Interview with Dallas Barnes
Civil rights movements
A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: Hi. My name is Robert Franklin. I’m conducting an interview with Dallas Barnes on March 22, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking about Dallas and his experiences living in the Tri-Cities. And for the record can you state and spell your full legal name for us?
Dallas Barnes: Dallas Barnes; D-A-L-L-A-S B-A-R-N-E-S
Franklin: Great, thanks, Dallas. Let’s talk about your life before you came; are you from the Tri-Cities?
Barnes: I’ve been around the Tri-Cities for about 60 years.
Franklin: 60 years? Okay.
Barnes: Quite a while.
Franklin: When and where were you born?
Barnes: I was born in Arkansas.
Franklin: Okay, and what year?
Franklin: 1940, okay. When did you first come to the Tri-Cities area?
Barnes: In 1952.
Franklin: Why did you come?
Barnes: I came because my mother came up here to be with her sister because Hanford was going and employment was supposed to be good.
Franklin: Her sister would be your aunt?
Franklin: Did your aunt work out at Hanford?
Barnes: No, she actually had a house and was actually providing some of the meal services to people who needed a lunch to go to work and a place to stay after they got off work.
Franklin: Your mother came for job reasons then?
Barnes: She did, she did. We didn’t come from Arkansas; we actually came from Saint Louis to Pasco.
Franklin: Okay. What was life like in St. Louis?
Barnes: Well, certainly it was segregated. I came when I was at age twelve and didn’t necessarily know about segregation at that point. I lived in an all-segregated community, went to segregated schools, and didn’t necessarily know any different other than just the urban life. Street cars, busses, sidewalks and a little grass, those type of things in the city.
Franklin: But you were certainly aware that you lived in a segregated society. Did you--
Barnes: In St. Louis not nearly as much as I did when I moved to Pasco from St. Louis. We had all of the things—we had teachers, principals, doctors, schools, things like that in our local neighborhood, as well as the gangs and the churches and all of the things that go along with urban living.
Franklin: How was Pasco different?
Barnes: Pasco, when I came we had tumble weeds and horny toads, and people were scattered about. There wasn’t necessarily a community where we lived—a community in the sense of congested neighborhoods—but moreover, a very loose semi-rural community. So it was different.
Franklin: What were your first impressions when you arrived in Pasco?
Barnes: Well, wasn’t quite sure. I got off of the train and the place I was going to live in was next to the train tracks. It was a little bit windy and I saw a tumbleweed run down the road and I didn’t quite know what that was. But all was well, because I was greeted by family and that was a good thing. My first impression was fine: I was meeting with family. And as far as the rural community, there was a lot of open space. And so my very first impression was, you know, just—my goodness, here is a real difference.
Franklin: Yeah, I imagine a real difference from St. Louis. Where was the first place you stayed after you arrived?
Barnes: With my aunt. In her house apartment if-you-will type-thing. She had rooms that she rented to some of the workers at Hanford, and we stayed in one of the rooms there when we first got here.
Franklin: Did you get to know any of the workers—the people that worked out of Hanford?
Barnes: Well, yes, but they were transient in a sense. They would get up, they come get their lunch and they go work and I would go to school and so we didn’t necessarily have a relationship if you are talking about a community-type regular involvement—we didn’t have that. Moreover, the business at the time that I came was people that was working and supposedly making money.
Franklin: That was the main reason why they were there?
Barnes: Pretty much.
Franklin: Your aunt’s house was in east Pasco?
Barnes: No, it actually was in west Pasco but so close to east Pasco because the difference between east and west Pasco was the train tracks. And we lived in west Pasco next to the train tracks.
Franklin: Kind of as far east as west Pasco went?
Barnes: As far east as west Pasco went.
Barnes: That’s right.
Franklin: When did you—how long did you stay with your aunt, and when did you move into your own place?
Barnes: Oh, I’d imagine we moved in there may be within a few months, no more than a year. I don’t recall exactly, but it wasn’t that long, because there were other apartments across the street and we moved from her house to an apartment right across the street.
Franklin: Still in west Pasco?
Barnes: Yes, still in west Pasco still next to the train tracks.
Franklin: Was it just you and your mother? Did you have any siblings?
Barnes: I had siblings; all of them were left in St. Louis, and it was just me and my mom who came up.
Franklin: How come just you came? Are you the oldest?
Barnes: No, I am actually the youngest.
Franllin: Oh, okay.
Barnes: I am the youngest and I came because some family issues there and we needed a break and so that break was out in Washington.
Franklin: Okay, that’s wild. What was the hardest aspect of life in this area to adjust to when you first got here?
Barnes: When I first got here, it wasn’t that difficult. The difference between living on the west side of Pasco and the east side of Pasco is that I went to an all-white school. If I lived in east side, I went to an all—or predominantly, I should say—black school which was Whittier Elementary School at that time. But I went to Longfellow School which was predominantly white, and that’s for people who lived in west Pasco at that time.
Franklin: Were there ever any issues where you were ever made to feel unwelcome in all-white school, being that there was a majority-black school nearby?
Barnes: Not necessarily in the early days. When I came at twelve, I was received fairly well. You know, I certainly knew my minority status, because everybody looked differently. But I wasn’t treated extremely different. I can look back and see some things that was different, but at the time that I came I didn’t notice anything other than me being one of one or two blacks that was there in that school while all of the other blacks were at a different school. And my affiliation with those other blacks was quite simple—all you had to do was walk across the track, and we all attended the same church. So I did have a black connection after schools as well as a white connection after school, to tell you the truth.
Franklin: You were kind of in both--
Barnes: I was in both worlds.
Franklin: You were in both worlds. What do you know about your mother’s life before she came out here to—kind of drawn in by Hanford?
Barnes: Well, she had an interesting life. We came from Arkansas because there were opportunities in St. Louis. Things was not good in Arkansas for people of color, black ones in particular. My father at that time worked in a packing company—a meat packing company—and jobs were plentiful. He was a military service person and so were all my brothers were. And jobs were plentiful there in the factories, and shoe factories, and garment factories there in St. Louis, as well as domestic work for the ladies who want to put on their aprons and go out and be of domestic help for the white folks who wanted to have people do some house work.
Franklin: Right, very fairly common job for African American women.
Barnes: Especially during that time, oh, absolutely.
Franklin: You mentioned that early on there were not real issues with going to a predominantly white school, but you kind of alluded that maybe later on there was a conflict?
Barnes: Later on, after elementary school, then there was only one junior high school.
Franklin: Oh, for every—for white and black.
Barnes: For white and blacks. As I went into junior high school—we’re still talking about the early ‘50s—‘52, ‘53 or ’54—whatever the time was in there. There wasn’t many, many blacks in there, but those who were there they had jobs and there wasn’t a poverty line per se if you will; people working at Hanford and doing the domestic thing. But in junior high school, I did notice that people tend to cluster together: the blacks who were from the east side of Pasco had their friends there and in junior high school they maintain those friendships. And because I was part of the church community and the other community, I could fit in with that as well and my classmates from Longfellow Grade School as well, still again I was in both communities.
Franklin: Were there ever any incidences that pulled at you to one side or the other? Did you find yourself in an awkward position?
Barnes: In junior high school?
Franklin: Or in high school.
Barnes: Oh, certainly, as I got out of high school and as I got older, certainly, oh, absolutely. But I am not sure where you want me to go from my junior high school experience into high school or college or adulthood. I’m not sure where you want me to jump this at this particular point. We were traveling from grade school to junior high there for a minute.
Franklin: That’s true. Let’s keep, I guess, going by—chronologically.
Barnes: Yeah, the sort of chronological thing.
Franklin: Then we’ll return. I wonder if you can describe life in the community when you first arrived here and in junior high, what did you do in your spare time and were there any important community events?
Barnes: Mostly there was the baseball, horned toads, there was fishing on the river. I would say that there was a quite robust community life for the black kids. We were living in a segregated community there on the east side—not totally segregated; there were some white folks that were involved in that. But during the junior high days, it was the same. We had representation and in many of the classrooms; maybe two or three blacks in the classroom with one or two or three Asian folks. Still again in the junior high years, there wasn’t that much notice on my part of me being treated that much differently on the basis of race during my junior high years. Oh, there was an occasional comment—but this is looking back as opposed as experience with a teacher or two who might have had—looking back here again, maybe an attitude towards blacks as opposed to whites. But not so much that I want to say that it was a major problem for me. The one or two people there could be easily avoided, and everything else was okay.
