Barbara C. Steele
Mrs. Barbara C. Steele is the daughter of Alice Hart and Buster Crawford. She was born and raised in Charlotte and has lived in only two homes her entire life, her present home and her home in Brooklyn. She is 72 years of age and a retired schoolteacher of thirty years. Mrs. Steele attended Myers Street Elementary School and Second Ward High School. Upon graduation from Second Ward, Mrs. Steele attended Johnson C. Smith and received a Bachelor of Arts degree. She and her husband James have been married for 48 years and have no children of their own. Mrs. Steele spoke fondly of her love for Second Ward High School and briefly mentioned Blue Heaven, as that is where her husband grew up. She then focuses attention to urban renewal and how the citizens felt and what kind of actions they took to speak out against their homes being demolished. Mrs. Steele is an important addition to the project as she gives good insight about the feelings of Brooklyn residents in response to urban renewal and she speaks of her love for the cherished community.
Tape Log: Oral History Interview with Barbara C. Steele
Interviewed by Amy Hodgin
|Time||Description of Interview Contents|
|0.0||Beginning of Interview.|
|5.0||Information about her educational background and she speaks of African American businesses in Brooklyn, in particular the Savoy theater and restaurants.|
|10.0||Speaks of her experiences and love for Second Ward High School; specifically the teachers. Mrs. Steele comments, “Second Ward was like another home.” She discusses clubs and sports at Second Ward. Mrs. Steele then speaks about the rivalry between West Charlotte and Second Ward in regards to the Queen City Classic.|
|15.0||Speaks of her memories of Blue Heaven. Mrs. Steele’s husband lived in Blue Heaven. She defines Brooklyn’s boundaries. Speaks of her feelings about urban renewal and the hurt she felt as well as how she went to court to try and get money for the newly renovated house that was taken from her parents. House she and her husband moved into was not as nice as what they had in Brooklyn.|
|20.0||Discusses how the residents spoke out against urban renewal but how ultimately it did not help. She speaks of people outside of Brooklyn and their perceptions of what was happening at the time.|
|25.0||She speaks how in her day people could not challenge what happened but how she is so glad that today people are able to challenge issues. Mrs. Steele then talks about the sense of community and safety within Brooklyn. Mrs. Steele comments, “everybody was somebody and God was for all.”|
|30.0||Talks about why she did the interview.|
Barbara C. Steele
Steele TranscriptsSteele ResidenceApril 1, 2004
AH: Amy Hodgin (Interviewer)
BS: Barbara Steele (Interviewee)START OF CD 1, TRACK 2
BS: I was born and raised in Brooklyn.
AH: How long did you live there?
BS: 24 years.
AH: Did all your family members live in Brooklyn?
BS: My entire family lived in Brooklyn.
AH: Wow. Where did most of your friends live?
BS: In Brooklyn. Most of my friends lived in Brooklyn. We all went to the same elementary schooland the same high school. And most of us the same college.
AH: Now which elementary and high school did you attend?
BS: I, I attended Myers Street Elementary School. Myers Street. And I attended Second Ward HighSchool and I graduated from Johnson C. Smith University and I went on to the University ofConnecticut. And I attended the University of Connecticut.
AH: Ah, Could you tell me if you can remember any about the African American businesses inBrooklyn?
BS: Yes, we used. I used to be the cashier at the Savoy Theater, at the Savoy Theater on McDowellStreet and it was about a block from my home. And I used to be the cashier there. And when Iwould go to school, I would go to Smith when I was going to college and when we went to collegeI was going to Johnson C. Smith University. And when I’d get out of school at three o’clockeveryday, I would leave there and go to directly to the movie to relieve the cashier that was thereand I would work until eight o’clock at night.
AH: Ah are there any places you can remember that you loved to go and eat at in Brooklyn, anyfavorite restaurants?
BS: We used to have an Oscar’s Café. It was on McDowell Street too. Used to love to go there and gethot dogs. We were never able to sit down in there, but people could sit down in there, but we weretoo young to sit in there. And when I became grown and going to college and high school itclosed, but when I was kid we used to go in there. My daddy would take us in there and get us hotdogs and we’d enjoy hot dogs there, and there was a place on Second Street, it was called, well weused to go to the movies on Second Street. They had a movie theater and it was called the LincolnTheater on Second Street and down below it was a café and when we’d leave the movies we’dstop in there and get ice cream cones and he used to have a lot of little goodies in there for thekids, you had to pay for them of course. But we used to stop in there and get a lot of little goodies.And he sold food and you could go in there and get a dinner. And I’ve eaten dinner in therebecause they used to sell afros when I was a kid, and for our prize every year Mr. Warner wouldtake us there and let us eat dinner and give us dinner and we’d have fried chicken and boy theycould really cook some chicken, it was delicious. Chicken and potato salad and we had sliced Steele, Barbaratomatoes and they’d give us Coca Colas and we just thought we’d have everything when we wentin there.
