Interview with Mae Fite

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Mae Fite

Subject

Hanford Site (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Migration
Bonneville Dam (Or. And Wash.)
Snake River (Wyo.-Wash.)
Segregation
School integration
Civil rights

Description

Mae Fite moved to Pasco, Washington in 1950 and worked on the Hanford Site from 1967-2009.

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

Publisher

Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

04/05/2018

Rights

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

Format

video/mp4

Provenance

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

Interviewer

Robert Franklin

Interviewee

Mae Fite

Location

Washington State University - Tri Cities

Transcription

Robert Franklin: Yeah, I think—are we ready to go?

Lori Larson: All righty?

Franklin: All right. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Mae Fite on April 5, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Mae about her experiences living in the Tri-Cities and/or working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

Mae Fite: It’s Mae Fite. M-A-E, F-I-T-E.

Franklin: Great. Thank you. So, when and where were you born?

Fite: I was born in Linden, Texas in 1946.

Franklin: Okay. And when did you first come to the Tri-Cities area?

Fite: My parents moved us here the first time in 1948. I don’t know when or how long we stayed. And then my mom moved two of us children back to Texas. And then my dad, evidently, came and then they had another child there. And then in 1950, she moved the three of us children back to Washington. And then in 1951, my dad moved back. And then in 1952, he went to Alaska and worked for a while before he came back.

Franklin: Oh! What did he do in Alaska?

Fite: I have no idea. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: I’m from Alaska originally.

Fite: It was probably construction of some sort, but I have no idea what he did.

Franklin: Yeah, there was a lot of building going on after the war. Yeah, that makes sense.

Fite: At that point, I was like four or five.

Franklin: Sure, all you knew was he went like really far away.

Fite: Well, I don’t even remember him being gone.

Franklin: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. And when you say came back to Washington, were your parents in Pasco the whole time?

Fite: Mm-hm. Yeah, I was in Pasco, yes.

Franklin: And Linden, is that in east Texas area? Where is that in Texas?

Fite: That would be more, closer to the Arkansas border.

Franklin: Texarkana area? There were quite a few families from that area that came up to Pasco area.

Fite: They were following someone that came here originally and then they came for work.

Franklin: Was that the case with your mother and father? Do you know how they found out about the area?

Fite: Well, my mom—my grandmother’s husband is a Daniel. So he was following the Daniels family here.

Franklin: Relatives of—Vanis is a relative—

Fite: He’s Vanis’ great-uncle.

Franklin: Oh, wow, okay.

Fite: Yeah.

Franklin: So it was kind of this extended family migration.

Fite: Right. One came, says—I think it was William Daniels came and said, there’s work here. I’m assuming that’s what they did; I’m not sure. Because this is all oral history, so it might be a little fuzzy. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Sure, as it is, yeah.

Fite: Yeah, so my grandmother and her family was here, because it would’ve been my grandmother, her husband and their three children. And then my mom and dad and our family moved. But like I said, my mom didn’t like it here.

Franklin: Oh.

Fite: [LAUGHTER] So, they moved back to Texas. And then after she had my youngest brother, there was no one there to help her with her kids. So she came back so her mom could help her with us.

Franklin: And it was your grandmother that was married to one of the Daniels.

Fite: Mm-hm, yeah.

Franklin: Okay. What was it about the area that your mom—did she ever tell you why she left and--?

Fite: Yeah, there was nothing here. [LAUGHTER] Weeds blowing, tumbleweeds, you know. Texas, at least there was trees. But there was nothing here in the Tri-Cities. Just dirt. She didn’t like it. And she wasn’t the only one that didn’t like it; there was a lot of people as I worked through Hanford, they said their wives came and the dust was blowing, they called it the termination winds?

Franklin: Mm-hmm.

Fite: And they were out of here, you know?

[LAUGHTER]

Franklin: What do you know about your parents’ lives before they came to work at Hanford?

Fite: They were farmers. And Dad also worked in the forest and drove trucks for the forest. So, Mom was a housewife. She didn’t work. She was busy raising children.

Franklin: Mm-hm. How many siblings do you have?

Fite: Four. There’s four of us. I’m the eldest of the four.

Franklin: Eldest of the four, great. You kind of talked about your mom’s initial experience of coming to Hanford. What about your father, did he ever talk about what his initial experiences were like?

