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Interview with Fannie Flono

Flono, Fannie
McAuley, Joy
Date of Interview: 
Tolerance and Respect
Fannie Flono tells a few stories about her grandmother, who grew up outside of Augusta, GA.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Joy McAuley interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
JM (Joy McAuley): This is Fannie Flono, and she grew up in Ag, Augusta, Georgia, and she is going to talk about some stories from her [pause] childhood.
FF (Fannie Flono): OK. My grandmother used to tell me a lot of different stories about her growing-up years and, uh, especially, uh, she used to talk about her family, and what it was like during those times. She had this one story, and, uh, we called my grandmother Granny, uh, because we had another grandmother we called something else, but uh, um Granny used to tell this story about her brother, Joe. And it was a fascinating story, because, uh, it kind of told a lot about, uh, what it was like being a uh, uh, close-knit black family during those, those years in the South when, uh, you didn't have much. She grew up on a farm, and um, uh, what it was like, but, um, like a lot of black families during that time, [pause] uh, uh, if you had a large family, uh, and some of your relatives didn't have anybody in their family, you would just kind of let some of the kids stay with that family. And my Gran, my Granny and her brother um, were among, I think there were six kids in her family, and they had a cousin, uh, who lived, uh, on a farm, you know, maybe about, I don't know, 10 miles away, not that far. You know, during that time people walked 10 miles and, uh, they needed somebody to help with some of the farm chores and all that sort of stuff and so they asked my, my, my Granny's parents if Joe could come and live with them. And you know, they were a close family and they loved each other and all that kind of stuff, but it was just down the road, you know, so they said fine, and, and you, you know, he came back on Sundays and he was with the family at church and all that sort of thing. Um, but, ah, one day he didn't show up, on Sunday, uh, for church and so they wondered what was going on and they went to this house, ah, down the road and the cousins had packed up and left. They had just gone. Nobody knew where they went. They took Joe with them, and my Granny said, she said it was such a sad time in the house because, you know, everybody was missing Joe and they didn't know what to do. And so you know, eventually, you know, you know, they kept asking people around, and nobody knew where they were, and eventually, you know, they just reconciled themselves that they just wouldn't see Joe again. And, uh, so uh, Granny grew up, she was like, I think she told me this was when she was about 10 years old when this happened and her brother Joe was like 16 and, uh, so she grew up and, uh, she uh, got married, and uh, that's another story. She got married when she was 16 to my grandfather, who was 30, and she didn't know she had to go live with him, but anyway that's another story [laughter] about ignorance, among people, but anyway they were sitting on the porch and she was back visiting uh, her mother, and they were sitting on the porch and it was like this long road, it was like the house was like situated at the end of this long road and you could see all the way down the road a, a long way. And she said it was just like one day, and it was like maybe 10 years later 'cause she was like 20, and they were just sitting on the porch, and they were, and she said, she said she could still remember because her mother had on, you know, this big straw hat that she used to have on. It was like her favorite hat, and this big voluminous dress that she used to have on in the summertime. It was really cool, and the dress kind of blew in the wind a little bit--
JM: Uh-huh.
FF: And they were just sitting out there on rocking chairs, you know, just kind of enjoying the afternoon and, uh, they could look down the road and they could see this dust kicking up. And, and, she said, uh my Granny said she got up and she, she looked up and she said, "You know, wonder who that could be?" And so she sat back down, and, you know, they were still chatting, and they could still see this person, and this person was walking really, really fast. And she said that her brother had this really distinctive walk and she said the more she looked at that person coming down that road she started thinking, "No, that can't be, that can't be." And she said, but you know, the closer he got, she said she got up, and she peered down the road and she looked at her mom, and she said, she said, "Mama, you know, I think that's Joe." And she said then her mama, her mama leaned forward, and she looked and she said, [pause] "Walks like him. [Pause] Got that same walk," [pause] but she said, "It can't be." So Granny got up, and she kind of walked down the steps off the porch and she was walking up towards the road and she then just stood there. And then he was coming, she said he was coming really fast, she said could still remember all that dust kicking up on the road, and here he's coming down the road, and she turns around and she said, "It's Joe! He's come home!" And she said she started running toward him, and they ran and they hugged and they hugged and she said her mama was sitting on the porch and, this is a true story, and her mama was sitting on the porch, and she said her mama was just like dumbfounded. She didn't say a word--
JM: Aw.