Franklin: In what ways was the segregation in Pasco different or similar to the segregation in the South in St. Louis and in Arkansas that you would’ve grown up in?
Barnes: Well, the difference in Pasco is that you knew that you were being discriminated against. Here looking back at it for you to be on the east side—and as you study and know this stuff—that that was part of the plan, for settling the Tri-Cities, is for blacks to be located on the east side of Pasco. And that would be a looking-back.
I can remember—I’m not sure if I was in junior high school; I think it might have been in early high school—of segregated lunch counters there in Pasco. Where, if you were to go into the drugstore where the lunch counters were, then there was the little corner were blacks would normally sit at and maybe two or three stools while the rest of the counter was white. So that was noticeable to me; I do recall those incidents.
I recall sometimes when you go into clothing stores that you seem to be awful careful that some of the merchants didn’t want you to try on your product before you buy it. You bought it. You assume it will fit. I guess they didn’t want you to contaminate a shoe or a dress, in case somebody white might be interested in putting it on afterwards. I don’t know, but that’s what I think. Because that’s the way it was in some stores.
Franklin: Right, right. There’s a pretty famous case of discrimination where a lunch counter was sued in Pasco. This would have been before you got there, but I was wondering if you ever heard of the Hazel Scott case?
Barnes: I did hear of the Hazel Scott case. I think she came in and was refused service somewhere, but I think that was in a restaurant close to the railroad tracks, because I’m not sure if she came in by rail or whatever it was, and that service was refused. I don’t know a lot of detail about it, but I did hear about it and I know about it.
Franklin: Okay, let’s see here. Running down my questions. You mentioned that you attended church.
Franklin: Which church did you attend?
Barnes: I attended the church—the Morning Star Baptist Church.
Franklin: That was a—to my understanding, that’s a pretty prominent fixture in the African American community then and--
Barnes: And now, yes.
Franklin: What role did the church play in the community then?
Barnes: Well, it was the gathering place, pretty much like it was in the South. I understand it was founded by some people who would meet in their homes and then as the home gathering grew, then they started a church. From those churches then we had some other churches over time to split off and get a couple of other Baptist churches in the east Pasco community or in the community. But it was quite central: it was the place that people meet, it’s the place we buried our dead, it’s the place that we married each other, it was the place where you could go and get your spirits lifted.
Franklin: Yeah. Do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions, including food, that people brought from the places that they came from?
Barnes: No, a lot of laughter, if you want to go that route, and a lot of comfort and feeling in being accepted among your own community. There was always a release, because I always sensed the tension when you go into the other communities. There’s a difference between being invited somewhere and feeling welcomed. Well, in the black community, you are actually welcome; in the white community you might have been invited to spend your money, but just don’t stay too long. And don’t seek to be a part of that community.
Franklin: That’s an excellent analysis.
Lori Larson: I have a question; is that possible?
Larson: You mentioned that elementary and junior high that you were a part of the—outside the school you were part of the white community. What did that entail?
Barnes: That entailed me riding my bicycle up and down the streets and chasing horned toads with my schoolmates and some of them owned shops there in town. And certainly as I was riding my bike with them and playing with them I was always welcome in their shops and I was treated very nicely by their folks. I was one of the Longfellow folks or the McLoughlin High School folks and felt that way—sincerely felt that way—by the people that I associated with.
Franklin: Awesome, thank you. What opportunities, or were there opportunities, available here that were not available where you or your parents came from?
Barnes: Opportunities such as?
Franklin: Such as—this could include education, work, housing or social or recreational activities.
Barnes: No, we were pretty much—as I still look at it, I think about it, the blacks who were not working at Hanford—and there’s a thing about Hanford and I’ll tell you about that in just a second. But most of the blacks who were not working for Hanford either worked weeding beans and picking grapes and doing some of the field work as migrants. I did that myself. Also—or as domestics. You either go out and go to Richland or Kennewick, clean houses for somebody or cut their grass or something like that. And then you go home and if you were in good shape you would take home a half a chicken or something like that they didn’t eat from the day, you know what I’m saying, that type of thing. It was an acceptable kind of a lifestyle, and people tend to be all right with that because you could still go and pick grapes, there was jobs or pull weeds, be a domestic if you are not working at Hanford.
If you were working at Hanford, then you were in a little better shape, because your paycheck was regular and you had a little bit more status in the community. Although you might be absent a lot, but when you did come around, you were in good shape and made sure that the community was in good shape by spending your money in the community or paying your tithes or whatever you did in church and representing the young people of working hard and getting ahead.
Franklin: I want to jump ahead for just a second, because this question is in my mind and you had mentioned how things were different for people who worked at Hanford than others. One of the things in this project that we are trying to find is what was the relationship between the African American community and Hanford, and was it different than the relationship between Hanford and the white community.
Barnes: Well, it depends on how you look at it. If we were to take a look at the times, if we look at the times, Hanford got started at about ‘43, ‘44, ’45—somewhere during the war time. At that time, things were very well segregated in our country—even the military was segregated at that particular time. Most of the people who migrated up here to work for Hanford were from the South, I think at that time, and maybe even now you find a lot of people from Arkansas from all places—that’s where we were born at—and some of the other places. And they brought that particular attitude and culture with them to the Hanford Site. And so we do know that Hanford was very much segregated: blacks and whites. As time went on maybe down in the ‘60s—this is before Affirmative Action came along and Art Fletcher there in the ‘60s—I’m not sure if people talk to you about that in some of your other interviews. But prior to that, it was a prize for a black to work inside a building. You see, if you had a job at Hanford, you were going to be working outside, either as a laborer or something like that, but inside as a clerk or something like that—I don’t know what the cooks and all those folks experienced. But I did hear talk among the men folks about just simply having a job and getting some overtime and things like that. And I did hear talk, as time went on, about having a job were you would work inside a building. Even as a janitor, that was supposed to be a prize kind of a job for a black man.
Franklin: Right, because it signified a space that they had been excluded from--
Barnes: Yes, absolutely.
Franklin: --out on Site. It may have not been a highly skilled job, but it would have been one that maybe would’ve been looked on as more permanent or more status than--
Barnes: It was more status because if a black—and during the times—had a position that a white person could fill—not during those times; during these times, but that’s further on in the discussion, I guess. But the fact of it is, if a white person could fill that job and be advanced more than a black, then the white person got that job. If it was janitor and it was on the inside, out of the elements, then that’s a white man’s job. If you’re going to have to put on a rain suit and get out there in the elements, then that’s a black man’s job. And you found that in the military and everywhere else. During those times, the whites had the privilege—that’s the little comment that they make these days—and blacks did not.
Franklin: Yeah, yup. There seems to be—I’ve done several of these interviews—there seems to be somewhat of a sense of betrayal by members of the black community that they felt that their family that worked at Hanford may not have been fully informed about the dangers that had been out there or they had not been properly compensated for some of the dangers that they experienced. I’m wondering if you could speak to that.
Barnes: I don’t have any firsthand experience with that, but from what I would think about that, that would be the case because that would be consistent with everything else that went along during those times. They used to make funny comments about who was your N-word last year? Which means, who picked up the worst end of the stick. So if people knew that the radiation was high in a certain area, they certainly did not—it’s like in the military: who on earth do you think went up there on the front line to deliver the ammo? My brother got shot doing that, but he didn’t get killed, but he got wounded doing that. If you were to explore the military history, who do you think delivered the bombs and got blown up on the ships and all of that? So it wouldn’t surprise me a bit although I don’t have no firsthand experience on that, and knowing that the more dangerous situation is, the more expendable black people are.
Franklin: Thank you. In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation and racism?
Barnes: Well—are you talking about now or then? [LAUGHTER] I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter, because if you’re last hired, you’re first fired—you’ve heard that; I’m sure somebody maybe in your interviews may have talked about that. If you have to have a special law called Equal Employment Opportunity, that in and of itself tells you how things are structured, and that if you’re a person of color, that you’re on the short end of the stick. Not too many white folks had to go to school or get a job because of an Equal Opportunity Employment. You don’t have to worry about getting a house because you’re a Fair Housing Community or an Equal Educational Opportunity product. Everywhere a black person tried to find—wherever they found themselves, there was always a special legal permission or allowance for them to be there. And it had a different name to go with it. You want to go to school? Well, yeah, we got Title IV so that you can come on in. You want black people here? Give us some Title IV money and we’ll welcome them in. And if you are familiar with all that, for women it was Title IX, and so forth and so on. And that’s the way it was: very deliberate, very meticulous and certainly very clear as to who the targets of the special consideration was for. Black people, at that time—now we’re talking about that time. Now it may be immigrants or somebody else, but at that time, it was blacks.
