Interview with C.W. Brown
McNary Lock and Dam (Or.)
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: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with CW Brown on June 12, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with CW about his experiences living in Richland and working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
CW Brown: C, W, B-R-O-W-N.
Franklin: Okay. Does the C and the W stand for--?
Brown: Well, yeah, but I don’t go by it that much, but I could tell you what they stand for.
Brown: I don’t want too many people to know it, but I will. Because when I went into the military I had to have it. It’s Claude. C-L-A-U-D-E B-R-O-W-N.
Franklin: Great. So, CW, your family came to the area to work for Hanford, right? And what year did they come?
Brown: I came in ’48, so they were here about three years before that. 1948, when I came out. And they must’ve been here at least two or three years before that.
Franklin: Okay, and what—oh, sorry.
Brown: That was during when they were, the atomic bomb, they were making out here.
Brown: And they were on line doing all that stuff, so, a lot of them was doing that. And I know my father worked on the railroad out here when that came about, and my mom worked in the cafeteria.
Franklin: Out at the Hanford Camp.
Brown: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Franklin: And where were your parents from, where were you from, where you were born?
Brown: Texas. Texas, Kildare, Texas.
Franklin: Kildare, Texas.
Brown: I think you can find about most of Tri-City people, you’ll say, Kildare, that’s where I was born! Or where my family—where their roots were started, that’s where most all of them started, a lot of them.
Franklin: Right. It seems like the whole, most of the population of the town ended up moving. Do you know how your father or mother found out about the Hanford Site?
Brown: Yes, this was through—they had contact with a family which is a well-known, close to the Mitchells, was the Daniels, was the Daniels. And my father was kind of connected with them in a relationship, and one of them came out this way, they’d heard about the work, and sure enough, the information got back, which by being relatives and close partners, like, my dad was on the railroad and they had a lot of that going on. They said, this is how we got started out. And eventually, my mom came out and then we stayed with our grandfolks in Texas. And they came out—during that time, the wives and the husbands couldn’t live together. They had barracks for each one. That was back in those days, yup. So that’s how we came out here, was through Vanis Daniels. And that was the one that, like I say, close relatives. And that’s how it got started with us. And then as we went, our relatives, we got involved and just kept going, and that’s the way it started, yup.
Franklin: What do you know about your parents’ lives before they came to work at Hanford?
Brown: Before they came to Hanford, we worked at—my dad worked on the railroad there, also in Kildare, and my mom was mostly like a housewife. In Texas, most of the time, we did a little farming, and we did a lot of that. Of course, I can remember back when my brother and I, we was young, we started working—in them days, when you’re 10, 11 or 12, you could work and take care of everything. Because we used to have our own little mule, little wagon, go haul little stuff to people for wood and stuff like that. That’s what we did, mostly farming. Like I said, my dad worked on the railroad for many years, which was good, but we did our own farming, living off the land.
Franklin: When were you born?
Franklin: 1938, okay. So you were about seven or eight—
Brown: Exactly, exactly. In those days, when you’re young, when you’re seven and eight, you could do just about everything everybody else did. Because you had to work. You know? You had to work. There wasn’t no playing around. That’s what you had to do. Survivor. On your own.
Franklin: What do you know about your parents’ initial experience of coming to work at Hanford and finding a place to live?
Brown: Yeah, that was a very difficult situation as a family. Individual, it wasn’t too bad. But family-wise, you had to—to get a house, you had to work for General Electric to get into the homes. And to get into the trailer court was difficult because it was so crowded and you couldn’t hardly find any place. And that was the difficulty of getting us here any earlier. Because you find a space and then you could buy a trailer and then you can have your family. But the husband and wife could not live together. They didn’t have—they had to live in separate barracks, because if you wasn’t working for GE, most the time, you couldn’t get a place to live for a family. And that was the way that it was, especially in the Tri-Cities in Richland.
Franklin: And so, during the Manhattan Project, your parents lived in separate—
Brown: Yes, exactly.
Franklin: --dorms, because they were segregated, right? Men’s and women’s.
Brown: Men’s and women’s.
Franklin: And also, white and black dorms?
Brown: No, no, no, no, no, no.
Brown: That was mixed of whatever. That was a mixed situation there. You could find it mixed. Definitely, because they had to have had a place to stay. And that was very difficult. If you didn’t care what color or whatever you were. Same way in the cafeterias and whatever where my mom worked. They worked together.
Franklin: Was that—segregation was literally the law of the land in the South.
Brown: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Franklin: Did your—what were your parents’ experiences here where segregation was more informal or kind of—
Brown: Segregation was—in Richland, Pasco, Kennewick, all of them had part of segregation, as you know. But some of them were worse than others. That’s life, where you go through that. And that’s what you had to put up with, situation like that. And I think Kennewick had not been segregated. To tell you, my wife’s brother was the first black that lived in Kennewick. Walter Howard.
Franklin: Walter Howard?
Brown: Mm-hm. Because he got a cross on his lawn, his house got burnt, he went through all of that. He was the first black at CBC college, when it was over there by the airport, if you recall any information on that. Yeah. But you know, you run into those situations, no matter where you go. But see, that’s why you had to bypass a lot of that. Which we did. We went through it, but this is what we have to do with that situation when people are listening to me and talking to passersby and look forward. And that’s what a lot of our people has to do for that. Because it’s going to happen, don’t matter where you go. We went through it. We went through it in school, we went through it when we go to play basketball in different towns, we went through some of that. But you know, you have to overcome that. And you have to make a commitment on those situations which carries you through. Because it could be riots, it could be this, it could be that. But you got to be smart. And a lot of times, you have to have trust in God. The Christian way. And that’s what it takes. For nowadays, they forget that. And that’s what—my family was very Christian people. Like my wife now, I bless her heart that she took us through my family and now all my kids are in. And it takes you a long ways when you’re dealing with people. And that’s what you’re going to deal with in life, people. And learn to cooperate. And walk away from things when you see bad. But we don’t do that anymore, a lot of times. But you have to do that. But that’s what we did. And that’s why we got along with people. And my kids are the same way now. You get along with people. You’re going to have conflicts in life, but you got to bypass it and make a commitment to yourself on what you’re going to do, and do it. So simple, really. Yeah.
Franklin: Did your parents ever talk about their first impressions when they arrived here during World War II?
Brown: Well, yes, yes. It was—see, when they arrived—during those days, they never knew what they were doing, see? Like when people were working on the whatever. Like they never knew exactly what they were doing and what was in their environments. Like they have nowadays the technology to find out what’s this or where you can’t go. But they never knew that. All they knew about was, because they grew up that way, work. I want to work. Work to make a living. I have a family. What do I have to do? I have to work. And that’s the way it was back in the South. They didn’t have contracts. I need your help tomorrow. I experienced it. Pick cotton, all of that. Chop cotton. Pull corn or whatever. All of this stuff. They did it. I need your help, Mr. Weaver, or Mr. Whoever. And that’s the way it was. Yup. That’s just the way life was. Living off the land.
Franklin: What were your first impressions when you first arrived in the Tri-Cities?
