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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Jean Bright

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Object ID: WV0295.5.001

Description: Documents Jean Marie Bright’s early life and education in Greensboro, North Carolina; work and social experiences in New York City and Washington, D.C.; service with the American Red Cross from 1944 to 1946; and teaching in North Carolina before and after World War II.

Summary:

Bright discusses attending a private high school for black students in 1929 and her experiences teaching in a one-teacher school after graduating high school. She also talks about the effects of segregation in her pursuits of higher education and employment and moving between North Carolina and the northern states between 1936 and 1943 as work and study opportunities arose.

Bright provides detailed information about her experiences of segregation as a Red Cross worker, and of her encounters with other black servicemen and women. She discusses her work in the recreational unit, serving beverages and doughnuts and engaging in conversation with the troops. Bright recounts personal experiences in New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan with local residents and army personnel. Other topics of interest include Bright’s refusal to open a segregated service club in Japan at the expense of receiving a promotion, and gaining knowledge of the end of the war two weeks before VE Day.

Other subjects include Bright’s experience aboard an ocean liner en route to the South Pacific; attending and teaching at North Carolina A&T State University; the civil rights movement in Greensboro, North Carolina; and her family history. Race relations and the effects of segregation are discussed in depth.

Creator: Jean Marie Bright

Biographical Info: Jean M. Bright (b. 1915) served with the American Red Cross in New Guinea and Japan from 1944 to 1946.

Collection: Jean M. Bright Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Hermann Trojanowski:

Today is Friday, April the second, 2004. My name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm at the home of Jean M. Bright in Greensboro, North Carolina, to conduct an interview for the Women Veterans Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG].

Miss Bright, if you would tell me your full name, we'll use that as a test.

Jean Bright:

Jean Marie Bright.

HT:

Well, Miss Bright, thank you so much for talking with me today. If you could tell me a little biographical information about yourself, where were you born and when and where did you grow up.

JB:

I was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina—that's western North Carolina—September 25, 1915. My parents were John and Lollie Bright, and we were farmers. My grandparents were farmers also.

HT:

What did your father and mother do for a living. You said they were farmers?

JB:

My father was a farmer all his life. My mother taught school for a while, in little one-teacher schools. She had started when she was just out of her teens, just before she married in 1910, in what was called a subscription school in a church in the summer. Parents paid twenty-five or fifty cents a month, and she taught. She had gone to a private school herself for a little while, and she was somewhat better educated than [others] in the community.

HT:

Were they integrated or segregated schools?

JB:

Segregated, 100 percent segregated. Everything was segregated, as far as schools. However, I'm not sure. Some of her teachers, who may have come from the North, one or two may have been white. The principal of the school, that headmaster or whatever, was from Haiti of all places, and he was black.

HT:

It was basically a one-room schoolhouse?

JB:

My mother taught in a church, a black church in the summer. But later she taught in one-room schoolhouses.

HT:

Where did she go to school? Did she go to college up here somewhere?

JB:

No. She went to a school called Lawndale Academy [in Cleveland County, North Carolina], which is a [private] high school. She did not go to college. Black teachers hardly needed to finish high school in those days to be teachers.

HT:

Did she teach all of her life?

JB:

No. She taught only two years after she married. She was busy raising us.

HT:

How many siblings—

JB:

There were six of us, four daughters and two sons. I'm the middle child.

HT:

Are all of your siblings still alive?

JB:

No, just one, my youngest sister, who's seven years younger than I am. Sara Bright Smyre is the only sibling alive.

HT:

How do you spell her last name?

JB:

S-m-y-r-e.

HT:

Does she live here in Greensboro?

JB:

Yes, she's upstairs. We live together.

HT:

Oh, wonderful. Okay. Where did you go to high school, and did you go to college?

JB:

I went to a private high school, because there was no high schools for black students in Rutherford County when I started in 1929. There wasn't even an excuse for a high school for black people. So I went to what is called a home missionary school [Allen Home High School] in Asheville, [North Carolina], sponsored by the Methodist Church. Most of the faculty members were white, from the North.

May I interrupt to say—Ralph Ellison said this—that these young people who came south to teach in Reconstruction—he calls them the first wave of the sit-in people—not exactly sit-in, but young people who came down to the South for voter registration in nineteen and sixties. I can get that quotation for you, if you like.

HT:

That would be very nice. Sure.

JB:

Yes, they were the pioneers, and they were never given full credit.

Let me digress a minute. To an extent, Greensboro's own Albion Tourgée, his book called A Fool's Errand about Greensboro, tells about the situation, the Reconstruction situation. He lived in Greensboro, and there's a big sign about him two or three places here. Historians know him, and he may have a copy of the book still in the library. This was about an 1899 book. Tourgée, T-o-u-r-g-e-e.

HT:

After you graduated from high school, you said you went on to college.

JB:

I went to A&T [North Carolina A&T State University], yes. I finished A&T.

HT:

What is your degree?

JB:

My degree was in English.

HT:

After you graduated from—

JB:

I went to Columbia University and got a master's in English at Columbia, New York. Everything was still segregated in the thirties. I would have been happy to go to [University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill or UNCG, but no black students were admitted then.

HT:

How did you pick Columbia as your choice? Did you have a scholarship?

JB:

No.

Let me digress a minute. My high school teachers were very highly trained, and one of my history teachers, or the history teacher, was from Germany, by the way. The headmistress was from England.

Now I'll go back to how I selected Columbia. In the thirties, many people like me, girls and men, worked wherever we could get a job, because we got no scholarships. So beginning in 1936, I started going to New York in the summer to work. I loved New York City. I had a few relatives there, and even if I'd not been in New York, so many people I know went to Columbia; many of them went to Teachers College [at Columbia University].

But my degree is from the faculty of philosophy, which is not Teachers College. But I had famous teachers. Lionel Trilling was one—he's a [famous] writer, as were several others.

HT:

You say you were in New York during the 1930s.

JB:

I first went there to work. I didn't go to Columbia except one summer session in 1940. That was just a summer session, a sort of experimental thing. Then I didn't go back until '50 and '51 to get my degree.

HT:

What was New York like in the 1930s? Do you recall—

JB:

New York was a completely safe place. I wandered all over the city, day and night. I would get off the subway at eleven o'clock at night and walk five blocks to my uncle's house on 139th Street. Nobody ever looked at me twice. I was very safe. I was a tourist. I went to Staten Island, to the Statue of Liberty, to the top of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, and loved every minute of it.

HT:

Sounds like a very exciting place to be and visit.

JB:

Yes. I went to the theaters. I saw Tobacco Road onstage way back then. I just happened to remember that. It was famous, so I saw it. Let's see what else I did; whatever New Yorkers do, I guess.

HT:

You said you used to stay with relatives when you were up there.

JB:

Yes, I first stayed at relatives'. Then at times I worked various places. I worked for families where I took care of their children, or a child, and did all kind of things, like housecleaning and whatnot, and met some wonderful people.

One famous family—I didn't know he was famous then—but started a newsweekly before [?]. But he later went bankrupt. His name was Bourjaily, B-o-u-r-j-a-i-l-y. His son Vance has become a writer and has published several novels. I worked in their homes, and I really liked most of the work that I did.

HT:

Did you do any teaching during the thirties?

JB:

Well, I started teaching again in 1940 in [unclear]. I graduated in '39, so I went back to public school teaching.

Let me go back a little bit. When I finished high school in 1933, with no job, I owed money to my private school. But in Rutherford County, any black person who had finished high school was eligible to teach. [Officials] felt that was enough for a one-teacher school, just the same as my mother did, and I started when I was just seventeen years old.

I sometimes feel bitter about that, because I really wanted to be a teenager like other teenagers, but it was a matter of having to grow up. The schools were these little [shacks with pot-bellied stoves]. The first year wasn't so bad, because the children, there were few of them, and I liked them. But the second year, [at a different school], I think I had about forty-five kids from the first through the sixth grade, and they sometimes—all of them came one day, and sometimes they didn't come regularly, because they had no shoes and had to walk so far. There were no buses for black people then.

One girl was very disagreeable, because she was about thirteen, and since I was only about five years older than she, and she'd been a playmate, she didn't like it at all that I was teaching. But I felt very bitter about teaching, and I thought I'd never teach again. But I did go back to teaching.

