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Christina Jackson interview

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Brown v Board of Education of Topeka Oral History Project
Interview with Christina Jackson
on Sept. 20, 1991
Christina Jackson
Kansas State Historical Society Oral History Project Brown v Board of Education of Topeka
Interview conducted with Christina Jackson by Jean VanDelinder and Ralph Crowder on September 20, 1991.

R:  I need your place and date of birth.
Ms. Jackson:  Topeka, Kansas; August 15, 1926.

R:  What's your mother's maiden name and her birth place?
Ms. Jackson:  Georgia Edwards, Topeka, Kansas.

R:  What year was she born?
Ms. Jackson:    October 23, 1913.

R:  When did she pass away?
Ms. Jackson:  Four years ago.

R:  Where is she buried?
Ms. Jackson:  Here in Topeka.

R:  Your father's name and birth place?
Ms. Jackson:  The man that raised me was Jess Edwards.  I don't know what year.

R:  Do you remember his date of death?
Ms. Jackson:  No, he's been dead about 15 years.

R:  Is he buried in Topeka?
Ms. Jackson:  Yes.

R:  Any brothers or sisters?
Ms. Jackson:    I don't have any.

R:  Your husband's name?
Ms. Jackson:  Enoch.

R:  His date of birth?
Ms. Jackson:  November 22, 1920.

R:  Birth place?
Ms. Jackson: Wichita, Kansas.

R:  Date and location of your marriage?
Ms. Jackson:  Topeka, Kansas; July 15, 1942

R:  Could you list the names and ages of your children?
Ms. Jackson:  Jennifer is 47; Richard is 45; Gary is 43; Enoch is 41; and Theada is 39. Then I have Craig, he is 33, and Arthelee is 31, and then there is Jesse who is 30.

R:  Your mother's and father's ethnic character?
Ms. Jackson:  The man who raised me, his father was Native American; my mother was black.

R:  Was he full-blooded Indian?
Ms. Jackson:  His father?  I don't know.

R:  Could you tell us a little about your own education and training?
Ms. Jackson:  I've have lots of training things. I only went to the 11th grade. I went through the 10th grade and quit in the 11th.

R:  This was at Topeka High?
Ms. Jackson:  I quit to get married.

R:  Some of the training you had?
Ms. Jackson:  I did a lot of paraprof essional type things. Volunteer coordinator, that has been the major thrust of all the training and things I've had has been in volunteerism. My last job I just retired from I was a receptionist. It's been people kinds of things I've been involved. I retired from the Motor Vehicle Department for the state of Kansas.

R:  Your church affiliation?
Ms. Jackson:  African Methodist, AME.  Brown chaplain in the church.

R:  How long have you been a member?
Ms. Jackson:  Forever. It seems like forever. I came back here after World War II and joined the church, about 1943. Up until then I was going to a Baptist church.

R:  Why did you change from Baptist to Methodist?
Ms. Jackson:  When I came back, my father had joined the Methodist church and my mother, so they were going there, and one of my husband's sister, who I was real close with, was there; so I just went over there.

R:  Any memberships you have  in other  organizations outside the church?  Any offices you have held?
Ms. Jackson:  I can't remember that. I belong to the Eastern Star. I have belonged to the Women's Political Caucus. I was involved in the bicentennial. I was involved in lots of things for the kids, PTA, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc. I've been on lots of boards, the Volunteer Action Center. I won the Ramona Hood award, which was supposed to be something special, through the Community Resource Council.

R:  Is your husband a Mason?
Ms. Jackson:  No, my husband would not be bothered with anything that's going to take his time. I'm just the active one.

R:  I was just trying to find out the connection to Eastern Star?
Ms. Jackson:    One of my son's, Gary.

R:  Any special interests or hobbies?
Ms. Jackson:  Yes, I make dolls.  I do a lot of crafts.

