Interview with Reverend Jeannette Sparks
McNary Lock and Dam (Or.)
A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Reverend Jeannette Sparks on May 5, 2018. The interview is being conducted at New Hope Methodist Church—
Jeannette Sparks: Missionary Baptist Church.
Franklin: --Missionary Baptist Church, sorry. New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. I will be talking with Reverend Jeannette about her experiences living in the Tri-Cities. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
Sparks: You know to put the “Reverend” on it, and then my full name is J-E-A-N-N-E-T-T-E. And the last name is S-P-A-R-K-S.
Franklin: Great, and thank you so much, Reverend. How did you come to the Tri-Cities area?
Sparks: How did I come where?
Franklin: How did you come here? And when did you come here and why?
Sparks: Oh, I was born in ’38.
Sparks: And my dad, we lived in Hermiston, Oregon for a few months, because my dad worked on the McNary Dam and John Day Dam. And then he bought the property here for his family and his mom.
Franklin: What year did you come to Hermiston?
Sparks: I came to Hermiston in ’48, mm-hmm.
Franklin: What did your dad do on the dam?
Sparks: We didn’t do—my dad went down, he was put in the big tubes with Mr. Shaw, and they’d go down and screw the boats in the water, until one day they had one of the cranes going across and it fell off and hit my dad in the head while he was down in the water.
Franklin: Oh, no.
Franklin: Did he die?
Sparks: No, he survived. They had to wear those steel brick—you know, those steel hats? And the steel hat even had an inner lining in it. But it just shook him up for a while.
Franklin: Oh, wow, wow.
Sparks: Mm-hmm, yep.
Franklin: And when did you come to Pasco?
Sparks: We moved to Pasco—we was in Hermiston for three years, and then Dad say he didn’t want us to stay in Hermiston, because he was moving around a lot. So he moved us to Tri-Cities, here to Pasco. And I went to elementary school where they have Pasco—across from the court house, is that the Pasco City Hall—no, it ain’t the city hall where you go pay your utilities. I went there. I went to elementary school and then I went to junior high school there. And then I went to Pasco High School. Then Sue Williams and myself, we played basketball, and we had to be on the guards when we went to Kennewick to play Kennewick. Because during that time, Kennewick, didn’t allow no blacks across the bridge at a certain time. But we’d beat them every time. [LAUGHTER] Yep.
Franklin: Did you ever have any trouble in Kennewick?
Sparks: No, Daddy didn’t believe in that. We never had any problem going to school. And then when we moved to Pasco, Daddy bought the property on the corner and two houses for—because he put his mom in one house, and our house was on that upstairs/downstairs on the corner of 712 on Douglas Street there. That’s where we grew up at, mm-hmm. We grew up right there.
Franklin: Where were you born?
Sparks: I was born in a little place called Kildare, Texas. My dad said, this wasn’t where he wanted his family to be. And he took his mom and all of us—I think it was just five of us then. Me, Opal, Bobby, and Thee and Donnell. It was five of us. We rode the train all the way from Texas. We was on the train when the high water—when they had the flood in St. Paul, Minnesota. We had to be there for weeks and weeks and weeks. But during those days, when you travel, see, they packed lunch. You wasn’t buying all that stuff they had in the kitchen. So my grandmother had a box, and, oh, that box was nothing like this, wasn’t even this wide. We had food all the way to Hermiston, Oregon. Didn’t have to buy a thing. Didn’t even get hungry. And you know, the peoples in Oregon were so—they were so much different than the people in Pasco, when we moved to Pasco.
Franklin: How so?
Sparks: Well, the peoples in Oregon, they didn’t act like you was any different from them. But when you come to Pasco, they say you can’t go across, can’t be caught across the bridge at dark, and Daddy say, well, now you have to obey their laws. And when we went there, we would have to be guarded. When we was going to school and playing basketball, you see? But all that done changed so much, ‘til—[LAUGHTER]
They used to have a sign at the bridge. My daddy helped build the bridge. And they had a sign up there that said, No blacks in Kennewick after dark. They used to have that sign over there. But they eventually moved the sign. I wasn’t in Washington when they did it. I wasn’t here. [LAUGHTER] I married and moved to California.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Sparks: Mm-hmm, yep.
Franklin: What were your first impressions when you arrived in Pasco?
Sparks: Well, it was—it wasn’t like Hermiston; it was like different. Because Dad would always tell us, you can’t go so-and-so-and-so, you couldn’t do this, you can’t do that, and you couldn’t—you know. But in Hermiston, it was no different. But we hated—we moved to Pasco. My Daddy says, it’s gonna get better. He kept telling us, it’s gonna get better. Gonna get better, gonna get better. And then we got old enough, we went to the grape field and helped pull the Welch’s grapes. Went and hoed sugar beets out on Road 68 where they got all them houses out there. It used to be nothing but fields. And you talking about hot. It is not hot here like it used to be. It used to be hot here. It ain’t hot like that no more.
Franklin: I guess there were a lot less trees, huh?
Sparks: Mm-hmm. And we had—when we went to school in Pasco, we didn’t have no problem, mm-mm. Nope.
Franklin: It seems like a lot of black families left Kildare to come here. Are you related to anyone else that came up here?
Sparks: The Daniels is my cousins.
Franklin: So Vanis?
Sparks: Vanis, all them, mm-hmm, that’s my cousins on my dad’s side. And their uncle, CJ Mitchell? CJ Mitchell came up here with my dad.
