Interview with Maurice Watson
African American universities and colleges
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
Tom Hungate: You’re on.
Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Maurice Watson on June 14, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Maurice about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities and working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
Maurice Watson: Maurice Watson. M-A-U-R-I-C-E. W-A-T-S-O-N.
Franklin: Great. Thanks, Maurice.
Franklin: Now, when and where were you born?
Watson: I was born in Durham, North Carolina.
Franklin: And what year?
Franklin: 1951. And tell me about your childhood in Durham.
Watson: Well, I think I had a pretty good childhood back in the day. I’m one of eight children. Back at that time, mostly everybody had large families from four kids up, back at that time. And everybody in the neighborhood, they got along pretty good. Kids from this end of the street, they knew other kids down at the other end of the street. The parents, or the adults at one end of the street, they got to know you. They would possibly discipline you, too. If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, they would tell your parents, and your parents will talk to you also if you’re not behaving properly.
I went to Jerome Public Schools and graduated from high school. I further went on to college for four years at North Carolina A&T State University. I majored in building construction technology. After a year, working with General Motors Corporation—that was exciting. However, it was the wrong time, due to the fact that it was the early ‘70s: 1973, ’74, when they had the oil embargo. I was laid off, because there wasn’t much car production, due to the fact that there wasn’t enough oil coming from the various countries.
Franklin: People weren’t buying—people didn’t want to buy American cars.
Watson: They were not buying, that is correct. And with the prices of oil going up so high, well, people weren’t buying any vehicles. So after about a year working with them, I went back home for a while, and then I got a job with Hanford, as a utilities supervisor in 1975. And from then, that’s when I got started on my career out here in the great Northwest.
Franklin: Did you grow up in a segregated neighborhood?
Watson: Yes, I was.
Watson: In the City of Durham, they had 46% black, 51% white, and the rest was “other.”
Franklin: What do you remember about civil rights efforts in the late ‘50s and ‘60s to end segregation?
Watson: Well, let’s just say that, to a certain extent, I really didn’t understand it all, due to the fact that me being a young individual, I just—well, let’s just say that within the black community or the white community, we basically had everything that was needed. We had grocery stores, we had hospitals and places of entertainment, parks, recs, whatever. It was such that I never thought about really going over to the other side of town, let’s say, in the white neighborhoods. Because I basically had everything over in the black section of town. Plus the fact that, for me and traveling, I would had to use a bus to go from one part of town to the next, because my family didn’t have a car, okay. So that’s how we would get around and with our bicycles. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Did you attend segregated schools?
Watson: Yes, I did.
Watson: It was all black, and schools didn’t turn out for integration until approximately 1967, when they started integrating high schools. My sister, as a matter of fact, she was one of few individuals that happened to be one of the first individuals in our school system to go there, to a white school.
But, as far as I was concerned, there were some obvious things that kind of made you scratch your head a little bit, why we weren’t being able to sit at lunch counters, eat in various restaurants. Why did we have to sit upstairs in the balcony at the movie houses, you know? Instead of downstairs with everybody else. Sometimes, you’d go to a hospital, you may be put in one section to get treated. Or either you might be not attended to as quickly as some of the other individuals to be attended to in the hospitals. Those are the things that really kind of got to me, back in those times.
Franklin: Hmm. What kind of work did your parents do?
Watson: Well, for the most part, my father, he was the head of the house. He was a chef. He worked at North Carolina Central University for most of the time that he was there. He also worked at various other country clubs, various hotels, but I remember most at North Carolina Central University. My mother, she didn’t work most of the time, due to the fact that, well, let’s just say, it’d be a little more economical to take care of those kids and absorb those costs for childcare. So, she stayed at home and raised the children. By the time that one of my younger sisters was born—this was like the seventh kid—she did decide to go back and work. She was a private duty nurse. Later, she happened to be a—how should I say it? She worked at North Carolina Central University, also. She was a planning coordinator for most of the events that happened at the student union building.
Franklin: Was North Carolina Central, was that an integrated school?
Watson: It was all-black.
Franklin: So it was a HBCU?
Watson: HBCU school.
Franklin: And what about North Carolina A&T, was that also an HBC?
Watson: Yes, it was. As a matter of fact, it used to be—in the beginning, it used to be an all-male university, due to the fact that the A&T part stands for agricultural and technical, okay. About two miles from North Carolina A&T there was an all-female university, Bennett College. They were pretty much for all types of education and technology for women.
