Myra Alexander discusses what's wrong with Chicago
BROADCAST: 1980 | DURATION: 00:57:30
Content Warning: This conversation includes racially and/or culturally derogatory language and/or negative depictions of Black and Indigenous people of color, women, and LGBTQI+ individuals. Rather than remove this content, we present it in the context of twentieth-century social history to acknowledge and learn from its impact and to inspire awareness and discussion. A citizen of Chicago, Myra Alexander, believes Chicago is lost and hopeless. Chicago, she explains, will always have its problems with its one party system. Alexander said prejudice is wide-spread in Chicago. A big problem is that while folks don't want Black people to enjoy anything that the white people enjoy. .
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Studs Terkel I'm seated with Mrs. Alexander whom I met on a train to -- a very memorable day in August 1962, the March to Washington, and of course at that time everybody felt great things were going to happen, you know. And not too much has -- and Mrs. Alexander though was sitting next to me and she was really speaking her mind, her heart, thoughts. But now we're starting from scratch. I'm seated in her home here on St. Lawrence Avenue. I just met her grandson, this very handsome young man whose picture she showed me way back then. Let's talk about you, Mrs. Alexander. Your thoughts way back. I remember you said something, you lived in a small town Indiana as I recall.
Myra Alexander That's right. That's where I was born, and I didn't live there very long. I lived in Chicago all of my life, from the time that I was six years old, and Chicago hasn't changed. It's grown, but it hasn't changed race-wise as much as I feel some of the cities in the South have changed. I will say and I will repeat this, that Chicago is more typically a Southern city than many cities of the South. They have their one political party. They have their segregated neighborhoods. They have their segregated schools that are going to stay segregated as long as there is a one political party in Chicago. There will be no changes, because housing is the thing that keeps the schools segregated, and housing in Chicago will always be segregated. That's the way I feel about it. I hope I'm wrong.
Studs Terkel Well, I hope so too, and yet I know you're speaking some very very powerful facts. Let's go back, Mrs. Alexander, beginnings. The town you came from in Indiana. Do you recall that?
Myra Alexander Oh, not very well, but it was a small town on the Ohio River. Southern Indiana, which
Studs Terkel Not Evansville, what was it again?
Myra Alexander Jeffersonville.
Studs Terkel Jeffersonville.
Myra Alexander And which was another northern Mississippi town. That's all. Things were segregated there. Even the Catholic Church was segregated. All schools. Neighborhoods weren't as segregated there though as they are in Chicago. My grandmother's home was on a street that was racially mixed, and several others as I recall as a little child. They were mixed. Not like Chicago. As soon as a colored person moves in, the whites move out, which is a good thing in a way. We getting some better housing.
Studs Terkel Down in Jeffersonville, how was it? Were -- what was, it was segregated and you said not quite as segregated as Chicago.
Myra Alexander No, because my grandmother's neighbors on either side of her were white. Even at the time that I visited there when I was 14, they were still white! The neighbors across the street were white. There was about seven colored families, and I'd say about 10 white families on that block. So in Chicago you don't see that.
Studs Terkel When, how old were you when you came to Chicago?
Studs Terkel Seven. And what were your earliest memories of Chicago?
Myra Alexander Well, as I said before about me in Chicago, we were accepted through my mother in an all-white Catholic school when I was in second grade, and I went all through that school to -- finished eighth grade rather, and went to a mixed high school, Morgan Park High School that was 90 percent white when I went there. So I do not know anything about segregated schools. I never went to one in my life, although I lived in Chicago. But it was certainly not a public school.
Studs Terkel You went to, in Morgan Park, and you were one of the Negro students
Myra Alexander I was a Negro student in Morgan Park and it was 90 percent white, and 80 percent of the white children at that time in Morgan Park High School were rich. They were the children of the rich. And that's where I went to school. But of course I wasn't rich. It was a situation where there was only one white -- one high school in the area, and we all went to the same school, but of course there at the high school the white children were given the red carpet treatment and the Negroes were tolerated. Same thing.
Studs Terkel You were tolerated you say.
Myra Alexander Tolerated. That's right. The boy that graduated with me, I was graduating from a two-year commercial course. He was graduating from a, a general science or something, four years. He was an S student, E and S student during his four years at high school. He graduated at the top of the class and prior to this graduation, each year the top student got an award. And since a colored boy was a top student this year, they cut that out. And the only thing, honor that they gave him for being the top student was to put a star in front of his name on the program. That started a new precedent at Morgan Park High School, because that colored boy, I think he was the only Negro in his class, was a top student. From then on, Morgan Park High School did not give awards to the top student. Those are the things I remember about Chicago schools of the north.
F35 What was the relationship of you and the white students there at Morgan Park, remember?
Myra Alexander Well, I got along with them. They, they, there was no real friendliness like I had seen, known in St. Margaret's Catholic school, because I went to their homes there. But in Morgan Park High School there was always a friendliness. You find that most of the rich children are -- have seen colored and even some of those children whose parents had worked in those homes of the other, of the white children. Anyway, we were accepted and we were treated nicely, but there was no warmth or closeness between the white and the colored. But there were colored child-- girls there and colored boys, and we had our own little social life, but we could dance when they danced or had anything, we could dance, but at that time we couldn't go to any proms, because they had them downtown or in some club where white children and colored people weren't allowed, so no colored children could go downtown or to the country clubs or wherever they had their nice proms there. [unintelligible] Same thing, same thing, prejudice, prejudice, prejudice. Whoo!
