Interview: Elizabeth Stewart(es)
Medium: Audio and Video tape
Date: April 15, 1998
Place: Home of Elisabeth Stewart, 911West 14th St., Marion IN 46953.
Collected by: Torrianna Williams(tw)
tw: Could you please state your name and were we are.
es: My name is Elisabeth Stewart and I am at my home at 911 West 14th Street, Marion, IN.
tw: Okay. Do I have permission to video and audio tape you?
es: Yes you do.
tw: Do I have permission to submit this to Marion High School?
es: Yes you do.
tw: And to the Marion Public Library?
es: Yes you do.
tw: OK. We can begin our interview. When were you born?
es: November 8, 1920.
tw: And have you lived in Marion all your life? Were you born in Marion?
es: I was born in Marion but we moved to Saginaw, Michigan, when I was four years old. And I went to elementary school in Saginaw, Michigan. And I moved back here in 1933, and I started out to McCulloch in seventh grade.
tw: And what was life like back then?
tw: In Marion.
es: In Marion? It was, it was hard right at that time when we moved back here. You see, I was almost thirteen. I was twelve but almost thirteen. And, uh, times were pretty hard, you know. And we had the WPA that helped bring us back, you know. Now I was just a teenager but my stepfather, he knew more about it, and my mother. And I know that it was pretty hard clear up until I got married when I was eighteen. And then at that time, right after I was married, um, things really got bad. And they rationed our food. And you had books . . . you know little books . . .
tw: Like stamps?
es: And how many that - like a stamp book - and how many was in your family was according to how many stamps you would get. And when you would go to the store like it would, each thing would be rationed out. Like you could get five pounds of sugar. And then they take a stamp out of your book, and it had to be there. And so if you, if, I think I just had one child at the time and was expecting my second one, and so that was kind of rough. Then finally they done away with that after things got better, you know. but I can remember going through that and that wasn't an easy time.
tw: So if you ran out of rations stamps you just . . .
es: You had to wait until the next time to get your rations.
tw: So as a teenager, what kinds of things did you guys do for fun around here?
es: Oh gosh! As a teenager we had a lot of fun! We'd go to church. And I went to Allen Temple Church, 35th and Washington Street. And we just, we would go to each others' homes or, like on Sunday after church. Like we always had one evening service, too, but in between services we would go to different one's homes, and we would sit around, the girls would sit around and laugh and talk. At that time we wasn't, we didn't have boyfriends. We would just get together. and we would play records on the phonograph thing. And we would laugh and talk and dance and eat and just act silly. Then we'd go back to church in the evening. After service you had to go home.
Then as we got to be teenagers, we got together with the boys and, you know, dance. And we would just have fun like that. Cause there wasn't any place else to go, so we would just go to each others' homes. And that was a lot of fun back then because nowadays they have different places you can go.
If we went to movies, it was different because you never got to sit, only up in, way upstairs, and you was segregates, see. And when you go to restaurants you didn't get to eat in the restaurant, you know. You get food but you'd have to leave, you know. And then finally that got taken care of through a lot of hardships - what other people had done. You know, that was before Martin Luther King's time even. Uh, we kept fighting for our rights to let us go to restaurants and go to movies and to sit where we wanted to sit instead of where they told us we had to sit. And so I went through that period in my life and . . .
tw: Did you ever personally take part in any of these? Any fights for . . .
es: I never had, I never had time to because I went to school, and then I had a job after school. I had to work for these people named Webster. And you would go there and you would help with the evening meal and you would, ugh, do the dishes and clean everything up. And then I would walk from Tenth Street out to 37th Street, where we lived on Landess.
tw: Every day?
es: Ev-, after school, every evening when I would get through because at that time we had what you would call streetcar tickets. There were streetcars; there wasn't buses then. You would get a book, and that book would last you for a month. But only during certain times of the day, I think it was, you had to ride the streetcar; at four o'clock you had to pay. But otherwise you would use the stamps out of the book. And the man would pull the stamp out and give you your book back. And that was very structured. I mean, you know . . .
