JACKIE CARLISLE: Your address.
GEORGE MADISON: Uh, George Madison. Fourteen fifteen Clearview Street, uh,
CARLISLE: And how old are you, George?
MADISON: Uh, I'm seventy-five. I'll be seventy-six in August.
CARLISLE: Okay, first let's start the interview with a little background. Um,
tell me where you came from.
MADISON: Well, I came from, uh, a little place in Virginia where we got our
mail at a place called Millers Tavern. We had a fairly large farm so that was
the only way we could get our mail was at the little town, Millers Tavern.
CARLISLE: Now, tell me a little bit about that town.
MADISON: Well, actually it was at an intersection of the main highway, there
was a large general store, uh, across on the other side from the general store
was a doctor's office, and, uh, a bu--a stop for the, uh, for anybody
traveling--bus--traveler's stop. There was one other house there. That was the
00:01:00only habitation there.
CARLISLE: So it was a pretty small town.
MADISON: It wasn't even a town. [both laugh] It was just a han--just a place
for the, uh, people to stop as they were going further and for the people in the
surrounding county to get their mail or to get their supplies.
CARLISLE: Was it a mostly black town?
MADISON: No, it was--well, it wasn't a town, but a --the-- neighbor--the area
was mixed. Uh, there were quite a few whites, but not even.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. When did you arrive in the city?
MADISON: You mean Philadelphia?
MADISON: Well, we didn't come over here until about 1925, but we went--when we
left Virginia, we went to Riverton, New Jersey.
CARLISLE: Okay, um, why did you, uh, leave the South?
MADISON: Well, my father had come up with a case of appendicitis. The old
doctor down there didn't know what it was, and he had to come here, and
00:02:00he--after the operation, they told him he couldn't do the heavy work on the
farm, and that's the reason we left.
CARLISLE: Why did you decide to move north rather than anywhere else in the South?
MADISON: Well, he had a brother living in Riverton, New Jersey, and he
suggested that he come north.
CARLISLE: What were--do you remember what you heard your father talking about
the North? How he described the North and what his brother had told him about
life in the North.
MADISON: Well, he knew considerably about the North because when he was a
younger man [cough]--pardon me--and, uh, they used to, he and his brothers used
to come to South Jersey to work on the farms when they were planting time and
harvesting time, then they would come back to Virginia during the winters. So
he had a pretty good idea of what to expect.
CARLISLE: And there were a lot of other family members also in the North there?
MADISON: Uh, we had--let's see--there were--he had two--three brothers and one
sister who was in Boston, Massachusetts.
MADISON: And that was about the extent of any of them that were living north, yes.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Were there a lot of other people in the community or a lot
of other relatives of yours who were contemplating moving to the North at that time?
MADISON: No, because most of the people there were farmers and they had their
own places, and there was actually no actual hardship to compel them to move.
CARLISLE: What did you, um, hear about the North, about Philadelphia, uh, when
you were, when you were a child? Did people, uh, go to the North and come back
talking about what they'd experienced there?
MADISON: Well, at the time, I was too small to remember too much about what
they would say, although it seemed to be the general idea that this was the
place to come to make money. It's--for some reasons, because of the difference
in the salary scale, they never thought about the difference in the prices, and
there was several younger people who would go north and send money home.
CARLISLE: So they'd send money back to their families because they were making
00:04:00such a good--
MADISON: --well, they were--
CARLISLE: --good life?
MADISON: --making better than they could make down there, yes.
CARLISLE: Okay. Which, which member of your family left first? Did you all
move up here together?
MADISON: No, my--
CARLISLE: --did your father come up first?--
MADISON: --I think my aunt--she was the older sister--she moved first, then
they had another brother, and then my uncle moved up to Riverton.
CARLISLE: How did your par-- parents feel about leaving their, um, their home,
the place that they raised their children, lived in for a numbers of years. How
did they feel about abandoning life in the South and coming up here?
MADISON: Well, uh, I imagine my mother was just a little curious because she
didn't know too much about it, but my father didn't mind it too much be --as I
said, because when he was a younger man, before he got married, he had worked up
here for several years through the Spring and Fa-- you know, around until
00:05:00Winter, so he had some idea what to expect.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Do you remember any, um, any stories that you heard about,
um, the um, the dangers of, of the North? Any stories about, um, any, any,
dangers that might meet you, any warnings or, or rumors--
MADISON: --you mean on--
CARLISLE: --of things would happen when--
MADISON: --on account of color you mean?
CARLISLE: On account of your, your race.
MADISON: Uh, no there didn't seem to be much of that because, in general, the
experiences they had had [cough]--pardon me--hadn't been too unpleasant.
CARLISLE: There were no, um, old wives tales about any particular, uh, myths
or, or any, any, any, uh, talk about the Ku Klux Klan at all?
MADISON: Oh no, no, that--the only thing happened about that was, after we had
been here some time, like after the first world war, there were rumors, and
there--I think before we moved to Riverton there had been several incidents but,
00:06:00uh, when the Negroes, as they used to say, then stood up and fought back, then
that stopped it.
MADISON: Because I remember once my uncle had got in a little up ruckus, and he
was a pretty big guy, and, uh, he was fairly prosperous, and one time, he did
buy a vacant lot in a predominantly white section and [pause] --
CARLISLE: --and nothing happened?
MADISON: No, no, somebody burned a cross on the lot. I often laugh about
this--and so the next morning, he started into the center of town towards the
police station, and he met the chief of police coming down to Penn Street, where
he lived, so, uh, when the police chief said he heard, came to see about the
burning of the cross, my uncle told him that's what he was coming up there to
00:07:00see him about, and he told him, he said, "Now the next time that happens, don't
bother about coming down to see what's happened, just send somebody to get the
bodies." And after that, there was no problem. [both laugh]
CARLISLE: What--when did that happen? What year was that?
MADISON: Uh, approximately, I would say about 1919 or '20.
CARLISLE: Did you expect that once you moved up to, uh, Riverton, you'd
probably live there for the rest of your life?
MADISON: Well, see I was quite small at, at that time, the rest of my life
didn't mean anything.
MADISON: I was at the age doing the day-by-day business thing, see.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. So it didn't matter to you leaving your little childhood friends?
MADISON: No, in fact, we were so far isolated--see, we had large farms and the
only friends I had were my two older brothers. I hadn't made any, hadn't even
started the school.
CARLISLE: Um, so you, you were too young to have any kind of expectations of
MADISON: --what to expect--
CARLISLE: --would happen when you got there.
CARLISLE: Did you ever, uh, when you, you were too small probably to even
remember, but did you ever, uh, daydream about what might happen once you got
here or was it very exciting for you to, to move?
MADISON: No, because it wasn't, it didn't mean anything to me because they
discussed it, but to me it was just another day coming up, and the only
excitement that came was, during the actual trip up, we, uh, I think it was, we
came up to Baltimore somewhere on a boat was the first time, and that in itself
was exciting, but the rest of it wasn't too much.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Do you remember any, uh, parts of the trip that were
MADISON: Only, as I said, when we were on the boat and we had a state room,
which was something that was unusual, and, uh, just walking around on the boat
CARLISLE: Were there many other blacks also on that boat coming from the South?
