Personal narrative of Xen Stewart
From: Xen Stewart (Xs)
Date: Friday, May 07, 1999
Place: Home of Xen Stewart, 3625 S. Landess St. #2
Collected by: William Whitticker (ww)
00:00 ww: I am William Whitticker. This is Friday May 7, 1999. This is being recorded at 3625 S. Landess St. #2 Marion Indiana. I am speaking with Xen Stewart (xs). Please state your name.
xs: My name is Xen Stewart.
ww: Do I have permission to interview you?
xs: Yes sir you do.
ww: Do I have permission to submit this interview to Marion High School?
xs: Yes Sir you do.
ww: Do I have permission to submit this interview to the Marion Public Library?
xs: Yes sir you do.
00:38 ww: Where did you grow up at?
xs: I grew up at 3605 S Landess St. in the city of Marion.
00:45 ww: Did you have any parts of Weaver Indiana?
xs: Only to the extent that I was born out there but I didn’t get a chance to go to old Weaver school because we moved to Marion before I was old enough to go to school, but I had a lot of relatives out there and I remember a few things I used to see when I went back out there to visit.
01:07 ww: Could you tell me some things about Weaver that you remember?
xs: Oh yes we used to go back out there to the Weaver school and they had a play by the name of the Old District School. The play shows the life and times of an old district school they way they lived and the things that happened. It was quite comic and educational and the people for Marion would go back out there when they gated the place and would you believe it that the place was full out there. We used to have people sitting in the windows of the school because it was so crowded, and they all wanted to so the play called the Old District School, and it was an interesting thing to watch.
01:54 ww: What was Marion like back then?
xs: Well now that was before I could well to a degree. We had the streetcars I remember riding the streetcars down town from south Marion and it only cost a nickel to ride. You could trust the people around you also could go all the way from south Marion leave your doors unlock, go down town around the square that was the main part of town, do your shopping, come back home and nobody would bother a thing. You just didn’t have to worry about locking your doors because people trust each other in those days. It was just a wonderful time to live as far as relationship between family and neighbors concern. They cared about one another and looked out for each other and just as a kid I had to pump wash water, water for drinking and eating, and when you took a bath, you had to pump water for that and heat the water on the stove cause there was no inside plumbing. It was the time in which you were more less involved in the physical part of life rather than the push buttons of society. Times were pretty rough but we made and I never did go hungry, and I made my on toys by taking a roller skate, take it a parts get two boards lay in on the back parts it and nail it to the back. Then take another board and lay it on the front part in an upright position and put another on the top to make it a scooter, that how we used to make toys back then. We flew kites and this was all in the city of Marion cause that’s where I grew up at and I use to go to McCulloch Middle School at the time when it was just one building, we had from the 1st to the 9th grade and all in one building but we also had vacant seats in some of the class rooms. We had the mid termers who graduated at Christmas time and we had 7 a and 7 b. The A’s would graduate at Christmas and the B’s would go head and graduate in June. So it was just a two class system as far as A’s and B’s and there were less A’s than there where B’s because they would rather graduate in the fall than in the middle of the year.
04:52 ww: Do you believe that Marion was segregated or racist?
xs: Oh I knew it was. In movie theaters we had to sit in the balcony. There was one place called the Luna-Light and the Lyrics theaters. We had to sit on one side because there was only one floor. At the Indiana Theater and the Paramount, we had to sit in the balcony. As far as riding the streetcars and stuff like that you could sit wherever you wanted to sit. A lot of restaurants you couldn’t eat at them. At
drugstores you couldn’t sit down at the counter and have soda and ice cream. I never experienced this but one time in high school all the Negro children’s lockers were on the bottom floor in high school. Now I don’t remember if I happened to me but I never experience it. Before well even during the time I was in high school, the track team, football team didn’t make any difference as far as minorities on the team, but when it came to basketball I can only remember one person that was Doc Pettiford but it might have been two but no more than that on the basketball team in those times. There was segregation. You couldn’t go into barbershops and family restaurants, until 1949 when the state passed the Public Accommodation Law where places of public had to serve you. I remember going to different restaurants in Marion, and this was probably in the 50’s when I did work for the NAACP we would go to different restaurants and some of them refused you and we carried a copy of the state statue for public accommodation in our pockets. We would take it out and show them and they had to serve us. Eventually things got taken care of. There was segregation and discrimination back when I was a kid growing up in Marion.