Franklin: So you’re related to the Mitchells as well. Second cousin?
Sparks: Mm-hmm, on my dad’s side.
Franklin: What was your dad’s name?
Sparks: Artis Miles, A-R-T-I-S M-I-L-E-S. And my mom was Bernice Weaver, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Great. What was the hardest aspect of life in this area to adjust to?
Sparks: Well, you know, when you’re young, you don’t understand that—in Hermiston we didn’t have no problem. We mixed with all the other kids. But when you come to Pasco, we was hauled off, they was hauled off somewhere, and I never could figure out why all the blacks was over here and the rest of them was over here. It took me a while to get used to that. Because I wasn’t used to it. But I learned to get used to it, and then we had to walk to school, had to walk from the east side here to the Pasco High School on the other side.
Franklin: And go under the tracks?
Sparks: Mm-hmm, we had to go up under the underpass. And when we go under there, we’d be saying, aloha. [LAUGHTER] But after everything started changing—the Tri-Cities have changed tremendously. Because I see blacks all in Kennewick and everywhere. And my mom’s sisters and them, they lived all in Richland. Because they wouldn’t allow no black in Kennewick, so they lived in Richland. My cousin, CW Brown and Norris Brown, they used to call him the Sweet Georgia Brown. The Richland Bomber used to beat every team that was here, even Pasco team. Mm-hmm. Yep.
Franklin: Yeah, I’ve heard about their basketball skills.
Sparks: Oh, yeah. The Richland Bombers. My two cousins was on that team, and boy, I’ll tell you, Norris Brown and CW Brown. And I mean, they’d win every game they had.
Franklin: They had a pretty big rivalry between Richland and Pasco, right?
Sparks: Oh, yeah. Yes, yes, yes, mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I was only a cheerleader for a while, and then I said, no, I can go into something else. [LAUGHTER] Because it was okay as long as they was in the Tri-Cities, but when they had to go to Yakima or somewhere else, Dad’d always say, no, y’all ain’t going, because you ain’t got no good supervisors, so y’all ain’t going. And we didn’t go.
Franklin: Because he was kind of protective, huh?
Sparks: Mm-hmm, yup.
Franklin: What do you know about your parents’ lives before they came to the Tri-Cities?
Sparks: Well, my daddy was a farmer in Kildare, Texas.
Franklin: He was a foreman?
Sparks: He worked corn, peas—
Franklin: Oh, farmer, farmer, gotcha.
Sparks: A farmer. And he used to tell us, he said, when Daddy make enough money, Daddy going to move you from here. He used to tell us that all the time, and finally one day, my dad, CJ Mitchell, and, oh, I forget his other cousin. Oh, he’s dead and gone, god. They still have got the house there, up from me, on Douglas. Oh!
Franklin: It’s not a Daniels is it?
Sparks: The Daniels?
Franklin: Willie, is it?
Sparks: Well, the Daniels came on up, too. Daddy helped—the Daniels came up with Daddy, and all of them, they all came up and start working here. My dad worked with Mr. Shaw on the dams. McNary Dam, and, oh, I think it was about three or four dams he helped on, and he got hurt on the John Day Dam, down there, going to The Dalles, Oregon.
Franklin: Oh, wow. What was it about the work up here that drew your dad and his cousins and things up here?
Sparks: Well, my mom used to work in the Salishan. You know anything about Salishan?
Sparks: My mom used to work at the Salishan, where they buff sheets for the Army. You know anything about that?
Sparks: Yeah, my mom used to work at Salishan where, they call it bucking sheets. And I know what that was, that means you have to fold them a certain way. For the Army boys. And then when we was in Hermiston, they had an Army base not too far from where we lived. They’d come right by the house to get to the Army base. But my life growing up with my family was, oh, it was just out of sight. Dad didn’t let us go out to play with nobody, because he said there was enough of us we could play in the yard together. And that’s what we did. This was our recreation all the time, church. Vacation Bible School, Sunday school. And oh, how I thank him today, for him, because some of them that’s my age, oh, I look at them today, and just—and they still haven’t accepted the Lord. And I wonder, what’s going to happen when judgment day come? Mm-hmm.
Franklin: Was the work different up here? Did the work pay better up here? Is that why so many men, so many people left Kildare to come here?
Sparks: Well, my dad said that in order for them to progress, you just can’t stay in the same—you’ve got to span yourself out and see where the work is at. Because, see, when they was in Texas, all they talked about fielding and growing corn and all of that stuff, and then they’d take it to market and sell it. And Daddy said, no, that wasn’t for him. So he expanded out. I think the six of them came up in a T-model Ford. Six of them came up in a T-model Ford. CJ Mitchell and all them, they came up in a—and they worked at Hanford.
Franklin: Did your father work out on the Site?
Sparks: Oh, no, my father worked on the bridges.
Sparks: Yeah, he worked on—him and Mr. Shaw. I don’t know why he loved it, going under that, in that big tube, down, way down at the foot of the—putting boats in the—he loved it there. And we couldn’t—if Daddy was late getting in, we’d all get in a huddle and start praying, hoping nothing done happened to our Daddy. Mm-hmm, yup.
Franklin: And so did you attend this church here when you got here?
Sparks: Oh, yeah, this is where I attended—I went to this church when the church was on—what’s that, Beech Street? Beech Street.
Bobby Sparks: What year was it though? What year?
