Danny Mae Reeves

Danny Mae. Reeves' parents, formerly slaves, came to Douglas County to farm in 1865 from Missouri. After moving into Lawrence as a child, she attended an all-black school in north Lawrence. She describes early black businesses and professionals. Her father was one of Lawrence's first black Policemen.

Interview of Danny Mae Reeves
Kansas City

Interview by Curtis Nether

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, could you give us your full name, please?

MRS. REEVES: Danny Mae Reeves.

MR. NETHER: What's your marital status?


MR. NETHER: Do you have any children, Mrs. Reeves?


MR. NETHER: What were your parents' names?

MRS. REEVES: Daniel and Mariah Morton.

MR. NETHER: What was your mother's name?

MRS. REEVES: Mariah.

MR. NETHER: Mariah. Oh, Daniel and Mariah Morton.


MR. NETHER: Where were your parents born?

MRS. REEVES: My mother was born near Louisville, Kentucky, and my father was born in Missouri.

MR. NETHER: When did you first come to Douglas County?

MRS. REEVES: I was born there.

MR. NETHER: When did your parents first come to the county?

MRS. REEVES: About 1865.

MR. NETHER: Why did they come all of a sudden? Why did your father leave Missouri?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, he was a slave and he left during the Civil War, and he came to Kansas across the river to be free.

MR. NETHER: What river did he come across, the Missouri River?

MRS. REEVES: Missouri.

MR. NETHER: Did he stop in Kansas City first?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. He called it Wyandotte then. And he worked in the state militia?he joined the state militia and guarded soldiers and after the war he worked as a stevedore on the Missouri River.

MR. NETHER: Why did he come to Lawrence after Wyandotte?

MRS. REEVES: I think he wanted to farm. He wanted to get some land.

MR. NETHER: Was Douglas County a good place to farm?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. He had rented some land and he bought an acre and a half.

MR. NETHER: How did he acquire his land? Who did he buy it from?

MRS. REEVES: I don't know.

MR. NETHER: Were you born right in the county on a farm that your father had bought?

MRS. REEVES: I was born in Lawrence on the land that he bought, but he quit farming after he was a policeman.

MR. NETHER: When did he become a policeman?

MRS. REEVES: I don't know. Ever since I can remember. Since I was four years old he was a policeman I can remember.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, what's your age?

MRS. REEVES: Eighty-seven.

MR. NETHER: When did you move from the country on the farm into the town?

MRS. REEVES: He didn't?we lived?we were just on the edge of town and he rented land and worked it and lived where I was born.

MR. NETHER: What occupations, now, thinking as far back as you can, what occupations did most blacks generally have at this time when you were a little girl?

MRS. REEVES: I was born in 1889 and for a long time I don't remember. My next to my oldest sister and my oldest sister remember the farm, but I don't remember it.

MR. NETHER: When you started to grow up were there many black people living in Douglas County?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. We lived in a black neighborhood, the whole block was black.

MR. NETHER: Where exactly did you live?

MRS. REEVES: Hickory Street near Seventh and Hickory.

MR. NETHER: And was this whole area inhabited by blacks, blacks lived in that area mostly?

MRS. REEVES: Mostly. There were some white and next block, Lake Street, there were two or three.

MR. NETHER: What type of job did most of these blacks have? Were they all farmers?

MRS. REEVES: Gardening. I lived in north Lawrence. That was always the gardening section.

MR. NETHER: Have you ever heard of the story of Chief Big Nigger, the Indian that many of the blacks in north Lawrence supposedly bought their land from? Did your father ever tell you anything about that?


MR. NETHER: I talked to Mr. Shepard, John Wesley Shepard, and he was telling me about Chief Big Nigger. He lived in north Lawrence too.

MRS. REEVES: I know Shepard.

MR. NETHER: Okay. When your parents first came to Douglas County, did they have any acquaintances? Did they know anybody before they got there?


MR. NETHER: Know anyone?


