George Drossos, The Thacker Family, Mrs. Webb and Benny Bearskin discuss living in Chicago
BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 01:00:29
The third program of "Division Street: America" features four profiles: George Drossos, an elderly, Greek man, the Thacker family who recently moved to Chicago, Mrs. Webb, a corner store owner and Native American Benny Bearskin. George Drossos talks about first moving to Chicago and getting acclimated to the city. He recalls visiting other states for a month and then having that feeling of "nostos," or wanting to return home to Chicago. A mother of 15 children and 21 grandchildren, Mrs. Thacker said she doesn't like all the hoodlum business that goes on in Chicago. Thacker said we live in a very, very sinful world and that one day, she hopes her children and grandchildren grow up in a peaceful world. Nineteen-year-old Danny Thacker hopes to be an electrical engineer one day. He talks about how he works 9 hours a day, how he needs to let off some steam from work and then he says his routine is pretty much the same daily. Mrs. Webb lives in a room behind their corner store. She says she doesn't get out much because she hears that purses get stolen and one can get whopped in the head. Webb says she tries to get along with everyone but that she gets really mad when kids swipe items out of her store without paying for them. Benny Bearskin said he moved to Chicago from Nebraska because here in Chicago, he would receive 50 paychecks a year. Being a Native American, Bearskin said he didn't encountered any racism at the different places he worked because they were only concerned with job performance. For Bearskin, being a Native American Indian, he explained, is a great source of pride.
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Studs Terkel Tonight the third program of "Voices from Division Street America", four profiles: an elderly Greek teacher who has lived in Chicago for many years, an Appalachian family recently arrived, another Appalachian family here for a number of years, and an American Indian living in Chicago. The theme: Home, homesickness and adjustment. In a moment after a word from our sponsors. [pause in recording] George Drossos has lived in Chicago many years. He had been principal of the Socrates School, a Greek school in Chicago, in the area once known as Greek Town, along the Harrison-Halsted neighborhood. With urban renewal, this community disappeared. And Mr. Drossos, who teaches as well on the West Side High School, along with other fellow Greeks, has moved to the far West Side, a middle-class area. We're seated in a bakery shop that too had been transplanted from Greektown, and he is reflecting as the automobiles outside whizzes by.
George Drossos We Greeks most of all things like, love, nostos. N-O-S-T-O-S means the feeling you have when you return to your country. All, for all these thousands of years the Greeks held that feeling most near to their heart. So from that comes the word nostalgia. When you feel pain because you cannot return, nostalgia. And in Greek, anything that is sweet, nice, good taste, we call nostimo. It partakes of nostos, or the feeling of Nostos. So we Greeks, when we settled down there in that part of the city which we called Greek Town, we felt like we were in our country. We gathered together, especially the so-called intellectuals, we gathered together and we called that "the Academy," and we spoke and we discussed all subjects, from politics to philosophy to anything. We are dispersed now. All over. We are in the diaspora now. And we can't see each other. Now, two times a week I go down Halsted. Tuesday evenings like tonight, and Friday evenings to meet some old friends there. We meet in a coffeehouse there and then we go to one of the restaurants and eat together and feel like old times.
Studs Terkel So you live, you yourself live on this West Side area of Chicago, and out outside the buildings you see more neat and beautiful scene that way than the old area. You go back to the old area for the feeling of nostos.
George Drossos Yes. To meet my old friends and talk to them, but it isn't the same, but in a miniature. So when you went out there you could see your friends. You would go to a Greek restaurant and eat, you could go and in a place and find people that you would talk with and understand each other. Here, you feel like a stranger. You know, it is a calamity for a person who leaves his country of birth and goes abroad, goes away. He's a stranger here where he goes and if he goes back, he'll again be a stranger there. So he's the man without a country.
Studs Terkel Except for that one community that was ended, where you found nostos, here on the West
George Drossos There, yes. You didn't feel so bad, but now you feel
Studs Terkel And now you're once more a stranger.
George Drossos Yes.
Studs Terkel You feel now, this is the question. Don't think about it. Do you feel at this moment of your life as you live in this new community with your fellow Greeks around in this new area, do you have the same kind of feeling as when you left home to go to Constantinople?
George Drossos No, not much, not as much. Then I was a boy, you know, it was different. That broke my heart.
Studs Terkel When you first came to America?
George Drossos When I first came to America, well I was in new country, a new thing, new feelings. I had to acclimatize myself here. I had to take root here. I had to do things here. So I was busy doing things.
Studs Terkel What was your first feeling of Chicago? Your early memories of the city? Do
George Drossos Oh, well, Chicago. Well, I liked it the way I said before, and sometimes in the summer I would take a trip to go to other states. And stayed for say a month or so, and then I felt the nostos for Chicago. I wanted to come back to Chicago.
Studs Terkel Tell me, in teaching Greek in school in here, years have elapsed. Do the Greek children, second and third generation, are they proud? In many children of foreign parents, some are ashamed of their heritage. How, it comes down to
George Drossos It all depends on the family background. Some of them who come of the week, conscientious families, people who understand, well they have that feeling.
Studs Terkel Right.
George Drossos But others don't care very much. Well, it's the Greeks have a long tradition, you know, they're proud of their history and their tradition, and they try to follow the example of their ancestors, you know. They've shown us, they've shown that during the last wars you know, and always.
