Interview with: Jim Perkins
Conducted by: Lucas White
Date: April 14, 2001
Lw: My name is Lucas White, and I am interviewing Jim Perkins. The date is April 24, 2001, and we are at 1105 W. 11th Street. Do I have permission to interview for the community history project?
Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Community Schools?
Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?
Lw: Then let us begin.
Jp: Back in the 1950’s, the Marion Urban League sponsored, started out with a truck, an open-bed truck, that would haul “x” number of black and minority kids over to Anderson then to go swimming, because they couldn’t swim at Matter Park. They started in a flatbed truck and then they migrated up to a regular bus, which was a lot better, safer. We used to go swimming there for a little, little or no fee, and our swimming instructor was a black police officer, named Don Hawkins. And Hawkins was our instructor. Later on in the ‘50’s, a band by the names of Mr. Banks, Roger Smith, Hubey Nukes, Carlyle Gulliford, petitioned the city of Marion and filed through a federal court through Fort Wayne, discriminatory act against the city of Marion for not allowing blacks to swim in the swimming pool. They got several young black males, went out to Matter Park, to attempt to go into the swimming pool, which at that point they were denied by the Sheriffs Department, that they could swim. Therefore, right after that they filed the suit. Like I said they didn’t win. Also, there was Meyer’s drive-in, they would not serve blacks inside Meyer’s drive-in. There was about four theaters, the Indiana Theatre, the Paramount Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, and the Luna Light Theatre. Now, the Lyric and the Luna Light all was downstairs, so there was no segregation downstairs. But the Paramount and Indiana had upstairs, balcony, so therefore minorities we had to sit upstairs instead of downstairs. Also, years ago, you could about tell where all minorities lived because they were segregated in to a certain area. But nowadays and now in the city of Marion minorities are everywhere. Also, there was hardly any minority teachers in schools, hardly any. I think the most disgusting thing was, was on the books that was issued by the school system. They had a book called “Old Black Sambo”, and they had another book, just degrading blacks. It was just outrageous. And then they tried to clean them up, by just marking out some of the words. Some books had “nigger” in them. Some of them said, “lay your kinky hair down”, just things that was in the books, that was just, you know, very disgusting. But you had no teachers, you had one or two police officers, one or two fireman. And those firemen was on opposite shifts, so they had to sleep in the same bed. Nowadays, you know, you’ve got so many people that just alternate beds, but back then they would only have so many blacks on the fire department and they had to be on opposite shifts, so they had to sleep in the same bed. They couldn’t share a bed with anybody else. Getting loans back in there, to build houses, for minorities was almost out of the question. Marshall’s Tavern, which was the hot spot for minorities, had to be started by a Jewish man, which was able to obtain the liquor license, for Mr. A. W. Marshall. The hot spot for work for Marion, for minorities, was the foundries, the Malable, Pope Foundries. All the so-called skill trades went to the whites, not the blacks. I found that, and of course back in the ‘3 0’s when they had the lynching, downtown on the square. There are so many stories about that. Now I think that segregation is more refined, then the way it used to be. They can do it in other means, outside of strict denial. I'll say one thing for Marion, you never noticed anywhere that said, “White only” or “Colored only” restrooms, like you found out when you went south back in the ‘50’s. I know the first time I went down south, that was an experience, when you look up and see “White only” or “Black only” restrooms. That was shocking, because you knew about racism, but when you just see it printed out in front of you, it’s a lot different. Do you got any questions?
Lw: You talked a little bit about the jobs that you had, what types of jobs did you have, and was there...?
