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.
First house me and my wife built, that was a long time ago. We built a three-bedroom house. The house was completely finished outside on two acres of land, free and clear. We went to the bank to try to borrow $500 to finish that house and we couldn't borrow it. And to me, we couldn't borrow it because we were Black. Both of us were working at the time, I mean, and the house on two acres of land you know was worth a lot more than $500, but we could not borrow $500 to finish the house inside.
I still remember that when I go to the banks today. I guess maybe I shouldn't, but if they say anything out of the way, then I'll let them know that I remember this and they're not doing me a favor. That that's their business to loan me money because it's how they-that's how they survive is loaning money and interest. You know, you've got part of the time, as much money in the bank as you want to borrow. So, they going to loan you your money back and charge you interest and they doing you a favor? I don't think so. But the way they seen it, they see it as,
"Well, I'm doing you a great favor to loan you money."
They're not doing me a favor to loan me money. I'm going to pay them back that money plus interest . . .
All the banks we deal with, we send them a financial statement every January 1 and we was getting ready to buy a piece of rental property. And, we applied for a loan at the bank. And rejected! You know, you wait and you call.
"Well, we've got to check this." Call back: "We've got to check that."
What's to check? So after about four weeks of this run-around, I told them forget it. She [Mrs. Smith] went to Leonardtown to the bank and had the check in the account in less than an hour with the same credit information. And before she got back home, the other bank had found out-I don't know how they did. So, they called to find out,
"Well, you know, we were gonna let you have the loan."
Yeah? When? "Well, can you turn this money back, we'll let you have the loan with no closing costs, no points, no nothing."
I said, "No. We don't do business that way." I said, "But maybe next time somebody applies for a loan, you will remember this," I said, "because you lost a good interest on this loan because you're dragging your feet." I said, "And, it was no reason for you to drag your feet because you have all the information you needed in the computer. All of our financial statements, the properties that we own, the accounts we had." I said, "You had all that and all you had to do was punch a button on the computer and it would come right up." I said, "And, it took you four weeks and you still didn't get the loan." I said, "And within one hour, she went to the other bank. They pushed the button; it came up; the check was wrote out and deposited in our account." I said, "Now, you've got to see something wrong with this picture: that y'all couldn't get it done in four weeks and they could get it done in one hour."
But that's--. It's still--it's still happening today. Like I said, it's not as obvious as it used to be, but it's still there. [sigh] People see blacks as a financial risk. No matter what credit you have; no matter what property you own; no matter how your payment record is. Being Black makes you a risk. And like I said, the institutions can say, "Well, we don't do it anymore," but they're lying. They still do it and like I said, two people-a Black and a White-can go to the same bank to borrow $50,000 and the White's going to get it quicker. And if he's not careful, he's going to get it at anywhere from a half to a point and a half, percentage points, cheaper than the black man, and I know this to be a fact. . .
But as long as you Black, you have a image problem. Like I said, you go into the store. A Black and White person go into the store together and--a department store--and they go different ways. If anybody's going to be followed, it's going to be the Black because you are supposed to steal something before you leave. That's their thinking; that's their attitude that you're Black, you're a thief.
It's very few people that's going to--that's living at this day and time, that's going to ever see that change totally, if it ever does. I don't think it ever will. I think it'll always be there. It's better now than it was ten years ago. Ten years ago was better than it was twenty years ago, but it's still's got a long ways to go to put the Black man on equal footing.
As a Black, I've never wanted any extra help. Just give me the same breaks that every--that you give to the White person. I'll settle for that, then it's up to me to make it or not make it on that. You know, I don't want nobody giving me anything. Just give me the chance and the choice to do what I need to do. And, it is still hard this day and time to get that chance.
I wanted to get out of housekeeping. When I started working at the college, I was making $44 every two weeks. But it wasn't really bad because everything was cheaper. As time went on and on and on, we just got up to $88 every two weeks. And then, you know, I really didn't start making any money until I got out of housekeeping and I could really do anything with Housekeeping Supervisor. And then, that didn't add up to too much. I'm doing better now with retiring. I'm getting a 2% cost-of-living raise every July by retiring. And now, we'll get a 3% cost-of-living raise this July. And since I retired, it occurred to me I should have been retired long time ago in order to do better. . . . Of course, when the president would have parties or anything, after I get off from work, I had to go down and cook and serve his parties. I would come home, some nights, around 10:30; and, go to work at 8:00. Take a break in the evening about 3:00, 3:30, I come home and fix dinner here, and leave a note and go on back down to college. And, the lady next door, Miss Butler, she would feed the children. You'd get that same check. That was the only problem. Well, after that, we got a union. We got a Union going and we told that Union that "MCA" we told them what was going on and everything, and a lot of that stuff changed. . .
. . . you talk about moving out into the world and earning money: The first job that I had was at Leonard Hall School. I worked there in the evenings. I used to wait on tables and wash dishes. I think I made $10 a week, and that was in 19–-1947. And, that’s essentially what I did. After I graduated from Henryton, I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital and I made a dollar and 75 cent an hour there. That was in 1954.
You didn’t live extravagantly. Over that time–Over that time period, we lived in a house or we lived with my mother at first, and we still had a garden. We still canned. We did all of those things so you did have enough money to pay your bills. You pooled your money. We all had to have heat so everybody contributed to that. Everybody contributed to the food. Everybody contributed to the work so therefore, you could support yourself. You had the bare necessities, or necessities, and then there were things that were left over. You had money. And if you wanted to go out and enjoy yourself, you could at certain times, places. So, there was a social life and it worked out very well. So, we were never hungry. We were never homeless. We were never without clothes.
That’s the other thing from my grandmother: She–-. Everything that came in her house had to function, had to turn over at least five times! [chuckle] You know, you didn’t just use it and throw it away. Well, what else can we do with it? Had to do several things. If it was a dress, you know, it would become, “Well, we can cut the sleeves out and make it a sleeveless dress. We can make potholders out of it. We can make dish towel out of it. We can put it in this quilt.” All of those things had to happen when something came in. She used to take feed sacks, you know, make underwear. She’d make towels. She’d make pillow cases. She’d make sheets. All of that. She’d cut the seams out and she’d sew it all.
So, my mother did the same thing. She crocheted and knitted and she would make hats, gloves, scarves. Made all of my clothes. So, the money you made, you know, you learned to do things with it.
Times were good then, I didn't have to pay any bills. . . . then, we really, considering how we lived, we really lived good. We had enough food. You know? And we enjoyed what we ate. We had what we had and we just made the best of it. . . .
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