es: No, we weren't. When we got on the streetcar, we really wasn't segregated.
tw: Was that about the only thing that wasn't segregated?
es: That's about the only thing. I would say that was pretty much because we were all school children, you know, mostly generally riding at the time, and they didn't segregate us for that. But I do know one thing. When we were in high school on the lunch hour, we had one room that we would all go to. That's the room we was allowed to go to. We was segregated to that room. And the other kids would go to another room, the whites, you know. And then finally, before I got out of high school, they done away with that. But I can remember that when I first started high school - that was up at Marion High School and I can't remember the name of the room, the number of the room, that we would all go to but that's where we all congregate. We'd always go to that room, and you could do your lessons or talk, whatever you wanted to do. Because some of the white children, I guess, would go to places or go uptown to little places, you know, on their lunch hour, and then would come back you know, 'cause they was close to town. But, ugh, back when I was coming up a teenager, a lot of things was segregated.
tw: How did that make you feel?
es: Well, we didn't like it, you know. We were just teenagers, you know. There wasn't too much we could do back in those days, you know. Teenagers were taught you don't talk back to people, you respect older people, and you respect this person and that person. So you didn't really get into things too much, you know. Like I never had any fights, but I seen several little fights, you know, between the Whites and Blacks. And then if you played basketball or something like that, you was considered . . . the white boys and the white girls kind of looked up to you because you played basketball. But they didn't have too many on the team, maybe one or two. But it was, it was, it was a challenge for young people in those days. It really was. And jobs were not open to you like they are now. And teenagers today, they don't realize the things we went through that they don't have to go through. We paved the way for them to make their life better, and they should respect that more.
tw: Yes, I agree with you in that.
es: They really should. You don't know what it's like when you're told you have to go sit here, and they take you up here. You can't come in here and eat, and you can't go in there and eat. Teenagers today don't realize what you had to go through as a teenager, but as my kids were growing up, things was getting better all the time, all the time. And you could be in different clubs at the high school. You could join like, they had a Spanish club or French, whatever you'd taken. And kids in there were nice to you. And you really didn't have too much of the in high school of, you know, the blacks and whites. They would talk, and they didn't seem to argue and fight and carry on like today some of them do. I enjoyed my high school.
And then when we graduated, they don't do this anymore , but every girl had to wear a long formal, and you carried a dozen roses. And we was at the Coliseum up there. And you carried a dozen roses each one, and you walk around that floor as they played music, you know. And that to me was very, very nice but . . .
tw: This was for graduation?
es: This was for graduation, but then they said that some people felt like it was pressure on them to buy, you know, the formals and the shoes. And, you know, we had baccalaureate services, and you had to wear a nice dress or suit and nice shoes like a pump, you know, and a little hat, you know, gloves. And it, I thought that was nice. And I liked graduation services for high school 'cause there was so many beautiful formals. You carried a dozen roses. Each girl carried a dozen.
tw: What year did you graduate?
es: I graduated in '39. And my sister and them, different people you know, for graduation presents they would give you like, somebody would buy your roses and you know and things like that. Things you need.
tw: So everyone kind of helped out. (telephone rings)
es: Yes and they helped out. ( pause) So they helped out and it ,was really made it nice. And they said well since they thought this was too much pressure on the some of the students couldn't afford there parents couldn't afford a formal. And so they done away with that and they went to, but that was after I was out. They went to wearing, to uh...
tw: Cap and gown?
es: Yes cap and gown cause they said everyone could afford, could kind of afford that. (pause) I kind of like cap and gown but the splendor that... It was really beautiful to see all those girls walk around in there in the different formals. But there was certain limits to the formal. You couldn't wear them way low you know. They had to be up enough. You couldn't expose. They couldn't have just the straps over the shoulder you know they had to have a little whatsaname. But they were beautiful. It was beautiful. I don't know if you know Martina Casey but she and I were the only two Black females to graduate high school when we came out. We were only two. There were four boys. There was six of us, but we were the only two girls, Martina Casey and I.
tw: So it was really an honor to graduate then.
