Interview with Frankie Graham, 1999-11-26

Material Information

Interview with Frankie Graham, 1999-11-26
Graham, Frankie ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
World War II Oral History Collection ( local )
World War II
World War (1939-1945) ( fast )
Temporal Coverage:
World War II ( 1939 - 1945 )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'World War II' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
Resource Identifier:
WWII 005 Frankie Graham 11-26-1999 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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Arthur Durand Jones

American History 1914-1945
World War II Interview

Interviewee: Frankie Graham (hereinafter FG)

Occupation: domestic/maid
Race: African-American
Born: November 25, 1923
Location: Live Oak, Florida
Interview by: Arthur Durand Jones
Location/date: Winter Park, Florida on November 26, 1999.

Q. Were you born in Orlando?
FG. "No, Live Oak."

Q. That was a small town back then?
FG. "It still is. It was about 1,000 people in town and the country, more whites than
blacks." (second sentence was an answer off tape).

Q. In what year were you born?
FG. "November 25, 1923."

Q. Did you live in Live Oak throughout your childhood?
FG. "Yes, I left there in 1953."

Q. Did you have a big family?
FG. Just the two of us, two sisters, Mother and Dad. Mother died the year after Pearl
Harbor. Then it was just the three of us."

Q. You were not very old then?
FG. "Just eighteen."

Q. What did your Dad do?
FG. "We were basically farmers, everybody were farmers. By then he had kind of
stopped farming and worked in something called pulpwood. That is what he did
then until he retired, got too old; basically, a lot of farming. We lived way out in
the country so there was no work but farm work to do. So that is what we girls
did. We couldn't do front work." (Note: word "front" not clear on tape)

Q. Were things good, was there a lot of work?
FG. "Well farm work, yes, because really after the war started all the men were gone.
There was a lot of work that we hadn't been doing that the men had always done.
They grew tobacco. The men were always going in the field to gather it. And the
women had started gathering tobacco in a lot of places, and all of this that they
had not been doing."

Q. So lots of hard work?
FG. "Yes, that was hard."

Q. Do you remember where you were when you first heard about Pearl Harbor?
FG. "Oh, that one I will never forget. I was home. We had this extra sized battery
operated radio and we heard on Sunday evening late. It had happened long
before, but I guess we hadn't turned the radio on. It came on and everybody was
so shocked. I will never forget that one."

Q. Did any of your relatives go to war?
FG. "Some cousins, first cousins; there were two in the family living next to us and
they both had to go. We had no brothers."

Q. Did your cousins go into the army or the Navy?
FG. "They went into the army."

Q. Where were they stationed?
FG. "I really don't know. One went overseas, but I don't know where he was. It was
in the European Theater, but where I do not know."

Q. You said earlier that you had to do a lot of the work that men usually did?
FG. "Yes, like in the field, gathering the tobacco, work that the men had always done.
So many men were missing, then. They had gone to the Service."

Q. Were things hard to buy then?
FG. "Oh yes, now that was hard. They had stamps, coupons and things that certain
items were for and there were certain days that you could get certain items. That
was hard but it was enough for us, we got enough to live on. Because, on the
farm you grow most of your food to live on, anyway. That is what happened with

Q. Did wages go up with the war?
FG. "I don't think too much, as best I can remember. It was still not too much on the
farm. We were on the farm and they did not pay a lot. And I guess they did not
make a lot really."

Q. Who owned the farm?


FG. "After my Dad quit farming, we would go to different people that had farms that
needed help. They would hire us. They would pick us up, take us to work and
bring us back."

Q. Were farms all owned by whites?
FG. "Yes, mostly whites."

Q. How were race issues back then?
FG. "Well, we stayed in our corer. And they, and really white people were good to
us, but we didn't mix one way or the other and we knew that we didn't and we
didn't try anything, you know. It was as if there was an unwritten law there that
you knew where to be and not to be."

