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Interview with Maggie Massey Freeman

Freeman, Maggie Massey
Sweatt, Jan
Date of Interview: 
Graham Brothers Diary; Race relations; Sharecropping; Games and leisure-children; Isabella Wyche Elementary School; Sharon School; Segregation; Rural farm life; Early radio; Billy Graham crusade; Presbyterian Hospital; Nursing school; Health care; Emmanuel Presbyterian Church; Religion-South; Evangelical work; Family life; Wilmore Community; White flight; Neighborhood development; Racial discrimination.
Ms. Freeman discusses her life in Charlotte, NC, including her childhood as a sharecropper's daughter on the farmland of William Franklin Graham, Sr. She addresses family life and children's leisure activities during the 1920s. She also talks about race relations in Charlotte from the 1920s to the 1990s, including the areas of social relationships, public accommodations, and neighborhood development. She recounts her experiences as a student of nursing at Presbyterian Hospital and reflects on the changes she's seen in the health-care industry. She discusses religion in the South and its role in family life, her personal relationship with Billy Graham, his career, and her participation in Graham's crusades.
Charlotte, 1920s-1990s
Interview Setting: 
Interview took place at Maggie Freeman's home at 1700 Cliffwood Place in Charlotte.
Levine Museum of the New South, Billy Graham Series
Collection Description: 
One of a series of interviews carried out in preparation for an exhibit on Billy Graham at the Museum of the New South.
Interview Audio: 
JS (Jan Sweatt): Today's date is Tuesday, June 4th.
MF(Maggie Freeman): 4th uh-huh. It is. [RECORDING INTERRPUTED, THEN RESUMED]
JS: Today is Tuesday, June 4th. It's not picking me up.
JS: Today is Tuesday, June 4th, and I am speaking with Maggie Freeman. And I will let her introduce herself.
MF: Hi. My name is Maggie Massey Freeman. I'm a native Charlottean, born and raised on the Billy Graham diary farm. A sharecropper's daughter. And we grew up together. We were close knit together. We played together, my family, his family and I. We, as children, played while our parents worked in the crops, the wheat, the corn, the rye. Whatever had to be done, they were there. We were yet too young to go to the field, but we were, all played together. My mother was the midwife for the Grahams. And we just grew up as one big family. During the day while our parents were working in the fields, while my parents-let me correct that- while my parents worked in the field, the younger children from my parents and the Grahams, we played together under the house, under the Graham house. At the time, the pillars were very high, and we as children could stand under those. And we kept house. There we had our rooms divided off with rocks, and the ground under there was as clean as anybody's floor. We kept it clean. And Billy was always the preacher, and I was always the nurse. And my sisters that were with me, they were the cooks and done the washing. We had little rags that we washed and hung on the line, that we kept clean. And just really kept house as we had seen our parents do. And then in the mid-day, at, at dinnertime we called it, everybody would--. My, my older sisters and brothers and my mother would be cooking while the others were in the farm, and they'd spread a table out in the yard under a shade tree at dinner time. And we all, the Grahams and the Masseys--. My mother and father had fifteen children, all of them would just-we were full sisters and brothers-and we grew up there. And all their farm hands met, and we just had a big, big dinner, five days a week. And everybody was just one big family, the Grahams included. And we just had a big time.
JS: How, how long did you live--? Did you sharecrop?
MF: We sharecropped--. In other words, we sharecropped until I was sixth grade. And Billy was sixth grade at Sharon School, and I was sixth grade at Isabella Wyche. We walked from where presently Park Road Shopping Center is now until right in the spot where the new NFL field is going up because our school was there. But there was about nine of us that walked everyday, twice a day, and it was just, enjoyed it --. And during the school year, my father was the school bus driver. They called him William, his name was William Massey, and everybody in the country knew him. He was the school bus for all the white kids, and we rode the--. And we walked and had a good time. It bothered my father a lot at first, but we got so much fun out of it was--. People now rave about it being such a long distance, but it was a very short distance to us because we had a great, great time along the way.
JS: And did you--? Were you in the same classes, in the same schools, the white kids and the black?
