolls: 317:25
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Omega Frazier , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on March 02, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
OK, so if you could please tell me a little bit about what the Eastern Shore and Princess Anne was like during the '30s, and what kind of work folks were doing, and the whites and the blacks, just you know, tell me about it?
On the Eastern Shore, Princess Anne, which is sometimes called, in addition to being called the Eastern Shore, it's called the Delmarva Peninsula, which means Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. And in 1930 I think that I remember the people coming from further South to pick strawberries and to do other field work, and then they moved on up the peninsula, up to New York, maybe for apples, but they moved around, they went around with the seasons getting, picking crops before they went back originally to Florida or from wherever they had come from.
OK, what were, what was the relationships between blacks and whites like? What was the racial climate in the Eastern Shore?
I'd like to think how I could describe that. I think that a part of that sort of exists now, that sometimes, and sometimes we say that whites have a superior feeling, that we are a little different from them because of skin tones, I can't see any other reason why. I have worked with white, and I did that after I'd finished teaching, but
when I taught
** as a teacher in Delaware I remember that we had numbers, each school had a number. And I remember particularly that the number of my school was 193c, and it was a tiny c and the c stood for "193 colored." So we were always designated whether you were colored or whether you were white. You didn't hear the word then "black" as much.
How did, how did blacks and whites get along?
And I believe that they had this kind of relationship where the white, where the blacks were often hired by whites as domestics, and if they were going to pick strawberries in the field they were field hands. And I think that's more or less—they called you by your name. They didn't use "Mrs." or "Mr." if you went in, if they knew your name, and sometimes if they didn't know it. I remember particularly one time—and my first name happens to be Mary—that somebody called me Mary, and later on I realized, he didn't know my name, he just was calling me Mary because of my color. So they thought certain names just fitted you, they just called you "Mary," or "Tom," or perhaps "John," whether that was your name or not.
04.40, 17.04.40, take two.
OK, so if you could tell me about the schools, and the black schools versus the white?
Definitely they were segregated. The—I'm not positive, but I believe that you could not complete high school in 1930. I believe they had to go either to Princess Anne Academy, which was in Maryland, or maybe to some school outside. Now I'm not positive about that because I never went to public school in Princess Anne at all. I have talked with them, I know that the school,
the benches that were worn-out, old benches went to the black school. And new benches and new books went to the white schools, and they sent the old books over to the black school to be used. And you can imagine an old book with the pages turned and the edges worn,
** what it must have been like. I believe the teachers were qualified and capable teachers at that time.
Excuse me, we just have to cut for a second.
Five, twenty-seven, take three. 17.07.
OK, why don't you start talking about what you meant by the second-hand school schools, black schools?
I mean by second-hand, that in the public schools they didn't have new school benches, or desks. They were given the ones from the white school, so they were old ones and handed over. That's exactly what I mean by that.
All right, good. OK, now we're going to—can you cut please?
—the year, you can just, just start in, because we'll give the historical background.
I believe I said I was teaching in Delaware at the time, and when I came through every weekend we would go to Princess Anne because that was my husband's home, and we'd return every weekend to see his mother. And as we came through Salisbury his sister was telling us about the lynching, that they had to happen. And then when I arrived in town, I just felt within me that I could smell flesh, that's the kind of a feeling that I had. The streets were empty, didn't see anyone, but to express how I felt, that's exactly how I felt. As I have learned later, it really, it wasn't in the part of town that I had gone through. Where it was actually done was another section of town, but that's how I truthfully felt about it.
What did your sis—what did your brother's sister, I mean your husband's sister say, what did she—?
She was shocked, she was shocked. Because later I learned that this young man that they had accused had lived with the family, and I don't remember how it came about, that they felt he had raped her. I don't know why they felt that way or what had happened to make them have that feeling.
OK, cut please.
OK, so go ahead. When you stopped in Salisbury, you were saying?
We stopped in Salisbury. May, Bill's sister, was telling us about the lynching. And I'm sure having driven from Delaware to Salisbury that we had not heard about it on the way, so they were the first ones to tell us about it, and we were shocked beyond words to hear about such a brutal thing happening.
What did she say had happened?
They had accused George Armwood of rape, and they had murdered him and lynched him for the, because of this accusation.
Was it true? Had he, do they know that he, what had he done? What were the, what had he done that made them accuse him of that crime?
I am really not sure what he had done.
OK, now the other thing is, that they not only lynched him, they also burned the body, and that's why you imagined the—
That's what lynching, as I understand it, means. That you are murdered first, and then the body is burned.
Not always, not always.
I wouldn't dispute that, but this is what my understanding of it is.