Fite: He never really did talk about it, because with him working, you know, he was out to support his family.

Franklin: Yeah. Where did he work?

Fite: When I was growing up, he pretty much worked on all the dams on the Snake River. Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Bonneville, John Day.

Franklin: Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s—

Fite: Then he worked one in Wenatchee. Then from there—he was working at Ice Harbor, and he went to work for JA Jones. So he stayed there until he retired.

Franklin: Was that when JA Jones had the Hanford contract to do most—

Fite: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: And what did your father do at all these dams?

Fite: He was a carpenter. And when he retired from JA Jones, he was a general foreman for the carpenters’.

Franklin: Did your father talk about the work crews that he was on? Do you know if they were segregated or--?

Fite: They were all integrated.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Great. Let’s see here, da, da, da. Tch, tch, tch. Sorry. I’m trying to formulate my questions for this situation. Oh! Where was the first place that your parents stayed in when they—or that you remember staying in, your family living in when your family arrived?

Fite: In east Pasco.

Franklin: And what kind of housing was it?

Fite: The first home, Mom said they lived in a tiny little trailer, like a little travel trailer.

Franklin: Okay.

Fite: And then we moved to, in 1950, I think when we moved back, there was a little home there across the street from Morning Star Baptist Church. We lived in there in like a little fourplex. And from there we moved to Parkside Homes. My sister was born in 1953 when we were living in Parkside. Which now you can see the little area over there, they call it the Navy Homes Park over on 4th Street? And then Dad built our home over on Owens in east Pasco, and then that’s where we grew up.

Franklin: Do you remember, like, the kind of quality or the construction of the homes? Was it similar to other homes in Pasco, or was it--? I’ve heard that—and our research found that some homes in Pasco didn’t have running water at the time.

Fite: Oh, we had all the utilities.

Franklin: Okay, okay.

Fite: Yeah, so we were fine.

Franklin: Okay, good, well, that’s good.

Fite: Just dirt road.

Franklin: Right. The roads in east Pasco were unpaved at that time.

Fite: Right, mm-hmm.

Franklin: How would you describe life in the community? What did you do in your spare time?

Fite: As a kid, we just played a lot. But as I grew up and I would find part-time jobs babysitting and whatever. So yeah. But my spare time was just reading. I loved to read, so I didn’t do a whole lot of nothing.

Franklin: Oh, that’s good. Do you remember any particular community events that stand out to you?

Fite: Going to church every Sunday.

Franklin: Church every Sunday. Yeah, which church did you attend?

Fite: Morning Star Baptist.

Franklin: Morning Star. And what role did the church play in the community?

Fite: It was our center of everything. Your activities, if you needed information, friends, whatever, the church was center. Our thing at home was if you wanted to go out on Saturday night, you make sure you go, because you’re going to go to church on Sunday.

[LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Always church on Sunday, right?

Fite: It was always church on Sunday. Mom wouldn’t allow us to do anything on Sunday if we hadn’t—if we wanted to go do anything, we had to make sure we went to church on Sunday.

Franklin: Sounds just like my mom.

Fite: Yeah.

Franklin: The community of east Pasco was largely, if not completely, African American, right?

Fite: Pretty much. At first it wasn’t. It was segregated, because as the blacks moved in, the whites moved out. But where we were living was on Owens. So on Beech there was white families and on Douglas behind us there was white families, and then all over on—north of Lewis was all white until 1971 when they came in with the Urban Renewals. And then as they were removing the blacks out of their homes, they moved over to the north side on Lewis—yeah, Lewis. All the white families moved out.

Franklin: Mm. Familiar theme. Were there many families with children or extended families such as grandparents?

Fite: All of us had grandparents.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Fite: I had one grandmother here with nine grandchildren. All of my mom’s siblings and all of their kids. So it was extended families. If it wasn’t, it was aunt and uncle or something that was there.

Franklin: Right, right. Do you recall any family or community events or traditions, including food, that people brought from the places they came from?

Fite: I don’t know more than just our families, but it wasn’t anything different than Mom cooked all the time. She was an excellent cook.

Franklin: What kind of food did she—did she cook like Southern food, soul food type food?

Fite: I don’t think so.

Franklin: Oh.

Fite: If she did, I didn’t eat it. [LAUGHTER] I don’t remember. She cooked a lot of things different.