es: Oh yes! Oh yes! Well back then things were kind of tough and it was hard to stay in school. That's the reason I worked after school a lot you know. 'Cause I had to. You had to get paper and things. My mother, my stepfather, my mother she had to work because there were three of us, three girls. It was hard 'cause you didn't get a lot of money.
tw: And you didn't have boys to go out and work.
es: Oh no, no mother didn't; we didn't have any brothers. So I worked. And we would buy a lot of things like our own book of stamps to ride the streetcar back and forth to school. At this day in age I just look around, kids today have so much and they don't realize what we had to go through. That we had to. And I used my money to buy my watch because I had to go home ( ? ) for a nickel you could get a little sandwich and a desert. Things were very cheap. But it wasn't for the money you was making. I would work all week long for this family. She had one baby; she was expecting another. And I would work all week long. I would only get seven dollars. Well seven dollars was a lot to me back then but it still was not a lot of money. And I would work after school and on Saturday. Go on Sunday afternoon half day. And I'd get seven dollars. So that was not a lot of money. But it taught me a lot to learn to appreciate the money. I knew I couldn't always go to my mother and say mom I want this, mom I need that. So I worked and done it myself.
tw: Did it make you feel more independent?
es: You learn, you learn how to save you learn to appreciate things. And my mother worked real hard. I realize that. She worked in private family. She didn't make a whole lot. She was gone all day long and half Saturday and Half Sunday after their dinner. But see we would come home and have to get the coal and put it in the stove and shake the stove down. So it really taught you a lot. An when I got married I thought I really didn't want my children to go through what I did. I was a stay home mom, had nine children, six girls, three boys. My husband worked two jobs all the time so ( ? ) credit for him. Cause nowadays a lot of men don't even want to work one job hardly! He worked two jobs faithfully. So that I could stay home and take care of the children. And they all graduated. They all wanted to go to school. They all wanted to go to school. They all graduated from Marion High School same as my husband. And they, we ask each one as they came along, we said what do you want to do. And after they'd say I want to be a teacher I want to be this; I want to be that. We'd say, we'll do all we can to send you to college or send you where you want to go and be a good citizen and make a mark in your life that you will not have to depend on other people to take care of you. So we were very fortunate; they all got to do what they wanted to do. And they had all nine of them have good jobs and can take care of themselves. And the baby well she's the only one, well Susie's been married and divorced but the baby's the only one that's mot married. She never did get married, and she's forty.
tw: What's her name?
es: Vicky. She's the youngest one and she's forty years old. Then the war came and I thought they were going to have to take my husband. I only had three children, three girls, I was expecting my fourth baby and the war came. And we got a notice he was gonna have to go to war. And I thought what am I gonna do? With him gone, three babies and expecting another. My baby then was only four (doorbell) and I was expecting. And I thought what am I going to do? But then come to find out if you had three children, they didn't want you to go to service right then . They were taking the ones that didn't have that many. So they retracted that. So he didn't have to go to war.
tw: Lucky huh!
es: Lucky! I was expecting one too! That was lucky! Really lucky! But uh he worked hard. He worked two jobs.
tw: Where'd he work at?
es: He worked at Anaconda at that time its now called BICC, I believe. But he worked there for 42 years. And then he retired after 42; he was 67 when he retired. If he would be living today he would be 81 this year.
tw: So you never had to work?
es: No I didn't have to. I did work up at Thomas Jefferson School. You know where that was?
tw: Uh huh.
es: I worked for six years as a teachers assistant. What they called a teacher aid. And I worked up there, and I worked for six years. And then my husband said I didn't need to but I wanted to do it you know. And Vicky was in the second grade. Lisa was in the sixth. And then Vicky went uh Lisa went to McCulloch. Vicky was still out there, and I worked while she was still in Marion High School. And then I got tired I'd seen the kids changing. And I'd raised nine and I thought I don't have to do this. So I went back home. And that's the only time I worked. Ugh...
tw: You can go ahead.
tw: So other than your husband being almost drafted you never really felt any affects from World War II?