Sparks: Oh, and then after Beech Street, we used to have church at the Elks Club. It used to be at the Elks Club. And then when they built this church up here, I was here. I got my shovel, went and dug the first dirt out here. Mm-hmm, yep.
Franklin: What role does church play in the community?
Sparks: What who?
Franklin: What role did church play in the African American community?
Sparks: In this community?
Sparks: Well, our mission, we go out and help those that can’t help themself. We feed the hungry. A lot of time they bring, sometimes it’s three and four box loads of people out on the street and they just bring them here, senior citizens, and we cook food and feed them here in this dining room. We’re missionaries, we do all of that.
And we have a sweet pastor. He’s another one, he loves having everybody. [LAUGHTER] Yep. And I know this church, I don’t know about the other churches, but every Wednesday night we have Bible study and prayer meeting. And I mean, he teaches the Word, and it is awesome. We was here last night, oh, it was so good. Reading the book of Acts now. Yep, we done made it to the book of Acts. We just thank God—you know, it’s a blessing when you have a pastor that likes to teach those who want to be taught. So when he get here and preach it, then they can witness to it. But if you don’t know what he’s saying, you cannot witness to it. Because you don’t know if it’s in the Bible or not. And he’s strictly from the Word of God in the Bible.
Franklin: Does the church play a special role in the black community?
Sparks: Oh, yeah.
Franklin: Could you talk about that, historically?
Sparks: We goes out, the missionaries, we go out, we help the homeless, and if any of them come in the church that need help, we always help them. If they’re trying to get a place, if they need clothes, if they need food, we do that. And you’d be surprised to see how many boxes of food lined up here in the kitchen, where they take it out and give it to needy peoples. And then the peoples tell other peoples, and they just come to the church to pick up the box. A lot of them pick up the boxes, you don’t see them no more, but you continue to pray for them. One day they will turn around, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions that people brought from the places they came from?
Sparks: Well, I don’t know. I know one thing they had there. Bobby, what is that they had in Kildare? Oh, the Juneteenth.
Franklin: What’s that?
Sparks: That’s Juneteenth.
Franklin: The humanitarian award. Can you see that, Tom? Can you tell me about—can you talk about Juneteenth for those viewing this that may not know about it?
Sparks: We have it in the park over here, at the park on this side. I always say on the east side. The park on the east side, it used to be houses all down in there, but they made a big park down in there. And then we talk about the old time, we talk about our history and where we come from, how we got here.
Franklin: What does Juneteenth celebrate?
Sparks: Juneteenth celebrates our history. It’s our history. And this here, see that? Isn’t that a community award?
Franklin: Yeah, the Juneteenth Community Council.
Sparks: I was a person that, I didn’t care who you was, or what color you was, or where you came from, if you needed help, I would go help. Because we are all God’s children. And God don’t have no respective person so why do we? We supposed to be able to help everybody, regardless. And that’s me. A lot of time, I go—if I go downtown and see somebody on the street needs some help, I’ll holler and say, hey, you want a hamburger? Come on. When it’s in you, it’s in you. And it’s been building in you from knee-high to adult, all the way up. We was taught from both sides, from the Weaver side, the Davis side, the Miles side, we was taught. And that’s what we supposed to do for one another, we shouldn’t have one respective person who we help regardless. Because when God call your name, he going to tell you, remember that so-and-so-and-so you passed by and you didn’t help him? I don’t want Him to say that to me. I don’t want Him to set apart from me I know you’re not. I want Him to know me, you see?
Franklin: Yeah. What about—I asked you earlier about traditions that people brought with them from the places they came from. But what about food? Did people bring a certain culinary or food culture with them from Kildare to here?
Sparks: Well, they packed food, they fried chicken and they had cornbread. And then they made a lot of muffins, a lot of tea cakes, and a lot of people do that now when we have our gathering here at the church, people bring food that we used to eat. Old-fashioned Sunday. That takes us back to our grandparents and great-grandparents. Make dishes and bring them. And I mean, it seem like that Sunday at the church, we have to put chairs out for peoples to sit. But it should be like that every Sunday. Everybody should appreciate where they come from and what the Lord is doing for them and what other peoples are helping them with. You know? Some’ll come today and you don’t see them no more for a while until they need something. But you don’t turn them away; you still give it to them. That’s going to be between them and God. You see?
Franklin: Yeah. What about sports? Did anyone bring any sports traditions with them?
Sparks: Oh, I played basketball. I played basketball for Pasco High School and tennis, played tennis. Mm-hmm. Volleyball. Me and Sue Williams.
Franklin: Were there opportunities available here that were not available where you or your parents came from?
Sparks: Well, yeah! A lot of things here available that wasn’t available. Because that’s why my dad moved from Texas, because he said, uh-uh. He wasn’t born in no backdoor and he wasn’t going to stay here and continue to go in no backdoor to shop. That’s when we got the train and moved to Hermiston, Oregon.
Franklin: So segregation was a pushing factor?
Sparks: Oh, it was too much. And Dad said he wasn’t going to raise his family there. And he didn’t. Let me see. Him, CJ Mitchell, and cousin Vanis Daniels, and all of them loaded up in a T-model Ford.
Franklin: How was housing different from here compared to Kildare?
Sparks: Well, I tell you what. In Kildare, the blacks stayed in they position, and the whites stayed in theirs. And the blacks never had a place to shop; they had to shop at the white store. And if you wasn’t light-skinned, you couldn’t go in the front door; you had to go in the back door. That’s just the way it was. And my mom and his mom, they all could go in there, because they looked like they was white anyway, mm-hmm.
