Martha Chieks

Martha Chieks grew up in Lawrence, in the 199 block of Kentucky. Mrs. Chicks attended the integrated Quincy and Cordley schools and Central Junior High School. She talks of going to "nickel" movies at an all-black theater on Massachusetts. St. Her father worked for the post office and her mother did housework. Her son fought in World War II and was on Iwo Jima. She was a member and steward of St. Luke AME Church and went to school with Langston Hughes. She attended KU for one year and lived at home. Her husband worked "on the road."

Martha Chieks
537 Wisconsin
Lawrence, KS

Interview by Curtis Nether

MR. NETHER: We will start here for the record's sake. Mrs. Chieks, could you tell us your name?

MRS. CHIEKS: My full name or my—

MR. NETHER: Just your full name.

MRS. CHIEKS: Martha Ann Wallace.

MR. NETHER: Your marital status?

MRS. CHIEKS: I have a husband.

MR. NETHER: How many children do you have?


MR. NETHER: Their ages?

MRS. CHIEKS: Fifty-one and forty-eight. Barbara is fifty-one and James is forty-eight.

MR. NETHER: What were your parents' names?

MRS. CHIEKS: Lewis Wallace and Kate Wallace.

MR. NETHER: Where were they born?

MRS. CHIEKS: My mother came from Kentucky and my father from Missouri.

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

MRS. CHIEKS: When I was born.


MRS. CHIEKS: No, I have always lived here.

MR. NETHER: Do you know when your parents came here?

MRS. CHIEKS: No, I don't.

MR. NETHER: Do you know if they had any acquaintances here when they came? Did you have any relatives already living here?

MRS. CHIEKS: Did I or my parents?

MR. NETHER: Your parents.

MRS. CHIEKS: They had relatives. My mother's parents, some of them, had migrated from Kentucky here before she came.

MR. NETHER: Do you know why they came or have you heard anything?

MRS. CHIEKS: I have heard, but I was just a kid. I don't remember.

MR. NETHER: When you were growing up, from way back as far as you can remember now, what was Douglas County like? If I was looking at a picture of Douglas County, going back in time, what would that picture look like? What would the houses look like, and so on?

MRS. CHIEKS: Most all of the houses were built, if they were two-story houses, they were just houses and like living room, dining room and kitchen, straight back. And upstairs there was a stairway and maybe one or two bedrooms upstairs.

MR. NETHER: Most of them were two-story houses though?

MRS. CHIEKS: Yeah, most of them, and they were all shaped alike, nearly.

MR. NETHER: What were the streets like? Were they paved like they are now or were they any other way?

MRS. CHIEKS: Massachusetts Street, some of the streets downtown were, but I mean in my time, wasn't any of the streets. I was in fact raised out in 1800-1900 block on Kentucky, and wasn't any of those streets paved.

MR. NETHER: Wasn't any paved?

MRS. CHIEKS: And where I live now, my street now isn't paved.

MR. NETHER: Were they dirt roads?


MR. NETHER: Just kind of a general idea here and this pertains to your life that you can remember. How did blacks and whites mostly relate to each other here in Douglas County? Were there good relationships or bad relationships or—

MRS. CHIEKS: I can say if they were friendly with you, I mean someone close, why, it was alright. But there was always quite a gap in the schooling and everything else. Some of the teachers were good and some of them were—you always had to go to the back of the room.

MR. NETHER: Most of the black students had to go sit way in the back?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yes, definitely.

MR. NETHER: Did they ever give a reason for that? Why?


MR. NETHER: It was just what we call defacto segregation.

MRS. CHIEKS: Uh huh.

MR. NETHER: Did you have many white friends?

MRS. CHIEKS: You mean growing up in school?


MRS. CHIEKS: I had a few. Some of them were very very good. Some of them I see now that are still just like they were. Others were just the opposite.

MR. NETHER: How did they seem to react when you had to go to the back and sit?

MRS. CHIEKS: No, no.

MR. NETHER: And they went to the front?

MRS. CHIEKS: No, no.

MR. NETHER: Just some—

MRS. CHIEKS: It was just a thing that had to be.