MADISON: As far as I can remember, yeah, it was fairly--but see, we all, all
had to stay on the second deck, and apparently it was pretty crowded.
CARLISLE: Okay, um, did you, did your family bring a lot of money when they
moved up here?
MADISON: No, there wasn't a lot of money around for anybody.
CARLISLE: So, um, what did, how much do you think they, they brought?
MADISON: I don't know, see, because we still owned the farm. We hadn't sold the
farm or anything, and they, let's-- I don't have the slightest idea because, you
see, back the-- then fifty dollars was a lot of money so I wouldn't, wouldn't know.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. You were talking to me when we were off the tape about the
farm that your family owned down there, just, just recap for that, uh, you know,
what you were telling me about the farm.
MADISON: Well, it's 144 acres. Part of it was farmland, part of it was, was
timber land, see, and part of it was grazing area. Actually the farm could've
made money, but my father couldn't farm after the operation because he almost
died when he came up here, and, uh, it was hard to get anybody to help you farm
because everybody had their own little place or big place.
CARLISLE: You said your father almost died on the trip up here. Did he, did
MADISON: --no, he died when he came up for the appendicitis--
MADISON: And then he, uh, when he was, got better, he came back to get us.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Um, you were, you were really too young to remember what the
trip was like when you were coming up. Uh, are there any really vivid
recollections of anything that happened on that boat?
MADISON: No, the only thing, like I said, I remember walking around deck and I
remember at night we had the small state room. From what I can remember, most
of the other people had to stay on deck or sleep in chairs; we were a, one of
the few, because there were three, three of us youngsters.
MADISON: And in general, I don't think they made, had accommodations in boats
for Negroes at that times.
CARLISLE: Um-hm, and you, uh, you, um lived in Riverton for how long?
MADISON: Let's see, until, well my family moved here in '25. I came '26. I
stayed over there to finish high school until '26.
CARLISLE: Until you were twenty-six.
MADISON: No, 1926.
CARLISLE: Oh, so you, so you were about eighteen?
MADISON: Yeah. Um-hm.
CARLISLE: Um, what were your impressions of the, of the city as you were
growing up in um, comparison to your early years when you were in the South?
MADISON: Well, I didn't have anything to compare it with. The only comparison
I could make was, Riverton itself and Philadelphia, but see, being so small I
had never been to any towns to amount to anything, except little trips I'd take
with my father when he'd go shopping somewhere. So there was no comparison I
could make of Philadelphia and any other city--
MADISON: --at that time.
CARLISLE: So you, you moved to Philadelphia in what year?
MADISON: Uh, I came over in '26. My parents came in '25.
CARLISLE: Okay, so at that, in 1926, how old were you?
MADISON: Well, eighteen--seventeen, really was when I came over.
CARLISLE: What did you think about Philadelphia?
MADISON: Well, to me, it wa-- it was a rather unpleasant experience because I
00:12:00wasn't used to the crowded conditions. Where I'd been used to living, we lived
in individual houses. We had a lot of space around us, but to come here and see
people practically living in your lap, it was rather, rather traumatic. I,
uh--then the people were so much different. They were not friendly and open.
They seemed to me to be very evil, so to speak, and, uh, I really wanted to go
back to Jersey. It took me a long while to become accustomed to ways of the
CARLISLE: Um-hm. You're talking about both blacks and whites?
MADISON: Off the record, now.
[Pause in recording.]
MADISON: [-----] adjusting to the crowded conditions in the city because I'd
been used to living, more or less, in open spaces, and, uh, the continual noise
and hub bub, when I'd been used to living where it was quiet and peaceful, we
could hear birds and stuff like that, it made, it made a big difference.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Where did you first live when you moved to Philadelphia? Do
00:13:00you remember the address?
MADISON: Oh yeah, 1523 North Twentieth. It was very nice compared to what
things are now. We had trees, and, uh, practically everybody on the block was
trying to buy their own home, which made it very quiet--fairly quiet and peaceful.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. So, uh, back then, it was, it was still a thriving neighborhood?
MADISON: Oh, it was lovely. See, Columbia Avenue, which was up about two
blocks, was a better place for shopping than either Chestnut or Walnut Street.
CARLISLE: Was there a, um, big business strip in North Philadelphia--
CARLISLE: --near your home?
MADISON: Yeah, Columbia Avenue.
MADISON: You could buy anything you wanted there. I mean, a lot of people
would go there rather than go down into Center City, and, in fact, when I was in
high school, I remember two of my classmates were talking about--one of them was
saying he wanted to buy something, he was going to market street, the other one
00:14:00said, "Why don't you go up on Columbia Avenue?"
MADISON: So the question came how to get there, so I had to tell him, but it
was, it was lovely at one time.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Now when you first got here, um, were there a lot of things
for you to do, um, when you first arrived? Did it seem like--
MADISON: --you mean in the city?--
MADISON: Well, the only--yes, there were a lot of things because I was, there
were things I wasn't used to seeing. There were sights to see, places to go,
just for curiosity. I mean, my two brothers and I sometime, we'd just get
together and walk down the South Street, up and down South Street, to see the
sights because in Jersey everything was quiet. Everything was more or less the
same. But so far as work, work was a little scarce then.
CARLISLE: What kind of jobs were available to, um, blacks then?
MADISON: Uh, construction work, uh, jobs like pressing and so forth, butlers,
00:15:00chauffeurs, or working in factories.
CARLISLE: When you, um, when you came to Philadelphia, your parents moved here
under what circumstances? Or did you move here by yourself?
MADISON: Oh no, they came first. I mean, they came over, yes. We had started
buying a house and then, uh, Pop decided that there was no future where we were,
so then they decided to move over here.
CARLISLE: Why was there no future there?
MADISON: Off the record.
[Pause in recording.]
CARLISLE: Tell me--
MADISON: ---, go ahead--
CARLISLE: No, you go ahead. (laughs)
MADISON: I was gonna say, so it was a lack, he, what, what my father perceived
as a lack of opportunity for his children was the reason he moved to the city.
CARLISLE: There were not any jobs besides laboring on the fields?
MADISON: Nothing, nothing to do.
CARLISLE: Now, um, were there a lot of people in Philadelphia that your
parents knew or did they come over here just looking for better opportunity?
MADISON: No, they had a f-- quite a few friends over here. Not too many, but
they knew people, yes.
CARLISLE: Where did you all stay when you first came here?
MADISON: To Philly?
MADISON: Oh, we moved right into the house we were buying.
MADISON: Fifteen twenty-three North Twentieth.
CARLISLE: And, um, how did you get your first job when you, when you first
MADISON: Now this is going to be tricky because I worked at a number of jobs,
and I didn't stay on any of them long. Uh, let's see, the first job, what was
that? Oh, the first thing I tried to do was learn how to press, become a
presser. Things were a little slow, so it wasn't a whole lot of money in it.
