Dorothy Miller was born in 1930 at home, an apartment building on Bainbridge Street between Third and Fourth Streets. She grew up in another apartment building, 702 Lombard. Her family included her parents, who had come to Philadelphia from Greensboro, North Carolina, and two brothers. She shares her memories of family, friends, schools, church, playgrounds, and other details of the neighborhood where she has lived all her life. She speaks of her Depression-era childhood with great affection.
She says, “Things were so much different than they are today.... And what made it so much more different than what you see today is neighbors were neighbors. People lived together, white and black.... We never knew anything about black and white and all this kind of thing.... I never ran into anything like that until once we started fighting for these houses here. That's when I ran into the prejudice business.”
Dorothy is referring to the protracted, rancorous conflict over introducing some Section 8 housing in Society Hill to accommodate a few people – low-income and predominately African-American–who, like Dorothy, had lived their entire lives in or near Society Hill and were about to lose their homes to urban renewal. When Dorothy learned that she and her father were among them, she became an activist. She organized friends and neighbors, including Sam Maitin, who was instrumental in bringing in the Society Hill Civic Association and securing the help of Community Legal Services.
It was a long and difficult struggle, but the outcome was three buildings on Sixth Street between Panama and Lombard Streets, with a total of 14 rental units. Dorothy was living in one of them, and her daughter was in another, at the time of this interview.
DS: This is an interview with Dorothy Miller, who lives at 540A Pine Street, on the first floor. And the date is June 20, 2006. Dorothy, tell me when were you born? The date.
DM: Oh, I was born October the 29th, 1930.
DS: And where were you born?
DM: Sprawlings Building, down here on Fourth Street. It was called the Sprawlings Building when I came along. It’s a great big apartment house on the back side of Fourth Street [on the southeast side of Bainbridge, between Third and Fourth Streets, in the middle of the block].
DS: On the south side?
DM: Yes. And I was born in there, in that building.
DS: You were! And what did you call it?
DM: It was called the Sprawling Building. Sprawling.
DS: Interesting. And it was a medical building?
DM: No, it was an apartment building.
DS: An apartment building. And that’s where you lived? With your family?
DM: Yes. Yes, indeed. That’s where I was born, right over there. Bainbridge between Third and Fourth Streets, south side. (1:00)
DS: Were all the children in your family born at home?
DM: No. I have an older brother. He wasn’t born here in Philadelphia period. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. But my Dad and Mom brought him here when he was about 3 or 4 years old. And this is the only home he really knew, ‘cause he didn’t remember anything about Greensboro, North Carolina. You know. But that’s where he was born, down there. Now, my youngest brother was born over here on 11th Street, near 11th and South.
DS: Eleventh and South?
DM: Yes, over there. And that was an apartment house, too. So that’s where my youngest brother was born.
DS: Let’s talk a bit about your mother and father. Where did they grow up?
DM: Greensboro, North Carolina. (2:00)
DS: And what did your Mom – she raised the family?
DM: Oh, yes. Definitely.
DS: And stayed home?
DM: Yes. My Dad worked, all the time.
DS: And what did he do?
DM: He did different jobs. I can remember one. They called it the fertilize plant. I can remember this, because he used to go down Lombard Street when he went to work, and he come back up Lombard Street, and he’d be dusty and all this kind of stuff, you know. But I never really got the gist of what it was. I was a little girl, then, you know. But it was a fertilizing plant. It was back down that way somewhere. But I had no idea where it was.
DS: And at that time, when you were a little girl, you were growing up on Fourth and Bainbridge?
DM: No, indeed. I grew up right there at Seventh and Lombard.
DS: Seventh and Lombard. Across from Starr Garden?
DM: Not exactly, because on the corner of Seventh and Lombard, Mr. Winterpool, which his family lived down here on Sixth Street and Delancey, by that time – he owned a store there. (3:00) That was the corner house. Owned a store. But he owned it. Then there was two very big apartment houses. One was on Lombard Street, which was 702 Lombard Street, where I lived. Now, going around Seventh Street, there was adjacent – we could come out yard and go straight over to 507 South Seventh Street, which was the fourth floor, great big apartment house. Two of them. And that’s where I grew up, right here, Seventh and Lombard.
DS: So that’s where your childhood memories are from?
DM: Yes. Seventh and Lombard, indeed so.
DS: So your parent originally came from North Carolina –
DM: Greensboro. Yes.
DS: Did you go to a church when you were young? Were you affiliated with any church or denomination?
DM: Mother Bethel.
DS: You went to Mother Bethel.
DM: But that’s where we all went in this neighborhood. Right there at Mother Bethel (4:00) Church. My mother belonged, too, you know. And we had Sunday school over there and all that sort of stuff, you know. So that’s where I grew up. Right in that church, right there.
DS: Did you have a big Sunday school when you were growing up?
DM: Oh, yes, we had – oh, we had lots of people, when we were kids, that went to Mother Bethel. You know. And we had Sunday school. We had to go to church in the morning with my mother. Come back and get ready for Sunday school. We had to go back to Sunday school. It was right there.
DS: So it was a big part of your growing up around here?
DM: Yes. I think so.
DS: And doing things as groups of kids.
DS: What kinds of things did you do?
DM: Well, not only this place, the Mother Bethel Church, there was a center that sat right on the corner of Seventh and Spruce. It was called the Barnes Center. And Miss and Mrs. Wyburn, (5:00) a mother and daughter, ran the Center, sitting right down here on Seventh and Spruce. Great big, enormous building, where all the kids in the neighborhood went. Then the parents started going too. And they had gym in there. And they had cooking. We learned Bible verses. They were beautiful people. Miss and Mrs. Wyburn. We loved them to death. [The narrator does not know the spelling; it sounds like Wyburn when she says it.]
DM: They were white, but they loved us and we loved them. Gorgeous people.
DS: And the name was [indecipherable].
DM: [Indecipherable] yes. Mother and daughter.
DS: Were they connected to the church?
DM: No, this is a different organization altogether. But all the kids and the parents started to go there. They had something for the parents to do, and all like that. Since the kids were going, you know. So the majority of the kids that grew up around here – we all went to Barnes Center. And (6:00) they would take us different places, and stuff like that. It was fun! We had fun. [sound of a fire engine siren in the background.] And what you see across the street for the playground – that’s not the playground we grew up in.
DS: Starr Garden wasn’t there?
DM: No, it’s not – it was there, but it’s not what you see. On the south side of the playground, where it’s sitting, there was a great big, enormous building back there. And in that building they had cooking, they had sewing, they had gym, they had it all, right there in that building. For the kids to play. And down here on Seventh Street and in the playground, they had a pool, a little kiddie pool. And I’m telling you, we had a kiddie pool down there. And as you are going toward Lombard, down here on Seventh Street, they had a great big maypole. That’s something I don’t think the kids know anything about today. With the streamers. We had that sitting in the playground then. (7:00) We had everything. And my daughter grew up in the playground, the one I’m talking about. What you see is a showplace compared to what we had. Because we had it all. The kids played and –
One of the policemen, when we were kids – I think he’s died a few years back now – I seen him again, and I said, “Do you know me?” And he said, “What’s your name?” So I told him, and he said, “Yes, I know you, your brother, your mother, and your father, too.” [Laughs] ‘Cause he used to take care of the kids in the playground. You know. And he was a beautiful person. We met some of the nicest people ever. And he sure remembered us, too. He said, “Of course, I know your father, your mother, your brothers. I know all of you.” Isn’t that something? So he had – he would watch us over here on Eighth Street and he was the sweetest man ever.
DS: And he was a policeman.
DM: Yes. Um hum (8:00)
DS: And he was in the park to sort of keep it calm?
DM: To keep an eye on the children. Oh, yes, and he knew all the children and the parents, too. And it was nice. You wasn’t going to do anything wrong over there, ‘cause he would get you. [Laughs] He would.