Brown: Well, it was kind of a—I was young. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to accept it. But I’m going to tell you the truth on the situation is that we were athletes. Because we went among people, doing things, playing with people on the playground. Like I said, we used to go in back of the school play basketball, play football, play tag, play this. That’s the impression I got, was good. Because you’re among people, and people accepted you for who you were. We didn’t have a lot of that. Sure, it was around. But that’s kind of the way we worked it out, and it worked out good.
Franklin: What about like—what were your first impressions about the environment or the landscape of the Tri-Cities when you got out here?
Brown: It was—that’s hilarious. Because jackrabbits? Wherever you see. Fruit? All over. All type of fruit. And fishing? We used to go down to the Columbia River here and fish for fish, throw your line out there and all this. Activities for a family. Something to do, things to do. That was a good impression. Open. It was open, not closed-in. And that gave you more freedom, see? Amongst the people, and they treated you right, and you treat them right. And we got along well that way. But that’s the way we were raised. See? If you’re raised that way, you continue to do it, no matter where you go.
Franklin: Sure. Where was the first place that you stayed after you arrived?
Brown: In north Richland. In north Richland. What happened was, we couldn’t get out. We couldn’t stay anywhere, that’s why it took us a while to get here, until they bought a trailer and got him a spot. And that’s what it was. In fact, we were probably two blocks from John Ball. We were about two blocks from there.
Franklin: Okay. And did you go to John Ball School?
Brown: Yeah, yeah.
Franklin: Could you describe it?
Brown: Well, John Ball, it was made out of—you know how you see these bomb shelters, and it was how they made—
Franklin: Quonset huts.
Brown: Yes, yes, yes, exactly. That’s what it was. And that’s where they were, they were lined up, one, two, three, down here and in the back the same way. It’s just like that, exactly. That’s the way it was. Yup. Hard chairs inside, and cafeteria. Yeah, but anyway. That’s one thing they did. They always fed people in them cafeterias for the kids. That was the good old days.
Franklin: Could you describe the trailer? How big was it and what—
Brown: Trailers was based on what you could afford.
Brown: That’s the way it was. Because during those days, you wasn’t making a lot of money. But the people that was making a little more money had better trailers. With situation. Some of them had it where you could go to have your water in them and whatever and all that. But most of them out there in those trailers, you had wash houses, they called them, where you do your washing and where you do your showering. Because the trailers we had, some of them was made out of wood, and some of them was made out of the regular trailer stuff, but not very many of them. But you could see the difference of how, whatever you could afford, that’s what you could get.
Franklin: What kind of trailer was yours?
Brown: It was made out of kind of a wood-ish. Like these little one-bedroom houses, as you see on the TV, where they show those little one-bedroom houses, similar to that, exactly.
Franklin: And how many were in your family?
Brown: One, two, three, four.
Franklin: So it’s you and your brother and your mother and father.
Brown: Mm-hmm. In fact, I remember exactly, the trailer was small, and we—[LAUGHTER] It was hilarious, but when we first came here and he had set it up, it was only one-bedroom, but we took the front where the kitchen was and made a bed so we could sleep at night. That’s the way it started. That’s how we were at the beginning, until we could afford to get a better—and that’s what we did. It was quite interesting, but we made it. We made it that way. Survive, that’s what it takes.
Franklin: Yeah. And your neighbors in the trailer camp, where were they from? Were they from all over?
Brown: All over, all over. All over. Exactly. But in a way, the black community was kind of separate—some of them were separated. In fact, we were right up from John Ball, but we were spread out quite a bit. Because I knew—we had a white family—I know the Hecksons, all of the Heckson Brothers, that was a big family who lived down on the corner by the school, and there was a few more lived in-between, but it was mostly kind of segregated, be honest, with the blacks in this area, and a few over here. Because you had to get what you could get because it was so crowded. And if something come available and you on the list, you go. And that’s the way it was, what color you were, whatever, that’s the way it had to be.
Franklin: And who did your father work for at this time, when you were in the trailer camp?
Brown: Bronat? Bonat? In fact I did a search on that. He worked for the railroad. I think it was called Bonat, something like that.
Franklin: And he was working out at Hanford?
Brown: Oh, yeah, he worked on the railroad going out to Hanford and all that. And my mom worked at the cafeteria. They had a big cafeteria.
Brown: Here, out at north Richland.
Franklin: Oh, in the trailer camp.
Brown: Well, it was where they, like—I can almost visualize it, give you an idea of where it was, it was the men’s barracks and this was the big cafeteria where everybody could come to the cafeteria, and there was a movie theater right off from the cafeteria, and there was a fire station, up here above, and there was Dawson Richards down here in the little town where the food store, Mr. Dietrich. In fact I used to do a little work for Mr. Dietrich when I was a little kid. Go pick up things and take them and pick up bottles and take them down and sell them. That’s kind of the way the situation was. And then you had the big—as you going up, there was a big house where ice—you had to your buy ice—and that was the trailer court. And it comes right down from by the ice place, right down toward Dawson Richard, little store for clothes, and over there with the food store. It’s kind of—I can visualize it all and see what’s going on. That was major.
Franklin: Where did your family move—how long did you stay in the trailer court?
Brown: Let’s see. We did it twice. First when we came out, we stayed there until all the work had stopped. Then we moved to the other area in Hermiston. We went to Hermiston, where the McNary Dam started. That’s how the people started accumulating over there in Hermiston, because of the McNary Dam. Same contact with the family. Some more came. There was my cousin, my aunt, my uncles, which was the Miles. They came, and several others came. The Rambos. I can remember that. And they came to Hermiston, probably a few more of them I might miss, but that’s where that started. As soon as the McNary Dam finished, they shot back to Hanford. That’s where we came back to Hanford. The trailer court had went down, but it started booming again in Hanford. That’s why we bought another trailer, which was a better trailer this time. And lived almost in the same spot from John Ball up there, where we had the other trailer. In fact, I can visualize it now. The trailer we had here, the new one we just bought, and we lived right over from it in the other one. And we could walk right on down from—it was amazing. It was amazing. And that’s where my uncle, which are Wallaces, was my mom—his wife and my mom was sisters. And they lived next to us. And you had the Allens, all of those people were at the trailer court, too. That’s when it was booming again back in this area.
Franklin: Was that the early ‘50s?
Brown: Yeah! Exactly, ’53, ’50-something, because I was in Chief Jo then.
Brown: That’s when I went to Chief Jo. Yup, exactly right.
Franklin: And then where did you move after that? Did you get more of a permanent residence?
Brown: Permanent resident, exactly. We didn’t go anyplace else.
Franklin: Where’d you move to?
Brown: We moved in—well, we were going to—when the trailer court disappeared and everything was going away, that’s when the Army was out, and everything was going away, people had to move out. Because they were moving it. Okay. Prediction was that we were going to Pasco. We already had had our plans. But my dad had to get a job. And fortunately enough, he got a job for GE, for General Electric. That way, we could get a house.
Franklin: And what did your father do for General Electric?
Brown: He worked on the railroad also, out at Hanford. But it was through General Electric, doing things. And also they got him another job, he was working kind of as a sevice, somewhere out, I don’t know wherever it was. But I used to take him there, get him on the bus, and he used to go there. That’s how that started. And to be honest with you, athletic ability, they didn’t want us to go to Pasco. Because we had Chief Jo, where we started out athletic ability with Mr. People, which was a great athletic coach, and luckily enough, like I say, before we got ready to move, in fact we were all ready to go, he got a job in GE and that way we stayed. And we got a house right behind the high school, Richland High, in a two-bedroom.
