Interview with Aubrey Johnson
Civil rights movements
A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I’m conducting an oral history interview with Aubrey Johnson on April 9th, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Aubrey about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities. And for the record can you state and spell your full name for us?
Aubrey Johnson: My full name is Aubrey, A-U-B-R-E-Y, Lee, L-E-E, Johnson, J-O-H-N-S-O-N.
Franklin: Great. So, Aubrey, your parents came here, right? They brought you here as a small child?
Johnson: Yes, my parents moved here in 1946, April the 2nd.
Franklin: Where were your parents from?
Johnson: They were from Mississippi.
Franklin: Is that where they moved here from?
Johnson: No, they moved from Mississippi to California, and then they went to Portland and worked in the shipyards. Just up at the end of the war they then moved here after they heard about the Hanford Project in order to gain employment. My mom, she worked at the cafeteria and my dad, he ended up working on the railroad.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Johnson: We lived in various places. I can remember my mom telling me that when we first got here, not having a place to live, we stayed in the kitchen of a pastor, Reverend Stewart’s house for a while. After they got employment and stuff, we moved into a trailer. And eventually, we bought a little small house, and we lived there for a few years. In 1948 they moved it down to the property they would live on now at 705 South Douglas.
It was a shotgun house. I once asked, well what is a shotgun house? It’s where you walk in the front door and you can look straight through and right out to the back door. There was no rooms to the side. In there, there was a bed on each side of the wall, there was a heater in the middle of the floor and there was an ice box. There was no running water, no bathroom or anything like that. I stayed there until ‘49 and I went to Mississippi to stay with my grandmother. And I stayed down there with here for a year and then I moved back here to Pasco. That’s when I started going to kindergarten and going to school.
Franklin: Where were you born?
Johnson: I was born in Vancouver, Washington.
Franklin: Vancouver, Washington, okay. And were your parents living in Vanport, do you know?
Johnson: I think they were living in Vanport, because I know my mom talked about it all the time, Vanport, Bagley Downs, and I’m sure that was the area that they lived in, the Portland area.
Franklin: You mentioned your dad working on the railroad. Was he a railroad man by trade or was he just kind of--
Johnson: He was a railroad man by choice.
Franklin: Railroad man by choice?
Johnson: Yeah, any job that you could get, that’s what you took and you took whatever you could get first.
Franklin: Right. What do you know about your parents’ lives before they came to work at Hanford?
Johnson: I really don’t know a whole lot about it, for me to see it because I was a baby, but my mom, she would tell me stories about her living in the South and the wages they had to work for. She’s like, son, I remember when I worked for ten cent an hour. I worked for twelve hours and made $1.20 for the whole day. But you could do a lot with $1.20.
She told me about when they were sharecropping and lived on the farms with her parents and stuff like that. There were 16 children in her family and so it was really hard for them having so many. It was basically farmers. You had to just try to scratch out a living the best way you could, especially when you don’t own your own place. It’s almost like you are an indentured slave. You’re in that situation.
One of the things that impacted me as a kid is that they never broke even. It was almost even, so they kept you there on the farm. So if you were trying to move or go somewhere else, it’s like you’re still owning. If you own somebody something then you can’t leave. And so that was the situation until when she got to be 16 years of age and then she got married and took off and left the South. My dad, he had told me he worked in restaurants and various places, and different type of work. They lived on a farm, also, in Mississippi. And you know, the struggles and stuff that he went through living there, and how hard it was. But the good part of it was that they lived in the country. So, the racist thing was there, but they wasn’t impacted with it like the people was in the city. That was a good thing.
I think my growing up, as a child, I wasn’t taught to be racist. So in our house it wasn’t talked about until I got to be about 14 or 15 years old and my mom she would tell us about the things that I just told you that happened to them, et cetera, et cetera. When I started going to school, there was only three kids in our classroom that were of color, and two of them were Oriental, and myself being black. We all played together, we laid on the floor and took naps together, et cetera. You find in kids, there is no racism until it’s taught to them, we all got along really well and so I didn’t see that. Living where we were living at, there were Caucasian people that lived on the next block up from us and over, which I went to school with and we all got along really well and it was a good thing.
I didn’t start seeing the race issue until I got in junior high school. One of the first things I saw is when they had a dance that we all attended. And it was probably about maybe eight or ten black kids that went to the dance, and the rest was Caucasian. And all the Caucasian kids stood over on one side of the wall; black kids stood on the other side of the wall. After dancing with the three or four girls that was there, I attempted to ask a Caucasian girl if she wanted to dance, and she said, no, not now. I said, okay. I turned around and walked back where the other kids was. When I turned around and looked, she was dancing with a young man of her own kind. And it’s just kind of like, well, why she didn’t want to dance with me? You try to reason out in your mind as a kid, well, maybe that’s her boyfriend. But it wasn’t her boyfriend because of who she was. I couldn’t understand why it was that way.
When I went home, I told my mom about it. And she said, well, you know she is probably forbidden by her parents. They don’t want us to intermingle because they are afraid that you boys are going to get interested in them, and this will result in interracial relationships, that’s the reason why it’s that way. I still couldn’t really understand it.
I had a friend, his name was Nolan Bench, I went over to his house one day to play. His dad came from Texas. We were in the house, and we were playing around, and his dad come home and he looked, and he looked at his wife and he looked at us and says, what do you got them kids in here for? We just looked at him, and his wife says, you leave those kids alone, let them play. When I went home I told my mom about it. And she said what did he say? I said, he said, what are those—the N-word—kids doing in here? And I told her, his wife said, you leave those kids alone, let them play. My mom told me, she said, don’t pay no attention to him, you go back over there and play. The next day, me and Nolan Bench, we were good friends, I went back over to his house. After a while his dad got so he’d come home and he wouldn’t say anything to us. We just kind of grew up together until actually after we got out of high school and he went in the military.
When he came back from the military, he told me his mom had passed. And he said, Aubrey do you want to go see my dad? And I said to myself, what on earth for? I said, well yeah. We went over and his dad was living right below the Blue Bridge in the trailer court that they had there. When we walked in his dad was sitting over in an easy chair. He had this big head, no hair on the top and just prickly hair sticking up on the side. He said, Dad, he say, you know who this is? His dad looked at me and says, no. He says, this is the little kid that used to come over to the house when we lived over in east Pasco. He stood there and looked at me for a minute. I guess he was trying to realize who I was. And then all of a sudden he stood up—which I thought was a giant of a man—but now, mind you, I’m six-three-and-a-half. I look at this guy and he’s only probably about five-nine, but he still had that big head. He says to me, he says, you know, I’m really sorry that I treated you kids the way that I did. That just really warmed my heart.
Found out that he had cancer and shortly thereafter he passed. And at some point he realized how he had impacted his kids’ lives, and our lives by being the way that he was. So he was just, I figured, trying to reconcile in his mind, wow, I did a bad thing. Because at some point, we got to realize the things that we do and be accountable for them. As we get older, we can look back on hindsight and see what we should’ve did different, and I think that was the kind of thing that he had there.
There were a few other incidences with a friend of mine as far as racism. North Beech in east Pasco, Caucasian people lived up there and I heard that there was a covenant for them not sell to any black people. Wehe Street was a street that ran north and south, and you could go North Wehe and go all the way through to the Dietrich’s city dump disposal. Anyway, my friend Mickey Donnell asked me, hey, Aubrey, do you want to go over to my house and play? I have a swing set. Well, I had never seen a metal swing set in somebody’s yard. We had like a wood swing set, and he had like the metal ones at school. I said yeah. We walked up Wehe Street and then we walked across the field and went in his back gate. We were there playing probably for 45 minutes or so and he heard his parents coming home because when they closed the gate, it was one of those metal gates, and clank! He says, Aubrey, you got to go! I looked at him and he says, run! I went out the back gate and I ran over to Wehe Street and then I walked on home.
So the next day that I went to school, I asked him, well, what happened? He said my parents were coming home and you wasn’t supposed to be over there. I said, well, why did I have to run? He said if you made it all the way over to Wehe Street without them seeing you, then they wouldn’t know if you had been over there or where you had been. I’m like, wow, that’s odd, that we played at school every day. But then that kind of showed me the racism that was there with his parents and stuff. Because now I’m beginning to be aware of the racial issue at this time, because this is like ’57 or ‘58 as we are getting older. It was just a bad thing to try to live through.
I’m going to fast forward. I’ve been out of school 55 years. And this will be my 55th year class reunion. I’ve never gone to any. I was talking with a friend of mine through Facebook and I told them, well, do you know I’m going to go to my first class reunion this year? I told them, you know the reason why I never came? He said, why? I said, because when I was going to school, because I wasn’t a jock, I didn’t have that many friends, I said, kids never really socialized with me that much. I said, so if they didn’t socialize with me then, why do I want to go and look at them now?
I just thought within myself, is that you can’t hold yourself back with grudges and all the rest of that stuff, or thinking how it was then. You got to look forward to how it is now. I said, I’m just going to go and take a good look at all of them and see what they look like. And there were a few that I was good friends with. And I’m hoping that they’ll be there and haven’t passed on.
There was this one guy that I was really looking forward to seeing, and he died here about three weeks ago. Dave Balfour. And he and I were real good friends as we grew up. His dad worked at, and he did also, at Pasco Clothing when it was in Pasco. But I just want to just see what they look like and stuff.
So I had talked to this one guy and he said, man, last time I went to a class reunion it was like going to an old folks’ home. I’m like, really? He said, everybody is broke down and really bad. It just kind of amazed me, because look at me, I’m 73 years old and I’m still holding on pretty good. People are like, you don’t look like you’re 73. Well, I’m not trying to look like I’m 73. You try to be the best that you are, at what you do, and you try to look as good as you possibly can while you’re doing it. It really makes a big difference.
Franklin: It does, yeah. You’re the same age as my dad and he’s—sorry, Dad—he’s in rough shape. Because he didn’t take care of himself. Yeah, it does, the way you take care of yourself plays a big role.
Johnson: Exactly. It’s like my father-in-law told me about forty years ago, or longer than that because I was 22 years old. He told me, he says, I want to tell you something. I said, what’s that? He said, don’t stay up all night every night. He said, if you take care of yourself when you’re young, yourself will take care of you when you’re old. And with him saying that, I stopped going out, staying out all night long. Because as a youngster, that’s what I did; 19, 20 years of age, like 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, you come home and then have to get up at 7:00 and go to work. And go to work all day and you’re half dead. Those were words of wisdom that I just grasped. I said, well, I know how to do that. I’ll go out on Thursday night, on Friday night, I’ll go out my wife and I, and on Saturday, and on Sunday I’ll go to bed so I can get a rested up for Monday to go to work. With that, I think it made a big impact on my health. As I begin to get older, I didn’t have all the aches and illness a lot of my friends did and stuff, because when I look at a lot of them, they—bad shape. I’m not trying to brag, anything like that; I’m just blessed to be able to be still holding on.
Franklin: That some good advice. Good to heed it when you’re young enough to actually make good use of it, too, that’s pretty smart. What part of Mississippi where your parents from?
Johnson: My dad, they came from right outside of Jackson, Mississippi—Florence. And my mom, she came from Lyons, Mississippi, L-Y-O-N-S. And they lived on Mr. Pillar’s Plantation. See, I don’t know what his first name was; his first name was always Mr. Pillar. You know what I’m saying? My dad’s parents, Willy Johnson and Charlotte, they had their own farm and stuff.
Franklin: Did they sharecropping or did they have their own?
Johnson: No, they had their own farm. They may have had sharecropped before, but they had their own farm.
Franklin: Your parents were pretty young when they left Mississippi?
Johnson: Oh yeah. Yeah, like I said, at like sixteen years old, momma like, hey, I’m getting up out of here.
Franklin: What was the pull factor? You said they went to California and then Oregon/Washington, what brought them out there? And how did they find out about the opportunity?
Johnson: Okay, well, it was a better way of life. I’m sure that they had heard on the radio about the work and stuff that was going on out in Arizona and California. And so you want adventure, you want to get away from the -ism from the old way that it is and go out and see what’s new. Whether you can make it or not, you feel that you can. As you move, and I’m sure that they didn’t just make one stop; they made a lot of stops along the way and they probably worked a little bit over here and made some money so you could move forward to the next place, and the next place. I heard a lot of my mom saying, well, yeah, we worked in Arizona there for a while and then we went to here, we went to there.
I remember her mostly mentioning working in California at the shipyards, working at the shipyards and she says, well, I was a scaler, I didn’t know what a scaler was, but what you’re doing is you’re taking a chipping hammer and you’re knocking the slag off of the welding and stuff. My dad, he was a welder in the shipyards. So she said, yeah, you’d go down in those tanks, but you go down in the bottom of the ship where they are doing all the welding and stuff at, and you work for long hours down there. You come out and get a breath of fresh air and then you go back down.
When they ended hearing about—the shipyard, after it closed, I think it was during the period that they had that explosion, because I know she was saying that they were living in California, I forget what they—it was right there out of Antioch, California, Vallejo area, and it was a shipyard or ammunition dump and it blew up. Port Chicago, that’s what it was. Then they moved to Vancouver, Bagley Downs or somewhere in that area and worked for a few years. When the war was over, everybody was hearing about this Hanford Project and they were building the mechanism for the bomb, and hey—well, it was just before the war was over—let’s go out there. In ‘46, I guess that was right at the end of the war, that’s where they came to, was out here at the Hanford Area. Then, like I said, moved to Pasco and working in the cafeteria and my dad, he went to work on the railroad and that’s where he worked at for a while.
You’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades. You just have to have a confidence level and say, I can do it if anybody else can. Such as myself, I’m a welder by trade, I drove truck, I drove a motor grader for years, I’m a cosmetologist, I had a restaurant, Aubrey’s Barbeque in Pasco, I was a furniture mover when I was down in California, I’ve been a laborer, I’ve been an inspector on a rock gravel equivalent and condensate tests and stuff. I’ve been well-rounded in doing a whole lot of different things. Whenever a person—hey, can you do this? Even if I couldn’t do it, I said yeah. Because they’re going to give you some instructions or they going to show you the way they want you to do it. It gave me the opportunity to get in there.
So I’m sure my parents did the same thing. Hey, can you do this? Yeah! Well, come on over here, let me show you how to do it. And then they show you what to do and that’s the way you do it. Because everybody want you to do it their way. If you were a dressmaker and you went to work for a seamstress and they say, can you make this? Well, sure I can. Well, this is the way I want you to do it. They’re going to show you how to set up the mannequin and they want you to do it just like they do it. Even though the results would come out the same, they want you to do it their way.
Franklin: That is pretty confident. What kind of education did your parents go through? Do you know the highest grade they achieved?
Johnson: Mom, she had a third grade education.
Franklin: Oh, wow. What happened after third grade? Sharecropping?
Johnson: Well, that’s what she was doing. Mom told me, she said—I didn’t ask the question at the time because I didn’t know the question to ask—how old she was when she completed the third grade? Okay? She wasn’t eight years old; she probably was twelve or thirteen, or fourteen maybe when she completed the third grade. Because I remember her telling me that she was one of the oldest kids of the family and she had to help take care of her brothers and sisters and stuff. She says, when I went to school, she say, I had to catch a turn row, and I’m like, well, what is a turn row? She say, when you came home from school, you had to work all the way down that row picking cotton, or hoeing or whatever you was doing. When you get to the end, you turn around and you work your way all the way up to the road, then you go home. She said we only went to school for like maybe two or three months of the year, because during the spring and the summer time and stuff we had to hoe the fields, cultivate the fields, pick the crops, and there wasn’t much time left for school. Because you were trying to make it so that you had a living. And having a big family, it made it a lot easier, but then there was more mouths to feed and stuff.
She said, well, you know, son, when the Depression came, we never really knew it was a depression. Because we had food to eat. We didn’t have no money, but we had food. I’m like, wow, that’s really amazing because the people that lived in the city, they couldn’t grow food in concrete so they had to wait for some kind of assistance, for a kitchen or something. You see pictures of them standing around burning barrels and stuff and everybody trying to figure out where are they going to get their next meal.
But in the South, they had food and little or nothing of anything else. She said, well, we made cotton sack dresses. I’m like, well, what’s a cotton sack dress? The sack that they got they seed in, they would take it and cut it up and make dresses out of it. It was the ingenuity that they had with no education to be able to make stuff.
And like mom said, she worked in a dry cleaners for a long time, and she say it was like a sweat shop. It would be so hot in there, no air conditioning or anything like that. You was in there washing clothes, you had to do a steam press, ironing clothes all day long. She said, I would be so tired that I work sometimes twelve hours a day, and I would be so tired at the end of the day until I couldn’t go to sleep. I’m like, that’s pretty doggone tired, to where you’re so tired you can’t go to sleep. And I’m like, wow.
My dad, I didn’t really get to know him that well, because him and my mom didn’t stay together and he left at an early age. So I didn’t get a chance to reunion with him until in the ‘70s and I got a chance to—so my whole childhood, basically kind of missed being with him. And then as he got older, there wasn’t much conversation about the way that it was; it was about the here and the now and moving forward because we had to try to live as quickly as we could, and try to have camaraderie before he passed. He lived in Michigan and I lived out here. He had a pacemaker—I don’t know if they were excuses or what, he’s married again to another lady and stuff. Everybody is running interference, because they’re afraid that you trying to get something. They want to keep all their time. It’s just like, if you have a children by your first wife and you have a children by your second wife, your second wife really don’t want you interacting with your children from the first marriage, because you take away from this. So that was kind of the feeling I got from that as a young man and I look at it. He said, well, son, let me explain to you, see what happened. I’m like, you know what? Let’s not worry about the past; let’s just move on. So I didn’t really get a chance to learn any history about him, or how it was, or how his experience was.
I stayed with his mom and dad a little over a year, we were little kids out in the country. I can remember telling my friends, yeah, I remember we didn’t have no car. We had to go to town and when we went to town we went to Jackson, Mississippi a couple times we were in a horse and a wagon. He says, aw, you weren’t in a horse and wagon! You’re not that old! I’m like, yeah, I may not be that old, but I’m telling you we didn’t have no car, that’s all we had, was a horse and a wagon. It looked like it took forever to get to where you was going. My sister and I, we would hop off the wagon and we would play and run along the road, the horse was walking so slow. Then we’d hop back up in the wagon. We went to church, horse and a wagon, we went to the store, horse and a wagon. And talking with my cousins, they tell me that the same store is still there that we went to back in—when we were little kids, in the early ‘50s. I said that’s amazing, and the same old church, they kind of renovated it a little bit, but it’s the same old church, right across the street from the cemetery. And I don’t know what the name of that corner is, but--
I was being told, like, my uncle he was 102 years old; he died two years ago. And my dad, he was 89 when he passed. And the year before he died, our conversation was, I sure hope I live to be old as you is when I die. And he looked at me and said, I’m not dead yet. I said, that’s what I’m saying. If you lived to be 100, I hope to live to 101. I didn’t know that my dad had cancer. And he died the next year. I didn’t know he had died of cancer until the year after he was dead.
