Interview with Janet Bell

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Interviewed: Janet Bell
Conducted By: Yazmin Watkins
October 23, 2007
Length: 51 minutes, 04 seconds

The following is an interview with Janet Bell conducted in the Waidner-Spahr Library on October 23, 2007 for a Workshop in Field Methods course at Dickinson College. From this interview the reader will learn about an African American woman’s childhood, work experiences, community and church involvement, her research reviving the histories of those buried in the African American Cemetery (now Lincoln Street Cemetery), African American history in Carlisle, PA and her future hopes for the community.

JANET BELL: Hi Yazmin, my name is Janet Bell. Today’s date is October 23. We are here at the Dickinson College library. I have come to help you with some information in regard to the Black churches and their effects in the Carlisle community. I am a native of Carlisle, and have always attended West Street A.M.E. Zion Church. Located at 132136 South West Street, which has a very rich history. I was able to do some research and have found that it was established in 1839. This church, or congregation, was at one time a part of the Bethel A.M.E. Church located on Pomfret Street. I guess there might have been some sort of division, and so they decided to establish themselves with the A.M.E. Zion Church, which of course, as you know, has a different leadership under James Vari. They moved several times through Carlisle until they finally located in 1880 at the present location.
[Brief pause in interview]
MRS. BELL: Presently at West Street. our current pastor is Rev. Charles E. Smith. And he is in his tenth year here at West Street. He lives in York, PA, so he commutes each Sunday, as well as throughout the week, to our church. We haven’t had a pastor to live in the parsonage of the church for a number of years.
YAZMIN WATKINS: When was that?
MRS. BELL: That was during the pastorate of Rev. Richardson, excuse me, Richmond. And that would have been [in] 1997-98. He was only with us for a year.
MS. WATKINS: Have there been a lot of pastors, or are they all commuters?
MRS. BELL: In the very beginning the pastors lived either in the home, and later under Mr. Thompson, they built their first parsonage on North College Street. I think the address was 306. Later then, he built another parsonage which adjoins the church, which is still visible today. So most of the pastors lived in Carlisle, worked in Carlisle, and were very, very visible, and that’s something that you don’t have now. I think over the four churches, there wasn’t until a recent change at Bethel, there was at least 2 pastors of the four Black churches that commuted, commuting, –
MS. WATKINS: [chiming in] commuted.
MRS. BELL: Commuted, thank you. And so it makes a difference, it truly makes a difference, because they cannot lend much to the community because they
MS. WATKINS: [chiming in] commute.
MRS. BELL: Right, because of their commuting. So that can be a hindrance, and I think in some respect that’s a hindrance for West Street because we’re not as visible as maybe we should be, and that’s an area that we are looking into and trying to resolve.
MS. WATKINS: Okay, so tell me, what you remember from childhood at West Street A.M.E.?
MRS. BELL: Well, mostly what I remember is Sunday school, and how alive the church was, and I guess because I was little, I didn’t have the responsibility that I have today, so it made it a fun thing to go to church and sing on the junior choir and just be a part of those activities. As I grew up, we had a fundraiser called making apple dumplings, which they had a holiday bazaar in Carlisle at one time at the old MJ Mall. And it was the highlight of the season, it was always held in November and the various churches and civic organizations would all come together and be assigned two or three tables, as many, within limit, that they needed in order to sell their wares, as you want to call it. And we of course, our thing, we were known for apple dumplings, as well as other baked goods. And the ladies at that time, they were called the Apple Dumpling Gang.
MS. WATKINS: [laughs]
MRS. BELL: I would take off from work, and we would go up and peel apples and make the dough and the recipe was a secret.
MS. WATKINS: [laughs]
MRS. BELL: In fact the recipe is in the safe right at the church now.
MS. WATKINS: [laughs]
MRS. BELL: But unfortunately, those ladies, they are about all gone, they’ve passed away and with the change in people’s diets and so forth, we don’t have as many bake sales as we used to have. So we have to look to another avenue for our fundraisers. But that was the delight. It was hard work, but it was enjoyable and we made it fun, and it was a great time, it was a great time.
MS. WATKINS: So who would come down for the bake sales? You said…
MRS. BELL: Well they would go, they would have them at what used to be the MJ Mall, which today is where Wal-Mart is at.