HT:

So after a master's degree from Columbia, you taught where?

JB:

Well, I didn't have a master's degree in 1940, but in [the fall of] 1940, I went down east and taught in a little place called Trenton in Jones County, [North Carolina]. The next year I taught at a school in Orange County, Hillsborough, [North Carolina]. Incidentally, the building was the Rosenwald Building, the first brick school I ever taught in. The Trenton school was an old wooden building that burned down, but in Hillsborough was the new brick Rosenwald School.

HT:

How do you spell Rosenwald?

JB:

R-o-s-e-n-w-a-l-d. He spent millions of dollars building schools for black people, and some even for white people, in the South. But by 1930-something, he had quit building schools.

HT:

So you taught in Orange County for how long?

JB:

Just one year.

HT:

Then what was next for you?

JB:

Let me see. Oh, then I went back to New York City and worked [in the summer of 1942]. I went to Washington [D.C.] and started working in the Pentagon as a government girl.

HT:

By this time the war had started.

JB:

Yes.

HT:

So you, along with thousands and thousands of other women—

JB:

The war had started, yes, and I was at work as a clerk-typist in the Adjutant General's Office. Our office moved from the Munitions Building, and we were among the first tenants in the Pentagon. We were a distribution [office], in what was called the basement, the mezzanine basement. I've heard that it's a very secret place now. But a great many black people also worked at the Mail Group [in overseas mail distribution], and they sent out a great deal of mail.

HT:

At this time the Pentagon was brand-new. What did you think of the building itself? I understand that that's a huge—

JB:

Yes, well, I suppose I'm seldom surprised at anything. I remember the five wings, and occasionally I would walk to another section when I worked in the daytime. Then I worked at night part of the time, because I wanted to take some courses at Howard University.

But I wandered around, and once in a while I went to the center, which is open. It's a place where people could take their lunches and sit outside. But I'm not sure that I ever walked all the way around any of the corridors, because it was too far to walk.

Everybody made jokes. We all had badges, and there were guards. The story went around that one man put a picture of [Adolf] Hitler on his badge and walked through by the guards. But the rumor was if the guards had found him out, they would have fired him immediately. But I think the guards did a good job. I think mostly they recognized most of the people who went through.

HT:

So did you work at the Pentagon during most of the war years?

JB:

Just for a year. I don't mean to say I get tired of things quickly; it's a long story. But for one reason or another, I came back to Greensboro after a year. It was difficult finding a place to live in Washington. There were four of us in one bedroom [sleeping in] double beds, that was the best we could do, and we got tired of that. So I came back to Greensboro, partly because it was difficult to find an adequate place to live. We were so crowded.

After I came back to Greensboro, I got a job working at the community center right up here at the corner, Windsor Community Center—as director of recreation. I worked there for a year, about a year.

HT:

[Let me just] backtrack just a minute to Washington. What was Washington like in the year or so that you were there, socially? What did you do for fun?

JB:

I liked Washington. I also took some courses at Howard University. Again, Washington was totally safe. Part of the time I got off from work at twelve midnight, got the bus from the Pentagon over to Northeast. Got off the bus after midnight and walked three or four blocks to the apartment where I was living. There was never an incident. I never heard of any violence. Nobody ever looked at me twice. So Washington was a very safe place.

It was an enjoyable place, because of the usual things in [a big] town. There was a theater that [famous] people came through. I've forgotten their names now, but we could go there and see stage plays. Not stage plays, but the stage shows, some of the early singers and bands.

Let me digress for a few minutes. One of the reasons I liked New York, I used to go to the Apollo Theater, and I remember young Ella Fitzgerald singing A-Tisket A-Tasket, so I liked New York partly for its entertainment.

I liked the Washington entertainment, too. I've forgotten the name of the Washington theater, but I was young enough to find a lot of things to do that were a lot of fun.

HT:

Did you do it with a group of friends?

JB:

Sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. I never minded going places alone if I wanted to go someplace.

HT:

You said you came back to Greensboro and worked at the Windsor Community Center for a little over a year or so—You said you were the manager?

JB:

Well, it was called director.

HT:

Director, I'm sorry.

JB:

We were recreation staff members. Part of what we did, because the camp [Overseas Replacement Depot] was here then, we arranged dances for our girls—many of them were the Bennett [College] girls—and other girls to go out to the camp. The dances, that was one thing I did. Of course, everything was segregated and [unclear]. In the summer, though, it [Windsor Center] was a playground situation, just as now. Children came to play, and they went to the community center to swim. There was a swimming program, of course.

In the fall a recruiter [from Washington, D.C.] came by for the American Red Cross. I didn't see him, but my friends told me about him, and then I decided to join the American Red Cross. I didn't go through the local offices here. It was through a recruiter that I'd heard of, that I happened to know of, and that's how—I guess it was about September—I joined the American Red Cross, [by corresponding with the Washington office].

HT:

Do you remember which year that was?

JB:

Nineteen forty-four.

HT:

September of 1944.

JB:

Yes.

HT:

After you joined the Red Cross, what was that process like? Can you describe that?

JB:

Yes. We were sent notices, at least I was, to come to Washington for training. So while we were taking training in Washington, we were taking all these shots, typhoid, tetanus, malaria, and so forth.

But we went to classes at American University. Shall I tell you what we were told? Among other things, they said, “Don't misunderstand your popularity. If you were your grandmother, she would be popular. So be careful about getting a big head,” and I think they said, “Try not to fall in love.” But most of us found somebody to fall in love with. But they warned us that there were so few girls that we would be extremely popular and sought after.

HT:

Do you recall how long the training was?

JB:

It was sort of strung out [September to December]. Because after we got our uniforms and everything, our group went to Camp Pickett, Virginia. I don't know what in the name of peace we did at Camp Pickett. Whether we were awaiting transportation to California or getting assigned, I don't know, but for a while—so that took up a little time. I was the only one in my particular group to go to San Francisco, [to Camp Pendleton] to wait for transportation overseas. There I was joined by a great many other Red Cross workers, and we waited for a ship to take us over.

We went over on a troop ship—not exactly a troop ship; it was a converted luxury liner called the [SS] Lurline but we heard there were four thousand troops on our ship. We were in the officer class, because we were given officer rank of second lieutenant, I think, so we never saw any of the troops. But we were told we had no escort. This was December, 1944; because we were such a fast ship, for reasons I don't know, but we didn't feel afraid. It was adventurous.

Perhaps I shouldn't admit it, but I never felt I was sacrificing anything. I thought it was an adventure to get a chance to see the world.

HT:

That's fine. Now, do you recall the name of the ship, by any chance?

JB:

Lurline, L-u-r-l-i-n-e.

HT:

So you left San Francisco in 1944, right?

JB:

In December, yes.

HT:

What was it like aboard ship, the cabin, the food, the company, and that sort of thing?

JB:

Well, I had a feeling that when it was a luxury liner, it was a beautiful ship, at least the dining room we had. We were served by waiters. By the way, they had the six of us, as black Red Cross girls, at one table. We ate in the dining room, but we had nothing to [unclear]. But we had a wonderful Swedish waiter, who brought us wonderful food, and they said we overtipped him. But there was one problem. I got seasick the day before we left, and I stayed seasick most of the way over, and I could not enjoy the wonderful food.

But we had a small stateroom. All six of us stayed in it, in our double-deck stateroom, and we had our own porthole that we could look out [plus access to an open deck]. But other than the stateroom and the dining room, and once someone said, “Why don't you roll some bandages or something,” because there were a great many nurses on the ship, also. They were all white nurses, and we didn't see them too much. But we could walk on the deck, and it was beautiful weather.

Our first landing was in New Caledonia at the little town of Noumea. I can get you a map and point out New Caledonia.

HT:

I know where that is.

JB:

One of the things we noticed about New Caledonia, which, of course, is French, is that I don't say it was segregation, but somebody arranged for us to meet a whole lot of black people, and we had a dance. So many of the New Caledonians are black.

Let me digress for a minute. It's one reason why I don't use the word African Americans, because there are black people all over. They are neither Africans nor Americans. They're just black. So I like the general term, just black period, you know, because everybody in the United States came from somewhere, except the Native Americans. I was interested that here were people in New Caledonia who looked a little like our relatives.

