Interview with Donald Bell, Sr.

Dublin Core


Interview with Donald Bell, Sr.


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
School integration
Civil rights movements


Donald Bell, Sr. was born in 1958 in Pasco, Washington and worked on the Hanford Site from 1976-2009.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.




The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to the US Department of Energy collection. This oral history collection was done in partnership with the National Park Service under Task Agreement P17AC01288.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


Donald Bell, Sr.


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I’m conducting an oral history interview with Donald Bell, Senior on April 4, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking to Donald about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities and working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

Donald Bell, Senior: Donald Bell, Senior. D-O-N-A-L-D, B-E-L-L, S-R.

Franklin: Great, thanks Donald. So, where did your parents move to the area from?

Bell: My parents moved to the area probably form Mississippi.

Franklin: Okay. Why?

Bell: Well, they grew up in Mississippi. My mom was born in ‘33. Just hard times in Mississippi. I think when most males got a chance or got old enough to get out of Mississippi, they got out. So whether it was the military, or finding a job somewhere, just getting away.

Franklin: Yeah. When did they come to the Hanford area?

Bell: I’m thinking that my dad came here in the ‘50s, I’m thinking.

Franklin: Okay.

Bell: And my mom, probably a little bit later. She followed her brothers out here.

Franklin: Were your parents married before they moved to the area or did they meet here?

Bell: No, they weren’t married before they moved here.

Franklin: Did they know each other before?

Bell: No, I think just living in Pasco is how they met. They were from two different parts from Mississippi. I think my uncles ended up knowing my dad and his brother, you know those two brothers met these two brothers type deal, so I think that’s how.

Franklin: Okay. What do you know about their lives before they came to the Tri-Cities?

Bell: I don’t know a lot, but I’ve been doing, I’ve done a family—I didn’t know a lot about my dad’s family, so I started doing a family tree. Oh, I finished it in 2012, so I probably started by 2010. Just trying to gather—because I didn’t know a lot, so just trying to find cousins and stuff that knew a little bit about where they lived at and how their lives was, basically if they were farmers or share croppers.

Franklin: Okay. And what drew your parents to the Tri-Cities area?

Bell: I think the work drew them here, just trying to find something better where you could come. It was hard to find a job back in Mississippi for no pay. Here you could actually make money where you could actually take care of your family, so I mean, something that was decent. They weren’t used to making this type of money that they were paying out here. I think that had a lot to do with it.

Franklin: You mentioned earlier that your parents had come to the West Coast earlier, right? They--

Bell: Yeah, I think they went to, I think, originally, both of them—both sides of my family on my dad’s side and my mom’s side went to the shipyards in the Oregon/Vancouver area is where it seemed like all of them started there and then they shifted to Washington.

Franklin: Okay. Do you know what specifically brought them out here? Was there a specific project, or-- was it Hanford or something--?

Bell: I think it was cause of Hanford, because I’m sure that they’d already heard over there being on the shipyards that they were working here, they had dam work started, they had Hanford work, and a lot of those worked out here on these projects.

Franklin: What do you know about their initial experience of coming to the Tri-Cities, working at Hanford and finding a place to live initially?

Bell: I don’t know a lot, but I’ve heard stories that, like, I know when they came to work here, they had camps out here. So basically they had it set up where the women were in one camp and the men were in one camp. They didn’t let them go together, even though some of those were married, they couldn’t—they had women in one barracks. And I think mainly just Afro Americans that were segregated in that type of environment. But I don’t know a lot about it, just barely hearing little bit and pieces about it when I was growing up. And I confirmed it later on after I got a little bit older. Because I had some of the other people tell me that their parents were married, but they couldn’t stay together. They couldn’t have housing together. They just roomed them like that.

Franklin: Okay. Did your parents ever talk about adjusting to the way of life here or their kind of experiences of what was different about this place and Mississippi?

Bell: I don’t think they had a big adjustment as far as they were just treated a lot better, so I mean, you would actually be able to be a man and be able to work. I think to me—I’m just thinking at myself being so much younger, but I would think just being able to have the freedom to go out and work and choose what you can do, instead of somebody telling you what you can do or being limited of what you can and can’t do. You can’t buy land, or you can’t do this, or you can’t do that; where they had the freedom to—the doors were open to them a lot more by coming, getting out of the South and coming West.

Franklin: What kind of jobs did your father’s—did the men of your father’s family have when they came out here?

Bell: They were mainly farmers, sharecroppers. None of them really had—maybe bus driver.

Franklin: I mean when they came out here; what kinds of jobs did they--

Bell: Like I said, they worked in the shipyards so I know they welded or learned how to weld. They probably were pretty adept at picking up what to do, so they probably done those little jobs on the shipyards, whether they worked on the ship or whether they was fortunate enough to be able to weld. I know my dad and my uncle both done tack welding and stuff, they had to have learned that somewhere I’m sure they didn’t get that in Mississippi. They didn’t learn it when they were there.

Franklin: Did your dad and your uncle both work at Hanford at one point?

Bell: Yes, my mom’s two brothers, and my dad, and my uncle worked at Hanford, yeah, at the same time. And they all worked in Portland, so at some point they all must have decided, it’s going to be a little bit better to come over here, and they decided to make their move to come this way. Most of them was here the whole time, never went anywhere else.

Franklin: What kinds of jobs did they do out on the Site?

Bell: Well, my uncle was a laborer. So most of them—the most money you were making at that time was if you was on the concrete crew. So probably whatever took to get to the concrete crew. They done miscellaneous things; digging ditches, doing whatever. But it seemed like the concrete was—if you could do concrete, any aspect of that concrete, being on that crew was the more money, seemed like.

Franklin: Mm. And your father did the same?

Bell: My father, my uncle, both my uncles, my dad’s brother and my mom’s brother, both of them. They all just, they done concrete.

Franklin: What about your mother? Do you know what she did when she got here?

Bell: My mom, when she got here, she worked. She didn’t come until a lot later. But she worked mainly in Pasco; she didn’t work in the Area. She worked in the potato sheds. And she went to CBC, got her degree over there. But she mainly worked at processing plants around here.

Franklin: What did she get here degree in?

Bell: I just think she took some general—she had eleven kids, so she just wanted to get some type of degree. So I don’t think it was specialized. I don’t know if it was childcare or something. She didn’t get it like in mathematics or accounting or nothing like that. I just think that she wanted to go to school.

Franklin: Okay. Well, let’s talk about your experiences. When were you born?

Bell: I was born on June 24, 1958.

Franklin: Where were you born?

Bell: In Pasco.

Franklin: In Lourdes?

Bell: Lourdes.

Franklin: Our Lady of Lourdes. What was the housing like where you lived, where you grew up?  