R:  Important events in your life?
Ms. Jackson:  The important events in my life has been having my eight kids. That's it as far as I'm concerned. We're very proud of them and we're just elated with the strives they have made, that my husband and I . . . the only thing we were able to give them was encouragement. We had no money. I have two attorneys.

R:  If you could start out talking to Jean and I about what life was like for you in Topeka during the 1940s and early 1950s.  Were you living in this community?
Ms. Jackson:  I was raised up next door. I feel sometimes that my life has been a lot different from some blacks in other neighborhoods. Because my mother had me when she was 16 and so she was really kind of protective of where I was and what I did and all of that kind of stuff. She was really protective of that. Consequently, I kind of run around the neighborhood. I loved to skate, so I remember just skating all over this neighborhood. But you know, like on down further and over, was mostly white people so I kind of associated back here with Mexican and the few blacks that lived in our neighborhood. When we were down on Chandler, I had one girlfriend and she and I sort of bonded ourselves together as sisters. I didn't have a lot of friends here.
I went to East Topeka and I walked from here to East Topeka most of the time, because we didn't have money. In those days you really didn't think about riding buses so much. You just got out. I never learned to ride a bicycle.  It never was a thought to try to get
me in schools in this neighborhood. At that time, you were black and you went to a black school. So I went to Washington. There used to be a bus and I'd walk to get the bus for grade school, but when I went to East Topeka, I would walk.  We walked to church.
I can remember that the lady across the street had kids and she wouldn't allow her kids to come on this side of the street, but we would holler at each other. If she would hear them talking to me, she would make them come in the house.  The kids were white.
My mother kept me pretty close to her. I would go to the skating rink, my mother went. My mother and I were best friends. We went to ballgames together. She and I just hung out together until I met my husband.  I married him when I was 16.

R:  How did you meet your husband?
Ms. Jackson:  At the skating rink. My husband if he was here it would be a funny joke because he says that I bumped my little bottom into him, but I says, you bumped into me. We have a running joke about that. We've been married almost 50 years.

R:  What was the Depression like?  Do you remember?
Ms. Jackson:  My mother married my dad because she was really very, very poor, and she made up her mind that she didn't want me to go through what she went through. My dad, consequently, was 20 years older than my mother was. We raised chickens and had a garden. After my mother married my dad, I don't remember anything about being hungry. My mother would go to the second hand stores and I always had clothes. Vividly, she was always in the wintertime making me wear long underwear. When I would get to school, I would roll them up. She could tell I did something, because going home on the bus I was trying to put them back down in my stockings, and I could never put them back down as neat as she had. So, consequently, I got a lot of whippings for rolling up my underwear. I don't ever remember being hungry or having lights turned off.  My dad worked at the Santa Fe and so all of those years he was at the Santa Fe, so we always had some food. My dad had a garden, my mother canned, my dad made home brew and sold the home brew.
When I married my husband, he went on to get his GED and he got some training, but we never have been hungry.

R:  Was raising chickens something pretty common?
Ms. Jackson:  Yes, I used to know how to wring a chicken's neck. I have one son that won't eat chicken now because he says he remembers those chickens flopping around out in the back yard and me scalding and picking them. We used to have a garden.

R:  You and your mother pick greens?
Ms. Jackson:  I did not know those greens, but my mother and grandmother did. They would go over to Chandler field and walk through and pick all the greens. We had lots of those greens.

