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Interview with Jennifer C. Johnson

Johnson, Jennifer C.
Littlejohn, Carlos J.
Date of Interview: 
Overcoming obstacles; Realtionships with people and places; Childhood adventures; Then and now
Jennifer Johnson talks about growing up in Morganton, NC.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Carlos J. Littlejohn interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
CL (Carlos J. Littlejohn): My name is Carlos Littlejohn, I'm the interviewer.
JJ (Jennifer C. Johnson): And I'm Jennifer C. Johnson the interviewee.
CL: How are you doing this evening?
JJ: I'm doing very well, thank you.
CL: You're welcome. I'm going to ask you a series of questions, um. You have children, right?
JJ: I do.
CL: As a mother, do you recall any stor-, you know, telling your children any stories or, as a child, were you, can you recall, uh, any stories told, to you, by an adult? Or do you have any, personal experiences you would like to share with us?
JJ: I wasn't really told any stories, none that I, was growing up, except for the traditional, "Three Bears" stories of that nature but, I often tell my, my children stories of, uh, how I grew up.
JJ: Um, I grew up in a, a rural, um, town of Morganton, North Carolina. \\ Um. \\
CL: \\ Where, \\ exactly, is that located?
JJ: That's about 75 miles northwest of Charlotte. Um, uh, my mother and, and father were separated when I was a year old and she moved back, um, home with her mother and father, and my grandmother, uh, raised me. Well, my mother was there, but my grandmother did, for the most part, the parenting, because my mom worked, and I, stayed home with my grandmother and my grandfather. Um, as I said it was a rural area, and we did not have, uh, any running water, um. The water that we, used and drank came from a spring which was down the building below our house.
CL: So you all drank, natural spring water.
JJ: Spring water, yes. And, we had to go to, outhouses.
CL: So, you all didn't have a bathroom in your house?
JJ: We did not.
CL: So can I ask you a question? Um, as far as like having an outhouse, was there any way to drain, what was, what went down? What went-.
JJ: Um, no, when it filled up it just we'd dig another hole and move to another place.
CL: So did your \\ father? \\
JJ: \\ And \\ that was, that hole would be, they would cover it up, or put, uh-. I think they put lime over it or whatever and, they would cover it up.
CL: OK. Can you recall who built, who actually built the outhouse?
JJ: Um, my, my grandfather had three sons and they would, uh, build the outhouse. And, uh, also we, my father, grandfather had sort of a farm he, um, he had pigs and cows and chickens and, uh, that was our food source and he always had a garden. Um, he planted corn and potatoes and, he always gave me a little spot, a little patch where I would plant popcorn.
CL: So you actually had to work on the farm?
JJ: I did. I had to, often hoe the weeds out, and, um [pause], um [pause] pull weeds and chop, uh, take the hoe and chop the weeds out, and, when it was time to harvest the, the vegetables, I did that too.
CL: Did you all have any power?
JJ: We did. We had electrical power, but, my grandmother, uh, cooked on a wood stove everything, and we heated with a heater.
CL: So what did you all do for fun? Do you, do you have any brothers or sisters?
JJ: I, I grew up as an only child.
CL: You told me that earlier. So what did you do for fun?
JJ: Um, I basically, found ways to entertain myself. Uh, I, my, mother always got, uh, things that I wanted for Christmas, I had dolls to play with, I had a record player to listen to records to sh-, cute little, uh, childhood records, uh, I would often, make a playhouse, uh, which was, I would line off an area with rocks and get some of my mom's old pots and pans and pretend that I had a house and I would be outside cooking. I had a bicycle that I rode, I had a pogo stick and when my cousins came over for family dinners we would play, um, dodge ball, or "Redlight," or "Mother-May-I," and games like that. Those are how we entertained ourselves.
CL: Tell me about school. Did you have to walk to school?
JJ: I did not have to walk to school, but I had to walk to catch a bus, about, um, three-fourths of a mile, to catch a bus. Um, I went to an all black, elementary school. I did not go to kindergarten, 'cause they didn't have kindergarten. I went from first grade to eighth grade in the elementary school, and nine to twelfth in high school. [Pause] My father [laugh], my grandfather, I said, he lived on sort of a farm and, um, and he, he had pheasants and white, tamed rabbits, and he also, uh, would set his rabbit box to catch wild rabbits and often I would go with him to the rabbit box to see, if there were rabbits there, and if there were he would you know take them home and, skin them up, and, eat them, which I never ate any of them because I just did not like to eat the wild things.
CL: So besides rabbits, what else did your, grandfather catch?
JJ: Opossum, um.
CL: So you all ate opossum?
JJ: They did, I didn't. I didn't eat any of that, the only things that I ate, basically, were meat from the cows, and the pig, and chickens.
CL: Did you all have a smokehouse?
JJ: Yes, we did, and when he, uh, would, when they would kill the pigs, and, um, he would hang the hams in the smokehouse and let them smoke and cure.
CL: Yeah my grandfather, he had a smokehouse.
JJ: Uh-huh.
CL: Did you all have any, tractors or anything?
JJ: Tractors?
CL: Yes.
JJ: No, he would, uh, hire someone with a, a mule [yawn], or a horse to come and plow our fabulous garden. Uh, if somebody had a tractor we, uh, it was poor. Back then, black people rarely had, uh, tractors they didn't, they depended on their horses and plows to do their gardens.
CL: So did, did your, did your grandparents have a specific job? Like, for example, did your grandfather do certain things on the farm and your grandmother do, other things?