Franklin: What about education? What grades did your parents go through? What was their education level?
Sparks: I graduated from Pasco High School.
Franklin: But your parents?
Sparks: Oh, my parents?
Sparks: Oh, my dad didn’t graduate, but my mom graduated. My mama graduated. Because my dad had—they had to do work in the field and work for—my dad and them was Uncle Tom then because they had to work in the field. Daddy say he was sick of that. Mm-mm. They was getting out. And that’s why all them got together and decided to drive a T-model Ford to Hermiston, Oregon.
Franklin: In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation and racism?
Sparks: Well, none of the opportunities have lightened up a whole lot. Because when we first moved here, you couldn’t go across the bridge at night. If you did, the peoples in Kennewick would beat you up. Dad would always tell us, when Miss Booth take you all to Kennewick—and he would tell Miss Booth, you keep my girls with you. Because I don’t want nothing to happen to them. And she did, too. And they was teachers that are all Pasco High School. When we went to junior high we didn’t have no problem, because, you know. And then one of my cousins went with a girl named Marsha. Mm-hmm, yup.
Franklin: Could you describe any interactions you or your parents had with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities?
Sparks: Do I do what?
Franklin: Could you describe any interactions that you or your parents had with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities area?
Sparks: We ain’t had no problem. Mm-mm.
Franklin: Did you ever go to Richland to visit your cousins?
Sparks: Oh, yeah, that’s as far as we went: to they homes.
Franklin: How was Richland different from Pasco?
Sparks: Well, Richland was nice. It was Kennewick. Kennewick. Never had no problem with Richland. It was only Kennewick. And Kennewick didn’t allow any blacks over there after dark. They didn’t care if they was light-skinned or black-skinned or whatever. You wasn’t—and they used to have it on the bridge there.
Franklin: Yeah. You mentioned that you went to Pasco High School. Where did you go to elementary and middle school?
Sparks: Where you pay the water bill over here across from the court house? You know what?
Tom Hungate: City hall. City hall.
Sparks: The courthouse? That’s where I went to elementary school at.
Franklin: Okay. So you didn’t go to Whittier?
Sparks: No, I didn’t go to Whittier. They wouldn’t even have a bus to come over here and pick us up until my dad and them finally got a bus to come pick us—we had to walk.
Franklin: Can you tell me, how did your dad and others get a bus here?
Sparks: Well, they kept having meetings with the city, having meeting with the city, having meeting with the city, and finally they started the buses to come here. And the bus used to pick us up at Whittier Elementary School. But see, Whittier Elementary School is not there anymore. Elementary school is further up. But elementary school was there before you go under the underpass. That’s where the elementary school was. And it was houses there. I look where they have done put all these factories over here and there wasn’t nothing but a lot of houses over here, you know. And all the houses over here were mostly black on this side of town. All black families lived on this side of the underpass. And now they done put all factories over here.
Franklin: Part of the redevelopment.
Sparks: Yup, they done put a lot of factories over here.
Franklin: How did segregation and racism affect your education?
Sparks: None whatsoever.
Franklin: Okay, who were some of the people who influenced you as a child?
Sparks: Encouraged me when I was a child?
Sparks: Well, I don’t know if Mr. Sundale was still living.
Franklin: Who was he?
Sparks: He was a teacher. And he said, no matter what, you get your education and you can look back on them. Mr. Sundale. Miss Stiggers. Miss Stiggers was a good—she’d always tell you, your education will take you a long ways. And Mr. One-eyed Harper. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Did he really have one eye?
Sparks: Yup. He had a marble eye, but he only had one eye he could see out of.
Franklin: And he was another teacher?
Sparks: He was another teacher, mm-hmm. Miss Stanley was, she say, your education, if you get a good education, it’ll take you a long ways in the world. And that was true.
Franklin: When did you graduate high school?
Sparks: I graduated in—oh, god, I graduated from Pasco High School. I don’t know what year. I should’ve bought that book, huh? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Did you go to college?
Sparks: I went to CBC for a while.
Franklin: What did you study there?
Sparks: Well, mostly, I went to theological seminaries.
Franklin: Where was that?
Sparks: In California and a little bit here, before I went to California. I went to theological seminaries for my—to continue in my ministry.
Franklin: What made you want to go into church leadership?
Sparks: What did what?
Franklin: What drove you to go into church leadership?
Sparks: Because when we was growing up, Dad always told us, you can always depend on God when you can’t depend on nobody else. That’s the man I wanted to be serving, was somebody I could depend on. And my daddy kept us in serving the Lord all the time. We never could go to birthday parties, nobody birthday parties. He said it was enough of us to have a birthday party in the yard. And I thank him for that. When they built this church here, my dad was one of the deacons. We was in everything. We had a lot of plays that we used to put on when we was growing up. Old-fashioned Sundays and all of that. We used to dress up like they did in the olden days, sing the old hymns like they did in the olden days, mm-hmm. And I just love it, you know.
My little Sunday school students, I just love them so much. And I tell them, what your grades is in school? Let me see your report card. And they let me see—they bring that report card and let me see it. And sometime I say, here’s your few bucks you can get you a big hamburger and some French fries.
You know, it was done for me when I was growing up, and you just carry it on. And you don’t know what will help. I imagine the peoples and things gave it to me never thought that I would be a minister. But I loved this church. Loved to sing. All that. And my mom used to sing in the choir. My mom used to sing in the choir, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Could you sing one of the old songs?
