Birdie L. Furlow

Duration: 1hr: 7Mins
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Interview with: Birdie Furlow / B.T. Bonner / Howard Beef
Interviewed by:
Date: September 15th, 1983
Archive Number: HPL OH393.1 & OH 393.2

I: 00:04 This is Birdie Furlow, F-U-R-L-O-W and Mr. B.T. Bonner, B period, T period, capital B-O-N-N-E-R. My name is Howard Beef (?). Today is September, what? Fifteenth? September 15th, 1983. Miss Furlow, Mr. Bonner, I want to thank you both for sitting with us today. Miss Furlow, you have seen most of the 20th century from the vantage point of being a teacher. You taught for years and years in Wallace County or in Wallace, Texas which is in Austin County. What was the racial composition in Wallace generally speaking?

BF: Blacks, Bohemians and—

I: And regular white folks.

BF: Yes.

I: Were they about equally divided or were there more whites or more Bohemians or more blacks would you say?

BF: At first, I think there were more whites. No, more blacks, then more whites, and finally, more Bohemians.

I: I’ll be darned. How did those three groups get along with one another generally speaking?

BF: Fine.

I: Did they?

BF: There was no friction that I know about, might have had a little differences like children fighting, but I don’t know of any grownups who had any trouble.
I: How do you account for that? Was there just a bunch of real smart people in Wallace who had things figured out or—?

BF: 02:03 You know Wallace people are the smartest. They are the smartest people.

I: I’m sure. I’m sure.

BF: No, I tell you one thing. We were discussing the other day. We had good teachers and good ministers. They always sent us the best ministers and the best teachers. So, we were a little better prepared than the average community.

I: Well now, was that true though for the Bohemians and the whites or just for the blacks do you think?

BF: I think we all had good teachers. I know the nuns were teaching the Bohemians.

I: The Bohemians, ‘cause they were Catholic.

BF: And they were good people, and you know the whites have always driven to have the best teachers. And I don’t know how it was but somehow—well, we got—we had one teacher for so many years and then after they integrated—

I: When did that happen?

BF: Now, that’s what I don’t remember, dates.

I: Yeah, okay. But that happened after World War II? It might could have happened while Truman was in the White House or Eisenhower?

BF: Oh, it was before then.

BB: You talking about the integration?

I: Yeah.

BB: No, integration occurred when Johnson’s in the White House.

I: Oh, is that right? So, it’d be in the 60’s.

BB: It’d be in the 60’s when they integrated.

BF: But there was an association between the races all the time before then. They associated. I mean, in this way. No one—everybody was prepared to take in 03:45 (inaudible) and took care of them. Nobody had any friction with the other person that I know anything about.

I: 03:53 But yet, though, there were three different groups of people in Wallace. There was only one mayor or one police chief or the people who had power. Now, were the three different groups in Wallace, did they share equally of the power, or did most of the power come out of the white community or how did that work?

BF: Now, so far as—I know I think most of the power was invested in the white community because we had a white officer, no colored, but everything went along peacefully. I don’t know of any friction between them.

I: Well, that was fortunate.

BB: But as a mayor though that’s responsible for that, dealing with that three-way triangle, and that is that the whites, which she’s talking about there, the ordinary whites, used the blacks to give them the sanction of a majority all the time, see. In other words, the white—in other words, the Catholic Church educated the Czechs while the white school educated the whites, but your doctors and their—see, the town was not in (s/l corporance) and didn’t have a mayor. But your doctors and your deputy sheriffs and your constables and stuff like that came out of the white group rather than Czech group, and the blacks had a certain amount of prestige at that point because there were a lot of whites who referred to the blacks as being superior to the Czechs because they spoke the language that they didn’t understand.

I: I see, I see, I see. That’s interesting. Did—Mr. Bonner did—I know that the schools were segregated, all right. I know the Czechs went to their Catholic schools and English-speaking whites went to the white public schools, and the blacks kids went to the black public schools. But before school and after school and in the summer, did kids from those different communities do anything together? Did they play baseball, did they throw rocks at each other, did they—was there any—did they come together on a regular basis in any kind of way that allowed for a certain amount of familiarity to grow up and for maybe friendships or antagonism?

BB: The friendships were between families. In other words, the work situation was none of what brought you together because, see, this is a farming community. So, your day is completely spent normally working. So, if a black person worked on a white farm, his black children probably associated and there was a kind of acceptance. And the blacks who also owned farms, therefore, they had the same prestige level and so that association, a genuine social association was probably not there. In other words, there would be a white person or maybe two or three white people that would come to the high school graduation, normally they would be somebody connected with the school system, or somebody might come if a person who had worked on their farm they knew real well and they liked—that was the—

I: 07:21 The maximum.

BB: That was the maximum association. In other words, you did not have—

BF: Well, no.

BB: You even had once in a while a black that would go to a white wedding and that kind of thing, but it was more of a work orientated thing. It wasn’t a servant kind of work though.

BF: In the (s/l outset they did). This was before your time when Miss Browning was teaching there. Honey, all the whites came to our school (s/l close). You know, the night that the lamp fell and Johnny Edmonds (?) got burned? Honey, there were so many whites there—just admit it was, it was. All of her—they all came to her—we call it exhibitions. They were good.

