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Interview with Jesse Oxendine

Interviewee: 
Oxendine, Jesse
Interviewer: 
Williams, Jeffrey T
Date of Interview: 
1995-04-19
Identifier: 
NAOX0025
Subjects: 
Native Americans; American Indians; American Indian History; Lumbee Indians; Native American Traditions; Carlisle Indian Industrial School; Civil Rights; Battle of Hayes Pond; integration; segregation; cinema; education; natural remedies; World War II;Nazi concentration camps; Holocaust
Abstract: 
Lumbee Indian Jesse Oxendine reflects on his life growing up in Pembroke North Carolina, serving in the military during the Second World War, and operating a pharmacy business in Charlotte North Carolina. Oxendine describes his family background in detail, discussing his father's role in the local community as a farmer and cinema owner. He also talks about the importance of education among his peers, significant role-models during his life, civil rights issues he encountered, and problems he sees with contemporary American society. Of particular note is his close connection to the Battle of Hayes Pond where a group of Lumbee Indians challenged and broke up a Ku Klux Klan gathering in Maxton, North Carolina in 1958, his professional achievement as the first Native American pharmacist in North Carolina, and his war time experience liberating Wobbelin concentration camp in Germany in 1945. Reflections and poems inspired by this interview and written by interviewer Jeffrey Williams are available by request.
Coverage: 
Pembroke, Robeson County, NC, 1926-1995; Charlotte, NC, circa 1950-1995
Interview Setting: 
Oxendine's home in Woodberry Forest, Charlotte NC
Collection: 
Native Carolinians and Indian Elders Collection
Transcript:
JW: What is your full name and were you named after anyone?
JO: My name is Jesse Edward Oxendine. No, I was not named after anyone. Not to my knowledge.
JW: And where were you born?
JO: I was born in Pembroke, North Carolina, July 20, 1926.
JW: Robeson County?
JO: Yes.
JW: And how long has your family lived in that area?
JO: They've always lived in that area [laughs] Every sense [laughs].
JW: Just out of curiosity, when did you come to Charlotte?
JO: I came to Charlotte in '49, I believe it was, after I'd gotten out of the service.
JW: OK. We'll get back to the military service. You knew your parents and your grandparents?
JO: Well -- oh yeah I knew my parents, naturally. But my grandparents, three of them died before I was of age. And I knew my mother's father. I must have been eighteen or nineteen years old when he passed away, or it was seventeen, before I went into the service he passed away. But, out of the four, he was the only one I really knew.
JW: Did your parents ever talk about the other three in any detail?
JO: My father's father, he would have been my grandfather, he passed away when my father was maybe one or two years old. My dad did not know his father, he died at a very young age. I think he must have been around thirty when he passed away. My father's mother, she passed away when I must have been about four years old. I barely remember going to the funeral. But, I did not know her. My mother's mother, who would have been my other grandmother, she passed away after I was born. I was very young too. In fact she had a heart attack and died. She passed away at a very young age. Of course her husband, my other grandfather, he's the one I knew real well. So, out of the four of them one died before I was born and that was my father's father. But the others, I was born but I was too young to know them really.
JW: The grandfather I would have liked to have known most died when I was three months old. I missed something.
JO: But I'm glad I did get to know my mother's father, my other grandfather. I was old enough to be able to enjoy him and be able to talk to him. We had a lot of birthday parties at the old home place for him. That was a big occasion. Gave us a chance to be with all my cousins, you know. That was always a big affair. We had a very close family. Family ties were very important back then, very important back then. Not only your brothers and sisters but also your cousins, especially your first cousins. We wore very very close.
JW: How far back can you go in your family tree, your genealogy?
JO: Well, I got some information from my dad. I'm kind of in to history too. Let's see, I've got a family tree. I think it's my great-great grandfather, I can go back that far. But I would have to have my notes to call names.
JW: That's fine!
JO: My dad sat down with me and helped me get that. My dad had a remarkable memory. I mean, he died at the age of 84, right before he turned 85. But he could call names and dates just at the click of a hat. But he had a very, very good memory. But, he helped me with that. Of course, on my mother's side, I couldn't go back that far. My mother would sometimes have to ask my dad about her people. My mother's memory wasn't as good as Papa's.
JW: Why do you think his memory was so good?
JO: I don't know, several people have spoken of that. But I've noticed it. In fact, we used to be riding through the countryside and he knew everybody around there and he'd say, "So and so lives there, and so and so used to live there." And a name would come up and Papa would say, "Jessie, I believe he used to go to school with you. Weren't you in school with a boy by the name of so and so?" I was literally shocked that my daddy could do that. He had a remarkable memory. It was amazing! Not only to me, but to everyone that knew him. I've often wondered -- of course he was in business and I was in business, and, I guess I probably had more pressure on me in modern day business than Papa did. I tried to say, well, that was the reason that he had a much better memory. But that wasn't it. I remember as a kid, these retail credits used to come to town. When they wanted to get a reference on somebody in that area they would always, ALWAYS, come to my dad. I guess word had gotten around that if you wanted to know somebody in Pembroke go see J. C. Oxendine! He knows everybody. But, he would, people would come there and get information. Of course, Papa knew where they lived. He could, he knew all about them. But, he ran a -- he used to work for my uncle. My uncle had a big dry goods department store there. He sold everything there from mules, to fertilizer, to overalls! Even candy, 'cause I remember that was my favorite, I could go there and get candy without paying for it. Of course, that was a big deal to me. But, I guess people coming into town and buying and selling cotton and things like that. They bought and sold cotton and, I guess that gave Papa and Insight on the people who lived In that area mere. I remember one time he told me about Governor Hodges. He came there when he was seeking the governorship.
JW: Was he the roads governor?
JO: He was Governor of North Carolina.
JW: The good roads governor.
JO: No. Might have been Morrison, here from Charlotte. He may have been the good road's man. But, anyway, Hodges came there. Somebody and one of his friends came there to talk to him and try to get his support. But, I guess you could say that my father was the contact person there in Pembroke because he knew everybody.
JW: Did he know a lot of stories, anything along those lines, or was he just memory, memories of people in the area.
JO: I guess it was the memories of people and what they did. As far as any particular stories, no. My dad was, he didn't have the education that we boys had, but I think he was much more intelligent than any of us. At the time he used to, I've heard him say that he went in the class with the big boys. I guess he was telling me that he was the youngest guy. The smallest guy in the class. He must have been maybe a little more advanced to where he could move up. I think that's the way that they classed you. You went in the class where they felt that you could fit, had the ability to participate. My dad went to school with Jim Thorpe up at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Several years ago, they got some of the local Indian boys there to go to college, to go off to special school -- I guess, those who they felt had the capability of doing well. So, my dad was one of the ones that were picked. He went up to Carlisle at the time that Jim Thorpe was there. He'd never been away from home before, but that wasn't unusual because no one else in the county had been away, I guess, either. Not having gone out of the state wasn't unusual. Even when I was young not having gone out of the state wasn't unusual. But, I've often thought about the fact about how bad it was for my dad to have to go all the way to Pennsylvania in order to get a better education than what he could have gotten in the local area there. I think that was a great penalty placed on my dad, and I've often thought about what a loss not only to my dad but to the community and the state. My dad had a lot going for him. I remember that he was real good at math. He used to help me with my high school math. I used to have problems with reading problems, you know. I hated reading problems.
JW: I did too.
JO: And I'd go to Papa and ask him about it. I'd read the problem and Papa would tell me the answer. I figured it up again using a pencil. I'd say, "Wait a minute, now, Papa, I've got to put that down in letters. How did you do that?" He'd look at me mad and say, "Well, now, I gave you the answer now you figure it out." But he was real good in math. And, to have not had the higher education -- supposing he had had the opportunities to have really gone on through high school, to have gone off to college and -- I don't know what they offered up at Carlisle, but, he wasn't up there long because he was homesick. He stayed awhile and came on back home. But, to take a young man away from his family and send him that far away from home, that was Just bad. Anyway, he wasn't up there too long. I don't know how long, but, he didn't stay up there a long time. And, he got most of his education down home, what was offered down there at that time. My dad, he was a good business man -- a very good business man.
JW: What business was he in?
JO: Well, he had a farm, we had a tenant farm. The store that I was telling you about he used to run for my uncle, he tore that down. It was on the corner right in the middle of town, and he tore that down, maybe 1936, 37, and built an Esso station there. It was a brick Esso station. I mean, you know when -- we used to refer to people as living in a brick home. Anybody who was living in a brick home, they were kind of uppity-up. Of course, he built this real nice brick Esso station up town. At that time, it was right on 74. He ran that, he operated that. Of course, he had his farm and we also owned the local theatre, the only theatre at that time. He had that theatre and, in fact, that supplied me with a job. I used to run the projectors in the theatre and of course that gave me the chance to make a little spending money. I used Papa's car and gas. All I had to furnish -- if I took a girl out, all I had to do is buy her a Coke or something, you know. But I never did have to buy gas or have any car expenses.
JW: Always a good thing! What movies were shown there? Do you know what movies?
JO: We had a movie on Monday and Tuesday, then we changed and had another on Wednesday and Thursday, and we'd change. And on Friday night we'd have a Western. We'd show the Western on Friday night and Saturday. Of course we didn't have movies on Sunday, Papa wouldn't have thought of having a movie on Sunday. But, we had all the B-Westerns. You had the A-Western, which was the high class Western, which was a Randolph Scott or somebody like that. That was an A-Western. Then we had what was known as the B-Western. That was Johnny Mac Brown, Bob Stew, Buck Jones. We had those on Saturday, and we also had a serial every Saturday. We had /The Lone Ranger,/ we had /Dick Tracy./ Then we had one called /Spy Smasher,/ that came back during the war, you knew. That was pertaining to saboteurs. Capt-- who was it that used to say "Shazam!"?