Studs Terkel Has the thought of going back, have you ever gone back to your hometown, to
George Drossos Never. Never. I cannot go back to my hometown. That's one thing that keeps me back. If I could go back to my hometown, [30?] now, and we're not supposed to go back. We can go back for a visit. But to go back to my hometown, for instance, I, I would be afraid to go. I don't know what will happen to me. It's all Turks there now. Sometimes I dream of going back, and those are very happy moments for me. I remember when I left my little town, I was a little boy to go to Constantinople to start studying there, well I, I felt, I wanted to cry, but I kept myself, I didn't, I just want to be courageous, and held it back. And as soon as the boat departed and my parents and the others went away, then I started crying to myself. I
Studs Terkel remember You remember that very well.
George Drossos That's a bitter feeling when one leaves his own surroundings, his own country.
Studs Terkel Nostos.
George Drossos Nostos again. Yes. I would like to -- peace to prevail all over the world first, then I would like my native land would be free, so I could go there and contemplate those old days when I was a child there and was happy and because now wherever you go, you're not safe. You're not in peace. If history [were?] all over the world, and sanity, good judgment prevails, then everybody will be happy I think. Everybody would find his way.
Studs Terkel In the full sense, it is nostos you seek.
George Drossos But nostos is the most
Studs Terkel Nostos.
George Drossos Nostos, yes. I, I can't ever have that. Only in dreams I have it. [tape stops,
Studs Terkel The Thackers are an Appalachian family. Are recently arrived in Chicago. They live in Uptown. They came from Pikeville, Kentucky, population 2500, a played-out mining town. Mrs. Thacker and her husband, as well as her son Danny Paul Gates, are seated in the room of their flat. A mother and son are reflecting until toward the end, Mr. Thacker says a word. This somewhere in the vicinity of Wilson Avenue.
Mrs. Thacker Danny came to Chicago two years before we did, Danny and his brothers, and then we followed in September. We've been here, Mr. Thacker and myself, he's their stepfather, since September.
Studs Terkel So last September.
Mrs. Thacker Yes.
Studs Terkel How old would you be, Danny?
Studs Terkel Nineteen. You've been in Chicago now two years.
Studs Terkel I'm asking you off the bat, what are your feelings?
Danny Paul Gates Well, it's a place where you can labor and work and make a living at, and we can all live here if we all, after we got up here, we all can live and have better things in life than we did down home.
Studs Terkel You happier here than you were in Pikeville?
Danny Paul Gates Well no, it's my hometown down there, and so I feel more at home down there and I know more things to do down there than I do up here, and hunting and fishing, you go any time down there, and up here you have to go out of the city for it, so I reckon I feel more at home down there than I do up here.
Studs Terkel As Danny was talking, Mrs. Thacker, as he was saying, your feelings. I know you've been up here just six months, but your feelings, even in the six months about this city. What's your first reaction to Chicago?
Mrs. Thacker Well, I'm very well satisfied with Chicago. Of course, I don't know too much about it, I don't get out very much. But I like down south the best. I like the south the best, and I just, well, Chicago I don't like this hoodlum business that goes on in Chicago because I'm always afraid the boys'll get out and get into trouble, and down home we don't -- that's [quietest?] place on Earth, we don't have such as that. Very seldom we ever have such as that going on, you know. Somebody being cut all to pieces or shot or something like that.
Danny Paul Gates I think it's so many people have -- young boys away from their own hometown such as myself, and know the mother isn't up here with them and things, I think that has most to do with it.
Studs Terkel Is it sort of a boredom or loneliness, is that it, do you think,
Danny Paul Gates Yeah, they haven't got nothing else to do besides run the streets. They don't have no mother at home to keep their house clean and have their meals ready when they come in, so they go out, maybe spend a couple of bucks with, after they, even when they get off work and mess around like that, that's what I think it mostly is.
Studs Terkel What about the fellows you know? Do you have friends here in Chicago?
Danny Paul Gates Yes, I have a few friends. They all seem to be swell people, and they never into anything like that that I know of, and we mostly run around maybe nine or ten o'clock at night's the most we ever stay [up?]. We have a good time at the movies and bowling.
Studs Terkel Are they from south?
Danny Paul Gates Yes, sir, they are, most of them. I have a few from up here.
Mrs. Thacker As far as living here, I like it. All right. I can live anywhere my children is. I'm a mother of 15
Studs Terkel Oh, you have 15. Where -- how many are here with you?
Mrs. Thacker I have four here in Chicago, and this one in Detroit. No, they're all over the world. I've got 'em scattered everywhere, I have. I've got fourteen living now and they're all boys but two.
Studs Terkel Oh, 13 boys and two girls.
Mrs. Thacker Thirteen boys and two girls.
Studs Terkel And some Army and Navy, or, any still got
Mrs. Thacker -- [I have one in the Navy?], one in the Army, one in Korea, and one in Massachusetts.
Studs Terkel Any still back home?
Mrs. Thacker No, just one daughter-in-law back home is all.
Studs Terkel Otherwise everybody left.
Mrs. Thacker Everybody's gone.
Studs Terkel Do you still keep in touch with Pikeville?
Mrs. Thacker Oh yes, yeah, all my friends are down there. Yes, I write home. I get in touch with home.
