Thomas Hill

Thomas Hill's grandfather was a slave and came to Kansas from Missouri. His mother came to Douglas County from Muncie, Indiana. His parents farmed near Bloomington, Kansas, where Mr. Hill was born. Only two white families lived in Bloomington then. He went to a one-room integrated school and didn't identify himself as black until he was fourteen or fifteen years old. He went to high school in Lawrence and boarded there. He graduated in 1925. He discusses segregation in Lawrence businesses. He worked at Sunflower Ammunition Plant in World War II. Mr. Hill was a member of St. Luke AME church.

Thomas Hill
June 24, 1977

Interview by Curtis Nether

MR. NETHER: What's your name?

MR. HILL: Thomas Hill.

MR. NETHER: What's your age, Mr. Hill?

MR. HILL: Seventy-one.

MR. NETHER: What's your marital status?

MR. HILL: I have a wife.

MR. NETHER: You are married. How many children do you have?

MR. HILL: Four.

MR. NETHER: What are the ages of your children?

MR. HILL: All the way from 44 to—my youngest was born in 1945, about 31.

MR. NETHER: What was your parents' names?

MR. HILL: Noah and Pearl Hill.

MR. NETHER: Where were they born?

MR. HILL: My father was born right here in Douglas County. My mother was born in Bristol, Tennessee.

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

MR. HILL: He was born here.

MR. NETHER: When did his parents come to Douglas County?

MR. HILL: In about 1869 or '70.

MR. NETHER: Do you know why your grandparents came to Douglas County?

MR. HILL: To find a free place to live. My grandfather was a slave and he lived over at Lone Jack, Missouri, until they buried my grandmother, and then they migrated here to Kansas.

MR. NETHER: Did they have acquaintances here? Did they know anyone when they came?

MR. HILL: I think my grandfather had a cousin that preceded him into this vicinity, but he later moved from here up to Atchison and across into Missouri again, St. Joe.

MR. NETHER: What was your cousin's name, if you can remember?

MR. HILL: His last name was Hill too, but Parker, I think, was his first name.

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

MR. HILL: From Muncy, Indiana to here in about, I would say, 1875 or '76 maybe a little later than that. I wouldn't know just definitely because there's a lot of hearsay to me, and dates.

MR. NETHER: That's pretty accurate though if you could break it down into the same decade, it's pretty good. Why did she come?

MR. HILL: They wanted to move here to Kansas to homestead or buy a farm, and they eventually bought one.

MR. NETHER: Where did they buy a far at here?

MR. HILL: Out right almost in the center of the Clinton Lake out here. They bought a little farm out there in a little settlement they called Bloomington and originally they bought 80 acres there.

MR. NETHER: How long did your mother's family live in Bloomington?

MR. HILL: Until just, I would say, in the last 20 years. The last of the family deceased in 1950, I believe. I had an uncle still lived out there.

MR. NETHER: Can you tell us about Bloomington, Mr. Hill? What was it like?

MR. HILL: I was born there. I guess I can tell you.


MR. HILL: It was a nice little settlement. When they first began to settle that, the families that came in there, lot of that land was homesteaded by people that came after the Civil War seeking homes, and they intended from the beginning when they came, they tried to get land up on the hill out of the valley, but there was a group already up there of white people that had kind of preceded them, so they managed to get the people—colored people, Negroes—to take the bottom land, which was nothing much but buffalo grass and gumbo.

MR. NETHER: Was Bloomington predominantly black?

MR. HILL: Predominantly, yes. At one time it was all black except two families, and then later on, why, it got more or less just mixed. But they did at one time have a Negro school, blacksmith shop, and a grocery store.

MR. NETHER: Okay. If I was to walk into Bloomington—

MR. HILL: And two churches—I forgot to say—one Baptist and one Methodist.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, if I had walked into Bloomington, say, about 1915, what would the town have looked like?

MR. HILL: As I remember, if you had just been a stranger coming there, about 1915, about the only thing left was the schoolhouse, two churches, and Mr. Simpson's store. It wasn't much of a store. He had a few things to put on the shelves out there, so it would be convenient. But you would hardly know that. It was just more or less an agricultural settlement, and some of the places were beginning to be pretty well developed by that time, some of them never did get too well up. People had big families, did the best they could. They struggled along, right along with the times, in other words.

MR. NETHER: Can you give us a close date to when Bloomington was actually first started, again?

MR. HILL: Oh, let's see. I would say that was settled there between 1875 and 1880, somewhere along in there, when they first began to settle that land in there, I guess.

MR. NETHER: Would you say, Mr. Hill, that Bloomington was a black settlement then?

MR. HILL: I couldn't say that it was absolutely a black settlement because of the fact that when it was started, there were two white families in that little valley that I tell you they settled in. And later on two other families moved down in there because they got hold of some of that good land, helped it develop. But I would say no, it wouldn't exactly what you would call a full black settlement because it never was.

MR. NETHER: I was wondering, Nicodemus is a Kansas settlement to get a lot of publicity as being the first all-black settlement and Bloomington was settled during this time, then it would have made it here in Douglas County the first—

MR. HILL: Actually, it would have been the first black settlement in the State of Kansas. Nicodemus came later.

