Barbara Hill Jordan

Barbara Hill Jordan

Interviewed by Leonard Monroe
Present: Sherrie Tucker, Nancy Hiebert, Virginia Hamm,
Elroy Washington, and Reta Cosby
January 3, 2006

We're interviewing Mrs. Barbara Jordan for oral history, on growing up in the St. Luke AME Church.

MR. MONROE: Barbara, what is your full name, including your maiden name?

MRS. JORDAN: Barbara Iris Hill Jordan.

MR. MONROE: Where were you born?

MRS. JORDAN: I was born in Leeton, Missouri, July 14, 1935.

MR. MONROE: How long has your family lived in Lawrence, and when and why did the
first family member come here?

MRS. JORDAN: Well, we lived here off and on. My father was born here, in Bloomington, Kansas, out near Clinton Lake. His great-grandfather came here from Tennessee, and that is the reason for their living out there.

MR. MONROE: Did your family have any good storytellers, or what were some of your favorite family stories?

MRS. JORDAN: My father one on the best (laughter), but I can't remember all of the stories (laughter) that he told.

MR. MONROE: I know he was something else really. Were there people in your family that weren't talked about? How did your family deal with these people and their circumstances?

MRS. JORDAN: We were always taught to treat everybody the same, so there were no black sheep in our family.

MR. MONROE: Amen. What parts of Lawrence do you or did you identify most closely with when you were young?

MRS. JORDAN: West Lawrence. We always lived in West Lawrence.

MR. MONROE: Were you forbidden to go anywhere, like East Lawrence or North Lawrence?

MRS. JORDAN: No, we were able to go, we just mostly stayed in our surroundings that we knew about.

MR. MONROE: What topics were hushed up or forbidden in family conversation? A birth, death, or illness? Did your family discuss those?

MRS. JORDAN: No, we didn't have anything that was forbidden.

MR. MONROE: Was the black community more self-protective than the white community? If so, what were some of the protective mechanisms?

MRS. JORDAN: I can't really say that it was more protective because we had white friends that we went to school with and played with.

MR. MONROE: I agree with that totally, because I was raised up in West Lawrence with you, about three blocks from where you lived at.


MR. MONROE: And we always had white friends as well as black friends, and we never did have any real problems at all. What was the grandmother's role when you were growing up, and what about the grandfather's role? Have these roles changed?

MRS. JORDAN: Unfortunately both of my grandmothers died at a young age. One died before I was born and the other when I was a baby, so I didn't get to know my grandmothers. But I knew both of my grandfathers. One died when I was around six years old, and the other I was very close to because we were with him all the time until he passed away, and I think at that time I was already married. So we were very close to him.

MR. MONROE: Did your family ever take in boarders? If so, what do you remember about the experience?

MRS. JORDAN: No, they didn't do that.

MR. MONROE: Where did you attend elementary school?

MRS. JORDAN: I went to Pinckney School.

MR. MONROE: How many grades were in that elementary school?


MR. MONROE: Was this a segregated school?

MRS. JORDAN: No, it was integrated.

MR. MONROE: Were any of your teachers or coaches African American?

MRS. JORDAN: No, they were not.

MR. MONROE: Were any of the administrators African American?


MR. MONROE: Were any of the class officers African American?


MR. MONROE: What clubs, organizations, or sports teams did you belong to in high school?


MR. MONROE: Did you interact with Native Americans in Lawrence when you were growing up? If so, what kind of an interaction did you have?

MRS. JORDAN: I'm sure there were some probably in school with us, so we just treated them like everyone else.

MR. MONROE: Right, because when it seemed like when we were growing up, there really wasn't no such thing as prejudice as far as we was concerned.

MRS. JORDAN: No, not then.

MR. MONROE: We didn't hit that until later on.

MRS. JORDAN: That's true.

MR. MONROE: What did you feel about your teachers, and attitudes toward your education? Did they offer you support? If not, why?

MRS. JORDAN: Most were pretty good. But I can remember several who did not believe that African Americans were talented enough to deserve certain grades, and as a result, I do know of several instances where they kept two blacks off the honor roll, because they would not give them the grades they needed.

MR. MONROE: What is your overall opinion of your education experience in Lawrence? Go all the way through high school on that, would you, Barbara, and give me your experiences on that.

MRS. JORDAN: Going through high school?