Franklin: That people used to sing, yeah.
Sparks: [singing] Guide me over, great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.
Franklin: Thank you, that was really wonderful. So I wanted to shift into talking about civil rights activities in the Tri-Cities.
Sparks: Some what?
Franklin: Civil rights activities in the Tri-Cities? You mentioned that you left the Tri-Cities area for a while. When did you leave?
Sparks: Leave what?
Franklin: Here, Pasco.
Sparks: Oh, after I married. In ’57.
Franklin: And when did you come back?
Sparks: I’d come back every year.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Sparks: My husband and I, we moved to California. But every year, he promised me when I told my mom, he said, every year she can come back and spend the summer with you.
Sparks: And he kept that promise until he died, mm-hmm.
Franklin: How long did you live in California?
Sparks: Oh, God, how old is Chris? 60-something years.
Bobby Sparks: Yeah.
Sparks: I just moved back here about 12 years ago.
Franklin: Oh, okay, okay.
Sparks: That was when my husband got sick and we moved. He wanted to be back home, so we moved back here and then I ended up on dialysis, and when I’d get off of dialysis they’d drop me off over there at Avalon, and I’d spend the rest of the evening with him, and then I’d come home and I’d make sure on my day off, I’d go to Avalon and give him his shower and feed him and everything. And we was married for 57 years, almost—in two months it’d be 58 years. That’s a long time to be with one man, ain’t it? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yes, it is. When you were here, what were the major civil rights issues for African Americans in the Tri-Cities?
Sparks: Well, you know, when I was here, my dad was involved in that. Him, and Mr. Vanis Daniels—oh boy, what was the other heavyset man lived on—CJ Mitchell, Primmer Brown, let me see who else. Katie Barton, Mother Katie Barton. She stayed on it all the time, Katie Barton did. And she was the one, Katie Barton was the one that took that sign off the bridge.
Sparks: Uh-huh. Where it says, no blacks allowed. She went and took that sign off the bridge.
Franklin: When was that?
Sparks: Katie Barton?
Franklin: When was that?
Sparks: That’s when I was going to junior high school.
Franklin: Oh, okay, so it came down in the ‘50s?
Sparks: Mm-hmm, back in the ‘50s. Because Miss Booth—because I played basketball, me and Sue Williams. Oh, Mr. Williams was involved, too, in helping. Mr. Joe Williams, Mr. Joe Bush, Daddy, Vanis Daniels, all of them, they was involved in getting stuff together, you know.
Franklin: What kinds of things were they involved in?
Sparks: In getting the civil rights to be like it should. Trying to let peoples know the world is just not belongs to the whites or the light-skinned; it belongs to all the peoples created under God, one nation, one God. And that’s what they was doing. They finally got it through.
Franklin: Were there any big issues that people worked on that stand out to you?
Sparks: Because they didn’t want any blacks in Kennewick. That was a big issue. They didn’t want any blacks in Kennewick. And if you caught—you couldn’t even be caught over there after dark, even if you worked over there.
Franklin: Was housing or sidewalks an issue for folks?
Sparks: Well, you couldn’t—in Kennewick, you couldn’t be caught in Kennewick after dark.
Franklin: What about in east Pasco, was there a lack of services in east Pasco?
Sparks: No, we didn’t have no problem over here. No problem whatsoever.
Franklin: What about in employment?
Franklin: In employment, getting jobs.
Sparks: Oh, they was able to get jobs. They was able to get jobs at Hanford. All of them, a lot of them worked at Hanford. My momma, when we lived in Seattle, my mom worked in what they call, a place called Salishan. That was bucking sheets. They had to do the sheets for the them to buckle, fold the plastic on them, and bag them up and put them on the market for sale. That’s why mom did.
Franklin: Besides removing the sign, you said Katie Barton helped that, were there any other notable successes of the civil rights movement in the Tri-Cities?
Sparks: Oh, yeah, a lot of black people living in Kennewick now. [LAUGHTER] But there’s nothing wrong with Kennewick, like it used to be. Everybody just is nice and—you know. The younger generation that came along after the old generation, a whole lot changed. It was the older generation. But when the younger generation started coming in, and my cousin and them were going and playing basketball, and we’d go over there for cheerleaders and all that kind of stuff, the younger generation changed Kennewick. Not the older. The younger generation changed Kennewick. Because they wasn’t having all that, mm-mm.
Franklin: What were some of the biggest civil rights challenges, issues that were challenging for folks?
Sparks: Was Kennewick. [LAUGHTER] It was Kennewick. Pasco, you never had a problem. Never had a problem in Pasco. Kennewick was the problem. Never had a problem in Richland. Never had a problem in Richland. Kennewick was the only one. And after—you know, after the older folks moved on, then Kennewick started changing and changing, and blacks live in Kennewick and everywhere else, you know, all down in there. And I was just over that way not too long ago, and I said, my land, I remember when you couldn’t even come down this hill. When they put that freeway in and got that freeway going everywhere.
But the younger generation, they brought by the change. That young generation did. Like our age and like that, they the ones that changed Kennewick. Now some of the elder people, boy, they’d tell you, they’d call you all kinds of colors and curse you and, don’t walk on the sidewalk, walk in the street and all that kind of stuff.
Franklin: Did that ever happen to you?