BB: See, that’s the period—

BF: But that was our association with the whites.

BB: See, that’s the period I’m telling you about. My grandfather didn’t tell me about—and the change of this is when they segregated the barber shop. So, in other words, my grandfather and Dave Rick (?) had a barber shop together. They cut everybody’s hair, and around 1900 they segregated. So, my grandfather went on and started cutting white people’s hair, or so he tells me, and Dave Rick stayed—I mean, cutting black people’s hair, and Dave Rick stayed with white. For years, every once in a while, one of those old white guys would get drunk in the following year and decide he’s going to go to John and get John to cut his hair, and Papa would have to argue with him, and he didn’t understand no. And some of them didn’t want nobody there. That would often happen. But like she said, the association—not—no, see, I started to say by now—that association I know nothing of, and that association must have left a pretty good flavor in that town because the hostilities didn’t develop even with segregation. It didn’t develop.

I: When did you start teaching in Wallace?

BF: You mean how old I was—

I: 09:11 Yeah, yeah. That’s what I was easing around to, Miss Furlow.

BF: I think I was turning—I was 18, almost 19.

I: My goodness. And you had—you had been trained for some time at Prairie View.

BF: Well, I—no, not—yes. I had got my training in Wallace, and I came down here for 2 years—two times for the institute, and I went to Prairie View, and that’s where I got my training.

I: What was it that—you were a person who was raised up in Wallace and who succeeded there in spite of the fact that you were raised up in Wallace. What was it that made you go back to that little town after you had walked the streets of Houston and you’d been up to Prairie View and you had had a glimpse of a bigger world? But something pulled you back to that little community.

BF: Well, my parents were there. I loved my parents, and then, they had struggled so hard. In fact, I was the first black girl to ever attend Prairie View. All the children—

I: From Wallace?

BF: Yes. Every—all the children before that time had gone to religious school, Conroe, and—

BB: Paul Quinn. (?)

BF: Paul Quinn, another—well, it was three—had three schools that they had gone to. Well, somehow or another my mother met a man and my father, they met a man that had gone to Prairie View, Mr. Clark. Did you know him? They called him Professor Clark and—

BB: I’ve heard of him. I didn’t ever—

BF: Anyway, and he was talking about Prairie View, and my mother thought that was the most wonderful school. So, we’re going to send her—I have something wrong with my throat—said “We’re going to send her to Prairie View.” I didn’t know where—what Prairie View was. But anyway, I went. But I wanted to come back. My—I just wanted my parents to feel proud of me. Have you—you know how it is when you went to do something to make them proud.

I: That’s right. To make them feel like—

BF: 11:36 Feel like he had done something worthwhile.

I: That’s right, that’s right, that’s right. So, you started teaching there when you were not yet 20.

BF: No, I wasn’t 20.

I: What was your salary Miss Furlow? Do you remember—?

BF: A great big 50 dollars a month.

I: Fifty dollars a month.

BF: I could hardly wait to get that 50 dollars. I had never had any money before then.

I: How many students did you have, and could you tell me a little bit about the school that you worked in and the people that worked there and how many kids you taught and when your day began and when it ended?

BF: I had 50 children my first year. I had five grades.

I: All five of those grades basically were in one class?

BF: One—no, five classes.

I: You had five different classes?

BF: Five different classes.

I: And how big was the building and such?

BF: You know how big that building was. That same building that you went to school. But it was turning—it was turning this way then. But—

BB: 12:42 It was 14 feet wide and 31 feet long.

I: My God. And you told me—you told me that you’d made some changes in that building.

BF: That’s after—but now, see, that’s when I was a girl, and I taught there I think four or five years that time and then I lost my job because I was scrubbing. You know? It was the dirt rooms. I had to ride a horse to get to school and on Friday at 12—you see, we had water about two or three blocks.

I: You had to—

BB: About three-quarters of a mile at all times that you had to go to get water, and there was a well.

BF: And so, I would scrub because the house would just be muddy—you know—after that rain. So, I would scrub at 12 o’clock and sometime it wouldn’t be dry enough to go back in before one. Well, we would wait until it got dry. So—because I couldn’t afford to keep the children after four o’clock to go and get water and scrub and everything, so somebody reported it.

I: Oh, dear.

BF: 13:58 And the trustee came and we were out. It was about one o’clock, a little after one. And I never did have sense enough to armor myself. And he said “Why are you out? It’s one o’clock. It’s after one” and I said “Well, see, I scrub.” I said “The house was just so full of mud.” And I said “I scrub every Friday at 12. It gets muddy like that, and we have to wait until the house is dry.” And he didn’t say anything, but I knew from the expression on his face—

I: That he didn’t approve of that.

BF: That he didn’t approve of that, and I said “You can ask people right up there about it.” I said—(s/l of course) they’re the ones who reported it. I was embarrassed telling the truth about it. But anyway, I didn’t—I applied for the school when time was out, when the term was out, and I went to Richmond, got my last check. I didn’t ask for the school and they didn’t offer it to me. So, I just—

I: What did you do?

BF: I came to Houston.

I: What did you—about what year was that? Do you have a recollection?

BF: That was four years after 19—I started teaching in 19—was that ‘11 or ‘12? It was four years after my first year.

I: 15:20 Was it around—was it before World War I then?

