CHARLES HARDY: Okay, that should do it. I'll just keep an eye here, on
this. A little bit farther from me. [laughs]
IDELLE ELSEY: Well, am I all right?
HARDY: Oh, yeah, you're terrific. You're fine, yeah. And, again, this is all
very informal, you know?
ELSEY: Well, yeah.
HARDY: We're--again, you're--
ELSEY: --and it's, it's, it's your business. It's your, your organization's business.
ELSEY: I mean to say that, um, uh, that you're taking it because you're going
to publish it.
HARDY: We're going to be putting--you know, putting together--
ELSEY: --putting things together, um-hm--
HARDY: --some radio programs and a publication right--
ELSEY: --yeah, um-hm, um-hm, um-hm.
HARDY: --on, on the migration. Okay, um, so, uh--
ELSEY: --Reason why, you know, sometime you have interviews-- and then the
people come back at you: You shouldn't have done this, or, Why did she say that
and the other? And I just want to be careful, that's all.
HARDY: Oh, sure. Sure, no, well I, I tell you what. If, um, if you say
00:01:00anything that you would prefer--
HARDY: --not to, to go any farther than the two of us, we'll just make a note
of it and that's as far as it goes.
ELSEY: Oh, it's okay.
ELSEY: That's fair enough. I've never been, been interviewed like this.
That's the reason why I'm asking you. [Both laugh]
HARDY: Anyway, most of the things we're going to be talking about are sixty
years ago, so--
ELSEY: --Yes, it has. [Hardy laughs] Yes, it has. Yes, it has. You will
have to take my word for it--
HARDY: --oh, yeah--
ELSEY: --because you wasn't here. [laughs]
HARDY: That's right. [laughs] That's right. You're the authority at this
HARDY: Not, not many people around who could contradict you.
ELSEY: That's just it. [both laugh]
HARDY: Okay, Mrs. Elsie, you, you say you were--you're a native Philadelphian?
ELSEY: Yeah, I was born here.
HARDY: Um-hm. Can you tell me a little bit about your, um, family and, um background?
ELSEY: Well, um, my, um--I was born in, as I said, 1892, wasn't it? Yes, at
636 Pine Street. Now that, of course, is gone--is, is, uh, an apartment
building. And, uh, my father--back in Mayor [Samuel G.] King's time--now, that
00:02:00was even before I was born. My father, with two other negroes, were appointed,
uh, policemen. Mayor King said that if the negroes voted for him, he would see
that there was a negro policeman. So he, uh, appointed three and my, my father
was one--first negro policeman in Philadelphia. And, uh, he had a certain
district. We lived in the Fifth District at that time. And, of course, he had
a certain district. He couldn't--they wouldn't let him go above, uh, Greys
Ferry Avenue. That was--now this is an expression--that was a tight place for
00:03:00negroes. They would jump 'em, you know? But, um--or if they went, they had to
go with another, uh, white policeman. Then he got out of that, and started a
little cigar store. And that was before I was born, 'cause I'm the--I'm out of
a family of thirteen, and I was the youngest.
ELSEY: Yeah. [laughs] Then my brother Burt, one of the surviving, uh, uh,
males of the family, he was very smart. And he went to, uh, Northeast
High--that's 8th and Lehigh. And he got a, a scholarship for--from there,
because of his smartness, I guess, to the University of Pennsylvania, where he
took up, uh, uh, being a doctor. So that it was all--his education was all free
00:04:00because back then--then, at the university, you only had to be four years in
college. You didn't have to take premed and all of that. And he came out in
1908 as a physician.
HARDY: Well, now, what was your, your, uh, family name--your maiden name?
ELSEY: Truitt. And he was Dr. Burton C. Truitt. And, um, I think, if he
wasn't the first, he was among the first city doctors. You know, they had city
doctors back there then. I don't know what they have now.
HARDY: What was a city doctor?
ELSEY: A city doctor was were where the poor people came and got their, their
attention free. The city paid him, and, uh, I can remember so well when there
was a smallpox epidemic here. And we were so scared because he had his office
00:05:00at our house at 941 Lombard Street.
ELSEY: And, of course, when they rang the bell, why, uh, you let them in. And,
uh, one night they--my sister who is older than I let this man in. He was very,
very dark, so that you couldn't see the pimples like you could see on someone
else. And when Burt--that's my brother--[laughs]--looked at him, he found out
that he was, uh--that he thought he had smallpox. But he called up the
authorities and sent the man home and told him to stay there. And the
authorities came there. And at three o'clock in the morning, they quarantined
the whole block--[laughs]--
HARDY: --oh, geez--
ELSEY: --when these people were all asleep, and they got up, and it was chaos.
00:06:00The kids couldn't go to school. The men couldn't go to work. But the epidemic
was pretty severe, and Burt was right in the midst of that. Now, what else?
HARDY: Um, when, when was the epidemic?
ELSEY: The epidemic must have been--he'd--he--he, uh, graduated in 1908. Say
the epidemic must have been in the, I imagine, late twenties.
HARDY: Late twenties, um-hm.
ELSEY: Maybe, something tells me it was around 1930, but there was quite a
smallpox epidemic. It passed, like everything else.
HARDY: So then, by the time you were born, your father was no longer with the
ELSEY: He may have been, but I was a baby. I never knew.
HARDY: Okay, so--but when you were growing up--
ELSEY: --I only knew he was this--
HARDY: --he, he --was in the
ELSEY: --had the, uh--the store.
ELSEY: As he grew older, and he couldn't cope with the store any longer, he
sold it or did something, and went into the, uh, city work. He was a probation
officer, for grownups not kids.
ELSEY: And then he died in, um, '35.
HARDY: Huh. Did he ever talk to you, or did you ever overhear him telling
about his days as a policeman?
ELSEY: Only he would talk a lot--like, now, he would tell--talk to my mother.
My mother would whisper to us. He had talked--talked about when he was a child,
that he was seven years old, and it was around--now he says around three o'clock
in the morning, and he's from Eastern Shore, Maryland. And his mother woke him
up and he started to cry. And she said, "Shut up, boy." And he didn't remember
00:08:00anything else until he got into Philadelphia, and she woke him up, and he was in
a cab. She, she was one of the Underground, uh, Railroad escapees, and she
brought this child up. Her mother had escaped before, and it was interesting, I
thought, that Pop would just tell Mom, and Mom would tell us, that the--he
called him the hack driver that, um, was wherever the, uh--the, the station was.
I imagine the station was down there around 8th and Washington Avenue. He told
my grandmother, that would be. He says, "Now I'm takin' you where the colored
people live, and you look and see if you, uh, can see your mother." 'Cause
she--when she got in here, she just said, "I don't know. I got a mother living
00:09:00here somewhere." And then he put her in the cab, and was driving along
where--just where--he knew where the negroes were centered, see? And she said,
"Oh, there she is. There she is." And here, her, uh, mother was--they had, uh,
cellar steps then--was sitting on the top of the cellar step just looking when
this--her daughter came. She had escaped before. Now, with this, uh, child,
you know? And from then on, why, she--he lived in Philadelphia and came--folks
even thought that he was a Philadelphian, you know?
ELSEY: He was a good guy. [both laugh]
HARDY: Sounds like it.
ELSEY: Yeah, he was. He was. He was--he was intelligent. He was a mulatto.
And, um, he, he, uh--it was sometime when the two races got together--the
00:10:00half-white and half-colored. He could be very, uh, uh, nasty. It would be c-,
you know, I've heard him say that s--uh, uh, sometime he would come in the house
and, and raise the devil. And my mother would say, "Children, don't bother your
father now. Don't get in his way." And he was never cruel, but that
was--[laughs]--when a white person had done something to him. And he would
raise--I mustn't say that word, but you know.