Jp: I would have to give credit to my dad, started me out working. Every summer, I had a job. Not a job that I wanted, but I had a job. I started out as a newspaper carrier. I shined shoes in my uncle’s barbershop, which that was the most money I ever made as a kid. And shining shoes was only a 15 cents for a solid color, and two-tone’s, which basically back in those days was only black and white, was 20 cents. And my uncle’s barbershop was right across from the foundry. Guys would come in with copper around there ankles and on there wrists. Working in the foundry, they used to get arthritis, the copper was supposed to keep the arthritis from getting in their body. And they would come over there after work, they would get dressed to go over and have them a beer or two, and stop by and get their shoes shined. And some of them would have a little bit more to drink than they should have, and they would give me a pretty good tip for shining their shoes. I would make, on a Friday or Saturday, 15 or 20 dollars, which back in the ‘50’s, that was pretty good money, you know. And then I went on, I caddied at Meshingomesia Country Club. I did yard work. I worked in the snack bar. I did all different kinds of things, that created me and my good work habits I think, because my dad was responsible for that. Every summer, there was something to have. The worst job I ever had, the only job I ever quit in my life, was picking tomatoes. 10 cents a hamper. I picked 62 hampers that day, which was $6.20. It was out in the country. I rode out there on my bicycle. At the end of that day, I got back on the bicycle and I rode home and never returned. That was the hardest job I had in my life. Then I went on to work at the RCA, which is Thompson’s now. When I got older, I got to go to Ball State Teacher’s College, back in those days. And from there I went on to join the police department, in 1965. I worked there until 1985. While I worked on the police department, I worked security for different banks. I worked security for the Wesleyan Health Care Center for 16 years. I worked private investigation for several attorneys in town. So its been a long road, a lot of different jobs, but I think the best experience on how to talk to people, how to read people, was when I was a bartender for my dad, for about four years. And you get to learn about people. My dad used to always tell me, “Now, what you hear, stays here at this bar.” Because I would listen to politicians, judges, lawyers, businessmen, etc. I was bartending at that time, at the Meshingomesia Country Club. And you learn how business is conducted, how lawyers conduct there business. And you get to learn how to talk to people, and how to read people very quickly. So that was all in all, one of the best experiences I ever had, as a bartender.
Lw: Dealing with the schools, was there segregation in the schools when you grew up, and did that change through out the years?
Jp: Well, there wasn’t... I guess you could call it segregation, because there was no minority teachers. They had, what they called, a school called D. A. Paine, which was out around 35th and the bypass, where the majority of minorities went early in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. I don’t think several of the teachers and counselors necessarily encouraged minorities to go ahead and further their education. I think it was giving the general courses and not encouraged to try and treat more than what their family, mom and dad, had in their pants.
Lw: You talked about the protest for swimming, were there any other protests that people conducted to try and get rights equal?
Jp: Well, you’ve got to remember back in 1968, ‘69, ‘70, there was all kinds of protest. Matter of fact, there was a march here in Marion, just protesting the civil rights movement back in the late ‘60’s. And the FBI had agents right in on the march, that took pictures they later on gave to the Marion Police Department. They was in there taking pictures of who was marching. Every march that goes on, the law enforcement agencies has someone in there marching with them, taking pictures, finding out who’s doing it and what they are saying, and so forth. In 1969 I walked the halls of Marion High School. I was on the police department, because of they had a mini riot out in the high school, in the cafeteria. And the Marion Police Department for about a week or two weeks, walked the halls, out at Marion High School. We was called, first in ‘69, when they started burning the Custer Lumber Company, I think Meshingomesia Country Club was caught on fire, several warehouses caught on fire here in town, plenty of shooting. The police department was called out. I never will forget, we got out of a school bus, at 18th and Pearl Street, and marched down to 18th and Meridian Street, where there was club, called Little Harlem. And we marched down the street that night with a gas mask, riot helmets, shotguns, and we were met with eggs. Shotguns were fired, tear gas being shot off. It was a moment. During that summer you would get called out on calls, that was set up. It got so bad, that we had to put our bulletproof vests in the windows of our police cars, because we had been shot at so much. So you would make these calls, and they would just bait you out there, so they could shoot at you. It was a very interesting time. There was a young group of blacks that started the Black Panthers in Marion. They even had a little pool hail that was established out on 35th Street, 35th and Carey. One night, I went out there, and the police shot that place up. There must have been 100 rounds that went through there. There was a lady that lived in the 1500 block of S. Branson Street, that was a militant. One evening there was over 50 shots fired through her house. So there was some times, back in ‘68, ‘69, and ‘70, that was very trying especially for anybody in law enforcement at that time.
Lw: You mentioned some of the brutalities that went on, I know there was a political segregation, were blacks treated a lot different, not only by not being allowed to do things, but just the way that whites acted towards them?
Jp: Well I think the whole structure, if you go back and think, just take a look at this, lets just go back to WWII, that when they was trying to get blacks into the aviation. Nobody wanted to fly with the pilots, with them, down in Tuskeegee. One woman stepped forth, went down in a plane, and rode with them, and that woman was Eleanor Roosevelt, the presidents wife, and she went down there and rode with them. They went over, and of course their record was outstanding. They never lost too many planes at all when they was over in Europe. But you have just got to take a look, people would go over there and lay their life on the line, not only in WWI and II, but even the Civil War. History will show you that blacks laid their lives on the line for this country. And how would you feel if you went over there and did all that fighting, and when you come back, you couldn’t use the restroom when you wanted to use it, you couldn’t vote when you wanted to vote, you couldn’t get a job, you couldn’t go to school. How would one feel? I think the patience of minorities has really been super to put up with that kind of treatment.