Interview: Irene Beck (ib)
Medium: Audio and Video tape
Date: 14 April 1998
Place: Home of Irene Beck at 2744 W 38 St.
Collected by: Tiffany Esther (te)
te: State your whole name and where we are.
ib: My name is Irene Beck were at 2744 W 38th St. Marion In.
te: And the date?
ib: The date is April the 14th 1998.
te: Do I have permission to tape you with an audio tape?
ib: Yes, you do have my permission.
te: And a video tape?
te: Do I have permission to submit this information to Marion Public Library?
ib: Yes, you do.
te: Tell us what your life was like before the war?
ib: It was interesting, I was the oldest daughter of seven children and I did a lot of baby sitting, and I love children.
te: What kind of social activities did you participate in?
ib: We had a large Sunday school class and we would always rush to Sunday school, to see how many would get there first. And our teacher always gave parties and picnics at her home, she lived in the country. We had a good time. We also had church in the morning and mostly in the afternoon and evening. Christian Endeavors, which the young people would gather and we were taught all the books of the bible and everything and then we would have social gatherings. And people would make home made ice-cream, and they would turn the ice cream and we would all eat home made ice cream and cake.
te: Okay, do you feel you experienced a lot of racism in Marion during the forties or fifties?
ib: Well there was quit a bit, not always but quit a bit. There was more as time went on, it wasn't too noticeable when we were a child, small child we lived in a mixed neighborhood and you just didn't hear much difference about race and color.
te: So when did you first experience something with race?
ib: Well we never could sit any place in the theater, we always had to sit in the balcony. And in restaurants we had to carry our food out we couldn't sit down and eat, with the other people.
te: So how did this make you feel as a young kid?
ib: Well it wasn't too good
te: So what did you do for social activities, what did you do for fun?
ib: Well we had baseball games on Sunday afternoons, that we would go watch. And we had socials were they would serve ice cream and cake, you would go to a different home and pay for the ice cream and cake, but it was usually at night, and they would have lights out and chairs and tables and entertainment. And then we would got to each others homes and we always had a lot of friends in the country and they would always ask us to stay for dinner, always. And things aren't like that now, but then they would ask us to stay for dinner and want us to visit, but now it seems like people don't have time to visit, like they did then. And baby-sitting was a great thing for me, I always went out to baby-sit with children at different places. And take the children for a walk and play in the park, and take the kids to the park I always had something to do with the children. Take them to Sunday school.
te: So when the war started did any of your friends our family members go to the war?
ib: My brother was called and he had to go to Iwo Jima and my mother was very upset about it, and every day she would say when Chester comes home when Chester comes home. So my sister and I made up a song about when Chester comes home. There were seven ships going on to the island and he was baptized on the ship he was on, and it was the only that made it on to Iwo Jima, out of seven. So he was lucky there. The first thing they did was take them around to get them used to the smell of blood and the dead soldiers laying on the ground and they had what they call fox holes and our company would dig fox holes and the men would hide in the fox holes. And my brother was elected, they had a cave, the Japanese had a cave my brother was elected to walk into the cave to see if there were any Japs, left in there. He went in and searched around while his buddies looked from the fox hole. As he started out the door there was a Japanese soldier standing over the door with a dagger going to let it drop on his head, but his friend in the fox hole shot the Japanese first and he fell on the ground as my brother came out. So he was very fortunate in not losing his life at that time.
te: You said you had a song, can you the song for us?
ib: Not really it just was,( singing)" When Chester comes home, When Chester comes home were going to do this and that. When Chester comes home When Chester comes home and we'll see what we can do about that" And my mother would just laugh and she would laugh and cry all at the same time. Because she missed my brother so much.
te: So when did your brother come home?
ib: I don't remember exactly what year, but he came home and was very nervous and upset and the sound of loud noises would make him jump. I had a younger brother who was younger then Chet and he said he would rather go back then have my brother go.
te: Did your family celebrate when he came back ?
ib: Oh, yes we had a big celebration we went down the street and honked the horns and hollered and we were just really happy. And when he got to call long distance I would get, my mother worked at fruit stand , and I would get in the car and drive about sixty miles an hour about three blocks to get my mother to bring her home to talk to on the phone to him, which made her very happy. I 'm glad I didn't get a ticket for speeding.
te: You're funny, so you talked to your brother while he was away at war?
ib: Yes, when he got to call, like once in awhile he would get to call and we were always happy when he called not very often. He couldn't tell where he was or any of the details. But he said, he would talk to us when he got home.
te: Did he tell you any stories about the war or anything he had done there?
ib: Well just about things that happened . Like one ship was torpedoed and they had to cut off the bottom deck, to save the men on the top deck. And that really upset them, because they lost several of their men, they were drowned.
te: Did your brother serve in an black regiment?
ib: Yes there was segregation, in the regiments. The blacks had to stay , the blacks were in a black regiment and the whites in an white regiment.
te: So when the black soldiers came home was there celebration?