MR. NETHER: Take it in stride.


MR. NETHER: What school did you go to?

MRS. CHIEKS: I went down here where the community building is. That was my first school.

MR. NETHER: What was the name of that?

MRS. CHIEKS: Quincy. And then I went out when they build Cordley, I moved to Cordley, and then where 901, that was the junior high. They didn't call it junior high, they called it Central.

MR. NETHER: Is this the one right up the street here?

MRS. CHIEKS: No. There's no school now, but that's where this insurance is, and on the other side was manual building where the Douglas County Bank is and it was those three schools. The high school was there and I think there's a filling station on that corner now.

MR. NETHER: Really? Were these schools integrated?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yes.

MR. NETHER: They all were?

MRS. CHIEKS: They had one school in North Lawrence and one in East Lawrence, but I never went to a segregated school.

MR. NETHER: Now I am going to ask you questions about periods in history like the Civil War, Quantrill's Raid, and I know you weren't back there, but maybe you have heard something about it. And if you didn't, that's quite all right and I can understand it. And I don't particularly want you to tell me dates, but just tell me kind of what it was like here in Douglas County during those periods of time. Can you remember anything about Douglas County during the Civil War?


MR. NETHER: That's far back. What about Quantrill's Raid? Still same time period.


MR. NETHER: Nothing much.

MRS. CHIEKS: I heard my parents talk a lot about it.

MR. NETHER: Can you remember any accounts which they told you about the raid?

MRS. CHIEKS: Right off-hand I can't.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Chieks, right after the Civil War was a period of time called Reconstruction and this was a time when blacks and whites were at least legally on paper equal to one another, but this period of time was overturned because white slave owners took back over, Ku Klux Klan started rampaging through the South and many blacks started to migrate. Kansas was one of the first places where many blacks migrated. Can you remember any accounts of maybe your parents or maybe folklore, what you just heard, about when the first black people came to Kansas?


MR. NETHER: Any periods like that? After this period we will get up to 1917 when World War I started. Can you remember what it was like here in Douglas County during World War I?

MRS. CHIEKS: Yes. I can only remember events and I only remember my brothers and sisters. I know I had a brother that was supposed to have gone but he had pneumonia or something, and he was sick and he didn't have to go. And that was the only one that—of course, my dad was too old and—

MR. NETHER: Do you think though that your brother wanted to go? Did you want your brother to go?

MRS. CHIEKS: He didn't want to go. I had one brother that they never did catch up with him. He was determined he wasn't going. And my parents couldn't get any mail from him because everyplace he would go, he would drop them a card and he would move on. All their mail was censored.

MR. NETHER: Do you know why he didn't want to go?

MRS. CHIEKS: He just didn't want to go.

MR. NETHER: The reason why I asked, because it was a war where they said they stood in line to fight and it also was a time when lynching was at its peak, where many blacks were being lynched in this area, and I was just wondering if blacks here in Douglas County, despite what was happening to them, still wanted to go out and fight for democracy and so on.

MRS. CHIEKS: I was quite small myself and I had no contact with what they thought or how they reacted to anything like that.

MR. NETHER: I can understand. I know you are still a young lady.

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yes.


MRS. CHIEKS: I don't call seventy-two very young.

MR. NETHER: That's not really old. I don't think seventy-two is really old at all. I should have asked you that at first, your age, because that makes a difference.

Now, after World War I, many soldiers came back and you had a period of time when America was said to be real prosperous, during the 1920s. Actually was prosperous for the businessman, but the farmer and laborer still was down in the dumps.

Can you remember anything about the Roaring '20s? How did you socialize? What did you do for fun during the '20s?

MRS. CHIEKS: During the '20s the most—there was a large family of us and we entertained right at home and I— very seldom—I would get to go to a nickel show about once a month, but I never got out. We had a little church, lived in church, and had little socials and things like that. Other than having get-togethers like that now, or going out, we would have our get-together and sing and dance at home.

MR. NETHER: Mostly your social activities evolved around the church?

MRS. CHIEKS: Around the church and at home.

