NPS African American Oral History Project: Ms. Clara Maddox


Just want to get some info on who you are. So, how old are you, and when were you born?

Well, I’m Clara Maddox, and I was born here in Marietta, May 12, 1926 and I’ve lived in Marietta all my life.

You’ve lived in Marietta your whole life, how has it changed since you were a young child?

Oh, drastically. (Laughs) When I was growing up, we was just just very very small, and um, there was no, we didn’t have any transportation, you walked everywhere you had to go, and um they had down in the area where I used to live, we used to call it Louisville (1), but they had um, that’s where they kept the cotton, you know. Well they had cotton, and they would bring the cotton to Marietta Square up here in town, with the music and everything. That’s where they would bring, you know, bring mules with the cotton on the wagons, and that’s where they transacted their business. I don’t know what they did with the cotton but, that’s the marketplace for cotton.

And then up there on the square was the park and they had the little, the beautiful little fish there, and it was a playground too for children but the blacks, you could walk through the park, you could look at the fish but you couldn’t play with any of them, the things they had to play with.

And so basically when I was starting school, well, schools were segregated as you know, and we, down here on Lemon Street (2), we had high school and we had the elementary school right across from it and every Friday, our principal would have each class, high school and elementary school, each Friday, we all would meet, on Friday in the chapel to have devotion, and that’s when we had prayer, and we would have little skits, plays, and we would sing, and afterwards, our principal would give a little pep talk. And what I remember so much about that, he would always say, at the end, an empty wagon makes a lot of noise. And it’s true, I found that out after I got grown and was working and I used to have a cart and I would go pick up supplies, well when I pushed the cart to pick up the supplies, the cart would make a lot of noise rolling, it would, it brought back my attention what he said, but when I filled it up with supplies and bring it back, you didn’t hear that noise, so I said that was something that I learned, just simple facts. So anything else you want to know about growing up?

What do you remember about your mom and dad or your grandparents?

Well, my mom died when I was four years old. My brother was 16 so my dad had six children so he had to raise us all, you know. So we moved and we was living across town, we called it Louisville, but my dad cousin told him if he could find a place over on this side of town, that she would come help him with us. And so I don’t remember uh, I only saw his mother once, and I never saw my mother’s mother, but her dad did live with my aunt for a while, until he passed away. So as far as being around them, I was never around my grandparents.


What was life like during the Civil Rights Movement in Marietta?

Well, it was segregated, we just couldn’t go, you could go into the stores to buy, like the drug stores, you know they used to sell banana splits that’s what all children love, but we could go in there and buy them, but you couldn’t sit down and eat, you had to um just get what you was gonna get and come out. And as I say, all the places were segregated, there were signs up on the wall for water fountains, they’d be together now, right, close together, but colored would be on one side and they’d put white on the other side, so that’s the way that was,. Then you’d have to go around to the back, to the doors, for service.

It was just, it was, that’s the way it was, but it didn’t bother us because they hadn’t started with the Civil rights thing yet, we didn’t know any better, that’s just the way life was, it really didn’t make us feel bad. But um, in our neighborhood, we lived in a neighborhood where white and blacks lived on the same street and so but we were friends and we would play with each other, go to each other’s house, and there was no strife, you know, just like some places you, well I’m not gonna say we didn’t fight, we would fight, but it was just like you know, your sisters and brothers, we’d go right back to playing together. The parents never got into it. The black parents and the white parents got along, they, they visited, we shared, whatever you had, whatever you know people used to raise gardens, they used to raise hogs, pigs, but what they would do, when one, parent would kill his hogs, he would share it with the neighbors. And when your gardens came in, that’s what we were used to, garden they would share it with each other, each other’s crops, basically, that’s how people got along, they didn’t make much money, but they shared what they had with each other, and you was able to make ends meet that way. So, the pay scale was very low for working people, I remember my daddy made six dollars (3) a week.