Studs Terkel That's interesting, your mother, Mrs. Thacker, you're Danny's mother. You said "home." She spoke of Pikeville as home.
Danny Paul Gates Yes, it seems more like home to me, too, but we -- here in Chicago now and I imagine it's -- we'll stay here for now, but I reckon Pikeville will always be our home.
Mrs. Thacker That's why we always say "home." When we talk about home, we always think Pikeville.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Always will be, I suppose. Do you know your neighbors here?
Mrs. Thacker Few. Know a few neighbors. Up here. I don't get out very much, and I don't know too many people. A lot of the people from down home, sometime I see them, sometime I don't.
Studs Terkel I was going to ask you a question. When you were a little girl in Pikeville, what did you want to be? Remember?
Mrs. Thacker What did I want to be? Well, when I saw a little girl I always wanted to be a nurse, I always had that in my mind to be a nurse, and I'd still like to be, but I'm too old now, you know. Now I'd like to be a cross-country diesel engine driver. Truck driver. No, that's what I'd like to be now, but I'm too old.
Studs Terkel You'd like to drive a locomotive. A diesel. Not a lo-- a diesel. Why do you say you're too old? You're not very old, Mrs. Thacker.
Mrs. Thacker I figure someday to get to take a trip across the country in one of those diesels. I won't get to drive it, but I might take
Studs Terkel You like to sit in the in the cabin?
Mrs. Thacker Go across the country with it. That's my dream.
Studs Terkel You had to leave school early, did you?
Mrs. Thacker Oh, yes. I married young.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Mrs. Thacker Yeah, I married young.
Studs Terkel Did you get to high school?
Mrs. Thacker I was in first-year high school.
Studs Terkel 'Cause you're 19, Dan Gates. When you were very little in Pikeville, what sort of dream would you have?
Danny Paul Gates Well, I was mostly wanting to be a electrical engineer all my life. I don't imagine I being ever been that field of work, so from now I guess I work in factories or maybe someday go the service and make a career out of it. And that's most of my dream now.
Studs Terkel Well, you're only 19. There's still.
Danny Paul Gates Well, I imagine I'll wait 'til they call me into the service before I'd go in and spend the rest
Studs Terkel No, I was talking about electrical engineering. I didn't mean to say -- I meant, about your dream can be realized, what I meant to say.
Danny Paul Gates Well, it seems not to interest me too much anymore after I got up here and had other things to think about it, doesn't really interest me anymore.
Studs Terkel Well, let's see, you were so young when you came, you were 17 when you came here. So, you didn't do your -- when did you have to quit school?
Danny Paul Gates Well, I didn't have to quit school. I could have went on to school, I could still be going to school if I wanted to, but no one ever could tell me anything, so I just up and quit.
Studs Terkel Oh, is that it? What, somewhere in eighth grade, around there?
Danny Paul Gates Yeah. But now I wished I'd a went on to school because a lot of places they, that's the first thing they asked you anymore is education. I've had several jobs, and that was the first thing they've asked me, for my education record. And so now I wished I could have been on to school. Wished I would've gone on to school.
Studs Terkel What are you doing now?
Danny Paul Gates Right now I'm a chock -- stock chaser. Just chasing stocks and fooling around with machines a little bit. And so I don't know when they're going to put me on a machine, they've been talking of it, but I don't be in town soon or not.
Studs Terkel I suppose you think of getting married, too, or.
Danny Paul Gates No sir, I'm not for sometimes yet. I think I'll stay single. I have more fun single than I would married.
Studs Terkel You know, a theme or subject that always comes up. We hear talk of, you're here in the city now, talk of the civil rights movement. what are your feelings? Mrs. Thacker. Feelings.
Mrs. Thacker Well, I'll tell you my feelings about it. I've got one son, him and me argue this all the time. I think I ain't got anything against the civil rights people, 'cause I tell you what, I've had boys in service all the time, and I think the colored people, the colored boys go some fights for us, they fight, and I tell you, I think they ought to have just about as much rights as we've got. If they go fight and lay down beside our boys, I say stand up with them here. That's the way I think about it. Of course, now I've got one boy, he's against it when I say anything like that, but I can't help it, I'll just tell you. You see them in service, you see them marching side by side, side by side. Well, all right, why are they -- if they're good enough to go there and march side-by-side with our boys, they ought to be good enough to march side-by-side here with them. I don't have, I don't hold anything against the colored people myself, 'course now, sometimes they do get unruly. They do do things that we don't like. You know that. But still, if they have to fight just like our boys, I think they ought to have the same rights of our boys.
Studs Terkel Well, that's interesting
Mrs. Thacker They have to die just like our boys has to die, and they've got a mother too, you know. And she has the same feeling for hers as I have for mine, even though she's Black and I'm white. And that's the way I feel that, I don't have [unintelligible] about it.
Studs Terkel Mrs. Thacker, [just is?] saying, you talk and you argue with one of your sons about that. I'm going to ask Danny. He's one of your sons.
Danny Paul Gates Well, I'll you. I never did had no trouble from them, I never did give them no trouble, and just like Mama says, if anything ever happens in Korea, Vietnam would have to take almost like and there'll be some there with me as well as they are of our race in there, that I don't know if we could get along if we -- if a big bunch of them run me out of town, I don't know if I'd get along with them or not.