Studs Terkel How did you feel, how did you feel when you were young about the other colored kids, you yourself?
Myra Alexander Well, at St. Margaret's I didn't know I was colored.
Studs Terkel This was the Catholic school.
Myra Alexander There was a Catholic school.
Studs Terkel You went there before Morgan Park.
Myra Alexander Yes I went there for eight years, seven years. I didn't know I was colored. The nuns treated me all right. I couldn't complain. Some of them treated me very nice, and the white kids were my friends. And well I didn't know, I didn't know I was colored, never heard any insulting word to
Studs Terkel When did you make this discovery?
Myra Alexander Well, I'll tell you the first time I really, that I realized I was colored was when my mother tried to get me into a Catholic high school. Then they were not accepting any colored children in any of the white high -- Catholic high schools in Chicago at that time, so I went to Morgan Park. But my mother wanted me to go to the Academy of Our Lady, where most of the other kids, girls were going. But colored children weren't accepted there, so I didn't go. So I knew right then that I was colored. And that's when I felt like I did not want to be Catholic. That was the beginning of my turning around and saying, "I don't need that either." And I still -- although I went up until I was grown, couldn't raise my children in the church. I don't go now. I remember that. Everything that you think about as a Negro in relationship to white people and your association, there's always something unpleasant to remember, always. Things are nice up to a point, and then all of a sudden something very unpleasant and that's life with the Negro living in a white world.
Studs Terkel What is that, there's so many things, you say, well, there's so many questions to ask you, Mrs. Alexander.
Myra Alexander Yes, there's so many.
Studs Terkel The question of yourself, you never knew you were colored until that certain thing happened, when you were in -- and then when did you realize the pride, you know?
Myra Alexander Well, I, even though I figured I was just like a white going to school, at home we knew we were colored. Our neighborhood was
Studs Terkel Jeffersonville, Indiana, you mean. Oh
Myra Alexander Oh no, this is Chicago. We knew we were colored because we lived among our own people and my -- we were all colored. I mean, we were dark. We were colored people but, at school it never bothered me and I never realized it, and I never had cause to, because I was treated just the same and there was never any reference made. But, oh, I've been a Negro ever since I've been born. Oh! Yeah, and proud of it. The more I walk, the prouder I am of being a Negro, and I feel as I walk and listen and read that being a Negro must be something special. There are so many people worried about us, so many. We must be mighty special. Ten percent of us, how many are colored, you would think we were 110 percent the Cain that's raised in reading the newspapers. Why, we're taking over! Oh! Taking over because the white man is so prejudiced! Everything we do. Everything we do, everything we try to do is magnified. Oh, don't let a colored boy do something wrong. Oh, his Black picture, first page. Oh, yes! Let him do something good, turn back to the seventh, sixth and seventh page, you'll read it there. It's all a -- it's like a, I don't know, the world today or the world since it's been created is sort of a vicious plot. I don't know who is responsible, and I don't think the white man is all responsible. I think what happened to him and what happened to us happened in creation, and whoever planned it, I don't think much of the plan.
Studs Terkel I'm going to ask you about religion in a moment. I'll ask you about that now, about religion.
Myra Alexander It's in my heart and it's strictly my religion and I don't try to inflict it on anybody else. Nobody has to believe like I believe, but I have to believe one thing: I must find God for myself because I do not accept the white man's interpretation of Him. I couldn't be Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, none! I couldn't, I couldn't associate myself with any form of religion because all of them were founded by a white man, and his idea of God and fairness and fair play in the world is not mine, and my religion is in my heart, and it tells me first to be good, to be fair, and to be true to myself, and that's what I am, and that's why I'm not Baptist. I'm not Methodist, I'm not Catholic, I'm not any sect because I feel all of them after a thousand years are beginning to say, let the colored man come to church, let the colored man or child come to school with us. Religious-wise. That's happening now, and a thousand years later, why now all of a sudden that it's all right for us to come when it's always been so wrong? No, I, I don't go along with this trying to conform because somebody says or some law is passed. Religion is in your heart, in my estimation the white man has never had any. And so he doesn't have anything to pass on to me, because he doesn't have anything real himself. So I don't go to church and I don't claim to be a great Christian, I just claim to try and live and do what's right, and I certainly don't want to associate myself with any of these white men's religions, none, because all of them are full of hatred and full of prejudice where I am concerned, so that's why I don't want his religion. I don't want to grow to hate people. I don't want to keep people from living and enjoying their, their rights in America. Any foreigner can come from Europe as long as he's white and have my job, and I was born here and so was my grandmother. And I don't think that's fair. The whole concept of America's democracy is built on unfairness, and that's why I want no part of any of the religions, because all of these lawmakers are going to some church. So I'm afraid of them. I'm afraid of the churches for fear it might distort my way of thinking. [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel What about the Negro church?
