Interview with: Roger Smith
Conducted by: Lucas White
Date: May 14, 2001
Lw: My name is Lucas White, and I am interviewing Roger Smith. The date is May 14, 2001, and we are at 3415 S. Race Street Do I have permission to interview you for the Community History Project?
Rs: Yes you do.
Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Schools?
Rs: Yes you do.
Lw: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?
Lw: Okay, let us begin. Growing up in Marion, was there a lot of segregation in the schools?
Rs: Schools weren’t segregated, as you could go to any place you wanted to. The school, you know, wherever you lived. The only people who lived up north were the Archey’s, and they went to Washington School.
Lw: What schools did you go to?
Rs: McCulloch and Marion High.
Lw: Were their any black teachers their when you went?
Lw: No? What kind of things did you do for entertainment?
Rs: Entertainment? I’ll have to think about it (laughing) Like I said, there was a little club back west, called the 36th Street Club. Then they had the 2-way Inn over on the railroad track which was mainly nightspots. Then Mr. Jones, on the corner of 35th and Nebraska, he had what you might say was the first convenient center. Because he had a store that you could go around there, and get pop, bread, almost anything. We played checkers there, and he played checkers with us, Mr. Jones, Mr. Noble Jones.
Lw: Were you ever a member at the YMCA?
Rs: No, they wouldn’t let us belong back then. And I... my aunts, they lived in Indianapolis, and they enrolled me in the Senate Avenue Y, in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the summertime, when I was 12, we went down to Camp Bedford for ten days, to what you called a Y camp. Those ten days only cost $14. You got three meals a day, a crab shop, and everything else. That was in Bedford, Indiana. But it was a black Yin Indianapolis that went down there. But you couldn’t get into the Y here in Marion.
Lw: I know that you were involved in the protesting of the pools. Can you talk a little bit about that
Rs: We, the NAACP, they met with the Board of Works, about swimming in the pool. And they said, “You would have to see the mayor.” So we went to Mayor Leech, and he said, we’d have to go back to the park board. The park board said, we’d have to go to the council. So we went all of those steps, then we met with the city council. Then the city council wanted to give us one day, Thursday, that we could swim. Then I think it was Henry (Henry Mills) that asked them, “What are you gonna do? After we swim the one-day, empty the pool, scrub it...” So, they told us, we took all of those steps... and one guy, his name was Talbot, he said, no he’d never let us swim. Then they told us, if we wanted to swim, we’d have to go to court. I think they thought we was going to go to the county court. And since back then, the pools was segregated all of over the United Slates. So we went, and got some attorneys out of Indianapolis, Indiana, Patrick Chevas and Willard Ransom. Then they came up and talked with us, and they told us the steps we had to take. So we went out to seek admission at the pool. We took two students, who were honor students at the high school, Jewette Jackson and Meredith Ward. Then there was five adults; Carlyle Gulliford, C. D. Banks, Henry Mills, Pearl Bassett, and me. So we went out, and when Meredith and Jewette went down, they told them they couldn’t swim. So then we went back to the attorneys and told them what happened. So they said, “What we need is some pictures, to have proof that the pool was open, and kids were swimming.” And that’s when we got Marilyn’s brother, Chet Pettiford. He was a photographer back then. And he went out next lime, and he took pictures of the pool being open and the hours posted on the door, and Jewette and Meredith going down to seek admittance. The second week we went, Carey Meyer was the sheriff and they knew we were coming. I guess they thought we were going to raise a boatload of sand. You know, I could say something else. (laughing) They had just plain citizens deputized, just like you in your clothes you have on now, he deputized some of them, just to have enough enforcers there. And they would walk around with guns on their hips. I wish I had those pictures, because I had a picture of this one guy, who had a pistol on his hip and a cigar in his mouth. And I said,”Are we supposed to go down there to try and get in the pool?” They said, “Yes, it’s just part of it” So they didn’t do nothing when we went down, but it was kind of scary. Mr. Pettiford took the pictures, and those were the proof when we had. When we filed the suit in the Federal Court of Fort Wayne, Indiana, they said they had been hearing about us wanting to swim in Marion, Indiana We went to the Lincoln Tower Building in Fort Wayne, and they turned their entire.., there was a firm there in that building, at we went to federal court, because we had to get so many papers and briefs together to file on it. And they turned their entire staff over to our NAACP legal council that afternoon, to get the papers filed. When we got back home that evening the US Marshall’s came, and they filed with the mayor, and the city council. They did it that fast.. .they come and wanted to know, would we be willing to go to South Bend, Indiana Because they couldn’t get it on the docket in Fort Wayne before the summer was over, and they knew that we wanted to swim before summer was over. So, they transferred... they called South Bend to see if we could get it on the docket in South Bend. So that was about a month later, maybe. Then we went to South Bend, Indiana. Lloyd Cochran was the city attorney and it takes a certain attorney to practice before a federal bench. Just can’t every attorney go before a federal bench. Marion had to hire a law firm out of South Bend to represent them along with Mr. Cochran to go before the federal bench, opposing us swimming. At noon. they called a recess, and the attorneys for South Bend that were representing Marion city told them they had no choice but to let us swim, or they was going to withdraw from the case, the attorneys from South Bend. So we went before the bench that afternoon, and judge granted us permission to swim and that all public facilities would be open to everyone. That included all the Grant County or it was subject to a $2,000 per day fine. And we used to couldn’t be able to swim at Clearwater, so that included Clearwater also, but we never attempted to swim at Clearwater. When we got back home... they used to sell papers twice a day back then, the Chronicle did. One was called the Leader Tribune and the other was called the Chronicle. When we got back home that evening the man at the bank corner, he would sell the papers, and it said, “Park Pool Open to Everyone’. That fast they got the news. So that’s the way it went Then the first day we went out, I didn’t attempt to swim, but Don Hawkins, he was a city policeman, a big strong looking guy, he was swimming I guess he was there just to make sure anything happened But we went on swimming and didn’t anything happen at all. Then eventually the years went on and they got rid of the pool. As you notice, there’s no pool out there now. So that’s about the gist of that.
