Oral History

Janie Alston - On her family history (clip)

Interviewed by Hudson Vaughan and Alex Biggers on April 20, 2011

Alex Biggers (AB): I'm Alex Biggers, this is Hudson Vaughan. We're here with Janie Alston on Lindsey Street. It's April 20th, about like, 10 o'clock in the morning.

Hudson Vaughan (HV): Awesome. We're just going to put this down, and then, let's just keep going. You just forget about that. At any point, if you want to, you can just point at the recorder, if you want to say anything that you don't want recorded, and we'll stop the recorder. And then we can start it back. So that way, if you have anything that you actually care not to be recorded, it's fine, too. But, you were just about to tell us about your grandfather. (Phone beeps) Sorry.

Janie Alston (JA): So is it on now?

HV: Yes. Turn this off. Okay.

JA: Okay, so fire away. What do you want to know? Good morning, first of all!

HV: Good morning.

JA: Whoops.

AB(?): Oh no.

JA: Okay, well, what do you want to know?

HV: Well start maybe by telling us something about your family, about your grandfather, and about-

JA: Well, first off I will tell you, I'm, my mother was the baby of 19 children that lived.

HV: 19 children?

JA: 19, can you imagine?

HV: Wow. Was your mother from the Hargraves family?

JA: Yes.

HV: So what, give us a little background then, about.

JA: Okay. First it was, Jerry Hargraves, who was one of the founders of St. Paul, and the Church, along with Keats. I don't know too much about Jerry.

HV: That would be your great grandpa?

JA: My great grandpa, I think, is the, Charles Craig, Charles Johnson, Jerry Hargraves, Kenny Brooks, C. E. Johnson, William Thompson, Green Merritt, Edwin Allen, and Green Cordal, our own dedicated, spirit-filled, and courageous men. Under the leadership of Jerry Hargraves and Edwin Allen, these men organized a Black Methodist Church. The first pastor was Rev. Green Cordal and the first church service was held on a grapevine on the very spot it is now, in 1870. St. Paul received official word that it had been inducted into the African Methodist Episcopal Church system, headquarters in Philadelphia. On April the 15th, the land for the church was purchased for the sum of $55, from Benjamin and Dilsy Craig. The church building was erected on December 29, 1892. Now this says from Craig, but my grandfather owned that land, and I don't know if he sold it to Craig or whatever. (Most of this is read directly from this website: http://www.stpaulamechapelhill.org/history.html)

HV: So your grandfather owned the land that the church is now on? Which is now, that's the oldest -

JA: The church building was erected on December 29, 1892, standing here – now it's been here, this says 141 years, but now I think it's up to 146 years, this is when that was done, okay. We are building a new church, out on Rogers Road, and a lot of us are not in agreeance with that. Because we shouldn't be moving, you know, that's history, you know. You walk into St. Paul in Chapel Hill -

HV: It's the most historic – it's arguably the most historic building in Chapel Hill.

JA: Yeah! You walk into the choir stand and you're in Carrboro. And we should have, Ms. Tate sold that property to Greengrant – Greenbridge, and we had asked for that property. And-

HV: Would have been a whole different -

JA: - she wouldn't sell it to us, but you know what? She sold it to them -

HV: For cheaper than -

JA: No no no! For the same amount of money, because she wanted more money, but they wouldn't give it to her. I forget exactly what the price was, but people that were on the board said she sold it for the same amount of money. Now you would think that she would want to give it to us, but no. But anyway, that's water down the drain. So anyway, my great-grandfather Jerry Hargraves, I don't know a whole lot about him, but my grandfather, Luther Hargraves, and his wife Diller Weaver, had 19 children. And they lived across that street there, in that big -

HV: In that house you showed us the picture of. Right here on Lindsey Street. Then it was Lindsey Street too, right?

JA: Yes. Lindsey Street then. And my grandfather, he was also, first mortician. First Black mortician.

AB: In the area?

JA: And the funeral home was right there.

AB: Right beside the house?

JA: Right beside the house. And I remember that house when I was growing up, because they were people living in it. The Lindsey's lived there. And my mother would – you know at that time they put people behind boxes. So they would play in the boxes.

AB: The Lindsey's would?

JA: The kids would, you know. And my grandfather would build houses for people, and bury people. And people that didn't have money – he was a Christian man, so if people didn't have money, he would still bury them, and they would give him a hog, or some chickens, you know. He needed to feed his family, so he would just, you know. And he would build houses, and he wasn't a very good bookkeeper, because he would just take people at their word. People would pay him, and people would not pay him. Like where tin top is now? He built those houses. You see that street that says Hargraves? He built those houses with tin tops down there. And some people paid him, some didn't. I mean, I could be rich today! You know? But then when the depression came, he lost a lot of stuff.

HV: How did he get into building, do you know? Like, do you know how he began to?

JA: No, I don't. I don't know why he became a carpenter. I don't know if Jerry was a carpenter before. That you would probably have to ask cousin Velma.

