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Interview with Katie McGill

McGill, Katie
Funderburk, Jamel
Date of Interview: 
Gardening; Farming; Canning; Desegregation; Voting; Wilmore Community Garden; Wilmore Community Center; Charlotte, NC; Mint Hill, NC; Family
Katie McGill was raised in Mint Hill, NC by her grandparents, Samuel and Ester Stafford. She credits her grandparents with raising her to be a lady and to respect others. She also describes her childhood and how she worked with her family on a dairy farm. She recalls that she learned to garden at an early age and encourages young gardeners to remember that gardening could be used as a survival skill. Other topics discussed by Mrs. McGill are school desegregation, voting and her move to the Wilmore Neighborhood in 1971. Katie McGill tells about the history of Wilmore gardens and the revitalization of the Wilmore Neighborhood.
Charlotte, NC, early 1970s-2001; Mint Hill, NC, 1935-early 1970s
Interview Setting: 
Home of Katie McGill, 1909 Wilmore Drive, Charlotte, NC
Cultivating Common Ground
JF (Jamel Funderburk): This is Jamel Funderburk. It is November 1st and I am standing here with Katie McGill at her house, 1909 Wilmore Drive, for Cultivating Common Ground. Mrs. Katie, please take your time to share with us as much information as possible about the following questions. We will start off with some questions about your childhood years. Could you please tell us, what is your full name?
KM (Katie McGill): My name is Katie Ementrice McGill.
JF: And where did you grow up?
KM: I grew up in Mint Hill, North Carolina.
JF: Could you talk a few minutes about the community where you grew up?
KM: The community that I grew up in was a small community and there wasn't very many houses around. It was just a few houses around and it was plenty of room to run and play. And when we wasn't working, we was playing.
JF: Could you tell us about your house you grew up in and how it was different than the house you live in today, you live in today?
KM: The house I lived in when I was a little girl it was a upstairs and a downstairs. The kitchen was the downstairs, that's where the kitchen part was. The upstairs was the living room, three bedrooms.
JF: Who lived with you and when, when you were growing up?
KM: I lived with my grandmother and my grandfather and my aunt and uncles.
JF: Can you tell me about your family members?
KM: Well, my grandmother and my grandfather, they raised me. And my aunt and my uncles, we all stayed there together, which was, it was just a few years different in our ages, and we really was raised up like sisters and brothers instead of aunt and niece.
JF: Can you tell us about the kind of work your grandparents did?
KM: My grandfather and my grandmother worked on dairy farm. They, he would get up in the morning and go to work at like four o'clock and milk cows. And then back in the olden days, before they had trucks that come by and pick up the milk, they would bottle the milk, and take the trucks out and hop and set the milk on people's porch.
JF: And what kind of things did they teach you?
KM: They taught me how to work, they taught me how to be a lady, and how to respect other people.
JF: And do you remember anything most about them?
KM: About my grandparents?
JF: Yes.
KM: They was loving peoples, they were disciplined people, and they was Christian people.
JF: Could you tell us about your mother and what kind of work she did outside the house?
KM: Well, my mother, she also lived in the house with us, but she worked outside the house at the dairy too. Everybody, we stayed on this one man's farm, and everybody worked for this one man.
JF: And--.
IB (Ivica Bilich): Do you want to show us a picture of your grandma and your grandpa at this point in time?
KM: Yeah.
IB: It's probably a good time to do that.
IB: Hold it up here, and tell us their name, and Melvin, you refocus on that. Go on. Tilt it this way a little bit. There you go. Frame down a little bit so we can see. Tilt down a little bit there. There we go. There we go. Now tell us about those folks.
KM: This is my grandmother, and her name is Ester Stafford. And this is my grandfather, and his name is Samuel Stafford. And they are responsible for me being the person that I am today.
IB: And when was that picture taken?
KM: Oh, Lord, I don't exactly know when this picture was taken.
IB: Was it taken in the 70s? 80s? 90s?
KM: It probably, it wasn't in the 90s, it probably taken in the 70s.
JF: And do you know how old they was on that picture?
KM: No, I really don't.
IB: Do you know where they take, the picture was taken?
KM: The picture was taken in their home.
IB: Is it the same home you were raised in?
KM: No.
IB: It's a different home.
KM: It's a different home, the, the home that where my aunts and things live at now.