MR. MONROE: Yeah, all the way through elementary, junior high, and high school.

MRS. JORDAN: Elementary was good. I loved Pinckney School. Junior high was pretty good. We, at that time, had three different buildings, one on each corner of 9th and Kentucky.

MR. MONROE: We had Central, Old High, and Manual.

MRS. JORDAN: Yes. And then high school, we had an experience because the principal that we had would hold assemblies. He would have an assembly for the whites, and then he would have an assembly for the blacks. I didn't like that. But other than that and these two teachers that I didn't especially care for, because of the way they treated us.

MR. MONROE: Do you remember their names?

MRS. JORDAN: One was Davenport. Now she was the one, she definitely did that.

MR. MONROE: Oh, yeah, old lady Davenport. I remember her.

MRS. JORDAN: Yes. And there was another one.

SHERRIE: What did she do?

MRS. JORDAN: Well, a good friend of mine—and she would have been on the honor roll, except that she would not give her an 'A' in her class, so that this kept her off of the honor roll. She didn't think blacks deserved those kind of grades.

MR. MONROE: I can remember her, and she was pretty smart. She was really intelligent.

MRS. JORDAN: So that was an experience that I would never forget.

MR. MONROE: But you did graduate?


MR. MONROE: What year did you graduate?

MRS. JORDAN: Fifty-three.

MR. MONROE: What is your overall opinion of your educational experience in Lawrence?

MRS. JORDAN: Oh, they have good schools, I do admit that.

MR. MONROE: What did you do after school back then? Anything special?

MRS. JORDAN: No. Got married and had children.

MR. MONROE: You and P.J.?

MRS. JORDAN: (Laughter) Yes.

MR. MONROE: What are your first memories of St. Luke?

MRS. JORDAN: Growing up here with our cousins. They lived here on the east side and their mother was a superintendent. So we would either catch the bus and come to St. Luke or walk, because usually my dad was working on Sunday morning and my mother didn't drive. So those were just great memories, and at that time there were a lot of kids that went to this church.

MR. MONROE: When do you remember attending St. Luke? Were you a member, or when did you join?

MRS. JORDAN: I've been attending since I was probably about four or five years old, and then we joined. My mother joined in 1939, and then my father joined about ten years later. So we all followed him up and joined the same time he did.

MR. MONROE: Did your parents attend church, or your grandparents attend St. Luke?

MRS. JORDAN: My parents attended, but my grandfather was a Baptist.

MR. MONROE: Are you actively involved in your congregation, or were you in the past?

MRS. JORDAN: Yes. You want me to elaborate?

MR. MONROE: Uh-huh.

MRS. JORDAN: I'm not as active as I used to be, but in the past I've served on the Steward Board shortly, trustee for a number of years, and a lot of different organizations--missionary.

MR. MONROE: Usher?

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah, Usher Board, and different clubs that we had.

MR. MONROE: You were pretty active then.

MRS. JORDAN: At that time, yes.

MR. MONROE: What was the Sunday forum? Did your family participate?

MRS. JORDAN: Yes, my parents were always. My mother was a missionary and in the prosperity club and the Richard Allen, and there was another one. Oh, the Missionary Society, she was in that. My father was a steward and a trustee. So they were very active.

MR. MONROE: What memories of funerals do you have? Were they typically segregated events?

MRS. JORDAN: Mostly.

MR. MONROE: They had black mortuaries back then, too?

MRS. JORDAN: Yes, they did, but they also had, at that time it was Cooper-Warren. It was on Massachusetts Street. Because at that time Rumsey, the only black people that they buried were people that worked for them. But they have since changed.

MR. MONROE: We had Bowser-Lee Mortuary.

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah, Bowser was on Vermont.

MR. MONROE: Vermont Street, six-hundred block of Vermont.


MR. MONROE: Do you consider your faith an important part of your life?

MRS. JORDAN: Absolutely.

MR. MONROE: What role has your church played in Lawrence history?

MRS. JORDAN: St. Luke is one of the oldest black churches in Lawrence.

MR. MONROE: As a matter fact, I think probably is the oldest. Isn't it, or was First RM?

MRS. JORDAN: I think St. Luke is the oldest.

MR. MONROE: I think St. Luke is the oldest, and about a year older than Ninth Street.

MRS. JORDAN: I think, yeah.

MR. MONROE: When did you first hear about Langston Hughes?