Franklin: Interesting. What were your parents’ educational levels?
Watson: My father, he was in the war of—World War II. He was a sergeant, and he happened to do cooking while he was in the service. When he got out of the service, he went to Tuskegee Institute and got a degree in commercial dietetics. And that’s why he continued his career in cooking.
Watson: Love his barbecue. Love his chicken. [LAUGHTER] That he would cook. A lot of other people did, too.
Franklin: Oh, that’s great. So, how did you hear about Hanford?
Watson: Well, I happened to be laid off in 1974 from General Motors at the time.
Franklin: And was that in or around Detroit?
Watson: That was in Saginaw, Michigan at the time.
Franklin: Saginaw, right.
Watson: I got laid off and I went back home and started writing resumes, trying to get another job, and it just so happened that I went to a job fair, which was in Charlotte, North Carolina. They had various jobs of all different types, and they were hiring a little bit of everybody. And it just so happened that one of the interviewers was looking for technical individuals. This individual just happened to be from Raleigh, North Carolina, which is only 23 miles from Durham, said, okay, we got about three jobs for you. So I happened to fly out here in 1975 and I interviewed for utility supervisor, quality assurance, and one other position. And then I just got lucky and was able to get a job at Hanford.
So it was very interesting, due to the fact that the Hanford area out here in the Tri-Cities, let’s say Tri-Cities, is considerably smaller than Durham is. It was kind of a shock due to the fact that any time I see tumbleweeds running across the street, I’d think of a Western program. Seeing people in cowboy boots and the big hats and stuff like that. [LAUGHTER] That was different to me, too! It was kind of a different culture. Being able to go into various businesses, schools, whatever. It just did kind of make me feel a little uncomfortable, because everybody just all of the sudden—wow! That’s different. He’s different. So I felt a little bit uncomfortable at the time. There aren’t that many black people in the Tri-Cities. It’s about 2% black. And even now, in 2018, there’s still no more than about 2% black.
Watson: In the whole Tri-Cities area. It’s really not that many more black here now than it was when I first came here. But let’s just say, as far as I’m concerned, most of the people that I did meet and associated with, they were all interesting and I really got along with everybody. I guess having a cultural shock or trying to adjust, everybody asking all kinds of questions of where you come from, how do you do this, and what do you eat, what kind of education did you have—just like you guys, in regard to what was your upbringing like, what kind of hobbies do you have, things of this nature. So it was really interesting to me.
Franklin: Where was the first place that you stayed after you arrived?
Watson: Well, for the first six weeks that I was here, I was staying in various motels. I stayed at the Bali Hi Motel in Richland. I stayed there for about five weeks, primarily because there weren’t enough apartments to be built for the number of people that were coming into the Tri-Cities area. The Tri-Cities area at that time was booming for the various projects they were having at Hanford, Energy Northwest, the public school systems, and even including the hospitals. They were in need of a whole bunch of new people. So, in that there was the demand for all of these people and trying to assist them. Well, thank god that the Tri-Cities area, they happened to have a growth spurt. They were having apartments going up, houses going up. They were getting more businesses, retail and whatnot, just like it is right now.
We’re in the midst of a significant growth spurt right now. Back in the day when I first got here, Pasco, Washington only had 9,900 people. Right now, it has close to 75,000 people. I’m sure Richland and Kennewick, they’ve grown significantly, too. And the combined Tri-Cities area with those three cities probably Benton City, Finley, and Burbank, they have probably a total of 250,000 people here now. So I really enjoy the growth, to a certain extent. There’s a lot more things to do and programs.
Back in the day when I first got here, it was such that everything was pretty much catered—you’re either going to be doing work as an adult, or you’d have fun or education as a child. There weren’t that many movie houses and let’s just say, it was kind of good and bad. If you’re going to be a good guy, you go to all of the G-rated movies in the one portion of the town. If you’re a bad guy, you kind of go outside of town and then they kind of had like a XXX drive-in out there. So pretty much I stayed away from that one. [LAUGHTER] You know?
But you know, I kind of got used to it. Like I said, again, the people in this area, they were really nice; I got along with most people. Back in the day, there was some concern for the companies out here, Westinghouse, Battelle, Bechtel, Siemens, several others, they would get people to come to this area, but due to the fact that most of the people coming from Louisiana, Texas, way across the Northeast, and so forth, coming to this area, quite a few individuals didn’t like the Northwest. So after a year, they would leave, due to the fact that the diversity was so much for them.