DS: What was his name?
DM: Dan the cop, we called him. Take you right home. But we knew this too, you know. And he knew the parents; so you had to behave. So we wasn’t going to do anything anyway, you know? [Laughs] And he just laughs. I said, “I’m so glad to see you.” He said, “You haven’t changed a bit. You’re a grown lady now. You were just a little tiny thing then.” I said, “I remember.” Oh, it was fun. Now when my daughter was born, I was living at 702 Lombard Street then. The playground was still like I’m telling you it was. My daughter had a chance, thank God, to play in the (9:00) playground the way it was, with the building and all this. But over the years, they tore it down.
DS: Do you have a time when that happened? The way they changed the playground? Would it have been ‘50s? ‘60s?
DM: No, because my mommy died – she died in ’45.
DS: Your mother died in ’45.
DM: Yes, I was 14 years old. We were living in 702 when my mom passed.
DS: What did she die of?
DM: She had a thyroid – they called them garters, back in the day.
DM: I guess they didn’t know what to do with them like they do today, anyway. So when she went in she never came out.
DS: She went into Pennsylvania Hospital?
DM: Yes. No, Jefferson. And she never came out. I was 14. My youngest brother was 12. And my oldest brother was married; he was away from home by then. So my dad raised us, my oldest brother and my dad. But we were – my youngest brother was 12. I was 14. You know, I was (10:00) next to the oldest. But the playground was still sitting there in ’45, the way I’m telling you it was, you know. And my daughter was born in ’55, OK? And it was still there then. So I’m trying to figure out when they changed – tore it down. Even Seger’s Playground up at – that’s not the playground we played in up there, either.
DS: They’ve changed that, too?
DM: Oh, all that’s changed. Yes, indeed.
DS: Did Seger have something similar?
DM: Yes, indeed. They had like we did down here. And I’m going to tell you something else. There was a swimming pool that sat between Seventh and Eighth on Lombard Street, on the south side over here. It was called Bucky’s swimming pool. It went from how many feet? Six feet. It went to six feet. We swam in there. They had boys’ day and girls’ day. We had a pool right here on Lombard Street. It was called Bucky’s pool. (11:00)
DS: And they separated the boys and girls.
DM: Yes, ma’am. We had our days to go and they had their days. [Laughs] But we had a good time. So things are so much different than they are today, you know. And it was so much more for the children to really do than they have today.
DS: Much more organization? Play area?
DM: People were more together, put it like that. ‘Cause I know the teachers that were in the playground, they took an interest in the children that were in the neighborhood. ‘Cause then we still had quite a few children here, you know, that lived here and whatnot. ‘Cause I have – I guess I still got them – my daughter used to run for Mr. Russell his name was, one of the teachers from the playground. And he gave them little silver heels with wings on them. A little pin.
DS: A pin? [Laughs]
DM: And he said, “Your daughter can run.” And she could, too. Let me tell you. And (12:00) they just grew up having nothing but fun [indecipherable]. And what made it so much more different than what you see today is neighbors were neighbors. People lived together, white and black. There was no such thing. We were neighbors and friends. That’s the way it went. Everybody knew each other. If one got sick you’d see somebody coming out of their house, going to help out. This is how I grew up, right here on Lombard Street.
DS: So, do you think that’s because there wasn’t any air conditioning? People were out on the street more?
DM: You were. You didn’t have no air. You know what I’m saying to you? Nobody had a fan. Nobody had nothing. That’s right. ‘Cause I can remember my dad – when they got – summer when we were out of school, it got late. You couldn’t sleep. My dad would take me and my (13:00) brother – we’d be sitting right down here on Walnut Street in the park, where we could get some air.
DS: Washington Square?
DM: Yes, ma’am. Right there in the park, we called it. We’d play. We’d be playing right there, me and my brother. [Laughs] And another thing. You could sleep with your doors open, because there wasn’t a soul going to bother nobody. But you’d better not try that today, ‘cause you’d be dead. That’s for sure. But that’s the way things were. A fan? What’s that? We didn’t know about no fan or anything. So, late at night, that’s where you’d get the air, on the Walnut Street side of the park. You go down there, you got plenty of air. But up here, nothing. That’s the truth. [Laughs] But we had fun. And by being kids, we didn’t feel the heat like I do now. But then my dad would – on Sunday morning, my dad would get up early Sunday morning, and all the kids in the (14:00) neighborhood would gather at my house. And you know where we’d be headed? Ben Franklin Bridge. My dad would walk us from Philadelphia to Camden every Sunday morning. And he had an armful of shoes. We’d take our shoes off [Laughs].
DS: What were you taking your shoes off for?
DM: ‘Cause we did take our shoes off and give them to my dad. And here we go a-running.
DS: Bare feet.
DS: Running across the bridge.
DS: Sunday morning.
DS: Before church?
DM: Yes, we had fun. Yes, indeed. So growing up here was fun. We never knew anything about black and white and all this kind of thing. You know what I’m saying? And I never ran into nothing like that until once we started fighting for these houses here. That’s when I ran into the prejudice business. ‘Cause all these years, that was just a word. We didn’t know anything about that word, really. You know? And I know I had a girlfriend, who was Delores Ojada. She was (15:00) Spanish. She came home for lunch with me every day. And my mother would give us lunch, and we’d go back to school. She used to own property around here on Spruce Street. I used to see her every now and then, after we got grown.
DS: And her last name was Ojada?
DM: Ojada. Delores Ojada.
DS: And what nationality was she?
DS: And she owned property on –?
DM: She did. Right there on Spruce Street.
DS: Spruce and Sixth?
DM: More near Sixth, it was. She said, “Dot, is that you?” I said, “It’s me. What you doing over here?” She just laughed. She stopped the car and got out. “I’m going around here to see about some property that I own.” And I said, “Oh, that’s neat.” You know. So she did. And I haven’t seen Delores in years. But this is how kids grew up here. There was no funny business at all. You know what I’m saying? (16:00)
DS: So she lived in the neighborhood and you –
DM: She went to McCall’s School with me. Yes, indeed. Yes, her family lived around, too. And it was just nice. I knew so many kids. We grew up around here. I can remember, there was – we were in each other’s class, so we had to know each other. Everyone. And there was never no funny stuff. Because we was only kids, and that’s all we seen of each other were children. And the parents weren’t like a lot of other parents – “She’s black and white and blah blah blah.” There was none of that. Color never mattered around here. You know what I’m saying?
DS: What was the sort of mix at McCall’s?
DS: Everybody in the neighborhood went to McCall’s.
DM: You better believe it. [Laughs] You better believe it. And, see, McCall’s School when I first started to school – you know, kids went to school at a later age. ‘Cause I think I was seven, maybe, something like that, when we started to school. They didn’t start kids early like they (17:00) do today. McCall’s School was a trade school for all boys. No girls went there. You know, the first school that the kids in this neighborhood went to? It was called the Randall School. If you know where Krass Brothers have their shop up there [at 920 South Street] with that gate looking like a school gate?
[On September 24, 2006, the narrator said that Delancey Street ran from Fifth to Eighth Street when she was young. There was no playground, auditorium, or gym on the north side of the present school building. Delancey Street between Sixth and Seventh was closed around the late 1950s, and the auditorium, gym and playground were added. She also said the original Childrens’ Hospital was on Delancey Street between Sixth and Seventh and was called Plyth Hamilton Childrens’ Hospital. It moved to 18th and Bainbridge Streets and then later to its present location at 34th and Civic Center Boulevard.]
DS: On South Street?
DM: Yes. It was called the Randall School, ‘cause that’s the first school we went to up there.
DS: And you went to elementary –?
DM: Yes, right up there on South Street.