Myra Alexander The Negroes are going along with the white man's religion! They're Methodists, they got it from Calvert, if they're Baptist, they got it from somebody else, if they're Catholic, they got it. Martin Luther King, you'll see the colored people going crazy over the Lutheran religion now.
Studs Terkel About Martin Luther King?
Myra Alexander Not Martin Luther King, Martin Luther.
Studs Terkel Oh, Martin Luther, yeah.
Studs Terkel Rev. Martin Luther King. How do you feel, he's a religious man?
Myra Alexander Oh, he's all right, because he mixes his religion with good thinking and with something to advance himself and his race. Now he's 100 percent all right, if I was going to follow a minister, it would be Martin Luther King. But Martin Luther King's religion, a Methodist, no! I'll follow him as a leader, but I'm not going to his church and be a part of his religion. His religion isn't -- is just the same as the Methodists that I worked for at one time. They were white, Methodist, prejudiced. Uh-uh! I don't want that. I don't want any religion.
Studs Terkel You worked as what, a domestic?
Myra Alexander Yes! When I was raising my children, yes I did.
Studs Terkel What are your memories working for these people?
Myra Alexander They're good friends of mine. I wouldn't have been with them if they hadn't been. I worked for one family, and I worked I guess for that one family 12 years. But they were more like family to me than they were strangers. I still see them, I still call. He still calls me, the wife died, the mother of the children, and I stayed with him about four years after the mother passed, but they were wonderful people. They weren't, I mean I was just a person to them, and they were just people to me. I liked them. I like individuals, but I thought
Studs Terkel -- Individuals.
Myra Alexander Individuals, yes! I, I, they were my best friends. If I needed a favor right now, or needed somebody to do something for me, I would call him before I'd call any colored person, because he has proven himself.
Studs Terkel It's a matter, the individual you're talking about.
Myra Alexander That's right. I like individual people whether they are Black, white, or green, it's according to how they act and who -- how they treat me, how they treat my people. But so far as the white race as a whole, no, I don't like them. I don't like what they keep trying to do to
Studs Terkel Do you find a difference in the white man and the white woman?
Myra Alexander There's more hatred between the men than there is between the women.
Studs Terkel I want to ask you about that, the difference between the men and the women. You feel there is a
Myra Alexander And it's, it's on account of the women that there's more hatred between the male. Males naturally are beasts, you know. More
Studs Terkel I didn't know that [laughing}
Myra Alexander Yeah, he's a beast. You didn't know the male was a beast? Sure he's a beast, he'll get out here and kill, he'll, he'll destroy, he'll, he'll murder, he'll dump people and lock people in trunks of automobiles and leave them there. He'll, he'll, what won't he do? He'll kill his mother, he'll kill his child. The papers are full of 'em, how they beat up their babies. Oh, no. You very seldom hear of a woman doing to a child what a man will do. You never hear of women fighting. Women don't make these wars. It's the man that's the beast and the bum. You get him out of the world and keep him out, I would say keep the men out of the world for ten years, and you would see some peace and love. He keeps the world and he keeps the nations at each others' throats. From Johnson on down, a man wants to do nothing but fight, fight, fight. They're not happy. If there isn't some kind of a fight going on, and it's pitiful that they have charge of things in this world. If women could rule it, if women, there might be a lot of gossip. There might be a lot of silliness, there might be a little hair-pulling. But this viciousness, this beating, this gangs, don't talk about the colored gangs. Yes, we have them, but so do the whites. I saw them. I used to stand there in Beverly Hills, there on 103rd Street and Kedzie and watch them racing back and forth when they were gonna have a fight. These cars, they all had cars, you know. Boy, Longwood Drive. Some -- there gonna be a fight someplace and you could see em all like crazy, running. Running for what? To fight! Fight. The on -- the only reason why a man doesn't fight, he's a sissy, and if he's a sissy, he doesn't, he's not a fighter. He tries to act feminine. Of course, that's not good. But a real male, a real red-blooded man lives for fight contests. And it's terrible.
Studs Terkel You feel then there might be some sort of understanding between say women, white and Negro
Myra Alexander Yes, yes, I'd say that. I say that women could get together, yes, and talk. All might not agree, but there wouldn't be the ugly, ugliness and the viciousness. How a white man and a colored man hate each other. They don't like each other, but as I said, the women get along with all of 'em. White women getting along with the colored men and the white men are getting along with the colored women, see, they, they, they're, they're getting together, just -- I'm not saying that they don't, but the white, the white and colored men are the two that hate.
Studs Terkel Do you feel there's a difference, say, in -- I'll come to the young in a minute. In the cities, a city like Chicago or the big cities, say, and the small town, south or border?