Bell: Well, I grew up—we grew up in what they called Navy Homes, which is off of 4th Street between 4th and 1st. It must’ve been a big navy base back there at some point, because that housing was originally the naval base housing. That’s where I grew up.

Franklin: What kind of houses were they?

Bell: They were more like apartment set up type, but I think it would be a typical military base-type setup where they had long rows of houses that, I don’t know if they were two-bedroom, or one-and-a-half bedroom. I can’t really remember how big they were then, but I noticed everybody stayed in them. And it was probably cheaper to stay there, too.

Franklin: Where they in east Pasco or in west Pasco?

Bell: No, they were from west Pasco, this side, right next to the tracks.

Franklin: Right next to east Pasco.

Bell: So basically, right next to—yeah, if you went across the tracks, you were in east Pasco, basically. It’s that side. If you go down Court Street all the way ‘til you have to make that turn, everything on that side--all those things down there. They are a lot better now, that’s Navy Homes, what used to be Navy Homes to us and they still call it Navy Homes. But those aren’t the same houses. They tore those housing down; it’s a lot modernized now.

Franklin: Oh, so that’s where, if you go down like you’re going to the railroad station, the Amtrak station.

Bell: Mm-hmm. You got to make that turn to get down to that, but that curve and everything to the left used to be the old naval bases. They tore all that down and started building it better now. So it’s a lot better than what it was in the ‘50s, early ‘60s.

Franklin: How long did your parents stay there? You said you had a big family.

Bell: They weren’t all that big then, but, yeah, we stayed there, probably—we moved to east Pasco, I want to say, moved to east Pasco, maybe ‘65, ‘66, something like that.

Franklin: What made your family move over to East Pasco?

Bell: I don’t know, maybe wanting to get out of the Navy Homes. At some point, all these families lived in the Navy Homes and they were just trying to get out and form their own style away from Navy Homes, I think.

Franklin: Were Navy Homes predominantly African American? Yeah?

Bell: Yeah.

Franklin: Was there kind of a community in the Navy Homes that you remember?

Bell: Yeah, well, it was big enough to be a community. I don’t remember there being a store or nothing inside, but right on the corner of Lewis and 4th Street, you had a stores right there and stuff.

Franklin: Mmkay. Where there many families with children or extended families such as grandparents?

Bell: Yeah, I didn’t have no grandparents here, but there were families that had grandparents there, too.

Franklin: How would you describe life in the Navy Homes in east Pasco? What did you do in your spare time?

Bell: We just played, rode our bikes, ventured into—you had a lot of trains coming through there, so you had a lot of transients, so you had to watch out. But we never really worried about much. I guess we never had a real problem, even though we didn’t have a lot. But my mom would always put out stuff for the transient, which they called them hobos back then when we were little. But living that close to the tracks was pretty dangerous, too, though. Like I said, you had trains coming in all the time. I think the train thing was a big deal here, too. Eventually people, they went to Hanford for a little while but if they could work their way in, and some of the families ended up working for the railroad, too, which was another big job in this area, too.

Franklin: Did your parents mention the danger of the trains to you or were they worried about--

Bell: Oh yeah. My mom was pretty strict, so, I mean, you had to stay in a certain area. You better not cross that line and get across that fence to get over to the tracks. Yeah, we didn’t get a chance to—Some kids, just like any kids, somebody going to go across that line and try to venture to see if they’re the first or the second people that can get over the tracks and not get in trouble. But so many people would see you, so I don’t know how you really would get away with it.

Franklin: Right. Do you remember any particular community events in the African American community in Pasco?

Bell: I can’t remember when the first time I saw Juneteenth, but they would always have—and then I didn’t know what Juneteenth—they probably had it then, saying it, but I didn’t really realize what it was. Because so many being from the South, that Juneteenth there was a big thing. But I don’t think it was a big thing for Pasco or for the people that lived in this community, even stretching to Richland, they just didn’t. It was just some from the South and eventually they ended up incorporating that to here. So I remember being at Kurtzman Park, every year there was some type of celebration going on down there.

Franklin: That was a pretty important celebration for the black community?

Bell: Yes.

Franklin: Yeah. Did you attend church?

Bell: Yes.

Franklin: What church did you attend?

Bell: I attended the Church of God.

Franklin: Okay.

Bell: Which is not there no more, the original one—that’s what I was telling—it’s not there but it used to be off of Wehe.

Franklin: Was that in east Pasco?

Bell: East Pasco.

Franklin: Okay, so your family made the trek over for--?

Bell: I don’t think we really started going—I don’t remember going there when I was younger, but I’m sure we probably did. But then after we moved to east Pasco, it was right down the street from where we lived at.

Franklin: What role did church play in the community?

Bell: I think it kept everybody together and kept them updated on what was happening. Probably was one of the better areas to help people understand and how to get along with what was happening in this area too.

Franklin: Do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions, including food, that people brought with them from the places that they migrated from?

Bell: I’m thinking, my mom and my aunt did chitlins and they came here, I know they grew their own black eyed peas and okra and stuff. All that stuff came from the South. It’s here now, but I don’t think it was here 70 years ago. I mean, maybe. I take that back. It could’ve been, because some of the Caucasian families are also from the South, from Alabama, or from Texas, or Mississippi, so it could’ve been, but I know that a lot of the families grew their own stuff; they still incorporated some of the stuff probably that they knew from when they were in the South.

Franklin: Did you grow up eating what would be called comfort food or soul food?

Bell: Yes.

Franklin: Yeah. What kinds of meals would your mom make?

Bell: My mom would cook collard greens, she’d cook mustard greens, she would cook black eyed peas, okra, a lot of fish, hot water cornbread, which nobody does that anymore.

Franklin: What is that?

Bell: Basically, its cornmeal that’s made up a little bit thicker. If you’re making cornbread it’ll be kind of runny, you pour it in the pan and then just cook it. But this would be a little thicker and they would pat it up into balls, would be about like that, and they were fried cornmeal, basically, but they called it hot water cornbread. My mom would make the hog’s head and make hog’s head cheese and make different stuff. Sweet potatoes was a big thing. My mom would make sweet potato pie and candied yams. She’s a good cook.

Franklin: Wow. Yeah, it sounds like it. Were there any opportunities here that were not available where your parents came from?

Bell: I think it was. The biggest thing is education. I mean, it starts with education.

Franklin: Yeah. Did your parents talk about that ever?

Bell: No, they didn’t really talk about it but when I’d done my research on our family reunion, I was able to realize that where my dad lived at, that school was there from—I mean, everybody went to that school, just one, Marion School. Just basically looked like a school on stilts and it seemed like a hundred years that same school and that’s where all the kids went to school at.

Franklin: In Mississippi?

Bell: This is was in Columbia Mississippi, Hood Mississippi.