DS: First, second, third –
DM: Yes. We stayed up there maybe three, four years. And that’s when they changed McCall’s School into coeducational and brought the neighborhood children back here. ‘Cause at first it was a trade school for all boys. No girls went there at all, not at all. And once they changed it, all the neighborhood children went right there to McCall’s School. And then, you know, we’re coming up on that Second World War. As is. Well, we all went to McCall’s School by the time (18:00) they got into this business, you know.
And you had all kinds of children, ‘cause refugees – we had all of them. ‘Cause one of my brother’s best friends – you know what his name was? Otto. He was a German Jew. His name was Otto. Him and my brother was just like that. And I know years ago, Otto’s father and mother had an egg store down on Ninth Street. And whenever we went down on Ninth Street, do you think they didn’t know us? Of course they did. [Laughs] Yes, indeed. He and Otto was just like that. Yes, indeed.
So we went to school with all kinds of children. But they was children. We never knew the difference. Like people make difference in kids today. You know what I’m saying? And everybody got along. And, see, I came up during the Depression years. I was born in 1930. So you know what that was behind them years. Everybody was in the Depression. Nobody had nothing. White, black or green or gray, you didn’t have nothing. No more than I did, ‘cause that’s the way the times were going back then. You know. You can go to (19:00) McCall’s School and sit in the class and look over. “Oh, she got a dress on like mine.” You better believe she did. [Laughs] Oh, yes. ‘Cause everybody was on the welfare. Nobody had nothing. And they would give you clothes. They gave the boys the [indecipherable] shoes with the big taps on them. [Laughs]
DS: What? What? What?
DM: Brogan shoes, we called them.
DM: Brogan they were called. They were high topped. They had like a tap on the front, a tap on the heel. And they were hard looking. And you didn’t wear them out. [Laughs]
DS: They didn’t wear out, huh?
DM: And the kids loved them. ‘Cause, you know, when they’d come into school and start walking, clippity clippity clippity clip. [Laughs] You could hear it, you know? And they tired. “You just tell your father to take the taps off those shoes.” I laugh so now. I think about all this foolishness that we went through growing up. But that was fun to us. (20:00)
DS: So who gave you the shoes and the clothes?
DM: Welfare people. ‘Cause nobody had no money. And the people couldn’t work. ‘Cause I can remember my dad and the little man that lived around in Rodman Street – they called him Hop, ‘cause he had a short leg. You know.
DS: They called him Hop?
DM: Um hum. And him and my dad used to go down to the waterfront where they would give them potatoes and different kind of vegetables and stuff like that. He’d take some to his family, and Daddy would bring some home to us. I’m telling you, times was hard back during the ‘30s. And believe it. But we got along. And nobody was hungry. I’m going to put it to you like it is. And in the back of your classroom, over here, they would send apples to school. And every child in that classroom got an apple. They’d have a basket sitting in the back of the classroom. I’ll tell you what (21:00) I know. See, I came up through all that. But other than that, we didn’t know no difference. We ate every day. Went to school every day, like the ordinary people do. So we didn’t realize none of that, ‘til after you get grown and look back and say, “Oh, my God.” You know? But other than that, we had a good time. That’s the truth. I’m telling you. But –
DS: Tell me about some more of your friends, growing up.
DM: Let me see. I’ve got a girlfriend now. She lives in North Philly. But she and I went to McCall’s School together. Miss Hayes and I went to McCall’s School together. Oh, I’m telling you. It was nothing but some kids around here then. I see the majority – all those that are still living, I’ll put it like that. They all went right there to McCall’s School.
DS: Are a lot of them still here? I mean, Mrs. Hayes is.
DM: Yes, she’s over there.
DS: Did any of the others stay?
DM: Oh, my, if they could have they would have, put it like that. But Hayes and I (22:00) are about the only two that grew up here that’s still here. I believe so. ‘Cause the others went like that, you know. But other than that – of course, you know, Miss Hayes had six kids.
DS: No, I didn’t know that.
DM: Yes, she had six, and I had my one. And all hers is grown. So’s my daughter. I’ve got my grandson and my granddaughter. They’re grown. They were all raised around here. They certainly were. Oh, yes. But what makes it so nice – our children grew up together. And they still associate. So this is good. And her son, he just retired from his job. Yes, he did. Julius, he retired. And it’s just so marvelous. I look at him, ‘cause I remember when they was like this. I look at my own (23:00) grandkids and shake my head. ‘Cause I’m looking up to him and my granddaughter, because they’re both taller than me, you know. So I just look at them sometime and say, “Where did all the time go?” ‘Cause she’s 28, my granddaughter. And his daughter, she’ll be six in August, my grandson’s daughter. And my grandson’s 32. So time’s – oh, honey, time has gone. But it’s just a pleasure to sit and look at the children now, you know. Once they get grown and they got their own children, I look at them and I just shake my head. What can I say? They mine. That’s it.
DS: And you did a good job.
DM: Oh, thank God for that. That’s most important.
DS: That’s why they’re so good at being parents, it’s because –
Yes, yes. Well, the Lord blessed us, put it that way. ‘Cause we had no trouble (24:00) with our children. And that’s a blessing in itself. But these people [indecipherable] wild. Look at the fighting in school. Kids can’t go to school no more without fighting and shooting and all. It’s unbelievable.
DM: It certainly is. Unbelievable. We never had guns. We didn’t know nothing about no guns. Somebody getting shot and all [indecipherable]. What is going on here? You know? I think these people are crazy, that’s the best I can say. But this neighborhood was a neighborhood –
DS: Tell me about the house that you lived in when you were growing up.
DM: It was an apartment house. And it had plumbing and electricity and hot water and all those things. The only thing different was we had – we lived on the second floor first. Then we moved to where there was a little more space on the fourth floor. Well, my dad and mother had their room, my brother and I had our room, and we had a kitchen. The bathrooms were in the hall, like, but next to your doors. And you had to pull the chain. [Laughs] (25:00)
DS: And you shared the bathroom with other apartments?
DM: Yes, if there was an apartment up there besides yours, yes.
DS: And you would share the bathroom.
DM: There was no bathtubs, mind you. We got washed in a tin tub. Get it? [Laughs] I’m telling you. Every Saturday night we knew we had to get our bath. My mother would heat up that water on the coal stove. We didn’t have no gas. Coal. Yes, but you could heat that stove. Let me tell you. My brother would get his bath. I would get my bath and get ready for bed. In the great big old tin tub. That’s right. And to us it was fun. What did we know? We were clean. That’s all we knew. [Laughs]My dad and my mother would say, “You ready?” My father would ask me. “Yes.” (26:00) He would pour the water in the tub for us, and we’d get in, you know. We had a ball with our parents and everything. But we didn’t know no better.
So what can you say? Nothing. It wasn’t nothing to us, because all we knew how to do was play and go to school. You know what I’m saying?
DM: But I guess it was hard to our folks, more or less. But he’d find himself some kind of job to make him some money to feed us with. Let me tell you. And he did that. Him and Hop was always going down at the waterfront.
DM: Hop. I told you –
DS: The guy with the short leg. [Laughs]
DM: [Laughs] Yes, indeed. He’d come around and whistle for my dad, and my dad would come out of the house. “I’ll see you when I get back.” My mother said, “OK.” And he headed on down the waterfront. That’s right. And when they came back they had potatoes and string beans. They had it all, let me tell you. So it was really fun. But it was just an apartment (27:00) house. That’s what it was. But no fans. I told you that. It was hot. That was about the size of it.
DS: And in the winter, the stove would heat up the house?
DM: Oh, it would heat up the whole place.
DS: A coal stove?
DM: Oh, yes, definitely. You know? And that’s about it.
DS: Tell me about jobs. What was your first job? You went to McCall’s to eighth grade?
