Chapter X – Arlene -A Woman of the Great Migration -HELLO CHICAGO – CHICAGO!!

Chapter X – Arlene -A Woman of the Great Migration -HELLO CHICAGO – CHICAGO!!

Katy Mae, tall, attractive with thick dark eyebrows and very slender and her husband, Freddy, jolly, ambitious and full of fun lived in a nice apartment building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  It was a three story brick building and they had a two bedroom apartment on the third floor. They welcomed Otis and I into their home and gave us our own private bedroom that was very comfortable.  Freddy  had his own business selling medicine and herbs which allowed Katy Mae the priviledge of not working outside the home.  Freddy knew many herbal remedies that had been passed down through the generations of his family that could heal most ailments.  People believed in him and his remedies and paid for his medicines, tonics and consultations.  They flocked to him from all around Chicago.  He was a good provider and they lived a good life.  We enjoyed living with them, but we needed to find a place that would accept our children, so we never lost sight of our goal.

Soon after moving to Chicago “pop” we both got jobs.  We had never been in a big city in our lives.  Katy Mae got the newspaper and told us all the details on how to find an ad for a job in the “Want Ads” and how to get the streetcar to the businesses, but she sent us out alone.  I got a job in a hat factory, and Otis got a job making tanks for the government.

Otis worked in the painting division.  He was so accustomed to hard work that he could spray paint a tank without any effort, and so quickly that the other guys hated him.  They called him that “country boy” who is up here working like a slave.  He was a source of irritation for many of  the other workers.  He continued to work hard because that was all he knew and it did help him receive many pay raises and bonuses.  The other workers were held to a standard set by the amount of work he did.  Spray painting tanks was so easy in comparison to what he knew .  The work was like a vacation after digging coal out of the hard ground and then loading it manually on a train car.  They brought him a car load of tanks and he would have them all spray painted before lunch time.  The other men thought he was working them to death.  He sprayed tanks and I made hats.

At the hat factory a worker brought me a large box filled with hats that had no form, and my job was to place each hat on the form in front of me and then put the hat in a box for the next person.  We made ladies hats.  The girls that worked on the steam irons had to stand all day and were hot and uncomfortable because they steamed the hats before they came to me.  After the hats were steamed they would take the shape of the form on which they were placed.  The steam iron girls grumbled because ” new” girls usually started on the steaming job and then worked up to the comfortable job of sitting in a chair placing the hat on the form.  “How did she get that job” and “she just walked in the building”, they complained.  I believe God was looking out for me and I was blessed.  They were angry at me and wanted me to work on the steam table.  My employer was happy with my work.

It was uncomfortable working at the hat factory with so much animosity that I searched and found a better paying job as a bus girl at the International Restaurant.  Black women were not allowed to wait tables in those days.  Fortunely, we would not live in Chicago for very long. We had to find a place where our children would be welcome.

Work was plentiful in Chicago and we saved our money to purchase a home so our children could join us.  Katy Mae was correct that it was virtually impossible to find an apartment that would accept children.  We were still living with Katy Mae and Freddie becuase we could not find a place big enough for our family that would accept children as residents, and we would not accept less.

We found a place for our family when  Gary (a friend of Otis’ sister)  was on his way to Vancouver, Washington to work.  He told Otis that there were good paying jobs in Vancouver and that he would be building ships for the government for great wages.  Otis asked him to find out if there would be housing for families in Vancouver because he wanted  to bring our family with him if he was hired.  Gary promised he would write and it was not long before a letter came to Bernice from Gary that said “Tell Otis he will have everything he wanted”.  There were houses and plenty of jobs, and not only could Otis get a job but that I could get one.  He wrote that there are good schools for the children and that Vancouver is a beautiful place to live.  Once again we were planning a move, but this time it would be Vancouver, Washington.  What would our parents say now?