Then the next job, oh, I went back to work with my uncle. He was, like I said,
he was a, took care of lawns and gardens and things like that. I worked with
00:17:00him for awhile until I, I had an allergy for grass and flowers and I had to stop.
CARLISLE: Who were some of the, uh, first people that you, that you met when
you moved here?
MADISON: You mean like. What you mean like.
CARLISLE: Your neighbors. Um--
MADISON: --oh, oh, um--
CARLISLE: --did you, did, was it easy for you to meet new people when you
first moved here?
MADISON: Well, the people in, in the block itself, they were very congenial,
and they--see the block at first was mixed and, uh, everybody was very friendly,
so it was one of those things, and then, uh, we gradually met younger people our
own ages that then, from there, we would meet their families.
MADISON: See, in those days, the, the girls or fellas, either one, when you
were, when you met them, their parents were interested in knowing who your
friends were, see, so it was one of those things. So when you meet some new
people, sooner or later, you had to meet their families. They, in turn, would
meet your family.
MADISON: Just sort of in case you know. [both laugh]
CARLISLE: What kind of, what kind of, um, fatherly, motherly, uh, peer advice
00:18:00did you get from, uh, the new folks that you met in Philadelphia about how to
live in the city, how to get around?
MADISON: Very little because they were too, they were more anxious to see what
type of person you were, and if they figured you were all right, you just didn't
need any advice, really.
CARLISLE: Did they give any, any kind of warnings about maybe where it might
not be safe for a black person to go in the city?
MADISON: No, that you got from your peers. You would learn certain sections
not to go into. Like at one time, Twenty-Sixth and Master, from there up, they
would lure you up there and, you know, the bl-- whites would whip you until the
guys got together, went up there, and had a free for all, and after that it was
CARLISLE: Do you remember the, any other areas in the 1920s that we-- that may
have been out, off limits for, for blacks.
MADISON: Well, certain parts of South Philly, and, uh, as I wrote to the man
00:19:00about the [Hilldale] team, he said Upper Darb, Upper Darby was out, certain
sections of the Northeast, which hadn't been built up as much.
CARLISLE: And there was a lot of--
MADISON: --around Grays Ferry, what they, down there was very bad at one time--
CARLISLE: --a lot of racial incidents.
CARLISLE: So when you, when you came here, did you pretty much feel that you
fit in with, with the others?
MADISON: Yes, I had no problem that way. I had met some people that were very
nice and, in turn, their families, and it was no problem because the class of
Negroes you had then, they were all trying to get somewhere, see, and, and
there's a difference, you know. The ones who were buying their homes, they were
trying to send their kids to school, and to give them a foothold, and naturally,
they, you got along with them very well because you all had a common goal. You
had a goal, see.
MADISON: So it wasn't too bad.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. That first job that you said you got as a presser, do you
00:20:00remember how much you made at that time?
MADISON: I was making something like, I think it was twenty cents a suit that I
pressed, fifteen cents or twenty cents a suit. Yeah, fifteen cents, nickel for
the pants, ten cents for the coat. I was doing piece work.
MADISON: Now there was, when I said piece work, it didn't mean there were a
whole lot of pieces. You had to wait a lot of times. There wasn't very much to
CARLISLE: Do you know how much that averaged out maybe for each day?
MADISON: Some days nothing, some days a couple of dollars.
CARLISLE: And how many, how many days would you work a week?
MADISON: Well, I'd usually go, he he lived near me, I'd go around there maybe
every day, but usually on Mondays there was nothing to do because, just one of
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Do you remember some of the people that you worked with?
MADISON: Well, see the first shop I worked with was just a man himself and his
MADISON: And most, see back then, you had tailor shops who would be just a one
man operation. This particular man, his name was Alonzo Shaw.
[Pause in recording.]
CARLISLE: We were talking about the, um, the kind of work that you--
CARLISLE: --you did when you first came here.
CARLISLE: Um, what did, what did you think about that kind of work?
MADISON: It wasn't anything to think about. It was just, we, you were glad to
get, be able to find something to do. You'd tr-- you'd try anything you could,
I mean, uh, you weren't choicy.
MADISON: You'd never went and ask a man when you were off how much you were
getting. You would go and ask him if he had a job for you, see. It was, things
were just that bad.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. So you didn't care about how much you were making, just as
long as you were working?
MADISON: No, it was a job, yeah.
CARLISLE: ----. Um, what did you do after your, your pressing job? Tell me
some of the jobs that you worked on through--
MADISON: --oh --
CARLISLE: --through the twenties and, and thir--
MADISON: -well, see, some of them I kept such a short time that--like one time
was for the Keystone Window Cleaning Company. I was supposed to go in, in the
morning and go down Arch Street where they had factories and clean the
00:22:00washrooms. I'd do that until 11:00 or 12:00, then I'd come home and be off
until 5:30, then I went into, I forget the name, address, on Chestnut Street,
where there was a large building, and I was supposed to run the elevator until
7:00, then do cleaning until 11:00. And it was one of those things you wor--
you worked half the day and half the night. It got so I couldn't get any rest,
so I had a few words with the man about some of the places he wanted me to
clean. This is off the record.
[Pause in recording.]
MADISON: And as I said, work with my uncle for a long while, until my allergy
got the better of me, and then it was a question of picking up a day here, doing
this and doing that, or couple of days with some tailor, I'd go around. See,
some tailor need you maybe one day a week. And, uh, then nothing.
MADISON: And, uh, then, let me see, oh when I worked for Biagetti, that was,
well then,, I went to school. And, oh, that's another, I had a job on the trash
trucks in East Orange, New Jersey in '27.
CARLISLE: You moved back to New Jersey or--
MADISON: --no, no, no, just working up there for, for the summer, 1927.
CARLISLE: Did you drive the truck or were you a, a--
MADISON: --top, grabbed the stuff that they throw a-- emptied the trash and
garbage. Then I came back to Philly and went to school.
CARLISLE: What year was that?
MADISON: Nineteen twenty-seven.
CARLISLE: And what school did you go to?
CARLISLE: Were there many, um, blacks going to Temple at that time?
MADISON: Very few going to any, well, see, you had Temple, Penn, Villanova, and
MADISON: --and at that time, if you went, you know, any one of the schools,
usually somebody, you would know about the other people. There were just that
00:24:00few blacks, or they would say then Negroes, going to college. You'd meet
somebody, and they'd say, "Oh, yeah, you go to such and such a school," see,
but, the first time you'd meet them, but you'd heard about them, see--
MADISON: --and, uh, this is the thing I was telling the guy who was writing the
book, down at Atwater Kent, [Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent] I
didn't know he was a prof down there at Temple--
MADISON: --and I was telling him about the discrimination and how prejudice
that they were at Temple.
CARLISLE: Just tell me some of that. What happened?