FF: She said there were just tears coming down from her eyes and she said, then she said Joe came up on the porch. And he said, "Mama, I'm home."
JM: Where had he been?
FF: He said that they had gone up North. They had wound up starting out to New York to visit some relatives of this, this cousin, and they just stayed and he didn't know how to get back, so he just stayed with them. He didn't know how to get in touch with them, and he said, you know, you know, as he grew up, you know, he kept thinking about them, and he said he wanted to come back home but he didn't have any way, he didn't have any money. And he said finally he know, you know, once he got grown and started working, he saved up his money and he said he was determined to come back and find them, and he didn't even know if they were going to be in the same place\\.
JM: Wow.
FF: But he said he was going to find them, and he came all the way back.
JM: Do you have an idea what year that would be?
FF: Oh. That would have to have been [pause] let's see. My grandmother was born in 1910, she was a little girl. No, she was born in 1900 because she was 16, and so it must have been like in 1926, 19, you know, before, before 1930.
JM: Wow.
FF: Yeah, yeah, about that, yeah.
JM: So he stayed in Augusta after that?
FF: Well, I don't know. I don't know whether he stayed in Augusta after that. 'Cause they didn't actually live in Augusta, they lived in, well you know, Augusta was still a city-town during that time, even though to people in big cities like this Augusta isn't that big. But uh, they lived in a little country town outside of Augusta called Evans, and Evans still exists, and that's where a lot of my relatives still, still are too.
JM: Hah.
FF: So, ah, and um, Granny, she used to tell a lot of those stories I mean, especially when talking about Augusta being the big city. Uh, my grandmother, Granny, her great-grandfather was a white man, [pause] and one of the, the, the, things that just sticks in her craw is that, and you know, she, she and her sister uh, were lighter than some of the rest of the family. Her sister could pass for white, and in fact did pass for white. And Granny used to tell the story about how her sister and her sister's husband decided that they were going to move to the city, to Augusta, and pass for white. And they moved downtown--
JM: So her sister's husband was light-skinned too?
FF: Her sister's husband was light-skinned too. And, uh, they moved downtown and, there was, uh, and it's still like this in Augusta, this big street downtown called Broad Street, and it really was just this broad street in a downtown area. And they found this house or this apartment building or whatever it was that they could live in, and it was right on the edge of Broad Street. And, uh, they kind of actually stopped visiting the family because they were just, just determined that they were going to be white. They just didn't like what it was like being black in those days, and that was, you know, I guess, that, that was probably, you know, in the early 1930s, uh, when they did that. And they, [pause] they wanted to sever relationships with the rest of the family, but the rest of the family didn't want to sever relationships with them, even though they were mad at them because they had decided, you know, to do something they didn't think was right. My, my grandmother was very adamant about, you know, people who try to be things that they aren't, and this, whenever she'd tell this story she'd talk about people who try to be things that they aren't. I mean that was the whole point. That was the lesson in the story, people who try to be things that they aren't. That they shouldn't do that, that you should accept your lot in life, although you should work to improve it, you know, you should be who you are and not try to be something else. Um, but she used to visit her sister, ah, in, in, in Augusta, and, but she used to have to go in the back door and pretend she was the maid. Granny hated that!
JM: I bet.
FF: She hated that, and she used to tell her sister every day, she said that, that "You are doing wrong. You are doing wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, treating your family this way." And so finally, somebody apparently told, that these people were passing for white, and Granny came to visit them at their house, and they were gone, because they had to get out of town really quickly. And they couldn't stay in the Augusta area because people knew that they had tried to do something that was really taboo and try to pass for white. Um, and so they just left town, and she, she never did see her sister again, never saw her sister again.
JM: Wow!