Franklin: Right. In attempt to change the imbalance, but certainly those that had the privilege may not have seen it that way.
Barnes: Well, don’t get us wrong. We are talking about me coming to the Tri-Cities in 1952, but don’t forget during the struggle between 1952 and 19—well, it’s really in the ‘70s—well, it’s really continuing—but the Civil Rights Act didn’t pass until 1964. We had all of that time of struggling before you even got to where you were legally eligible for equal opportunity. So it’s just obvious, during those times, it was hell. I mean, I could use some other polite word, but that’s what it was. In my mind it’s just crystal clear as that light you have shining here. To me.
Franklin: Right, and certainly after the Civil Rights Act of ‘64--
Barnes: ‘68, ‘54. You know in ’54, Brown v. Board of Education—come on, all of that. Supreme Court action that broke up segregation and all of this, and so the people who lived before 1964, which was much of Hanford, especially the building of Hanford, it was just common practice to segregate blacks out, give them the short end of the stick. And that was common practice because most of the people who settled or came to Hanford or to the Tri-Cities came from the South. They came from the South where segregation and Jim Crow—we’re still in Jim Crow. That’s how come you can’t even serve a celebrity. We’re still in Jim Crow, you can’t live where you want.
Franklin: Similar to Hazel Scott.
Barnes: Yeah, that’s right; you see what I mean.
Franklin: Yeah, it’s not like civil law passes and magically--laws also don’t—they provide a mechanism for change, but they don’t initiate the change.
Barnes: That’s right.
Franklin: Yeah. This is a very vague question, but maybe you can think of a specific example. Could you describe any interactions you or your parents had with other people from other parts of the Tri-Cities area? Anything that comes to your mind.
Barnes: Not necessarily, I’m not sure if you are talking about other people of color or just other people in general?
Franklin: In general.
Barnes: Well, during those particular times, don’t forget it was much of any of the work at Hanford was based on a need-to-know. You could hardly ask another person if it was daylight outside without them asking you, what is your need to know, because security was just that tight based upon the work they were doing in Hanford. I did work in Hanford when I was—in the ‘60s—in the early ‘60s—and even then, it was a need-to-know. You had your badges, and your badges allowed you to certain places, and you could go to work in a suit and put your jumpsuit or whatever you’re going to do behind those walls and no one would know what you did.
That was an interesting kind of observation that was made later on, because regardless of your position was at Hanford, when you went to work you could have one presentation; while you were at work you could have another presentation. You know, your status may not be as high when you walk through the gates, because you had to un-robe and dress up and put on various outfits and so forth and so on. But the point I was making by saying that is that the interaction with people all over, if they worked for Hanford, you didn’t talk about it. You talked about fertilizers, lawnmowers and upkeep, and whether or not you drove a Ford or a Chevy or something like that.
Franklin: And the weather, as long as it’s not out at Hanford.
Barnes: Yeah. Don’t talk about the weather too much; some isotope might be falling out the sky. Because you don’t—seriously, incidentally. [LAUGHTER] But, no, everything was sort of superficial but we got along well because everybody did it; hello, how are you? Fine, church was great, yeah, sure enough—that type of thing.
Franklin: Thank you. Before high school—and I think after this couple questions we’ll switch, right, because it sounds like kind of more a time of change in your life. But before then, did segregation and racism affect your education?
Barnes: In high school?
Franklin: Before then.
Barnes: Well, let’s see. Coming from St. Louis I didn’t necessarily know, coming from St. Louis and the urban living where, during my days in the classroom, I recall girls sitting in one side of the classroom and boys sitting on the other, and during recess the girls played on one side of the playground and the boys on the other, and that little strip between the two was just a hill as they competed for the top dog in the minds of the ladies or whatever. And then as far as—you were talking about competition, I’m sorry I--
Franklin: How did segregation and racism affect your education?
Barnes: During high school, there were some teachers—white—in fact, all of my education in Pasco was without any black influence whatsoever. There was not a black teacher in the school district. I don’t even know if there was a black teacher in the Tri-Cities. But—I can’t speak for all the rest of them—but for me there was not a black teacher who influenced my education during my junior high and high school days, period. Okay.
Given that, there were some white folks who were interested in my future and asked me what I was going to do. And there was white folks who in high school was hoping that I could go and be a body fender man because vocations were good. That’s an acceptable trade. And was pretty much concerned about that, and there were some who might have thought that there may be something else like being a teacher that I should at least further my education there in high school.
So, I’m going to say that I had an exposure to vocational education and less exposure, but nonetheless exposure to maybe higher education which could have been just junior college. But still again, there was that interest, some of the teachers were interested in my future, educational future.
Franklin: Were there any other people that influenced you as a child?
Barnes: Influenced me as a child, like what?
Franklin: It could include family members, friends or other teachers. People that influenced you to kind of—positive influence--
Barnes: Yeah, there were community members who went to all-black colleges who were quite articulate and usually those people would go to the city council and petition the council for paved roads or water or whatever it was that wasn’t there in the east Pasco community. That was sort of impressive because you could tell that they were very fluent in the way that they presented their concerns to the city council. And actually had some backbones in doing so. That was one of the things that came out of the South, the same—like the people who came out of the South under segregation and was fighting for a better presence in the scheme of things in life actually had some commitment to it. So there was an influence there.
I remember there was a reverend in Lakey who was in the community and he was on this—I think it was called the Town Hall. In fact, he came through the community last year. There was that religious group, they call it the Town Hall Group or—I’ve forgotten what they called them—and he was a minister at the Methodist church—a young man—and people used to just gather around him and just listen him to talk about not only religious-type things but moving ahead in life, and just good role modeling on his part. There was him and there was some other men, the brick masons in town, other people here were other people who certainly would—there were other men folks who had an interest in the community development that was impressive, I thought. That I know, I should say, I didn’t think, I know—and that was an influence on me, yes.
Franklin: Yeah. When you were going into high school—I guess we’re getting into the later part of the ‘50s—did things begin to change locally for you in regard to race relations or the change between the white and black communities?
Barnes: Right. Now, we were immune here in the Tri-Cities to all of the noise that was going on down in the South. You know, in 1954 we’re talking about Brown v. Board of Education; we’re talking about 1957, we’re talking about George Wallace and standing up there and taking the strongest military force on earth to get little kids to go to high school. Strongest military force on earth. Imagine that. [LAUGHTER] To a get a few kids. All of that sort of—not sort of—it did have an impact on me, because I was not a part of that.
Now, part of my junior high days and playing baseball on the sandlots and all of that, I was sort of athletic, and it just seemed to me that the folks that looked like me was taking a beating and I wasn’t doing too much about it. Probably like the veterans did where Pearl Harbor got bombed and people went to join the drafts so that they could be part of the action to defend the country. Well, all that civil rights noise was going on back south in the Midwest and I’m sitting out here chasing horny toads and playing basketball, and doing pretty good but not affected by it. But it did affect me. The national crisis for black people was a calling for me to play my part in doing whatever I could to fight the battle that was going to benefit me or my kids or whoever else was coming along.
Franklin: What did you see as action that you could have in that?
Barnes: Well, one of the things that we were doing—and I have to give credit to the white folks who were more sensitive to this than I was—the ones who actually came in to the black community and educated us on what was happening to us. And I also want to give a recognition to the white folks that came into the community to educate the black kids the tutorial services. Sometimes—I understand that other white folks didn’t like other white folks coming over educating black kids to help them understand their school work and all that other stuff, but they did it.
What did we do? I participated in marches up and down the street. I think that was about the size of it. There were other things going on there, too. I may as well just mention it, because it is true. At that particular time the LDS Church—the Latter Day Saints Church—had this particular belief about blacks and their worthiness of priesthood, things like that. So I got into a discussion with friends and things like that, and when you put it all in perspective, if you got—during those times, if you got laws that are going to segregate against you on housing and employment and everything else and then you got a whole religious institution with millions of folks heavily representing the area that believe that your soul isn’t quite ready for heavenly matters. Now you’re really in a bind.