BF: Yes.

I: It was.

BF: But anyway, so I didn’t—I applied for different places, and then I tried to get over here and I said “Well, I’m not going to work if I can’t get on in the city.” I said “I’m not going to teach in that class.” So, I did have one or two offers. Well, I had applied and the principal told me what I had to do to get the school. I didn’t have any—I’m so—well, got all that independent spirit, but there’s some things I don’t do. See, I suffered first and I didn’t do. I told him I wasn’t going to do it, so I didn’t get—and so I met—I got married and my husband gave me a course in beauty (s/l correction.)

I: Where did you take that? At Franklin or—

BF: No, it was Podor (?). She was from Missouri, but she came here and she taught us.

I: What did you think of Houston at that time?

BF: But now, listen, we were getting 50. Beg pardon?

I: What did you think of Houston while you were here? Were you—?

BF: Oh, I was impressed.

I: Were you?

BF: I thought Houston was a grand place. Oh, the city, and then I was born in the country, and I was with my aunt here. They had a nice home and everything.

I: Where was that? Which ward did she live in?

BF: Third Ward.

I: Third Ward.

BF: On Drew. So, I appreciated—and finally, well, that was years later after I’d been married for some time. My daddy called me. I hadn’t taught. I’d just—I was doing beauty. He called me. He says “If you want to teach, come to Wallace.” That was in your day, and I couldn’t wait for my husband to come home that evening.

I: 17:24 To tell him the news.

BF: And I had got—I got ready. After he called me I—

I: Well now, how can it be aside—I guess probably aside from the fact that your parents were in Wallace, you told me that you liked Houston, that you thought it was a nice town. It was an exciting town, and yet, when the opportunity came to go back to Wallace—

BF: I love Wallace today. I love Wallace.

I: Did you—so you went back there to teach, but you continued to live—

BF: Well, I did. My husband—

I: Why was that?

BF: Well, living here, my husband, he had a job here.

I: So, you were living in one world and working in another.

BF: Come home every Friday.

I: Did you find that arrangement to be inconvenient in some ways but convenient in others? Both an advantage and a disadvantage?

BF: It was in this way. I didn’t see it as a disadvantage because nobody bothered you there and you can drive, you know.

I: Sure.

BF: And it was fun in a way to get up early and drive out.

I: How long did it take to drive?

BF: Oh, it’d take me about an hour practically because I didn’t drive too fast. But anyway, it was—then I could hardly wait for Friday evening to get back home. My husband would come out once or twice. He was working for (s/l Gross at the time) and he would come by some nights, spend the night with the family and it was a nice arrangement I thought.

I: 19:07 Did you detect that life in Houston was different in Wallace and that maybe some of the—that people behaved better in Wallace maybe than they did in Houston? And if they did, why do you suppose that was?

BF: I don’t know that they behaved any better because people are just people and it’s just—

BB: I think—see, you dealing with an overall picture, and I think that’s one of the parts—like I tell people that black people understand white people, but white people don’t understand blacks. See, Miss Furlow was not a black when she came to Houston who ended up in a controversial setup with whites because there was a fellowship of blacks here that they operated in that was totally segregated but satisfied whatever pride things you needed. So, whoever got into trouble was—like I said, because of, say, like a controversy, of walking in River Oaks, she wouldn’t have had that kind of problem, while in Wallace you had—like I said, a freedom that wasn’t even recognized by people here in that you could pretty much go where you wanted. If you owned a piece of land next door to whoever it didn’t matter. So, there was the pride things. One of the points about her living in Houston that probably made people there really not only accept it but feel that it was an asset was that they felt that she would get exposed to something here to bring back there that would help too ‘cause I can remember people talking about that.

BF: And then I worked in the churches there—you know—whenever any program, anything they wanted done. I was glad to—

I: Did the ministers in Wallace—it seemed like the kind of natural leaders of the community probably were the teachers and the ministers, and they were just expected to be better than most folks, all right?

BF: They were expected to act better. They were expected to act better than other folks. I don’t know whether they were supposed to be better.

I: In a sense, the fact that you were a teacher meant that you were onstage all the time.

BF: Yes.

I: People were always looking at you and evaluating you. Did you ever resent the kind of pressure that that involved? Or were you sort of pleased that people were—?

BF: 21:50 I didn’t even give that a thought. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it. You know, I know—I don’t care how good you are or what. Somebody is going to have some criticism. I remember once his mother said—was telling me about what somebody said. I said “Well, honey, if I listened to what the people said, I wouldn’t even know myself.” And we both laughed and let it go. I never—I don’t—in fact, I’m a—I don’t hold things. I get mad with you, and I tell you off right now, but then I’m sorry the next minute and I forget it.

I: And it passes by.

BF: I don’t hold anything. So, if they did anything to me, I don’t know. I’ve forgotten it.

I: What are some of the kinds of activities that you tried to bring to the schoolroom? What were things that you wanted to accomplish in the classroom every year?