DM: Yes, I went to eighth grade. Then they cut it back to the seventh grade. Remember? Yes, I went over here and then I went to Bartlett. I was over there one year, the ninth grade. Eighth and ninth, and then you graduated and went to high school. I went to William Penn. Not this new one that you hear so much about with the pools and all that. I went up here on 15th and Mt. Vernon, across from Ben Franklin High School. And that’s where my youngest brother was going. He was going to Ben Franklin. I was going to William Penn. Which was catercorner like this. The schools sat – But that’s where I graduated from. I graduated from William Penn. But all girls went there, (28:00) and at that time all boys was going to Ben Franklin, up here on Broad Street and Mt. Vernon and all around there.
DS: So they did segregate the boys and the girls.
DM: I did. I went there ‘cause it was an all-girls school. And Franklin at the time was all boys. Wasn’t no girls in there either. But over the years they changed all that, whatever. But that’s where I graduated from, William Penn. But when I say that, people look at you. But, see, I don’t know anything about this new one they got sitting a little further up. For 15th Street, where they got the pool and all this stuff.
DS: No, I don’t either.
DM: Yes, they got the new William Penn, where the kids go to now. But I didn’t go there. I went right up here, right off of Broad Street.
DS: Did you like school?
DM: Oh, yes. I enjoyed it.
DS: And your first job?
DM: Pennsylvania Hospital.
DS: Doing what?
DM: I was a nurse’s aide. I stayed over there two years. I most certainly did. Then (29:00) I got married, and I had my daughter.
DS: Did you marry somebody from the neighborhood?
DM: Yes. He lived right over there on Delancey Street.
DS: Sixth and Delancey?
DM: Yes, ma’am. The Millers. Yes. He was one of the kids from around here. So, you know.
DS: You knew him growing up.
DM: Oh, yes. His sister, too. His mother. Yes, I knew them all. We all went to school together. You knew that. But other than that, yes, he was somebody that we knew.
DS: So, once you got married, you didn’t have a job, you just stayed at –
DM: No, I went – I worked at Pennsy for quite a while – til I got pregnant with my daughter. And then I didn’t go back. You know. And then after I left the Pennsylvania [Hospital], the next job that I got was that uniform job. Miss Hayes and I went and took the test for that. (30:00)
DS: For a uniform job.
DM: Yes, for a crossing guard.
DS: Oh, the crossing guard. That’s when I met you.
DM: I was at that corner for 27 years. Right here at Seventh and Pine. Oh, yes. Miss Hayes’s first job was on Sixth and Spruce. Then they moved her from there down here, to Pine Street. Yes, that was the second job I had. And I was there for 27 long years.
DS: Did you like that job?
DM: Oh, I loved being with the children. Of course I loved being with the children, you know. And I watched them grow up. Some of them come back married. “Miss Dot, you still here?” I said, “Miss Dot’s still here. I’m still here. Yes, I am.” [Laughs] And two of my girls, their parents took them to Israel. You know, them kids come back and rang that bell? “Miss Dot, I told our mommy we had to come and see you.” They hugged and kissed me. I was so glad to see them. I hadn’t (31:00) seen them since they left here, you know. And they came right here and rang the bell. “We told mommy we was coming to see you.” I asked them how their parents were. They said, “Doing fine. But we left them in New York. We came over here to see you.”
DS: [Laughs] So how long have you lived here?
DM: In this apartment? Almost 30 years. Cause when we – when they moved us off of Lombard Street, I wasn’t at 702; I was at 615 Lombard, right around the corner here.
DS: 615. That was the Octavia Hill –
DM: Yes, ma’am.
DS: – properties?
DM: So was 702, was Octavia Hill’s. When I was a kid. Oh, yes. And we moved from 702. We lived right here, 615 [Lombard], I lived, and my dad lived 619 [Lombard], right next door to where I lived.
DS: You were married?
DM: Yes. And Miss Hayes she lived 621, I think it was, Lombard. See, we [Laughs] stayed together. [Indecipherable]. Yes, we was still here. And after (32:00) urban renewal came through – we was still on Lombard Street – is when all the stuff broke loose, sure enough. They wanted everybody out of here. And I couldn’t believe that. I didn’t know what it was in the first place.
DS: Who they?
DM: Urban renewal it was called. We didn’t know who they were either, no more than you do. We knew the name. You know. But that’s government actions put it, like it is, you know. But anyhow, I couldn’t believe this. I said, “Now what is going on?”
My daddy was getting older by then, you know, and he said, “They going to put us out, Dot.” And I said, “Not as long as I live and breathe, nobody’s putting you anywhere.” So he said – I said, “Don’t worry about it. Whatever’s going to come I’ll take care of it. That’s not for you no more. It’s my turn now to take care of you like you did us.” So he was satisfied with that, you know.
So then I started calling all the neighbors. (33:00) And I said, “Look, do you know what’s really happening here?” Nobody knew no more than I did. I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I think’s happening. I think they’re trying to get us out of here. And they’re not shoving me just any old place. This is all we know. We grew up here. And I’m not going just where they want me to go. That’s out of the question.” So we decided – well, we all got together. And Gussie Cutler used to live right here at Seventh and Panama. And she was a friend, too. And she said, “Dot, we got to do something about this.” So she started talking to her friends. I got all the neighbors together by then, anyway. And Sam Maitin that lived up here; he died since then. That was my buddy. ‘Cause when we was fighting for these houses, you know who was with me at all times? Sam. You better believe it. I loved him. Sam was my buddy. Me and him went everywhere. Got himself in the bargain, but he was right beside me. He said, “We going to take (34:00) care of this.” So Gussie was saying, “We need some Community Legal Services lawyers. They won’t cost you no money.” I says, “Cause we don’t have no money.” You know what I’m saying? Everybody worked, but we didn’t have money like that. So she said, “Don’t worry about that. We going to get it together.” And sure enough, we did.
And finally we got two lawyers. One from – they both came from Community Legal Services, but they were beautiful people, Sally Eakin, Esq., and Bob. Can’t remember Bob’s last name [it was probably Sugarman], and that’s a shame, ‘cause he stayed right with us until we won the case. Both of them two did. So they came to the house. I met all kinds of people, though, you know. Father Washington. He died recently. From up North Philly. I met him. He came right here to 615 Lombard Street. I met all sorts of people. And one of the judges. I met him. I think he passed recently, too. I tell you, I met all kinds of people fighting for these houses. And I’m so glad, because I learned so much. I don’t know nothing about no housing. Know what I’m saying? I know how to live in them [Laughs]. That’s about the size of it. But the lawyer part of this I learned very well. Sally, she would tell me, “Dot, whatever, whatever.” That’s OK.
DS: You trusted her?
DM: Oh, she was beautiful. Her and Bob both. They were beautiful people. They stayed with it. She said, “I told my boss, ‘If you can’t let me take this job, then I’ll have to leave,’ she said, ‘because I want that case. I’ve been on a case like this before, but I want this one.’” So he did. He let her come and work with us. And that was great, and she stayed with us until we won it, too. Wasn’t easy. Oh no, we caught hell, messing with these people. Oh, the lady said she’s coming and lay down in front of the bulldozer, and it was just awful. One man on Spruce Street – I didn’t know him (36:00) from Adam. Every time he opened his mouth, it was, “Dorothy Miller.” “Who is this person?” I don’t even know them. [Laughs] But he knew me, but I didn’t know nothing about him.
DS: And what did he do?
DM: He said –. Axilbund. That was his last name. He lived around here on Spruce Street at that time. And he was saying that, “All around here on Lombard Street was on the welfare. Don’t nobody around there work.” I said, “Now, where he coming from?” Everyone around on Lombard Street had a job. So he didn’t know what he was talking – How did he know so much and then know nothing? Know what I’m saying? And that’s what he was saying, you know? So when they would have the big meetings and whatnot, we’d meet over here, sometime in McCall’s School, sometime in the hospital, in the auditorium over there. And Sam [Maitin] would be ready with me, you know. Met in the church, too. I had to get into. It was a mess, really. [Laughs] But he was saying – the reverend at the [Mother Bethel A.M.E.] church at that time – he was saying he wanted this property here, right? (37:00)
DS: Who did?
