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African American Contributions - Preserving Black History One Story at a Time
African American Contributions - Preserving Black History One Story at a Time


"You'd much rather wave or say hello to somebody that you don't know than to miss somebody that you do. . . "

Everlyn Louise Swales Holland (1932 -        )
(2 minutes, 16 seconds)

I think--. I think there is a difference between White people and Black people in our society and that has to do--. It doesn't have to do with physical difference. It has to do with a difference in perception of how people are perceived. It has to do with social status. It has to do with money. It has to do with power and it has to do with how people value you.

So my example: If you are an African American or a Brown baby born in the United States, you should be deducted 10%. Take 10% off of everything that's important in life. Take 10% off of your healthcare. Take 10% off of your education. So, you start minus, or 10% off. You start at 90%. If you're White, you start at 100%. . . .

There are things beyond our control that dictate whether you are poor or not. So, that's--that's just the way I, I view the difference between White people and Brown or Black people, or People-of-Color is a better way to put it.

I mean, it's our-If you look at how we look at things in the world situation, it's-it's amazing to me. But if you have the power, mostly money, anything is-you can buy anything. [chuckle] You can buy people's loyalty. You can buy their death. You can buy anything. . .

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Alonzo GaskinJohn William Alonzo Gaskin (1951 -        )

(audio only - 35 seconds)

In St. Mary's County, if I walk in a store and say, "Hello," You know, I'm going to have a half-dozen people say, "Hello" to me. It's just because it's part of our community. It's just, you know--. It's just the way it goes. You know. And in St. Mary's County, you're better off--. You'd much rather wave or say hello to somebody that you don't know than to miss somebody that you do [know]. . .

I just wave going down the road.

And [my friends] say, "Well who is that?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure. It's just, you know, somebody."

And, the people wave back. . . .

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Elvare Smith GaskinElvare Smith Gaskin (1919 - 1998)

In some instances, life is better where there's been much improvement in the way of life. Yet, I don't see the closeness of communities as they used to be. Maybe it's because the communities have grown so much larger and many people moving in the different areas, but it doesn't seem to be the caring in the communities that it used to be. Everybody's going on their own little turf. I'm going this way, and it's- "I'm here in need." Well, you know, I'm sort of still going. It doesn't seem to be that closeness. . . . Just don't feel connected, you know, as they did.

Like somebody's sick: "Oh, you know so-and-so's sick and in the hospital."

"Oh, are they? How long have they been sick? Oh, I'm sorry."

Now they go on their merry way.

Like, one time, if somebody was sick, "Oh, who's home with those children? Who's doing for those children? How they being taken care of? What can I do to help them?"

. . . I'm not talking just about Afro-Americans. I'm talking about all people. I dread to think that the Afro-Americans that they would all come together and they would share and leave everybody else out. I'd like to see people getting along together as people regardless of color. Sharing with one another, regardless of color. Doing things together, you know, regardless of color. . .

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Everlyn Louise Swales Holland

Everlyn Swales Holland (1932 -        )

I don't think that we are any more or any less humane today than we were a long time ago. I think we might be just a little bit more indifferent-- indifferent to other peoples' situations. Not overtly so, but in more subtle ways indifferent. Not so sensitive to people. So, maybe that's different. . . .

I remember in my grandmother's time, she used to have this big table and she fed everybody. People came off the street, you know, and there wasn't any soup kitchen, but, "Come on in. Sit down." And, fed everyone, which doesn't happen anymore. So, that's what I mean that people have become a little more insensitive to each other in feelings, and you find that even in families when you get that kind division or something there. Rather than being supportive and listening to your family members, that doesn't happen. And the sad part, to me, is people can't say, "Well, it started--." There's no time when it started, and they don't know what happened . . . just the growing apart for no apparent reason.

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Respect for Elders and Each Other

Clarence Smith

Clarence Smith

Back then, you respected your elders. You listened to what you were told and anybody would correct you if they saw you doing something wrong. And of course, at the time we thought it was bad; but later on, we found out how great it was. Everybody in the community looked out, basically, for everybody else: children, adults, whatever, and that part to me, was a lot better then than it is now. Of course, living conditions and financial conditions are a whole lot better now than they were back then. But, born poor, living poor, you didn't realize how poor you were until later years. I mean, you can't miss what you never had. . . .

Back then, people didn't argue with kids. What they said went. I played hooky one day in school the whole time I was going. I went up there and I made sure I missed the bus and I went home, and my grandfather never mentioned it, but he got the crosscut saw out and hung me on the crosscut saw until lunchtime. Well, we went in to eat and I'm going to eat slowly so that I can get a long break.

When he got done eating, he said, "Come on, son, let's go."

"Well, I ain't finished eating yet."

"Yes, you are."

And then, we went back out and we were on that crosscut saw until dark. Then, I had all of my regular chores to do after that. And the next morning, I was there half-hour before the bus came. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the bus because that saw was still waiting. But, this is the way they got their point across. They didn't argue. They didn't do a lot of talking, but you knew they knew.

One other chore I had was pulling baskets of grass for the hogs -- honey grass in the field. But you wanted to get by. So, you'd go out and you'd pull grass and fluff it up in the basket so it would look like it was full and you'd look and [Grandfather] was nowhere in sight. But one of the corners you went around, he was there. He pushed that grass down in the basket and it'd go way down. Well, you didn't get to go back to fill it. You went and dumped that in the pen, then you went and got a full basket. So, it was a lot simpler to fill it the first time, then you wouldn't have to make two trips. And I mean this is the way they got their point across.