HARDY: For sure.
ELSEY: He would raise the deuce. We said, well, that was his um, white, uh
re-resenting what this white man did. Then another time he'd come in the house
and he would G- G.D. every colored person. [laughs] That's when the, uh,
colored man had done it. [both laugh] So that we would--it was just--it was
kind of sad, because he had--he, he, he, he, he lived with that, you know? Now,
00:11:00like, with me, I'm far enough away from it. He was a mulatto. Uh, but it,
uh--it upset him. Well, it was one race fightin' against the other, way back
there then, you know?
HARDY: Hmm. And he--
ELSEY: And he was a highly respected person, and smart.
HARDY: --and he felt he was caught right, right in between?
ELSEY: --caught in the middle--
HARDY: He wasn't a black man, and he wasn't a white man.
ELSEY: It wasn't right, see? And when a white man did something to him, he
wanted to know who and so-and-so did he think he was, when a black man did
something to him. But he was highly respected. And as I said, he was a good
politician. We lived in the 7th Ward. We first--I was born in the 5th Ward,
but we lived in the 7th Ward. And Pop was quite a politician in that ward.
HARDY: Did he ever--uh, was he a committeeman, or how--
ELSEY: Uh, yes. Uh, he was--I can remember--how can I say it? I wouldn't
00:12:00particularly want this put on.
HARDY: This is something--I--one of the things I want to ask you about is, is
your recollections of politics as far--
HARDY: --back as you can go, 'cause this is something that is very difficult to
find out about, and is fascinating, you know?
ELSEY: Yeah, um-hm.
HARDY: So if you could--
HARDY: --I'd love to hear what you.
ELSEY: He would, um--when I was a child and we lived at 941 Lombard Street,
right at the corner--next to the corner. But on, uh, 10th Street--see, 941 was
near 10th. We had an alley gate, and I can remember these people coming up the
alley. They were--they were--now, he was in with the white politicians, you
know, there. Charlie Hall, who was a very big white politician.
ELSEY: And, as I said, he was Charlie Hall's man. And they would, uh--he'd
00:13:00give 'em fifty cents for their vote. [laughs] And that went on for some time,
you know? That's the first recollection I could--about politics. And my mother
wouldn't vote. She said, "No, they're too dirty." And she wouldn't vote.
When, when, uh, women could vote--
HARDY: --when suffrage came, yeah--
ELSEY: --she would not vote, just because--[laughs]--of this, uh., as she
called, uh--what--underlying, uh, actions of these politicians, you know? And
as I said, he was under Charlie, uh, Charl--I mean, uh, Hall--Charlie Hall. Not
Charlie Hall. Well, it was a Mr. Hall. And he was--he just run the 5th or the
00:14:007th Ward, and Pop was one of his men. And they would get fifty cents for every
one that came and voted their way. You see, they didn't have boxes and
everything that you do now.
ELSEY: I can remember that.
HARDY: You know, I'm, I'm surprised that, that there was that sort of payoff,
because, uh, I know, know, uh--I know how the voting was manipulated and bought
HARDY: --white and immigrant neighborhoods.
HARDY: And from what I heard, um, the--in the colored districts, the black
districts, there was not the kind of payoff that there was in the other
districts. You know, that, uh--
HARDY: --the black men who were voting didn't get the--
ELSEY: --well, now, I don't know how much they got.
HARDY: --the money to--
ELSEY: But they got--
ELSEY: --fifty cents--
ELSEY: --in the 7th Ward. [laughs]
HARDY: Right, in fact, I've heard one story about how, um, back in the turn of
the century, the early years of the century, that in the colored districts--that
they could buy votes with fish. Did you ever--have you ever heard that?
ELSEY: No I, well-- no, I hadn't heard that.
ELSEY: But you could, 'cause they weren't too far out of slavery, you know?
And anything to eat, they, they, they would do anything to get a meal, see? I
don't mean by that that they would definitely go out and rob.
ELSEY: But they would, just as you said. But I hadn't heard
that part of it. But I do know that they got fifty cents for every one that
would vote. The Democrat or the Republican would--you have to know.
HARDY: It would be Republican.
HARDY: Oh, all Republican back then--
ELSEY: --all Republicans, yeah--
ELSEY: Although Pop kind of stood out. For a time, he was a Democrat, and the
00:16:00people used to look at him and say, "Why would that--why would Truitt be a
Democrat?" And, um, I, uh, would--I know Grover Cleveland was the president at
one time, I think.
HARDY: And he was a Democrat, yeah.
ELSEY: He was a Dem--and I know my father--so Mom said, "My brother was Berton
C.--Berton Cleveland." And Bert--[laughs]--as he grew old and knew what it was,
he had--he would just say, "Berton C." He wouldn't say, "Berton Cleveland,"
'cause that would date his age. [both laugh] He would say just, "Berton C."
But he evidently must have been born in, in Cleveland's administration.
HARDY: Can you tell me a bit m-more about, um, your father's political
activities, or-What, what did he get in no--
ELSEY: We never knew, but he got something. You know that he got something.
Uh, Charlie Hall was the big white Democrat at that time, or must have been.
And my father was under him. And what Charlie said, Pop would do. Now, he
never got in any trouble--serious trouble, see?
HARDY: They wouldn't. I mean, the poli--they controlled the police too.
ELSEY: --see, yes--
HARDY: So there was--who was gonna get you in trouble, right? [laughs]
ELSEY: Yeah. And, um, you'd have to ask me.
HARDY: Okay. Who were the other, um, black men at the time, or mulattos who,
who, uh, were--ran the--you know, the, the politics in the--
ELSEY: --had something. I remember--
HARDY: --in the black district?
ELSEY: --hearing, uh, there was an Octavius O. [sic], Octavius O. Catto, Catto.
HARDY: You're going way back now.
ELSEY: Way back, because Mom, my mother, was younger than my father but maybe
not that--maybe five years. But I can remember hearing them talk about when
Octavius V. Catto was, uh, killed--he, uh, just from political reasons. But
they ran around the streetcar and shot him. And Mom would talk about it, and so
would Pop. Evidently, my pop knew O.V. Catto, you know? That was when there
was quite a lot of fighting among the, uh, the, uh, politicians, you know? And,
uh, Pop would always be in the heat of it, but he was smart and he could get out
of it. But he was in the heat of it, because if you were with Charlie Hall, you
did what Charlie Hall said, see?
ELSEY: Just so you didn't rob or steal or kill or anything.
HARDY: Yeah. What were some of the things that Charlie Hall had said to do?
Any i--any recollection of that?
ELSEY: Well, no. Because it was--whatever the Democrats were doing, Charlie
Hall was all mixed up with them, uh--them, uh, Democrats. I remember another
man that Pop was very friendly with, and he was an old white
Philadelphian--Bromley Wharton. And that's an old, rich name in, uh--and Pop, I
remember--[coughs]--well, Pop was sort of a, a--to Bromley Wharton, or Walton
was it? Hmm. I--it's either Wharton or Walton. But, but it was Wharton. I
can remember him going and, and doing errands for this Bromley Wharton. Pop
00:18:00always was with him, but he was with the whites that were above the just
ordinary white person. And Bromley Wharton lived--Walton lived on, on Pine
Street above 7th. And I know how Pop just thought Bromley Walton was the last
word. And he was a big politician, too, in that ward, see? Most of us children
were born in the Fifth Ward, down 6th and Pine, 6th and Lombard. But--and I
think it must have stopped at 7th Street when the, uh, 7th Ward started. I
ELSEY: But it was some t--place up there.
HARDY: What can you tell me about Amos Scott?
ELSEY: Well, Amos Scott--[coughs]--I'm friendly with his daughter now. She's living.