MADISON: What happened? Well, the first thing that happened, I wanted to be a
doctor, so I signed up for the pre-med course. Dr. James H. Dunham was the dean
of the College of Liberal Arts. The new class entering, he would call four
students in at a time. I was the only black. We sit down, and he turned to me
and said, "You know you can't take your medicine here?" That was the greeting I
got, and from then on in it got worse. [laughs] Uh--
CARLISLE: --so this was when you were a freshman?
MADISON: That's right. At that time down there, they didn't allow the black
girls to go in the swimming pool with the white girls. There, the athletic
teams, I think I was, it was the first cross-country team they had, I helped
organize. I ran on that and the track team. The other teams you couldn't make.
I remember the little guy from Williamsport, George Goodall, who was a heck of a
basketball player. He went out for the freshman team, but first, they'd never
pass the ball to him, so he went out to Long Island U. Football, they had a guy
was an athletic, with an athletic scholarship, he practiced football, but he
never was played, so he quit the football team. He was a track man, too. Jimmy Peacock.
CARLISLE: Was there, was the, uh, prejudice that you experienced at Temple more
00:26:00so in the classroom than on the playing field?
MADISON: Well, it was some in the classroom, but it was very subtle. The
playing field, you didn't experience it because you just didn't get out there
unless you were running track or cross-country. And, and it's a funny thing,
the, the, the fellas on the teams weren't prejudice because one of the white
boys asked me one day why do we all only go out for cross-country and track, so
I asked him who picks the football team, he said "The coach." I said, "Who
picks the basketball team?" He said, "The coach." "And the baseball team?" He
said, "The coach." I said, "Who picks the track team?" And it dawned on him,
he said, "Oh." They never realized what it was. And so far as the kids were
concerned, they were fine. That's one thing about, I'd have to say about
whites, I can't be prejudice because in high school, I was on the track team.
I'd never met a finer bunch of guys. Temple cross-country and track, the same
thing, and places I've gone to run, people were fine. I've ran against an
00:27:00intercollegiate mile champ up in New York. Fine. I ran into Barney Berlinger,
who was a national decathlon champ at Penn. Fine. People like that. Harvey
Harman when he was a football coach at Penn. But it's the institutions that
perpetuate this stuff, see.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. So, when you were, um, when you were there, who, who did pick
the track team? You all just--
MADISON: --no, no--
CARLISLE: --organized yourselves?
MADISON: No, no. When you run and beat that guy to the tape, there's nothing
the coach can say, see. Now what I did see, after Penn, under Lawson Roberson,
they were trying out for a, I think it was a 440 relay team, each guy 110 yards.
There was a guy Bradford Weisiger, he made the second best time, but he had to
run against, run three heats, see. Ev-- the, the kids sitting in the stands
even booed when that happened.
MADISON: But that was because Lawson Robertson was very prejudice, see.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. So it was more so because there were a lot of gifted black
runners in, in Temple that they--
MADISON: --well, we weren't gifted --
CARLISLE: --allowed you--
MADISON: --we weren't gifted, it was just the pre-- just the, just the, uh--
CARLISLE: --thought that blacks could run--
MADISON: --it was just--
MADISON: -- it was just the princ--
CARLISLE: --blacks can--
MADISON: --it was just the idea they didn't want you representing them. Now,
see, when I first went there, when he told me I couldn't study my medicine
there, there had been blacks going to medical school, but then all of a sudden
the policy changed, see, one of those things.
CARLISLE: Were there many blacks in your class?
MADISON: Very few, very few was, I think the freshman class we had I think six.
Three of them flunked out the first semester. So it wasn't a question of a--
any great number. There were very few blacks in the whole school at the time,
but see people like Dunham, they were just naturally prejudice. Now, I'll have
to go on further about the Dunhams because there were two Dunhams. James
Dunham, the father, and Barrows Dunham, the son, who were just as much different
as day and night--
MADISON: --see. So I don't want anybody to get the impression about Barrows
because he was fine as hell, see, but the old man, no where.
CARLISLE: Hmm. When you, uh, when you went to Temple, were there many people
who were attending the school who had come up from the South, or did most of the
blacks there, were they northerners whose families had received education--
CARLISLE: --at maybe black colleges.
MADISON: ---- Actually, like I was saying, there was such a few that you
couldn't form any judgment as to the group, which it was a group movement. Uh,
let me see if there were any southerners I can think of. There were one or two,
but not, it wasn't anything that, a general movement, no--
MADISON: --because there were such a few blacks--
CARLISLE: --um-hm. When you were, um, going about the city, going to classes
and going to work in the city and, and walking around the town, was it easy for
you to spot out some of the green horns, some of the newcomers, some of the--
MADISON: --no, no, no--
CARLISLE: --people, people that were called country bumpkins who'd just come up
from the South--
CARLISLE: --with their shoebox and their--
MADISON: --see, the thing is this, when that happened, it was usually after the
first world war, you could, they could spot them, and then when they did come
up, even in my day, you wouldn't find less, you'd find most of them coming up on
South Street with the hangout then, and that would be the first place they would
head for because everybody in the South almost knew about South Street, see.
CARLISLE: What did you know about South Street when you were in the South?
What did you hear about it?
MADISON: Well, see, I, I didn't--
CARLISLE: --what did your, what did your parents--
MADISON: --you know--
CARLISLE: --tell you about it later on?
MADISON: Oh no, later on when I was in Riverton, I knew about it because that
was the mecca because that's the only place you had to go for entertainment.
Uh, John Gibson had the Standard Theatre there, there was a couple of cabarets
there, and there were, there was just up and down the street, just like, that's
the first place everybody would head for to socialize.
CARLISLE: What other types of establishments, entertainment establishments,
were on South Street in the twenties--
MADISON: --well, you had the --
CARLISLE: --and thir--
MADISON: --Royal Theater, a movie house, and, uh, of course you had bar a f--
00:31:00well you didn't have too many bars because liquor wasn't in, and just like,
barbeque places and things like that.
MADISON: Speakeasies, you know what they are don't you?
CARLISLE: Um-hm. So this was around nineteen--
MADISON: --well, say from 1920 up, up until things started, until liquor came
CARLISLE: Um-hm. I'm, I'm trying to imagine, um, it seems to me that it would
be pretty much easy to, to spot the newcomers who, who just came up and they
say, "Oh, I've heard about South Street, I want to go there," and their accents
and the clothes--
MADISON: -- just--
CARLISLE: --that they wore.
MADISON: We, being from the Jersey, we were just too much intrigued watching
the crowds and, you know, mingling, see, and like I say, we used to often walk
from Twentieth and Oxford down to South Street and back--
MADISON: --because we had been used to walking over in Jersey. That's the
thing that get me when I hear these kids talking about they got a ride to
00:32:00school. We used to walk maybe a mile and a half to grammar school. High school
was two or three miles back and forth and didn't think anything of it.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. I'm going to switch the tape over.
CARLISLE: We're almost out of tape on this side.