JW: Captain Marvel.
JO: Captain Marvel! Yeah, we had him. I used to run all those things. Now, I'm seeing the repeat -- I like to watch this American Movie Classics. I have run practically all those movies. I used to run those things. Of course, the longest movie I ever ran was /Gone with the Wind./ We have must have had it down home at least two or three times, you know, several years apart. Most movies, most Westerns were three reels. Each reel ran for about twenty minutes. So, a B-Western would run an hour. Of course, your love stories as we used to refer to them, your love story would be four reels. That's an hour and twenty minutes, you see. Your A-Westerns, they were all four reels. All your Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers, all those movies was just three reels. And, the serial reel, that was one reel, that was twenty minutes. Of course, we'd have a comedy. We'd have your previews, your comedy, your serial, and the movie. I loved the movie business. It was great, and Papa did real well because, you know, we didn't have television and that was all the entertainment. On Saturday, people used to flock into town and that was the day. The farmers, if they had any work to do on Saturday, they'd do it on Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon everybody and his brother would come to town. But it was a very, very profitable business.
JW: It sounds it. I would have enjoyed that myself.
JO: If I could have any business now, and if it was anything like it used to be, it would be the movie business. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
JW: Sort of as an aside to that, you mentioned the days before television people went to the movies a lot. Do you think television has sort of affected people in a positive or a negative way?
JO: Well, would say both. I was watching a movie this morning before I got up. If I wake up early, I'll turn it to American Movie Classics. I was watching one this morning. Gene Tierney, I believe you pronounce her name. I used to run a lot of her movies. And the guy who was playing opposite her, I remember him, but I can't remember his name. But, I was lying there looking at their lifestyle back then compared to how it is now. I noticed how she dressed. All the women wore dresses, no slacks. They wore hats, they wore gloves. That's where it was. That's the way it was down home. If a lady went to church on Sunday, my mother wore a hat and gloves to church. Everybody wore -- they dressed you know. But the one thing that caught my eye this morning, they had just gotten -- the story was about newlyweds. They had just gotten married. His mother and her mother was going have to come move in with them. She thought, or her thought -- you've got all this sex in movies now. But, even back then, you see, when they showed a couple in the bedroom, they always had single beds. And, I noticed in one of the scenes there, after the newlyweds, it showed them early in the morning and here they are lying in single beds. You know what single beds are, right?
JW: Yes.
JO: But, I said now here they are. They used to put restrictions on TV like that. You never saw man and wife in the same bed back then. You just didn't see that. But now, I was thinking, look how things have changed. Look what they show on TV now. And I think that it's bad. They show all this and they wonder about our kids. They were trying to put some restrictions on it, but, why Congress won't touch that with a ten-foot pole, I don't know. I guess it's because of all the money that's being made and the people in Hollywood and the influence they have on our government officials. That's gotta be it. I noticed the other day, Dole was talking about, now that he's coming out for President, never had heard him mention it before. He said that we had to put some rules on television. But television, it's a strong instrument. It can be used to sway people in any way you want to go. You know, the Communists, years ago after the war, they said that they tried to get ahold of the television media in this country because they could have done so much, getting an inroad into this country and into the minds of the American people. I think that's one of our problems now is television. Even though you have these educational programs. But you've got one educational program and twenty violent stations, you see. But all this stuff they see on television now. And they say, well, don't let your kids watch. But If Mom and Dad's off at work, what do they do? "Well, you watch television until I get home. But, television is one of our biggest problems today. They can say what they want to. But, if someone sees something enough, if they are told something enough, they're going to believe it. That's what Hitler did. He told people time and time again and finally he told it so much they believed it. And look what happened. But, I wish so much that something could be done about censoring television. Really what I wish is that people would get back to good ethical programs, TV programs, and teach people not violence but teach them how to live with each other. Put some real life stories on TV. Unless somebody's been blown up or had their brains blown out, or something like that.
JW: In addition to those -- how can I word this? What values do you think need to be taught to children?
JO: How to get along with people. How to not be teaching. People are defensive now. We used to laugh at the people up north, we called them Yankees. I guess we still do.
JW: We still do!
JO: Southern people aren't as defensive as poeple up north, I don't think. We're more friendly, I think. Why they are like that, I don't know. They might have good cause. But, I don't think Southern people are defensive, but I'm afraid we are getting that we because of how things are. I like my door. My door was locked when you came to the back door this morning. When I was a kid, we didn't even have a lock on our door. I just-- things are just changing and I'm afraid that they're changing for the worse. Of course, I know population has a lot to do with it naturally. Getting back to TV, that is the best way to reach people. So why not -- if you want to teach somebody something, why not use that tool? Why not use television to teach people the better things in life? Robbing banks, and shooting and stabbing, that's not the best things in life. But thats what they're showing. I used to get up Sunday mornings before I went to church and they always had a good program on there. Good religious program, excellent stories. I'd seen these westerns and all these movies, but this religious program had a good story. It had to be to get my attention, I'd seen so many movies you know. But, they don't have that now. It was on for years and years and years. But, it finally went off. I enjoyed that. It got my attention. Every Sunday morning. That was later on after I was married, now, when we did have television. But, that's what we need. We need to utilize this thing and we're not doing it. We can't see the forest for the woods. I mean, ifs here, if s something, one of our most valudable tools, and we're not taking advantage of it. We're wasting it on crime and sex. That's what we're wasting it on.
JW: What do you think about the proposed cutbacks in public television?
JO: Look what it's going to cut back on.
JW: The things you say we need.
JO: The things we need. I just wish somebody... I don't know who started this American Movie Classics. That's proof right there. Let's take another one, for example. "The Andy Griffith Show." I used to go to work at 8 AM and get off at 10 [PM]. I never did see Andy Griffith when it was live, so to speak. I'm watching Andy Griffith now, and I kid people about my favorite program, you know. I say, what do you think my favorite program is? Then I'll tell them and they say, "You know what? That's my favorite program." You would be amazed at the people who just love that series. No crime. No nothing in it. Now you are a young man, what do you think of it?
JW: I love it.
JO: It's got a great story.
JW: I love the black and white ones. When it goes to color I don't like it very much.
JO: I don't either. But, there is no violence in there. And every one of them has a lesson. Barney was in town here the other week.
JW: I didn't know that.
JO: Yeah, he was in town, in person. He was talking about it. He said, "Well, we were doing great, the program was doing great until they introduced so much violence and sex, and that just killed the program." How we let something like that happen, as smart as we are, as smart as the American people are, as smart as our officials are, as smart as our Congressmen are, and as smart as we parents are, we should have never let that happen. And people say, well, what can I do? What can I do? I can't do nothing about it. You know, its hard to do something about it. But I think the best way to get at that, and I've been giving it some serious thought. I think probably the best way to put pressure on these television programs is the church. If the people in the church would stand up and complain to their local stations. Not a church, but the churches in town. I think every church in town would support that. I've thought about our church maybe. If I get back on the deacon board I'm going to bring this thing up. Getting a committee to solicit the support from other churches and come up with a committee representing the total churches in Charlotte, and going to the television station here and say, "Hey, we are sick and tired of the programs you are putting on." Don't tell me that that wouldn't have an affect. They would have to listen to the churches in Charlotte. Maybe not one church, maybe not two churches. But if you would get the support and if the news got out and got to Columbia, South Carolina -- the churches in Columbia would start their thing. The churches in Atlanta and the churches in all the metropolitan areas, don't tell me we can't do something about it. And, I'm seriously thinking about doing that. What better thing could me as one person could do. That would be great if I could do that. And I've been asking myself well, why not? I know I could get the support from the church to do that. But, television is something that has got to be turned around. It's got to be turned around. And I think it can be turned around. I've seen too many other impossible things that were turned around. They say, but that's what people want. But is it? Is that what people want?
JW: That's the question. That's hard to answer.
JO: I don't think it is. They think it is. But I don't think it's what they want. They want their kids straightened out, and television can help straighten some of these problems out because television is what brought about a lot of these things.
JW: Garbage in and garbage out?
JO: Yes.
JW: This is --
JO: We might have gotten out in left field there.
JW: That's, that's fine! I'm thinking what an about-face the next question is. You remember any of your relatives speaking an American Indian language?
JO: No. No, I sure don't. I surely don't. I have never heard any of that.
JW: All your relatives are Lumbee?
JO: Yes.
JW: And that language was lost.
JO: Yes, and its unfortunate. I've often wondered why in the world didn't somebody try to do a little research work years ago. But, years ago people were trying to survive. They had more important things to do. Survival was -- everybody's trying to put food on the table and get by.
JW: History's a luxury.
JO: Yeah. And, people weren't interested and -- certain people were interested in history, but, not necessarily in that area down there. They were more interested in survival.
JW: I can sympathize with that. Are you and your relatives enrolled members of the tribe?
JO: Are we what now?
JW: Enrolled.
JO: Oh yeah. I am and my kids are.
JW: Is your wife a Lumbee?
JO: No, my wife's a pilgrim! I met my wife after moving to Charlotte. She's Irish-German, I guess you could call her. I call her a kraut! But no, she's Irish-German, mostly German, I think.