Myra Alexander I don't know. I don't know anything about a small town, because all my life has been spent here, and if I could get away I would. I'm too
Studs Terkel Where would you go,
Myra Alexander I don't know. Someplace smaller. Chicago is too big, and it's too out of hand. Nobody can live in Chicago and feel like they're living in a place where everything is going to be alright or everything is all right. Everything is wrong in Chicago. Everything. You find individuals and people trying to do the right thing, but the overall picture of Chicago is wrong. The leaders, they have no principle. If there was any, any kind of a two-party system or any hopes of seeing a two-party system in Chicago, Chicago would never be perfect, it could be better, because each politician would have to remember that if I don't do right and if I don't please the greatest number of people, then I will not be elected again. But what's so pitiful about Chicago is the fact that we have the, only the one-party system here and as they say, they'll do what they want to do and what can you do about it if you don't like it? But that's not right. In America in democ-- in a democracy there's a lot a person can do about it. They can go out and elect better people, and that's one thing about the smaller towns: they do get rid of people that are not fit to rule them. Aurora did it. They got rid of their mayor and they're doing it right along, but Chicago is a one-party system just like the towns in Mississippi whether you like it or whether you don't like it, the one-party system is going to rule, and that is why they are like, say they're like the Russian government in the fact that there's nothing you can do about it. The elections are unnecessary. There's no need of having an election because when you get through, you still have your same people. I don't care how disgruntled many people are, there's nothing they can do about it but move. So no, I'm too old to move, but I'll tell anybody that's young when they tell me "We're looking for a different place to live," I say "You're very wise. I wish I had done it a hundred years ago." Because Chicago is hopeless, and as long as you have this one party in Chicago with no hopes ever of changing, Chicago's lost. Chicago is a lost town, and it's proven because their white population is going to the suburbs where they can have a voice and feel like the elections are going to be given some time to people who are worthwhile. But here if we have a good man in, that would be fine, and I'm not saying that everybody in Chicago is bad, but I'm saying bad or good, you need a change, and certainly the, the setup that we have now has been in far too long. Far too long. We are just spoiling for a change, but there's no hopes, no hopes.
Studs Terkel Don't you feel in certain neighborhoods there's this feeling, like you say block clubs or isn't there some undercurrent of feeling?
Myra Alexander Well, everybody feels the same about -- I don't know what you mean. Political or, or any way. There's nothing but undercurrents and top currents, everybody's dissatisfied in this neighborhood. In Chatham everybody's dissatisfied. I don't know anybody in Chesterfield, in Park Manor, I'm not speaking of the highrises where those people can't, can't, afraid that they'll get thrown out or cut off of the relief. I don't know how they feel 'cause they go along with everything, but I know in this area nobody's satisfied, and nobody's happy about conditions in Chicago. But with the highrises and people and those votes guaranteed and in the bag, nothing that you can do about it. But I still say and I'll say it all the time, "We need a two-party system in Chicago, and we need a change." [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about yourself now, Mrs. Alexander, you spoke of, you refer now and then to your children, grandchildren. You yourself in your life, you hope to see this change, don't
Myra Alexander Oh, yes. I, I love to see it, but I believe it's wish-wishful thinking. I don't think that I'll ever see it unless some miracle happens. And speeds this thing up because there has been no change, no big change that I can see in anything and certainly not here where I'm living. Chicago's still just as segregated as it was before the desegregation bill was passed. And when Johnson spoke, and he spoke out so plainly and said he wants all, he wants the -- see the desegregation bill carried out and when he was speaking about this new bill, he said that he wanted all over the United States for these people in authority to see that these changes are brought about. I had hoped then that Daley would be listening to his president. Well, I still wonder. I wonder. I'm not saying he didn't, but I still wonder, and we will have a chance to know pretty well when the term of our superintendent expires.
Myra Alexander When Benjamin Willis' term is up, we will know, because he is the greatest thorn in the Negroes' side in Chicago. He is the one that is causing more dissatisfaction to Mayor Daley's office than anybody else in the city. And as I said, I don't know what's gonna happen, but I do know that no Negro that I've ever spoken to, highrise or anywhere else, is satisfied with the way Willis runs the schools where we are concerned. I can see the white people lauding him and having a parade for him and giving him a vote of confidence in the Senate. That's all white. But I'm not speaking of the white, I'm speaking of the people that keep Daley in, and that's the highrise and the poor underprivileged Negro! That's who I'm speaking of, and if they-he didn't get their votes, he could not be elected, and their children are more segregated against than some of the children out in this area. There is some small fraction of mixing out here, but down there it's hopeless because they're in those ghettos. And that's why I can't understand, but as I said, underprivileged, deprived mostly from the south, and afraid. Fear, that's the thing. I used to be afraid, too, when my children were small. I used to say, "Oh, I would like to do something. I would like to vote differently, but maybe I'd better not. Maybe this will be changed and it won't be good". So I can understand the people down there and their reasons. But now that I'm older and the children are grown, and if I could just tell some of them, "Take a chance! Take a chance, you won't die." The whole Negro race is awakened, whether you act like it or not, you are awakened to the fact that we are in a revolution, and I say this, "Take a chance! Be the first to say I'm going to stand up and I'm gonna vote differently, unless Daley does some of the things he should do for us."
Studs Terkel Mrs. Alexander, when did you stop being afraid?