BS: A lot of people, a lot of doctors used to have offices on Second Street and you’d see a lot ofdoctors in there and dentists. My dentist I used to see him when I’d go in there and I’d see myfamily doctor in there when I’d go, sometimes.
AH: Well now can you tell me, I know you told me that you attended Myers Street Elementary Schooland Second Ward.
AH: Can you tell me what it was like to attend either of those schools, or both of them?
BS: I loved both of them. Especially Second Ward, the teachers, they were just like your parents.They would always give you something, whatever you needed a pair of shoes or a dress orwhatever they would buy it for you. When you’d go to school some kid’s parents didn’t get achance to comb their hair. The teacher would comb their hair and take them out to the bathroomand comb their hair and wash them up or whatever they needed. They were just like our parents.They were. I really loved going to Second Ward. It was just like another home. We all felt like itwas another home for us. They were always buying us something, bringing us candy. You knowthey want you to learn so whatever they could do to improve your learning or to help you withanything they would do anything they could to help you. And I will never forget going to SecondWard. Really like another home.
AH: What kind of clubs or organizations did you have at school and were you a member of any ofthem?
BS: Well we used to have, we used to have Y team and girl scouts and that was at church. Girl Scoutsand Y teams and we used to go to a center called the Bethlehem Center and they used to teach ushow to crochet and knit and we’d play a lot of games. We didn’t have anything like clubs, youknow like well just girl scouts at church, that was more or less at church and Y team that was aclub I’d say but not many other clubs. We didn’t have anything like clubs.
AH: Now what about sports teams at Second Ward?
BS: Well, now I didn’t ever play any sports, I didn’t play a sport. I mean but we had PE teachers. Wehad a PE teacher and she taught us how to play a lot of games. You know we’d played basketballand baseball and things like that. We had a big, big yard at school that we could play in and doplay anything in and they used it for the football field and the basketball and we’d play basketballinside. We had racks inside the auditorium inside the school that we could play basketball. Weplayed any, we’d play all types of games like you know children played and you know.
AH: Ok. Now do you remember any rivalries within Brooklyn?
BS: Well it used to be when Second Ward and West Charlotte, we used to have a football game thatwas called the Queen City Classic and it would be between– there was only two black highschools, West Charlotte and Second Ward. And every year we’d have that Queen City Classic tosee who would win that game. [Laugh] And the girls, well the girls would go with the boys fromWest Charlotte and the boys would go with the girls from Second Ward and we never did comeover this way because [Laugh] most of us wouldn’t come over this way because you know I didn’thave no, I couldn’t come over this way because at that time our parents didn’t, we had to give anaccount of everywhere we went [Laugh]. Even when I was going to college I had to be at home acertain time, I didn’t live on campus. I lived near, I lived in Brooklyn. So I could catch the bus, I2Steele, Barbaracaught the bus to go to school in the morning and I came back home. So I never did, I was, I wasalways around, you know, yeah.
AH: Now when you were in high school at Second Ward, were there any other neighborhoods that youused to go to and.
BS: We couldn’t go to them. We couldn’t go to any other neighborhoods. I never went to, I never tono other neighborhoods. Everything we did was right over in Brooklyn. We couldn’t go over toanother neighborhood. Well until I became, you know old enough to go myself, you know. Notwhen we were kids cause we went to church right over in Brooklyn too. I went to churcheverywhere.
AH: Now which church did you go to?
BS: Saint Paul Baptist Church and we, everything was done right there in Brooklyn. I had no need togo any other place else because all my family, my family lived right in Brooklyn. Of course whenI was going to high school we used to go, we’d catch the bus we’d used to go to the Fairviewhomes, that was across town and I had some cousins who lived over there and on Sunday we couldgo over there and that was right over this way. We used to catch the bus and come over there andplay with them on Sunday and we’d catch the bus back home. But I, where I was born I stayedthere until I got married. When I got married I moved here. I never lived but two places in mylife and that’s that home and right here.
AH: Now do you have any memories of Blue Heaven?