Franklin: Yeah.

Bell: Just looking at that and then you look at the school—and I talked to some of my cousins that went to school down there and stuff. Just being able to get education was huge.

Franklin: What about your own education? Did your parents impress the importance of education on you? Did they talk to you about it?

Bell: Oh, yeah. My mom stressed it a lot, because I guess when you’re deprived of something; now, my mom went to school, but some of her brothers never did really get the chance to go because they worked in the field. They didn’t get that opportunity. The more kids you had, that’s more workers you had in the South, so they just didn’t. They was working all the time. They didn’t have time to go to school.

Franklin: Do you know what grade levels your parents made it to?

Bell: I don’t know about my dad. I don’t think my dad made it through school. But I know my mom, she might have got to high school, I’m not sure. I know she went through junior high; she might have went to high school, I never really got a chance to break that out. But I knew she went to school; I just don’t know how high she went.

Franklin: Did they ever talk about the housing that they’d grown up in back in Mississippi and how housing was different here?

Bell: No, they didn’t talk about it a lot, but, like I said, once I started researching and going in and looking, I could see that there wasn’t running water in the house, there was outhouses, there weren’t bathrooms in the house.

Franklin: Did you or your parents ever go back to visit family in Mississippi?

Bell: My mom went. But it’s astonishing how all my family members, everybody’s been in Mississippi. I haven’t been yet. They got a family reunion coming up in August and my sister, my oldest sister is 65. She lives in St. Louis and she wants to go there and my aunt just turned—my mom’s oldest sister that’s living. There was sixteen kids in my mom’s family, so the oldest sister that’s living, she just turned 93. Sunday or Monday. I’m going to surprise her and take her down.

Franklin: Oh, she lives here?

Bell: No, she lives in St. Louis.

Franklin: Oh, in St. Louis.

Bell: Yeah, they live in St. Louis.

Franklin: Okay, wow, that’s a big family.

Bell: All of my siblings have all been to Mississippi. I’m the only one that hasn’t, but--

Franklin: But you’re going?

Bell: Yeah, I’ll be going, because I’ve been doing some research stuff. I got all this stuff on paper and pen and put it—made a CD of it, but I haven’t actually been there. So I need to go down there just so I can meet some of those people before they pass away or before I’m not here. But just to say that I did go to where my parents were born and grew up at.

Franklin: Yeah, that’s great. Any notable interactions that your parents had with other people from the Tri-Cities area, from Richland or Kennewick? Did your parents go outside of Pasco much?

Bell: I think they went outside, but most of their friends, most of them lived here unless they moved into Kennewick or into Richland. There wasn’t a lot of—when I was growing up, I don’t remember a lot of—there was very few black families in Kennewick or in Richland. There were some, but the predominant area was Pasco, was east Pasco.

Franklin: What about you, when you were growing up as a kid or young adult, any notable interactions with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities?

Bell: Yeah, I’m a people’s person anyways, so, yeah, I had friends that lived in Richland or from playing ball or in school.

Franklin: Okay. Where’d you go to school?

Bell: I started out at Captain Gray. Which is--they called it Captain Gray again, but the original place, they took it and made it into a—what do you want to call it?—a kindergarten center. And then Pasco High had all of that for a while and they made a new school, Rowena Chess, which is the old Captain Gray. Then after the high school got back, they turned that back into Captain Gray. So I went to Captain Gray for about a year. The second year, I went to Robert Frost. But Robert Frost didn’t have any black kids going there. At the time we went there, they started a little charter program. So they took four kids: me and my twin brother, and Sandra Allen and her brother. We were the first blacks to go to Robert Frost.

Franklin: You were kind of a force of integration.

Bell: Yeah, basically. And then the next year, they opened up every class. They brought in sixth graders, fifth graders, fourth graders, all the way down to first grade. But when we came there, we were the first.

Franklin: Was there any resistance to your—any uncomfortable moments?

Bell: I’m sure, yeah, there were. There were.

Franklin: How did segregation or racism affect your education?

Bell: It didn’t really affect mine, but I’m sure some Afro American kids, it did. My twin brother was totally different from me. I mean, he’d fight on the drop of a dime if anybody said something to him. You go to a school that is predominantly white, they’re going to test you and see what they can get you to do. My mom basically had to come live at that school pretty much because he was in so much trouble. Wasn’t totally his fault. Where me, I’m a duck. I let stuff—I listened to some of the stuff that my uncles had to go through and I said, this wasn’t nothing, really. I endured, it didn’t bother me. I knew who I was. So I could have gotten into a couple of fights, but I’ll never remember; I just would never let it instigate into fight for words. You had to almost put your hands on me for me to fight you.

Franklin: But there was something there?

Bell: Oh, yeah. It was something there; it was just how you had to adjust to it. And once they saw that you weren’t going to be rattled by that, I think they started—but then, once they integrated and brought it in, then it seemed like there were more fights then. Because then you got other people that didn’t want to tolerate somebody saying something to them that they didn’t like.

Franklin: Right, because maybe they felt that now there were more blacks at the school, that they deserved more—they didn’t deserve that kind of treatment.

Bell: The teachers started getting to the point that they had to change the attitude of some of those kids, too. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to have—these kids are going to be in here, and you’re going to have to get along with them.

Franklin: What were some of the people that influenced you as a child? This could include family members, friends, teachers…?

Bell: As a youngster coming up, I always looked at my uncles, because they were all workers. Maybe not well educated, but they were able to take care of their families. I thought that they’d done pretty well for themselves.

Franklin: From working out at Hanford—they were laborers--

Bell: From working out at Hanford and I didn’t even—at the time, I was young, I didn’t even understand that side of it, I looked at my uncles, them going to work.

Franklin: Providing for their families.

Bell: Providing for their families. That’s what I looked at, I didn’t realize that Hanford was the big influence on it until I got a little bit older. But when I was younger, I idolized my uncles, my mom’s brothers.

Franklin: What about when you were going through middle school, high school, I imagine that would’ve been—that’s coming off of a pretty tumultuous time in our nation’s history as far as civil rights were concerned. Where there any notable things that stand out to you, good or bad, from those times, the late ‘60s or early ‘70s?

Bell: Well, I don’t remember totally, but I know at one point there was a big, big riot in east Pasco. I don’t remember the year. I know that riot was between the Black Panthers and some of the members that was and the Pasco Police Department. And that was right at Kurtzman Park, was where that riot was at.

Franklin: Did the Panthers have an office in Pasco?

Bell: I don’t know an office here, but I’m sure some of the guys were part of it. I think that’s what elevated that area. But I don’t know if they actually had an office here or if it was in Seattle or Portland. But I’m sure they had guys come from out of town that were influencers to try to get the black families the protection and the right they needed.