MRS. JORDAN: Just the past few years, because when we were coming up, I didn't know a thing about Langston Hughes. So this is just recent for me.

MR. MONROE: One thing I remember back then really, there being a world champion boxer I think. He lived right up there on top of the hill on Ninth Street back in those days, but I can't remember his name. I don't know if it was Johnson or what it was, but I do remember people talking about him, too. Him and Langston Hughes. Did you know Langston lived here as a young boy?

MRS. JORDAN: I have just found that out.

MR. MONROE: Anything else you might know about him as being a poet or a writer?

MRS. JORDAN: No, just that he is a poet. I just recently found out these things. As a child, I didn't know.

MR. MONROE: What are some the names of African American businesses in Lawrence that you remember?

MRS. JORDAN: We just mentioned Bowser-Lee. At that time, it was just Bowser Mortuary. And then back in the '40s, Leroy Harris was a black attorney, and he had an office in the seven-hundred block of Massachusetts Street. And there was a family named Gleeds, and they had a poultry house. That was out on 23rd Street. And there were other businesses. Now I can remember my father saying at one time there were a lot of black businesses on Massachusetts Street, but I can't remember what they were.

MR. MONROE: I can't remember those either, but we also had Blues Bucket Shop.

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah. And the Greenwood Inn.

MR. MONROE: And there was a hairdresser there, right down from Constance Construction Company. I can't remember just what her name was, but it was a hairdresser there because I know that Mom and them went there sometime.

MRS. JORDAN: And then they also had a barbershop on 6th and Mass. Jimmy Jackson.

MR. MONROE: Jimmy Jackson's Barbershop. There was a doctor there for awhile too, in the six-hundred block of Kentucky, but he didn't stay here very long.

MRS. JORDAN: Something Randolph. He came here and stayed, and then left.

MR. MONROE: He wasn't here very long. But there were quite a few black businesses really.

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah, there were, but I can't remember.

MR. MONROE: As a matter fact, I think blacks either owned or had businesses in the six-hundred block of Vermont, except the Shaw lumberyard was the only white business I think, on that block at that time, with Constance Construction. The rest of them I think were more or less black. Do you remember where these businesses were located besides the six-hundred block of Vermont and the six-hundred block of Kentucky?

MRS. JORDAN: The barbershop, Jimmy Jackson and Lan Demery. They had a barbershop on the corner of 6th and Mass.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, Lan Demery. The name I was trying to think of was Demery.

MRS. JORDAN: And then Leroy Harris, of course. He was the attorney that had a law office upstairs in the seven-hundred block of Massachusetts.

MR. MONROE: He was on Massachusetts, but there were also other black businesses on Massachusetts, but I just cannot remember who they were.

MRS. JORDAN: I can't either.

MR. MONROE: Because that was a long time ago.

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah, way before my time. I know I heard Daddy talk about them, but I don't remember them.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, I remember our parents talked about them, and even using them. Did you or your family shop at their establishments?

MRS. JORDAN: Maybe they did (laughter), I didn't. I'm sure my parents did.

MR. MONROE: Who was your physician? Was he African American, or where was his office located?

MRS. JORDAN: No, he was white. A little old man named Dr. Henry, and his office was on 9th and Vermont, on the corner.

MR. MONROE: Were you or any member of your family ever hospitalized in the Lawrence hospital? If so, were there separate quarters for African Americans?

MRS. JORDAN: Yes, I experienced that. They had like two rooms that they put black people in, like 217 and 218. Now this was back in 1953. I do remember that very well.

MR. MONROE: Were African Americans allowed to attend movies or theater performances in Lawrence with the white people? If so, was the seating for African Americans segregated?

MRS. JORDAN: We were able to go to the movie theaters, but we had to set in certain sections, usually in the back of the movies, or upstairs at the Jayhawk Theater, and one we couldn't go to. Was that the Patee?

MR. MONROE: No, Granada.

MRS. JORDAN: Granada? One movie we couldn't go to at all.

MR. MONROE: We sat in the balcony, in the Jayhawk and the Patee, and the Dickerson Theater, what we called the crow's nest. But it turned out for our benefit; they were better seats.

MRS. JORDAN: They were better seats, but it's the idea that you pay your money and you can't sit where you choose.

MR. MONROE: I do remember that quite well. Do you remember the African American swimming pool in Lawrence?

