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Interview with Donna Anthony McGee

McGee, Donna Anthony
Ramsey, Priscilla
Date of Interview: 
Charlotte, NC; Wilmore neighborhood; Brooklyn neighborhood; Gardening; Family; Segregation; Work
Donna Anthony McGee recalls growing up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina. As a child she enjoyed going to school and playing sports with other children her age. She discusses the occupations of her parents and describes the various jobs she has held over the years. Mrs. McGee then talks about her love of the outdoors and gardening, especially at her home and in the Wilmore community garden.
Charlotte, NC, 1942-2001
Interview Setting: 
Wilmore Community Center, Charlotte, NC
Cultivating Common Ground
PR (Priscilla Ramsey): OK. This is Priscilla Ramsey. October 27, 2001. I am interviewing Donna McGee at the Wilmore Community Center for Cultivating Common Ground. I am starting the chapter with the early years. What is your full name?
DM (Donna Anthony McGee): My name is Donna Anthony McGee.
PR: When were you born?
DM: I was born January the 2nd, 1942.
PR: When were you born? Where were you born?
DM: I was born in Char-, I mean Charlotte, North Carolina, Mecklenburg County.
PR: Where did you grow up?
DM: Well, I--. [Pause] In the, in, in Charlotte, in the city, the city of Charlotte.
PR: Can you describe the kinds of community where you grew up?
DM: I can describe the community. I came from a community called Brooklyn.
JB (June Blotnick): Tell us, tell us about Brooklyn.
DM: Oh, in, in that community we had many churches that you could walk to and we had the neighborhood grocery stores and we could walk to school. And where I sit, well down below the Adams Mark, right down there between 3rd and what is it, anyway, I sit right off of McDowell Street.
PR: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
DM: Well, well I'm, I'm from a family of six children.
PR: Tell us about the kind of work your father did?
DM: Well, as far as I can remember, he did, he worked at a venetian blind, a venetian blind place and the last time he worked at a chemical plant.
PR: What did your mother do?
DM: Well, she, she worked at a hospital and then she also worked at a, she had done restaurant work and worked at the hospital and her last job I think she work at a nursery home.
PR: Did she work outside of the home?
DM: Um-hum.
PR: Did she work outside?
DM: Yeah, sometimes. Yes, she did.
PR: What kind of chores did you have when growing up?
DM: Well, I had chores, I had to take [laughter] care of my sisters and brothers and we had, I learned how to cook at a early age.
JB: Were you one of the oldest?
DM: Yes, I'm the oldest.
JB: You're the oldest?
DM: I'm the oldest, yes. I'm the oldest and I also have younger sisters and brothers.
PR: Did you parents have a garden when you were growing up?
DM: No. [Pause]
PR: Tell us about your school years.
DM: Well, when I was coming up, we would, we would walk to school and the, the elementary school I went to was called Myers Street School, which was in Brooklyn. And I also, went to Second Ward. All those students are in Brooklyn. We'd walk.
PR: How did you get there?
DM: Walked. [laughter] Walked.
PR: What was it like going to school? What was it like going to school there? Describe your school.
DM: It was, it was nice. It was nice because the teachers they had, you got disciplining and you also got disciplining when you got home too.
PR: As a child, what kinds of things did you do?
DM: Play with paper dolls, and then some we'd also stay at, right off from Ms. Thomas off and on. I mean they had fence and we grew up around a lot of sunflowers, so we used to take the petals off of the sunflowers, and use them as fingernails.
PR: Did you have hobbies or play sports as a child?
DM: Did I do what?
PR: Did you have hobbies or play sports as a child?
DM: Well, we did. We played a lot, what a lot of them call stickball where you had stick, cleared a ball like that out in the street, and we played hopscotch and ring around the rosies and things like that.
PR: OK. This is about your adult life. How long have you lived in Charlotte?
DM: All my entire life.
PR: How long have you lived in Wilmore?
DM: I'd say about thirty years.
PR: Where do you live before moving to Wilmore?
DM: Off of well, well, off of (somewhere, somewhere down there near, maybe) Cedar Street.
PR: What kind of work have you done over the years?
DM: Well I have worked at restaurant and domestic work.
PR: How many children do you have, and grandchildren?
DM: I have five children and I'd say about ten grandkids. They little.
PR: This is about your gardening experiences.
DM: Um-hum.