It just so happened that quite a few of the companies, they decided, well, we’re going to try to keep them here. And they decided that they were going to have, let’s just say, certain individuals, or certain ethnic groups of people, they had specific parties for them. About every three months or six months, they had a party so that individuals could know who the, let’s just say, the black individuals were, who they worked for, how they got along, and try to make things good for them. And that was interesting. They also had Affirmative Action activities within the companies to address discrimination or to address aspects of sexual harassment, discrimination in regard to how to talk to various individuals. Let’s just say, some people, they have a different terminology of calling a black person or a person from a different locality. There was a lot of work involved in trying to make sure that—[LAUGHTER]—let’s just say everything was politically correct, even way back then in the ‘70s. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: What was the hardest aspect of life in this area to adjust to?
Watson: Well, I had to get kind of used to, like a lot of people way back in the ‘40s, when they came out here—the dust was terrific. Even when you would close all your windows, you’d still get a lot of dirt inside of your house. It didn’t rain out here, hardly, like it is even increased in the precipitation that they have out here now. Where, back when I came, there was a lot of dust. It was extremely hot out here. Quite often, they had temperatures well over 100 degrees out here. I’m used to the heat, but coming from North Carolina, the temperature never got up to no more 90, 95, but it had humidity. I didn’t know what humidity was until [LAUGHTER] I went to the state of Michigan to work. But out here, it’s a different type of heat. I can stand it, but after it gets to over 105, well, it’s very, very uncomfortable for me.
Also, in regards to having some of the things that I like, like going to large amusement parks, or some night clubs, in order to go the good ones that I like or music concerts or museums and a few other things that I like, you’re either going to have to go all the way to Portland or go all the way to Seattle. [LAUGHTER] That’s what I didn’t like. That’s the only thing that I really didn’t like. Between the two, there really ain’t much more in there, except good scenery of looking at the great orchards that we have, looking at the amber waves of grain, looking at all of the, whew, the wheat fields. I mean, I thought fields of any kind of produce was significant in North Carolina. But when I came out here, and you see miles and miles of wheat fields and you see thousands and thousands of acres of fruit trees and vegetables, oh, it’s just mind-blowing. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Where did you end up living permanently?
Watson: Permanently? Okay, I started out in Kennewick for about four years, but then after that I moved to Pasco. And I’ve been in Pasco ever since like 1982. About, yeah, about 1982. I did buy a house over by the airport. They had, again, a new development at that particular time, so it was very interesting. It’s something that when you’re a young individual, well, you want to kind of grow just like your peers do. I was young, still in my 20s; everybody was getting new cars, buying houses, and things of this nature. So I was on the bandwagon just like they were. I had a nice job, and at the time, it was very good to do it here, due to the fact that there were other locations in the United States whereby their economic growth was not as good as it was in the Hanford area or within the great Northwest.
I like it out here, because of the diversity, to be able to see different types of people, to talk to them on different cultures. I’m one of the individuals who loves to eat. I don’t mind eating all kinds of different type food. I’ll try them! And just see what they’re like. You know how that goes. If you want to get to know the culture, you got to eat the food. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yup, yup. Did you attend church?
Watson: Oh, yes.
Franklin: And what church did you attend?
Watson: I basically attended several. I attended New Hope Baptist Church. I went to Greater Faith for a time, and also I—what is the other one? One other one, I can’t think of the name right now.
Franklin: In east Pasco?
Watson: Yes, all of them in east Pasco.
Franklin: Morning Star?
Watson: Yes, that’s the one, Morning Star Baptist Church. I went to it for quite a number of years. Right now I currently go to New Beginnings Christian Community Church. And I’ve been there for a number of years.
Franklin: There was something about the black churches in east Pasco that drew you over there initially, yeah? What role does church play in the African American community?
Watson: I think church plays a big role, due to the fact that it is a conglomeration of black individuals, a lot of them are from the South, and let’s just say the technique of their style of worshipping is different than some of the other churches that you might go to. Some of them, in fact the one that I go to right now, I’m a member of the church, a member of the usher board, I drive the church van, I do a little bit of everything in it right now, and I got a sense of belonging. That’s why I pretty much stay at this particular church. It’s a lot smaller.