BF: I tell you, first we talked about cleanliness. That was the first lesson. I wanted every child to be presentable. I remember I had a little boy, a little Henry who would come to school every morning with his shoes on the wrong foot, laced up with white strings, and that hurt my heart. I—and I would 23:21 (inaudible) to sit down and get—take those shoes off, boy, and put them on. And I—if I would look around, he’d put that same shoe on, and I don’t know whether we got him some black strings or not, but finally he got rid of the white strings. And I wanted—and we were just a nice-looking bunch of people, I have to tell you that. We didn’t have any—we had ugly children in the colony. They were just nice-looking—

BB: They had techniques though that did these things. See, now what you did is you had a monitor that was over like a group that—see, instead of—see, she didn’t have to check each one of these students. She had like a monitor that was over this group, and that person would check your ears to see if they’re clean and look at your teeth. You know, it was—the kind of things that she did then, now, the school system wouldn’t allow them done because they would consider them violation of rights, but they were the only source of education for us because I can—one day, I don’t whether she remembers, she was teaching us how to bathe. And she’s doing this with—you know—here you are standing up in the place with all your clothes on and she tries to get you to act it out and she wants you to—and she’s dealing with logic as to whether you’re going to bathe your feet or your bottom before you do your face and all of this. And so, you know what I’m saying is, you learn these things that probably no school deals with now. And yet, people expect schools to do it more so now, and yet they make it against the law for the teacher to do it.

BF: 24:58 Yes, I know I was responsible for my children until they got home in the evening, and I said when they were leaving “Now, I better not here of any fighting or anything.” And if someone came the next morning and reported it, well, that person would get punished. But now, no matter what they do now, right here, if there’s a school there there’s one there. And I called one day and told—there was something—said “We don’t have any control over them after they leave school.” So, it’s different, and then another thing they had to—I tried—you know, when you don’t have water available, you can’t—but we did get a wash pan and try to teach cleanliness and then I tried to—oh, I don’t know. I just went out of the way with dramatics and plays and things like that and poems. I just—that just—I wanted them to learn, and all kind of poems, you know. These poems teach a lesson, and I wanted them to learn that and keep the building clean, wash the windows. Well, we just taught things that people should know, the basics.

BB: See, that’s like—I don’t know. See, the period she’s talking about when she got fired, I don’t know about that period, but I can guarantee you those students were not outdoors smoking and these kinds of things. See, that was an activity. In other words, like I said, the times when we would be out you’d either have organized games that you learned and you’re going—see, you didn’t just learn how to hit balls and this kind of stuff. She wasn’t no—a case of 27:00 (inaudible), but you learned the basic principles and distance, and if there was a question that arises at some point it was handled. It wasn’t—what I’m saying is you wasn’t loose. In other words, all of these things were fitted in and I guess—you know—some kind of improvement came out of that first experience because she probably still had to do the same thing at that school if I can remember. We had to scrub the school. There was no janitor, and so, you had the structure where it fitted in and—

I: Also, I remember you telling me, Mr. Bonner, that she would put things together in the classroom, things that ordinarily people wouldn’t think to put together and use them as an educational device. For example, the business of the baseball game and the quizzes. If you got a question asked to you and you got it right, then a runner would advance to first base, or if it was a little bit harder question, all the way to second base.

BB: But I think—you know—I think something else happens too, though, with the way she taught school. I think that you learned reading not in terms of looking at a page. See, you learned reading in terms of a story that you read, then you had to tell it, you had to interpret it. You learned math not that two and two is four, but if you—you learned math by saying X number of apples. So, you had to write what she called an analysis. You know, in other words, when you work your math problem, you had your figures here and you had your analysis written out so you understood it.

I: 28:38 What you were doing.

BF: And I taught writing as well and spelling. See, 16, even a number, a dozen. See, you got to write it out, period, 28:50 (inaudible).

I: What kinds of plays did you put on and were you interested in, and where did you have those plays?

BF: We had them in the church because we had no other place when I was teaching here.

I: And you would make costumes and you would memorize lines?

BF: The parents would do that. The parents would make the costumes. I didn’t have a thing to do but tell them we were going to have this play. We want this child to have such and such a color and such and such a thing. They got it. I don’t know where they got the money for it. They got it.

BB: That was when my—like I said, I think that was what gave me a sense of—see, my mother could sew, and so she would end up helping make the costumes and stuff. But the interesting one is at one time they had a play and they had to use our bed sheets for curtains, and we couldn’t go to bed until after the play was over. (laughter)

I: Get those sheets back down, right? How did you get along with the principal that you had to answer to and so forth? Did he pretty much let you run the show or—?

BF: Oh, that was after they integrated with the whites. Yes, now, my part of it, see, I had the same grades. He had the higher grades. I was next, then the next teacher, then the next. And he never—he didn’t ever bother me about what I wanted to present, and sometimes he wouldn’t know—we would surprise him, that Mr. Prewitt. He wouldn’t know we were planning anything. We wouldn’t let him know—

I: Just wouldn’t let him know until it was time.

BF: Until we were ready, and he would be so surprised.

I: Let me turn the tape over at this point, and we’ll continue on the other side. (tape ends 30:43) (new tape begins 00:04) —about Wallace.