[BREAK IN RECORDING.]
CARLISLE: Tell me, um, did you find that, that, uh, some of the people who you
met, uh, changed over the years after, some of the people that you met who may
have been from the South, did they seem to dress differently, um, did they seem
to assimilate into the northern, northern culture?
MADISON: Well, the people that we were friendly with, they, they didn't have
too much to change because--guess what you, they would call, were basing these
sins of the house hands, but when we first came over here, we had what was known
as a, you know, people used to rent rooms instead of apartments, and we had a
house where we rented rooms, and I could notice some of those people changing. Now…
CARLISLE: How did they change?
MADISON: Well, I was getting ready to say, there's one family came there, it
was a brother, it was a husband and wife, and her younger brother, he was very
smart. Now one day he said to my father--he must've been about, I guess about
thirteen--he said to my father, he said, "Mr. Madison, I want you to do me a
favor." So Pops said, "What is it, William?" He said, "Would you teach me how
to use a knife and fork?" So Pops said, "What?" He said, "Yeah," he said, "my
sister said the other day to her husband, she said, 'they don't, they use knife
and fork for everything, they don't use their fingers for anything,'" and he
said where he came from they were used to using a big spoon. He said, "I don't
want to go out and people laugh at me." The kid was smart because he, he grew
up to be something, too, and it was one of those things. That was a change,
see, because he just wasn't used to that sort of thing.
CARLISLE: Did, um, did people seem to change the way they, they dressed, too?
MADISON: Yeah, oh yeah, there was some of them comfortable with their, well
pl-- well they, see, in certain places.
[Pause in recording.]
CARLISLE: You were telling me about how one person was a-- accused of dressing
wrong by a--
MADISON: Yeah, well, see, he had been up here ever since he was small. He went
back home. Uh, it was either Hahira or, or Valdosta, Georgia, and he was
supposed to stay and visit his mother for three weeks, but he came back in a few
days, but he was reluctant to talk about why, and it was only when his brother
moved up here several years later that we found out that he had been warned and
threatened because he was dressed in a blue blazer and white flannel trousers,
and he was told that Negroes could only wear their overalls in the week and
00:35:00starch their jackets on Sundays and to take that stuff off.
CARLISLE: And this was by some white people?
MADISON: Oh yeah, there were, yeah, whites.
CARLISLE: Did, um, did the people who lived in Philadelphia who had been there,
maybe who had migrated earlier, maybe in the 1900s, uh, the people who, who, the
blacks who had lived in Philadelphia for a number of years, did you notice them
treating the newcomers any differently? Were they kind of snooty towards them
or did they, were they very helpful?
MADISON: Well, there were some people who came from the South who apparently
didn't make much of an improvement. They didn't change their ways too much, and
usually they lived separately to themselves, and the others who would have what
00:36:00we'd call upward mobility, as they'd change, they would be accepted and welcomed.
CARLISLE: Were, were there any tensions between the ones who kept their old
ways, who wore the blue, blue over-- overalls and the starched jacket on Sunday--
MADISON: --well, they seemed to--
CARLISLE: --and who--
MADISON: Well, see that was a thing that they, they had to do down south, but
the ones like that, they seemed to have a chip on their shoulder towards the
others who were trying to improve themselves. See, they had been taught in the
South that you could have a PhD and this other guy is digging, working in the
garbage, there's no difference, see, and they kept that attitude, "Oh, he ain't
no better than me," see, it's one of those things, and they would resent you
trying to do anything. There'd be actually people that would resent the fact
when I'd say I was, I wouldn't tell some people that I was going to college, see--
MADISON: --because, I mean, especially when I had to go out on a job. Now when
I was working up in East Orange on the trash trucks, it wasn't any resentment,
00:37:00but one guy--because I was young and he was older, well, he said, I said
something about I was going back to Philadelphia. He said, "What you going to
do?" I said, "I'm going back to school." He said, "Where?" and I told him.
"You mean you go to college and you go work, you work on a trash truck?" So my
answer to him was this, "How much money do you have?" He said, "Nothing." I
said, "Neither do I." I said, "There's no place I know I can make," because
they were paying good up there, "make this kind of money."
CARLISLE: What kind of, uh, jobs did people find during that time?
MADISON: There was a lot of construction and, and, and, and what, and labor,
hard labor work. Digging ditches and stuff like that. Working, carrying hard,
mixing cement, just purely muscular labor, which they don't have now because
they have machines.
CARLISLE: And for women do you remember what kind of jobs were--
CARLISLE: --available? Domestic work?
MADISON: Yeah, that's right. [laughs] Well, that's a nice term.
CARLISLE: And what, what were the best jobs?
MADISON: Uh, there were jobs in hotels as waiters, in the big hotels, they were
tops. Pullman porters, and if you could get in the private families, a butler
or chauffeur, on the Main Line, as they used to say.
CARLISLE: Now the people who, uh, were getting the better jobs were the ones
who were moving, moving up and trying to improve--
MADISON: --that's right, um-hm--
CARLISLE: --their situation, the upwardly mobile.
MADISON: That's right, yeah, they were doing that, they were trying to send
their kids to school, and you see, there was, there, at that time, there was a
group of people, in every home they'd have, they'd have the kids taking music
lessons of some kind, trying to give them a little cultural background, see.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Was there, was there much talk of, um, the people who, who
weren't trying to improve theirselves being, being, um, shiftless, or, or, you
MADISON: --it wasn't a question of talk, you just didn't have too much contact
MADISON: --see. I mean, you'd treat them nice and speak to them, but you
weren't sociable, socializing with them, you weren't friendly with them.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Was there any talk of, um, maybe they're setting a bad
example for us blacks and that's why white people are so prejudiced against us?
MADISON: No, they weren't so much that except as it were they just wanted to
get away from them because they figured they were bad influence on the children.
CARLISLE: Um, did you, um, did you find that, that it was, it was easy for,
um, black, uh, young black men and women to meet during this time?
MADISON: Well, if you were, if you were doing anything, there were places you
could go. Now, there was a place at Twelfth and Lombard, St. Peter Clavers,
where they used to have Saturday night dances, and you could meet fine people
there. And uh-- of course you had to be recommended by somebody before you
00:40:00could get in. There was a woman, Mrs. Caldwell, with a fantastic memory. If
you ever created a disturbance, she never forgot you. Then there was a case
where there were twin brothers. One of them created a disturbance; the other
one never could get in because he would try to tell her, she, she would, she
would say, "Bring your brother." [laughs] She--
MADISON: she was something.
CARLISLE: Were, were the private clubs the ones that people really tried to
MADISON: Well, there weren't too many private clubs. This was a, a dance hall,
but it was run by the church, and then you have certain dance halls where the
different, where the certain type of people went. There was a place called Wall
Stream on Thirteenth Street, and a studio down south on Arch Street, and if you
go there, you'd know you were going to meet a certain type of people, and you,
you didn't have to worry.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Now would you say that a lot of the social activities were
00:41:00centered around a church?