07:32 ww: What was family life like back then?
xs: Family life was more family oriented. I come from a big family so we had a big ole round table, and when the meals were fixed we all sat down and there was no one eating at this time and not liken that or liken that. Whenever the food was on the table you would eat what was there and we didn’t waste food because we couldn’t afford to waste food from a large family. I learned to eat about anything that was put on the table in front of me, and I still love some cornbread and beans today and I still love that. The families were more close nit, neighbors were more close nit, as far as the enter relationships among one another and they were just they were more approaching. You knew who your neighbors were and knew when strangers came into the neighborhood but the families where more oriented then as I believe than what they are now.
08:35 ww: What was church life like back then?
xs: Well actually I didn’t go to church that much when I was a kid, but when I did I went I would go with my dad. He was a member at Hills Chapel AME church in Weaver. It was quite aways out there that I remember going out there on visitations sometimes to the church out there because of how far it was away. As a kid I can remember in the back about 1940’s probably late 1930’s early 1940’s went out there and I was just a historical place out there. There was a big old steeple on the church out there and use to have a old big old round potbelly stove like what we use to have to heat your homes and they would burn wood and coal and stuff in it. But church people were more less together in a lot of things because that to a degree the social life revolved around the church. You may go to church and people would talk about this may go to church and would stay all day. Sometimes you would bring your lunch basket to church and go to church then sit down and eat and have a meal then have some more church. I don’t specifically remember ever doing that but I remember going back there for visitations once in a while and I also visited Allen Temple AME church sometime with my dad but in my early life I wasn’t never really to a degree say really in the church. That came later on in my life when I started going to Bethel AME church on 10th and Nebraska St.
12:36 ww: What did you do for entertainment other than going to the movies?
xs: Oh I remember going to parties in other people houses. I remember right down the street here at 3618 S. Landess St. they had a basement and we would have dances right down in the basement and that time and it was just us teenagers. I we couldn’t roller skate at Idyl Wyld Roller Rink so we had to go to Kokomo and skate and they had a big old tent set out there and they would have all day skating and a skating program. Well at that time, well I couldn’t swim anyway you couldn’t swim in Matter Pack so we had to go Anderson to swim over there. And then we had a softball team. We had all teenagers and the name of our team was the Flashers. There also was another team over us called the Reds and we had a girls team called the Redetes. And Sunday afternoons after church in all and we would go over to a place over here behind McCulloch Middle School by the football field there was a softball diamond also and when you talk about some softball we had softball games out there. We would draw nice crowds out there because they knew when the Flashers played the Reds that there was going to be a good softball game going on. Far as other things we would walk from south Marion in order to save money, all the way downtown to watch and enjoy a movie. And on Saturday afternoon, they had a field day in maybe in Captain Marble, Track America, Cowboy shows you had to go from one event to another so we kept going back every weekend to see what would happened. So we more less made our own things to play with as far as things concerning entertainment and we didn’t have props in all and money to buy that so we had to what we could afford as for toys. We had to share with the other kids because if we didn’t and there was a fight, commotion, or just plain in trouble, we would know what would happen to us and that our parents would take care of the situation, which usually was a whipping.
14:55 ww: What kind of jobs did your parents have?
xs: Well my mom never really in a sense worked. She stayed home and took care of us children. My dad he worked at the Marion Machine Foundry. That was when there was a lot of iron in this part of the country. He also would work out in the country on a farm to help a farmer that was old to help some people and pay for the bills. But mom was more less a homemaker. She was there when you went to school and she was there when we came home from school. Now once in a while she may go out and did some day work for someone that was less fortunate or she might have taken in some ironing and washing. Basically she was there to raise her children and to see if they got on the right track and they raised eight of us and to my knowledge they did a wonderful job because none of us wounded up in jail in prison beaten up somebody or robbing somebody no that we didn’t do anything wrong cause we did and we did we got it. Dad would whip us boys with razor traps and mom she would whip us with her hand most of the time. But uh they did it with love and compassion in their hearts when they did it. But we got our share of whippings and they were wonderful parents. And through thick in thin they stayed together until God separated them dad didn’t take off and leave cause maybe the money got short something like that and they stayed together until God separated them.