JJ: Well, like I said, they had, she had sons so they pretty much, um, did the work. They plowed, and, um, they, um, took care of the milking of the cows. My grandfather, he was kind of old, as I recall. Uh, I used to see him chopping wood every once in a while. He would carry it in the house to keep the fire going, going. And, uh, he would, he would help when they, killed the cows or the, the pigs, but he, he didn't work, nor did my grandmother. Um, my aunts worked, and my mother worked, and my uncles worked. But my grandfather and my grandmother didn't work. OK, you were asking me if my, my, uh, grandfather and grandmother had specific jobs, they did, yeah, my grandmother basically took care of the house. She did the washing and ironing of clothing, and, um, cooking, which she, she always had food for us to eat, uh, she, uh, um [pause]. If the, the foods that were harvested, um, during the, uh, summer months, uh, she would, uh, can those and, um, I always had to wash the jars for her and then she would boil those jars and put the food in it after she had, you know, prepared it to be canned. And then, uh, under her house, under my grandma's house she had a root cellar, where the food was stored through the winter so that we would always have food.
CL: How did you all wash your clothes?
JJ: Um, until we got a washing machine she washed clothes in a black pot. You never heard of the big black wash pot?
CL: No, I've heard of a wash board, but not a // wash pot. //
JJ: // OK. She had // a washboard and, and she had a big black pot and she washed the clothes on, on the washboard and then, uh, in a tin tub and then, she would put them in this huge black pot and boil them to keep, to get the germs out of them. And then, um, rinse them in some cold water and take them to the clothesline and hang them up. And, which brings me to the story of, uh, one day she was washing, or hanging out her clothes, and I was sitting outside in the backyard, playing in the dirt and one of her roosters, snuck up behind me and chased me, and I, I ran to her and she had to [laugh], to, uh, protect me from the rooster 'cause, you know, roosters, they, they'll jump on you sometimes. So [pause]-.
CL: So you were chased by a chicken?
JJ: I was chased by a rooster [laugh].
CL: How far was the nearest store, from your house?
JJ: About a mile I, I walked to the store. You could walk to the store and buy penny candy and cookies and sodas and, and, you know, that was a treat for us to be able to walk out to the store.
CL: So what about, like, any forms of transportation? Did your, grandparents have cars or anything?
JJ: My, um. No. My grandfather didn't have a car and couldn't drive that I know of. Um, he did, at one time, have a, a wagon. We would ride in his wagon, pulled by horse, and, uh, then my uncle, um, after he went to school and got a job, uh, in, probably in around '56 [pause], and he got, maybe '58, he, um, bought a car. And, um, anywhere that we needed to go after then he would take us.
CL: So all of you all had to pile up in the car?
JJ: Well, uh, when he couldn't take us, I had an uncle who would, who would, he had a truck, he would come and pick us up, he had a car and a truck. So, if all of us couldn't get in that car then, uh, he would come and pick us up.
CL: Tell me about church for a second. How, was chur-, how was your religion? How, how religious were you all?
JJ: Very religious, uh-.
CL: Can you recall any, anything specific? Anything in particular?
JJ: Well, no nothing other than we had to go to church. We had to go to Sunday school, and we had to stay in church, um, from the 11 o'clock service until the end of that. And then, every last Sunday in September, which was called the "Camp Meeting" back then, I call, they call it "Homecoming" now. Um, it was an all day affair, you went to Sunday school, you went to the 11 o'clock service, and then there was a, a meal served afterwards. Uh, basically you went there were stands, uh, that, the men of the church would build, and they would sell food, um, hotdogs and fish, and, um, [clears throat] chicken, and they would have green beans and potato salad and they, uh, sodas, which they kept in, in coolers on ice. They, they would go to, to the, uh, ice stores and buy, [laugh] and buy, uh, what they called, uh, the "hot ice," uh-. I don't really know what it's called except for "hot ice," and it was, it's, it's like frozen, hydrogen, I believe and it, uh, would keep everything cold. It would freeze you [pause]. They would put it in a tub of, of water and put the sodas and everything in there, or, what-, the potato salad or whatever they had in that cooler.
CL: What about education? Was education a really, an important, value in your family?
JJ: Yes, it was. Uh, as I said, I have two uncles who, uh, went to college. One finished, and one did not. Um, my mom, and none of my other aunts, none of my aunts, went to college, but, um, the two brothers did and one brother, he, he did not, he went to work, because he, he got married. He had a family to support so he didn't go, to, uh, college and the other two brothers did. Um, [clears throat] um.
CL: What made it, what motivated you to actually, you know, go to college, and become who you are today?
JJ: My mom. She, she wanted me to have a better life than she had and, she wanted me to go to college.
CL: And what college did you attend?
JJ: Johnson C. Smith University.
CL: So was there a big difference between living in Morganton and actually going to Charlotte and, attending Johnson C. Smith?
JJ: Oh yeah it was a great big difference [laugh] coming from a small rural town to a big city it was just, a big change.
CL: Can you be specific as far as like any changes that you actually [clears throat] encountered?
JJ: Well. Just, uh, the big city life, it was a faster pace, and, uh, than from the slow rural life, of, of Morganton. Um, lot more people. Uh, noisy, things used to be quiet at night.
CL: What made you attend Johnson C. Smith?
JJ: My uncles, both, had gone to Johnson C. Smith.
CL: So did you actually, meet anyone in particular when you attended Johnson C. Smith?
JJ: Yes. I met my husband [laugh] the first day. Uh-.
CL: So how exactly did you meet your husband the first day?
JJ: Um, I was going to the student union to check my mail and he was coming up the steps and, uh, he approached me then.
CL: Is there anything else you'd like to mention about grow, growing up?
JJ: Well, uh, I think because of the, the, struggles that I went through I mean, it really wasn't really a hard struggle for me because I basically, didn't think I had a hard time. Um, I guess because I didn't know any better. But, I think I'm, a stronger person, because of the way I grew up.
CL: Thank you for your interview.
JJ: Thank you.