Interview of Ruth Brooks by Sarah Lawrence of the Race and Place Project on February 21, 2002. (Oral History)

Biographical Information
Ruth Brooks was born in Esmont in 1928 to the Gardner family (see her sister's interview, Jettie F. Gardner-Hardy) and has lived there all her life. She recalls the daily chores she and her seven siblings performed, including going to the spring with other neighborhood children to collect water for washing; they played, talked and joked along the way. Brooks recounts numerous play activities while growing up, especially the sports at school and sometimes against other schools. She tells of her experience with polio and describes various home remedies her family used to treat minor illnesses. Brooks joined the Household of Ruth, a social organization, at age 16, and was a member up until last year. She received her degree in cosmetology at St. Paul's Institute and started the first and only beauty salon in Esmont. She names other black owned stores that have existed in Esmont. Brooks says her family did some shopping in Charlottesville but she especially remembers making dresses out of the pretty material of feed bags. Brooks discusses how the ministers of her church have changed their style over the years. She and her husband Edward were among the few parents who sent their children to Scottsville school as part of the "Freedom of Choice" movement toward desegregation.

Project Description
Race and Place is a project of the Virginia Center for Digital History and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies. The goal of the project is to chronicle the life of African-Americans in the Charlottesville, Virginia area during the period of segregation. As part of this project we have conducted a series of interviews with current residents of the Charlottesville area who were alive during that period. The project has also incorporated oral interviews conducted by other Charlottesville institutions which cover the appropriate subject area.

Notes About Our Transcription
The transcripts represent what was said in the interview to the best of our ability. It is possible that some words, particularly names, have been misspelled. Where we did not feel sure of spellings we have indicated this by the use of the term 'phonetically' in parentheses following the word in question. Places where words were unclear are noted by 'inaudible'. Brackets have been used to indicate additions made to the text upon review by the interviewee. We have made no attempt to correct mistakes in grammar.

Ms. Lawrence:It is February 21, 2002. This is Sarah Lawrence, interviewing Mrs. Ruth Brooks, at her home in Esmont. Good afternoon!
Mrs. Brooks:Good afternoon.
Ms. Lawrence:Can you spell your name please, full name, for the record.
Mrs. Brooks:Okay, my name is Ruth Lucilla Gardner Brooks. Ruth, R.U.T.H.; Lucilla, L.U.C.I.L.L.A.; Gardner, G.A.R.D.N.E.R.; Brooks, B.R.O.O.K.S.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. Can you tell us when and where you were born?
Mrs. Brooks:Okay, I was born here in Esmont. I've been here all of my life.
Ms. Lawrence:In the same house or-
Mrs. Brooks:Well no, next door, my family home. That's where I was born, next door. That's where my mother and father lived.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, and can you give us their names, and your grandparents' names if you remember them?
Mrs. Brooks:My mother's name was Hattie Montgomery Nelson Gardner, and my father's name was William Kenton Gardner.
Ms. Lawrence:How do you spell Kenton?
Mrs. Brooks:K.E.N.T.O.N.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. And their parents?
[10 second section on tape ommitted in text]
Mrs. Brooks:My grandmother's name was Sally Nelson.
Ms. Lawrence:So your mother's father's name?
Mrs. Brooks:My mother's father's name was Burell Nelson. B.U.R.E.L.L. And my father's father's name was Jasper Gardner. J.A.S.P.E.R. [Mrs. Brooks added later that her father's mother's name was Louisa Hall Gardner]
Ms. Lawrence:And do you know when your grandparents were born?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh no, I can't give you that right now. I guess if I had known it sooner I could have gotten that information together.
Ms. Lawrence:How about where?
Mrs. Brooks:Well they were born in the Keene area.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, and your parents?
Mrs. Brooks:My parents were born in the same area.
Ms. Lawrence:Where were they raised, in Keene or Esmont?
Mrs. Brooks:No they weren't raised in Esmont, they were raised in the Keene area.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, both of them? But then they moved here?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes they moved here.
Ms. Lawrence:And they raised you, both your parents?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes. Both of my parents raised me.
Ms. Lawrence:Did you have extended family around here?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I had several uncles. Most of my aunts lived at Keene. But I had an uncle that lived up the road here, not too far from us. His name was Philip Nelson. Then I had another uncle that lived in the Esmont area. His name was Joseph Nelson.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:And Burell Nelson. In fact, he lived with my mother. He lived with us for a while. Until he died.
Ms. Lawrence:Wow. So he was not married.
Mrs. Brooks:No, he never was married.
Ms. Lawrence:And how many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I had four brothers and three sisters.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. Can you give us their names?
Mrs. Brooks:Okay. Well, the oldest was named William. We used to call him Willy. Then there was John. Jettie was next.
Ms. Lawrence:Could you spell that?
Mrs. Brooks:J.E.T.T.I.E. And then Beatrice, B.E.A.T.R.I.C.E. And then Elizabeth. And then me, then George, and Ted.
Ms. Lawrence:And, you all got along splendidly I'm sure.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes we did.
Ms. Lawrence:Did you?
Mrs. Brooks:We were a close family, always have been and still is.
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh, uh-huh.
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah we are a very close family.
Ms. Lawrence:Did the older siblings look after the younger siblings?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, they did. Because when my mother wasn't here or when she was working, my oldest sisters would take care of the house. One of my sisters, Beatrice, she was a real good cook (Chuckle).
Ms. Lawrence:Oh! What was her specialty?
Mrs. Brooks:What was her specialty? Oh I don't know, just general cooking. I can't remember.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember some of the things you had?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I guess we had things like, well, she could fry chicken real good (Chuckle). And she could make some lovely mashed potatoes. And of course she could bake bread. She was really just the best cook in the family. Because I didn't learn how to cook until after my mother died (Chuckle). Being the youngest girl, I didn't. I used to be the one who would keep the house clean. I was good at that.
Ms. Lawrence:How did you keep the house clean?
Mrs. Brooks:Well, I never liked a whole lot of junk around, things hanging around, shoes and stuff. So I would just hide everything, maybe put the shoes under the bed. And any time anything got lost and the other sisters and brothers couldn't find it they would say, 'Ask Ruth.'
Ms. Lawrence:(Chuckle)
Mrs. Brooks:'She got it stuck in the closet or underneath the bed or some place.' So anyway, that was one way. I was just a neat person and wanted everything to be in place. And I was good at dusting, sweeping the floor, stuff like that.
Ms. Lawrence:And you had to do chores, is that correct?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, yes, you know, during that time kids had chores to do. You didn't just come home from school and do nothing. You had all kinds of things to do like go to the spring and bring water for the next day. And getting kindling wood, pick up chips. And we had things like that to do. But nowadays kids don't have too many chores to do. When they come home they maybe sit down in front of a tv or something like that. Playing outside. But, we had things to do.
Ms. Lawrence:Where was the spring?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh the spring was not too far from here. We would go across the road there and down in the woods. It was a path. We would go down there and get the water.
Ms. Lawrence:Are you saying across the street?
Mrs. Brooks:Across the street here, mm-hm. We would all get together and go in a group sometimes. We would call each other and say, 'We're ready to go the spring.'
Ms. Lawrence:Just the kids in your family?
Mrs. Brooks:Just the kids in the family and next door.
Ms. Lawrence:Ah. So who were your neighbors?
Mrs. Brooks:Well one of my favorite neighbors then, [Bernice] and I used to play together a lot. Her parents' names were Japheth and Lillian Nelson.
Ms. Lawrence:What was the first name there?
Mrs. Brooks:Japheth.
Ms. Lawrence:How do you spell that?
Mrs. Brooks:J.A.P.H.E.T.H. But anyway. Their daughter Bernice was my friend because we were around the same age. And she had brothers. We would all get together and go to the spring. Then my older sisters said they did the same thing. You know, some of the neighbors that live close by. Jettie said that they would call each other and go to the spring together. Because during that time my mother took in washing for people. Especially some of the wealthier families.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember some of their names?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes I remember two. I think they were the only two that she took in laundry for. They were the Moriels. M.O.R.I.E.L.S. I think that's how you spell it. And the Smalls. S.M.A.L.L.S. So we had to bring water for her to wash their clothes, plus our clothes, the children. Of course, now, when it rained, they would take advantage of that because we had barrels sitting up under the leaks so you could catch water. So we had to bring a lot of water. If you were young, not too old, you know maybe like six years old, seven or eight, maybe you would have a little bucket you could go to the spring and bring back, but the bigger children had larger buckets.