IB: OK, great.
JF: What interesting and what kind of chores you did when you were growing up? Could you talk a few minutes about them?
KM: Well, when I came home from school, we would have to get out our school clothes and put on our play clothes, and we also had to work at the dairy too. We would go over there and work for a couple of hours, then we would leave and go back home and do our chores at home, like we had to milk our cows and feed the hogs and the chickens. And then we would get ready for supper. And after supper, everybody, you know, if we had, different nights we had to do the dishes, and if it were your night you done the dishes, then your homework.
JF: [Pause] Did your family have a garden when you were growing up?
KM: Yes, we had a garden, a vegetable garden. We had a big garden. We also, you know, we raised tomatoes, corn, okra, peas, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, onions. [Laughter] We mostly raised everything we ate.
JF: What do you remember about your school years?
KM: I went to J. Scott High School, well, it was an elementary school then and from there to a junior high. And really the junior high, I thought was my best years of school because the grades wasn't hard and we could get, we could play more, you know, but after we went to high school, we had to buckle down and get ready for graduation.
JF: Can you talk a while about kinds of things you did for fun when you was a child and how it's different from your grandchildren today.
KM: Well, when I was a child, what I done for fun, we used to make playhouses out in the woods, and we had it set up just like a regular house, and we would play ball, and games like hide-and-go-seek, boogieman, things like that.
JF: Here are some questions about your adult life. How long have you been living in Wilmore?
KM: I lived in Wil-, I've been living in Wilmore for thirty years.
JF: What do you remember about the neighborhood you lived in before Wilmore and tell us why you moved here?
KM: Well, the neighborhood I stayed in before Wilmore, it was just a s-, it was in the country. It was just a small house. It didn't have all the conveniences and things, you know. We didn't have, we had an inside toilet, but it wasn't really up to par. And the house I live in now, it, we had--. In the house in the country, we had to heat our house with wood, and the house I live in now is more convenient, and we have central air and central heat and it's just a better living place.
JF: What was your first paying job?
KM: My first paying job. [Pause] Really, picking cotton was my first paying job, but we would pick cotton, and we would get paid so much for, at the end of the week, whatever amount of cotton we had picked, we would get paid for that.
JB (Jane Blotnick): Do you remember how much you got paid, or how much you used to pick?
KM: Well, I always one, I always picked a hundred pounds or more. I didn't go to the field unless I picked a hundred pounds or more and I, I don't know whether it was twenty-five cent. It wasn't very much, I could tell you that.
JF: Can you talk a few minutes about living through the Great Depression? And what was it like for your family?
KM: Well, really I don't remember too much about the Depression. I really don't.
JF: Do you remember who was the first President you voted for?
KM: [Pause] Y'all are catching me off guard, because you know we haven't always had the right to vote and so, whenever we had, when we had the right to vote, you know, we encouraged all the black people to please go out and vote, because there's so many people had lost their lives for us to have voting rights. And I can't remember the first president I voted for, but when I started voting, and I've been voting ever since. And I'm still a voter.
JF: Can you tell us all the stories about Wilmore?
KM: Well, when I moved in Wilmore thirty years ago, the neighborhood that I stay in was a mixed neighborhood. And more black people start moving into the neighborhood, and more of the white people start moving out of the neighborhood. And now, the neighborhood is mostly a black neighborhood, but lately the whites have been coming back into the neighborhood.
JB: What was it like when you moved in you said it was mixed?
KM: It was mixed.
JB: How did people get along, or?
KM: Oh, well, we got along fine, because didn't nobody bother anybody. Everybody just stayed on their own common ground, but after more black people start moving in, you could see the white moving out. I mean, houses would just, seemed like overnight would have a for sale sign in it.
JF: Do you have any stories you'd like to tell us young people about the danger of segregation and what was it like growing up in it?
KM: Well, really, I can't too say too much about the segregation because it first started in the schools. And when they start segregating the school busing the black kids in to the white schools, the black kids had to do the most of the busing to get the school segregated. They didn't bus the white kids into the black schools, they mostly was tearing down the black school in order get the black kids into the white schools. And then, you know, they everything else, like the grocery stores, the restaurants and everything, you know start serving the black too, because blacks couldn't always eat at, at different restaurant. You could go purchase your food but you had to take your food with you. You couldn't sit there and eat at the tables like with the white people.