ELSEY: Yeah, Clara. She's a friend of mine, Clara Scott [Freeman].
ELSEY: And, um--but she's younger than I. She's about ten years younger than
myself. She lives on 57th Street. She has pictures and everything of her father.
ELSEY: You'd be very interested in--to talk to her.
HARDY: I would be.
ELSEY: And you could let her know that Idelle Elsie sent you to her.
ELSEY: Because she could--she could tell you everything about, about it.
Because I think that she was her father's secretary when he was big in politics.
HARDY: No kidding?
ELSEY: And I don't know--I'm not certain, but I think that Amos Scott had the
first automobile in Phila--negro had owned an automobile in Philadelphia. But
Clara was very s--smart, and she was her father's secretary. Then she went into
DPA as a clerk. She's smart. And, uh, she could give you a nice thing about
00:19:00Amos Scott. There were people that thought he was all right, and people that
didn't. But Clara could give you--that's Clara Freeman, she is now. She could
give you a nice--nice information on, uh--on her father.
HARDY: Okay, well, I'll talk to her then.
ELSEY: You talk to her.
HARDY: He--during his time, I guess, the nineteen-teens and -twenties, he was
the most important black--
ELSEY: --yes, yes.
HARDY: --negro politician in the city.
ELSEY: Clara--yeah, Amos Scott. Go to Amos Scott. Go to Amos Scott. You
HARDY: And he, he--his bus--is original business was as a saloon keeper?
ELSEY: That's what I re--I remember him as a saloon keeper. So that there were
some people that stuck their nose up to him. I can remember--now this is off-record
. When --[coughs]--I wanted Clara to come into Central Church th--down the
corner. We were, um, uh, the Sunday school. But it was at 9th and Lombard
then. Then it came out here. And, um, Clara was inhibited. Now, what made her
that way I don't know. And I said, "Well, Clara, why don't you come on and--"
As a little child, she went to Central, 'cause they lived at 12th and Pine, and
Central was at 9th and Lombard. Then she got away from it. And I remember when
I asked her to come back and join, she said, uh, "Well, do you think--" And I
told her about a club--this very club in there that I'm in. Uh, I told her
about the club and joining. She said, uh, uh, "Do you think they will accept
me?" And I said, "Clara! Accept you? Why wouldn't they accept you?" And she
said, "Well, you know, my father does have a saloon." I says, "That's not- uh
that's no reason why they wouldn't accept you." And she came in and joined, and
maybe a few of them put their noses up but they got it down, you know? [both laugh]
HARDY: I'm surprised at that, because--
HARDY: --her father served on the board of Douglass Hospital--
HARDY: --and he, uh, uh, seemed, you know--the Hotel Brotherhood was located
ELSEY: --yeah, um-hm, but--
ELSEY: --Amos Scott was considered a sport. And there were some old, staid
negroes that just didn't think that that was the thing to do, you know? But he
didn't bother with them.
HARDY: What was a s--
ELSEY: --but he was a big man.
HARDY: What was a sport?
ELSEY: When I say a sport, I mean a--[laughs]--a go-getter. A, a, a, a sporty
person. Do you understand me? You still don't understand when I say--now, if
you came in here to see me, and were dressed up and, and, and you didn't mind
00:21:00gambling or--you'd be a sport, see? And her father was considered a sport--Amos
Scott. But he got into politics. And there were whites that held him up, and
there were negroes that held him up. Then there was an element that just said,
Oh, Amos Scott. They might have been jealous of him. I don't know. But Clara
Freeman, uh, 1319 N. 57th, she--her father--she could tell you a lot about
his--because she was his secretary during those years. He was a magistrate and
everything, you know?
HARDY: Well, I'm gonna have to give her a call.
ELSEY: You, you give her a call.
ELSEY: She would--she could tell you more about her father than I could.
HARDY: Okay then, now, you, um--you grew up, then, on Lombard Street?
HARDY: And, uh, can you--where, where did you go to school?
ELSEY: Well, I went to the O.V. Catto School only for a year. I started at
Binney. Binney, uh, School was, uh--Binney School was, uh, Horace Binney, at
6th and Spruce. And then, uh, when I went to O.V. Catto it was just such a
short time. We were moving and never spoke of it. Then, of course, you go to
high school. I went to Wanamaker Institute and took up secretarial work, see?
And, uh, that was a, uh, the, uh, uh--the institute then was at 23rd and Walnut.
It has since changed the name, but there is still a s--there's some kind of
college there, around there, see?
ELSEY: I went there and took up stenography. And, uh--'cause I wanted to stop
00:22:00school, and Mom said, "Well, you can't." I wanted to come out of high school.
And so, we got in this Wanamaker Institute for me. And that's how I got my
training and my secretarial training.
HARDY: Um-hm. Were there many, uh--do you preferred the word colored, black,
negro, talking about--
ELSEY: --anything, anything.
HARDY: Because you know, speaking to someone older, like yourself--
HARDY: --right, you know, I'm not sure--
HARDY: --which is the--
ELSEY: --well, I'm just so used to negro. I remember when it started out
black. I resented it. I said, "I am not black." And they would say, "But it's
the race." I said, "I don't care what it is. Don't call me black--[Hardy
laughs]--I'm not black, see?" So that I, I speak of it as negro--
ELSEY: --you know? Um-hm.
HARDY: Were there many young negro women in, in, uh, Wanamaker Institute when
you were there?
ELSEY: No. And, incidentally, when I was in my last year--it was a two-year
course--they stopped having negroes.
ELSEY: And my father and a Dr. Nathan Mossell--here in Philadelphia,
prominent--went to bat for me. And they went--they saw d--because it was
Wanamaker's--the Wanamaker Institute. But there was a, a man by the name of
Anderson. Maybe you've heard of him. He's big--he was big back then, too--Dr.
HARDY: Of Berean Institute.
ELSEY: B--uh, he had that. And he and John Wanamaker were friendly. And the
tale goes, he told John, "John, when any negroes come to apply, will you send
them to me?" To his place, see? So that John said yes, and then just stopped
having negroes come to his school, 'cause I was the last one that came out--uh,
myself and another girl. We were the--after--and, as I said--[coughs]--I was in
00:23:00my last year. They stopped it. And they stopped, and Mossell went to the
board. And, and to Wanamaker and said that's no reason why you wouldn't let her
finish. So they allowed me to finish, and another colored girl. I forgot her,
who she was.
HARDY: What year was this?
ELSEY: Around 1913, yeah.
HARDY: Now, do you think that Wanamaker's was, uh, dropping negro w--um,
applicants, or negro women because of increasing racial division or tension? Or
because of the presence of Berean?
ELSEY: --because of, of B--Berean.
HARDY: --okay. [sirens]
ELSEY: Because of Berean.
HARDY: Because, in some of the, uh, historical accounts of the, the
nineteen-teens and into the early twenties, apparently there was increased
segregation. The segregation was increasing in, in the city of Philadelphia--
ELSEY: --yeah, yeah--
HARDY: --during those years.
HARDY: Can you give me some--
ELSEY: --I know that--
HARDY: --can you give me some examples, then, from your--you know, your own--
HARDY: --experience --of how--
ELSEY: --well, I know that I went, as I said, to the Wanamaker Institute. But
they did not--they s--they s--they would not guarantee me--in those schools like
that, they tell you, We'll get you a job when it's over and you get your
diploma. But they wouldn't let--they wouldn't--and they told me it. I still
wanted the education and thought the hell with that. I can get my own
afterwards, you know? But they wouldn't, um--wouldn't vouch for me.