Franklin: What about, I know Juneteenth is a very important—

Fite: That just started recently in the last 30 years I guess. That wasn’t something we did when I was growing up.

Franklin: Oh, okay. What about—was Kurtzman Park around when you were growing up?

Fite: It developed when I was growing up. Before then, it was just an empty field.

Franklin: Right. What was the—did you—what was Kurtzman Park to the community, or what is it?

Fite: It was just a park. It wasn’t anything that we did special in the park. I don’t even know where the name Kurtzman came from. When I was growing up, it was just an empty—just another field.

Franklin: Mm-hm. Do you remember when the park was put in?

Fite: It had to have been in middle school.

Franklin: Did you play in the park at all after it had been--? No, nothing too special.

Fite: I didn’t, but my brothers and sisters did.

Franklin: Oh, your younger brothers and sisters? Yeah. Excuse me. Were there opportunities available here that were not available where your parents came from?

Fite: I would say so. That just the fact that they was able to work wherever they was working at was fine. Like my mom, she worked in most of the restaurants. But for us, the one thing I remember is that we could not go into the restaurant and sit down and eat. We could go to the fast food places and take our food, but we couldn’t go into the restaurants.

Franklin: And this was here, in Pasco? In all the Tri-Cities?

Fite: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: I imagine not in any of the restaurants in east Pasco.

Fite: Well, they didn’t have any restaurants in east Pasco.

[LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Fair enough.

Fite: I mean, there was two, but there wasn’t enough room there to sit down and have a family meal.

Franklin: Right. And so you weren’t—do you remember any restaurants or experiences like that in particular?

Fite: Well, I went to apply for a job at Louberry’s [?] there on 4th and Lewis?

Franklin: Mm-hmm?

Fite: And the one question the guy asked me was, if a customer spanked me, what would I do? And I said, I would slap him. And he said, well, then you wouldn’t be able to work here. [LAUGHTER] So—I mean, I was being honest with him, because I had never experienced someone to do that to me.

Franklin: Right, like, spank you on the behind?

Fite: Mm-hmm, yeah. He was flirting, you know. So my answer to him was, if you’re hitting me, I’m hitting back.

Franklin: Well, that’s good for you. I mean, one person’s flirting is another person’s harassment. Wow. So you were—was that something that your parents had told you, like, we just don’t go, we just don’t sit down in these restaurants because we can’t? Or how’d you know that? Do you know what I mean?

Fite: Well, there was a restaurant there on Lewis and Wehe? I think that’s where it is now, called Wilky’s. So we would get out of school, we would go there, and all the white kids could go inside and get their food, but all of us African Americans, we had to stand in the window and get ours. So there was nothing that you was told that you couldn’t go in, but it was just, that was the way it worked.

Franklin: Would they just not serve you if you went inside?

Fite: I have no idea. I never did go in.

Franklin: That was just like the way it was?

Fite: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Wow. In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation or racism?

Fite: I would say pretty much everything was limited as to what you could or could not do. But it wasn’t outwardly spoken; it was more covert. It was just like you couldn’t do this. For instance, there was the Eastside Market that was on the east side. There was no black or any other ethnic groups that was cashiers until later, after ’60-so. Then they finally hired people. But before then, there was no opportunity for working there in the stores.

Franklin: Right, so blacks were excluded from employment, even on the east side of town, by white-owned businesses. Could you describe any interactions that you or your parents had with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities area that stand out to you?

Fite: Such as?

Franklin: Oh, positive or negative interactions? Maybe with people in Kennewick or Richland?

Fite: Well, Kennewick, no one had any interaction in Kennewick. You could go there and shop, but you couldn’t live in Kennewick. And Richland, the only way you lived in Richland, you had to be working for the Hanford Site. So, Mom and Dad had friends that lived in Richland that worked at Hanford, so they would go and visit with them, but other than that, I don’t know. And if they—I didn’t really travel much with them, when they went out to visit with their friends. I was pretty much a homebody.

Franklin: Makes sense. Well, you’re young, right, too. And probably when they went out you had to look over your brothers and sisters, being the oldest?

Fite: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Yeah. Where did you go to school?

Fite: All Pasco.

Franklin: Which schools?

Fite: Pretty much went to all of the grade schools in Pasco. At the time, middle school was McLoughlin Junior High, and then I graduated from Pasco High and then I attended CBC, got my AA.