Franklin: There were some pretty tumultuous times that—did you go to Pasco High. There were some pretty tumultuous times at Pasco High in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Were you aware of any of that, or were you aware of that?

Bell: I was probably too young. Because I didn’t go to Pasco High my first year. I went to Pasco High, wasn’t until ’76. So it was probably over by then.

Franklin: Yeah. Let’s talk about, you graduated in high school and did you go to college?

Bell: I didn’t go to college. I had scholarship opportunities, but I went to trade school.

Franklin: Right, you mentioned that before we got the interview. Talk about your uncles—you were telling me about how your uncles asked you to be a laborer, but you got the opportunity to be a pipefitter. I’m wondering if you could retell that story.

Bell: Okay. Well, most of the males, the black males, were laborers: my twin brother is a laborer, all of my cousins are laborers. So all of them went that route. But when I was in eight grade I already knew I wanted to be a pipefitter then.

Franklin: Why?

Bell: I’d done some research on it, and it was just something I liked. So when I was in school, I knew I had to know enough math. I liked math anyway, so it would work right into my—I set myself to be a pipefitter, basically. I got out of high school I was an insulator for the summer. Which they paid great. I had a summer job making $1.75 cleaning the marble in the court house. One of the guys, one of the vans that was a pipefitter, he was the one who told me his going to help get in to the Pipefitter’s. But he helped me get as an insulator that summer.

Franklin: Out where?

Bell: I worked at 100 N. But I went from making $1.75 to making $11.25 an hour.

Franklin: Wow, that’s a big, that’s like a tenfold increase.

Bell: Within a week we got a $1.25 raise. But that was a good job and they wanted to keep me because they didn’t have many blacks in Insulators’. But I had already had my mind made up to what I wanted to do. They’d tell me they’d give me every opportunity to be an insulator if I would take it. I mean, I was already in. But I wanted to be a pipefitter, so that’s what I wanted to stick with.

Franklin: What kind of work, can you describe that job, insulator, what kind--

Bell: They were tearing down stuff and redoing, putting different types of insulation applications on beams and stuff. I think I was nineteen when I was doing that.

Franklin: Okay, wow. When did you join the Pipefitters’ or how did that happen?

Bell: I joined the Pipefitters’—I got into the Pipefitters’ a year later. And actually I didn’t get in, they took me in as a pre-apprentice.

Franklin: What does that mean?

Bell: Pipefitters’ is one of the biggest unions around here, and what they wanted to do is stop people that weren’t in the union from touching their pipe. But they didn’t want to take their apprentices to do it. So, I wasn’t apprentice, but I still was in the union. If we’re working on the job and they need to touch the pipe or roll the pipe, they don’t want those guys to roll the pipe or do anything. As a pre-apprentice I could touch the pipes. So if an engineer needed to see the number off the pipe or whatever, I was the one to get that number for them instead. Because they were really strict on possession of touching their pipe or moving their pipe. The union was really huge around here, and Pipefitters’ is one of the strongest unions there was around here, actually, in the whole United States.

Franklin: Where did you work as a pipefitter?

Bell: As a pipefitter, actually I worked all over the country. But out here, I worked--I started out working, they were building the power plants out there, the WPPSS Plants. I started building them from scratch.

Franklin: Wow. 1 and 2?

Bell: 2 was already—I worked on 2, too. 2 was the first one, but 1 and 4, those are the three we have out here. 1 and 4, and 2; and 3 and 5 was out by Satsop, by Tacoma. Those are the five nuclear powerhouses.

Franklin: You worked on 1 and 4 until the project shut down?

Bell: I worked on 1 and 4 until they were just about getting ready to come off the ground, and then I was moved over to number 2 and then I stayed in number 2 until they went online.

Franklin: Cool. What kind of on-the-job training did you receive for pipefitting?

Bell: Pipefitting, the way it’s set up, you worked on a day, 40 hours, and you had a journeyman showing you what to do. But at night, we went to school at night.

Franklin: Okay. Where did you go to school?

Bell: Pipefitters are right here, right off the highway, right off of 28th Street.

Franklin: What kind of training—like, what kind of school was it? Could you describe that?

Bell: It was top-of-the-line, they had blueprint reading, they had welding, they had tube bending, they had plumbing code. It was actually top-of-the-line school.

Franklin: You’d mentioned earlier, before the interview, that your uncles had said, oh, you can come be a laborer, but they told you that, when you got the offer for the Pipefitters’, they told you to take that. I’m wondering if you could describe that? How come you—

Bell: My uncle was smart. He knew that type of work doing as a laborer was really, really strenuous work. But he also knew that the Pipefitters’ paid more, too.

Franklin: So he pushed you to--

Bell: He knew that I already wanted to be, but I hadn’t got in yet. So that’s the other deal. If I hadn’t got in, he’d say, well, you know what? You can be a laborer and then later on if you still get in there, you’d have two trades.

Franklin: Cool. Could you describe a typical workday as a pipefitter?                     

Bell: A typical workday, depending on where you was, you were probably working out somewhere where there wasn’t a bathroom and everything was pretty much outhouses, because we built these buildings and once they were built then maintenance took over and we were gone. You’d be out in the Area, out working somewhere. It’s 100 in the summertime out here. Back then it’d hit 130, 140 out in the areas, so that’d one work day. But then if your—typical day when you’re working out on the WPPSS Plant, you’d be out there building this plant or building two plants. Get probably there by 7:30; the work’s done by 3:30, 4:00 at the latest. You’re working with a journeyman is showing you how to put in pipes, put in hangers. You’re working anywhere from 30-inch pipe to half-inch pipe, quarter-inch pipe, depending on what you’re working on. Piping—in pipefitting, you can’t do anything, you can’t have a building or anything without pipefitting because all your hydraulics for your heating and cooling, your water, you got to have a bathroom for every facility. You really can’t get away with—there’s just so much work for pipefitters.

Franklin: Did you acquire any skills or experience on the job that helped you later in life?

Bell: I’d say yes. Again, you learn to adjust to people, because—I told you when we were younger, when we went to Robert Frost, I was egged on with name calling to see how you would react. Well, being a pipefitter, there wasn’t that many blacks in the pipefitting around here. Trying to get in and get yourself in, a lot of people didn’t really want to show you anything, so you had to show them why you was worthy of them showing you how to be the person you could show. It took, it was education going through there, because that was a new testing ground, too.

Franklin: Yeah. How would you describe your relationships with your coworkers and with your supervisors?