16:12 ww: What was life like during World War II?
xs: I was a kid at the time and I was a boyscouts and I could remember that I was what known as a messenger scout. We would practice what was known as a blackout, that means when all the lights in the city was shut off in case there was an air raid to come so that they would not know where to drop the bombs. My particular job was to run from one part of the city to the other and give messages and that’s how they communicated during that time. And also as a boyscout, I use to have to help on what was known as the scrap metal drive because they needed the metal for the war effort. As a kid I remember riding a truck to Upland to get scrap metal and I can also remember the ration stamp. The ration stamp could by you coffee, meat, stamps, and canned goods but there was so many of us in our family that we all had a ration stamp book so we really didn’t suffer in the food and a lot of the stamps we didn’t use. So we would trade sometimes trade our coffee stamps for fabric stamps with a family down the street which we maybe should not have done but we did because they were big coffee drinkers and they would give us stamps for food. So when had ration books stamps and tokens and it was a time when I went from 11 years old to 15 years old and during what you might say as my middle school years. We ran around as kids and you might say we had no real responsibilities as far as household things. Mom and dad would take care of that so we would run and play and had fun but we still had some chores to do back then also.
19:02 ww: What was Marion High School like back then?
xs: Well Marion High School was I think a lot more fun then, and I don’t know much about high school now but I know it was a lot saner then I know when we went to high school then ninth graders were still in middle school you went to high school as a sophomore tenth grader. They had a practice of initiating then boys when they got to high school and we would no this was going to happen to use. They would take the young fellas and put them on the water fountain turn the water on and then would rub the water all up in down their backsides. So first maybe two or three weeks I would wear black or dark pants to school and didn’t have to worry about a thing until one day when I didn’t have a dark pair of pants to wear that’s when Gene Stewart and Don Pettiford got me and they both are passed away now. They got me and stuck me in the water fountain and got me all wet up and down my backside so but that was part of life in high school. We had a lot of fun in sports played a little bit of football, a little bit of baseball and I tried to run track but I wasn’t all that fast so in a matter of fact one of my brothers told me that I run too long in one place what he was trying to say that I was too slow. But we had a lot of fun but there was some places where the whites could go and the blacks were not able to go in. One of the places was the Hiltop and something, but we couldn’t go to it but that didn’t stop me from getting an education. I didn’t stop me and I went on and got my education I took a college prepatory course a matter of fact I was told at that time even if you don’t go to college to take a college prepatory course don’t take a general course and later in life I saw how much it benefited me in being in the military service. It benefited because I got to take subjects that you couldn’t get in the general courses and I learned from it and it also gave me a edge over some guys in the service that didn’t take those classes and I got a break to be a dispatcher in the motor pool because other guys didn’t have the knowledge far as a general education concern. High school life was fun and as I look back on it I had a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.
21:34 ww: Marion how many people do you think were here back then.
xs: Well I can remember seeing a sign at the edge of town, 26,767 people that was the population of Marion and I remember little kids would put the population on the boards.
21:56ww: What kind of transportation did yall have?
xs: Well like I said we had the street cars right there on Washington Street and it would go out around the VA hospital and out West around the Malble but that was the main source of public transportation. A few people had cars, my dad had a car and then a lot of people had at that time horse and wagon. When World War II ended in 1945, a family named the Jones they had a horse and a son named Willy. He got the horse and wagon and we put an American flag on that thing and we rode all the way down town around the square and the people were celebrating. Stores were close and we got in that wagon and the bunch of us kids and took it around town come on back and a lot of people did a lot of walking in those times. And you might ride a bicycle and I had a bicycle and so did a lot of others. So there were different means of transportation like I said. There were streetcars, cars as a matter of fact in the winter time well you couldn’t do it know cause its too dangerous but we would do what was called hopping the car with our sleds. A car would come down the street ice and snow on the ground along with our sled and throw it down and grab on the bumper and we would go down the street and some big shot would try and throw us off but we would hang on and keep going down the street. Those were the main sources of transportation back then.
24:29 ww: Now did you go to any places out of town out of Marion?
xs: We would only go out to Gary Indiana cause my mom had a sister there but other than that everyone else was here around in Marion all of our relatives were here until World War II and one of my brothers went to Mortuary Science School and then he went to World War II. Then he came back and went to Indianapolis. As far as visiting other people in other cities I don’t recall doing much of that. We use to go back and visit Weaver and talk but other than that I don’t recall doing much traveling cause all of my relatives were here in Marion.