MR. NETHER: Now, I'm sorry.

MRS. REEVES: My mother said there were no sidewalks or anything, just paths, and she used to carry a small pistol in her pocket. Dogs, some of them same as wild, they would attack you sometimes.

MR. NETHER: Do you remember the bridge that led from downtown to north Lawrence? What was it like? The first one you can remember.

MRS. REEVES: Steel construction.

MR. NETHER: Is it the same one that's there now?

MRS. REEVES: No. That went away when we had the 1903 flood.

MR. NETHER: What effects did the 1903 flood have on north Lawrence?

MRS. REEVES: So many people moved, number of people didn't come back to their home. Some of their homes were taken away.

MR. NETHER: Were these mostly black people that lived there that moved from their homes in that section of town?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. House next to ours went away, but some of them moved?still stayed in north Lawrence, they moved to Locust Street, our next-door neighbor, and different places farther?where the flood didn't reach that year.

MR. NETHER: Did you attend school in north Lawrence also, Mrs. Reeves?


MR. NETHER: What school did you go to? What elementary school did you go to?

MRS. REEVES: Lincoln and Woodlawn. Old Lincoln and old Woodlawn.

MR. NETHER: Old Lincoln and old Woodlawn. What was old Lincoln like? What was old Lincoln? Tell me something about it.

MRS. REEVES: It was just a four-room brick building. It was still standing. I don't know whether they have torn it down.

MR. NETHER: It's still just a shell of it. Just a shell now of the school. Who were the teachers there? Did they have all black teachers or?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. The principal was Fred West and my first grade teacher was Lois Alexander and first and second and third grade, Ely C. Freeman.

MR. NETHER: Can you tell me approximately how many students went to Ballard--I'm sorry, went to Lincoln-- just approximately?

MRS. REEVES: I would imagine thirty in each room.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, did you seem to have enough money for textbooks and facilities that you needed for school when you went there?

MRS. REEVES: I did. Most of them did.

MR. NETHER: Did they ever teach you subjects on black history, things about famous black people?

MRS. REEVES: No, they didn't.

MR. NETHER: Was the principal of old Lincoln School also black, this Fred West that you are talking about?


MR. NETHER: What was the difference then in old Lincoln and Woodlawn School?

MRS. REEVES: Old Lincoln was all black. When my older sister went to school there, went to a mixed school, but the smaller children fight so much they separated to the sixth grade, old Lincoln through the fifth, and then old Woodlawn had the sixth and then I went to New Central seventh and eighth.

MR. NETHER: New Central.



MRS. REEVES: In seventh and eighth.

MR. NETHER: Where was New Central located?

MRS. REEVES: It was across from the old high school, old Lawrence High School. I think the old Lawrence high School is an apartment now. It was at Ninth and Kentucky.

MR. NETHER: Ninth and Kentucky?


MR. NETHER: And the only grades there were seventh and eighth?

MRS. REEVES: No. They had other grades. Had sixth. But when we went there, when you go from old Woodlawn, some would go to Vermont School. It was on the Vermont Street. And some would go to New Central.

MR. NETHER: These are integrated schools now that you were going to?

MRS. REEVES: Yes, all after the sixth grade. After the fifth grade.

MR. NETHER: What grade did old Lincoln School go up to?

MRS. REEVES: Through the fifth grade.

MR. NETHER: Woodlawn also?

MRS. REEVES: Woodlawn through the sixth. We went there to the sixth. From the fifth grade they were all integrated, but they did have two black rooms?one at Quincy in [old] west Lawrence and one at New York, I believe, in east Lawrence, but all the rest were integrated.

MR. NETHER: What was it like when you were in the junior high school which was old Central or new Central?

MRS. REEVES: We didn't have a junior high. We just went on. Junior high long time after I went to school and we only went part of a day to high school, same as they did university. We would just go to our classes, lessons assigned, recite, but when they commenced talking about going all day to high school after a while we didn't believe it. But we found out it was better because it wasn't all too steady. So we made it all right.

