Roger Smith Transcription draft
For my United States History Advanced Placement project, I decided to interview a person well known in Marion, IN. His name is Mr. Roger V. Smith. Smith was one of the leaders of the local coalition to integrate the swimming pool at Matter Park in Marion. Here is his story.
Myself: “Mrs. Owensby told me that you helped to integrate the Marion pool…”
Myself: “and that you worked for other Civil Rights here in Marion and in other places. Uhm, she told me stories about how the young African American children had to go to the Anderson pool instead of going to the Marion pool which was only here for whites. So how did that start?”
Smith: “Well, when we was comin’ up uh, we had go to Anderson. They had a community center over in Anderson and we had to go over there and swim. They wouldn’t let us swim here in Marion. Plus we went out to Deer Creek, a little ol’ creek out on 15 there, to swim you know, then we met later on in life, after we had a family and we were very active in the NAACP, and we wanted our children to have a place to swim. Which was Matter Park.
Smith: So we met with the City Counsel, they told us to go to the Park Board so we went to the Park Board. Met with them and they told us to go to the Mayor, so we went to the Mayor. The Mayor told us we had to go to the counsel since he had nothing to do with it. So we went to the counsel again. And they wanted to give us one day out of the week. And Henry Mills was very active then and Mr. C.B. Banks he was active, he’s our president of the local branch. And we said, ‘No, we won’t accept one day of the week.’ So we got an attorney, Mr. Pat Savis and Willard Ransom out of Indianapolis. We filed a suit against the City of Marion”
Smith: In Federal Court in Fort Wayne. So we went to Fort Wayne and the Judge up there couldn’t get us on the docket for the summer session. So he called South Bend and was able to get us on the docket at South Bend. So therefore we went to South Bend, Indiana in Federal Court and uh, the city had to have a special attorney to practice before a federal offence. Every attorney can’t go before a federal judge. So Marion had to hire and attorney and they met that morning and the City of Marion still didn’t wanna let us swim the whole week. So finally at 11:30 that day, they told them that if they didn’t accept to open the pool up to us at all times, they would walk out. So they had no choice. And when we back in the afternoon session and the judge ruled that we’d be able to swim plus all public facilities in Marion and Grant County would be open to everyone. And that’s how the suit became and got the pool open. And the members that filed the suit were: Mr. C.B. Banks, Henry C. Mills, Pearl Bassett, Cordar Gulliford, Julette Jackson, Meredith Ward, and me, Roger Smith. A lotta people(including the Marion Urban League) will tell ya that they was in on the suit, but those were the seven that were in on the suit. There wasn’t no others in on it, but they wanted to take credit afterwards.
Smith: So, we had to have pictures of them refusin’ us into the pool. So we sent Meredith Ward and Julette Jackson, who were both honor students at the high school down to seek admittance, and Mr. Chester Pettiford took pictures of the pool being open and kids swimming, and uhm, when they went up to get admission, they slammed the door in their face. And uh, so uh we went through a lot because we had to go back and they had just plain citizens walkin’ around with guns on their hips to keep us out. But the federal court ruled that we were permitted to swim so that overseated the City of Marion and the County of Grant to keep us out of the pool.
Myself: Okay, thank you for that.
My interview then continued to discuss some other Civil Rights issues that Mr. Roger V. Smith undertook. Here he talks about the re-naming of Justice Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Marion, IN along with issues about his daughter, Regina, and the desegregation of other public facilities.
Smith: When Thurgood Marshall passed away, my grandson, Eric Banks, we were watching his service on T.V., and uh, so Eric asked me, he said ‘Who was Thurgood Marshall?’ I explained who he was and uh, went on back to explain since he liked sports, about Crispus Attucks and uh, about him integratin’ the schools and everything else. That was Thurgood Marshall. And I told him about Crispus Attucks High School, which had a basketball team in Indianapolis. And uh, so Eric asked, ‘Why don’t we have a school named after a black’ you know, and it came to my mind that we had Justice School so I said we’d see if I would go before the school board and me and uhm a couple students, can’t remember his first name, he was Loni White’s son, and I went before the school board, to not change the name, but to add the name Thurgood Marshall to Justice School. And uh, they voted unanimous to change the name to Justice Thurgood Marshall, and that’s how it came about. The idea of me naming’ it Justice Thurgood Marshall School. That was one of the things then, of course we had to integrate the hotels and the restaurants and we were involved in it and we’d go to a restaurant and if they didn’t serve, we’d seek service then we’d go to the prosecutors so they’d open em up and make for service you know. Then because it was the law. And uh, same with my daughter and the Idle Wyld skatin’ rink. Regina, she belonged to the Brownie Troop at the McCulloch school and uh, they had a skating party and I told my wife they wouldn’t let Gina swim, I mean skate, and uh Glenda said, ‘Let her go anyhow.’ Bout a half hour later, they called me up to come pick up Gina, because they wouldn’t let her skate. Then, those things were very upsetting to me you know because, but now, that’s all passed, and we can skate. Used to have to go out on Highway 15 North — Highway 9 North and skate. And uh, I think they have their proms out there now.”