That you are killed, or murdered, then they hang you up on a tree or whatever, and then you are brutally lynched.
OK, can we cut please?
Twenty-eight, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two.
—going to town and how you felt, OK, and just, we'll go through it and then that'll be it. OK, so...
At the time my husband and I were teaching in Delaware, and as was our custom, we would stop further south in Delaware. We were both teaching in Lincoln, Delaware as I recall, he may have been teaching in Frankford, Delaware. It was a routine for us to stop and visit my parents in Seaford or Concord, Delaware, then stop at another sister and her husband in Laurel, Delaware, then stop at May and Sembly in Salisbury, Delaware. And our final destination would be Princess Anne and then we were home for the weekend. And I'm not sure, I don't, I'm sure we didn't learn about the lynching until we had arrived in Salisbury, at his sister's home, Dr. and Mrs. Sembly, and of course we were shocked beyond anything I could make you understand, having heard that, but then we kept on to Princess Anne. And I'm not sure, I'm sure he must have mentioned it a little bit that night, and as I came into Princess Anne having learned this, I felt that I could smell flesh, burned flesh, that's a feeling that I had, that the town to me reeked of burning flesh. That's how I felt.
Thank you, cut please.
OK, so you returned to Princess Anne, now do you remember how blacks were reacting in the town about this lynching, do you remember what was said?
I can imagine that they were fearful, that there was a hush hush, and that they didn't want to talk about it.
Did you go see any friends when you were there, and did you talk about it, or when you did come to town did you visit any friends?
As I said at that time I was teaching in Delaware, and my husband along with me. So when we were coming home for the weekend we would stop by, as I repeated, on the way down. And really on the weekends we didn't see anyone except our immediate family. So we didn't have time to visit, we were there Friday and left on Sundays to go back.
But in, on, over that weekend when you were in Princess Anne did any of the family talk about it?
I'm sure if we did we talked about the bitterness of it, mainly. And they knew some names, I would believe that they designated, and when I say names they would have been whites that they were talking about their feelings toward that.
OK, why do you, why do you think the lynchings happened on the Eastern Shore versus like Maryl—like Baltimore or New England? What was the, what was the climate like there?
I think it was the signs on the times. I believe that there were a number of ignorant, white people, and sometimes with poor whites there's a vying between blacks and whites. And this was a kind of disdain, I would believe.
OK, and, as a social custom, I mean they said that he raped a white woman, do you, do you, I mean I know that wasn't, didn't end up being true. Do you think that was just a trumped up charge, or...?
Well it depends upon what you think about rape. I can't understand really how they fully decided about raping. I'm trying to think of things that really might come to me now about it. I rem—may I give you one instance? I remember when I first saw the play of , and then when I first heard that language it was shocking to hear it. But when I remembered that they talked about poor, white people, and this was the kind of language that they used, and about their eating raw turnips and things like that, then I sat back and thoroughly enjoyed it because I said, "This is not about black. They're actually telling the truth about poor whites." So that's how I took it.
OK, you can go ahead.
In the home that I grew up in, we didn't use bad language, so we weren't accustomed to it. So we didn't call each other names, it might be little names we made up, but we didn't use curse words. We didn't use what they called "black guard," is what they used to call it. That was just not our language, so we weren't accustomed to that. And I remember, from the library, I remember one of my brothers—this is an adopted brother—read , and how he cried hearing about it. And I remember Remus' stories, Br'er Rabbit, have you ever heard of those? I remember Br'er Rabbit. And now we would read to get a lot of that because they always had some kind of a moral that they were teaching because of those Uncle Remus stories. So that's the kind of thing that I think that I remember most.
Now, but about you, your family and their instilling in you not to hate people because of, you know, even those these things were going on, can you talk about that a little bit?
And when I say, when I say that we were taught, they didn't really make it a matter of teaching, but we weren't reared that way. They talked to us gently. We weren't called names, sometimes I've heard—I've been to laundromats—and I've heard how unkind people speak to their children. Nobody ever talked to us like that, so we just didn't know about it. And is there something else that you can think about that you can ask about that, so we just did not know about it. There were no bad words used, nobody called you any names.
So how, how about, did you ever have, encounter experiences where whites would call you names, or how did you react when you were confronted by prejudice?
On the campuses I grew up I was not confronted with name calling, because it was a totally black campus, so I didn't go into the town at all except if we would go in for church. And in those days it was a custom that every Sunday you went to church. And the girls would line up and walk by twos very orderly—
OK, cut, go on.
—and the boys would go to church. And I remember one thing amused me, that the boys would sit up in the gallery of the church—
OK, so talk a little bit about, you know the positions blacks were in during this kind of time.