We left from New Caledonia, [and] started to Australia. We were supposed to land in Australia, but word got around there were too many submarines around wherever we were going to land, Brisbane or someplace. So we turned and went north to New Guinea. That was our destination, anyway, New Guinea.

HT:

So you didn't stay in New Caledonia very long.

JB:

I think we just stayed overnight, or two nights, in New Caledonia. We landed in a place called then Hollandia, [New Guinea]. There were already [black] servicemen there. [Then we went] down by air to another section further south called Finchaven. So that was where there was a big base of I think it's the 92nd Infantry [Division], isn't it? The 93rd Division was in Italy, I believe. These were divisions, black divisions that had whole groups. But they were waiting for deployment. We got there about Christmastime or a little before or after. They [the troops] were waiting to go to the Philippines and to Japan early in 1945.

But, for reasons that I never asked, we stayed in New Guinea, and we did the things that Red Cross people did. We went to little clubs, and we served cold drinks and doughnuts. I don't think the servicemen needed or wanted any punch or doughnuts [very much], but it was a matter of talking [to us], but they were called recreation clubs.

HT:

Now, did you work with segregated situations only? Did you work with black soldiers only?

JB:

This was 1945, and people don't know it, [but] the United States Army was 100 percent segregated. Everything was segregated. We were only with black troops. It might have been, if we had gone to one of the base headquarters, we might have seen some white troops. I'm pretty sure, though, that since there were only white nurses there, wherever there was a hospital, the black troops went to a hospital, and they were served by white nurses. But I never had to go to a hospital.

Incidentally, there were some white medical officers [with the black units] who—once I had lost my voice, and I went to the whatever they call it, health station. The officer was fairly pleasant, but not too pleasant. He said, “Dont take yourself so seriously.” What he meant was, my voice was tired. I had just talked myself to hoarseness.

I thought, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't like you that much, either.” But that's minor.

I once went to a dentist who was white, and he told me I didn't brush my teeth properly. I'm sure he was right. But other than that, we had no [white] contact. Oh, when we had to fly someplace—we flew [unclear]—the pilots were white.

They were young and happy, and when we first went from Hollandia to Finchaven, the pilot said—in New Guinea—“We're flying over Japanese-held territory.” Actually, it was a jungle, and there were practically no Japanese there. Besides, they didn't have enough anti-aircraft guns—that would reach near an airliner.

I had heard that—not any of us that's black—but many of their white Red Cross workers, knowing the pilots, would take trips down to Australia when they had the time off. They had a wonderful time going back and forth [since it] was fairly near Australia. I just heard that. I think there was one case where there was an accident. The pilot ran out of gasoline and crashed.

But the jungle beaches were beautiful. The South Pacific beaches are, I'm pretty sure, among the most beautiful in the world. I can't imagine the Riviera or [any place] being as beautiful as these big, white sand beaches with palms over them.

I can tell you one incident that happened that had nothing to do with the army, except that an army officer carried me to a beach we had by ourself, and there were some little native boys who came by, and as boys everywhere, wherever there are people, they [unclear], and they said, “Gum.” They wanted chewing gum. I didn't have much gum, but I gave them the little I had. One little boy said, “Wait.” He went and climbed a coconut tree, and brought me back a coconut, and said in impeccable English, “Present for the lady.”

I wondered, “Where in the name of peace, honey, with your little laplap,” a little towel around his waist, “did you learn such beautiful English?” [unclear] we had passed an Australian camp. The Australians already had camps there at our base, so, of course, he had learned it from the Australians. I just had [unclear].

HT:

It's a wonderful story. What was a typical day like for you in New Guinea, or what type of work did you do, and—

JB:

All right.

HT:

—what type of hours did you keep, and that sort of thing?

JB:

Well, we had what's called a compound, which meant a big tent, and we each had little cubbyholes with a cot where we slept. There were six or eight or ten of us together, all black. Then there was another building where we ate. Some servicemen fixed food for us.

May I digress and say something about the food? Because it was a jungle, there were a lot of little insects around, and occasionally in the bread, there was a little insect. So [unclear] this story—and it looked something like an ant—said that you can tell soldiers about that. When a soldier first comes over and he sees this in the bread, he throws the bread away. He's new. When he gets there a little while, he goes ahead and just picks out the little insect in it, and eats the bread. A little later when he's there, he simply eats the bread, the insect, and all. And a real veteran, if he happens to see a live little insect in the bread, crawling out, he puts it back in the bread where it belongs, and eats it. Have you heard that?

HT:

No. [laughs]

JB:

Yes. But they said that's the story. They had a great many stories about people.

We took I guess it's something called Atabrine for a while. It didn't show on us who were dark-skinned, but for some of the white people, it said it turned them yellow. A man who had been there a long time, who was completely yellow around, they called him “Atabrine Al.” I'm not sure it happened that much, but even the white soldiers got tanned under the sun, and the black people got a little darker. Everybody got plenty of suntan.

What we did, though, after we left our beds in the morning, and we had cold showers and ate, we were transported by army vehicles—the army provided everything—to something called a little club, and there, whenever the soldiers had time off, they came by for a cold drink and doughnuts and talk. It was usually, “Where are you from?”

“I'm from something [unclear]. Where are you from?”

“How are you? What [unclear] you with?”

There were a great many port companies there. That is, they were transporting—transfer [unclear]—[war materials] somebody said stevedores—provisions for this and that, and all the soldiers got beer rations. I didn't want beer, so I traded my beer for various things, I don't know what. Maybe I gave it away.

But after that—I don't know if we ever went home for lunch, because there were plenty of jeeps around and drivers for to carry us back and forth. So I think we did. We went home and back again, and that was all it was.

There wasn't very much entertainment on the island, except movies. On one or two occasions when I went to the movies—they were usually musical comedies—the soldiers made comments. Their comments, their laughter at some of this foolishness and stupidity of the movie, their comments made more fun than the movies. You know, these musical comedies of the dancing girls, and they pick out things.

But we found out there [was] a loudspeaker [that] would say, “Watch your language. Theres a lady in the audience.” Well, I quit going, because it curbed their speech, because they wanted to use all the [army language], and I thought that [refraining kept them from] enjoying it. When I came back to the United States, I could hardly understand the quietness in the movie without the comments of all the [unclear], and most of them were very correct and sharp as far as the excesses of things, as far as how the silliness of the songs and girls and dances or whatever. That was one thing I noticed. So it was as much recreation, almost, for me as for the troops.

I'd like to tell you one thing that did happen. I was adopted, more or less, because the director was old, and she slept all the time, and I didn't want to talk about one [unclear]. One day I heard that a soldier had fallen off the docks, and he [drowned]. He was going to have a military funeral, and I must go, because I represent the Red Cross.

I went to the funeral and everything, and I felt so sad, that here this youngster—they said he was likeable, curious youngster—is buried in the lonely Pacific bay bed without any family to cry for him, so I decided I would do the crying for his family. I remember, that's the only tearful thing I did.

There was one thing that happened in the truck, the transport truck I went on. The soldier who was carrying me said, “You know, that looks like a gasoline can on the outside, but instead it has jungle juice.” They had managed to get some kind of fermented—they got the flour and the raisin—not the flour, the sugar raisins, to make some kind of strong drink. But when the service was over, he was mad as a wet hen. Somebody had stolen the can of drink.

I was sorry for that, but here was the sadness of the fellow dying. Here was the other fellow trying to have some strong drink so that he and his friends could celebrate [in honor of the dead soldier], and it was gone. I just happened to think about that.

HT:

Now, were all these U.S. Army soldiers, or were they [U.S.] Navy as well?

JB:

They were all United States Army. The fact is, the 92nd Division was a combat division, anti-aircraft and something. But they were waiting. They didn't do anything. [Telephone rings.] But they were still waiting to be deployed [when] we went to the Philippines. The war was still on in early [1945]—but we had heard that the war had ended in Germany, of course, as you know, 1945. So soldiers were still being sent even to the Philippines from elsewhere.

I'd like to tell you about something that happened two weeks before they dropped the atomic bomb. Two weeks before that, an orderly who worked for a high-ranking [general] was a friend of one of the Red Cross girls, so he told us this. This was exactly two weeks from—he said that he heard some officers talking. I guess they knew he was loyal, or they didn't really care; they didn't consider that.