BS: Yes, yes we used to, my husband lived over there. He, my husband lived in Blue Heaven and weused to have a laundry, it was called the Zorwick’s Laundry and Cleaners and when we’d take ourclothes to the laundry or to the dry cleaners we had to walk down there. So it wasn’t that far fromwhere I lived. It was, you know, it was a nice little walk. Everywhere we went we walked, wenever caught the bus unless to go to school. We even walked to go shopping. Living in BrooklynI’d walk downtown where it is now and shop. And walk back. [Laugh]
AH: Now how would you define Brooklyn’s boundaries? Do you think there was a clear distinctbetween say Brooklyn and First Ward?
BS: Yeah. People knew the difference. They knew when they were in Brooklyn; they knew when theywere in First Ward. Yeah. Yeah it was a clear distinction.
AH: When I say the words urban renewal, what does that mean to you?
BS: My family moving out from over in Brooklyn [Laugh] and that really, that really hurt me to myheart when we had to move. Well, I was already living here, I was living here at that time whenthey moved my mama, my mother was still there and it really hurt us and for what they gave us forour house it wasn’t nothing. You know we couldn’t buy another house, you know we had to paydown on another house you know in order to move in. We could have rented another one but thatwas our home place and they just seemingly took it from us. And we went to court concerning itand the judge said I can, we can’t give you what the house means to you. I said I’m not trying toget what it means to me I’m trying get a place for my mama, my mama and daddy to move so theyhave a decent place to live. I said we left a decent place and we want to go to a decent placebecause my mama had renovated that house. She had it renovated. We didn’t have lights or youknow, nothing like that. And when she renovated it, she had electric lights, they put electric lightsin the house and they put a furnace in there. And all, everything windows and roof, everything.And when we had to get out of there we had to move into a house that wasn’t as nice as the onewe were in. But we didn’t have no choice, we didn’t have enough money to buy, to get somethingelse. At that time, but anyway she had that one renovated too.3Steele, Barbara
BS: After she bought it.AH. I’m sorry. When you said that you went to court for your mother’s home, did a lot of people try todo that?
BS: I don’t really know. I, I think quite a few of them did but I’m not really sure. I know we did.And he said to me, he ask me, he said now how much do you think that house is worth? Now Isaid it’s worth a million dollars. And it was. I know physically it wasn’t, I knew that. But I’mtalking about mentally; mentally that house meant everything to us. We had, we had threebedrooms, we had a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a great big front yard and a greatbig back yard and it meant everything to us. And, that’s one thing, that’s one thing that really hurtme, that really hurt me to my heart for them to take our house like that. My mama had a great bigpicture window, one big as that window there, put on the front and it used to be so pretty. Therewas light, lamp that sat on the table in front of the picture window and everybody would come bythere to see it. We just loved that house. They just, they really did not give us enough money tobuy us another home. That’s what bothered me.
AH: Now with you saying you went to court, I know that was one way of speaking out about what washappening but do you feel that the residents of Brooklyn, in general, had a voice in what washappening?
BS: It didn’t seem like they had a voice. They really didn’t have a voice. They spoke out but they, itdidn’t do anything, it didn’t help any to speak out. Because he said he would give us, I, I reallyforgotten how much money he gave us, I really don’t remember. Because when we moved intothis house, it was, this house I moved in here brand new ain’t nobody never stayed in this housebut me. And my husband got this house on the GI Bill and I believe it was $14,000 at that time.And for him to have given us at least 12 or $14,000 we could have bought us another house. For atthat time see, but they didn’t do it, they just gave us eight or $9,000 dollars or something that justhad to put some down on it, we had to keep some to connect everything, the water and lights andgas and everything be turned on. They didn’t they just took our houses, they really did.
AH: Now you said residents, they tried to speak out but from what you just said, it really didn’t.
BS: No it didn’t help to me.
AH: What ways did people try to speak out?
BS: Well, we had different meetings and things. They had meetings up at Second Ward discussing itand different places they had a lot of different meetings discussing it. The way that the houseswere taken from us but it’s it still didn’t mean anything; they didn’t do anything about it.
AH: Now were these meetings were they organized by city council leaders or was it by the residents?
BS: By the residents, by the residents because most of the residents, a lot of people didn’t have homesin Brooklyn, a whole lot of them didn’t but a whole lot of them did too. About half and half Iwould say. And the people who owned their homes, those were the ones that were concerned yousee. Well the others were concerned too, because it could have happened to them, but anywaythey went along with us. We had a whole lot of different kinds of meetings in order to get moremoney for the places we had.
