Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with James E. Plunkett, August 4, 1983

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:04 - Sharecropping / first experiences in the North

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Partial Transcript: Now you say you grew up on a tobacco farm.

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett recounts growing up on a tobacco farm where his father was a sharecropper. He worked on farms until he was about 21 years of age, then moved north to New York and worked on a brickyard for a short while before moving to Philadelphia. Plunkett briefly discusses some his of first experiences in the North.

Keywords: Brickyards; New York; Northern experiences; Salary; Sharecroppers; Tobacco Farms

Subjects: African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Childhood; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Wages.

00:07:13 - Growing up in the South

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Partial Transcript: The, um--did they talk about--I guess Virginia’s pretty--that's, that’s, uh, not, not like the deep South.

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses how African Americans were treated in the South while he was growing up, his limited schooling, and when he started working on farms. Plunkett briefly discusses what some White people thought about African Americans moving north.

Keywords: New York; Philadelphia (Pa.); Schooling; The North; The South; Virginia

Subjects: African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Race discrimination.; Racism; United States--Race relations.

00:15:07 - Work at brickyard in New York / move to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Did you, um--what year did you head up to New York?

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses moving up to New York and working in a brickyard in 1917. Plunkett goes on to talk about when and why he moved to Philadelphia, and where he stayed his first few nights.

Keywords: Brickyards; Hackensack; Haverstraw; New York; Philadelphia (Pa.); The North; The South

Subjects: African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.

GPS: Haverstraw, New York
Map Coordinates: 41.1964, -73.9669
00:22:11 - City life / working on the railroad

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Partial Transcript: Um, now you arrived in Philadelphia, then, I guess this is 1918, now.

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses what he and other African Americans thought about living in a big city, and their experiences with others who had grown up in the city. Plunkett proceeds to discuss how he got a job working on the railroad, what it was like, and his experiences working with Irishmen.

Keywords: City life; Philadelphia(Pa.); Railroads; Work

Subjects: African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Relations with Irish Americans.; African Americans--Relations with Italian Americans; African Americans--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; United States--Race relations.

00:29:16 - Free time in the city

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever think of doing any other type of work, trying to get a job in one of the munitions factories, or steel mill, or anything like that?

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses what he did in his spare time: drinking bootleg liquor with friends and interacting with a "sporting class" of women. Plunkett briefly discusses working in construction as well as briefly working in a laundry house.

Keywords: Alcohol; Bootleggers; Free time; Liquor; Women; Work

Subjects: African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:35:25 - Working on a golf course

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Partial Transcript: Okay. When did you start--how did you get that job with the golf course?

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses his time working on a golf course, both helping construct the golf course as well as working inside the clubhouse.

Keywords: Golf courses; Golf links

Subjects: African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.

00:43:48 - City life temptations

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so now I guess I got a g--pretty good idea of your job history now.

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett briefly discusses going back to church. Plunkett continues on to discuss some temptations of living in the city, including going to "hotels," or brothels. Plunkett remarks that he would have been better off staying at home in the South instead of coming North and spending all his money on the “sporting life.”

Keywords: Brothels; City life; Darby, Pennsylvania; Temptations

Subjects: African American churches; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Religion.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

GPS: Darby, Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.913067, -75.254541
00:49:21 - Gambling saloons and sporting houses

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Partial Transcript: I've read one book that apparently a lot of, um--one of the things they used to do in Philadelphia, was there’d be agents who would go down to cities in the South: Savannah, or Macon, or whatever--

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses why some women would come to the North: to be prostitutes or being tricked to thinking they were being hired to do another kind of work. Plunkett discusses going to gambling saloons and sporting houses. He also talks about the lack of opportunities in the North.

Keywords: Bootlegging; Coatesville, Pennsylvania; Gambling saloons; Lukens Steel Mill; Opportunities; Prostitution; Sporting houses

Subjects: African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; African Americans--Southern States.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

GPS: Lukens Steel Mill in Coatesville, Pennsylvania
Map Coordinates: 39.992640, -75.821145
00:56:20 - Avoiding Irishtown

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Partial Transcript: Now last time we were talking, you mentioned that, um, when you were a young man, that if you were a young Black fellow, you didn’t go near Irishtown.

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses what it was like if an African American went into the wrong part of the city, especially Irishtown. Plunkett briefly discusses a friend who got assaulted in Irishtown.

Keywords: Greys Ferry (Philadelphia neighborhood); Greys Ferry (also known as Irish Town or Ramcat, site of 1918 riots); Greys Ferry Road; Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Irish Town (also known as Ramcat or Greys Ferry, site of 1918 riots)

Subjects: African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Relations with Irish Americans.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; United States--Race relations.

01:01:46 - Thoughts on Marcus Garvey

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever, uh, pay any attention to Marcus Garvey when he was around?

Segment Synopsis: Plunkett discusses what he thought about Marcus Garvey. Plunkett discusses the West Indian community in Philadelphia, as well as what the Old Philadelphians thought about Southern African Americans moving into the city. Finally, Plunkett discusses whether he would have been better off staying in Virginia or moving to Philadelphia.

Keywords: Black Pride; Danville, Virginia; Marcus Garvey; Old Philadelphians (O.P.s); West Indian; West Indies

Subjects: African American leadership; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; United States--Race relations.

GPS: Plunkett's hometown of Danville, Virginia
Map Coordinates: 36.5872, -79.4404