We had not lived in Chicago for six months, when our dream seem to take us to Washington state.  Our goal was to find a place to raise our children.  We needed a place where we could work and have a decent home and schools for our family.  We talked very late that night and Otis decided that he would go to Vancouver and then send for me and the kids, but I thought about it later and decided that I was going with him.  I told Katy and Freddy about Otis’ plan to go to Vancouver without me and that I wanted to go with him.  Freddy told me “Little Bit”, if you want to go with Otis you should tell him”.  I told Otis that I wanted to go with him and he told me “you can always go where I go.  I thought you wanted to go get the kids”.  I asked Otis if it would be ok to give the money to Mama and have her bring the kids.   He agreed that was a good plan, and told me to get ready; we would be leaving soon.  I looked into his handsome face and felt loved, secure and safe with the wonderful husband God had sent to me.

I told my boss at the Restaurant that I was leaving and she asked me why I had to go?  I told her my husband was moving on to look for better living conditions where we could raise our children.  She asked if I would let him go alone.  “You are such a smart girl”, she said and “I have great plans for you”.  I could not believe she cried and asked me to stay.  She told me “Arlene, if you ever come back to Chicago you have a job”.  I could not understand why she thought I would separate from my husband because she liked my work.

In 1942 we could deposit money in the post office for safekeeping.  When we arrived in Chicago we sold our car and saved that money and we were saving money every week at the Post Office from our pay checks.  We had more than enough money to get the train tickets to Vancouver for us, Mama and our three children.  I went to the Post Office and drew out all our money and bought train tickets to Vancouver, so we could leave the next day.  The migration continues.


J.Keel, Author









Work was slow in the coal mines in early 1943. Coal companies did not lay-off workers like they did in the auto plants in the North.  The work slowed down until there was no coal, and then they closed the mine.  Otis was down to one or two days a week, when the mine began to dry up.  He was an industrious man and did not want to go down with the ship; he wanted to move on.  It is impossible to live on a paycheck for working one day a week.  Otis started to look for other coal mines to find work.  Everyone knew that eventually there would be no coal in the mine.

Otis and I talked about our future when I suggested that since he was not working full time it was a good time to visit Isaac in Rolfe and see if he knew of any work there.  Otis agreed and the next weekend we drove to Rolfe and stayed a week with Isaac and Marguerite while Otis looked for work.  Isaac thought Otis could get a job at Rolfe with him, and told him about several other mines in the vicinity.  Otis applied but wasn’t hired a Rolfe.  He applied at several other locations and eventually he was hired in Pasteton, West Virginia not far from Rolfe.  Isaac decided to apply for Pasteton and he was hired.  Our families secured houses across the road from each other.  This was a very happy time in our lives.  We had a backyard and Otis planted a garden as always.  Isaac and Marguerite didn’t have a large back yard but there was a stream running  across the back of their house which was very beautiful.  It was so much fun being young and living near our best friends.  Otis and Isaac enjoyed working together, and I enjoyed visiting with Marguerite and their children.  They had a son, Melvin who was the same age as Otis, Jr. and  a daughter, Seretha, who was two months older than Janice.

In a few months Otis took a flu like illness in his lungs and had to go to the hospital. The doctors did not know then, but later in life we found out that he had black lung disease.   While he was there in the hospital bed recuperating he had time to think about our life and our sons and what kind of life he wanted for us.  He told me he was unhappy and never planned on working in the mines forever and that he wanted to get away soon.  He said he was thankful that he had a job and could take care of his family, but that it was hard back breaking work although he had never complained.  This was a promise he made to me that our sons would never become coal miners and that he did not plan to die in a coal mine.

Otis told me how he felt the system made it almost impossible for a coal miner to get ahead.  He reminded me of the fact that the company owned everything.  Our home was rented from the company.  The grocer, liquor store, cleaners, theater, clothing and  furniture stores were owned by the company.  When workers were paid the company knew every penny they spent, where they spent it and could calculate if they saved any money.  We tried to save money anyway for our future.