26:55 ww: You said you had a brother to go to World War II right?
xs: Yes I did
27:02 ww: What was it like having him in World War II?
xs: To me it was fascinating but to my mom it was probably frustrating because many mothers didn’t want to see their baby die in the service or in some war. Luckily he went in 1942 and came back after the war was over in 1945 and that when he got out. I idolized him for going over there and I still idolize him. For me it was just a kid growing up and I didn’t think too much about it. I know maybe once in a while my mom would be doing some day work and she would get a letter in the mail from him and it was called v-mail a small photothetic copy with a letter saying he wrote back and I knew where she worked and give her a call telling her that we had receive a letter from Richard. She would say yes and I would open it until she said yes and I read it to her and most of the letters said that he was okay. Like I said she would spend restless nights wondering what was happening to her son in the service and thank the almighty God that he made it back okay.
28:32 ww: How many brother and sister did you have?
xs: Well there ten of us all together, seven boys three girls and my mom was telling he that two of my brothers had died at birth. Five boys and three girls lived right now there is three boys and two girls living so half of what was originally born are still living. I have a brother in Cincinnati, and sister in Anderson, and sister here and a brother here.
29:12 ww: Now do you remember a lot of people that are still around now?
xs: There are very few cause right here where I sit today I grew up a block away. The ones that grew up in this neighborhood I believe except for all the ones around my age group some of them are still around but some are also gone. The older ones that grew up in this neighborhood, I don’t believe some of them are even living or in a nursing home. They are all passed away and the only one I that I came remember who lived on this street was Eleweese Hawkins and she still lives down there a couple of house down the street. But the other ones they are all gone.
30:20 ww: Did you go to college?
xs: I took just about a year in business college then I went into the service and I got out and I had the GI Bill of Rights the education part of it so I did take about almost one year of business college in Marion.
31:00 ww: So did you like Marion as a whole with all of the racism?
xs: Oh yes cause it was home. You know something, I never really got mad or got upset cause I couldn’t go other places that other kids could go because that was just they way of life during that time. We still would have our fun by having parties and just doing fun stuff and it never stopped from continuing with my life and say I was gonna give up and not do anything else with my life. I know when I decided to join the service right after I got out of high school because they use to look so nice in those old fancy uniforms you know and the dress outfit and everything but when I went to join the Marines, they told me well we have our quota and that we couldn’t take you so I join the Army. They didn’t stop me from getting in the military at that time but I didn’t have a good enough job nor did I have the athletic potential to get a scholarship and I did have one offer to go to a place called Virginia Union but I didn’t want to go south but when I join the service I had to go down south to Texas. But it didn’t stop me from what I wanted to do.
32:30 ww: What kind of jobs did you have back then?
xs: Well I tell you what. Starting out as a kid I use to cut grass with a push mower and the power was your legs. I use to work at a bean field, corn field, tomato field, spinach field, also bail hay anything that was needed done I would try my best to do. There was a guy by the name of Jasper Wilson that would take us kids in the summer time and would contract with a farmer to take the weeds out of a particular field, we would do it by hand and we had hoes to cop the weeds out of the fields and the kids enjoyed doing the work for him, and he never had any shortages in helpers. I shined shoes for a living in a barbershop, washed dishes in a restaurant, I painted houses even as a kid and I would do this just to make a buck. When I got out of the service I went to work at Anaconda and worked there for 14 years and I decided to quit and go to the post office and was there until last year when I retired from there in 1998. I was always the working type because I always wanted money and I remember that there was a minister next door and her would give me a nickel to walk from Harmon to right across from McCulloch School to buy a stamp for three cents put the stamp on the letter and mail it and I was able to keep two cents of it. With that money, I was able to spend my money on candy.
35:09 ww: What would you spend most of your money on?
xs: Well when I was kid I would save up and when I graduated from high school, I made enough money to by my graduation suit as a kid. My mom would also save money for me so I would know how much to save of course she would keep it for me, but I would buy parts for my bicycle when something went wrong with it but when I was a little kid I would spend my money on candy and pop.