Myra Alexander I stopped being afraid when I got my first good job. When I got my first big good, I don't say a big one, my best, the most that I had ever had, when I got into the defense work during World War II. I worked in a defense plant and I made a good salary, and I didn't realize then how wonderful it was not to be afraid. I didn't even realize it until now. Later days. But all of a sudden, I was just automatically doing what I wanted to do for the first time since I had had children. But it was money! It was a good, fat paycheck. Taking it home every week, every week a nice fat paycheck that made me feel, well, everything is all right! Then I did what I wanted to do. I was free. So I can understand those people that are dependent on maybe relief or housing or whatever.
Studs Terkel It's when you received a reasonable check, you know, and you weren't so economically dependent, that's when you stopped being afraid, so it's a matter of economics then.
Myra Alexander That's right. And that's the trouble with most Negroes. That's, that's our trouble. Not educated, ignorant, some of them can't even write. Read. You try to talk they don't understand, because they are afraid, they don't want to understand. They know one thing, if they go along, they've been told if you go along you'll get your check, then you go along. But too many of them have, are in this condition and it all boils down to one thing: prejudice. It's prejudice that keeps the Negro off of the jobs. I remember when I went out job-hunting for the first time in my life.
Myra Alexander In Chicago. I went to -- they had an ad in the paper, I think it was -- was there a cosmetic company called, was it [Jenushen?] something, it was a cosmetic company.
Studs Terkel What'd they tell you, you say?
Myra Alexander They, the man, the watchman was downstairs, and he said, "What do you want?" And I went early, and the other employees were coming in. Well, I didn't pay any attention, it was a early time, and I figured if I got a job I'd be there to start work. So anyway, he said to me, "What do you want?" I said, "I'm, well I read the ad in the paper," and I had it with me, and I said "I want to see about getting a job here." And he said, "What?" And so I repeated it and showed him the ad, and he began to laugh, and he didn't say anything to me, and the people that were coming in there to work, that now I remember, or remembered right then and there after, they were all white. So he said to a couple of the guys, "Come here," say "She wants to get a job here." Oh they didn't laugh, but they all smiled and walked on. And he said, "Oh no, you can't get a job here." And I said, "Well, they said they needed girls," and I said, "I'll need a job. And I thought I could get one." And he said, "Oh no, they need girls, but they don't need you." And even then I didn't realize. I thought maybe, oh, I was too short or something, I didn't even -- it didn't even register with me until I went on out and was walking maybe about a half a block away from the place, and then I wonder why he gave me the brush-off, I didn't even get upstairs, you know, to be interviewed, to be turned down. Then it hit me: I'm colored! He was trying to tell me that they didn't need me because I was colored. Well, I was floored. I -- something like that had never crossed my mind. I figured if you wanted to work, somebody needed somebody to work, go and apply for the job and get it. Well, after that I didn't look for a job anymore, because if they don't say it in the paper "White Only" as you, they started to doing after that, in lots of the companies, you didn't know whether to go or whether not to go, so I never looked for a job. That was my last, first and last trip out to look for a job, because it's kind of
Studs Terkel -- Besides being a domestic, you mean.
Myra Alexander Oh well, that, then when I worked like that, I didn't -- I always got a job
Studs Terkel What you mean is an office job, then
Myra Alexander Or a factory! A factory.
Studs Terkel The only thing open then was domestic work.
Myra Alexander Mostly domestic work for all colored in those days, that, well, a colored woman, that's what she got, or a factory or laundry. Well, I could have gotten on in a laundry, but I didn't -- that was too strenuous, I didn't want anything that hard. I mean, I wasn't able to do any strenuous work, but I figured the best thing for me to do was to get a job then that I didn't have to punch a clock, because my children were small. And that's why I went and got a job as a domestic.
Studs Terkel Let's talk about children, things about the young, the young, what you think about the young today?
Myra Alexander Well, the young today have a lot to look forward to if things change. The young are the ones that are going to change things, too, much to the old folks' sorrow. The young people are not as prejudiced despite the fact that their parents are telling them daily.
Studs Terkel Young whites you're talking
Myra Alexander Young children period. I'm talking about my own granddaughter. I'm talking about young children. My granddaughter is not as prejudiced as I am. I want to say that, and I want to say to white people and to everybody, yes, we Negroes are prejudiced too, and don't think that we are in love when we are fighting for our rights. We don't love you any more than you love us. We just want to be citizens! Citizens and live in America like everybody else lives. All white people haven't got their arms around each other. All Black people haven't got their arms around each other. We don't want any love, we just want to be citizens. To go to school, to live where we want to live, to send our children to the schools that they, we want to send them to, and to go any place in America that anybody else goes so long as we know how to behave ourselves just like the white people. They go and they behave, we do, too. We act and we are just like them, the only difference is that they do not want us to enjoy the things that they enjoy. But so far as the young people are concerned, lots of them are prejudiced, but they haven't been in the world long enough to be as hard-shelled as their parents or their grand -- the grandparents are the worst. They are the worst of all.
Studs Terkel The grandparents.
Myra Alexander Yes, the older you get, the more prejudiced and the harder your shell, which is natural. But as they, the young people coming along, they're gonna fool a lot of their foreparents, and that's going to be a good thing, too.
F14 This is both Black and white.