I felt the blacks felt defenseless, which means that it, and I'm sure they talked about it, that they talked about it in hush hush tones. Maybe they got back in their homes and they talked about it, quietly, but not to give an outburst, because I repeat they were just defenseless.
You said also they were angry?
Sure they were angry.
Could you tell me about that?
Start over and tell me about how you, you—
—how you expected they were angry, but what they did with their anger?
OK, go ahead.
I think I can be angry now, but unless I really throw fists around, you perhaps wouldn't understand it. But if I throw fists around, and get a big stick and knock, you'll know then. But if I just look at you and not think, and not talk about it—something else I really wanted to say too, at the time in the '30s, I do remember at the railroad station they had two doors, one door was marked "Colored," one door was marked "White." When you rode on the trains, Pennsylvania Railroad trains, there was a Jim Crow car. If you were going past Salisbury into Delaware you did not have to ride in the Jim Crow car. So all this tells about their feelings, but if you're defenseless that takes care of us like a little baby. Little babies hurt when you hit it [sic]. But you're defenseless, so you cry and suffer inward. And if you suffered too long inwardly, you have ulcers [laughs].
OK, thank you.
Could you ask me your question again?
The question is with, is with lynching as a possibility all the time, how does that affect a black person psychologically?
I think it's always there, but it's the same kind of way that right now, if I am, let's just say if I'm traveling—
I'm sorry, I hate to interrupt you, but we really do need to stay in that time period, in the '30s.
Well this is that time period all right.
And how, how—
You just lived with it, but it isn't because you are ignoring it. And I suppose if they really pushed them hard enough that you just can't withhold, you just burst out and you've taken all you can take, and that's how you would react to that.
Can you tell me that again because you're saying this-and-that and other people who watch this won't know what my question is. So if you can tell me, use the word "lynching" or use the word, what is it that effects people?
Oppression or whatever, right.
I think if you feel you're defenseless, with a lynching or whatever, that you just can't express what you feel because you are suppressing it, and that's the best way that I can think about that.
And how was it in Princess Anne at that time after the lynching, how did that effect the way people walked the streets, the way they worked with their white, with the white people in town, how they spoke to each other?
I imagine that at that time there weren't as many educated people as there are now. And of course sometimes with an educated person, you feel inferior to someone else who's educated. And I believe that this is the kind of feeling that they would have.
Do you think lynching was something to keep black people in their place, do you think it was kind of a weapon in a way?
What is their place?
That's a good question.
At least so that you can tell—
OK, whoops, maybe we better cut.
Ask me the, you'll have to ask me the question again.
OK, he'll ask again.
OK, so, my question again is, there are all these many different ways what we were, have been calling clubs, ways of holding things over and keeping black people from expressing themselves, or getting, getting further in life. What are some of those ways, and again, confining to that time, the Depression in the Eastern Shore, tell me about the different ways that that could happen?
Yeah, and also start, you know, about how they worked for the dom—stuff, that starting there, OK?
They were domestics, some of them were, one—
They being who? You have to tell me who?
The blacks worked as domestics.
OK, start again. OK, go ahead.
They worked as the cooks, they worked as the waitresses. Now there was one that I had forgot to tell you about and I'll tell that now. It so happens that Billy's own Aunt Gwen had a business for all white patrons, beauty shop. She learned that particular trade from her aunt, Mamie G. St. Clair. Aunt Mame would go from house to house doing hair. Billy's Aunt Gwendolyn had her own shop for all white patrons, it still exists today. And I believe that a part of that fear is still there, while I know Gwendolyn has since passed on, but the shop still exists for white patrons. They get pay—permanents, and whatever they do. And I believe right now, Eleanor, the girl who's running the shop, would be just as upset if I went in her shop to get my hair done. And I wouldn't test her like that now because Eleanor hasn't been out of Princess Anne, but I would daresay that she would be afraid to have me go in there and get my hair done.
And I don't do any pressing of my hair now, so it's just washed and set.
OK, why don't you start again though talking about, no, not about the hair story, but about going back and talking about blacks working as domestics.
—blacks who weren't, that weren't able to go into have a soda, and talk about having a soda in a store, talk about those things now.
When blacks went into the drug store, they couldn't eat anything or drink anything there. They had to bring it out and eat it, if they were able to get it. And I'm sure if there was a fountain, that you wouldn't have a glass, they'd offer you a paper cup. Those were the kinds of things - but now remember that I wasn't in those stores too often myself, because I didn't need to be. Because we had, we made root beer. And we didn't need to be there. But these were people who lived outside of the campus, these were the kinds of things that they went through. And not owning any business at that time, they were dependant upon whites if they wanted to get a soda or whatever they sold at that time. Does that answer it?