AH: Now what was the relationship like between, would you say, the mayor’s office and the citizens ofBrooklyn?4Steele, Barbara
BS: I just don’t believe there was any connection. Not any, very little if any. [Pause]
AH: I know you just mentioned a little bit that other people were siding with the residents of Brooklyneven if they didn’t live in the Brooklyn community. Were there any maybe newspaper articles orthings on the news about other citizens and how they felt about what was happening to theBrooklyn community?
BS: It’s been so long I, I really can’t even remember. I can’t remember whether it, I know there was alot of talk about it. Everybody in, everybody in Brooklyn were upset, people were very upset,people were very upset about it. And I’m sure there were articles in the paper, yeah, yeah therewere a lot of articles in the paper about it, yeah. In the paper and on the radio cause we didn’thave television back then, cause I don’t think we, yes we did, yes, yes we did, we had TV backthen. So it was, it was always on the news and somebody was always speaking out. You’d seepeople standing on the streets speaking out about it. How they had taken homes from people.Whatever they wanted to do that’s what they did.
AH: What lessons do you think politicians should take from the experience of Brooklyn?
BS: Well, you, you, you know if you don’t experience this yourself you don’t really know how peoplereally, really feel. So if they, I don’t think nobody that was in our area that could speak about itknow any more than the people that it affected. Because they were the ones that were beingaffected by it and I don’t think, I just don’t think the, it has gotten to them now you know in lateryears it got to them, but back then they just did what they wanted to do. It’s just like when I wasgoing to school, whatever, whatever you said was on, on, whatever was said in the book, that’swhat we had to go by, we couldn’t challenge the book and all that like you all can do. And that’sthe way it was back then. Whatever they said downtown, that’s, that’s what was it. But it’s notlike that now. I’m so glad that we’re able to challenge different things now and I’m very happythat we can do that now. And, and I know it’s being done now yeah. Because we have a lot a lotof organizations now that they go all out their way to do what needs to be done. Yes. But backthen we just didn’t have no say so. So.
AH: Now is there anything you can think of since we’ve been talking now and you’ve been sharingyour stories and your memories with me, is there anything, one thing in particular that sticks out inyour mind about Brooklyn?
BS: [laugh] Let’s see.
AH: About the people.
BS: One thing, everybody, we never, we never had keys to our houses everybody left their doors open.A skeleton’s key would fit everybody’s door in Charlotte, in Brooklyn. We could go, in fact youcould put, we had a big front porch and you could put a piece of carpet, not carpet but a quilt orsomething out on the front porch and you could sleep out there all night long, wouldn’t nobodybother you. And you know, everybody knew everybody, and we went to each others homes and ifyou were at my house when we got ready to eat, my mama sat a place on the table for you to eat.And if I went to your house your mom would do the same thing and that’s what I really lovedabout Brooklyn. And everybody knew everybody and everybody was somebody and God was forall. Right there in Brooklyn, we loved each other. You get sick, everybody was right there to helpyou and do whatever they could and that’s what I loved about Brooklyn. Out here I don’t evenknow who, I know nobody’s in that house next door, but I don’t know who lives there. I knowwho lives next to me right here, I know who lives across the street and I don’t know the lady wholives right across over there. But the lady next door, she and I used to teach together. But its, butif I were in Brooklyn we’d know everybody all the way up and down this street because we playedtogether and we shared everything. My daddy had a garden and whatever we had in the garden5Steele, Barbarawe’d share it with our neighbors and our neighbors would share, share with us. I just lovedBrooklyn, I did, I really did.
AH: What made you decide to do this interview with me?
BS: Well, I went to college [laugh] and I felt you needed somebody to help you. And I love helpingpeople.
AH: Well I appreciate it.
BS: And I wanted to help you because I’ve done surveys when I was going to school. We had to do alot of things out in the field also. And I knew it would help you and I didn’t feel, that’s why Iasked you where did you get my name from, when you said you got it from Vermelle I felt like itwas legitimate because I wouldn’t want nobody come in here and you know try to do anything toharm us, you know, so that’s why I let you come.
AH: And my last question, it regards my oral history class that I’m in, and in this class we areinterested in the interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee. Now could you tell meif my gender, or my race, or being associated with UNC Charlotte, would that affect the answersyou would be willing to give me?
BS: As I said before, everybody is somebody and God is for all and I love you.
AH: [laugh] Well thank you very much.
BS: I enjoyed talking with you.
AH: Thank you. Well thank you so much for your time and your memories and your stories andsharing them with me. Thank you.
BS: You’re welcome.END OF INTERVIEW – Approx. 26:07 minutes6Steele, Barbara7Steele, Barbara8