They--because the--it was a turn of the c--a turning of times, and, and,
uh--well, they weren't like they are today, you know? You hear things that you
don't even think how in the world can that be possible? But it was. As they
00:25:00say, it was tight. That's a--it was tight back there then. It was tight. And,
uh, there was something I was gonna tell you about that, but it's passed out of
my, my mind.
ELSEY: It'll come back.
HARDY: Okay. [both laugh] Give me some examples of how it was tight then,
back in the nine--uh, you know, the nineteen-teens, before the, the First World
War, or even into the First World War.
ELSEY: Uh, well, you see, into the First World War, I was pretty young, 'cause
my husband was drafted. But because I was pregnant, I didn't--uh, he didn't
have to go to war.
[Pause in recording.]
HARDY: Examples of, of how things were tight--
ELSEY: --well, they were tight--
HARDY: --during that period.
ELSEY: I can only tell you what, uh--well, now, Bell Telephone never had any
00:26:00colored girls in there working. And the Armstrong Association, of which I
was--um, a placement secretary, came to us, and we were the first--we were the,
the organization that sent the first negroes to the ar--to the Bell Telephone.
HARDY: But this comes later?
ELSEY: Yeah, that comes in--
HARDY: --right, this--
ELSEY: --the thirties, doesn't it?
ELSEY: Yeah. That's the same way with the, uh--I never forget, an insurance
company that we had. And, incidentally--[laughs]--when we sent them to Bell
Telephone, they wanted light-skinned colored girls. They didn't want black
ones, you know? But--[laughs]--this is off-record too. I sent a very fair
colored girl, and the lady called me up and said, uh, "We don't--we can't use
her because she looks like white. We must have someone that looks like
00:27:00colored." I said, "Well, you told me light-skinned colored girl, and that's
what we call a light-skinned colored girl." I am a brown. I might be a light
brown, but I'm not a light--but as far as white people went, uh, I'm light.
There's so many light colored girls that went over and got mixed up in the
crowd, see? So that the white people called someone like me light, but I know
that we could not send--we had to send light girls on the job.
ELSEY: I'm telling you, it was something. I remember down there, that
insurance company--Mutual Life [Penn Mutual Life Insurance Campany], down 6th
and Walnut, 6th and Chestnut. I know that we had to send, uh, light girls down
HARDY: Um-hm. How--
ELSEY: --in fact, we had to send light girls whenever we went to--back there.
00:28:00And I can understand, uh, they wasn't used to it, and it was becoming a new era.
And they wanted as light a colored girl, but they wanted to get under
the--under the line, but she is colored. If, if any--the other social service
agencies or the government came down on them, see?
ELSEY: And then, so many of them--as I said, the ones that were
really light were passing for white on their jobs. And as I said, they, they
called me a light colored girl, see?
ELSEY: But there wasn't--
HARDY: --and the one who passed would be very threatening, I'd--[laughs]--
ELSEY: --and they wouldn't know them, see? They, they jumped over. And those
that they would have, just as you say--they wouldn't take that girl because she
was too light.
HARDY: Hmm. I'd--you know, I, I want to ask you all about the Armstrong
Association and those activities later.
HARDY: Let's--okay--um, let's move in--
HARDY: --chronolog--move chronologically forward--
ELSEY: --forward, um-hm--
HARDY: --okay. So, um, what did you do then when you graduated from the
ELSEY: Wanamaker Institute? I got a job at the Frederick Douglass Memorial
Hospital, and I stayed there. I worked at Douglass Hospital for a long time.
When I say a long time, I--because I was young, I might have stayed there--I
know I came to the other job in '27, so that it was in between there that I
worked at Douglass Hospital as an office secretary. And then I went to the,
uh--I went to this, um--this--the last job--this, uh--what am I trying to think
of? I went to the job that I stayed so long.
HARDY: Armstrong Association.
ELSEY: Armstrong Association. But in my first job--was--
[Pause in recording.]
HARDY: --s, um, during the First World War, uh, I guess it's the Pennsylvania
Railroad is, is the first corporation to start to bring up men from the
ELSEY: Maybe so.
HARDY: And I guess, by the--with--summer of 1916, 1917, men and women were
coming up from the South by the th--the hundreds and thousands.
ELSEY: --yeah, yeah--
HARDY: Do you have prob--what can you tell me about that?
ELSEY: --only thing that I can remember with the--as I said, I went there in
1927. And we would have lines. It was a--[coughs]--the Armstrong Association
was between Broad and 15th Street on Lombard. And we would have lines halfway
down the street with these migrants coming in for an application. At that time,
then we would just--uh, we, we didn't, uh, uh, distinguish through what type
job. Just so it was an honest job, you know? We would send them down to the
shipyard, but they would stand in line, like, for two hours just to get in to be
registered. And we would work from there. But we would send them to, um, uh,
what's that ship--ship, uh--ship company?
HARDY: There was Cramps. There was, uh, New York Ship. But I don't think they had--
ELSEY: --no, it was down--
HARDY: --negro men so it's, so-uh--
ELSEY: What's, what's here now?
HARDY: Hog Island during the First World War, then League Island.
ELSEY: Yeah, no, but it was--maybe it was Cramps Shipyard. We would send them
anyplace, because the people were desperate, and the employers were desperate.
So they--whether they put them off afterwards or not, I don't know. But we
would send them. We would send maids to the suburban homes--the white suburban
homes. We would send them to negroes, but there were a few negroes that were
having servants then, you know? And, um--but I can remember so plainly getting
into work at, uh--at 9:00, and just having to go through this mass of people to
get into the place, and then have to lock the door quick. And then, only allow
a certain number to come in and register. And it was for most anything during
00:29:00those days, see? Well as I said, I stayed there, and then it, uh--the Armstrong
began getting--what can I say--higher in their aspects and things. Because
not--you know, now they don't send any laborers or anything. It's all
scholastic-type people that they handle with. But I came up with them--with
those that were down and out. And as I said, only here for a little while, and
not wanting to go back to the South. And, Please give me a job so I can stay up
here, you know? I went through it. It was interesting.
HARDY: What sort of--what sort of people were they--th--these men and women
from the South?
ELSEY: Well, the most of them were, were black in color. Some of them were
belligerent. Some of them were mean. But the majority of them was, "Yes,
00:30:00ma'am," and, "No, ma'am." They didn't know anything else but that, see? "Yes,
ma'am." "No, ma'am." And then--you know, and I'd laugh because the--some of
them were, were, um, older than myself and calling me, "Yes, ma'am," and, "No,
ma'am." And, uh, they were--they were a nice sort of, of, uh, of negroes. But
they were desperate for a job. And as I said, they weren't--now, I, I don't
want you think--is that on tape, what I'm telling you now, or--
HARDY: Yeah, this is fascinating. This is--
ELSEY: --Yeah, b--well, I meant--I didn't, uh--you know, 'cause I don't want it
to--somebody know about it and say, "Idelle, why did you tell that man
so-and-so-and-so." [Hardy laughs] And I'll say, "Well, I told the truth."
"Well, you didn't have to tell the truth. Why did you so-and-so?" And I just,
uh--I don't want to, uh, get involved with any stuff like that. But they were
00:31:00nice people, but they were scared people, and they were dumb people, to an
extent. And, uh, some of them--and after years came back to the Armstrong and
would say where they were in school, or what, or this or that. But back
there--and, and as I said, it was in '27 when I went there. So I wasn't there--
HARDY: You were at the tail end of it--
ELSEY: --tail end of it, see?
HARDY: How did--did their--did they behave or have different attitudes from
when they came up? You know, what--
ELSEY: Well, the ones that we dealt with or put jobs to--gave jobs to were
mild. There were some that were resentful--that, "you think 'cause you're
yellow, you're somethin'" type, you know? But there were others that were just
as meek and mild as could be. Now, what they, uh, grew into after they got up
here, I don't know. But they weren't like they are today, you know? They
weren't independent. They were not independent--
ELSEY: See? And they are independent today, you know? But they weren't
independent. They were afraid. They would tiptoe, as you say. And then
they--too, there was, uh, places here that, uh, didn't want one in their place.