Bell: I got along real well. I just had a few incidents where I ran into problems, but it was just because, as an apprentice, it’s a pushy business. If you’re the journeyman, you can do all these little tricks to the lower person. Where, when I turned to be a journeyman, I said, no, I’m stopping it. Anything that’s done wrong or a cycle that’s bad, at some point somebody has to step in and break that cycle. When I went through all that different stuff that people done to me, different tricks; when I got to be out, I didn’t want to teach, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to change that. Because you’ve got people coming in that’s first-year, second-year apprentice, they’re 30, 25 years old, they have a wife and kids. Even though I’m younger and I’m a journeyman, you got people coming in that’s already grown men. You can’t treat them like that, or at least that’s how I saw it. A lot of those guys, well, they did it to me; I’ma do it to y’all. That mentality. I said, no, just--

Franklin: Sorry. What kinds of tricks and things?

Bell: Oh, sending you out for crazy stuff, where they’d send a guy for a bucket of tack welds. A tack weld is something you start a weld with. But if you don’t know and you’re inexperienced, you’re going out and you go all these different places telling them you need the stuff and everybody know that they’re playing a joke on you. But you don’t know it yet. So you’re walking around asking. I say, you got to be smarter than that, kid. You can’t let nobody just do you like that. So I’d fill them in on, just think about it. What is a tack weld? Well, the welder. Well, then, how you think they’re going to get you a bucket of tack weld? Don’t go asking something crazy like that, because everybody is laughing at you. But once you prove yourself then those guys actually help you a lot. But it’s like initiation, I guess, it would be like if you were in college, it’s initiation. They would play tricks on you or play different pranks on you and make you do stupid stuff.

Franklin: How were you treated on the job? You mentioned there weren’t many African Americans in the Pipefitters’. So I’m wondering if you think race ever played a role in any treatment.

Bell: It could have played some in it, but there was enough there that anytime you’re dealing with starting out new or trying to get a venture to go, the best you can be is going to let the ground work. So my whole thing is, I need to be the best I can be. I have to be better than what I could be, because I need somebody to follow behind me to be pipefitters to be younger black pipefitters that follow behind me. So I wanted to blaze a trail and I think that’s what I’ve done, because I ended up being an instructor for thirteen years. So I took it serious. I didn’t take no time off to mess around. Everything I’ve done from day one was totally serious and to be the best that I could be every day.

Franklin: What kind of interactions did you have with coworkers and supervisors outside of work?

Bell: I’d say a lot of my friends are still best friends, still do stuff.

Franklin: Could you describe the working conditions?

Bell: Depending on what job you were on, sometimes they were bad, sometimes it’s like anything else. They want to cut corners on not doing certain stuff right. There’s certain times where you should have your safety glasses on, have your safety equipment where they say tell you, oh, go ahead. We don’t have that; we’ll get it later on. In construction, there’s a lot of deaths in construction, but one thing that people got to really look at is your safety. People say, get your safety glasses on and there’s people walking around with no safety glasses on. If something hits you in the eye and puts your eye out, it’s not going to hurt your supervisor. It’s not going to hurt the owner of the job.

Franklin: Right.

Bell: Put your hardhat on. That hardhat, if something falls down, I’m a construction guy. A lot of them say, well, he making us do all these things that, they’re not making you do anything; actually, all those things will save your life. That’s how I looked at it. If you had to have safety glasses, wear your safety glasses, they’re for a reason. But so many of the guys wanted to rebel and not wear—well, I don’t need a hardhat, the hardhat is too heavy, it hurts my neck, it does this, it does that. But there’s so many accidents and deaths on a construction job, too. A lot of injuries.

Franklin: A lot of preventable injuries?

Bell: A lot of them were preventable, some of them not preventable. You can get hurt on a construction job and do everything right. Working on the shipyards or something like that, somebody drops something. You don’t have to do nothing wrong. Somebody drops something from 40 feet up, it bounces around and hits you and kills you or maims you. Some stuff, it’s a construction job. There’s so much danger involved in it. But if it’s done right it don’t have to be.

Franklin: Right. What were the most difficult aspects of the job?

Bell: I think the biggest deterrent was working with people that really didn’t want to work. It just put too much pressure on the other people that have to work double to make the deadlines, make stuff happen. Most of the jobs were great and paid great, but there was so much of a turn around because those people didn’t want to pull their—they wanted the money but they really didn’t want to put in to make the money.

Franklin: What do you recall about working at any of the reactors or any of the other buildings that are still on the Site today?

Bell: Well, most of them are pretty much gone. I worked at 100 N. I was sort of petrified when I went out there because you heard all those stories about radiation and I thought I’d stepped into this little area and I’m in this, like, this warped time zone and you stepped in the zone and there’s radiation everywhere. But it wasn’t like that; it was like being out there, being in one of this rooms, you might have a source that has radiation, but it’s not everywhere. And it’s pretty much contained, too.

But not going out there, you have fear and you hear all those horror stories. And I hear people talk today, oh, can you take your shoe off? Is your foot green? Or, we’ve heard after you work out there so long you’re going to turn glowing. You hear all these different stories, but once you work out there, you realize it’s just a myth.

There is stuff that you can get into if you don’t do it right or don’t put your protective stuff on. You’re in radiation, yeah, you can get hurt bad. But there is safety measures that’ll take care of you, if you use what’s set up.

Franklin: Besides N and the WPPSS reactors, what other buildings did you work at?

Bell: I worked at all these Battelle buildings out here, too, which is a little bit different because it is a maintenance program. It’s a national laboratory, so they have different jobs, different projects, they work on different stuff. Battelle is an amazing place, some of the stuff that those guys come up is just ingenious. 

Franklin: Yeah, they have a lot of different contracts and projects going on. Anything else out on Site that you remember? Maybe anything like the 300 or 200 Areas?

Bell: I was based out of 350, so. But working maintenance for Battelle, they had me go in the Area. I worked the weather station for them, all those buildings. Battelle is the only building out here that the Hanford Fire Department don’t do all the fire systems, the suppression systems, they do all their own. When I started at Battelle in ’96, they sent me to Oklahoma City to get certified to do these systems. Battelle do their own systems. Everybody else out there, the Hanford Fire Department does all of the systems. In our buildings that we needed our inspections or that we had to go and do stuff for them, the fire department would show up, but actually Battelle Pipefitters’ done all the work.

Franklin: Oh, okay, interesting. How did your racial background fit into your work experience? And experiences on the job?

Bell: It didn’t really, it didn’t really. Most people, once they met me, I didn’t really have a problem. There was some people that might’ve had a racial deal towards me, but once they saw my work ethics and what I’d done and how I didn’t let nothing bother me, they just went away. I never really had a problem on the job, racial problem on the job. If there was some saying, somebody else would get upset about it, and they’d say, well—they’d bring me in the office—they’d say, hey, you want to make a complaint about this person? I’d say, for what? Well, they say somebody said this. I said, listen I’m old enough to take care of myself, if I have a problem with somebody, I’ll take it. I don’t need somebody else to step in and say, somebody said this or somebody said this, or this guy ought to be fired. It’s just, you need to take care of your own stuff. So a lot of people get politically stuck on that, and that’s where you run into a big problem. I’m not there to be a divider; I’m trying to always get along and do our job to the best we could do.