MS. WATKINS: Oh, okay.
MRS. BELL: There used to be a Montgomery Wards, and a pharmacy, and a CCMB bank, and of course, it was a true mall, so inside you could set up and have tables.
MS. WATKINS: So that was the hot spot?
MRS. BELL: That was the hot spot. And it was well known. Now everyone looked forward to the holiday bazaar.
MS. WATKINS: So when you would go down to the MJ Mall for the bake sales, would it be open to everyone in Carlisle and everyone participated?
MRS. BELL: Right. You made contacts through the MJ Mall office at that time and just let them know how many tables you needed and whether or not electricity was needed, that sort of thing. And people used to look for our stand. There was one gentleman, who in fact used to work for Dickinson College, for the president. He was a great decorator and so he would always do the centerpiece for the table. One time he had a great big… cornoptus
MS. WATKINS: Cornucopia, [laughs]
MRS. BELL: Yes, he had a great big one of those with things all, it was beautiful. People would just come by just to see his center piece. So we just, we put our all into it. It was a great time. So now today as an adult with the responsibilities that we have in the church, I am in several organizations and am the church treasurer. So the responsibilities are different and the concerns of the church are different than at that particular time and the community is different because then everyone lived in town. If you needed, you could walk to church. Today, it’s totally different. Most of the people that attend West Street travel to church. They don’t walk, because we no longer live in the Carlisle community, or in the center of town, or in the neighborhood.

MS. WATKINS: …and why is that?
MRS. BELL: Well, people elected to move to other areas, they had an opportunity to move away from what used to be called, “The Neighborhood.” And “The Neighborhood” basically [drawing sketch] was centered around Lincoln Street, Pitt Street, Penn Street, and West Street. And here you had Shiloh Baptist Church, and over here you had the cemetery, which is one of my things that I’m researching
MS. WATKINS: Really?
MRS. BELL: Yes. I am working on collecting obituaries and establish a manuscript so I can honor those who are buried in the cemetery.
MS. WATKINS: Is this by Hope Station?
MRS. BELL: Hope Station is here [points to area on sketched map]
MS. WATKINS: Where they covered it [the graveyard] up, right?
MRS. BELL: Well, Hope Station is the former railroad station, so they didn’t. But they did do is convert it into a memorial park and remove the tombstones except for one, which if we had it to do all over again, it certainly would not have been done. We would have maintained the cemetery like it should have been maintained and be responsible, but at that time they took the easy out
MS. WATKINS: Is this the Carlisle community, or the Carlisle Borough or…
MRS. BELL: No, no. The Borough took it over simply because they saw the neglect and what they did was they took polls and signed, what do you call them, where you sign up to say yes or no to something.
MS. WATKINS: Oh, yes.
MRS. BELL: That type of thing. And they went around and did that to several people and then they brought that back and the neighborhood as a whole said “Hey, let the Borough take care of it.” Now they were promised that the tombstones would not be destroyed, but we cannot find the tombstones now. And I have a great grandfather that’s buried over there, as well as there’s just a slew of people that are buried. there I do have a copy of a deed showing where they purchased additional acreage, land so they could be able to bury more, but then eventually by 1905, they had more than filled the space that was available and there was no room for expansion, plus it seems to me that when they went looking for the next burial site, they wanted a place of their own. And so that also tells me then that this was not their property, as a whole. So it took them, oh my goodness, it took them two or three years working with the Borough at that time, City Council.
MS. WATKINS: What time was this?
MRS. BELL: Well, it was between, well they started working on it like in 1902 because the cemetery went defunct by 1905 and they had, they just had a problem with the city fathers at that time, saying where they could bury their dead. And so as it was Thompson, Robert Thompson, had this property which at that time would have been considered way out there, and he then gave that property over for burial. But it took them a while. They had a committee, and it was the city fathers that were on the committee, not any African Americans, but they finally resolved and said ok, you can bury your dead here at Franklin, off of Franklin Street.
MS. WATKINS: So was the Franklin Street burial place, was that specifically for African Americans? Or were they saying we can integrate it?