Now I’m also going to say this, but it was members of the LDS Church that were some of my biggest supporters on moving forward, too. I want to throw that out there. I’ll tell you, if you want to know what a strain was, it’s to look of person face-to-face and have that person tell you that you are not ready yet to receive blessings that they have. Now that is a sensation. And they were sincere about it, and good people, too. I don’t want to say that there were a big, humungous explosion, but it did require to do some deep thinking about it; there’s an apparent contradiction, at least in my mind.
Franklin: That is quite a contradiction.
Barnes: It was. Because, I have to tell you, my relationship with my LDS friends was first-rate. But to look at them face-to-face and they’d tell me I’m just quite not ready yet. [LAUGHTER] That actually will make your blood corpuscles turn different shapes.
Franklin: I would imagine so.
Barnes: They were serious about it; they were dead serious about it.
Franklin: Right, it was part of their doctrine.
Barnes: That’s what I’m talking about. And you’re living in a community that is the case. You got all these people from the South thinking one way, you come out here and you discover—because nobody talks about this; you have to talk it out however you find it out. Then you have millions of people over here thinking another way. And in both ways, you lose.
Barnes: Yeah, that’s what it’s like—that’s what it was to me growing up here.
Franklin: You mentioned marches earlier. I’m wondering if you could talk about those—some details, where they were and what your role was there.
Barnes: My role as a young person was just to be a participant; I wasn’t necessarily a leader. In my high school day it was, who’s going to stand up on this side of the issue? Whose parents are going to lose their job because you’re standing on this side of the issue? Or are you going to lose any stand in the community, because here you are standing up, marching and then your friends are standing on the side, they’re not marching with you, looking at you march and all of this because some kid got bombed down in Louisiana, Birmingham; or Martin Luther King has gotten shot; or none of the black are being employed in the grocery stores, or any of that.
There was two marches I remember. I remember marching in Pasco and I remember marching in Kennewick. I’m not exactly sure; I think it was the NAACP who sponsored those marches and sometimes they had to have people come in—because the leader may have been in Yakima, Spokane or Seattle. They would come to the Tri-Cities to help the people who didn’t have organizational skills to organize and let it be known that we are concerned, too, about the condition of black people and their wellbeing in the community.
Franklin: Do you remember the years of those marches?
Barnes: They had to be in the ‘50s, and I’m trying to think if they were in the ‘60s. I think they may have been in maybe the ‘50s or ‘60s—somewhere there.
Franklin: Okay. Was there any outcome of those marches?
Barnes: No, because they were pretty much all involved with the same kind of—it was all plugged into the national concerns: better jobs, better educational opportunities, better job opportunities, type thing. The regular things that people was concerned about—equal employment, equal housing, equal educational opportunities.
Franklin: When did you graduate high school?
Franklin: ’59. And you said that in the early ‘60s you went out to work at Hanford.
Barnes: I did.
Franklin: Was that your first job after high school?
Barnes: It was. It was, except for when I went to junior college, I had a job changing sprinklers and working at the golf course, because I was an athlete and part of your scholarship was that they would loan you the money to go to school and you worked to pay off the loan. So I had that job before I went to work at Hanford.
Franklin: Did you go to CBC?
Franklin: Did you graduate from CBC?
Barnes: I did.
Franklin: What was your degree on?
Barnes: It was—what was it? I’m trying to think. I think it may have been in the sciences, but I know it was just the liberal arts, AA degree.
Franklin: What sorts of work did you do at Hanford?
Barnes: Believe it or not, I was one of the guys that worked on the inside.
Franklin: On the inside?
Barnes: I worked on the inside.
Barnes: I worked on the inside and my job was to—actually to change samples in the sodium iodide crystal which would determine what isotopes was in whatever the sample was. Like testing the rain water that we talked about earlier, or testing the river to see how much contamination may had been in there, and testing anything else they brought in that need to be tested for various isotopes.
Franklin: Was this in the 300 Area?
Barnes: Yeah, it was 300.
Franklin: Do you remember what building you were in?
Franklin: 326, yeah that sounds about right. What on-the-job training did you receive, if any?
Barnes: Well, I think I had my six months’ probation or whatever that they normally do. And it wasn’t necessarily that challenging. They would pay me to go to school and I took advantage of that. And, oh yeah, I went to school, and that’s where the little scientific effort came, because they was paying for me to be better at what I was doing. So I learned a couple, two to three formulas there, to learn to calculate the half-life of various kinds of isotopes and how to calibrate the machines and things like that. That was about it, there was some schooling and on-the-job training type thing.
Franklin: Did you require any skills or experience on the job that helped you later in life?
Barnes: I actually quit that job—well, I went to work for General Electric and when they diversified or got out of the picture, then I went to work to a company called US Testing. Because the US Testing got that part of analyzing certain isotopes from certain environmental areas. Your question was, did that help me in life?
Franklin: Did you require any skills or experience that helped you--
Barnes: Oh yeah, that helped me, yeah. I mean, I learned experience, I can talk a little of that talk. I’m surprised I’m able to recall that right now. But it did, it gave me a lot of confidence. The thing about the scientific community, either you’re right or wrong, and if you want your job, you’d better be right, if not all the time, so close to it that you can have the confidence that your calculations are right and that everything is going on. It was a good confidence-builder, the collegiality that I had in my job was great. It was great. I actually quit that job after Kennedy got killed and some other things went on to join the War on Poverty.
Franklin: Oh! Oh, okay Johnson—Lyndon Johnson.
Barnes: Yeah. To join the War on Poverty, and the Community Action Committee and things like that was just getting started here in the community. I quit that job to take a position there so that I, again, I could make my contribution to what going on in society instead of taking care of their—you know, doing a pipette and a beaker and a Bunsen burner and that type of thing.
Franklin: Is that pretty much what a typical day was like at Hanford for you?
Barnes: It was. And I recall a conversation that I had with my boss who was first-rate—first-rate—and he called me in one day and we were talking about where am I going from here, because you could get pretty much stuck in there. It’s a small company so everyone else is going to stay there for 40 years like you, or whatever it is, if you wanted to. He was talking about moving up and if I had any type of talent or been able to converse with people get along and whatever my athletic talents allowed me to do in terms of being competitive and this and that and so forth. He made a point, he said, Dallas, you would be very good at sales, but we can’t do that. Because white folks won’t buy from you, he said that.
Franklin: He said that to you?
Barnes: Oh, very--his and our relationship was first-rate, first-rate. First-rate. He said, I would love to do it but I can’t do it, because they won’t buy from you. He was just acknowledging that our society is prejudiced and they will not buy from a black person. And he said why don’t you go back and finish your degree in chemistry or whatever the science might be, and be the first-rate scientist that you can be. That way you can work in the lab, make a whole lot of money, but don’t nobody know who you are, you see what I mean? It’s just your product is marketable. In essence he’s saying your product is marketable; you’re not. You see what I mean?
And it made sense, don’t get me wrong. I had to digest all of that, and it made sense, especially as I got older and understood it better. But we did have that conversation and he was trying to move me forward so that I could make some money and have a decent life. But he was telling me to stay away from sales because those white folks would not buy from black folks. So be a scientist. Let your product be the best that it can be and people would never know that you did it and your company would pay you well and all of that, and you could do all the things that money would allow you to do.
Franklin: But you obviously didn’t go that route.
Barnes: No, I didn’t. Because the calling for social involvement was a much louder call, much louder call. You can’t have kids out there taking a beating while you’re sitting in a lab titrating some damn sample. You just can’t do it.
Franklin: Your conscience wouldn’t let you do it?
Barnes: It wouldn’t let me do it.
Franklin: Before you move on to that I just had a couple other questions about your job at Hanford, some of these you already answered. How were you treated on the job, were you treated--?
Barnes: I was treated well; I was treated like everyone else. Like I say, if you make mistakes you’re not going to be there too long. [LAUGHTER] If you’re good at what you do—and very few people knew what that was because there was a need-to-know, I had a little small work group and I carried my share of the load in an acceptable manner and I was treated well on all of the jobs that I had at Hanford.