Ms. Lawrence:Right. Right.
Mrs. Brooks:So at that time, we used to have fun, going to the spring together. Talking, probably playing too. Stop for a while because the buckets would get heavy.
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh, sure.
Mrs. Brooks:Stop for a while and maybe play and talk and joke with each other. So that was one of the chores we had to do during that time.
Ms. Lawrence:What other kinds of play did you do as a kid?
Mrs. Brooks:What kind of play? Oh during that time we played things like marbles, believe it or not. And hopscotch. Please don't ask me how you play that now because I may have forgotten (Laughter).
Ms. Lawrence:(Laughter) So have I!
Mrs. Brooks:You would draw some marks on the ground and then you would jump about from one block to the other. And we played ball, softball -
Ms. Lawrence:Did boys and girls play together?
Mrs. Brooks:Well yes, we played together. Our cousins and neighbors and all, we would get together and play.
Ms. Lawrence:After your chores?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, after the chores. You had to do them first.
Ms. Lawrence:So, your mother took in washing, laundry, and that occupied pretty much her whole day?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah I'm sure it did.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. And your father?
Mrs. Brooks:Well my father, at an early age - I don't know how old he was because I wasn't even born when this happened - he used to work at a slate quarry, over here in the lower part of Esmont. And he got his leg broken somehow, something fell on him, I don't know exactly how it happened. So he didn't do any hard work after that because he always had a stiff leg. But he used to work for a man around here, I forgot now where it was, but he did what he could, he did light work like gardening for the people. The Bradleys! That's who they were. He used to work for the Bradleys. B.R.A.D.L.E.Y.S. I think. He did light work like working in the garden and weeding out flowers and stuff like that. He didn't do any more hard work after that.
Ms. Lawrence:Except bending your back can be pretty hard, weeding a garden!
Mrs. Brooks:Yes that's true, but I guess that was better than doing some hard, really hard laboring work. Back during that time there wasn't no easy work to do, you know.
Ms. Lawrence:Yes. Do you remember how he was treated when he broke his leg?
Mrs. Brooks:Well, I'm just saying now what my older sisters and my mother - I used to hear her talk about this - she was expecting Elizabeth when this happened. Of course, when it happened down there at the quarry, they called the ambulance. And they stopped out here at the gate, next door, at the home place, to let her know that they were taking him to the hospital and [told] what had happened. So they did, they took him to the hospital. And -
Ms. Lawrence:In Charlottesville? The University?
Mrs. Brooks:In Charlottesville, at the University. Of course, it wasn't modernized like it is now. They say he had a lot of pain. And I guess they didn't have the various medicines and painkillers like they have now. They say he suffered a lot. And of course the hospital facilities wasn't that great either. At that time they had the black people down in the basement. Which wasn't very nice, but that's the way it was then.
Ms. Lawrence:Right. Do you know how long he stayed in the hospital?
Mrs. Brooks:That's what I don't know, I don't know how long he stayed.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember if the slate quarry employed whites as well as blacks?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes.
Ms. Lawrence:It was integrated.
Mrs. Brooks:Seemed like that was integrated.
Ms. Lawrence:If not much else.
Mrs. Brooks:(Chuckle) That's right.
Ms. Lawrence:Speaking of things happening in the community of Esmont, where did you as a family go for recreation, or were there community events you remember attending, for fun?
Mrs. Brooks:For fun. Well you know the school used to have various activities.
Ms. Lawrence:Which school was that?
Mrs. Brooks:That was the Old Esmont high school right here in this community, down the road. Of course they would have activities that we could attend. Sometimes they had dances but they were always well supervised by teachers and chaperones. Then they would have plays, and we could go. Of course now we used to have to walk back and forth, because we didn't have no buses then. But our parents would let us go, as long as some of the older sisters and brothers went with us.
Ms. Lawrence:So you could go without your parents?
Mrs. Brooks:We could go without parents, as long as we had a good chaperone. And I'm trying to think of other activities in this community, but right now I just can't think of anything else at that time.
Ms. Lawrence:I heard of traveling circus coming through here at one point. Do you remember that? (Chuckle)
Mrs. Brooks:Is that so? A traveling circus?
Ms. Lawrence:Missed that one!
Mrs. Brooks:(Chuckle) No I don't remember that one.
Ms. Lawrence:How about revivals?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes we always had revivals. I remember those as a young child. New Green Mountain's revival - that was the name of the church that I attended, New Green Mountain - and our revival was held on the first Sunday in August. As far as I can remember. It seemed like someone said that it was on a different Sunday but in the later years it changed to the first Sunday in August. And it still is the first Sunday in August. We used to enjoy going back and forth to church every night (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Every night?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes because we had - the revival would last a whole week. And it still does. And you have a guest preacher that comes in, and you go every night. From Monday to Friday.
Ms. Lawrence:Wow. Did they preach very different sermons from the usual?
Mrs. Brooks:These guest preachers? Well they preached from the Bible (Laughter)
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm, can't get too different?
Mrs. Brooks:(Laughter) I don't guess. Well, I don't know. The older preachers back then, they weren't as educated as the ministers are now. But we enjoyed whatever they did. Of course now we have ministers that's more knowledgeable, they've gone to seminars and colleges. And they brings it out in a different way.
Ms. Lawrence:What's the difference?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I don't know, it seems like the older ministers did a lot of - I don't know what you call it - some of them just couldn't read as well I guess, look like they just had that insight that the Lord gave them and they could preach a sermon. But now, you know the ministers are taught, and of course I know they've been called too by the Lord, I would like to think so. They've been taught, and they just teach and preach in a different way. On a higher level. That's all right, that's the way I can explain it.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:Uh-huh, I think it's on a higher level. Because naturally back there, the older ministers, they didn't go to school [meaning college].
Ms. Lawrence:So by higher you mean more educated.
Mrs. Brooks:On a more educated level. Because people now are more knowledgeable and are well educated and they have to prepare themselves so that they can preach to the people now.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. Which sermons do you find yourself more drawn to now? The ones now as they are taught, or preached, or the ones back then? Of course you're a different person from when, from who you were.
Mrs. Brooks:Well I think I enjoy the ones now. The ones that they preach now.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. I would like to talk a little bit about the school in more detail. Could you describe the school and your school years there, maybe start with your teachers who had a lasting impact.
Mrs. Brooks:Well at Esmont school, it only went to the eleventh grade. I'll start with the first grade. My first grade teacher was named Mrs. Helen Southall. And at that time it was a pretty large school and they had different classes for all grades. I think the first and second grades were together. Of course as you got moving up a little higher you had separate rooms and separate teachers. Of course I went to the eleventh grade because that's as far as it went, that was the criteria at that time. Of course my teachers, some of them were named - my history teacher was named Mrs. Virginia Yancey and she lived in Charlottesville. She hasn't been dead too many years. I remember her so well. There was Mrs. Virginia Wilson; she taught music, and English. And Miss Jefferson, we used to call her Miss Jefferson but I think she was Mrs. Jefferson, and she taught literature. Of course, Mr. Faulkner, he was the principal at the time. I.D. Faulkner. And he taught, as well as [being] the principal. I remember him teaching me Latin.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm. 'I.D.' you said. So that's what, his initials?
Mrs. Brooks:I.D. Faulkner. I think his first name was Isaac. But I never did know what the 'D' stood for.
Ms. Lawrence:What relation was Virginia Yancey to the rest of the Yancey family, if you recall?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I don't think they were related at all.
Ms. Lawrence:Oh okay, no relation.
Mrs. Brooks:No relation. So I think that was some of the memories of the Esmont School.