There were movies here that, if you went, they put you upstairs. You couldn't
sit downstairs. And there were other movies that, uh, just didn't want you.
Now, they couldn't put you out. I guess there must have been a law there, then.
But they made it just so, uh, miserable, by totally ignoring you, if you know
what I mean. [laughs] They had a white person come in, they'd take them to a
seat. And if a colored person came in, they'd look and just look away, and you
found your own seat, back there then.
ELSEY: --I've seen a long way, son. A long way. [both laugh] I've come a
long way. But never did I have the slave feeling--the atmosphere of once being
a slave, because I wasn't. But even so, I wasn't--my father had been. He was
seven years old when his mother ran--came up here. And then, the war came, or
the Emancipation Proclamation came. Now, he was too small--as I said, he was
seven years old--to realize what was going, but he had definitely been--he had
definitely been born of a slave mother--
ELSEY: --and a white father.
HARDY: Would you say that the people, then, coming up from the South during
00:32:00the, the nineteen-teens and twenties had more of the--you know, the, the
attitudes or--of slavery when, when they came up? The meekness and the--
ELSEY: I think that they cared--the--that, that, uh, some were meek and some
were, as I said, uh, angry.
HARDY: Angry at what?
ELSEY: Just because they had to do what they did. Just because they were--they
were negroes, and they felt everything was being taken advantage of 'em. They
light-skinned negroes, as I said, ignored 'em. And they just felt that, you
know--that it just--it was just kind of, as I said, uh--it was miserable for
them. But they stuck it out. And then, they had quite a few of we negroes who
stuck with them and brought 'em a long way--a long way.
HARDY: What were the, uh--Armstrong Association, then, was one of the most
important organizations in helping these people.
ELSEY: It, it was the social-service agency. We were under the, um--what's
this, uh, big organization now that runs all these social workers?
HARDY: United Way?
ELSEY: United Way--be under there.
HARDY: Can you give me a little--can you give me a little history and
background of the Armstrong Association?
ELSEY: In what way? I thought I was giving you some.
HARDY: Oh, yeah, the--well I'm just--
ELSEY: We had a very--we had a mixed board, if that helps. We had a, a, uh--a
Mr. Cadbury--William Cadbury. Now that name is synonymous with richness or
00:33:00quality. They were Quakers. See, John T. Emlen, who was a Quaker, founded the
Armstrong Association. William Cadbury was a friend of his and, uh--who else?
Mrs. Hull--I always liked her. Now, Mrs. Hell--Hull was on our board. She was
the daughter of the founder of Strawbridge & Clothier. The, the, the, the, um,
white Quakers were the ones that helped the negroes from the South coming up.
They really did. They, they really did. Uh, they were like the first to, to
hire them in their homes when they lived in Germantown or West
Philadelphia--parts of the way, and like that.
HARDY: You mean to hire, um--
HARDY: --negro women as servants, rather than--
ELSEY: --as servants.
HARDY: --the Irish or--
ELSEY: --yes, yes--
HARDY: --Swedish or--
ELSEY: --they did. They-they did. And Philadelphia, though, the--you know,
they do say--do--you can put that off the record too, that--when I -you was
coming up, it was the most prejudiced Northern city in the United States.
HARDY: That's what, uh, Dr. Du Bois said--
ELSEY: Yeah, yeah--
HARDY: --in one of his articles.
ELSEY: --that it was--it was, see? I, I, I didn't read much of--Dr. Du Bois,
uh, he would frighten me. [Hardy laughs] He, he would really frighten me. And
not only that, he would frighten me, and then he would make me feel like my God,
I want to kill every white person I see, from the way that he, uh, went at it,
you know? Now, he was good, and--maybe, and like that. But I did think that he
00:35:00would--he took it too, too strong. And maybe now, in today's time, they'd just
not think anything about him, see? But back there, W.B.D. [sic] Du Bois was
something. Dr. [Nathan] Mossell was a, a, a prominent negro physician, and, uh,
social--in the social, uh, workers line, too. He, he would fight. When the
Walnut Street Theatre here in 9th and Walnut wouldn't allow negroes to come--to
come in there, and he was one of the fighters that went up there when the--a
group of negroes went up there, like they do at places now that people don't
mind. You see them going, you know, in, in groups, where there is a lot of
prejudice. You see them with banners and all. Well, back there, they didn't.
But there were fighters that tried to--maybe now it would be called --it
wouldn't be anything. But back there it was you're just breaking the law.
HARDY: Do you have any recollection of, uh--one of the, the incidents I read
about was the, uh, opening of Birth of the [sic] Nation in Philadelphia.
HARDY: And the march that some prominent--
ELSEY: --I can only remember that they said--you--I remember that, um, Pop told
Mom, "Keep them off the street because it's, it's bitter out there. It is
really bitter." And I was a young woman then. How was--when was that?
HARDY: That must have--I think it opened in Philadelphia in 1915, 1916,
something like that.
ELSEY: It was--it was back there. It was back there. And I know we had to be
very--because there was spasmodic, uh, outbursts in the city. And you just
didn't go where there was only white people living, you know, down--walk down
the street or anything. You just stayed away, especially the male children,
see, 'cause they'd get in a fight. You know, you could be going along the
00:37:00street, a colored fella, and minding his own business, and they'd throw a brick
at him or anything, see? Back there, then. But now, why, things have just
changed. I don't know whether the white folks got tired--[both laugh]--or they
got afraid. But we don't have--and there's so much, uh, mingling with them now,
ELSEY: And it, it, it's--I--you just look.
ELSEY: Well, I don't, as I said, know whether they were afraid of us or just
what it was.
ELSEY: But it made them stronger. That lackey-type eventually grew out of it,
you know? You don't hear of any, "Oh, he's a lackey," or something. But back
there you did. But they didn't know. Their mothers had been slaves, and they
00:38:00came up scared to death, you know? But Philadelphia was said to be the most
prejudiced, although I didn't feel it. Well, I was a child for a time. And
then, when I grew up, why, I didn't real--I'd--I only felt it because I couldn't
sit where I wanted to sit in the movies. I remember there was a movie that
opened up here. I forgot the name of it now, at 16th and Market, or 21st and
Market. And, uh, they just didn't want you in there. That's all. And if you
got in there, it was because you looked like you were white and they didn't know it.
HARDY: Now, the Mastbaum--
ELSEY: --that was the Mastbaum--that was the name. Because it was 21st or 22nd
and Market first. But it was--now, wait a minute. It was the Mastbaum, I
think, was the first one that allowed the negroes.
HARDY: That's what I was going to say.
ELSEY: That's what--yeah, that was the first one that allowed the negroes to,
uh, come, and to sit where they wanted. It was the Mastbaum.
HARDY: Now, during, uh--so, we, we were talking about the, uh--the Quaker--the
Quakers who, uh, were, I guess, the, the founders or cofounders of the Armstrong Association.
ELSEY: Yeah, they were.
HARDY: Who were the, um--the negro men and women who were working on it?
ELSEY: Um, Pinkney Hill. He was the founder of, uh--what--Cheyney. Uh, Rev.
John T. [sic] Logan, who has long passed. But their sons are, are, uh--he was
one of our members. There was a--there was a--no, he's--he was a Jew--heavyset,
Fleischer. I'm trying to think of who was--I know Pinkney Hill was, and Rev.
Logan. What doctor was it? I can't think.
HARDY: Hmm. And the original objectives of the organization were to find jobs
for people, help them with housing?