Franklin: Do you remember the address?
Brown: One’s 805 Smith; this must’ve been 803 Smith. Because we moved from this two-bedroom to the three-bedroom, and it was next-door. So it must’ve been something. But 805 Smith is where we stayed, but we were there until we got our bigger house.
Franklin: And how long were you there in those two hosues?
Brown: The rest of 19—from when we moved there, we stayed there, in fact, most of our lives.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brown: We didn’t live anyplace else.
Franklin: I used to live right in that neighborhood.
Brown: Did you?
Franklin: When I first lived here, yeah, Stanton. 804 Stanton.
Brown: Oh, Stanton. Oh, okay, 804. Oh really? That’s amazing! Yup, so it was easy for us to go to school.
Franklin: Oh, yeah, I bet.
Brown: And it was perfect. I mean, you could go to school, go home and eat if you want to. That’s where the rest of my life was, right there. Because we went through Chief Jo, went to high school, and went all.
Franklin: Okay. Earlier you’d mentioned church and God, and so I assume your family attended church.
Brown; Oh, absolutely.
Franklin: And what church did you go to?
Brown: New Hope Baptist Church.
Franklin: And that was in Pasco.
Brown: That was in Pasco.
Franklin: Or, is in Pasco.
Brown: It is in Pasco. We started out in those little—we started out with the church—it’s amazing how things are in life and you meet people. But we started out in them little crib, whatever you call them out there John Ball. They let us have one, and Reverend Wilkins, which is Senior, and Brother Green and Brother Upton came out to teach us Sunday school. That’s how that started back in those days. That was in ’52, ’53, whatever. That’s how it started accumulating for Reverend Wilkins got a church in Pasco.
Franklin: And that’s Morning Star.
Brown: No, no, that’s New Hope. New Hope Baptist Church, which is by Reverend Dr. Wayne Jenkins now. Which is—but they’re close, still so close together and they kind of associate. But that’s where we went to church. In fact, that’s where my mom was going to church, that’s where I went to church, my brother and all. It’s changed a lot now than then, because during those days, we had one of the best choirs that was around. We had, when the Army was here, a professional singer, and music: incredible—was our teacher. We used to sing all over the place. There was the Tates family, there was Carrie Anne, she’s close to the Daniels family and whatever, myself, and Shep Tate, which is a preacher now, all of that. Miss Owens, Robert Owens and Mary Harrison. We had a heck of a choir. And preachers. It was just fantastic, we’d just sing all over. It was just wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful.
And like I say, right now, see, Reverend Jenkins, he works at the hospital now. He is, like God sent him there to do whatever, as the shepherds do. He is excellent. He takes care of people, he takes care—if anybody ever want to know anything about the Bible, which he calls the Bible is a library, and that’s where you can find everything. And he knows it from head to toe. We have Bible studies on Wednesday and it’s amazing. I used to not go as much, but now I go. My wife goes all the time. And it’s amazing how things in the Bible you wouldn’t believe that it’s true. And it’s wonderful. I mean, you say you don’t like—but you get in those classes with him talking and explaining, and it’s incredible. And it’s true life. And that’s what makes it nice that you can—you have faith and trust in somebody like that. And it’s proven. And it’s wonderful. And that’s where we—my daughters are in the choir, they sing. Every one of my kids are in church.
Franklin: And is it still New Hope that you go to?
Brown: Yeah, they’re in the choir, beautiful sing, they—it’s just wonderful.
Franklin: And how come your family went to a—because I know there were Baptist churches in Richland, how come you went to Pasco?
Brown: To Pasco? There wasn’t any church—black churches in Richland at that time. There’s a few now. But that’s where most of the black accumulated for the churches. And when we came out, when we were in the trailer court, they’re the ones that came and we got the tent, I mean, inside the school where we started the Sunday school, and that’s how that started. Yup. They came out, gave us Sunday school lessons and whatever.
Franklin: What role does church play in the black community?
Brown: Major roles. Because in the black community, it’s one of the out-going-est things there is in the community. Because that’s the way they were raised from their environments, early in the years. That’s how they sung. Togetherness. As you can see in some of the movies they make, how they sing and they praise the Lord, and they work together with each other. See, that’s the thing we need to do more now with everybody, don’t care what race or whatever you are. You need to do that. That’s how we got along, you know? Church has a convention, they go up there, they go, oh man, and coming up, seeing that, get in their wagons, they go and accumulate food, and oh my gosh, it’s just amazing. And that’s the way it should be all over. And that makes you feel good when you go and you see that. That makes you, as a whole, work together as everything in life itself. It makes it easier. It makes it easier. If I cut, you bleed, if you cut, you bleed same blood. So you know? And that’s the way it should be.
Franklin: How would you describe life in the community in Richland?
Brown: It’s wonderful. Especially to have a family. That’s the only place to be in a place like this, with a family. Not—we’re fortunate. And people don’t realize it, how fortunate you are to be in the cities where you can’t go out and run and have a good time. It’s just a fortune-to-be. And that’s what’s happening now, so many people are coming here because of that. Family people. What they have? Activities. Incredible.
Franklin: Speaking of activities, what did you do in your spare time?
Brown: Most of the time in the spare time, on age-wise, most of the time we played sports. That’s a lot. And what we did is work. We always had a job when we were out of school. That was our main thing, work. Chores, you had to do. It ain’t like nowadays, you tell them to do something, you come, they aren’t done. We didn’t have to—if it wasn’t done, you know what happened back here. That was a true story. You’d get—and people don’t realize, if you obey your parents and do things, life is a lot easier. We used to get up if we had to make our bed and do whatever and get it done, you’re free to go. Just stay out of trouble. And that’s what we did.
And that’s growing up here, you have everything in between you. If you want to go to Seattle big city, if you want to go to Spokane, want to go to Portland, everything’s here. It’s wide open. It’s beautiful for family. It’s just wonderful! That’s why you find a family with five or six people, they don’t worry about it. See? It’s a lot of activities for them. Something to do. And it’s not as good as it used to be where you could leave your house open, leave the kids playing, they know they aren’t going to do anything wrong in your house. And that’s the way it was.
Franklin: Do you remember any particular community events?
Brown: Yes. In regards to which? Good or bad?
Franklin: Good and bad.
Brown: Yeah. We had a few, like a few in sports, and you’re the only black, you’re going to have conflicts. That’s just obvious with people. It’s over—almost over now, but we had it—I had it in Sunnyside once. We played, we had a little name-calling and whichever. Of course, we beat them pretty bad, but that’s part of the thing. Coming up in school, I can say, we didn’t have as much, because we were athletes, and that makes a difference.
Brown: I don’t know. The people gets to know you, and they gets to meet you, and you become part of them, I would say. You become part of everybody’s—and they get the wrong impression before they know you of what it is until you—geez, that’s a nice guy, why do they always talk about da, da, da, da? And this is what happens with a lot. They become your best friends. And that’s what happens. A lot of times, if some people let go and let the kids work it out themselves, it’s a lot better. And I had another conflict in school where I was a prince, and we went over to Kennewick to a dance. They wouldn’t let us in.