MR. NETHER: What time did school generally start in the morning?

MRS. REEVES: In high?

MR. NETHER: The high school.

MRS. REEVES: High school?


MRS. REEVES: Some classes at 8:00 and some at 9:00.

MR. NETHER: What did you generally have to do before you went to high school? Did you have chores or jobs that you had to perform?

MRS. REEVES: I didn't. Sometimes I helped around the garden or something like that. Sometimes I didn't do much until I got to high school.

MR. NETHER: After you got to Lawrence High School, did they have any black teachers in the school system?


MR. NETHER: None at all? What about administrators and so on?

MRS. REEVES: No, nothing.


MRS. REEVES: Not many students. So many dropped out at that time. So many dropped out of school.

MR. NETHER: Many blacks were dropping out of school?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. They had a shirt factory there and a cigar factory, and a number of the whites were stopping and worked there.

MR. NETHER: What type of subjects did you learn in high school? Did you learn black history at Lawrence High?

MRS. REEVES: No black history.

MR. NETHER: What about extracurricular activities? Did some of the men, did they go out for football? Did they play basketball?

MRS. REEVES: They played, mostly track. None of the colored girls, none of the blacks played basketball. They had a basketball team.

MR. NETHER: They had an all-black basketball team?

MRS. REEVES: No. I mean white. But one of my nieces went to high school, she played basketball. I mean at KU. She didn't play until she got to KU.

MR. NETHER: Were blacks involved in extracurricular activities other than athletics? Were they in things like pep club or farm club or anything like that?


MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, I want you to think back now as far as you can again away from school here for a little while. How did black people and white people generally relate to one another? Did you have a lot of separatism in Douglas County or did they kind of just get along and work together well? Could you go to the movies? Could you eat lunch?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes. The Bowersock, there was just one theater there and you could sit anywhere, but after I was gone and they built the new Bowersock,

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, was there a time in Lawrence when everything was integrated and then it went to where it was segregated?


MR. NETHER: All right. When did this change take place? Do you know approximately what year? Was it in the 1900s?

MRS. REEVES: It was in the 1900's yes. When I came back here to visit, they had the new Bowersock and it was jammed full, but when I was?you couldn't go. There's been some separation when I was a young woman. Used to go in the ice cream parlor, some of them, there was one that you couldn't go.

MR. NETHER: Do you remember the name of it?

MRS. REEVES: Wiedemanns.

MR. NETHER: Wiedemanns?


MR. NETHER: I have heard of Wiedemann's.


MR. NETHER: Do you remember World War I, Mrs. Reeves?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. I was in Lawrence then.

MR. NETHER: How did you feel when you found out at that time the United States was going to war and they were taking black men, all men, and sending them across the sea? Many blacks didn't feel like they were accorded equal rights in the country at that time. Do you think even with the lynchings and so on going that blacks were still eager to go to war and fight during the first World War? I kind of threw a lot of stuff in there.

MRS. REEVES: At first they said they weren't going to have any, didn't want any.

MR. NETHER: They didn't want any blacks to fight?

MRS. REEVES: No. but afterwards they did and some of the men went in, they thought they would never go overseas, and some came to Des Moines in the training camp. They did finally—one time they let everybody resign that wanted to. They thought they weren't going to commission them, and they said everybody could, I think they let them stay three more months and then said they could resign if they wanted to but some of them stuck it out and got their commissions.

MR. NETHER: Why did they want them to resign?

MRS. REEVES: They didn't want to commission them officers.

MR. NETHER: Did most of the soldiers in Douglas County serve in all-black units?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. I heard my husband did.

MR. NETHER: Did he?


MR. NETHER: Was he enthusiastic to go and fight?


MR. NETHER: He wasn't. How did you feel? Did you try to encourage him? Were you married at that time?