Sparks: I never had a problem. [LAUGHTER] Mm-mm. Nope, I never had a problem. But when Daddy would take us over there, he’d just hold my hand and go on. Mm-hmm, yup.
Franklin: What about when—did you ever have any—were there problems with eating at restaurants or shopping or anything, problems with services or being treated less-than?
Sparks: I’ve never ate a restaurant in Kennewick. Up to this day, I still won’t. Nothing that—it’s not prejudice or anything like that, I just don’t. I say, it’s enough restaurants over here, it’s the same thing. So why would I go over there to go out of my way to go over there to bother somebody else, you see?
Franklin: Was there ever any problems with folks on the west side of Pasco?
Sparks: Mm-mm. Don’t have no problem with none of them. All of them on the west side of Pasco over there in them new homes and everything, I grew up with a lot of them. And some people moved here that go to my church here, live out there on Road 68. That’s where I go out there for dialysis. If you want to, you can go out there and dialysis in there and say, I wanna ask you something about Sparky. Oh, Sparky? Oh, sit down. They’d tell you about Sparky, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Do you have memories of the Hazel Scott case in 1950? Where she was refused service at the Pasco bus station?
Franklin: Did you ever hear about that?
Sparks: Mm-mm. What happened?
Franklin: She was a very famous singer in World War II and afterwards. She was married to a congressman. She was African American and so was her husband. I can’t remember his name; he was a congressman from Harlem. And she was on a tour, and the bus stopped at the Greyhound Station in Pasco. She went to the lunch counter, and sat down and the waitress refused to serve her. And she said, why are you refusing to serve me? And the waitress said, I can’t; the owner said I can’t serve you. And the owner came out and said, we don’t serve blacks here. They had a sign up in the Pasco bus station. So she was pretty famous and had a famous husband, so she sued in Washington State court, and she won the lawsuit. And they had to pay her and they had to take down the sign.
Sparks: Well, Dad always tell us where to go eat and where to stop, and when you come from school, you come straight home and your food is all ready in the kitchen. You see? And if he give us lunch money and we didn’t eat lunch at school, he’s going to say, well, since you ain’t eating lunch at school, you wait until you get home and eat. Did you remember the Dew Drop Inn? Right there by the underpass?
Franklin: I’ve heard of it.
Sparks: Oh. [LAUGHTER] That’s where, when Daddy was working on the dam, and we got out of school early, and we’d know if we came home, Momma was going to have something for us to do. We’d stop at the Dew Drop Inn.
Franklin: What would you do there?
Sparks: Oh, we danced and do whatever we wanted to do. Buy hamburgers and stuff. Save our lunch money and wait. Are we going to the Dew Drop Inn today? Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And then sometime, one of the elder people said, Miles, did you know the kids didn’t go to school all day today? They’d come down and tell Daddy. Daddy’d say, y’all didn’t go to school all day today? Where you been? [LAUGHTER]
But I thank God for my parents, because they raised us in the admiration of the Lord and told us that God has no respective person, so why do you? And that’s the way it is with me, you know? Even when I’m on dialysis, I’ll pray for them all, because we’re all God’s children. God just wanted a bouquet of roses when he created all of us. And He did. It’s different colors and every denomination. So, this one guy said, how come we all can’t get along? [LAUGHTER] But I don’t have no problem with it. I don’t have no problem with any of it.
Franklin: Do you remember any other important landmarks, like the Dew Drop Inn, from that era?
Sparks: Well, it was all houses over there.
Franklin: What about Virginia’s Chicken Shack?
Sparks: Virginia down here? You know, Virginia’s shop was right down here on the corner.
Franklin: No, I didn’t.
Sparks: Yeah, Virginia restaurant were right here on the corner before you go across the tracks.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Sparks: On A Street.
Franklin: Did you ever eat there?
Sparks: Oh, many times. You talking about, that woman could cook some biscuits. And her biscuits was—and you could get two or three biscuits out of hers and she’d put that jelly and preserves in between there and that ham, the ham they used to raise—shoot. Mm, mm. My dad raised his own pigs.
Franklin: Oh, really?
Sparks: Oh, yeah, my dad, his pig lot was over there. He had his own pigs and he had his own beef further up there. Mm-hmm, yup. He had the cow, he had the calves, he had the pigs, he had the bacon and he had the beef. And he had to.
Bobby Sparks: How many kids he have?
Bobby Sparks: How many kids?
Sparks: It was 15 of us.
Franklin: Wow! Where are you in that lineup?
Sparks: I’m the second.
Sparks: Mm-hmm, I’m the second-oldest.
Franklin: What are your siblings’ names, starting from the oldest going down?
Sparks: Opal, Jeannette, Bobbie, Taylor, Ennis—where I have them at, all in the book? [LAUGHTER] Right there, in that folder. Right there in that folder there.
Hungate: Right there, whole family, 15 of them.
Sparks: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yup. This was us. See, God, it’s even wrote all on the back. That’s a lot of us.
Franklin: Opal, Jeannette, Bobbie, Taylor, Shirley, Theartis, Donnell, Willy, Evelyn—that’s my wife’s name—LaWanda, Ennis, Theresa, Ervin, Gwendolyn, and Curtis. Wow. That is quite an age range, too. How old was your mother when she had you?
Sparks: I don’t know how old my mom and dad was when they had me. [LAUGHTER] But I know I’m 60. Opal’s 61, and Bobbie gonna be 60.
Franklin: I think you mean—
Sparks: My other sister up in Tacoma, mm-hmm.