Otis always felt that the workers who the company suspected were saving money were moved to areas of the mine where it was most difficult to dig and slowed down their progress because the workers were paid by the pound of coal they produced.  There were workers who spent all of their money with the company who were rewarded with easier digging areas.  Especially those who supported the liquor store.  Otis was pulled from a huge productive vein of coal and put deeper into the mine where he must crawl on his knees to get to the coal.  It was back breaking work to meet the bare minimum of his quota.  Even with these limitations we saved money for our future.

Otis bought a dry cleaning machine out of our savings and wanted to set up business in our home.  He ordered the device from a magazine, so he was dismayed when it arrived and was so heavy that it took eight men to carry it up the hill to  To our surprise the foundation of the house gave way when the machine was installed in our home.  I wasn’t very happy having a dry cleaning business take over my children’s bedroom    Otis and his Assistant, Thaddeus worked every minute they were not in the mines cleaning, pressing and delivering clothes.  Eventually, Otis had all of the customers and the company cleaners was shut down.  The company contacted him and told him to move the business out of the house.  He was directed to rent space form the company retail area or he would be evicted from his home.  The cost of retail space was too high for the family income, so the eight men had to drag the machine back down the hill so Otis could return it and get a refund on some of his costs.

After we lost our business, Katy Mae, Otis’ niece moved to the capitol city, Charleston, West Virginia.  She and I corresponded often because we were the same age and had much in common.  Katy wrote that she met a nice young man, Freddie McCullough, who worked in Charleston, and that he had moved there from Chicago.  A couple of months later, she wrote that she and Freddie had fallen in love and she could not imagine life without him.  She shared her plans to marry soon.  In the next letter Katy wrote that they were married, and they may move to Chicago and live there.  I wrote back that if she moved to Chicago to please let me know.  I told here that Otis and I wanted to move away from the coal mines.  She promised me that if Freddie takes her to Chicago, she will let me know.  A month later I received another letter ” Arlene, we are moving to Chicago” Katy wrote.  I was so excited.  Although we had lived in Pasteton for only six months we wanted to get away from the coal mines.  When I received a letter from Katy confirming that she was doing well in Chicago and they had an apartment, I wondered if we moved there could we get jobs soon after?  She wrote that jobs were plentiful and we were welcome to stay with them until we found work, but we could not bring the children because her apartment management did not allow children.  I told Otis that Katy invited us to stay with them in Chicago and said we could come at any time.  I told him that she said that we did not need to worry about a job, because jobs were plentiful.  She shared that there may be a problem getting a place to live that will accept kids.  I wrote her that my kids are so nice, that I wasn’t worried about finding a place to live.  I asked Otis if he was serious about moving and if he wanted to go to Chicago and he agreed that we were moving.  We decided to go now and find a place that would accept children after we had jobs. I wrote back to Katy that we planned to come to Chicago very soon.

We had the task of telling Marguarite and Isaac that we were moving.  We were all sad.  “Don’t leave us” they said, and we told them that if things worked out we would let them know so they could come join us in Chicago.  Our parents got involved.  They were furious with us, and told us ,”You left Glen Alum, moved to Pasteton and now you want to go to Chicago.  When are you going to settle down and be satisfied?”  They were the voices of doom. They told us that we would change, and lose our Christian values.  They thought we would separate.  We would not respect our marriage vows and would have affairs, because that was how people in the big cities behaved.  They believed that we would be corrupted and they thought we were crazy.  We respected them and listened to every word they said, but we were going anyway.  “What are you going to do with your children?” and the final question they asked, “Are you going to run off and leave your children?  Otis told them that he was going for his children, “I do not want my boys going into the coal mines”, and that ended the conversation.

Women always make the plans, so I thought of a plan that would make sure our children were safe until we could send for them to live with us.  I told Otis that we could leave the boys with Aunt Jean and Uncle Buddy and that we could leave our baby girl who was only ten months old with Mama.  Mama and Bob loved our baby and would be kind and loving to her.  Aunt Jean and Uncle Buddy agreed to take the boys.