MR. NETHER: That's important. That's something we can't forget. What was some of the families that lived in Bloomington?

MR. HILL: Of course, my mother's family, the Mitchells, then there was the Washingtons, Kisers, at one time a family of Macys, Cowans, Logan, Johnsons, and, let me see. I don't want to miss any. Oh, yes. Burns, Poston, and I believe that's all of the older. There were some later ones that married into those original families.

MR. NETHER: Do you think that many of the families became related by marriage in Bloomington after a while? Families intermarried with one another?

MR. HILL: Most of those that were the original were there were related in one way or another, cousins, aunts, so forth.


MR. HILL: I used to say that all I had to do when I was a youngster was go out and toss a rock up in the air and it would come down on some of my relatives.

MR. NETHER: Make it hard to get a date for Saturday night, wouldn't it?

MR. HILL: Right.

MR. NETHER: When did Bloomington start to diminish; when did it decline?

MR. HILL: I would say in the late 1920s and the early '30s they began to die out, move out, youngsters decided that the farm life wasn't for them, so they came to town, and a lot of the older ones just passed on. So I would say it was in the late '20s and early '30s that the town itself, the settlement itself, I wouldn't call it a town because it wasn't incorporated or anything, but that's about when it began to depreciate.

MR. NETHER: How far is Clinton—was Clinton from Bloomington?

MR. HILL: Two miles. In fact, they were joined right up against the other when they first laid that—I saw the latest write-up about a year or so ago about Clinton. She did a pretty good job of writing things about the relationship, but there was some errors she made if I had been close when she made them, I could have probably helped; however, a lot of people will never know the difference.

MR. NETHER: What is the Bloomington area today? Does it still exist out there?

MR. HILL: It's in that lake, Clinton Lake, where I was born. I was out here at Lookout Point yesterday afternoon, looked across there to see the water that's been impounded—shut up behind that dam in this last rain. I was just wanting to see. And I could look across there about where I was born and it was under water. It will be way under water when that lake is finished and really impounded water.

MR. NETHER: When did you come to Lawrence, finally move from Bloomington?

MR. HILL: Well, I came here myself to go to high school in 1921. I traveled back and forth. I used to work right across over in that corner of the park for a lady to make a little money to help me pay my room and board. I came in 1921.

MR. NETHER: What did Lawrence look like? Were the streets paved?

MR. HILL: Yes, some were paved when I first came in here. I can remember that when there was no pavement south of Nineteenth Street.

MR. NETHER: Un-huh.

MR. HILL: Except along the streetcar track that ran out to Twenty-third to Haskell. That's where the streetcar turned around, and they had a little pavement along there, beside the old streetcar track.

MR. NETHER: Did they have big electric lines and railroads to pull the streetcars?

MR. HILL: Streetcar ran with electric trolley cars, line ran down Massachusetts Street from Seventh to Twenty-third. Another line ran down Seventh to New Jersey out to the corner of Haskell and Thirteenth now. They had a turnaround out there for the streetcar to come back. Another line that ran west on Ninth to Indiana, Indiana to Fourth over to Maine. Now, I can't remember where that car got back. I think it came down west Ninth back to Ninth and Mississippi up over the hill and through the campus, the old campus.

MR. NETHER: Okay. What was KU like then in 1921? Was it as large as it is now?

MR. HILL: Not by any means. Let's see how many buildings, if I can remember that, were up there when I first came here to go to school. I'll tell you what I used to do when I was a youngster. I lived out southwest of town about six miles and my brother and I—my daddy had one of those old telescopes, and we would get up in the bedroom window and look across the valley to see the streetcars when they came around the hill to come back down Seventeenth Street and back to town and we would watch the streetcars when they came in sight over the hill with the telescope. But the University then had old Fraser Hall, Dyche Museum and the law building was just a small old building then. I can't remember the name of it. I guess they had named it Jimmy Green by that time. And then there was Bailey Hall, which was the old chemistry and pharmacy building, and they had just build the main part of the administration building that they have up there, old Snow Hall, and then on the south side of the campus was Hayworth and Robinson Gymnasium and, of course, the library. I forgot the library. The old library [Spooner Hall] was there then. And that was about the extent of the buildings. Oh, I take it back. The engineering building, Marvin Hall, was there at that time. You could still find—you go up there and look, you can tell some of the older buildings that are still there, and I thought it was a grave mistake when they tore Fraser down, but I didn't protest because progress is progress.

MR. NETHER: Did they have many blacks that went to school up at KU then?

MR. HILL: Not a great deal. Most of them couldn't afford it. I know when I got out of high school I couldn't even buy a job that would help me go to college, so I didn't. My father didn't much believe in education. If you got so you could read and write, that would suffice, but he was wrong.

MR. NETHER: That sounds like my grandfather. If you can read, write, so they can't cheat you, then that's okay. That's all you need to learn.

Mr. Hill, how do you think blacks and whites related to each other in Bloomington, say the Bloomington-Clinton area? Could you go into Clinton any time and eat anywhere you want or travel freely?