MRS. BELL: No, African Americans. Because it was Robert Thompson’s property and they established a trustee board and said they were going to maintain it and they took it. The thing that got me most in doing the research on the cemetery was how much pride they had about what they owned. Today we take that very, very lightly and we shouldn’t, not with the way things are turning around as you look at the nation, the changes that are going on. In fact, what our pastor told us last Sunday was to earmark November second, because that’s supposed to be Noose Day[1], where apparently someone received a noose
MS. WATKINS: Oh, for the Jena 6[2]?
MRS. BELL: Jena, yeah. And so I guess we’re not supposed to buy anything on this day. But they went through some very hard times and it was very, very scary, if you would actually dwell on it. The living conditions and the fact that they had to work because there was no social security up until the day they died. Because there was no social security back then.
MRS. BELL: Social security didn’t go into effect until the early 1930s. So, they were hard working people, and what they were able to obtain, they took care of. And we don’t do that today. We just say, “Oh, it’s all disposable.” And that’s not good. So here we have the “Neighborhood” [points to map], okay? So, as we became, or had the availability presented to us to move into other neighborhoods, we took that. And so with the dispersement of the “Neighborhood” as we knew it, then you had the people commuting to church. And so that’s where you get into up here at West Street [sketches], when it was established, everyone was a part of the neighborhood they could walk, parking was not a problem, and today for West Street, that’s one of our biggest problems. Because there is, we have street parking.
MRS. BELL: And when you guys [Dickinson students] go home…
Y & MRS. BELL: [laugh together]
MRS. BELL: Then we have more places to park. But that’s one of the concerns we have at our church today.
MS. WATKINS: So were A.M.E. Zion members buried in this cemetery ground?
MRS. BELL: Oh yes, oh yes. There’s well over 500 people buried there. And when you think of that plot of land, and those 500 sum are ones that I’ve actually gotten obituaries for. Now I started with the late 1800s getting obituaries based on the indexes that were available to me at the [Cumberland County] Historical Society. So now what I am doing is where there are no more indexes, I am just reading papers. And I do that, I go as often as I can, and that’s either on a Saturday, or a Monday. And [I] just sit and read papers, historical papers. I just have a love for it and I just want to finish it and honor these people for the life that they led and what they gave. In looking at history, I can look at the stained glass windows that we have at our church, and we had a program on the stained glass windows, and it was very well received by people of all color. So we didn’t just have Blacks attend, there were whites as well, and I was able to report about each of the windows that are a part of our sanctuary. We did one window on John Wesley Smith who married a Thompson, out of that same Thompson family.
MS. WATKINS: Emma? Thompson… No. never mind
MRS. BELL: He was a pastor at our church, and from there he went South and became the editor of our paper, which is the Star of Zion, and from there he was elected bishop. And he wrote some great articles talking about the difference between the North and the South and that’s what we based the program on. It was well received and we had a person who was our preacher steward, he portrayed John Smith and did an excellent job on it. And all that I had was articles that were printed in the paper. And the one thing that I appreciate about the Carlisle paper at that time was they might have been nosy and wrote everything and I’m very glad they did because that’s what I have to use for my foundation for most of my research. And sometimes the research is hard because there’s times when they didn’t think that whatever the African Americans did at that time was noteworthy. You had to be a person of outstanding in the community in order to get a favorable report from the paper at that time.
MS. WATKINS: What were some of the cases of the favorable that you’ve seen?
MRS. BELL: Pardon me?
MS. WATKINS: Well, of the extremely favorable in the community?
MRS. BELL: Well people that were noteworthy like the Thompsons. They wrote about him and in his obituary they tell of how he was the owner of 35 houses in Carlisle. And it’s a mystery how he obtained these houses. I’d just love to know how he was able to do it back then. Because, you just didn’t go up to a realtor then and make claim of wanting to buy property. Most times you had to do it through someone else that was white. So it was a big difference. But he was considered one of the richest African Americans at that time. MS. WATKINS: Okay
MRS. BELL: He did. He had over 35 houses that he owned. And he had, he was a giving person. He seemed to be very, very giving.
MS. WATKINS: When did he pass?
MRS. BELL: [laughs] I knew you would ask that.
MS. WATKINS: Or around what time? Or did you get to meet him at all?
MRS. BELL: No, no he died in 1900! [laughing] Yazmin! 1900!
