All About Love
Juanita Holmes shares the ins and outs of her life and time growing up in King George. She acknowledges love for her family and for her teachers who directed her attention to respect and personal growth versus racial differences and lack. She has much to say!
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Listen to the Interview
Juanita Holmes was interviewed on February 11, 2015 by Gabrielle Lindemann, a student at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The interview was conducted as part of the Road to School Desegregation in King George County, Virginia project.
If you would like to read along as you listen, the full transcript of Juanita Holmes’ interview is included below.
Interviewed by: Gabrielle Lindemann
Interview Date: February 11, 2015
Gabrielle Lindemann: My name is Gabby Lindemann and I am interviewing Juanita Holmes on desegregation in King George County. [The interview is taking place at the King George County Library on February 11, 2015 and the interviewee has accepted the release form.] Can you tell me what your life was like growing up and your family life?
Juanita Holmes: I was alone; my grandmother raised me. After my aunt and my uncle left for Washington, D.C. there wasn’t anyone in the house then but my grandmother and me. It was a lonely life, until two of my cousins [Thomas Johnson and Colleen Johnson]. I lived a strict family life because my grandmother was very strict. I didn’t have a whole lot, but I had plenty of love. So, that was mostly my family life.
GL: Did you grow up in King George County?
JH: Yes, my whole life except when I was grown, I went to Washington, D.C. for a year.
GL: OK. So, when was the first time you realized there was a difference between white and black?
JH: To me, there was no difference between white and black except one was one color and one was the other. I never had that theoretic complex of “I’m superior to you” or “you’re superior to me.” I never had that.
JH: So, to me it was just that one was one color and one was the other. No one told me or taught me any different that certain colors do this and certain colors do that. No, I didn’t have that. To me, because I never was really around a lot of white people, it was mostly colored people, and where I lived there weren’t a lot of people, because we were kind of spaced out.
GL: What recollections do you have about your time in school? What school did you go to first and what do you remember about your time there?
JH: When I first started going to school, it wasn’t Ralph Bunche, it was King George Training School. I remember a lot of things. My first-grade teacher was Mrs. Doretha C. Johnson. She taught us how to really begin the basic things to help you to become a better person. For instance, they don’t do it anymore, but every morning, every day, we had devotional service before we started class. We pledged allegiance to the flag and said the Lord’s Prayer. Either the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm; you had to learn that. It wasn’t reading it in a book, we had to learn it! When we had…recess, we all went out-everyone went out-and had to have a game to play. Most of the time the boy shot marbles and the girls played hopscotch or that ring around the Rosie that you used to call it. But that was when I was in the lower grade. As I got older, classes changed and teachers changed. Mrs. Johnson was our teacher for 3 years [first, second and third grades]. From grades four through seven, we had a different teacher each grade.
GL: When did you transfer from the training school to Ralph Bunche?
JH: By the time we got to the eighth grade, they had built Ralph Bunche. That was 1949; then we transferred to the eighth grade at Ralph Bunche High School.
GL: Did you have a favorite teacher? A memory of your class?
JH: Yes. My favorite teachers were Misses Lillian C. Brown and Ruth Miller [dead now]. Miss Brown was our typing teacher and Miss Miller was our basketball coach/teacher. My team won the first gold trophy for Ralph Bunche High School; I wonder today where that trophy is. I don’t know why, but I heard they did away with all our stuff.
GL: What other subjects did you learn in school?
JH: We had world history, science, softball, English, math, the regular subjects that you have when you’re in school. We did all those.
GL: How many people were in your classes?
JH: When we started out in the eighth grade it was at least 40 some of us in the class. Then, when we got to the ninth grade, then a lot of them had just quit. When we got to the twelfth grade, there was twelve of us.
GL: From 40 to 12, really? So, people were just quitting school?
GL: So, were those people your friends? What were your friends like in school? Did you have any best friends that you want to talk about?
JH: I had some friends in school but I didn’t have a lot. Most of my friends were in the sports.
GL: So, on the basketball team?
GL: What would you do on your off days? On Saturdays and Sundays when you didn’t have school how would you spend them?