HV: Okay. And did he build some of the houses in this area as well?

JA: Well he built houses over on, what's the street behind?

HV: McDade or Brooks?

JA: No, no, beside, behind Northside.

HV: Oh, like McMasters?

JA: Yeah, built houses over there.

<p?AB: About how many do you think he built? Like a lot or?

JA: I don't know.

AB: It sounds like a lot.

JA: Yeah, you'd have to ask cousin Velma that one.

HV: And you said he's known for the tin tops?

JA: Yeah he built tin top. At that time, I guess that's what they did, put tin tops on the houses. I wouldn't want to live in a house with a tin top when it snows, I don't think. A lot of people like that sound, because now, now they're coming back, plus that gold -

AB: That coppery stuff?

JA: Yeah, copper. And most of his children were musicians. The guys were.

HV: Most of the 19?

JA: Those of the 19, like my Uncle Willy. He was a musician, he had a band. And Willy is Billy Hargraves' father. Billy Hargraves is the one that was at the community center. He was the director over there. And that's the center named after him. He died in an accident, right on top of the hill, car accident.

HV: And why was the center named after him?

JA: Well, because like Nate, he was one of the directors over there, and he did a lot. I don't know the particulars. You can get that from my cousin Glenda, his mom. But, we could ask her. But all these, I can tell you who some of these people are. There's cousin Velma, right there.

AB: So cute.

JA: And there's my mom. And there's my cousin, Emma Pearl, who was a niece, not a sister. She was like cousin Velma, cousin Velma and her, because they were of the same age almost as my mom. And, that's aunt Louise, this house, she lived in this house.

HV: Really?

JA: And that's, this is her.

HV: That's her picture?

JA: This is aunt Louise, right here, she lives here. And that's my mom, I gave her a part when she was 75. And this is my grandmother, who raised me. And she passed when she was 85. Now, I was raised on Mitchell Lane.

HV: You were raised on Mitchell? Okay.

JA: Well that big house? Where they added on to the back? That's the house I was raised in.

HV: Oh, right over here, like across the street.

JA: Right. And that was my grandmother on the Austin's side, that was my father's mother. And they were from Pittsboro, I don't know a lot about them. Pittsboro is loaded with Austin's.

AB: They're everywhere.

HV: It is just amazing, how many people are related to the Hargraves family. Keith Edwards, and the Rigsby's.

JA: The Hargraves married the Weavers. Now cousin Velma can tell you how that started, because Jerry Hargraves, Jerry, was a slave, and the Hargraves, there was a sister and a brother, Hargraves' slave. And they had this, slaves, and they, when they became free, you know, they still kept, they had the Hargraves' name, from the sister and the brother. And my great-grandfather Jerry belonged to, because of them they know their names, but I don't know their names, the sister and brother's name. And we were trying to find their grave site, we have gone to the grave site out on Meadowmont. And we did see some graves, and they were, the only name I could recognize were Barbie, I have pictures, I took pictures when I went out there (JA shuffles through her pictures). That's when I went out to Vegas. That's Cathy at a fashion show.

Hudson Vaughan (HV): Oh wow.

Alex Biggers (AB): Oh cool.

JA: That's me taking a picture with my house.

AB: That's so pretty, I love your house.

HV: Thank you

AB: Because of the purple.

JA: Yeah, you like that?

AB: Yeah! How long have you had it like that?

JA: Just since October, my friend painted it.

AB: Oh cool.

JA: See, there's one of the stones.

HV: You can tell it's old.

JA: I don't know if we can make anything out, but I did make out Barbie. I think that's probably the only one I have.

AB: Where were most of the people buried, that your grandfather was the mortician for?

JA: This – oh I don't know. Well, there's a cemetery in Carrboro. And this, we were looking for the one in which our family was buried. And this is the one out in Meadowmont, where I took that picture, up on that hill. And there's another one, someone sent me from the -

HV: So you grew up on Mitchell Street -

JA: Mitchell Lane.

HV: Mitchell Lane, sorry, what was growing up on Mitchel Lane like? You said your grandmother raised you? So what was your childhood like here?

JA: Well I had a great time! We, I thought – everything was segregated, but that's the way it was.

AB: Is this where you went to school?

JA: I went to grade school here. And then, we moved to Connecticut, went up to New York, when I was 16. We moved from New York to here, when I was, like, four. And I went to nursery school with the Hargraves, so.

AB: So you were born in New York or?

JA: I was born in Harlem, yes. This is a picture of Luther, that's my grandfather. And his sisters, and brothers. And, my sister just passed in 2008,

AB: And that's Ruby?

JA: You knew her?

AB: Yeah I was (inaudible), she's so pretty.

JA: And back then, we had a great time, because we took ballet dancing, tap dancing, we took piano lessons. I took piano lessons at the University of North Carolina. I was a Baton thrower in the band, I played clarinet in marching band, and I played saxophone in concert.

AB: So you got all those musical genes then, from those 19.