Some of the other churches, particularly like in North Carolina, they were large, and to me it was like you were kind of like a number, unless you were going to exert yourself to become a part of the church, or be able to do more for the church than just being a pew-warmer, let’s just say.
But it’s a gathering of the cultures, I believe, being at the church. We speak the same differences, we talk about the same type of food, we try to help inspire each other that way, whereby sometimes going to other churches you may not get that same type of thing. I have visited other churches, but let’s just say that my style is more so in the black community. Just like my music. I like rhythm and blues more than country. [LAUGHTER] I like a few other things. My clothes are a little different than some place else. It’s just a difference.
Franklin: Yeah, yeah.
Watson: I’m a Gemini, so I’mma be different anyway. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Were there opportunities available here that were not available where you had come from?
Watson: I’m thinking that there were job availabilities back in North Carolina, as far as I know. However, you would have to have significant credentials relative to education or certifications, or you had to have a certain number of years or experience to be able to do the job. I’m sure that there was discrimination in those areas. It would be a lot better if you did know somebody that could possibly help you get a job. However, in regard to getting a job, way back then, you pretty much would have to have a college degree or at very least a high school diploma to say, hey, I’m qualified in various ways, and you should give me a try. Most of the time, if you have that particular degree, it only gets you in the door, but you as an individual, you’re going to have to promote your own self. And you’re going to have to put out to show that employer on how well you can perform those tasks and possibly exceed those employer’s expectations.
Franklin: In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation or racism?
Watson: Me, personally, I don’t really know how to answer that question. My limitation—I had limitations on the types of jobs I was getting. All I know that I personally was looking for a technical type of a job, a professional-type job, either in some type of management or technical discipline. Most of the persons that I associate with, they’re in the same way. Some others, they are technically skilled individuals, like pipefitters, fire department people, they’re in the nursing fields, and so I’m used to that.
Me, let’s just say, I feel that if an individual really wants a job, they can find one, if they look hard enough and then if they’re—like, even for me, when I was growing up, I could do almost—I tried to do a little bit of anything. Paperboy, I used to go on errands for the individuals, I used to work in factories, I did a lot of construction work, a lot of construction work. For me, if I really had the need or really wanted to, I would do that. That would be my task.
I think it is still even hard today in this world to be able to get jobs. Sometimes the way I am, and how I tell my kids, I say, well, try to get the best education that you can and don’t be afraid to speak up to individuals. Check out all kinds of jobs. Because you never can tell what you’re going to come into. One job as a janitor may lead to you being an employee in the bank or whatever. And just kind of endear yourself. And do the best thing possible that you can. I think that there’s possibly lots of ways to discriminate. But the way I see it is that an individual just has to have ambition to be able to gain whatever goals that he wants to have. My dad used to tell me shoot for the highest job that you want, or go for the best career that you want. Get the most education and experience that you can. That way, even if you do fail and get a lower position, you still be able to have a workable means of, you know, funds, to be able to make a living wage. That’s what I was trying to say. To be able to take care of your family and yourself.
Franklin: Let’s turn and talk about your work history and experience at Hanford. What sorts of work did you do?
Watson: I did a little bit of everything. The reason that I say that I came to Hanford as a utilities supervisor for about three years. There, I had a crew of seven guys and we would be doing surveillance on all of the utility systems. Those being heating, ventilation, air condition systems of all of the buildings, water filtration, electrical distribution systems, and even all of the water systems, let’s say. That was very interesting, because, like I said, I was very technical, and so I kind of like all of that kind of stuff.
Franklin: What area was this in?
Watson: I started out in the 300 Area. We also had guys that occasionally had to go to the 400 Area, because there was a small solid waste disposal facility within the FFTF area, 400 Area. Later, I began doing building administration, which means taking care of all of the buildings, almost like being a landlord, taking care of the yards. Anything relative to cleaning the facilities, taking care of the people’s needs inside the building, moving furniture, telephones, things of this nature.
Franklin: What areas onsite did you do that job?
Watson: I did do that—I was in the 300 Area doing the technical work as well as the landlord work for seven years. I got laid off for a while, and then I had to go back and then I was doing pretty much facilities management job. If people needed additional, let’s just say, extra rooms or extra space in the various buildings, some buildings were solid facilities made of stone or, as we might call it, stick buildings, with studs and whatnot. Those were the harder ones to be able to justify a means on why those people needed the extra space, why those people needed extra outlets, more heating ventilations in the area, why they needed the gas distribution systems in their buildings and like this.
