AFRICAN AMERICAN VOICES, 2004-2006

This collection of oral histories details the African American experience in the California's Central Valley through the life stories of eleven longtime residents and community elders. These histories were gathered between 2004 and 2006 in a project coordinated by community volunteer Nancy Whittle who also conducted most of the interviews. Highlights of the collection include two conversations with the Fresno Police Department's first African American Sergeant Jack Kelley, founder of the African American Historical and Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley. Interviews with other civic leaders include Dr. Edward Mosley and Pastor Jimmie D. Adams. Goldie Jones and Edna Reid shared family histories that detail their agricultural heritage. Business owners Nadir Ali, Mack Haynes, and Charley Scott shared their recollections of West Fresno and Chinatown. These oral histories document the lives and experiences of the generation after those recorded in the Ethnic Oral History Project, 1977-1978

 

Subjects include:  African American migration to California's Central Valley, social, political and cultural organizations in the community, the importance of religion in personal and community life, changes in neighborhoods and districts, discrimination and the Civil Rights Era, and personal remembrances of African American farming families, laborers, professional and business people.

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Fresno Cubs at FInk Smith Park c 1914.jp

Cubs Baseball Team at Fink-Smith Playground, circa 1914. First all black amateur baseball team in Fresno. First row, seated, left to right: unidentified, Frank Robinson, and Earl Jones. Second row, left to right: Joe Holmes, unidentified, Percy Bost, Clarence Watkins, and unidentified. Third row: Happy Seixas, unidentified, and Carthon Bigby. William A. Bigby, Jr. Oral History, Fresno County Historical Society Archives.


 

 

 

 

Date of Interview: May 16, 2005
 


Pastor Adams discussed growing up in the South during the Depression, the effects of Jim Crow laws and the treatment of African Americans; his arrival in Central California; and working the fields in Brawley and other California locations. He described his father opening the first African American owned auto repair shop in Fresno, development and changes in his West Fresno neighborhood over the years, and how he started his ministry.
 


 

 

 

Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mr. Ali’s family has lived in the Central Valley since 1919. His father was one of the first African American shareholders in the Danish Creamery Association. He shared memories of growing up on a farm, life in Firebaugh and Caruthers, changes in the Chinatown area in Fresno, becoming the first African American teacher at Bullard High School, principal at King Elementary and his involvement with the Nation of Islam. Mr. Ali described his various entrepreneurial ventures, including securing one of the largest government contracts in the food industry, which was documented in Fortune Magazine, and operating the Central Fish Market.


Interviewer: Ruth Lang

Ms. Davis related her family’s contributions to the community through the activities of her parents’ dry cleaning business and her grandparents’ Chinatown hotel. She shared her views on past and current racial discrimination in the Fresno housing market through her work experience as a comptroller.

 

 


Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Ms. Douglas shared her special history in Fresno regarding her work with local teenagers and senior citizens, the start of the Meals on Wheels program, and her role in the development of the Hinton Community Center. She also told of her family background, her work experience as a welder and riveter during World War II, and her travels abroad as the ambassador to the Council of Senior Citizens.

 


Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

 

 

 

 

 

Mack Haynes was interviewed on June 14, 2005 at the Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church at 207 E. San Joaquin in Fresno, California. He was the first African American bricklayer to establish his own construction business in Fresno, and he mentioned many of the buildings his company helped construct, including structures in Chinatown. He also describes the activities of the local bricklayer's union. He, and his brother Junious, told about their move from Mississippi to California, the local farming community where their family lived, the racism they endured, and how the local African American church impacted the social and spiritual needs of their community.
 


 

 


Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Ms. Jones described two families, the Whittles and Joneses, and their experiences with farming in the Central Valley. The Jones Family bought land in the Riverdale/Lanare area in 1906, and the Whittles came from Arkansas to the Chowchilla/Dairyland area in 1926.  She gave an account of farming and dairy operations, labor camp conditions, social, church and school activities. 

 

 

 

 


Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mr. Kelly was the first African American Police Sergeant in Fresno. He related stories of his family background, experiences in college athletics, patrolling Chinatown as a policeman, facing discrimination in police department, and establishing Fresno’s African American Museum.
 

 

 

 


Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Dr. Mosley discussed his experiences as one of the first African American physicians in Fresno, his involvement on the board of the State Center Community College District, the stories of his childhood years in the Midwest and his medical training in the South, and his first-hand account of the Montgomery bus boycott.  

 


Interviewer: Aushua Mayberry

Ms. Reid shared her memories of her grandmother, Eliza Lopast, an early Fresno pioneer and one of the first members of the Second Baptist Church.  Through the stories told to her by her grandmother, as well as remembering her own experiences, Ms. Reid provided insight into the lives of the first black settlers of the region, including vivid descriptions of early harvesting methods.  

 

 

 


Interviewer: Nancy Whittle

Mr. Scott owned a longtime dry cleaning business in West Fresno where he interacted daily with the black community. He told stories of the West Side and customers he served during the many years his cleaners operated, as well as his military experiences during World War II. 

* Please note that language and vernacular in oral histories are, by their nature, meant to reflect common usage of the day. Through this unedited method, historical accuracy is preserved rather than interpreted.

 

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