Franklin: They wouldn’t let who in?
Brown: Wouldn’t let me and my escort in. We both were black. And they hadn’t segregated that. Over there, it was a teenager house, where we just had had our deal and we all were going dancing. So they wouldn’t let us go in. That’s where that situation—but it got straightened. But it takes, sometimes, something like that happening to start things rolling. So that was a great event. There was myself, Carrie Anne Barton, she was involved in it. It was a big write-up. You probably could go back into history, back in those days, when I graduated in ’58 and around in that area in ’57 you could find it in the Tri-Cities.
Franklin: I think I’ve seen that.
Brown: Have you?
Franklin: I think I’ve seen what you’re talking about in the paper.
Brown: Yeah, exactly.
Franklin: You were—it was a public place, it was a public dance, and you had been refused entry.
Brown: Exactly. Those things happened. I think it happens for the good in some respects, just like everything else, like when Martin Luther King marched and sang “We Will Overcome.” Things happen for a purpose: to make it better for other people. And that what it takes sometimes.
Franklin: What about more positive community events? Do you remember like the annual Atomic Frontier Days celebration?
Brown: Oh, gosh, yes. All of that. All the different incredible, incredible things on all events and situations like that. A lot of entertainment, and like I say, in the community, they didn’t accumulate as much as black and other races together like they do now on other events, like bringing in stars in and doing this and stuff like that. But I can’t think of too many other incidents like they have now, the boat races and all of this stuff, as a community. They didn’t have a lot of that then-days.
Franklin: We were talking about events.
Franklin: Were there any accommodations or events that you were unwelcome at or refused because of your race—
Brown: Race, nah.
Franklin: --besides the event in Kennewick?
Brown: No, no, no, no.
Franklin: How many—blacks were pretty much a minority in Richland, right?
Franklin: How many black families were there that you can—
Brown: Well, give you an example, I think there was only five black in Richland High School. I think it was myself, and I think it was about five that I know of. I think we were close to one or two coming here. In fact, it wasn’t that very many, because not very many worked for General Electric, see? And the ones that worked out there mostly lived in Pasco, especially in the black community. Pasco was the main area.
Franklin: Were there any divisions between the blacks that lived in Richland and the blacks that lived in Pasco?
Brown: [LAUGHTER] You had to ask that question.
Franklin: I did, yeah.
Brown: You had to ask. It’s hilarious! To me, it is. Because people would get on our case. Oh, you guys lived out in the rich part of town. You know how they go. You live in Richland. We live in Pasco. And they thought—that, oh, it used to just ache, especially my mom, my wife. The kids, when we used to go, when I was married and had kids and all, oh, you guys think you’re so good, because you lived in Richland. It wasn’t—we did have that little conflict there with the blacks. Because we lived in Richland, and we were fortunate enough to live in Richland. And it happens. People think you’re more high-class, that’s what they think. Even so, we dressed the kids nice and when they go to church, people get inferiority complex or something along that. Like, hmm. How can they afford to dress them like that or do this? We had comments like that, seriously. It happened. It happened to a lot of the families that’s coming from Richland and living in Richland. And like we say, you can live anywhere you want, if you want to. You can buy any kind of car you want, if you want to. If you determine to do it, and made a commitment, you can do it. And it was jealousy, that’s all it was. Thought we were high-class, but we wasn’t. We just living the life the way God had blessed us to be.
Franklin: Do you recall any family or community activities, events, or traditions that people brought from the places they came from, basically, that blacks had brought from Texas up here?
Brown: I can’t recall. Events in church, I know they have those. That’s norm for there and here. They had all kind of events there.
Franklin: Like what?
Brown: Like we just had a—the church been there 60 years—I’m just saying events like that situation. And like they have a pastors’ anniversaries. They have all these anniversaries. They do that now, here. And—go ahead, yeah.
Franklin: I was going to ask, what about food, for example?
Brown: Food! They don’t have a feast, but they do it on anniversaries. We just had one this past week where it was the 65 years and they—not just a feast. They do have June 16th or 18th or whatever.
Brown: Yeah. They do that. Which is a big event together where they have all the different soul foods and whatever. That don’t come about every year.
Franklin: What about with the family, did people bring their food traditions with them? Up here? Like did your parents bring the foods of the South, the soul food up with them?
Brown: Absolutely, absolutely. How they cook it and how they make it and all that.
Franklin: What kind of foods in particular do you remember?
Brown: Particular? Barbecue, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, okra, cabbages, greens, good old long onions, where you just take a good old bite. Squash. This is what they lived off the land. Tomatoes. They lived off the land with all of this type of food. Iced potatoes. That kind of stuff, they lived off the land to survive. And that’s what, when you go—we just had a feast in church and they had all the, oh my gosh, corn bread, make they own, used to make they own butter—milk the cow. I used to churn it myself.
Franklin: Back in Texas?
Brown: Back in Texas, absolutely. I used to do that. Kill they own. That’s why I say, as a family, they got together and they did all this stuff together. And they’d feast, oh my gosh, it’s incredible, incredible food. Good stuff, too. Have all this organic stuff and this. Oh, it’s unreal, unreal.
Franklin: Were there opportunities available here that were not available where you or your parents came from?
Brown: Absolutely. Your opportunity to go to a store, transportation, that was a major thing.
Franklin: What do you mean, opportunity to go to the store?
Brown: I mean, the store you had to go to there, you had to go miles, or you had to buy all you need here because you had to go 10 or 12 or 13 miles to get to a store to get the other type of groceries. So you were way out here and farming and wherever, they had it in one little central area, so everybody’d come like this. And like now you could get on a trolley or bus or these things and go or walk to it easily—no, no. That’s a difficult thing. And you’d see a lot of them take their wagon, get the mule hooked up, take off to the store, get all they sugar and all this stuff and flour in big sacks, so they didn’t have to go. So you can see, it’s a great difference, great difference.
Franklin: What about education?
Brown: Education. Education was good, but not as good, because of the work status. It’d been many times you had to pull out—my uncles—when I lived with my grandmother, there was 14 in my family with my mom—and had to stay, chop cotton, pick cotton.
Franklin: You mean they had to be pulled out of school—
Brown: Exactly, exactly. And you had to do that to survive on living.
Brown: And that’s what made it—oh! That’s what made it so—experience to see that and what happened and how they doing it nowadays and what they have, and how they don’t take advantage of what they have nowadays. Like what they had to do back in those days. I experienced that and got to see it. Living off the land. Living off the land. No—how you get irrigation? There wasn’t no irrigation! What is irrigation? God has a way of doing it. And that stuff grow incredibly. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to believe.
Brown: It really is. To think about that. But I got to experience it and see it. That’s what makes it nice. And you see now, water? What’s that? Hot? I mean, hot-hot. But it grows.
Franklin: In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation or racism?
Brown: Well, it’s hard to say. You’re not limited anymore, I don’t think, too much. I think it’s mostly—you don’t find that anymore as much as it used to be. Because it’s changed in the South. And that’s where it used to be, you go to the backdoor, he go to the front. We experienced that. I experienced that. But you don’t have that anymore. Which is good, which is good.
Franklin: What about here? Were there opportunities that were limited when you were a child or coming up?
