Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with George Macon Madison, June 23, 1984

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Introduction and background information

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Partial Transcript: Your address.

Segment Synopsis: Interviewee George Madison introduces himself and interviewer Jackie Carlisle asks questions about his background and where he lived in the South. He recalls that his family received his mail in a hamlet-- not even a town--called Miller's Tavern.

Keywords: Clearview Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); George Madison; Millers Tavern, Virginia

Subjects: African Americans--Southern States.

00:01:33 - Reasons for moving north

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Partial Transcript: When did you arrive in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Madison notes that when his family first left Virginia they moved to Riverton, New Jersey, in Burlington County, where Madison's uncle lived. He reflects on the reasons his father decided to move. Many of his extended family and acquaintances in the South farmed and did not have a reason to move north. Madison explains that his father had come north for appendicitis surgery and was not able to keep farming as he recovered, precipitating the permanent relocation. Madison's father perceived Philadelphia as a place one could easily earn money, but did not think about how many more expenses they would have living in the city.

Keywords: Arrival in North; Farming; Motivations to move North; Riverton, New Jersey; Southerners

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Health and hygiene.; African Americans--Southern States.; Migration, Internal.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Riverton (N.J.)

00:04:32 - His parents' feelings about leaving the South

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Partial Transcript: How did your par, parents feel about leaving their, um, their home, the place that they raised their children, lived in for a number of years. How did they feel about abandoning life in the South and, and coming up here?

Segment Synopsis: Carlisle asks questions about leaving their home in Virginia to move north and if they felt like they abandoned their home. Madison explains that their father was already in the north after his surgery, and his father had been there before doing work on the farm during certain seasons. Carlisle also asks about the move and whether it was exciting or not.

Keywords: Dangers; Ku Klux Klan; Life in the South; Stories; Warnings about life in the North

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

00:08:36 - Memories from the boat trip north

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember any, uh, parts of the trip that were particularly exciting?

Segment Synopsis: To Madison, the most memorable aspect of moving north was the boat ride to Baltimore, during which his family stayed in a stateroom. There were many other African Americans on board as well. He does not believe his family brought much money with them on the trip, as no one had much money.

Keywords: Boats; Journey north; State-rooms; Trips

Subjects: African Americans--Southern States.; Migration, Internal.; Travel

00:10:49 - Making the move from Riverton, New Jersey to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Now you, uh, you lived in Riverton for how long?

Segment Synopsis: Madison's family's move to the North was not directly to Philadelphia. He lived in Riverton, until 1926, after finishing high school, although his parents moved to the city the previous year. Madison remembers Philadelphia as an initially unpleasant experience because of how crowded the city was. He was used to living where there was more space, with trees and birds chirping. He recalls the thriving commercial district along Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore) in North Philadelphia where his family settled. Madison's address when he first moved to Philadelphia was 1523 North 20th Street.

Keywords: 1523 North 20th (Philadelphia, Pa.); Chestnut Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); City life; Columbia Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Home ownership--Philadelphia; Moving; Riverton, New Jersey; Walnut Street (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: African Americans--Housing.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Riverton (N.J.)

GPS: George Madison's home when he moved to Philadelphia
Map Coordinates: 39.977806, -75.167685
00:14:43 - Available jobs for Blacks in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: But so far as work, work was a little scarce then.

Segment Synopsis: During the late 1920s when Madison moved to Philadelphia, the only jobs that were available for Blacks were manual labor jobs like construction, pressing, and factory work, or service jobs like chauffeurs or domestic servants. Madison's father perceived few opportunities for his children in Riverton, New Jersey, so he moved his family to Philadelphia where they bought a home at 1523 North 20th Street in North Philadelphia. Madison recalls working many jobs in his early years in Philadelphia, not staying at any of them very long. His first job was as a presser. He later worked for his uncle helping do yard work, but this did not last long because of an allergy.

Keywords: Butlers; Chauffeurs; Factory work; Jobs; Pressing; Work

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

00:17:08 - Meeting the new people in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: Who were some of the, uh, first people that you, that you met when you moved here?