MR. HILL: It was a rural town and settlement. In fact, I would eat anywhere at whosoever's house I want because there were no restaurants or anything like that. Wasn't large enough for that. Just a store and blacksmith shop and stuff like that and a telephone exchange, but until I was almost fifteen years old I didn't know that —other than to have my parents tell me that I was black. I could go anywhere I wanted to, do anything I wanted to, until the year before I graduated from grade school. We came right over there next door to the old courthouse to take final examinations, which we would have at the end of the school year, and I came in here with some of my school mates, friends. We went downtown at lunch period and I never will forget we used to have a place that was sort of an ice cream parlor deal down there, Wiedemann's, and we went into Wiedemann's and this boy was going to treat me. We went in and sat down on the stools at the counter, and the waitress that was waiting on us walked right by me and went over to this boy, asked him what he wanted. And he looked back at me and he said, "What do you want?" And she said, "We can't serve him here. He will have to go back." And that boy told her, "If you can't serve him here, you can't server me." And we started out, and the manager standing in the doorway, and he told that girl, "If he's with that boy there, he can be served." So I was served. But there were places that we could not eat in Lawrence. We could not go to the hotel to sleep. It hadn't always been that way. Years before I was big enough to remember anything, the blacks and the whites just mixed and everything, but there were certain incidents that happened that turned it the other way, and for years we were segregated here in Lawrence, Kansas. And I can remember when they first began to break it down. We couldn't even go to the theater without being set in the crow's nest, segregated sections. Right down the street down here when this theater first opened, we couldn't go in there, period.

MR. NETHER: Which is that, the Varsity?

MR. HILL: No, the other one, the Granada. Yes, Varsity, we could always go, but they had sections for a long time where we could sit. It wasn't too much trouble to get that segregation broke down when our own people finally decided they were going to do something about it. It wasn't as bad as a whole lot of big cities.

MR. NETHER: When did this segregation finally start to end?

MR. HILL: Oh, I would say in the late 1940s, mid '40s.

MR. NETHER: I'm going to jump ahead here for a minute, Mr. Hill, while we are on this subject. In 1954 you had a court decision Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. Are you familiar with this court decision, how it outlawed segregation, said that separation was no longer legal, of the races?

MR. HILL: Yes. I kind of kept up with that in the papers because in fact, at one time I worked with that Brown boy's father. And it was a more or less when it started out, it was a test case, I believe, they called it, but try to break down discrimination. And what they were after in the beginning was to get away from separate schools. Topeka had Monroe, Buchanan, Washington, and McKinley, four separate grade schools, but when they got out of grade school they could go to Topeka High, and later on Highland Park, of course, but Highland Park, they didn't have any discrimination, they just went. But that Brown case was quite a controversy for a long time.

MR. NETHER: How did it affect Lawrence here, you think?

MR. HILL: Honestly, I don't believe the case in Topeka had any effect because here in Lawrence they began to work out that and finally did close up old Lincoln School in north Lawrence because of the fact that—I couldn't ever see the need for it anyway, except to make a job for a black teacher, and so they finally did do away with it. Had a controversy with some of the north Lawrence blacks because they had been used to it. They didn't want to change, and it gave two or three black teachers jobs, but it was not necessary. I never did think it was.

MR. NETHER: So would you say then, Mr. Hill, that segregation in Douglas County was starting to be broken down before Brown vs. Topeka?

MR. HILL: Oh, yes. Yes.

MR. NETHER: I am going to start asking questions about certain periods in history. All these periods of history, I am sure you weren't born then and you might not remember anything about it, but I will ask anyway and maybe you have heard something that someone, your father, your grandparents have told you about it.

Mr. Hill, do you remember anything about the Civil War and how it affected the black people here in Douglas County?

MR. HILL: During the Civil War, there weren't too many black people in Douglas County. There weren't too many black people in Kansas, period, until after the end of the Civil War.

MR. NETHER: What about Quantrill's raid?

MR. HILL: There were a few of our people here when Quantrill raided this town and sacked and burned it, but most of them had gotten the grapevine and got out away into hiding places such as in wells and it didn't do them any good to try to hide in barns of houses because they burned pret' near everything they could set a match to. But they found places to hide until after Quantrill had left.

MR. NETHER: After the turn of the century, around the early 1900s, black people were treated probably the worst that they had ever been treated in history after slavery. White supremacy had taken back over, many blacks were being lynched. Suffrage was not allowed, which means they wouldn't vote, and it was just blacks were still disenfranchised. In 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. World War I was said to be the war that they stood in line to fight. Do you think blacks here in Douglas County were as enthusiastic as the whites to go out and fight a war for the United States despite all the things that were happening to them here at home?

MR. HILL: I don't think they were as enthusiastic as some, but they felt that this was their country and they just automatically said, "Well, it's something we have to do." And I can remember right on the steps of that courthouse over there when they inducted a whole bunch of black men and they stood on the steps over there and there was a picture taken. I don't have it now, but my uncle has a picture of that, and I have an aunt that lives on down here on New York Street now, I'm going to ask her sometime if she still has that picture.

MR. NETHER: Cordelia Mitchell?

MR. HILL: Yes. That's my auntie. She married my mother's brother William. And they took a picture of those fellows on the steps and they accepted it and went in the war and fought and some didn't come back, but those that came back, they didn't have any particular hard feelings about it because they went to service. They felt it was a duty.

MR. NETHER: Still their duty?