[Someone knocks on door. Tape recorder paused]

JB:

Start again. All right. He said he heard the general and some lower officers talking, and this young officer, colonel somebody, said something about deploying troops to Japan. The senior officers told him to shut up. The war would be over in two weeks, that, “We're not going to Japan.” The war would be over in two weeks.

That amazed me, because I thought I was in love with a young New Yorker, and I thought, “Well, if the war is over, and he goes back to the States, you know, it will be that [unclear].” [We'll never see each other again. This was the man I wanted to marry.] The atomic bomb was dropped in two weeks' time.

I did mention that to Mr. [Ned] Harrison [at the Greensboro News & Record], and he said he didn't know that the plans were known at the date of the dropping [unclear]. But this was one of the highest ranking officers, perhaps, in the Philippines in Manila at that time, so he knew what he was talking about. So I remembered that as an incident, because here it is, troops massing to go to Japan, and somebody's saying, “Nobody's going to Japan. The war will be over in two weeks,” and it was, you know, when the atomic bomb dropped. That was one of the highlights that I remembered.

HT:

That is an amazing story. Wow.

JB:

And that officer—I guess, of course, he knew this orderly, black orderly, was 100 percent loyal. Or maybe—I wonder if people do that, if it's somebody in a service capacity, people talk as if they don't have ears. Do you think that happens?

HT:

I'll bet you it does.

JB:

Whoever they are. I read that, no matter what nationality. Don't they know these people have ears? But they have been so accustomed to—but I have a feeling that he knew that his orderly was 100 percent loyal American and would never tell anybody other than friends from the Red Cross. We were under the Army, too.

In the Philippines, while we were there—of course, the Philippines had been bombed out. I have some pictures of the bombed-out places and so forth, and [people] were struggling very hard. In the Philippines, of course, there wasn't quite the interest in the Red Cross. All the servicemen wanted to do was go home, but because there could be dances and the girls were pleasant, we arranged dances, and I think I have a program—I don't know whether it's the Philippines or Japan—of an orchestra they had gotten together in the Manila. They had assembled an orchestra, and they could go to all kind of music in places like that. But we did have [clubs]—I'll show you a little club, and they did the same thing. They had cold drinks and doughnuts.

Oh, I have one little story, that goes back to New Guinea, about servicemen. The servicemen there, of course, made doughnuts for us. I heard two, while I was picking up some doughnuts, two servicemen saying this, that, “When our grandchildren ask what did you do in the war, granddaddy?”—or daddy, it would be—“How can we tell them that all we did was make doughnuts for the Red Cross?”

HT:

So you had people who made doughnuts for you. You didn't make them yourselves.

JB:

Oh, no. There were servicemen, the whatever they call these departments. You know about that. They have the foods, whatever they calls the foods business. Mess.

HT:

Cooks. Mess cooks, right.

JB:

They did everything. We never cooked anything. But I remember these two soldiers, and I started to say, “Look, why don't you make up a little story—I'll help you—for the children about all the things you did, all the bravery.” But I thought, “Oh, never mind.” But I did remember they were disgusted. And I thought, “Well, if that's what you were assigned to do, to make doughnuts, you're doing what you're told.” I just happened to remember that. But the same thing happened in the Philippines, except there the Filipinos made cookies or something.

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

HT:

You were talking about the USOs [United Service Organization].

JB:

Yes. Well, I believe in the Philippines, as well as Japan, [there were touring groups of entertainers.] Certainly Bob Hope wasn't with them, but less glamorous people came over for entertainment. So we had to arrange the programs and things like that. I remember one [black] comedian—hes supposed to have been very famous. I remember meeting him and talking to him. Sometimes they were just song and dance and orchestra groups and so forth. But I was thinking about the different things that we did, the entertainment. We helped arrange entertainment for the troops.

I don't think, at that time, there was an active [USO] group on the base. Later, instead of the Red Cross, USO persons were sent over. I was offered a chance to go back over after the Red Cross, as a USO clerical worker, a program, but I didn't want to go back to Japan. It was too cold. So I turned it down. But I was trying to say, those were little things that we did, strictly entertainment.

Some of the men, of course, were—I've forgotten what they were called. They sat in offices, and when the soldiers had problems, they came and talked to the men, and the men got in touch with their families back in the States through Red Cross, that kind of thing. But I was not with that group.

HT:

So there were both men and women in the Red Cross.

JB:

Oh yes.

HT:

Did they do similar-type duties, or were—

JB:

No, the men didn't. The men, evidently, the men didn't deal much with entertainment. Sometimes they were heads of clubs, but as I said, they did the liaison work with families back home in America and various things. We were so busy serving drinks and doughnuts, I think [unclear] that's all we did, mostly, and arranging entertainment.

HT:

So I'm assuming there were more women in the Red Cross than men.

JB:

Yes, there were a lot more women than men. For one thing, whether it was true of white or not, but the black workers, we all had to be over twenty-one and college graduates, so they picked a certain caliber of Red Cross. It wasn't just anybody picked up.

HT:

Were you paid by the Red Cross or were you paid by the army?

JB:

We were paid by the Red Cross. The army [provided transportation and living arrangements]. All we did was get a salary. It was about the equivalent of the kind of clerical salary, a little more than the public schools were paying. But we were paid by the Red Cross. Now, I kept some of the money, but the Red Cross sent most of my money back to my mother [at my request], and she put it in an account for me, because we didn't have any use much for money.

HT:

Because I'm assuming you got your food for free.

JB:

Yes.

HT:

The food was furnished by the army.

JB:

Everything was free.

HT:

What about your clothing?

JB:

Yes, yes. We got our clothing, dress clothing and skirts and whatever, before we left the United States, and we carried those in our footlockers. But once we got there, in New Guinea, in the jungle, we were supposed to be so desirable or something, we were not allowed to wear dresses. We wore slacks. The nurses and the Red Cross wore just a kind of khaki army slacks and jackets.

If I could tell you something about that. I've always been very thin. You could see that. Well, they didn't have any small slacks that fit me, but I was wearing [oversized slacks], and so one of the servicemen said, “You know, I don't know how baggy [unclear] your baggy slacks now.” He says, “We have tailors in our unit. Give me us a couple of pairs, and we will tailor something to fit you.” So I gave them some of my slacks, so they would fit tight like slacks is supposed to fit instead of these baggy—

But we were supposed to be so glamorous or something. By the time we got to the Philippines, everything was civilized. They didn't care what we wore. Sometimes we wore slacks for convenience, but we could wear dresses and shoes and stockings and so forth.

May I tell you one incident about—but I'm jumping ahead, as far as going to Japan. Or shall I skip?

HT:

That's fine.

JB:

Well, most of the girls, all of them that I knew, once the servicemen, as a whole, started going home, as a whole, well, they went home. They were [unclear]. Well, I was heartbroken about my New York love [unclear] when these servicemen went back to New York. So I decided to go to Japan. But that wasn't until December, and they put me on a cold transport plane that had no heat, and I took a bad cold.

But it was winter. They weren't closing the Philippine bases completely, but they were closing them partly, so I went to [Japan]. One other person wrote there that she was the first black woman in Japan. That wasn't so. I was the first black Red Cross worker. We went to Yokohama and then to, well, Tokyo. Because I was a lone black person, they couldn't have—even though they still had segregated units, so I lived for a while with the white Red Cross workers.

We went on trips then; sometimes they were [by converted] ambulance, and we took the coffee—not coffee; well, maybe not coffee; it was cold—and the doughnuts out to the units, to troops, you know, and we said hello, and there again arranged for entertainment and things like that at the big clubs. But a few days after I got to Japan, somebody, I don't know, asked me if I would like to go to the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents' Club, and it was called Shimbun Alley. Do you know very much about foreign things?

HT:

I've never heard of it.

JB:

Well, that's the famous Foreign Correspondents' Club. It's a newspaper thing. So when I went there, one of the first persons I saw was a tall Yankee black reporter from either the Pittsburgh Courier, [unclear] Afro-American, or Baltimore or Pittsburgh Courier or Chicago Defender, these black newspapers. He was there, and of course, guess what he said? “Here comes the Red Cross, bringing segregation where there was no segregation.” What he meant was the white Red Cross workers had gotten there first and set up clubs, and with just one club, all the black and white people went together. But he knew full well as soon as black women came, there would be a separate black club.