MADISON: No, the church had a few, but, uh, the church and social activities
was some-- there, there were different activities, yes.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Did you, um, did you find that, um, well, you were eighteen
when you came up here, but did you see that the dating was different here than
it was maybe in a smaller town, like in Riverside?
MADISON: Where did you get Riverside from?
CARLISLE: That's what you said, that you--
MADISON: Ri-- Ri-- Riverton.
CARLISLE: Riverton, and here I am--
MADISON: --the reason I ask you is because there is a Riverside (both laugh)--
CARLISLE: --oh okay, I'm thinking Riverside, New Jersey. Riverton.
MADISON: Yeah, well, see that's a little ways up. Well, you see at the time,
uh, there wasn't a whole lot of dating being done by me at that time. I was too
young plus the fact there was nobody there to date, really--
MADISON: --see, and, uh, so I couldn't have anything to compare. If any dating
was done, you'd have to come over here and meet the girls.
MADISON: --see, so--
CARLISLE: --well, did you see, did you find that, um, the people who were in
00:42:00the city were a little looser than the people who were [laughs] from River-- Riverton?
MADISON: Well [laughs], that's a hard question even though the answer is, is
yes, because, see in a small town, things are being done but they're quieter, I
mean, they keep it undercover--
MADISON: --that's the thing that got me here was when I came over, was the
openness with which things were done, see. The same thing went on, but it was
just the way they did it.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. I know you don't want to go off the record on this because
this might be interesting--
CARLISLE: --but you know, just tell me, what was it, uh, what was the dating
rituals like maybe, uh, there weren't a whole lot of blacks in, in, in--
CARLISLE: --Philadelphia yet.
MADISON: Oh yes, there were, oh there were quite a few, oh yeah, if you wanted
to make connections you could make them, there was enough for that, you see.
MADISON: And like I said, you had certain places to go and one of those things
you could meet people.
MADISON: But see, unlike Riverton, there was no place to go. Blacks really had
00:43:00no place to socialize if they didn't go to church.
CARLISLE: So were you a, a regular church goer when you first came to Philadelphia?
MADISON: Hm, that's a hard one. Uh, yes and no. You see, the fact was I was
young. I had to go to Sunday School every Sunday morning unless I broke both
legs. [Carlisle laughs] Church was not mandatory, see, because over there the
main church service was in the evenings because most people some-- most of them
sometimes had to work Sundays, so we weren't obligated to go to church. One
reason we had to go a long ways to church. But I had to go to Sunday School.
My family wa-- was, were regular church goers, yes.
CARLISLE: What was the, um, the role of, of the church in your life back then?
MADISON: Hm, as a kid, what was the role? I went to Sunday School because I
00:44:00had to go. That was it. [both laugh]
CARLISLE: When you got a little older and you came to Philadelphia, did you
find, uh, find a, a home church here?
MADISON: Oh yes, I did. Um-hm. In fact, I joined a church over there. I
became more interested in religion, but, uh, there were a lot of things I just
didn't go along with.
CARLISLE: Do you remember the church that you joined when you came to Philadelphia?
MADISON: Oh yeah, I, I beli-- one over there, two, there was this one, St. Paul
Baptist in East Riverton where I joined over there, and Miller Memorial over
here on Twenty-second Street, Twenty-second, really, and Jefferson, really.
CARLISLE: Was that an old Philadelphia church or, or were most of the, um,
parishioners people who just arrived from the South?
MADISON: No, it, it'd been around a fairly good while. It wasn't a large
church, but it gradually built up.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Were there many activities that the church sponsored?
MADISON: The chil-- the young people, no, that was a fallout time with most of them.
MADISON: Practically nothing to interest the, the younger people. They would
have their Easter services or Christmas services. Outside of that, and maybe a
youth choir, but nothing much.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Now, um, did you, um, did you meet, did you, would you say
that you met more um women than, than men when you were there? That's--
MADISON: --when I was where? Church?--
CARLISLE: --a tricky question. When you were in the, in the church, what, did
the church seem to appeal to the same number of people?
MADISON: Oh no, there's a, there always more women in the church, but so far as
the younger women were concerned, I don't know exact, uh, I would gu-- I never
mixed too much with people in the church. I'd go to church services and come home.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Um, I'm, I'm interested to, uh, find out a little bit more
about some of the domestic work that, uh, that was, that was done, um, back then.
MADISON: Oh, now we're getting somewhere. Well, you mean for the women or the
men? Or both?
CARLISLE: For both.
MADISON: Well, basically, there used to be a term called working in service
where you would what they call sleep in, and, uh, you would probably have a half
a day off one day of the week and maybe half a day Sunday, or every other
Sunday. Other than that, you stayed in on the job. You slept there, you ate
there, you did everything there. If you were a man, you'd, maybe you would be
the butler, houseman, and chauffeur. The woman would cook, sometimes wash,
iron, and clean. You never had any time to yourself.
CARLISLE: How did people feel about doing that?
MADISON: Well, it was one of those things, a lot of them never knew anything
different and they figured it was, I mean, you just accepted it. There was some
00:47:00people that rebelled.
CARLISLE: How so?
MADISON: Well, I mean, they would leave and tr-- go somewhere else, maybe do
the same thing, but just get fed up, or try to get something else. You must
remember, back in those days, there were a lot of what they would call hobos,
black and white, people who just couldn't take that grind, see. If they hadn't,
things hadn't changed, I would have been one, too, because I hated that being
pinned down. There's a certain type of personality that can take that
housework. I couldn't. It's sort of demeaning because you're not actually a
human being, you're a piece of furniture. They will say anything, do anything
in front of you, and you is not supposed to notice it. I worked for a short
period of time as a butler and doorman for a guy named Giuseppe Biagetti.
CARLISLE: When, what year was that about?
MADISON: Roughly, I guess about '31 or '32. He was a fine guy. I, I didn't
00:48:00sleep in. I went every morning and left after dinner. He was a vocal coach.
He was a man who was training Marian Anderson. But it was just the idea that,
the way I, you know, tip around this little white coat around the table, they'd
say anything, cracking jokes I'm not supposed to hear, and, like I was laughing
about one time, he was mad because one of the girls he was going with, and I was
in the pantry like there, the dining room was here, and the basement was a
kitchen, and something she had done, and he's cussing her out and giving her
hell, and obviously he didn't know I'm in here, so I walked on out and walked
past and went downstairs. He never stopped. So later on that day, he said to
me, he came to get a drink, he said, "Well, George, I guess you hear a lot
around here, don't you?" And I looked at him and I said, "No, Mr. Biagetti, I'm
deaf, dumb, and blind," and he smiled, he said, "We're going to get along," see,
00:49:00and that's what he expected of me. [laughs]
MADISON: You see. Nothing, not --and that's the way it was. I remember one
time they had dinner--and I'll tell you when to cut the tape off here--and, uh,
there was a woman, old cracker woman from Virginia, and somehow Marian
Anderson's name came up, and she said, "Hm, I can't imagine one of them having a
talent like that." She said, "Even if she had been a poor white girl, I'd have
thought she had some Virginia Cavalier blood, but one of them with a talent like
that. Switch it off.