Franklin: Here you go. Wow. That’s quite a large family.
Sparks: Oh, you know what? When we was growing up, we had such a good time growing up together. And that’s why Daddy never would let us go to birthday parties. Because he would always tell us, it’s enough of y’all to have a birthday party out there in the yard.
Franklin: How big was your house?
Sparks: You know this house here on the corner of Douglas Street, upstairs and downstairs?
Sparks: That was our house. That’s where I grew up at.
Franklin: Just right down there.
Sparks: Off A Street on Douglas. Right on the corner, and it’s a little piece of lot still next to it there.
Franklin: Where do you live now?
Sparks: I still live on Douglas.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Sparks: 712 South Douglas. The oldest one, the two oldest ones had a choice when we got married. One could have a big wedding and the other one could have a down payment on a house. My older sister wanted the wedding. And I got the down payment on the house. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: That’s a good deal!
Sparks: And I’m still in the house. I’m still in my house.
Sparks: I go to California, but when I go to California, I just lock it up and go ahead on. The gardener come and cut the yard and everything, but. My boys was born in California. But they would come and spend the summer with my mom and dad.
Franklin: How many children do you have?
Sparks: I have—one, two, three. I have four sons. Four sons, mm-hmm. I lost my Waynie. I lost my youngest son. The last one I had, I lost him. Mm-hmm, yup.
Franklin: I’m sorry to hear that.
Sparks: But I enjoy them all. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Now, that’s where I’ll be going. My oldest son’ll be here in June so he can take me back to California because I won’t ride the train nor the plane nor the bus. So they’ll come drive me down, and when I get ready to come back, they’ll drive me back.
Franklin: Oh, wow. To go back to the civil rights talk we were speaking of earlier. Were you directly involved in any civil rights efforts?
Franklin: Do you remember when the schools in the South were desegregated? Brown v. the Board of Education?
Sparks: Oh, yeah! The black school had they schools and the white had they school. Mm-hmm. Yeah, I remember when my dad couldn’t even go in the front door of the market, but my mom could. And I’m for sure his mom could, too. I’m pretty sure that Anna Mae could, too, because you see them, they could pass, you’d think they was white. They could go in the front door.
Franklin: How did the larger national civil rights movement influence civil rights movements in the Tri-Cities?
Sparks: Well, it helped out a lot in Kennewick. That’s the only problem they had, was in Kennewick. They never had a problem in Pasco and Richland. It was just Kennewick. Because when we’d even go over there to play basketball, Miss Booth would have to guard me and Sue Williams because we both was black.
Franklin: Were you ever threatened, or--?
Sparks: No, because Miss Booth kept us right up under her. And we beat them by 20 points.
Franklin: What was different about Kennewick? Why do you think, looking back on it, what was Kennewick’s opposition to having blacks in their town?
Sparks: Well, I don’t know, it was the older peoples. It was the old peoples who had settled there for a long time, had been there for a long time. But the young generation came behind them. Shoots, they was even going with the black boys. You know. And I say, it was just the older generation that had that going. But it’s the other generation came along, like me and I know my cousin, CW used to go with a girl named Marsha. She was white as I don’t know what and had blonde hair.
Franklin: Was that shocking at all for some people?
Sparks: Well, it was shocking then. After a lot of the old peoples moved on off, a lot of the elder people passed and went on that had—a lot of elder peoples in Kennewick had a lot of prejudice in them. But the young—the generation came behind them, they sure didn’t.
Franklin: What do you think changed in that generation?
Sparks: The generation came on after them.
Franklin: Yeah, what was so different between the old people and the young people? What was it?
Sparks: Well, the generation came on behind them, they didn’t have no picks and no choices. Everybody was created equal. But the older generation, they just figured everyone was Uncle Tom and all that, you know, couldn’t do this and couldn’t have this and couldn’t have that.
I know when my dad was building the bigger house down there, and they was wondering what Mr. Miles was building. See, it didn’t bother Daddy because Daddy worked on the dam, him and Mr. Shaw. And he worked on the dams all over, you know. And my daddy was black as the ace of spades. But he was sweet as he could be. And see, my mom, you know, they got Indian and all that in them, so they could do whatever. You know, they was real light-skinned. They could go in anywhere. Momma didn’t have no problem in Kennewick; it was Daddy. But Momma couldn’t drive, so she couldn’t go unless Daddy took her. [LAUGHTER] And Daddy said, no, we’re going to Richland. We’re not going to Kennewick today. [LAUGHTER] And we’d go to Richland and Mom would go to Richland.
Franklin: When you moved to California, were your experiences there, being black, were they different than here in Pasco?
Sparks: Oooooh, it was a whole lot of different.
Franklin: How so?
Sparks: You could go anywhere you want to.
Franklin: In California?
Franklin: And where did you move to in California?
Sparks: I lived in—when I lived in California, I lived on 3rd Avenue, and I was right down the street from the Pasco High School.
Franklin: Oh, when you lived in California.
Sparks: When I lived in California.
Sparks: I was down the street from Crenshaw High School.
Franklin: Oh, okay, is that in LA?
Sparks: Uh-huh, that’s in LA. I worked at the school. And then I worked at the convalescent home, I worked everywhere, and I went to Providence Theological Seminary College. And it was mixed; it didn’t have no all-black. It wasn’t all-black; it was a mixture of us. And I fellowship with them now. When I go to California, I go to that church, and we just have a ball. And they say, Sparks, you finally came back! You know. I never had no problem when I was going to school here in Pasco. It was just that when we went to Kennewick to play basketball.