Myra Alexander Yes, Black and white. My granddaughter goes to Mercy and they have quite a few colored now. But heretofore, up until the last few years it's been a very prejudiced school. Mercy was going on when I was graduating, they wouldn't accept me either, but the girl that's graduating, my friend's daughter, granddaughter's graduating from Xavier College, Xavier College in the 25th of May. Four years ago, she tried to get that child -- no, eight years ago in Mercy, they wouldn't accept her because she was colored, and she went to Loretto and then graduated and went to Xavier College and she's graduating this year with hon-- you know, with a good record and I'm not saying she's an honor student, but she did outstanding work, and she was in the ballet and in some of the shows that they put on, she was the star. Now, the shows over there, there are very few. I think she's the only colored girl in her class. But she had the same thing in her eight years ago as she has now, but it was prejudice that kept her out of Mercy. Now, my granddaughter goes to Mercy, and my granddaughter, she feels like there's no difference! She said to me the other day, it tickled me, she said one of her girlfriends was going to call her. "Grandmother, you were on the phone so long my girlfriend's gonna call." I said "Who is it?" She called her name. And I said, "Oh," knowing that the name that she was this, one of her white schoolmates. So I said, "Oh, forget her. Let her wait. She can wait." She says, "Grandmother, you're just saying that because she's white. You're just saying that, Grandmother." She said, "But you're against the whole world." So [laughing] I said, "No," I told her, "I don't say it, I get off the phone. I'll get off right now so you can call." But it was funny just to say that she says that I am against -- but I, I'm glad she's like she is. She goes there and she gets along, and she gets along with all of the children that she comes in contact with, and it's a good thing. And she's, came from St. Columbanus, see, and she's, was in a colored school. But she thinks Mercy is great and they treat her just wonderful. And she's just as happy there as she can be.
Studs Terkel But she's different from you then, isn't she? Yes.
Myra Alexander Yes. She's different from me because I have grown bitter, and I don't want her to, because in my younger days I was happy with them, but coming through the years, through the years with this looking around every day and looking at things not getting better at the same thing that Willis started out to do and was accepted when he first came, he's even getting bolder with his maneuvering now, and Negroes are fighting, Negroes are in a revolution, Negroes do not want to accept this. But seems like we're having a tough time trying to change. [pause in recording]
Studs Terkel I'm thinking as you're talking, Mrs. Alexander, so many aspects of this conflict, the prejudices, and I remember on the train you even talking about the Negro man. Specifically, I mean the white man, I should say, specifically him, more than the white woman. He was something special, this guy.
Myra Alexander Yes, he's special in his determination to keep his foot on
Studs Terkel But there's something hypocritical about him, though.
Myra Alexander Oh, they're the kind that smile in your face and act like "Oh, we're with you a hundred percent," and turn right around and stab you in the back so far as advancement for the Negro is concerned. I guess there's some that are all right, and I'm not saying they're -- but the majority of them where we are concerned are all wrong.
Studs Terkel Do you sense a change, that was slow you see, do you sense a change now among peop -- you've seen observations among white people in this matter?
Myra Alexander Well, I'll tell you it's seems now as I say, I don't look at the white man very hard because I feel he is the enemy of the Negro. He is the one that's worse, but I say this about it: riding the buses and coming in contact, shopping in places, it seems like to me that they are the ones that are, the women are willing to go along with things. Now, I'm not saying that they're out motioning to you to come over and sit with them or to talk to you or anything, but it just seems to me even since Johnson's speech that you see a little bit of something, you know, so many women. I'm not saying all. So many women is to say yes, I guess this thing that Johnson is talking about is right. Why shouldn't they have their rights? You know, I can see seems like a, a little trend and I might be wrong, I hope I'm not. But it seems like there's a little more of a trend to live and let live in the women. But as I say about the men, I don't -- I don't look at them very hard, because I always have that feeling. I, I, I can't get rid of it in me about this white man, and it seems that he is so concerned about something that we don't even think about. He, his concern is, seems to be the fact that he seems to have some kind of a fear in him for the Negro man. I'm not talking about fighting or anything like that, but I just feel that if given a chance, that Negro man might go too far. Now, these things that I say don't have to be true, but it's just the way I feel about him, and it comes from his actions and his behavior.
Studs Terkel You feel he's not sure of himself?
Myra Alexander I think there's something
Studs Terkel As
Myra Alexander That he feels that there is in the Negro a strength that he wants to ignore and play down, but he can't play it down because he knows it's there. He can't play it down in his heart, but the thing he can do is to try to keep him from advancing because it seems like he feels if you'll give him one step, he'll take two. So instead - instead of giving him that one, don't give him any. So I, I think that that is one thing about it. I think the white man is gonna be harder to bend where we are concerned. And it isn't about the women, because he can quickly bend with the colored woman. I'm not talking about that. It's the man, the male. It's the same old thing, these two males, beasts, you know, they, they don't trust each other.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking Mrs. Alexander, this is a personal question, I'm thinking about yourself [unintelligible], and the Negro people, you are light, you know, you are also, there's white in you as well as Negro. Did you once -- were you once -- did you once look down upon the very Black person? You yourself?