Franklin: In what ways did the security and/or secrecy at Hanford impact your work or daily life?

Bell: It really didn’t. A lot of that stuff was secret for a reason. If you’re working on something for the military, because when you’re working out there, you’re working on different projects, even at Battelle. Most of my stuff I could go home and say stuff about, but some of the stuff I worked at as a pipefitter, they were working on sensitive stuff here. So when I went in you had a guard with you all the time. Not that—but they were just protecting stuff that they had. Because some of this guys are working on military stuff out there, too. A lot highly sensitive that I didn’t have a clearance for, see, that’s the other deal. I had a clearance, but I didn’t have the top clearance to be able to be here, what if I open this drawer here and I’m into already top secret stuff or I got into his computer over here, I’m already on top secret stuff that I’m not supposed to be.

Franklin: How did you feel at the time when you were out on Site about working on the development of nuclear weapons?

Bell: I don’t think I ever really thought about it. I just thought about it, I was one player with a team doing a job. I never thought about it as making weapons for this or that.

Franklin: How do you feel now about those experiences?

Bell: It still don’t change me a lot, just because a lot of that stuff was necessary to protect most people in the United States. I don’t think it really fazed me that much.

Franklin: What do you think was the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?

Bell: I think being able to protect the United States. Because Hanford was just one—a lot of people think that all this stuff was all only Hanford. When you think about it the Manhattan Project, a lot of people don’t understand there was more than one place, because—I think the smartness of that, if Hanford was the only place they could’ve just attacked Hanford at one time. But being that they were in New York, they were in Los Alamos. They were separated four or five different spots to make all this stuff come together; it wasn’t one spot.

Franklin: Okay. What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?

Bell: Only from my family and different people, I just, growing up in Pasco I knew there was a lot of Afro Americans that worked out here. What jobs they did, I wasn’t sure, but I think a lot of them were laborers. I think the basic job was laborer. You did have some skilled workers, some electricians, some pipefitters, very few insulators, maybe one or two boilermakers. But predominantly laborers, I believe. And then later on, different—you started getting educated people coming out here from the South and different stuff, coming up to Battelle as interns, coming out to be engineers or different things.

Franklin: From your perspective, what were their most important contributions in the area work, community life and civil rights?

Bell: Whose?

Franklin: The African Americans, the prior African American workers form the Manhattan Project on to when you started?

Bell: I just think lot of those turned out to be pillars of the community, lived to be in their 80s and 90s, that worked out there and still able to pass that on to the younger generations some of the stuff that had happened out there, specially to family members. I think what was shared most. I don’t think we shared a lot just openly with everybody, but they let their families know. And there was enough of them working in the same area that most our uncles or dads or stuff worked out there, or grandads, or great-grandfathers worked out there in some cases.

Franklin: What were they major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities during the time here?

Bell: I think just trying to get equality was the biggest thing. And even though you weren’t in the South, they had problems here too, because I just think a lot of the stuff was hid a lot more than it was in the South. I think in the South they were just straight out front; wasn’t none of it hid. But you still have problems here with racism, too. It just--

Franklin: How did those problems manifest themselves? What kind of specific problems did you know that the community was facing here?

Bell: Just not being treated totally equal through the police department. It took a while to get some changes to make stuff change around here. Just to be stopped for no reason or pulled over for no reason or if you got a new car, how did you get a new car? Are you a drug dealer? That stereotype, if you got something good you couldn’t have worked for it. Which, in some case they might’ve been right, but probably 90% of the perception was wrong.

Franklin: What about housing issues? Do you remember hearing much about that?

Bell: Yeah. It’s the same thing when you start dealing with housing. You weren’t offered a house if you were just a normal person in Richland or Kennewick. But if they knew you had a good job and you had the money, like me, I was a pipefitter. I wanted a house in Pasco and they were telling me, there’s no good houses in Pasco. Or the realtor would take you to a bad house in Pasco, something that nobody would want to live in. That’s why you need to get a house in Richland, Kennewick. I go, I don’t need to get a house in Richland, Kennewick. I want a house in Pasco and if you can’t find me one, I’ll build one. It was just trying to push you out of Pasco to try to get over. Because basically they wanted your money is what I thought. You’re making money you should be where all the people that make money at. But I grew up right here.

Franklin: Did you know much about the segregation of east Pasco from the west, or the prohibitions of blacks living in Kennewick?

Bell: I don’t know when the first blacks lived in Pasco, but I mean, for a long time when I was a youngster you couldn’t be caught. That bridge over here, the blue, new, bridge now, but it used to be a green bridge and there was a sign over there for many years. I don’t remember what year they took it out, but it basically said, you better not be caught after sundown. So Kennewick was a hard place to be at. Didn’t hear a lot about Richland, but Richland had their sides about them too. They didn’t put up any signs or nothing like that, but when you came through, you definitely get pulled over, or if you was in the wrong area, for some reason the police would show up and want to know why you’re over here, do you have a reason for being over here? You didn’t have the leeway of going wherever you wanted to go. You’re out of place, it looked like, so someone would call the police and say, we have these kids in the area, what are they doing over here? Even though we were there to visit a friend.

Franklin: Did that happen?

Bell: It did happen.

Franklin: When did that happen?

Bell: I had that happen to me probably when I was in junior high school.

Franklin: Really? Do you remember who you were visiting?

Bell: I don’t remember at the time who I was visiting, but like I said, even today, even today if I was in an area, a big area, just driving around looking at houses, I might want to buy one, somebody might make a phone call.

Franklin: Could you describe that situation, the event? Like, how large was your group and were you just visiting someone?

Bell: Yes. I don’t know who was going over to play ball or what, but I remember that we had got over there and all of a sudden a police officer came up. And some of the guys were wanting to get mouthy. And I said, no, no, just let me talk to them, okay? Let me talk to them. You don’t want to get into an argument because then you are escalating the situation, so then the police officers say something to you and somebody says something back and leads to something else. Somebody’s pushed so you push an officer, and now we are all going to jail. I said listen, do we have the right to be in Richland? Because if we don’t, you guys need to tell us that we can’t come to Richland. Well, no one said you can’t; we’re just trying to figure out what you’re doing in this area. Well, we’re visiting somebody. I’m a diplomatic person, I try to get them say why I can’t be there. Try to get them to say, well, somebody called and you don’t fit in this area, why are you in this area?

Franklin: What was the resolution of that incident? What happened?