Studs Terkel Do you have any colored friend?
Danny Paul Gates No, I don't have none. I've never associated with any.
Studs Terkel How would you feel, I'm ask you one, how would you feel if a colored family say moved into this block?
Danny Paul Gates Well, I know of one colored family, I've heard tell of one colored family move in this block. It doesn't bother me none, as long as they stay on their side of the street, and I'll stay on my side of the street.
Studs Terkel Well, suppose on the same side of the street.
Danny Paul Gates Well, then just -- I imagine we might be able to pass and get along pretty good, but.
Studs Terkel You said something, Mrs. Thacker, same sun would have to shine on both of them, and Danny used the word, he said "I guess I'd have to be pious," he said I'd have to be pious and get along. You a religious woman?
Mrs. Thacker No. I don't belong to the church.
Studs Terkel I think he used the word pious, and you said the same sun. That's kind of religious in its own way, isn't it?
Mrs. Thacker Yes, I guess so, but I don't-- I don't believe in fighting the colored people too hard, but I think they ought to stay in their place as Danny says, and.
Studs Terkel What about schools, say, colored and white children in the same school?
Mrs. Thacker No, I don't like that. I don't like that. I don't think they ought to go to school together, because well, I'm not used to it, 'cause down home they have their own schools and we have ours. See, they have as nice a schools as we do, or nicer. And I think they ought to go to their own schools, because majority places they do have their own schools, and they're just as
Studs Terkel You said something very interesting, Mrs. Thacker, you said you're not used to it. Remember that? You said, 'cause it's strange to you, is that the idea?
Mrs. Thacker Yes, it's, it's strange. It's strange. But, now we had one family that went to Indiana, and the children felt hard to, towards going to school with colored children, but they got used to it and they didn't mind it then after they got used to it. They said it didn't matter [then?]. And I guess it's just that you have to get used to them things. That's right, you just have to get used to those
Studs Terkel You mean like getting to know them perhaps, is that the idea? Do you ever have any -- do you know any, do you know any colored family in
Studs Terkel In Pikeville?
Mrs. Thacker No, I know several in West Virginia.
Studs Terkel Yeah?
Mrs. Thacker But not here, I don't know any colored
Studs Terkel What were they like?
Mrs. Thacker Oh they were all right. Best neighbor I ever had was a colored family. She always took good care of them, then when I was sick, down sick, and I was always on to her, we always [associated?]. Got along good.
Studs Terkel We'll come back to Mrs. Thacker and Danny. This matter of respect. That's kind of important, isn't it, I guess?
Danny Paul Gates Well, I always tried to respect my elders, but as I've been walking down streets I've heard, well, other kids, other boys my age talking about the people elder than they are and things and I don't see no sense in it myself, but I have seen it done a few times around here, and down home occasionally, just very seldom that you find a young man that didn't have respect for his mother and father. The older people. 'Cause down there they try to teach you more respect for the elder people than -- I reckon that after the boys gets up here they think they're [ahead?] or something, you know. So I guess that I've -- there've been a few cases I know of people who hadn't had respect for older people. This -- for instance, there was an old man walking down the street I know of, and he was fairly well crippled up, and I knowed that some guys jerked his hat off and ran around with it, and I don't feel that was the right thing to do to the old man.
Studs Terkel Now, what is your feeling about the young people today, Mrs. Thacker?
Mrs. Thacker Well, I just couldn't tell you. It just looks like they're -- I don't know. They just don't know where they're going. They, they live too fast. Too dangerously. They, they just figure they ain't -- they're not afraid or something, I don't what's wrong with them.
Studs Terkel What should they be afraid of, you think?
Mrs. Thacker Well, see a majority of them want to fight all the time or something. I don't see no cause for that. And this gangster, these gangs. I don't see no cause for these gangs a-fighting and a-cutting one another up all the time that you read about and hear about.
Studs Terkel What do you think, Danny? What do you think makes them do it?
Danny Paul Gates Well, I think it's loneliness. Just like I said before, it's where they up here by theyself, then maybe they get out and drink a couple of beers and maybe they've tried to grow up too fast like I had from one time, I thought, well, when I quit school I thought, "Well, it's time for me to quit school. I know as much as anybody else, and I can do a man's work." But really they come up here too soon. Some of them did, which I did at the time. Nobody couldn't tell no difference, and they miss their own home. And so that's about all they do is run around in a gang. I know like maybe five or six guys from they're the same hometown and gets together, and they're considered as a gang, and when one of them gets in a scrap, well all of them's going to help the other one, that comes natural, that that's that's about it.
Mrs. Thacker As Danny Paul says, the boys did have gangs they run with together back home, but they didn't do no fighting and cutting and carrying on like that, that they have in the big city.
Danny Paul Gates From time to time I've worked with people that's even said they ought to take sub-Thompsons and walk up and down the street and shoot all the hoods off, that and throw them in jail, that ain't no way to treat them, I think they should have more recreation than what they do have. I mean, anybody can go to a bowling alley and bowl, but while they're down there how many beers they're going to drink and things like that. And so you get tired of doing the same thing all the time. They should have more recreation. I don't think half this stuff would take place if they had maybe someplace else to go or something else to do. And 'cause I know I get bored of going bowling or shooting pool or going to the movie all the time myself, and so I think that more recreation would take the biggest part of that stuff out I think. And so if we had more recreation I believe it would take -- well, for boys my age to go to. I mean, after all, they aren't looking at a movie to go see, I mean, you seen the same movie maybe twiced [sic] or something. That ain't no fun to go back to see the movie.
