Interview with Olden Richmond
An interview conducted by the African American Community Cultural and Educational Society (AACCES) as part of an oral history project documenting the lives of African Americans in the Tri-Cities during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Vanis Daniels: My name is Vanis Daniels, II. And we’re here to interview Mr. Olden Richmond—
[camera operator]: You can start over.
Daniels: Yeah. Okay, my name is Vanis Daniels. We’re here to interview Mr. Olden Richmond for his information from Hanford and his contribution to World War II for our History—Triple-A-S, which is History and Recognition Committee. I’m from the History and Recognition Committee. And if Mr. Richmond doesn’t have anything, we would like to get started with the interview. Mr. Richmond, when did you arrive in the Tri-City area?
Olden Richmond: 1943.
Daniels: Approximately what month?
Richmond: It must’ve been around—about April, somewhere around about April, something like that. Far as I can remember, it’s been so long.
Daniels: Yeah, I understand. Did you come by yourself, or did someone come with you?
Richmond: I had relatives come with me.
Daniels: And could you give us their names, please?
Richmond: Mr. Vanis Daniels—
Daniels: That’s the number one.
Richmond: And Edmon—wasn’t his Edmon?
Daniels: Yes, mm-hmm.
Richmond: Edmon Daniels.
Daniels: And Mr. Edmon Daniels would be my great-uncle. Mr. Vanis Daniels would be my dad. And how old were you? Just say 29.
Richmond: Oh, around 29, 30.
Daniels: Right. Where did you live before you came to the Tri-Cities?
Richmond: Kildare, Texas.
Daniels: Okay. What kind of work did you do there?
Richmond: Well, I did most all around. I farmed some, and I worked in the sawmill. That’s about all, the farming and working on the sawmill.
Daniels: Okay. How did you hear about Hanford?
Richmond: Well, I heard it on the radio. That they was going to put up a plant at Hanford, and so I checked with Mr. Daniels, my cousin, and got with him, and we made it up to come to Pasco.
Daniels: Well, that would tell me why you decided to come to Hanford. How did you travel when you came here, how did you come?
Richmond: Come on a plane.
Daniels: On the train?
Richmond: No, plane. Plane, caught the plane here. Okay?
Daniels: Where was the first place you stayed after, when you got here? Where’d you live at?
Richmond: Lived over here on Douglas in a trailer.
Daniels: Did you ever stay in the barracks?
Richmond: Yup, yup. We stayed in this trailer ‘til they got barracks fixed up for the laborers to go in.
Daniels: Okay, now, was that for the laborers to go in, since everything was segregated out there, was those the black barracks they built for the black workers?
Richmond: Well, it was mixed, yeah. It was made for the laborers, for everybody.
Daniels: Oh, okay. And then how did they get you back and forth to work?
Daniels: And then what kind of work did you do, and the areas that you worked in?
Richmond: Well, I’d clean up and digging the ditches and so on like that. Sometime, my foreman would put me with the concrete crew and I’d work with them.
Daniels: And then what areas did you work at?
Richmond: 200-West, and White Bluffs, we went all over, you know, cleaning up.
Daniels: Did you ever work at B Reactor?
Richmond: No, I don’t think so.
Daniels: Did you work at C Reactor?
Daniels: Did you work at D and DR?
Richmond: I think so. That was way out in—was that DR or—in White Bluffs, wasn’t it?
Daniels: Yeah, D and DR is at White Bluffs, yeah. F and H, right.
Richmond: It’s been so long, I can’t think of those things. [LAUGHTER]
Daniels: Yeah, because—we may edit this part out, but from what I understand, you guys started at B Reactor. And you worked all the way through all the reactors, including, and the last reactor is, F. You had B, you had C, you had K-East, K-West, D, DR, H and F. Those were the reactors out there.
Daniels: And you guys were some of the first people to even go to, for instance, F Reactor, except the surveyors. My dad said when you guys got down there, wasn’t nobody there but the surveyors and a bunch of stakes. He said, because when they sent you guys over there, you was looking for a building. And there wasn’t no building nowhere to be found. They was wandering around, he said, took them almost all day to find it. Because they was looking—they knew approximately where it was, but they thought it was a building of some sort down there. And wasn’t nothing down there but a bunch of stakes down there. They had a truckload of stuff they had to unload.