BB: What it is—the thing I observed was that the social life of Wallace died. The respectable social life of blacks in Wallace died when Miss Furlow—or when the black school was closed down, actually, because it lost part of the entertainment role that the plays and things had served. And so, the community has deteriorated real bad in that area. You know, we got blacks now who have finer homes to live in and all this thing, but social life in Wallace is gone. The only thing you can do in Wallace now is show up, get drunk, smoke dope and this kind of thing. But back then, even those places were kept on a higher level because those same people went there. Now what they’ve done is totally (s/l advocated) because there is no literary type social life, and like I said, I don’t know what her motivation was for putting on the play, but the play was really appreciated by the people. In other words the—in other words, the play was not used just for teaching. You also got to realize that play was used to—you know—you charged a nickel to come in, so you raised some money to buy the curtains that you ultimately used and the lights that you had in the building.

BF: 01:22 And for entertainment. You know, people didn’t have anywhere to go, and they were glad to come. We had some good plays. I sure will not ever forget the first play I had after I went up to Wallace after they integrated. It was a play about—I’ve forgotten the title—a man who didn’t want his boys to play football, and I couldn’t get those children in Wallace to act that play like I wanted. I went to the high school. My children had just gone up to see it, to the high school that (s/l Mayor Agnes) had and I think it was Johnny Haddon (?) and one or two more to come to take part. And the school was just crowded with whites that night we presented it, and Johnny Haddon was the father and after he saw his boys play ball, he just fell in love with the football game, and when they finished, the boy went to him and sang “Daddy, dear old Daddy, you’ve been more than a daddy.” That was a really good play and those are the kind of things—you know—and people enjoyed that. They have somewhere to go and not only—

I: And not only that but they knew everybody that was in the play. It was your brother, your son or your cousin or whatever. So, you were all up there.

BF: That’s right. Not that I’ve done—it’s nothing—I’m not trying to take any honor, but it’s just things that you’ve done that really counted, and we weren’t thinking about anything. I was just doing that because I wanted to do it, and I thought it was just nice to do it but not that I wanted any honor for it. And I’m a—I’d rather when they told me that Booker wanted to have something for me, I said “I don’t want you to do that” because what I did, I did it because I loved it there, and it just gives me all the satisfaction in the world when some of my children call and say “I appreciate everything you”—

I: Well, but you got to let—if the children want to do something, it’s because they love too. All right? So, just like you did what you wanted to do because you loved it, you’ve got to let them do what they want to do because they got a little love of their own.

BB: 03:57 I think it goes beyond that though. I think in my case, I really have a problem with trying to figure out how to capture what good things there were back there then. In other words, now, there’s got to be some learning we can do that we didn’t just—like I said, see, ‘cause everything wasn’t in the book. You learned some things. Some things we missed because we allowed these other things to happen, and at this point, like I said, I’m interested in learning from her, like you said, (s/l from us) is what really did happen to her when she left the colony and went to Wallace.

BF: But my—I feel like my word wasn’t effective as it had been in the colony because—you know—when you work with other people there’s going to be criticism from somebody or there’s going to be a little jealousy and a little trying to hurt you.

I: A thing that we should probably explain because listeners will not know what we’re talking about is what is the difference between Wallace and the colony.

BF: Wallace is a town. The colony was a little community.

I: Within—

BB: One is in Fort Bend County. That’s probably the major difference, and they’re in two different school districts really. See, one is in the Orchard Independent School District. That’s the one in the colony. That’s the one where she is really like teacher, principal and school board pretty much. When you get to Wallace, you got a different structure because they even—by the time she got there, they were rich. See, they had a janitor. See, they got somebody to clean up the schools, so, see, you’re relieving a lot of things, and like I said, she didn’t take the work thing and just let it be work. It was an educational tool. So, that made her lose part of the effectiveness too, and so that’s what I’m saying. This is a question that I hadn’t thought about until she and I got to talking a year or two ago, the point about how long she had a student. She had a student six or eight years so she—so that was a different thing. See, while you go thinking variety is a good thing, it also can be a bad thing.

I: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. That’s right. In Houston, they had in addition to the white controlled newspapers they had some newspapers that were owned and published by blacks. Did you read those on a regular basis, take a look at them?

BF: Yes, the Houston Informer. That was a leading paper then, I believe.

I: 06:51 Then, yeah, that’s right.

BF: For blacks. I read that quite frequently.

I: There was a little newspaper put out by a guy named C.W. Rice. It was called Negro Labor News. Did you ever see that?

BF: I don’t remember reading that.

BB: That didn’t really get popular until in—you know what I’m saying? That was really—but it was a labor news. If I read—it never really got popular in the black community. The only time it got any notoriety at all in the black community was when Rice jumped on Lanier back in like ’51. That was when you started hearing that because if you didn’t live right in that neighborhood or you wasn’t part of that waterfront labor bunch, didn’t nobody know about it.

I: Or what was it that caused Rice to get into a tangle with somebody? What was that about? Do you—?

BB: Well, what it was, at that point Lanier was president of Texas Southern. Lanier could not control the students. Of course, I don’t think Lanier wanted to, and that was the first disagreement. Now, I don’t know what the motivation of Rice was, but the first criticisms that Rice started trying to bring up was Lanier did not have a doctorate degree, and he was over a bunch of doctors and everything. And like I said, the student control thing finally came out in one of the sections where Rice and I got into it because he was going how do I put the (s/l Nia make me do) and I told him, hell, he couldn’t and (s/l Nia) couldn’t and nobody else, so that’s the point at which, like I said, that I started looking at it to see what it was because up to that point I had never read it.