MF: Never, never, never, never, never, never. That didn't happen until, oh, integration came. Everyth--, everything was definitely separated. Everybody knew everybody. The Harvey Lee Hunters of the Harvey Lee Hunter's diary farm, their kids and was just across the road from us, and Park Road as it is now, then was a muddy, two-way--. A one-horse wagon road close to us, and very few cars. And very f--, traffic was mostly for the wagons and things that went to the farms. Every, everybody was separated by living conditions but equal when it came to getting along, doing for each other. People for miles around knew--. Everybody knew each other. When somebody got sick in the neighborhood or somebody died, everybody was there with food. The black, the white brought food. Everybody just--. And somebody was sick, the word got around, so there was no telephones. The word got around, but everybody was there to give a hand. It was the most gracious times that people could have ever lived because everybody was on one accord. The color of skin made no difference so far as getting along and being together, but yet they were taught as we were taught, they were white and we were black. We were colored. We didn't know anything about black; we were colored. And everybody accepted it and went on our way and everybody just loved each other. Nobody had a difference.
JS: Religion. Did you listen to religious radio or follow revivals, your family?
MF: There was no radio. We didn't have radios back then.
JS: What years are you talking about?
MF: We're talking about in the years of 19--, [Pause] 1919 through 1928. And in the early years of the 19--, 1919, we didn't have radios. The only ones that had radios was the well-to-do whites, and they were battery operated. They weren't electricity operated, because nobody had power then. Everything was just by battery or by hand operated. And it was years, years later before we actually ourself had a radio, battery operated. I remember very well when we got it. And they wasn't like the little batteries now. They were as big as the batteries in a car that you had to put in and had to know how to operate it. And we--. In our schooling, we had books that the white kids had used. All of our books were hand-me-down. We didn't have the books that they--. They got the new books, and as they finished with them, we got them. But everybody was happy because we knew no difference. And nobody grumbled. There was not fighting, no grumbling, no--. And we as kids would pass along where I presently live now here on Cliffwood. It wasn't Cliffwood then, it was Mint Street at the time. And we walked along Mint Street, nice homes along the way, but then when we got to what is presently now East and West Boulevard, that's where we had filled our pockets with rocks and book satchels with rocks. And that was the thing. And they had gathered their little rocks. Nobody hurt anybody. Nobody was--. That was a joyous thing that we looked for in the afternoon coming from school. They would always meet on the grounds. And that was what we called our war grounds, but nobody was really mad. And we would rock each other and throw rocks and never actually fought, never hurt, never scratched anybody. But that was just a part of growing up that we enjoyed, greatly enjoyed.
JS: Did you know him as a teenager or after you were in sixth grade?
MF: I--.
JS: In ( ).
MF: In oth--. In other words, they were ahead of--. Billy was ahead of me because the school was more aggressive. And he graduated two years before I did, because along the way we were held back. And we had to wait to we got our books and learn. And then when I was transferred from Isabella Wyche, the school I was presently going to, to Second Ward High School-that was the only black high school in the city of Charlotte. I went there--. And I graduated from there in 1937. Billy was already in college when I graduated. But in playing together, his father, Dr. Frank Graham, and his mother knew that I always wanted to be nurse, because I played the nurse part, and Billy the minister. And that was his calling, and my calling was nurse. And I was the first black to graduate from Presbyterian Hospital. After his father took me there, Dr. Graham took me there but twice, but they would not accept me as a student because I was black. There was eleven white girls there that were going to school there, and they took me--. And I wasn't accepted. So I waited, and he carried me back a second time. And the second time he carried me back I was accepted into the class. But I slept in the attic. It was fine with me, just so I was there. I enjoyed it. I was basically the part that I actually played was the kind of a maid-like. I made the beds, carried out the potties for the patients. Wasn't but just one floor. Carried out the potties, made the bed, worked in the laundry, done the laundry. I was just actually the maid there, but that was OK with me just so I was there. And as--, after I'd been there a year and maybe possibly six months, then I began to be--, takes part in the studies of learning to be a nurse, as they were, but no as in-depth as they were because I had more work to do to get on with it than they had. But anyway, I joined the class later in the, in the years. And after my years of attending there, in