Lw: Did you ever have any trouble finding work, or what kind of jobs did you have?
Rs: Mainly, the only trouble I had was when I went to work at the post office. I took the Civil Service Exam, and Art Hall and I were the only two (blacks) to pass. When postmaster Kilgour called me in for an interview he said, ‘If you’ve got a good job, I’d stay on that job.’ So I told my mailman, which was Bould McKillan, that I had a chance to go, but Mr. Kilgour said I’d probably only be able to work the summer months, and then I’d be out. So he said, “There’s plenty of work” So I went ahead and took the job... We was setting in the break area (Roger Smith and Paul King), and I asked Paul, I said, “I started not to take this job.” And he said, “Well, why?’ I said, “Because Mr. Kilgour told me there’d probably not be enough work” And Paul King, whom was white, we became friends, and he told me, “He told me there’d be plenty of work.” So see, by refusing I would have blew my chance of working there. It was hard to be promoted. Mr. Carlyle Gulliford, he was 15 days short of 20 years in the Postal Service. He was a diabetic, and got stuck in the snow. I guess his diabetes took over, and he just went back in the post office, because he became ill. And left the mail that he hadn’t delivered there, and told them that he was sick and had to go home. So they claimed that he brought the mail in and just walked out. At that time, he was president of the NAACP, and see he was one of them that filed to get into the swimming pool. And he was one of them that filed to eat at the old Desota Hotel, when they wouldn’t serve us. So I guess they figured they would retaliate and get rid of him. So he was dismissed from the service. And Aubrey Perkins, he told us about a predominate black postal union. He lived in Detroit at that time, and worked in the Postal Service. So we joined up with the union, the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees. Then we got all the blacks to sign up in the Marion Post Office, which at that time there was fourteen of us. So, five of us took courses in management, so we could advance ourselves. So when the next job became open, we all applied for it They usually picked three guys out of the interview, and there was eight people that interviewed, five black and three white. And the Postal Service made a mistake, because they picked the three white, and didn’t pick on black at all. So we filed an EEO complaint, again against the Postal Service. And Theodore Reed, he was the number one in seniority, and he had taken the courses also. One day, he called me, and he said he was working through a lawyer here in Marion to see if he could get promoted It was like the day that Kennedy got shot. I told Theodore, “Why don’t you check back with him, because I heard there was an opening And they want to give it to me.” And I knew Theodore was ahead of me. So when I got back to the post office James Gartland told me, “Well, you’re not going to get that job, but Theodore will.” And I said, “Well good.” Because he was the senior man, you know, he had more seniority than me. So he became the first black supervisor in the postal service. Then it goes to show you how things work out. One of the guys, Bud Packard, soon after that he retired, so it left another opening. They had to offer me the job. So they said to me, “What if you don’t get the job? What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m gonna do just like Mr. Reed did, I’ll file an EEO against you.” So it came that we had two black supervisors over the carriers. Then I went in for an interview, it was interesting. Because you know, when you go in for an interview to be promoted it’s like, “Yes sir. No sir.”, being all polite. And! done went through that once. So the second time we went for an interview, for the job interview, they had Earl Green who was a clerk and a supervisor on the clerk’s side, and there was guy named Graham and Joe Thompson. So when I went in for the interview, the first question I asked, I said, “Earl, are you what they call the minority man on the review board for the interview?” And he said, “I would say so.” And you’ll have to excuse me for saying this, I said, “They picked a damn poor one.” So that ended my interview. They said, “We don’t have nothing else to ask you.” I said I felt much better, because the first time I went I was “Yes sir and no sir.”, and that didn’t do no good But then years down the road Earl got to be postmaster, I said, “Oh my god, I’m in trouble now.” But that was the main place I worked, I worked at RCA. I was making about $4000 a year, $4200 at RCA, but the post office only paid me $4000. It doesn’t sound real does it. But I worked there 38 years. And I ended up in management there. But now there’s only two blacks in the postal service, and I don’t know what happened We got a post-master form Gas City, and for some reason he just hires people from out in the county, far away as Peru and LaFontaine. It was quite