HV: So did you ever get to that at Lincoln?

JA: Lincoln High?

HV: Part of the mighty band there?

JA: The Mighty Tigers, yeah. I played in the marching band. And you know, when we would have a parade, you know, because we were black, we were Negroes then I think, we were always in the back! But they always saved the best for last, and we were good! We really enjoyed it, because with our uniform, we had lights on our hats, lights on our horns. Listen, Gramling and A&T had nothing on us, I mean we were stepping then, we were stepping! Mr. Eddington, the band leader, went over to Hillside. And our football team, I just enjoyed it here, I thought it was great.

JA: So this is my aunt Frances, Hargraves. Well she married my Uncle Willy, and she was Billy's mom.

AB: Where did they live?

JA: They lived on Caldwell Street, this is her house on Caldwell Street.

AB: It's pretty.

HV: Yeah I've seen that house before, it's still there, isn't it?

JA: It's still there, on Caldwell Street. And Aunt Caldwell, her sister-in-law's house is right across the street, at Caldwell. And students are parking in the yard, and I know Auntie Pearl is turning over in her grave.

JA: This is the book I fixed, with my mom, before she passed.

AB: Did you guys, were you guys close, with all the aunts and uncles, or?

JA: Yeah, everything, it was wonderful, Hargraves. Because we moved to New York – well, when I was little, I always wanted to go to New York, because I thought everybody in New York was rich. Because when someone died, they all came down in this limousine, and come in this black limousine, this long black limousine, and when they would leave, they would all give me a dollar. So I was loaded! You know? (AB and HV laugh).

JA: So there is my aunt Martha, my uncle Frank, Donald, Emma Pearl, these were all, and I mean we really, this is my mom and my stepfather. My father died when I was in fifth grade, and she married Martin, who was a really nice guy. He went to A&T, and you know, recently I found a letter, that he had written to my mom before they got married, and it was funny, because I was like “Oh, do I read this letter?”, and he was inviting her to come to A&T, to a game. And he said to her, in the letter he said to her, “We'll take a cab,” and he was saying to her, “Oh, I hope you can come this weekend, because we're gonna have so much fun.” You know? And he says for her to take a cab, and I'm like, “Take a cab from Chapel Hill to Greensboro?” So I called my cousin in New York, Joe Jr., and he said “Oh yeah, a cab back then was only like 12 dollars,” - was it 12? No, 2.50 I think he said, for a cab to go from here to Greensboro.

AB: Wow. That wouldn't even be the tip now.

JA: They all went to A&T. My mom went to A&T, my stepfather went to A&T, my father went to A&T.

AB: How did they meet, your stepfather and your mother?

JA: Cousin Velma's house, was a rumor, her mother would used to have rumors all the time, and, I don't know, daddy lived in Clayton, and I don't know how he got over here, because he was going to school in A&T. But he stayed at cousin Velma's house. He had a room there.

AB: So he was from Clayton?

JA: Yeah he's from Clayton.

AB: I have family there too.

JA: And I have a stepsister, Elaine. Who was like a sister, because we were all raised together. So we don't, say, well when we were little, someone say “Oh how many sisters do you have?”, and I'll say “Oh I have a whole step and a half.” Because I had a whole sister, Ruby, my step-sister, Elaine, because her father married my mom, and her mother died at childbirth. Her mother's name was Catherine, like my mom. And then my stepfather and my mother had a daughter, Desbie, who's deceased, so I had a whole step and a half.

AB: So you guys all lived together?

JA: Well I lived with my grandmother. They all lived here though. And I used to say to my sister, “How are all you guys going to live in this house?” My mother and daddy lived just up in that room. My brother was up here. Louis Austin, he died at 29, he had a heart attack. We were all in New York. And my sister, Desbie, and my sister Ruby, slept in that room. And then when I would come over, Elaine would come over, and the four of us were in that room, and my brother here. So I'd say to my sister, “Where do you put your clothes?” And she would say, “We didn't have any!” Oh they hung clothes behind the door. And you know they had, we had little, but we had a good time, you know? And I remember as a child, playing, and Peaches, Brooks, used to live across the street, well she stayed across the street with her grandfather's parents. And we would, and I had my own room, and I had a playroom upstairs. And we would play in my playroom, than go up onto the roof, and come down to play, you know, climb down a tree.

AB: That's so fun.

JA: And we had, I had table chairs outside. And we would make mud pies, and we would take the leaves, and that would be our greens. And we'd take bugs, and those would be peas, you know? We had a great time. We made our own paper dolls. We had fun.

Janie Alston - On her family history (clip)


Oral history interview of Alston, Janie conducted by Vaughan, Hudson on April 20, 2011 at Home of Janie Alston, Chapel Hill, NC.

Citation: Marian Cheek Jackson Center, “Janie Alston - On her family history (clip),” From the Rock Wall, accessed July 21, 2024, https://fromtherockwall.org/oral-histories/janie-alston-on-her-family-history-clip.

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