JW: Kind of a hodge-podge. I'm Scot-Irish-German-Dutch-English. I'm from all over the place. My grandmother says she remembers her grandfather speaking only Dutch.
JO: My wife's people, she was a Harmon. They came down from Pennsylvania. She has a history tree of her family. It's real nice, it's a hardback book. Somebody's done a lot of work. They came down from Pennsylvania. Two or three brothers came over here. We have a copy of the history tree. They've done a good job of keeping up with the family. Somebody, again, had the good foresight to do that.
JW: Do you think that it is important for families to do that?
JO: I think it's nice. We don't at the time its being done. But, generations later, they think that it's great that they've done that. That's why you have to have a little foresight to do these things. It'someone doesn't have a little foresight you let so many opportunities go by. Of course, I'm glad I sat down with dad and got information that he knew. I was laughing the other week. My older brother didn't know that I had done that. He said, "I wish that I had know that you had that information." A few weeks ago, his granddaughter was trying to get the very information that I had, you see. I told him "well, I had it but you never did say anything about it." So, I still haven't gotten it typed up, but I'm going to get it typed up and give all of them a copy because I might lose this. And if I lost this, there wouldn't be anybody I could go to and get this information.
JW: Do you remember any stories any of your relatives liked to tell or do you remember anyone telling any stories?
JO: No. This Henry Bear thing used to create a lot of interest. We had a gentleman who lived up the street from us, a Mr. Riley. Riley Locklear. He used to tell about the time that -- let's see it was either -- or somebody told me. I guess you've heard about Henry Bear. Henry Bear wont off and robbed somebody sometime and walked into the room that night and dumped all of this money onto the table. Of course, that was a --. But as far as other type stories, Papa used to tell me about incidents with farmers, how he lost his farm, and the plight that the people had down there. I know one incident that he told me about. He said, this Indian farmer when into town. He didn't have any debts. But, he let a guy in Lumberton talk him into buying a new mule. He really didn't need the mule. But the guy made it sound so simple, he talked him into buying the mule. He couldn't read or write so he went ahead and bought the mule. The guy, not knowingly, used his farm, his whole farm, as collateral. And naturally he got into debt and wasn't able to pay for the mule, and he lost his whole farm. But I've heard of several stories-how the Indian people lost their farms like that. Most of the, a lot of the land that was owned by Indians in that area eventually wound up in the hands of local attorneys from Lumberton. And it's -- They used to, if -- We had two Indian families down there that had a lot of problems. The Lowerys and Locklears -- Raymond Locklear and Sonny Lowery they called them. They were very prosperous farmers. But, they had some boys who would celebrate on Saturday, you see. Saturday night. So they'd go into town and they'd get in trouble. And, of course, sometimes you might wind up with somebody getting killed. So, the father would do anything to get his son out of prison, you know. There were so many attorneys who represented these fathers in getting these sons out of prison, and they wound up with their farms. They just lost all their property because of their boys getting in trouble. That happened so many times down there, so many farms have been-farm after farm after farm-- have been lost like that and through incidents such as that. The man buying the mule and mortgaged his whole farm without knowing it. He couldn't read what the contract stated, you see, or he wouldn't have mortgaged his whole farm. I feel more sorry for those attorneys today than I do the farmers who lost their farms.
JW: What did happen to the attorneys?
JO: They still have it. I mean their ancestors have it. But, I know my grandfather, my grandmother's -- no, that would have been my great-grandfather. My grandmother's father had several hundred acres of land down there. Of course, it's been divided time and time again. Some of their property is now owned by the ancestors of some of these attorneys. My father's father, I know my father's father -- That would have been great-grandfather, he owned a lot of property out in, farmland out in what is known as the Union Chapel. I used to go for a ride with my dad, and we'd ride for several miles and he said, "My father," his great-grandfather, "owned from here." And we'd ride for several miles. They owned thousands of acres of land in that area. But it has been split up and lost. Of course, a lot of it's still in the family. They would be my relatives now, but a lot of it was lost. But so much of it was lost due to ignorance, and due to these young boys getting into trouble, and the attorneys getting it now.
JW: You said something that I thought was interesting. You said that you felt more sorry for the attorneys now.
JO: Oh, well, they have died and gone on.
JW: Oh, okay!
JO: Maybe I shouldn't tell this, but I remember my dad -- the station that we had used to be a hang out. Papa used to tell this story. Let me see if I can get it straight. This farmer came there one day and some man, it was a white guy, he had a business -- the farmer came to the station and this white guy asked the Indian farmer, he said, I'll call him Johnny, he said, "John, didn't you owe my daddy some money when he died?" And the Indian farmer said, "I don't know. You call hell and ask him and see if I did. Go call him in hell and see if I --" [laughs] I thought that was so -- Papa used to laugh about that. Some of them made, acquired a lot through the Indian people. But, I guess we pay for those things. We pay for them.
JW: Do you have any famous relatives or ones that you thought were outstanding?
JO: Considering everything--the fact that, the restrictions, the limitations that were put on our people down there. I have a first cousin, Herbert Oxendine. Herbert was a Major in World War II. He had finished college. He had been able to finish college before he went into the service. Of course, we have a science building down home -- the Oxendine science building. That was named after him. He came back and was Dean, I guess his title was, Dean of Men down at the University. I always thought a lot of Herb. Herb and I had a good relationship. He helped a lot of young people there. Not only financially, the best he could, but he inspired a lot of young people. I would mention him as being someone who did a lot for the community. Of course, the present chancellor down there now, Joe Oxendine, he's a first cousin of mine, Joe's done real well. Had a brother named Simm. Simm took an active part in city affairs. He did a lot for Gl's who got out of service and had bad health, who were wounded in service, and he would go to great lengths to get them some kind of assistance. He was commander of the VFW down there. Simm, we had a volunteer fire department. He knew a lot of people throughout the state. You know, he's the one that had this Klan, the Ku Klux Klan episode back In the late 1950s, I guess you've heard about that.
JW: I've -- yeah. Yeah.
JO: He was in Life magazine. After that, he was invited to New York to appear on what is now the Today show. I forget who was the host.
JW: Was it, umm, Dave Garroway?
JO: I believe it was.
JW: Yeah.
JO: I believe it was. That's who it was. But he was on his program. Then he was invited to Chicago, I believe It was. He was given the key to the city up there. I never will forget Simm telling me -- he was up there in his hotel room -- he said he got a telephone call in his room. Some guy was on the other line. And he said, "We're all behind you and we respect you and admire what you did. But don't get tied up with these Jews up here." I don't know what the guy meant -- whether some of the city officials were Jewish -- but I remember Simm telling me that. After what took place in World War II -- the Jewish element over there -- but they said don't get tied up with these Jews up there. But, I remember Simm telling me that. I remember we got letters from all over the world after that. I used to come in there, and my brother was running the station that my dad owned at that time. We got mail from all over the world, I mean the world. We'd opened some letters and somebody maybe sent him a five dollar bill, you know. And he got not a lot of money, but, he got a few dollars. You know, people did it as a gesture, a good gesture. But, I couldn't get over the mail that he got. Wasn't just in the United States, he got mail from all over the world. Cause that was world wide news at that time. But I remember the night that it happened. I wasn't able to be there. My wife was expecting. We were up at Statesville. I missed that and I always did hate that I missed it. My brother was at a VFW meeting here in Charlotte, that night. And he left here to go back to take part in it. Then when he came back up here he and his friend brought the KKK flag back with him. So, I went with him up to the Charlotte Observer that night to show them the flag. The guy wanted to get a picture of it. He wanted the three of us to get in there and wrap it around our shoulders like an Indian blanket, you know. But, I wouldn't get in the picture because I didn't want to take credit because I wasn't down there. He and this other fellow, Shell Warwicks, they had their pictures made with it wrapped around their shoulder and that's the picture that came out in Life magazine. I was standing there when the picture was made. That really made worldwide news at that time.
JW: Yeah, I'm remembering it now. We talked about it earlier in the semester in class.
JO: But the Klan tried -- after they announced that they were going to be down there, they came into town to talk with my brother and my father and said, "Well, we don't have any ill feelings towards the Indian people." We just don't think it's what's took place at this home where they burned the cross. But to come into our community and want to hold a meeting -- that was a no no, you see. They tried to make all kinds of excuses as to why they were having it other than having it against the Indian people. They said they were not, but, why come there then? But anyway, they didn't have their meeting. And that was the end of the Klan. That one incident broke the back of the Klan. And I've often wondered what affect did that have on Martin Luther King. Did that start his crusade? I've often wondered. It started right after that. And I'm wondering now if what happened down there inspired him to start his crusade?
JW: That would be an interesting thing to do some research on.
JO: That might have been the very thing that inspired him to do what he did.
JW: I'm going to have to see if there is a biography for Martin Luther King, to check that out.
JO: But you never heard of him prior to that. It was right after this when all this other started. I guess they saw what this group of small people were able to do with the Klan, something that nobody else had done, and got world wide support for doing it. Maybe that's what inspired him to do what he did.
JW: It would be nice to think that's what it was.
JO: Yeah.
JW: What was life like when you were growing up? You told me about the movie theatre and the gas station.