Studs Terkel Well, what kind of recreation would you suggest
Danny Paul Gates If they had a place to swim through the winter, places to go, that they could -- that they could afford, you know it's in their class, and they'd have -- well, maybe like a rifle range someplace. I know I like to use guns myself. If we had a small rifle range or something like that, we can go out and shoot a few shots, that'd take attention off of a man's mind a lot.
Studs Terkel We hear talk on television or see it, you know, about the bomb, ever hear talk about that bomb, that H-bomb? Has that ever bother you?
Mrs. Thacker No, I never think about that. 'Cause if it's coming, we're going to get it. So, if you let it worry you, you just can't let it worry
Studs Terkel You mean, it's going happen, it's going to happen.
Mrs. Thacker That's right. It's going to happen, it's going
Studs Terkel You figure, well, what can you do about it? You figure
Mrs. Thacker What can I do about it? That's right. I'm just little in the picture. I couldn't do anything about it. And why let it worry me? I've got one over in Korea now. I just don't figure that it pays a little person like me to worry about it. We can't do nothing about it.
Danny Paul Gates That isn't the biggest thing on my mind. I very seldom think of that. I think of that when they talk of war, will they ever use atomic power in this war. But it seems not think about that too much because I know I'm going to be with it if it's going to happen. But the biggest thing on my mind is well, I work nine hours a day and I come home and tensions build up. That I don't know how to get it out sometimes, so it's the biggest thing that worries me.
Studs Terkel Ease the tension from every day, just try to make a living.
Danny Paul Gates Of every day from day to day, different things.
Mrs. Thacker It's a very sinful world, very, very sinful world. Yes. It's -- I think we're living in the latter days of time. The Bible speaks of things that the Bible's fulfilling day by day. It tells you these things, these things that's happening today. From time to time.
Studs Terkel You think, you think then the world may come to an end?
Mrs. Thacker I don't think it'd be too many awful long, 'cause the -- these, a lot of things happened the Bible speaks of. [sudden
Studs Terkel There's a, there's a new voice in the world. That your grandchild? Oh, gee, wonderful.
Mrs. Thacker I have 21 grandchildren.
Studs Terkel You just said something, Mrs. Thacker, you have 21 grandchildren. And we heard the wonderful lusty voice of one of them a moment ago across the room, and you said that it's a sinful world, you know, it may come to an end, and yet isn't this a contradiction? Don't you have hope too, with the very fact that these 21 have come into the world? Isn't it kind of a sign of hope?
Mrs. Thacker Yes, that's kind a sign of hope, but you know when you read your Bible, you've got to look up to it, you know that. You know that. And so that's why I look at this. It's fulfilling fast.
Studs Terkel What about this 21? Innocents.
Mrs. Thacker Well, they'll have to suffer just like anyone else if the end of time comes and they're not ready to go.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about us now, right now thinking of all us poor mortals. Bound to die, born to die, and yet we're also, aren't we born to live, too?
Mrs. Thacker No. We're born to die. Man wasn't born to live, we's born to die. No, we don't want to rush it, but when our time comes, we're going.
Studs Terkel What kind of world would you like to see them live in when they grow up?
Mrs. Thacker I'd like to see them in a peaceful world. I'd like to see a peaceful world, and stop this fighting and all that. And stop our boys are having to go oversea and getting killed, and for nothing.
Studs Terkel Danny? What do you think? What's your -- do you ever think, 19, is that bother you too, the fact that you're 19 and the fighting in Vietnam?
Danny Paul Gates Well, no sir. I think that's more in my advantage, I'm still yet a young man and I think my reactions at 19 and 20 and 21 would be better in that situation, but Vietnam, yeah, I do think about it pretty often, I sort of pick up a paper every now and then, or listen to the news about it. But as far as going [over there?] and dying, I think a man is -- every man, even though if he's a sinner or a Christian, he looks forward to his judgment. And so I figure, if he's in Vietnam, that's his duty to die. And so I -- I figure every man looks forward to his judgment.
Mr. Thacker Let
Mr. Thacker What if, that a boy is called to service, he goes to, he kills, he killed someone. Now, what would that be in sight of the Lord?
Studs Terkel That's a good question. What do you think?
Mr. Thacker I think the [fellow?] that called him, the people that forced him into it would have to serve the consequences there or face judgment there. This boy. For this boy, calling him, forcing him in there, and he goes there and he's forced to kill.
Mrs. Thacker They're forced to kill. They have to kill or be killed. And I think I think it's I think the same way about that. The one sends him to war is guilty.
Studs Terkel Mr. and Mrs. Webb have lived in Chicago for many years. They came from Tennessee. They're the proprietors of a grocery store on the Northwest Side of the city. Now, the area is polyglot in nature. Many ethnic groups as well as newly-arrived Appalachians. Mr. Webb has a job in a factory. It's Mrs. Webb who runs the store. They live in the rear.
Mrs. Webb I guess I've worked all my life, ever since I've been big enough, so that's all I think about doing.