Ms. Lawrence:What about in the classroom? How did the teacher discipline you?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh, well. If you did something wrong - well in the elementary grades, they would let you stand in the corner for a length of time. And then, of course then as you moved on up a little higher - I guess in the elementary grades, like first grade I guess kids couldn't write that well - but as you moved on up a little higher and could start writing, whatever you did wrong they'd make you write it maybe for a hundred times (Chuckle). That was some of the punishment. And then as you got in high school, or maybe before you got in high school, if you did something wrong they would send you to the principal's office. I think that's about all I can remember. Of course the principal would keep you in the office and you couldn't go out to play with the other kids and that was a punishment.
Ms. Lawrence:I'm sure.
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah I'm telling you. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:What kinds of play did you do at school? Some sports?
Mrs. Brooks:What kind of sports?
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah.
Mrs. Brooks:Oh we did games like volleyball, dodgeball, we played some softball, and we also played what you called pole relay. Pole relay.
Ms. Lawrence:Like running, like the, with a pole?
Mrs. Brooks:Like running, uh-huh. You would run with this pole, or stick, or whatever you called it. And of course you had the opposing team, and you would just run against that other team and run to a certain point and back. And of course whoever got back first, you were the winner. Whichever team ran and got back to their home spot first.
Ms. Lawrence:Was that something you played everyday or was there some kind of annual event?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh no, that was something we played anytime. I don't know if we did it everyday or not but we did it often. We used to have events over in Charlottesville where we played against other schools maybe once a year. And that was held at Washington Park. So we used to do all kinds of games over there, and I'm sure pole relay was included in one of them.
Ms. Lawrence:Were there teams for sports like volleyball or basketball?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm, yeah we would play against other teams.
Ms. Lawrence:From other schools?
Mrs. Brooks:From other schools, yeah.
Ms. Lawrence:Did you have uniforms?
Mrs. Brooks:Um, I don't think so.
Ms. Lawrence:And you had girls' teams and boys' teams?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm, yes.
Ms. Lawrence:In your family, growing up, do you recall how your mom and dad made decisions about the family, either the children or, you know, what kind of work someone should take on, things like that?
Mrs. Brooks:Well as far as my parents making decisions, they always, my father and mother always made decisions together. I don't think he ever did anything without asking her first, or getting her consent for it. For whatever the case was.
Ms. Lawrence:Did you see them talking together about things?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, uh-huh, we did. And I never saw them at any arguments or anything. If they did they didn't let us see them.
Ms. Lawrence:Wow.
Mrs. Brooks:Wasn't that great? (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah. Did they let you see any affection? Like kissing?
Mrs. Brooks:Like kissing? (Chuckle) No I don't think I saw that. Never did see that. But they would make their decisions together. Of course, my father was the head of the household, which I think men should be. He was strictly the head of the household.
Ms. Lawrence:How did he convey that?
Mrs. Brooks:Well he was just a positive person. You didn't say 'no' to him. Or if he told you to do something, you couldn't just sass back at him or say 'no' or else you would get a whipping (Chuckle).
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. (Chuckle) That's pretty decisive.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, he was a very positive, strict father. And I guess kids would be better today if they had more parents like that.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember any cases where you thought, 'I wish I could do this,' or 'I don't want to do this'?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, yes indeed. Sometimes I used to wish I could go places the way I wanted to go but you know, they wouldn't just let you go -
Ms. Lawrence:Like where?
Mrs. Brooks:To parties and things. Yeah, you couldn't just go to parties. They wouldn't let you go except someone went with you. Sometimes I used to wish I could just go places and go out and do things like I would see other kids doing. But not my father.
Ms. Lawrence:What kinds of things?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well, like you say, like going to parties and things like that.
Ms. Lawrence:Could you go to Charlottesville?
Mrs. Brooks:Well yes, we could go to Charlottesville. Except for, we had to go with someone that was very reliable. And during that time, people didn't have a lot of cars like they do now. So we just didn't go to Charlottesville that often. I guess when I got to the point that I could go to Charlottesville anytime I felt like it or could go with someone else anytime, I guess I was in my twenties and thirties.
Ms. Lawrence:So who had these parties? What happened at these parties?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well, we used to have parties around here. We used to have them at the old Odd Fellows Hall down the road here. Of course it's called the W.D. Ward Center now. But some of our friends used to have parties there. Dances. But in the later years, they cut that out. Because it seemed like the kids didn't appreciate it I don't think. Maybe they got a little bit out of hand.
Ms. Lawrence:I'd like to ask you a little bit about how boys and girls, when they were teenagers, dealt with dating, or if there even was such a thing in Esmont.
Mrs. Brooks:Well yes, you know, as a teenager I'm sure I had crushes on guys and they had crushes on me. But still, our parents didn't let us go out as teenagers. But we would see each other at school and maybe, when we had recess we would talk to each other. (sound from fridge) I remember vividly one time, I had a boyfriend, and for Christmas he gave me a comb and brush set. And I was afraid to bring it home. I think I hid it outside.
Ms. Lawrence:Really? Wow. Where'd you hide it?
Mrs. Brooks:I hid it underneath the porch. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Oh no! (Chuckle)
Mrs. Brooks:But I can't remember at what point that my mother knew about it. I just can't remember. She was bound to have found out about it at some point. But I was afraid to bring it home because parents were strict then. They didn't allow you to date boys.
Ms. Lawrence:What would your father have done if he found them?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh my goodness, well he was so strict. I know what he would have done - he probably wouldn't let me go any place. You know, not even with other people. He would punish me by staying at home if he found out about something. He was very protective of his girls. Yes, he really was.
Ms. Lawrence:Different from the boys? In terms of treatment?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, yes, uh-huh, yes. But it seemed like the boys, they had a little more freedom than the girls. So anyway, dating wasn't a big thing. Of course some kids could do it more than others, but anyway, we made it. I suppose that's as much as I can tell you about that as a teenager. We weren't allowed to be going out in cars with a boy, my goodness.
Ms. Lawrence:But some were?
Mrs. Brooks:Huh?
Ms. Lawrence:Did you say some other teenagers were allowed?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I think yes, some teenagers were allowed. It seemed like their parents were not as strict as my parents were.
Ms. Lawrence:Were you friends with those teenagers?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well, yes and no. Some of them I was not.
Ms. Lawrence:And you went to school with them?
Mrs. Brooks:I went to school - we all went to the same school.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:So that's all I know about dating right now.
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh. Now, did you belong to any social clubs or any kind of clubs when you were growing up, and as a young woman.
Mrs. Brooks:Well, we didn't have a lot of clubs in Esmont but I did belong to an organization called the Household of Ruth.
Ms. Lawrence:What was that for?
Mrs. Brooks:Well that was a secret fraternal organization. You know, you had certain rituals and things, but you couldn't tell what you did there, although didn't nothing wrong go on. It was just a fraternal secret organization. And it was really more just like a fellowship thing. You would go there and you would just meet with each other. In fact now, the older people, they really were the ones that started it because that was one thing that they enjoyed doing during their time because the older people, like my parents and some other ladies around here, they didn't work. The older women didn't work like we do now. Because they were homemakers, stayed home and took care of the children. So anyway, they used to enjoy that Household of Ruth because - and it met in the daytime, like around 1:00 or 1:30.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm!
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm. But still, in the later years, after all those ladies died out, the younger people, they couldn't meet in the daytime so we met in the evenings or at night. So anyway, that was one of the organizations that I used to belong to.
Ms. Lawrence:When did you join?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I joined the Household of Ruth at age 16 I think it was. Of course, it had another organization that was connected with that called the Juvenile Society and that was for younger kids from a certain age up to 16. I forget the younger age, but anyhow, at 16 you could join the Household of Ruth. So my mother had me to join that when I got 16 and some of my friends. And I still belonged to it up until last year.
Ms. Lawrence:That's a long membership.
Mrs. Brooks:I tell you, I'm sure I stayed in there nearly fifty years. And other organizations and clubs - oh we had a few around here, but we didn't have a whole lot.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember their names even if you weren't part of them?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm, let me see, we had a club here called the Blue Mist club or something like -
Ms. Lawrence:M.I.? How do you spell that?