I: I know that Rice accused Lanier of being a Communist too.

BB: Well, yeah. Like I said, he got away with that and he dealt with the homo thing too—you know—the tail end of that and it was really sad because they couldn’t get Carter Wesley (?) to do their dirty work for them. And when—‘cause Lanier had come to me once and said he needed to get his own paper, but by that time, I had gotten the story because of the fight with the state about changing the name of the schools, so I didn’t have no 09:05 (inaudible).

I: Did you see reflected in any way in Wallace things that were going on nationwide? For example, when Joe Louis was champion. Did folks talk about that, and did white folks and black folks talk about it, or was that something that blacks mostly talked about among themselves and didn’t much talk to about with whites?

BF: 09:40 I really don’t know. I know we talked about it. We were proud of Joe Louis, and I don’t know whether whites talked about it or not. I don’t remember having talked with anybody, any white about it. But we—that was one person I would comment on, his behavior and everything. He acted very well I thought, and I would tell the children they could take a pattern from that—you know—you can win people because after all, no matter what you know, I think you should be decent with it. And I said last night I was going to ask you a question today. When you finish, I’m going to ask.

I: Okay. Well, I got a whole pile of questions inside me. You spoke of Lewis as being kind of a good example, and he was spoken well of. What about Jack Johnson?

BF: Oh, now, that was when I was young.

I: That’s when you were younger. That’s right.

BF: I heard—

I: He was a local boy. He was from Galveston. He was born and raised up in Galveston, yes indeed.

BF: Well, I know he was criticized quite a lot, more so than any other of the champions that I had heard about.

BB: The thing with the white woman with Johnson was like I said, by the time I could start knowing what was going on that was—you know—

BF: That’s what they criticized.

BB: That—like I said, it was really funny too how the blacks handled that, because like I said, Miss Furlow would have been in a different class. See, I got exposure to that group, but I also got exposure to that bunch of drunks that would get down there and do that. But there was a funny pride in Wallace because there was a real hostility toward any black woman that they even suspected of maybe sleeping around with a white man, and in Wallace, if they suspected a woman of that she was sort of ostracized. So, even the funny pride that black males might have shown around behind the restaurant were not going to be shown in front because that was—now, that was sure enough a no-no. Like I said, we—I guess some kind of way inevitably you kind of dealt with while the white people was going to keep the males away from the white woman. But the black community had a lot of pressure on the black girl in Wallace to see to it that she didn’t—

I: 12:20 She didn’t go around with whites.

BB: Back during this period. Now, naturally, with the integration all this changes.

I: All of it changed, yeah.

BF: But I thought Joe Louis was a fine person.

I: Yeah, he was. He was. So, besides getting your students to be respectful of themselves and keeping themselves clean and presenting themselves well, what other kinds of things did you try and work on inside the classroom? I know, for instance, you used games to make games part of learning, and you used plays to make plays part of learning and to relate the school to the community. Where did you get your ideas from?

BF: Well, I wasn’t making any money because that first money, 50 dollars, was higher than I made until ‘50. But anyway, I would take my money, some of it, and order—I would subscribe to a magazine that would help me, and I can’t remember right now. It wasn’t—

BB: Liberty—

BF: It wasn’t a grade teacher that was there or instructor. I got so many of my ideas—

I: Out of that.

BF: —with the instructor. How to make decoration for the windows and—

I: You not only made decorations for the windows. You made the windows. Tell me about that. When you originally moved into the schoolhouse, it only had windows on one side? Is that right?

BF: That’s when I was teaching 14:06 (inaudible). It was on the—oh, that’s the west—

BB: On the south side.

BF: South side.

BB: It had the door facing east because it didn’t have a back door. You had one door facing east, and you had three windows facing south.

I: 14:23 South or west?

BB: That’s south. Then they raised money and put four windows on the north side.

BF: Near the highway so we could see the highway.

BB: See, in other words, the highway thing, I understand that they turned it that way so the students would not be distracted by the folks at the highway.

I: And so, you got some windows cut in and put in some—

BB: I think it was my last year there.

BF: Hallis (?) put the windows in and painted the house inside and out.

I: Bravo. You put flowers—

BF: And I put flowers and—

BB: The real thing was that we finally got to where you could have some of the school at night. They bought some of these lamps that you could hang on the walls. See, that was the other thing. You couldn’t have (talking at the same time) school at night because they didn’t furnish any kind of lighting system at all. You had no kind of lighting system. They furnished your stove, and half of the time they didn’t furnish wood or maybe if they would furnish wood it would get stolen because—or something because I can remember—you know—like my father and the other guy named Tony (?). I can remember them, different people bringing wood, or we would go out there and pick up wood off the side of the railroad. See, that’s what I’m saying. See, it was an education process, not only in terms of learning reading, writing and arithmetic but survival and cooperation and being resourceful. See, I think that that’s the part that is completely missing now. In other words, kids go to school now, they want everything right there handed to them. See, we would have figured out—you know—like if you need, say, for instance, pole vaulting. We couldn’t buy no cane pole, so what you do is you get somebody to go search through the woods and find a willow pole, which is the lightest one, get it dried up. Well, naturally, couldn’t nobody pole vault over seven or eight feet, but at least that was what you used. That made you think and the whole process. So, that’s what I’m saying. You were resourceful. There’s a resourcefulness that came out of that school that I’m sure is part of what she’s talking about. She didn’t feel that she was as helpful when she went to the other place because by that time, like I said, they got a janitor. They started buying cane poles.