JO: Good! I had a good life. I thought it was bad at the time. I used to think, I was an Indian, I was different, I couldn't go to the University of North Carolina. I used to think, why did God make me different? Why couldn't I have been like plain old Joe? Why did I -- I've never told this to anybody else. But, I used to wonder that. Why did God want to pick me to be an Indian? That put me in the minority. You know, nobody wants to be in the minority. Everybody wants to be in the majority. But, in retrospect, he did me a big favor. He did me a big favor. Because I don't know anybody that can go back home and walk down the street and see and meet the people, and have the relationship, the friendly relationship, with the people they grew up with, any place in the world. I talk to my friends, they never see their high school classmates. They don't know where they are or anything about them. We had a reunion down there. I graduated from high school in '44, we had a reunion last year. We had 33 in my graduating class, and we had at least 25 present there. Of course, with their spouses. But the relationship and the love, the love that we still had for each other, it was a bond that was created by being born in that community, by being an Indian. There is a certain bond there that you won't find any place. My wife, she doesn't have it with her classmates. I would venture to say that you don't have it with yours.
JW: I don't. I don't know where most of them are.
JO: Its remarkable, I don't understand it.
JW: I have one friend from high school. I'm going to have him as a friend for the rest of my life. But the rest of them, they've vanished. I have no idea what happened to them.
JO: It's amazing. Then I got to saying, he wait, God didn't do an injustice. He did me a justice. He bestowed a blessing upon me, and I thought it was just the opposite. It was great. That love and that bond. This is genuine love, I'm not talking about a friend.
JW: I know what you're talking about.
JO: It's something special and I can't describe it. Our class has done well. Would you believe, with the circumstances down there, ten percent of my class that graduated in '44, ten percent of them have their doctors degree? Did ten percent of your -- would you venture to say that ten percent of your high school class got their doctors degree? And look how much later you graduated from high school.
JW: If I get mine, I'd say I'd be the only one from the senior class that got one.
JO: I think our class did exceptional. A high percentage, I don't know what, I would venture to say that 80% of them finished college. What's the percentage now? I wonder what percentage, from east Mecklenburg, I wonder what percent of them finish college?
JW: Maybe half. If that many.
JO: But at least 80% of mine, I think it was higher than that, finished college. You think we might be going backwards, now, instead of forward. Now this is 1944. A lot of those kids back then had never been out of North Carolina. Had never been out of state.
JW: But they excelled.
JO: They excelled. And some of them, they went to school all the way in Texas, but they didn't go to Chapel Hill. Not a one graduate from the University of North Carolina.
JW: You said you couldn't get in to the University of North Carolina?
JO: Being an Indian you couldn't get in. I tell my kids that today and they can't believe it. "Dad, you're kidding. You're kidding."
JW: It's amazing to me because it wasn't that long ago.
JO: Did you know, did you know that, that the Indians could not --
JW: I, I hadn't heard that about the UNC system. I had not heard that.
JO: We could not. I would have loved to have been an architect, I think, I think. But, the only thing I could have been was a school teacher. You either had to teach school or farm or have a store, retail. That was the extent of it. I was a mediocre student. Maybe I'd been better if I had been able to set my sights higher. But we had some smart kids in our class. I was way down the line, myself. But, we had some smart people in our class. I often think about those guys could have gone to the top any place. But, having those restrictions, you see, they didn't go near where they could have gone.
JW: When did a lot of those restrictions start to lifted or to be eased?
JO: I guess it was during the civil rights thing. The blacks helped the Indians a lot. We rode the coat tails of the blacks in to a lot of these things. Of course, you had more blacks than you did Indians. Maybe I should say there were more black voters than there were Indian voters. I think -- One thing I'll have to admit, I think Martin Luther King helped the Indian people, helped the minority people I think that I should say. After that civil rights thing, things began to change. Its amusing now that I think of Chapel Hill down there trying to solicit Indian kids to come to Chapel Hill.
JW: I'd heard about that.
JO: But, if you don't know people, its easy to have a misconception of them. People used to hear about Pembroke and those Indians down there, you know, they were movie Indians. What they knew about Indians was what they had seen in those Westerns. I used to get tickled. We used to have people come down there, maybe doing church work or something like that and they'd get ready to leave and they'd say, "I'm sorry but I just have to tell you that I was really afraid when I first came down here. I've heard so many things about Pembroke and the Indians. But I have never met a better more friendly and genuine kind people than I have met here, and I hate to leave." I have heard it over and over and over again. If don't know somebody, its easy to come to that conclusion. But I've always thought to know somebody is to love somebody. I could easily hate you if I didn't know you. But, if I knew you, I mean that would all change you see. I guess that's the reason, a lot of cases, they like to keep people in the dark. If you don't know something you can tell them and they'll believe it, you see. So, if you don't, I guess that's -- of course, we have a lot of things here in the world today. People are more -- the world is so much smaller than it used to be. We are able to find out more about people. Our government can't tell me about people in England because I've been to England. You can't tell me about the people in Germany, I've been to Germany. So these things aren't hidden now. We're beginning to know people. The Japanese people are coming over here and they are finding out what the American people are really like. They don't have to depend on their government to tell the people over there what we are like, and we don't have to depend on our government. People are beginning to learn about people. No matter where you go people are the same. People are the same. They want the same -- We're all after the same thing. People in India are no different from the people in Australia. Everybody's wanting a comfortable living, they're wanting their kids to have nice things. They're wanting to have a home and peace. And that's what people want all over. We're not different just because we live in different countries.
JW: So you don't go by the social sciences model? Your entire existence is determined by where you grew up?
JO: I know, one time, we were going on a trip to Paris several years ago. Somebody was talking, "Oh, the French don't like Americans. They're really down on the Americans." I was beginning to believe them, you know. So we went over there. There was six of us. We wanted to get away from the tourist sector. I said, come on let's walk up the street here and go to this strange restaurant. Wasn't a fancy place, kind of like a short order place. Well, they did have beer. Six of us walked in there and sat down to order, looked at the menu, and I didn't know how to order a glass of water. So I started looking at the other tables, you know. And I'd see something that looked good and I looked stare at them. Finally, I got up and started walking around, you know. I was going to pick me out what I wanted for supper. But, it really created a lot of excitement in there. People started laughing at it, you know. And I started smiling at them, you know. And I started laughing, you know. These were local people. I'd walk up to somebody's table and look at their -- they knew we were Americans. And, of course, I don't know what they thought I was! But anyway, I'd look at their plates to see what they were eating, and, then kind of pull it away like I was trying to take it and hide it! We had a ball with those people. That's the way we ordered, by the way, we pointed out well we want what he's got over there, what she's got over there. But, when we walked out of that restaurant that day, those people fell in love with us, and we fell in love with them. But we had heard how much the French hated the Americans. See, it depends on how you carry yourself. Only the rich used to be able to go to over there. Of course, you know how they are. Of course, I certainly don't want the rich representing me. You certainly don't want the rich representing you because I am a little higher, you see. But now, you have your average American going over there, you see. You have the average Japanese coming over here. We're seeing the cross cut of a nation, you see. We're seeing what the people are really like. That has helped the relationships throughout the world. But that is a long way from Pembroke!
JW: What schools and churches did you attend?
JO: What church?
JW: Schools and churches.
JO: Oh. You mean here now or down in Pembroke?
JW: Down in Pembroke or here?
JO: Okay, I belonged to a Baptist church down in Pembroke. I was a member of the Arrear Baptist church. My mother and dad were members there. My whole family went to that church, to just one church. I went to Pembroke state, I went to grade school and high school there. Like I say, I finished high school in '44 and when I got out of the service I came back and went to college there. I graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in pharmacy. My cousin, Herbert Oxendine, the one I mentioned a while ago that the science building was named after, he came up to me one day and he said, we'd just gotten out of the service and he said, "Jess, why don't you go off and study pharmacy and I'll go off and study medicine and we'll come back and go into business here on this corner, where the station was. And Papa was standing there and he said, "Yeah, you boys do that and I'll put you in business, set you up in business here." Herbert's father and my father were brothers. I got to thinking about that. I said, wait a minute now. I won't have to be a school teacher. And I'm not going to be a school teacher because they tell me I've got to be a school teacher. So, I knew the local druggist there. He wasn't registered but he was able to fill prescriptions. He could fill prescriptions of the local white doctor who was there. But legally he wasn't supposed to fill prescriptions if it came from another town because he was not registered. I found out this later in life after I became a pharmacist. His name was Dr. Hines, a real nice fellow. But he wore a white shirt with ink on his hands, dirty, and a nice clean building. I said now boy, that's the life for me. That would be a great business to be in in Pembroke. So I went up to the college there and went to the librarian and asked her it'she had any literature on pharmacy. She said, "Yes, Jess, I think we do have one publication." So she went and got it and you know what the title was? /Pharmacy: A Fading Profession/! [laughs] I got that book. Of course, that didn't inspire me very much.
JW: What a great piece of inspiration that must have been!
JO: Yeah! "A Fading Profession." Anyway, I got to thinking about pharmacists. I said, now, there is no point in writing Chapel Hill, I won't write there. I wrote the University of South Carolina. I wrote the Medical College of South Carolina. I wrote the University of Tennessee. I wrote about four or five colleges and asked them to send me some information. Well, it was about the same thing from all of them. Due to the returning GIs from the war all of our schools are full and we are unable to take you this year. If you want to apply later on, you know, which was a legitimate reason, because it was hard to get into college, period, with all the GIs coming back, but to get into a professional school like that was even harder. Anyway, I gave up the idea for a while. I came to Charlotte and took a business course, business administration, and went to work for the railroad in the accounting department.
JW: Southern Railroad?