Bell: He let it go. Because I talked to him calm enough. Now, if I’d have argued with him, what’s your business? Why you asking me where I’m going? Do you ask everyone else that comes? See, if I say something to him like that then he has the reason to say that we have no reason being over there. Or we just had someone broke in over here; was you guys are involved in? So even if it wasn’t nothing, that’s the scenario you would get hit with, so you just keep yourself out of those positions.

That’s how I teach my kids, too. Stay out of those confrontational deals if you don’t have to be. You be the bigger person. You can intelligently say something to him to let him know. Did I do anything wrong, officer? This road did come into this town and these streets go to these different houses. If there’s certain stuff we shouldn’t be, or we’re not allowed to go into this town, then y’all need to post that. Then he takes it form there and says, no, these guys aren’t doing anything there. I gave them enough stuff to put him in a position that he’s either going to tell me I can’t be in this town or—so he just let us go.

Franklin: Right on. With the civil right issues that we just talked about, what actions were being taken to address those issues?

Bell: I think they were trying to do stuff through the city council. But with us, we weren’t doing it in Richland or Kennewick because we didn’t live there. There wasn’t enough there to be done in their towns.

Franklin: What about in Pasco?

Bell: In Pasco, I know they had problems, but I know through the city council and through different church groups they got a lot of that turned around.

Franklin: Who were some of the important leaders of civil rights efforts and that in Pasco?

Bell: I think, Reverend Allen was one of them. There were a couple of them back then, I don’t remember who all of their names were. But a lot of them were from, preachers from the church. Reverend Bond. Most of them were probably church clergy, because they were at a point where they could handle both sides without—getting them to come in, they were from the clergy, so pretty much they had to talk to them. That always seemed like, even if you look at, today is 50 years ago that Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, a minister. Through the black communities, through civil rights, no matter Pasco or wherever in the United States, it’s been pretty much the clergy that’s been the backbone of that.

Franklin: What were some of the notable successes in civil rights efforts in Pasco?

Bell: Oh, I just think that getting jobs, getting different people into positions on the police department. Back then, I don’t think they had no blacks. I can’t remember the first year they had a black police officer. And you have seen that evolution over the years happen. I think a lot of that has changed a lot of stuff. As a matter of fact, even with the Hispanic in the police department is--because I remember when I was growing up there was no color at all in the police department, that I can remember.

Franklin: What were some of the biggest challenges for civil rights efforts in Pasco?

Bell: I think just trying to get a foothold. Doing civil rights when you don’t have that many people. I don’t know what the breakdown on population, but as the years that went on that numbers got closer and closer. When you only have a small group and then everybody don’t think the same. If you got a small group, you got to pretty much be tightknit group to stay together and make everything going, but if you got half believing it and half not, you’re already divided, so it’s easy for them to conquer you. But that would probably be the big deal.

Franklin: Were you directly involved in any civil rights efforts?

Bell: I’d say probably not. I mean, I think my contribution now would be the work I do now. I started a mentor program at Stevens. I’m just trying to get some of these youngsters to understand how to get along in America today.

Franklin: What kind of challenges are kids facing these days?

Bell: Well, our kids, some of them just don’t understand. Well, education has got to be that big thing. It just seems like it’s dropping off of our kids and I don’t know why, because you can’t do nothing without education. And just trying to make them understand that if you don’t have education you’re not going to be able to do anything. You ain’t going to be able to take care of your family, you’re not going to be able to take care of your parents. That job, when I started out working, I didn’t have any kids or wife, so I was able to help my mom out. And a lot of kids don’t have that, they don’t have that sense of family. My mom they worked, they helped. My wife’s family—my wife’s full-blooded Mexican—her dad worked here and sent money home to his mom in Mexico. That type of family knit. Some of these kids they just don’t have it, they don’t understand what their grandparents, great-grandparents went through, the trailblazers for them to do and now it just seems like it’s easier, they don’t care what—I cared about that. I’m a history buff, so I cared about all that stuff. And just trying to get these kids to understand that if you don’t understand where you came from, how do you know where you going? A lot of them, they just don’t care, or don’t want to know. Your grandmother worked all these hours to put stuff on your back, help your mom. They just don’t care. It’s like there is no appreciation for it these days. I think that’s the big downside for us. No appreciation of what was done before to get you where you at. I mean, we shouldn’t be going backwards. We should be going forward. And I think it’s too much going backwards, on our part, now. On other parts, too, but I can’t—we can’t worry about other parts. You only can only worry about what you do and we should be progressing.

Franklin: When you say we, do you mean the black community?

Bell: The black community. Not the ones that was out there. I’m talking about the youngsters that’s coming up. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the future. I’m 60, so I’m looking at these kids that, first graders that—start having a sense of what you want to do, start understanding what history was about, start understanding art history, too. That’s the big part. I didn’t grow up in Mississippi. I didn’t have to endure none of that. But from my parents and my grandparents, I have learned that was something I didn’t want to do.

Franklin: Right, right. You feel your quality of life was better because your parents had left that system--

Bell: My quality of life was great because of what they went through.

Franklin: Yeah. When did your work at Hanford come to an end, and what did you do afterwards?

Bell: My Hanford work stopped about nine years ago. I left Hanford on a medical disability nine years ago, on the 22nd of this month.

Franklin: Oh, okay. What did you do afterwards?

Bell: I haven’t done much, really, other than I do some mentoring, I’m on the School Board Builders in Pasco for looking at schools out—they call it the Pasco Builders. Just doing stuff in the community over there. I’m working in east Pasco with the three elementary schools and the junior high over there, trying to get the voting for the Hispanic families that’s over there, trying to get them to get more of a weigh-in on voting over there. Most of the stuff I’m doing over there, even though east Pasco doesn’t have that many Afro-American families over there, I’m still a product of east Pasco, so I’m still trying to do everything I can to make east Pasco part of Pasco.

Franklin: I wanted to ask you about that, because it seems like you’re kind of in an interesting transitional place, where you had grown up—when you grew up, East Pasco was primarily African American. And now Pasco has changed—Franklin County itself has changed, to be majority-Hispanic. And you mentioned earlier you’re married to a full-blooded Hispanic woman. It seems like your family is kind of emblematic of that transition. How has east Pasco changed since you were a kid and is it still facing some of the same issues?

Bell: It’s still facing some of the same issues just because east Pasco is left out, I feel. Until Pasco can pull east Pasco into Pasco—because you still have that dividing line. The underpass and the railroad tracks is a dividing line; until they can ever just pull that together—I don’t know how much success they can have if they have ever done that. Because then you’re including everybody, not just part of the people. When we were there, that’s what it was then, too. So it never did change. And now we’re 60 years later from when I was born, you still have the same transition. I mean, it’s a little bit better, because there’s four schools over there. When I was growing up there was only one school over there.

Franklin: Which school it that?