But I decided to ask the troops what they thought. They said, “No, we don't need two separate [clubs].” So there was something called, in Tokyo, I think it's the 71st Quartermaster Depot. That's where they had a club.

By the way, [Douglas] MacArthur's is 7th Cav[alry]—is it 1st Cavalry? With the big arm patch with—the Texas group with the horse on it, you know—Cavalry. They were running Tokyo, or so I say. It didn't make that much difference, but they were on all—there were enough of them there, and unlike what I've stated, there are not enough people in Iraq—on many of the corners. It happened [unclear]. In other words, MacArthur had a big building across from the Emperor's Palace. The Emperor's Palace has a big moat around. Have you been to Tokyo?

HT:

I've never been.

JB:

Okay, around Tokyo there's a big moat that separates the emperor's grounds and palace from the rest of the world. But across this moat on the main street was a big Japanese building, and MacArthur took it over and so forth.

But anyway, we wandered around, us Red Cross and people there. I did, all over Tokyo just like I had done in New York. What happened, Army personnel or Red Cross people could simply go to the streetcar and, like the rest of the Japanese, just get on, except they didn't charge us anything [unclear]. So I got on streetcars, and then there was a train that went from Tokyo to Yokohama, a fast train. So without knowing a word of Japanese—it didn't matter—there was some reason I wanted to go. I got on the train and went back and forth, and that was that. I guess behind my back, they were staring at me, but after all, I'm me.

But I want to tell you one little incident. I got acquainted with a black Army chaplain, and we were looking for something or other; I don't know. He was an acquaintance with somebody from New York or whatnot, and this black person wanted me and him to go to visit a Russian diplomat—Russia and the United States were on good terms then—in Tokyo. So I said, “All right.” I was tired, but we went to this diplomat's home. The wife, as the hostess, was very charming. She met us at the door. She was quite plump, too, [unclear]. And she served wine before dinner. I don't know what happened to me; I can't drink wine. Gave me a chair; I drank a little bit of the wine and went fast asleep immediately. I think the army chaplain said, “Don't wake her up. She's tired. Let her sleep.” I slept all the way through the dinner, actually, and I didn't get acquainted. I was so embarrassed.

The hostess met me at the door and gave me a beautiful set of lacquer. I mean, as embarrassed as I was, and I [later] asked the chaplain, “Now, what can I give her back?” I'd buy her some expensive French perfume, you know, [unclear].

He said, “No.” He'd [found] out from the white friend from New York that it was difficult to get good leather shoes, and the PX [post exchange] had the best shoes spread out. “So go to the PX and buy her a pair of shoes.”

I thought, “Fine, that's what I'll do.” So I went to the PX to buy her—because I could get the [unclear] shoes. But I thought, “Oh, I don't know her size,” and I was stupid. I could have gotten any size and had it written out that she could exchange them, don't you know. But by the time I got back there, the white officer from New York had already gone home, and I didn't even know that, so I never got a chance to give the hostess a thing.

I've also thought of this. Why didn't I find out who [the Russians were?] This could have been a high-ranking Russian diplomat. I don't know whether he later—[Joseph] Stalin killed him or what. But maybe [the man was] somebody important. He wasn't as important as [Nikita] Khrushchev, but that's part of it.

But the other thing, on the way back, the chaplain's jeep had a flat in the middle of Tokyo, and it was cold. So you know this thing—have you ever noticed how then they had some kind of plastic thing that meant you could look out? The Japanese older boys decided to help him; just showed up in the middle of the street, changed the tire. But the little ones came around and started peeping at me.

I thought, “Okay, you toothy little rascals.” But I think I understand children. I said, “I know a little about children.” But they seemed to be [unclear]. So guess what I did? I put my hand out through one of the openings. You know what happened? They lined up and came by to touch my hand, you know, as if I were some exotic animal, and come by to touch it again. Then they decided, after they'd lined up, that they would pat my hand. I thought, “You little so-and-so.”

But I thought it was terribly funny. I was laughing at them, and they were laughing with me. They're children, you know. So just as he got the tire fixed, it was time to go, but the last little Japanese [boy] decided to put a piece of food—they didn't have much food—a little bit of it; it was a dried fish, I guess, in my hand, you know. I think it was supposed to be a gift. But I thought, “Now, I hope you don't think you're feeding.”

But anyway, on the way home, the chaplain said, “What's that so stinking in here?” So I threw the fish out into the street, but I've always thought of that. Children everywhere, little boys will always line up wherever there were strangers—you know, you see them all in Iraq; you know that—and stare at people.

Now, as far as the soldiers, same thing. By the time we got to Japan, I'd say they tolerated us. They had other interests and different things like that. They were polite. For a while, I went on my own, by myself, separate, I went to the black units after they separated everything. And here, those cans of drinks and those everlasting doughnuts, you know. All I had to do—it was a Red Cross Canteen. You just smile and say hello and how are you and blah, blah. I didn't do anything important.

HT:

Which do you think was your best tour of duty? Which place did you enjoy working the most?

JB:

Did I enjoy most, or did I feel I was of most service?

HT:

Both.

JB:

Well, I don't know, but when I first went to New Guinea, it was so new, and I really felt, in a sense, that the servicemen really wanted to see [us]—except for the black Red Cross, they saw no black women at all.

Oh, I know; this is what we did. Occasionally, we'd do things like this. “Let's have a beach party. Go out to the beach; put on a bathing suit.” These beautiful beaches, beaches were a half a mile long with beautiful sand. If we'd put on our bathing suit and got [unclear] there, there were lines of soldiers for a half a mile. They weren't going to swim; they were just watching. So we were the pinup girls and the bathing beauties, that sort of thing. Do you see what I mean?

HT:

Yes.

JB:

I guess I enjoyed [unclear]. They [the servicemen] didn't care that much for the [Red Cross in the] Philippines. After all, the Filipino girls were friendly, and they could go to dances. By the time they got to Japan, they could have done without us, I think.

HT:

How long were you in Japan?

JB:

December until, I think, May. I left in May. But I will tell you something that happened, too.

HT:

That was May of 194—?

JB:

Forty-six.

HT:

You left Japan in '46.

JB:

Yes, I went to Japan in late '45, after the war was over, and stayed for [unclear]. But before I left, and after—Vincent Tubbs [black war correspondent] said, “Bring in the Red Cross, that they'll have separate and equal,” I decided to go to the servicemen to say, “Do you think you need a separate club, or is the one here all right?”

And they said, “We don't need a separate club.” So seven out of eight first sergeants said, “You know, don't have a separate and equal club then.”

So I wrote that to the head of the Red Cross there in Tokyo. He looked at my letter, and the other two girls—there were two other girls there then—who said, “We follow the army regulations. This is army regulations.” He said—first of all, it would be a step up. I would be in charge of the club. I would get a promotion. “Well, then, you would be dismissed or sent home, because you did not get [unclear].”

I thought to myself, “I have already retired, but it hasn't gone through yet.” I'll admit I was on the safe side, that I'd already sent in my resignation. At that time, I said—I wouldn't say that “You can't fire me; I retired.”

But before I left—it took a little time; it always takes a lot of time—they had opened here again this separate and equal, side by side [white and black Red Cross clubs]. But I think it was the next year—was it '47 or '48 that [Harry S.] Truman desegregated the army? But this was back with things of segregated schools, segregated Army. As I said, some of the people resented it, and some didn't.

So let me see if there's anything else of any interest. I think that knowledge in advance of the atom bomb was perhaps the most unusual thing. Do you have some questions?

HT:

Let's see. When you first decided to join the American Red Cross, what did your family think and what did your friends think about you joining?

JB:

As the expression goes, I'm glad you asked that question, because somebody asked that once from me, and I happened to remember it. I didn't consult a single person. I didn't even ask my mother's opinion. I'd forgotten. Isn't that something? But I had been so accustomed to being on my own, I announced without asking opinion. That's awful, isn't it, but that's what happened. I don't know why I didn't think of asking their opinion.

HT:

What was their reaction?

JB:

After I told them?

HT:

Yes, after you told them that you were going to do that.

JB:

Well, my mother, I think, was a very broad-minded and a very brilliant person. After we got older—remember, I was only twenty-one—she knew we weren't doing anything wrong, but if we decided there was something we wanted to do, she never questioned it if it seemed that it was [honorable]. I never found out anybody's opinion, and my mother did not question.