Franklin: What kinds of interactions did you have with your coworkers and supervisors outside of work?
Barnes: Outside of work? Well, we had a bowling team, me and my other—there were a lot of spaces. I went hunting, bird hunting, deer hunting with my colleagues and we talked a lot about tractors and whether or not you’re going to have a Toro as opposed to a Craftsman.
Franklin: You weren’t making that up earlier? You were really serious.
Barnes: I’m not kidding about that. That is the truth.
Franklin: I guess a safe conversation?
Barnes: It was safe conversation. We had a bowling team there at work and every now and then they would throw a little social at work and we’ll socialize and all that and the company’s profit—that’s after we started working privately as opposed to working for the government. It was great, it really was.
Franklin: Could you describe the working conditions?
Barnes: You showed up on time because it’s almost—it wasn’t quite a conveyor belt, but the people would run in with their urine samples or whatever it is that you have to test that day, and before the half-life got away, you better chase it down and all of that. The working conditions was pretty straight 8:00 to 5:00 and usually samples come in at a certain, particular time. If you’re working at a lab, you had to treat it and after they treat it then you count it and so forth and so on. My job was pretty much regular routine; the variety came in the samples that I was going to work with. And incidentally, I had some chance to work with some moonrocks during that time. Or at least it was in the lab there and I got to see that. There was some variety, but it was routine and we all had it. You do your part, you pass it to John Doe and they do their part. And I’m sure that all of that had to deal with the security because that’s they way that Hanford worked. You never did get to know too much. You always get to know how to do your part and you do it very well.
Franklin: What were the most difficult aspects of the job?
Barnes: My job at Hanford?
Barnes: I don’t know if I had any, because they moved you along as you were able to move along. In other words, I thought Hanford, when I worked there, you master this particular part then you qualify to go to the next. Like school, you pass the first grade, you can go to the second. That’s the way that it bounced along.
Franklin: What were conditions like in terms of health and safety?
Barnes: In my case, we had our badges there that it would tell us that we were exposed and we had to take a whole body count every so often. As I look back on it, I thought it was great. Because we had our badges there, if we got exposed it would show up. And part of our job—part of the job with the company that I worked with was to analyze the exposure that came on those badges for people who were out in the Area. So looking back at it, I felt pretty safe.
Franklin: How did your racial background figure into your work experience?
Barnes: My racial background figure into my work experience?
Barnes: I think that if I went to work in 1962, I’m not exactly sure when Affirmative Action came along because I know that it may have been a little bit after that.
Franklin: I believe so.
Barnes: Or maybe during that time, because I know that Hanford had to have so many--you know, they want to call it quotas and things like that—I don’t think I was affected by that. I think it came after I was out there in Hanford. And I think—I’m not exactly sure how—I got to Hanford, I applied for a position, got it however all of that was, and they get the background check, they check with your neighbors, they check with your school, they take your blood count; whatever they do to make sure that you are going to work out there real nice. But in terms of my racial—factored into this I don’t think I considered myself an Affirmative Action employee, if you know what I mean.
Barnes: I don’t think that I was that—at least I didn’t feel that I was that.
Franklin: We already talked about this a bit but I wanted to ask and see if anything else comes up. In what ways did security and/or secrecy at Hanford impact your work or daily life?
Barnes: No more than it did to anyone else. There was nothing—if you don’t know anything, you can’t see anything. I think that Hanford made sure that no one knew too much.
Barnes: Certainly separation between work and play—being at work and being off work.
Franklin: What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?
Barnes: What I know about them?
Barnes: Well, when I came, I knew that there were a lot of people that worked at Hanford that was back in 1952, ’53, and knew at the time that they were building Hanford and people were working there. I knew something about when Affirmative Action came along, and it was required that they do a better job in distributing minorities and women in the various levels of employment. They could be employed, but women don’t necessarily need to be in the kitchen all the time. They may want to be clerks or supervisors or chemist or whatever else, and with the other minorities too. I do remember that coming along and I do remember an effort of contractors trying to meet those obligations so that they can qualify to renew those contracts. There was efforts out to recruit minorities and historical black schools, and other communities, and make publications, and black newspapers and things like that—put ads in black newspapers, and I’m sure there were other publications, so that they would know that there were opportunities at Hanford for employment.
Franklin: From your perspective what were their—and “their” being African Americans that worked in Hanford—what was their most important contributions in the areas of work, community life and civil rights?
Barnes: Well, they were pretty much the stability of that. If you have a long-term job that’s going to pay you well then you can buy your house, and you can be a member of the community and you can send your kids to school with some decent clothes, if that was it. It was stable. It was pretty much that way for everybody here in the Tri-Cities as far as I’m concerned. That if you worked for Hanford, if you didn’t work for Hanford, then you worked for the school district, if you didn’t work for the school district, I don’t know where you worked then. But anyway any of those supporting type, trucking and foreman, pulling weeds or beans or whatever you’re doing. So, I don’t think it was much more different than regular flow of life in the Tri-Cities.
Franklin: Hm, okay. I want to switch now to kind of talking about civil rights activities, Hanford and the Tri-Cities, and then by extension some of your work in the War on Poverty. What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford in the Tri-Cities during your time here?
Barnes: Still again, getting more people to be at the various levels of employment out at Hanford was a big issue. When Affirmative Action came along, we wanted better representation on the jobs in different fields. We wanted some professional blacks working at Hanford, some chemists, some physicists, some business people, some clerks and secretaries or whatever it was. We didn’t necessarily want to be relegated to the cleaning crew out there at Hanford, whether it would be outside or inside. I do recall that there was an effort to get more professional people there and the same was true in the school districts too.
Franklin: What about any living conditions issues? Did that play into the civil rights efforts here?
Barnes: Well, there is always—and I still think and hear rumors that there are certain communities that you’re not welcomed; people don’t even advertise some homes because they want to be selective to who is going to come into that neighborhood, especially those by the rivers in some places. Other than that, I hear rumors that realtors are still steering professional peoples away from Pasco and especially they may tell people that don’t want to live in east Pasco and something like that. But east Pasco as you probably have heard from others that had a bad reputation at one time, and it may still have that. But I doubt if you’ve heard very much that was all by design, by the officials who wanted east Pasco to be just that. Just, where do you want to put your homeless? Well, you certainly don’t want to put them out, down there where the boat basin is.
Franklin: That also reflects, too, on things like redlining and the Fair Housing Authority and things like that--
Barnes: All of that.
Franklin: --that created segregation in all of our major cities.
Barnes: We were concerned at one time about having police representation—I mean some minority representation, black in particular, on the police force there Pasco since blacks represented a good sizeable portion of the police business, since they put all the vice over in east Pasco. They’re located over there and then they go harvest that for whatever money they can get out of that.
But even then when people would qualify coming from the other places with police backgrounds and military backgrounds, there is talk that if you became a member of the police force, then they don’t want you to go police in the white communities. If you’re black, you go police in the black communities, but the white can police in the black and white community. I guess there was just a problem with having a black police officer come to a white household to settle a domestic dispute. Couldn’t handle it. [LAUGHTER]
And if you think of the times—and we’re not too far from those times. We’re talking about my lifetime and here I sit, you know what I mean? The point of it is, you still have those at the highest level—at the highest level of enforcement in all of this, saying, you can be a police officer but not in my community. So you go over and arrest the black folks there, but don’t come to the white folks and knock on somebody’s door and talk about you’re going to settle a domestic dispute. Are you kidding? They just lay it out there, some of them, and I think I may be simplifying it but that’s the way it was.
Franklin: No, I think you’re saying it really well. And you’re right about how that history’s not that old and what is happening right now around the US that speaks directly--
Barnes: Absolutely, absolutely.
Franklin: What actions were being taken to address these civil rights issues at Hanford and the Tri-Cities?
Barnes: If it wasn’t protest, we had one person who came through, Art Fletcher. Art Fletcher. He came through, he started a credit union in east Pasco. If you look up his history, I think he was one of the first blacks to play for the Los Angeles Rams. There was other programs, all kinds of—OIC, occupation old industry—something or another where you had on-the-job training and placement for underprivileged for low income or minority kids, so forth and so on. And he started the coop.
What else did we do? Place people in grocery stores and if they didn’t hire black we were going to boycott the stores. Boycott was going to be one of the tools we used some black representation in some of the markets. Things like that. And the thing about east Pasco at the time, we actually had a little community where there were black businesses, cafes and service stations, and things like that; whereas today I don’t think you have a one. And if you did have one, it’s just one.