Q. Sort of like knowing your place?
FG. "Right! And that was the way it was. We accepted that and lived with that."

Q. Unfortunate.
FC. "We couldn't vote."

Q. Actually that was the next question.
FG. "No, we couldn't vote or anything like that."

Q. You were not allowed to vote?
FG. "No, no, you were not allowed to go to the poles. That was a part of the law

Q. Do you remember when you were first allowed to vote?
FG. "Oh yes! I was here (Orlando). But I think before then some people had voted,
but it was the Kennedy/Johnson era was when I registered to vote. You know
when that was. That is when I registered."

Q. During the war years, were some things harder than others to get?
FG. "Yes, like sugar and meats. Certain days you could buy meats. There were
certain types of cans, types of meat we would get, like Spam. We relied on
canned meats a lot. We did not have freezers and refrigerators in those days."

Q. Did you have electricity?
FG. "No, no, even the whites. The only people that had electricity had generators. A
lot of people didn't have it."

Q. So it was a part of the state that electricity didn't even come to town?
FG. 'No, it was rural. There was nothing. They hadn't put poles or wires down or
anything. So nobody had it but who ever had generators could afford to."

Q. When did you get electricity?


FG. "I had gone from our neighborhood when they got it. I left there in 1953, so I had
already gone. They finally got it that in that area, but now everybody has it."

Q. Did you have any boyfriends at the time that went off to war?
FG. "Yes, I had a boyfriend. We didn't get married. When the war was over, I found
somebody else. We each found somebody else."

Q. What kinds of things did you do on dates then?
FG. "We went to the movies in Live Oak, up in the town. They had two theaters. In
the evenings we could go, we would go the movies, or go to church on Sundays.
That was dating then. The movies and church were the only places we had to go,
I wanted to go, because we were taught that. There were little places, we called
them beer gardens, but our parents didn't allow us to go to them." (note: the
phrase "beer gardens" was hard to hear on the tape- "beer" is clear but "gardens"
was hard to be exact it could have been a different word).

Q. Where the movies segregated too then?
FG. "Yes, everything, we were upstairs and the whites were downstairs."

Q. Within the same theater?
FG. "Yes, but separated. The drinking fountains were separated, everything was

Q. And the schools were segregated?
FG. "Segregated."

Q. You went to school in Live Oak?
FG. "In the country, yes sir. But then when I got to high school I had to go up town.
There was one high school in our area; there was one for the whites and one for
the blacks. I went to Douglas High School."

Q. How did you get to school? Were there busses?
FG. "No, I had an aunt that lived within walking distance. She lived about two miles
from the school. So, I could live with her during the week, and walk to school;
and then come home on the weekends. I was getting away from home that is like
going to college."

Q. Was it a hard time or a fun time?
FG. "For me it was kind of fun. It was good, I didn't think of it of a hardship."

Q. Do you remember when the war ended?
FG. "Yes. I remember that."

Q. What were you doing then?
FG. "I don't know, jus, I got to be a grown woman then, I was working. After a
while, there was a laundry uptown. I would stay with my aunt and walk to work


to the laundry. That was after I was about twenty or so. That was work, always I
worked. Most of us had worked for the laundry and that was about it. That was
during and after the war."

Q. When did you get married?
FG. "1947, February 24."

Q. Was your husband in the war?
FG. "Yes he had come home from the war. We met right after he came home."

Q. Was he from Florida to?
FG. "I knew him before he went. We was from the same town."

Q. Was he in the army or the navy?
FG. "Army, he was in Germany and I think he said he went to Italy too, during the

Q. Didn't they have all black regiments them.
FG. "Yes, it was all black."

Q. Did he see combat?
FG. "He didn't fight, no. But he was in the combat zone. They were ammunition
support corps. He didn't actually fight."

Q. What were his reactions about being in the army?
FG. "Well, I think he kind of enjoyed it, really. Because he would talk about it all of
the time, the places he went and the things he did. And he was proud because he
learned to speak some German and he learned to speak some Italian. Things like
that, he was proud of."

Q. How was he treated when he came back? Did things do back to the way they
FG. "Yes, basically everything was the same."

Q. So he wasn't treated with respect for having served in the war?
FG. "Not really. We just did what we always had done, stayed in our neighborhood.
That was it. That didn't come until much later, the change."