ELSEY: Anything for the, uh, negro migrants, um, when they first came up. Get
them jobs and they'll be all-right citizens, see?
HARDY: So, jobs were the--
ELSEY: --jobs were the main thing--
HARDY: --the priority?
ELSEY: Now, Urban League, which changed now--it's named, uh, Phil--it's
different. But back there, then it was jobs. Get these negroes off the street.
Get these negroes jobs. And the negroes that were coming up would take any
menial job, you know? Any menial job.
HARDY: And the primary jobs you got them would be in the shipyard, or working
as porters, or--
ELSEY: --and as maids--
ELSEY: --in hotels. And, uh, in the homes--in the homes, doing general
housework. Then, as I said, we tried when they started, uh, getting, I think
that--I'm not certain about that, but I thought that I was--that we were--we put
them in Snellenburg's. Snellenburg's, at--
ELSEY: --had, uh--but they had light-skinned colored girls in there. And, uh--
HARDY: But they didn't know about it?
ELSEY: No, they didn't know about it. [Hardy laughs] I had a friend in there
that was, uh, in there, and had been working in there three or four years as a
white girl when they opened the, uh--the doors for negroes to come
00:39:00in--[laughs]--and they found out that she was colored, you know? But they
didn't fire her or anything. But now, you see, she had been there for four
years before they allowed a negro in there like that. But she was fair, and she
was passing for white, and no negro gave her away, see? And then, they opened
up the doors, and, uh, she uh--she laughed about it because she said, "Now, I
told them--" She says, "Well, you know, you have had them in, because I'm
colored." Well, they were struck dumb because she had been there four years as
a white girl, you know, when she told them. Quite a lot of tales, you know,
about changing over and getting straightened out.
HARDY: Okay. Uh, what were some of the other organizations that the Armstrong
Association worked in cooperation with?
ELSEY: With the, uh, YWCA--the one, uh, Southwest YWCA. Uh, we cooperated with
anything they--there wasn't too many other--
HARDY: --I know, during the First World War, um, the Travelers Aid--
ELSEY: --Travelers Aid--
HARDY: --and the Delaware Housing Association--
ELSEY: Well, I don't know that--
HARDY: --and I guess it was the Association for the Protection of Colored Women--
HARDY: --were also--
ELSEY: --well, that was Du Bois's--
ELSEY: --main--as I can remember, it was Du Bois--um, the Association for the
Advancement of Colored People--
HARDY: --okay, yeah, that's the NAACP--
ELSEY: --that Du Bois was the head--
HARDY: --yeah, this, this was a different one.
ELSEY: Oh, the NA--yeah.
HARDY: This was the Phi--it was a Philadelphia group called the Association for
the Protection of Colored Women.
ELSEY: --I don't [??]--not familiar with it--
HARDY: --and it was founded about 1906, and this was something I wanted to ask--
HARDY: Yeah. This was something I wanted to--
ELSEY: --well then, I was too young, because I was--
ELSEY: --I--how old was I? I was fifteen.
HARDY: What I wanted to ask you about was, uh, about housework and domestic
00:40:00service. And, as a lead into that, the reason why, apparently, that association
was founded was that, um, a lot of the young women being brought up from the
South often offered jobs by labor agents down there were brought to Philadelphia
with, with the understanding they would be given placement in private homes,
when, in fact, they were being brought up by the sporting houses.
HARDY: Was that a problem, do you think?
ELSEY: Well, now, I can't really--I can't, uh, remember. I mean, it didn't
come in--it didn't make itself known to me.
HARDY: Yeah, my impression is that by the end--
HARDY: --end of the First World War that had--
HARDY: --been straightened out and it was--
ELSEY: --that was kind of straightened out--
HARDY: --no longer a problem.
ELSEY: That was there--yeah.
HARDY: Okay. How did--how did, um, people back then feel about
housework--about doing housework?
ELSEY: Well, the upper-class negro resented it. And, uh, the, the ones that
came up--and you must remember, the ones that came up from the South were the
darker-skinned ones, see? And, uh, as I said, the others resented it. But, uh,
a lot of them would come and say, "Lady, I'll take anything." But we had to
look in their background to see whether they were the type that we would want.
And we would have the, uh--the employer to come in to us and interview them,
then let them go out and see what was--what the setup was, because there were
00:41:00quite a few white people that were sc--afraid of them. See, they hadn't been
used to it. They had been brought up, and they didn't, didn't--uh, they had
some, uh, negroes that--so I've been told, that even after slavery, they didn't
want to leave their masters, you know and their nannies, you know? What else
can I say? You have to ask me something--
HARDY: Oh, okay--
ELSEY: --because I don't, uh--
HARDY: --did, uh--there were--I know there were also private employment
agencies in the city that would--
HARDY: --find jobs for people. Uh, what was your relationship with them?
ELSEY: Well, we didn't, um, have too much to do with them as a social-service
agency. And they were a business agency. And they didn't, um--they almost
resented us--resented, uh, the, the, um--the Armstrong, see? Because they were
getting paid, and ours was all free. Nobody had to pay anything, the employee
or the employer. So that the private ones thought we were stuck up, if you can
know what I mean.
ELSEY: We didn't have anything to do with the private ones.
HARDY: Um-hm. Did you all become involved with, um, locating housing, or the
problems of housing for people?
ELSEY: I think that they did, but it was after I had left. And it was--when I
say after I had left, as I said, I didn't retire from there till '62, see? But,
um, we never went in to fistfight, you know? And we didn't--this and that. But
we did try very hard to get, uh, the, the, the, the nice negro in a nice
neighborhood. And, of course, you know, there was a lot of trouble, but it
eventually went over
HARDY: That, um--let me back up a little bit. Uh, my--I guess during the First
World War you were working at Douglass Hospital? That's--
ELSEY: --First World War was in '18--or it--was that when it was over?
HARDY: I guess it ended in 1918.
HARDY: So, 1916 to nineteen--.
ELSEY: Yeah, well, you see, I had--very young, and had married, and I was--
HARDY: --a child. Did--
ELSEY: --had a little--had a baby and all. And for a time, I didn't work.
HARDY: Oh, okay.
ELSEY: A few years.
HARDY: Did you have an awareness then, as a --as a young, married woman, of, of
the tremendous influx of people from the South?
ELSEY: Oh, yeah. And then it was that--you know, there's an expression even
now. I don't know whether you've heard it: an Old Philadelphian?
ELSEY: O.P.s, see? And you were proud to be an O.P. So there were some things
that you didn't even come in contact with, that this man--this person that was
an, an O.P. would say, "Oh, no, she's an O.P. Don't ask her," you know? Yeah.
And I'm proud to have been an O.P.
HARDY: Hmm. What, what was the feeling amongst O.P.s when this--when this mass
of, of darker, uneducated people were flooding into the city?
ELSEY: I think it was resentment. Don't say I said so. It was resentment. It
was that, that, uh, Oh, coming up here. And, What are they gonna do? And, They
won't have work. And, We'll have to do this and that and the other. You know?
HARDY: What, what were the fears?
ELSEY: 'Cause there were some of the--a couple of the, uh, negro churches that
didn't have, uh, dark people in their church.
HARDY: I've, I've heard some of those stories. [laughs]
ELSEY: Yeah, yeah. I know one church that--one--I can hear my father speak of
this one person--was the dark person. You know, when I get away from that, I
don't want it repeated. [both laugh] That was, um, a dark person in a church,
but that gradually went, you know?
HARDY: Ralph Jones has a story about his--
HARDY: --father going to one of the older churches--
HARDY: --and being refused seating on the first floor--[laughs]--
ELSIE: --on the first floor. Well now, that, um--there was a church here, but
I thought that was the white--
[Pause in recording.]
