Interview with Franklin Brooks, 2014 July 29

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Interview with Franklin Brooks, 2014 July 29
Brooks, Franklin ( Interviewee )
Taylor, Jessica ( Interviewer )
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Oral history interview


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Tidewater Main Street Development Project
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Virginia -- Mathews


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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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TMP 047 Franklin Brooks 7-29-2014 ( SPOHP )


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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, S POHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript i s written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information abo ut SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015


TMP 047 Interviewee: Franklin E. Brooks Interviewer: Jessica Taylor Date: July 29, 2014 T: This is Jessica Taylor on July 29, 2014 in Mathews, Virginia. Sir, can you please state your full name? B: Franklin E. Brooks. T: Franklin E. Brooks. And when were you born? B: I was born 1946. T: Okay. B: I n March. T: All right. And where were you born? B: I was born here in Cardinal, Virginia. T: B: Myrtle Brooks. T: Okay, and what did they do? B: Wel l, my mom was a homemaker, and my father, he worked on the dredge boats and oyster boats. T: Okay. Did he have his own boat? B: T: Who did he work for?


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 2 B: I think it was Miles. T: Okay. B: There was a company and that was his na me: Miles. T: Did he do that all his life? B: happened, but it happened. T: sorry. B: Yeah. T: You were fifteen. B: No, at that time I was about ten. T: B: Ten years old. T: Oh, my gosh. B: Yeah. T: How did your family recover from that? B: Well, of course, my mother died when I was nine months, okay? And my grandmother raised me, right down the road here in a little place called Miles,


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 3 Virginia. Then after she passed, I lived with my aunt. Of course, I got married een married fifty years now. Same woman. T: B: Yes. T: What was your grandmother like? B: Oh, she was sweet. Yep. Miss Susie Brooks. She was a sweet lady. T: She lived in Miles, you said? B: We lived at Miles, right. T: Okay. What was t he house that she lived in like? B: Well, it was like an old farmhouse, like the one over there. Something like that. and it worked out very well for us, I think. T: I need to slow you down a little bit. B: Oh, okay. T: B: how would you say it? had a little pa n on the side of th e stove where they put the water to heat the water back in the day. Then we had something, what we used to call an icebox, where they bought ice and put the ice up in the top of it. That would help keep the food.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 4 T: Wow, w here did you get your ice from? B : little plant around here. And we went and got fifty pounds every so often when we T: What kind of foo d did your grandmother cook? B: Well, I would say stuff like, come out of the garden, like vegetables. We had hogs T: Okay. B: And we had a few chickens. We used to have that every now and then. T: [Laughter] So, I understand you decided not to go the route your father into marine life, on the sea. B: T: What influenced that decision? B: After his death . it kinda woke me up to the fact that I wanted to do something else. My brother, he went to the route being a fisherman, but I went on to the T: Before we go to that, where did you go to school? B: I went to school at Thomas Hunter. And of course, before we went there we had a one room school right down the road here at Miles right across from the Zion


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 5 we went to s chool. T: What years did you go to school there? B: T: What was that one room schoolhouse like? B: Well, it was just an open room, and had a stov e. That was it; had a few little T: Desks? B: [Laughter] Never did have desks, not during that time. T: Okay. Did they give you books? B: Yes, they had books. Mm hm. T: Do you remember any in particular that you read? B: No, T: No? Okay. B: C ertainly no. T: Do you remember your teachers or anything like that? B: Courtney Blake. She did one year, and then we moved on.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 6 T: les. Was that a distinct community? B: Cardinal area. And Miles was about a mile down. It was actually the area there, They just had it set up that way. Like Cardinal, we had an old post office right up the road here, and then right down about a mile, a mile and a half, you had another post office which was named Miles. That was just the name of the area. And then you wou ld s where you picked up at. T: Okay. B: And then if you went a little further, about a mile down the road, it was ] Yeah, T: Mm hm. Right. Did Miles have its own store? B: Actually, that was what they used to call Miles Store. You had a post office in there, they had the old mill in there, where they grind the corn and meal and made bread. Yeah, that was Miles. [Laughter] Yeah. T: Okay. How is Miles different from other communities in Mathews?