MR. HILL: It was their country. That's the way I feel. This is my country. It's the only country I have ever known, and it's just as much my country as it is anyone's because I was born here. I don't know any other. I don't want any other. And I can't see why—I won't start that because I get really disgusted with some of the issues that they bring up today.

MR. NETHER: You know this man here on the wall, Du Bois, who was a black leader at the time? He also started NAACP, and he encouraged black people to do the same thing you were saying. He was saying, "Well, you are not treated right, we know that, but this is your country." Said, "We still must have to fight for this country and hopefully we can change the minds and ideas of the whites when we get back." So, make you feel any different, you agree with one of the greatest black leaders of all time, with what you were saying.

What was it like here for blacks in Douglas County during World War I? The ones that didn't go fight. Did they kind of mobilize to help the black troops in any way? Did they sacrifice? Did they grow vegetables in their front yards? Did they ration?

MR. HILL: They did everything that the whole populous did. They sacrificed. I can remember when you went to the store to get some white flour, you had to take rye flour, barley and a whole of to things, substitutes like that, substitutes for sugar. I experienced that.

MR. NETHER: But were black people doing it just as much as the whites then, sacrificing?

MR. HILL: Sacrificing just as much as the whites and they accepted it. It was just an accepted fact. This was their country and they felt loyal enough to do it.

MR. NETHER: Did they have black branches of the Red Cross and Salvation Army and so on?

MR. HILL: We didn't hear, that I can remember. I take that back. I believe there was a branch of the Red Cross, a black branch, that somebody would know. I don't know who it was, but I didn't have any experience with it. Of course, I was kind of young then.

MR. NETHER: That's a good account of World War I.

MR. HILL: That was the war to end all wars.

MR. NETHER: It was when the war started getting modern, when they invented airplanes, when they invented tanks, more powerful bombs and machine guns. It became—instead of riding on the horse with the sword—getting in trenches and fighting with modern weapons. We perfected all that by World War II.

After World War I, Mr. Hill, many of the soldiers came back and could not find jobs; however, this depression didn't last long, and many people felt that it was a happy time, a prosperous time here in the United States. Actually, the farmer and the laborers were not accorded such prosperous times. It was mostly the big businessmen. This period of time was known as the Roaring '20s. Mr. Hill, what did you do for fun in the Roaring '20s? How did you enjoy yourself?

MR. HILL: Well, sir, I tell you what I did. I was just a youngster, beginning to get out and seek fun and see what the world was all about, and I never will forget my first mode of transportation. I bought an old Model-T Ford with a box over the gasoline tank. When I wanted to start it, when the motor was cold, I would have to jack up the rear wheel and then drop it over into what they called high gear and give it a turn to start because it had a magnetic field on the starting point and if that magnet got too far away, you didn't get any spark and therefore you couldn't get fire enough to make the plugs fire. But my brother and I ran around Douglas County and up into Jefferson County with that thing when we could have time to get gasoline enough to put in the tank, and that's about all we did. They had gatherings and first one little ol' town and then another, and most of the time at people's homes. We would go to Oskaloosa to a party. Used to be a family of Lees lived out here west of town, go out there and spend the whole weekend just having a good time and thought nothing of it, and we didn't do much but just play a little music and whoop and holler and run around.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, this also was a time of Prohibition. I'm not going to get you put in jail or anything, but if you wanted to, if a black did consume alcoholic beverages, was there any way he could find something to drink at that time?

MR. HILL: Ever since the beginning of time, people can always find a way to get something to drink, and a lot of them made their own. I knew one man that lived out there in that section you call Bloomington. Ever since I could remember he had made corn whiskey right there in the locality. Everybody knew it. And a lot of people from outside knew it too. And that's one way he made his living, is selling that corn whiskey.

MR. NETHER: This is during Prohibition?

MR. HILL: During Prohibition. And he sold whiskey and a lot of people do it. And even I suspect the sheriff of this county knew it, but they never caught him. They tried. They raided once or twice, but—

MR. NETHER: Was he black?

MR. HILL: He was very black. And in later years, he didn't have but one eye. He got drunk out there in that locality, some of the guys from Clinton, Bloomington, all of them up there drinking, crowd around in the school house, got in a fight and somebody hit him, knocked his eye out with a whiskey bottle. But that didn't stop him. He made that corn whiskey until just pretty near the end of Prohibition, and they finally just got to the place where his customers all got away from him. They got other ways of getting something better and cheaper.

MR. NETHER: In 1929 you had the stockmarket crash. This brought on what was said to be the highest unemployment rate in history, over a third of the country was out of work, and this period of time was known as the Depression. How were blacks able to survive here in Douglas County during the Depression?

MR. HILL: It was pretty tough. They finally got around to putting on what they called WPA and the CCC and gave them a chance to—I can remember when they had a wood yard right over here just across the end of the park from the Hideaway over here and people were on welfare—yes, you might as well say they were on welfare because they didn't have work and you had to do something. You could come up there and work out a grocery order on the woodpile, and later they had work projects where they would go out in the county and crush rock and brick to put on these gravel roads around this county that came off of the WPA and CCC programs. Wells that they dug out on these rural areas to supply water in dry times were built by CCC and WPA workers. Fortunately, I think I worked as much as three weeks on one of those programs. I can't remember which one it was when I first—I had been down to central Missouri after I married and came back here and I couldn't find anything to do, and I worked on it. They finally got me onto that program and I helped crush rock. I think I drew three checks and I got a job.