MS. WATKINS: No you wouldn’t have met him then.
MRS. BELL: No, no [that] was like 50 years before my time!
MS. WATKINS: What about your great grandfather? Or your…
MRS. BELL: No, I never met him either. But I was looking at some old pictures that they had taken in our church of men of West Street and I found his picture. So that was a real delight to share with those at the family reunion this year. That was really a nice delight. But like I said, when you look at the way people struggled and how much they appreciate and took care of their things, and how we’re just so loose with what we own and things that we really should consider valuable and take [care] of, we don’t. So today, as far as what’s happening in the Carlisle community, I don’t know a lot about that. I think all is well and come to find out things aren’t, “all is well.” And I’m sure there are others who could provide you with a lot better information than myself. Like Ruth Hodge, or my brother James Washington, who is the Executive Director over at Hope Station. He is very much involved with the community and taking care of some of the needs of the young people, and people that need housing. […] So I would say you could direct questions at him and he would be more than happy.
You were asking about what our church is involved in. Right now, our numbers are very small compared to how they were years ago, and the congregation, the age of the congregation, ranges from a few that are very little, to a lot that are receiving social security. So with that difference, our concerns and needs are a little bit different than what maybe they should be in a church. But we are putting forth effort to help spread the word about AIDS, and I think that’s something that all the churches are doing right now because we’re all part of a grant program to help get the word out about AIDS. And I was recently at a Sunday School convention, and the lady from CARES was there, and I attended her workshop, and she was talking about the homeless. So I got information on that and hope to be able to present that to our pastor, about [the] homeless to get involved with that because I think that once you establish what your gifts are, what your ministry [is], then you can base your ministry, of course with the invoking of the Holy Spirit, and just hone in on one thing. And I think if we can help with this CARES, I think that would be just a wonderful blessing to the Carlisle community. And it would also let people know that West Street is still alive and well. So that’s something that I am really looking at and hope that we can do. Right now the only other outreach that we have is attending once a month at Manor Care. We go up there and help with bingo, and then we have Rev. Rev. just completed his fourth time going out there to hold service. And they enjoy that so much. They enjoy the singing and the preached word. So some of the things that we are doing are very small, but hopefully it will get a little bit better and hopefully we’ll be able to do more and not have to wear so many hats so that you know you have a lot of busyness going on. I just wish I could boast of some greater things but.
MS. WATKINS: Well, every small bit counts, it really does. When you were in your adolescence, your teen years, were the bake sales still happening around that time?
MRS. BELL: Oh yes, because see, the economy was different. You had people who had more food sales. Are you familiar with food sales? Where okay, you have selling of chicken dinners or at that time pig feet dinners.
MS. WATKINS: [laughs] I’m a vegetarian
MRS. BELL: [chuckles] Oh my goodness, wrong person.
Y&MRS. BELL: [laughing together]
MRS. BELL: But no, And we had because right here [sketching] there used to be a PAL – called the Police Athletic League. And that’s where we used to go a lot of times for dances and there was property right here in [the] front open area, and we used to have our dinners right there. People would bring potato salad and they would sell right from there on this piece of land. Of course now that’s gone and there’s a [inaudible] there now. Back then there used to be a road here and a couple of houses here [sketching]. And that was called Metzger Ave. Just, with the shift in the “Neighborhood,” that helped make a shift in the way people did things, and the whole perspective on how you obtain things, it all changed because of the way the neighborhood changed. They used to have food sales in their homes. In fact one of my first, one of the first big things that I did in the church was [be] a Woman’s Day chair person – and my father, who passed away last year. We used to live on Pitt Street when it was just regular houses here [drawing] and back yards and fences – and I had my first food sale. And when you read historical papers where people back in the, even in the early 30’s, they were having dinners at 25 cents a dinner. I can’t exactly remember what I sold the dinners for, but it was like two or three dollars. Something that was comparable to people’s income.
MRS. BELL: And you sold your baked goods along with that to help boost your profits. And that was my first thing. And of course you had fish dinners and we just, this year especially, we didn’t have a lot of that. We rely on people nowadays. They understand the tithing that’s a part of the giving. So they do more tithing because they’re older people and with people working more than one job, it’s easier just [to] go ahead and give the money than to sit up and do a food sale, or a bake sale, or something like that. Also, the other big thing they used to have was what they called a rummage sale. Today they’re called garage sales.