There was a time back in the ‘80s where we had another great boom out there at Hanford. This was when they were doing a lot of work at the PUREX complex, which basically was continuing to making the fuel rods filled with plutonium in them. And so myself and my organization I worked with, we had to provide additional space in the solid buildings they had. Also be able to make up plans for mobile offices out there. We had mobile offices that were anywhere from single-wides all the way up to like 16-wide trailers out there. And they had different purposes, mostly for office, though. Some of them, they were used for change room facilities where individuals change from regular street clothes to work clothes, from work clothes to radiological attire, things of this nature. And so for the most part, that’s what I did.
They were doing a lot of work towards the ‘90s whereby Hanford was in a downward spiral, whereby they were cleaning up everything. So in that way, we were getting rid of old buildings, decommissioning them, tearing the buildings, teardown certain trailers, certain buildings that had pumps, motors and storage facilities out there that they didn’t use anymore, we were trying to get rid of them. To eliminate costs for the government. It was quite a task, I’d say. And for the most part, that was the biggest job that I did towards the end of my career out there. Trying to justify whether we need these buildings or not, whether to justify additional space for individuals. Trying to get internet for them, telephones, all of the new furniture. Back in the day, hey, who needed a computer? [LAUGHTER] Justify the needs for various individual groups on whether they need computers or not. It was an interesting—it was an interesting job for me out there.
Franklin: What on-the-job training did you receive, if any?
Watson: On-the-job training?
Watson: There were some on-the-job training. I got a big job—I got a rude awakening, due to the fact that my college degree was in building construction. I know how to build a house, but in regard to operating a steam boiler? [LAUGHTER] That was all new to me. But myself had to talk to the operators themselves, and being a union operation, it was a little difficult, because you can’t put your hands on anything. Therefore, you had to stand back, watch, even write notes as you can, do mental notes in your head, on what you should do.
There was a time during the ‘70s—when was—late 1976, they had a union strike. It lasted for over three months out there. So at that particular time, it was a good thing that I did know a little bit about running those boilers and steam systems, the water filtration, and all of that kind of stuff. Because that was the time I had to put on the blues and actually had to do some of the things that my workers did. So that’s my training right there.
All the other parts in regard to hands-on training, my drawing skills, they were used when I had to do building modifications. I did have to coordinate myself with other engineering concerns, in regard to putting electrical associated with the various rooms in the buildings. Some of the other utilities that would be going into buildings and how to make modifications to them. And like I said, my organization that I worked with, that was our task, to be able to determine whether a particular organization needed buildings, needed extra space, and what entities that needed to go into them.
Franklin: Could you describe a typical workday?
Watson: Well, it’ll be almost like—I think it would be—well, I had so many of them. Being a utilities supervisor, we had to first talk to the—well, I was on a rotating shift, all right? So being on rotating shift, me, when I would come to work on whichever shift I was on, I would speak with the outgoing supervisor, and find out what things were going on, in regard to, is there anything to look out for? What things have broken? Is the steam system broke? Are roads blocked off for excavation somewhere? How cold is it? Is the steam needing to be bumped up or taken down? Is anybody doing some extra work out there that my utilities group had anything to do with, in regards to shutting down utility systems or water systems or steam system?
Some of these things were pretty critical, because, like the steam system in particular, that was instrumental for persons in the Battelle facilities. They needed steam for quite a few of the experiments that they did over there. And if they had any problems or doing anything different, I would have to know about them. So, the operators, they would be doing their job to be able to check out all of those things. I would keep a log also in regard to what was going on throughout the day as a utility supervisor. Being the person in the engineering part, like I mentioned, we did quite a bit of modifications to buildings and the systems and getting, let’s just say, people comfortable.
I did have a time for about a year that I was at the 100-N Area. This was during the time when I got laid off initially after the first seven years. I happened to be, you might say, a—they called me a reactor operator. However, I was like more of a laborer at the time. We did various tasks on cleaning up around the N Reactor. Storing materials away. Whatever—moving furniture, things of this nature. But our main task was to be able to be trained, to be able to do charge and discharge work of the reactor.