MR. NETHER: Were many black people involved with these programs, you think?

MR. HILL: Not too many. Most of the black people in this vicinity got jobs and at that time and they held onto them. Lot of them didn't pay a whole lot, but they figured that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, and they just stayed. A lot of times they were unpaid, but they stayed.

MR. NETHER: Did many blacks leave Douglas County seeking jobs?

MR. HILL: Yes. And a lot of them went and came back empty-handed and some got jobs. I can remember when I first graduated from high school in 1925, there wasn't too much work here, and I had some friends that were working at Santa Fe Shops in Topeka, and I kept hearing about it, and one of them had me go home with him one weekend, said go down and sign up application. Said, "They are hiring apprentices in the car shops." I went down and signed up, and I came right down here and went to work for a farmer out here right east of where this dam is now, just about three quarters of a mile, and I think I worked for him 10 days and my application came through, and I had to go up there and get signed up, back down here to get my parents to sign that affidavit because I wasn't 21, so I could go to work for the railroad. My father didn't want to do it, but my mother told him, said, "Now, that boy is on his own. If he's got a chance to make some money, let him make it." So I brought him in here to the courthouse, got a notary public to sign the affidavit. I went to work, worked out my apprenticeship with Santa Fe Railroad, and I thought at that time that was as good as money as a black man could make anywhere about, so I just forgot college. I intended to enroll in college after I had worked two years, enough to make money. Never made it. That money got so good I stayed there until they laid us off after a certain period and the Santa Fe Railroad got one of those low periods and they had to lay off some men.

MR. NETHER: When did they lay most of their men off, do you think?

MR. HILL: That first time I guess was about 1931. It was a period in there. They laid a whole bunch of those fellows off, and again a little bit later than that, I think about 1934 or '35, they laid a lot of them off.

MR. NETHER: How did you feel when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected?

MR. HILL: When he was first elected, I was kind of dubious. He was a character I didn't know much about, only just what I had heard, and I just didn't know—of course, I had been raised up Republican; that is, I didn't know much better. I wasn't too much of a politician. But I got to the place where I thought that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the greatest man that ever sat in that White House.

MR. NETHER: The reason I asked that, a lot of people say Franklin Roosevelt was the most loved and the most hated president in history because if you were out of work and needed a job, he got one for you, if not doing anything but carrying a pile of dirt from here to over there and then the next day bringing it back again.

MR. HILL: You know, I actually saw that done.

MR. NETHER: Did you?

MR. HILL: That's right. Right out here in the southwest part of this country. Today they would go and move a great big pile of rock and they took it about a mile up the road and set it down. Threw it off by shovels, by hand. The next day we would come along, they worked that pretty slick, they would come with a different foreman, "You can go up there and get that rock and move it, bring it back." And they would bring it right back down there. I actually saw that done. But that's what I say, Roosevelt made me a believer because of the fact he took a lot of boys off the streets and put them in the CCC camps and programs and gave them something to do whereby they got some money and they were out of trouble and out of the ghettos and one thing and another. Now, that's the reason I have been a faithful believer in Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Lot of people hated him because of the fact he did that.

MR. NETHER: Right. If you had a job during that time and was paying taxes to finance those programs, you were upset with it.

MR. HILL: That's right.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, in 1941, Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. How did this incident in history affect black people here in Douglas County? Did they become patriotic and want to go fight the Japanese? Did they just be kind of apathetic about it and not really care, or what? What was the condition of blacks when this incident happened?

MR. HILL: I would say that you mentioned one word there, the sort of had an apathy about it for quite some time. There's nothing to it. It will be over in a few days. Get those Japanese whipped. We will be back. But a little later on when it got right down to the nitty-gritty, and they begin to see that maybe this country could be lost, then they became loyal. I had a job right up here at the University of Kansas, which wasn't paying too much money but, like I said, it was a bird in the hand and I had been working it, and when they built this Sunflower Plant out here, at first I didn't go anywhere near it. I don't believe I ought to be involved in that program, and then when things began to get pretty hectic over there and they were just getting ready to go into production out here at Sunflower, I began to kind of warm up and decide maybe I ought to be doing something for my country. I was in Class 2B. I could be inducted. I had children; I had three children at that time.

MR. NETHER: Would you have been enthusiastic about going to fight in the war if you had been called?

MR. HILL: No. I would have just accepted the fact that it was prescription, was my time to go. I don't think I would have been all that enthused. However, after I got out there and got to work in production and found out the things that had to be done, I got enough enthusiasm to really believe in my job. If we couldn't get enough powder maybe that our boys wouldn't have to suffer on the firing line, and I used to get so disgusted with some of those people, all they wanted to do was get out there and work 8 hours and they didn't care what they did and how they did it, and I said, "If you had someone close to you over there in a foxhole or whatsoever," I said, "how would you feel if they would get some old powder that wouldn't fire?"

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, do you see any major changes that have taken place here in Douglas County?