It was a sad day when we had to leave our children.  We cried together as we drove away, but we went anyway.  We were hurt deeply and had heavy hearts when we had to leave our three children behind. We truly believed we would give them a better life.  Crying, driving and promising each other that we would send for our children, Otis said to me, “It is enough that we have lived like this, but we want a better future for our children”.  We felt this was the only way to get them away from the coal mines of West Virginia.  We headed north for Chicago and a new life.



My Mother, Janie married again shortly after the birth of my first child, Walter.  She marrried Bob Davis, a guitar playing, blues singing family friend.  No one in the family wanted her to marry Bob, but she did.  Mama had a mind of her own, and made her own decisions.  She moved to Welch, West Virginia with her husband.  The marriage to Bob did not keep her from visiting with us often.  Bob loved my children and he enjoyed having us around.

Uncle Isaac married Marguerite and moved here in with him, Mama Carter, and Uncle Wesley soon after I married Otis.  When I left Norfolk, Marguerite took care of Mama Carter during the day, and over time she and Isaac fell in love.  We were like sisters and Otis and Isaac were like brothers.  We visited them often because we had a car.  Marguerite and Isaac had their first baby, Melvin around the same time I had Otis, Jr.  Isaac worked in the mines near Rolfe, West Virginia.  The coal mine was the only employment for people living in the mountains of West Virginia.

I remember not feeling well about a year and a half after Walter’s birth.  I felt terrible and went to the doctor for advice.  The doctor gave me three large pills and told me to take the pills and all my sickness would go away.  I showed Mama Carter the pills and told her what the doctor told me.  She looked at the pills and told me not to take them.  “Throw those pills out”, she said, “You are sick because you are carrying another baby.  If you take those pills you will kill your baby.”  I listended to Mama Carter and did not take the pills and later found out that I was indeed pregnant and had a very healthy pregnancy.  I was so blessed to have my grandmother near me and have her advice.  I thought about how my life would have changed if I had lost my second baby boy.

My second child, Otis, Jr. was a very easy delivery.  No noisy visitors waiting in my house for me to deliver.  The doctor, Mama and Mama Susie helped me through the delivery in a very quiet house.  Otis, Jr. was an eight pounds, chocolate baby boy with black curly hair.  My husband told me he prayed that his boys would have beautiful hair because the girls in his family had beautiful hair and the boys were left out.  He said “Girls can go to the beauty shop”.  His prayers were answered because both our boys had a full head of beautiful baby hair.

Papa Starghill had a special affection for our second born son, Otis, Jr.  After his birth he began stopping by to see the baby on his way home from the mines.  When he arrived he looked inside his lunch box and found something special to give the baby to eat.  I loved my father-in-law but was not happy that he gave my baby some stale food that had been sitting in his lunch box all day while he worked in the coal mines.  However, I knew it was out of love for my baby, and that he saved my baby something special.  Otis, Jr. loved it smiling, waving his fat little arms around in excitement the moment he saw Papa and gobbled us whatever morsel of food my father-in-law stuffed into his mouth.  After Papa left, I asked God to please protect my baby from any illness related to stale food.  The food did not hurt him; he was one of my healthiest children and grew strong and tall.  Many years had passed when Papa came and asked me to bring Otis, Jr to him so he could bless him.  I was happy that he wanted to bless my children and told him I would bring all my children for his blessing.  He said, “No, Arlene I am here to bless Otis.  Please do as I say and bring him to me for my blessing”  I did as he said and he prayed a special prayer over Otis and bestowed his blessing on his life.