Brown: Well, in certain areas it was; like I say, Kennewick was that way. But other than that, I didn’t experience too much of other places. Like I say, by being small group of people in the area, it wasn’t too bad. Because they got along well. But it could still be there, which it’s going to be every place; don’t matter where you go. But you don’t see it as much. Because it was a small community of black in the area. That’s where you—the most of those people was Christians. That makes a difference on a family, you come from Christian families, you’re going to find a cooperation that’s great. That’s what it takes. You treat me well, I’ll treat you well.
Franklin: Yeah. Did segregation and racism affect your education?
Brown: Say that again?
Franklin: Did segregation or racism affect your education?
Brown: Did it lure it?
Franklin: Did it affect it? Your education.
Brown: Oh, no. That was up to me, to do whatever you have to do in your classwork. And to prove the point is that, whatever you did, you didn’t know whether you doing it right or wrong, whether they did that, but you assume you were, because they did pass you, give you a grade, give you whatever. And by that time, you would compare other people, you could tell. You could tell by other people whatever they’re doing in the class or whatever and whatever what you’re doing. And you can tell the smart one and the one that’s not smart.
Franklin: Who were some of the people that influenced you as a child?
Brown: As a where?
Franklin: As a child.
Brown: As a child? As a child. I think my parents influenced me by work. I think as teachers, coaches, how to discipline and what you can do with your life. You look at some of the coaching staff and some of the teachers, that they could take more time with you when they know that you’re struggling. That was a blessing. I can go back—because you can look at some of the teachers would take you in and say, you need help in this and help in that. Because like a lot of our people are slow learners because they were taken away from a lot as they grew up, coming from the different environments. But it got where you make a commitment for something, you do it. And that’s what it took.
A lot of people—I can use that as an educational with CJ Mitchell, that’s a good example. He was almost—what was he? 35, 40, before he got his degree in something. But he kept going. Still have a job and going, but he wanted to get better. And that’s what he did. And that’s what you have to do when you lose out on a lot of that. You look at your coaches, you look at how they treat you and try to help you and do things for you. That’s a motivator. And I had a lot of it. I had a lot of it in my lifetime. Because I got missed out on school in certain ways when I was younger. Like they normally tutor people, you know, when they can’t—we were moving around here, moving around there. It affects you. It really does.
Franklin: Yeah. You graduated in ’58?
Franklin: And what did you do afterwards?
Brown: Afterwards, I went to school, I went to CBC for two years. Played sports there, had a scholarship. I went there two years, my brother and I both. And after I left CBC, I went up to Cheney. Got a scholarship in Cheney.
Franklin: For Eastern Washington?
Brown: Eastern Washington, yeah, up at Cheney. And I had a scholarship in basketball there, but it didn’t work out. So during that year, I dropped out. And I shouldn’t have. But I did! That’s the year they was drafting people into the service. And I got drafted into the Army. 24th Division Germany, I went. And on a story, as you talk about that, I met my wife at CBC, she was from California. That was her brother that I was telling you about in Kennewick. And I went and got married. She was from Bakersfield, California, my wonderful wife. And I got to Bakersfield, California, took my mom and took all. And my brother didn’t call me and tell me I had my papers for the military. And he finally told us and my wife says, tell them I’m pregnant! Tell I’m this! You don’t need to go.
But I went into the service, and went over in Germany, and I stayed in Germany four years. Special duties. I was in the 24th Division. Went all over Europe as basketball divisions. I got to travel all over Europe: Italy, France, Germany, Austria, all over, for four years. I was a basic trainer for physical education, bayonet training, hand-to-hand combat training. I did that for four years over in Germany. And that’s when I was in AIT in California. My wife got pregnant and she says, it’s time for you to come home. And I didn’t come home, because I extended for a year. And that’s when she called the Red Cross. And they said, yeah, he’s extended. And so I didn’t—I wasn’t able to see my daughter when she was born. And that’s where my life started. Right there. But I grew up over there in the military. I would tell anybody, go to the service, whatever you have. It grows you up. It makes a man out of you. Because I knew I had responsibilities. It just was the wonderful thing I could’ve ever done. And I stayed in there four years and got out, went to reserves and I started working for GE. That’s where I started again.
Franklin: Out at Hanford?
Brown: Out at Hanford.
Franklin: What year was that?
Brown: ’64, ’65.
Franklin: What did you do for GE?
Brown: GE? I worked in the mailroom. That’s where a lot of us started, in the mailroom. That’s where I started, in the mailroom. And as they—because when I first left and went into the military, I had started to work for GE, but I had got drafted. And so Mr. Wood, out here the Woods Nursery—he worked for GE in hiring people. And I’ll never forget him. He says, don’t worry about it. He said, when you get back—he worked for GE—he said, we’ll get you a job. And sure enough they did. So when I got out of the military, boom, they got me a job. It was wonderful. That’s kind of the way it happened on that.
Franklin: And how long did you work out at Hanford?
Brown: About all my—most until I retired here in—of course, they changed companies. As they changed companies, like I went from GE to Westinghouse, from Westinghouse to Bechtel, from Bechtel back to Westinghouse. I’ll never forget when I was working for GE, me and one of my friends, I forget his name, we had to change the lights in the whole fixtures of the lights they had up in downtown in the 703 Building. 703 Building, still there that one. That’s where I started out, him and I. Taking the lights down, cleaning them. And then as the thing go, I started working for GE and then I went to Battelle, and I went to Westinghouse, and that’s where I started most of my work, working on FFTF.
Franklin: What did you do at FFTF?
Brown: I was a manager—a supervisor.
Franklin: Supervisor for--?
Brown: Of mailroom, duplicating, reproduction, and all the satellites for the projects. I had, what, 12 women and one guy [LAUGHTER] working for me. I worked there, and I’ll never forget, I worked for a guy named Laurence Smith. He was a go-getter. When I first started working out there in the Area. When we started to put the project number two, I was in charge of all of reproduction, duplicating, buying equipment, buying all that.
Franklin: When you say project number two, do you mean the Washington Public—
Brown: Northwest Energy, yeah.
Franklin: Yeah, Energy Northwest.
Brown: Yeah, they used to call it Whups! [WPPSS].
Brown: Yeah, we had five—
Franklin: Yeah, they like to get away from that acronym now.
Brown: Exactly. We had five projects going at the same time.
Franklin: Right, but only one of them—
Brown: One of them made it. All of them was—oh, what a mess.
Brown: What a mess. I mean, I had equipment going back to people, just—oh, it’s so much—oh! That was a disaster. But we made it through. But the one project going is still going. That was a good experience. I used to have my group have to work litigations and—oh, my gosh. In fact, my kids worked out there, a couple of them. Laquida and Chrissie and one of my others, too, Carolyn, the one’s in Vegas. But it was quite a deal, though, to see all that stuff just go to—ah. With all the money that people—oh. Sad sap, all of that. But anyway, that was my experience working. I worked there and retired out of there. I’ve been retired 23 years. I took the early retirement. My wife worked for Battelle. She put 30 years in. We both retired at the same time, 1994, I think it was.
Franklin: Wow. What did your wife do at Battelle?