MR. NETHER: Did you kind of encourage him to go fight, or did you try to maybe have him not go?

MRS. REEVES: I can't put it on tape.

MR. NETHER: Okay. Did black people in Douglas County do anything to help the soldiers that were in the war? Did they form Red Crosses, or did they bake cookies and send them overseas or anything?

MRS. REEVES: I don't know. I went to Des Moines after my husband went overseas, and they were doing things there, but I don't know about that's about the time I went to Iowa.

MR. NETHER: Uh-huh.

MRS. REEVES: And I came back when the war was over. But I don't know so much about what they were doing in Douglas County at that time.

MR. NETHER: Did you attend church in Lawrence before you left?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. I belong to St. James in north Lawrence.

MR. NETHER: How long have you been a member of that church or were you a member of that church?


MR. NETHER: Approximately how long?

MRS. REEVES: I joined there over sixty years ago, but I haven't stayed in that church.

MR. NETHER: Do you see any major changes that have taken place in St. James in the church, maybe think of a change around 1900 when you belonged to 1922 when you left? What were the changes even up to that date?

MRS. REEVES: There were more people there, I think, when I was small. They had a larger congregation. Of course, now there's a very small congregation there.

MR. NETHER: Do you think blacks were more involved with what was going on in the church then than they are now? That's a personal question.

MRS. REEVES: Yes, I think so.

MR. NETHER: Did you see any major changes that have taken place in the church? I asked you that before. I am going to ask you again.

MRS. REEVES: Just that the congregation is so small now. When I was a child and went there, the church would be full sometimes but now of course that's because I?I don't know. I started to say I thought the people had moved away, but—

MR. NETHER: Do you remember Bishop Gregg?

MRS. REEVES: Yes, I do.

MR. NETHER: Can you tell me something about him? Where was he the pastor at? What church did he belong to?

MRS. REEVES: When he was there?

MR. NETHER: Yes. Was it St. Luke?

MRS. REEVES: I really don't know. I know he lived in north Lawrence when he was going to school. He was married, but I don't know which church. Before he was married he lived with his uncle. I imagine he belonged to St. Luke.

MR. NETHER: Did Douglas County have any black professionals, doctors, or lawyers when you were there? Do you remember Judge Clark?

MRS. REEVES: Yes, I remember him.

MR. NETHER: Was he there when you were there?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. And Dr. Harvey.

MR. NETHER: Anyone else?

MRS. REEVES: Dr. Cabelle.

MR. NETHER: Cabelle?

MRS. REEVES: And Dr. Kenner.

MR. NETHER: What about teachers that were in Ballard or Lincoln School that became principals? Did any of them ever reach that high?

MRS. REEVES: No. Not one was elevated.

MR. NETHER: Did they have any black teachers in Woodlawn School?

MRS. REEVES: When my oldest sister attended there they had one.

MR. NETHER: What was her name? Can you remember what her name was?

MRS. REEVES: It was the same one as my third grade teacher, Ely C. Freeman.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, what did you do for fun when you were in Lawrence?

MRS. REEVES: We went to movies and used to have annuals in the summer when they have live shows, picnics in the community park, they had one.

MR. NETHER: Were a lot of your social activities build around the church?

MRS. REEVES: Not too much. Some, yes.

MR. NETHER: Okay. Do you remember when Langston Hughes lived there in Lawrence?

MRS. REEVES: I wasn't there at the time. I know his mother.

MR. NETHER: Now, I am going to ask you some history, some more history out of certain periods of time. Some of them you won't remember. Do you remember anything that pertained to black people during the Civil War? Were there any blacks in Lawrence during the Civil War?

MRS. REEVES: OH, yes, there were some there during Quantrill's Raid.

MR. NETHER: Tell me about Quantrill's Raid. What was it?

MRS. REEVES: They burned and sacked Lawrence. Quantrill came with a kind of a renegade army and the Eldridge House, that was burned.

