Irene Beck with Lucas White

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Interview with: Irene Beck
Conducted by: Lucas White
Date: May 14, 2001

Lw: My name is Lucas White, and I am interviewing Irene Beck. The date is May 15, 2001. We are at 2734 W. 38th Street. Do I have permission to interview you for the Community History Project?

Ib: You sure do.

Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Community Schools?

Ib: Yes.

Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?

Ib: Yes.

Lw: Okay, let us begin then. Growing up in Marion, did you ever face a lot of segregation in the school systems?

Ib: Not really in the school systems.

Lw: I know that you were one of the first blacks to work at Farnsworth Radio. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ib: In 1942, I was hired in. I wasn’t there too long, and the headman, it was Jake Campbell, appointed me to be inspector. Two women didn’t like it, and they took up a petition and had everybody sign it, to try and get me to not take the job. But it didn’t go through, so I got the job anyway.

Lw: When you first tried to work there, was it hard to get a job there?

Ib: Well, not really. They started hiring (blacks) in 1942, and then they hired in more and more all of the time. You had to take a test. Charlie Winn was the boss, and he told me I had scored the highest test of any black that had come in so far. I didn’t know that.

Mp: Up to that point they hadn’t hired many blacks?

Ib: Huh-uh

Lw: What were some of the things that you did for entertainment?

Ib: Go to church. Back then they would have lawn socials. They had lights in the yard, and they’d sell ice cream and cake. We’d got to different people’s houses for entertainment. That was a lot of fin. Other than that, we didn’t do too much.

Lw: What church did you go to?

Ib: Allen Temple AME, at that time.

Lw: What were some of the other jobs that you had?

Ib: Other jobs? I did house work when I was 13 years old. Scrubbing floors on my hands and knees. I worked for $3.50 an hour, for Mrs. J. C. Scheer on 1007 W. 5th St. First thing I think I did was buy a bicycle for transportation, because I had to ride from south Marion out to her house. On the days it would rain, my mother would come after me.

Lw: Did you ever have to deal with swimming in the pools?

Ib: No, not really, we just weren’t allowed to swim in Matter Park.

Lw: Did you ever go to any of the other places with the Urban League?

Mp: Let her tell about the shuffleboard too.

Ib: Yeah, we went out to Matter Park one day, and picked up the sticks to play shuffleboard. A man walked over and said, “I’m sorry, but you cannot play shuffleboard here.” So we put down the sticks and left. We weren’t allowed to play shuffleboard or swim out at Matter Park.

Lw: You were probably and adult during this time, but during the riots of ‘68 and ‘69, did you ever have to deal with any of that?

Tb: I can’t remember that far back. (laughing)

Mp: They said they were shooting down on 18th Street and stuff. But I didn’t drive down there. You can say that.

Tb: What year was that?

Lw: ‘68 and ‘69

Tb: Oh, I should remember that. No, I never went down that way. I knew it was too dangerous. It was a rough part of town. Although, I lived down there when I was kid, and it was very nice. It was mixed neighborhood, and you never heard the tale of color or segregation or anything like that at that time. Then as time went on it got bad. Everybody would turn their nose up at 18th Street.

Lw: A couple of things about the schools, do you ever remember them having separate locker rooms for the black girls and white girls, and different areas too go during lunch?

Tb: No, I don’t really remember anything like that at the schools.

Mp: Somebody reported that. They had different areas to sit in.

Ib: No, I didn’t know that, because we’d always sit where we wanted to.

Tb: I can’t remember their names, but they lived down across the railroad and back up the lane. I think Mrs. . . what was her name that owned the house up at Roseburg, Barbara’s mother, Barbara Pyle’s mother. And she didn’t want her children associating with Mary Anne. Later on, she got a little bit friendlier. She worked at K-Mart, and would ask me how I was and everything. But she didn’t want her daughters going to the meetings after school with Mary Anne or any other black kids. Later on, they were on vacation down in Brown County with another couple, and there was something wrong with their trailer. They were overcome by gas and both couples died and left their children behind.

Ib: We couldn’t eat at the 5 and 10-cent stores nor any of the restaurants. We had our own little places to hang out, by pop and rolls, things like that; like Jones’s Grocery on 35th and Washington, and the Bee Inn, on 9th St. I think. It was just a house made into... in Glendora’s house, a couple rooms where they served pop and ice cream. They had Marshall’s Tavern on Branson Street. You could eat there, but I didn’t go there. And I the Indiana Theater, we always had to sit in the balcony, until years later.

Lw: You could sit downstairs at one time?

Tb: Not until years later, when the Urban League broke that down.

Mp: It seemed like when the pool opened, it seemed like everything broke down around that time.

Tb: But we weren’t allowed to eat at the 5 and 10-cent stores. And the first time that they opened up and let us come in, I remember going in and sitting down and ordering something. And the girl who waited on me, she almost threw the change at me. So the next day I came in to see how she would act towards me, and someone must have told her something because she was real nice, and she put the change down real easy. I think there was someone in there that knew me and told her something.

Ib: Cleo, he was appointed to detective, and mayor Leach was the mayor at the time, and he made the appointment. And they appointed Cleo to the detectives department, when they appointed him to the detectives department two detectives walked out, Gene Elzroth and Jack McMillan would not work with Cleo at the time. As time went on they got a little better and friendlier.

Lw: Did he have any other troubles there?

Ib: No. He was the first black detective appointed in 1942. Joe Louis came to town and Cleo was the guard at the time, and they weren’t going to let them eat anyplace. So he went to Miller’s Supper Club and talked to Mr. Miller, and Mr. Miller let them come there and eat. That was where the old Sears Building was down on Adams Street between 5th and 6th.