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 7 B: ever ybody that could go there and you could get this done. T: room schoolhouse, what was it like to transiti on to Thomas Hunter? B: Well, it was different. To me, it was huge because of the simple reason we only one through eight. You had kids t have that many kids. You just had the community right where you were, of kids. [Laughter] Mm hm. You know. T: Yeah. So you met more people. B: Oh, yeah. Plenty of people. T: What did you think about meeting people that you had never met before from other communities? B: Oh, I thought it was nice. T: Yeah? Okay. B: Yeah, sure did. T: Make any good friends? B: Oh, yes. Plenty of good friends. Even around here, where we lived, I was raised in the area right where Miles was, but most of my friends was white because I used to go down there. I used to live in that same community and we grew up


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 8 with Dinky like I used We just all grew up together, you know? T: Mm like a total stranger to be talking to about this, but what were race relations like in Mathews, and how d id they change over time? B: Well, I guess . during that time, people got along well with each other. Never really had any problems during that time as far as race relations because from the time you got started as a little one and you grew up and you knew the people, how you treat folk and how folk to treat you, whether you socialize or you just disregard people Because you got some people e using that as an example. You want to be hospitable, you want to be able to love one anot her, but you gotta know how to do that. Because if I bring you apples T: B: Yeah. But for the people, hey. I never had a problem. T: Alright. M: Told you he doe T: Okay.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 9 M: [Laughter] Nobody thinks of him that way. T: B: I graduated from Thomas Hunter. T: Okay. So what grades does Thomas Hunter go to? B: Well, it went to the twelfth grade. T: It went to the twelfth grade, okay. Where did it start at it was elementary school? B: Yes. It was elementary right on through. And then when the schools integrated, but it still was like they are to this day. They are, what you call it, middle school. T: That was my understanding. I thought it was a middle school. B: Mm hm. T: Okay. So what did you think about your high school education? B: It was good. It got me through. T: What did you do in the a fternoons or in your spare time? B: Well, in my spare time I worked. I used to go down to Mobjack, and I used to work for a Jewish M: Philpott.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 10 B: to mow his grass down on the water, on the point. Mary Philpott, and she married Cole Hudgins. And I used to do this, and I did this until I was about sixteen. And then, I got a job at Newport News Shipbuilders. I was seventeen, and my guardian signed for me, that I could go in an T: Was your guardian your aunt at this time? B: Yes, yes. She was my aunt Miss Valerie I went there and went to work, then I went to school again in there for my job. T: What made you decide to leave the county to ge t work? B: support a family. What I did, I got married. I was seventeen. Margie and I, we had a little trailer sitting right back over there and we stayed in that for about four years. The n, I built this. I did this myself. John and Wanda Gale, they came and did all the beautiful brickwork. T: B: went to school for that: I worked in Richmon d just for a short while, and I went to school for Alexander Building and Construction Company, and they sent me to went to school for the engineering and blueprint reading, s where I learned that stuff.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 11 T: So what were these schools? Where were they at? How did that work? B: Well, the one was in Richmond at Willow Lawn. He had set up a school for his workers. And then the other school was the apprentice s chool in Newport News at the shipyard. They had schools for us to go to. I went to welding school and all when I was there. T: So did you meet your wife in high school? B: I met her before high school. Ever since she was thirteen, that was my girl. [Laught er] T: Wow. B: Yeah, yeah. T: So where did you take girlfriends on dates? B: Well T: Or just the singular girlfriend, I guess. B: Yeah. Well, we just did things together. Mostly it was at church, because we did things with the church a lot. Even today, t church. [Laughter] So, anyway, we went to Richmond sometimes. My father in s Dominion and stuff like this when we was in high school. Then we went to Seaview Beach, Buckroe Beach down in Hampton. We did that. Then we had little socials and stuff like that. We used to have an old hall down there, right across from the cemetery? M: Yeah.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 12 B: We had a hall there. We used to have little socials and stuff. our d ating and whatnot. T: B: [Laughter] Well, the hall was a Masonic lodge in the beginning, okay? And then they would allow the church to use it to have little functions. Today, we pull th e hall down and we still own the property. We just keep it cut, keep it nice, and like the race relations and stuff like that now, they used that for their parking when they had funerals in the cemetery right beside it . The people were so nice, when w e pulled the hall down, the church down the road right on the corner M: Grace? Next to me? B: No, the one up the road. M: Emmanuel. B: Emmanuel paid half to clean it up and to make it presentable. For years and years, Mr. Owens and his wife always took care of the grounds as far as the driveway and stuff like that. For years and years. We still own it. T: B: Yeah. T: So just so I know, which church is your church? B: Zion Baptist Church.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 13 T: the hall used to be. B: Yes, and actually a part of it used to be that was called little Zion at one time. the multipurpose hall that was incorporated and put right onto our old chu rch. We use it now as a . T: Yeah, as a meeting space. B: Yeah. M: Willie Rawford j acks it up, turned it around, and moving it over, and attached it to the church. [Laughter] T: B: Yeah, and that church has been there ever since 1865. T : That same building. B: That same building, right. T: Wow. B: Yeah. T: B: Yes, it has. Yes. T: Were they involved in the founding of it?