HT:

When you joined the Red Cross, you mentioned that you had to take numerous injections, shots, and that sort of thing. Did you have to go through a complete physical and any kind of written test or anything like that?

JB:

I don't think [we took] any written tests, and that's why, if you could see this long slip that they said how many tests, how many shots I took over a period of months, and it was under the army. It has [my whole record]. But I don't remember how many. I guess we took a general test, and I was supposed to be healthy. After all, we were college graduates, and we did have our work records and so forth. You know, they didn't take—everybody was in good physical shape out there.

When I came out, though, I'd lost so much weight, I was down to 104, and they said, “You've got to gain weight before you go back.” But the doctor said, “If they let you out, you're okay.” But we were all in good physical condition.

HT:

Did you have a choice of going to the Pacific?

JB:

No, we didn't have a choice. Actually, I wanted to go to Europe. I was so stupid then. I thought, “Here's my chance to travel. When will I get another chance?” I didn't realize that, given enough time, I could go anywhere I wanted to go. I wouldn't have to depend on that. But that was part of it. This is adventurous. The fact that there was a shooting war going on in Europe didn't mean anything. I wanted to go.

May I just make a comment? I have traveled since then, never to Japan, but I went to Europe. I've been to Europe twice, you know, London, Paris. Put it this way. I've been to Africa twice. I went to West Africa at first, and while I was there [I did] research. By the way, I'm coeditor of a couple of textbooks; but that doesn't matter about that. One [deals with African literature in part]. Then I went back with another group, and we went to Egypt, and Egypt blew my mind, in the sense of—have you ever been to Egypt?

HT:

I have not. I've always wanted to go, though.

JB:

You must. The civilization [is] black [and] white [unclear], and it's so—the Egyptians, I think they're white and colored black, but some of the blackest people in the world are Egyptians, you know, but they don't always rise to the top. But I'm pleased that [I saw Egypt for myself]. But let's see.

Then, finally, though, the capstone of everything, about ten years ago, I went to Israel. I've always wanted to go to Israel, Jerusalem. It was a quiet, safe place then, and it was something that everybody should go. So I went to Europe, to part of Asia. I went [unclear]. We just got to the edge of Panama and Columbia, South America.

But that was one of the things my father told us when he was young. “You know, there are some things you can't have. Maybe you won't have a lot of money, but you can be [unclear]. But you can get older and you can go anyplace in the whole world. Don't feel that you have to be stuck in this little poor county.”

I think part of this was that he was a young, married man when the war [World War I] in Europe broke out and so he had wondered. Had he not been married, he would have joined the army, so he could travel. So he felt that he didn't get—I think he wanted us to travel. Maybe I took up after him or he told me about travels. He'd been to—he'd worked in Pennsylvania or higher, and New York City and stuff; [had] the travel bug.

I have this sister, the one who died, who joined the Peace Corps, not to travel, but she went to Turkey. She was a lawyer. She'd just finished law school when she decided. She sent her daughter through college.

HT:

Now, when you remember the American Red Cross, could you have made a career out of that if you'd wanted to, or was—

JB:

I don't know. I don't think after I had the nerve to say, “Look, the guy [Vincent Tubbs] is right [that the Japanese can see the segregated type of thing in black and white is not what democracy should be].” But I was too frank about it, and I don't know whether Red Cross would have taken me back again, because later I thought of that, and they told me, “You're too much underweight,” to gain some weight. And I just said, “Let it go. I'm [unclear].”

HT:

But women could make a career out of it if they wanted to.

JB:

I don't know. I don't know—excuse me for saying it [unclear]—whether I would want to or not. Although, as you said, I was young and happy most of the time.

HT:

After you left the Red Cross, what did you do next?

JB:

Let me see, '46, '46. I went back to New York City and worked at Macy's. But I was working in the upstairs, seventh floor, in the clerical office. I was not a salesperson. So I went back, and I worked at Macy's for a while.

I came back to Greensboro, and because a friend of mine was having a baby, she wanted me to substitute for her in Franklin County, down at Louisburg. So I did high school substitute teaching. Instead of hiring a regular teacher, she just did that.

So then I—let me see—I went to Boston. I worked at the Harvard Coop. Do you want to know why I worked at the Harvard Coop? I got a room at the Y[MCA], and I had to look for a job. I mean, I was restless. I just didn't want to stay in Greensboro. They said Harvard had experimented and hired a black salesperson. They, back then, [seldom hired] a black salesperson. But this woman had her child, and they found her taking five dollars from her cash register, the idiot. She said, “Yes, the child needed something.”

So they said, “You know, you want to go there and see?” I don't know whether the person said it right, to say that all black people don't steal. I don't know whether—I thought to myself, my father always said that any kind of theft is beneath us. So I went and worked at the Harvard Coop. I mean, you've heard of the Harvard Coop. Have you been there?

HT:

I'm sorry; I have not. What is the Harvard Coop?

JB:

Right across from Harvard Yard, there is a cooperative. This cooperative sells to the Harvard students. They have stationery and books and clothing, and it's called a cooperative, but they call it “the Coop,” C-o-o-p. So I had to integrate, the salesperson at the Harvard Coop. Well, a sales job is not that much fun, so after several months, I quit. I made a few friends. But they were Wellesley [College], Radcliffe [College] girls and so forth.

What in the name of peace—do you see what I'm doing? I was restless. Much of that time I was trying to get over my ill-fated love affair. I fell in love with a young lieutenant down in New Guinea, and when he knew I was getting serious, he said, “There's something I haven't told you.”

I thought, “What do you—?” He was already married.

So I thought, “I should shoot you through, then,” but I thought, “I won't break up anybody's marriage.”

He was the one who went to the Philippines. He finally went to New York. But later I heard that he not only divorced her, but he married twice more and died. But he became a New York City [unclear] detective and [unclear].

But anyway, it was after that, and for a long time, I said, “I'm doing other things. I'm not interested in romance.” So that's [unclear]. I don't know whether that's an excuse or not, but I had planned to get married and have children. But I thought most of the A&T students, they were nice as they can be, but then it was mostly agricultural, and I thought, “You farm boys. I've been used to farm boys all my life. You don't interest me.” So flitting back and forth from New York, as I said, I loved—I didn't find a New Yorker boyfriend and like that; I didn't want it.

You have some questions, don't you?

HT:

I think you said earlier in our conversation that you got your master's degree in the early 1950s, is that correct?

JB:

I finished my class work in 1951, but you have to write a master's thesis. So I fooled around and fooled around, and I didn't get the thesis finished [until] '53. By the way, the name of the thesis was North Carolina in the Novel. So I used the North Carolina background with people, and with Thomas Wolfe. I still like Thomas Wolfe very much. Do you like Thomas Wolfe?

HT:

Yes.

JB:

So I was already working at A&T, and I stayed at A&T faithfully, except for a couple of leaves, until I retired in '78. I can show you a couple of readers that I coedited with the man who was [unclear]. I can show you, there's some of the other stuff I brought from Japan, if you like. Would you be interested in—

[Tape recorder paused]

HT:

Miss Bright, you had mentioned earlier that you were at A&T until 1978. When did you start teaching there?

JB:

In 1951.

HT:

So you were there when there were quite a few changes here in Greensboro. Could you tell us a bit about the sit-ins, as you recall, and the four young men from A&T?

JB:

Yes. Well, in the fall of 1959, Dave Richmond and Franklin McCain were freshmen in my class. I was so busy trying to teach grammar or whatever it is, I don't think we discussed Civil Rights at all. This was 1959. But, of course, I supported them. I mean, I felt it was a good thing. But we didn't—let's see, the semester began again in January or whenever it was, and I had said hello to them. I didn't realize Dave Richmond was sick. Otherwise I would have said, “Let's talk about some things.”

Anyway, but I do remember this about Ezell Blair [Jr.]. I'm not going to use his name [Jibreel Khazan]. His father was an avid civil rights advocate and an NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] member. When—I'll call him “little Ezell”; he was small—when he was in high school, he [his father] brought both him [unclear] and his sister to a meeting with the Quakers, as far as integrating the city schools. So he was working with that even before the sit-ins.

Despite people getting so many things wrong—that the NAACP wasn't this and that and the other—NAACP was behind all of it, quietly helping them out, don't you know. It's a dignified organization. But Ezell couldn't go to an integrated school, they said, because he didn't live in the right district. But his father was a civil rights worker, so I'm sure he helped, too, with the discussion of the other people, a Greensboro native.