I went back to Michigan to visit with my stepmom and she asked me if I wanted to go to the hospice house where he had been. I’m like, hospice house?, in my mind. We went and it was a new establishment and I met the people that was there and his nurses, et cetera, et cetera. Once we got home, then I said I didn’t know dad was at the hospice. She said, oh yeah, she said when you came out here, they had moved him from the hospice house home. So he was basically at home so that he could die. I was talking to him on the phone the week before he died, and he dropped the phone and I heard the silence and I asked my stepmom, I’m like, Mom, is Dad all right? She said, aw, your daddy done sit here and he dropped the phone. I say, is he okay? She said, well, I believe they’ve been running some tests on him and stuff, but they haven’t said what was wrong with him, blah, blah, blah. But she wasn’t telling me the truth. I said, maybe I should come up there and see him. And she says, if anything happens to him, I’ll let you know. I said, I don’t want to see him when he’s dead; I want to see him when his alive. And the same week I got there on a plane and I got there on a Monday and I stayed until Thursday. And I came back home, and I told her before I left—because when I got there, I could see that he was in bad shape. I said, if he dies anytime soon, I’m not coming back up here. And he died that Saturday, two days later. I’m like—kind of blew me away and she kind of got an attitude. Well you coming? I said, I told you I wasn’t coming back up there.
This is my thing. My memory of my dad, seeing him sitting on the living room with his silk pajamas on, with his legs crossed, I don’t see him dead. I see him alive. And in my mind, that’s the memory you have as your last memory, and that’s my last memory of him. And I can see him right now. When she said, could you help me take your dad to the bathroom? And I got up and I helped walk him to the bathroom and she could took him in there so he could do whatever he do, and then he came out and said your daddy want to go lay down because he’s tired. And that’s when I knew the condition that he was in, but I didn’t know that he had cancer. Until the next year. That’s neither here nor there. Just—knowing about my dad and trying to give you a sense of not really knowing him.
My mom, she remarried and I was raised basically by her husband for a while, and when they separated, it was just me and her and my sister. We just made it the best that we could as kids. I didn’t get a chance to go and do stuff like other kids so much, because my mom, her thing was, because of lack of education, was work. Son, you got to go to work, son, nothing comes to a sleeping man but a dream, get up and go to work. I wanted to go and play. So my work was come home, we had chickens and ducks and stuff, you come home and you feed them chickens and them ducks and you give them some water and then you go out there and water that garden. You go out there and hoe them weeds off of the yard and we had a pretty good-sized place. For me it wasn’t go play, it was go work. That is what she instilled in me, is work. Now, my sister was completely different. Oh, sister, she’s so smart and it was like, education for her and she ended up going to college. But for me it was just like a struggle. When I came home from school, I’m like, Mom, look! I got a C on my paper! And she’d look and say, aw, son, I don’t have time to look at it right now. Just lay it over there. I’ll see it later.
It made a real big difference, because my mindset was that she really don’t care. If you don’t have that positive encouragement, it doesn’t push you to be better than what you are, you know what I’m saying? It was like, as I grew up, I thought that I didn’t have the ability to really learn, so I was very manual. Just show me how to do it and I can do it. But the thinking part of it—I didn’t think that I could think the process all the process through. I didn’t realize that I was as smart as I was until I went to school to become a cosmetologist. You got to understand and learn “hyponichium,” how to spell it, the definition, [UNKNOWN], et cetera. My friend told me, you got to burn a lot of midnight oil, you got to do a lot of reading. Now, it’s really hard to read a word that you don’t even know how to pronounce it. I was, I think, 43 years old when I went to cosmetology school. I would ask so many questions until the instructor told me, Aubrey, just write them down on a piece of paper and then I’ll answer them. Because you’re holding up the class. I was as old as my instructors and for me it was like, wait a minute. I paid $3,000-something to go to school and it was through a rehabilitation class where I got my back hurt. I’m coming down here to learn. I’m not gay, I’m not a woman, so it’s going to be harder for me to get the concept, because I don’t see it in my eyes the way that a woman sees doing another woman’s hair. So it would be just like, me doing like, oh, yeah, well, I see it’s just like this. You know? I don’t see that in my mind. So you got to draw a picture, or if I see a picture then I can emulate what I see. But you know what? I didn’t let that hold me back. Man, I would stay up and read and read. I got some little tapes that one of my instructors gave me and he says, take this home and put your headset on and listen to them. I’d put them on and go to sleep with them on. The next morning it would be as clear as a bell. I graduated with a 97-point-something average when I got out of beauty school. And then I started my own business. I was able to do that, it was the hands on and being very manual, gave me the opportunity to learn it.
[off-camera voice]: Are you guys doing an interview?
[PHONE RING TONE]
Franklin: Man, interruption city.
Johnson: It is what it is. My phone over there doing its thing.
Franklin: Oh, it’s fine. Yeah, usually people know if the door is closed—
Johnson: No big deal, because you’re going to edit it anyway. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: All right. When you went back to Mississippi, I kind of want to—how was Mississippi different from Pasco when you went there? What was remarkable to you?
Johnson: For me, going there, because I was so young when I went back, is that I was free. That’s how I felt when I went there, because we was out on the farm. It’s like, I didn’t see Caucasian people; I just see our family and our family friends would come over. It was just like, the first time that I saw a truck, to know that it was a truck, it was a guy sitting up on the hood of it, and he had two horses hitched to it and he was pulling it down the road. I’m used to seeing a wagon. So when I look and I saw that truck being pulled like that, I’m thinking wow, that’s amazing. I’m four years old and to me, it’s like, is that the way it’s supposed to be? When I started seeing cars, the only cars that I’d seen down there in the country—because we lived way back off the road—was the mailman would come down and put mail in the mailbox and then they would leave. But people rode horses. I just didn’t see it, being there, it was freedom and we was out on the farm, and we were kids and the only thing that we had to do was harvest eggs and just play.
Out here, I had ate some pills and stuff and I had gotten poisoned kidneys. And I was in the hospital up at Our Lady of Lourdes. I can remember this just like it was yesterday. They had me and this Caucasian kid in the same room and my bed was on the same side of the wall, but it was first when you walked in the room, his was behind mine. He had a little whistle that was a motorcycle policeman and when you blew it, it had little balls in it and they would spin around the wheels. So I walked to the edge of my bed and he was over there blowing the whistle and I stuck my hand over and he gave it to me and I blew it.
Now, imagine this, I’m three years old—people say, oh, you can’t remember back then, but I can remember this as well as I’m looking at you sitting over there across that room. When his mother came, she demanded that they move me or move him out of the room. Because she didn’t want him in the room with me because I was black, I’m sure. And that whistle that I was blowing, she snatched it out of my hand and grabbed her kid up and then that’s when she made her demands and stuff. That was my first part at racism. After I got to be in my upper teens to look back and see how it was, that’s the reason I make the statement of, man, I was free. Because I was free from—just that one incident that I can remember even there may had been some more.
When we would go to the store, my mom would tell us before we went, don’t put your hands on nothing. Don’t touch nothing when you got to the store. When we went to the store, we was forbidden to touch or do anything. We were just there with her and that was it. Like she had told me, she said when they went to the store, when she lived in the South and say she wanted to buy a dress. You couldn’t put it on and try it on. You just had to know your size. And if you took it home, it was yours, because no one wanted to try a dress that you had put on. Nobody knew you had put it on except for the store proprietor. But that was one of the conditions that they had. So it was just little things like that, after I got of age made me aware of how it was, their living in the South and how prejudice started to become—like I said, I wasn’t taught to be, but then I heard about it and it just really didn’t stick in my mind until up in the ‘60s. When the ‘60s came, then I was really aware, because I had started really paying attention, I had heard about Emmett Till getting killed down in the South and different stuff.
When my grandad died, my dad called up and he said, well, Papa died. I want you to come down here and go to the funeral. My mom took me and she said, son, do not go down there to Mississippi. I said why? She said because I’m telling you, them people will kill you. Because firstly, they know you’re not from down there. And you are not going to be saying yes, sir and no, sir, and all of that, she said, so don’t go. I didn’t go. I just heeded what she was saying. Because Papa died in ‘69 and the revolution, basically, what you want to say, of racism and trying to go to school, get education, the Jim Crow, sitting at the back of the bus, the freedom marches and all of that. They was killing black people like you wouldn’t believe. And a lot of it you didn’t really hear it on the TV, the bad side of it. Every now and then they would show you people strung up and stuff like that. She wanted to make sure that I wasn’t one of the ones that was in that situation. Without making a sound too horrific. She never said, you have to hate white people because of what they doing to us and blah, blah, blah. My sister told me, you got to love them to death. And if you love them long enough—the same thing that Martin Luther King preached—pretty soon we will get over it, and be able to live as one person, instead of being so divided such as we are.
I hate to say it, but I’m going to say this—in my mind, the only reason that racism is so alive, is because the Caucasian people are afraid that we are going to do them the way that they did us. And you can hear them, I watched a segment on TV a few weeks ago and this guy was saying that, well, black people are inferior, and the Oriental, they’re first, and we’re second. Our numbers are getting so small until they’re going to take over, and we are the superior race. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all this superiority stuff that they trying to beat into your head because they are afraid. And there is no reason to really be afraid. Because the first thing, black people are god-fearing people, and they love God, you see, because it would be hard for me to do something to you, unnecessarily, unless you were trying to do something to me. Because I’m afraid of what God is going to do to me. You know, that’s just like going to the church and stealing. I’m not going to do that.
That racist thing is getting worse by the day. And it’s like they’re reliving the past, all these guns, and shooting people, and police brutality, et cetera. Those were the things that was happening back then. And now here it is the reoccurrence of the same old thing, and it’s almost like it’s okay to go out and be brutal when you see they shot a guy 17 times, well, why didn’t you just shoot him in the leg? Well, we got to neutralize, is the word, we got to neutralize. If we neutralize it, we just kill it, and we done with it. You know what, if you kill it the person won’t have a chance to view his opinion. Well, he had a cellphone in his hand. Well, I thought it was a gun. But he’s dead. It’s so that it’s okay, and people allow it, so it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse and worse. And you’re just like, what is it going to come to?
It’s the bad side of life that you wouldn’t want everybody to pick up a gun and start shooting and killing each other. That wouldn’t make sense. But, see, to me, out of fear, the people that’s in power will create a war in order to remain in power. And we see that happening with China, Russia, the ones that they empower, they impose they will up on other people. And they will start a war in order to maintain that power. It’s kind of the sort of thing that we’re doing here in the United States, is trying to maintain the power by advocating all this racist stuff that they got going on right now. We need to get out of that and just learn that we all need each other to be able to live together in peace and harmony. That’s the way it was designed for us to do. It wasn’t designed for all of that.
Franklin: Out in the country in Mississippi, do you remember, was it pretty segregated out there or was it mostly black folks that lived out in the country where you were?
Johnson: It was mostly all black people that lived out there where we were. There was one Caucasian family that lived down by where our mailbox was, but I hardly ever seen them. Like I said, we were quite a ways from the road and stuff. But it was mostly black people. Now, when you went to Jackson, where my aunt and stuff lived, that’s where the segregation was. Because now you in the city, and the city is where the Caucasian people lived.
It’s just kind of like, say, east Pasco: it’s a rural area. So at one time, it’s where all the black people lived, over on the east side. And all the Caucasian people lived on the west side. If you didn’t have a reason to be over there, there was no reason for you to go over there. We lived in the country and the only time that we went to the city was to go and visit my aunt and her family and then we in turn left and went back to the country. So I didn’t get a chance to really see that racist thing. I was just a little kid, so I didn’t see it there.
Franklin: Right, I was just trying to build a comparison, I guess.
Johnson: I understand.
Franklin: I want to ask you about the life in the Tri-Cities. How would you describe life in east Pasco growing up?
Johnson: We was a village; we were a family. That was a highlight of my life, living in east Pasco until the ‘70s when it was Urban Renewal came in and removed, replaced. I mean, everything to me was east Pasco. At one time, there was four groceries stores in east Pasco. There was a dry cleaners and there was Kitty’s Grocery Store, the East Side Market, there was the Tin Top and there was JD’s. There was two night clubs, there was Norse’s and King Fish separate club. I think there were probably about eight cafés: it was Squeeze-in Diner, Bobby’s And Rays, Haney’s Café, Big Mikes, there was a café at the tavern, there was Belgian’s Pool Hall, there was Avery’s Café, there was a little record shop. It was like everything, basically, that we needed was in east Pasco, other than—we went uptown to buy clothes and stuff like that.
For east Pasco it was just like a family. My mom would say, son, you be at home before the sun go down. I mean, be in this yard. And she could yell and I could hear her for like three or four blocks away, and then I would head home. All my friends and stuff that I basically went to school with, all of us black kids—because they were doing busing—once we got off the bus, we all walked home together, we played together, we threw rocks, we rolled tires.
It was a lot of fun growing up out there, I hated to see it when Urban Renewal came. Because what it did, it removed the black people from the little shacks, they call them, the little homes they had to the projects. And then we lost everything that we had, because all of that was gone. It was just kind of a bad situation. It was supposed to be in the name of interests, the self-help co-op. Art Fletcher, I think, was the guy that came there that just pushed that over on us.
We had no representation. When they got ready to open that corridor to Big Pasco, they wanted to grab A Street—not A Street, Oregon Street. That’s a throughway from the freeway all the way to the river. Well, black people owned all that property from the railroad over. When I was growing up, we always heard that railroad property is worth no money, okay? So when this redevelopment come in, it wasn’t redevelopment; it was was reclaim. They came in and the city—you had to sell it. They gave you nothing for it.
I was talking to this lady the other day, her mom owned a block of land. I asked, how much did your mom get for that block of land? She said $18,000. There were no representation, so whatever the city said this is what you get, this is what you take. There was no negotiation. That broke down our whole community, because from Main, Front Street all the way over to Elm Street was all black people lived all through there. When they took half of it away up to Wehe Street and made an industrial area, you couldn’t go down and buy any that property six months after they bought it for the same price that they bought it for. The price had escalated so much.
It was just a travesty, because it was basically, probably a couple thousand people that lived there and they built a housing project. And I can remember there was only two families that lived there that wasn’t black. There was one Hispanic family and one Caucasian family. I don’t know what the capacity was, but the whole Arbor Elm Project was filled with black people. What happened is that the few dollars that they gave you, you ended up moving somewhere else if you didn’t move in a project, out of state, out of town. And slowly our little community just broke down to where it was nothing.
Now when I look at it and you say, well, what’s over there on the east side? Nothing. There’s no restaurants, there’s no pool hall, there’s no taverns to go to—even though I don’t go to taverns anymore. But there’s just nothing, everything was broke down.
But as a kid growing up, they can feel—we’d go over there and play baseball me and our friends and stuff, we could go to each other’s house and eat. It was like you was everybody’s kid, because everybody knew each other. If I went over to Sonny Boy’s or Leroy Milton’s and he was out there raking leaves, his mom would say, Aubrey, you go get a rake and you go out there and help him rake them leaves up. Or, you kids come in here and eat. That type of thing. It was just really a lot of camaraderie and playing and just having a lot of fun as kids and stuff.
We would go over to the railroad and shoot pigeons when I was a kid and stuff. That was one of the things that the boys did, we raised pigeons, bring them home, kind of doctored them up and stuff, the ones that we didn’t kill. The ones we killed, we’d come home pick them, clean them, and eat them. People would say, you’re eating a pigeon? Well, that pigeon was pretty good.
It was a lot of playful times and I had a good time living in east Pasco. I wouldn’t change nothing. And just thinking of it, I moved from Pasco and I went to California seeking a better life. Man, I’m thinking about all these things that I’m going to do and talking all about how great California is, and I moved to Los Angeles and I lived down there in the rat race. I moved from Los Angeles up to Vallejo, California and I stayed there for a while. But let me tell you something. I couldn’t wait to get back to Pasco. And when I came back, like I said, I got two houses. I didn’t live on the west side; I moved back over on the east side. And I’ve had the opportunity, countless times, people like, hey, you want to sell your property? They send you stuff in the mail telling you about how much your property is worth and we’ll buy it, so and so want to buy your property.
Franklin: You’re talking about the property in east Pasco?
Johnson: Property in east Pasco. I get that all the time, right now. I’m not going to sell that property. That’s kind of like my heritage. My mom gave it to me, I’m going to pass it on to my daughter and I’m going to try to her, don’t sell it, keep it, because this is part of your heritage. And I tell her the stories about when I was a kid being raised up, so that she can pass them on to her kids. Because that’s her history, my history. I didn’t get my history, because I was out of a divided family. My mom worked two jobs and so she had very little time to spend with sitting down, talking to you.
Franklin: Where did your mom work?
Johnson: She worked out here at the cafeteria at the Hanford Area when she first came here. Other than that she worked at the Hanford House, she worked there for years as a dishwasher. She worked at Top Hat as a dishwasher.
Franklin: Where’s the Top Hat?
Johnson: It was in Pasco, across the street from the old post office, was the Top Hat Restaurant, that was the name of it. She worked there for years. She worked cleaning house, doing day work for different people. And pretty much as a kid, that’s what she did. She’d get up in the morning and get us fed and we had to walk to the bus and go to school, she got in the car, she drove, she went and did her day job cleaning house, she left that job and went to the other job. She washed dishes and she would always have a night job, and she’d get home at sometime 12:00, 1:00 in the morning. When I got in high school a lot of times I would go out and help her when she worked at the Hanford House, up here. I can’t think of the name that it was called before then, it’ll probably come to me later, but it was some other establishment that it was called, she worked there.
Franklin: The Desert Inn?
Johnson: Desert Inn, that was it.
Franklin: I wasn’t sure as to when that stopped being—we have old photos of it in the ‘50s, like mid-‘50s, and it’s still the Desert Inn. It’s that transient quarters. It looks kind of like an L or like V.
Johnson: Right. They added on to it now and upgraded it and made it look good, but it was the old Desert Inn, that was it. I could remember in high school, I would go there and she would call me like, son, I need you to come out here and help me. Because they would have a banquet and they would get dishes from it says Chinook Hotel, wherever that was from, towards Seattle, anyway. And they would have barrels of them, and she would have to run them through that manual washer. And what she would do is I would scrape them and put them on the racks and she would take two hot towels, and she would catch them when they were coming out. Then we would take them and put them in the barrels. And then all them pots—because at nighttime she had to have everything washed for the morning. I’d go out there, I didn’t get paid for it, but sometimes we’d be there ‘til 2:00, 3:00 in the morning washing dishes and washing pots, and I had to come home and go to school.
Franklin: I was a dishwasher in a steakhouse for about a year and, yeah, it was rough. Washing dishes is rough. It was rough, rough work.
Johnson: I know. People that never did it don’t realize how much work it is, you know what I’m saying?
Franklin: You’re really one of the most important people in the whole place. No one wants to—you can’t eat on dirty dishes, can’t cook in dirty pots, but yeah, you’re also the bottom of the totem pole.
Johnson: That’s right.