Q. Still a long ways to go?
FG. "I suppose. I am always around the kind of people that always respected, I mean
now, and I don't see any racism or anything like that."

Q. Were there race problems during the war in Florida?
FG. "Yea."

Q. Was there something about a race war, so to speak?


FG. "Well, I don't know anything about that. That was the year I was home. That
was that little town, the village that was wiped out. I didn't know anything about
that, until recently. They had a lot of it in the paper. But then, this friend that
moved, from where we grew up, down to Mims, he was a civil rights leader. You
probably heard of him, Harry Moore. He was killed in Mims. He was a civil
rights leader of some standing. He had always been different; he and his wife
were killed. He and my mother grew up together and went to school together.
After he grew up and went to college, he didn't live there anymore. His Mother
lived there, but he didn't."

Q. Did many folks from your town go to college?
FG. "No, not during that time. Now, everybody goes from up there; almost
everybody. Just a few people were able to go to college, and I don't think they
had grants and things, like they do now. Just a few people could afford it."

Q. With all the men gone fighting, did families help each other out?
FG. "Yes, they did really, on the farm, even the whites. We would butcher our own
hogs, and things and when they killed their hogs, their neighbors, black and white,
got their share. When they harvested their crops, and you didn't have, they
shared. Everybody really shared with food. It didn't look at it as hard really. It
was different when you look back now, but then it was just a part of life."

Q. Was your husband proud to have served? Was there a patriotic feeling?
FG. "Yes, he just enjoyed it. He talked about it all of the time."

Q. You were in high school when the war started?
FG. "I had been going but at that particular time my Mother was sick and I wasn't at
school at all. I had stayed home, she couldn't do. And I took that year out of
school. Then in February she passed and the next year I went back to school. I
took a whole year out."

Q. Was there anything different in school during the war?
FG. "No."

Q. Did they teach you anything about the war, the countries?
FG. "Not then. We had American History from the past things, not the current."

Q. Was there a change in some of the teachers, did they go off to fight?
FG. "Some, they probably did, but at my school I do not remember anybody leaving
for the Service. Just the younger men, and it was really bare. Men, you would go
and you wouldn't see anybody, as for men. All of the young men were gone."

Q. It must have affected your dating, at an important age?
FG. "Yea, just the women."

Q. How big was Live Oak then?


FG. "About a 1,000 people in town and the country. More whites than blacks." (note:
answer off tape)

Q. How old were you when you worked in the fields?
FG. "Oh, I started when I was about twelve, until about nineteen." (Note: she
explained later offtape that she did everything in the fields except shuck the corn
used for fodder, as she was allergic to the corn husks).

Q. Were they long days?
FG. "Yes, you go early and worked until the sun started going down."

Q. Would you go from farm to farm as various crops came in?
FG. "Yes, who ever needed you. They would pick you up. We had our own place. So
they would pick you up and take you to their place to help them. Who ever
needed you."

Q. What kind of crops were grown in the area?
FG. "Tobacco, cotton, watermelons, and stuff like that. That was the money crops."

Q. What kind of things did you grow on your own property.
FG. "We had vegetables, corn, peas, everything. We canned them; we made our
jelly's and jams. We did everything."

Q. Would that be for your own family, or did families get together?
FG. "Mostly just for our family. Every family did their own canning. That is how we
lived from one summer to the other. During the winter we had our own. We had

Q. Were they for sale?
FG. "For our use. We killed the hogs and took them to the cold storage. They would
cure the meat for you."

Q. Would they be paid in cash or take some of the hog?
FG. "They would take some of the meat. We were just talking about it. I was talking
to my daughter about it the other day, and, like, grits and meal, we had our corn
that we would take to a mill. They would grind that into meal or grits, whichever
one you wanted, and they would take a portion. We didn't have a lot of money to
spend. Nobody had a lot of money."

Q. So you do a lot of things by trade?
FG. "Trade, yes. Then they could sell to the people that didn't have farms. That was
it, the way things were."