ib: Yes we always celebrated when the ones we knew came home, we always had a friendly celebration. And then one of my best friends down the street was killed in the war, his name was Johnny Mills. He didn't get back, he was not fortunate like the other fellows.
te: Was your brother upset, when he came back because racism was still predominant, uhhh was he upset to come back and to see that even though he had fought in the war he was still considered not up to standard?
ib: Yes most of the men came back they thought that prejudice should be broke down, because they had to go fight for our country.
te: Was you brother drafted or did he volunteer?
ib: My brother was drafted, my husband was also drafted. I was married in 1946 , but another fellow named Dawn Hawkins took his place he was on the police force at the time and he didn't have to go because his buddy wanted to go so he let his buddy go. That saved him from going.
te: That's good, so what did you do while men were at war did you take a job at a factory or anything?
ib: Yes the factory opened in 1942, it was called Farnsworth Radio. And I went to the factory, the first black to go in her name was Denise Green. And then I was called in, I don't know what month it was, I think probably about May. In September I got to go in, we worked on radio parts, I soldered radio parts. And uhhh later on uhhh they asked me be inspector and two of the women rushed to the office and tried to keep me from getting the job. They didn't think that I should have the job of inspecting. But the supervisor , he was very nice and he said it didn't make a difference and he was going to give me the job anywise. So I was an supervisor, uhhh an inspector for Farnsworth Radio and Television. I soldered small parts on radios which was fun.
te: So you enjoyed working there?
ib: I really loved working there.
te: So uhhh why did you take the job was it like economic reasons or did you just want a job?
ib: Oh yes we needed we needed money, and I always helped out the family. I would take the check home, and if their was anything we needed like, I would help I . To get the children's clothes and food things like that. We also had gardens where my mother would can a lot for winter.
te: So items were rationed out, during the war what was that like being told what you could use and when you could us it?
ib: Well food was rationed and some clothing you had to stand in line, maybe a half a block long to get silk hose and then they weren't too good. They made bras and panties and would put buttons, instead of using the rubber because I guess they needed the rubber for the war. Food was rationed, only so much, but we always had larger gardens and my mother canned a lot. We usually had chilly one day and maybe fried potatoes the next day, but it was fun and we enjoyed it.
te: So you took the job just to help out your family?
te: So you married during the war?
ib: Well I got married in 1946
ib: On Christmas day at Arcadia, Indiana on the Farm. And the farm was called Rolling Meadows. And my girlfriend played the piano, her uncle sang "I love you truly". Her mother fixed a big Christmas dinner and it was just my family and my husbands family and my girlfriends family. And we had a good time, everyone told me that it was bad luck to get married on Christmas day, but I don't think so because I've been married 51 years.
te: So you enjoyed working, who long did you work at Farnsworth?
ib: I worked for Farnsworth for 5 years, then 7 let me see 42 to 49. RCA bought Farnswoth out in 1949 and I went right in RCA, making television parts form uhhh Farnsworth. Because the same superintendent over Farnsworth got to be the superintendent. And I was a nice uhhh, he was my friend . And he called me in to RCA and I was the first black on production, in RCA. And I later made inspection and I would inspect television caps and uhhh also worked in fret room putting the caps on to the bottom part of the picture tubes, I enjoyed that also.
te: Did you face any segregation?
ib: Well there were always some segregation some of the workers didn't want us to get ahead or to be inspectors. But they uhhh broke down the prejudice, because most of the foremen were from the East and they didn't believe in making a difference. And usually if there was someone who caused any trouble or was prejudice they would get fired or talked to them. They wouldn't allow it.
te: So you never faced anyone saying anything to you or did people say anything when they had African American serve in the factory, were people upset about that?
ib: Well if they were, yes they were upset some but there was not too much they could say about it, because they let us come in. And they found out we were the same as them and so most of them treated us nice. But they just didn't want us to get ahead and get the better jobs but those came later.
te: So when the men came back form war the , African American men did they find jobs easily or no?
ib: Uhhh, not to much they let them work some, but they usually had to work in foundries, like the Malleable Iron Works or Atlas foundry. They finally opened up some they could come into RCA slowly and but they were hesitant about making them supervisors at that time. But now they make them supervisors and it's more equal rights.
te: So uhh how did
ib: Well my husband is Cleo Beck, we were married in 1946. He was on the police force at the time he was making 37 dollars a week and I was working at Farnsworth and I was making39 dollars a week, that was considered big money at that time. We could buy a lot of groceries then and with uhhh that much money. And uhhh he was the first black detective under mayor Leach and as they made him a detective two of the white fellows walked out because they didn't want to work with him or ride around with him. But they replaced them with other fellows and my ugh brother would have been the first black teacher in Marion Indiana but his own race kicked against him, there was jealousy in our own race. They had a board meeting at the Urban League, and Joseph Casey said my brother gave wild parties, which he never did he never gave parties he went to Marion College and was a very good student. He had to work a year and go to school a year and he finally got through in 8 years, so he had to leave here and go to Indianapolis to get a job at the public schools. He taught there for 23 years, he was a very good teacher parents bought him nice gifts and said they were happy to have him for a teacher. My husband was made meter man , they had meters around the square where they collected money and a lot of the fellows were jealous of him and teased him about taking money, but when the years that he had the meters he collected more money then anyone who had collected money from the meters, they don't have the meters now I don't know why but they did away with him.