After Otis, Jr’s birth our family settled in as part of my husband’s larger group of kin living in Glen Alum.  It was nice having all the family living near.  I could visit with the ladies, Lillian, Molene, Kitty and her daughter, Katy Mae who was my age and Mama Susie.  Our children played together while we chatted.  At that time the cousins were all boys, Earl, Albert, Jr., Walter, and Otis, Jr.  My boys would get alone with the other kids for a while and then one of the other boys would tell me that my son, Walter beat up one of the kids.  “Arlene, Walter hit me with his fist” one would say.  I would always chastise Walter by spanking him and we would go home.  Now, I wonder if they were all fighting and then blamed Walter when things did not go their way.  Otis, Jr (Teddy) was the youngest of the group, so he was too young to be accused for the fray.  Mama Susie told me that Otis, Sr. was a fighter when he was a young boy, so I did not know what to believe.

Two years after Otis, Jr. (Teddy) was born I finally had a daughter on a beautiful, sunny April day.  The doors were open and the weather was great.  Mama Janie came to assist as always, but this time she wanted me to hurry to have the baby because she had a trip planned for early May.  Her church had an assembly in Nashville, Tennessee and she did not want to miss it.  She told me, “You better hurry up and have this baby.  I am going to the Assembly.”  I said “You are going to leave me for the assembly?”  I felt so hurt.  I wasn’t involved in her church in those days.  I felt hurt becuase she was putting her meeting ahead of me and my baby.  She pressured me to have the baby soon.  Lucky for me the baby came the last week in April.  I had no problems with my third delivery and had a fat, creamy colored, 8lb, 6oz., baby girl with a little brown hair but mostly bald.  She made me happy.  I had my girl and I named her Janice.  I thought Janice was a pretty doll, but Otis teased me because she was nearly bald.  After my daughter was born Mama stayed with me for one week and left me in the bed.  She usually gave me two weeks to get on my feet and take over for myself.  Just so happened, Margarite, Isaac’s wife was visiting from Norfolk and came and helped me for the second week.  She told Janie she could leave me and that she would stay and take good care of me.  Margarite stayed until I was on my feet.  Margarite was a special, loving person.  She had her baby girl, Seretha, two months earier and here she was helping me.  Our daughters became very close, because we had a special bond.

J.Keel, Author






A Woman of the Great Migration

I represent my generation and have great humility that I lived through World War II, and actually saw a submarine launched from the shipyards of Vancouver, Washing in the 1940’s.  I survived the great depression, segregation, and Jim Crow.  The first man who walked on the moon was during my lifetime.  I have had the pleasure to be witness to our people finally obtaining civil and voting rights.  Although race relations are not perfect they are improving.  I have seen the Model T and horse drawn wagons on the street and now the computerized cars and vehicles to explore space.  Through all phases of my life, I can say God has blessed me and my family.  I am a 96 year old woman looking back at my life to share my thoughts and experiences with my family, so they can be recorded by my daughter and shared as part of our history.  I will share with you the stories my Mother, Janie Carter Millner and others told me about my early years, and then I will share my memories of my life.

Janie was the middle daughter of Alice Carter.  She had an older sister, Martha who was kind, compassionate, and gentle and a younger sister, Jean who was fiery, fractious and difficult.  Janie, the middle child was a hard worker, intelligent and often was mediator.  Martha married Henry Smith and moved away to start her family.  Janie, Jean and three brothers, Harrison, Wesley and Isaac lived with their Mother, Alice in Meadow View, Virginia.

Later,  Janie moved to live with Martha and Henry who had been married for many years and had a daughter, Mae Hester.  They moved to Algoma, West Virginia from Meadow View, Virginia around 1917, so they had not lived in Algoma very long before Janie came to live with them.

Harrison Carter, Janie’s oldest brother migrated from Meadow View, Virginia to Rolfe, West Virginia soon after Martha and Henry moved to Algoma.  Rolfe was not very far from Algoma.  Harrison invited Grandmother, Alice Carter and his younger siblings to live with him.  Alice (we called her Mama Carter) invited Mama and me to come and live with her and Uncle Harrison.