You were supposed to get in buckets of water at night. If it was 11 o'clock at night, frost on the ground or whatever, when the water went [down] in the buckets, you went and got more water. Even if it was 11 o'clock at night, they got you out of bed, but you still went and got that water because you should have got it [earlier] that evening. You knew you were supposed to do it.

And it's better to get all these darn things done while you can still see and get around than going out in the middle of the night to do these things. So, you learned to do what you were told. . . .

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James NealJames Neal

It's when you get out of the community, you start to look around. "Hey. This is different. I don't have to go in the back door. Why, when I go back home, I'm gonna have to go in the back door? Why can't I sit down at the restaurant and have a cup of coffee? I mean, Mr. Charlie's sitting here having a cup. Why can't I have a cup, too? And you know, you don't start to think until you get out of the community, get out of the situation. You're introduced to somethin' different, and that's what happened with the colleges. You know, you see another aspect. You see another side. This is what-"This is not what we do back at home. Well, if I can do it here, I go home I want to do it, too. Not only do I want to do it, I want my kids to be able to do it. I want my parents to be able to do it." And so, that's where the change come. . . .

. . . the idea was you know, you get out of the situation. You get away from home, what you've been-what you were born with, born and raised all your life, that's all you know. Then, you get away and you're introduced to these foreign ideas. This is acceptable. This is what the normal people do. Then, you start to think, and that's bad when you start to think because then you want change. And, we saw the change. . . .

And, that is something else. We talk about the segregation. You know, before we said [when you] went to college; you get your eyes open. You get your eyes open or whatever. Now suppose you stay in the community. How do you fight it then? I mean, I'm in the community. I've got to depend on Mr. Charlie for the job. I want to go to the store to get something to eat. Where do I go? Do we have any black stores? No. I mean, you know, they - The resource just wasn't there. You fight it and it's kind of like cutting your nose of spite of your face. What do you gain? So, you've got to realize, you know, get your priorities in order. Which is more important?

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James Alexander Forrest (1911 -  2009)

James Alexander Forrest (1911 - 2009)

I think maybe sometimes [African Americans] -- some of us -- have lost that desire to be informed of certain activities that we made progress in. See we've done a lot of things that have not been recorded -- a lot of inventions. And I think we need to know that and that gives you a pride in your race. "Look, there's a man just like you, same color, same features and everything, and look what he's done; he's made progress in life. Instead of being a nobody, he becomes somebody. And it just makes you feel better. I don't know whether everybody feels that way or not. Can't talk for other people. But I know a lot of us do. And that's probably why they got that display down at the library, to let people know that there are people that contributed something. And through their contribution, they should be respected. And that's the way I see it. . . .

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Clarence Smith

Clarence Smith

You have teenagers out here today that is good people. They are mannerly; they have respect for theirself; they have respect for other people, but that's the way their parents raise them. And to me, a lot of the teenage problems today go back home. They have no home training and that would really tee some people off.

But like I said, I've been driving a bus, school bus [for] 35 years. I'm hauling grandchildren of some of the first students I hauled. Not their children, their grandchildren. And, it's just as much difference in the kids that I'm hauling today and the kids I hauled 30 years ago. It's just night and day. They are loud; they're abusive. A lot of them have nasty mouths and the parents -- well, they're not like that at home.

Kids are not an angel at home and a devil when they step out the door. It just don't work that way, but it's just the teenager of today, or a big portion of them, has no resemblance of the teenager 35, 40 years ago. I mean, they just--. They're different. . .

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Elvare Smith Gaskin

Elvare Smith Gaskin (1919 - 1998)

I like the country. I never liked the city because I always was afraid in the city. It's quiet and you get to know people. There's a little bit of closeness although it's not as close as it used to be, but I just feel a little freer in the country. . . .

When we came along, discipline was handled in the home. A child wasn't sent to school for the teacher to discipline. This was done in the home and I think there's been a fallacy in upbringing and the way children are taught in the home now. There's so many things-They're allowed to do so many things. They have too much freedom. Number one, starting with the TV. And when it's just one-parent family, they don't know what the children are looking at. They don't know what they're seeing. And, they have to work. So, I think it's the home. It's in the home. It's the home situation. It's out of the cradle, out of the crib. It's: Now, I'll wait until you're three or four, but you can't wait that long anymore. You can't wait. Didn't wait with us. . . .

I don't know what I would have done without having the opportunity to teach and to work with people. I'm a people person, and I just like being with people and I like working with people. You know, regardless of what I'm doing. Nothing's too small, too low for me to do as long as I'm with people and helping people. Not without people! [laughter] And couldn't done without the Lord and my work as a teacher and helper.

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Click here to purchase "In Relentless Pursuit of an Education: African American Stories from a Csentury of Secregation (1865 - 1967)Although St. Mary's County is only 60 miles south of Washington D. C. it has been a forgotten isolated peninsula for most of its 400 years of history since the first European settlers arrived. Countians have dealt with their isolation in traditional as well as innovative ways. During the timeframe discussed in our oral histories (1865 - present), local African Americans not only had to surmount the challenges of rural poverty and the effects of Jim Crow, but also had to overcome the difficulties arising from a lack of infrastructure that is typical of Maryland's tidewater counties.

Through the stories of African Americans in Southern Maryland, we can learn about the important contributions people have made to build this vibrant community. With this knowledge and understanding of the subculture, we then can better locate ourselves in the present and plan for our futures.

Mary Somerville - Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions  

Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions PO Box 1457 Lexington Park, MD 20653

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