PR: How long have you worked in the Wilmore Gardens?
DM: Oh, I have worked in Wilmore Gardens ever since 1970. I mean, I have worked in Wilmore Garden ever since 1997.
PR: Why do you keep your garden after all these years? What do you get out of it?
DM: What did I get out of it? Oh I get a, oh I get a great satisfaction out of a garden because I love to be outside and you have to take your mind off thing when I'm outside. I love being outside. I enjoy it.
PR: Do you have a garden in your yard at home?
DM: Yes.
PR: Tell us about it.
DM: Well, I have flowers in my yard and then also I, yeah I have flowers in the garden and then I also have, I have hanging basket on my porch.
PR: What inspired you to start a garden?
DM: Let's see. Like I said, I started out with a ring plants and this older lady she stayed down on Kingston. Her name is Janet, Janet Lambert, she always, no matter what the season, if one thing come up or another, she always, I just, I mind her yard and I have gotten, she has given me a lot of things from her yard and I had put it in my yard. No matter the season, she always would have something come up, like daffodil, when they die down, then something else coming up behind it. From season to season she always had something coming up in the place of it.
PR: What is your earliest memory of gardening?
DM: Oh, when I was small, this lady, I can't think of her name, but she stayed in our community. She had, she grew flowers. She had a flower garden in her part, like four o'clock, and dahlias, flowers of that type.
PR: What kinds of things do you grow in your community garden?
DM: Oh, tomatoes. Oh go--.
PR: Alright. What kinds of things?
DM: Oh did you-.
JB: Answer as a full question.
DM: OK. What do I--? What am I growing? I grow the tomatoes, beans, okra, zucchini, two kinds of squash, yellow squash and zucchini. Did I say tomatoes? And I also have flowers in my garden. This year I had black-eyed susans. What else did I have? Black-eyed susans this year.
PR: Any special reason for gardening these things?
DM: Yes. Yes, it's a special reason why, because I enjoy fresh vegetables. Fresh tastes better. [Laughter]
PR: Do you ever canned, freeze? Or can or freeze vegetables? Who taught you how to do this?
DM: Well, I freeze. I would like to learn how to can, but I don't know how, but I freeze. Well, at the most I taught myself. (And one thing I like, I love eating anything own garden).
PR: Have you passed on any of your knowledge about gardening any of the vegetables to your children or grandchildren? Why or why not?
DM: I have taught the children about those things, but they not interested, you know, they have no interest in those things right now.
PR: What do you think about Wilmore Garden? Are you reminded of (olden days)?
DM: [Pause] Somewhat.
JB: How so?
DM: [Pause] Because when I really wa--see when I was coming up, my mother, they didn't have frozen stuff. They cooked fresh stuff. Fresh vegetables. They didn't just open up a can and throw it in a pot. They always be fresh.
PR: What kinds of wildlife have you seen in your garden? Snakes, etcetera? And have you ever been bit by a snake and (put-been to the emergency room)?
DM: No, I have not. No.
PR: What kind of wildlife do you have in your garden?
DM: I don't. Oh, what kind of wildlife? You talking about out here?
PR: Yes.
DM: In the Wilmore Garden?
PR: Uh-huh. In your garden.
DM: Well, I have squirrels in mine at home.
PR: I guess the weather affect (plenty of ). Do you use any ( )?
DM: No.
PR: How does weather affect your (plants)?
DM: Well, the-if it get too hot during the summer, you're vegetables and everything burn up. They done burn. And they won't do to well, especially when it's hot and dry and no rain, they won't look as good. And then, about this time of year, they'll come a frost, something--. Well frost good for, something like greens, because a lot of people pick their greens when the frost falls. And if they taste better they'll till them, but if it comes a hard freeze, sometimes it kills certain thing come when freeze, a real hard freeze.
PR: Do you remember ever having a really bad year for gardening?
DM: Have a bad year? Well. Well, things this season, it's not--I won't say they're bad, but they didn't do as well as I expect.
PR: What kind of suggestions do you have for young people who want to be successful gardeners?
DM: Well, if you want to be a successful gardener, you're going to have to get your hand dirty. My hands get dirty and sometime I'm down on your knees, you just going to get dirty, a lot of work. It come with gardening. I mean, you're not going to stay clean.
JB: What other suggestions do you have for these kids who want to gardening? How, how would you--? How should they learn how to do it?