JO: It was called the P&N, Piedmont and Northern. It was owned by Duke Power Company. A very profitable railroad line. They had all the lines coming into Charlotte, you see. Charlotte and Gastonia. And they had one up in Apex, North Carolina. We owned that too. What my job was was to keep up with the cars coming in on our lines and then I would bill the companies. Every time one of their cars came on our track, I charged them so much per day. But I got a job with the P&N Railroad, P&N, Piedmont and Northern. I worked there for a while. I noticed these older men that had been there all their life. They watched the clock, turned around and watched the clock. They were watching the clock worse than I was! So I said this isn't for me. I can't sit at a desk all day and no movement at all. You got to go to the restroom once in the morning and once in the afternoon, f didn't see much future there. This was sometime later I said, well, I'm going to check that pharmacy bit again. So I go home, must have been July, and called the medical university. I called down there. A lady answered the phone. I told her who I was and asked her it'she'd send me an application. I said, I applied there two or three years prior to then but you weren't able to take me. She said, "Oh, you did?" I said yes. She said, "Well, we'll still have your application in our file. We'll just process that one. Would you believe in about a week's time I got a letter of acceptance? I didn't have time to write them, I called them. Here all of a sudden, hey, I've been accepted to pharmacist's school. Am I doing the right thing? I'm leaving my job I don't have any money. Well, I had a little bit of money but not much. Certainly not enough to get these things. But anyway, I went down to Charleston and graduated from pharmacy school and came back to Charlotte and got a job. I got married my senior year of school, my wife lived down there. I wanted to make sure I was going to graduate before I got married, you see. So we got married in my senior year. I came back and I was given a job. Later on, this guy wanted to start a small drug chain in Charlotte and I was recommended to him. He and another guy and I went in to business together. Of course, that didn't pan out too well, so, the other pharmacist and myself acquired one of those stores up on Eastway and we named it King Drug and we were up there. My partner later had a heart attack and died. He was only 47 years old. I must have been in my early 40s. But, he died and we had been fortunate enough to have good insurance, key man insurance. I was able to take over the business. I was out over on Eastway and Central for about thirty-eight years. I had a store over there -- Of course later on I opened one up on Fairview Road. I had two stores for a while. Then Eckerd's approached me and wanted to buy the one on Eastway and I sold them that one. I had the one over on Fairview for about fifteen years. I sold it the other year so I retired since then.
JW: They still have their names?
JO: No, Eckerd's finally closed the one I sold them over on Eastway. Walmart moved in there after I sold to them, which, was a good thing that I had sold. See there has been a star over my head since, for a long time, just like being born an Indian from Pembroke! As soon as their lease ran out they sold the store. Of course, I sold my other store over here to Kerr Drug. They're out of Raleigh, round Raleigh. Of course, a year after I sold to them they sold out to an outfit out of Pennsylvania. So, you really don't have that many independents. You don't have -- independents are, they're just disappearing.
JW: They were one of my favorites back in Williamston. They still had the fountains.
JO: I talked to people then. People are so disappointed. There again I think we're going backwards.
JW: I used to cherish that.
JO: I hate to see the local drug stores disappear like that. That's another institution that we're losing and I hate that.
JW: Now it's all medical malls.
JO: Yes. Yes.
JW: Did you have a person who you considered to be your hero?
JO: Well, I had two heroes: my father and my scoutmaster. I haven't talked about my scoutmaster. And a great father. He was a hard worker, he loved his family. Of course, I great parents. I had great, great parents. A lot of people can't say that today. People used to take it for granted that everybody -- a lot of them, most of them did back when, but, things have changed in that respect now. And all this child abuse. Anyway, my scoutmaster had a big influence on me. I always wanted to get into the scouts. There wasn't much to do down there and there wasn't much to detract you from doing that which was right. But, the scouts was about the only outside activities that we had. I was so anxious to get into the scouts, I joined on my 12th birthday. They were having a scout meeting that night and you couldn't join until you were twelve, so, I went to a scout meeting that night and joined. My scoutmaster, Mr. Pinchback, Mr. Walter Pinchback, he was in the scouts at that time when I was twelve years old. But I came on through the ranks and I made Eagle scout with him. He made it at the same time I did.
JW: What was your service project?
JO: My merit -- well, you had to have twenty-one merit badges, I think, at that time. I think now you have to have a project. You have to build something or something. But back then you had to get twenty-one merit badges. Mr. Walter, there were five of us. We were the first Indian Eagle scouts probably in the country. Certainly, North Carolina. We were the first Indian Eagle scouts in North Carolina I would venture to say. In fact, I was the first Indian registered pharmacist in North Carolina, the first Indian registered pharmacist. So, I was the first in those two categories. But, Mr. Walter would have to take credit for that. He was a great man. He enjoyed boys. He was one of the best things that ever happened to our community. He had met this other Indian guy in the Philippines when he was in the service. Of course, they established a good relationship while they were in the Army. After Mr. Walter got out of the service he started hoboing across the county, catching a freight train and going wherever it was going. So he told us one night he wound up in Atlanta. And he happened to think about this Indian friend he had up in North Carolina. He probably checked a map or something. Anyway, he caught a train to Pembroke. He got off the train down there when It stopped. Said he went to the Police department, the jailhouse as we called it, and he told the guy, "I just got off the train here and don't have anyplace to stay. Can I sleep in the jail?" The man said, okay, we'll let you spend the night here. So his first night in Pembroke he spent it in the jailhouse. Of course, he was able to get out. He stayed around there for a while and left and went some place else, some other part of the country. But, he kind of liked it there so he came back and he got a job at the university there some place. Maybe that wasn't the first job that he had. He might have got in as a farm hand. Anyway, later on he married my first cousin. He got a job with the university and then he'd gotten involved with the scouts to the extent that he had built up a good reputation, a good rapport with the community buy working with we boys and volunteering all this time. He would -- every weekend he would take us out in the woods. We had an area there where we would go camp out every weekend. He was a dedicated Scoutmaster, the chancellor of that university recognized this, so he would make time for Mr. Walter to be able to spend time with we boys. In fact, he used to be the custodian at the grade school, he ran what we call the boiler room at the grade school. We had radiators then. So during recess and all I'd go to the boiler room to talk to the scoutmaster, you see. But he and I got along great. I had to take my project there, we were building different things. We had knot boards and stuff like that. Anyway, Mr. Walter would spend a lot of time with we boys and he had a cohort named Mr. Levi Hunt. Mr. Levi would come down on Friday afternoon. On Friday afternoon we'd camp out and Mr. Levi Hunt would bring a bottle of, a big tub full of ice and Pepsi Colas. Here's a man that would buy Pepsi Colas -- those things cost a nickel -- and give them to we boys. And he didn't have a son in the scouts. I couldn't understand that. Why in the world would a man go spend maybe five dollars or three dollars on all those Pepsi Colas and come give them away. I couldn't understand that as a kid. Of course as I grew up, I understand, I could understand. Mr. Walter was my hero. While I was in school in Charleston, medical school down there, I had always wanted to express my thanks to Mr. Levi Hunt after I had grown up, gone in service, and grown up. So, I wrote him a letter. I sat down and typed him a letter and told him at the time I was a young boy I could not understand why he went to the trouble to do all this. But as a man, now I could understand. I told him how much I appreciated it and all and I signed it a scout, so he wouldn't know who wrote it. So, this friend of mine who lived in western South Carolina was going home that weekend. I gave him the letter and asked him if he would mail it for me. I was afraid if I mailed it from Charleston he could trace it. So he lived somewhere way in the western part of South Carolina so he mailed it. Mr. Levi got that letter and I was told that he cried like a baby. He jumped in his truck and went and showed it to Mr. Walter, our scoutmaster. Later on, several months later, I was down home and Mr. Walter told me, he said, "Jess, Mr. Levi brought me a letter some time ago and he was really thrilled about it. He said he was crying like a baby." He said, "I don't know who wrote that letter but I've got an idea." I didn't say a thing to give it away. Mr. Walter thought I had written it, but he never did know that I had written it. But he and I had a lot of talks together and I told him personally, Mr. Walter that is, how much he had helped me. I told him time and time again. I remember one time I was going to a baseball game at college and met up with him outside the gate. And he and I started talking and we talked through the whole baseball game. Never did go inside. And I assured him then how much he had helped me. And I remember he had asked me, "Jess, you mean I really did help you?" He asked me that three times in that conversation. He was a great asset to that community. Later on, I had the great privilege of serving on the board of trustees down at the university there. I came up with the idea of naming the maintenance building after him. The Pinchback maintenance building. It's named after him and this is after he had passed away. But, he and my parents were my heroes. Mr. Walter will always be special, special to me. And my kids know how I feel about him and he's special with them to.
JW: I wish that I had somebody like that. I really didn't. There was really no one like that in Williamston. You've mentioned you've served in the military.
JO: Yes. Like I said, stated, I graduated from high school in 1944. Of course, by the time you graduated then, you were expected to go in to the draft like everybody else. At the time, I had three other brothers who were already in the service. One had volunteered and gone in in '38 or '39. He saw an awful lot of combat. In fact, he was assigned to the 8th Air Force. He was with the first group of American airmen that went overseas. He flew his missions -- he didn't have to fly but twenty-five because they figured nobody would survive twenty-five missions. In fact, I've got a book up there that is written on just one mission that he was on. It was that bad. But, he got his twenty-five missions in and was home before the invasion. I think he was about the first man in the county that had returned home from the war without being wounded and sent back home. My older brother, he was over there. He went in shortly after D-Day. I had another brother who was in the Air Force. He was in the CBI -- the China/Burma/lndia theater. Of course, I went in when I got out of high school. I went over and I was assigned to the airborne infantry. I was in the 82nd Infantry. But, there were four -- we boys was in the service and all of us saw combat and all of us got home safe which was very fortunate. I don't know, of course there probably were other families with four sons in the service. But, I don't know of any with four other than mine. Probably was, I don't know. I consider our family as having made a big contribution to the war effort for having four. I don't know how our parents stood it. I just don't know how in the world they were able to cope with that.