Mrs. Brooks:Blue Mist. Blue Mist. M.I.S.T., I think that's what it was.
Ms. Lawrence:Oh, uh-huh. What was that for?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh it was just a social organization. We had parties and cookouts and things.
Ms. Lawrence:Through that club?
Mrs. Brooks:Uh-huh.
Ms. Lawrence:Were there certain people who belonged to that club as opposed to Household of Ruth?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well, some of them were the same people I'm sure.
Ms. Lawrence:Were either of those organizations or clubs affiliated with the church at all?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh no. They were separate. They were separate from the churches. You couldn't connect social and church together, not around here. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Now what do you mean by that?
Mrs. Brooks:Well you know, a church is a religious organization.
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes. And a club, a social club, is a social club. So you just couldn't mix those two together.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. Let's talk about shopping. Where did you shop? Where did your family shop in Esmont for household supplies, things that you didn't raise yourself.
Mrs. Brooks:Okay, where did we shop. Well, we had some stores here in Esmont. Are you talking about clothing now or -
Ms. Lawrence:All of it, sure.
Mrs. Brooks:All of it? Food and whatever? Well we had stores here in Esmont. We had a lot of stores that was owned by black people.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm, do you remember the names of some of them?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah there was Simpson's store, and he sold general merchandise. And he sold meats as well as other things. I remember so vividly how he used to stand out on the porch and advertise his fish on Friday. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Oh, how'd he do that?
Mrs. Brooks:Well he would just say "Fresh fish, fresh fish today!"
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh, uh-huh.
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah then there was another store, Jim Jones's store. Of course they used to sell some of everything. I remember we used to go there and get, they used to sell all kinds of cookies, and you could get a cookie for, two for five cents, and penny candy, one cent, so he sold candy and cookies and stuff like that and a lot of other things too in the store. It wasn't only that. Then we had Carey's grocery. They sold a lot of meats and they sold some of everything. And there was another store called Adam's grocery store. And, the last one - not the last one - then we had a Porter's Superette. And Fred and Clarissa Thomas's store. And Leroy -
Ms. Lawrence:What was that for?
Mrs. Brooks:Well that was just a store where they sold ice cream, cakes, and all kinds of little things. They sold some groceries too like bread, [etc.]
Ms. Lawrence:And what about Leroy's you said?
Mrs. Brooks:And then there was another store called Leroy and Helen Thomas's store.
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh, it was actually called that? Those were the names?
Mrs. Brooks:Well yes, it was just Leroy's - oh I'm sorry it was just Thomas's store. And they sold ice cream, sodas, probably stuff like bread, and other things too that you needed. I think I named them all.
Ms. Lawrence:Did you receive some money from your parents to go and buy an ice cream every once in a while?
Mrs. Brooks:Well yes, they would give us a little allowance every now and then. As you say, people didn't make a lot of money then but you know, we had money for to go to the store to buy a little candy or some ice cream if you needed it - if we wanted it. But I think I forgot, did I tell you about the last store and the only store we have here in Esmont now is Brown's mini-market. He's a young fellow that's doing very good business here.
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh, uh-huh, I think I've been there.
Mrs. Brooks:That's down on Route 6.
Ms. Lawrence:Right right.
Mrs. Brooks:It used to be all these stores, even down in the Lower part of Esmont, they had plenty of stores down there too. Purvis's store, C.C. Steed as I was telling you about once before I think. Oh it was a lot of stores down there - Payne's grocery store. But now, Brown's mini-market is the only one that survived it. Of course, that came up in the later years anyway.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. All those stores that you just mentioned, were they all black owned?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh no, now all the ones up here in this part of Esmont were black. But when you got down in the other part of Esmont - I would say the Lower Part - they were all white.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. Where was the dividing line, do you remember?
Mrs. Brooks:Where was the dividing line.
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah Lower and then the rest of the -
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah well, up this way it's called the Upper Part I guess, and then when you go down Route 6 and you turn off to your right, you go down to the Lower Part, that's where the -- at that time -- well, the post office is still down there. And years ago, they had a train station there.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. So what about clothes specifically? Did you shop around here, or Charlottesville?
Mrs. Brooks:Well no, we never did have any clothing stores around here. We just had to go to Charlottesville and our parents would - sometimes they would go and buy the clothes for us, and if they were too small, if they got shoes for you and they were too small maybe you just had to wear them anyway (Laughter).
Ms. Lawrence:Uh-huh, uh-huh.
Mrs. Brooks:I guess that's what happened -
Ms. Lawrence:Did it happen, to you?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah, I think it happened to me. They just couldn't, they didn't have transportation. I think in the earlier years they went in the horse and buggy. My older sisters say that. But anyway, you just couldn't just go to Charlottesville any time you wanted to go, so your parents just had to know your size and try to get your size the best they could. And then my mother used to make things for us, she used to make clothes because she could sew. And you know, during that time, I don't think I ever wore any of these, maybe my older sisters did, but during that time they used to get, my parents used to get feed for the cattle - cows and pigs - in bags, and the bags were so pretty - that this feed would come in - they would wash them and use them. They could make you a dress out of a beautiful sack. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Wow!
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah.
Ms. Lawrence:What was the - was there a pattern?
Mrs. Brooks:Well you know, the older people could cut out a dress without having a pattern. But I think some of them did have patterns back then during that time.
Ms. Lawrence:Actually I meant the actual material, was it checkered -
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I see, you're talking about the material. Oh okay, well, most of the material, the pattern of the material, was something. I mean it was striped, flowers - they had pretty flowers in it.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm, interesting!
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah, isn't it interesting, it really is.
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah, huh.
Mrs. Brooks:Most of them were floweredy type material. And it was cotton.
Ms. Lawrence:Did the boys have their clothes made out of that too?
Mrs. Brooks:No I don't think so. That type of thing only made pretty little dresses for girls. I don't think the boys wore the floweredy pants. (Laughter)
Ms. Lawrence:(Laughter) Just had to ask! Okay. Can we turn to the subject of your family and how it coped with problems of health when you were growing up. Ilnesses.
Mrs. Brooks:Well I will start with myself. I can't think of all of our illnesses, but I'll start with myself. I had a touch of polio when I was growing up. I was quite young. I don't know, I might have been eight or nine years old, even a little older than that, maybe. But anyway, I had a touch of polio. It was sort of like, going around at that time, a lot of people was having it. I had a cousin who came to my mother's house during that time, and he had it, but we didn't know he had it, and I don't think he knew he had it. But I sort of caught it after he left there. And one of the symptoms were my neck started going back. You know it was just going on back. So my mother called the doctor that used to live down here in the Lower part of Esmont, his name was Dr. Early. So she called him and -
Ms. Lawrence:Was he white or black?
Mrs. Brooks:He was white.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm. Well he came and checked me out and said that's what I had was polio, a touch of it anyway. So he quarantined the whole house. Couldn't nobody go out or come in seemed like to me during that time. Yeah, because he didn't want it to spread no more than what it was already doing.
Ms. Lawrence:So for how long?
Mrs. Brooks:Now that's what I can't think. But it looked like to me it was for about a week or so.
Ms. Lawrence:And what did your mother do about the clothing she was supposed to take in?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I don't know. I don't know how that happened, I just can't tell you.
Ms. Lawrence:How'd you all cope for food?
Mrs. Brooks:Well you know, during that time the parents, the women and the men, fathers and mothers, would do a lot of gardening. And my mother would can a lot of vegetables. And we had our own meat because we had pigs and things they would kill during the winter. And I'm sure she had plenty of flour and meal, you could make bread. So I think that was one of the survival types. Of course, people then did a lot of gardening and they would can things and put it up, you know, in jars.
Ms. Lawrence:So your neighbors would pass on by the road and wave hello and wish you all well?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah I guess, yes. But I'm thankful to God that it didn't leave me in any way handicapped.
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah, not at all.