BF: 16:46 Had a cafeteria.

BB: That one probably would have added another educational dimension maybe except that she did something to try to get you to understand nutrition even. See, that’s what I’m saying—you know—the system now, a teacher takes one little thing and that’s her role and that’s it. And so, if a student isn’t—say, like, I don’t remember any—I guess I asked about everything, but I don’t remember putting a limit on what questions you would ask her and which would have really guide me when I got to (s/l Wheatley) if you—in a history class and you asked a teacher something about an English class, and she looked at you like she think you crazy. And see, that’s what I’m saying.

I: But she had to know it all.

BB: Yeah, she either had to know it all or figure out how to get you to a way you could find out.

I: Were there any libraries in Wallace or the colony?

BB: Here is it, right here.

I: That’s it. No, they didn’t have any libraries?

BF: If they did it was at the white school. We didn’t know anything about it.

I: Here in Houston they had the Houston Public Library but that was—except for one branch, the Carnegie Branch, I guess that was pretty well segregated up too.

BF: They had one in Fourth Ward or Frederick School. I’ve forgotten the name of it. That’s where I usually went for information.

I: To get books and so forth. Did you like it living in one place, working in another place?

BF: I thought it was wonderful. It was a challenge too, you know. You have to get up and get out there and be on time and all of that.

I: Were there any organizations that put you together with other teachers, whether black or white? Were there occasions where you all got together at a conference or a meeting to compare notes and discuss problems and so on?

BF: 18:58 That’s right. We did that teachers—we called it the Teacher’s Association, and we would meet at certain times. That was after his—

I: After his time?

BF: After they integrated. Before then—

I: Before that, no. You were out there by yourself doing your thing.

BF: That’s right, until we’d go—the superintendent would have us come some Saturdays and that’s when he told us on Saturdays that he appreciated having us, that we must love our jobs or we couldn’t get (s/l nothing) working for what we were working.

I: You know, in the white community at least, there is a feeling among city folks that people who live in little towns are hicks and hayseeds and rubes. Is there a similar feeling in the black community in big cities towards folks who come from little towns or not?

BF: I don’t think so.

BB: I really think you had a different attitude. I think we looked upon city blacks as being phony, and really looked up on it as being phony. They’d come out there bragging about what they had and they’d pack off all your chickens. (laughter)

BF: I was just going to say and eggs.

BB: That’s right.

BF: I told him, I said “Don’t take it all” and I said “We use some.” That’s what I told them, see. 20:20 (inaudible) I said “Don’t take all the stuff back to Houston. Use some out here.” Now, we—

I: 20:28 There wasn’t that kind of feeling. People got along with each other, and it didn’t really make any difference who came from where or any of that stuff.

BF: Something I had planned to say. I’ve forgotten.

BB: I know one other thing I think that happens too with Miss Furlow’s students, especially the ones before she went to Wallace, is they felt fairly secure as students. See, they didn’t feel threatened because of their little school. They had pride, and like I said, I—maybe being clean every day and these things was what helped build it. But see, we didn’t feel threatened because you came from somewhere else and I can remember—you know—my first trip to Prairie View in the 4-H Club and this kid gonna brag about how much his daddy had and all this stuff from down in Thompson. And me, all I was waiting for was when we get into the judging, and I showed them, all of them. Now, they gonna brag about their school and all of this stuff, but now, when we get to judging and I’m winning first place and you ain’t, well, you notice right quick that we had our disagreements there based on that. We had no insecure feelings when it came to the intellect part. Now, the money thing, we didn’t have it because, like I said, of a kind of resourcefulness we (s/l were dealt with). Like I said, I don’t ever remember feeling that or hearing really that it was an imposition to go (s/l pack) the water. You know, you were lazy and didn’t want to do it, but to say the students shouldn’t do it, that this is something the school board ought to do, nobody dealt with it.

BF: 22:17 No.

BB: To have ordered that the school board should have replaced those windows, I remember somebody saying that they should have, but that was about the end of it. The community no longer cried about it. They went on and did it and like I said, the educational—but it’s like the—I can remember the one first part of satire that I got involved with was Patrick Henry’s speech when he said “Give me liberty or give me death,” that she had gotten us to where we were taking a magazine called Liberty and we said “Give me liberty” and at that time the magazine cost a nickel. And we said “Give me Liberty or some other five cent magazine.” (laughter)

BF: Well, it was fun.

I: You enjoyed it.

BF: It was hard work, but it was fun. I didn’t see it as hard work. I just thought that was just what you should do, and I enjoyed doing it really. I just hadn’t had any—when they come to me talking about what—here recently, I had—it surprised me because I just—I told them, I just did my duty. I thought I was doing right, and I just went on. But I enjoyed it, really I did. I enjoyed it so much more than I did uptown.

I: Is that right?

BF: And I had more time uptown, and listen. I went up the first—I don’t know if it was the first year, but one of those years, I didn’t even have an English uptown. I couldn’t get one, no matter. The principal, we went to the white school. I taught English a whole term without a book, and I imagine my children fell off in English because I taught all the English in the school.