Franklin: Yeah, that’s always the way it is with those kind of jobs. You’d mentioned earlier that you worked a lot in your spare time, right? You tried to play, but you worked a lot?
Johnson: Yeah, I worked a lot.
Franklin: Yeah. Do you remember any particular community events growing up in east Pasco? The reasons the community would come together?
Johnson: Bible school. Bible school, that was one of the big things that we looked forward to in the summer time, as an event for us all to come together. The baseball games we would do, the school would have what we called wingdings and they would--
Franklin: I’ve heard of that before.
Johnson: Wingdings? Yeah, it would just be like a little school carnival that they would have within the school, and they’d have a sheet up. And then they’d have the thing called Fish and you’d have a little pole, you’d stick it over and they had a clothespin on it and stick something to it. They would have cakewalks, where you’d walking around in a circle and they had musical chairs, basically what it was. It was always that coconut covered cake over there that I wanted, and so I tried to position myself so that I would be the last one to sit down in the chair so I could be the one to pick that cake. It never worked out though. Other than that, it was really no events that I could really think of. Bible school was probably the biggest one. Because back then most of the kids went to church.
Franklin: Yeah, I was going to ask you if you attended church.
Johnson: Oh, yeah.
Franklin: Which church did you attended?
Johnson: I attended Morning Star Baptist Church. I was baptized in 1956.
Franklin: What role did the church play in the community? In the African American communities in general.
Johnson: Church was the cornerstone of the community. Basically, everybody pretty much went to one of the churches that was there. And for us kids, it kept us out of the streets, because that’s what we did: we went to church. We would have Junior Mission one night, choir rehearsal one night, we’d have Bible study one night. Then on the first Sunday, we would go out of town or we would go to different churches and stuff, if we were in the choir and sing, it was like an all-day event. You’d get up in the morning and go to Sunday school, you go back home and eat, church starts at 11:00, you do church, you get out of that at 1:00, and a lot of times they would have a visiting church that would come and we’d go back to church at 3:00. It was like an all-day deal, for going to church. But it was a lot of fun for us kids because it gave us the chance to be together. When we would go to Bible study they’d have you looking up scriptures and stuff in the Bible. And then the one that got the most they would put a star. They had this big thing and they would put a star for achievement. So it kept you interested in doing that kind of thing.
The preachers of the community and stuff, it is like, they were responsible for the flock. Just like, you got in trouble, say, with the police or something wasn’t going on right, the church always had your back. They’d go down and, hey, what’s going on, or what’s happening here? We need to be able to attend to the situation. Is this person being treated correctly? The church was just like the pillar of the community and it was always the backbone for the black people.
Like I said, we lived in a house with Reverend Stewart which was the Pastor of Morning Start Baptist Church. It started in 1945, and we lived with him in ‘46. Like I tell them, I know if my mom lived in the house with a preacher, we had to go to church. [LAUGHTER] You know what I’m saying? So I look at it, when I go to church right now, even though there’s a few people that’s older than I am, like in their 90s and stuff, they haven’t been here all their lives. And I’m probably one of the oldest members of that church, Morning Star Baptist Church, because we lived with the preacher, so I know I was going to church when I was just a baby and as a kid, and got baptized in ‘56, and been going there ever since. And still go.
Franklin: What other churches were important to the black community?
Johnson: Well, they had the Saint James Methodist Church. And the thing was that we all kind of visited each church. Because whether you were Methodist or whether you was Baptist, it was still kids that played together, and all the churches came together. So if there was any type of a movement or anything, it was just like everybody was together. It wasn’t so much segregation. Like right now, they have Morning Star Baptist Church, they got New Hope, they got Greater Faith. Now, we got three Baptist Churches and you got just enough people would fill up one. See? But it’s all divided. And then there’s Ephesus Seven Day Adventist Church, there’s Saint James Methodist Church and then they had another church that was over on the east side, I don’t think it’s black anymore, I think it’s—Hispanic took it over.
But anyway, back then it was Saint James Methodist Church and it was Morning Star in the early ‘50s and then later on they built New Hope and then later on they built Greater Faith. But we were all kind of like together. It wasn’t the separatism like they have now with the churches. One church feels like they’re better than the other church or the members don’t want to go and participate in the other church. I kind of hate to see that because I discuss that a lot, one church got a real good choir, okay, and so when they have an event, a lot of people got to their church and enjoy their music, so forth and so on, their program. The other church over there have a program, the people from that church don’t participate. It would be better if all three churches at least one Sunday out of the month could come together and be just one church.
It’s like the bureaucracy go, everybody worried about their dollar. If you can get the money thing out of your mind, and say each Sunday we will all meet at one different church and all the collection that we take in will go to that church. And then the next time we’ll go to that church, and the next time it’ll go to that one. Because everyone wants to have it. Just like living here in the Tri-Cities, why do we need to have three city governments? Because each one wants to be able to get their money and so we got the mayors over here and the city councils over here, and at Kennewick they got theirs, and then Richland got theirs. But it’s all basically geared to the dollar, so we are going to split it all up so we can split it up this money. I got it, I’m going to keep it, I’m not going to let it go.
Franklin: You mentioned the housing situation when you moved, first you stayed in the kitchen of the pastor of Morning Star. Then you lived at a shotgun house, right, until ‘48?
Johnson: Yeah, I think it was ’48, that’s when my mom and they bought that little shotgun house that we had and they moved it from, on Oregon and Butte Street down to Douglas and Butte. They bought some property there from a guy, Eldon Wallace. I think my mom told me they paid $300 for it and we bought three lots, and they set that little shotgun house up on it. We, as kids, went to Mississippi. When we came back from Mississippi, I can remember this guy named J.O., J-O, probably his name, that’s what they called him. He was a carpenter and he added on to that shotgun house two bedrooms. But there was no bathroom. There was a faucet over at the corner that we got running water from.
Franklin: Did you have an outhouse for the bathroom?
Johnson: Yes, we did, we had that up until 1956. We had an outhouse.
Johnson: ‘Til 1956. Because I can remember being in the sixth grade, because the kids would tease us at school about us having that outhouse and we had to go out there and use it. They would go to the yard and poke you in the back with sticks and stuff. We didn’t have a bathroom in the house up until then.
Franklin: It took a while for east Pasco to get the sewer connections and things. That was one of the major complaints that the black community had in east Pasco with the city was the lack of water.
Johnson: Right, the lack of water, the lack of sewage before they put it down on our street. There was Elm Street, which was one of the major throughways through there now, and then our street and the next street over. Some people had a cesspool. Unfortunately, we didn’t. We had to dig our own waterline and they dug it and it came from the Methodist Church down to our house so we could have water. Like I said, it was just a faucet and you go and turn it on, it was cold water and then you boil your water. I can remember being a kid where I had to take a bath in a tin tub. And they would boil water and pour it in the tub and then run some cold water and put it in there for you to cool it off.
Franklin: How did your mom do the cooking and cleaning?
Johnson: Well, had a stove. At first they had like a little small stove and they would boil water on it, they would set pots on it and cook on this little old stove that sit in the middle of the floor. I called it a heater, because that’s what it did, it heated and they cooked on that little stove, it was just with an iron on top and it was real small.
Franklin: Do you remember what it used for fuel?
Johnson: Coal, we used coal. My dad worked at the railroad and so they would bring sacks of coal home. Because he had to attend to the boiler over there, and so he would just get him a sack, bring it home and throw you some coal up in there and would get it nice and hot. It was a warm little old place, I can remember that. But that’s how they cooked until, I think probably around ‘51. My mom got a real stove and we had a propane tank sitting there and so then we had a real stove. We still didn’t have hot and cold water.
Franklin: How would your mom wash dishes and clean?
Johnson: In a pan, boil water, pour it in the pan and wash your dishes in the pan. And then have another pan rinse them off and dry them off, stack them up, because we didn’t have no counters—I mean we didn’t have no cabinets and stuff like that. They had just like a countertop they had made out of wood and you just put them over there and put a towel on top of them. It wasn’t like you had no six- or eight-piece setting, you just had like three or four plates and you had a few pieces of silverware. You just made do with what you had, the best way you could.
Franklin: How many siblings did you have?
Johnson: It was just my sister and I.
Franklin: Are you the oldest?
Johnson: I am the oldest.
Franklin: Okay. Who else lived in your community? Were there many families with children or extended family, like grandparents?
Johnson: There was quite a few kids lived in the community. Yeah. There was a lot of people living in the community, as a matter of fact, kids, and some had quite a few kids. I don’t remember a lot of people living with extended families as far as their grandparents, because most kids lived with their parents. But I’m sure there were some that did, but I just couldn’t think of them right off the top of my head.
Franklin: Sure. Do you remember when Kurtzman Park was established?
Johnson: Oh, yeah.
Franklin: How important was that to the community?
Johnson: To the community, Kurtzman Park was kind of like a volunteer-type situation. Of course we didn’t have a park. And so when that was put in, it even brought our community together even more because of the camaraderie that they had they built the Kurtzman Building. I can remember them putting in the trees around the park and help dig the lines they had around there for water. When we were kids, Mom would tell us, go down to the park. We’d go down there and play, so it was like a safe haven. I remember there was a lady across the street, Big Irene, and the Butchers lived over across the street. Then there was California Street was a street there that nobody even know about, probably, anymore, and Wehe, they intersect. And they intersect right in front of the park and there was a row of houses there and I could probably name you everybody that lived in those houses. We would go there and we could stay there all day long and our parents didn’t have to worry about us, because that was a safe haven and that’s where all the kids would go. So it was a very important place for us. When we had our little meetings and stuff, we would have them there in the Kurtzman Building. Hey, we’re having a meeting on voting or whatever it was, and we would go up there to the Kurtzman Building. That was before they put that Martin Luther King stuff in, in the latter years. It played a real big part because I played there for years as a kid and then after as an adult, Kurtzman Park still was a big thing for me. We’d go down there, and they’d have Juneteenth, and the Fun Day, and baseball.
Franklin: I was going to ask you about sports, activities and events, and Juneteenth was what I was going to ask you about. When do you remember that, first participating in that, or that first happening?
Johnson: Oh, boy, now that’s something I should really know because I am on the Juneteenth Committee. [LAUGHTER] I interact with them all the time and doing stuff right now. But that was probably somewhere in the mid-‘60s, Vanis Daniels, I think, was one of the--Senior was one of the persons to get that Juneteenth thing started here because they were from Texas.
Franklin: What does Juneteenth mean to you?
Johnson: It was when the black people got their freedom. We supposedly got it when the Emancipation was, but we didn’t get it when the Emancipation was. They didn’t make you aware of it and so that was a celebration for us. It’s like when you say the Fourth of July. The Fourth of July don’t hold anything for black people. That wasn’t our event, but Juneteenth was. What it is now is a time where it used to be everybody would come together. People that has gone and moved away from the Tri-Cities—Chicago, New York, California—man, when Juneteenth came, everybody would come back to town and just all enjoy each other and be together. They’d have gospel events, then they would have the food and the singing, they’d have baseball games. It was something for the whole week that children and people could participate in. It wasn’t just a one-day event; it was a week event. They’d have roller skating, they’d have baseball, they’d have basketball events. It would play up until that Sunday. That Saturday was the big day, and then the day after it was just like everybody would go to church, and that was the end of it.
Franklin: You mentioned Vanis Daniels, Sr. was a big—responsible for bringing that here, you said, because they were from Texas. Is that particularly a Texas event or was it celebrated most strongly in Texas?
Johnson: I think there was more than a Texas event. And the reason why I say that is that—the little history that I know about Juneteenth, see, Texas was one of the last states to get their freedom because they wanted the black people to stay in the South. Keeping you sharecropping and doing work and stuff. And the ones that had left and had went to Texas, well, they were trying to keep you going back to the South, so they didn’t tell you that the Emancipation had happened, so that you didn’t know. So you went back. But once they found out, that’s when they got their freedom. So they say that Texas was the last state that they got their freedom from the slavery act, at that time. I think that’s why we focus so much on Texas.
And when the Daniels helped got that going up here, and they’re still kind of, over that Juneteenth thing, is that they brought it from Texas. And that was the awareness of it, because if you had lived in Michigan, then I’m sure that you didn’t know that much about it. It’s like living there and that’s what it is. I should really know a lot about it because, like I said, I’m on the committee, but I’m sure that’s what it was.
Franklin: And there’s still that celebration every year?
Johnson: Oh yeah, every year. I tell you, we’re gearing up for it right now, matter of fact, on the 21st we’re having a fundraiser barbeque, which I’ll be cooking over at Saint James Methodist Church. It’ll be sold at the people at the community and we hope to be able to raise a lot of money to help put on a lot of the events and stuff and bring new stuff. And we can do a lot of recognition for people that’s been instrumental in the community growing and give trophies, and plaques, and stuff for the kids so that they can have games and so forth and so on.
Franklin: Can anybody come and eat your barbecue?
Johnson: Anybody. Man, that’s what we really try to get in.
Franklin: Because I really love barbecue.
Johnson: It’s not just a black thing, it’s for everybody to come, we have a parade and all of that. I think they’re trying to incorporate some other people with their parades and stuff so that we could get the Caucasian people interested in it. See, this is like that old stigma stands behind east Pasco to where it’s like, man, you don’t go over there, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and all this negative thing.
Franklin: I heard that when I first came here.
Johnson: Anybody can come to east Pasco, man, and when we’re having that event, we welcome everybody to come. Come over and buy some barbeque, and they sell catfish and all kinds of food, man. They even have some Hispanic vendors and stuff that was there, so that we can all enjoy together. Because that’s the kind of thing we can all have camaraderie and come together because we can sit down and eat together.
Franklin: That’s true, yeah, food is great. And I wanted to ask—that kind of segue ways very nicely into my next question—do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions, including sports and food, that people brought with them from the places they came from?
Franklin: Yeah, what kind of music?
Johnson: Blues. There was blues and gospel, one of the two biggest things that we got and most of that originated in the South. They brought it out here and it was like—the blues to me, when I hear it was like the cry for freedom, it was like the slaves in the field, they be singing that downhome blues. It was a cry for freedom, they was telling their story the way that they felt. When it came out here it was just kind of like it was a big thing. It wasn’t jazz—jazz was in the city—but out here it was the blues and then gospel music was another form of cry for your freedom and your love of God where you get into the spirit of. The blues, you get into the spirit. Because if you got a sad—you and your girlfriend just broke up, and things not going right and somebody break down and start singing one of them more downhome blues. [singing] I lost my baby. Lord, what am I going to do? And here you sitting over there and you and your woman just broke up, it makes you feel real sad. And now you kind of reflect on your situation and it makes you think, wow, what can I do? Because now you want to try to rekindle what you just lost, bring it together. And it was through those cries of the blues and stuff that made you do that. So music was one of the most instrumental things that I saw.
Franklin: Were there any notable bands, venues, in east Pasco that you remember or musicians?
Johnson: I really don’t remember any black people that was—Jesse Cleveland and a few guys, they had a little band. There was a couple—James Pruitt and some of them guys did a little stuff at church. But there was bands that came to Pasco, I remember when Ike and Tina Turner came through Pasco and Fats Domino, they came to Pasco when I was a kid and played music. There were outsider bands that came in, but we really didn’t have any bands that I can think of. There could’ve been some older people that had bands, because I didn’t get a chance to participate. My mom kept me at home pretty good until I was about 15 years of age, so I didn’t get a chance to see and participate. But after I got to be grown, it was Maurice Wallace and a few guys from Seattle would come here and play and he was raised here in Richland. Johnny Guilory, he had a little band with a few guys and stuff, he came from Spokane, they would come down and play at Jackson’s Tavern. That was pretty much it for the bands that I can remember, other than that it was mostly gospel music and stuff, and that was being in churches.
Franklin: What about food? Did your mom cook southern food, soul food, did she bring that with her?
Johnson: Yeah. I was raised on that. I was raised on it, and my cooking experience—and I think that I’m a pretty good cook—is that she would always tell me, boy, come here and stir this pot. I would say, why I got to do it? How come my sister don’t have to go and do it? And she would say, you might get a wife don’t know how to cook. You come here. She made me learn how to cook. And I’ll tell you the truth: I am a good cook, and a well-rounded cook. That was like fried apple pies and stuff, I haven’t had a homemade fried apple pie in I don’t know when.
Franklin: Sounds really good.
Johnson: Oh, man, they are. And it wasn’t like when you go to the store and you get this little teeny fried apple pie like this. Man, the fried apple pie Mom would cook, they would be that big and I mean they would be full of apples, big turnovers and stuff. Man, that would be so good. Or sweet potato pies. She could really cook good. My niece, Tansy, she can cook one that taste just like my mom’s. Chicken and dumplings, I cook some really good chicken and dumplings because I cook them just like my mom.
At my church there’s different events that we have, the pastor’s anniversary, the church anniversary, et cetera, and they’ll say, well, Aubrey what are you cooking? And I’m thinking in my mind, why are you guys always asking me what am I cooking? I don’t see any of these other guys up here cooking nothing; it’s the women that bring other dishes. But then I try to treat them to some of the dishes that my mom made for us when we were kids. And I can remember, I did some chicken and dumplings. I did a roast pan, one of those turkey roasts for them. Man, they like to ate themselves to death. And everybody was sitting and they were saying to themselves, who made these chicken and dumplings? Somebody said, Aubrey did. I’m over there sitting and eating on them, gloating for no glory. Man, these chicken and dumplings taste just like the ones my mom used to make, and they went on. After that, every time they have an event, Aubrey, are you going to cook some chicken and dumplings? I’m like, no, I’m going to cook something different because I want you to get a taste of all the different things that I know, and I don’t want to be held down to where I got to cook chicken and dumplings every time in this event. We’re going to have the church anniversary here in a couple weeks, and they get up on the signup sheet and they’re already, Aubrey are you going to cook chicken and dumplings? I think I’m going to go ahead and cook some chicken and dumplings, yeah.
Franklin: What other types of food would your mom cook, teach you how to cook?
Johnson: Oh, man. Collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens. She cooked roasts and potatoes, a lot of rice dishes and stuff like that. She made a lot of sweet dishes, bread pudding, rice pudding, chocolate cakes—which I didn’t like because I don’t care for chocolate—coconut cakes, peach cobblers, just stews. It just depends on what time of year it was and we ate a lot of vegetables. When I say peas, like, purple hull peas—I cooked some Sunday—black-eyed peas, crowder peas, we had speckled butter beans, we had lima beans, we had corn, we had collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, we had squash. There was just a variety of stuff, but it was vegetables. A lot of chicken, very little pork, and very little beef. It was chicken, chicken. Right now, I’m a chicken person; I don’t eat a lot of beef.
Franklin: Well, because chicken was, at that time—
Johnson: A staple.
Franklin: And one of the least expensive, right?
Johnson: It was the least expensive, it was a staple food. We would raise 100-and-something head of chicken a year, and we would kill them when they got of age and took them and put them in the freezer. We had chicken all year long. We would go to the river and we would fish, and so then we would have fish. It wasn’t because we were so poor that we couldn’t buy beef, we just didn’t eat a whole lot of beef, you see?