Franklin: I wanted to ask you about your husband. How did you meet him?
Sparks: Well, my husband’s auntie lived there, this Smiths. Uncle Dave and Aunt Clement. They lived there. They lived, they got that big house next street over from me over there. QT come up and visit them.
Sparks: My husband.
Franklin: Did you cutie?
Sparks: We call him QT but his name is Quilla. And we called him QT. Quilla Terrence Sparks. We called him Quilla. And he come up to visit his auntie, because his mom lived in Oxnard, California. That’s where he graduated in high school, in Oxnard, and played basketball.
Franklin: And you met him when he came to visit?
Sparks: I met him when he come to visit the first time. But I was still going to school. His mom and his grandma—his mom went to school with my mom.
Franklin: In Kildare?
Sparks: In Texas. His grandmother would come down to my mom house. Because my mom quilted a lot. They quilt a lot. And his grandma would come down and help Mom quilt. He came down and picked her up one time, and he asked me, who do you belongs to? And I said, my mom and my daddy. [LAUGHTER] You’d think your daddy would mind if I take you to get a hamburger? I say, you gotta ask my daddy. And from them on, he start—I was still in school. I was in high school. And he’d meet me everyday at the bus stop to walk me home. Mm-hmm. And I got married in my dad’s living room. In 1957, mm-hmm.
Franklin: So you were 17, 18?
Sparks: And I got married in my dad living room.
Franklin: And then you moved to California with him?
Sparks: In three days, he said, we moving to California with my mom. And that’s where my sons was born. But every year, he said, he told Momma, he said, I’ll let her come back every year to visit. And he kept that promise. Me and the kids, we’d come every year. And then his grandmother came and she stayed whenever the boys was born, she’d come and stay with me so she could help me take care of the boys. He had a sweet grandmother, mm-hmm.
Franklin: So did his family come up to work at Hanford or the dams as well?
Sparks: No. Not then. They came up later. I think Uncle Dave worked at Hanford. Didn’t Uncle Dave work at Hanford? Uncle Dave worked at Hanford.
Franklin: That would be his uncle?
Sparks: That’s his uncle. That’s his mom—his dad—no, that’s your mom?
Bobby Sparks: His sister. My dad’s sister.
Sparks: Mm-hmm, yup. See this is my cousin on my mom’s side.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Sparks: His mom was on my mom’s side. His daddy is on my husband’s side. [LAUGHTER] Yeah.
Sparks: They all went to school together in Kildare, Texas.
Franklin: That Kildare connection?
Sparks: Mm-hmm. When one got a job, they made sure all the rest of them could get a job and come on out. We’re just one big happy family. Always have been, mm-hmm.
Franklin: That’s wonderful.
Sparks: You should come to our family reunion sometime.
Franklin: I should. I think I know—I’ve interviewed about half of you so far.
Sparks: Oh, honey.
Franklin: I could get the other half in one fell swoop.
Sparks: This church here will not hold all of us.
Franklin: Yeah, it’s a big extended family. I’ve been finding that out—
Sparks: That’s on both sides. That’s on both side, on momma’s side and on Daddy’s side. Now, see, I’m related to the Daniels on my daddy’s side. Mm-hmm, yep. And the Coles.
Franklin: Yup. Is there anything else you’d like to mention related to migration, work, segregation and civil rights and how they’ve impacted your life in the Tri-Cities?
Sparks: I just love the Lord because He changed the situation it was in the Tri-Cities. And just like He did it here, He’s going to do it other places, too. Now I can go to Kennewick and stay all day and don’t have no problem. Go over there and gas up and hit the street by the tracks and come on up the hill. [LAUGHTER] Don’t have no problem. Mm-mm.
And you know, God can do anything but fail. And I always say, God had a purpose for you to go through something, so you realize what He could do for you. If you put your trust in Him. Now, you got to put your trust in God and depend on Him to open the pathway for you. And I’m a living witness, God have opened a lot of pathways that I didn’t think could ever be opened. Opened doors that I didn’t think would ever be open. God did all that. And I give Him the glory. Because He was the one worked on the people’s heart and caused them to have a turnaround and let them know that every one of you is My children. And I intend for every one of you to get along.
And now you know, when some have them on dialysis, they say Reverend Sparks, can you do this for so-and-so-and-so-and-so? And I just say push me over then, I’ll pray for them right then and there, mm-hmm. We always supposed to be helpers, one to another. And when you help with one to another, you don’t have no problem. God is pleased with the road you traveling. I don’t know nobody that I dislike. Red, yellow, black, white, blue, whatever color. We all God’s children.
Franklin: Well, Reverend, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us—
Sparks: I thank you for taking time out to do what you’re doing in order to take the survey to help the peoples who have been here for a long time and know what you had to go through to get to where you at now. That’s a blessing.
Sparks: Only God can do that. Nobody else but God. And I just thank God for His business in it. Because if it hadn’t been for God on our side, where would—that’s why you breathing today. God could take that breath any time he get ready. But He know you doing a good job, and you pleasing Him and he’s satisfied with the work you doing. He says, I’m going to let him live a while longer. But be ready when he come. [LAUGHTER] Don’t let Him catch you with your work undone.
Sparks: Okay? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I appreciate it.
Sparks: It pays to be with the Lord. Because he’s the way and the only way. I wouldn’t have no other before me except the Lord.