MRS. JORDAN: No. The river is all I know about (laughter).

MR. MONROE: That's where I learned to swim at too.

MRS. JORDAN: I don't know how (laughter).

MR. MONROE: I learned to swim in the river and, as a matter a fact, if you really stop and think about it now, we were really fortunate that we didn't really get caught in none of that quicksand or anything like that.

MRS. JORDAN: That's true.

MR. MONROE: Thank God that the river wasn't polluted or anything like it is now.

MRS. JORDAN: Not then.

MR. MONROE: But we did have a ball swimming in it though.

SHERRIE: Where would you swim at the river?

MRS. JORDAN: They had something called the Cut. I've never been there because that was a no-no to me.

MR. MONROE: The Cut was in North Lawrence.

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah, it was.

MR. MONROE: In the river, when we went swimming in the river, we just go down there where you go down to Burcham Park now. We'd go down there and swim. And, what she's talking about, is what we call the Cut. When you go across that turnpike bridge over there, you see all that water over there, that was the Cut. And, actually we didn't really realize then, but that thing was deep and wide. We was real fortunate we're still around here today really, because we didn't have no idea how dangerous all that stuff was. If I knew my kids was doing that, I would have probably had a fit. Of course, our parents really didn't know we were doing that.

MRS. JORDAN: That was one no-no for us.

MR. MONROE: Yes, indeed. Were African Americans in Lawrence allowed to eat in cafes or restaurants owned by whites?

MRS. JORDAN: No, we could not eat in their restaurants. You bought your hamburger or whatever and took it with you. We would go to movies and stop at the Velvet Freeze and get our ice cream and go to Jim's Dog House and get a hamburger, and then walk on home. Even the Crown Drug Store, I'll never forget that. We went in there and got some cokes, but they told us we couldn't sit to drink them, so you had to just take it on with you.

MR. MONROE: I remember it back then, and you're absolutely correct in all that. As a matter of fact, you could buy all the ice cream you wanted, but you couldn't even take a lick off your ice cream cone while you were still inside. I think, though, in the drug store at 14th and Mass, across from the old Liberty Memorial High School, I think there was one time where we could go in and get a drink.

MRS. JORDAN: I don't know about that.

MR. MONROE: Cherry coke.

MRS. JORDAN: I know there was a Hillside Pharmacy down from Ninth Street, because we would go in there with some friends of ours after we went to the movie, and that's what we'd get, a cherry coke. Well, they would serve you that coke, but you had to take it on with you, you couldn't sit down.

MR. MONROE: We went to school with those kids.

MRS. JORDAN: Yes, you did. Two girls, Simples.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, Nancy.

MRS. JORDAN: And Jane.

MR. MONROE: Nancy and Jane Simple. They had that drugstore.

MRS. JORDAN: Because that one married George Castor.

MR. MONROE: Yes, and they were divorced. Anyway, we could go in there and, actually, they wouldn't actually run us out because we knew the girls. But, still, everything was really segregated back then.


MR. MONROE: Do you have anything you want to tell me about your family stories that have been passed down regarding your African American heritage or regarding slavery and the Underground Railroad? How do you feel about living and working in Lawrence? Were you happy? Was life good, and how so?

MRS. JORDAN: Life has been good, although there were problems, there's no doubt about it. A lot of young people, after they go to school, would leave Lawrence because the job situation was better.

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes. Even in the mid '50s, I remember that quite well. You couldn't get a decent job.

MRS. JORDAN: A lot of the young people had left. My brother, for one, did.

MR. MONROE: I want to ask you about the [St. Luke AME Church]
upstairs, during the changes when they dropped the ceiling, can you just elaborate on that? When they did the reconstruction and dropped the ceiling, or when they moved? Because I remember that the pulpit and the choir and everything was on the south side upstairs. When was all that changed?

MRS. JORDAN: I think that was done in '52, because Brookings changed that, so it must have been in '52.

MR. MONROE: That's Reverend Brookings. He went on to become a bishop.

MRS. JORDAN: Yes. We had three that became bishops. He did, Rev. Anderson did, and Garnett Henning. They were all ministers here and went on to become bishops. Reverend Brown is the one that did the major remodeling though, and that would have been in the '70s.

MR. MONROE: That's when they dropped the ceilings?