JW: It must have been an awful lot of stress.
JO: Well, my mother -- I used -- before I went in service, I'd go by the middle bedroom every morning -- every morning -- my mother would be in there on her knees every morning. And I attribute a lot of that to her prayers. My mother was a very very, very religious lady. Great believer in God. And I attribute a lot of our safety to the prayers that she made in that bedroom each morning.
JW: It is remarkable that the four of you would go over there.
JO: Nobody even got wounded.
JW: Yeah, that's extremely unbelievable judging from the number of people who were wounded in that war.
JO: I had a first cousin who was killed in Normandy with us. We lost a lot of Indian boys in the war. That's when it hit home that there was a war going on. One of my high school teachers, he was lost in the war. I knew a lot of guys. One of the boys, he was a navigator I think , and he got killed at the battle of Midway. Wade Lowery, I think he was about the first Indian boy who got killed in the war. But there was awful lot who -- I wish that some kind of record could be compiled before it is too late of the part that the Indian community made in World War II and I suggested that to some people but it hasn't been done. I had the privilege of a, we have a very active association now. Of course, its a national -- we have the 82nd Airborne Association. Then we have a -- the 82nd was made of three regiments -- the glider regiment, I was in a glider unit -- and two jet regiments. And so our glider regiment has its own association. It's an association within an association. We meet, have a reunion every year. Like I say, I had the privilege of being the chairman of that for a couple of years. But, we have guys from all over the service, all over the country. I've been able to meet boys that I had no idea I'd ever meet after the war. The thing I remember mostly about the war is -- I got one of these U.S. News and World Reports yesterday. It about the concentration camps and I helped liberate one of those things. That was worse than anything I ever dreamed I'd experience.
JW: The films that I've seen are harrowing.
JO: I was unbelievable. It was just shocking. I had no idea what it was and didn't realize what it was until after I got out of the service and they started having the Nuremburg Trials and I realized what I had seen. I just wish that I had known at the time what I was seeing.
JW: Did -- it obviously hasn't shaped the way you view the world now or it's not negatively shaping the way you view the world. Did that affect you in any negative way for any length of time?
JO: No, not really. I guess youth probably had a lot to do with it. As bad as it was, people have a tendency to forget. And I saw it and I had kind of filed it away up until recently. And I guess that is the reason the people, especially the Jewish community, is going making that effort to put this in the eyes of the people again because its been fifty years ago. A lot of people don't even believe that it happened. But it is very important, I think, to keep showing this and reminding people that this did happen and can happen again. Look what's happening over in Africa now. Bosnia. Croatia, Yugoslavia and that are -- that whole area. One region's killing civilians and just killing people. Somalia. You've got all these killings today and its amazing what man is capable of doing. But, I think its very important that we keep this. I'll have to give television a plus for that. I've been so critical of them. Television is doing a good job informing or reminding people. Informing the young people that it happened.
JW: You say you watch AMC. Have you seen /Judgement at Nuremberg/?
JO: Yes. I assume that everybody knows about it now. But then when I get to thinking, shoot, I'll be 69 years old in July! We're having a turnover now in the population. I'm not as young as I used to be! It's important that you and other young people know that these things did happen and I realized that, shoot, everybody don't know this. A lot of people that knew it and saw, a lot of them have died and gone on. I'm one of the few that saw this and I have to remind myself of this. I saw it. There's not that many that can say that. They saw it. They were there. I take part every year over at the Jewish center in there holocaust memorial. They light nine candles over there and I take part in that every year. I've been gong there now for years.
JW: I know war, that there is never anything positive about war. Did anything positive happen to you because of your service in the war?
JO: Well, I think that the war speeded up the civil rights thing. When you stop and think about it, we had a lot of Germans come into this country after the war. Displaced persons. And I thought it was very ironic that I came home, I'd fought for this country, my brothers had fought for this country, and I couldn't go to Carolina, Chapel Hill. But yet, the people who had migrated from Germany, our former enemies, they could go to Chapel Hill. Wasn't that a thought?
JW: It is.
JO: It just didn't add up. Something good always comes out of war. Of course you have your synthetic rubber. It always brings about progress through industry. But, I think that the war effort probably speeded up the Civil rights movements because -- You take my brother, he was very involved in the VFW, that was a statewide things. And, I'm sure people were, became aware of the fact that, how the Indians were being deprived of certain things like that. I think that's probably one of the biggest things that came out of the war. I think it did speed up our -- I remember out comment -- One time my dad told me -- We that his gentleman down home. His name was R. H. Livermore. He was president or the manager of the local pate supply company. That was a big outfit down in Pembroke. Owned and operated by the whites. So he and my dad were good friends. And Papa told me that he was out there one day talking to Mr. Livermore and he said, "You know, J.C." -- Papa called him Russell and he called my dad J.C. He said, "You know, J.C, I've been noticing these Indian boys. Most of them are sergeants and most of them are doing good in service." And he said, "Our boys come home and they're not doing that well." And Papa said he told him, he said, "Well, you know if they were given the chance here they would do well." But I remember my Dad making that statement. Of course, the boys -- local boys -- Of course, me I was a poor ole PFC. All three of my brothers they came out a Staff Sergeant. And I came out a PFC. But, the local boys did do well as far as making the ranking up in the service.
JW: You were just saying the paint supply company --
JO: Pates. P-A-T-E-S. Pates. Pates Supply company.
JW: But --
JO: They owned a lot of farms there and they had a grocery store. They had a hardware -- a dry goods store. That was THE big business in Pembroke, you see.
JW: Were a lot of the businesses around there owned by Indians or --
JO: Yes.
JW: --were they owned by whites?
JO: No, this was really -- let's see, there was a five and ten cent store. That was owned by a white. But the other businesses-they were small businesses-were owned by Indians. But Pate Supply Company, it was by far -- You could say it was the Belks and Ivy's of Pembroke. It was the -- of course it was mostly operated, employed by white because of -- what few whites that lived there most of them worked for Pate Supply Company and the bank.
JW: The reason I was asking that -- I was wondering, in Pembroke, the Indian population, at least with that county, y'all had -- you pretty much had control of your own lives.
JO: Oh yeah, yeah. Most of the Indian people are farmers. Farmers and school teachers. That's how they survived. You're either a farmer or school teacher. And that's why I said awhile ago I did not want to be a school teacher. I knew I wasn't going to be a farmer because I didn't know nothing about farming because I was raised in town there. In retrospect, I think I would have loved to be a teacher. But I didn't want somebody telling me I had to be one, you see. I didn't want any restrictions on me. But, I didn't. We had one or two Indian doctors who had gone off to school and lived in other parts of the country. We had one of our local Indian doctors who was called in when Patton got wounded.
JW: Really?
JO: He was a Colonel. In fact, I had heard that and I didn't know how much truth to put in it. But then I bought a book called Patton. and sure enough his name's in there. Dr. Earl Lowery, he was a Colonel in the army. They called him when Patton was in his wreck. Of course, we had a T. Lowery, they were relatives. He lived out in Tennessee. But see, these boys, they went -- they had to disassociate themselves with the local schools and go off to other colleges in order to get to med' school. But once they got in med' school they were at the top of their class, you see. You take Dr. Martin Brooks down here. He went up to Boston University and I think Martin is -- I want to say he was valedictorian of his class up in Boston. When I came along, we didn't have that many people who were professionals. I used to go down to the river -- I'll tell you -- I used to go down to the Lumber river to go swimming. Some guy had gone up in a cyprus tree down there and built a scaffold where you could go up and jump off. And I used to wonder who in the world would be crazy enough to jump out of that tree up there. But as time went by one of my buddies decided he'd try it, he'd go do it. Later on, another one of my buddies, he would go do it. So finally I said, shoot, if they can do it, I think I'm going to do it. So here later I found myself going up and jumping out of that high scaffolding into the river because, and only because, I had seen somebody else do it that I knew. Well I got to thinking well maybe, had I had some professionals who came along ahead of me -- enough of them, maybe not one, but enough of them -- I would have realized that I could have done anything I wanted to do, you see. Just like pharmacy. I was the first Indian pharmacist in the state. But now, the woods is full of Indian pharmacists, kids who have gone off to pharmacy school! They saw that Jessie Oxendine went off to pharmacy school and he got through. Boy, if Jessie can do it anybody can do it. That's the attitude they had, you see. The same for other young people going off to med' school. By golly, if he can do it I know I can do. But these are the things that it takes to make people progress. Whereas, when I was coming along, we didn't have these role models you see. I didn't have a role model for pharmacy. I didn't know whether I could do it or not. I didn't have local doctors. I would have set my sights much higher had we have had that. But now we've got doctors, we've got pharmacists, we've got a bunch of attorneys, something we need. We've got all these attorneys because these younger kids have seen somebody who went to law school and they said, "Well, if he can do it I know I can do it," you see. And they can do it.