It was a good move for Mama because Rolfe is where Mama met her future husband, Henry Millner.  Mama was twenty years old, Henry was twenty-five and I was two years old when they met.  There were many young women chasing Henry who was a very eligible bachelor.  However, one woman in particular, Holly, was so very much in love with Henry and pursued him so aggressively that she hounded his door until Henry made it abundantly clear that he loved Janie and only Janie.  He proposed to Janie and they were married.  Henry gave me his name.  He was a wonderful stepfather and made me feel like I was his own.

I was told that Mama stood a stately 5’5″, beautiful figure, dark chestnut brown soft, smooth skin.  She was told by everyone that she had beautiful legs.  She was articulate, worked hard and always well dressed.  She loved keeping up with fashions of the day through magazines and worked hard so she and I could live well.  Because she was well read and very adept socially many of my teachers believed she was college educated.  Henry was tall, handsome, neat, trim and highly talented.  He was a self-taught engineer, and clothing salesman.  He sold suits and shoes to the local men.  He measured and then ordered custom clothing for them and for himself.  He supplied tailor made suits for his customers, and he was a barber that cut their hair.  I guess he was a full service entrepreneur.  The men did not enjoy going to town to shop because of segregation.  Consequently, Henry had plenty of orders for their clothing needs.  Henry was bi-racial and looked so European that he could not be identified as a black person without his birth certificate.  If the situation required him to pass for white to help his family acquire food when they traveled, he would do so.  He could go in the front door of a white restaurant and order food that he would take out and share with Mama and me.  He received freshly cooked food, instead of going in the back door where they may or not sell to colored people, and if they did the food would be stale.  He worked hard to provide for Mama and me and did all he could to make us happy.

My first memory of my childhood was in 1925 when I was seven and living in Rolfe, West Virginia with my Grandmother, Alice Carter and my Mother, Janie.  Mother came to Rolfe to visit Mama Carter and to enroll me in school.  Before 1925, I had been living in Tralee, West Virginian with my Mom and Dad.  Traylee was an isolated rural area and did not have a good school for so called “colored” children that was in walking distance.  Mother was afraid to allow me to go the the colored school because it was too far away.  It would have been necessary for me to walk miles to school at the age of five.  I did not go to school at all until after Mama took me to live with Grandmother and I started school at Rolfe.

Mama was happy for me to start school there.  She taught me at home to read and to do arithmetic before I moved to Rolfe, so when I started school I was very advanced for Kindergarten.  I could read everything in the primer, Baby Ray and answered all the questions related to the book, and could do the math.  I was immediately promoted to first grade.  Mama loved to read, and spent hours reading stories to me and taught me to love to go to school and love learning.  When I passed to second grade the following year, the second grade teacher decided to promote me to the third grade immediately.  After I adjusted to my new school, Mama went back home and I stayed on with Mama Carter and continued my education. When I moved to live with Mama Carter, Uncle Wesley, lived there with his younger sister, Jean who was 19 and 14 year old brother, Isaac.  Although, Isaac was my uncle we were like brother and sister.  We went to the movies together every Saturday.  Rolfe had an all-black and an all-white movie theater in our neighborhood.  We went to the neighborhood theater most of the time and occasionally we went downtown to a segregated theater.  No one liked the downtown theater because the theater was divided in halves.  White people on one side and black people on the other side.  Segregation was legal in West Virginia, so the races were separated in every way possible.  There were two entrances to the movie theater.  Blacks entered on the left and whites entered on the right.  We could see the other side that was all white, but could not sit beside a white person.  The refreshment stand was in the center and was segregated.  There was a window on the left to service colored people and a window on the right to service white people.  There was a black ticket taker on our side.  Now, I think about how silly it all was.  We were in the same space; breathing the same air, but one side felt superior to the other side, so consequently we were separated by an aisle down the middle of the theater.