HARDY: When we were just talking, uh, you said that you felt many of the O.P.s
were resentful and, and a bit af--uh, afraid or fearful--
HARDY: --when the people were coming from the South.
HARDY: Why--what would--what did they--
ELSIE: --because of the prejudice--
HARDY: --have to be afraid of?
ELSIE: Of--because of the prejudice. You know, uh, how can I say it? The,
uh--the lighter you were, the easier it was for you, as I say, to get a job, to
go in a restaurant, and, uh, go to the theater without them gaping at you. So
that that's what they, they--they didn't want their glory to be taken away from
'em. That's the only way I can think of it.
HARDY: Hm. Did, um--did prejudice in the city increase when the, the people,
you know, came from the South?
ELSIE: I, I can't remember, but I just think it did. It did, because back
00:43:00there--there was such a division between black and white back there, you know?
If you saw a white girl walking down the street with a--with a colored girl, the
whites would turn around and look, you know? And God forbid it'd be a, a, um--a
colored man. [both laugh] See? So that I think so--
HARDY: --wouldn't get very far, I guess, yeah--
HARDY: Was there any Klan--awareness of the Klan or Klan activity in Philadelphia?
ELSIE: Not to my knowledge.
HARDY: I've read one article--
ELSIE: --if it was. It--I don't remember it.
HARDY: --hmm. I saw one--only one reference, and that was in an issue of The
Messenger, A. Philip Randolph's magazine--
ELSIE: Oh, yeah, that was very--
HARDY: --from 1920. And apparently, according to the article, there had been
threats against Rev. Tindley, Brown and Stevens, and some other of the negro
businessmen who had located on South Broad Street--
HARDY: --with, you know--get--then the id--
HARDY: --the gist of it was, get off Broad Street--
ELSIE: --yeah, where the Brown--where the Brown and Stevens Bank was. And
then, Tindley was further down on Broad Street. And I worked at the, uh, Brown
and Stevens before I went to the Armstrong. That was my very first job.
HARDY: Did you? What can you tell me about the bank and the --
ELSIE: The bank, uh, I was there when the bank--what did you--what do you
say--went up, you know, closed its doors. But they had a very fine clientele
there. They had quite a few of the Jewish merchants on South Street. It was
near for them to come and bank--
ELSIE: --and to get out fast.
HARDY: They'd do their business at a negro bank?
ELSIE: They did their--yes, quite a few, quite a few. Um-hm.
HARDY: What happened to it?
ELSIE: It closed its doors--when did the Depression start?
HARDY: Well, the Depression started in 1929, 1930, but Brown and Stevens went
out of business--
ELSIE: Oh, yes--
HARDY: --in 1923, twenty-f--
ELSIE: --uh, it went out--
HARDY: --twenty-four or '25--
ELSIE: --see, because, as I said, from Brown and Stevens, I floated along,
evidently, with little jobs, and then got into the Armstrong Association.
HARDY: Do you know what the re--what--can you tell me anything about the
reasons that the bank closed?
ELSIE: Well, at that time, they were closing a lot of banks. What--banks
is--they say, what is it? They go up?
ELSIE: The expression?
ELSIE: And it went up, Brown and Stevens. Now, there was no, uh--no having to
lock up anybody or anything. Their--they cl--they didn't mean--they didn't, uh,
close it because of, uh--of stealing or anything. But they just couldn't keep
up, evidently, to the standard of what a bank should be, um-hm.
HARDY: Can you tell me a bit about Mr. Brown and, and Mr. Stevens?
ELSIE: Well, Mr. Stevens was a very fine gentleman from Philadelphia, and his
people were very well-known and top-notch. He was a very fair man. He could
pass for white, you know? And, uh, Mr. Brown was, uh, from Newport News. And
he had the brains. But Mr. Stevens had the finesse. [Hardy laughs] Oh, he
was. And, uh, Mr. Brown was smart. And, as I said, Mr. Brown had the finesse
and Mr. Stevens had the grandeur. And the combination went very--Mr. Stevens
had more than Mr. Brown, because he was born in Philadelphia, and Mr. Brown came
up from the South, but was very--but, as I said, was very smart. And, uh--
HARDY: He apparently was a high-liver?
ELSIE: Yes, I remember that, uh--I think he was the first negro that lived here
on 41st Street near Walnut, when they didn't have those big houses, you know?
And, uh, he lived there. And, you know, you'd go by there and say, "A colored
man lives in that house." That was on 41st Street. But Mr. Stevens, with his
background, was more Philadelphian than Mr. Brown's.
HARDY: Hmm. You say, uh--what--who was--who was their clientele, then, in the
bank? You say there were the Jewish merchants.
ELSIE: Jewish merchants and negroes. Now, there may have been a few other
white, but I know the Jewish merchants on, uh--on South Street. There was a
Ventura that had a very fine, uh, provisions store--a market on, uh, South
00:47:00Street above Broad. And he had his account there. I can remember him. I can
remember that group.
HARDY: Hmm. Were most of the, uh--the negro clientele, were they small men and
women who were of the laboring class or domestic-worker type--
HARDY: The people who had accounts with the bank. Or were there some, some
prominent--would prominent people bank there too?
ELSIE: I, I feel there were some prominent people there, but they were
those--they were, I would say, more of the type that, uh, was proud that here's
a colored bank and I'm gonna put my money in this colored bank, see? From the South.
HARDY: From the South?
ELSIE: Yeah, they came up and, yeah.
HARDY: You think more Southern depositors than--
ELSIE: --I wouldn't be a bit surprised. I wouldn't be a bit surprised. I
wouldn't be a bit surprised.
HARDY: No, that--Brown and Stevens has always interested me, um, in that it, it
was the--uh, I guess there was one other small--
ELSIE: There used to be a--
HARDY: --negro bank.
ELSIE: Uh, George White. A Mr. George White had a small one [The Peoples Bank]
on Lombard Street above 15th, but it was a very small one. I don't know
what--he, he closed. It wasn't from disgrace or anything, but it just
didn't--he, he--they just didn't, evidently, have the money to push it.
HARDY: Hmm. So Brown and Stevens was the first negro bank in Philadelphia that
had a good deal of visibility, prominent location--
ELSIE: Yes, yes, yeah--
HARDY: --and, um, you know, it's fascinating to me, you know, to--I, I'm really
interested in learning as much as I can about how people felt about it--
ELSIE: --felt about it--
HARDY: --how it ran--
ELSIE: Well, that was very--it was very, very fine. And, uh, they had--as I
said, they had the Jewish or the Italian people that had businesses on, um,
South Street. They came--and I don't know how big their depositors were or
anything, but I know that they did--
ELSIE: --they, they did.
ELSIE: Uh, and then, you know those--as I said, like, Mr. William Cadbury--he
was a--a very fine Quaker. And maybe some of their friends might have had. I
HARDY: --to encourage--
ELSIE: The--they--the, the background--those old Quakers--well, we felt that a
Quaker would never tell a story--tell a lie, you know? They, they really did
have the, uh--the finesse and the, uh--John T. Emlen, who was the president, and
Mr. William Cadbury, and Mrs. Hull--that was aristocracy--truly aristocracy.
And Mrs. Hull, as I said, was the daughter of, of the original Strawbridge. She
was a Strawbridge, you know? And that carried weight. That carried weight
with, maybe, some of the white ones that were just reading and looking into it,
and say, "Well, this must be a pretty good small bank," you know?
HARDY: Now, uh, the bank f--I guess it was Brown who built the Dunbar Theater?
HARDY: Can you tell me--do you know anything about what--
ELSIE: Now, I don't know much too much about that. But with--
ELSIE: --Stevens had something to do with it too--
ELSIE: --you know, 'cause they were partners in everything.