Myself: Yeah, we just had ours on Saturday!
Smith: Right. Then in the postal service, uh we had 14 blacks in the postal service at that time. So a job opening come up, upgrade yourself and they picked three candidates. And so uh, they didn’t pick a black in the top three. So we filed an EEO complaint against the Postal Service. And therefore, Theodore Reed was a senior member and he wanted to be promoted to the first black supervisor in the postal service. So by him becoming the first black supervisor— or manager, by another gentleman, Bill Packard, didn’t wanna work with Theodore. So that left an opening for me! So they called me and asked me and said there’d be another opening but they already named one black, and you filed a suit also, they said, ‘What would you do if you didn’t get the job?’ I said, ‘I’d do the same thing, I’d file a suit all over again.’ So therefore Mr. Reed and I became the first black supervisors in the postal service in Marion, Indiana. Therefore later on, Mr. Earl Green came back as postmaster and of course a lot of guys, they resented having two blacks over em you know, and the sad story about today, we only have one black in the postal service. And I like to say this to the young people today, anytime there’s a civil service exam to get into the postal service, take the exam! Because it’s a good paying job, and it’s kinda sad and disheartening to me, that they only have the one black, Mr. Humphrey, and he’s doing an excellent job. The guy that’s postmaster now, don’t care nothing’ about blacks, not at all, that’s how we down to one. He never would replace or hire any blacks. And you really gotta take exams to be qualified to be in line before you can do anything about it.
Myself: Wow, that’s good!
Smith: That was a thing they put on you, you know, because you spoke up when there was injustice, you know, and I always felt like you know, I had a wife and four children and I wanted to make things better for them and uh, where I saw discrimination and things, well, I spoke up! Then you’d be classified as a troublemaker you know. Its like I’d go to a store. They had a tippy store out north. I’d go in and I didn’t see no blacks workin’ so I’d ask the manager, and I’d ask him. ‘Do you have any blacks workin’? and they’d say no. then I’d say ‘Well don’t you think you should hire some? If you want me to spend my money here. And the saddest thing about we as black people, when we get black professionals in this community like a dentist, we have Dr. Woods, Dr. Price, Dr. Breckenridge, our people won’t patronize them. Even funeral directors, they’d rather go to white funeral directors than the black …. Actually the black ain’t getting no business, he can’t come up with the best lookin’ funeral home, the best Hurst and all that stuff you know. But Mr. Watkins, he was a black funeral director and a lot of blacks wasn’t aware of it, but Needham and Sons would get him to prepare the people—the black people’s bodies for them. And that’s one thing you’ve got to learn, we ALL want to succeed in life and for us to do better, we have to patronize our own people so they can have the money to have the best facilities. Plus you got to think about it, you’re in school and you know that if you don’t succeed, you aren’t gonna make it as a black. You know that your expectations are usually higher than for whites to make it. And I look at a black doctor, He knows more about my body, than a white doctor. Plus a black doctor is gonna have to study harder to be qualified to make it through medical school, and that’s a long hall—getting’ through medical school. Same with a dentist. We’ve got to learn to patronize those people! It’s not that you’re segregatin’ yourself, it’s that you’re helping one another to make better for the future you know. So you keep up with everybody else and show that you can do what they’re doin’
After the interview, Mr. Roger V. Smith went on to discuss with me issues of today’s young people. He shared with me the reasons to keep pushing forward with my dreams, despite the setbacks. Mr. Smith, in his 80s, looked back on his youth and gave me advice on how to make my generation the best it could be.