Q. You had one sister?
FG. "She kind of left us early. She married at sixteen. She got out early."


Q. So the first year during the war you were taking care of your Mother?
FG. "Yes. I was."

Q. Then the second year you went back to school?
FG. "Yes, well my Mother was gone then."

Q. Then you would work during the summer time?
FG. "Yes, I would work every summer."

Q. When did you start work at the laundry?
FG. "Probably when I was about twenty-one."

Q. When you worked at the laundry, would you also do work in the fields?
FG. "Not really. I had stopped the fields then."

Q. At twenty-one was when you got married too?
FG. "I was twenty three."

Q. Did your Father talk a lot about the war?
FG. "Not really; he was a quiet man. He didn't do a lot of talking. Even during
World War I he didn't go. He was 4-F.

Q. What was your Father's idea of fun for relaxation?
FG. "Nothing really. He worked hard and went to church. We didn't think it was
dull, but I guess we were dull people."

Q. Sounds like you were good hard working people?
FG. "Yea, we had to. That's what I tell my daughter and other people now. I have
worked all my life. Really, I should have stopped work ten years ago. But I am
still able to go and I still go and I will be going. Because that is all I have ever
done. If I had to sit and do nothing, I don't know how I would make it. Really, I
don't mean financially, either, I just don't know how I would make it. I am glad
that people are letting me come and do what I do. It is not that I do a lot of work,
but they let me do what I do. And I am really proud, happy about it. And I tell
them that I know they can get people to work if they wanted to. But they have me
and I am thankful. I don't do that much anymore. And I tell them that when I get
to the place where they are dissatisfied, just tell me. But if they don't tell me to
go, I'm not going on my own."

Q. Did you raise a lot of hogs?
FG. "We would have four or five to kill for meat for the next year. We would keep a
sow and kept a male."

Q. What was your typical day like then? Did you get up early?
FG. "Yes, we would get up real early, always around 5:30 or so, we were up."


Q. A big breakfast?
FG. "Yes, bacon, grits, biscuits. We used to have to make biscuits, and all that stuff.
We ate well."

Q. When your Mother passed away did you have to take on many of the duties at
FG. "Well yes, but I had always done that, because my Mother had been sick a long
time. She hadn't been able to work for years, but that year she had gotten worse.
So, she hadn't been able to do anything in the house for a long time."

Q. That must have put an extra burden on you?
FG. "I really didn't think of things like that. You just do them and you know you have
to do them."

Q. Did you like working some of the crops better than other in the fields?
FG. "Not really, on the farm you salvage everything. You don't throw away

Q. You mentioned you were listening and heard about the war on the radio. Is that
something that the family did, listen to the radio?
FG. "Yes, at night, I guess. I don't know why we didn't have it on earlier and didn't
hear it earlier in the day. When I think I guess we just didn't turn it on until
everybody gathered in and sat around in the evening and turned on the radio."

Q. Would your family gather around and listen to the radio as a group?
FG. "Yea, mostly, and comment on things. That is when we would all sit at the table
and eat as a group. Now we don't do that. But we just did things together."

Q. Would the family talk about things together over dinner?
FG. "Yes, whatever was going on in the community, the work situations and

Q. Where the men who came back from the war popular with the girls?
FG. "Oh, yes! A lot of people got married early."

Q. Did your husband volunteer or was he drafted?
FG. "He was drafted."

Q. Where did he go for his basic training?
FG. "Camp Blanding, that's where everybody went from our area."

Q. Was the basic training segregated too?
FG. "I am sure it was, because everything had to be then."

Q. Did you pay particular attention to listening to the radio and the war news?
FG. "My Dad always did, yes he did."


Q. I assume there were lots of people you knew off fighting?
FG. "Yes, from family and friends. Everybody had somebody missing, gone from
home. I don't know any that were killed though."

Q. Did the soldiers write home to tell family what was going on?
FG. "Some of them, some of them were careless. My husband's family had the Red
Cross look for him, it was so long since he wrote for a long time. I heard about it.
They found him, he just wouldn't write home. He said his CO came to him and
asked him when he had written home, and he couldn't tell him. And he made him
write, and then they started keeping in touch.