Richmond: That’s right, you’re right! Yup.
Daniels: Okay. And who did you work for when you were doing this—
Richmond: I worked for—what was that guy’s name I called?
Daniels: Yeah, but what company was it? Was it DuPont--?
Daniels: DuPont, okay.
Daniels: Well, other than the fact that you came here because there were better wages—
Daniels: --than you were making where you were, what did you like about working out there?
Richmond: Well, I made more money. Came here to make a living and I had a family. So I liked it better here. Because I did fairly well when I come here.
Daniels: Okay, now, from what I understand, from what you were making where you came from, and a full day’s work after you got here, you made almost as much money in one day as you did in a week back there.
Richmond: Right, right, right. I worked a whole five days a week off the farm, $3.75. And I come here, they was paying a dollar an hour. That was with, running around when we was working out there for eight hours, and we run around maybe about three, pretty close to $500 a week.
Daniels: Okay. How did they treat you out there? And you can go on and tell me about what we were talking about.
Richmond: Yeah, well, I run into one redneck out there. I was down in the hole, cleaning out behind the ironworkers—you know what I’m talking about, when they burn those wires, you had to take it out, clean all of that, you know where they compose cement. So this one redneck he walked by me and looked down in the hole on me. He said, I should just kick your ass. And I looked up at him like that, and I said, no, you won’t kick my ass, I said. We will fight. And he started down in the hole, and I met him with the shovel. And he—the wire where the cement people were working at, just about tall as that fence there, and John Brown, he started to running and by the time he hit the ground, I was right on with him with that shovel. So Butler, he sees me running this guy, and he’s running off, he said, Olden, sir, what’s the matter? I said, this guy was saying he was going to kick my goddamn ass and I told him we were fighting, I told him, I say, we were fighting. So that settles that. So Butler fired him.
Daniels: So by that, you’re saying that your supervision would stand up for his workers.
Daniels: Whether they were black, white, blue or yellow.
Richmond: He treated everybody the same. If you did wrong, you went.
Daniels: Okay. What was the hardest thing about adjusting to being away from home and working out there at Hanford?
Daniels: Getting used to, you had to get used to it.
Richmond: I had to get used to it, yeah. From being away from home, you had to get used to it. And sooner or later, later on, I sent for my wife to come on and she went to work in the mess hall. So of course they had all the women, they had separate barracks. It had wire fences around it about like that tall at Charles Evans’ place there, and they wire all the way up. They’d let you up there at certain times and certain times you had to get out. You could go see—if you had a wife or something like that, you could go in there and stay until—well, you go around in there about 5:30, 6:00, what time you got through eating, then you go and stay with your wife until about 8:00, 9:00. Then they had guards at the gate. If you stayed too long, then he’s going to find you and get you out of there.
Daniels: Oh, I see. One question that I’d like to ask is, what entertainment—after you was off work, like on weekends and things, what did you guys do?
Richmond: Well, some gambled, some gambling and they had—what you call those things? A music box. They had a music box—
Richmond: --and a beer joint and everything in the recreation hall. That’s where we—some gambling, some running and drink, all stuff like that.
Daniels: When you left off of the Hanford Site, where did you guys go for the weekend?
Richmond: We come to here. We come to this side of the Tri-Cities.
Daniels: Okay, and how long did you work out there at Hanford?
Richmond: I worked up to ’50, 1950.
Daniels: Okay. Do you remember the name of any of the black people you worked with?
Richmond: Well, let me see. I worked with Cooper—you remember Cooper, don’t you?
Richmond: Well, I worked with your dad, too, and your uncle, Cracker. I worked with them.
Daniels: Okay, that would be Mary and Barton, WL Daniels, Vanis Daniels.
Richmond: We put in a railroad out there you know, remember?
Daniels: Yes, yes.
Richmond: And Willie Hicks, you know. You know Willie Hicks. I worked with him. Let me see, who else now? Russell, I worked with Russell out there.
Daniels: That’s David Raines.
Richmond: David Raines, yup. Well, I don’t know, it’s been quite a few. It don’t come to me right off.
Daniels: Oh, well. If it comes to you, we can come back to it later. Do you have any pictures or any old pictures or anything like that from back then at Hanford?