DM: How, how--?
JB: How should they--?
DM: By, by watching older people. Watching the seniors.
PR: Do you use chemicals or pesticides? What do you use to keep the bugs away? Do bugs ever get on your garden?
DM: Yes.
PR: Tell us about any special recipes or dishes you like to prepare with your garden vegetables.
DM: What am I--say? Well it's special to me. I love zucchini, squash with tomatoes, and onion in it, and Italian seasoning.
JB: Do you grow any herbs in your garden?
DM: Yes.
JB: And how do you use them?
DM: I haven't tried. I mean I haven't--. I grow them, but I haven't experimented with them though.
PR: What kinds of hobbies or--this is some additional questions about ( )? What kinds of hobbies or special interests aside from gardening have you had over the years?
DM: I don't know what---. This is about the only, I mean the only, hobby, I'd have to say, like I say, gardening, other than that I don't have any.
PR: Can you tell us about some old stories about Wilmore? What it was like? What it used to be like when you first moved here?
DM: Wilmore was a real different place when I first moved over here. We had--all, on, on, on the street I stay on, on one side they had a lot of dogwood trees, and on the other side of the street they had the old big maple tree.
PR: Do you have any stories you'd like to tell about the days of segregation, what it was like, or?
DM: Well, we went to all black schools and when you ride the city bus like they have now, well the city bus used to be owned by Duke Power, they had ( ) buses. And people used to have tokens. And whatever--I mean, we had to, when you get on the bus, you had to--blacks always had to sit in the back, the back of the bus, was room in front of the bus, but you still couldn't, I mean, you couldn't sit down, you had a front seat, front seat was empty you still had to go to the back of the bus.
PR: Was there a lot of discrimination?
DM: Well, well, I guess, when we was a kid, I remember paying attention and like--. [telephone rings] Well they white and I'm black, and because they had wherever they went said black water fountain, black whatever black and white.
PR: How did the civil rights movement affect your family? Where, where have you live in Charlotte then, did you have (incidents) about those days?
DM: Can you repeat that again?
PR: How did civil rights movement affect your family?
DM: How do you think? How did civil rights affect it?
JB: Do you have any stories of when there were civil rights actions here in Charlotte or were any of your brothers or sister involved in anything?
DM: No. Because when, you know, when they, when they, before they passed civil rights and all that, lots of it, we just, I guess we young ones just didn't pay too much attention to at the time.
PR: Do you think it's important for young people to learn about gardening and why?
DM: Yes, it's important for us to grow your own food. And lot of things today they are expensive that they going in the store buying these days. If you grow your own, and just look at something that start from the seed and planting and grow up and--. It does something to you, I mean, because just to look at it-it just start from a seed and a plant, and, and you just taking it up, you know, hot and cook it. It's amazing.
PR: What would be your special wish or advice would you like to pass on to the younger generation?
DM: Well, stay in school, and get a education.
PR: In closing, is there anything you'd like to say that you forgot to?
DM: [Long pause] Oh yeah, that all white and black, all need to get together and live in peace as a whole.
PR: Thank you.
JB: Hold on. Chris, do you have any questions? Anything you can think of about gardening? Anything else you want to say about Charlotte Green or the garden or--?
DM: Oh, Charlotte Green. Oh, oh, OK.
JB: Wilmore Garden or--?
DM: Oh, the Wilmore Garden.
JB: Do you want to talk about how it started? You weren't in it at the beginning?
DM: I wasn't in it at the beginning. No. No, but, because when I first started, you know, I didn't start out here because they had a problem with that--the land or something, so I started up on Kingston. And they have at the Charlotte Green they had two garden out here. We had two garden, one and two. And we also work on the greenhouse doing cutting and we do cutting from them and make hanging baskets and whatever. And one year we, they plant a flower garden. What year was it? '90. That was last year, I think, our own plants. We planted for our garden plus the other garden for Charlotte Green.
PR: Besides walking in the environment what school was transportation?
DM: Can you repeat that?
PR: Besides walking in the environment ( ) transportation?
DM: Well, there were no problems with me because, I was young and I mean, it didn't, it didn't bother me.
JB: Well, thank you Donna. I appreciate you giving us your interview and I'm sure we're going to get more stories from you later.
JB: But that's great. Alright. We're going to get a picture of you with the kids. Let me know--.