FF: So it was just really interesting. And you know, the one thing that my, my grandmother, my grandmother, she was so funny about this uh, [pause] she uh, she treated the children, I mean her, her, her grandchildren, differently based on the color of their skin. But she treated the ones like us who were darker, better--
JM: Huh.
FF: Than the ones who were lighter. And actually when we, we kind of began to understand what was going on because my cousins were a little lighter, well they were somewhat lighter than we were, and she would not treat them well and we couldn't figure it out, what, what was going on, you know, why you know, we could get anything we wanted and she was very stern with them. And, uh, my mother eventually told us, you know, "Well, she has this thing [laughter] uh and you know just really, and part of it has to do with her family, and the fact that people, you know, uh, when her sister tried to, you know, pass for white and thought she was better than everybody else and she kind of she thinks people who tried to pass for white think they're better than everybody else, and light people think they're better than everybody else." And the fact is she was light! And that was the thing, that was the thing that was so funny. She was a light-skinned black person. And it was like she was rejecting who she was, in some ways, by, you know, the way she treated you know, the other grandchildren. Um, but you know there were just a lot of mixed feelings involved, and she had to deal with her feelings in her own, but when I got older, when I got to be an adult I actually talked to her about it. I told her, "Granny, you know, you are so sweet to us but you are wrong about this, you shouldn't be treating people differently because of that." [Laughter]
JM: What did she say?
FF: And, she said at first--
JM: Did she really, kind of, know she was doing it?
FF: Yes she did. Um, and she said, she said, she said, "Baby," she said, "You don't understand about life the way I understand about life." But as she got older, um, she never acknowledged that she was wrong but she did change her behavior. So--
JM: Now this was the one who married at 16 and didn't--
FF: Yeah, yeah, married my grandfather who, who, she was light and he was dark, and I don't know whether that was the reason she married him, although it was kind of like one of those arranged marriages--
JM: Ah.
FF: Where he was a [pause], he was a minister's son, so he had, they had property, and stuff, and they were very well-connected in the community and very, held in high esteem. His father was like, uh, the guy who had been pastor of this big church for a long period of time and, and, and so I think her family, the Tates, really wanted to connect with the Keenes for that reason, and so they just really just told her she was going to be marrying him. And, she didn't really understand. She didn't even understand the marriage ceremony, she didn't even know that she had gotten married, really--
JM: Wow!
FF: And so when they told her she had to go home with this guy, she said, "Go home with him? [Laughter] He's old enough to be my daddy." [Laughter] Well, he was almost, old enough to be her daddy.
JM: Oh, no.
FF: And he was, my grandfather was not a nice man. He was nice enough to us. My sister keeps telling me, she says, "Sometimes you're just like Granny, you treat people wrong for the wrong reasons." [Laughter] And I did because I thought he treated, I thought he treated, uh, my mother and some of the siblings not well in the family, because he had pets, and that all sort of thing, not based on color of skin or anything but just based on, I don't know, on whatever anyway. My, my mother wound up not being one of his favorites early on and, ah, so she was relegated to working in the fields whereas some of the other kids didn't work in the fields. I mean they only had, like, they had five children, one of them died. But they were divided about like who were the field hands and who were the house kids, it was kind of--
JM: Really?
FF: Yeah, it was almost like a plantation system--
JM: That's interesting.
FF: Yeah, it was operating within the family--
JM: He would have been born--
FF: He was born in 1880 something, like 188, I think it was 1889, I think it was when he was born. No it was, no he was older than that because my grandmother was born in 1900 and he was born 16 years earlier--
JM: 1884?
FF: 1884, yeah.
JM: Hum.
FF: But he was, you know, in a lot of ways, just like [pause] a plantation owner's son because he was the son of this guy who owned a lot of property. \\
JM: He had property. \\
FF: And it was, he never really had to do anything for himself. And he was a philanderer, and oh yeah, he was like out there [laughter]. And, ah, so, you know, I didn't like him, but anyway those are my stories.
JM: That's interesting.
FF: There are many stories in the naked city [laughter].
JM: You'd be surprised.
FF: All right.
JM: Thank you.
FF: You're very welcome.