Richmond: No, I don’t have any pictures at all.
Daniels: Well, do you know of any other people that we may talk to and get some information from?
Richmond: Well, right off, I—it’s just like I was telling you about Reverend Barnes and Luzell Johnson, they probably can give you some information, too. And most of the guys that I could recommend, they gone, they’ve passed, they dead. So that’s the old-timers, you know.
Daniels: Okay then. I’ve got a couple of more questions. Since you retired from Hanford, or left Hanford, how has life been in the Tri-Cities for you?
Richmond: Well, it’s been real good, far as I’m concerned. About as well as you’d expect.
Daniels: Oh, okay, okay. Well, could you tell me a little bit about your family, like how many kids you got, how many great-grandkids you got, great-grandkids, where they live in the Tri-Cities, whether they live in Pasco, Kennewick or Richland, and like that?
Richmond: Well, John, Jr. he stays out there right across from K-Mart. And Stephanie, she stays in—
Daniels: Now, John, Jr. is your grandson.
Richmond: John, Jr. is my grandson and Stephanie is my granddaughter. And Sherry, she’s my granddaughter. And so, Melva, she’s my daughter.
Daniels: Right, okay, and she lives in Pasco?
Richmond: She lives on Sycamore over here in Pasco.
Richmond: So, let me see. I’m five generations of great-grandkids. So let me see. About six, I got six great-grandkids. And let me see, Stephanie—one, two, three, four—well, I got two grandkids in Flint, Michigan. [UNKNOWN] So I pretty well got around ten to twelve kids and grandkids and great-grandkids and all.
Daniels: Okay, and you can tell me about your wives if you want to. If you don’t, that’s personal business. I mean, that’s your business.
Richmond: About my first wife?
Daniels: And your second one, too.
Richmond: And my second one? Oh, I had a second wife, she was a doll. I love her right in the grave right now. She was the sweetest, sweetest thing. We never did have a fight. Never did have a fight. She always called me babe, someone, so-and-so, we’d have little spats or something, but we’d get together on it and everything. So that was the way it went. Yeah, I’d stand up there now sometime now and look at her picture and water run down my eyes.
Daniels: I can imagine, I can imagine.
Richmond: That’s the best woman I ever had.
Daniels: And your first wife lived—
Richmond: First wife, she lived in Texas. She in Flint, Michigan. So, well, we didn’t—she was nice.
Daniels: Okay, we’re going—when did your first wife come out? ’44?
Richmond: I don’t remember what month she come.
Daniels: What year?
Richmond: She come out in the ‘40s.
Daniels: Oh, okay. I think she came out in ’44.
Richmond: ’44, somewhere in there. I don’t remember now.
Daniels: And now, you know, you went out there and you went to work, and you understood that it was a great big defense job. And you was making more money than you’d ever made in your life, per hour. Do you have any idea, I mean not now, but back then, did you know—did you have any idea what you were making, what you were building, or anything?
Richmond: No. No. Because we had FBIs, they’d come on through there, they walked all day long through there, asking questions. We did have no idea at all. We didn’t know what we doing. We don’t know what we were supposed to do, we were just there working, there to make a living.
Daniels: In other words, they gave you an assignment and you did what you were supposed to do.
Richmond: Yes. Gave me an assignment, I did what they told me to do.
Daniels: Okay, did they do any explaining to the workers and things as to whether what they were doing was top secret and that what went on out there was supposed to stay out there, or did they just not tell you anything, or--?
Richmond: Yeah, they said they didn’t want you to be talking.
Daniels: Okay, at that time, did you have to have different clearances to work in different areas and certain parts of the buildings and things that you worked in?
Daniels: And how hard was it for them to get a clearance for you?
Richmond: Not too—it wasn’t hard.
Daniels: In other words, you gave them the information as to where you were from and where you born, where you worked, where you had been in your life, and they were able to get the FBI to do some checking and you got your clearance from there. Okay, Mr. Richmond. That about concludes all of the questions that I have. Now, is there anything else you can think of or anything you’d like to tell us, or anything you’d like to say?
Richmond: Well, that’s just about all I got for now.
Daniels: Okay. Well, we thank you for the interview. And we can sit here and look at these pictures, because he’s going to cut that out.
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