[Pause in recording.]
MADISON: Tip around there very nice and quietly, unobtrusively, but you still
got to do your work.
MADISON: And there's no consideration because I was supposed to come home after
dinner, be back for breakfast. One night, Mrs. Biagetti said to me, "George,
we're having a party tonight. Will you stay?" "Fine." So the party ended at
12:00. I had to come wait in North Philly and be back before eight o'clock the
00:50:00next day. Two nights later, she said, "George, we're having an after, after
theatre party tonight." I looked at her. She said, "But you don't have to do
anything until we get back." So they got back at eleven o'clock and started the
party. That was my last night. The party is going on until 3:30. It was so
late I had to walk home, and I overslept. So I told my mother, "Call and tell
them I'll be a little late."
MADISON: So, Biagetti was a fine guy, except when he woke up with a hangover,
he could be evil as a black snake. So, apparently he woke up with a hangover.
I knew he had one. And I heard her trying to explain to him about what time I
got home, so I told her, I said, "Don't argue with that man. Tell him have my
check ready when I do get there," I said, "and hang up." [laughs]
CARLISLE: Where did, where did that family live at?
MADISON: On St. James Street--
CARLISLE: In Center City?
CARLISLE: Um, what, do you remember what they called you?
MADISON: What do you mean? Called me by my first name, George.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Did you object to that?
MADISON: No, that was my name. [laughs] I mean, I couldn't object to that, see.
CARLISLE: It was better than being called anything worse.
MADISON: Oh yeah, yeah, well, no, no, look, I got respect as a person, see,
there wasn't anything like that, but it was just that, well it was just like,
see when you're working as a butler, it's like they have a pet dog or something,
see. They treat him nice, see. Biagetti and I got along. Very fi-- well. The
first morning there I was a little nervous and I ate a little fruit, so he came
and said, "What'd you have for breakfast, George?" I said, "Fruit." "You like
fruit for breakfa-" "Yeah." So he called his wife and said, "Be sure and have
plenty of fruit. That's what George likes." He was that type of guy.
MADISON: The only time he was nasty was when he woke up with a hangover. Now I
didn't know, one night they had a party, and I'm in the pantry and he came down.
He's taking some, drinking the water, and he said, "Good morning, George. How
do you feel?" I said, "I feel fine, Mr. Biagetti. How do you feel?" And he
blew his top. "Don't ask me how I feel! That is none of your bu-" and he raved
and ranted and I wanted to slug him.
MADISON: So the maid got behind him and did like this. "Now I'll ask you
again, how do you feel?" I said, "Fine," and then he stomped on out. So when
00:52:00he left, I said, "What was wrong with that little so and so?" She said, "Don't
ever ask him how he feels when he comes down with a hangover." [both laugh] I
said, "All right, didn't know." But--
CARLISLE: Did you ever talk about the things that happened to you when you
were a domestic worker among your friends? Did you all trade stories about--
MADISON: --well, yes, I had--
CARLISLE: --things that had happened?--
MADISON: --a buddy, Ken Johnson, who, he did a lot of that work, and he was
good at it because he started as a kid and he didn't mind. And we used to often
laugh about the different things that'd happen or some incidents that would
happen or how we hated it. [laughs]
CARLISLE: Do you remember any particular anecdotes or any stories that, uh,
you, you all told about anything that happened?
MADISON: No, not particularly.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. You just--
MADISON: --just in general--
CARLISLE: --talked about how much you hated the job.
MADISON: Yeah, that's right, and maybe the things they would do. Oh, like one
time I remember, uh--Biagetti, you know, he, he'd been a heck of a singer one
time, operatic and stuff like that, and he had been all over Europe and places,
and one time, the Mastbaum used to have guest conductors for their orchestra, so
00:53:00he was looking at the paper, and he saw where this Russian conductor was going
to be there, so he called the secretary and said, "Call down there and get in
touch with him. I haven't seen him since we were in Egypt together." So he
invited the man for dinner. So they had the guys do an evening show, but
anyhow, before he got there, they started--Biagetti usually had nothing but gin,
five gallons at a time, and they started on this gin, and by the time dinnertime
came, he and the, this Russian were drunk. And this is the thing that tickled
me. Mrs. Biagetti broke out her finest linen and silver and stuff, and we had
salad and stuff, and this Russian, he sit up there and he'd take his salad fork,
just as nice, and scrape the salad off the plate onto the table, and then eat it
with his fingers and just [laughs], I came in and I had to turn around and go
back in the pantry. I almost wet myself. [laughs] And Mrs. Biagetti looked at
me and shook her head--and they're talking like Biagetti doesn't even see, and I
mean, he just deliberately rake it on the table and eating it off the table.
MADISON: And, of course, he never made that show. [both laugh] But things
like that would happen. I mean--
MADISON: --get drunk and, uh--
CARLISLE: Did, did you all, did you wear a uniform then?
MADISON: I wore a white jacket, black trousers, and a blue bow tie. I must've
been cute. [both laugh]
CARLISLE: When did you, uh, start working at the post office?
MADISON: Nineteen thirty-six in August.
CARLISLE: How did you get that job?
MADISON: Took the exam.
CARLISLE: So, um, there was a civil service exam?
MADISON: Yeah, they were trying to keep us out of there, too.
CARLISLE: Wha-- how?
MADISON: Well, I mean, you had to take a physical, and if you didn't, things
that the white boys were going, were, they were overlooking, they were turning
us down. Now when I went and took my physical, I was, I was always very thin.
I was still doing a little bit of running on the side, so when I got weighed,
the man said, "You're sort of thin." I told him, I said, "Yeah, I've been
running." I said, "I just don't have any extra weight on me." That's what he
said. So, I'm, I'm going to school at the time, and some of the white boys who
00:55:00made the same thing I did were called in. So, uh, I don't know what's
happening. Some of them who made less than I did were called in. So at that
time, there was a guy, Fletcher Amos, who was black, who was a personal friend
of, uh, [Matthew] McCloskey, you wouldn't know him, but McCloskey was a, the
nice little Democratic treasurer for the whole, you know, for the, for the
Democratic Party. He built the post office. He and this black guy were
friends. So I told Amos about it. Amos said, "Well, my Mac told me he will be
back tomorrow." He said. "I'll speak to him." So the next day, I saw Amos and
he said, "Oh." He said, "I saw Mac today and he said he wrote a letter to the
post office." He said, "And he gave it to me to mail." The next morning, let
me see, the next morning, I had a letter come up to the personnel section at the
post office. See, this is what political pull will do. So when I got up to the
personnel, there were very few blacks there then, and no, nothing in anything
unless you accept clerking and labor work, so I stood around about ten or
00:56:00fifteen minutes before anybody dared to acknowledge I was there. Some guy came
up and said, "What do you want?" I told him, "My name is George Madison." "Oh,
Mr. Madison." What the hell? How does he know me?