Mrs. Brooks:I got over it okay. So that was one of my illnesses and -
Ms. Lawrence:So the doctor didn't treate you physically, he didn't give you anything?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I didn't have to go to the hospital. I know my mother kept me right there at home. And he would bring the medicines that I needed. And there was some home remedies like, I think she had to put cold packs or either hot packs to the back of my neck every so often. I know that was one of the home remedies. So it all worked out. Of course that was a serious illness during that time. So many people had it.
Ms. Lawrence:In Esmont?
Mrs. Brooks:In Esmont, yeah, uh-huh. I don't say a lot of people but I do know one or two people that had it.
Ms. Lawrence:What about just general colds and things like that?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well, we all had plenty of those I'm sure. (Chuckle) Of course, during that time, you parents would give you something called castor oil. Ew, it was so nasty. (Chuckle) And cod liver oil, I remember something called cod liver oil. (Chuckle) So we would take stuff like that and they would put a flannel on your chest-
Ms. Lawrence:A what?
Mrs. Brooks:Something called a flannel. F.L.A.N.N.E.L. I think. It was just a piece of material, it was a special kind of material, I can't recall the name of it now. And they would put something on that, I don't know what they put on it but then they would put it to your chest and let you wear it, pin it to your clothes. That was another remedy for colds.
Ms. Lawrence:Was it something liquid, or a paste, or -
Mrs. Brooks:It was something like a salve.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm, mm-hm. Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:I don't know whether it was called Vicks Salve or what.
Ms. Lawrence:Oh, Vicks.
Mrs. Brooks:But there was something called Vicks we used to use. I guess some people might still use it if it's still existing. But I know as a child I know we used to use that a lot.
Ms. Lawrence:And where would your parents have purchased that?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh they had it in the grocery stores and the stores like I was naming, like people who kept general merchandise, you could get it there. And I guess they had drugstores back then. I don't know, I can't remember. I guess they had drugstores.
Ms. Lawrence:There were also traveling people I think, traveling salesmen for some of these things. Do you remember those?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah. There was a company, there was a man that used to go through here called - selling Watkins products.
Ms. Lawrence:Sonny?
Mrs. Brooks:Selling. Selling Watkins products.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, uh-huh.
Mrs. Brooks:And I'm sure he had all kinds of medical stuff that he could sell people, all kinds of things called Watkins products. That's the only one I can remember.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember - this might go back further, before your time - but, they used to sell things for "female troubles", "female problems", do you remember if he sold any of that?
Mrs. Brooks:No, that I don't know.
Ms. Lawrence:They were, was it pretty straight forward in terms of what the illnesses were?
Mrs. Brooks:Is that so? I don't know too much about that. I really don't.
Ms. Lawrence:Did you use catalogs at all?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, I meant to tell you that my mother used to order clothes for us too. She used to order from Montgomery Wards. That's if we wanted something special for Easter or Christmas, like sometime we would want a new dress or a new hat, a new pair of shoes or something. She would order that from the catalog. They did a lot of that during that time because they didn't have a way of transportation of getting to Charlottesville so they ordered a lot.
Ms. Lawrence:And you as the youngest, did you get a lot of stuff handed down?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes uh-huh, from my older sisters. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:What about holidays, how did you, how do you remember the holidays being spent, kind of the big ones?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I could say I can only remember about Easter and Christmas. I guess they were the most two important ones. Well for Easter we used to always get a new outfit and go to church, and parade around in your new clothes. And then, at that time, of course they still do this, the Sunday school, they had a program, every Easter, and we had a recitation to learn. Of course they wanted you to learn it by memory, which our parents tried to help us to learn it by memory. So in each class - you had the primary class, and then you had maybe the intermediate class, then you had the adult class - so each class would have a presentation. So we looked forward to that every year at Easter.
Ms. Lawrence:Class, meaning throughout the year you would have classes, Sunday school classes for those things?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm, Sunday school classes, this includes throughout the year. And sometimes the older classes, they would present a play. And which they still do that. And at Christmas time it's the same thing. Each class has a presentation for your Christmas programs. And we used to look forward to that.[Clarified later that preparation for these plays took place only on the two or three Sundays before the event]
Ms. Lawrence:And was there a social aspect to the Sunday program for Easter, like a picnic or anything?
Mrs. Brooks:Well you know, I was trying to think, you know how egg hunts are associated with Easter, but for some reason I can't remember whether we had egg hunts back there or not. I'm sure we did. That was one of the things that was connected with Easter was egg hunts. And I'm sure if they didn't have them at the church, some of our other neighbors had them. I'm sure.
Ms. Lawrence:Using real eggs?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah, real eggs, and colored them. So that was fun. Of course Christmas time, we would still go to Sunday school and church, and of course we always had a program, just like I recently said, previously said rather. Of course Christmas was always fun because as a child we believed in Santa Claus. And that was a thing that, we would look for him to come. Your parents would say he was coming on a sleigh and with reindeer and coming down the chimney and all that. Sometimes it was hard to go to sleep because I remember peeping out the window sometimes trying to see when he comes. But if your parents caught you peeping out the window you might get a scolding for that. (Chuckle) So anyways, that was fun during that time. But now, the people, I don't think too many people teach their children about Santa Claus because they feel like that's really lying to them and -
Ms. Lawrence:Oh pshaw.
Mrs. Brooks:(Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:So what else happened on Christmas day?
Mrs. Brooks:Well on Christmas day we had big dinners. My mother would cook all this food, make pies and cakes - she could make the best pies and cakes - and then we would have our family to come in. Of course, all of my family that was older than I am, you know they had moved away by that time, but they would always come home for holidays.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm, with their families?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, but my older sisters and brothers didn't have too much family. Only Willie had family. Jettie and John didn't have any family [then].
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm, mm-hm.
Mrs. Brooks:Of course Bea and Elizabeth, they lived close by. But anyway, we would have family gatherings, because my sister Jettie at that time, she lived in Philadelphia, she would come home every holiday. Well, she would come home more than that. She would come home for, maybe at least three times a year, and, of course after my parents died, she would come and open up the family home on holidays. And during the summer she would come for the revival that we had in August and stay maybe a couple of weeks. And then in October she would come and get apples from the apple shed or the apple orchard and carry them back to Philadelphia for her friends.[Regarding the inheritance of the property, added later that the oldest brother Willie had died by then. All the other siblings had homes already. Jettie had also done a lot of work on the house]
Ms. Lawrence:Wow. They must have been good apples.
Mrs. Brooks:They were. They used to be right up here on route 6 at a place where you could buy apples. And then she would come for Christmas. She didn't come for Easter that much. But now, she is here for good. She lives in the family home over there. In fact, that belongs to her now.
Ms. Lawrence:And she's alone?
Mrs. Brooks:And she's alone, yeah, because her husband passed away a few years ago.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:But when he was living they used to drive down here like I said, at least three times a year.
Ms. Lawrence:After your parents died?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. When did your parents die?
Mrs. Brooks:My mother died in 1952 and my father died in 1941.
Ms. Lawrence:Of natural causes?
Mrs. Brooks:Well, my father I think had a heart attack. That's what the doctor said. And my mother did too. Well no, my mother had what you called a cerebral hemorrhage.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. Aside from the occasional trips to Charlottesville, did you do any other traveling yourself? In a horse and buggy or automobile or train?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I don't remember too much about the horse and buggies (Chuckle)
[tape stopped]
(End of first half of interview)
Ms. Lawrence:Traveling.
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well, the only traveling that I did was, well, I went a lot of places after I got older, because after I went to school - went to college and took up beauty courses or cosmetology - when I came back to Esmont I started working here, then I joined an organization, a beautician's organization over in Charlottesville, and we used to travel a lot going to beauty shows. We used to go mostly down in the Tidewater area. Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Petersburg. You know, we used to go a lot of places to the hair shows. That was fun.
Ms. Lawrence:When did that happen? When did you get your degree?
Mrs. Brooks:I graduated from St. Paul - that was in Lawrenceville, Virginia - I graduated in 1950.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. And then moved straight here?