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 14 B: Oh, now that . yes, yes, yes. Reverend Hubert Brooks, he was my cousin. Ye s, and all of them. They was, like he said, Willie Rawford, all that bunch. T: What were you told about the history of the church? B: What was I told? T: What were you told about it? B: Well, they say it started back in the 1800s, but they started in what they call a church a great [inaudible 22:18] a place where they used to meet, because at they had it and they had that one in the church. The coloreds, or blacks, they was up in the balcony you know and the preacher at that time was white. T: Yeah? B: T: Yeah. B: then when they did have one, two dollars, or something like that which they I got books at the church now where they how they pay for this stuff. Ten and fifteen cent; can you imagine? [Laughter] T: No. B: Yep.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 15 T: No. So what kind of social events did they put on at the hall? You said dances and that kind of thing? B: Yeah, they did dances. They wo uld have Easter egg hunts, and a lot of little stuff like that for the kids. T: Did you all ever do anything for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Christmas? B: Yeah, they always had plays and stuff like that. But then they got to the point that they had all that stuff at church. Yeah, the church now. T: So they had Christmas plays? Is that what your B: Yes. Mm hm. Yeah. T: B: [Laughter] T: I think ungest groom B: Yeah? Well, my wedding day, what we did and how we did it . we went to the April 24 on Saturday, my wife and I, we got married. And my first wedding night, I T: It was great? B: Yeah.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 16 T: B: Yeah. T: Why did you decide to get married at seventeen? It was just time? B: husband. He was a deacon down at the church. He raised me from ten until I was about sixteen. As young men at that time, when you got six teen, seventeen, you thought you was a man, right? [Laughter] So you did manly things. And manly things got me a little daughter and then I was ready to get married. By that time, I saved me two thousand dollars. I thought I was rich. [Laughter] M: You were, in those days. B: And I went and bought my trailer and I was getting straight. So from that day to Guys ask me all the time, how in the world you did that? I say, well, if you say you love somebody and she and I are just like that, even right today. Yep, very close, very close. And I taught that to my children. My children, they do it. Everybody doing well in their marriages and stuff like that, because the way that we taught them. M: How many children do you have? B: Well, I had two. My boy died a t birth, and then I adopted one: Used to live over there? Earl Forrest? I had adopted senior chief in the Navy. Uh huh. And I sent him to college. Of course, my