Franklin: Did segregation or racism affect your education throughout your schooling?

Fite: It didn’t affect me for the fact that I got an integrated education. But it affected me because the teachers didn’t encourage us to think about going to college, the advisers didn’t talk about extending to college. But when I got graduated from high school, I had skills to be able to get a job as office worker, so it really didn’t affect me in that sense. But the fact that we couldn’t participate in school activities was sort of sad.

Franklin: What do you mean?

Fite: Well, the girls couldn’t be cheerleaders. Boys could play sports, but the girls pretty much was limited from being on cheer squad, but we couldn’t be cheerleaders. So it was sort of disappointing in that.

Franklin: Yeah. Is that another one of those kind of unwritten rules that you just—

Fite: Unwritten, but then they would tell you, no, you can’t participate.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Fite: It’s sort of sad.

Franklin: That’s really sad. And it was just kind of another unspoken or I guess spoken thing where blacks were encouraged probably to go more into trades and not encouraged for college prep.

Fite: That is correct.

Franklin: And what made you want to—what made you go to CBC, what made you decide to go to college?

Fite: Because that was always my goal. I wanted to go to college.

Franklin: That’s great. Who were some of the people that influenced you as a child when you were getting educated in elementary, middle and high school?

Fite: No one.

Franklin: No one?!

Fite: I didn’t have any role models, you know. So it was sort of sad.

Franklin: Do you know, what education level did your parents attain?

Fite: They pretty much got through starting high school, but didn’t graduate.

Franklin: Was education for you important to them? Was that something that—

Fite: It was.

Franklin: --they had stressed to you?

Fite: Mm-hm. Very much so.

Franklin: Do you think that was a benefit of being here, versus maybe being back in Texas, or--?

Fite: I don’t think it would’ve mattered where we would’ve been raised; I think that was something they wanted us to do, was to get our education.

Franklin: And then after you got your AA, where did you—I assume you probably went to work.

Fite: I was already working.

Franklin: You were? And where were you working?

Fite: Hanford.

Franklin: Hanford, okay, great. So tell me, what sort of work did you do?

Fite: I was a clerk, and for years I always was a secretary for Hanford. So I started in—actually, my anniversary date was yesterday, 4/4 of ’67, I went to work at Hanford. I started out as a temporary file clerk, but I passed my typing test eventually and they pushed me up from file clerk to a expediter clerk, worked for two expediters. And then from there, I moved up—at that time, you didn’t have to apply for the job; if one came up, they just pushed you to that next level. So I went from the clerk to the secretary in employment. And in employment they put me in secretary in the Hanford Project News office, and I worked there for four years.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Fite: And then that company was ITT. It didn’t renew its contract. So then I went to work for ARCO in 271-T in the 2-West area.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Fite: And I worked there for about three years, because when my youngest son started kindergarten, I talked to my manager that I needed to come into town because I didn’t have a babysitter for them while he was in school. So I needed to be in town, because I was a single parent by this time now; I had gotten a divorce. I came back downtown and then I’m thinking, hmm, I’m taking all these classes in accounting. I need to be a clerk; I don’t need to be a secretary any longer. So I talked to my manager and so I was secretary of accounting. So he says, well, there’s an entry level in payroll; do you want to take that job? I said, well, I need the experience. I’ve got the years, but I don’t have the experience as a clerk. So I took that, and from there I just stayed in clerical. I went form payroll to insurance and I ended up being the pension clerk for Hanford. I did all the pension estimates for all of the companies except Battelle management. But all the unions and non-exempt for Hanford.

Franklin: Wow, math—you must be really good with math.

Fite: Not really, but—

Franklin: Oh!

[LAUGHTER]

Fite: That’s what I was telling her, I did okay here at WSU until I had to take pre-calc. [LAUGHTER] That was the end of that class. I went, oh, no. But I love math, you know, but, yeah.

Franklin: It sounds like you received a lot of support for kind of getting moved up or trying to find a position that matched your interests. Sounds like you at least at times had supportive managers?

Fite: I don’t know. It was just interesting how I’d be moved one place to the next. Hired in and then it just worked out really nice. But for a while there, I was the only black secretary that they had at Hanford for the company I was working for. That was interesting. And then, most of the positions I was in, I was the only African American in that position in those offices.

Franklin: And did you spend most of your time in the downtown, the 700 Area of Hanford, or were you kind of all around the Site?

