African-American Oral Histories
Clip 3: Transcript
Effects of Poverty
Running Time: 6 min 59 sec
AE: My parents were not married to one another. My father lived in Dayton, Ohio, so my mother was on welfare. And we grew up in extreme poverty in a rural community where there was no jobs, except for working seasonally in tobacco or working on a horse farm. Most people were unemployed. There was a lot of poverty. We didn’t feel out of place because everybody was poor around us. But we, we were among the poorest of the poor. We lived in an alley off the street because we couldn’t afford to live on the street for a number of years, and finally moved up to a duplex, and, we struggled. My mother got sick with tuberculosis ‘cause she smoked a lot, drank a lot.
I went to live with my grandmother, and that’s when life started to change, ‘cause she was a strict disciplinarian, and a very wise woman for someone with a third grade education. She imparted some of the greatest wisdom I’ve received from anybody I’ve met on earth. Salt of the earth, hard-working, honest woman, spent her entire life as a cook for a white family. She worked for a family on a small plantation, and then when she got too old to put out to pasture they, well, they got too old, they gave her to their daughter, and she became a cook for the daughter’s family, in town. And, with my grandmother’s help, and I had an aunt also, my mother’s sister, half-sister, and she had two master’s degrees. She was enthusiastic about education. Aunt Karen pushed all of us to excel. Her own three kids--I remember my first cousin, Mary, making a ‘B’ one time, and crying for hours and hours ‘cause she knew her mother would be disappointed. Her mother wasn’t really that disappointed, but her mother wanted her to work harder. I don’t remember her making a ‘B’ again. So, because of my aunt’s influence, that made me believe I could.
So, I applied for University of Kentucky, which was a white school, and there were very few African Americans there. And to my surprise I was accepted. So I went to UK, and I spent one year there. And I was still living in Paris and commuting back and forth, but I didn’t have a car. But there was a lady who lived in town who worked at the University, and our families were very well acquainted, so, she wanted me to get an education. She would pick me up every day, and give me a ride to the outskirts of town. Then I’d walk seven miles to campus, then walk back after class and wait for her to come home, and catch a ride back home, seventeen miles between Paris and Lexington. And that went on for a year.
Then I dropped out to get some more money ‘cause I was on student loan only. And, I didn’t go back, at all, and had lost hope of ever getting a chance to go back, and in August of 1969 I got a letter from UK telling me I was readmitted.
But I didn’t have any money. So, I went down to the club, or the bar where me and my friends hung out, four of us--drank beer, talked, tell lies, tell stories. And I told the guys, “It’s a dagone shame. I just got this letter saying I can go back to school, and I don’t have a dagone, [quick laugh] I don’t have a penny.” And this one guy said, “What’s it take for you to go to school?” I said, “Tuition’s four hundred dollars.” He said, “If you go with me tomorrow, I’ll get you four hundred dollars.” I said, “How?” He said, “All you gotta’ do is drive the car. Piece a cake.” So. He was going on a marijuana pick. I drove the car. When we got back to town after gathering the marijuana, we were stopped by a police officer.
JR: You were gathering it from?
AE: From a field in the country. We were stopped. It was four of us in the car. Other three guys jumped out and ran. The officer asked me what I was doing. I told him we were just driving, partying. He says, he had gotten a call, someone’d seen us screeching off. There was no marijuana in the car, that I knew of. What had happened was, the guy who was a dealer, had somebody coming in from Ohio, he told us, to pick it up. So, we took it out to a little farm, it had a tin roof, and spread it out on the tin roof for it to dry. So we left it there, and went back to wait for it to dry, to come back later and get it. But, en route, one of the plastic bags that we put it in, burst, and it spilled all over everything. So one of the guys went to his house and got a sheet, and we picked it up and put it in the sheet, wrapped it up and took it on out there. And, we decided, after we put it out, we’d leave the sheets there. And we agreed on that. But the one guy who was the dealer decided he was going to save them for his next trip. Well, he didn’t tell me that. He didn’t tell any of us that. So he threw it in the trunk when none of us was looking. So when the Officer said, “Will you follow me downtown?” I said, “Yeah, gladly,” thinking, “ I know I’m outta’ this now because I don’t have anything on me.” And I didn’t smoke marijuana at the time. We went downtown, he said, “You mind if I search your car?” I said, “It’s not my car, but I don’t mind if you search it.” He opened the trunk, there was the sheet. “You’re under arrest.” I spent two months in jail, and then went to trial. My court appointed lawyer was the brother of the prosecutor. And, my court appointed lawyer told me that being a first offender, and a college student, I’d get probation. I got two years in prison. The other three guys all got probation. The difference was, they made bail, I didn’t. That’s why I spent two months in jail. My family could not afford two thousand dollars in bail. They would have had to pay two hundred dollars, ten percent, and there was no way they could afford it, we were just much too poor.
“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”
Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.
Date of Interview:
April 23, 2004
Mr. Evan’s office at NOKOA, the Observer, Austin, Texas