Like, I don’t eat a whole lot of beef, I don’t care for steak and stuff. Number one, beef has got to rot in your stomach. When you eat a piece of beef, it’s got so much connective tissue until it probably take about three days for the acids and stuff to eat it up. Chicken, you can take a piece of chicken and you could do it like this here, and you can crumble it, so it don’t take very long for it to break down. Fish, of course, you know that breaks down really fast. And then you get all the nutrients and stuff that you’re supposed to get from it.
Firstly, I don’t think—our body wasn’t designed to eat meat anyway. We’re supposed to be like eating vegetables and fish. All that beef and stuff, it’s just too hard for you to eat. A lot of black people, they raise hogs. I used to buy a hog every year, after I got up in my 20s, and I butchered myself and put it in the freezer and we’d eat pork chops and pork steaks. But then, when I started having high blood pressure, it was like, well, okay, you can’t be eating all that pork. So I couldn’t tell you right now when the last time I ate a piece of pork, like a pork chop or a pork steak or a pork roast. I ate a piece of bacon the other day for the first time in probably over a month. I haven’t eaten any—I eat a piece of sausage every now and then when I go to my girlfriend’s house, but I don’t eat a lot of it. But now chicken? Man, I had some chicken tacos the other day, my daughter, she baked some chicken the day before yesterday. And so eat lot of fish and eat a lot of chicken, and we eat a lot of vegetables.
Franklin: What about sports? Were sports important to you growing up? Were there particular sporting events the black community was really involved in, or any teams?
Johnson: Baseball. Baseball was one of the most sporting events that we were involved in and stuff. They would have, like I said, out of the park, Juneteenth, that was one of the highlights was the baseball games that they had. As a kid growing up, we played baseball on every vacant lot that they had in east Pasco that we could get on as kids. It wasn’t so much like playing tennis—I learned to play tennis when I got to be an adult. Basketball, well, I never had a basketball hoop. So I tried to play at school, but my mom was always like, well, you come home so you could do this work and make sure that we have food and stuff. That wasn’t something that I got a chance to participate in. And plus I probably wasn’t that good anyway, because everybody can’t be a Michael Jordan. You have to do what you do, for me it was work.
Franklin: Too true. Were there opportunities available here that were not available where you or your parents came from?
Johnson: Yeah, most definitely. Because in the ‘60s when Equal Opportunity came, it opened up the doors so you could get into apprenticeship programs that they had out here, so you could make more of an income. And then the job market opened up so that you could have better jobs and stuff. It was a lot better out here, to be able to get an education, to go to school. Because you know in the South—my mom told me about when they went to school, she said half of the books wasn’t there because the books that they got were the books that the Caucasian kids had had. Then they tore pages out of the books and stuff, so that’s what you had to learn from, was the hand-me-down stuff that was no good. You’re only as good as your teacher, and if your teacher don’t have the facilities and the stuff to teach you with, then you’re not going to be able to get that much of an education as far as the books and stuff is concerned. Some kids, depending on where they lived, they were fortunate and they got a chance to get a good education. A lot of times where it started off with is like their parents were working for some Caucasian people that had kids, they played together and so they got a chance to read the books that those Caucasians kids had.
But then when you’re living out there in the country and stuff, you go to the little country school and when the city, or the county, whoever was giving you the books, they weren’t really trying to keep you—get you to have a good education. Because they wanted to keep you so that you couldn’t read, you couldn’t write; then you could always be taken advantage of. That was the thing for education.
Out here, is that we got a chance to go to school, I got a chance to get the same opportunity as education as a Caucasian did, I got a chance to read the same books that they did. I had some very loving teachers when I went to school out here, I didn’t see real prejudice thing from my teachers and stuff. Most of them were young, and the one that sticks out of my mind more than any teacher I ever had, her name was Esther Day, she was my first grade teacher. Mrs. Day was a mother figure to every child that went to school with us, especially black children. Because she was the type of teacher that would, well, Aubrey, what is it about it that you don’t understand? And she’d take and put her arms around you and she’d hug you. It made you want to do better, to learn more, just because of the way that she treated you.
Franklin: Was she black or Caucasian?
Johnson: She was Caucasian. I didn’t have any black teachers when I went to school out here. They were all Caucasian teachers, but she was--
Franklin: For your whole educational--
Johnson: Whole educational thing. No. It’s just trying to emulate what you see, there was no black teachers out here, there were no black lawyers. So how could I want to be a lawyer when I didn’t see any black people being in that role? If I had been older when I left the South, then I probably would’ve seen some of that, but me just being a little kid, I had to emulate what I saw, and I didn’t see that. My dream was always to be a truck driver, run heavy equipment, to be a police officer or a beautician, and I got to be all of them except for the police officer.
Franklin: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that, kind of diverting form childhood here, but you mentioned a couple times. What was it about cosmetology that made you want to go into that?
Johnson: It was a gift. It was a gift from the man above. When I was a kid, I’ll say at the age of seven, and I remember very well, the girls were wearing poodle skirts, saddle oxford shoes, and I had to comb my sister’s hair. She was a year younger than I, and I would pull her hair back into a ponytail and then they’d take and tie a ribbon around it. Man, I thought that I could make that bow better than anybody that I knew. I think that was my first introduction into doing hair.
When I got to be about 13 years of age, a friend of mine, Leslie Williams, his parents had a TV and you would see different entertainers on there and they had the finger waves in the men’s hair and stuff. I remember this friend of mine, Robert Orange, he had to put a process, which was straightening his hair and he asked me if he wanted him to do mine. So I’m like, well, yeah! I came home one day from school and went over and he did it. When I came home my mom was so mad with me. Boy, what you put that stuff in your head for? Are you losing your mind? What’s wrong with you? We wanted to have the DA ducktail like some of the movie stars that we had seen, Elvis Presley, when they slick their hair back and they had like the greaser with the little thing in the back, they call it a DA.
Anyway, I got so that by the time I was 17 years of age and wearing my hair straight like that, in the process, I took and I started making finger waves. I could finger wave it and I got so good that I could close my eyes and I could see it, and I would comb it, cross my head, I’d go back and forth and I’d end up with a horseshoe in the back. When I went out and people would see me, like, man, where did you get your hair did at? I said, I did it myself. Ah, there’s no way that you did that! I’m like, yeah, I did, I did it myself. And so then it was like, well, do mine! $7, and you buy your own stuff. They went out and got them a jar of Posner’s, or Ultra Wave or we used Easy Off. Anything with lye base in it would straighten your hair, right. They’d come over to the house and I’d put it on them and we’d be out in the yard with the water hose, and washing it out of your hair. Because we didn’t know nothing about neutralization and stuff like that. So it’s a wonder any of us had any hair, because the chemical didn’t stop working, we just washed it, we didn’t even have sense enough to shampoo it afterwards. I would finger wave their hair and I’ll tell you, one guy told me, he said, man, you added many finger waves in my head until it made me seasick. [LAUGHTER]
That was my introduction to it. As time went on, I always had that interest in that. So by the time I got 18, 19 years old, watching TV and 77 Sunset Strip, and you would see everybody in Malibu, California and all that. To me, that was a means of being around a lot of women, was doing hair. That also gave me a big interest in wanting to do hair. As I had said earlier, I had to go to work, and so when I went to work, it wasn’t like I could go to school to learn how to do hair. But I would freelance and do different people’s hair all the time to make a little extra money.
There was a friend of mine had a beauty salon, he said, man, why don’t you come work for me? And hey, you can come in here and you can work and blah, blah, blah. When I got off work, working for the county, I was so tired I didn’t feel like going and doing—I would just do it on the weekends just for myself. And I always kept that interest.
When I was like 43 years of age, I got my back hurt when I was working down in California, moving a piano. So they gave me a rehabilitation. What do you want to do? And I thought to myself, I want to be a beautician. And the guys said, well, why do you want to be a beautician? I said, because that is something that will be here forever. Because women are always going to get their hair done. See, I didn’t want to be a barber. I’d have to do like four or five heads of barbering to make the money that I could make off of doing one woman’s head. That was the interest. Then I was pretty good at art, being creative. I got so after I completed my course and started doing hair, and then when people would allow me the opportunity to create, I could do my thing on they heads. People are so used to just cloning, they want the same thing all the time. So it’s really hard to, hey, why don’t you let me cut your hair? Especially with black women. Like, hey, I grew it out this long, I’m not going to let you cut it off, because it took me too many years to grow it, right. And I’m like, well, just let me cut so I could—so they are afraid to let you be creative and do something, until you find one person that will let you do something and everybody well, I didn’t know you could do that. I’m like, well, yeah I can do it. I’ve been doing hair for 27 years. You didn’t think I learned nothing? It’s just that you don’t get a chance to experiment the things that you know how to do and create new stuff, because people are so used to being afraid of getting their hair cut off and stuff.
That’s how my interest came was from my sister and then it was something that I always knew that would be wanted and needed. And then it allowed me to be around a lot of women. And right now is that I enjoy being around women. Because women don’t talk about stuff that men talk about. I listen to they problems and it just goes in one ear and out the other one. I’m not interested in a bunch of junk that guys talk about, because it is always the same thing, it’s about women. See, women are more intellectual. They would talk about stuff that makes sense. They would be sitting there and well, hey, Aubrey? And you get to be just like a place they can drop they problems. And what we do is we sit down and try to solve the problems of the world. And they’ll just like, well, what do you think about so and so and so and so and so, and I’m like, well, you know, I don’t know. What do you think? I throw it back on them to get they views and to see where they think about stuff that is happening.
And women are smarter than men anyway. I like being around women. Earlier? It would have been all about having a bunch of girlfriends. But you’d have a bunch of girlfriends but you wouldn’t have no money. I got smart to that. My thing was, you don’t date your clients, because you won’t have no money. You just have your girlfriend and the other is just about getting paid and be done with it. I enjoyed it, it’s been good to me.
Franklin: You still do hair?
Johnson: Oh yeah, I go out to—I got some clients and stuff, especially, I like the old people. They can’t get out, they shut in, and they’ll give me call, hey, could you come over and do my hair? And I’ll go over and do their hair at they house for them. That’s a blessing for me that God enabled me to be able to do it, because they are so thankful to you. Because they wouldn’t be able to get it done otherwise. So, yeah, I enjoy doing it.
Franklin: That’s really sweet. In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation or racism?
Johnson: In the work place. I worked Franklin County Road Department for 13 years. I started off with the survey crew. I was the first black person that worked on the road department. And I’m going to tell you, I call it natural hell. It was like, I always got the worst job dumped on. I can remember the first. The first day that I worked on the road department, and engineer, Pat Thompson, he said, hey, you want to work on the survey—I mean, I had just left the survey crew because the job had ended. He asked me, he said, do you want to work for the road department? And I’m like, well, yeah. He said, okay, well, come to work Monday morning.
So Monday morning I went to work and he took me out to Chiawana Park, and he wanted me to dig a ditch, me and this other guy that had just had got hired, Bruce Sanders. The ditch was probably form here to that wall over there, so I’d say maybe 40 feet. So what we did was measured the ditch. We’ll start in the middle work to the end. You got 20 feet; I got 20 feet. That’s being fair. Every time I would turn around and look, he’s sitting up on the side of the ditch smoking a cigarette. I’m like, man, we never going to get done with you doing that. When I got done doing my 20 feet of ditch, he wasn’t even halfway.
So I walked down to the river and I threw a few rocks in the river, and I was walking back up the hill and the engineer drove up. It was around 1:00. He says, what are you doing? I said, well, I got done digging my half. He said, I didn’t hire you like that. I hired you to work all day. I said, but we took half the ditch. I said, if he would have gotten down there and dug the ditch just like I did instead of smoking cigarettes all day, he’d’ve been done. He said, I didn’t hire you like that. I hired you to dig a ditch. And I said, well, then if I have to dig the whole ditch, take him with you and I’ll do it by myself. He put him in the car and took him with him, and I dug the rest of the ditch. And about 4:00--because we got off at 4:30, he came back and picked me up, and I was done. I worked patching holes in the roads and stuff, me and this guy, Amos Whitmore, this old guy.
I did that for a long time and then I started driving truck. I can remember asking them repeatedly, when am I going to get truck driver wages? Oh, you haven’t learned how to drive the truck yet. I’m like, okay… And I’m driving dump trucks and we’re hauling gravel, and spreading gravel, and so forth and so on. About four or five years passed and I’m still saying, when are you going to give me truck driver wages? And it’s still the same old story, well, you haven’t learned how to drive the truck. All right, well, I’ll have to go down and talk to the engineer or I’ll have to go talk to your supervisor. It’s always a put-off.
We had a meeting with the county commissioners and the meeting was pertaining to how we got our funding for the road department. They put a pie, and we got so much from gasoline taxes, we got so much from this, we got so much from that, et cetera. When they got through explaining how the pie was cut up, they said, is there anybody in here have anything else that they want to discuss? Basically, what they were talking about is about that pie and how that money was cut up. Well, I stood up and said, well, I do. Everybody turned and looked at me, my coworkers, supervisors, engineer and the county commissioners. I said, how long do you have to drive truck before you get truck driver wages? I said, because I’ve been driving truck now for about five years, and every time I ask when am I going to get truck driver wages, I always get put off. And I don’t understand why it is, because everybody else that drive truck getting truck driver wages.
That was the end of the meeting and I left and went back out to the shop. And my supervisor comes out and says, well, Aubrey you didn’t have to do that. I said, I don’t see why I didn’t. I said, they asked a question and I said, yeah, that was the answer—I answered the question that they wanted me to give—well, no, they wasn’t talking about that. I said, I understand what you saying. But I wanted them to know that—why I couldn’t get truck driver wages. About an hour later, the engineer came out. So evidently the county commissioners went to talk to him and he said, well, you’ll get truck driver wages on your next paycheck.
I noticed one day, my supervisor, he says, hey, Smokey, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I kind of turned and looked at him, because first I’m wondering, like, who is he talking to? He says, hey, Smokey, I want you to go over there and do so and so and so and so and so. I just went over there and did what he told me to do. I’m thinking in my head, why is he calling me Smokey? Because, see, there is nothing black on me except for my hair at the time—which I don’t have nothing now—because I’m paper-sack tan. Okay? It’s got to be a word of -ism or racial slur but it’s okay. But, see, the thing to me was, I didn’t want to make a big issue about it because I wanted that job. Now here is something now that I got to swallow this and go on along with the program so I can maintain this job, because it was hard enough to get.
I had been putting an application after and application. I think that I had worried Franklin County so much. Because every day, I would go up to the Franklin County and I’m like, do you got any openings today? No, not today. I went so much until they finally told me, you don’t have to come up here every day. We got your phone number; if we got an opening, we will call you.
Believe it or not, I got a phone call on a Saturday asking me to go to work for the survey crew. And it was only going to last about six weeks. They were building SR-16, a road up out of Mesa. And I worked on that until the completion and then I went over to working for them.
But that was one of the kind of bad issues for me because I had to live with that, and pretty soon it just got so that I just let it roll off my back, okay. I can remember working out on the Road 32, 36, 38 in that new housing area off of River Haven, and they were putting in these oil streets. Now we got a tanker truck with the oil spouts running off the back of it and it’s shooting tar out onto the ground at 440 degrees. In order to keep the tar from getting on the curbing, they had me and another guy to walk along with a sheet of ply board. He had one end with the rope and I had the other end with the rope, and we kind of drug it along the edge of the ground and kept even with the truck so that they nozzle was right in the middle, you see. They’re squirting the tar there and it’s not getting on the curb in that River Haven area.
The next day, my supervisor says, well, you know, Aubrey we’re going to have Theo to go down there and do blah, blah, blah, blah. And what they did is they took the rope and they nailed it to one end and nailed to the other end. Now, you take this and put it around your neck, and you carry this plyboard along the edge of the curbing, and I’m walking up on the edge of the grass, carrying it on the curbing. But this is the ironic part of it, the nozzle from the spray truck was right in the middle of the board. And when they hit the ground, where does that steam—it’s going to come back up. Man, I would have so much tar on my face until my eyelids would be stuck open. Because you’re getting that mist that’s coming up off the ground. And then you get so far down the road, you get down to where the curbing is and I would take diesel fuel on a rag and then wipe my face with it so I could get it off of my skin. And that burned your skin a little bit and stuff.
But it’s just little stuff like that, that I had to endure in order to keep that job. And I can imagine—which I never heard them make any ridicule, laughing and going on. But when I’d go in in the evening, I would take off my shirt and I’d be out there, man, and I would have tar all over my arms and stuff, on my face, and get it off. No one never said a thing, but it was always was that same old thing.
Whenever there was a demeaning work or anything to be done, it was always, hey, Aubrey. Come over here and dig this ditch, come over here and do that. Me and a guy, we was out unloading cross-ties off of a truck. We were building a fence out there at Chiawana Park. I remember, he would catch one end, I’d catch the other end and we’d throw them on the ground. Another guy driving the truck along. He drops the doggone thing on my finger. Finger fills full of blood, right, aching like you wouldn’t believe. It was this finger right here. And he says, aw, you’re just being a cry baby. He had this sharp knife, he took it and drills a hole in and it let the blood out. Well, when the blood popped out, then the pressure went off and it quit hurting. So we kept throwing cross-ties.
The next morning when we went out there to go do it, they sent him to go do something else. Well, Aubrey you can throw those cross-ties off by yourself. You don’t need him. So that’s what I had to do, unload that whole truck by myself with the cross-ties. You see, it was like I had to strain to do it. And I was a pretty good size fella, nice and strong, and stuff. But it was a strain trying to drag them things off of there and then drop them right beside the hole and stuff. When it would have been just as easy with a guy, got it done much faster with two people doing it. Instead of saying—what I’m saying is, I always got the demeaning jobs working for them, and I worked for them for 13 years.
I finally managed to get truck driver wages and then later on I got to run motor grader. And as my supervisor says, he said, boy, you’re the best in the business. Because I learned how to do stuff on the motor grader that most people couldn’t do. I could do it backwards. My supervisor, he would look and he had been a motor grade operator and he says, I don’t see how you do it. I said, well, see, it’s real simple; but I would never tell him. See, you got a level in your butt if you know it. So if you’re going down the road, and the road tips and your body is go over this, your body equilibrium always is going to keep you sitting straight up. Even though the road is set like this, your body is going to tip back the opposite way, you understand? And so all you got to do is keep your body sitting straight up all the time. So whether its tipped like this, your body just want to keep it set, so the machine is tipped over, so you’re still keeping the same cut. To me it was simple, so if I’m going backwards, say, like, we’re fixing a crosscut, I’d push across the hole, pick the mobile up, drop it on its side and then I would just drag it backwards. So if the machine started to tip this way, I would push over to this side and raise my body back up. So I could do stuff. And he says, well I’ve never seen nobody do it like that.