What that means is that we’re in the process of moving fuel rods out of the N Reactor, down into a basin below, and putting it in a separate radiological disposal area. They would take the fuel rods out. On the front side of the reactor, there was another guy inside the reactor, on the front face, had a machine to actually have fuel rods to go through the reactor. These would be new, and these rods inside, they would be enriched to do the purposes of whatever they were going to use the fuel rods for. It was enriching uranium, back in the day, to possibly be able to be used for—I would just say, I would prefer not to say what they were using the enriched uranium for.
But that’s what we did. We put the new fuel rods in, took them out, put them in different places. The special training, it came in in regard to how you were going to do it, due to the fact that you actually are in the reactor to be able to take the endcaps off and get in, do your job, and get back out without absorbing a large amount of radiation. That’s the main reason on why we were there.
Franklin: How would you describe your relationships with your co-workers and your supervisors?
Watson: My relationships in regard to how did I get along with them?
Watson: Oh. The way I see it is that if you can’t get along with me, you can’t get along with nobody. Because I think I have that type of a personality, in regard to trying to get along with people, find out what type jobs they do, and with my background, I’m kind of interested in a whole lot of things. So I’m interested in what they do. My background, let’s just say, my Southern upbringing is such that you’re supposed to say your please and thankyous, and be courteous to everybody. I’m courteous to my management, due to the fact that I would have to be able to do whatever management wants in order to stay employed. So that’s what I’ma do there. My coworkers, I like getting along with them. Quite often we did go out on various trips with them.
Franklin: Like outside of work?
Watson: Yes, outside of work. And I would go out with them. I never thought that I would be doing whitewater rafting or mountain climbing. But [LAUGHTER] that was kind of interesting. Went fishing with them. Most people, I did get along.
If I see some type of tension, and the individual, let’s just say, it was a little difficult in regard to get my point across, or there was a difficulty in him explaining his question to me, well, I just did what management says. If I can’t handle it, give it to management. Let them take care of it. Other than that, I would be cordial, and I would just basically not be around that person that much.
But let’s just say, getting along with white and black, I had no problem with them. If you’re going to be courteous to me, or if you’re going to respect me, I’m going to respect you right back. And I think that’s the way that everybody should be. Being that way, you’ll learn a whole lot more and get a lot—learn a lot more, and get a lot more done that way. I’m not a person that says that my opinions or my knowledge is better than anybody else’s. I let you speak your piece and let’s try to make this work. Instead of bucking heads.
Franklin: What were the most difficult aspects of the job?
Watson: For me, pretty much getting up early in the morning. I’m not a morning person. [LAUGHTER] Ever since I was 11 years old in the sixth grade. I guess, that particular teacher gave us homework in every subject, every night. So sometimes I’d have to stay up to 11:00 at night and then get up at like 7:00 to be at school by 8:30. Being out here, I would have to get up early and then be here at—[LAUGHTER]—7:30 in the morning. When I worked out further in the 200 Areas, that meant that I had to get up around 4:30 in the morning and get on the bus around about 6:30, I believe it was, to be at the Hanford Area and the 200 Areas by 7:30. So let’s just say getting up early in the morning is about the hardest thing for me.
Franklin: Oh. How did your racial background figure into your work experiences?
Watson: I got to think about that one. For me, I don’t think that it had anything to do with my career. Due to the fact that the jobs that I acquired, I liked them. I was very comfortable with them. I was continuing to grow. I got raises like everybody else. And let’s just say that myself, and I believe it was a whole lot of other people who worked with me, they really enjoyed their jobs and it was myself and several other guys, we were kind of close. Very, very close.
If there was a project relative to planning, it was almost like the job might go to one individual, but it was more like all four of us getting in and actually getting it done. I would be on most of all of the linguistics or the writing paperwork, getting in a technical form to be able to send it. One individual, he would know architecture. Another individual, he would know some of the aspects relative to, let’s just say, pipefitting, safety. I would know safety, too. Some other—a lady in there, she would know about coordinating on scheduling projects to be done. And, we were very tight. And I think that’s the main reason on why I really enjoyed working at Hanford.
I had thought about being in other areas. I thought that when I first came out here that I was going to only be here for three years and then leave. I wanted to be able to get something on a résumé that says I’m qualified to do this, that and the other. But at that particular time, the economy went down mostly every place else. So I said, oh, I better stay where I am. Also around that same time, that’s when, let’s just say, I got married and decided to stay in the area, started raising children, and instead of just being here for three years, I’ve been here almost 40 now. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: In what ways did the security and secrecy at Hanford impact your work or daily life?