MS. WATKINS: Oh okay.
MRS. BELL: But back then we used to go to this place down off of Bedford Street and hold rummage sales. I hated that.
MS. WATKINS: [laughs]
MRS. BELL: You know today that would be considered, what do you call [musing], not second class
MS. WATKINS: Vintage?
MRS. BELL: Vintage. Back then it was rummage sale. So that’s, that’s the way things have changed. I haven’t thought about rummage sales for a long time. Thank you, Yazmin.
MS. WATKINS: So when you would go down to Bedford, I’m trying to think where Bedford is, I know I think…
MRS. BELL: [points to sketched map] Bedford is this.
MS. WATKINS: In relation to High Street.
MRS. BELL: Bedford is this way here, the old jail sits here. And the First Presbyterian Church sits here. There’s a building with steps that go up like this and up here is the square.
MRS. BELL: And this is Bedford Street. And then Pomfret is here.
MS. WATKINS: Okay. So I’m trying to think is that almost near what is considered “Downtown Carlisle?”
MRS. BELL: Right well here’s the square here. So Bedford Street is here [sketching]. So it’s the next street down from Hanover, ‘cause High runs this way.
MS. WATKINS: So you would go down here, go down to this area to hold rummage sales and what other shopping would you do over there? Would it only be for the rummage sales ?
MRS. BELL: Basically because I was small then. You didn’t, you just didn’t go a lot of places. You stayed right where your parents were, or whoever was in charge of you at that time. You didn’t even, you didn’t run the streets. Unfortunately, because of the “Neighborhood,” we used to play in the cemetery. [We] used the tombstones for markers, or for when you played baseball. There was just no, playground. We had no playground. Unless you had something in your backyard. So most times we used to sit out on the porch and play jacks, marbles, hopscotch.
MS. WATKINS: So it was like a community of kids who would come together…
MRS. BELL: Mainly you were best friends with who was on your side of the street. And that was it. How are we running for time?
MS. WATKINS: Um [looking for watch], I’ve gotten lost in your story [both laugh]. 6:11 [pm].
MRS. BELL: You ready to go? Do you have to be…
MS. WATKINS: No, no. I don’t have to. Can I ask you a few more questions?
MRS. BELL: Yes, we can continue as well another time..
MS. WATKINS: Yes! I would like that. So you talked a little bit about your childhood. What was it like getting your first job here in Carlisle? Like your 20s?
MRS. BELL: Oh. Well my first job was a part time job. I was in the 12th grade. [pausing and then deciding to date herself] Here it was 1968 [both laugh] and downtown [drawing]. There were a lot more stores. There was the Five and Ten, and there was the JC Penny, and there was a Montgomery Wards, everything was downtown. And going to the mall that was considered [sketching] and here was the MJ Mall out here. But downtown had a, like I said, a Penny’s, and a Montgomery Wards. There was several, there was Longs Lady Shop, the Hub, which was a ladies’ fashion shop, and there was a children’s store downtown. Dutcheries was downtown, you even had Giant food store downtown, and there was another one. The hardware store, everything was downtown. And so I got my first job at JC Penny’s working in the men’s department. That was interesting over the Christmas holiday. That was my first experience working. And then my next job, after I got out of high school, well I worked the summer at the Carlisle Barracks in the Safety Department. That was a summer employment. – This is around the time that Equal Opportunity started coming into effect. [Brief sigh] I can’t believe I’m a part of history [both laugh]. Anyway. So then my next job was at Carlisle Tire and Rubber, that’s what it was called at that time. It’s now called the Carlisle Tire and Wheel, and I basically watched wheels come down wash them with some kind of solution. Well I went there the first day in a little white blouse –
MS. WATKINS: [laughs]
MRS. BELL: and I was a little smaller then [smile on her face] and I had what you called culottes then, which is those skirts that have pants. But they were called culottes then. And oh, you couldn’t tell me anything. I went there and started washing these tires and these great big tires that came down and you were supposed to catch them and do a little thing to wash them. I was so embarrassed by the time I got finished with that shift my white blouse was no longer white. I was filthy, just filthy. Because normally going down Lincoln Street everybody’s out. But I went around the Neighborhood and came home and I said “Oh, dear Lord.” I did that for four months and I told my dad and mom “I don’t think this is me.” Well I had gone to school for, well in high school, took business classes so then with the help [of] my dad we went down to the Farmer’s Bank at that time, which is now M&T and I applied for a school loan and I went to Hack for a couple years. In fact I lived with my aunt in Harrisburg so I wouldn’t have to commute. So I did that, and then ten years later went back to Hack again, and I guess I’ll go back again [in] another ten years [both laughing]. But that’s my dream to eventually get my bachelor’s degree. I’ve taken all the computer courses, everything that was easy I’ve done. I just have a few math courses left to take.