But I never did tell them how to do it. They would always come and get me. They had one guy which was the lead operator and we were building the new road. Hey, Aubrey, I want you to run first and let him run behind you. And, boy, he would be so mad. Because my supervisor say, you go straight; he goes crooked. He wants the shoulder of the road to be cut straight. So I’d get in that thing, and what I would do was I’d look down the road and I’d pick out a fixed object and just head to it and just keep it between your legs. That would keep you going straight. And he’d be doing like this here. He would go and so it would be crooked.
It was a lot of stuff that I had to go through working for them. It showed me the bad side of a person in a good way. I learned that you have to go through a lot to get a little bit. Now that I’m at the age I am, I can look back and I can see all the bad stuff. What I try to do is not to duplicate what I see. That’s why I say, there is so much hatred in the world, and for no reason that it is, other than just ignorance. People have to learn how to get over it and start doing better by everybody else. Because I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to them that happened to me. So why would I do the same thing that happened to me to them? You don’t. Seemed like that should have been a lesson that should have been learned a long time ago.
It’s like—I hate to hear this term, illegal aliens. See to me, an alien is somebody come from outer space. Why can’t they just be illegal immigrants? But it’s a demeaning word that’s used when all of us was immigrants to this country. I mean, I was born here, but this is not originally where we came from. We all migrated here one way or the other, by force or by choice. Everybody wants some of the horn of plenty. That’s what this is, the horn of plenty. That’s why everybody wants to come to America. And so, it’s like, I got it, you want it, you can’t have it. By all means, it’s like, keep everybody out of it that you don’t want to have none of it, and the ones that’s here that want some of it, you try to deprive them of having it. It’s not a good thing and it’s racist, for number one, and it’s bad. I don’t know how people can live with themselves at the end of the day when they go home. Do they ever think about it? And they’ll pray to the same god that I’m praying to. And I wonder, do they ever think about the consequences of their actions? And if someone did the same thing to them that’s being done, how would they feel about it? You know.
Franklin: What about your parents’ work, education, I’m thinking specifically about Hanford. How long did each of your parents work out at Hanford?
Johnson: Well, my mom, she worked there, probably like two or three years, until they phased out that area. Because I can remember in the ‘50s, she was still working out there in the Hanford Area, in the cafeteria. She did dishwashing, waiting on tables and stuff like that. Like I said, I was so young until, I really didn’t get a chance to really hear a lot about what she did. I know she married a guy named Eddie Gix and he worked out there. I can’t remember—he wasn’t in engineering, because he didn’t have that kind of education—he worked in the machine shop. So he had to get some type of formal training from wherever he had worked at before, or whatever he did, he was shown how to do it and then that’s just what you did.
Franklin: This would’ve been your stepfather?
Johnson: Yeah, Eddie Gix.
Franklin: Was he Caucasian or black?
Johnson: He was black.
Franklin: How long did your father work for Hanford?
Johnson: He didn’t work for Hanford. My father he worked for the railroad. Eddie Gix, he worked for Hanford, and my mom she worked out there at Hanford.
Franklin: How old were you when your mom married Eddie?
Johnson: She married him in, probably about ‘49, ‘50, probably about ‘50, ‘51 somewhere in there. So I was real little, yeah. Like I said, my dad, see, he left.
Franklin: Oh, right. So, Eddie, you were close to--
Johnson: Yeah, I was real close to him. As a matter of fact, I even carried his name until I got into high school. I went into school as Gix, Aubrey Gix, G-I-X. Some of my friends, they see me right now and they’ll say, aren’t you Aubrey Gix? And I’m like, yeah, that was the name I went through in school, but I’m actually a Johnson. That was my dad’s name, and that was my birth name. But Eddie Gix was the person that I could emulate, that I cared about. Having a step-parent is the one that do the most with you, it’s the one you care the most about.
Franklin: How long did Eddie work at Hanford?
Johnson: I don’t know, actually, how long he had worked there, because I believe he was probably working there before him and my mom got together. I’m sure he was. But until, probably about ‘54, ‘55, five or six years somewhere in that period that he worked there. Because in, oh, probably about ‘56, somewhere in there, that’s when they separated.
What happened is that he was working on the dam by then down at The Dalles. And he came up missing, so everybody thought—because they did a search for him and everything—thought that he had fell off in the water and had drowned, but he hadn’t. He had took off and went to Chicago. We found out, oh, probably about fifteen years later, he got in contact with one of our friends, my mom’s friends. He looked in the phone book and he’d seen their name in there and he called them and then they got in contact with my mom and then she was in contact with him. He had left and went to Chicago and stayed with his sister and did whatever. I didn’t really ask a whole lot of question about why or what or what he was doing. All I know is he was gone. By then, my mom, she had moved on. So she was just taking care of me and my sister, the best that she could. She didn’t have a husband. She finally got married in the ‘70s, yeah, the latter part of the ‘70s, she finally got married again. I don’t know what happened to that marriage, because I left and went to California. When I came back, that was over. I don’t know whether they was compatible, or if she was mean and talked too much, or what the situation was, you know.
Franklin: Could you describe any interactions you or your parents had with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities area that stand out to you?
Johnson: My mom, she was kind of a private person, so we didn’t really visit a lot. She had a couple friends that she visited with that I looked up to. Other than going to church, we didn’t really interact that much with other people because she worked two jobs, so she was too tired to really interact. We went to church. She didn’t go every Sunday, because she was trying to fix something to eat for us, and she’d just be tired.
Franklin: Mm-hmm, oh, yeah, I can imagine.
Johnson: She had, Aunt Etta Bee, was one of her best friends who—that’s what we called her, Aunt Etta Bee—her and her husband, and they lived down the street and they were best friends. They would go back and forth to visit with each other. We would do the boat races, that was the big thing, the Water Follies, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. We would go to that every year; that was a big event for us. Watch those boats go down at Sacagawea Park go back and forth. They were doing like the circuit, it was the little hydroplanes; it wasn’t the big stuff they have now, the unlimiteds. Your pen not working?
Franklin: Oh, yeah, I guess. Oh, there it goes.
Johnson: Oh, okay.
Franklin: It’s got plenty of ink, I just haven’t used it for a while. I wanted to ask you, where did you go to school?
Johnson: I went to school, grade school at the naval base, that was my kindergarten. I went to Whittier School for a couple years before going over to Longfellow and then back to Whittier School in fifth grade, fourth, fifth grade. Then over to Emerson school, sixth grade, and then to McLoughlin, and then from McLoughlin to the high school.
I got ran over working for the Franklin County Road Department. I got my foot crushed and so I got rehab and I went to CBC and I took, I think it was about a year-and-a-half, and I took a welding course. I went to school at night and completed that and got a certificate of welding, a certified welder. That was basically my schooling, was right there, just right there in Pasco.
Franklin: How did segregation or racism affect your education?
Johnson: It didn’t give me anyone to emulate was number one. Because there was no black people there with a higher education, that I knew of, to really want to emulate. I heard about this guy called, I think his name was Duke Washington, and he had went to college. CW Brown and Norris Brown, they were basketball players for Richland Bombers, and that was in ‘50s. There wasn’t nothing about academic subjects that made me want to be anything of a lawyer or a doctor, or anything like that so it didn’t really impact my education.
Racism, it didn’t really hold me back from getting an education, because you could’ve went to school. But there was nothing there that enhanced—I didn’t hear about a lot of stuff when I went to school, that the other kids heard about. I’m sure that they never told us about going to college. That wasn’t a thing that I heard about, going to college when you get through with high school. It was just like, try to go to high school and get a high school diploma so that you can go and get a job working in various work forces out here in the area, or getting into an apprenticeship program or something like that.
Franklin: That’s a really good way to put it. You were able to get one, but the structure of it was one that, you didn’t have role model—no role models, there were no successful blacks for you--
Johnson: No, there wasn’t. I think there were a few older guys, I think Tom Jackson, it that was his name, he used to be a school teacher when he was down in Texas. I didn’t know nothing about him. Joe Jackson, he was the first black mayor of Pasco, and he was a city councilman, and he was a dear friend of mine until dying here just a year ago.
Franklin: Yeah, I’ve been trying to talk to his brother--
Franklin: Webster, he’s been very reluctant. I shouldn’t say that on camera, but I’m going to have coffee with him this Friday. So hopefully, we’ll--
Johnson: Yeah, they just live right there on the same street, so Joe, he and I, we’d go down and sit there and solve the problems of the world, we’d sit and talk about different stuff like that. He was a person of higher education, but he was an engineer. By the time that I was aware that he was an engineer, it was like, I was up in my 20s. It’s just like saying, hey, I want to be an engineer. Well, what is an engineer? There wasn’t nothing that was in school, to me, that set apart that was something that I wanted to do. To me, I was like manual. I need to get into something that I can use my hands with, to be able to do.
Franklin: Right, because your parents worked, your friends’ parents worked.
Johnson: That’s all I saw, was work.
Franklin: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. Kind of on the flipside of that, who were some of the people that influenced you as a child?
Johnson: Heh. Phew. Now that’s a hard one there. Because, like I said, there was really no big influence that was there for me. And I guess, maybe watching TV? It was just, I just didn’t see it. For me my influence was just work. When I would pass the truck lines and I would see diesel trucks out there, I was intrigued, like, man, I would really want to drive one of those. Well, up here it was ran by Caucasian people, so it was my thing just to be able to get up in it and see what it looked like.
I worked for a guy named Hezza Thompson. No, his name was Ezra Thompson, and he stayed out here by Connell and he was a farmer. A friend of mine and I, we were just looking for work and we was passing by his farm. I’m like, hey, let’s go down and see if he got something we can do. So we did and he looks around and he says, well, I got a bunch of tumbleweeds out there. He says, you boys can go out there and cut them. And I’m like, yeah, okay. My thing was, never ask a man how much he’s going to pay you if you want a job. Just go and do the job and get paid whatever he give you when get done.
We went out there and we was cutting tumbleweeds until when end of the day came, he says, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you come back tomorrow. I came back the next day and went out there. And he raised Hereford cows, bulls, and we went out there and did some more tumbleweeds. He asked me, he said, well, I got a fence I want to build. He says, you want to come out the next day and I’m like, sure. So I went out there the next day and he had a diesel truck out there and it was loaded with posts for fencing. He said, you know how to drive that truck? I said, yeah. [CHUCKING] He says, well then just go ahead and unload it, he says, and when you get through unloading here, just drive it down a ways and then unload. Because it was on a flat bed. I’m like, yeah, okay.
Of course it has instructions right up there in the truck. All you got to do is just put in one gear and I knew how to drive a stick-shift, a manual. I got up in the truck and I looked up there and I kind of read it, because he was gone. And then I figured where it said air brake and then I pushed it—pssssheeeew--the brake went off and then I put it over in first gear and pulled my foot off the clutch—rrrr—and just kind of walked along, like, man, I would just really like to drive this on the highway, because I want to get out of just one gear. So that right there was intrigue for me, just to be in that truck. I worked all the way until the end of the day, until I got down to the end of the line. That was my thing with the truck.
I would see different guys out on bulldozers and I’m like, man, I would love to just run one of those bulldozers to get on it. I never did get a chance to get on a bulldozer or a tractor, anything like that. So it was just trucks. When I got the opportunity to go into trucking, that’s what I did. I drove truck, and I drove truck for years. When I was moving furniture I drove truck down there, in Northern California for about four or five years. That was my thing, just being the guy thing was driving the big truck, do the big rigs and stuff.
I got on a bulldozer—I worked for George Gant. He had his own construction stuff. We was out doing the fairground, we did that over in Kennewick, the center part of it. It used to be like a dump site and we leveled all that off and made it to what it is now and he had this big D9 Cat he had rented. He said, do you think you can handle that? And I’m like, well, yeah. I jumped on it and I was driving, I drove maybe one pass with it. When I backed up, it took so long to get from point A to point Z, to push that load of dirt that you had in front of it, I was done. I backed it up and I got off of it and I went and got back on the motor grader. Because you could see your quick results. That was just, you move a whole lot of earth at one time, but that was too slow for me so I never want to run a bulldozer after that.
Franklin: You mentioned bussing and I just wanted to know, was that bussing of the integration bussing kind, or did you just catch the bus to go to school?
Johnson: It was the integration bus. That was the ideal thing is to bring the kids from the east side and the black kids to the west side in order to bring the kids together. Because they brought kids, Caucasian kids, et cetera, from the west side of town over to integrate and went to Whittier School. There was black kids going to Whittier and then there was Caucasian kids that was raised in the area that was there and then from out of town and we went back and forth. That was something that I went through was the bussing at that time, back and forth.
Franklin: How long did that go on for you?
Johnson: All the way up to high school.
Franklin: What do you remember about that? What was it like to go to school with kids who weren’t in your neighborhood, and to leave the confines of the neighborhood?
Johnson: You know, let me tell you a short story. A bulldog will hunt if he like you. He’s not a hunting dog, but he will hunt if he like you. So is that, when I went to school with kids that was outside of my neighborhood, I was as I am to you. Just like you’d say I’ve been knowing you all my life. I interacted with the other kids, and the kids liked me so well until I had a few friends that I brought home with me to spend the night. And I went and asked their parents, hey, Jerry wants to come and spend the night with me, you think it’d be okay? Well, if it’s okay with your parents, it’s okay. They came and spent the night with me and we went to a wingding and stuff, and it was just like the time of his life, the times that we spent together and there was a few kids that were like that in school.
But up until I got into junior high school, it was that we were all as one, everybody just played together, we had fun together—there was really no really racial issues with the kids. They parents was probably racist, and I didn’t really go to their houses and stuff. It’s just like, there was no reason for me to go to the west side because I didn’t live over there. So I basically stayed over in my own neighborhood and did my own thing. But I went over to the west side to go to school with the kids, and when that was over with, I went back over. Whatever they views was at they house, I didn’t get a chance to see it, I didn’t hear it, because when they came to school we were just all kids playing together, going to school together and having fun.
When we got into high school, I think that was at the time when kids got to be promiscuous as girls and stuff. They were afraid of the interracial thing, not having to be around those boys. I mean boys, period, and then especially the black boys and stuff. Because you want to not have that interracial thing, and so it was almost something that was forbidden. At school we kind of associated a little bit but not a lot. That’s why I was saying about going to the reunion, is that I didn’t socialize with those kids when we went. It was kind of like—shh. Standoffish-type of a thing when you got on the one-on-one. But as long as we was sitting in the classroom, it was okay. But outside of the classroom, it was a different thing.
I remember going to a parade downtown and the girls that were on the float was throwing candy. And all of us kids from school, we’re all just standing out there and we are running and grabbing candy. Some candy fell on my feet, and me being the dummy, I said, ooh, look! And when I did that the kid that was standing next to me jumped down and picked it up. And I’m like, well, hey that’s my candy! And he said, no, I picked it up. It’s mine. But they gave me half of it. That made the connection with us kids to be closer, even though I’m sure at their homes, their parents probably told them something that was completely different.
My mom told me, she said, don’t bring them to my house if you can’t go to their house. And she was talking about girls. Not no boys—girls, Caucasian girls. She said, do not bring them here if you can’t go there. She was instilling in me a racist-type scenario, because I knew I couldn’t go to their house and so I didn’t bring them to my house.
Let me tell you the story. I remember we had went to a teenage club, was called Avery’s. And there was a couple girls that would come over on the east side and go to the club. One was Ginger Frohlich and this other girl, her parents—what was her name? Anyway, it was this other girl. And we were just friends, we weren’t dating or none of that kind of stuff. I had a car. And this one girl, she asks me, she said, let me drive your car. We’re in high school and I’m about 17 years old and I’m like, okay. We were driving the car and I remember we went down on Oregon Street and when we got down to the corner of A Street and turned on A Street, we were getting ready to go to her house. And the police the police was coming up the street.
She had her lights on bright because you flicked the lights before you dim them, that’s when the dimmer switch was on the floor. And I told her, I said, dim your lights. And she said, what? I said, dim your lights. So she stepped on the dimmer switch, the police makes a U-turn, and he comes and he pulls us over. He asks for a driver’s license, she showed it to him and stuff. She had just turned 18. I was still 17. His question was to her, what are you doing over here? Because it was on the east side. And she says, well, I was over here at the teenage club and I was on my way going home. He says, okay, you get there right now. And this is in Pasco, okay, and I’m going to follow you home to make sure that you get there.
We’re driving on and she was living on 14th. Janet Khan, her dad owned Khan Construction. When we crossed Sylvester Street, they lived in a duplex right down the street, a duplex. When we got to the house, their parents were standing out in the yard with their bathrobe on. Meanwhile she says, just before we got to her house, she says, where do you guys want me to drop you guys off at? And I said, what do you mean, drop us off? Because you’re driving my car. You’re not dropping me off nowhere. She said, oh my god, what am I going to do? We pull up in front of the house and meanwhile the police gets out and their parents is walking over.
They had called to the dispatch, the dispatch had called their parents and—okay. They didn’t read her the riot act or none of that when I was there, because once she got out of the car I just slid over in the driver’s seat and it just pulled on off and went on. But then that made me realize that she didn’t want her parents to know that she had been over there on the east side, socializing with us black kids. That just kind of put a wedge between the camaraderie that we had. At school we could be one way, but then when we wasn’t at school in the private sector, then it was a completely different story. And it was kind of a bad thing but, hey, it is what it is.
Franklin: Did you ever have any relationships with any Caucasian girls, growing up?
Johnson: Oh yeah. After I got older.
Franklin: After you got older.
Johnson: Yeah, after I got older, I did. I had a relationship with a Caucasian girl, matter of fact, she’s an attorney now. But I didn’t have many. Matter of fact, I didn’t have many relationships with girls, period. Because my mom, she made me stay at home. So I was in my 30s before I had a relationship with a Caucasian girl. But my mom she always made sure that I was at home, working and doing stuff like that.
Something that was kind of like—I want to interject it, that I hadn’t even thought of—she had (?) because we used to go swimming a lot in the summertime and that was to keep us active and doing stuff, and basically not getting into trouble or doing stuff that the other kids may do. We’re at the swimming pool, your parents know where you’re at, they don’t have to worry about nobody kidnapping you, or doing nothing to you, and then my mom would come and pick us up.
I often wondered, after I got in my 50s—my mom would take us to the Pasco Carnegie Library. And we would go over there, and we would read books, and we joined the book club. A few years ago, I was at the Pasco City Hall and they have the showcase with memorabilia and different stuff in it, and I’ve seen this paper that was in there. It was on the celebration of x amount of years the Carnegie Library had been there. But when I started reading it, and it was saying that a library book club that they had back in 1957 or somewhere in there, and then it started naming off all these kids that had participated and completed. I saw my sister’s name and it said Elaine Gix, because I told you that we were going under Gix name. And when I saw that, I said, well, my name got to be in there. When I read down, got almost to the bottom of it, there my name was. I was so excited until I started yelling, there’s my name! And this guy walks up and says, where? I’m like, right there, that’s me, that’s me! Because I had completed that.