Studs Terkel What [does it feel?] to own your own business?
Mrs. Webb Well, I wouldn't know what to do without it now. You know? Sometimes you know I get the idea I'd like to sell it, and then I don't know. Even when I got ready to retire, I think I'd kind of want to keep the open two or three days a week anyway, just to see the people.
Studs Terkel What hours, what hours do you keep anyway?
Mrs. Webb Just any, any amount of hours that I can stay out there. You know, I'm getting older, you know. You can't put in the hours you used to.
Studs Terkel You say just to see the people. You like to be with people.
Mrs. Webb Some of them I like, some of them I don't. But I mean, I just like the public. The grownups, I don't have any trouble with them. I mean, I think they're pretty nice people around here. The children, they get awful aggravating, but the grown folks are not hard to get along with. I don't have any trouble with them at all. Never have much.
Studs Terkel How do the children get aggravating? What way? What do they do?
Mrs. Webb Well, I don't know. It seems like every year it rolls around they're worse about swiping things off of you, taking things from you, just aggravating you, and slamming the doors and hollering into the store or something like that. They used to didn't do that way so bad, but, I don't know, it seem like every year they get worse. Really. It's aggravating. I guess it's, you know, there's just more children or something other around. But I wouldn't allow them out on the street all time, and I think that's what's wrong with the children is coming up right today. Of course, I don't, I don't say these women drinks or anything, maybe their husband might go in the tavern or maybe they've got double jobs, you know. Maybe they work day and night. I mean, you know, working day and then at night these men and they're away from home. Well, some of these women, they just don't know how to get along if their husband's not there and they sit there and brood and maybe figure they're out with another woman or something other, they just don't pay attention to the children I figure. I don't know.
Studs Terkel Are the streets that bad? You said the people live out in the street. Do you worry about the streets of Chicago?
Mrs. Webb Well, I don't go out too much, but people tells me it's awfully bad out. 'Course, when I go I go in the car you know, and just come right in and put the car up and come back in, but I don't think I'd want to get too far away from home, out walking. That's the way that people are saying it's getting. I don't know, I don't get around that much.
Studs Terkel What do you think? What do they say? What kind?
Mrs. Webb Well, they snatch their purses and knock them in the head and beat them up and things like that. That's what they say. 'Course, this has never happened to me. And we've been here for 16 years. We've never been held up or robbed or anything. I spend an awful lot of time here by myself, you know. He works all day, and then lots of times he goes off and stays a week or two at a time, you know, when he's -- you know, not feeling good or something or other like that, he goes home. I stay here. I don't think about being afraid. But you never know what might happen.
Studs Terkel But you're not afraid.
Mrs. Webb No.
Studs Terkel For
Mrs. Webb No, I'm not afraid. I don't think anything about it. I just come back in here and lock all my doors and go to bed and don't, I don't even think of things, I -- he stayed in the hospital [56?] days, I was here every night by myself. I never thought anything about it. and I'm not afraid the children or anything around here.
Studs Terkel Why'd you choose Chicago?
Mrs. Webb Why? Well, I had a sister was here and she had a little baby and it was six months old, and I'd never seen it. So I just came to visit her and see the baby. Now the baby is back home, 22 years old. He's back in Tennessee, and so I'm still up here.
Studs Terkel Is it true a lot of people say from Tennessee or Kentucky still think of home
Mrs. Webb Oh yeah, yes, sir, I still refer to home. It'll be home as long as I live. It'll always be home. When I speak about home, I'm speaking of Tennessee.
Studs Terkel I was thinking, people ever tell you about their, the customers that come in, 'cause a lot of them talk to you a lot because you're very sociable, outgoing.
Mrs. Webb Oh yeah, I know everything.
Studs Terkel They talk -- they talk to you about their hurts, you know what I mean, their feelings, some of that you hurt
Mrs. Webb The pains and aches, oh, I know everybody's got a pain and a ache, if they have an argument with their husband, I know all about it, they don't come in and tell me, the kids will.
Studs Terkel Does everybody you know have a pain and ache? Pretty much one way or another?
Mrs. Webb Oh, yes. Yes. I hear it so much fun, until even if I'm hurting, they come in, ask me how I feel, I say I'm feeling fine, because I hear them moan so much, 'til I get ashamed of it so I just say I'm OK. They've always got something to say. Well, I guess they just got to have something to say. So they just talk about anything that comes to their minds.
Studs Terkel How about a headline in the papers?
Mrs. Webb Oh, no. No. They're always ripping and [ragging? ranting?] about the neighborhood, it being so bad. They want to get out. They going to take their children and get out. And I think to myself, "Well, what neighborhood would want your children?" Their children would be no prize package for another neighborhood. All the mothers though, thinks the other kids are mean, you know, and their children is okay. Well, if they happened to ask me, I can tell them because I get them all, I know them. And they can't tell me one one's better than this and that and another, because I put up with them all day long. I've got then more than their mothers. I correct them more than I think some of their mothers. I get after them more than their mothers. And they mind me pretty good. Well, of their mothers'll tell me, "Well, if my kids do anything, you just let them have it." I said, "Well, I will with my tongue." "Well, spank them!" I said, "Well, now you know I ain't going to do that."
Studs Terkel They want to give you the responsibility
Mrs. Webb Yes, they want to get them out of their hair.