DM: The reverend at the church.
DS: Oh, the reverend did.
DM: The reverend at the church did.
DM: Well, my girlfriend goes over there all the time, anyway. And he going to send her to ask me would I give him this land here.
DS: Would you give him the land?
DM: Yes. See, the government gave it to me by then. The government gave this land to me. The one sitting on Sixth and Pine at Panama, and the one sitting here at Sixth and Pine. The government transferred it over to my lawyer for me.
Let me tell you something. This lot here [at Sixth and Pine] had sat empty for years on top of years. ‘Cause they had a little log cabin sitting right on the corner of Sixth and Addison Street, on the property.
DS: A log cabin.
DM: The church did, there. Oh, yes. And they had all the opportunity in the world to (38:00) buy it – Yes! – before the government gave it to me. So what he – I don’t know what he was going to put here. But as far as I was concerned, he wasn’t going to put nothing here. I told Doris when she came to – she said, “Dot?” I said, “What is it now?” She said, “Reverend Joyner wants to know if you’ll let him have this lot.” I said, “Do what?” I said, “No way. I won’t let him have nothing.” I said, “I’m going to tell you something, Doris.” I said, “You tell Reverend Joyner that Dot said, ‘Don’t pitch one black against another’, because that’s what he’s getting ready to do. As far as this land is concerned, I’m not giving it to him and no one else.” So she went and she told him. So when the lawyer came down, Sally came, and I told – she said, he said – “What?” She said, “Let me tell you something. I’m going to straighten him out right away. Before anybody could touch this land, I’ll put a cloud on it so nobody could ever build on it.” (39:00)
DM: That’s what she said. She said, “If you can’t, nobody will.”
[Tape is turned off, then on again.]
DS: And your goal was to build what’s here now.
DM: For the people that lived here. You better believe it. ‘Cause where were we going? This is all we knew. You know what I’m saying?
DS: This group of houses, and it’s the ones on Sixth Street –?
DM: Yes, right here on Panama.
DS: Panama and Pine?
DM: Lombard. Those three parcels, right there. That’s it. The government turned them over to us. [First unit: 536, 538 and 540 Pine Street. Second unit: 336 and 338 South Sixth Street. Third unit: 601 and 603 Lombard Street. A and B apartments in each location.]
DS: And it was to be housing.
DM: Yes, for the people that lived here. And the majority of them are. You better believe it. Cause where were we going? We don’t know nothing about other places and like that. We grew up right here. This is all we knew. And, you know, when you get older, you get frightened. And my father, he was terribly upset. Another friend of mine, she was up in age, too. They got scared. (40:00) “Where you going to take us?” “I’m not taking you anywhere.” You know? Cause, see, when you grow up one place, this is all you know. And the way people were carrying on, I said, “You don’t have to worry about it, because we’re not going anywhere. That’s why we’re fighting like we are fighting. So we have decent places for all of us to live in.” And like I told Sally, she was our lawyer, I said, “Look, I don’t want no cubby holes.” That’s what I call it, where you can go in, and you got a bathroom, you got not a kitchen, and a bedroom. I said, “I don’t like that. I want a one-bedroom apartment for each person that needs it. And I don’t want to be in a cubby hole where I can [indecipherable] whatever.” I said, “Uh uh uh. I don’t like that.” So she said, “That’s what you want?” I said, “That’s what I want. And I’ll insist on having that for all of us. One bedroom apartments.”
DS: So all the three locations have one bedroom apartments. (41:00)
DM: No, indeed. No, ma’am. That one sitting on Panama Street has two bedrooms.
DS: On Sixth and Panama has two bedrooms.
DM: Yes. I think this one on Lombard, I’m not sure, but I think it has two bedrooms. And in here, I’m on the first floor, remember. My daughter lives upstairs.
DS: Does she?
DM: Yes. She has two bedrooms up there. She wanted to make them two, you know, or three. She got two bathrooms up there. But see, these places were built to our specifications. We had input in the design of what you see. We were the first ones that did it in this city. That’s right. And I insisted that we have it. That’s right. You’re not going to build one of those places, shove me in there. That’s got to go. What is it that you said?
DS: So the first floor is not the same as the second floor.
DM: Oh, no.
DS: Second floor is bigger? (42:00)
DM: Oh, yes. Definitely. You go up the steps. When you go up the steps, back here is my daughter’s living room, right? You go down the hall before you get to the back, the bathroom is sitting here, on this side. Right on the back is a room sitting up there. You come out, and go up to the third floor. Yes, Ma’am. My daughter’s bedroom’s in the front, and my grandson and my granddaughter’s bedroom’s in the back. And there’s a bathroom sitting up there, too. Oh, yes.
DS: Tell me another thing. The people who are living here now, have they all been here from the beginning?
DS: No. So it has changed hands. Not your unit but –
DM: Different people you’re talking about.
DM: Well, my girlfriend that used to live next door to me, Mabel, she passed. So somebody different lives there now. The apartment next door to her – oh, I know who they are, (43:00) but they weren’t here all the time, like you’re saying. There’s a lady, a boy, and a girl, that lives in the third apartment over there, second floor. And a girlfriend of mine lives on the first floor. Now, over here on Lombard, on the bottom floor, there’s a fellow that lives in the first floor apartment called him Pokey. Now, on the second floor, Marlene lives there. She used to live 615 Lombard, ‘cause her and her mother was on the second floor, and me and my daughter was on the third. Marlene’s mother passed while we were on 11th Street. So she’s over there on the second floor, on Lombard. Now, next door to Marlene – the crossing guard, Phyllis, little short girl?
DM: She just moved down there. She’s in that second floor apartment next door to Marlene now. Then on the first floor I don’t know who’s got that first floor apartment underneath Phyllis now. But now back over here, on Panama –
DS: Sixth and Panama? (44:00)
DM: Well, Mr. Wallace and his wife lives on the first floor, where you see the window and all these beautiful glass ware and all. That’s where he lives. He’s the caretaker. He lives there.
DS: The caretaker of –?
DM: The properties. And on the second floor, I forget. There was a lady that was here from the beginning, but she moved away too. So somebody’s up there. And next door to him there’s a lady and her daughter that lives on the second floor over there. And I don’t know who lives on the first floor. But I know my girlfriend that just died, the one that used to come down with me, her and her son lived on that first floor in the corner house here at Panama. And he’s still over there.
DS: The son.
DM: Um hum. But she passed. And on top of him, I don’t – there was a girl there and her child, but I don’t know. I think she moved away too. But we know everybody. You know what I’m saying.
DS: So from the beginning, you had a caretaker, one person that was responsible for (45:00) keeping –
DM: [Indecipherable] whatever. Now, Mr. Wallace, he takes care of the stuff now. But before him, there was another man that used to live over there in that apartment, that took care of the property. Somebody was always paid –
DM: Oh yes, to look out for the property and what have you.
DS: Who owns it now?
DM: The man that built it, Burt Wiener.
DS: Burt Wiener?
DM: Yes, ma’am. He owns this property. Yes, he’s the man that did all this.
DS: I don’t know him.
DM: He wasn’t from the neighborhood. But he’s the one that built these places.
DS: He owned the land.
DM: Yes, he did.
DS: And so he built the properties, and he still owns them.
DM: Um hum. He most certainly did. [Laughs] Oh, but he does. Yes, indeed. He’s a beautiful person.
DS: Is he a beautiful person? (46:00)
DS: He’s helpful to you.