R:  Could you tell us a little about Washington School?
Ms. Jackson:  That was a very neat school for me. The thing that is so vivid in our minds about Washington School, some of us that went there, is the music. Those black schools were really into music. When you went from the 1st to the 8th grade, you had certain songs you sang in every grade. The principal, Mr. Ridley, every morning the whole school, at a certain time in their rooms, sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and you sang that. I know that every voice would sing. Sometimes Mr. Ridley would make the whole class come outside around the flag pole and everybody would have to sing the Pledge of Alliance, and then you would sing "America, " and then you would sing, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." At Christmas time, you had to sing, every class had a song. Kindergarten was "Away in the Manger." Then, we got breakfast. We used to have what was called a Health Room, and if your parents signed up, you got to go to the Health Room and eat breakfast.  Washington School was like a little campus. If I remember, there were about three extra buildings. It was located about 10th and Branner, this side of the river.
The teachers were very, very strict.
If I can digress back to my kids. My kids went to Monroe School, and in talking to them this week about this, they felt like the white teachers did not have as much control over their classrooms as they did in the black schools. They said when they came over to the white school, they couldn't understand people talking back to the teacher, because you definitely didn't do that in a black school.
When I was going to school, the teachers were allowed to give you a spanking. Then when you got home, you got some more. I know I can remember teachers calling my mother and my mother coming to the school. I used to be very stubborn. If I decided there was something I didn't want to do, they could not do anything, even the paddling did not make me do it, so they would call my mother. When my mother showed up, whatever it was, I did it. She was that kind of a woman. It's my fault I don't have more education than I do, because I thought I wanted to get married.

R:  Outside of Mr. Ridley, do you remember any teachers?
Ms. Jackson:  Yes, I remember quite a few of the teachers. My kindergarten teacher was a lady by the name of Mrs. O'Dell. Then I had Miss Jones in the 1st grade. In the 3rd grade I believe it was Miss Hicks. I remember Miss Bradshaw and Miss Benton. I remember the 8th grade teacher was...it was a man. He taught at Monroe School.

R:  What was Topeka High like?
Ms. Jackson:  The time I was at Topeka High, I had lost some interest in school.  I got average grades.

(Turn tape)

Before the last day of school we had field day, out in Chandler field. I used to like to run. Those were really fun times.

R:  Did you get the feeling that the teachers of the four black schools, did they communicate a lot with one another?
Ms. Jackson:  I think that they did because of the interacting a lot of us did. When I was going to Washington School, Mr. Ridley was so dominant with us learning our black history. We had history relays. All those black people that did all those things. He would walk through the halls and he would ask you like, "Who is Marcus Garvey?" You'd better answer, and if you didn't answer, you would be punished in some insignificant way. You might have to go sit in his office and read about Marcus Garvey. He would walk into a room and ask you something about black history. There is a film of Washington School that Mr. Ridley did and somebody has that film in Topeka now.

R:  What year would that film have been made?
Ms. Jackson:  That film would have been made before. . .probably in the 1930s. They have a group here called "Back Home Topeka" and they have shown that film, so some of them . . . now I think the president is . . .1 know he lives at 21st and Topeka, the only house there. He does have that film.  I haven't seen it in years.

R:  Where was Mr. Ridley from?  Was he from Topeka?
Ms. Jackson: I would assume, because he had a sister here. His sister taught home economics. Both of them passed away long, long years ago. Henry Burton, that was my 8th grade teacher's name. I don't know, that just came out.

J:  Why was that film made?
Ms. Jackson:  I don't know. Knowing Mr. Ridley, it was something he was doing.

R:  Some of your children must have attended Monroe?
Ms. Jackson:  Jennifer, Richard and Gary, we could have been one of those names when they talk about Brown v Board, but I didn't have time for that and I didn't have transportation, because they had lots of meetings. I knew about the meetings, so we were kind of semi-involved in it.

R:  What kinds of meetings did they have?
Ms. Jackson: They were having meetings to have...I think Reverend Brown was going around to the different neighborhoods. . .like we were living here and they were being bused to Monroe School. Here is State Street less than seven blocks away, that eventually they did go to. They had several meetings, trying to get the parents together to be a part of that Brown v Board situation.