MR. NETHER: When you did go to the nickel show that one time a month when you were able to make it, what was it like there for you?

MRS. CHIEKS: It was just something we would look forward to and—

MR. NETHER: What kind of movies would you see?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, I can't remember. We were just tagging along my older brothers and sisters and it was just the idea of us getting to go. We walked about two miles or more to get to the show and had to walk back.

MR. NETHER: Were there whites and blacks there? Whites as well as blacks at the show?


MR. NETHER: This was an all-black theater?


MR. NETHER: Can you remember where it was located?

MRS. CHIEKS: If I remember right, it was in the 600 block on Massachusetts Street, someplace on the west side of the street.

MR. NETHER: After the '20s, after everything seemingly so great, first of all, how did your parents make a living during the '20s?

MRS. CHIEKS: My dad worked at the post office and he farmed a lot. My mother did too. Just housework, washing, and ironing—things like that.

MR. NETHER: Were you able to have a comfortable living from what your father drew?

MRS. CHIEKS: We had plenty to eat and was happy, but we never had any extras.

MR. NETHER: Now, after the '20s, which was a seemingly good period for most people, came the worst part of history called the Depression. This was a time when many people were jumping off buildings because they were now losing money and so on. How did the Depression affect you and your family?

MRS. CHIEKS: I just imagine that my parents were worried but as far as the children are concerned we just—I mean we were still happy and they kept food on the table and kept shelter over our heads, and I can imagine they had plenty of heartaches, but then us kids didn't realize it.

MR. NETHER: So they were able to still make a comfortable living for you, despite the problems that were going on here?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yeah.

MR. NETHER: Good. Now, you were young. How did you feel when Roosevelt was elected, FDR, Franklin Roosevelt, if you can remember?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't remember how I felt about it.

MR. NETHER: Do you know if your parents voted for him?

MRS. CHIEKS: No. They wouldn't vote for anything but a Republican.

MR. NETHER: Really?

MRS. CHIEKS: They were long as they lived nothing but Republicans.

MR. NETHER: Hoover was a Republican, and Coolidge and Harding were all Republicans during the '20s. Then the early part of the Depression. Did they still want Hoover to be reelected?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, they wouldn't think of anything—anything but a Republican.

MR. NETHER: No matter what had happened, right?

MRS. CHIEKS: Regardless.

MR. NETHER: What about now during the early 1940s? After Pearl Harbor came World War II. Can you remember what was it like here in Douglas County during World War II?

MRS. CHIEKS: Yes. My son was in World War II.

MR. NETHER: Could be possible.

MRS. CHIEKS: Yeah, because he left school. I had to sign for him. He was just seventeen and when he got out he didn't want any more of it.

MR. NETHER: Did he look forward to going, do you think?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yes. I think there was about five or six buddies altogether and they went down and signed up for it.

MR. NETHER: Where was he stationed? Can you remember that?

MRS. CHIEKS: He was in Japan and I don't know where the different places he was. I have a picture of him in Iwo Jima. It was on the back of the Life magazine.

MR. NETHER: Oh, yeah? He fought at Iwo Jima?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't think he went into actual battle, but he was a MC—most of his training and his time was spent in cleaning up and all that.

MR. NETHER: Did he ever write home and tell you about his units—maybe some of his friends that he had met and what they did for fun and so on?

MRS. CHIEKS: He didn't write very much, but since he's been home, he tells a lot. I mean he's told me a lot.

MR. NETHER: What's some of the things that he said about what it was like when he was overseas?

MRS. CHIEKS: He and Spearman, Vernell's husband, they went in together and they were together an awful lot. I don't know what all they did.


MRS. CHIEKS: They get together and talk.

MR. NETHER: Just during that time you had segregated units?


MR. NETHER: And most of them did not do heavy combat fighting. A lot did. But most didn't. I know you started telling me about how he kept the point on the Burma Road. Anyway, what was it like here in Douglas County right after Pearl Harbor was bombed?

MRS. CHIEKS: Everyone was pretty tense, and I don't remember just exactly how the individual reacted. I don't remember how I reacted about it, but I know at the time everyone was all up in arms and frightened about it. But to go into detail about it, I can't.