Segment Synopsis: Madison recalls that everyone was friendly when they moved to Philadelphia, and that the neighborhood was even mixed between whites and Blacks. Parents in his neighborhood were very cautious and wanted to know with whom their children were friends. Madison learned from his peers what neighborhoods were not safe for African Americans, including Grays Ferry and Upper Darby because they had a lot of racial incidents.

Keywords: Grays Ferry (Philadelphia neighborhood also known as Irish Town or Ramcat, site of 1918 riots); Hilldale Club Baseball Team; Making friends; Neighbors; Parental advice; Upper Darby, Pennsylvania; Warnings about life in Philadelphia, Pa.

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions.; Integration; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; United States--Race relations.

00:19:58 - First jobs after moving to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: That first job that you said you got as a presser, do you remember how much you made at that job?

Segment Synopsis: Madison earned 15 to 20 cents a piece working as a presser for Alonzo Shaw, who ran a tailor business. Some days he earned nothing, and sometimes as much as a couple dollars, depending on the day. Madison was lucky enough that he was able to get a few jobs not too long after moving to Philadelphia. He worked odd hours, piecing together several jobs, including janitorial work cleaning businesses and running an elevator in a Center City building. He might work a day or two for a tailor or another small business, taking any job he could get. He worked in summer 1927 on a trash truck in East Orange, New Jersey. He eventually worked for Giuseppe Biagetti as a domestic servant.

Keywords: Alonzo Shaw; Arch Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Domestic work; East Orange, New Jersey; First job; Giuseppe Biagetti; Keystone Window Cleaning Company; Pressing; Trash trucks

Subjects: African Americans--Employment.; Wages.

00:23:36 - Going to college as a Black man

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Partial Transcript: Then I came back to Philly and went to school.

Segment Synopsis: Madison had a dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. When he was asked to be interviewed, he thought it would be to be admitted, but the dean, Dr. James H. Dunham, turned him down because of his race. Dr. Dunham told Madison, "You know you can’t take your medicine here?" Madison remembered that there were only 6 Black students that went to Temple with him, and three of them flunked out after the first semester. Very few Blacks were attending college during this era, so those who did recognized the other Blacks attending other local universities. Madison remembers African American athletes from Penn, Villanova, and St Joseph's University who participated on the track and cross-country teams because that was the only team that didn't have a coach that could put a white person ahead of them. His white teammates were friendly to him. One white teammate wondered why Blacks only ran track and cross country, and did not play other sports; Madison explained to him that the coaches on other teams chose who would play, but that was not the case in an individualized sport like track.

Keywords: Athletics; Barrows Dunham; College of Liberal Arts, Temple University; Cross country team, Temple University; Dr. James H. Dunham; George Goodall; Jimmy Peacock; Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent; School; St. Joseph's University; Temple University; Track team, Temple University; University of Pennsylvania; Villanova University

Subjects: African American athletes; African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Social conditions.; Discrimination in education.; Race discrimination.

GPS: Temple University, where Madison went to college.
Map Coordinates: 39.981513, -75.155070
00:29:42 - South Street as a center of the Black community

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Partial Transcript: 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, the greenhorns, some of the newcomers, some of the--

Segment Synopsis: Southern migrants clustered in the neighborhood near South Street in Philadelphia because everyone had heard about it. South Street was a hub for African American entertainment, with theaters, speakeasies, and barbecue joints. Madison recalls walking from his neighborhood in North Philadelphia to South Philadelphia to partake in the entertainment along South Street.

Keywords: Greenhorns (inexperienced newcomers to the city); Royal Theater (Philadelphia, Pa.); South Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Speakeasies; Standard Theater (1124-28 South Street)

Subjects: African American neighborhoods; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:32:17 - Assimilating to the northern way of life

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Partial Transcript: 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?

Segment Synopsis: Some of the people that Madison had met after he moved north started to assimilate to the way of life in the North. Madison's family rented rooms in their house to southern migrants. Madison's father was asked by a young thirteen-year old southern boy how to use a knife and fork, since he was accustomed to eating only with a large spoon. That was one of many ways people changed as they became used to the northern lifestyle. Madison recalls a story of a boy who had grown up in Philadelphia and visited the South, only to be told by white southerners that he should not wear his blue blazer and flannel pants, as Blacks needed to wear work clothes during the week.