Franklin: Were there any other important leaders of civil rights efforts in the area?
Barnes: Oh, yeah. There was some local people. We had a person named E.M. Magee who was a one-man demonstration—I remember that. He was an inspiration, too. E.M. Magee was a one man-demonstration. I remember picking up at the labor hall and because a lot of people I think it was a little bit fearful of the consequences if you get out there and it may make some of the white folks mad at them. They don’t want to be seen. They’d be supportive, but they didn’t want to be seen supporting people, sort of like the silent contributor. That we have today, you know other people—psst—say, I support you but don’t let nobody know.
Franklin: Probably—they could’ve been afraid for their job, or recrimination or retribution.
Barnes: Absolutely, absolutely. And then you have those people who would quit their job to get out and fight that battle. Because it’s sort of pitiful, you know what I mean? That a person would let their morals—I guess I can call it that; maybe there’s a better word for that—that a few dollars would get in the way of that. And it’s not uncommon. Please, believe me, and I’m sure you do, that money makes people do crazy stuff and compromise morals and everything else. They do it in marriages; they do it certainly for civil rights and things like that.
But our heroes were the ones who went against that. And we did have people, we had East Pasco Improvement Association where we would always go and petition the city council to provide better roads, to oil the roads or to put in a sewer pipe so we don’t have to have a cesspool out there in the community, or to fill the holes so the kids won’t hurt themselves or something like that, you know, to put up a stoplight.
Franklin: Things that were lacking in east Pasco compared to the other communities?
Barnes: Oh, absolutely, and in fact so lacking that we actually had an urban renewal program to come through east Pasco.
Barnes: To get rid of the blight and all of that particular kind of thing.
Franklin: Those have such a long and storied history in America. I wanted to ask you, were you living in the Tri-Cities during that urban renewal program?
Barnes: Right, in fact I worked for the Urban Renewal.
Franklin: Okay, so it has—then I’m sure you’re aware of this kind of long and kind of complicated history of Urban Renewal, how often it seemed to move the problem around, or in some cases it would demolish older neighborhoods that may have had problems, but it would often result in—there were a lot of failures in public housing or in pushing people farther away from their jobs. I wondering if you could reflect on Pasco’s urban renewal and whether or not it was a success.
Barnes: Pasco’s urban renewal—and, in fact, I served as the relocation officer there for a while—you would come in and you demolished the houses and then you would either find them another place to stay or to help them build a house or something like that after they were compensated for that. And at that time Fair Housing and all of that was at play as well. Certainly, the east Pasco community got broken up with urban renewal, people left the area, people moved to the west side of Pasco. I guess they considered that an upgrade—and it would be, the streets were paved and everything else.
But Urban Renewal came through east Pasco and paved some of the streets; they had a rehab program where they actually would take some of the houses that were structurally sound and give people either grants or loan to fix them up. So we had some improvement there, then we had some builders to come in and build some low income housing and things like that. In Pasco, I think that the urban renewal had its advantages for that one little section that they did, but when blacks moved out then white flight begin.
Franklin: One of the other legacies of Urban Renewal.
Barnes: Yeah, you see, because as soon as black people move in—you know, they could always have one, but then there is a critical mass. And I forgot the ratio, but it’s out there in the literature somewhere, that if you get too many then the property values are expected to go down. You had—if you recall Lewis Street, south of Lewis is where the renewal took place the most, and some of the people wanted to move into the north side of that. And then you have the white flight to move out and blacks took over some of that at that particular time. And then there was an occasional one close to the tracks. Not farther west, but closer to the tracks, a little bit further than it was when I first moved to Pasco.
Franklin: Thank you. What were some notable successes of the civil rights efforts in the Tri-Cities?
Barnes: Certainly, we saw an influx during that one time of more professional black people coming in. Because I think once Hanford and GE, and DuPont, and—I forgot them—ARCO, or some of those large contractors got out of the picture and we did more diversification. Companies made an effort to go and get people of color—blacks that I’m making reference to—and did a lot of recruiting. So we actually brought more black people to the community to work at Hanford and that built the community, too, because that built integration in the communities. You still had your need-to-know and things like that and if you really wanted to sit down, laugh out loud, you’d get the hush-hush. If you really wanted to get down and laugh loud, then you had to find a little cluster minority folks where you can do that. So one of those successes was that we brought more people into the area as supposed to laborers like we did when we were building Hanford.
The second part of that is that when it was required and Title IV, and all of that, where school districts and other entities got money for hiring people of color, we actually had a black superintendent in Pasco named Dave Hill—superintendent of schools—and we had principals, and teachers. The people of color—predominantly black during the time that I’m talking about, as opposed to Hispanics, which is predominantly now—they had more role models. You actually can say that I actually had a black person to contribute to my formal education. I don’t even think too many white folks these days can say that, because I don’t see that many blacks present in our school districts now as I did at that one time, if you see what I’m saying.
Franklin: I do. As a direct result of these civil rights laws, you’re saying that in the ‘60s and ‘70s--
Barnes: You actually had and affirmative effort on the parts of school districts and contractors to go and get people so that they can meet what you may call—I don’t want to call them quotas--but anyway, so you could show there is a good faith effort to make your workforce reflect the society that’s paying the bills, like tax payers.
Barnes: That type of thing. So we saw that. You don’t see that now—I don’t see that now and I’m not looking closely as I did at one time. But I don’t see representation of black teachers in the school districts. And it’s problematic, because we’ve got a whole bunch of problems as a result of no role models in the community. And I don’t see the commitment on the part of school districts to do that as I did at that one time that they actually made an effort to do it.
Franklin: That’s really interesting. I don’t want to get too off-topic, but I’ve done some research into this area, and it seems schools now schools are more segregated than they were in the ‘70s or ‘80s because of the ongoing white flight. But it seems like the attention has shifted from that—it seems like maybe many had thought we had done enough effort or kind of structurally solved this problem, and it’s really faded. But things are worse now than they were then and that’s only getting worse as suburbanization and white flight continues.
Barnes: That’s right and I’m going to say that it is based on a conscientious efforts on the part of the people who is doing the flighting to do it. Because once the problem has come to their attention—it’s almost like the Civil Rights Movement itself--all of these advances or gains that I just got through talking about is with the white community being caught off guard. And so there was a pacification period that resulted in Title IX, title this, that, and so on, until, like a chess game, you organize your pieces and then you get what we got right now.
Franklin: Yeah. That’s a really poignant way of looking at it.
Franklin: You just call ‘em the way you see ‘em, right
Barnes: You asked me to call it as I see it—
Franklin: I want you to.
Barnes: --and that’s the way I see it. And, you know, we are advanced we got all kinds of techniques to get the message out and we also got all kind of techniques to subvert efforts that we don’t want around and people.
Franklin: What were some of these challenges in civil rights efforts in this area?
Barnes: In this area?
Barnes: Mainly to get people to—well, number one to recognize we have a problem because a lot of people live in a state of denial. They say if you work hard and all that kind of stuff that you’ll get ahead and be rewarded your due. That’s not true in my experience, and in my exploration of looking for it to be true. It is not true. Hard work don’t necessarily get that. I think we are—we talk in terms of political correctness—but I think politics have contaminated honest efforts on the part of good people. I think there’s a lot of good people that got cast to the side. If you talk a lot of civil rights talk and equality talk, I don’t think that that’s a popular conversation this days.
Franklin: No, I would I agree with you. It seems to be very divisive in our political climate and there’s a group of—a large constellation of people who are opposed—I think opposed to that and want things to be merit-based.
Barnes: They call it merit-based, but as we--
Franklin: I’m going to use that with quotes, right—“merit-based.”
Barnes: Yeah, please. Because I think as we look at the whole history of race relations in the country, there was nothing meritorious about it. You don’t redline something on the base of merit, unless we’re talking about white privilege. You don’t necessarily pass people up in cabs when they’re ready to pay the toll. You’ve seen the little studies that do that and all of that, you don’t do that. No, no, no, no. It is not a basis of merit. During my day, there was old sayings that used to fly all the time, say, I’m white, free and 21. I’m not sure if you heard that.
Franklin: No, I haven’t. Can you repeat that?