Mrs. Brooks:And then I moved straight here and then I worked in Charlottesville under another beautician. Because it's always good after you first come out of school, you always just work under someone else first, before you go into business for yourself and get more experience. So I worked under this lady called Beatrice Foulk. I think you spell it F.O.U.L.K. Beatrice Foulk. And she had a huge beauty salon. Well she had a huge place there on Preston Avenue. And it was also a hotel too, and she just had a booming business there. She was probably one of the first black people that had a business like that in Charlottesville. Of course there were others, I think. But she had a beauty shop, and she had a hotel, and then of course she had all kinds of foods you could buy because people could come in for dinner, lunch or whatever.
Ms. Lawrence:Wow. Now, did she cater to a white clientele?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm, I'm sure she never turned down anyone, mm-hm.
Ms. Lawrence:But I mean was the hotel just for whites or was it for blacks?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh no. It was mostly geared toward blacks.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, okay.
Mrs. Brooks:But I'm sure white people came there if they wanted to stay. But it was a black owned place. And she really had a lot of help [meaning employees]. I worked in the beauty shop part there maybe for a year or two. Then I decided to [come] back to Esmont and -
Ms. Lawrence:Were you married at the time?
Mrs. Brooks:No.
Ms. Lawrence:So you started out -
Mrs. Brooks:Because I didn't marry too soon in life. I think I was probably in my late thirties or early forties when I got married. [Added later that the date was 1953]
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, okay.
Mrs. Brooks:So anyway I [came] back to Esmont and I [stayed] next door in my family home over there and I had a little room there where my mother had built and that's where I had my beauty shop. And I had a very good business. I had [lots of clientele]. Of course at that time, I was the only beautician in Esmont, so that was quite a new thing for the people here.
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah.
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm. I had people from Esmont, Scottsville, Howardsville, Nelson County, people just came - oh Buckingham, I don't can't leave that out - and occasionally I had people that came from Charlottesville. So I had a real good business. Of course I was the owner, sole owner at that time, but I worked it out. I was a busy girl.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. How'd you advertise?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I advertised it through - well there was a black man in Charlottesville who had a newspaper company, and he was the owner of that. His name was Mr. Randolph White. And he had a newspaper that he published called the Tribune. I used to advertise through that.
Ms. Lawrence:What was the name of your business?
Mrs. Brooks:Ruth's Beauty Salon. And then I had business cards printed and I would give them to my customers and naturally they would go maybe and show it to someone else. And in my travel I would take some of my cards with me and just pass them out. And then people used to hear about me being here. And that was a new thing around here during that time. So it worked out well, I had a successful business.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. Did you only have women clients?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh well mostly yes. Because I didn't get involved in doing a lot of men because most of the time I was here alone in the daytime and I just didn't want to get involved. But I did some of the men here in the family.
Ms. Lawrence:How did you develop new hairstyles and keep up with the trends?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh by going to these hair shows that I was telling you about. That was one of the main reasons for going. And then there were books that I could get, with different hairstyles. Hairstyling books. I got them in Charlottesville off the newscounter or whatever.
Ms. Lawrence:So what was the biggest number of clients you had in a day?
Mrs. Brooks:Ten.
Ms. Lawrence:Really? Whooh!
Mrs. Brooks:I don't know how I did it but I've seen times I had ten. That's when I was younger now.
Ms. Lawrence:And was it just hair or other things?
Mrs. Brooks:It was just hair.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay.
Mrs. Brooks:I remember times, I know I did ten people a day. I don't know how -
Ms. Lawrence:All in that room, in your house?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, uh-huh, uh-huh.
Ms. Lawrence:Gosh.
Mrs. Brooks:It was tough. And that's been fifty some years ago. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:When did you stop?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I really haven't what you called stopped! (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Oh. (Chuckle)
Mrs. Brooks:I still have a few customers.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm.
Mrs. Brooks:And of course that room next door there is my shop in there. I still have a few people, like senior citizens. I don't have a lot of young people because I haven't gone to any of the recent hair shows to keep up with the latest styles. So most of the younger people go to Charlottesville. Of course at my age I couldn't do a lot of hair now noway. But I had a good fifty some years of good business.
Ms. Lawrence:Good for you.
Mrs. Brooks:But as you see now, I just have a few.
Ms. Lawrence:What do you remember about people's attitudes toward Charlottesville when you were growing up here?
Mrs. Brooks:People's attitudes toward Charlottesville?
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah, or what did you think about Charlottesville?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh. Well, are you speaking about the integration part? Or segregation part?
Ms. Lawrence:Any of it you want to talk about.
Mrs. Brooks:Well Charlottesville was a nice place. I mean, that was the closest city that we knew about. And it was the closest place that we could go to a movie or if you wanted to do any extensive shopping because they had different stores. Nice stores at that time. I wish some of the stores were there now that they had back then. So anyway, it was a nice place to go. And of course, that was during the time of segregation. Because naturally that was everywhere, until that barrier broke and things got better.
Ms. Lawrence:What were some of your experiences of segregation?
Mrs. Brooks:In Charlottesville?
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah.
Mrs. Brooks:Okay, well, you couldn't just go in the restaurants and sit down and eat the way the white people did. And the bus station I remember so well because we used to travel, maybe after I got older we used to travel back and forth to town on a bus. A bus used to come through here and pick us up. So the bus station was segregated because they had bathrooms saying colored women, colored men, white women, white men. So they were segregated, and the schools were segregated. So that was everywhere. Charlottesville, Scottsville, everywhere.
Ms. Lawrence:Now, did you go to Scottsville when you were growing up?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes we did, yeah. Of course they had stores down there too, but they didn't have stores like they did in Charlottesville. They weren't as nice as they were. But they had more stores down there than they had up here.
Ms. Lawrence:And did you mostly go to both of those places - Scottsville and Charlottesville - with your parents?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes.
Ms. Lawrence:Until you were a grown up?
Mrs. Brooks:Until I was grown up.
Ms. Lawrence:But you don't remember any episodes where you or your friends tried to kind of, I don't know, step over the lines of segregation at any point?
Mrs. Brooks:No. It seems like to me that didn't happen too much. I don't know whether - nobody braved themselves enough to do that because, you know, it could have ended in some type of trouble, chaos.
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah, or worse.
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah, but I don't remember anyone being brave enough to try to step over the segregated lines.
Ms. Lawrence:What about political organizing here in Esmont, kind of along the lines of integration and civil rights. Do you remember activity happening here in Esmont?
Mrs. Brooks:No I don't remember in Esmont particularly. I know in Charlottesville they had a lot of political action going on about segregation. And of course, Esmont, we always kept in tune with what was happening. During that time, Scottsville didn't want our kids to come down there to go to school, so some of our parents up here, we sent our kids down there anyway, after it got to the point that the law came out that you could send your kids to the school of your choice. But I think there were about three of us parents that did that.
Ms. Lawrence:Were you -?
Mrs. Brooks:I sent my son, yeah. Of course they said all kinds of things about what was going to happen but I don't know, we did it anyway, and it worked out, didn't nothing happen. At that time, we just wanted our kids to get into the white schools where they could get a better learning, because black schools, they didn't have the same books, and they weren't teaching on the levels that the white schools were teaching. So we just wanted our kids to get into a better school, where they were getting the education that they needed. So that's one reason why I sent mine down there.
Ms. Lawrence:I remember telling, you telling me before about the history curriculum. Um, that it changed a little bit. Could you just remark, well, that basically there used to be black history taught in the black only schools, but then, when -
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yeah, I think you were asking me one time about what type of books did we have, when I was growing up in school. Well you know, we did have black history, but it was only in the black schools. Because they didn't have too many black history books in the white schools. And then we had regular books like math, english, literature.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember what literature you read, in high school?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes I should. Oh my goodness.
Ms. Lawrence:That's a very detailed question. (Laughter)
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah it is! (Laughter)
Ms. Lawrence:Just curious.
Mrs. Brooks:Not off the top of my mind. I guess I can't think right now but I sure read aplenty of it.
Ms. Lawrence:So were you or friends you have here involved in the civil rights activity in Charlottesville?
Mrs. Brooks:Was any of my friends involved in it? Well, not that I can recall.
