Interview with Leon Grimes, July 21, 1983

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Age, birthplace, and family

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Partial Transcript: Okay. Um, you say you're eighty-four now?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes speaks about his birth date (February 1899) and the small town of Palatka, Florida, in which he grew up. Grimes also remembers his mother and brothers with whom he moved to Baltimore, Maryland at the age of 13.

Keywords: Baltimore, Maryland; Native American; Palatka, Florida; South

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Southern States.; Childhood; Migration, Internal.

GPS: Grimes's hometown of Palatka, Florida.
Map Coordinates: 29.648535, -81.637533
00:01:18 - Reasons for moving to Maryland

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Partial Transcript: Brought them--we--brought us north because we had, uh, relatives in Baltimore, Maryland. I had, uh, cousins there that taught, taught school in, in Maryland.

Segment Synopsis: Grimes recounts moving for the first time from Florida to Baltimore, Maryland. Relatives who lived in Baltimore encouraged his mother to bring the children north in order to obtain a better education in Maryland than in Florida. However, more importantly he also states that the racial discrimination in the South was also a big reason for wanting to move north.

Keywords: Maryland; Motivations to move North

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Childhood; Migration, Internal.; Race discrimination.; Racism

GPS: Baltimore, Maryland
Map Coordinates: 39.2846221, -76.7609158
00:02:01 - Experiences of racial discrimination as a child

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Partial Transcript: Can you give me some examples from, you know, your own experience as a young boy, of--

Segment Synopsis: As a young boy, Grimes went to the St. John's River just outside of Palatka, Florida, where steamboats full of rich white people from the North would give him, along with other Black youths, a few coins to see the "pickaninnies" dance. At the time, Grimes did not seem to mind going to dance for the white tourists, however looking back on this memory he realizes how racist this was.

Keywords: "Pickaninnies"; Life in the South; Palatka, Florida; St. John's River

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Childhood; Race discrimination.; Racism

GPS: St. John's River
Map Coordinates: 29.6249329, -82.0761351
00:06:13 - Attending Princess Anne Academy

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Partial Transcript: So your mother then brought you all north, like to Baltimore, did you come?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes recounts the short time he spent receiving an education at Princess Anne Academy, and recalls the fact that he got "matriculated"-- a euphemism for kicked out-- for getting involved with a girl on campus. Despite his mother's desires, Grimes never went on to finish his education.

Keywords: Princess Anne Academy; Princess Anne, Maryland; University of Maryland

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood

00:08:38 - Coming to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Well, after that, I came, came to--my mother had moved to Philadelphia, as I just said, and I came to Philadelphia, and, uh, instead of, uh--she kept insisting that I go back to school again.

Segment Synopsis: Grimes talks about first coming to Philadelphia and his early experiences in the city. He recalls that he almost instantly got involved with "everything you shouldn't get involved in" such as gambling in clubs. While not clubs per se, the locations of these clubs could be anywhere, most often someone's apartment. Grimes describes the process of gambling and how experienced players such as himself could manipulate the games. This being said, many of these "clubs" employed a "Stickman" who would observe plays and whack anyone on the knuckles with a stick if they were caught cheating.

Keywords: Casinos; Clubs (game); Craps (game); Dice (game); Numbers racket (gambling); Poker (game); Sporting Houses; Stickman

Subjects: African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Gambling; Migration, Internal.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:15:39 - Working for Horn and Hardart's Restaurant

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Partial Transcript: So were you holding a job then, during your early, you know--

Segment Synopsis: Grimes talks about getting a job as a cook at Horn and Hardart's, as it was one of the only places that would consistently hire Blacks in Philadelphia. The position became Grimes's lifelong job as he worked there until retirement.

Keywords: Careers; Horn and Hardart’s Restaurant (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Discrimination in employment.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.

GPS: 15th and Market Street, the location where Grimes worked.
Map Coordinates: 39.952601, -75.1652448
00:18:51 - First living arrangements and mother's employment

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Partial Transcript: My mother had rented a room, had, uh, had rented room, you know, rented a room, and uh, I lived where, where she lived. On, uh--mostly we lived in South Philadelphia all the time.

Segment Synopsis: Grimes recounts living with his mother when he first moved to Philadelphia. He goes on to explain how she made her money doing domestic work.

Keywords: Apartments; Catharine Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Christian Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Domestic work

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Housing.

00:22:07 - Brothers

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Partial Transcript: Were your brothers going to school then, too?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes describes his two brothers, one of whom lived in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and worked for a steel car company, and another who lived with Grimes and his mother in Philadelphia and became "headman" at Frank's Bottling Works.

Keywords: Brothers; Frank's Bottling Works; Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.

GPS: Johnstown, Pa.
Map Coordinates: 40.3269509, -78.9537165
00:22:57 - Gambling and drinking in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: So when you came to Philadelphia, what were your aspirations? What did you figure you were going to be able to do in the city, or--

Segment Synopsis: Grimes originally moved to Philadelphia because he was suspended from Princess Anne Academy in Maryland for getting involved with a girl on campus. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Grimes initially continues his involvement with loose women and other things such as gambling and drinking. The "wrong environment" as Grimes would say.

Keywords: 13th and South Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Seventh and Callow Hill (Philadelphia, Pa.); Spring Garden Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Tenderloin District

Subjects: African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Alcohol; Gambling; Migration, Internal.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:28:03 - Experiencing and fighting workplace discrimination

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Partial Transcript: But let me tell you about, uh, my work experience.