Barnes: White, free and 21. They said that a lot when I was growing up. I’m white, free and 21, suggesting that you could do whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want. White, free and 21. I’m sure that if you google it, it probably will pop up there somewhere. And that type of thing; and who was your N last year, N-word, you know. Which means who did all that stuff--
Franklin: I just heard that on a podcast this morning.
Barnes: Oh, you see what I mean. So, it was part of the culture to make sure—and everybody wants to talk about, I’m not privileged and all this, but they just need to review a little bit more history and go sit down or something. But you know the reality of it is there unless we want to deny history there and say that the Holocaust didn’t exist or something. We got people who do that kind of crazy stuff.
Franklin: We sure do.
Barnes: That’s the way it is, and it’s almost taboo to talk about it these days, and we can see that we are moving back to where we once were. The have-nots are the have-nots again, and they’re very well-complected. And the haves are pretty much white.
Franklin: Yeah. How did the larger, national civil rights movement influence civil rights efforts in Hanford and the Tri-Cities?
Barnes: How did the larger Civil Rights did it? People came here with different attitudes, and people don’t want necessarily to bring the problems—the national problems to this locality—and they don’t want to bring them by keeping the people of color out of this locality, that’s the way I see it.
This is fine, and I’m sure that as you explore the literature, you’ll find that the Northwest is supposed to be where the white folks are supposed to take over this part of the country. So you got all of your posse groups up in north Idaho and Western Washington, up there close to the Canadian Border and all that other kind of stuff. You know, we’re pretty heavily represented from Portland here, with white supremacists or whatever you want to call these people with, now, it’s-all-right-to-be-white publications floating around in the community and that type of thing.
The national scene—that’s what the national scene is now as I see it. I actually would say that we actually had a better time in history, where people got along a heck of a lot better than we do right now. The question is why is that so? And I’m saying it’s because the people of ill will have maneuvered the pieces like you do on a chess board to make it that way.
Franklin: Hmm. What was different about the civil rights effort here, if anything, than compared to the national civil rights effort?
Barnes: Well, the civil rights effort here was that it had its heyday and then people let that fade away. There is no replacement; there’s no recruitment; there’s not even hardly a discussion. If you take a look at it, we have gone from Black History Month, Native American, women this, to this thing that we call diversity. Diversity dilutes any particular concentrated effort. That’s why we use it.
Because in a diluted state, you have no power—or you have less power, less impetus. You know, we’re going to have one day and we are going to have spaghetti for the Italian and, you know what I mean, some chicken for blacks, some Spanish food for the Hispanics and something like that and we’re going to do it all in one day. Well, that’s not what that’s all about. We have that particular thing every day.
What we want to do is review where we have been, where we are coming from and how to make it better so we can keep our eyes on the prize. We’ve been taken away from that. You don’t find that in schools anymore. You don’t find people talking about Black History Month. You don’t see that—you don’t. And that was a deliberate effort, because people are now asking, where is the white history month? They’ve been asking that for ages. As if a lot of people don’t know—and some of them don’t, maybe. That’s where the emphasis is now is that we want to put the emphasis up on white folks.
Franklin: Just last week—earlier this week in Franklin County, the coroner posted something on his social media page saying exactly that—a meme from a white power organization. This is an elected person in our own community who was—in the most positive way you can spin it is blissful, maybe, ignorant of that, or perhaps a more cynical eye would say he is more than ignorant.
Barnes: You would expect that at one time—and kudos to Columbia Basin College—but you would normally expect that universities would sort of lead the pack in at least keeping contemporary issues alive, somehow or another. We don’t see that—no, I don’t see that. I don’t see their intellectual institutions taking alive—I don’t see enough of that. In the old days, you used to see a lot of that, you used to see a lot more. You used to have controversial or at least high-profile figures coming and speaking on campuses, things like that, just to invite the public out to hear different points of views. We used to—I remember Julian Bond coming into the community, I remember--
Franklin: Who’s that?
Barnes: Julian Bond was a very prominent civil rights leader during the day.
Barnes: Yeah, very much. One of the first blacks legislators I think in Georgia, the—it’s escaping me—the NAACP, I think he was the head of that. But anyways, his name was Julian Bond, but he came to the Tri-Cities. And there was another one: the guy that integrated the University of Mississippi, he came through and spoke. I was going to call him Julius Lester, but that’s not him; Julius Lester is an author of a book that’s very interesting. But they came through the community and yet even some of the Hispanic people that would come through and give the community an opportunity to hear diverse opinions or to just listen to somebody who knew what they were talking about talk about pretty pertinent issues just to stay focused.
But I don’t see much of that going on at any of our institutions of higher learning as I once did. And you have to ask the question why. Not only that, I don’t see many people of color even in our institutions of higher learning so that people of color can contribute—can contribute—to the education of the younger generations coming along. In the olden days if you were going to hire somebody, they used to say, if you are going to hire a black person make sure that it’s in the sciences or in P.E. so you’re not a threat there. Just don’t put him in the social sciences where there’s variance and opinions can be changed. If you’re going to see a black employee usually in higher education or something like that, he might be a scientist. You might have a language teacher or something like that in a non-threatening situation. But not in sociology or political science, maybe, or things like that. Something to observe. I haven’t taken a look recently, but I know that was the case in the past.
Franklin: Yeah. You mentioned that you had done—went to do War on Poverty work and then did part of the east Pasco redevelopment. Were there any other civil rights activities in the Tri-Cities that you were involved in?
Barnes: Not really. Not anything that made a mark upon any institutions or things like that. I belonged to certain community groups, and if the opportunity presented itself—like this opportunity did—and they get to hear me say comments similar to the ones that I’m making to you, or whatever I’m able to say. But in terms of—no, because in a lot of cases it wouldn’t be allowed. It wouldn’t be allowed.
I wouldn’t be allowed for certain reasons. If I were to go into the classroom, for example, and just talk simply about the history as I am talking to you, I would offend somebody, because their religious orientation would say, oh no, you can’t say that. Incidentally, I’m not guessing at this; this is a fact, in my life. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had people to stand up in chairs, to tell you the truth, to point their fingers on issues.
But I understood it, because they’re committed to that, and heavily invested into their religious beliefs. Whether it would be a Jewish person think that blacks ran them out of New York or an LDS person that thinks blacks don’t know what they are talking about, or whoever it is. It doesn’t matter. That’s just the nature of the beast. Sometimes institutions want to cut out the speaker and let the problem exist because it’s easier to do that.
Franklin: Do you have a specific example?
Barnes: I have some, but I’ll reserve those.
Franklin: Okay, that’s fair. You left your job at Hanford to come work on War on Poverty issues and civil rights. And then what was the rest of your career like? What did you go on later to do?
Barnes: Okay. Later on then, I went to work on the civil rights and I worked for Urban Renewal as I mentioned there. Right in 1968 when things were getting really hot, when Martin Luther King was shot and Lyndon Johnson was trying to pass civil rights bills and all of this other kind of stuff, and I participated in this and that and was junior college this and so forth and so on. I went on—I was recruited by WSU in 1968, because they were rioting and protesting up there on the main campus. Some of the people from the Tri-Cities had gone up to WSU. And there was a couple of sociologists that came down to study the Tri-Cities gangs and poverty and all of these. Because I was there in Urban Renewal and I had grown up in the community, I was able to provide some guidance as to where they may look for some of the answers that they may be seeking.
Long and the short of the story is, I was recruited to go up to WSU to help them formulate, or to get them this new thing—because they were recruiting minority students and there was no program or anything up there to deal with them coming out of Los Angeles and all over the place with the attitudes that they had and especially being indoctrinated—and I don’t want to use that, because that sounds a little bit suspicious—but anyway, being seasoned by the civil rights problems—Martin Luther King had gotten shot, Malcom X had gotten killed, the literature was pretty heavy into how bad we were treated, and all of that. Not only that, there was some other people that got killed, the kids got blown up in Birmingham and all of this.
WSU was up there with the community that was fighting with the fraternities and blacks and all of this. So I was recruited at WSU to be part of a program that was going to advise at-risk students coming to WSU. I went up there in 1969. Left my Urban Renewal job and went up to WSU to become a counselor for that group of students. And to advise the administration to how we might move forward.
Franklin: To better serve minority students?