Ms. Lawrence:You were going to mention your mother's work with the Van Cliefs. You want to just detail that for the record?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes. I guess I should have said that along with the others. But yes, my mother did work in the later years now she worked at the Van Clief's estate, in the laundry department I would say. He had a place up there that was huge and he hired a lot of people, he had different departments that you could work, so she was working with the laundry.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. Where is that estate?
Mrs. Brooks:It's just up the road here. When you get to the crossroad up here, well it's just right over there.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. Did only -?
Mrs. Brooks:Well I guess I need to back up. He had another - I think that the Van Clief estate I'm talking about, I think that it was over at a place called Nydrie.
Ms. Lawrence:Could you spell that?
Mrs. Brooks:It's N.Y.D. -
Ms. Lawrence:Oh! R.I.E.?
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah.
Ms. Lawrence:'Cause I think I saw it on the road coming here.
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah, N.Y.D.R.I.E. or something like that. But anyway, that's where I think they had most of their help and most of his - he just hired a lot of people here in Esmont and everywhere. I guess he was about the only man around here that was rich enough to do that. So that was at Nydrie. But Woodville I think they call it now, that's the house that's up here right across from the crossroad up here.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. They moved there later?
Mrs. Brooks:They moved there later.
Ms. Lawrence:At Nydrie, was that surrounded by other white houses?
Mrs. Brooks:Well no, I don't think it was any other houses around there.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. It was just so big.
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm, it was just them. But anyway, my mother worked there for a while. She worked there until she died.
Ms. Lawrence:How'd she like working for them?
Mrs. Brooks:Who me?
Ms. Lawrence:How did she like working for them?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, well she liked it. Because she was used to taking in laundry in the house anyway, so she was well familiar with the work. Then there were other ladies too that worked there. And he employed a lot of people in this area. That was the only place you could find work to do.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm. Aside from the slate quarry?
Mrs. Brooks:Mm-hm.
Ms. Lawrence:Did people have a good impression of him as an employer?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, because he was really good to his people. I mean, at Christmas time he would give them a lot of things.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm. Bonuses?
Mrs. Brooks:Bonuses I think. And then everybody would get a big basket, just filled up with all kinds of goodies - cakes and nuts and candy and ham. Turkeys too I guess. So he was good to his help.
Ms. Lawrence:Was there a lot of competition to try to work there?
Mrs. Brooks:Was there a lot of competition? Oh I don't think so. Because he had maids, butlers, cooks, he just had everything that you could name.
Ms. Lawrence:Wow.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes.
Ms. Lawrence:Now um -
Mrs. Brooks:I guess they got along all right (Chuckle).
Ms. Lawrence:(Chuckle) Did your father ever work there?
Mrs. Brooks:No my father never did work there. Just my mother.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember if your mother - when she gave birth to all of you - if she had a midwife or went to a hospital?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, all of us were born right over there in that family home next door. And she had a midwife each time.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember who they were?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes. I remember one was my cousin that used to live right across the road here, my father's neice. Cousin Beatrice Swan.
Ms. Lawrence:Hmm. Is that with two "N"s?
Mrs. Brooks:Just one I think. I think she was the main one. Every time my mother was getting ready to have - of course I only remember the two younger brothers - she would send us away from home when she was getting ready to have a baby.
Ms. Lawrence:She didn't want you to hear her yelling!
Mrs. Brooks:I'm telling you. That must have been tough during that time. To be at home. Wow, I don't know how they stood it.
Ms. Lawrence:I don't know. Do you know anything about the midwife, like the actual process that she used, what she used, medicines, you know -
Mrs. Brooks:Well, I don't know. The only thing I can remember was she needed some hot water.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm, cleaning up.
Mrs. Brooks:I guess so. That's the only thing I can remember is the hot water. And so when we come back home we had a brother (Chuckle), and as for my older sisters I guess it was a sister or brother. (Chuckle) Oh dear.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you remember if the midwife came before the actual time of birth at all during the pregnancy.
Mrs. Brooks:No, uh-huh.
Ms. Lawrence:It was just at the moment.
Mrs. Brooks:It was just at that moment as far as I can remember.
Ms. Lawrence:And then you got married in your late thirties early forties. And your husband's name? I think you already actually told me.
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah his name was Edward Thomas Brooks.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. And you had one son, is that right?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, just one son. He was born in 1960. At the Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville.
Ms. Lawrence:What was his name?
Mrs. Brooks:His name was Edward Rydell Brooks.
[refridgerator makes noise]
Ms. Lawrence:Oops that was the fridgerator.
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I know what I meant to tell you.
Ms. Lawrence:Rydell? Is that R.Y. -?
Mrs. Brooks:D.E.L.L.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay, okay. All right.
Mrs. Brooks:So I just had the one son.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. Well Mrs. Brooks, is there anything else you would like to share with us? Stories, events, things that are just miscellaneous, like, I don't know, your walks to school, any odd episodes occur on your walks to school?
Mrs. Brooks:(Chuckling) Oh dear, all I know is we had to walk to school every day. Two miles each way. And I mean, the roads weren't paved like they are now. They were - when it rained it was muddy, and when it was dry it was dusty, so we had to walk it twice a day.
Ms. Lawrence:What'd you do about the mud? What kind of shoes did you have?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I guess we wore what you called galoshes - people used to call those things galoshes (Laughter) - I guess the kids wouldn't wear those things today!
Mrs. Brooks:Well sometimes we didn't want to wear them, but we had to. You would get dirty before you get to school. So anyhow, when we came back home we would have to take off those things and wash them and dry them by the stove and wear them the next day. Some things. Yeah, because you know, we didn't have a lot of things. Parents had so many children you just didn't have a lot of changes of clothes so you had to wash some things when you get back home and dry them by the wood stove and wear them the next day.
Ms. Lawrence:Did all the children wash their own clothes?
Mrs. Brooks:Well, the younger ones didn't. The older ones mostly did. Sometimes my parents would do it. So that's the way that was.
Ms. Lawrence:How'd you take baths?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh, well, we used to have a big, round, tin tub. It was a good size tub, and we used to take baths in that. Of course we had to bring water for that.
Ms. Lawrence:I was gonna ask.
Mrs. Brooks:You can imagine bringing enough water for all of us to take a bath.
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah. And heating it up.
Mrs. Brooks:And heating it up, right. Now during that time, most of the older people had, what you call a boiler, on the end of the stove. Something like a tank. And they would keep that full of water and of course they used nothing but wood then because they didn't have electric stoves. And they had to keep those stoves going all day long for cooking and ironing and that water just stayed warm all - and they were big tanks that was on the end of the stove. I guess you could buy the whole thing like that. So that's the way we heated the water a lot of times. Of course we had to wash [clothes] in the tub, had to bathe in the tub since that's all we had. I can tell you a joke but I don't think that it happened - I know it didn't happen in our family - but I always heard that people who had large families - I mean real large families - said that they would let the kids wash in the same water, more than one kid wash in the same water. (Chuckle) I don't know whether that really happened but I have heard that before.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. Maybe at least they reheated it. (Chuckle)
Mrs. Brooks:Maybe they did. Let's hope so. (Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:Brr!
Mrs. Brooks:Oh we just hope so anyway.
Ms. Lawrence:Can I ask you just one last kind of general question about Esmont, the Esmont community and how many white homes there were in the Esmont community, like compared to the black homes. Were there, was there a sharp division and how often did you see other white people when you went into town for instance, to the stores?
Mrs. Brooks:When you went into what town?
Ms. Lawrence:Into Esmont.
Mrs. Brooks:Into Esmont town?
Ms. Lawrence:Yeah. This is when you're growing up.
Mrs. Brooks:Oh, well, I must say that when I was growing up there were no white people living up here. All the white people lived in the Lower Esmont.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes. And it was nothing but black people up here, up on this end. So you didn't see too many white people, except you went to the post office for something. Or went down there to one of the stores to get something, like the C.C. Steed store. Our parents used to send us down there. A friend of mine and I, we used to go down there. Our parents would give us a list. And we would take it to Mr. Steed and he would pack up the stuff and let us bring it back home. Believe it or not we had to walk through the woods then, to get to his store. They had paths and things through the woods during that time. And I know Bernice and I, we used to walk to Mr. Steed's store and get the things that our parents wanted us to get. And -
Ms. Lawrence:So it was a shortcut?