MR. HILL: Yes.

MR. NETHER: Compared with now to when you were first born and raised here?

MR. HILL: Yes. I can see many changes.

MR. NETHER: What are some of them?

MR. HILL: Just like I told you back there years ago we couldn't go to theaters, we couldn't go to hotels, we couldn't go, and there were many things that—like that that were discriminating that are now removed, but I couldn't ever see the need of it in the first place because I was raised in a rural community just like I told you until I was fourteen-fifteen years old. Didn't know I was black. But there are a good many changes now, and we have got young black folks working in good jobs, used to didn't get clerical jobs. I have got a grandson, a teller, University State Bank up there. I never believed I would see it because it just didn't happen for a long time, but that's where he is, and I can remember when very few black folks even got a job driving this heavy equipment and material like they do around here now for the city and the county, but they are doing it now. Oh, there are many changes. I could sit here and recite lots of changes for hours, I guess.

MR. NETHER: Would you want your children to live here? Do you think there's been enough positive changes for young people to be raised here and also have their children here?

MR. HILL: You want me to tell you something? I had four children. Two of them are married and have homes and have children of their own living right here in Lawrence, Kansas, and they seem to be pretty well satisfied. It's a good community to live in. A whole lot of it is what you make up your mind to accept and handle it yourself. A lot of those things are controversial questions that I think the individual could settle himself. I find that to be true of myself. Now, maybe I am wrong. Maybe I'm being prejudice or biased because of the fact that I have never been hungry in my life except what I just didn't go eat.

MR. NETHER: I agree with you. I think it's kind of what you make it also.

Mr. Hill, you have mentioned to us about the restaurant, the movie houses, and so on. What kind of medical attention was given to blacks here in Douglas County?

MR. HILL: As I remember, most of the time they could get whatever they could pay for in Douglas County.

MR. NETHER: Could they go to the hospital and get a bed just as readily as a white could?

MR. HILL: Well, sir, in my experience I can remember when Lawrence Memorial Hospital was in a frame house. It wasn't as big as that frame house up the street there, right there on Maine Street. And my mother was in that hospital when it was a frame building and didn't have very much facilities to work with, but we could always go. I don't know too much about it because I never went too often, about how they placed them in beds and one thing and another. My mother had a room.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, do you think there were class distinctions between blacks? Let's take a period of time like the 1930s. Like professional blacks, somebody like Judge Clark. Then you had blacks that were living out on the farm, Bloomington. You had blacks that lived here in town. You had blacks that worked up on the Hill and you had blacks that owned businesses. Do you think there were class distinctions between these blacks?

MR. HILL: Definitely. What I told you, I went to high school when the first two years that Central out here now was a high school then. My last two years in high school I spent in that building. The other two was in the old building down on Ninth, and I will tell you truthfully I didn't belong to any one of the class distinctions as you are talking about, but there were cliques at that time, at least six separate black cliques in that high school. This one didn't associate with that one, and that one didn't this one, and I associated with all of them, just to keep from being cliquish. I came a country boy to town, but the old country boy had sense enough not to get involved in that sort of situation.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, do you attend church?

MR. HILL: Yes, sir.

MR. NETHER: What church do you attend?

MR. HILL: St. Luke AME, right down here on the corner of Ninth and New York.

MR. NETHER: How long have you attended this church?

MR. HILL: I have been a member of that church now for the last thirty-some odd years. I transferred my membership—I joined St. John years ago when I was a young man. I married, and then when I came back here, after my wife and I lived down in southern Missouri for six or seven years. There wasn't anything there, that's the reason I came back to Lawrence, I had been away and I came back, glad to get back, and I got back here and put my membership into St. Luke, and I have been there ever since.

MR. NETHER: Do you see any major changes in the church since you joined to now?

MR. HILL: Yes.

MR. NETHER: What are these changes? What kind of changes?

MR. HILL: When I first joined that church, it was a bunch of older people, not too many young folks belonged to church and they still don't at St. Luke. But they were old reliable, I will call them, and in those days the class dues were about ten cents and the regular church dues were about 50 or 75 cents and to this day you can't hardly get some of those older people out of the idea that times are changing, progress, and we have indebtedness and one thing in the church, but they still want to pay 50, 75 cents, but there is a change in the church. We are beginning to get more intelligent ministers with newer ideas. It's kind of hard to convince some of those people. Most all people don't like changes, but a whole lot of black people definitely do not like changes, as long as they can leave it just like it is, but we are getting away from it now. We had quite an indebtedness on that church down there started about four years ago, we started to remodel the church. Some people fought it bitterly. And we have three or four still determined that they are not going to do anything to help. They do everything they can to knock it, but they don't do anything to help it. We have gotten most of that indebtedness I will say better than three fourths of it paid off. And it was a pretty good debt, but we got people working now and they are getting the idea that the world is progressing, you got to kind of go along with it.

MR. NETHER: Did you attend school here in Douglas County also?

MR. HILL: Yes, grade school, high school, and that's as far as I got because I didn't go on to college because I couldn't afford it.

MR. NETHER: What was your grade school like and where did you attend grade school at?