R:  You have such a positive recollection of your experience at Washington, particularly the aspect of history, did you feel at the time that Gary, Jennifer and Richard were attending Monroe, that they had the same type of atmosphere?
Jackson: Yes, Richard told me particularly, that the transition of coming from there to over here was so different, especially as far as the make-up of sitting in the classroom. Mr. Barkley was the principal of State School, and he was really a neat person. Richard believes that they really tried to integrate them in and all of my kids have said that. At State Street, when they first went, they were accepted and they were told how to be treated.

R:  Do you remember what year this was?
Ms. Jackson: Whenever Brown v Board was over with.  When was that?

R:  Sometime between 1954 and 1955.
Ms. Jackson: The three of them were the first to enter.

R:  With such a positive experience at Washington, and what you've told us about Monroe, why were people so in a hurry to go to a white school? Or why do you think they were?
Ms. Jackson:  Well, you know, back there white was better, I believe. You were going to get treated better, you were going to get a better education, but the only thing that I liked about it was that I did not have to bundle my kids up when it was 2 below zero and walk them down to catch the bus. If the bus broke down or the bus was late . . . that was really the only thing that I had. We have taught our children that they are the best of the world and going to a white school did not deter them. They didn't have any inferior about that. The only thing I got angered at was in the 2nd grade, Gary was having problems. I went to talk to the teacher and I asked her what was her problem, because they were not used to having black people. Well, you know what, Mrs. Jackson, she says they just have to adjust to her. I said, I can assure you that my son is going to come here to school, that's all he's coming here for. I had to believe that if my kids went down to that school and they were good kids and they were going to teach them, that was all there was to it.  That was not the story.
The kids have said things later. All the kids said you had to line up for everything, they were always the last ones in line. These kinds of things. When they were in State Street, they feel they were treated much better than when they got to Holiday in the junior high, because the State Street kids knew them. Then when they got to Holiday, they had another school further out in Oakland that had nothing to do with black people that they were integrated with. This was when they began to be called "nigger." We just didn't use that word in the house. We just didn't. They got called "nigger" quite a bit, and my oldest daughter, at that time was very timid and very quiet, she would come home every day for about several weeks crying because somebody had called her nigger. She said, mama, I keep telling them my name is not nigger.
She came home one day and her face was just red. I said, you go back to school tomorrow and the first person that calls you a nigger, you tell them to go look up under mama's dress and they're going to find a nigger. She did it. The principal called me and said to me, Mrs. Jackson, I wish you wouldn't tell your daughter that because some of the kids went home and looked up under their parent's dress. You can imagine what happened. I said well I think somebody better be teaching those kids down there that my daughter's name is Jennifer and her name is not nigger. As long as anybody calls her a nigger, I have told her that is what she is to do.
One time in junior high she felt that the home economics teacher was mistreating her.
These are the kinds of things we taught our kids. You try to teach your kids good morals and to do the right things.

R:  Do you remember any of the events around Gage Park pool?
Ms. Jackson:  No, because it was so far away. And they had Ridley Park over here. Our kids, and most of the black kids, were going over there. They had this big building in Ridley Park and that is where the black kids had parties and things like that. I can remember our kids going over there.
One of the teachers told Gary, when he was getting ready to go to Topeka High, and you know how you get your classes ready . . . you know you get college prep classes . . . she told him he would never make it to college so why didn't he take a trade. My son, Gary, is an attorney in Seattle and he is over five states, in civil rights education. That made something out of her. We're very proud of him. He has four little girls, two of them are in college now. I think our kids are doing . . . Richard, he's in Denver. He teaches at the Metropolitan Denver College and he is teaching criminal justice. Jennifer is in college as a counselor.   She has a tutoring center in the college. Junior kind of came in on the tailend of that and he is my poet and reggae player and stuff like that.  He's just been different.