Mrs. Brooks:It was a shortcut I guess. We could have gone down I guess and went down route 6 but it was a shortcut through the woods. So anyway, at that time, people weren't afraid to walk in the woods. But you wouldn't dare do that now, that's right.
Ms. Lawrence:Do you think there was a reason, if it - I guess it was a shortcut - but -
Mrs. Brooks:Well it was a shortcut.
Ms. Lawrence:And there were no other houses in the woods?
Mrs. Brooks:I can only remember one house we used to pass. His name was Andrew Waynes.
Ms. Lawrence:Rain like rainfall?
Mrs. Brooks:Waynes, no Waynes, W.A.Y.N.E.S.
Ms. Lawrence:Oh, I'm sorry, mm-hm. Was he white or black?
Mrs. Brooks:He was black. I remember passing his house. I think he was about the only one that we would pass. But this was a predominantly black neighborhood up here. And now it's almost equal - black and white.
Ms. Lawrence:Were there any places in Esmont that your parents cautioned you to stay away from?
Mrs. Brooks:Any places?
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm.
Mrs. Brooks:I don't know.
Ms. Lawrence:For physical reasons, like a dangerous something, anything.
Mrs. Brooks:Oh, oh yes, something like that. Well the only thing that pops out in my mind right now is that when we used to go - well I guess when we used to go down in the Lower Part of Esmont there was an old quarry over there that we had to pass. And I know they used to tell us not to go near that place.
Ms. Lawrence:Was it full of water?
Mrs. Brooks:It had water in it, yeah, because I know some of the kids would be devilish enough to throw rocks in it. So that's the only thing I can remember that we were cautioned not to go near or not to be in that area.
Ms. Lawrence:Would neighbors and other children's parents supervise you when you were playing? Was it only your parents or was it kind of a neighborhood thing?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, I can tell you something about that. Well, during that time, if you were visiting your neighbors' children, and if something went wrong or if you did something you shouldn't have done, sometimes those parents at that time they didn't mind whipping you. And then they would tell your parents and when you got back home you would get another one. (Laughter)
Ms. Lawrence:Oh no! Double jeopardy! (Laughter)
Mrs. Brooks:Yeah, that's right. (Laughter) But nowadays, it doesn't work like that, because it seems like parents do not want you to tell them anything about their child. Seems like they just don't accept it too well.
Ms. Lawrence:So it was different back then?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes it was. I think kids would be better now if, you know, they were supervised by other parents and other leaders of the community.
Ms. Lawrence:Who did you think of as leaders of the community?
Mrs. Brooks:Well, I thought of the people, maybe for instance, well the people who were deacons of the church, and ministers, and then we had some people that who was great leaders in this community. They were great leaders politically. They would take a part in a lot of political things that was going on. And we would just sort of look up to people like that.
Ms. Lawrence:Mm-hm. What did you think of the Benjamin Yancey family?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh I thought they were very nice people. Yes. Like I said, Mr. Yancey, he was the principal of the school down there for a long time. I remember his wife, she was very nice. She also belonged to the Household of Ruth that I was telling you about. We always looked up to those - at that time, she was older than I was so we always looked up to people like that. Then at some point in time they moved away.
Ms. Lawrence:So because she was older, did you socialize with her?
Mrs. Brooks:No we didn't socialize with her, we just, you know, go to that meeting together. We all met at the Household of Ruth at the same time. But as socializing went, we would see her at church, but we didn't do any visiting like that.
Ms. Lawrence:Who did you do visiting with?
Mrs. Brooks:Well mostly my relatives. Mostly relatives, cousins, aunts and uncles. I had some aunts that lived out in the Keene area. I had uncles that lived here in Esmont. And then we had good neighbors. I would visit my neighbors friends, especially the ones that was my age.
Ms. Lawrence:Was your mother friends with those women too?
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, uh-huh, she and Mrs. Lillian Nelson were great friends. And I was a friend to her children. We all played together. Then I had a cousin that lived not too far from here, cousin John Bolden. He had children and one of his daughters and I, we were around the same age, we graduated the same year, Calista Bolden [married name Carty]. She lives in New Jersey now. So, we all played together.
Ms. Lawrence:Well I'll ask you again, 'cause like we kind of got off on other subjects, but any other memories?
Mrs. Brooks:My son Ed, he graduated from Albemarle High School in 1978. And after graduating from there he went to the University of Wisconsin, at Milwaukee. He was a person that loved basketball, so he was trying to pursue a basketball career. Someone had mentioned that, you know, had mentioned Milwaukee. I think that was one reason he went there. So he stayed there two years, and then he ended up going to Clarendon, Texas, to the college down there, Clarendon College in Texas. And he stayed there one year. Then he decided to come back to the East Coast.
Ms. Lawrence:Back to mom.
Mrs. Brooks:Back to mom. And he graduated from the University College of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, in 1982. He majored in the field of communication. He was always a courageous and adventurous person, he loved to travel. So then after graduating from college he moved to Washington. He worked there for a while at a radio station called W.U.S.T. That was in Washington.
Ms. Lawrence:Does he have a deep voice? (said in a deep voice)
Mrs. Brooks:Yes uh-huh, yes he does. Then he decided to marry. He met a girl in college, in Buffalo, New York. He met Tracey Lynne Surgeon. And they got married. She was from Hyattsville, Maryland. And after marrying her they bought a home in Silver Spring, Maryland. And they stayed there for a while. They had one child born there, Charles, the oldest one, he was born in Maryland. Then they decided to move back to Virginia.
Ms. Lawrence:Yay!
Mrs. Brooks:Uh-huh, they came back and they lived in Charlottesville and then Kenton was born. He was the second boy. And then in a few more years, they had a little girl and her name is Carla. Tracey worked at the C. & P. Telephone Company in Maryland. She graduated as a computer programmer. So now C. & P. Telephone Company where she worked in Maryland is called Bell Atlantic. So that's what her major was, computer programmer. So after they moved back to Charlottesville, and the three kids were born, well they lived in Charlottesville for a while. Ed did some communication at the radio station over there for a while. He worked at his major. And then, I guess being young, and with a family, those radio station didn't pay enough money, so he tried to get another job, and so he applied for State Farm Insurance company. That's where he works now. And he works in the department of public affairs. After leaving Charlottesville, they moved back to Esmont and they built a home very close to me, just down the hill a little ways.
Ms. Lawrence:Great, great. You get to see the grandkids, all the time.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes I see them. So now all the kids are in school. Charles is the oldest and he's 16. He goes to Monticello. And Kenton is 12 and he goes to Walton. And Carla is 9 and she still goes to B.F. Yancey. Okay. So I guess that's -
Ms. Lawrence:And they'll have a whole other history to relate someday.
Mrs. Brooks:Oh yes, that's right.
Ms. Lawrence:They already do have their little, their short history.
Mrs. Brooks:Charles will be graduating in [one more year]. And he's very good in computing. He's really good with the computer system.
Ms. Lawrence:Well that's the -
Mrs. Brooks:That's the thing -
Ms. Lawrence:That's the thing these days.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes it is.
Ms. Lawrence:Hey I'm not sure I got the date of your birthday, did you say when you were born?
Mrs. Brooks:Oh, did I? No I think I didn't say that. I was born November the ninth, 1928.
Ms. Lawrence:Okay. We got it down.
Mrs. Brooks:(Chuckle)
Ms. Lawrence:All right. I believe I have to -
Mrs. Brooks:Go.
Ms. Lawrence:I have to go!
Mrs. Brooks:Well I guess you have covered -
Ms. Lawrence:Thank you so much!
Mrs. Brooks:I guess you have covered all the information you need?
Ms. Lawrence:I think we covered a lot.
Mrs. Brooks:Yes, yes.
(End of Interview)

Copyright Information:
Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia
This interview is publically accessible
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