Watson: Let’s just say that we did have to go through—depending on what things were, it was such that, for the groups that I worked in mostly, such that I was limited to various amounts—I was limited to how much restricted material I could know about. I would make designs primarily for those areas that, let’s just say, were not with any plant, that did radiological-type work or zone work, things of this nature. I had people who would not be inside those type of zoned areas. So it made it a lot easier.
Some of the things I would know about in regard to, hey, this area had—you need to modify this change room area, because. Those simple things, I would know about to be able to get the type of building that they would need. But any of the secrecy, let’s just say, I understood it. I’d ask a few questions; whether I got an answer or not, that was different.
Safety was the most, most thing I was concerned with, and mostly with the administration, due to the fact that you don’t go looking in a building and just walk into a radiation zone. Even though that me being a utility supervisor, it could be sometimes easy for me to be working in a pipe gallery where it got steam, water and various other things, and possibly be able to go into another pipe gallery whereby that’s considered the radiological zone, okay? You don’t do that. [LAUGHTER]
So safety was a big thing. You watch yourself in regard to anything. Paper cut, banging your knee on a file cabinet. [LAUGHTER] Make sure that you don’t go through barricades that have the yellow tape or the red tape. You be safe at all times. Anything that you do, you just kind of make sure that you’re safe.
The secret information? We never knew anything—my group, that is, knew a whole lot of restricted information. There was concerns about, let’s just say, building a waste repository down in Nevada or—let’s see, what other things? I think they even had waste glass-ification facility over at REDOX in the West Area, and a few other things on some of the experiments that they were doing. I wasn’t privy to a lot of the things that they were doing. I knew they had labs doing various individuals, but I don’t know exactly what they were doing. To keep me from getting a lot of stress, I didn’t ask. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah. What did you know or learn about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?
Watson: Could you repeat the question?
Franklin: What did you—when you moved here and afterwards, what did you learn or know about the prior history of African American workers at Hanford?
Watson: Well, it seemed like it was interesting, almost like down South to a certain extent, due to the fact that they did have segregation. Not only in the towns of the Tri-Cities area, whereby most of the blacks, they lived in Pasco. There were always blacks in one section, whites in another section. Let’s just say, they used to say all of the blacks are over on the east side; whites are on the west side. Where I come from, the cities were segregated. I was on the south side; whites everywhere else, let’s just say. When I came up here—oh, and Hanford, I understand from a tour that I took of the old Hanford site, I understand that they had trailer villages where they even discriminated even more, whereby they had women in these trailers over here; men in these trailers over here. Made it kind of rough to try to raise children, as far as I’m concerned. The places where they had dining halls, I think that might have been the only place where they didn’t separate, because everybody had to eat and get in there and get out to do their own jobs.
Let’s just say that, for me, I’m aware that back in the ‘40s and from some of the other stories that the guys talked about, there was discrimination and the blacks, they had all of the manual labor-type jobs, some of the hardest jobs that there were, to be able to build up Hanford the way they did. There was no management for blacks, or very, very few. Even when I came here, I could count the number of managers that were in this area. It was kind of surprising that the way I got hired, there was a black individual that was in charge of human resources out here. And so that was interesting.
Franklin: Do you remember that individual’s name?
Watson: No, I really, really don’t. I really don’t. But in this area here, I’m not sure whether it’s the knowledge people have, or it could possibly be discrimination, not only for blacks, but it could be for other nationalities, too, or other ethnic groups, too, relative to advancements in management or getting different jobs. It seems like things are getting a whole lot better in these areas, but I’m thinking that, again, it’s such that individuals have to push a lot more harder to be able to get the type of jobs that they really, really want. Or to get certain benefits that they really want around here.
Franklin: How did you feel when you came to work at Hanford during the Cold War? How did you feel at the time about working on the development of nuclear weapons?