Fite: It was kind of all around, because where I end up was at the Stevens Center.

Franklin: Okay.

Fite: So you just move where the companies found the position for us to be stationed and whatever.

Franklin: When did you retire from Hanford?

Fite: 2006.

Franklin: Oh, wow. So you were there for 39 years.

Fite: Yeah.

Franklin: Wow. That’s impressive. Man, they just don’t make careers like that anymore.

Fite: Well, I didn’t go to work to stay there that long. I only was going to stay long enough to work until we paid the hospital bill off from my second son being born. But it ended up, I had a career, so when my divorce came, I just kept working.

Franklin: Wow. And you were able to support your family on that. That’s really something. Did you acquire any skills or experience on the job that helped you later in life?

Fite: Not really.

Franklin: Okay.

Fite: I—

Franklin: Oh, sorry.

Fite: I started volunteering after my youngest son graduated from high school doing income tax returns for the AARP.

Franklin: Oh, great.

Fite: And I did that until 2000—I think 2000. And then I stopped doing that. My granddaughter graduated from high school and I thought, oh, I started doing that when my grandson graduated from high school and I quit when my granddaughter—

[LAUGHTER]

Fite: --graduated.

Franklin: Wow. I love that program. I had them do my taxes this year.

Fite: That was rewarding.

Franklin: That’s good. Yeah, it’s a really wonderful program.

Fite: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: It’s a really nice thing to do. Could you describe a typical work day out on Site?

Fite: Ah, it was just a lot of work. Because we started out, it was five eights and then I ended up, it was four tens. But I just stayed busy, you know. There’s a lot of stuff you just have to get done.

Franklin: How would you describe your relationships with your coworkers and your supervisors or management?

Fite: I got along fine with them. There was a lot of politics in your job, but I didn’t get caught up in that.

Franklin: How were you treated on the job?

Fite: Fine. I mean, if they didn’t like me, I didn’t know it. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Was it ever difficult to often be the only African American in your group or in the—

Fite: It didn’t happen until I went to work for Westinghouse, and I worked for [UNKNOWN] and he just had a different management style. I just had to talk to him about, you know, pretty much embarrassing me in front of people. And he pretty much stopped after I talked to him.

Franklin: Oh, wow. Very direct, huh?

Fite: Hmm?

Franklin: You’re very direct.

Fite: Yeah. I don’t have time for politics. [LAUGHTER] You know? You want me to work for you, work with me. I don’t come in and—I don’t drink coffee, I didn’t smoke. So I figured if I was giving him eight hours a day for my—I think I should’ve been respected for my—if I did his work, he should respect me in that what I was doing. So if I needed a raise, I went in and said, it’s time for me to get a raise. And I pretty much got them.

Franklin: Oh, yeah. I was going to ask you if that worked, but sounds like it did. What kinds of interactions did you have with coworkers and supervisors outside of work?

Fite: None.

Franklin: None?

Fite: Mm-mm.

Franklin: Were you based always in Pasco in this time?

Fite: No, I lived in Richland.

Franklin: Oh, you lived in Richland at this time?

Fite: Yeah, I moved to Richland in ’67. And so I pretty much was not in Pasco after that. So I was pretty much in Richland. But raising two boys, that kept me busy, so I didn’t have a lot of interaction with anybody with work.

Franklin: Where did you primarily live at in Richland?

Fite: On Rossell. I bought a home in Richland. So, before then I rented a couple of little houses. They were always the little prefabs or the precuts. And the home I bought was a precut.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Fite: And I sold it in 2015 and moved to Pasco.

Franklin: Oh, okay, made the trip back. What made you want to move back to Pasco?

Fite: I didn’t want to own a home. So I’m looking at—after my parents passed away, and I’m going, oh, that was a lot of work to take care of their property. So I thought about, hmm, I’m going to retire now. I don’t have anyone home but me. Why am I sitting here doing yardwork? So I sold my home. Now I rent a duplex in Pasco.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Cool.

Fite: It’s really nice.

Franklin: Yeah, I bet. It’s nice not to have to deal with all that.

Fite: Mm-mm. And the kids won’t have to deal with it either.

Franklin: That’s really—that’s a lot of forethought, I think. If your kids don’t appreciate that, they should.

Fite: Yeah, they do.