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 17 well. [Laughter] T: Yeah. When did you adopt your son? B: T: Oh, okay. B: And we six now. T: Did you know his parents? B: Yeah. T: Okay, great. B: Yeah. T: B: And I tell you, it worked real nice. It worked out good for him and good for us, too. He over there in the hot spot now. M: Is he? B: [Laughter] Yeah, he on the carrier though. M: Oh, boy. B: M:


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 18 B: hat you do, if you love it. My wife and my granddaughter was down there with the wife Saturday past. They went down to grandkid. Mm hm. T: Did he take after you? B: Yeah, very much so. T: Tell me about your career with the shipyard. B: you can go out any time you want to. All you got to do is just get the right paperwork and just go on out, you know? Anyway, I really enjoyed my work there. We was building the carriers and stuff like the first one I worked on was the Enterprise when I first went there. I did that, and then we had the Hammerhead which was the submarine. I worked on that. And then I worked on the U.S.S. America which was another carrier. And I did that. The Nimitz we built that. Then we did three frigates; they were battleships. Then we worked on the Wisconsin she had


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 19 You know, they retired he r. Then the Reagan the Bush we built all of those carriers. T: ? B: was a great president too, I think. He did a lot of stuff, and I kinda like the way he did things. I mean, he was frank in what he was doing and how he did it. Like today, you take like against the president to try to keep things done they can open the money up to g et the jobs to the people. [Laughter] And stuff like that. M: B: you pay for it, you know T: Yeah. So, you retired pretty recently then if you built a ship named after Bush, right? B: Yes. T: When did you retire? B: I retired 2004, so ten years ago. Mm hm.


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 20 T: So starting at the beginning, did you interview for your job or was it a kind of a thing where you can just walk in and just B: Well, my dad had a friend, Mr. Pen Edwards. Remember him? Little short fella? M: Mm hm. B: And he hired many persons from this area Mathews, Gloucester, Middlesex because he knew the people and he knew the brand of people, where they come from and that they would work. I talked to him, told him I need a job. He asked me, he said, well, you a Bro oks? I said, yeah. He says, any kin to Lyman Brooks? I said, I think we are cousins. Then he said, how about J. Murray Brooks? I said, yeah. I said, that was our cousin also. Like this, you know. He aid Because Mr. Brooks, he was a principal. And then the brother was the dean over at the college in Norfolk State. And he asked me, was I willing to go to school? I told him yes. Hired me right there on the spot, told me to come in the morning, be there at seven, and they would take me down and we would go through orientation. And of course, your health [Laughter] Yeah, yeah. T: What was your position when you started? B: Well, I was a helper. I was a helper. Then I worked with some of the best fitters; I times: first went to welding school, then I went to blueprint reading, then I went to


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 21 hull design. It worked out. Then I happened to be in the right place at the right time, then I became a first class mechanic, then I became a specialist, and then from a specialist to inspector, then from an inspector to supervisor. Then I retired. [Laughter] T: B: Yeah, yeah. Then you think that amazing? You remember John Blake, used to cook the [inau dible] chicken? His son is vice president of the shipyard today. ephew. T: Wow. B: six in the whole shipyard. M: If you work hard. B: Oh, yeah, and prepare yourself. T: So walk me through a typical day when you first started. B: Well, wh en I first started, you go in and you would meet in a specific area. Every day, that was your meeting spot, which you would start at seven and a whole lot of times, I used to go in and be there before seven. You had to get tack lines for the welding. I use d to go down and get my equipment, because we had something we called piecework. The quicker you do it, the more money you make. And I was there for the money. [Laughter] I used to get there early, go get my tack line, tie it to my bag, and have my tools o n the job. Then when that