MRS. JORDAN: Dropped the ceiling. When they came down here before Delores' husband, Fuller, redid this basement. .

MR. MONROE: You mean this paneling?

MRS. JORDAN: No, Reverend Brown redid the basement. They had put in false walls and stuff. So he did that too. And the lady's lounge and the bathrooms, he remodeled all of those. Years ago, there were no front steps. As you came in the front door, there were no steps there.

MR. MONROE: How did you get in?

MRS. JORDAN: I think they did that when Anderson was here. Now I'm going to have to find out for sure. But when we were small, the only way to get down here if you didn't come through that door there, you came down those steps in the back.

MR. MONROE: I guess that's why those steps are so steep, because you didn't have no room really.

MRS. JORDAN: I do remember they put steps in the front. But that was done before Reverend Brown did that remodeling.

MR. MONROE: One thing about St. Luke when we was growing up though, they did have quite an attendance here.

MRS. JORDAN: Oh, yes. A lot of members, a lot of working members, and had a lot of nice functions.

MR. MONROE: Right. And they burned their mortgages.

MRS. JORDAN: Yes, and the bishop would come, and then we had a lot of banquets with people coming from different other connections with AME Church as speakers. And then they'd have a sit-down dinner.

MR. MONROE: I remember when Reverend Washington was here, he came up with this idea, I think, a tea party.


MR. MONROE: Where you had to dress up in formals and everything, and that was quite something.

MRS. JORDAN: I think it was something to do with the birth date, the months your birthday were in. Different ones would have a different table with different kinds of food on it.

MR. MONROE: There used to be a lot of social gatherings here, that's for sure.
MRS. JORDAN: Oh, very much so.

MR. MONROE: A lot of social events took place here at St. Luke. And everybody just seemed to be so wonderful and so friendly. And the guests would come in from different churches. It was really quite an experience growing up in St. Luke.

MRS. JORDAN: Oh, it was wonderful. Lots of good memories really.

MR. MONROE: Oh, yes.

SHERRIE: One thing that I think would be good, you mentioned your family members, but you didn't mention their names. If would we go through and get the names of your parents and grandparents, husband and children.

MRS. JORDAN: Okay. My parents were Thomas Hill Sr. My mother's name was Marguerite Hill. I had a brother that's deceased, Thomas Hill Jr, and then there was me, Barbara Jordan, and my sister, Charlotte Hill Frye, and a younger sister, Karen Hill Morris. And then I have two children, Yvonne Jordan Mumford, and a son, Steven Jordan. My daughter has four children and my son has three.

MR. MONROE: Where do they live, your daughter?

MRS. JORDAN: My daughter lives in Portland, Oregon.

MR. MONROE: And Steve, of course, here in Lawrence?

MRS. JORDAN: Steve lives here in Lawrence and works at Hallmark.

MR. MONROE: Very good. I definitely remember your mother, she was a real wonderful person. Everybody called her Granny; I think all the kids called her Granny.

MRS. JORDAN: Yeah, everybody did.

MR. MONROE: Yeah, I do remember that quite well, and your dad. You remember the music back when you were growing up in St. Luke?

MRS. JORDAN: Yes. This would have been in the late '40s, we had a youth choir, and Mrs. Viola Spencer was our choir director. At that time, I believe Reverend C.L. Williams was the pastor. And we would have different dinners and things to raise money for the church, so she kept us all really busy. And then, later, we had a choir. Now, Garnett Hennings was the minister then. Young women called Voices of Faith, and Mrs. Ruth Jeltz was our choir director, and it was just wonderful.

MR. MONROE: I remember her, she was really something.

MRS. JORDAN: Yes, she was.

MR. MONROE: And if you said you couldn't sing, she'd say, “Oh, yes you can,” and you would too. But you remember when the choir and the pulpit was on the south side of the church upstairs?


MR. MONROE: And they even had bass violins, saxophones, I think trumpets. They had musical instruments as well as a choir over there. I do remember that.

MRS. JORDAN: I remember when it was moved. I know Brookings did that.

MR. MONROE: But when it was still over there, I remember all those instruments. I did remember that, because that's when I joined church. Barbara, thank you very much for all your information.

MRS. JORDAN: You're welcome.

MR. MONROE: Is there anything else you want to say about anything?

MRS. JORDAN: Not at the moment. If I think of something, I'll jot it down.

MR. MONROE: Okay, do that.

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