Franklin: Good. Could you describe the working conditions that you worked in? You worked primarily in an office.

Fite: Mm-hmm. They were really nice, yeah. They had the best of whatever they had coming out.

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

Fite: I don’t think there was any, for me.

Franklin: How did your racial background figure into your work experiences?

Fite: None, because I treated my coworkers just like we did my classmates. You know, talked to them, whatever. If we had a disagreement about something, I tried to work that out. But I didn’t—I never had where I had to have management come and talk to me about something I’ve done that they didn’t like.

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

Fite: It didn’t impact it, but it was sort of funny, because when I was working for the Hanford Project News office, we would handle the Hanford Science Center. So they sent me down one day to take one of the displays down and to revise it. Well, the next morning, I got called in. They says, you need to get your Q clearance. As long as the thing was on the wall, it was fine, but the minute we took it down to redo it, then it became Top Secret. So I got my Q clearance after that. So that was the fun part. But I’m going, oh, that was hilarious. But since I didn’t go down there and do it on my own, I was instructed to do that, there was no problem with it. But yeah that was interesting.

Franklin: But you needed to get a Top Secret clearance in order to handle the thing that previously had been on the wall.

Fite: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Franklin: That sounds like Hanford.

Fite: [LAUGHTER] It was interesting, you know. And then eventually we didn’t need clearances any longer.

Franklin: That is a really good story of the security and secrecy.

Fite: Yeah, yeah, it’s interesting.

Franklin: How did you feel at the time about working for a site, for a large organization that was involved in the development of nuclear weapons?

Fite: It was fine, because I never did really get involved with any of that. I mean, one of my jobs I had to do as a secretary was keep track of all the precious metals that they use out there at Hanford. And so that was interesting. But other than that, I really didn’t ever get too involved with what they were doing with the Site.

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

Fite: That they would ever get it cleaned up. [LAUGHTER] Which is never going to happen.

Franklin: I really like that answer.

Fite: You know, if you think about it, everything has got to be a half-life, so they’ll be out there forever doing that.

Franklin: Yeah. Yes, they will. Especially if the—well, I won’t go there. What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford in the Manhattan Project? Did you learn about—

Fite: Nope.

Franklin: No? Have you learned about them since you started work there, have you looked into that history at all, what the Manhattan workers did, the building of Hanford?

Fite: No, no, I haven’t.

Franklin: Okay. So moving on to kind of like civil rights activities, what were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities during your time here?

Fite: It didn’t happen until ’67, I think it was. They started having some of the different problems, you know, nationwide that came here, but I didn’t get involved in any of that. I could see what’s going on, and you could see some of the differences where you could go in the stores and see different people that had been hired so you see that that did bring some change here. We could live where we wanted after a while. So it was a different thing. But that was nationwide; it wasn’t just in the Tri-Cities.

Franklin: Sure, sure. So you would’ve graduated in—

Fite: ’64.

Franklin: ’64, and was that from Pasco High?

Fite: Mm-hmm!

Franklin: Were there any episodes of like racial strife or conflict there, or was that after your--?

Fite: That was afterwards, if there was any there, yeah. I mean, our biggest thing was having the different schools competing for the homecoming and stuff like that. But that didn’t have anything to do with race; that was just school competitions.

Franklin: But there was always, though, that kind of unspoken thing, like maybe you wouldn’t have felt totally comfortable in restaurants in other cities or—you know, because you had talked a little bit about some of that unspoken segregation that was existing at that time. But that didn’t affect the education in any--?

Fite: No, because school was integrated, so we didn’t get involved in any of that. I mean, it was just the fact that, like I said, there was things we couldn’t do in school, but that didn’t have anything to do with how we sit in the classroom or anything like that, or ride the bus. It was always, find a seat and sit down.

Franklin: Yeah. What kinds of actions were being taken to address civil rights issues in the Tri-Cities?

Fite: None that I knew of. I wasn’t participating in any of that.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Had you heard about the Hazel Scott case in 1950? Where she was refused service—okay. How did the larger national civil rights movement influence civil rights efforts at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?

Fite: Nothing that I know of. I mean, I don’t think it ever really made an impact on what we were doing as far as work was concerned.

Franklin: Did you see, over your time at Hanford, did you see a change in the type of positions that African Americans were being hired into, or did you start to see greater representation of African Americans or minorities in general at Hanford?