Brown: She was in charge of the library.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Brown: She worked in the library. She used to go to Washington, DC to do things and everything. She had a good—it was a good job for her. She loved it. She’s dedicated anyway, because that’s the way she is in the church. She’s on the treasury and this and that. But she loved the library. Mr. Wayne Snyder was her boss. Quite a guy, yep, yep. Wayne Snyder. Never forget it. She always would talk about him now. But anyway, she worked there 30 years.
Franklin: Wow. The whole time for Battelle?
Brown: Yeah, Battelle.
Brown: Yeah, she worked all the time for Battelle. She was in photography for a while, and then she went on to the library and she worked her way up through that. Been married 57 years.
Brown: [LAUGHTER] I know it. I need a trophy. I keep telling her that, when we talk to people in the church. And she says, you guys been married, what? 57 years and I need a trophy. [LAUGHTER] But it’s been wonderful. It really has.
Brown: To be able to do that, travel, and the time go by so fast. And that’s why she says—in fact, the pastor just told her the other day, we was having Bible study and we were on a subject like that, and she says, Leda, how long did you work for Battelle? She says, 30 years. That’s what I want to tell you. You made a commitment to what you wanted to do. And that’s what Christians should do, he said. Make a commitment of what you want to do. And you did it, and look at you now! See? You make that commitment in life what you want to do, and you can do it. But you got to make a commitment and do it and stick to it. Yup, yup.
Franklin: How would you describe your relationships with your coworkers and your supervisors at Hanford?
Brown: At Hanford? Wonderful. Because whatever they wanted, I did it. And to say it so, they used to call me No Problem Brown. Go see him, he’ll take care of you. That’s what they used to call me. The litigation, the lawyers used to need stuff. I didn’t care what it cost, overtime or whatever. My relation with them was good. It had to be, because I was in a service department. And you got to learn when you’re in something like that, do whatever they want you to do. Not say, I can’t. I’ll try and do it. Whatever it takes. And get it done. Too many people criti—oh, we don’t need to do this; that ain’t right; this ain’t what you need to do. Do it if they want it. And that’s what happened. That’s what made my job so easy. And I’d tell the people, can you work overtime tonight or whatever? Yes, I’ll do it. Can you get this out? What do we need to do? Need to take it downtown, commercial? Do it. I didn’t have any problem with any of them because I did my job of what they wanted. And they was managers and whatever. Let them fight the problem, not me. I didn’t have any problem. That’s why I was successful at retiring in the same place, yeah.
Franklin: What kinds of interactions did you have with coworkers and supervisors outside of work?
Brown: Outside of work? I can’t recall any outside of work. You saying, people outside of work, or just supervisors or—how do you want to--?
Franklin: Yeah, the people you worked with and your supervisors. Because I imagine even in the ‘60s and ‘70s, right, blacks would’ve been a minority, a real minority—
Brown: Well, I really didn’t have any problem with that. Honestly. Because I was raised to do your job if you’re working for somebody. And do a good job, no matter what you’re doing. Do a good job, and you ain’t got to worry about who you are or what you doing here or there. Do your job like it’s supposed to be and you won’t have a lot of problem.
Franklin: In what ways did the security and secrecy at Hanford impact your work or daily life?
Brown: Not really. Because you knew the security violations of whatever you had to do. No. Security was good for the people, good for you, because you had to provide by the rules and regulations. That’s self-explanatory. If you do something you aren’t supposed to do in regards to the rules and regulations, you get punished for it. Simply. You know? It’s just like driving a car. If you are supposed to go 25, and you’re going 40, that’s you. Rules and regulations doesn’t say that you can do that.
Franklin: What do you know about your parents’ reactions to learning that the work they had done contributed to the development of the atomic bomb?
Brown: Well, they didn’t know what they were doing until the fact came out.
Franklin: Yeah. What do you remember about that?
Brown: Well, I don’t remember too much about it, until I—I was so young during that time—until I found out why and what they were doing later. Kind of frightening about it, because some of the things that came out into the parents’ situation by radiation—which my mom went through it. Yeah. My dad was exposed to it, but not as bad. But other than that, I can’t recall, because I was kind of young when that happened. Until I found out later that the people didn’t know what they were doing; they were just working. And that’s tough. But that’s the way life was, and you had to accept it the way it was.
Franklin: Yeah. What do you think is the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?
Brown: The most important is work. Nuclear. Electricity. Environments, keeping it clean for other generations. That’s one of the most important because the danger that they set here on Hanford. Soon as you say the word Hanford, people think about radiation this and that. That’s just the way life is. So, that’s—
Franklin: I’m going to move on to talk about civil rights now.
Franklin: What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities during your time here?
Brown: I can’t recall too much. In the Tri-Cities?
Franklin: Yeah. And at Hanford.
Brown: Let’s see what you—how can you put that in another way?
Franklin: What kinds of civil rights issues was the black community in the Tri-Cities struggling with? What were the main areas of concern?
Brown: Okay, okay. I think work. Jobs. You can see a lot of that. I’m making—I’m giving an example. Ten dollars, they’re getting 12. But I’m doing more than they are. I’m a specialist. I’m a service worker. You see a lot of that. That was really a tough situation. In fact, that go on now. It goes on. Politics, situation of people, you know people and they do this and do this and whatever. That’s the only thing I can see. But actually a lot of people don’t know that, unless they communicate with people and find out. Otherwise it goes on that I’m making a good living and doing good and whatever. But sometimes they could say, well, we’re only getting so-and-so. You getting what? I’m not even getting that. Communication through things, it happens that way. Segregation situation. And I think a lot of time, to be honest, we do it ourselves. We’re afraid to take a chance on situations. Like going in and asking for a job or getting an application or do things like that. We’re frightened and say, aw, they ain’t going to hire me because of my—but that’s not really true. You never know until you do. You got a good background and you have a trace of a good background, somebody’ll see you. But never give up. Keep moving forward.
Franklin: Any other issues besides employment that the black community struggled with in the Tri-Cities? What about housing?
Brown: No, I don’t think so. No. Because I can go with my family, where I live—I live in all the area with the Mormons. They become as a family. It was wonderful. I had a house built in 1972 over there. I’m still there. And just like now, my daughter lived out in West Richland where the new houses Hayden put up. They bought one there right in the middle of everybody. It’s money counts now.
Franklin: What about historically? You mentioned that your wife’s brother—
Franklin: --had tried to live in—
Brown: And he did live in Kennewick.
Franklin: So, historically, was housing a concern for the African American community in the Tri-Cities? Quality housing?
Brown: Well, because if they could afford it. They could live in Kennewick or Richland. Not Kennewick. But in Pasco or Richland. But over there, you found very few people would live over there in Kennewick because of the surrounding of where you would be. They were mostly on the east side. Now, be honest, it moved. They started moving on up—you know how people, generation to generation, get involved in it. But in Richland, if you could afford it, because it was so—it was expensive more in Richland, in the areas. Different, new areas. The old areas wasn’t too bad where the old, what do you say, during-the-war-houses—
Franklin: The Alphabet Houses?
Brown: Prefabs and precuts and situation. But they were something like a dime a dollar in those days. But if you had the job to be able to afford it, you could do it. And that was the basic there.
Franklin: That kind of goes back to your first point, though, where jobs were a concern because at times jobs may have been there but at the time African Americans were being paid less for the same job or there were classes of jobs that just weren’t really allowed—
Brown: Right, exactly. You analyzed it perfectly. That’s exactly--
Franklin: So that kind of influences the quality of housing.