JW: Do you give a lot back to the community time wise or --
JO: Yeah, I was on the board down there. I served two terms on the board of trustees. Of course, I was chairman of the board of trustees a couple of terms. I'm on the endowment committee down there now. I'm interested in education. It was a great experience to serve on the board of trustees. Makes you realize the importance of education. And that's one things I can say about the Indian people and our forefathers. They knew the importance of education. And that's what disturbs me about some of the other minority groups. They still don't take advantage of education and that's the one thing they need but will not take advantage of.
JW: I've always thought that was very sad.
JO: But the Indian people, in general, especially during the years that I came up, they knew the importance of education and they took advantage of it. That's why I say well look at the percentage of my high school class from the year '44, look at the high percentage of them that finished college. Ifs unbelievable.
JW: I don't know that I've ever heard of anything like it anywhere else.
JO: But education is, has always been in the minds of the people down there.. Education and religion. Many people are very religious. They are very supportive of their church. They're a church going people. Maybe more so than they are now. In the general history of the Indian people, they have been believers in God and the Church -- their spiritual needs -- and education. It meant an awful lot to them and still do.
JW: I almost hate to ask this question. Do you -- let's see, do you remember any home remedies that you used to use or still use today?
JO: Well, I'm glad you asked that! Being a pharmacist I knew more than the average person about medications. I remember one time my dad, he didn't have a heavy beard. He had a very light beard. But he had a rash. They called it the barber's itch I believed they called it. So I was down home, I said Papa, its no big deal. I'll get you some ointment and it'll clear right up. I took him some ointment and figured he'd use it one day and the next day it would be about gone. Anyway, my wonder drug didn't work at all. So, Papa had a lady friend down there. He always went to visit. She was much older than Papa but she'd been kind of like a second mother to him. Her name was Mrs. Carter. I forget her first name. But she said, "Sonny" -- that's what she called him, Sonny -- "Sonny, you go out and get you a green walnut and get you a knife and chop up the outer part, the hull of the walnut." And she said, "You take that juice and just rub it on there and see if that don't help." Well, Papa did that and it worked like my wonder drug was supposed to work. It cleared it right up. But my dad, he always did tease me about that. But it cleared that rash right up. But that and Mama used to go out and get sassafras roots, I believe it was, and make tea out of it. I remember going down to the woods with her many times looking for sassafras roots. But they used to use those old remedies. In fact, when I used to get sick -- I had pneumonia two or three times -- Mama never did call the doctor. She called my aunt, Aunt Mary and Mrs. Anna, told old ladies sitting at the end of the street. They always doctored me when I got sick. But they used an awful lot of remedies and they worked. And I'm convinced today that all of out cures for all of our ailments are out here, I think God put a cure for -- a lot of our present day treatments -- you take, over in India they didn't have a high blood pressure problem over there much because they found people chewing on these weeds -- rauwolfia -- and they found that that lowered the blood pressure. Okay, they started extracting that and the drug industry used that product for years to treat high blood pressure. Indians in South America, Curare, they used to take this poison and put I ton their bows, you know, and used it as a poison arrow. They use that today. I think there's a treatment for most of our ailments out their today. Of course, the burn, oh what is it you call it, the plant?
JW: Aloe?
JO: Yeah. The aloe plant was a popular thing. They still use that today. In fact they're using aloe now for internal treatment.
JW: Really?
JO: An outfit down in Texas, they make this aloe gel. We used to sell it by the quart in the drug store. They were a great believer in that for, you know, stomach conditions. But, we have let a lot of these remedies disappear and we've lost these things.
JW: Do you of anybody making an effort to try to reclaim those or make sure their --?
JO: No. My brother in law who passed away about a year ago. In fact I think it's about a year ago this week, he used to deal quite a bit in home remedies like that. He used to use a lot of that stuff and he'd picked it up from his mother. Nobody else has made an effort to -- but he was really interested in it and he was great --
JW: Did you know, during the Civil War, the Souther doctors by necessity -- they didn't have the medical supplies that the north had, they used a lot of the Indian remedies to treat the wounds. I forget where I read that. But by necessity -- And they were just as successful as the Northerners were.
JO: Well, that's how a lot of knowledge is passed on, you see, it's sometimes forced on us. And we get it because it's forced on us whereas we wouldn't have gotten it if it hadn't been forced on us.
JW: What do you think have been the major accomplishments in your life?
JO: My family. We've had four kids. We lost our oldest daughter. She was three and a half years old. She swallowed a balloon and it got lodged in her throat. My wife was home alone and didn't know she had it. But anyway, we lost our three and a half year old daughter. Of course, we have three other kids. I'm real proud of my kids and I think that they will make a contribution in their lifetime. And I think that contribution will -- We will be able to help claim part of that. I think that they will raise their family in a way that they will make a contribution, hopefully. That will be our contribution.
JW: If you had your life to live over would you do anything differently?
JO: I don't know. I just -- I don't have any qualms at all. Like I say, at one time I used to ask God why he made me different. Why did he put me in a minority group like that? Why couldn't I have been just like one of the other millions of regular people, or put me in the majority rather than the minority? But I don't have any qualms about that now. I laugh at the fact that I even thought that. Things have always worked out great for me. I've been so blessed. My big question is why? Why? I certainly haven't deserved it. Of course, if I was like some people and wanted more or something -- A lot of people who might be in my position would look at it entirely different and say, "Hey, I've been shortchanged." But I don't know how I could look at it like that. I think that I've been extremely blessed. I've had a good life. And good health. I had great parents. Look at the people that haven't had good parents. WE take that for granted. We take health for granted. So many things we take for granted. But if we take time -- I had a Sunday school teacher one time. He said what we need to do is stop and inventory our lives. We need to do that once in a while. A lot of people will sit down and inventory their possessions, their financial status. We all do that once in a while. What we need to do is sit down and make an inventory of our blessings. But we don't do that, you see. It's something comes up in the negative position they concentrate on that. If we concentrate on our blessings we'll have a better attitude in life.
JW: It hits me every now and then that I haven't done that. I sit there and I start thinking about everything I've got. It's one of those things that hits me when I start to get real frustrated --
JO: We look at the wrong side of the picture. If we look at -- the side that we look at more gets bigger. We can make it get bigger if we concentrate on that. We need to concentrate on the positive side. And the positive side will get bigger. You'll do better by doing that.
JW: Is there anything, looking towards the future, is there anything left that you'd like to accomplish? Or have you met or exceeded most of the goals you had?
JO: Well, I would like to help somebody. I'd like to help people. We went on a trip last September, over seas, a bunch of my army buddies. We got back and a lot of the boys didn't take pictures and I had a camcorder. I made five rolls of film. I took the five rolls and condensed it down to two rolls of film. That would be what, three hours of regular? I sent these to some of the guys. Not everybody, because you're talking about a lot of money, but I sent them to them. One guy, in particular, he had cancer. I'd never met him before but he was in my outfit. You should have read the letter I got. In fact, I got a phone call and a letter. He wasn't expecting it. I'd made his day. He'd forgotten about some of these places where they had been. This guy was in North Africa. He was in Sicily. He was in Normandy. He was in -- he had seen all this combat. But, can you imagine what he thought we he went to the mailbox that day and had a package from me not knowing what it was and opened it up and found two rolls of film? That made his day. I sent one to another guy and wrote me and I opened the letter and there was a check for one-hundred dollars. Can you believe it? "Jessie, you won't know how much this meant to me. My wife has run it time and time again, if this isn't enough please write and let me know and I'll send you more." Can you imagine the satisfaction I got out of that? I wrote him a letter here the other and, of course, I sent him his check back. No way I would charge him a penny for that. He paid me by writing me such a nice letter. Those little things, I mean it took me three hours to make that tape. But, look at what I added to his life. His kids will keep these tapes. His grandkids will keep these tapes. His granddaddy, he went to Europe way back in 1994. Look at the lives that that film will affect. I enjoy doing things like that, I enjoy talking to people when I know that they don't have anybody to talk to. That's one of the enjoyments I got out of pharmacy. You would be surprised at the people that don't have anybody at all to talk to. They have everything. You take my store on Fairview. It was in a very influential part of town. People over there got nice homes and all. But they would come in there and want to talk. And I enjoyed talking to them if I had time because this town is full of lonely people that don't have anybody to talk to. My brother came to me a while ago. Shoot, I've got three other brothers. I've got two sisters. I've got plenty of people to talk to. There are people sitting at home this morning in real nice homes that don't have anybody that they could call on in case they needed some help, or needed to talk to you about a personal problem. This town is full of them. But I enjoy that. They knew that they could come down and I'd listen and talk to them. These are the things that I really enjoy doing. Talking to people and doing little deeds like I did. I got a call from another guy, he was our treasurer for our outfit. He's got cancer. So they wrote me, called me, wanting to know if I'd take their job over. Of course they knew me, being chairman, and I said "okay, I'll take over the treasury." So I called him and was talking with him the other night. And I asked him, I said, "Bill, you weren't able to go on the trip but would you like to have a copy of our tape?" I said I've got a tape of the causeway where our outfit had a big battle. He said, "Jessie, you won't believe how much I would appreciate that." But, doing little things like that -- it's little things, but to them it is huge. It is huge. And it's the little things that count. I used to sell a lot of cards at the store, in the drug store. And I was wondering why people bought all these cards. When we lost our little girl and I got sympathy cards that when I found out what a card was. A thank you. It's the little things that count in life. Since it's not big with us, we think it's not big with them. But, so many little things that we could do would be big things to other people that we pass up because we put so little emphasis on -- but these things I like to do in life. And I have time to do it now that I'm retired. Of course I work down at the shelter, up town. I do some volunteer work up there. It makes me feel good to see other people who do that too. We have a lot of doctors who retire and they come up there and do volunteer work. I'm glad to see other people who do that too. We need more there.