the fourth year that we--, the class graduated, began then as--. And I was the second highest scholastic aptitude of the school because of my qualifications that I had done and my learning. And then they hired me, and I worked at Presbyterian Hospital for forty-two years in pediatrics, welcoming the little ones that I always loved. And I always--. To this very day, the children are my bag. The community that I live in and in things that--. As, as Billy traveled all over the world and began to travel, I would hear from him. I have cards, pictures and mementos that he have sent me from different places over the world that I still treasure greatly. And as we began to grow up, and all the of ch-, the Massey children of my--, belonging to my father and mother began to grow up, then they mov--, left the farm. And my father went--. Is janitor of the Sharon School. He was there forty-some years. Taking children backwards and forward. At his retirement, he retired from the school, the Sharon School. [Doorbell ringing and dog barking] Cut that off. [RECORDING INTERRPUTED, THEN RESUMED] And as young children we were taught and demanded--. The demands that were put upon us that we carry through the religious part that our parents for--. My father was superintendent for many, many years. We also were Presbyterians. Our church that we belonged to was Emanuel Presbyterian Church. [Pause] Yeah, OK. Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. It was mostly a family church. Wasn't too far from Park Road, but it was, at the time, it was right across from the presently York Memorial Cemetery is. And it was a family church. We had our own cemetery. We were taught, and the thing that was required of us, we did not live--. As the family began to grow up and the older ones get away, they were taught follow through. And until this day, we follow through. Because our father and mother were very strict in the religious field. [Pause]OK. Very strict in the religious field. And we followed--. In fact the policy then was, if you live in my house, you have to do what I say do even though sometimes we were rebellious. But they didn't know it. Because back when I was a child, nobody gave a facial expression when the parents talked. And anybody- didn't matter who or where of an older person- we had to respect them because everybody knew everybody in ev--, in across the country. And if we had done something before we got home, we were punished by that person. And they took us home, and when we got home, we got another punishment. And I don't mean a little tap, tap; I mean with three-plaited dogwood switches, we got it again. And that's how--. That's the grounds that we were raised on. You know you're talking about a killing, fighting, hating, and there was just the black and white was just one big family. But yet they knew their borders. They were taught their borders, and we were taught ours. And everybody got along. And right to this very day, I am a deaconess in my church. I'm one of the mothers of my church. I've changed now to the Methodist church, and I'm a member now of Myers Park United Methodist. I love it, and right to this day- not that it matters because I feel at home there- I presently am the only black there, and I love it. I love the activities. I love the goings on of what's there, and I'm very, very active now at a late age. I'm approaching my 78th birthday. But as I move on, I'm active in my community. I--. Along with the members of the neighborhood, we have, we were the first black to own and operate our own community center. It's going super duper well, and I'm kindly on the sidelines, but I still give advice. I love it. My life has been busy. I've been retired now nine years, retired from the hospital, but I'm still working three days a week. I go to Matthews one day a week and other place and work and thoroughly enjoy it. Life to me has been beautiful. I thank God for my life. I have one daughter that is presently Dean of Engineering at University of Pennsylvania, and she's been there twenty-six years. She has two children of her own-a husband and two children. He's Dean of Students at, at Rutgers University. Her daughter graduated now, and she's a computer analyst; travels all over the world. Her son is graduating this year, finishing up his doctoring degree. Doing very well. I have, right now, of a family, being a family of fifteen, there's nine of us living. We're very close. Still carry, still carry the tradition. And thank God that in the upbringing that we had from our parents and back in those days, none of us have ever been in jail or prison or anything, anything that would put moral--. Because we were taught not to bring shame to your family, and until this day we try to do that.
JS: Have you attended a Billy Graham crusade?
MF: Yes.
JS: One you could--.
MF: Yes.
JS: That you could talk about the experience?
MF: Yes, yes. When the old Armory over on-what is it?
JS: Central Avenue?
MF: Central? Surrounded by Central Ave-. Not Central. Seventh Street. The Armory Auditorium. That open field over there is, is still active, that then that was the first one--. The first one was held. And it was open-air field, and crowds, crowds, crowds. Back then, that must have been all of some twenty-five, thirty years ago.
JS: The first one? 1947?