MR. NETHER: Let me back up, tell you a little history. You can tell I am a teacher, can't you?

In 1896, it was Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, which said separate but equal facilities are legal. Blacks could be here and whites could be here. That's legal as it could be. But now in 1954 this decision was overturned and you had Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, right here in Topeka, and it said now that separate but equal facilities were not legal because if they were separate, there was no way they could be equal. After this, can you remember what it was like in Douglas County? Did the movie houses, did the restaurants, did all the places that practiced segregation, did they start to change any, can you remember?

MRS. CHIEKS: Yes. Some of them—a lot of them changed. A lot of them wouldn't change.

MR. NETHER: Uh huh.

MRS. CHIEKS: And of course we were allowed to go to the theaters, but then we had to sit in this Jim Crow section.

MR. NETHER: Right. Up in the balcony?


MR. NETHER: At that time was still against the law?

MRS. CHIEKS: Uh huh.

MR. NETHER: What were some of the businesses that still practiced this segregation?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, most of the restaurants and the hotel.

MR. NETHER: Eldridge House?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yeah.

MR. NETHER: What about Raney's Drugstore at that time? Can you remember it?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, I remember it, but I don't remember any blacks ever working in there or even serving in any of the eating places.

MR. NETHER: So after this decision people just didn't run to integrate their businesses and so on?


MR. NETHER: What about schools? You mentioned that you did go to integrated school most of your life but there were some segregated schools here, if I'm not mistaken.

MRS. CHIEKS: There was one in North Lawrence and then they had just a room at New York School. I don't know whether they had one at Pinckney or not, but I always lived in South Lawrence, and I never went to a segregated one.

MR. NETHER: Can you recall any of theses other schools integrating after this decision was made? You have this bussing problem where people fight because they don't want to be bussed. Did you have this type of problem then when they said the schools should be integrated?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't remember any problems, but I remember they just did away with this, especially New York, just the one grade. But in North Lawrence I had a friend there, Mrs. Webster, and Thelma Hacker, and it was agreed for financial reasons they couldn't take this school and they integrated it to keep that school going.

MR. NETHER: They integrated it to keep it going?

MRS. CHIEKS: I can remember when they integrated it and they sent some of the students over here to school, and after they got out of the—I think about the sixth grade, they had to come over here to school on the south side, but up until then I think they all went to Lincoln.

MR. NETHER: Bringing you up to date a little more, can you remember what it was like here, again general answers, what it was like here during Vietnam when they were fighting in Indochina and young men had to leave here? How did most people feel about the young people going to war to fight over there?

MRS. CHIEKS: They didn't feel very good about it.

MR. NETHER: Was it a difference in this war than World War II and World War I?

MRS. CHIEKS: Most of the ones that went because they wanted to go or because of lack of employment for the blacks. They went because that was the only way they felt that they could be independent or get off their parents' back, make a little something for themselves.

MR. NETHER: Uh huh.

MRS. CHIEKS: But I don't think so far as the patriotism—it was more of a thing to better themselves, have free money given to them.

MR. NETHER: That's something there because most wars are fought for patriotism and here—

MRS. CHIEKS: Yeah, but I don't think any of the ones from here—I mean the ones that I knew— felt loyal to the United States or anything for going. I have a nephew that's going in next week, Kansas City, he's just going into the service, but I don't think he feels he wants to go for any other reason.

MR. NETHER: There's a major change there in the idea of why people go to the service nowadays.

MRS. CHIEKS: Uh huh.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Chieks, can you kind of look back and probably compare the past with the present and tell about any major changes in any area now that you see here in Douglas County?

MRS. CHIEKS: There are so many major changes in housing and in employment and in the way you are treated and everything. You are treated more like a human being now.

MR. NETHER: Uh huh.

MRS. CHIEKS: And used to be when if they liked you, why, you was alright, and if they didn't, why, you were treated just like an animal or something. Had no respect for you whatsoever.