MR. HILL: Right out southwest of town there was a little old country school house out there and they had one school teacher for at first they had nine grades and then they changed that about the time I came out, cut it back to eight grades. And then you finished your ninth grade, which was your freshman year here in the city when you got to high school, but one teacher and eight grades, one teacher, and sometimes as many as forty or forty-five children in the classroom. And sometimes the teacher even had some of the older ones working with the younger ones, some teachers. But if the superintendent knew it they wouldn't do it. He would stop that right quick. But it was quite a relationship in the old grade schools out there. The kids enjoyed themselves and we just were like a family.

MR. NETHER: Was it integrated? Were blacks and whites there?

MR. HILL: It was. Up there at Bloomington they had a separate school for a while.

MR. NETHER: What was the name of the school in Bloomington?

MR. HILL: Bloomington Elementary.

MR. NETHER: And it was all black?

MR. HILL: All black with black teacher.

MR. NETHER: Did you ever learn black history, any black studies, when you were in grade school?

MR. HILL: They didn't have them.

MR. NETHER: So you very seldom saw a picture of some black that had accomplished something?

MR. HILL: If he did, you had to go dig it out in the library. If somebody mentioned it to you, you could go hunt for it and find it.

MR. NETHER: What about junior high school years? Or did you go to a junior high?

MR. HILL: They had old high and junior high across the street from each other over here at Ninth and Kentucky. You know that 901 Building over there?

MR. NETHER: Uh-huh.

MR. HILL: That was a junior high there and the old high school building was across the street east where that muffler shop is now.

MR. NETHER: I know that.

MR. HILL: And then they had the manual training building on the other corner where Douglas County State Bank is. That's the old manual training building. That's where they taught shop and vocational agriculture and domestic science. They were all in that building.

MR. NETHER: What about high school?

MR. HILL: The old high building is there where the muffler shop is now.

MR. NETHER: When did the new high school get built, the one that we have now?

MR. HILL: I am trying to think just when they got that. That was finished sometime in the 1950s, I believe. The new one they have now.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, did you ever own a business here in Douglas County?


MR. NETHER: Were there ever any black businesses here in Douglas County?

MR. HILL: Many of them.

MR. NETHER: What were some of them and where were they located?

MR. HILL: I will start at Twenty-third Street and come this way. Gleeds had a produce store down at Twenty-third and Louisiana for years and years and years. That was the old man, Fred Gleed, was the owner of that. Panatorium Brown had a cleaning and pressing shop. At first, it was right on Ninth Street just across the street cattycornered from Weaver's, about in there where the little liquor store is now, and then just above that Gene Corbin had a restaurant on the corner, and on around the corner, Dr. Kennedy was a medical doctor apparently. I never did think that man had much education, but for what he did, he was good. I always said he was a horse doctor, and, by the way, he was very good with horses and had some fancy race horses at one time. But Dr. Kennedy was there. And the next was Mr. Snowden and Mr. Cloud had a blacksmith shop together, then on up the street a little ways Arby Cloud had a transfer barn and moving service. On the west side of Vermont Street in that same block the Scotts had a hotel, and at one time there was a man—I can not remember his name—ran a livery stable there and later on Adams brothers took over that stable, but that was a Negro business there. And I forgot to say old man Patchy Lucas' shoe shop. That wasn't his real name. They called him that, but he put patches on shoes just like you sew patches on clothes. His name was William Lucas. Had a shoe shop. And, let me see, what other businesses? And then we had in north Lawrence Riley Rodgers had a vegetable garden—what do you call the—truck gardening business, and he quite an extensive business in truck gardening. And I had a cousin William Hill that did some truck gardening. Oh, we had some people in this town that were fairly progressive.

MR. NETHER: When did all these black businesses start to leave?

MR. HILL: I would say, just about previous to the Depression.

MR. NETHER: Do you know any reason why?

MR. HILL: Nope. I often wondered why.

MR. NETHER: Were these businesses patronized by whites as well as blacks?

MR. HILL: All of them except that hotel.

MR. NETHER: The hotel was all-black?

MR. HILL: All-black.

MR. NETHER: Did you ever own a farm, Mr. Hill?

MR. HILL: I didn't. My father did, and my grandfather before him.

MR. NETHER: How did they acquire the farms?

MR. HILL: My grandfather acquired his. I used to think that he homesteaded that place, but I found out later that that was the error. I had been told that a long time, but he bought that farm after he came here from Lone Jack, Missouri. He and my grandmother came overland with an oxen team and a plow and a cow and a hog that the man gave them, and they took, I don't know how many days it took them to come from Lone Jack, Missouri to Douglas County and settled out there on the Wakarusa just across the river, Wakarusa River, from that Brown Grove, they call it, out here. And he settled on 80 acres in there. And I intend sometime to look that up in the records here to see whether my grandfather bought that place or homesteaded it, but my understanding was that they homesteaded it because he came here when that move was on for people to come here and homestead land in Kansas.

MR. NETHER: In the 1870s?

MR. HILL: Yes.

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

MR. HILL: Jesse Hill.

MR. NETHER: Q. Maybe I could find out for you.

MR. HILL: I thought that he homesteaded. One of my relatives tells me that he didn't. I got a cousin that lives down in Kansas City, discussing it about a couple of weeks ago, and he said, "No, your grandpa bought that place," and he told me who he bought it from, but I can't remember.