Segment Synopsis: Grimes speaks about his experience working at Horn and Hardart's, the automat restaurant he eventually retired from. In particular he recounts his frustration with the lack of promotion opportunities for Black employees, because the restaurant would often hire young white men in place of promoting existing Black employees. Grimes eventually protested this discrimination and testified against the company at a televised hearing held by Senator Williams in Philadelphia.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement; Employment discrimination; Horn and Hardart’s Restaurant (Philadelphia, Pa.); Racial resentment; Senator Williams

Subjects: African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Discrimination in employment.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism; Racism in the workplace

00:37:50 - Attending the Standard Theater

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever go to the Standard Theater?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes describes a typical evening at the Standard Theater, a venue frequented mostly by Blacks. Popular acts included vaudeville and blackface comedians.

Keywords: Blackface; John T. Gibson (Standard Theater, Gibson Theater); Standard Theater (1124-28 South Street); Standard Theatre; Tenderloin District; Vaudeville

Subjects: African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism

GPS: Site of the Standard Theater (demolished in 1957).
Map Coordinates: 39.9428357, -75.1604151
00:39:55 - Experiencing segregation in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: But I'll tell you, a lot of things went on in Philadelphia at that, even though it wasn't outright segregated like, uh, down south, but it was still, you know, I mean, it was still the essence of it.

Segment Synopsis: Even though many Blacks came north to escape segregation in the South, many were disheartened to discover that discrimination existed even in Philadelphia as down south. Grimes talks about his numerous experiences with segregation, such as at the Fox Theatre, where they kicked out Black people for just not wearing the "right clothes."

Keywords: Expectations before moving north; Fox Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.); Segregation in Philadelphia; Segregation: Theaters; Southerners

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism

GPS: 16th and Market Street, location of the Fox Theatre.
Map Coordinates: 39.9524181, -75.1681333
00:42:12 - Racist confrontation on the bus

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Partial Transcript: Can you think of some other examples of how, uh, segregation worked in Philadelphia when you were a young man?

Segment Synopsis: Recalling the racial prejudice in Philadelphia, Grimes recounts a time in his life where he helped Horn and Hardart open a location at Broadway and Kaighn Avenues in Camden, New Jersey where his light-skinned African American girlfriend often came to meet him after work. Grimes then remembers a story where two white sailors on the bus confronted him because they thought Grimes was accompanying a white woman. Grimes ended up pulling a knife on the two sailors, however, no one ended up getting physically harmed in this altercation.

Keywords: Miscegenation; Racial resentment; Sailors

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism

00:48:39 - Racist confrontation on the Fourth of July

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Partial Transcript: It was very seldom that, uh, you know, you would aggravate that--those people, and you wouldn't aggravate them, but if, if one of them bothered you, you--most people would protect themselves, I know that.

Segment Synopsis: Grimes continues to recount the times he experienced racism and discrimination in the North. In this particular instance, he became involved in a physical altercation with a sailor from the South until a police officer arrived and cooled down the situation.

Keywords: 15th and Market Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Broad Street and Chestnut Street (Philadelphia, Pa); Fourth of July; Holidays; Horn and Hardart's Restaurant, Juniper St (Philadelphia, Pa); Racial resentment; Sailors; United States Navy

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism

GPS: Broad and Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.
Map Coordinates: 39.9508734, -75.1639987
00:56:05 - Voting

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Partial Transcript: Did--wer--did you have, um--did you vote when you came to the city? Have anything to do with politics?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes talks about how he voted, although he says that he took no active part in politics. He goes on to give an account of how politicians used to pay the public to vote a certain way, although Grimes recounts that he never took part in such a practice.

Keywords: Selling votes; Voting

Subjects: African Americans--Politics and government.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Elections--Corrupt practices; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Political corruption

GPS: Catharine and Broad Street, South Philadelphia.
Map Coordinates: 39.9408116, -75.1683892
00:57:37 - Black newspapers

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Partial Transcript: Did you read any of the, uh, Black newspapers in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes speaks about various African American newspapers in Philadelphia, including the Philadelphia Tribune, and what types of news they would reported. For example, Grimes states that oftentimes if there was a white on Black crime, the Philadelphia Tribune would make a big deal about it.

Keywords: "Philadelphia Independent" (African American newspaper founded in 1931); "Philadelphia Tribune"

Subjects: African American newspapers.; African Americans--Crimes against.; African Americans--Social conditions.

GPS: Location of The Philadelphia Tribune.
Map Coordinates: 39.9567224, -75.1912045
01:00:15 - Southern reactions to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: When you were a young man--I'm, I'm curious as, as a lot of people up from the South--

Segment Synopsis: Grimes gives his overview of how not only he, but many African Americans in general, reacted to moving north, calling it "almost paradise."

Keywords: Migration from the South; Reaction to the North

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Migration, Internal.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

01:03:03 - Grimes's father, the hack driver

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me a little more about what it was like when you were a kid growing up in the South? You said you grew up in a small town, right?

Segment Synopsis: Grimes recalls his father, who worked as a "hack man" when he still lived in Florida. He drove a horse and carriage to the station and drove people for pay, much like a taxi cab driver.

Keywords: Careers; Fathers; Hack Driver; Hack man; Life in the South

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Southern States.

GPS: Palatka, Florida. Hometown of Leon Grimes.
Map Coordinates: 29.6452463, -81.7047603