HT:

Did you get involved in the civil rights movement—

JB:

I'll admit—

HT:

—in Greensboro at all during your—

JB:

The only thing that I was involved was I agreed with the people said, “Wear old clothes [with new dignity] if you [unclear].” I refused to go uptown and make any purchases, because some people said—you can quote me if you like—“You have to hit a person, hit most merchants, where it hurts, and that's in the pocketbook. Boycott, boycott.” Instead of worrying about some kind of social conscience or something, if black people stop buying everything, they would be willing to change it, don't you see.

So I did nothing. I wouldn't go uptown at all. I'll admit maybe that was not enough, but I heard that, that Woolworth's couldn't afford what was happening and losing any more money; I've heard that.

[Someone enters. Off-tape conversation.]

JB:

But anyway, I should put it at yes. There may be a few people who didn't, but that was my only support to it. Even if I needed new shoes, I wouldn't go and buy anything.

Where were you in 1960? You were still a child. In high school?

HT:

In high school, yes.

JB:

In what state?

HT:

Here in Greensboro. I've lived in Greensboro since 1960. I was at Grimsley High School.

JB:

You were then? Well, excuse me for—if you want to cut this off—for asking you questions. What did you think?

[Tape recorder paused]

HT:

You had mentioned earlier that there were both men and women in the American Red Cross. Do you think, as a woman, you were treated equally in that respect? You may not have done similar things, but what was your feeling about equal pay for equal work and that sort of thing in those days?

JB:

Well, I'll try not to digress too much. In my family, my mother and my father, my father respected my mother very much, and we grew up feeling there was no such thing as masculine superiority. That was foreign to us. That as far as being equal, I have never felt, in any case, [inferior].

I guess I think my mother was—what is it? a woman's libber from the time she [was a teen]. She made us feel that—you know, I never felt any difference between men and women. I knew some men could do things that women couldn't do, and [unclear]. But I guess I was either dumb—I didn't know that, and so I didn't notice it. I knew they had different jobs, and I thought, “Okay, the man is this. So what?” That's [unclear], but I didn't even feel much about it.

HT:

Did you ever encounter any kind of discrimination because you were a black woman, or because you were a woman, in the time you were—

JB:

Well, that's just it. I suppose I had worked under men a great deal and never thought about it, but I never felt any. I never felt that there was discrimination. I didn't even think about it. I just suppose I fit it into things and didn't think anymore about it.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do while you were with the American Red Cross?

JB:

The hardest thing?

HT:

Hardest, physically.

JB:

Physical? I'll try to think. Physical rather than emotional?

HT:

Well, the next thing I was going to ask you was what was the hardest thing you had to do emotionally, because I've talked to women who were nurses and say, of course, they had to do some hard training sometimes, and of course, it might have been difficult for them to see the American boys suffer and that sort of thing, emotionally.

JB:

Yes. Yes. Well, I think that's what I've been trying to say. I was removed, in a sense, I mean, from difficulties and so forth; recreational. So I never observed the hardships that—and I mean, the physical things—that a nurse would observe. We didn't have to deal emotionally with soldiers.

Once a soldier sent for me who was in what was called a psychiatric ward. I don't know. So I went to visit him, and he said, “Come closer. I want to whisper to you.” And he said, “I'm not crazy. I'm just trying to get out of the army.”

I said nothing. I thought, “You fool. Don't you know they know that you're putting on?” But I just said nothing, so they never asked me a question. I didn't miss anything, because everybody knew that this was the reason. That's all I was trying to say. But little things like that, so, you see, I never had to deal with it.

HT:

Fine. So you never had to go to army hospitals or anything like that in your work.

JB:

No, I didn't. They called us “able-bodied recs,” R-e-c, in the pejorative sense. We dealt only with the able-bodied.

HT:

But did other Red Cross women have to go do duty in hospitals and that sort of thing?

JB:

There might have been a section. As I said, Recreation Section, that's what [we] did. Well, the men, I'm [not] sure. As I said, they had to deal with problems. They probably visited hospitals and stuff.

HT:

Do you recall any embarrassing moments while you were with the Red Cross, embarrassing, hilarious, funny moments?

JB:

Maybe I don't know enough to be embarrassed, but remember I said when I was young, I went to New York City by myself. I didn't ask anybody any questions [unclear].

The main thing when I got angry was this man, even then I'd heard about problems as far as segregation, saying things. “Segregation, yeah. That's the army in Japan. You will do this and that and the other.” But I didn't have enough courage to tell him what I really thought; to say, “You can't do a thing to me. I'm on my way home. I've [unclear].” But it's foolish to bring segregation of the races to Japan. [unclear] That was about the only time I remember being angry.

HT:

What did you do during your off-duty time or in your spare time?

JB:

Oh, oh, well, I was fortunate enough to have grandparents who believed in buying land, and my mother insisted that I buy my grandparents' farm. So in 1979, I set up a little day camp for low-income children. We worked very hard at it. We got a small [Z.] Smith Reynolds [Foundation] grant for a swimming pool, and we ran a camp. I have a lot of clippings about the camp that in the summer we ran. I had already bought a GM [General Motors] pickup truck, and I hauled the children around from camps. We hauled them all the way from camps, taking them up to Grandfather Mountain and [elsewhere]. I did the cooking for the ones that we took from low-income here, and showed them who's buying the food, and she did much of the decoration. So for a while we worked it. I can show you here something called Camp MiniTec. It sounds like it's related to A&T, but no, it's a silly name. [unclear] because M is from Mike, and these are my mother's great-grandchildren. There's six boys and girls. They're grown now. His two children's names—this is the name, the initials of the great-grandchildren.

HT:

How do you spell that?

JB:

M-i-n-i-t-e-c. Mike, Ivan, Nicole, Terry, Edith, and Christina. So I can add this, that it hasn't come out public, because they're taking so long, but a part of this farm and part of the camp, I am trying to give it to A&T, and I hope they start what's called an outdoor theater there. My sister, the lawyer who died, who was in Peace Corps, actually had written an historical drama called A Man Called Moses. Never mind about that.

HT:

Where is this?

JB:

It's in Rutherford County, next to Polk County, near the Polk County line. [unclear]. I had had it surveyed, but somebody is trying to pretend they don't know where the line is, and they put trees over in it, and right now [unclear] I think I'll have to take them to court, so we have problems.

But it was once a black community. Everybody in the black community either lost their land, sold their land, went someplace, so far as the North. But our family, we are holding—I mean, in that little area of seven or eight miles. So I'm interested now in some of those things.

Other than that, I guess I'd say nothing. Oh, I started trying to write a novel, and it was too tame. It didn't have enough sex and violence in it, so what I'm going to do—forget it, although somebody said try again—I'm going to do a family history, I hope, beginning with my slave grandparents. All four of my grandparents were born slaves, but it didn't keep them from becoming landowners. Even though one—my grandfather—never knew any of his relatives. He can only remember a small child walking along beside an old man on a horse, he thinks. Whether he was kidnapped or whether he was sold, he never learned about his family. That's beside the point, but the family held onto the land. They just had about thirty-nine acres.

HT:

If we can just backtrack, just a little bit. Do you recall where you when you heard about VE Day, which was Victory in Europe, which was in May of 1945?

[End Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

HT:

When the tape stopped, we were talking about where you were when you heard about VE Day, which was Victory in Europe in May of 1945, and you were going to tell me about that story.

JB:

Well, we were very much upset when we heard of President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt's death. We were in New Guinea. Because like many other black people, and especially Mother, we felt that he was the greatest man of the century in what he had done for black people.

Victory in Europe—we were pleased, but it didn't mean as much, because whereas if we'd have been in the United States. We were happy it happened, because the people there were preparing to go to Japan, and they said, “Here is this big struggle that we are working for, and Japan is going to be it.” So we were happy, but it was still—we were in what's called the Japanese theater of war, and it didn't mean as much as we—

HT:

What about in August of '45 when you heard about VJ Day, which was Victory in Japan? That meant a whole lot more to you, I assume.