JF: How did the civil rights movement affect your family, if it did?
KM: Well, I don't think it affected my family, to me it made it, things better. [Phone Rings]
JF: Could you tell us--?
JB: [Pause] I thought you ( ).
IB: It wasn't me.
KM: It was probably my phone.
JF: Could, could you tell us about your children and grandchildren?
KM: Well, I have five children. I have three girls and two boys and I'm proud of my children. And my grandchildren, I have ten grandchildren. And so far all ten of my grandchildren have made me very proud of them. They are in school, they're doing well in school, they're in church, they're not running the streets and I'm just proud of them. I wouldn't switch them.
JF: Now we're going talk about some gardening experiences.
JF: How did your love of gardening begin?
KM: Well, I have gardened all my life and I just love to work outside in the dirt. It's therapy for me. And I've always, no matter where I stayed at, I've always had a garden, a flowerbed, a, a something, because I just love working in the dirt.
JF: Talk a little bit about how gardening is different today then it was when you were coming up.
KM: Well, today people don't have acres and acres of garden like they used to, they used to have acres of garden. Today, it's that, that much room for a garden. You've just got a small space for a garden nowadays. And, but back in the olden days, you used to have about four or five fields of different stuff. But now, you have to cram all that into just a small space.
JF: You said you had a garden, could you describe it for us?
KM: My garden at Wilmore?
JF: Your home garden.
KM: My home garden.
JF: My home garden, we had a big garden, and we raised everything that we ate. And what we didn't eat, we canned it for the wintertime in jars and deep freeze and stuff like that, but we raised everything.
IB: We're going to have to get new batteries.
JF: Tell us about your, your work in the Wilmore garden and how you've become involved.
KM: Well, we first had one garden and I think after everybody seen the one garden how the people that had those gardens put plants and things they had in there, we wanted a garden too. And so, they got a second garden and each garden they got, had twenty gardeners. And so whenever they got more space so we could have more garden, I purchased for five dollars one of the spots to have a garden in Wilmore.
JF: What kind of things do you enjoy growing?
KM: Okra. I love to grow okra. I love to grow tomatoes. I like to grow collards. I like to plant turnip greens of different kinds. Really anything mostly that's edible, I like.
JF: If you could grow just three things, what would they be and why?
KM: If I could grow three things I'd grow tomatoes, I would grow okra, and I would grow collard greens. And why? Because I love all three of those things.
JF: What do you know about the history of the Wilmore Garden? How it got started? Where was it first located and why was it moved around so much?
KM: Well, the first garden got started when--.
JB: Cissy, Cissy Shull--.
KM: Cissy Shull. She has been out of town and she had seen some gardens like the one we've got started now and she took a interest in it. And she came back and was telling a group of womens about the garden that she'd seen out of town and she asked would we like to have a garden over here and we told her yeah. And the first garden that she, they purchased for us was up on Wilmore Drive and that's where the tin garden was up there first. And then she purchased another piece of property further on down on Wilmore Drive and that's where I came into the picture. I purchased one of those gardens. And the reason we had to move the gardens around so many times because we had to, we moved the garden down there near the center, and then the man that owned that land there, he let us use the land, but for some reason, he didn't want us down there anymore, so Cissy purchased some land on Kingston. And we moved the Wilmore Garden up there on Kingston. And then it's a, the man down there at Wilmore, he sold the land to another gentleman. He bought the land. And the gentleman gave the land back to the Wilmore Gardens and we swapped the land up there on Kingston to the Center, that was the Center land up there on Kingston, and we swapped that land for the land down there at Wilmore where we are now.
JF: What has happened at the community garden in Wilmore Community over the years?
KM: It gave me a chance to get out of the house, gave me a chance to meet other people, and just to work at the garden.
JF: And why do you still do it?
KM: Because I love to do it.
JF: Have you worked in the greenhouse over the years?
KM: Yes, I have worked in the greenhouse, reseeding, transplanting plants into different sections and things, cleaning up around the greenhouse.
JF: What kind of things have you enjoyed growing?
KM: Well, all the plants, and we did grow flowers at one time and I'm a lover of flowers.
JF: When you first put tomato plants out in the spring, what are you thinking when you put them in the ground?