MR. NETHER: Did he ever think of selling the farm that he had?

MR. HILL: My grandfather?


MR. HILL: He wouldn't have sold it for anything in the world. He did sell part of it. He sold half of it after he bought it originally, he sold half of it to an old farmer that lived there that wanted it real bad, and he kept the other half. My Grandfather Hill had raised thirteen children out there; that is, they had thirteen children. A lot of them didn't make it full grown.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, for people, black people in Douglas County that committed crimes, were they accorded equal justice in the courts here in Lawrence, in Douglas County, so you think? Was there ever a period of time where blacks felt that generally they weren't getting a fair shake in the courts?

MR. HILL: I have had some of them say that, but I think they said it because of the fact they were incarcerated in the beginning. I don't think there was that much. We had one sheriff here one time that they said don't get in jail while he is sheriff because he is just liable to end up in Oak Hill Cemetery, but I think that was sort of a bugaboo. I know the man. I don't believe he was all that bad, but—

MR. NETHER: Did we have any black law enforcement officers, policemen, can you remember?

MR. HILL: Yep. First one I remember was, I wasn't old enough to remember that man right up there, at least I can't seem to, but I do remember Logan, Hicks Smith, Mr. Hughes, and one time Frank Nixon was on the police force. Mr. Hader, Will Hader, was on the police force until just previous to his death. We had a number of black officers. And young fellow, Mr. Smith's grandson, was on the traffic control here for a while. And of course now we got some younger fellows on down there. Newman, Shepherd.


MR. HILL: But I tell you something about that.


MR. HILL: Most of them didn't want to. Don't want to be a law officer, and personally, today, I don't know whether I would want to even don a law officer's uniform. Little better the last twelve months than it has been, but I wouldn't want to be a police officer in the last few years because it's a thankless job that just any old fanatic is liable to come along and want to kill you. That's the reason I wouldn't want to be.

MR. NETHER: I wouldn't want to be one either.

MR. HILL: I never did have a great desire to be a police officer. There was a time that I would have taken it, but I wouldn't now.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, why do you think many young black people leave Lawrence or leave Douglas County?

MR. HILL: Many of them did in the past because of the economic situation. It just wasn't enough industry here to keep them. We are getting some industries in here now and a good many of our people are working on that, especially that complex out northwest there. Quite a few blacks out there. But I would say that that was the reason. That's the reason I went away from here a few years ago, because there wasn't anything here that paid good money or suitable salary that I could get. I don't think there was so much discrimination, just a situation where there wasn't anything here. There was no industry.

MR. NETHER: Do you think blacks were steered toward certain jobs, like domestic jobs, janitorial?

MR. HILL: I know it. I don't think it. I know that was a fact. I can remember when certain groups here keep him right on that job. If he don't want that job, he can't have any, and they saw to it that you didn't.

MR. NETHER: Did many blacks work up at KU?

MR. HILL: Many, yes, good many. Most of them in custodial service or some labor capacity, but for a long time that was as far as it went, and they finally got to work some of those boys into some of the labs.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, do you know any celebrities that are descendants of Douglas County that have moved out from here? Some famous personalities that's in Hollywood right now from here that we don't know about?

MR. HILL: No. Some of the people around here tried to clam that Rochester came from here. He had relatives here, but Rochester did not come from Lawrence, and Langston Hughes was raised over here in—our poet—[old] west Lawrence. I guess if I were to delve in it I could find—one of our great bishops of the AME Church was raised and preached in this church that I belong to now, John Gregg. He was Bishop Gregg. And we now at present—of course he's not a local boy, but we have another, our present bishop preached at our church one time. But I am trying to think. Oh, of course, we finally had a judge. John Clark was judge in this city. They tell me that we had an assistant police chief that was Negro.

MR. NETHER: Do you know his name?

MR. HILL: I can't remember. Seemed to me like it was Brown. Was it Brown? I know who I can ask that does remember, but I would have to be—I have got an aunt way out there on Ninth Street, Cordelia Mitchell, and she knows. She was a school teacher here for a good many years.

MR. NETHER: Mr. Hill, I want to thank you for coming in and I don't have any more questions to ask you, but maybe there's something now that you would like to tell us that I didn't ask you.

MR. HILL: If you run onto anything that you would like to know and I can help you, just give me a ring.

Years ago down on New Hampshire Street—on Massachusetts Street they had a little theater down there, and we could go in all the show houses, you could go anywhere and eat, and they had a show and we had some people that came out of what they called the East Bottoms down here, went up to the show, and the woman was drunk and she got in there and it was warm enough in there that she got sick at the stomach and she heaved and when she heaved she heaved right in a white woman's lap, and after that they shut them out for a while. They shut them out of that theater completely, and then they decided that they couldn't do that, wasn't right, so gave them sections and up there at that old Bowersock Theater they hadn't had restrictions up there, but they did put them in up there. And this Granada when it first came, we couldn't go there, period, and the Varsity had sections, but that's when there begin to be a change after those drunks went in there, which you can't control anyway. A drunk is a drunk, but for years and years the mark was on you and me, whatever we did was wrong, we all had to suffer, not just one did, the whole group, and we are still doing it.

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