JB:

Well, yes. I was very happy, but I remembered, also, I was still so surprised that the orderly had said [what] the general had said what was going to happen two weeks before. So I was sort of waiting for to say, “Is this really going to happen?” I didn't know that at the time. But since it did happen, I thought, “Hmm. So the man did know what he was talking about.” But remember I said I was very saddened because the great love of my life was going to leave and go back to New York, which he did, so that's a part of it, too.

HT:

How did you feel about the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan?

JB:

Yes. Well, I was so confused over it. There wasn't as much information about what really happened in Manila in the newspapers. Or maybe we couldn't get—I don't know that I'd ever seen the Times. I didn't get the Times, the New York Times or whatnot. So there wasn't as much information about what had really happened and the great destruction than it would have in the United States. We just knew that something had happened, and the war was over, and Japan had capitulated, and MacArthur was [in charge]—you know, we had been accustomed to MacArthur from the Philippines, if you heard about it. “I shall return,” and so forth, and that MacArthur was going to Japan. So that the impact was not that great, because we didn't have that much information.

HT:

That would be true, of course. You wouldn't have the radio out there or the newspapers and that sort of thing.

JB:

We didn't have many newspapers.

HT:

Even though you were closer to what was going on, you didn't have the information.

JB:

That's right. We were in the Philippines, and they were struggling. Manila had been just about devastated, and they were still struggling and cleaning up and trying to survive daily.

HT:

Do you think that being in the American Red Cross for about two years, was it? You were in that particular service about two years, was it?

JB:

Yes.

HT:

What kind of impact did it have on your life?

JB:

Well, while I was in the Red Cross, I started to say it was almost my whole life. I was completely engrossed, but, in a sense, as in other things, once I left the Red Cross, I've never had any great association with it since.

I guess that it was just that I didn't suffer too much, as far as segregation, but it was there, don't you know, the separation in the army. That we were black Red Cross workers, but we had so little to do with white Red Cross workers. I mean, there was still this shadow of segregation over us, or something like that. As the man said, “We're under the army. The army is segregated. Therefore we follow principles, you know.” That's what.

HT:

Do you recall what the mood of the country was during World War II, the general population? What kind of mood was the country in at that time?

JB:

Yes. I can remember Pearl Harbor. Do you mean Pearl Harbor day?

HT:

Pearl Harbor and victory gardens and just—

JB:

Oh yes.

HT:

—and the scrap drives and that kind of thing.

JB:

Yes. Well, I think it's generally known black people are very loyal and very patriotic. Have you ever heard of anything different?

HT:

No.

JB:

My father used to say that. He said the worst crime against the United States, and he said, “When people kill a president [it's a crime against the whole nation]. Black people have never assassinated a president, have never tried to betray the country at all, don't you see?”

So I remember hearing over my brother's radio, another brother. We were going someplace, and he said, “Pearl Harbor has been attacked.” We were shocked and hurt. The Japanese, and then we knew that things—and so, of course, I think I told you after a couple of years, I went to work in the Pentagon. My brothers and sisters, two of them went to work in shipyards, and we were one hundred percent let's—we didn't know—let's support the war. We hadn't heard what the Germans had done or the Nazis had done. But if you wonder about that, we were very patriotic. I'm saying it was a world apart from what's happening now in Iraq, [unclear].

HT:

Right. Did you have any siblings who were in the armed services?

JB:

No, not siblings, but a great deal of cousins. Both my brothers decided to work in what's called defense jobs, and therefore they were deferred. Younger relatives, for example, one nephew went to Vietnam. My cousins went to Korea and were in the war.

HT:

Who did you admire and respect a great deal during World War II? You had mentioned President Roosevelt earlier.

JB:

And Mrs. [A. Eleanor] Roosevelt.

HT:

Did you ever get a chance to meet either one of them?

JB:

No.

HT:

Or see them? When you were in Washington, I thought maybe you might have seen them.

JB:

No. No, we were just Pentagon [workers]. But I guess I admired them more than anybody else.

HT:

Did you ever hear them speak or anything like that?

JB:

Yes, over the radio a great deal. The other people I admire, well, there are certain writers that I admire. Of all things, a Mississippian, William Faulkner, is one of the greatest writers and greatest thinkers in the world. I don't mind saying this to anybody, that he made the best comments about race and what the problems were about race. He's still far ahead of practically everybody. I appreciate your time, but he just says, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” We are still suffering from slavery and segregation, and he knew that.

Let me quote something from [unclear]. Somebody was saying something about black people. I think it [unclear] not distinguishing between mine and thine, and he said, “How distinguish when for four hundred years mine did not exist?” Black people didn't own themselves, their families, not any property, not anything. So he puts in literary terms the kind of thing that if you think about it, is a profound statement. Even the Indians, it was their land; it was taken away from them. But for four hundred years, “mine did not exist.” Here are human beings who were nothing. They didn't own themselves, their family; they owned nothing. Of course, it's a kind of background for reparations. But do you see what I'm trying to say? But Faulkner pointed out almost every theme that needs to be pointed out about race in America, in one way or another.

HT:

That's really amazing. You mentioned earlier that you thought a great deal of President Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt. What about President Harry Truman? Do you have any thoughts about him?

JB:

Perhaps I should have a greater respect for him than I have, but I didn't know much about him, and he was, at the time I was growing up, not considered in the category or class with the Roosevelts. It's true, he desegregated the army, but—okay, I guess, but nothing much.

[Dwight D.] Eisenhower, no. No [unclear] him. Should I say what I heard an army person say about Eisenhower? They said this. With Roosevelt, they said, years ago you could be president as long as you want to, but that's when [unclear]. With Truman, anybody can get elected president. With Eisenhower, it shows the country can get along without a president. They said he was on the golf course so much. So that came from a black army officer.

HT:

That's a cute story. Do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

JB:

Yes, I'm afraid I'm too independent, and maybe I am, what is it, insensitive or something like that. But I have worked for myself. I still resent as a seventeen-year-old having to teach in a one-teacher school. Since the age of seventeen, I have had to assume responsibility, and I have been independent.

HT:

It sounds like your parents were independent as well. Were your parents independent?

JB:

Yes. My mother said, “With the opportunity, equal opportunity, I feel I can do anything that any other woman in the world [can],” and even after it's on a level playing ground. In other words, she didn't feel that anybody in the world was superior to her, any woman. She knew there were people with [more] education [unclear], but she was saying with the opportunity, with doing things like that, yes, she taught us. She would have said, “If I thought a single one of you felt inferior for any reason.” She wouldn't say she'd beat the life out of us, because she [unclear]. But do you see what I mean?

My father said this. “Do right, be honest, [get an education], and work, and the world is yours.” And they thought that way. But here's [unclear] says, “You may not have enough money.” We felt so free. We felt that segregation would not be forever, because we knew people like that [who thought that segregation was stupid]. But, of course, we all grew up to be six independent siblings.

HT:

So that all six of you were very independent. Great.

JB:

Five of us graduated from college. One sister became a lawyer. One brother was so busy working, he didn't quite finish his engineering part. But we felt that's the thing to do. You go to college, you work hard, and you get an education. Then you educate your children. So most of the children—my parent's great-grandchildren—are college graduates. So everybody who would go to school, will. That's what America's about.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a feminist?

JB:

Well, I'm very pleased to be a woman, if that's what you mean. I'm proud of being a woman. I don't feel women are inferior. But I don't even know whether I know what the word feminist is. My mother might have been, but she said there's no such thing as a male being superior, if that's what you mean. I don't believe that. Maybe if I ever had a husband, I would understand better. [Laughs].

HT:

How do you feel about women being in combat positions? You know, since the first Gulf War, and even more so in the more recent war over in the Middle East, women have flown helicopters and have flown combat flights. They've even gone into combat, really, and have been killed. How do you feel about that?

JB:

Yes. I feel if that's what they want to do, that's what they should do. I'll tell you why. There might have been a time of it when they say, “Women stay in [unclear].” But bombs drop on women and children as well as on men, so as long as no distinction is made as far as who gets killed in a war—of course women, they shouldn't be drafted, but any woman who wants to go into combat, hurray for her. Any job that she wants, that's the way I feel [unclear].

HT:

Well, Miss Bright, I don't have any more questions for you, formal questions. Is there anything else you'd like to add to the interview?

JB:

No.

HT:

Right. Well, thank you so much for talking with me this afternoon—

JB:

Oh, I'm delighted.

HT:

—about the American Red Cross and your time with them.

[End of interview]