Brown: Quality, absolutely. You’re right. Absolutely. I’m only making this, and they making that, and how can they afford it? Situations. That happened.
Franklin: Because that happened to CJ Mitchell, right?
Franklin: That he had been—people thought maybe because he bought a nice house, maybe they were paying him too much.
Brown: Mm-hmm, exactly! You’re exactly right. And that’s the same way with us. That when we moved over there, and the people at work were worse than the people where we lived. They says, where you live? I live in Westview Acres. What?! And she says she saw a supervisor drive by her place. And says, that’s where you live? And she drove—we had a Mercedes. I drove a Mercedes. 1978 Mercedes. She drove it to work. She didn’t drive it no more. How can you afford a Mercedes?! You know, those kinds of things, how can you do this and how can you do that? She couldn’t stand it. We parked it. [LAUGHTER] We still got it, though. It’s a good car. Still restored. Yeah, it was her baby. Anyway, you’re right. You run into those situation. Yup. You’re paying them too much.
Franklin: What action was taken to address the disparity in jobs and housing?
Brown: In regards to buying, selling or getting?
Brown: Well, like I said again, I’ll go back to if you could afford to do it, there was no problem. But to get into certain neighborhood, you couldn’t. You know, it was limited to a certain thing because of that. And to tell you the truth, on something else in regards to what you’re talking about, in selling a house or buying a house, people would want to know who’s moving next-door. We just went through that with my daughter. They were selling a house, but the people seeing the pictures and they couldn’t sell it. Soon they took the pictures down and done, showing that was black, it sold right away. That’s amazing. You follow what I’m saying?
Franklin: Yeah, I follow what you’re saying.
Brown: Yeah? So you can see. It just happened, too, recently, to this house that he got ready to sell out in Richland because his upstairs is five-bedroom and the kids are all mostly gone. He said, I will not leave any pictures or anything here. And it sold pretty fast.
Franklin: You mean pictures of the family?
Brown: Yes. Knowing that they were black, see what I’m saying? That happens. People don’t realize it, but it happens. And you can see what I’m referring to.
Franklin: Oh, yes, very much. Who were the important leaders of civil rights efforts in the area?
Brown: In the area? Hmm. I’d have to go way back on that. I think, mostly it was, I’ve seen CJ had a lot to do with some of that. And you have the pastors. Reverend Wilkins, he was a strong man as a pastor through all this. He worked down—I think he worked for GE or some of them people. But Reverend Wilkins was a very strong believer in that. And Reverend—I can go all the reverends really. Reverend Jackson, he was quite a leader. Reverend Upton.
Franklin: Reverend who?
Brown: U-P—I guess that’s the way you spell it, Upton. I’m trying to—well, you had like Reverend—I know he was. I’m trying to figure out his—gosh. Who else was that? Some of those names will come to me later but won’t come to me now. Reverend Allen. Reverend Allen, that’s who I wanted to say. He was a real strong believer in that. Because he—Reverend Allen, he was quite a guy.
Franklin: Why were the reverends so much at the forefront of civil rights?
Brown: Because of the Christian-type. You know, just like, Martin Luther King situation, Christian. And that’s what they believe in the Bible and believe that all people are created equally and that’s the way it was taught. That’s one of the main things in the church, as a pastor. And like they say, the dictionary is here in the Bible. If you follow that, you can’t go wrong. So that’s kind of the way things were with the people back there. Reverend Allen was a plumb believer in—he was with the missionary through all the big churches. He was in charge of all that through Seattle and whatever and pushed all that stuff. He was one of the head top nachos in that.
Franklin: What were some of the notable successes of civil rights efforts in the area?
Brown: Oh, god. Non-believers? Did you say non-believers?
Franklin: No. What were some of the notable successes?
Brown: Oh, the successes! Oh, okay. I follow you, what you’re referring to. Well, I’m trying to recall some of the situation with that, successful. Okay. People used to not vote. That was one of the main things. People would not sit back so they aren’t going to—but every vote counted. They publicize that very well in the churches. That was the main thing. To get us better, to get us where we at, we need to go and vote. That was one of the main things in their life that they would publicize of what you need to do. They would bring that up in church; in fact, they do now. And that was the main thing. So you have to get out and support the things that you want to have done. If you don’t, they’re just going to continue to do them. That was the main issue. One of the main, main issue on that. Get out and vote on the stuff. You’re a citizen and you have the rights. But lot of them just, ah, they don’t listen to me.
Franklin: What were some of the biggest challenges? Civil rights challenges?
Brown: Of having your right to go places, having your right to buy things, not because of your color. And having the rights to be able to live where you wanted to live. That was some of the big issues, I think. In regards—
Franklin: Were those issues here?
Brown: Yeah, you’re always going to have those kind of issues. You have them, don’t matter where you go. You’re going to have them. And you’re going to find people that—it’s fading away. Because we’re moving forward instead of staying down where it’s bad. We want to move forward in regards to what’s going on. Yeah, you’re going to run into the issues. You got to ignore them and go on and try to make things right. Because that’s the way life is. You look at the past; you got to let the past go and look at the things going forward. We got to move forward. Because we can’t think about the past of how—and that’s why our ancestors set our paths for us. And come up with these situations, like you say, the Martin Luther King going for the march and this and that, and vote and getting out the vote. These are the things you need to do to make it better.
Franklin: Right. Were you directly involved in any civil rights efforts?
Brown: No, not really. Not really.
Brown: Nope, nope. Nope, I just stayed mostly in sports. Mostly in sports, coaching and—
Franklin: Do you think sports was a special kind of path to acceptance for African Americans? Did it offer you something special in terms of acceptance?
Brown: Yes. Sports was—like, I coached for 28 years. I did at Hanford and I did at Kamiakin. Me and Emmett Jackson. You know Emmett.
Brown: And the people accepted us as who we were and what we did. We didn’t do it as politics-wise. We did it as a person who wanted to make a commitment to do what they had to do. The discipline that they had. And this is the way we coached. People love that. We used to have people say, well, what’s wrong with him? How come you aren’t playing him? How come you aren’t doing this? The simple answer is, come to our practices. He came to the practice and he left. Next day, he say, I see what you’re saying. See? You bring people in to see what’s going on, when you’re trying to help them and they don’t cooperate or do what they’re supposed to do, let them see it themselves. And that made a difference. Because we treated them as human. As if they were my kids or whatever. And we tell the parents, give them to us for an hour, and then you can have them back. Leave them alone. And we have nowadays guys saying, hey, Coach Brown! You can tell how you treated the people to give you that respect that you did it right.
Franklin: You and your brother were kind of sports stars in Richland.
Franklin: Right, Richland High School. I forget who I interviewed earlier, but someone said that it seemed to them that high school was harder for black women because they didn’t have the sports outlet; whereas, if you could play sports, there was a degree of acceptance. Could you—what are your thoughts on that?
Brown: Well, could be negative and could be positive in some respect. It’s how that other person and you react to the environments of the people. See, I might take it a different way, because they treat me in a different way for what I do than compared to what I do. So there’d be a difference in that situation.
Franklin: Were there ever any social or sporting events when you were in high school where your race was an issue?
