Interview with: Marilyn Perkins
Conducted by: Lucas White
Date: May 8, 2001
May 8, 2001. Do I have permission to interview you for the Community History Project?
Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?
Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Community Schools?
Lw: Okay, let us begin. Growing up as a kid, was there much segregation in the schools?
Mp: Not that I noticed. I noticed the kids, probably more of them played separately. But I didn’t see so much into it.
Lw: I know that there weren’t very many black teachers, actually none until probably the sixties, how were the teachers, did they act different towards you?
Mp: No, I didn’t notice the teachers acting any different I didn’t notice any of the kids acting different really. I do remember one time one of the girls was having a birthday party, and so the teacher asked all of the white kids to stand up. Well, I didn’t stand up. One of the kids said, “You should stand up to Marilyn.” I said, “No, I’m not white.” Well, they passed out invitations to all of the white kids that stood up. But none of us black kids got any invitations to this party. But I thought that was rather weird, that they made them stand up since they couldn’t tell if they were white. Some kids you couldn’t tell whether they were or they weren’t white. Because a lot of them.. .there still where a lot of mixed kids then. A lot of them looked like they were white, but didn’t go for white. Some did and some didn’t
Lw: I know that some of the movie theaters didn’t allow blacks to sit down stairs, what were some of the other things like that?
Mp: Other than the movies?
Lw: Well, you can talk about the movies too,
Mp: Well the one movie, they would charge you 5 cents less that meant they thought you were black at the time, so you sat upstairs. We only had one place to sit upstairs, they called it “peanut heaven”. But if they charged you the full price, they didn’t know what you were, so you could sit where you wanted. Now at the Lyric, they only had one side that you could sit on. You couldn’t sit in the center. There would be empty seats, but they would tell you it was full inside, since you couldn’t sit there. Then they had the little restaurant down the street, I think it was a little Greek restaurant. They served hot dogs. We called them Coney Islands. You could walk up and buy one, but you couldn’t go in and sit.
Lw: Where was that at?
Mp: The little restaurant right down from the Lyric Theater. Just a little tiny restaurant, just a little thing, and I don’t know what it was called. But we used to get what we called Coney Islands there. And you knew that you could go up and buy one at his window, but you couldn’t go inside and eat. You couldn’t eat anyplace. You couldn’t eat at the 10-cent stores. They had a couple, Walworth and Kreskie’s. You couldn’t eat at their counters at that time. Of course I didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t eat anyplace anyways, so it didn’t bother me.
Lw: I remember you talking about your brother not following the rules at the movie theater. Could you explain that a little bit?
Mp: Oh, well at the time, that was at the Indiana Theater, and they sold him a cheaper ticket, so that meant he was supposed to go upstairs, and the usher told him to go upstairs. Well he wasn’t well, at the time he was ill, and he just didn’t feel like he wanted to go upstairs. So he told them no, he wasn’t going upstairs, be didn’t care what they charged him, he was sitting downstairs. So he and the other fellow he was with, they went on down. Nobody said anything after that, they didn’t say anything to him. But he was about the first person who really defied them like that. I wouldn’t have, I would have just went upstairs, given them no trouble, but they didn’t know what I was so they charged me full price. So I sat downstairs.
Lw: Did you ever have any troubles getting jobs and stuff.
Mp: No, because by the time I was ready to get a job. I don’t think I had any trouble. Because see, we didn’t try to get jobs at the factories, I didn’t. We did like domestic work
Lw: Can you explain that?
Mp: We did house work at somebody’s house, or maybe they would have you babysitting They would let you baby-sit, in fact I babysat when I was only 11, and the kids were as large as I was, just as rough too boy. The folks didn’t mind that, you could baby-sit or clean their house, but you couldn’t get a job in the factories. Well it didn’t happen to me, but it did happen to another fellow over at RCA. He had a college education, and he was trying to get a job up in the office. A friend of his who was white told him to go apply, because the job was open. So the guy that was doing the interviewing, he was flipping through the pages and he saw this fellows, well he didn’t know who he was see, so he called him up. Well, when he saw he was black, he said, “Well, you’ve got all of the qualifications, but we just don’t have anything open.” So then he called his friend, and he called up there to see if the job was open yet, and it was till open, but they just weren’t going to hire him. So he went to another factory though, and I don’t know who that guys name was either, and they just out right told him they were not hiring any blacks, and they didn’t think they were ready to yet. So he finally got a job, like at GM,, just doing manual labor, even though he had a college education. SO he was one of those who had the education and couldn’t do anything about it
Lw: I know that some of the blacks protested about swimming in Matter Park, do you know any of the other things that were protested?
Mp: I don’t, in fact I don’t even remember if I was around here when they protested the pool. Of course, I didn’t get to go out to the park My dad didn’t seem to think we needed to go to all of those places, so I missed all that good stuff. But I don’t know of any other protesting they did, I don’t know if they sat in at any of the dime stores or not. I don’t know about that, you know, like they did down at IU and places. So I don’t know if they did here or not, all of a sudden they just started opening up. I don’t even know what caused it But I missed all that good stuff, since I wasn’t really allowed to a lot of stuff Dad didn’t let me until I was about 18, by that time you could get ajob at different places. He let me work for those people, babysitting that’s all I did. He let me iron for them too, 50 cents for a basket of clothes that were starched and sprinkled Packed, it took me all day to iron, for 50 cents. I thought I'll never do that again.
Lw: I know there was segregation in the YMCA and the YWCA, did you ever go to YWCA?
Mp: Nope, I never got to go. But yeah it was segregated, they just wouldn’t let them get a membership anyplace. I did hear about it, but I didn’t get to go anyway, so I missed out on that Probably somebody even older than I would know more about that But I don’t remember when the Y opened up,I can’t remember that at all.
Lw: I’m sure that most of the authorities in the town were white, do you know of ever having any trouble with law cases or such things like that.
Mp: No, I wouldn’t know anything about that Like Jim probably did I can’t think of anything that came up.
Lw: With sports, did you ever have trouble getting on any teams or anything like that?
Mp: Yes, we did have problems with bowling That was the one I liked to do, but we couldn’t do any of the others like golf or play tennis. The bowling, when it started out, they did have black pen boys that set up the pens, but they couldn’t bowl until after hours. And when we got started, the women, we got to start out on Shunk Street, at a bowling alley there. Then we went to Crest, and then finally Plaza let us in, and we formed our own league. We had men and women in the ‘Kings and Queens’, which it was called. The women wanted to bowl in a Thursday night league at Crest, which was a scratch league at the time, and we kept getting problems trying to get into the league. First, they said they didn’t let any blacks in, then they said they didn’t have any openings. Then finally, the evidently took a vote, and decided that if we could get a team up, we could bowl. Then they called us the night before the league started and asked could we get a team up. And said, you know, we had one night to do it. Well, needless to say, we got our team up, and started bowling They found out we weren’t too bad after all, and they could bowl with us. So that kind of broke it up for the women, and then they actually started letting us bowl on maybe one of their teams. That was in the early sixties.