JH: I was home with my grandmother and naturally if you’re home on Saturdays you had chores to do at home, cleaning your room and things like that. We didn’t have electricity when I was living with my grandmother so you had to get in wood and wood-chips to start the fire in the morning for breakfast. On Sundays it was to the church. We didn’t have car, so I went to church with my grandmother in horse and buggy.
GL: So, what are your personal memories about segregation? How did it affect you personally?
JH: It didn’t affect me, really. It didn’t affect me, personally, because I tried not to let it affect me. It amazing to me, that I don’t really have any memories of racial segregation. I know I went to an all-colored school and the whites went to a separate school. That didn’t bother me because if no one really told you anything about it, you wouldn’t know about it. So, it really didn’t bother, didn’t affect me when I was going to school, and it really didn’t affect me out of school until it’s time to go for jobs. If you took a test to try to get a job on the Dahlgren Naval Base, they would always come back and say “you never passed the test”. But then they would go to Washington, D.C. and get a job passing the same test. I guess, it’s not what you know but who you know”.
GL: So, it might not have been the test, it was the system.
JH: The same test, that’s what I’m saying. It was the same test. That’s where you see the segregation come in. And Dahlgren is no better today, excuse me for saying that, but it’s the same really. They might not show it as much but it is. They have their way of doing it but it’s still segregated. So, enough on that.
GL: Were you aware of the big civil rights events that were going on in the country? How did your community react to these things?
JH: Like I said, I didn’t live around a lot of people.
GL: You didn’t get a lot of news then?
JH: You hear stuff on the radio, because back then you did have the old battery radio. Did you all know about the old battery radios?
JH: Years ago, you didn’t have any electricity, and so you bought this battery radio. I mean, you would hear, most of the time you would hear about the war, but I didn’t hear too much about segregation on the radio. If I did maybe it wasn’t on the station I was listening to. I see here you have a question down here that says “what would you like people to know about segregation”? Well…don’t take people’s words for certain things like segregation. You should read, study, and find out for yourself what it is. You might have been through it- then you would know. I think they should learn about what went on in the process of the segregation, what it meant and what it meant to them. They should know, too, that segregation is still going on today. It is not as up front like it used to be, but it’s still going on.
GL: What did you do after high school, what were your jobs?
JH: After high school, I went to work at the pickle factory. And from there, I went to work in the school system. They had openings at Ralph Bunche. You could go in the evening and you would either help the principal or they had kids come in the evening and they had to have lunch or something for a snack for them. You helped any teacher that wanted to go in the classroom with the kids for grading their papers or fixing up the tests, papers for the teachers, when they’re going to take a test. I did that for a while. Then, I worked at the Circle Inn Restaurant in the kitchen. Next, I worked for Hope Farm Meat Packing and retired after 27 years there. I did retire but then I went back working in the school system in the cafeterias for a number of years. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I worked all my life. No one gave me anything. I worked for what I have and I have enjoyed the journey, and I thank the Lord for the journey.
GL: Is there some question that I didn’t ask, that you would like to discuss, any stories you want on record?
JH: Oh, there is a story I know. When we were in the elementary, they didn’t have any indoor bathrooms, they had outside toilets. Behind the toilets they had trees with chinquapins on them; you might not know what they are. They’re little small brown things with a white meat on the inside. We used to go outside and have ourselves a good time eating chinquapins, I remember that.
GL: I did that with honeysuckle at my school. Pick out the little bit of honeysuckle. There was a bush right at my recess, so we would all go over there and do the same thing.
GL: How do you feel about having a black president now? Did you think that you would ever see that?
JH: No, honestly no. I never thought I would see that. You know what they say, “never say never.” Never say never. I feel OK. I think everyone deserves a chance; I don’t care what color you are. One thing I always tell my kids, “Once you get it up here, [pointing to her head] can’t nobody take it away from you.” Right? Once you get it up here, they can’t take it away from you. They might not like it, or they might not want to give you credit, but once you get it up here, they can’t take it away from you. So no, I don’t have a problem with a black president, it’s a nice thing; it’s very nice having a black president.
GL: Thank you very much for this, I appreciate it.
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