Studs Terkel Well, what do the kids do most that irritates you, the kids? What do they do? That would most irritate you?
Mrs. Webb The most? Oh, they swiping me. If they swipe from me, that makes me mad. That don't irritate me, that makes me mad. Steal, yeah, steal, or anything, but they all don't do that now, don't get me wrong. They all don't do that.
Studs Terkel You think there's more swiping today than there was 16 years ago?
Mrs. Webb Oh, yeah. Yeah. definitely. Yeah, they don't really want it. I mean, it's not that, if they were hungry, if it was food, you know, I'd think they were hungry, you know? But it's not food. It's just something out there just to see. Now, we had two boys walked in there and I had clotheslines up there at the front, you know? And by God, if they didn't take a hundred foot of that clothesline and just run out with it. Well, you know they're not going to eat that, they throwed it down on the street. It's just -- "I bet I can get away with something that you can't." or "I'll see if I can get this." You know. I don't think they really care about it. If it was food I'd think they were hungry, but it's not food.
Studs Terkel Benny Bearskin is a Winnebago Indian, family man, a boilermaker by trade, and we're seated in the office of the American Indian Center of Chicago. This was at the time about three, four years ago when the center was located in Uptown. Preparations are -- maybe you may be hearing the preparations made for a festival for the following evening.
Benny Bearskin I came to Chicago in 1947 and after I had been married, and later on I sent for my wife and my one child. And since that time, we've lived here in the city. I think the, I think the most important reason was that I could at least feel confident that there'd be perhaps 50 paychecks a year here, and you can't always get that, even though it might be more pleasant to be back, back home for instance. Nebraska. I think this is one feature that most Indians have in common. They have a deep attachment for the land. I don't know, I don't know exactly how to define it, but this has been, this has been so for a long, long time. There are many, there are many different tribes of Indians now residing in Chicago. But most of them maintain their ties with people back home.
Studs Terkel Do you encounter any difficulties? Any discrimination? Indian?
Benny Bearskin Well, in, during the years that I was working in welding shops on the basis of my own experience, I'd say about nine out of ten companies judge you solely on your performance, and only about one out of ten would have any reservation because of race.
Studs Terkel You put down on the application "Indian."
Benny Bearskin Yes, always. I think that's a source of pride. I think a lot of fellows feel that this is a source of pride, because because we enjoy a distinction that no, no other person has. We are at home, while they're, everyone else came here from somewhere else. And I believe that as time goes on and society becomes more and more complex, there is definitely a need for a basic pride in order to have something upon which to build character. If you don't have that pride, why then you have no identity.
Studs Terkel Is it generally felt among the American Indians pride, or is there a sense of shame sometimes too because of the manner to which they'd been subjected?
Benny Bearskin Well, I think that the -- there's possibly a class of youth. I've seen signs of this in my, in my travels. Covered I'd say about 95 percent of the Indian reservations to the north of us here, and a little to the west. And during those times I -- is when I saw the cultural deterioration that some of these Indian children are growing up in. There are some areas where the transition from Indian culture to the white culture is going on, and some of the children are born into a situation where the old values are already lost and there being no basic economy in some of these areas, there's much poverty and nothing of the values of the white culture are readily available to them. So they're lost in between. And it is this type of young Indian who sometimes the shame that he's an Indian, because he doesn't realize, there's nobody, there's nobody has ever told him that his ancestors were a noble race of men who developed over periods of many centuries a way of life. Primitive though it was, it existed without prisons, hospitals, jails, courts, or insane asylums or currency or anything, and yet an Indian in, back in those days was able to live from babyhood 'til he's, all the hair on his head became white and he lived a life of complete fulfillment with no regrets at the end. I like his term "getting urbanized," I like this term. It means that you have to learn the ropes. There's like a person moving out from prairie country into the woods. You know, there are certain dangers in such a transition, and it's the same way in the city. You have to learn the ropes, and once you become urbanized, this means to me that you -- you're going to settle down, and you can take advantage of every opportunity that comes along and you have to have an ultimate goal to look forward to. Otherwise, I think it would drive you crazy. I'll tell you the extent to which I'm urbanized after being here for over 17 years. Some years back we went home to Nebraska, to my wife's parents' place, and for three or four nights in a row I'd wake up in the middle of the night feeling that there was something drastically wrong. And it puzzled me until I began to realize it. It was quiet, that was what was wrong. There's no fire engines or police sirens passing by, no street noises. It's funny.
Studs Terkel Now, the question of housing. You, Benny Bearskin, American Indian. Have you encountered difficulties on this score?
Benny Bearskin Only one time. In 1960 the work was kind of slack, and since I've been following the construction end of boiler-making, there wasn't anything going on right about that time, so I got together with three other boilermakers who were not Indians and we went up to Pierre, South Dakota where the, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had this dam construction project going. Well, while I was up there, the rents were raised to where I had been living on the West Side. So my wife, with the help of a parish priest found another apartment. It was a little crowded, but the rent was more compatible with our budget. So she decided to clean it up and paint it up and, she did this. And then later on, when she got ready to move, she let me know that she could probably get the help she needed to make this move. But I kind of worried about it, being 800 miles from home, so I jumped on a train and I came back to help her make the move. We made the move, and it happened that that particular weekend, the American Indian Center was promoting its annual spring exposition. So after we got everything moved, we all went down to the theater where the show was being held. After the show, we all went to the American Indian Center and had coffee and visited with everyone, and when we went back to the apartment on the West Side, the first thing we discovered was that most of the windows were smashed. Well, I called one of the board members of the Indian Center. She called the police, the police came out there, we had a police car out in front of the door for about two weeks, I guess. But
Studs Terkel You were expecting trouble because you had moved there.