JW: Do you have anything you'd like to add to what you've said, or --
JO: I don't know of anything now, Jeff. When you leave I'll think of a lot of things. You know how that is.
JW: I've reached the end of the questions here.
JO: I just hope that we can do something on this television thing. Our schools are in a mess. They're worse than the general public thinks about them. Drugs are bad. But we'll come out of it. We've been in these predicaments before. We'll come out of it and it'll be something to talk about later on. But we need to our little bit to try to make it take place.
JW: Well, I appreciate you talking to me.
JO: Well, I've enjoyed it. If there is any question you might want to ask that isn't on there --
JW: Well, I asked quite a few!
JO: One thing that got me, I remember when I was stationed at Fort Bragg, talking about situations down home. I came home and took my mother shopping one time. While she was shopping I walked around the corner to get a milkshake. Well I was the only customer in there and I walked to the counter and told this little girl that I'd like to get a milkshake. And I kind of turned my back to look around the store a little bit. I turned around to see if he had it about ready and there wasn't nobody there. And I looked back at the prescription department and I noticed that she was back there talking to the druggist. And he kind of looked up at me and he kind of shook his head. She went back there to ask him if he could fix me a milkshake. Now, I'm not bragging but when I was in the military I carried myself in a very -- In other words, I was a sharp looking soldier. We had to be in my outfit But here I am. I've been overseas. My brothers had been overseas. And I walked in there -- I'd never experienced anything like that before. In fact, I'd never ordered, going to lunch, ordered a milkshake! Maybe if I hadn't I'd have! Anyway, it was a weird feeling. Weird. But I know that's what had happened. Years later, after I'd got my drugstore in town, I went back to that drug store and I got to thinking about comparing my drug store to that little two bit drug store that I went in one time and they had to decide whether or not to serve me a milkshake, and the progress I had made compared to the progress that that drug store had made. These are some of the things that I've thought about. And you asked me about the war. What good came out of the war? Exposure. Exposure came out of the war.
JW: Exposure to -- the world outside of town?
JO: I left town. I went in the service. I had been as far south as South Carolina. I was seventeen miles from the border. But I had been as far north as Philadelphia. But I would venture to say that most of the boys that I was in the service with had never -- Ninety percent of them had never been out of their home state. But I went in the service and I was exposed to boys. These are white boys. Didn't have any blacks, We didn't have integration back them. So, I was exposed to guys from all over the country. A week after I had been there, this officer came up to me and said, "Oxendine, I want you to be my platoon leader." He said, "You've had military training before, haven't you?" I said, no sir. I said, I was in the scouts. I was an Eagle scout. He said, well, I want you to be my platoon leader. That automatically put me over thirty-six men right there. I found out then that I looked at these others guys who in the majority, I found out right off the bat that I could compete with them. That they were no problem at all. That gave me a lot of confidence, you see. It's like the guys from down home who went off and made Sergeant. They went on up the ladder, you see. They found out that same thing, that they could compete. And, we needed that. We never had the chance to compete before. When you went in the army you had a chance to compete. I was able to do okay in the military. I told you I came out as a PFC. When the war was over, they started sending men back. They told our squad leader to recommend somebody to take their place. And the squad leader said, "Oxendine, I'm gong to recommend you to take my place." So that automatically called for me to be that Staff Sergeant. So I wrote my mom and dad and told them that I had a surprise for them. I wasn't going to tell them that I had made Staff Sergeant. My officer told me that he had put in for Staff Sergeant and it had gone up to regimental. But, they had froze all promotions because they were gong to deactivate the 101st Airborne and send all their low point over to our outfit. So when they came over they had all these Sergeants so that knocked me out of my promotion. That happened twice. That happened once with the 101st and later on they deactivated 17th so when I got out I got out as that PFC which was alright. But, exposure, that one thing we got. And being able to travel all over to be with the majority helped us to see that we were classed as minorities but we could certainly compete with the majority.
JW: Do a lot of people from Pembroke still go into the military or did that --
JO: Yeah, I think they still have a -- The military offers a good career these days if a boy don't know what he wants to do. I was up there the other week and this Sergeant Major -- Sergeant Major. If you make Sergeant Major now in the airborne that is a big accomplishment. That's better than being a 1st Lieutenant. A Sergeant Major's something. I noticed he was from Pembroke, when he passed his review they called his name. His name was Strickland. I believe that he's out of the military now. But he made Sergeant Major and that's a big accomplishment when you make Sergeant Major.
JW: I've heard that. Well --
JO: I can't think of anything else, Jeff.
JW: I know. I'm trying to think if there is anything else I need to ask to make sure that somebody back at school doesn't try to kill me.
JO: We had bussing back then.
JW: For schools?
JO: White kids were bussed out of town. But, I felt sorry for them. We'd be going to grade school and the white kids would be bussed over to Red Springs which was the next town over. We had bussing way back then. We felt like that they were being discriminated against. We didn't have any discrimination in our town. It was many miles away. We owned the local theater, like I told you. We had a balcony where the blacks had to go, and the Indians and whites went downstairs. We as Indians owned the local theater but we forced the blacks to go upstairs, you see. That was a little ironic. But there was no other segregation in our town, the only segregation that we experienced would have been the college, the University, going off to.
JW: I just think that's a great tragedy.
JO: We had some whites who wanted to attend the university down there. But it was only for the Indians in Robeson county who were allowed to go to school there. We wouldn't let the whites go and we wouldn't let the blacks go. There's been a lot lost because of that. I've often thought about back in World War II we thought the only good that the blacks were good for were truck drivers. I think we might have had one black combat team. But most of your black soldiers were support troops. Truck drivers. But we found out in Vietnam that they are excellent combat --
JW: Do you think discrimination -- maybe I should say racial oppression. Do you thinks it's increasing or decreasing?
JO: It's still here. It's still here strong. But the thing that kind of bugs me, and I can say that as a minority, the thing that bugs me as far as the blacks are concerned, they haven't taken advantage of an education. They haven't taken advantage of that and I think they should. They can't blame anybody but themselves. They have all these programs. A black today could do anything they want to. And they would be more accepted if they were educated. I don't care nothing about fooling around with an uneducated Indian. I don't care about fooling around with an uneducated white or a black. I want to fool around with an individual who is more my level educationally, academically, not because of their race. And that's what it's going to take. It's going to take education to disperse of this racism. Down home, if my neighbor over here would go down home in some parts of back yonder and say, "Oh, I have an Indian next door to me." "You do? You mean you live next door to an Indian? What does his place look like? I bet he's got two or three cars jacked up in his front yard." You see how they conceive of an Indian? And rightfully so in some respects. But even so, down home Indians have some of the nicest homes. But that is slowly disappearing. They don't think of that now. At one time they would have thought that. But maybe not now. But, I think that the best cure for racism is education and it bothers me, and I know what I'm saying because I've talked to school teachers, kids aren't taking advantage of that education. They won't learn -- some of them, not all of them -- they won't learn and they don't want anyone else to learn. The attitude they have about school and they don't have authority in school. No discipline at all. Discipline, you don't have it in school. You've got to have discipline in anything you do. Even though it's wrong you've got to have discipline in there. But they go down to all these four letter words, things we would have been kicked out of school three or four times -- you've got to get that education and they can get it. They're capable, some of them are capable of doing extremely well and that's been proven, they can get it, it's not financial. They don't get the encouragement from home, I will say that. A lot of them don't get the encouragement from home. But you find a lot of kids that didn't get it but they've made up their mind that they want to do better. So many people want to have these things but they don't want to do anything to get them. Everybody wants a nice home, a nice automobile to drive, and they can do it. But, then you tell them you've got settle down and study and go off and prepare yourself for a job -- the job's waiting for you out there. But they want to say, well wait a minute. I want the car and the home and the money and I want the job but I don't want to have to go dig for it. But that's the case I'm afraid. But we've got to make kids want to go get an education and I don't know how to do it.
JW: I don't know either. I've wondered about it.
JO: You can give them food but if they don't eat what are you going todo about it? When they did away with segregation, I had hope. I said, well, this that"s the answer. Because I experienced. But then when they come up and give it to them they say they don't want it. Now that you've offered it to us, we've been telling you that we want it, but now that we've got we don't want it. And we don't want you to have it. I think we can point that finger at a lot of the blacks. They have refused to accept that eduction. With education, so many other things, opportunities, come along. But they have to have that education. And the only way they can do it is to get it themselves. You can't do it for them. But I can truthfully say that as a minority. The Indian people are guilty of that to a certain extent. We have a lot of -- the highest dropout here in Mecklenburg county is Indian kids.
JW: I was just thinking. Do you keep up with or study or hear about other tribes around the country?
JO: I've heard a lot about some of these tribes out west. Their initiative has been taken away. They're not motivated as much as the people down home. I don't know what's going to happen to the Catawba's down here. It looks like all of them are going to wind up being millionaires. But money doesn't always make the person. But you are going to find a lot of people that are in the majority now are going to go back and say, "Hey, I'm a Catawba, I want to get my hands in the cookie jar." Which is alright. You take the people in Cherokee up there. The initiative, if given to them, if given to them -- you can't give anybody something for nothing. You can -- it's just like spoiling a child. You can give a child, even though you can afford it, you can give a child too much. Ordinarily you've got to put some kind of restrictions on it. People keep getting something for nothing. It's going to ruin them. It's not good.
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