DM: Oh, yes, definitely. He knows my grandchildren, and they were like this. [sound of sirens in the background] Oh, I hear that all the time. That ain’t nothing [indecipherable], honey. But they ain’t as bad as the motorcycles. Oh, drives me insane.
DS: They do indeed.
DM: Oh, honey, they get right here. Whoop, whoop. I say, “Oh, my God, there they go again.” They do. They drive you nuts. And they wait good to start revving up them bikes. I say, “Mister, if I could shoot you, I would.” [Laughs]
DS: Now, the apartment building that you grew up in, that you talk about, there were two of them there, you said.
DM: One on Lombard and one on Seventh Street.
DS: They were taken down?
DM: Oh, he tore ‘em down. Yes.
DS: He tore them down. In the ‘60s? ‘50s?
DM: Well, the ‘50’s he couldn’t, because my daughter was born from 702 Lombard. That was –
[End of first side of the tape]
DM: – What year?
DS: Something between ’55 and ‘60?
DM: Because when we got the notice that we had to move, I’d already had Cheryl.
DS: What year was that?
DM: In ’55.
DS: In ’55. You got the notice.
DM: Then we moved here, to 615 Lombard Street. And we had here for, oh Lord knows how many years. So I don’t know when it was in the ‘60s, probably, when they tore it down. ‘Cause they got all the houses over there now, you know. [Indecipherable] and whatnot.
DS: So, did you deliver your daughter at home?
DM: Oh, no, no.
DS: You went to Pennsylvania [Hospital]?
DM: No way. I worked there, remember? No, I did not. I went to Einstein. Remember, at Fifth and Reed? That’s where Sheron was born, at Fifth and Reed. No, indeed. You sound like my husband. “Why don’t you go –?” “’Cause I don’t want to go there. I worked over there. I know (1:00) too much about Pennsylvania, and I’m not having my daughter over there.” I went right there at Einstein Medical Center. That’s where she was born, you know. That’s what my husband said, too. “I’m not going there. That’s it. No.”
DS: Well, how do you feel about them today?
DM: Oh, they good. I go there. Oh, yes. My doctor. I got a good doctor. She’s right down here on Pine Street now. Dr. Lang.
DM: Um hum. Minnie Lang. She’s good.
My heart doctor, he’s down here in the Journal Building, you know, right across from the park. I go over there to see him, but I only see him every six months. Thank God for that. But I still go. Oh, yes, indeed.
DS: So your children – your daughter went to McCall’s, too.
DM: Oh, my granddaughter and my grandson, they all – and Miss Hayes’s all them kids went right there to McCall’s School of hers. (2:00)
DS: It’s so nice that you have them all so close to you.
DM: Isn’t it the truth. Her grandchildren, right there too?
DS: Yes. It was worth fighting for.
DM: It was a neighborhood, of family, of people. And that’s the way it stayed for years on top of years. Everybody knew each other. [sound of a telephone ringing]
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: Give me a flavor of what it was like in the community. What kinds of things you would go to your community centers for activities?
DM: The Barnes Center was the biggest one, at Seventh and Spruce. I told you about that. That’s when we were little kids. [Indecipherable] down there, you know. Then there was another center, maybe you never heard of. It was on 19th and Lombard. ‘Cause my oldest brother used to go up there to play basketball. Right up here on 19th and Lombard. Yes. There was a center up there. And he played ball up there. And my oldest brother and his buddy, they were (3:00) just like this. You know, they were good baseball players. Those two guys was picked from Starr Garden playground to play major league baseball. They were. That’s the truth.
DS: And they did?
DM: No. They didn’t. They got married. That’s what they did. Both of them. [Laughs] So they didn’t [indecipherable]. But these are the kind of things that was happening around the area at that particular time.
DS: Would you go into town?
DM: Oh, yes. We’d go on Market Street. Oh, they still had Market Street, you know. They had Gimbel Brothers. I don’t know if you remember it. I used to go to Gimbels. And during Christmas they had that beautiful show that you’d take your kids to and stuff. I’d take my daughter over there when she was little. And then there was another store that used to be on Market. I don’t know if you remember Snellenberg’s. (4:00)
DS: I’ve heard of it, but I didn’t ….
DM: Yes, used to be on Chestnut Street, I think. Then we had right here on Sixth and South the Five and Dime. Used to sit right there on that corner.
DS: What kind – what name?
DM: I can’t think of that.
DM: I believe that’s the name. You’d sit right here on the corner, Sixth and South Streets. Right there. ‘Cause I can remember, my mother loved some candy – the coconut candies with icing on top. I don’t know what you call them. And she’d always send me down to get her some of that candy. [Laughs] Yes, indeed. “Go down and get me a 10-cent roll or whatever.” That’s true. And I used to come right here at Sixth and South and get the candy and take it back to her. And that’s one place that sat there. Oh, yes. And then, let me think of something else that used to be around (5:00) that’s been gone. [Indecipherable] our building just sitting here at Sixth and Lombard. That used to be an apartment house, with the fire escapes on the side, and all that stuff. Right there. Indeed so.
DS: Sixth and Lombard.
DM: Yes, where the apartments are now. Right on the corner. Uh huh.
DM: And this building that I’m talking about up here on Ninth. It was called the Benezet Club. That’s where my brother used to take basketball. Nineteenth and Lombard.
DS: Benezet Club.
DM: Yes. That’s what it was called.
DS: So, was it privately owned?
DM: Let me tell you something about Starr Garden. I don’t know whether you know it or not, but a majority of the people don’t know that. Do you know who Mr. Starr really was?
DS: No. (6:00)
DM: I didn’t find it out until we started fighting for these houses, honey. And I was floored, as well as you. We grew up thinking that Mr. Starr was a white man. But he wasn’t. Mr. Starr was a black man. And he had that kind of money. You know, when his endowment ran out and the city took over the playground, in 1955 or somewhere? That’s how much money this man had. Mr. Starr was a black man. They dug up all that information. That’s right. Right there at Starr Garden Playground. And we growing up, including my oldest brother. ‘Cause he was 81 when he passed. We always thought he was a white man.
DS: So Starr Garden was a private playground?
DM: No. It was always open to the children.
DS: But I mean, he owned….
DM: He owned the property.
DS: The city didn’t own it.
DM: Not then. Back then, they didn’t get it until around 1955 or somewhere around in there. But all those other years Mr. Starr owned that property. And then after he passed the city took it over. I learned all that fighting for these houses. Didn’t know none of this. We assumed, when I told my brother, he said, “What’d you say, Sis?” I said, “Mr. Starr was a black man.” “How you know?” I said, “They dug up all this for your sister.” When we was fighting for these houses. People assumed, that didn’t know, like we did. We thought he was a white man with all this money. But he wasn’t. No, indeed. His endowment ran out, in the ‘50s. And that’s when the city took it.
DS: It’s a wonderful story. So, in this whole horrible fight, there was lots of good things.
DM: Oh, yes. Oh, I met some of the most beautiful people. Are you kidding? I tell you, we was going to a meeting one night, and one of my neighbors, he lived down the street; so he was going to the meeting with me and Sam [Maitin] and the rest of us. And he said to me, “Dot.”
And I say, “What is it?”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Go ahead, what is it?”
He said, “Are black people prejudiced?”
I started laughing. He said, “Why are you laughing, Dot?”
I said, “What makes you think that black people aren’t prejudiced? Because (8:00) they’re black? Well, you got the wrong idea. There are just as many black people prejudiced as you do white people.”
He said, “I never knew that. I thought it was only –“
“Well, you thought wrong. No. It’s not that way.”
DS: And who was this guy?