Bell: Whittier. But it’s burnt down. The original Whittier, the one that was built in 1911.

Franklin: Wow. How has the community changed in east Pasco? What’s the makeup of the community now?

Bell: In east Pasco?

Franklin: Yeah.

Bell: It’s predominantly Hispanic. I’d say 85%, 90%. There’s still some black families over there in the same area where I grew up at. That corner over there probably has the majority of African Americans around Kurtzman Park.

Franklin: Where do you live now?

Bell: I live off of Road 50.

Franklin: Okay, so kind of in west.

Bell: West, yeah. That used to be the country, but now—because Pasco stopped at 395. And then, as they kept moving it back, now Pasco is all the way to Road 100. You still have cows and little farms where they can still have animals because they’re grandfathered in. Road 32 was the country when I was growing up. That’s how far Pasco’s grown, and how big it’s gotten.

Franklin: Yeah, it really has pushed out, sprawled out. You mentioned that you had not just worked at Hanford when you were a pipefitter; you had moved, you had worked around a lot of different places.

Bell: Because I was a construction pipefitter.

Franklin: What other kinds of places did you work?

Bell: I left here when the work stopped. In construction, usually, there’s a ten-year phase, West Coast/East Coast. Well, when we graduated, before the WPPSS project got into problems—if they would have stayed online and done what they were supposed to do, we were supposed to have 50 years of work out here. I was supposed to never ever left here. I just barely graduated and all the work went away in construction. I went to New Jersey and worked. Worked on an ore refinery in New Jersey.

Franklin: Oh, wow. How were your experiences in other places different from the Tri-Cities?

Bell: Oh, I wouldn’t say truly different. It’s just adjustments. When you go to the city, or you go to the country—amazingly, a lot of my friends that’s here, they worked in South Carolina and stuff in the South, they just picked those spots. I never worked in the South. Philadelphia might’ve been as far south as I—and that’s not the South. I worked in Philadelphia, I worked in New Jersey, I worked in Ohio, I worked in New York, in different projects.

Franklin: Mid-Atlantic area? But pretty significant African American communities in a lot of those places.

Bell: Oh yeah. If you get in those places there, you’re—yeah.

Franklin: What kind of work and housing, and social opportunities were available to you when you were working in the East Coast?

Bell: It was easy for me because I had the money. When you got the resources of money, but you’re living in Philadelphia and in those inner-cities where the money level is not real high for the minorities.

Franklin: Yeah. What surprised you about when you left Tri-Cities and you were working in the Mid-Atlantic area, what surprised you about the African American experience there?

Bell: Well, I guess the biggest thing would be the way of life. A lot of them lived in which would be projects. I guess if you compare their projects to us, it probably would’ve been when we lived in the Navy Homes, type of deal. But just, there’s so many families running that same cycle. Nobody getting out or breaking out. I think if I lived there for a long time, I’d have to break out, even if I didn’t know what I was doing, or didn’t know what was ahead of me. But just staying in the area doing the same routine. The grandparent to the kids to the grandkids, everybody—nobody leaves, they’re all in the same area, for the most part. So just getting out and doing something different. I’ve always been the person to want to do my own thing, not I follow what somebody else done.

Franklin: What challenges did you encounter, if any, working out there?

Bell: Working away from Hanford?

Franklin: Yeah.

Bell: Not really a lot of challenges. I guess a lot of people were amazed at my skill level. But I wasn’t, because I was trained at one of the best facilities in the world. People say—you’re working on a job and say they’re laying off this person, this black electrician, or this black pipefitter got laid off, why didn’t they lay you off? I go, I don’t know. I’m here every day, I know what I’m doing, I’m on the job a half an hour before the job starts. I don’t know what kind of answer to give you to that. I’m 3,000 miles away from home; I have to be my best. I can’t come in here be off today, miss tomorrow. They looking for somebody to be here every day and that’s all I’ve been used to, is going to work every day. So no matter where I go that challenge never hits me. When you’re working in the city and stuff, you have people missing three days a week or coming in late every day. If I was a boss, I wouldn’t allow that. That’s why I always flip to them, if you were the boss, would you allow somebody to come into your job late every day or miss two or three days? You got a deadline to get this project done.

Franklin: Yeah. In what ways did your experience at Hanford affect your outlook on issues of racial discrimination and civil rights in the United States at that time?

Bell: I don’t think I really looked at it that way. It was enough people still working out there that got a chance to—and the ones that didn’t stay is because of something they’d done. I didn’t see none of those jobs lost on a racial bias. I thought most of them was done because of something what the person had done. They either had a bad enough accident that got them in trouble or they kept compoundly doing stuff that they were told not to do. It wasn’t—I didn’t look at this being that they just got fired for the color of their skin. They were just as good, but they got fired for the color of their skin, I never saw that out there.

Franklin: Were you involved in any civil rights activities after leaving Tri-Cities?

Bell: No.

Franklin: Okay. What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and living in the Tri-Cities during the Cold War?

Bell: For me living, like I said, I’ve lived all over the country, but I love this area. It’s a great area, you have four seasons, we can grow anything we want here, we have actual summertime. I lived in New York and, I mean, if they got 40 degrees, that was their summer, 40 degrees. That was hot to them. They all probably couldn’t make it from where I’m from. To me, it’s a great area to grow your kids up in, you don’t have to worry about a lot of stuff. It’s almost a perfect setting to live in the Tri-Cities, even opposed to Seattle. This area is just—and you had the work here, you have the education here, you got this WSU campus here, the big campus isn’t that far away. I just think it’s the ideal area and there’s nowhere else in the United States I’d rather live. And I‘ve moved around and stayed other places, but I always kept Pasco as my base. Even when I lived in New York and New Jersey and Philadelphia for two years, I still had Pasco as my base. I was just working a job, just because I couldn’t work here.

Franklin: Yeah. Is there anything else you wanted to mention related to migration, work experiences, segregation and civil rights, and how they impacted your life at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?

Bell: No, I just think with my uncles coming out here and my dad coming out here and paving that way for me, gave me—if they never came out here, I wouldn’t have got a chance to probably be the person I am. I probably would’ve changed in some other way if I had to grow up in Mississippi. I thank God that they had the fortitude of when they got to the age that they could leave, they left, and open this opportunity for me and my other siblings to do some of the stuff we wanted to do in life. Get that equal opportunity. That’s all you ever ask for, is an equal opportunity and I think them making that move gave me the opportunity to be the man I am today.

Franklin: Great, well, Donald, thank you so much for coming in and interviewing with us.

Bell: Thank you for having me.

Franklin: All right.

Bell: All right.

Hanford Sites


Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site



Donald Bell Sr..JPG


“Interview with Donald Bell, Sr.,” Hanford History Project, accessed March 30, 2020,