The Rolfe neighborhood was divided with black coal miners on a portion of the main street and many of the white coal miners on the hill.  Many of the white coal miners preferred the hill because they were accustomed to living in the mountains.  Middle class whites lived further down the main street from the coloreds.  The white elementary school was a beautiful two story building and the black school was one story and very ordinary.  There was always a difference in size and convenience.  The black school was primary thru 6th grade.  I do not know anything about the white school because we were not allowed to go there.  There was a corner restaurant, (company owned) managed by Mr. Wade, a very stingy black man.  He sold ice cream, candy and gum.  Ice cream was 5 cents a cone, but he would give us the smallest dip of ice cream possible.  I remember how angry we were because we felt cheated by our own.  He was a great company man with little regard for fairness to his own people.

There was a playground with swings, a merry-go-round and seesaw across the street.  Nanny and Grady Price would take over the playground and not let kids they did like on the playground.  They would kick, curse and make kids leave.  Even back then there were bullies who would make the lives of others miserable.  They let me stay because they liked to come to my house to play with my toys and eat candy, and they always protected me at school.  Nanny and Grady completed their chores before they could come out to play, but as soon as they came to the playground they made most of the other kids leave.  Although, there were six swings they would not allow anyone else to swing.  I did not like them but had to get along with them to survive.  They used very foul language against the other children, and made them cry.

My Grandmother, Alice Carter ran a boarding house for single coal miners who came to work in our town.  She had accommodations for three boarders.  There were three beds in a large room that was shared by the boarders and she provided food and housekeeping.  Aunt Jean was the cook and Mama was dish washer and housekeeper wherever we were there.  Boarders paid $7.00 per week which included room and board.  Most of the money was spent for food because she prepared a lunch bucket for each boarder and provided breakfast and dinner.  She managed her tight budget with the income from the boarders who became her main source of income after Uncle Harrison was killed in the mine.

Uncle Harrison, moved to West Virginia in 1918 when he was hired to work in the coal mines.  Over time he was promoted to brakeman although digging and loading coal was a common job that was done by “colored” men in those days.  In the past the motorman and brakeman were skilled trade jobs and usually “whites” were hired for those positions.  Somehow Uncle Harris gained the respect of the owners and was trusted to have the very prominent position of brakeman.  He was killed in the mine shortly after he was promoted to brakeman.  Many people believed that the motorman had caused his death.  The motorman complained about working with a colored man, and it was rumored that the motorman was a member of the “KKK”.  Consequently, when Uncle Harrison was killed there was some whispering about who may have caused his death, but nothing came of it.

After Uncle Harrison’s death Mama Carter kept the house and stayed there with her younger children.  Wesley (Big Wesley), the second born son was a teenager when Harrison died but later when he came of age he went into the coal mines to work.  He became a brakeman and later he was promoted to motorman for the mine and continued to work there until the mine closed in the 1940’s.  During Uncle Wesley’s employment as motorman, a white guy named Mike became his brakeman.  Mike was killed and Uncle Wesley brought his cold, dead body out of the mine on the coal car.  There was such an uproar because the whites believed that Wesley had caused Mike’s death.  Rumors were spreading that “Wesley killed Mike in the mine”.  Uncle Wesley did not lose his job because the black community rallied around him.  However, soon after Mike died, the colored coal miners heard rumors that the KKK was coming to their neighborhood that night to kill Wesley.  They quietly spread the word for all the men to stay up all night with their guns and put the women and children to sleep on the floor.  Our neighbors armed themselves quietly.  They kept their plans ” hush, hush”, and quietly waited for the KKK to come, but they did not show up.  Later we found out that the Company put out a warning to the white miners that anyone participating in any trouble would be fired and driven from their homes.  Wesley was not prosecuted.  The Company said officially that Mike’s death was an accident.  I was a little girl staying with my grandmother, and can remember it was a scary night for all the little kids.  I slept on the floor snuggled as close to Mama Carter as possible and cried silently throughout that night.  No one slept.  The next morning all the men put on their work clothes and went to work