MR. NETHER: Did they try to kill every man that was there?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. There used to be a woman there by the name of Harriet Harper. She used to tell how her husband hid in the cornfield, and Mrs. Harvey was there in the country and she hid under the bridge with her baby, nine-month-old baby. She put an apron over his head. They marched right over the bridge and she put the apron over his head to keep him from crying.

MR. NETHER: Do you ever go back and visit Lawrence any more, Mrs. Reeves?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. I went there Easter.

MR. NETHER: Do you see any changes that have taken place in Lawrence than when you lived here compared to now?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes. They didn't have any shopping centers. Of course, all the businesses on Massachusetts Street then.

MR. NETHER: Like grocery stores and so on? Could you go on Massachusetts Street and buy your groceries?

MRS. REEVES: No. We had grocery in north Lawrence, but they did have grocery stores. There was a black grocery there for a while, a young man, Russell Brown, had it on Massachusetts Street.

MR. NETHER: Russell Brown?

MRS. REEVES: Russell Brown. His brother was a minister there, J. M. Brown. He preached at St. Luke Church.

MR. NETHER: Was there any other blacks that owned businesses in Douglas County?

MRS. REEVES: Arthur Hill had a laundry, and just one season Arthur Johnson and Frank Anderson had an ice cream parlor on Locust Street.

MR. NETHER: Locust. That's in north Lawrence, isn't it?

MRS. REEVES: North Lawrence.

MR. NETHER: Were there any others?

MRS. REEVES: Fred Johnson had an auto mechanic shop?auto repair shop on his home place, and he had quite a business and KU, the professors, he worked there, and he was busy all the time.

MR. NETHER: What about Gleed's, have you ever heard of Gleed's?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes, sure, they had a produce company. Sold eggs by the carloads.

MR. NETHER: By the carloads.



MRS. REEVES: And poultry and he was a great cattle buyer. He said he was a very good judge of cattle.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Reeves, question now that I want to ask you, when you were in north Lawrence, were there class distinctions between blacks, say the blacks that lived where you live compared to the blacks that live across the bridge?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes. They called us sandrats.

MR. NETHER: Sandrats?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. There's a few living yet that say that.

MR. NETHER: Where did that name come from?

MRS. REEVES: Because north Lawrence was gardening place, sand was soft.

MR. NETHER: What did you call the blacks across the river?

MRS. REEVES: I don't know that we had any name for them.

MR. NETHER: Did the guys go from north Lawrence across the river and date the girls?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes. The boys had girls not so much in my day but later on they did.

MR. NETHER: Try to keep each other on each side of the bridge, huh?


MR. NETHER: That's pretty good. Would you ever want your children, if you had children, or grandchildren or nieces and nephews, would you ever want them to live in Lawrence or Douglas County?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes. I think it's a good place to live. I have a great-grandniece living there now. She just finished her first year in KU.

MR. NETHER: All right. Did you ever leave town much when you were in Lawrence before you moved here?

MRS. REEVES: Not much.

MR. NETHER: Why did you finally move here to Kansas City?

MRS. REEVES: I'm just here since I am in the senior citizens home. I just came here. I have never lived here before. I lived in Iowa and Des Moines.

MR. NETHER: Why did you move up to Des Moines? Why did you move away from Lawrence is what I am asking?

MRS. REEVES: Because there's just so many different kinds of work. I had two sisters in Iowa.

MR. NETHER: Did you have a PTA at the old Lincoln School?

MRS. REEVES: No. Never heard of PTA.

MR. NETHER: Did the parents ever get involved with the school?

MRS. REEVES: No, not much. When we would get our report card once a month, they would have to sign that. Get in trouble.

MR. NETHER: Do you remember when they built new Lincoln School?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. Oh, in about 1919, I think.

MR. NETHER: Was new Lincoln School built as a black school also?


MR. NETHER: How did black people feel? Did they feel kind of proud that they were getting their own school?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. I think they were very proud of it.