Brown: Yes. There was especially when we were playing. That’s what you’re referring to. Like, Sunnyside, we had a problem. Break out. You probably have heard about that one. Emmett probably told you about that, too. That’s when we was in high school. They didn’t see very many blacks. And when we do go play out, we dominate. And when you dominate somebody in they own place, you get criticized. Don’t matter where. And that was the outbreak. They had to call the police, they had to do this and whatever.
Franklin: Really? They had to call the police?
Brown: Oh, yeah. They had to call the police and everything. Escorted us out of there.
Franklin: Who were the police called on? What was the—
Brown: Security, they called them on, because the coaches called them, too. Art Dawald, he was the coach.
Franklin: Of Richland?
Brown: Of Richland on that situation. Never forget it. Yup, an outburst. Because we beat them so bad. Oh, them so-and-sos and so-and-so—it was bad. It was really bad. It was in the paper. I’m sure if you go back in those days, you could probably easily find it.
Franklin: Did they use—
Brown: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah.
Franklin: --racially-charged language?
Brown: Oh, yeah. It was out. Yup, yup. They don’t belong here, these… But yeah, I’ll never forget that. That was the only most disaster thing that ever happened. That was in high school. I think you’ll go back and find the paper, it’ll be in the paper.
Franklin: Do you remember what year that was?
Brown: Let’s see. It had to be in my high school year. Because my brother and I both was playing together. So that had to be in ’57, ’55, ’56, ’57. In that area. Because we both was playing.
Franklin: Is Norris older or younger?
Brown: Older. One year.
Franklin: One year, okay.
Brown: Yup, he was a year ahead of me. A year ahead of me. That was only the big outburst we had.
Franklin: Did you ever—how do I ask this question—what was dating like? Were you ever—you know, because I’m sure you may have had friends—lots of white friends—
Brown: I got you. I got you.
Franklin: Was there any strict requirement—
Brown: Gotcha, gotcha.
Brown: Dating was very interesting. Because of sport athletic ability that you have, you aren’t going to have much problem. I had a white girlfriend. Dated her. Lived out in north Richland here. And we were in school together. You know how you go down and you go to the locker with them and this and that, okay? They had an outburst. Somebody did. And they found out who was doing the outburst. Our vice president, I’ll never forget him, Solly? Solly, have you heard the name Solly? Okay, he was our president. Him and Mulligan, George Mulligan, called the guy in and said, we aren’t going to have this. And they called us and apologized to me.
Franklin: When you say “incident” and “guy,” what do you—
Brown: What they did is, they didn’t want us to date the white girls. And they was prejudiced against it.
Franklin: Was this other students or parents?
Brown: Students. Students. They even had an assembly on it.
Franklin: Had assembly about what?
Brown: About this situation. To the people. And told them, said, we aren’t going to have it. Honestly, I’ll never forget that. We used to have assemblies all the time before basketball and things and any activities. The president brought it up.
Franklin: So there weren’t a lot of African Americans at Richland High School.
Brown: No, no.
Franklin: So did you feel like this was—I mean, you and your brother must—this was targeted about your situation.
Brown: Right, right. Because that happened in junior high in Chief Jo. As that led on, we didn’t have any problem after that. They showed the support through the faculty, of the president and all of that. Boy, it went away. Never did have any other problem. Never did have any other problem. They treated us just like whatever. And I could say a lot of it probably was our athletic ability of what we did for the school and for the community. Got well-known, and that carries us through it. And like I say, I can only count little ones, not a lot of them. Same way, going to the sock hop, they used to call it. They call your name and call your girlfriend up to start out. I can remember that. It showed how closely you were with the facilities of the people. And that made you feel good, to show you have that support.
Brown: Yup. I went through it, experienced it. Yup.
Franklin: I just have two kind of open-ended questions left. First was, what would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and living in Richland during the Cold War?
Brown: During that time? During the Cold War? That’s many years, wasn’t it?
Franklin: It was, about 45.
Brown: I know it, that’s what I’m saying! Well, I tell you—
Franklin: I guess maybe the high point of the Cold War, you know?
Brown: Yeah, I know. Of living in that environment? You know, it doesn’t affect you as much as you’d think about it until afterwards. Because you can’t see exactly what’s going on. You can hear about it. Until it happens or what done happened in the Cold War of what your parents went through. Because you can’t see it. All you are is trying to have a good time, go to school and do things like that and enjoy life. Where they were doing things incredibly. So the experience did not change in regards to being a young person or whatever. We still had activities. But in those days, we made our own activity situation where we would be happy. As long as our parents was working and bringing in something for food, we were happy. Because we was not informed with the other situation. They didn’t publicize it like they publicize now. Because they got all this stuff now, they know what’s going on, what’s this and whatever going on, and people know. All we was concerned about: going to school, parents was working, making a living, and getting some food in our old stomach. And having a good time. That’s what we were concerned about, back in those days.
Brown: Yup, that was it. And that’s how we met a lot of friends, too, by that situation. Making our own playground, making our own things together. And communicating together. And that’s what made it nice. And made it nice and—wherever you—it just, it’s not like that anymore. Gosh. It just aches you to see it. But that was the good days. Good days. Like now, I see Hecksons—I don’t know if you know them or not—Jerry Heckson and Roger was the old—we used to play together. They’re white, and we just had a good time. We made our own fun. And that’s—they don’t do that anymore. It just—ugh. That’s why you have so many problems with segregation, people and this and that. But Christians, that means a lot, when you have faith and trust in God and those situations, and your family. It carries you a long way through life. Makes you think twice. Instead of blowing up. And that’s what it is. Communicate, you listen. I learned that in, when I was working, when I used to go to seminars. The guy used to get up, after he’d go through everything, he’d say, I’m going to leave this with you people. Learn these two things in your life. Learn to listen. And communicate. And you got it. It’s amazing. Yup.
Franklin: Is there anything else you would like to mention related to migration, work experiences, segregation and civil rights and how they’ve impacted your life at Hanford and Richland?
Brown: Yeah, I think growing up, as you can single out a person in my life, where I grew up with a lot of black or whatever, I think it was a good experience to be able to communicate with a different race. When you knew you were down, lower race, which they considered, but you didn’t have to be. You proved yourself that you could go higher. That’s what I’m saying to people. Prove yourself. Soon as you prove yourself, bam, you got it. Same way they say, you’re living in an area with the Mormons. They’re human. Treat them right. We used to go to the—my son, we used to take to father days. You do all of that. Human beings. And that’s what I say about Richland. So great with a family. Family people. And that’s what it is. It’s just great. And that’s what we should have all over. Makes it easier for everybody. My neighbors, they have potatoes, they bring potatoes to me. They have this, they bring some to me. Vice versa, they need help, I’ll help you. It’s wonderful. Makes you feel good. And you bring your kids up the same way, and they doing the same thing. That’s all it takes. Now I see some of the kids of his and all my neighbors, hey, Mr. Brown! Hey! You know? It’s wonderful. Makes you feel good. Makes you feel good when the environment that you live in that you can have trust and faith in people. God is good, all the time.
Franklin: Yup. Well, CW, thanks so much for coming and interviewing with me today.
Brown: No problem.
Franklin: I really appreciate it.
Brown: No problem. My pleasure.
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