The point that I’m going to make with that, the parallel of this is, that every day my mom would take us to the library. Of course, we didn’t want to go to the library; we wanted to go and play. And back in those early days, man, I’m talking about hot. See, there wasn’t all these trees around here to absorb and put off oxygen for it to be cool. It was like a 108, 110, 116. I mean, there was days when it was 120. It was hot. My mom would always say, you can’t go outside and play because you’ll get sun stroke. So she would take us to the pool. And then she would take us the library. You know what, I was in my 50s, if not in my 60s when I realized why she took us to the library. It was so they had air condition. We didn’t have to be out there in the sun. So the days that we didn’t go to the pool, we went to the library. At our house, we didn’t have no air condition. Until up in the latter years and we got an old swap cooler and it was so humid. Then she would be there to try to cook and stuff and she would come and pick us up at 5:00 in the evening and bring us home so that we could eat. When I thought about it just a few minutes ago, the things that they did to ensure that we had a good simple life, that you don’t even think about. And you know what, it was just amazing that I even thought about that.
It was really good to be a kid, being brought up then. I learned how to be visual at that age because I never got a book that was all words. I always got a book that had pictures. I could look at a picture, and a picture’s worth a thousand words. After you completed reading a book, you had to go and give an oral report to the librarian of what you read. She would take the book, and she would be thumbing through it. Man, I could be so precise about what I read in the book, but I absorbed part of the writing of what I read, but it was the pictures that told the story. Because I’d always get a book that had pictures in it. It told the whole story for me.
That was why I was so amazed when I saw my name, because then it reflected back is that, how I made it through that. And you had to read a total of maybe 20 books within a month’s period of time. That was a lot of reading. Now, my sister, she could read so fast until the teacher would tell her, slow down. Because, boy, it was just like—prrrrrr.
Franklin: I loved doing the reading club when I was a kid, too. It wasn’t because of the AC, but, yeah, my mom would us out of trouble. Go down to the library and do the summer reading program.
Johnson: It was basically the same. Keep us out of trouble, and to me, it was the air conditioning because we didn’t have no air condition. And I’m a lot older than you, so you probably had AC in your house and all of that, so it was just to read. I’m sure that had something to do with it because they were trying to figure out how they was going to make it so that it would be easier on us. Because she would always say, I don’t want you to go through what I went through. You need to learn how to do this, this and that. And for my sister, it was like, you need to get an education. But me, son, you need to get out there and do this. Son, you need to get out there. She made sure that I had to be manual.
Franklin: It was still important, though, for her to—going to the library was an experience that she wouldn’t have had as a kid. So, practical reasons but also important—yeah.
Johnson: Exactly. It’s just like going to school to be a welder or a plumber, everybody is not able to go to CBC or to a college and get a master’s degree. But I mastered my skill. I have mastered being a cosmetologist. I know the theory of it, I have years of hands-on, I am a master at what I do. When I went to school, I could show my instructor stuff that they would just sit there in amazement and like, wow, how did you learn that? A lot of stuff, I created myself, like doing finger waves and stuff like that. And I still do them, and good at them. I could show you some pictures on my cell phone.
Anyway, it was just, impacted my life so much of the little simple things that had happened growing up as a kid that I really didn’t think about until after I got to be older, to see the things that my parents had to go through in order to make sure that I was able to take care of myself. I think that was the whole idea. And my mom could look at me and say in her mind, he’s not going to be the one that goes to college and gets no degree. If he can just learn how to do something to where he can take care of himself and put food on the table and put clothes on your backs—that’s all they were really looking for then because everything was simple. It wasn’t like living in a $300,000 house when you could live in a $20,000 house and be perfectly comfortable. Because in a $300,000 house, all you got is just more bills, you know? And you got a certain level of expectation that goes along with it. You got to keep it in a certain condition and all of that. There’s only three things you’re going to do in any house, I don’t care how big or how small: eat, sleep, use the bathroom. You can do that in a cardboard box. [LAUGHTER] Seriously.
Franklin: Yeah. So I wanted to ask—since your mom, for a small time, worked out at Hanford, and your stepfather worked at Hanford, I wanted to ask, what was your reaction, or what do you know about your parents’ reaction to learning that they had kind of worked at a site that was crucial to the development of nuclear weapons?
Johnson: That was something that was never discussed. Matter of fact, I don’t know whether they even really realized what Hanford was doing, when they were doing plutonium and all of that—because I had heard that they had built the mechanism for the atomic bomb and all this different kind of stuff—that they really realized what they were doing when they were working there. Because I heard just recently when they came and that a lot of guys, black people were doing the cement work and stuff for these reactors and all of that, and they was going down there and digging holes and doing different stuff and they wasn’t told what detriment that that was having on their body. And, hey, later in 30 or 40 years you’re going to have cancer. They wasn’t told that, even though the government knew it. But it was like, hey, we got to get this work done, we got to have somebody down here to do it. So, who are we going to get to do it? And that’s just the way that it was. I don’t think that it was something that was discussed; it was just a job. You didn’t really realize what you were doing.
One of the things that really upset me with this Hanford thing is, because I know of a lot of people, black people that ended up with cancer. Man, it took them forever to get any money out of that, when the Caucasian people had been getting paid all the time. And you go to the doctor and then you’d send all your research papers and stuff back, and then they’d say, well, you need this, or you don’t quite have all that together. And it was years, and years, and years, because there was no awareness there. There was no person that was really reaching out from Hanford to make you aware of the moneys and the stuff that they had out there for you to receive.
A lot of times, I think people was already dead. And then they family members or somebody didn’t tell you, hey, your dad died and he died from cancer; you probably need to get into contact with them out there to see if there’s any moneys that you are due because of his death from working in that. It took them 20, 30, 40 years. I know John Mitchell, he just got his money and he was in that plutonium incident that they had out there. Before he died—I think he’s been dead maybe five or six years or something like that. And he just got paid. And he was in it back in the ‘50s. It’s like totally ridiculous. To me, I don’t know if you want to put it on say, being racist, but why are we so uninformed as black people about the benefits and the conditions of where you at? Why are you putting me in harm’s way? It just—pfff—it kind of just blows my mind.
Another thing I want to touch on, I had brought a couple of things that I had did. They were just like this one right here. I was one of the persons that—and I’m going to let you read it—that help formulate and start it—I was the first Acting Secretary of East Pasco Better Development Association. I did an interview with a reporter. As you read down, Aubrey Johnson said, blah, blah, blah, blah as we went all the way down, okay? And it just behooved me that when they came out that weekend and we were out doing the cleanup, is that they took a picture of the Caucasian person, which was the president, to show that we were out there. Why didn’t you take a picture of all of us out there cleaning up? You understand what I’m saying? And to me it’s like, we want to put the captain at the helm, and to show it. When I mentioned it to him, he said the same thing to Dennis. He says, I don’t know why they put my picture on there, why they didn’t put everybody’s picture on there that was out there doing the cleanup. And it takes the emphasis off, in my mind, of what it was all about. And it goes on, well, Aubrey Johnson said, blah, blah, blah, blah, and he was a person that helped start this thing and yadda yadda--
Franklin: They also misspelled your name, is it A-U-B?
Franklin: Yeah, they also misspelled your name.
Johnson: [LAUGHTER] Like my daughter told me, she said, Dad you get no credit. And I’m like, yeah, honey I understand how that is.
Franklin: Yeah, they spelled it A-B-R-E-Y. I almost missed it for a second, because I was like--
Johnson: Yeah, who is that. And they misspelled it and they mispronounced it. And I don’t know why it was, always when I was growing up, I heard them say, well, what’s your name? I’d say, Aubrey. And they would say, well, do you have a short name for that? I’d say, yeah. Aubrey. Well, they’d say Ay-brey. I’m like, what it is about your hearing that you can’t hear Aubrey coming out of my mouth, where you’re trying to make my name be everything else except for Aubrey?
Franklin: It’s not really an uncommon name.
Johnson: It’s not.
Franklin: You’re not the first Aubrey I’ve ever met.
Johnson: Yeah, and it’s a Southern name, Aubrey. Yeah. So, I don’t understand why people--
Franklin: What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?
Johnson: Would you repeat that?
Franklin: What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford? You mentioned a bit that you knew that they had built some of the reactors and poured the concrete. I’m just wondering, were you ever interested in learning or did you ever take it upon yourself to learn about the contributions of African Americans at Hanford?
Johnson: I know a lot of them were scientists, because I have a some of my friends that are scientists that work out there for Hanford, engineers and stuff like that. But I never really talked about them—I have a nephew that works out there and he says, well, I work on the Star Wars project. It’s stuff that they do that they don’t talk about, you know what I’m saying. It’s kind of held in secrecy, so you don’t get chance to really ask a whole lot of questions about a whole lot of things that they do. Other than doing the manual part of, oh, I run the copy machine, I work for the Federal Building, I do this and I do that. It’s just menial things. But as far as them being able to tell you exactly what they did, a lot of it was held in secrecy, and so they couldn’t tell you.
Not only that, I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in it, so I didn’t ask them a whole of questions about it. It’s like, even today, the only thing that I’m glad of is that I didn’t go out there to work. Because I’m telling you man, I see a lot of my friends with cancer that’s all of a sudden. And I mean young guys! Some of them are younger than me, and women, cancer, And where are they getting it from? They got it from out there.
Franklin: What do you think is the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?
Johnson: It brought a lot of work here to the area, it opened up the doors so that pretty much anybody could get a type of job. Even though you started off at the bottom as being a custodian, and kind of like, if you stayed there long enough you might be able to work your way up to a management part of it. If you was—a lot of the black people that’s here that’s in scientist and managers and stuff like that, mostly came from other areas, Savannah River, different places like that to come out and fulfill the needs of the scientists and stuff like that. But there wasn’t homegrown to go out there and work. So it’s like the basic person, if you get to be a manager or you got a BA degree and you could go to work, you might make it up to be a manager. But if you don’t have an interest in scientist, or if you’re not in drafting, or engineering, you’re just a basic hands-on scheduler or whatever, it pays good money and it gives you the chance to have a better living condition, better home, more money to spend for yourself and for your kids.
Franklin: What were the major civil right issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cites?
Johnson: Civil rights. Civil rights in Pasco was—I remember one time we had a march over in east Pasco. And we marched all the way downtown. I think it was in the latter part of the—no, it had to be in the—see, I was working for Franklin County Road Department, started work there in ’66. So it had to be probably about ’68, somewhere right in there. I think if you research it you’ll find that someone set a tree on fire up there at Volunteer Park. But we had a march from east Pasco and someone had set a cross over there at Whittier School and set it on fire. And we marched all the way downtown, and we was chanting, We Will Overcome the conditions that they had. And it was basically an outcry for the whole United States of America, because it was from the South. Some of the same conditions that they had in the South depriving you of the economics, the fair housing, all of that was things of concern.
When they did that east Pasco—not east Pasco development, but the co-op, and the reclaiming that area and they built the housing project. Oh my, I’m getting lost here in my thought because there is a point that I want to make, is that, my thought is just gone on that one right there, because there was a point that I wanted to make about that and it was during that period of time. Oh, I know what it was, is that, when they came in and bought your houses, they gave you a little bit of money—so what they did, my mom had a little house, a little shot gun house that my mom had bid on. They gave her x amount of dollars for the house, but we kept the land. And so what we did, we built another house which is the one that is there now.
The contractors that they had to do it, as far as I’m concerned, they didn’t have no inspectors or they just didn’t care. Because the houses that they built was half-built, it wasn’t built right. They guy that puts in the patio door is either put in backwards, because the screen should be on the outside not on the inside. That door should’ve been over here. But you wouldn’t walk in from this end because you’re up against a dead wall. So they put it in anyway. Or like the dishwasher, they put it in and there was nothing for it to bolt to except for the little edge that was about a quarter strip wide and they put two screws to hold that in there and what is the vibration going to do? Tear it up. So my mom never did use it. She’d wash dishes in the sink. Because it busted that. And I was like, Mom, they’re not doing that right. Now, son you’re just—just leave that alone now. They know what they doing.
Since she was from the South, never having a voice, she didn’t want to really complain a whole lot about the construction of the house. But I didn’t live there, and I’m looking at it being done. And I’m like, Mom, they’re not doing this right. I’m not a carpenter, but I mean some stuff you can just see. It’s like, in our hallway, if you put a sheet of ply-board, you don’t carry it into the living room and then cut it. You could look up there and you’ll see this long piece of ply-board go across like this and back, sheetrock. Then there’s an edge where that protruded—that should’ve been cut off flush at the wall and then the next sheet of ply-board going all the way across it, or sheetrock. Why they did that and how they could get away with it, I don’t know.
I went to put a ceiling fan in in the kitchen. Well, you know what? When I went to screw the screws in, there was nothing to screw them into. Because it had to be a hole this big and the light fixture sit over here on the side, and all that was over there was like tape and they had puttied over it. When I went to put in the screws, it just went straight through into nothing, no sheetrock. It is like, the ceiling fan is there, but you can only use the light. Because if you turn it on, it does like this.
Franklin: Oh my gosh.
Johnson: I didn’t take it down; I just left it, but I don’t use it. Stuff like that it. It just half-done. And the inspectors for the city allowed it to happen, because they didn’t go behind them and check what they was doing. I think that they gave the bids to all these private contractors to do stuff looking for the federal government to ensure that it’s being done right. But the city government is contracting it out and then Bob Smart, he built all those houses over there and they was all done wrong.
There was one house, I heard, that got burnt down because they wasn’t doing it right and so they had to go back in and redo it. They burned it down during the era of the black movement, with the Black Panthers and stuff. To make them redo it. Stuff like that, it just irritated me to no end. And as I got to be an adult, and I’d go down and I would look, and I would say stuff to my mom. And she would say, you know, son, just leave that alone. I don’t want to make waves with.
Franklin: Was there a local Black Panther organization here?
Johnson: They came from Seattle.
Franklin: They came from Seattle. How long—did they come and set up shop for a while or would they just come over from--
Johnson: They would just come over. They came down and recruited a few people from the Tri-Cities area that was interested in getting involved. But there was no big movement over here. It was kind of like a hush-hush-type situation. Because if you can’t get a big movement of people involved and you only got maybe ten people involved in the Black Panther, then you really don’t have no Black Panthers.
Franklin: Were they welcome in the community?
Johnson: Well, yeah, of course. Because, see, Black Panthers—people look at it like, the first word associated with it is black. It makes you think that it’s something that’s bad. But they wasn’t, they wasn’t bad people, they were trying to get equality. Where you could see something was indifferent or something that wasn’t being done right, they would voice their opinion about it. Because we were so held back from our views, as soon as you had a peaceful organization trying to get something done, all of a sudden the government would paint it as bad organization. And it would make everybody think that these people are really bad. The name of Black Panther, they associated with Huey Newton down in San Francisco. What they were trying to do is to help the people rise above the poverty level. They was distributing food, they were doing medication, they were doing doctors and all that. But how did they paint the picture? They painted the picture like it was a bad organization of people. But then once they got to be so big and then when the government come in and tried to remove you through force, hey, there was a person that you had to reckon with, because they fought back. That’s what they don’t want. They don’t want you to fight back. They want you to do everything in a peaceful manner, but they are the ones with the guns that come near you.
In Philadelphia, when they burned that, blowed up that whole city block of people just to try to get a few people. That’s the government that is doing that. That’s why I say, there is no win because they got the Air Force, the Army, the National Guard and the Marines. How are you going to win? There is none. So we have to learn how to sit down and discuss it, just like we’re doing, and figure what it is that we can do to get rid of it.
I had a friend of mine who said, well, hey, man, why don’t you get involved in the politics or different stuff so that you have a voice? I was like, man, I ain’t interested in that. I was young, and I ain’t interested in that. Don’t nobody want to listen to me. It’s just like, oh, he’s just babbling on, he’s just a radical. If you say how you feel about something in one way, or you show your indifference about the way that things are done, it’s like, if it’s not somebody else’s idea, if you ain’t going along with them, then they don’t want to hear it.
The Black Panthers, if it had been enough young people that was involved and organized, I think we could’ve gotten a lot better situations here during the ‘60s. And if we had had a voice or some educated people here, we wouldn’t have gotten taken advantage of, of our properties and stuff that we had, we would’ve got the top dollar for it.
Just like, right across the street from where I live, they took some of those same houses that they had to move—they either tore them down or you had to move them. There were some people that had a little bit of money, they bought some of them old houses and moved them over across the other side of the fence and set them up and then lived in them or rented them out. So if they was good enough for you to move them over there and live in, why they wasn’t good enough for them to be over here? But they wanted that industrial area, because they have that corridor all the way to the river, and they got it. They just redefined and reclaimed.
Franklin: Yeah. What about the NAACP? Was there a functioning NAACP here?
Johnson: There’s not a functioning NAACP now. With Dallas Barnes and Joe Jackson, and his brother, Webster, and I, and a few people, we talk about it all the time trying to get people recommitted and let’s getting that started again. But it’s really hard to, because young people don’t see the struggles that the older people, such as myself, went through to have equal opportunities and stuff like that. There’s no safeguards that we have. The young people don’t see it, so they don’t really understand it and the old people are dying out. So there’s no one to carry that on.
When I was in California, I was involved with the NAACP, and my girlfriend and I and stuff. And so there was like job opportunities. There was a Safeway store that people had complained about putting the applications, they didn’t get a job or stuff like that. We had some Caucasian people that was affiliated with us, so we had them to do is some of the black people had put in the application and then we had some of the Caucasian people went down and put in the application. Weeks later, the Caucasian people got hired, but the black people didn’t. So now we got something that’s valid, you understand. So what we did is we boycotted that store. The black people in the community just didn’t go down there and spend no money. We was out there marching with our signs and it was hurting they business so bad until they were like, wow, okay. We’re going to hire three people to work in the butcher shop or blah, blah, blah, blah. So it ended up getting some black people jobs.
The NAACP was really good for, as far as I was concerned, job discrimination in various forms, or a lot of times with your employer. The only thing that I saw that was negative to me about the NAACP is that if it didn’t go national, it was really hard to get something done on the local level. To me, that was a negative thing, because you know what? A small concern of yours is worth all the weight in gold to you, but to them, it’s not a big issue. And I don’t feel that you’re being represented the way that you should. When you have to take your concerns to the national level and then they got to view it and see if it’s something that they want to get involved in, to see if they want to help you with that situation.
Franklin: Yeah. I wanted to ask, so you talked about local issues, what actions were being taken in the ‘60s and later to address the local civil rights issues?
Johnson: We had meetings at a few churches, where some of our black leaders would come together and we would discuss, trying to take a group of people, our church leaders and stuff—like I say, Boise Cascade, and they wasn’t having fair practices as far as hiring and stuff. Voice your issues with them as far as trying to get black people hired out there. The thing was, now you got to go through the employment office to be able to get hired. But now, if you have Caucasian people that’s running the establishment—and I think it was Floyd and Jerry Frasier was working there—you can’t hire black people just because you’re black. See, it was just like when they voted in president Obama. The black people had the illusion that, hey, we got a black president, man, we are going to rise above, he going to be able to do this and that. But the bureaucracy—because he got to get with the Congress, with the Senate, the House of Representatives, and everybody is so bent on trying to keep you from doing as much as you can until you really don’t get the chance to do the things that you could. The black people are now saying, here a few years ago, well, he did nothing for us. Well, it wasn’t so that he did it for us; he did it for everybody. He made it so that no child should be left behind. You have the opportunity, if you could keep a C grade level, then you would be able to go to school, go to college, and you won’t have to pay for it. They’re looking at getting a piece of the rock in their hand just for themselves, but they’re not looking at the big picture. The big picture is that you got to do it for the mass. It’s like asking the question, what did Martin Luther King do? He did it for everybody so they have equality, instead of just for the black people; he did it for everybody. That was the thing here and with our black leaders, the few that we had, was trying to see that we had the opportunity to get good jobs.