MS. WATKINS: Same here [laughs]
MRS. BELL: [Math] Is not my forte but it’s okay. And when I got my first paycheck at Carlisle Tire, it was like a hundred, and I went to Giant, well it was Carlisle Food Market at that time and I bought food. I bought food. I spent a hundred dollars on food. In fact, I took the taxi cab home, because I didn’t, we didn’t own, my dad didn’t have a car per say. He was a chauffer [at] what used to be CH Masland’s and Son, the rug company. So we didn’t have a car. So we walked most of the places, and the joy of being able to ride, well that was a treat. Sometimes we’d go on a ride and we’d just go out near Adams County, or someplace and just take a spin. And the one time he [her father] took us down near Hershey Park and I got so upset with Daddy because I said, “you mean to tell me we’re this close to Hershey Park and you wouldn’t let us go in?” Well McDonald’s had opened up down in the lower end of Harrisburg and we went there. I think the burgers were like 25 cents. So he bought us a bag of burgers. But I was very upset. But I lost for a few minutes the understanding that he probably just didn’t have the money, you know?
MRS. BELL: Taking us out for a ride, that was a sacrifice for him because that meant spending money for gas, which gas was like 50 cents a gallon or something like that. But also, when he drove every day of his life other people, he knew where to spend time with his family [and] made that sacrifice. And [I] thought I was mad because we couldn’t go into Hershey Park, not that I’m a big amusement rider, but just the fact that we were that close. But you learned to do things on a lot smaller scale than you do today. And appreciate what you are able to do. But my mother was just so surprised when I came home with all these groceries.
MS. WATKINS: So you bought it for the family?
MRS. BELL: Oh Yeah. The family unit, I grew up loving the family, that you loved the family. You took care of one another. And you didn’t take the last of something without finding out first of all, did someone else want it. Today you don’t have that. Today its whatever’s there is mine. And that’s what my mother and father instilled in us, mainly my mother. And that you just shared what you had.
MS. WATKINS: Was this how your friends were too? With this same…
MRS. BELL: Ohh, I don’t know, I don’t know about that everything was on a smaller scale. If we had a birthday party it was a few friends brought in. You had, not ice cream and cake you had Jello and cake. Yes, Mom baked a cake, had Jello. And you didn’t go out to Wendy’s or any of those places because those places were unavailable. And the Hamilton that is so popular today, you know where the Hamilton is located?
MRS. BELL: That wasn’t available for us to go in and sit at the counter. Tom’s father or uncle that owned it, if you wanted something, you go in and you took it home. Had it in a brown paper bag and you took it home and ate it. Including the fries that were in a brown paper bag. They weren’t in a little container like they are today. You could see the grease along the side of the bag. So you ate at home.
MS. WATKINS: Was that how it was at most of the restaurants?
MRS. BELL: Oh yes. You had the times of Kennedy and the riots that were happening all around. I don’t know too much about us having riots. I do remember them taking a busload and going down to hear Kennedy, excuse me, hear [Martin Luther] King [Jr.], and I wish I had gone. Because that was his famous speech that he gave, I Have a Dream. In fact there’s a minister, Rev. Fred Johnson, that went there, and he still has the banner, the banners from that.
MRS. BELL: Yeah. We had an opportunity, we took the kids before my sister left and went to Las Vegas [NV], our last trip together. We went to Memphis [TN], and went to the hotel where he was killed. A very awesome place. Have you ever been there?
MS. WATKINS: I have not.