Myra Alexander Well, I'll tell you about us and the way we were raised. We've never associated with too many people, period, and it seems like the ones that we were associated with coming through our younger days were mostly the lighter Negro. Well, I'm not saying that I disliked the Negroes, that we, we never came in contact with many. We went to white schools and white churches and we didn't know any Negroes, and most of the Negroes that went to the Catholic Church in those days were the Creoles and the lighter Negroes, so I didn't come in contact with him to look down or to look up to him, but as I grew older and I met him, I find out and I got acquainted with people. I find out that the color has nothing to do with it, I am as Black as the blackest Negro in the world. In fact, I am blacker. There are a lot of dark Negroes that are not as Black as I am. If you want to see a Black Negro, look at me, because I tell you I'm Black from my heart.
Studs Terkel Pride.
Myra Alexander Yes. And I will never, never, never change. I want to be what I am, a Black woman, and nobody has to say "Oh, you're light or you're this or you're that." Don't worry about it. Don't worry about what I am, just worry about how I feel, and I think I have proved more than a lot of Negroes who are darker or lighter than me, it doesn't matter, that I am with the Negro in this revolution. I'm with him with my money as much as I can spare, with my presence and with my help and my thoughts at all times. I am a Negro. A dark, dark Negro. That's what I am, and I don't want to be mistaken.
Studs Terkel I've got so many questions to ask you, even over and beyond the matter of Black and white in America, thoughts about the world today, us, talk about, even this is all related, everything. Talk about the bomb, that ever worry you? Talk about this bomb?
Myra Alexander I like the bomb because it's not prejudiced. They can, they can do anything they want to do, but I -- the only thing I say about all of this new going to the moon, the missiles, and this and that and the other, I'm praying and hoping only just for one thing: that the white man does not get on the moon if it is already -- if there's anybody up there, because when they get there they'll plant this prejudice if whoever's up there is different. [laughing] They don't have to be colored or Black, just be different. Then you will see the white man planting his prejudice on the moon. No, I don't think there's anyone up there. I don't think there's anyone on any planets. But if there is, I certainly hope that the white man don't get up there with his richness and spoil the moon and spoil the heavens.
Studs Terkel Well, does talk about the bomb itself worry you with the war, now war, that the world could be annihilated, ever worry you?
Myra Alexander Tomorrow. Be all right with me. I don't see anything to stay in for. The bomb isn't prejudice, and all I say is when it lights make sure it doesn't drop on only me. If the bomb falls and it falls on neutral ground and all of us are wiped out, well, that's what we asked for. We asked for those
Studs Terkel You have a very handsome young grandson of yours is now at the hallway. What's your feeling about him and the bomb?
Myra Alexander I feel that he feels like I feel about the bomb. If the bomb takes everybody, he wouldn't want to stay either. And I don't think the world, is it a world, is a, is a rich world and it's a powerful world and it's full of a lot of smart people, but I don't think it's such a good world. I think there's lots wrong with it. And if the bomb is gonna be dropped and which I do think that it will someday probably be the end of the world is the man will destroy it himself. And I guarantee you the white man will be at the helm. He'll be the one that causes the trouble, so.
Studs Terkel You think the bomb will drop?
Myra Alexander Surely! Sure it's going to drop. They're going to drop a bomb. The Russia and America, they're -- one is afraid of the other. They would have dropped some already on those dark countries, but kind of afraid of Russia. Russia kind of keeps them in tabs, see he, they don't know whether Russia is as big as Russia claims to be, and Amer -- Russia doesn't know whether America is as strong as she claims to be. But I say one thing: they keep kind of a, a balance in the world, by both of, both of them fearing the other. They're like two big dogs, animals, and one can't judge the other one, and both hate to get into it for fear he has misjudged.
Studs Terkel But something's happening, isn't it, in the, in the African nations and Asian nations of the world, isn't there something happening?
Myra Alexander Same thing is happening in America. Dark man's tired of the white man's foot on his neck. Dark man, all people all over the world are tired of the white man's oppression. And that's why it bothers me, because I say why is he able to oppress so many people? Who, from whom does he get his strength? It certainly couldn't be from anybody that's a friend of the Negro or a friend of the dark man. You don't favor one of em all of the time and forget about the other. Somebody's in his corner.
Studs Terkel You know, America says defending the free world in Vietnam.
Myra Alexander America's always got an alibi when they go into these countries. I don't know, I'm not a, a, a politician and I'm not planning anything, but I think America's got enough to take care of in America. If they'd settle this thing here, there wouldn't be so much trouble in the other countries. If America would have set the example here and practice what she preaches about this freedom, freedom for who? Freedom for so many and many of the population. Forget about the rest of them, give them a little and then let them -- forget about them! They're a minority, they can't bother you. That's what the other countries don't like! They don't want America meddled in their business. They figure if she does they'll be just like us. We'll be dominated and denied your citizenship, given the last end of everything, and they don't want America coming over there. They'd rather be poor and be free and be there and happy with their own than to have America come over there and give them all of this money and stuff and then wanna take the nation. Rule it, and then rule it with prejudice. They say every place that America goes, they start this difference in races. They plant the seed of prejudice and it's a hard thing for these other countries who are not here to have America go there and do it to them. It's hard. No, America is not capable of settling the problem of darker peoples. Too white.