When they was profiling, you’d go in and you’d have to put down there, the first thing when you put in the application, are you Indian, Native American, Island Indian, they have all these different, black, blah, blah, blah, blah. How do I know that when you see that I’m a black application, you take it over here and drop it in the garbage can or run it through the shredder? The economical thing, it said that you got to hire so many black people on this job in order to fit a quota. So in that period of time, it made it so that you may have 100 Caucasian people working, but you got to have at least ten blacks. That’s 10%. So you have a quota that you have to meet. How do we know that quota is being met? We don’t know. Until you go out and see how many people’s been hired since that point. But now you had 100 people to put in an application, why wasn’t there more? We all put in application for the same job. It should be first come, first serve. Especially for menial work like being a janitor. It’s like, how many janitors did you have, how many people did you have running the Xerox machine? So you kind of had to have somebody to oversee what they were doing, and those were the groups of people that were doing that in order to make it so that it wasn’t being profiled in that way. Because it was very negative.
Franklin: Who were some of the important leaders of civil rights efforts in the Tri-Cities?
Johnson: Reverend Bill Wilkins; Magee, and I can’t remember what his first name was; Art Fletcher; Tom Jackson, that was Joe Jackson’s dad; Franklin D. Noah, he was an educated man and he was very boisterous, went to city council and different stuff like that. It was even on a smaller level that we had a few people that was, could kind of help out with that civil rights movement. James Pruitt, he was very instrumental. He was a liaison between the police department and the community. Reverend F. A. Allen, he was a pastor at Morning Star, and I know he was one of the spokespersons for some of us as black people. And I’m sure there are some others, I’d have to really think, from the top of my head I don’t remember if C.J. Mitchell was affiliated with it, but I’m sure that he was with the movement.
Franklin: What were some of the notable successes of the movement?
Johnson: Well, the successes was Kurtzman Park, the job opportunities that we had. Housing, it opened up the doors so that we could buy houses in Kennewick. Which I know you done heard about they didn’t want any black people there anyway. So it kind of opened up that door. I won’t say a whole lot for Richland. I remember when it was just a few people, C.J. Mitchell, the Browns and the Rockamores, when they first bought houses out here in Richland. That movement, that era, opened up the door for us to move up and have a better way of living and better housing and something for our kids to be able to not go through, that’s already been set in place for you.
Franklin: What were some of the biggest challenges? Or failures, or kind of things that weren’t solved? Maybe things we’re still struggling with.
Johnson: You know what? Since I’m not really in the workforce, I don’t know if it’s the work, but I’m sure that a lot of working conditions at Hanford in particular, is like, I know of several people and this is what I was told, they say, well, we’re going to phase out your job. But I want you to train so-and-so and so-and-so how to do it. So now you actually are losing your job, but you’re training somebody else to do your job. Why would they need you to train somebody else to do what you’re doing—and this is a black person now—and you’re going to give the job to somebody else? What you do is you change the title of the job and then you give it to somebody else, of course you’re doing the same thing. You can say that you phased it out, and now you have to go somewhere else and look for a job. I heard that in several instances from different people that was working out here in the Hanford Area. That’s what they did.
The thing that really got me is, with one person it was like almost at the point of retirement, and all of a sudden it’s like, we are going to phase what you’re doing out. If you don’t have the amount of years that it take you to be able to get your full retirement, you got to figure out something else in order to be able to get it. And you got to work back for the government. If there is no government job for you to do, you just kind of, your dream of being able to sit down and do nothing, you end up having to go back to work somewhere else. I’ve seen a few people that do that. I’m like, I don’t understand it you worked out there for all those years to retire, and now you got to go and work somewhere else? Something is wrong with that picture.
Franklin: Yeah. Do you have any memories of—you would have been very young, but I wonder if you heard about the Hazel Scott case in 1950.
Johnson: I heard about it, as a matter of fact I read about it. When she came, she came to the bus station in Pasco and she tried to eat at the lunch counter. And they refused to let her sit at the lunch counter and eat. She complained about it. I believe that I read in the history that she was married to a Caucasian person. You can probably google that because I had time when I was like, just a couple, two or three months ago, I was telling somebody about it. [PHONE RINGTONE] That’s my girlfriend.
Franklin: She’s like, where are you?
Johnson: Yeah, are you done yet?, is more likely.
Franklin: Did you get abducted by these guys or something?
Johnson: Yeah. But that was something that my mom had told me about, her being there and stuff. Because what really got me is, I always wanted to eat at that lunch counter when I was a kid. We would go to the bus station and I would go downtown and get papers from the Tri-City Herald. I’d get ten papers and we got a nickel a piece for selling them. 50 cent was a lot of money for us little kids. And we would go to various places to try to sell these newspapers. I’d go by the bus station and I’d see that big lunch counter in there and stuff. When you go in, there was never no black people in there, there was always Caucasians, and they’d always turn and looked at you. And not only that, even at Woolworth’s, it was the same way. When you went in there to sit down at that lunch counter, the Caucasian people that was in there, they wasn’t used to seeing blacks sitting next to them, eating. So they’d turn and look at you and it made you feel somewhat indifferent to where you’re, hey I’m not going back there anymore. So it was kind of a—[PHONE RINGTONE] Would you please quit? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Were you directly involved in any civil rights efforts?
Johnson: Not really involved, but I participated in the march that they had. That was about as much as I could do, or making people aware, or talking with the black people that was my age and giving them my view about stuff that we need to be trying to do to change ourselves. That was my thing, was trying to keep people motivated, and telling them the things that I think. See, because me, since I wasn’t being raised racist, when I hear somebody saying something that’s racist, then I would try to show them the difference. You don’t need to do that, well, why don’t you do this, do that. Then they’ll make it even better, because now it’s, like a friend told me, if you can educate one person on how not to be racist, he’ll change 100 people. Because he’ll go back and say, hey.
Have you ever heard this before? A Caucasian guy walks over to a black guy and he gets annoying—and I’ve had this happen, I’m going to give you a scenario.
A friend of mine and I, we went over to the Cowboy Club over on Kennewick Avenue, over in Kennewick, that’s what it was named at the time, I don’t know what it’s named now, because that’s when I used to go to the tavern. Since I was kind of a western-type dude, I used to ride horses and all of that, I had boots on, my hat, my duster and all my gear; my buddy Johnny Mock, he had on his stuff. We went in and we sat down and the bartender came over and gave us a beer. Everybody was looking at us like what are they doing in here. We sat there drinking our beer and stuff. So pretty soon one Caucasian dude, he got up and walked over and says, hey, how you doing? Well, pretty good, how you? My name is Bill. What’s yours? My name is Aubrey. He extended his hand; I shook his hand. Then he just made this little trivia talk. And I told the bartender, I said, hey, give Bill a beer. Man, let me tell you something, when that conversation ended we was best of buddies. You know what he did? He went back and told his buddies, he all right. Next time we went over there, people didn’t look at us the way that they had looked at us the first time we were there. Because they were afraid of the unknown, but because he got educated just that quick, you understand, and he’s like, man, they’re all right.
I hear Caucasian people say all the time, man, you’re different than the other people. And I say to them, what other people do you know? Because you’re trying to make it different, but what you’re doing, you’re stereotyping off of something you seen on TV or something that you heard. Because evidently you haven’t interact with enough black people to be able to see what their views is, to see how they feel about the situation. And we all feel, and pretty much bleed the same. We all want the same thing. It’s just that you got it and I want it. That’s the only difference there is. But once you get to know me, you’ll say he’s really a nice guy, he’s not as radical as I thought that he was. But I can be. Yeah, I can be. If you’re doing something to me, brother, you better believe I’m going to put it on you as best I can. But because you don’t see that side.
When my friends, when I would hear them saying stuff that was negative or that it was going to be detrimental to them, I’d say, no, you don’t want to do that. This is the way to do it and then you don’t have to deal with that problem. And then it’s like, whoa. That was kind of my thing, as far as the black movement is concerned, is educating your friends that’s around you to emulate what you’re doing. Don’t do what’s expected of you; do something that is totally different, and then you catch everybody off guard. And then they’ll say, wow, he is different than what I thought. I didn’t realize people was like that. And I get that all the time from people. I’m very outspoken about whatever it is. If you don’t want to hear it, don’t ask me. If you don’t want to hear the truth, don’t ask me. Because I’m going to tell you just like it is.
Franklin: How did the larger national civil rights movement influence civil rights efforts here in the Tri-Cities?
Johnson: It made us aware, because we were looking on the media down South and in Detroit, Chicago, Michigan, and New York. We got a chance to hear a lot about Malcom X, Andrew Young, Abernathy, Revered Martin Luther King, and all the things that they were doing trying to get equality, in all the places. Even though there had been black people in New York area since back in the 1800s that was prosperous, when they redefined the area, when they first came in I think it was 98th or 99th Street, somewhere in there, they came in and they tore all that out in order to be able to build the high rises and all of this and that. The black people was musicians, you had your doctors and your lawyers—and I didn’t know that back then until I started doing a little research on it—to see that we was well-represented back then.
When I started looking at the movement, I started seeing the movement in the South. Then I looked at the same movement that was happening, that was in New York, up in that part of the area in the North. The difference was, Martin Luther King was preaching peace; the Black Panthers was, if you do it to me, I’m going to do it back to you. That was the difference. The Black Panthers wasn’t willing to take the head beating, the dog biting, the water hoses and all the rest of what the people in the South had tried to endure through a peaceful movement. That was the difference that really impacted me, because I had two views to look at: a peaceful view, and a positive-negative view. Out of the positive-negative, don’t allow it to happen to you, then it won’t happen. But if you allow it, it becomes a condition. Such as my telling you about the guy calling me Smokey, my supervisor. If I hadn’t been so feared of my job, I could’ve stopped that the first day that he did that. Then he either had to let me go or he wouldn’t’ve did it no more. It’s like looking at the positive out of it and so it’s a positive-negative situation.
Franklin: From your perspective and experience what was different about civil rights efforts here, compared to the national effort?
Johnson: We didn’t have a big enough movement here; we didn’t have enough people involved. We had too many older people that was afraid. They brought the South here with them. Don’t make waves, just go along with the program, go along to get along. Then the younger people had more of a radical view, and I among them, that is I’m not going to let it happen to me. That was up into the ‘60s, I started feeling like that as far as getting beat up and that type of a thing, is like, that’s not going to happen to me.
Franklin: Did it ever happen to you?
Johnson: No, sir. No, I never did get beat up, none of that, I never was in no fights, I never was in no fights at school. I kind of missed all of that. Most of the kids didn’t mess with me because I was pretty big. I mean I was skinny and tall, but I was pretty big. I think I got into one fight in junior high school and man, after that was over with--
Franklin: What were your experiences like—did you ever go over to Kennewick, because I’ve heard a lot about—I guess what I want to ask specifically about is sundown laws and the sign. I wanted to ask you if you ever had any experiences with that.
Johnson: I never saw the sign. I heard about the sign. The only time that I went to Kennewick, I can really give you some views on that, because I can remember as a little kid my mom took us over to the Roxy Theater that was over there. That was in the daytime, at a matinee, and then we were out of there. I didn’t know nothing about no out-of-there-before-dark.
But I can remember in probably about, let’s see, I was in high school, junior high school, probably about ’60, somewhere in there, you still couldn’t live there. It was a Caucasian lady and I can’t remember what she had did, but she had to go to prison, and she had a black lady, name was Martha Walker, I believe, that worked for her. She gave her her house and I can remember it was next to Colers’ grape field. Because I can remember we were going to the grape field—you know what, it might’ve been even in the ‘50s that that happened—they burnt that house down so that no black people could live over there.
I can remember, my sister was married to a guy named Dave Dumas and he was—we went over to the dojo that they had over on Kennewick Avenue, which is a karate practice. And when the karate practice was over, we were driving back out of Kennewick, and we were in a Volkswagen and the police pulled in behind us. I told Dumas, I said, man, the police is behind us and he said, yeah, I know. I said, well, make sure you don’t be speeding because you don’t want to get no ticket over here. We were coming out of the highlands, going down and we were going to go down and go on over the overpass and come back into Pasco. We got right to the top of that hill where that church is. The police put his light on us and pulled us over. He comes up and asks for his driver’s license, he shows it to him and he looks all in the car. My sister was sitting in the back and I was sitting in there and him. He asked him, he said, what are you pulling me over for? He said because you was driving too slow. And he says the only reason I was driving under the speed limit is because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t speeding so you wouldn’t give me no ticket. The officer said, well, what are you doing over here? And he says, well, I just came from karate practice. He says, well, I’m going to tell you something, don’t let me catch you over here no more. And he turned around walked back to his car and we got out of Kennewick.
The only time that I can remember going over to Kennewick other than that, we went to the Highland Theater Drive In. And you know where that was, as soon as you get up there, right there on Clearwater, across from Vista. And man, we would go to that theater and then we were out of there. We would go to Sander’s Field was where we had baseball games and when we got through doing baseball, we were out of there. But it wasn’t like, go over there and hang around. Something that I reiterate, you didn’t live over there, so there was no reason to be over there. It wasn’t like, hey, I’m going to go over here and just joy around over here in Kennewick at nighttime. But it was that I found that the police didn’t even want you over there in the daytime.
Even since back then, I’ve been pulled over in Kennewick, and get a negative attitude out of the police. Because when he pulls me over the first thing I say when he walks up to the car is, what’s the problem, officer? Do you have your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance? I’m like, I do. And I get it and I give it to him. And I want to know, again, what is the problem? Well, I noticed that your taillight is out or you didn’t give a turn signal; it’s always some negative misdemeanor crap. And I’m like, okay, well, let me check it and see. I flip on the turn signal and the turn signal is working, the brake light is working. There’s really no reason for him to pull me over than just to see who I am and get my information, so in the event that he see me over again, he knows who I am. Because he really don’t have no reason for stopping me and then let me go. I’ve had that happen right here in Pasco, not only in Kennewick. But in Kennewick I was just, as a kid and as a young adult, I knew, as they say, your place, and I knew it was not in Kennewick because I had no reason to be over there. I stayed out of there because I didn’t want to have no problem with the police, period.
Franklin: Makes sense.
Johnson: Yeah, because the police is the higher authority. And whenever he says something, that’s what it is. A friend of mine and I had been out in Richland one night. This is in the late ‘70s and he had this beautiful black Cadillac, four-door Brougham, with the gangster white walls and all of that and we were coming out of Richland. And I told him, Columbia Center Boulevard, that overpass, I told him, I said, make sure you’re not speeding because the police always sits up under here and you won’t see his car until you’re right up on him. Because it sits in a shadow. He said to me Aubrey Lee, I’m not speeding. I looked over the speedometer and he’s going 60 miles an hour. Sure enough, State Patrol. The State Patrol gets behind us. He didn’t pull us over; he just followed us. When we got about halfway of the distance between the bridge and that overpass there, at Columbia Center Boulevard, because it wasn’t Ely, because it wasn’t built then, he put his light on. My buddy Charles said, man, I don’t know why he turned his light on because I’m not doing nothing, I told him, I said, well, you better stop. He said, man, I’m not going to stop, I ain’t thinking about him. I’m not doing nothing. He just kept on driving. Next thing I know, I see State Patrol coming from the other direction, coming from Pasco and he comes up to where that little turnaround is. He turns around in the turnaround, and so I’m telling him, I’m like, man, you better stop. I said, because you don’t want no problem with these police. He says, but I’m not doing nothing. I said, man, just go ahead and stop. Then he finally pulls over and he stops.
The police pulls up behind him, State Patrol, and then there was a State Patrol behind him. Both of them get out of their car and they’re on each side of the car. He says, what’s the problem, officer? Give me your driver license, registration, and proof of insurance. So he gave it to him. He goes back and gets on whatever, and he calls in to find who he is or whatever information he needs and he comes back. He says, what are you pulling me over for? And he says, you were speeding. And he said, no, I wasn’t speeding. He said, yes, you were, because I have you on my radar and it say you were speeding. So then I spoke up and I said, no, he wasn’t speeding. I said, that’s not true, because, I told him, I said, make sure you slow down because the police is always sitting up underneath this overpass, I said, and he told me he wasn’t and I looked at his speedo and he was going only 60 miles per hour. I said, so he wasn’t speeding. He says, yes, he was, because I have it on my radar that his going over 60 miles an hour. He asked him, well, how fast I was going? Officer said, you were going 80 miles an hour. He said, I wasn’t going no 80 miles; I wasn’t going but 60.
Now here is this argument. So I tell him, I said, man, don’t even argue with the man. You know how fast you was going; just wait until you go to court. He said, why would I sign a ticket, accepting a ticket for going 80 when I know I wasn’t going that fast? He said, when I go to court the judge is going to look at the ticket and see where I signed it and that’s what it’s going to be. The officer said, well, I’ll tell you what, you’re going to have to sign this ticket now. If you don’t, I’m going to take you to jail. So he said, I’m not going to sign the ticket. He said, if I write the ticket for $70, would you sign it? He said, no, I’m not going to sign it, because I wasn’t going over the speed limit. We hashed back and forth, back and forth.
Charles got frustrated and he drove off and the police is right behind us, man, the lights is going like you wouldn’t—I’m like, man, what are you doing? You better stop, I say, because you don’t know what these police are going to do. Finally, I talked him into stopping and the officer came up and he wasn’t irate about it. Why did you drive off? Because, he said, man, it’s frustrating. You’re trying to force me to sign a ticket saying that I was going 70 miles an hour, when you said I was going 80 at first, when I was going the speed limit. He says, I’m not going to sign that ticket. The officer told him, well, when you go to court, you have the opportunity to explain to the judge what he situation is. He says, but, see, that’s not fair. Why would I have to go to court to explain a situation when I didn’t sign a ticket saying that I was going 70 miles an hour when the judge is going to hit the gavel and I got to go and pay for it? And he says, well, that’s blind justice. And he signed the ticket and then we left and went on about our business.
When time came to go to court, he said, I lose more money—because he was an ironworker—I lose more money going to court than what I would missing work. So he says it don’t make sense for me to go to court, because it’s saying already I’m guilty, because I signed a ticket. And I’m like, yeah, that is kind of messed up. The judge is not hearing nothing that you’re saying. Anyway, he went ahead and paid the ticket so that he—as far as they was concerned, he was guilty and he was guilty anyway when he signed it.