MRS. BELL: Oh, I tell you. It takes hours to go through it, and then of course the last thing is visiting – You stand on this one side, because it was split, they split it, and that was last, that you could look over into the room where he was at, and it’s just a quite awesome thing … because it just takes you back and there’s a moment of reflection. And of course they point out the window from where the shots were… you know [fired]. If you ever get to Memphis, you need to go see that. It’s something. It’s a real eye opener. And they take you to all different aspects of his travel and journey to that day. Its interesting.
MRS. BELL: So, in Carlisle it was, what’s the word I’m looking for? It was not, racism wasn’t covered up, but you just knew where you were to go and where you didn’t go. It was just an understood thing. And as far as the churches, they were not, what does one person say, that you never realized there was prejudice until Sunday, when everybody goes to their own churches. That’s when you realized that there… maybe its not called prejudice, but everybody goes back to their own for worship. And to be integrated in, there’s some that go to white churches, but everybody mostly goes to their own Black church based on their denomination. So I know, you don’t realize there’s segregation until Sunday. Something like that. Somebody had some kind of thing made up. But it was true when you stopped to think about it. You had your workers, people that you worked with all through the week, but then on Sunday… it was totally different.
MRS. BELL: And it’s still like that today.
MRS. BELL: Go ahead.
MS. WATKINS: As far as the restaurants go, when did it get better? Or when did that integration happen? Or did it happen at all?
MRS. BELL: Well, I would say after Kennedy’s assassination things started to get better. You had Equal Opportunity come into play, and what King did, that all helped to relax some of those things. But there’s still many places have not hired any Blacks, and for most of them [Blacks] they don’t have the initiative to even be employed there. So, my first full time employment was in the telephone industry. I worked for the telephone company for thirty years and retired from there, and of course now I work for a financial company, and when I went to the telephone company it was located on High Street and there was just a few African Americans that worked there. I started out as an operator, working with the cord boards, and I was going to leave there and go with my cousin who worked for an insurance company, and they said no one should come out work in the office, so I did and I was the only African American who worked in the office for a number of years, until we moved out to York Road.
MRS. BELL: And then I started working in the business section, and we didn’t really have a public office. Things changed and people began to use the telephone more to make calls and make reports of things, and after hours services became more favorable. So that helped to change things there. But downtown in Carlisle in the early 70s, you had maybe one or two African Americans that were Black tellers. Most people still worked. My mother was living, and there still were people doing “housework” as they called it, you know, working in people’s homes. I had the experience of doing that one summer, while my mother was ill. I said, “That is not for me.” And that, I won’t say it’s belittling, but it was not as popular as it is today where people are making it a business to do. Then that domestic work was for the lower class. Now people have up scaled it, and it’s a thriving business to have that type of service available. You had people of my age, some were going off to college and they did not come back to Carlisle. Because the opportunities were greater in other places. They went to Virginia, or to Maryland, or to Washington DC, where they could enhance what they knew and make more money and [I] won’t say rise above it, but just take advantage of some of the things that were available.
MS. WATKINS: Wow. Okay, there’s so much history. It’s really fascinating. Are there any final thoughts that you want to say?
MRS. BELL: I am just appreciative for the opportunity to come and speak with you. And you helped me to release some things that I hadn’t thought about for a number of years, and I hope that in some respect, that anyone that has an opportunity to hear this years down the road will appreciate some of the things that we have shared, and I hope to maybe, in another interview, share a few more things with you, and I hope they are of value. That’s mainly what I’m hoping, I am hoping that they are of value to you and to someone else.
MS. WATKINS: [This interview] Definitely is [of value]. You are a living part of history. [laughs]
MRS. BELL: Thank you, Yazmin for the reminder [both laugh].
MS. WATKINS: Thank you.

[1]On Noose Day, or National Black Out Day, African Americans refused to make purchases as a way of continuing the momentum surrounding the Jena 6 and to demand their rights.
[2] A group of six African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, who were charged for attempted murder and conspiracy (facing up to 100 years in prison without parole) after engaging in a fight with a white student who was severely beaten. The fight took place amid rising racial tensions after threatening nooses were hung from a school tree. Consequentially, a mass outcry arose to fight for justice in Jena.

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