MADISON: He goes and gets this file and he reads it. "What was wrong with that
man? You were only a pound and a half short with your weight." Now see, they
had turned me down. "And he's got you down here markedly un-- underweight.
Unfit for duty." Pound and a half, see. So he said, "Go down tonight to
Chestnut," where they were giving exams, "and let them weigh you with your
clothes on." I did. Came back, this time I go upstairs, report to Joe Smith,
he said, "Report for work tonight." But see, that political pull got me in.
MADISON: Now, there were white boys who could hardly tell one color from
another getting in there. A black guy that's slightly colorblind couldn't make it.
MADISON: All that sort of thing is going on, see.
CARLISLE: Were you very active in politics then?
MADISON: Oh no, not at all.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. Did you, did you vote back then?
MADISON: Oh yeah, I always voted, but--
CARLISLE: --what party?
MADISON: See, you're naïve. [Carlisle laughs] You, if, if you wanted to be
something, almost like a communist, be black and be a Democrat, but you see I
00:57:00turned Democratic. You see, what happened, this was just when the Republicans
were going out. Fletcher Amos lived in the next block and people actually
wanted to ostracize him because he was one of the first black Democrats up
there, and Amos was one of these kinds that was interested in anybody going to
school. So, when he told me, I said, "I'll change." He said, "No." He said,
"I," he said "look, you don't have to change." I said, "I'm going to change,
Amos, to be Democratic." I said, "These people are not doing anything." I
actually tried to tell the people that, but they couldn't see it. But anyhow,
that's what happened. You had to have drag, and then, like I said, blacks in the
postal was, it was, it was prejudice. What I didn't know was before we had
started, the group that I went in with, when they had a post office at Ninth
Street, that they didn't let, one time let blacks work small letters until, they
worked only the big letters and stuff like that, and when it ran out, then they
could work the small letters. I, I couldn't get the distinction. (laughs)
CARLISLE: So you were a, a, a clerk, a sorter--
MADISON: Yeah, I was a clerk, yeah. So, then, what they had then, they had
00:58:00what they call special clerks, they made something like three hundred dollars a
year more, but that, you know what they were, they were blacks who were
qualified to be supervisors, but they weren't going to make them supervisors.
MADISON: --one time, some inspectors came up from Washington and started
questioning the supervisors about what was going on. "Well, I'll ask John or
one of the special clerks." They said, "Why ask him? You're supposed to know."
A lot of them didn't even know what they were supposed to do.
CARLISLE: I'm just going to, um, briefly go through a lot of things pretty quickly--
CARLISLE: --because I see that were ru-- were running out of--
CARLISLE: --tape. [both laugh] Yeah, that's a problem. Um, I just want to
talk about a couple things and we're going to skip back and forth to cover it all.
CARLISLE: Um, first I'd like to, um, go, go through the periods, uh, that you,
that you lived here. Now we've gotten some of the basic history of, of, um,
00:59:00your political life, your education, uh, the history of what you compare the
North to the South, uh, your impressions. Um, I want you to, um, just, um,
focus back on, uh, the thirties to the, to the forties, and, um, tell me some of
the, the things that stand out in your mind about that era because we've talked
much about the twenties.
MADISON: Well, the thirties, it was pretty rough because there was very little
work. Uh, people were very cooperative and helpful because nobody had anything.
There wasn't much friction between the races because everybody was looking for
work. You'd go out in the morning, going somewhere, you, maybe you hear that
work is somewhere in the Northeast, and as you go along, people would, other men
would join up, black and white, and maybe before you got halfway there, you'd
meet another group coming towards you, and you start to talk and find out there
01:00:00was nothing there and those sort of things. People sympathized with each other,
see, and it wasn't a question of color then because everybody was suffering.
And, uh, if you didn't something to do with like liquor or when numbers first
started, something like that, I mean, you just, there was no way to make any
money. Then the public works thing came in under Roosevelt and people started
getting a few dollars that way. [telephone rings]
[Pause in recording.]
MADISON: Things actually helped, and it was the only place that families had to
get any money. Boys would join the CC camp, so they'd have a few dollars to
CARLISLE: CC camp? You're saying--
MADISON: Civilian Conservation Corps. I bet you don't know about that. And I
worked on PWA [Public Works Administration]. I remember February, I think it
was in '33-'34, it was eleven below zero and we were out there working. No wind
factor, eleven below, see, for a few hours. Things were just rough.
CARLISLE: Um-hm. This was between 1930 and 1936.
MADISON: That's right.
CARLISLE: Because once you worked at the post office, you stayed there--
MADISON: --oh yeah--
CARLISLE: --until you retired--
MADISON: --oh yeah. Um-hm.
CARLISLE: Are there any other impressions that stand out in your mind about
the, um, the 1920s through the 1930s. We've covered a lot of ground.
MADISON: Well, the twenties, the first, the middle part of the twenties were,
everything was jumping until the crash came, which was about '28-'29. Uh, there
was prosperity, everybody was happy, there was, there wasn't too much friction
between race because usually when things are very good or very bad, there isn't.
CARLISLE: So when the depression hit, most of, of the tension between the
races kind of eased because everyone was going through their own--
MADISON: --that's right--
CARLISLE: --personal financial plight--
MADISON: You, you had too much, too much trouble yourself. You couldn't say
this man was a threat to your job because there were no jobs.
CARLISLE: So there was not very much rivalry between the races for the jobs--
CARLISLE: --that were available--
MADISON: --because there were no jobs at all, see. It's only when the jobs
started coming back that this tension began to develop again, but during those
times, just, no one had jobs, there were no jobs at all.
CARLISLE: How did that affect your family?
MADISON: Pretty rough. I, I don't think I ever recovered from it because, uh, I
still have, well I have a bad stomach, which I think came from worry and stress
back th-- then, and I still have the fear of economic insecurity.
CARLISLE: How has that changed your life, experiencing the Depression?
MADISON: Well, up, well, I can't say what would have happened, but, well, one
thing too, what made it bad was because that was the reason I couldn't finish
school and that in itself was a rather traumatic thing. As I was laughing with
a friend of mine, I am just getting over that fact because I had it in my mind
01:03:00that I did want to go and be a doctor. It was a long while before I realized
that I just wasn't going to be able to do it. It was pretty rough. Because
CARLISLE: Because of the finances and because of the--
MADISON: No, finances and, and then the fact I had to take care of my family.
My father got out of work, he was getting old. My mother had a leaking heart.
And it was one of those things. I even went back to school in '36 and, uh, as
late as, uh, forty something I was at the Penn for organic chemistry and stuff.
It was just a dream that died hard that's all.
CARLISLE: We've covered a lot of things in this interview and I'd like to
thank you for participating in the--
MADISON: Well, and if you want anything else, I'll be glad--again, I enjoyed it.
CARLISLE: Okay, thank you.
[End of interview.]