Barnes: Yeah, and at-risk students. Because the program that I was involved in had them all: Native Americans, Hispanics, Blacks, prisoners, it was all right. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go there in a lead capacity, I went there in a support capacity, to add with the people that were taken a lead. And some of the people that were taken a lead took a beating. Because there was always—at that particular time, you’re bringing in kids who don’t belong here, they don’t have wherewithal to be college students and you’re going to have this help programs and all of that, when we want the cream of the crop.
Franklin: Right. But how do you help kids that have a poor education because of their race, because of where they live? How do you help them get into a serious higher education institution when they haven’t had the opportunity to get that kind of education to help them thrive?
Barnes: Yeah, but the thing about that is the kids that were recruited did have the wherewithal, see?
Franklin: Oh, they have the wherewithal.
Barnes: They had the wherewithal and their opportunities to express that was hampered by the low expectations that some faculty members had about their presence there.
Franklin: I also imagine that they would’ve, just by nature, faced different pressures than the average college student at that time.
Barnes: Oh, absolutely. There’s no doubt about it, they actually had a mission to represent well.
Barnes: Pretty much like the kids in 1957 down there at Little Rock, you see. You didn’t just send anybody out there, to impress the white folks.
Franklin: Right. They were ambassadors of a sort?
Barnes: They were ambassadors of sort. Some of them had issues because a lot of them were athletes and the coaches exploited them. That was during the time you could graduate a black college athlete and they were reading at a third, fourth grade level with the college degree. All of that kind of problems and I went up there to help deal with some of that kind of stuff.
Franklin: How long did you stay at WSU?
Barnes: I stayed up at WSU up in Pullman for—doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo—at least 30 years.
Franklin: Oh wow. Did you live in Pullman the whole time?
Barnes: Yeah, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Did you do similar types of jobs the entire time?
Barnes: I did and became—the truth of the matter is—I will just say this—I got myself in hot water because somebody claimed that I had too high of an expectation for minority students.
Barnes: Did you understand what I just said?
Franklin: I did understand.
Barnes: Can you imagine that?
Franklin: It’s hard to imagine that.
Barnes: That’s right. And as a result of that I had to take my proper place—hadn’t been seasoned, like I told you, prior to going up there—to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves—inspired by persons like E.M. Magee—if I had to stand up by myself. But I didn’t have to stand by myself. But that actually did happen.
Franklin: Wow. What led you coming back to the Tri-Cities?
Franklin: That. [LAUGHTER] Yup. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about civil rights in the Tri-Cities?
Barnes: No. You know, there is a lot that could be said. I guess we could get into detail, but I think you would have to drag that out in as much that there’s so much. I have nothing to volunteer other than to say that I personally, even as we speak, feel a similar calling. Although I don’t have the energy as I did when I quit my job at Hanford. Because look at the country. You look at the country, it’s almost worse than it was back then.
Franklin: I agree.
Barnes: And then you ask yourself—there is no more Martin Luther King around—don’t get me wrong, I’m not even in the vicinity of that. But the point of it is that if you look at the state of the nation as it is in the condition of people of color—and blacks is what we’re talking about now and Hanford Project an all of that—I don’t see that much representation in our schools, in our institutions of higher learning. When I go to stores and shop at Costco, WinCo, ShopKo and any other Co, I don’t see black faces there behind the counters. If I go get me a McDonald’s hamburger, I don’t see people, black, that much. And, if that is the case now, and we are going to build a future on that, then what are we saying that the future’s going to look like for the people who look like me? I mean, it is so obvious that I don’t think people see it. You walk across your parking lot—I don’t know what your status is here on the campus—but anyway, you look around the halls—and I’m not talking about a black; I’m talking about an American, Afro-American black. And you’re going to say, where are they? And I’m going to say—I haven’t taken a look—but my best guess is, they’re not there.
Franklin: I’ll tell you, in my classes, it’s been few and far between. Pullman was a little bit—well, no, even in Pullman, too.
Barnes: And what classes were you teaching?
Franklin: History class.
Barnes: See? And don’t get me wrong—you’re a modern day scholar.
Franklin: My last two questions are pretty broad and reflective questions for you. First is, what would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and living in the Tri-Cities during the Cold War?
Barnes: Certainly, if they put it in context, they can’t miss it. Because if we’re talking about Hanford, and the reason that black people came here in the first place was for job opportunities, but Hanford was a segregated place. The communities that supported Hanford were segregated. And all of this took place before we even integrated the military of all places—before then. And then this was a struggle in the ‘50s trying to integrate the schools, trying to get people to upgrade east Pasco where the cities had gotten together and decided that’s where we’re going to put all the blacks at that particular point and time, in terms of living conditions; they had the segregated barracks out there. Then if they were to trace it down to where we got some civil rights laws and some Affirmative Action things and we had this little bulging of black presence in the communities where we had the superintendent of schools, we had blacks in the classroom and we had students going off to college, we had a community, we had a representation in some of the stores as sales people, students and teachers and all of that. Then we are not that anymore. We are heavily represented in the prisons and the foster homes and things like that. And we can account for with a little bit more study. We’ll see how that all happened. We had a program where blacks were thriving before we had Initiative 200. You might recall Initiative 200.
Franklin: I don’t.
Barnes: Initiative 200 is where we had a certain—the Affirmative Action Program. Some states still have it; the federal government still has it; but the State of Washington doesn’t have it—where the contracts with the State of Washington to require that a certain percentage of that would go to women and minority businesses. And then there was an initiative that came along and said that that’s discriminatory and they cut it out. And minority businesses and all of that didn’t fade off; it dropped off. It didn’t fade off; it dropped off, and you can almost see that we don’t have—in terms of state procurement—minority and women business. The women are doing all right, because they are heavily represented by white women. But all of that in the state has curtailed the efforts of the people that put forward.
Incidentally, there is an effort ongoing right now where they’re trying to repeal that initiative and get back to where we can have some state agencies procuring for minority businesses and all that, as a little side point.
But anyway, so that they would see that. See, Hanford isn’t doing—I don’t think of Hanford as Hanford because everything is so diversified right now—is doing anything. I don’t even think that you can point to a minority community as such—a black community. I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think you can say that there is an east Pasco anymore that’s predominantly black. In fact, I know you can’t. You can’t do that.
If you’re going to say the black have been absorbed in the community, then you can’t say that’s the case, because we can’t see their physical presence in your classroom, or on this campus, or distributed through the mainstream or business community that you would expect, having them come through all of that. In terms of what Hanford did, I think Hanford made an effort during this day. But I think Hanford’s efforts with blacks, just like their efforts with the reactors out there: they’re decommissioned. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Man, you’re giving me so many quotable lines in this interview.
Barnes: So we’re starting to lose our significance, just like some of those reactors have out there on the Project. Our time has come and gone. That’s what it looks like.
Franklin: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention about migration, work experience, segregation, and civil rights and how they impacted your life?
Barnes: No, I—say that last part again?
Franklin: Related to migration, work experience, segregation, and civil rights and how they impacted your life at Hanford and Tri-Cities.
Barnes: Certainly everything that I am in terms of being an adult and all of that, for me personally, I think I’ve had a good experience in the Tri Cities, for me personally. At Hanford, it was fine. And my position in the Tri-Cities or in Pasco, that’s fine. I qualify with some of the good old boys with those of us that are still left from my time there in the community. As I look at the future, I don’t necessarily see much of a legacy that’s being left by those blacks who were here, and who have done things. There is no visible presence. If I had to make a guess—I’m going to make this guess, and you can tell me or edit it out or whatever you want to do—I might be the only black you saw all day.
Franklin: Well, no, but in an average day, probably.
Barnes: That’s the point that I’m making. Because I drove all the way over here and I haven’t seen anyone yet, except when I went to the restroom and looked at myself. The point that I’m making is, that’s how absent we are in the scheme of things.
Franklin: Yeah, things are very different in the three cities, that’s certainly true. And in general.
Barnes: And in general.
Franklin: Yeah. Well, Dallas, thank you for such an honest and powerful interview. I think you really spoke truth to power, and I really appreciate you laying out your experiences, and how you see things. It was just a wonderful interview.
Barnes: You’re welcome.
Franklin: I’m the richer for having you interviewed today.
Barnes: Well, then the banner has been passed on to you.
Franklin: Well, we’ll see, but thank you so much.
Years in Tri-Cities Area