Myra Alexander Too white. Yes, indeed.
Studs Terkel Well, this matter of machines, they talk more and more of automation, machines taking -- you have any thoughts about that, Mrs.
Myra Alexander Yes. I say it's going to make a lot of people lose their jobs eventually. But automation doesn't bother me as much as I guess it could, becau -- the thing that I think about my race, especially, we need to practice more birth, birth control. Now, this population is getting out of hand, and just having these children now like so many of us are doing, to me that is one of our great faults. We must accept this -- whether we are poor or rich, it is offered. We must look into it and accept it and especially the poor. It's awful to have to force things on you. But it should almost be forced on some people, because it's wrong to bring all these children in the world and for them to be born in all this poverty. And I, I am a great believer of birth control. Now, instead of talking a lot and about the politics and voting and this and that if you don't vote you're afraid this, they should kind of make this birth control thing kind of a must among them, if you have any more then we can't go any further, because with automation and with the prejudices, with the people not wanting to hire the Negro, the relief rolls with the population are growing with every child that's born, you see. And taxpayers are bearing the brunt of it. I'm against the big families for poor people. And that's one of the things when we're fighting we must remember we don't need any more children than we can take care of. Birth control in, among us and our, the people who are not working and who can't find jobs, you don't need the children. And that's one thing I am really for, and I'd really advocate that for a big step in the right direction. Education is very important for every child that's born. But when you have so many, you can't educate them. So we have to get a little smarter about all these children that we're having.
Studs Terkel Just one more question, Mrs. Alexander, just a couple more general questions. The world that you came into and the world of now, do you feel it's a, with all the problems, is it a better or worse world? What do you think?
Myra Alexander Well, it's a bigger world and it's a better world from the standpoint of, of the business and the economic condition, it's a richer world than it was when I came along, I was born. But as I said with all of these advancements, the prejudice and the problems have advanced with them. The crime, the, the hatred, the ghettos, all of the things that we don't need have grown with the things that we need. I guess that's understandable, but it's a very frightening world. That's what it is now, it used to be just a world. But now the things that are going on, that are happening, happening all around, not any particular neighborhood, everywhere, the changes, and everything that's going on, it's pretty frightening. I would say it's not for a very peaceful way of living.
Studs Terkel What do you think would happen to Jesus Christ if he came back to the world today? To Earth?
Myra Alexander He'd take a look. And go on back to heaven where He came from. He couldn't stay here. There's too much wicked, wickedness here. If Jesus Christ is as damn picture as Him, He would take one look and say, "Well, this has gotten completely out of hand, and I got to go back and report it to my Father." [laughing] That's all He could do. No, He couldn't, He couldn't manage here at all, unless He would just assert Himself and then use His power, the power that He has. He could live then because He could lift His hand and, and wipe it all away. That's the way man has pictured Him, as being able to do anything, but just to come here and live as a man for 33 years like He did when He came, oh no, He couldn't last here. In the first place, they'd kill Him. He wouldn't get to first base here, He's too different.
Studs Terkel They'd kill Him because well, He's an agitator.
Myra Alexander They'd kill Him just because He's different, I know that, and another thing, He wouldn't be lily-white like they want to picture Him, because He was born down there around in Africa, and that sun doesn't allow the lilies to be white. So He would be a dark man, so He would be a condemned man, so He wouldn't, He couldn't stay here, and if He did, He'd have to stay with us. He'd have to stay in a Negro neighborhood.
Myra Alexander The ghetto. That's right. He'd have to stay in the ghetto unless somebody, fellow Negro, thought He was different and would invite Him to their home, invite Him out and to stay with us because He might look a little different, but just come into the world and just from Africa where He was born in Egypt and down, down in there in Bethlehem and to come here, no, He wouldn't be accepted. These white people would take one look at Him, and He would have to get out of the white neighborhood before dark. Otherwise, the white policemen would be questioning Him. "Why are you over here?" No, He couldn't stay. Not here.
Studs Terkel Mrs. Alexander, the last question. Let's assume that you are God. You had all the power in the world. What sort of -- this is where you can remake the world. What world would you make?
Myra Alexander Well, I, this is my statement. I say it all the time: if I had been God, I would have made things very different, and if I had made things just like they are, just like He created them in the beginning, I would have made this change: I would have put only love in the hearts of man, and they say all people are born in sin; I wouldn't have had that. All people would have been born with no knowledge of wrong, because I wouldn't have loud -- allowed any apples in that garden, and I wouldn't have had anybody stealing them. I wouldn't have had any forbidden fruit. Everything would have been wide open. Whatever the forbidden fruit was, I wouldn't have had that. I would have had everything -- there is no difference in any tree, eat of all trees, for all of them are the fruit of love, and that's the only thing that I would have done. And I think that would take care. That's the only thing that's lacking in the world is love. And if everybody loved his neighbor, we wouldn't have any problems. Isn't that right? Sure it's right. But everybody hates. Instead of loving, you hate. I'm speaking of myself, too. I don't have enough love. But I would have, had I been God, everybody would have had enough, and we would have lived in a beautiful world.