DM: One of my neighbors. And he’s assuming that white people’s the only people’s that …. I said, “Uh uh. We got as many black people prejudiced as you do white people.” That’s just the way it is. He said, “Dot –“
I said, “Believe me when I tell you, Yes, you got plenty of black people that are prejudiced.” Indeed so. Don’t assume because you’re white you’re prejudiced. ‘Cause you’re not. I said, “But, see, that’s the impression that they get it, but it’s not so.” You got all kinds of people in all walks of life that you run across, a whole lot of nonsense, I call it, you know. ‘Cause I told him, I said, “That word never – I never knew what it was.” And that’s the truth. ‘Cause I grew up with (9:00) everybody. And my parents never talked of no such thing. So that word – “What are you talking about?” you know? I found out fighting for these houses what it meant. Cause we never knew.
DS: And that was the first that you –?
DM: Ran in contact with it? Oh, yes. Fighting for these houses. No, never had. I went all the way to Bartlett School, remember. We never ran into nothing like that, until we started fighting for these houses. And then you started getting – there’s a man that lived in the corner house right down here on the corner of Pine Street here, on that side of the street.
DS: Fifth and Pine?
DM: Yes, ma’am. He came from the Main Line. So Sam and I had our petition, and we was going from door to door, what have you. So Sam was talking to him. I’m standing there by Sam anyway, and Sam was saying something to him, and he said, “You telling me those people –.” Well, right then and there I knew what he meant. He said, “Where I come from, we don’t see them (10:00) kind of people.” Sam said, “What do you mean when you say, ‘Those people’? You talking about people like Dorothy?” He said, “That’s the wrong expression that you’re using,” he said, “‘cause she’s my friend, and there’s not a thing wrong with her.” He said, “Well, we didn’t see ‘em, where I came from.” He came from the Main Line. He said “They’re very few of them they had up there where they were.” So, see, those people that came down in here after were bringing this stuff with them. And that’s why, when we were fighting for the houses, they always had my name in the paper, on the radio, somewhere, you know. And, you know, that Dorothy Miller. They didn’t know me from Adam, you know what I’m saying? I said, “I don’t believe this.” And like this Axelbaum. I didn’t know him from Adam either. “And all of them around here are on the welfare.” The man don’t know us. I said, “I don’t believe this.” We was at the meeting over there at the hospital. This (11:00) man used to live up here Waverly Street, young fellow. He got mad. He jumped up out of the seat and clipped the ceiling. “Heil Hitler.” Sam and I were like this. [Laughs] [Indecipherable]. One of the other gentlemen that were with us, he had plenty of money. He said, “I’m going to have you put out of here, ‘cause I’m calling the police.” You think he didn’t? Yes, he did. He said, “We’re not going to put up with no such stuff as this. Not in here.” He had to call the police and get him out of there. I said, “I don’t believe this.” He thought everybody was like –
DS: Were you afraid, Dorothy?
DM: No. I didn’t have sense enough to be afraid, honey. [Laughs]
DS: You weren’t afraid growing up, either?
DM: No. Not one iota. I had never heard of such carrying on. You know what I’m (12:00) saying? And the kids – no matter what color you were, color never mattered to us growing up. We never heard no talk like that in our house, you know. Kids were kids to my mother and father. What color you were, you were a friend of my daughter’s, you were a friend of mine. And she would treat you the same as she would treat me and my brothers. You understand? This is how we grew up. So I’m telling you, I didn’t run into it until after I’m a grown person. But it didn’t scare me none. I heard talk of it, but I had never ran into it. Til we fighting for these houses. Then I heard all kinds of stuff. [Laughs]
DS: And you still weren’t afraid.
DM: No, one man stood up at the meeting, said “They ain’t got no husbands. They’re out there with them babies and they ain’t got no husbands. [Indecipherable]. [Laughs] Oh, they did. Right over there in McCall’s School. Oh, I used to just sit there and pray. While they talking I’d be sitting and praying. That’s the truth. I heard all kinds of things.
DS: So hurtful. (13:00)
DM: Didn’t hurt me, ‘cause I wasn’t listening. I knew how to block them out. Once they got started, I’d be like this. I wouldn’t be hearing a thing. See, when you fighting for something like we were, you can’t afford to misstep, because this is what they looking for, from the beginning. They all assumed that we didn’t know how to get lawyers to help us fight for whatever it is we wanted. You understand? And when they found out that we had ‘em, they kind of back ‘em up somewhat, you know.
‘Cause one of the men, he lived up here on Pine Street, right up from the corner where I worked, right? He said to me, “Mrs. Miller –” “Here I go again,” to myself, you know. I said, “What is it?” He said, “I can offer you any amount of money you ask for if you just go take your clients and move on South Street.” I said, “What did you say? I tell you what. You keep your money. (14:00) I never asked anybody in here for no money. The government got plenty. That’s all I need. I don’t need nothing you got. So you can’t offer me nothing at all.” He run a car dealership. So he thought he could buy us, just to get us out of here, go over there on South Street, Seventh and South. That’s what he said [Laughs].
Honey, I tell you, I did a powerful lot of praying. I’m going to tell you [indecipherable]. My oldest brother said, he said, “Sis, you’re my older sister.” I said, “That’s right.” “How do you stand it?” I said, “Look, you do what I do, you close your eyes, you look to the heavens, and you start praying. That’s all you gotta do.” I said, “You block out all this stuff these people are talking.” Because you fighting for something you know is right, and (15:00) this is the way it’s gotta be. You can’t let them blow your mind, and the first thing what come out their mouth, “See, I told you. Didn’t I tell you what they would do?” This is what they’re looking for. I said, “But we got more sense than that. They don’t think we have any, but we do.” That’s how you stand it.
DS: Your daughter through this whole thing?
DM: My Sheron?
DS: Yes, your daughter. How old was she –?
DM: Oh, they was of age. But let me tell you something.
DS: Was she a young girl?
DM: No, she was out of school.
DS: She was already graduated.
DM: Almost graduated from school and whatnot. All of us – Miss Hayes’s kids, all of our kids were grown. But let me tell you something. Like I told them from the beginning. ‘Cause she went to one meeting, some of the kids did. And I kept watching them. I said to them, “Let me tell you something. You can’t go to the meetings any more, ‘cause you going to cause trouble.” I could see it come. “No, all you young folks, you stay home. Let us take care of the business. ‘Cause you’re (16:00) getting ready to blow things, see?” I could see them in their faces. This lady kept calling me by my name, and she don’t know me from Adam. And my daughter’s like, you know, what’s with this woman? And I’m saying, “[Indecipherable].” I said, “That’s it for you. None of you can go to the meetings anymore.” That’s the truth. Young people don’t think and hold things like we do.
DS: They get angry, very quickly.
DM: Oooh, “No more meetings for you. Let us run the business.” That’s true. One night we went down here to the church down here.
DS: Old Pine?
DM: Yes. We had a meeting down there one night, and a fellow – at that time he lived on the corner, Sixth and Pine, in the other houses. And his name was C.C., right? And we said to him, “C.C., you going to hear things that maybe you’ve never heard before but we have. Be quiet. Don’t start nothing. OK?” Well, bless God, we got down there in the church, and this man, (17:00) he said something, and this fool went off. I said, “Oh, my God. No, you didn’t. You didn’t do this.” I said, “Now you get up and you get out of here right now.” I said, “You’re getting ready to cause a lot of trouble. Regardless of what these people say, you ignore it. It’s not worth what you’re getting ready to do. So you get out and go on back home. We’ll take care of the business. That’s it.” I’ll tell you. You don’t take no young people nowhere with you when you’re trying to do business.
DS: How old was this guy? He was in his 20s?
DM: Yes, ma’am. Law of ages. No, indeed.
DS: And they listened to you, did they?