Watson: Well, my attitude about it now—in fact, even back then, is such that, the way I understood it, the war is over. I understand that there may have been a stockpile of materials to make bombs, but my attitude is such that, they’re going to stop this pretty soon. [LAUGHTER] And we’re not going to be at war for a while. My attitude is that if we’re still continuing to create nuclear material, I’m on the pretense that we could use it for, like, radioisotopes, as they were planning on having the FFTF to be able to help society, to bring better science and technology, or should I say, to help the medical industry at least, you know, and that area. I still think that we may have more creation of nuclear power plants, unless they’re coming up with a better way of doing it. I think that coal is polluting our country just as much, and killing people with pollutants as they would be with nuclear energy. I understand that it’s a difficult thing on trying to get rid of nuclear waste, but I’m hoping that society and the technical fields are still working very, very hard in regard to trying to figure out what we’re going to do. I’m thinking that this glass-ification project is going to be a good deal in regard for us to take care of all the nuclear waste. I’m not thinking as far back as back in the ‘80s, it seems like when things started going down as far as closing all of the reactors, including N Reactor, where I used to work at. I’m hoping that they cease anything relative to war activities. I’m thinking that they’re going to stop that and then put more of those energies into things that’s going to happen for society’s benefit. That’s my attitude.
Franklin: What do you think is the most important legacy of the Hanford Site?
Watson: The Hanford Site, it was good for what it was used for, or what it was created for. It was primarily to be able to get a new weapon, to be able to fight the adversaries within World War II, okay? I understand that a lot of times, technology is made in the military fields, quite a lot, before civilians can be able to utilize it. Just like they came out with microwave ovens. Maybe even x-rays or checking people’s blood or, let’s just even say, went from utilizing aircraft. It wasn’t too long after Wilbur and Orville made their plane, within a few years they started using aircraft, you know, for warfare technology. And then later on, they had the airplanes that they were using in military, and then they started using them for distributing mail, distributing passengers. After the passengers got off of being scared of riding anything above 1,000 feet. [LAUGHTER] But there’s so many things that are created in the military that sometimes they evolve for civilian purposes, you see?
Franklin: Is there anything else you’d like to mention related to migration, work experiences, segregation and civil rights and how they impacted your life at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?
Watson: I believe my migration to the Hanford area was like the same thing for a lot of people from down South to the great Northwest or to be able to go further north, is for a need. If jobs were getting smaller in those areas, they are going to go to where there’s a greater need for employment. Back during the day, hey, they went from having the Hanford cities, Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, 2,000 – 3,000 people per city, and then it grew to 50,000 within a few years, you know? And the same thing like in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Other individuals heard about Hanford. Washington Public Power Supply Systems. Let’s just say there was a need, a demand. For the school teachers, for even farmers—even more farmers out here in this area, to go from where you used to stay to where you are right now. It’s going to be a challenge. Everybody knows it’s going to be a challenge. But I just think every individual has to be ready for it and adapt the best way they can.
The way I see it, if you can’t find you your own job with somebody, try to get with somebody and make your own business. That’s how America is. You sometimes got to think out of the box, you know, to be able to create your own job. I mean, hey, it’s getting to the point now that they’re even getting teenagers that are millionaires right now. And teenagers, even now, they do it because, number one, make money, or either they’re doing it to try to help society out with food drives in regard to try to help a certain class of people, let’s just say, those that don’t have money, to go on school trips. They raise money to be able to help with school programs like, I want my school to go to this particular tournament in Vancouver, BC, or any place else. People try to get along and create moneys from a very early age all the way up.
I think, like my son, as a matter of fact, he went to college, but he even exceled my expectations on what he’s doing. He’s a bank vice president at a bank in Seattle. I’d say that he just uses his common sense. He has a great gift of gab [LAUGHTER] that’s taken him a long ways. And my youngest son is a school teacher. He got his education and he just really likes kids. Not only does he like kids, he not only wants to teach the math, the science and English, but he wants to help them out with playing baseball, basketball, maybe football. He’s played in both sports, and so, that’s what he likes to do. We should just be trying to aspire to go for the fullest that we can.
My background, and my upbringing is such that, stay away from the drugs, stay away from too much alcohol, don’t go with people who are going to be doing all kinds of crazy things. If it looks too dangerous, don’t do it. I learned from various safety experiences in construction work, if you actually got to look around and seeing if anybody looking at you on doing something, it ain’t safe. [LAUGHTER] That’s how I am.
Franklin: Okay, well, Maurice, thank you so much for taking the time to come down and interview with us today.
Watson: Sure, sure.
View interview on Youtube.
FFTF (Fast Flux Test Facility)
Washington Public Power Supply Systems