interesting because when I was in management we had a meeting and I said, “When are we going to hire some minorities? And Joe Thompson made the statement, “Look how they come out on the SAT test.” And I said, “Well that ain’t got nothing to do with it” But I walked out of the meeting cause I said, “They might as well change the name from the Marion Post Office to the Grant County Post Office, because they was hiring everybody from out in the county.” And Mr. Drake who is postmaster now, he was assistant postmaster then, came into my office and said, “I don’t appreciate how you war blowing smoke at us in the meeting” And I said, “The best thing you do, Drake, is go back out that door the way you came in, because I am in no mood to talk.” But you just have to stand up sometimes. They call it rocking the boat, but sometimes you’ve got to rock it My daughter Regina, who’s Eric’s mother, she was in the brownie troop at McCulloch. She come home, they was going to do to the Idyll Wyld to skate. And told Glenda, “They won’t let her skate.” Glenda said, “Well, she’s with the brownies. They’ll let her skate with the group.” She was gone about ten minutes, wasn’t she Glenda. They called and told us to pick her up, because she couldn’t skate. See I was upset, I was mad. That was Eric’s mother. It’s been an interesting life, but Marion had been far ahead compared to other cities. Like Fort Wayne and even Kokomo, they had black policemen and even firemen here. I know they had a black policeman in Kokomo, named Henry. They wouldn’t let him arrest nobody but black people. So see, in Marion in someways it was better, you know, than other cities around, like Muncie. Glenda and! went to Muncie with her sister and Carlyle. And back then Richmond and Muncie was the powerhouses in high school football, so we said we was going to go to a football game. We went over to a drive-in to get some hamburgers, because we knew we couldn’t go in and eat. And the girl kept walking around and walking around. So I said, “Hey, I want some hamburgers.” She said, “I’m sorry” I said, “I’m going to take them with me.” She wouldn’t even give us carry out service. Boy, if I would have had a hand grenade, I would �have walked out and threw it on top of the building But that happened didn’t it Glenda. Right there at the fieldhouse. But like I said, Carlyle Gulliford and I went to the school board meeting and asked when they was going to hire black teachers. They said they knew what was there for, but they still didn’t hire anybody. Oatess Archey was the first one they hired, and they hired him as a janitor, and a sergeant of arms over at that school by the coliseum. He marked the track out. Miss Pate, she used to teach back out at the DA Payne, the school your grandmother showed you. They told her when they built Center Township, see DA Payne used to be in the county.. .Fred Ratliff Mrs. Nevada Pate was teacher there, and he told her she had to choices, she couldn’t teach at Center Township School, she could either resign or be fired. After all those years of walking from Washington Street to DA Payne and building a fire for those kids and everything. Yeah, you might be interested in interviewing her sometime, she’s one of them old timers. She’d be able to tell you that
Lw: You talked about not be able to be served at the hotel, what were some of the other things they wouldn’t serve you at?
Rs: Well, the restaurants, I remember Meyer’s restaurant, down there at 10th and Washington... C.D. Banks, he was president (NAACP) then, and Stanley Morse, he was at Marion College, and they went out to Traveler’s Inn, which is on the bypass where Lloyd’s used to be, Lloyd’s Flower Shop. He was with some college students from Marion College at that time, and they wouldn’t serve him. He was black and in that group. So we went out there to seek service. They only had one waitress, and she said, ‘We don’t have this.’ We’d ask for this and ask for that, and she said, ‘We don’t have it.’ So, there was a pie case on the counter, that they would put pie in. So I asked for a piece of pie. So she got the pie out and threw it at me. So she went down the hallway. back toward the kitchen area, and it come to my mind then that we were all black males in there. I said, ‘We need to leave, because she’s going back to call the police.’ And so we did, and as we were leaving the police came up. And I said, “That’s the last time I go unless we’ve got a female with us.” Because she could have went back there and cut herself or anything and said we attacked her, and we could have been in trouble.
Lw: You talked about being in the NAACP, were you also in the Urban League?
Rs: Yeah I joined the Urban League also. I was a member of that for many years.
Lw: What types of things did you do for both of those groups?
Rs: Well, I was mainly just a card-carrying member for the Urban League. But the NAACP, they were really the only ones who could get the job done with segregation, because they would go to court.