DM: Oh, yes, they didn’t have no problem like that. I told my daughter, “You stay home. You can’t go nowhere no more. None of you can go. That’s it.” ‘Cause this lady, she just kept calling me by my name. And here she go. And I said, “Oh, God, please.” And I’m shaking my head at her. (18:00) I said, “I think you’d better leave. I think you’d better leave.” She said, “You’re right.” [Laughs] “You’re right.” “Get out of here now and go home.” She said, “How do you stand that?” I said, “Your mother don’t hear all that. You hear it. You’re all young people, so you’re ready –. I’m not about that. I got some business to take care of here, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
DS: And that’s what you did.
DM: Thank God. I did a powerful lot of praying.
DS: You did a lot of work.
DM: Because I had no idea of what no one has to go through when they fight for housing or whatever it is you’re trying to get. It’s not that simple. But like I tell you, and like I’ve said before, I could never do that again.
DM: It’s too, too much. It’s really too much. And I did that for a year. We went to meetings on top of meetings. So I start to get headaches. “I’ll leave this alone.” That’s true. And people (19:00) are so stupid. I said, “The lady don’t know me from Adam. Why you keep calling me Miss? I don’t know you.” But she did. My daughter is about to die. I said, “Oh, my God. No, no, no. Can’t have it.” Oh, yes. It wasn’t easy, but I did a powerful lot of praying, let me tell you. And like I told my girlfriend, Miss Hayes, I said, “Let me tell you something. It’s only through the mercies of God that we got these places. Because I talked with the Father, and I stayed right with him, ‘cause I couldn’t do it myself. And I knew it.” I said, “So I asked him, ‘Speak through me.’” I said, “And he did, thank God.” I said, “I learned a great deal about housing, and people.” Put it like it is, you know. I said, “And I’m so glad what I asked for he gave me, to govern my temper. And he did all that for me.”
DS: And you had a good education. (20:00)
DM: But they assumed that we weren’t educated, none of us. ‘Cause the man said [Laughs] [unintelligible]
DS: What? The man said what?
DM: He stood up and said, “They ain’t got no education. None of ‘em. Old ladies got all them babies around there. Ain’t got no husbands.” I had been married for years. But, see, they sound dumb to me, because – just because you’re married to a person don’t make believe things are all this, ‘cause sometimes it’s not what you seem to be. It’s true. Even some of them don’t be no good sometimes. You know what I’m saying? And I happened to marry one that wasn’t. [Laughs] I tell it like it is. And when I get tired of his nonsense, good-bye, you got to go. That’s it. I’m finished with all this. I can’t handle it. So, see you. That’s what you do. You don’t work your nose over with people. [She means crying.] (21:00) They’re not worth your time. And aggravate you? No way. You – see you. Tell them to hit the door. See the hole the carpenter cut, let the door knob catch you on your back, brother. And you keep getting up while you’re going. That’s the truth. Because people can aggravate you badly if you let them. And I ain’t one of them people. I can’t deal with a whole lot of nonsense. That’s right. Like I told my husband, which I had married him before my daughter was ever born, “You got to go. You got to go, mister. I got a child already; so that’s exactly what I’m going to do, and I don’t need you to do it.” And I meant it. I didn’t need him to raise my daughter. All you need is prayers and good common sense and do what you’re supposed to do. You can bring up your children.
DS: So, now, your brothers. What did they – they had the same education.
DM: Oh, yes, my older brother – the one that died – he was a policeman. (22:00)
DS: Oh, good for him.
DM: My brother had been a policeman for over 30 years. The one that died. And my youngest brother, he didn’t like school, and he was smarter than me and my older brother. Let me tell you. Well, he just didn’t like school. So my Dad – he told my father, he said, “I don’t want to go to school no more.” So my father said to him, “Well, what you want to do? Now, if you think that you’re going to stand on the corner with them boys, that’s out of the question, ‘cause I’m not having any of that.” He said, “Daddy, I don’t want to do that.” He said, “I want to get me a job.” He said, “Is that what you want to do?” And my brother told him, “Yes.” He’s the youngest one. So my father said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll take you out of school, but you can’t hang on no corners with no one.”
DS: And you have to get a job.
DM: Yes, he did. He got a job. He was 17. He got a job making frames for furniture. And that’s the kind of thing he went into. And he had been on that job for years on top of years when the job burned down. (23:00)
DS: Was that the furniture store right here in the neighborhood?
DM: It was called S. Miller and Sons. It was further downtown.
DM: Uh huh. But he came to the house, and I said, “Dan, don’t worry.” I said, “I know you’re upset, ‘cause your job burned down.” I said, “But you’ll get another job.” He’s used to working, understand what I’m saying. I said, “I know how you feel. And don’t worry about no –.” My Daddy had just died, too. “Don’t worry about no money.” He said, “We done lost our father. What am I going to do?” And I said, “You’re going to do nothing. What do you want? Whatever you want your sister get it for you and the family.” He said, “I can’t buy no flowers.” “Yes, you can. All you got to do is go to the flower shop with me and pick out what you want for you and your family and send it there, and your sister will pay for it. It’s as simple as that.” So, he said, “All right.” So we did, (24:00) you know. And my oldest brother, too. “Whatever you want, you going to get for you and the family. So you don’t need to worry about that.” So we did it that way. And he picked the flowers he wanted for himself, his kids, and his wife. So that went on. Then he came to the house and said –. I said, “Look, I know you don’t have no money. I’ll give you money. And my oldest brother, we gave him money too. But he’s the baby. I said, “You don’t gotta worry about that. All you gotta do is let us know, and we’ll take care of you too. And you don’t have to worry about that.” And sure enough, when he come, I said, “How you doing? You need some money?” He’ll say, “Yes.” My oldest brother gave him the money. “You gotta buy food, let us know.” You do what you gotta do for your family, til you get you another job. And that’s what he did.
Then he went to work – he worked in Jefferson Hospital for years. Him and his wife both. [Laughs] Oh, yes, he was (25:00) always a person to work, from the time he was 17 years old. So, my oldest brother, he was a cop for all those years, thank God, you know. So his daughter’s a teacher. My niece is a teacher. And his two sons were policemen, too. One was in Highway Patrol, the oldest one. He died, too, my oldest nephew. And the younger brother was a guard in the precinct. They were all something, you know what I’m saying? So there’s no problem there. And my niece, she’s still teaching, his daughter is. So she’s still teaching. And my youngest nephew, he lives in Jersey. He’s got a beautiful home, swimming pool and all that stuff. ‘Cause he was a cop, too. [Laughs] I say, “Can you imagine, you in your uniform and your sons, and here I am in my crossing guard uniform? Look at us.” [Laughs] He would just laugh. Yes, indeed. Yes, they were busy people. But we miss him, ‘cause he was the oldest. But I tell you, like I say, we gotta go on. Yes, indeed.
DS: OK. (26:00)
[Tape is turned off, then on again]
DM: Lipscomb. What’s her first name? Lord, I knew her name [indecipherable].
DS: Was it Hawthorne Community –?
DM: Yes, that’s it. Lipscomb, that’s her name. I never really met her. I knew an awful lot about her. She’s the one that had them places built up there. Alice Lipscomb.
DS: Alice. Right.
DM: But I never got the opportunity to meet her.
DS: Because the two of you were similar.
DM: Yes. I know, but we never met. Isn’t that something? But I knew a lot about her. I imagine she knew a lot about me too. But she did what she had to do. That’s not an easy thing, you know? But when you got something that you really gotta do, and you got people that need you this way, you can do it. You can do it. And she did a beautiful job up there. Alice Lipscomb. I remember her. But I never got the opportunity to meet her. She did a good job up there too. [Tape is turned off, then on again]
DS: Just an added note: Dorothy’s maiden name was Stroud. Dorothy Stroud Miller. That’s S-T-R-O-U-D.
[End of interview]
© 2006 Project Philadelphia 19106™. All rights reserved.