MR. NETHER: What made white people like you during the early days?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't know whether it was my disposition or attitude towards them or I had some very good white playmates and some of my teachers were very nice, and some of them that are years retired, I meet them now and have a nice feeling towards each other.

MR. NETHER: I talked to you about this a little yesterday. Would you feel comfortable if your children or your children's children wanted to live here in Douglas County?

MRS. CHIEKS: I would want them to stay here, but I don't know. There's other places they have more advantage, be more prosperous. My grandkids, I mean my daughter left here and her kids, what she's doing and what they did, they never could have done that where they are at now.

MR. NETHER: So it's a matter of economics then?


MR. NETHER: Why they leave?  Did you know anyone at any time on welfare?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yes.

MR. NETHER: How did you relate to these people that were on welfare? How did they relate to you? Were they happy being on welfare? Were they kind of ashamed of it, withdrawn, or what? What was kind of their attitude?

MRS. CHIEKS: I didn't know too many of them. There wasn't many of them that I associated with, but the ones that I can remember most, they just didn't seem to have much. They was just glad to get it. They just kind of shiftless kind that didn't make any effort to make it for themselves.

MR. NETHER: And they rather had been on welfare than work then?

MRS. CHIEKS: Uh huh. And I think that's generally the idea of a lot of them now. They don't have any ambition to better their condition, at least I have always felt that way, because I have always worked, my parents always worked for a living, and we never —I would be ashamed to—there's so many people that they can't get what they want, they don't even try.

MR. NETHER: Do you know any particular reason they decide not trying why they would not want to be on welfare? Can you think of any?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't know how they would feel about it, but I feel like there's no little easy money coming, I'm going to have to work for it.

MR. NETHER: Were there class distinctions among blacks in our past history here in Douglas County?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, yes.

MR. NETHER: What type of classes did blacks have? What made you a better black and what made you almost a good black? What made you a lower-class black?

MRS. CHIEKS: How you live, whether you was prosperous, why you was up a little higher than someone. Maybe they was as good as the others, but they didn't have the financial and they weren't prosperous. I mean that financially they didn't have what somebody else had.

MR. NETHER: Did the classes relate with each other or just the financially advanced class just relate to people of their peers or lower class relate to people of their peers?


MR. NETHER: Mrs. Chieks, do you go to church? Do you attend church here in Lawrence?

MRS. CHIEKS: Every Sunday.

MR. NETHER: What church do you go to?

MRS. CHIEKS: St. Luke.

MR. NETHER: Is there a participation in the church?

MRS. CHIEKS: I'm a steward. I belong to Richard Allen and most of my time now is—we have dinners down there every Sunday and I worked in the kitchen most of the time. My husband does most of the cooking down there, the meats and things, so I just stay down there with him. He went on the road before we were married and he cooked on the road. He's never had any other job. He had had odd jobs on the side, but—

MR. NETHER: That's very talented.

MRS. CHIEKS: Only thing, he doesn't do much cooking at home. He does now because he cooks all this down at the church, but he doesn't do much of the other cooking. He never did before because before he retired, he was always away, and I had all the cooking to do then.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Chieks, what kind of foods did you eat? Say your husband was a cook. When you were first married and kind of struggling young newlyweds, what kind of food mostly did you eat?

MRS. CHIEKS: Things that would go the farthest. I mean by that we would always buy the most inexpensive meats that was possible, and we didn't have much of a garden but my dad always had—he wasn't a farmer but he always kept a lot of garden.

MR. NETHER: Did you eat a lot of pork?

MRS. CHIEKS: Quite a bit of pork and chicken.

MR. NETHER: What about vegetables? Was it your soul food, was it green?

MRS. CHIEKS: Yeah, soul food.

MR. NETHER: For the record, what types, so people know what we are talking about when we say soul food, what exactly was it? Greens and ham hocks and chitterlings?

MRS. CHIEKS: My folks liked them, but of course I can eat them now, but I never did care for them. As a kid I would rather have more potatoes and gravy than I did meat of any kind.

MR. NETHER: Enough about food before I get hungry.

Can you tell me some major changes that you see in the church from maybe when you first joined to now?