ELSIE: And I can remember that, um, Brown--and now, maybe Brown had more shares
in the Dunbar Theater.
ELSIE: But, uh, Stevens was in with it, too.
HARDY: Yeah, my impression was that it was ad--adventures--business adventures
like the Dunbar that--
HARDY: --um, contributed to the, the bank going up.
ELSIE: Well, we--I think that, as I said, Mr. Stevens had the grand look, but
Mr.--he--Mr. Brown was, uh, I don't like to use the word cunning--[Hardy
laughs]--because that kind of looks like something. But he had the go-ahead.
He has the answers at that time.
HARDY: Um-hm. One of the, the things that, uh, seems to be coming up in doing
the interviewing too is the difference in style or attitudes between the men
like Brown coming up out of the South--a--the darker professional men--the
lawyers, you know, um--
HARDY: --realtors, who, who came up during this period, and the--I guess
the--their difference in style and approach, um, from the O.P.s--the O.P. men
and, uh, women. And, uh, was there--was there tension between those two groups?
ELSIE: I never saw it. I never saw it.
HARDY: So they, they could con--cond--uh, work together and--
ELSIE: --worked together. As I said, Mr., uh--Mr. Brown was shrewd, and a very
fine-looking--very good-looking man.
HARDY: Hmm. What can you tell me about John T. Gibson?
ELSIE: The only thing I know, when I was a little girl I used to go to the
Standard Theater around--on, um, South Street, right around from us. And I
remember him as the little dark man. He wasn't as sociable as the other people,
see? He was out making money, you know? I don't know too much about him, but I can--
ELSIE: --remember him being--
ELSIE: --being at the Standard Theater, you know? Kid, I'd run around there,
and you could see shows there, or whatever they had for, like, fifteen cents,
HARDY: Right. How about Marcus Garvey?
ELSIE: I never came in contact with him. I didn't approve of any of his stuff,
and, evidently, I, I, uh, didn't come in contact with Marcus Garvey. He may
have been all right, but I didn't come in contact with him. I was very small
then, I know.
HARDY: I had--that was during the 1920s--
HARDY: --that he was--
ELSIE: --was it that--
ELSIE: --was it back there--1920s?
HARDY: --yeah, the--yeah.
HARDY: Right, right. But --
ELSIE: --I thought it was even before that, but, evidently--Marcus Garvey. And
when they--what was it? He wanted to go back to Africa?
HARDY: Well, that--yeah, it's a d--
HARDY: That's the, the, sort of--the oversimplification of his program that--
HARDY: --that people remember today. I had the Black Star Line--
HARDY: --as a--
HARDY: --shipping line which--
HARDY: Yeah. Apparently, a, a fairly active chapter in Philadelphia, too.
ELSIE: A--active what?
ELSIE: Oh, yes.
HARDY: Group of followers.
ELSIE: Yes, yes, yes. They had some very good people back there then that have
really paved the way for what the young black man is doing or having now.
ELSIE: Really paved the way.
HARDY: Okay, well, I should probably let you go at this point, uh--
ELSIE: --uh, well, if you're through.
HARDY: Yeah. What I'd like to do is--
ELSIE: --I'd--and the thing of it is, if, uh, you know, you think of something
else, call me up and I'll tell it to you over the phone.
HARDY: Yeah, I'd, I, uh--let me ask you one or two more questions while I'm here.
ELSIE: That's all right.
HARDY: Okay. Now, you were, uh, of voting age when suffrage amendment was
passed for women's vote.
ELSIE: When was this? Um, when I was born
HARDY: --right at the end of the war, 1919, 1920, was it? Gee, I'm, I'm in
the--I'm s--I should know that.
HARDY: --and here I am, I've forgotten it--
ELSIE: --I had to be twenty-one to vote.
ELSIE: Yeah. And I--as I said, I'm ninety-one now. I'll be ninety-two in
September, but I'm not ninety-two until September. [laughs]
ELSIE: You know, old woman. So that, um--
HARDY: --so you were in your twenties?
HARDY: You were in your twenties.
ELSIE: Was I in my twenties?
HARDY: Early twenties.
ELSIE: Or early twenties.
ELSIE: --what was you asking about?
HARDY: What I--um, I was interested in whether your--what your feelings were
towards the--uh, women's right to vote back then? Were you a suffragette--
HARDY: --in any sense?
ELSIE: Unh-uh. Unh-uh. And I, I can't remember what my feelings were.
ELSIE: Maybe I was proud.
HARDY: Were there any negro women who were suffragettes?
ELSIE: I can't remember.
ELSIE: Really, I can't remember. 'Cause, personally, I felt that it was a
man's job. And, uh, I voted because I was a woman and I was a negro. It didn't mean
HARDY: Were you a Republican back in the early days?
ELSIE: What was the--what was the Roosevelt?
HARDY: Roosevelt was a Democrat.
ELSIE: I was--and who was before Roosevelt?
HARDY: Before Roosevelt was Hoover, and before him--
HARDY: --Coolidge and--
ELSIE: --oh, oh, I must have been a Democrat.
HARDY: All right.
ELSIE: Because I remember I didn't care for Coolidge. I didn't care for, for
the other man that you mentioned. Don't know why. He never did anything to me.
[both laugh] But, uh, just because it--
HARDY: --but didn't do anything for you, either.
ELSIE: No, no, no. It was, uh--a great admirer of Mrs. Roosevelt.
HARDY: Um-hm. One other question. You, um--you grew up before the age of radio.
ELSIE: I think I did, yeah. Or they were cu--. Oh, yes, I grew up before,
because I remember the first one we had. Well, don't you put your ear--we had
ear jiggers and my father would sit upstairs with his great big something. It
wasn't, uh, anything like this is, see? And, um,--or the radios of today.
Yeah, I guess I did.
HARDY: Do you remember, uh, what--you know, what you thought about when you
heard that there was this invention that you could hear voices coming through
the air and--
ELSIE: --I can only remember that I thought it was marvelous, and wondered how
they could do it. But it, uh--you know, it didn't make any big impression on me.
ELSIE: Television did more, uh, you know, than, than radio. Because, as I can
say, you had to put things to your ears, and I think we did have one in my--our
room. And I'd go to sleep with it, and my older sister would come and take it
off of my ears, you know? But, um--
HARDY: --did the f--yeah?
ELSIE: We marveled at it, but that was all.
HARDY: Right, yeah. Did the family have a Victrola when you were young?
ELSIE: Uh, yeah, we had a Victrola, and it was lovely. And we would play
these, uh--these, um--they weren't called tapes then. You know, the--
HARDY: --the old--
ELSIE: --the discs.
ELSIE: Yes, the records.
HARDY: Do you remember--have any recollection of who you listened to?
HARDY: 'Cause I would be--I 'd be interested in seeing, you know, who, uh--
HARDY: --what were the, uh--the popular records in that--
ELSIE: I can't think. I really can't think. Now, if you would name something,
and I would remember. But just to bring it out--
ELSIE: --to my mind, I can't, uh--
ELSIE: --think of the popular records.
HARDY: I guess when, when you were young there were not many negro recordings.
There was Fisk--
ELSIE: --oh, no--
HARDY: --and some of the uh- you know, Tuskegee and Fisk singers.
ELSIE: Um-hm. Yeah.
HARDY: And I guess the, uh, negro recording artists didn't start to appear on record--
ELSIE: --they didn't--
HARDY: --until the 1920s. Then you get--
ELSIE: --I know I didn't remember any of them--
HARDY: --Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters--
ELSIE: --yeah, yeah--
HARDY: --and that whole group.
ELSIE: I can't remember. How many years ago? It's nineteen-t--
[End of interview.]