MF: 1947. Back then was when it was. And he was just as popular then as, as he is now. Not well known, but people catered to him because he's always been a man of God and a Christian, and you could depend on--. From a little, little boy, you could always depend on what he told you because it always was done. And I'm getting ready now to attend my third crusade that's coming in September. I've been to Calvary out on 51 to take some classes. Went with the 7,000 women was there two weeks ago this Monday night past, and I was in that bunch. Talked about plans and getting ready for him and listening to tapes and talking about and reminiscing. And speakers were there, beautiful, talking about what he plans to do and what, what is in life in store for him.
JS: Did you participate in his choir before?
MF: Yes. The one that, that was here in 19--. What is--?
JS: 1972?
MF: 19--what?
JS: 1958? '72?
MF: '72. In 1972 his crusade, I sang in the choir. And he was down to Calvary then. And I had tried to get out of the choir so I could go up on the stage and talk to him, but then the guards were there and finally they got word to him that Maggie Massey was down front and wanted to talk with him. And they carried me--, ushered me up front. I got a chance to talk to him. We embraced and talked and cried and reminisced for just a few minutes. And that was one of the most recent happy moments of my life. [RECORDING INTERRPUTED, THEN RESUMED] Today as I look back over the years and see him, mostly on television. When she was sick back in March, I went to see her, visited them, spent a weekend with them.
JS: His wife?
MF: Yes. Spent a weekend with them, and we had a reunion of all reunions. We just talked and had a good time. We cried. We just--. Everything to bring back joy--. It was the most pleasant thing--. One of the most pleasant weekends that I have ever spent since I've been grown. Talked about his coming here. Talked about--. Met his son, his grandchildren. And we talked about what going to happen, what he hopes will happen after his retirement, that his son will take over. And me, myself having seen him and encountered him, I see so much of Billy himself in his, his son that I know he will do well. [RECORDING INTERRPUTED THEN RESUMED] In, in Billy's duties? The question was asked, "Has he changed?" The only change has been made is the growth. He has grown, grown tremendously in wisdom, knowledge, faith, just mountains of that. I love him. Every time he open his mouth, he has a word of encouragement. I love him. I watched him on, in on an interview--.
JS: Larry King?
MF: Um-hum. Say it.
JS: Larry King?
MF: On Larry King's interview. I cried tears, and they were tears of joy because I could relate so much to what he--, the questions that were asked and what was said because I had been along that way and traveled those same pathways with him. And it was a joy. It was just like Larry King interviewing me because I could answer the questions. Billy has grown so in knowledge, in wisdom and religion and faith in God, and he is such a Godly man that he--. Only thing that he--. And I say and he and I both that the likeness are that we have grown older, and I'm just not as beneficial in--. I, I, I know we serve the same God. I know we know the same God, but I have not been exposed to the many, many people and many, many races that he has been to implant his knowledge and wisdom. But I agree whole heartily until God calls him from this earth to home for a reward, Billy Graham will always be a image that anybody can follow and be proud of. [RECORIDNG INTERRPUTED THEN RESUMED] Then was the integration of the work area in the--. I saw all of the change of the nursing field, how the black girls that had gone to the black colleges and to be nurses or to enter the hospitals or whatever, and I saw the change. I was right there when the change began to come that they hired black nurses. Came in and they were hired, and after four or five years, they were put in supe--, supervisory capacity and that was a great change because at first none of that was going--. And they began to receive the black doctors as they came in. I saw that take place in Presbyterian Hospital and at Carolina Medical--.
JS: Was it in the 50s?
MF: In the 60s. In the 60s, I saw all that chan--, come to a change. I saw the schools change. I saw the lunch counters downtown change. My daughter took part in that, in Woolworth's. They walked from the school out on York Road to downtown, a group of them. The kids walked down there to help protest with the lunch counters. I saw into that. And I have seen the change of the neighborhoods. The neighborhood that I presently live in that walked through as a little girl going to school in the elementary was all white. Then I--. Living here now in the neighborhood, and I saw the change of a neigh--. Of the whites migrating out, and the blacks moving in. And the neighborhood was established in 1914. We--.
JS: Wilmore?
MF: Wilmore community. And we now have 852 black families, and we have seven white families living in the neighborhood that is a par--, active part of it. The businesses are active part, and it's just moving on. I've seen a great change here: home ownership, lots of home ownership. And a lot of progress has been made in the Wilmore community and makes me feel very much a part of it. And I'm very, very proud of my community.