It’s kind of a bad thing and I talked to a person and he says, well, it’s not an admission of guilt. It says down at the bottom of the ticket that it’s not an admission of guilt. But if you sign it and accept it, who do you think the police are going to believe, you or them?
I had the same thing happen to me out here in Richland. Edward Ash and I had went to the river shore back in the day. I went there to get a drink and the guy that was there, he was dancing back and forth, a little fat guy and he didn’t pay any attention to us standing at the bar. I didn’t yell at him, hey, I want a drink, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I just told him, I said, man, come on, let’s go. We got in the car and we saw Rayford Guice and Ray Andrews and they said, man, where are you going? We’re going to go down here to the bowling alley and they had some super good hamburgers with the egg on it and all of that. You know, let’s go and have a hamburger. And it’s probably about 11:30 at night.
We left out of there and we were crossing Swift. And I look down the street and I saw the State Patrol coming from where the Federal Building is. And now he’s about a block from the intersection. The light changes, just as I pull off, this guy is trying to beat the light, so he turns in front of me making a left-hand turn. So I stop right in the middle of the intersection. The guy behind me had pulled off behind me, so when he stopped, now I’m trapped in the middle of the intersection. And here the police is, now he’s about half a block or less. So then I went ahead and crossed the intersection. As soon as I cross the intersection, he throws his light on me.
He pulls me over, gets my license and all of that, and he asks me, had I been drinking? I told him, no. I said, I haven’t had a drink. I said, I went down there to the club to get a drink, as I said, and I didn’t get served, so we were going to get something to eat. He says, okay, I want you to do a sobriety test. I want you to hold your head back and put your finger on your nose and all this different crap; I did that. Then he wanted me to walk backwards up the incline of the sidewalk in that crack; so I did that. Then, he says, well, I’m going to have to write you a ticket. I said, what are you writing me a ticket for? He said failing to yield the right-of-way to an officer. I said, but I didn’t—you didn’t see that guy that turned in front of me? I said, he forced me to stop in the middle of the intersection. I said, I couldn’t back up, I said, I only had the choice but to go across the street. I said, I saw you when you was down at the Federal Building. That was two blocks away. I said, why in the world would I pull out in the front of an officer when I’m seeing you down there? He wrote me a ticket anyway.
When I went to court, officer wasn’t there. And the judge asked me how I did I plead; I told him not guilty. And so he says, well, we going to have to get him in, and so I probably stayed in court for a couple of hours before they finally got in touch with him and he came. They had the officer to get up and tell his story. He said, well, yeah, he failed to yield the right-of-way and I was blah, blah, blah, blah. Then he had me to get up and tell my story. And I told him just what I told you. I said, I saw him down the street, I went to cross the intersection, I say, and just as I start crossing the intersection, this guy was trying to make a left-hand turn and actually he ran the red light. I say, he turned right in front of me. I had to stop, I had no choice. And now I’m like in no-man’s land in the middle of the road; I said, the only choice I had was to go ahead and go across the street. I said, the officer was far enough down the street, there was no danger to him. He says, well, do you have a witness to that? I said, I sure do! Because Edward Ash that was with me was there. He says, well, you better get him up here. So he got up and told the same similar story, which was true. And so then he says, well, I guess I have no choice but to not find you guilty. I said, well, I sure appreciate that, your honor. But tell me this, since it cost me to lose a day off of work, am I going to be reimbursed for being off of work? And he told me, just like that other man had said, well, that’s blind justice. He hit the gavel, telling me to get on—he didn’t say get out of here; he just hit the gavel and the case is over, you can leave.
That’s no fair, because I told the officer, please, don’t give me no ticket, because I wasn’t doing anything wrong. So what’s up with that? It’s just like, did he not want to be wrong? Was he being racist? Because racists exist in every place that you go; it’s not just in Pasco, it’s not just in Kennewick, it’s not just in Richland; it’s in Eltopia too, it’s in Sunnyside, it’s in Prosser. I’ve been in Yakima as a teenager and had police to pull us over in the ‘60s and the ‘50s. The question is, what are you doing over here, and don’t let me catch you over here no more and stuff like that. We was afraid to drive our cars over there. We would borrow our parents’ cars or somebody else to go back up there. Because we were interested in them young ladies that was up there. And you had to go right through Union Gap and it was always in the Union Gap area where you got pulled over the majority of the time from the police. It’s not just a situation that’s here in the Tri-Cities; it’s a situation that’s everywhere. And we have to learn how to get beyond that so we can all live here together, because we’re all dependent on each other. It just doesn’t make sense to me. And I’ve lived long enough to where most stuff I could just let it slide off my back and just continue to go ahead and do my thing. I don’t have to interact with you if you don’t want to interact with me and I’m perfectly fine with that. And if do, then, hey, we okay.
Franklin: How were your experiences in other places different from the Tri-Cities? What kinds of work, housing, and social opportunities were available to you?
Johnson: Well, I won’t say Los Angeles, because when I went to Los Angeles, I had a friend of mine that owned an apartment building, which I managed for them. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, they owned an apartment building, had a 28-unit apartment building. So I worked for them managing their apartment building and stuff like that. I went to Dominguez Institute when I was down there, and had took a welding course, because I wanted to be an underwater welder. Until my instructor told me, he says, do you realize how much carbon and stuff that’s going to be in your nose when you’re down there in a bell? I’m like, no. He said, well, do you ever blow your nose when you get through welding and all the soot and the carbon coming out? I’m like, yeah. He said, well, it’s going to be way worse. So if I were you, that would be something I wouldn’t do. And he was like, as you say, a soul brother, but he was a white man. And whenever I seen him, and I still say it today, he says, what it is, what it ain’t, what it be like, bro. [LAUGHTER] I thought that was so cool. That was the thing that he told me. And I said, well, I want to be an underwater welding. He said, no, Aubrey, you don’t want to do that. I’m telling you that these are the conditions that you’re going to be doing. And if you’re going to do anything, just go and get you a job, but you don’t want to do that. He was a person that had my interests at heart. I really liked that. Like I said, I worked for my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law when I was there.
When I moved to Vallejo, California, I had a girlfriend that was well-established and she was involved in politics and stuff, and she was retired at an early age and so I lived with her for a while. And then I went to work for a moving company, Cozy Moving and Storage. And I drove truck, moved furniture, until I got my back all racked up moving a piano. Because they never did want to fix their junk and stuff, and like, hey, you need to fix that truck, you need to do this. I was driving a diesel truck and the passenger’s seat actually had a metal band that you band boxes with to hold the seat to the floor. And when you stop, the seat would do this, rock. I told my supervisor, I said, you know what? If I ever have an emergency where I have to slam on them brakes real hard, if that band busts, that guy is going to go through the windshield. That guy drove that truck over a year in ‘65 and they never did fix that seat. And all they had to do, they could either weld the frame to the thing that was on the floor—well, we don’t have to time to fix that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It was always one of them old kind of excuses. It was like, your value really wasn’t worth anything to them, other than moving their furniture and getting stuff done.
When I finally hurt my back moving one of them pianos just like that, the upright. Me and another guy, we got it tipped back bringing it out of a storage vault and then he let it go. It had that strain on my back and my hand was on that thing, I couldn’t even turn that loose. And I had to raise that piano back and it messed up three of my vertebrae, my L4, 5, 6 and my lower lumbar. I ended up moving because my mom was sick, I went through the state industrial deal, and I went to beauty school and that.
But down there, I don’t know if it was a black thing, I don’t think it was; it was hard to find a job, it just took a long time, especially when you relocate from one area to the other area. Like I said, girlfriend she was well-established, so she had a nice house and all of that so I didn’t really see the poverty thing in LA. I very seldom went over to the east side in Watts or over in Compton.
The few times that I did go through there coming from school, you could see a lot of the destruction that had happened back in the ‘60s, where the buildings and stuff was burnt down. They didn’t go back in and redo it. They had built a project stuff, because I was looking for them to reclaim that whole area. Because that area used to be really central, was really popular back in the ‘30s, and ‘40s, and the ‘50s. It had night clubs and theaters, et cetera on it. When it got burned down, I thought to myself, they will come back in, and an urban renewal type situation will come in and buy all of this vacant land along the strip and then redevelop it, which is maybe something that’s coming in the future. I don’t know what’s happened to it since I’ve left, those are the things as far as housing.
The police—psssh, was murder on you in California. I tell you, they had Chief Daryl Gates’ battering ram. That was his thing. They even had a song out about him. The police was extremely hard on you. I had an officer to pull me over—as a matter of fact, I was going with a Caucasian girl at the time. And I won’t say it was just because she was in the car with me. Even with the black police, is the thing that got me. He’s got, his co-person is this Caucasian police officer. I said, is he trying to be extra hard on me because she’s in the car with him, to show her, hey, I’m equal on black people such as I am, on anybody else? Because he had no reason to pull me over. And he says, well, where are you going? No, he says, where are you coming from? I said, I’m coming from home. He said, where do you live? I said, I live at 4044 Gelber Place, which was right up the street. He says, here on your registration, it says that you live in Washington. I said, well, yeah, I do. He said, I just asked you where you live. I said, well, listen, I got to live somewhere. I said, I’m down here going to school. So it don’t require me to change my driver’s license or registration as long as I’m out of the state every 90 days, I said, I go back home and then I come back. He made me prove to him that I was going to school, which I had my welding gear and all my credentials and stuff was in the trunk and I showed it to him.
When he got through looking at that, the thing that surprised me, he told me—and it’s a black officer, now—don’t let me catch you back over here, because if I do, that car is going to belong to me. I said why you’re going to take my car? He just turned and walked away and got in his car and drove off. But I tell you what, every time I left the house, man, I was looking for him. Because if he had impounded my vehicle for whatever reason it was, it was going to take an act of congress for me to take it out and money. Because all they got to do is move it and take it over to Inglewood, and I’m living over in the Baldwin Hills area—I don’t know where it’s at. Because LA is build up in different precincts in the city and stuff. So if you’re over in Compton, they got a whole system over there, if you’re in Inglewood, they have police station over there, and if you’re in Baldwin Hills, they got a police station on there. In different areas, depending on—they can shift you around, they shift your stuff around. So you just can’t say, it’s going to be there. So if it’s there for four or five days and they charging you $35 or $45 a day to get your car out plus the initial towing fee, suddenly it costs you $200 or $300 for no reason.
Anyway, I hate to just babble on, but it’s just—to answer the question, it’s like that, and most of the people was living in, in LA, was the jungle. And all the black people that had moved in to all these real nice apartments that the Caucasian people used to live in. They had moved out into the Valley and that was being bought up and renovated in a real nice area. The other people was, like I said, over in Watts and Compton. I never really went over there so I didn’t really have a chance to see what that was like or their project.
Franklin: I just have two questions left, kind of big reflective questions. What would you like future generations to know about living in the Tri-Cities during the Cold War?
Johnson: The contributions that we as black people made, to help build up, and the sacrifices to help build this project out here. Because we did a lot of the basis for the reactors and stuff. We poured the floors and did all that hard menial work. Not saying that Caucasian people couldn’t do it, but it was a lot of back-breaking work that you had to get in there to do. Then you had to do the rebar and all of that. It was kind of like we were black gold, in essence that we were very important to the contributions that we made and it probably would’ve taken a lot longer to do what we did. You don’t take a mule to the Kentucky Derby. He can’t outrun the thoroughbred. So it’s just like me and the guy that is digging the ditch. I dug the whole ditch, because every time you look around, he got a cigarette in his mouth. I could out-work him on any given day, because it was something that I had to do, because I had the motivation, because I was trying to be able to put food on the table, I had to pay rent. With him it was like, oh well. He had somebody that was looking out for him; I didn’t have nobody looking out for me.
For our future generation, they need to know the contribution that we had, and why we had to work so hard. It wasn’t just to put food on our table and clothes on our backs and for shelter. We had to work hard because that was all that was there for us to be able to do. We was the mule for that generation. When they didn’t have tractors, we had to go out there and plow. They didn’t have enough strong-backed people to get in there and do it with a song in their mouth and in their heart. You go to the resource that you have.
They recruited, from what I’ve heard, and what I’ve read over the past, they recruited black people from the South to come here and work out there in the Hanford Area. That’s how a lot of them got out here, was through that. And then some came, and then they would go back home, or call back home, or write back home and tell them how good it is. Hey, man, check it out, I’m making 65 cent an hour. Man, that’s more money than I ever made. I’m only making 25 cents an hour out here. I’m going to send you $10 and you get on that bus and you come. So they’d leave their family, they’d come out here and they work, and they make up enough money to send back and get their family and then they’d move out here.
Franklin: Is there anything else that you would like to mention related to migration, segregation and civil rights and how they impacted your life in the Tri-Cities?
Johnson: Something that we don’t want to have to go back through. I hope that I’ve helped lay the foundation and the black people that gave contributions, too, to where if you read the story, you don’t have to experience it, it’s like listening as someone else. My friend told me at one time, he said if you listen to what I’m trying to tell you, you won’t have to experience it, so just take my word for it. That’s what I did. When I bought my first house on 17th, I had just got a settlement from Franklin County when I got my foot crushed and I think they gave me $4,000 or something like that. And my friend which was an older man, he told me, don’t take your money and spend it on buying a car. He say, go and buy you a piece of the rock. I looked at him and I said, what is a piece of the rock? What are you talking about? He said, buy you a piece of America. I said, what do you mean? He said, go and buy you some property or buy you a home. He said, because that car is going to depreciate in a few years and won’t be worth nothing. He said, but that house or that land will appreciate, and it will always be of value to you. The longer you keep it, the more value is going to go up. His last words was, take my word for it, so you won’t have to experience not doing it. Because I already did and I’ve laid the groundwork for you, so just take my word for it. I looked at him for a while and then when I got my money, I took half of it out and went and bought me a car and then I took the other half of the money and I went and bought me a house.
Let me tell you something, I still own that house and I just said, thank god for that. Because I see so many of my buddies that don’t have a house and they’re still paying rent. That was in ’72. I’m like, wow, that was the best piece of advice that I could ever have had, from a person that already went through getting to where I want to be.
So for the young people that’s coming along, I hope that they’ll be able to realize the sacrifices and stuff that everybody did, so that they can have it much better. With my daughter, I try to educate her all the time about how it was so that she can see how it is, so that she can move along and take advantage of all the advancements that’s at her fingertips. And for her to educate her children, so that they can move along and get better chances in life, so that they don’t have to go back through the struggle that they went through. God forbid if things continue to go the way that it is, is that we will regress, the whole United States of America.
Let me say this before we discontinue or get done. I had went to the Caribbean on a cruise, my girlfriend and I. I think Jamaica and they were showing us all these plantation—rum, places that they had. We didn’t see any of the cane fields and all that kind of stuff, but they showed these old plantation rum factories that they had, and how they had the channels for the water to go through them. And you can actually walk into them and see all of that.
The guy that was giving us the tour, he started laughing and then he says, you know, when we want comedy, we watch the news of the United States. That’s the comedy to us, and he started laughing. My girlfriend’s daughter told him, she said, listen, we’re not here to hear that. We’re here for you to be a guided tour guide and just tell us about what we’re seeing and what we’re going through, and what it was, et cetera, et cetera. We don’t need to hear that.
And with saying that, the United States right now is the laughingstock of the whole world. Everybody is looking at us when they used to look up to us. And it’s that we have got to make a change. And if you see something that is being done wrong and you don’t do something about it, you are as much of the problem as anybody else. As we become adults, we all know the difference between right and wrong. It would be wrong for me to do something to somebody that’s not done anything to me.
Those are the things that I tried to instill in my daughter. Because the rest of my kids—well, all of them are grown, my daughter, she’s 27, will be 27 on her birthday. But I try to instill that into her so that she won’t have all that negative stuff to look at. She have nothing but positive stuff. She wanted to be a veterinarian when she was going to school. Love animals and still do. And I would tell her all the time, now, this is what you do. All those Caucasian kids that you’re going to school with that want to be doctors and stuff, you take the same classes that they take. And that’s going to be your guidebook to get you into college, to where you’ll be able to be that veterinarian. Because you’ll have taken all the required courses. Because their parents know what classes for them to take, and they’re going to make sure that they get them. I don’t know. She was like, well, yeah, Dad, that’s what I’ll do. She was honor roll student and all that kind of stuff.
She was right up the ladder until she got right at the end of high school. I don’t know what got I her or got in her mind, it’s just like, she lost focus. And it seemed like—you know, and I should know; this is what I think it was, but I don’t know. We were staying in 17th and all of her friends were Hispanic and a few Caucasian, and a couple Asian. Very few black kids. When she started going to high school, it was like a whole new world opened up for her, to be around the black kids and her being raised semi-white, and having a whole different outlook, and the culture is like, all this is new to me, and if it’s new, I want to do it, I want to be around it, I want to see what it’s all like. And it’s all fun and she’s trying to solve the problems for everybody else is that she let herself go lacking. So then she lost her vison, and once she lost her vision, then being a veterinarian is something that just flew out the window.
I’m like, wow, I say, that’s too bad. We got to stay focused on what we want to do, don’t let nobody deter you from doing that. You got to have somebody to help you along the way to put you in to the things that you need so that that vehicle will get you to where you want to go. She’s doing okay now; she just started a new job today with Charter College as an intake counselor. She’s doing okay. She was working for T-Mobile as a consultant there, selling phones, and she did quite well with it. But with this job she wanted to work as hard, and she’ll make as much money, if not more. Because she was doing pretty good; she’s only 27 and she was making $50,000-something last year selling cell phones. But man, you look at all the hours that she worked for minimum wage. But then her commission check would be the thing to take her over the top and make her the money.
The thing that got me is that—which I didn’t know much about it is that, out of the commission check, they take a higher percentage of taxes out of it. And I’m like, how do you know where your taxes is going with that? I mean, it’s on there, but how do you know? Okay, they take 8% normally and they’re going to take 10% or 20%. How do you know that they pay that 20% into whatever fund they said? They just put it on a piece of paper and tell you that. You don’t know. Is they taking that money and say, okay, we’re going to split this up between our managers over here and then we’re going to take this other 10% percent and put it into this fund over here? You really don’t know. So I encouraged—I said, you know what? You need to get in contact with the IRS and tell them, hey, they was taking out 15% of my money because I made x amount of dollars. Because it seems like you being double-taxed. Because the IRS is going to get you when you go into different tax brackets. So why is there a different tax on commission? I don’t understand it. It might very well be. But I just don’t understand—it’s almost like a double standard because you don’t really know what’s going on with your money. It just kind of like concerns me. I told her the other day, I said maybe it’s something that I need to look into for you. Because she is just kind of passive-aggressive, if you don’t do nothing to me, I won’t do nothing to you and, Dad, I’d rather let it go and not be bothered with it. Because you know what, I got another job now and no big deal. I’m going to make more money with them, you know, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, yeah, I see what you’re saying, but--
Franklin: Aubrey, thank you so much for coming and interviewing with us today. It’s been a wonderful interview.
Johnson: It was very enlightening for me.
Johnson: You can see I got the gift of gab. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah, no doubt. Well, thank you so much.