BB: 24:03 See, that was another thing about us. See, we would inherit the books from the old school, the white school, but that’s another thing. See, you were taught to take care of your book and that was a—you know what I’m talking about? It was you pretty much knew from year to year. See, in other words, like my name—you had to sign your name in that book, and if that book came up with pages missing and this kind of thing, it was handled in a way that, like I said, that the pride thing was there. In other words, the boy she mentioned who was very destructive, basically, still, by the time he got to like the fourth or fifth grade had developed a whole different attitude, even coming out of that destructive setup because of peer pressure. See, in other words, the peer pressure was reversed. The peer pressure now makes kids go do wrong. Peer pressure there made you do right. And like I said, the other part, though, that I’ve never said this to Miss Furlow in her presence, I’ve really never said about it, it was really weird that at no point did I consider Miss Furlow—say, like, religious per se because even though you said prayers in school and the songs you sung were basically religious song, you didn’t deal with it in that kind of term. You dealt with it in terms of morality, in terms of morality being, say, American rather than Christian. And therefore, you got it into—you got away from any of the fogeyisms about Baptists versus Methodists versus this versus that and these are some other factors.

I: Let me ask you this Miss Furlow. This is going to be going back a little ways too, but I’m curious if folks in Houston or in Wallace heard very much about Marcus Garvey. Is that a name that you recollect? He was a—

BF: Associated with—oh, let me see now.

I: It was called the UNIA. It was the—it was an organization that sort of was a separatist organization. He sort of advocated blacks stay separate in developing their own economy and—

BB: My grandfather had that book or had a book that dealt with that, and I never, like I said, this is late in—you know—this is in the later 30’s now. So, I assume that Garvey’s going to prison had made him unacceptable, but my grandfather dealt with it in a way that he fed that kind of information to me. The school system at that point would have probably had the kind of pressure that Garvey would not have been accepted because like I said, see, there’s some other factors about the 20’s that history does not deal with. From the blacks who came back, who left Wallace, who came back. I don’t know whether—with silk socks and expensive shirts because they had made money in the early 20’s and then they came back to Wallace. And when the Depression hits, there’s a whole different ball game because, see, like she said, see, she didn’t make 50 dollars a month when she was teaching me, which is like 20 years later, she was making like 30-35 dollars a month. And so, these kind of things, unless they were going to play a major role, wasn’t handled. By that time another thing happened to Wallace that my grandfather talked about was these Masonic lodges had frightened the blacks off because a lot of them had gone bankrupt and this kind of thing. So, by the time when I’m there and that, she can tell you about the other period of time, but by the time I’m there, all these things kind of become taboo other than, like I said, my grandfather had accepted the fact (s/l about Garvey) but he’d have to deal with—because he didn’t want a child to grow up or thought prison was respectable, so naturally, he had to cut it off. The same thing with the (s/l bank). With Lewis, like I said, the sad part about it is blacks did not get the true picture of Lewis. They got the public picture of Lewis ‘cause, see, I doubt very seriously whether any black knew that Joe Louis beat up—what’s her name? The black star? Lena Horne.

BF: 29:02 I heard that recently.

BB: See, all this was kept out.

I: Is that right?

BB: Yeah, see, this was kept completely out of (s/l news) and so what you looked at was this person who did two things, thank God and his mother and was patriotic to his country. And we were all taught a kind of patriotism that wasn’t, like I said, it wasn’t overstretched. See, in other words, you didn’t get—you didn’t do it for—

I: It was just there and it was pervasive.

BB: You didn’t do a ritual of pledge allegiance to the flag. It was a thing you learned. You understood what it meant, and you did it once in a while. You didn’t do it as no ritual—you know—which made you get off into this thing and all of that stuff which will make you be a Klan member. And like I said, the religious thing was the same way. So, you learned the prayer as a learning technique and as a social entity within the community, and like I said, I don’t know what her motivation was, but I know that I came out of a Methodist background with a Baptist father, and at no point did I question the difference.

BF: That didn’t come up at all.

I: What happened when the Depression hit Wallace? Tell me a little bit about that.

BF: 30:23 Well, we had a pretty tough time. Of course, if you were on the farm, you could raise—see, my daddy raised hogs, and we had cows and he had a little farm. We had cane, we’d make syrup. We had our own meat.

I: Most people owned their land.

BF: Yes. So, it was hard, but still, we didn’t have any food but we did have food because we were smart enough to raise that.

I: Were there people who had left Wallace who decided to come back to Wallace because they had lost their jobs in the city or there wasn’t work for them anymore and they were coming back to the family farm because they knew there at least there was a place to sleep and there was food?

BF: You mean during the Depression?

I: Yeah.

BF: Oh, I don’t remember anybody having left that came back.

BB: See, that’s another thing about Wallace. Wallace people, for some reason when they left, came here, they got jobs. In other words, like my aunt who had no education, they got her a job out there off on Montrose working for some rich white person, and they kept those jobs even during the Depression, see. And say, like, my stepmother who had separated from her husband around that time and had to leave probably right in the part of the Depression came here and got a job with little or no education, but they had the utilitarian things that made them—you know—community functional and their—(tape ends 32:09)