Rs: As I was active in the NAACP and participating in these things, somebody shot through our house one night, and when we moved the dresser in the bedroom, you could see the plaster where the hole was. It hit the end of the dresser. That was when they was doing all the trouble. The police shot up the poolroom, which was the day care center, which is now connected to Wesleyan Health Care Center.
Lw: Was that during the riots of ‘69?
Lw: With that, what other types of things went on?
Rs: Well, the post office tried to get me also. Cause the postal inspectors were watching me on my route. Jim Davis he had Britt’s Moving and Storage, I carried his mail on 3rd Street, and he said, “What’s the postal inspector doing sitting down on Third Street for? I didn’t know it till he told me. So when I left the moving storage place I went down the alley, and come out right where they was sitting. And they took off. That was when we filed action against the Desota Hotel, which Mr. Kilgour was part manager and owner of. And so being that we belonged to the postal alliance, we reported this in, because I was being watched for no cause because it had nothing to do with the postal service, and the postal inspectors were for people who were stealing and stuff like that. They watch you, you know. So, I called them and everything and they invited my family and I, since I hadn’t taken my vacation, to come to Washington. So, Glenda and my four children, we went to Washington, and they took us down to postal department headquarters. The chief postal inspector, I was talking to him, and I gave him my report of Mr. Bruffey out spying on me. And he said, “Well, Bruffey isn’t supposed to be in Marion anymore, because he’s in cahoots with the postmaster on the Desota Hotel thing, where we couldn’t eat in the restaurant there. Well, I said, “Well Bruffey is in Marion.” So he told his secretary to call Marion, Indiana. So she called Marion, Indiana, and guess who answered the phone. Bruffey. The postal inspector told Bruffey right then, “You aren’t supposed to be in Marion. You’re supposed to be in Dayton, Ohio.” He said he was trying to get his kids out of school to transfer to Dayton. He said, “I’m gonna call back in a few days, and you’d better answer the phone in Dayton, Ohio.” So that meant all my years of being a member to the union of the postal alliance paid off to relieve me. Someone, you know, there spying on you trying to find something to fire you over. So I imagine it still has somethings. I don’t think RCA is up to snuff over there. I’ve lived here all my life. I was born next door, and moved here, I’ve been on Race Street. And we like go to the city try to get street improvements, sidewalks, because we’re right here at McCulloch school. We don’t get nothing done, even though we pay our taxes. As you can see, in the black neighborhood, Smith Brother’s and how you can go over there to that place on 33rd Street, its an excavating company. Now the one down on 10th Street have you noticed it, how they fixed it up? They put a fence up where you can’t see everything from the street and flowers and plants. That’s the way these people are supposed to do. It’s the same as a junkyard in the city limits. They got a statute on the books for the city of Marion where they have to put a fence up, a privacy fence, where you can’t see all the junk. When you leave here, you go with your grandmother over to Selby Street, go the next block to 33rd and go west. If that ain’t a junkyard, then I’m not sitting here talking to you. They got old beat up buses, old trucks, and its in the neighborhood. I’m not going to move. Just take him down by there and let him look at it But Marion.. .1 would just assume live here as anywhere else.
Mp: You mentioned the Desota Hotel, did they let go in the other ones like the Spencer?
Rs: No, see the way it came about with the Desota Hotel was it was a bus station. That had a bus station there, and a person from up in Michigan or something came through on a bus, and they wouldn’t serve him. So he reported up there, and they wrote back to the NAACP here, and that’s how we went to check it out And the funniest thing was, they had a church conference here. They sent a light complected guy down to see if he could get a room. Then the black guy, the dark complected guy, they wouldn’t give him a room. (laughing) Two white boys come to the football game kids ran in and got me. And I went over there, and two black guys, they jumped on these two white boys. I said, “What did you jump on there two white boys for?” They said, “Man, whitey has been kicking you in the booty all your life.” And I said, “Yeah but I got a father, what if he be over in north Marion and they decide to jump him?” Bout that time somebody called the police, and their names came up. And Amos asked them, “Where you guys from?” And they said, “We’re from Detroit.” And I said, “Well, why don’t you go back to Detroit? Whitey has been kicking you in the booty up there.” And Amos said, “You’re from Detroit?” They said, “Yeah, whitey’s been kicking you in the butt all your life.” Shoot, Amos put in the squad car and took them down town. I ain’t playing, I remember, he did. But you know, you can’t be that way. I went over to the high school. I used to be real active in the NAACP, and I went to the football game, and these kids, you know, when you go up the steps. They was making all these noises. Jimmy Miller was over there, and he said, that’s they way they do now. But see that’s being disrespectful, you can’t be disrespectful of other people. I mean it makes you look bad. You see it over at the high school yourself probably. I mean you’ve got to use your head and respect one another, you can’t be disrespectful to another person.