Fite: I just worked in that one section of payroll, so I didn’t really see a lot of stuff going on in the larger scale of Hanford.

Franklin: What about in your section?

Fite: No. I didn’t see any difference there, because there was black managers and the individual employees that had their degrees so they had their jobs. So I was non-degreed, so I wasn’t involved in management at that point.

Franklin: Did you eventually—you mentioned you went here for a time, did you end up finishing your degree?

Fite: I didn’t.

Franklin: Oh, okay. You just took—

Fite: I got to pre-calc and that was the end of that. [LAUGHTER] I got most of my basic classes taken care of, so I didn’t ever go off into my electives, because of the calc to do that. I was going for my finance degree.

Franklin: Ah, I see. What did you—so you said you quit Hanford in 2006. What did you do afterwards?

Fite: Retired!

Franklin: Retired, just—

Fite: [LAUGHTER] That’s what you do. You just go and do other things, yeah. I didn’t go back to work.

Franklin: Right, just kind of keeping busy. Did you travel that much—did you travel much outside the Tri-Cities.

Fite: I did.

Franklin: Yeah?

Fite: Well, yes, my sons and I—because we didn’t have a lot of money, we did an awful lot of day trips. And then whenever I could, I would go take them to Disneyland and different things like that. And then I would allow to go to classes in different places by themselves so their mom didn’t have to be there with them.

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

Fite: No.

Franklin: Okay.

Fite: I never run into where I was not allowed service at all.

Franklin: Sure. What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and/or living in Richland during the Cold War?

Fite: Nothing.

Franklin: Nothing?

[LAUGHTER]

Fite: I can’t think of anything I think I’d want to pass on to someone about it.

Franklin: Okay. Did you ever feel—just kind of knowing what was being made out there, and maybe about the waste—did you ever feel anxious or scared or nervous about Hanford, you know, about the—all the stuff that was going—all the secrecy and all of that?

Fite: Uh-unh, because it wasn’t like that was something that was just talked about. I mean, things that now I worry about, it’s like they’re saying downwinders. They released different things out in the atmosphere and then let us know about it. So now we’re having health issues and we’re saying, okay, how do we get treated for these or that part of some of this stuff that they did back then. Because they didn’t consider the population.

Franklin: Hmm. Is there anything else that you would like to mention related to migration, segregation and civil rights and how they impacted your life at Hanford and the Tri-Cities?

Fite: Nothing that I know of impacted me at all.

Larson: Did you have any, as a single mom, in raising your boys in Richland, did you ever have any concerns or issues with their schooling?

Fite: No.

Larson: No?

Fite: No, they were just happy little boys that got along with everybody. School was good for them, you know, they went through all the schools in Richland. So they just had a really good education and they was able to do whatever they wanted to do in school. There was nothing they came home and said, Mom, they won’t let me do this. They didn’t receive some of the same thing that I experienced.

Franklin: They didn’t receive some of the things that you experienced?

Fite: Mm-mm.

Franklin: Was the situation in the kind of unspoken segregation that you had grown up in, was that different? When you moved to Richland, was it different in Richland? Did you still experience that kind of thing?

Fite: We still experienced it, because when I moved into my home, the black cat—stray—and the neighbor guy brought it over and threw it in my yard. And I thought, that isn’t my cat. Why did you do that? And then they would have the welcome neighbors. I never received that. So it was unspoken there, too, when I first moved there. But by the time I left, they were all really nice neighbors. Because I didn’t let that bother me. I said, okay, you don’t want to be a neighbor with me, fine.

[LAUGHTER]

Fite: But I didn’t create any problems with the neighbors, and so then they didn’t have a problem with me. But they all looked out after my boys after I knew about it. They said, yeah—because they were latchkey kids. So they watched out for them for me.

Franklin: Oh, that’s sweet. Well, Mae, unless you have anything else you want to say? Thank you for the interview.

Fite: Well, thank you for inviting me.

Franklin: Okay. Awesome. All right.

Hanford Sites

JA Jones Construction
Hanford Project News
ITT
ARCO
271-T Building
200-West Area
Westinghouse
Hanford Science Center

Years in Tri-Cities Area

1950-

Years on Hanford Site

1967-2006

Files

Fite, Mae.png

Citation

“Interview with Mae Fite,” Hanford History Project, accessed March 30, 2020, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/2036.

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