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 22 whistle blow, we leave right there on the job, start a welding, putting stuff together to get ready. Like sometimes we had to build the foundations Sometime we had to build a foundation as this house. But you had to put everything there, and you did everything by lines. You take a line, you pop your lines and stuff in. We used to had a guy to come out load the e rows in the ship like that going up this way. So you had to cut the material off to fit that section. See, something round, like this right here? In other words, the other piece of equipment g ot to come in and fit so they can weld it. All that kind of stuff like that. T: Wow. B: whistle blow. The whistle would blow to let everybody know that, this is twelve minutes to one t supposed to be at your job working. Typical day. T: How did the technology change over time? B: Very much so. Wel l, [Laughter] it changed from, I would say for instance. Say one time, you had to build everything in place. Like you would


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 23 it up, and you can put everything on that mower, and then you can set it right in place. And then you make it up like a bulkhead or something like that. You put everything on the bulkhead that you need, and then you have your lines on the deck. You just s et that bulkhead on that line and everything will line up. M: And weld it down. B: so good at it, we would build units a whole, say, bigger than that house over there then th e cranes w ould pick that up and bring it and set it in pl ace, and You take a house and you sit this house and what we want in this particular house, and this house will be diffe rent, see? M: You think he liked it? B: [Laughter] Yeah, I enjoyed it because you learn so much. From where I started into the knowledge that I have today . all because of paying attention, you see the changes not just in work, but in people and thing s that you deal with every matter. You know what I mean? But down there, them people want to kill each M:


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 24 B: Yeah. Yeah. M: city. B: Oh my Lord yeah. Yeah. And they had people I tell you what. We go to work, attempt to come to work that house over there. We come fifty, sixty miles, one way, to get to work. And T: Interesting. Interesting. So walk me through your typical day as a supervisor now. B: It was easy to me, because first of all, you had the respect of your people that up and then I present it to certain ones. Of course, you have this thing of, you like him more than you like me. All this stuff, childish stuff, you run into that, rather went down and did my job. If the supervisor presented me with a job, said, Frank, I want you to go down and do so and and so to do it? That never entered into my mind. He asked me to do it. Okay. Same thing treat my men when I was working. Working the men, I would tell them, certai n jobs you are better at than so and so, and we gotta get that job out. Then, being that you know that that guy have problems


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 25 want to do it, he was slow at it, you let him put him on it to train him that he can do it. I found that they appreciate that more. Yep, mm hm. T: How did you develop your management ethic? It seems unique. B: Well, I guess by working around him. [Refers to John Machen] Yeah, I mean, even his son. Then we have another guy down here I used to pick flowers. M: Daffodils. T: Right. B: Yeah, what is his name? M: Middleborough. B: like that. But just the way he treated you, make you want to work. M: B: Yeah. Yeah. And do a good job. When you stand over somebody and try to rush you treat people like you want to be treated, and have respect for them and stuff like that, you get a whole lot of things done. But if mm. T: Interesting. So those are most of the qu estions that I had, but I wanted to see if you had any family stories from your family in Mathews, like how they got here or


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 26 any anecdotes you heard about your grandparents, any ghost stories, anything like that? B: [Laughter] Yeah, we had a man come up ar ound that corner there pulling an average cut. [Laughter] Was it James Smith? That thing jumped on his back! [Laughter] M: T: I am lost. B: Oh, okay. Okay. We had a young man and he was walking down the road. He said this thing jumped on his back and rode his back right down this road, and he run all the way down from that corner up there that little corner right there. See, normally in the summertime, if you walk up there in the evening, a warm air will blow on you, or not, but anyway, he said it did. And he ran all the way to White Snake. T: Wow. B: Aw, Lordy. Yeah, it was something. T: Do you h B: No. [Laughter] T: [ En d of interview ]


TMP 047, Brooks; Page 27 Transcribed by: Jessica Taylor, September 8, 2014 Audit e dited by: Maria Fuentes, October 9, 2014 Final edited by: Jessica Taylor