MR. NETHER: Do you feel that you were getting a good education when you went to Lincoln School?

MRS. REEVES: Yes, I thought so. I liked my teachers and they took more interest in us.

MR. NETHER: Have you ever heard of Bloomington?


MR. NETHER: What can you tell me about Bloomington?

MRS. REEVES: I know they had a black school there. I know Alta Johnson taught there. She was Alta Anderson then. And Cordelia Mitchell taught there.

MR. NETHER: Taught school?

MRS. REEVES: Taught school in Bloomington. She's living in Lawrence.

MR. NETHER: I called her on the phone about a week and a half ago, and she wasn't' feeling too good but I am going to talk to her. I wasn't aware of that. Is there anything that has taken place in Douglas County that pertains to black people that maybe I haven't asked you, maybe something you can recall? Were you ever confronted with racism?

MRS. REEVES: Black man hung on that old bridge.

MR. NETHER: The one that goes from south to north Lawrence?


MR. NETHER: Why was he hung?

MRS. REEVES: I don't know what he did. I think they were trying to get them to stop it but I think the blacks were trying to get them to stop it, but there was no way to stop it. But I heard my mother and father talk about it. That old iron bridge, steel, whatever it is.

MR. NETHER: Did blacks seem to get equal justice with whites in Douglas County, if say if I stole 50 dollars and somebody white stole 50 dollars, did it seem like they got equal treatment under the law?

MRS. REEVES: I don't think so. My father was shot. There was someone burglarizing a store, and he said it was a white man, and but they sent a black to the penitentiary, but he never thought it was black.

MR. NETHER: What was the name of your father's store?

MRS. REEVES: What was?

MR. NETHER: Did your father own a store?

MRS. REEVES: He was a policeman and there was a man burglarizing the store, breaking in the back door, and he told him to halt, put up his hand, he shot him. He shot him in the hand just as he was raising his gun. It was torn up so bad, the doctor never did get that bullet out. And just before the man had a bad reputation. They got him but he said that he saw the man and it was a white man.

MR. NETHER: Did your father like being a policeman in Lawrence?

MRS. REEVES: I guess he did. He was there from the time I can remember and I was in high school when he quit.

MR. NETHER: Did he get into a lot of conflicts with white people when he would try to enforce the law?


MR. NETHER: Did they have black barbers in Lawrence?

MRS. REEVES: Oh, yes.

MR. NETHER: Did they have white barbers?


MR. NETHER: Were there a majority of them black?

MRS. REEVES: I don't think they had many white customers. I am not sure but I don't think so.

MR. NETHER: Did black people work up on the Hill?


MR. NETHER: What kind of jobs did they do? Did they teach?

MRS. REEVES: There was one?some say assistant professor, they called him professor Peace, but I think he was a teacher or assistant teacher or something, but some of them said he wasn't much of a teacher, he just poking in windows and things, but I think he was and they called him Professor Peace.

MR. NETHER: Did a lot of the blacks that were on the Hill, did they do mostly domestic type work?

MRS. REEVES: There were storekeepers. One man, George Keen, was a storekeeper in the chemistry department, and he had a little glass and he used to go around to the churches and give demonstrations.

MR. NETHER: Do you remember when Dr. Harvey played football for KU?

MRS. REEVES: No. that was Dr. Harvey's brother.

MR. NETHER: His brother Ed Harvey?

MRS. REEVES: Ed Harvey.

MR. NETHER: Do you remember when he played?

MRS. REEVES: No. I remember him, but I know he did play football but that was before I was old enough to pay any attention to it.

MR. NETHER: Was he a good football player? Did you hear?

MRS. REEVES: Yes. I know he got his leg broke. Must have been good.

MR. NETHER: All right.

MRS. REEVES: He walked with a limp from that all his life.

MR. NETHER: You know which leg it was that he limped with, right or left?

MRS. REEVES: No. I don't. I guess if his nephews are there, they would know.

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