Benny Bearskin I suppose. I, I still don't know who did it, because it was done at night. They evidently thought we were Mexicans. Well, when the press asked me about this, I said that I was sorry to disappoint anybody. As much as I admire Mexicans, I'm not a Mexican, I'm an American Indian, and well, during the following days there representatives of many different organizations who came out to talk to us. There was a man from the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, the Illinois Commission, a representative from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, American Friends Service Committee, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Catholic Interracial Council, I mean there was very little they could do. But at least
Studs Terkel What finally happened? You and the apartment.
Benny Bearskin Well, what happened was that -- if I didn't have, if I didn't have my children to worry about, you know, they would have to walk to school about four or five blocks, I think I would have stayed. It was one of these arrangements where the thing, the thing was operated by a trust, and even the newspapers couldn't find out who the owner, actual owner was. But I found out later that this was right inside the battle lines that had already been established. There's an old Italian neighborhood. And just across the line to the east of us were Puerto Ricans, Southern whites, and to the south were Negroes. And since we were different, we posed a threat. Like that little break in the dike or something. It is kind of enlightening, really, after it was all over with. The most amusing part of it was "The Chicago Defender" ran a cartoon.
Studs Terkel A Negro newspaper.
Benny Bearskin Yeah. There was a, there was a picture of an Indian family leaving a neighborhood in an old jalopy. And the people in a neighborhood were all shouting, and then the label said that, the caption said that these, these, these fellows just got off the boat. The fellows that just got off the boat were running the first American out of the neighborhood. I think, I think those Indians who retain the greatest amount of their cultural heritage and values are really very fortunate, because they, they feel that it's more important to, to be able to retain one's own dignity and integrity and maintain their compassion for one another and go through life in this manner rather than spending all their energy on an accumulation of material wealth. They find, they find this as a sort of a frustrating situation to arrive at. I think the Indian is the only, only nationality under the system -- who has resisted has resisted this melting pot concept. Everybody else wants to jump in, they believe that this is ideal. Jump in and become an American or lose your identity, whatever you, whatever you
Studs Terkel American by the dominant WASP standards,
Benny Bearskin Yes. Yes. And Indians have resisted this concept, although I believe an Indian sees irony in specific situations. I think one of the things not directly related to the civil rights movement which appears to be ironic to the Indian is that the recent Supreme Court ruling on prayer in public school. I think the Indians felt that we almost witnessed the white man meeting himself coming back so to speak.
Studs Terkel Talk a little more about this.
Benny Bearskin Because in the beginning the foundation of this nation is supposed to be a belief in God. And I think if you if you read some of the historical accounts of how the Puritans and some of the other religious, early religious groups in the eastern states had wiped out whole Indian tribes, burned them up, burnt everything to the ground, and then proclaimed to the world, you know, that this is, this is a nation so founded.
Benny Bearskin Yes, under God, and then, and then arrive at a point where the Supreme Court says you can't -- you can't do it in public school. But whether you're an atheist or not, they'll put the Bible in your hotel room. This, Indians certainly have a view in regards to things like this.
Studs Terkel The Indian thinks in personal terms, doesn't he? Man to man terms. You say they're fighting hard. Some of this has been replaced by a coil of wire or a button.
Benny Bearskin Yes, I think, I think this is, this makes itself felt in many situations. For instance, when you become urbanized, you learn how to think in abstract terms, and when you go out here on Broadway to catch the CTA bus going south, you subconsciously know that there is a driver, but you take no interest in him at all as a person. He's more like an object. And it's the same way in, in the schools, where your children are getting their education. The teacher is there to do a certain function, and I think that perhaps the teacher also feels that these pupils are like a bunch of bumps on a log. And you know this can be a difficult thing for specifically an Indian child who in his family life and in all their, the associations of the family, he learns to establish relationships on a person-to-person basis, and he finds that this is absent in a classroom. And that difficulty follows, and frequently parents go to talk to the principal and talk to the teacher. But since they already have preconceived a philosophy, it's just like going over there and talking to the brick wall. They feel that you're, you just aren't hip. There's something wrong with you, and if you don't confirm, conform, well, it's just too bad. My feeling is that the only true investment that I can make in my responsibilities to my family is to encourage and help my children to get as much education as they possibly can, for that's the only thing that no one can ever take away from them. And since we are an Indian oriented family, we'll continue maintaining our identity. That's our, that's our source of feeling as if we will achieve something. By living out our lives in that manner.
Studs Terkel This is our program for tonight. Four profiles from "Division Street America". In a moment after a word from my sponsors, we'll talk of next week's program. [pause in recording] Next week we'll hear the voices of Judy Huff, a teacher working in a ghetto school, Jimmy White, 17-year-old former gang leader, and Lily, a 16-year-old girl living on the West Side. Voices from "Division Street America".