MF: Two brothers Will and Marion. Will and Marion was their names, and they were Moores. So that's how the neighborhood came--, got its name. Will--. It was Wilmar at first, but then they changed it. And it was established as Wilmore. It's Wilmore community, and it was established in, with the white, all white, in 1914. And now this is 1996, and we're still moving on. And we're one of the most progressive neighborhoods in they city of Charlotte. City Council, with Mayor Vinroot has really stuck by us doing it. We went to City Council with a--. Took a busload of members from the neighborhood to go to talk to City Council, and they told us we had to write up a proposal. We wrote up that proposal and took it to them, and we didn't have quite enough--. And we had to go back the second time. They didn't even call--. Didn't even let us present our proposal the second time because we had sent it earlier, and they looked at it a, at their supper meeting and approved it at Council meeting that night. The city loaned us a half million dollars to establish our center that we didn't have a meeting place in the neighborhood, and they, they put to us the contractors, the, the architects. Sent them in here. And we'd had a quadraplex that we knew the spot we wanted. We--. That's where we wanted. It was a formerly quadra, quadraplex. And they redone the center, and its operating. Doing very well. Filled up. We're out of space; looking for more space. And the city is still work very diligently with us. We're very proud of our neighborhood.
JS: Do you find that there's racial tensions or racial problems today?
MF: Very much. And it's basically--.
JS: I should repeat it. Do you find that there's racial tension or racial problems today?
MF: Yes. Yes, Jan, there is. There is racial problems. It's still quite a bit of racial problems not only in Wilmore but in the city of Charlotte all over. So many, many places that you go at then, then that I know, places here in the city of Charlotte, that we as black people cannot eat. They do not accept blacks to this very day. Only way you accepted as black that you've got to be among the very elite, white races, and you're a part of that organization, that group. Then you go and eat. But just to walk in alone and eat--. There is places in the city of Charlotte that the black is not welcomed.
JS: How, how can they refuse?
MF: They refuse by the attitude. You go there, but you see the attitudes that they give you, the expressions that they give you, they things they said to you that you know that you're not welcome. And then a lot of times you know that yourself, and you just turn around and walk out because you know you're not welcome.
JS: Are there other places or situations besides restaurants?
MF: Not, not as many. There may be organizations, clubs that the, the black is not welcomed in--.
JS: Private?
MF: Private clubs that they're not welcomed in. But the stores, the clothing stores and most places where public gatherings is that they are welcomed but--. And the seating is just wherever you can find a seat. It's getting better, but they're still a long, long way yet to go.
JS: Do you, do you see a political solution or is this more a personal relationship, individual solution in, in overcoming our race problems?
MF: There is still quite a bit of political [Pause] people and political situations that the black is still struggling to get in, but they are making progress. It's like, say namely Mel Watt. Mel Watt, as I--. I knew him from birth up, and I feel very proud of him because he was a, a congressman from, from Charlotte. His family still lives here. Harvey Gantt was the first mayor of Charlotte, black mayor of Charlotte, and we have council peop--, Ella Scarborough, very prominent at large. We have Hoyle Martin, very prominent. These people have struggled along with the black race to get to the top, and they are among our--, some of our most top. And we have ministers that have come quite a long way, still working hard to get that way. We have school principals. Clinton Blake was a principal of the school when I was going to school, and he--. Back then even struggled hard back then.
JS: Um-hum.
MF: And J. E. Grigsby, people like that have gone on to pay their rewards that struggled to bring things into focus. And really the first president that I really knew anything about and understood because my parents made us aware, and we were able to take history was--. I remember the first president we had was President Hoover, but then he was a Republican. And we were Democrats, taught to be Democrats, and I didn't--. We didn't get to know that much about--. But then when President, [Pause] when President Roosevelt became president then we as black people got to, got to know who the president was. We met him, met with him, and he came to Charlotte for different occasions. And then at the time, I was--. I, I was grown, old enough to go and visit sisters and brothers that lives, lived in Washington at the time. And they carried around. Got chance to see him in his comings and goings and in his being around in the city. And to this very day, he was--. He is still my favorite president because he was the first one that introduced me to the idea, we as black people, to the idea that you can be somebody, and you can be treated human.