You young folks don’t remember the Depression, but I do. No jobs for nobody. that winter there wasn’t a soul working in our house but my wife, and she was evil as she could be! She was doing a few washings now and then for the white folks, so we made out. But she didn’t like to see me sitting around, even if I couldn’t find a job.
We had a couple of roomers, a nan and his wife, they hadn’t been in town long enough to get any consideration, since the relief folks were hard on strangers. All of us was just managing to get by on beans and c.ush all winter.
One cold February coming we was sitting around the stove trying to keep warm. My wife was ironing. Who should pass by outside but old man Oyster and his son.
“There goes Oyster and that boy of his,” I said, “ragged as a jaybird, both of em.”
“They ain’t even on relief work, is they?” Jack, the roomer asked.
“They did have a few hours work a month,” I said. “They messed up though.”
“Messed up you call it, inch?” my wife put in. “Well they got gumption, anyhow They told then white folks up yonder in the office just what they thought of ’em.”
“Look at ‘en now,” I said, “going through the alley looking for something to eat.”
“Well they got gumption!” my wife said.
“You can’t eat gumption,” Jack said, which made my wife mad.
“You can’t eat sitting around on your rumpus either,” she broke out, looking real mad at our roomer a look that said, You oughtn’t to talk, cause you ain’t paid your rent for a month.
I sure was glad I hadn’t said nothing.
“What’s it all about?” Jack’s wife asked.
“It’s a story worth telling my mind,” my wife said, “cause they got gumption them Oysters.” She looked hard at Jack and me. “Now, old man Oyster, he ain’t never amounted to much, just poor and honest. But he always did want to make something out of that boy of his ‘n Charlie. He did road work, did anything he could get to do. Kept that boy in school after his wife died, washed his ears, tried to make a gentleman out of him And that boy did pretty well. Grew up – took a bookkeeping typewriter course, and cone out Grade A! Graduated and got a job with the white folks.
“Yes sir! First time I ever heard tell of a colored boy typewriting or keeping books in this white man’s town. But Mr. Bartelson what owned the coal yard office, where young Oyster worked, he was from Maine and didn’t have no prejudice to speak cf. He give this colored boy a chance in his place. But old man Oyster’s boy was prepared. He had a good education and could do the work, black as he was.
“Well, sir, old man Oyster was proud as he could be of his boy. We was all proud. Everything went find for two or three years. Then the Depression came. Folks stopped buying fuel to keep warm by. Poor old man Bartelson what owned the coal yard finally had to close up, which left young Oyster without a job like the rest of us. Old man Oyster was jobless, too, cause they stopped building roads”
Clara was just aironing and atalkinh. “Then along come this goverment relief and everybody thought times was surely gonna get better. Well, they ain’t got no better, leastwise not for colored folks. When relief opened up they put old nan Oyster back on the road . Now, his boy Charlie ain’ t never done no road work, being a office nan, but he thought he’d do it, too when the government opened up a office for what they calls white collar workers.
“A11 the white folks what’s been doing office work in good times, they went there to get the kind o’ work they was used to doing. Oyster’s son went, too. But don’t you know they discriminated against him! Yes, sir because he was black. They daid, ‘You’re not no office worker,’ in spite of all the proofs Charlie had that he were in Mr. Bartelson’s office for three years. They sent old man Oyster’s boy out to work on the road with his father.
‘Well, the old man stopped his work, then and there. He went up to that government office to see the white man about it.
“The government white man said, ‘You ought to be glad for your boy to get any kind of work these days and times. You can’t be picking and choosing now.’
But old man Oyster stood there and argued with the man for his son’s rights. That’s why I say he’s got gumption. He said, ‘I ain’t asking to be picking and choosing, and I ain’t asking nothing for myself. I’m speaking about that boy o ‘ mine. Charlie’s got a education. He’s worked for three years in a off ice for one of the finest white men that ever live and breathed. What for you send him out to work on a road with me? My boy ain’t know nothing about no pick and shovel. Why don’t you treat Charlie Oyster like the white folks and give him some o’ his kind o’ work.
“‘We have no of nice jobs here for Negroes’ said the man, right like that.
“We1l, that made old man Ovster mad. He said, ‘Is that what the government is for to bring more discrminnatior than what is?!
“Well, this made the white man mad, and he yelled, ‘You must be one o’ them Communists, ain’t you?’ And he pressed some kind o’ buzzer and sent out for a cop.
“Now, old man Oyster ain’t never had no trouble in this town before. But when there cops started to throw him cut, he raised sand. He was right, too! But them coos didn’t see it that way, and one of ’em brought his stick down on that old man’s heed. When Oyster come to, he was in jail with a bump on his head.
“Then old Man Oyster’s son showed he was a man. Charlie heard about the trouble when he come off the road that evening. He went to the jail to see his papa, boiling mad. He said, ‘Pa, I’ll be in jail here with you tomorrow. And sure enough, he was. He went up to that there relief office the next morning and beat that white man so bad, he ain’t got ever it yet.
“‘The idea,” young Oyster said, ‘of you having my father knocked down because he came here to talk to you like a citizen about our rights! Who are you anyway, any more’n me? Try to throw me out o’ here and I’ll beat you to a pulp first!’