MRS. CHIEKS: Yes. There's a great big change. I think you used to have more of a false emotion about it. Now, there's not so much excitement and screaming and hollering and it's more educational and you can listen to a sermon and get a little meaning out of it. Before, when I was a kid, all of the hopping and hollering and shouting and all that—they thought it was a good service. But now it's calmer and I just don't like that kind of doings now.

MR. NETHER: Do you feel it's better now because of that, because it's not so emotional now?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't believe that generation right now feel as close to the church as they used to. They have so many other activities and all that church is just a matter of habit now to the ones that really go. You can't get people involved. When I came up, your biggest recreation, is to get out and go to church on Sunday, but now they do everything else but go to church. If they spend an hour in church, that's once a week, but anytime during the week if there's anything going on at the church, that was a chance for us to get out.

MR. NETHER: Did you ever live on a farm here?


MR. NETHER: You were born right here in town.  Did you know anyone here in Lawrence that went out, became a big name in some field where there was politics, entertainment, science, or whatever? Can you recall any famous black person or any person that left here?

MRS. CHIEKS: As I told you, Langston Hughes, and Nash Walker, and Bishop Gregg—

MR. NETHER: Who was Bishop Gregg? Now for the record, can you tell us?

MRS. CHIEKS: How is he?


MRS. CHIEKS: He's dead now, but he was a Bishop of the African Methodist Church.

MR. NETHER: What can you recall about Nash Walker?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't remember anything about him at all, but his home was out near where I live now, and he was born here, at least according to my parents he was born here, and then he left here and then he came back here.

MR. NETHER: What type of entertainer was he?

MRS. CHIEKS: Just a comedian, black-faced comedian. Only thing I ever heard of.

MR. NETHER: What can you recall about Langston Hughes?

MRS. CHIEKS: I can recall him going to Sunday School together and then of course he left, he and his mother lived here and he moved to Topeka, and then from then on he became quite a writer, poetry writer.

MR. NETHER: Mrs. Chieks, is there anything at all now that you may have thought about at some time that you would like to tell us for the record's sake about Douglas County, what your life has been like in Douglas County? Or would you like to ask me any questions about anything?

MRS. CHIEKS: I don't know of anything I would like to ask. At the time right now I can't think of anything. I can remember, I went a year at KU and it's so different from my grandkids going there, I mean granddaughter and my other kids in California, they graduated from UCLA, but at the time here, I wanted to go to nurse's school. They didn't have it here. And there was certain classes that your adviser would tell you not to take.

MR. NETHER: He was trying to just—

MRS. CHIEKS: Keep you in a certain category, like engineers and things like that. Personally, I wasn't anything like that, but they seen to it that they didn't want you to—they keep you down at a certain level, maybe teaching, something like that.

MR. NETHER: Could you live anywhere you wanted to up on campus?

MRS. CHIEKS: I lived at home.

MR. NETHER: Did they have dormitories when you were there?


MR. NETHER: If you had wanted—

MRS. CHIEKS: They had Corbin Hall. I think that's about the only one. There was another one. I can't remember just where it was, and then they had club houses.

MR. NETHER: Like fraternities?

MRS. CHIEKS: Fraternities.

MR. NETHER: What were some of the fraternities that you remember, largest or most socially involved fraternities?

MRS. CHIEKS: The Pi Phis and the Kappas and—

MR. NETHER: Kappa Alpha Psi?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, you mean the black—

MR. NETHER: Fraternities.

MRS. CHIEKS: The Alphas and the Kappas and the AKAs and the Deltas.

MR. NETHER: I know all about those.

MRS. CHIEKS: I was an AK pledge.

MR. NETHER: I'm a Kappa.

MRS. CHIEKS: My James is a Kappa.

MR. NETHER: Did they have any black instructors up at KU when you went?


MR. NETHER: I imagine it wasn't quite as large as it is now?

MRS. CHIEKS: Oh, no. Nothing like as large as it is now.

MR. NETHER: That's one thing they say, what happens here in town related to KU; what happens up there relates to the town. So large now, so much a part of the community here.

Thank you again.

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