KM: Are they going to live.
IB: Say something about, when I put the tomato--.
KM: When I put the tomato in the--.
IB: Hold on a second. Say it again while I'm not talking. [Laughter]
JB: When you put the tomato plant--.
KM: When I put the tomato plant in the ground, I'll be thinking whether my tomato plant is going to live or when I go back, is this going to be dead.
JF: Do you ever can or freeze vegetables?
KM: Yeah, I always freeze or can my vegetables for the winter.
JF: What kind of things have you put up over the years and who taught you how to do those things.
KM: I have canned tomatoes. I have frozen greens. And my grandmother taught us at a early age how to defend for ourselves and that mean canning, cleaning, and the whole works.
JF: Have you passed on your knowledge about growing and putting up vegetables to your children or grandchildren?
KM: Yes, I have told them about, you know, canning and growing vegetables and things, but kids nowadays not really interested in that.
JF: Do you have any stories about snakes or other critters?
KM: Nothing about worm, I have, I do not like worms, from the biggest to the littlest. I am very scared of worms. Snakes I'm not scared of.
JF: Can you talk about how you decided, decided when you plant a spring garden or when you plant a fall garden? Have you ever used a almanac?
KM: No, uh-huh. I don't, I don't, I just plant when I think its time to plant.
JF: Do you remember having a real bad year in the garden?
KM: Yes, last year was a real bad year for me. I didn't have too much in my garden last year. It just didn't seem to do well.
JF: We're going to include a section in our book about the successful gardening tips and gardening folk wisdom. Can you talk about what you've learned over the years in terms of growing a good garden?
KM: Well, to have a good garden, you have to work it, you have to fertilize it, and you have to hoe your stuff, you have to keep the soil kind of soft up around the stuff. You just can't plant it and just leave it there and never tend it.
JF: What do you use for fertilizer?
KM: Well, now the, the first when my plants are little, I use that Miracle Grow and then we just have the regular fertilizer.
JF: Have you ever composed your leaves or chicken scraps to use in your garden?
KM: No, I have never done that.
JF: What do you do to keep the bugs from eating your vegetables?
KM: Plant flowers around the garden and they tell us that will keep the bugs and things from eating the vegetables.
JF: We are going to include favorite recipes in our book. Can you talk a little about cooking with the garden vegetables or herbs and share some of your favorite recipes?
KM: I really don't have just a favorite recipe, because I like most all the recipes.
JB: For example what do you do with, you said your favorite vegetables were tomato, okra, and collards. So, what's your favorite way to fix okra or tomatoes?
KM: I love my okra fried. I love to fry my okra then--. I don't, I don't care too much for stewed tomatoes. I like my tomatoes, you know, just pick them, wash them, cut them up and eat them.
JF: Why do you think it is important for young people to learn about gardens?
KM: Well, because one day, you might have to raise your own food. You might not can go to the supermarket and buy what you want to. But if you raise your own food, you can plant whatever you want to plant.
JF: [Pause] Is there a special way you water your garden?
KM: Well, when I water my garden, I don't have the hose on full force, it's more like a sprinkler, and water is slow, because if you have the water on too high, it's just going to run off the top, it's not going to soak into the soil where the plant is.
JF: Is there a special way you plant your vegetables in your garden?
KM: Special way I plant my vegetables in my garden?
JF: Yeah, like you space them out like three feet apart.
KM: Yes, uh-huh. I usually set my tomato plants. I space them out so give them a space to grow in because they're going to get bigger, you know, as they grow. So you're going to have to far enough apart so they can have room to grow.
JF: Do you have a special advice you would like to pass on to young growers?
KM: Just remember where you came from because one day you might have to go back to the old way of living, like gardening, milking cows, feeding the hogs, and all that.
JF: In closing, is there anything you'd like to say that we haven't got to?
KM: No, not really, because I think y'all have done a good job of covering everything.
JF: Thank you very much.
JB: Do you have anything you want to ask her?
IB: Oh, would you like to share with us what the paper is in your hand?
KM: This paper in my hands is the neighborhood, Mecklenburg neighborhood and it's telling about the neighborhood and the return of the Charlotte Green.
JF: [Long Pause] OK, thank you very, very much.
KM: You're welcome.
JB: Thank you Mrs. McGill, you did a great job. [Applause]