te: So was you husband on the police force during the lynching?
ib: No, he was working at car, Oldsmobile uhhh East third street at the time and he went work and they told him he better go home because there had been a lynching and they were afraid he would get into trouble, so he went back home and stayed that day.
te: So what did you do before you went to Farnsworth?
ib: I did domestic work, I went out when I was 13 and did house work. I made three dollars and fifty cents a week. And I would baby-sit for the family and I worked several years for the Scheerer family. He was a secretary at Mid Osborne Midwest Paper company. And uhhh Marie was getting dissatisfied with me so I soldered doing days work and I would go out a half a day and do laundry and the next day I would go back and iron for a half a day for the Mc Kay family on West 6 St. and for another family next to them and I enjoyed it and made more money. And they lady I did work for the week for wanted me to come back and work for her and I told her I would have to have more money and she told me she couldn't afford to pay me so I just kept doing days work until I got into the factory. I also had to ride my bicycle since I didn't have a car to go to my domestic work and the days it would rain my mother would come after me, we had an old truck and she would come after me in the old truck.
te: What was your attitude towards Hitler, how did you feel about him persecuting the Jews?
ib: I don't feel like that was necessary and he shouldn't have done that, because that was a terrible thing.
te: How did your life change because of the war?
ib: Well when the boys were called to service they had to go to Fort Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis for examination and we had to take my brother down there and we met all the other boys who were leaving also from other places, we hated to see em go. And then my life changed because we were always worried about the boys getting back home and we would send them what we could like cookies before we left the states and everything they wouldn't let us send too much, but we could send them cookies or something to eat. and we did that and the other boys would enjoy sharing my brother's cookies with them. But we worried the whole time they were gone, wondering when they would get back And if they would get back so life wasn't too thrilling until they did get back. It was a constant worry. We got a job at Farnsworth so we could make some money and my brother wanted to send money home all the boys send as much home as they could, cause they got a pay check each month and when they got back they would buy themselves a car so that was the first thing they wanted to do was buy themselves a car.
te: So did you meet new friends and stuff at the factory?
ib: Yes we met a lot of new friends and still today I have a lot of those friends. And when they see me in the store we always stop and chat and talk about old times when we worked together. And two of my friends were from Van Buren Indiana, and they also came to work there and they enjoyed working with us and they were really nice. Once and awhile I still see them, and we have a good time talking to each other about our old times working in the plant together.
te: Are you proud that you were one of the first African American Ladies to work in the factory, are you proud of that fact?
ib: Yes I am very proud of that when I got paid each week, then I could buy clothes I didn't have too many clothes before then. I just uhhh felt like I could go get what I wanted and It was a good feeling. Before our mothers would make us dresses from flower sacks and different calico material something very cheap and very plain, but it was fun and you could go there wear a dress at that time. Maybe the dress was three dollars and you could put fifty cents and put it in layaway and when you went back in maybe four or five weeks later and got your dress out, your really proud to have a new dress also you could get shoes for three or five dollars a pair at that time. And it was really fun when you knew you could go get put things in layaway and get your own clothes.
te: It seems like you had a pretty good life growing up here in Grant County, but as an African American you faced some segregation and stuff but you still got ahead so I think that is pretty good, so did you enjoy growing up here in Grant County then?
ib: I really liked growing up here, I never knew anything different and I never knew did ever feel like I ever wanted to move away from here. I have lived here all my life except for about one year when I was small and we moved to Saginow, Michigan . My father died when I was about three and my mother remarried and we moved to Saginow , Michigan and lived one year and then we moved back to Marion. But I always thought I never wanted to leave Grant County, I enjoy it here and all my friends are here.
te: Do you have any more stories to add, to the interview?
ib: Well one about my car I was so proud of, my neighbor wanted to sell me a car and I paid him seventy five dollars, for a 1929 model A . It was black with red spoke tires and I 'd gather my girlfriends and we would ride around in the evenings and I thought that was great, it was a lot of fun. Then my mother got hard up and sold my car for one hundred and fifty dollars and I was very sad, cause I didn't have a car again until I married. And then we had a 35 Chevy, the doors opened from the front and we wish I still had it cause it would be worth a lot of money today, but a fellow begged us for it and we sold it and bought a 39 Chevrolet. That was the best we could do until we got on our feet and got more money and then we got our first new car in 1950. We had about five lots and we would put out gardens and uhhh I would have to weed the gardens and then my mother would let me take a little wagon around the neighborhood and I would put a scale on it and I would sale green beans and vegetables out of the garden and then I'd get enough money to go to the movies on the weekends, that was fun I always had my regular customers the neighbors who didn't put out gardens.