Keywords: Assimilation; Northern culture; Northerners; Southerners

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

00:35:22 - Resentment in the Black community for being educated

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Partial Transcript: 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?

Segment Synopsis: Madison recalls that there were some Blacks who moved north and kept the attitude that an educated person was no better than someone who was working on a trash truck. Those people resented someone for trying to go to school and get jobs that only the white people were taking. Madison recounts that manual jobs like construction and other labor were common jobs for African Americans, as was domestic work for women. The jobs that "upwardly mobile" Blacks could get were ones working in big hotels and working as a butler for a private family. These families aspired to provide their children with a good education. Some more successful Blacks viewed other Blacks as a bad influence on their children.

Keywords: College; Construction work; Education; Manual labor; Old Philadelphians (O.P.s); Racial resentment; Upwardly mobile

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Southern States.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:39:33 - Dating and social events in the Black community

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Partial Transcript: Now, 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?

Segment Synopsis: The church organized social events for young people in the African American community. If one did not belong to a church, one would not get to meet as many people or find potential dates. Some churches hosted dances and there were private clubs that held events. Madison reflects on the differences between social activities in small towns versus the city. If Black people wanted to meet others to socialize with, there were plenty of opportunities.

Keywords: Church; Clubs; Dances; Dating; Social activities; St. Peter Claver Church (Philadelphia, Pa.)

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

00:43:09 - Church and Sunday school

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Partial Transcript: So were you a, a regular churchgoer when you first came to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Going to church was not mandatory for Madison because the church was far away and a lot of people worked on Sundays and couldn't get to their services. His parents did require him to go to Sunday school. He recounts how he did not always go along with what the church instructed. Once he moved to Philadelphia he became involved in the Miller Memorial Baptist Church, but there was not much programming for the young people. Madison did not socialize much with the people at the church.

Keywords: Church; Miller Memorial Baptist Church; St. Paul Baptist Church (Philadelphia, Pa.); Sunday school

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

00:45:52 - Domestic work for Black men and women

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Partial Transcript: 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.

Segment Synopsis: One of the jobs that Madison held in the early 1930s was as a butler and doorman in the home of Giuseppe Biagetti, a vocal coach who trained Marian Anderson. He recalls several racially charged incidents from that time, along with the challenges of working as a domestic. He remembers a guest of Biagetti making disparaging remarks about Anderson, incredulous that an African American could sing as she did. For the most part, Biagetti treated him with respect, except for when he was hung over.

Keywords: Butlers; Domestic workers; Doorman; Giuseppe Biagetti; Live-in domestic work; Marian Anderson; Mastbaum Theater; Sleep in domestic work; St. James Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Working in service

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

00:54:23 - Working for the post office

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Partial Transcript: When did you, uh, start working at the post office?

Segment Synopsis: Madison recalls starting at the post office in 1936, working there most of his career until retirement. He took the service exam to get the job and was initially told he was too skinny for the job until his friend who was close with Matthew McCloskey, the treasurer of the National Democratic Party, got him the job. He worked as a clerk and was happy with that because there were plenty of Blacks who were qualified to be supervisors that had lower jobs just because they were Black.

Keywords: Employment discrimination; Matthew McCloskey; Post office--employment; Post offices; Service exams

Subjects: African American postal service employees.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Discrimination in employment.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Postal service--Employees.; Postal service.; Race discrimination.

00:58:37 - Life in the 1930s and 1940s

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Partial Transcript: I'm just going to, um, briefly go through a lot of things pretty quickly--

Segment Synopsis: During the thirties and forties there was not much tension between whites and Blacks because everyone was more focused on finding a job. The Great Depression caused some of the friction between the races to subside but it was only because everyone was struggling for work and money. Since no one had a job it was harder for whites to blame Blacks for taking all the jobs, easing the tensions. The Depression made it difficult for Madison to graduate from Temple University and become a doctor. His father was out of work and his mother had medical problems so he had to work to provide for his family instead of go to school.

Keywords: 1930s; 1940s; Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); Great Depression; New Deal; Public Works Administration; Work

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Depressions--1929--United States; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; United States--Race relations.