es: No not really, not really cause all of the time we were raising nine of the children it was a challenge. You had to learn how to cook three meals a day. And they didn't have a cafeteria at first up at Jefferson, and my husband, they didn't have a cafeteria at Anaconda. So it was cook and fix him a lunch everyday. It was just the biggest challenge was raising the nine children. Now I didn't have them all at once. But raising them was a challenge. learning how to cook and balance the budget. And I took care of the budget, the bills and all that. My husband just was working and I took care. He would bring the check home, hand it to me, and I would cash it and take care of all the bills and what we needed. And I would take care of things. The only time that we had one challenge was when my husband got , they went on strike at Anaconda for a year, and they lacked on week of being a year. And I thought oh what are we gonna do. Luckily he had always worked and we had always saved. And that's another thing people of today don't realize you can't just get everything you want you know. And you save long as you 're eating and you have a decent home and the children are clothed and they get education that's the main thing in life. And then after you have your children up and you really get to enjoy life and you're glad when they come home. I love when they come home. And he did too. We both love for them to come home and visit us. Now with him gone I'm all by myself in this house. But we was always glad when the children and grandchildren come home.
tw: What about during the fifties, were there any major events that happened in you r life during that decade?
es: No not really. That's when Brooke's mother was born, 1950. And I really, the main thing that the worry we want the children to be educated. I belonged to a lot of things. I belonged to PTA. When Dalene was in marching band the band at high school I was corresponding secretary. I worked on the finance committee at Thomas Jefferson. They built the new high school the Civic Theatre wasn't on there at first. So I was on the Holding Corporation for that. And we went out and broke ground. And they built it and they said it would be for the future children . Whether my children use it maybe my grandchildren would use it which they do. And so I was the only Black on that committee, which I didn't mind it. But most of the people were rich you know doctors and wives. Well their was only two women Dr. Patterson's wife and myself. And I was glad I did that, but I always went when my children were involved basketball or whatever. I always went to everything they had. They used to have mother-daughter teas. I don't think they have them anymore. It was beautiful. They had them when the kids were at Martin Boots. I had one girl Marsha. and Marsha was always in everything. And she was in some kind of Y, High-Y thing they had. And she was the only Black in that and whatever they wanted to do I backed them. Their dad and I backed them in everything they did. Anything to further their education and to better them. So they could make a better life for themselves than what we had coming up. But that's about that's about the way it was. Just... grow older that's what I'm doing just grow older just keep getting old. I'm glad the Lord has blessed us. He blessed with nine children. He blessed us with health enough to take care of them. So and I said I owe it all to Him because He is the one that really, really brought us through the raising nine children. And so I got to say that I've got to give Him the praise. I'm grateful I'm able to live this long to see the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren and the great-great-grandchildren. It's really been a joy in my life. It's been for my husband and I both. We used to live over on 15th and Meridian the house isn't there anymore. We built this home. We didn't want an apartment on account of the children and when they come home. We'll just build on like a small apartment for retirement people. And that's what we did. And we built this. So when the kids and grandkids come they could play and they could do what they want to and not bother anybody.
tw: What about Marion, about how you've seen that change?
es: Well I have seen Marion. I don't think they keep the streets up as well as they did years ago. Now I can tell you that when it would snow they could get down and plow the streets and things would be much better then. But they say there's more streets to plow. And I don't know. It seems like sometimes they're doing good and sometimes they're sliding back. I think Marion has improved, but there's still room for a lot of improvement. I think, I really do-- them older mayors were really ---I enjoyed them. I think they really took their job real seriously. I do think Marion has a little room for improvement here. I'd like to see it improve. School systems have improved a lot with the teachers, you know. Black for teachers, you know, and things cause threre was a time they wouldn't let a Black teacher be here, and they had to go other places to teach. So I do think they have improved a lot on that. The way they have principals and superintendents I do think Marion has really improved with the school system here.
tw: Well I thank you for the interview. Our time is up.
es: Well, I'm happy to have let you ask me. Don't let this be your last. You come back again.
tw: Okay. Thank you.
es: Thank you.