R:  Were any of the kinds of concerns that you have just voiced, were they ever discussed around the people who were holding the Brown meetings?
Ms. Jackson:  I do not think that after that Brown case went on that they did too much follow up. I think that after they did that, and my son was one of the ones who tried to reopen . . . you know a while back they tried to reopen that Brown . . . and his friend Richard Jones . . . they all went to KU together. At about that time, about 12 years ago, Gary left and went to Seattle. Richard Jones might have more documentation on that aspect.
I don't remember in my mind that they ever had any meetings. Because I think if they did that I would have been one of the persons they would have tried to get to come to a meeting.

R:  Do you ever remember anybody ever saying my children have had a good experience at Monroe and I've had a good experience at Washington, I'd don't want them to go anywhere else?
Ms. Jackson:  Not at that time. I think that if Rev. Brown had not initiated that, I believe that would have played out. I just think that people would have...because down through the years they began to accept and I don't think the Brown thing would have needed to be. But I do know that Rev. Brown was an activist. I called on the phone down here and wanted to put my kids in, and over the years I wished I had never called; I wished I had just taken them down there.

R:  What did they tell you when you called?
Ms. Jackson: I think your kids would be more comfortable in a black school, I remember that. Of course, Gary was very involved in the 1960s. He was one of those at KU that was doing whatever they did there.  They fired him because he was such an advocate. During that time, I think, was when our eyes were really opened to some of the things that maybe our kids had... I had one son, Arthur Lee, who is dyslexic, and I think that, at least I thought that, if there was any problem with your kid, the teacher. What they did to Arthur Lee was, I didn't know, all of our kids were average and some above in smartness, but Arthur Lee was a little slow. You know, when you have eight kids, you figure maybe one of them is going to be a little slower. My husband was always giving them, at that time it was 50C for an "A", and it got so we had to stop it because Arthur Lee never did get anything. They were taking him, even I went out to Hope out there on 17 th Street, and had sessions with people about the way he was, and nobody ever used this word until after practically. . .he got as far as going into the 11th grade...he ran away from home. He never finished school. The only one of our children that didn't finish high school. They would put him in special education room and they sent him down to this other school. Arthur Lee had a problem with it. He said, "I don't like being in that room, mama, get me out of there." He said the kids would climb up on the windows. These kids were just all over the place. He had enough sense about him that that wasn't the place for him, so I did. I worked at getting him out of there because that was what he said he wanted. Then I had a problem, because he was acting out so bad in the other classroom, until none of the teachers wanted him back. We had to go through some things to get him back in. Later we found out, because he did things so backwards...it seems that the teachers should have known that. Now there is something you can do about that.

R:  During the time, particularly when Jennifer, Richard and Gary were attending Monroe, was there any place, like friend's house, beauty shop, meeting place; where they used to gather at and talk?
Ms. Jackson:  Like I said, we have lived here, and going to church was the bigger thing with me and doing activities in the church for the kids and for adults.  I don't ever remember these kinds of things being brought up as much as they are now. Like I said before, they had this thing at Ridley and I went there to several... they used to have classes and I had chaperoned some dances.

R:  Ridley was the park?
Ms. Jackson:  Ridley was the park and the building they've torn down, but they had a recreation-type building in there, and I can remember it was a big place and had several rooms in there that the kids used to go.

R:  That was primarily for the Oakland community?
Ms. Jackson:  No, that was for east Topeka, for black kids. That was one of the places that they went. That era of my kids I never had to worry about where they were at, because they had the run of the neighborhood. They had white friends, and they had mostly Mexican friends, and the few blacks that were out in here.

J:  Do you know of anybody that tried to enroll their children in a white school before the Brown decision?
Ms. Jackson: I called.

R:  Did you call for Jennifer or Richard?
Ms. Jackson:  I called for all three of them, because we moved over here and I thought, well, I'll call down there and see. At that time I was still orientated into being a Negro I guess, and I just let it...

J:  Why do you wish you hadn't?
Ms. Jackson:  Because I think if I would have gone, took the kids and gone, and confronted them, that my head would have gone a different direction. It would have been different. The first day they went to school down here I went down there and the principal assured me that it would be all right. I had every intention of staying all day.  You know you don't know what they are going to do.  You just didn't know.  This was being enforced on them.

(Tape turned)

J:  What happened at Topeka High?
Ms. Jackson:  Well, it was just some segregated type things going on and the kids decided to boycott and the kids were fighting and the lady had just called me. During that time was when I met her, and her son, the white kids who was trying to keep the white kids calm, and then my son was the one who was trying to keep the black kids calm. My daughter, Theada was there and she had nothing to do with her. She had always been a prim and proper little lady. By the way, she is a fund raiser for the National Trust Foundation in Seattle. We're just real, real proud of our kids.

J:  Did you notice any difference in the facilities between  Washington  School...the  building, the curriculum, the books, etc?
Ms. Jackson:  I know during that time was the beginning of the time when they began to furnish books if you were below a certain guideline, and I remember that I had to sign up a lot for our kids.

R:  What about singing?  Did it continue at State Street School?
Ms. Jackson:  Yes, they did, and the...all of the kids seemed to think that when they were at State Street, that everything was really okay. They thought that they were treated, and they always said that they really believed that it was the principal, and Richard and Jennifer named a couple of teachers that they thought were very nice teachers and very good teachers.
I have seen some of the teachers at State Street and they always ask me where they are at and what they are doing. Theada came back here and got married. Because I used to work at the auditorium before they remodeled it, I used to see some of the teachers... all our kids came back here for her marriage. She was living in New York then, and the teachers wanted to come to the wedding, so they did. It was good for the kids.  These were the teachers from State Street.

R:  You made a comment and you can explain this any way you want to explain it. One, you said you were orientated to being a Negro, and the other was at that time people thought white was better. I just wanted you to explain what you meant by that?
Ms. Jackson:  In the era I came up in and the early years of my kids' lives, you see everything as done good is done by white people. You would think that maybe if your kids or you associated more with white, then maybe it would rub off. To tell you just a little bit about our kids. Our kids are very comfortable now with white people, but they know they are black. They know that and they will defend that and fight for that. But they have, as I do, like Sally is the number one person as far as white of my friends. But I have the feeling, and I always have and always will, that any of these people are white first. But I do believe that if some things came up, they would be right there to defend me.
Because at a time in the 1960s, I used to clean houses, and at my lunchtime one day I was reading the Reader's Digest and there was a joke in the Reader's Digest where this black man and this white man were saying something like if black people took over, then this black person would go and grab his buddy and say I've got mine, and this meant that this guy, he was protected from the rest of the blacks. I kept that little joke in the back of my mind, and I'm saying that that kind of feeling is what I think I mean. I have white friends that I know have never in their life have had a black friend. I just retired, and the day I retired, this one lady came up to me and she said, "Christina, I've been wanting to tell you something because you were the first." I was wondering, "What is she going to say." She said, "You were the first black person to ever hug me." So I hugged her again.  I am a hugger and I don't care what color you are. If I feel like you've done something I like, or I see you, then I'll just hug you. Later, I wondered how many white people there had never been hugged by a black. There were people there who didn't like me.
I was raised out here and the kids were raised here, and all of my neighbors are having a nice little conniption about us moving. I've been here since I was 13, so I've been walking up and down this street for a lot of years. I don't know whether I've answered or not.
After a while, and then when Gary was going through all the stuff and we were getting all the publicity and all the hate phone calls and stuff like that, it kind of changes your mind a little bit, but there were still two or three people that hung in there and stuck in there. Our phones were tapped and all of this kind of stuff. At that time Gary did not tell us a lot of stuff so we didn't know. We read the paper like everybody else. We only knew what we read in the paper.

R:  This was when Gary was involved at KU?
Ms. Jackson:  Yes, when he was at KU.
I've really enjoyed talking to you and having you come by. I have another person coming by to talk to me about living in Topeka all my life and moving to Seattle.  That's kind of scary.

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