And um, but he maintained, he kept us going, and he maintained on a low salary all his life, until, in the 50s, when he got on at Lockheed (4), that’s when the war (5) started so it, life right back then, it was hard, but people didn’t complain, so we didn’t, we were poor but we didn’t know we were poor (laughs), because he would always tell us that we weren’t, and so I can understand, he wasn’t poor in spirit. And so naturally, we didn’t complain.

Uh huh, yeah, I could, today is so different, now people can’t do this and can’t do that but lot of it, you got to learn to do on your own, and he had good work ethic, and it made us work. (Laughs) so when he would go to work, we knew we had to feed the hogs, take care of all, the things like that, but um, and it wasn’t no laying out of school.

See my daddy when um, before he would come home our principals didn’t live too far, so he would go by the principal’s house on his way from work, and would ask if his boys was at school, and see, I found out that, if the teachers know you are interested, they’re going to look out for you, so he would tell him whether not they skipped school, so when he would come home, he would ask, did you go to school today, and so (laughs) if they said, ‘yes’, and they didn’t go, he said “well, don’t tell me that lie cause I’ve been by Mr. Woods house” and that’s the way he kept the boys in line. He had four boys, and he kept them in line by checking on them before he came home at school.

Mr. Woods (6) was our principal, see you, you couldn’t be late for school so if were late for school then you had to go home, they didn’t tolerate all that, so every morning, Mr. Woods would be standing at the door and so you come in and he’d be standing there waiting if you were late, he’ll listen to you, he’d be so nice and kind and listen to you. You tell him your little story you know, and if he believed it, then he would let you in, and if he didn’t he’d let you go home. So this one day, I got to school but I was late and um, we used to have around the side, the girl’s lavatory, so you could climb in the window and get in.

So, this day, I got smart, I thought I’d run round there, raise the window up, and get in, but they had locked the window, and I, I had so much force, till I broke the window, and cut my arm, see there’s the scar, you can barely see it now, but anyway, I was just bleeding, and Mr. Woods was at the front door, I run around and I say Mr. Woods, the reason I was late, I say I couldn’t find our key you know you used to have to lock your home with the house key, and I told him I couldn’t find our key to lock our door, so I had to get out, I locked the door on the inside and get out the window (laughs) and I cut my hand, but I ran all the way to school. He stood there, he listened, till I got through, then he smiled at me, and he said well, you may come in, and wash your arm. I knew I had it made I’m going around the hall, he was behind me, he said when you wash your arm, you can go home because you were late.

And so, I still wasn’t going home, I said I was going around to my homeroom, but he beat me to my homeroom, he knew what I was going to do, you can’t fool these teachers. I went around there, he beat me to the homeroom, and told my teacher, now, when Ms. Mays come in here, she needs to go home, because she was late. Oh I had it made, I went on to go to the homeroom, when I got there, she said Ms. Mays, Mr. Woods said you have to go home because you were late. So that broke me up, you know, you can’t get away with a lie. Not with teachers because they know what to do. But he was a very very good principal. I learned a lot from him, I learned to tell the truth. (Laughing) It will set you free, because I still made up that big lie, and had to go home still. (Laughing)

Yeah children get away with murder now.


What do you love the most about Marietta and why?

Oh, I just love Marietta because one thing I was born here and I know everybody, it’s a nice place to live, I’ve gone to visit different places but I really haven’t seen a place I’d like to live more than I like living in Marietta. The people are nice, and we all get along, and it’s just a nice place to live.

What’s provided you the greatest satisfaction in life?

Greatest satisfaction in my life? Working with my little children, I work with a little choir. And it’s really a lot of fun, and lot of pleasure too, you learn a lot from them.

School Story

When we were in school you, well you, if the teacher said for you to do something, you had to do it regardless, I don’t care what it was, she didn’t ask you any questions, she just bring something out that you were learning. So Mrs. Wilson… I was in seventh grade, so she had this poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (8), and uh, she told me to learn it and we… so that’s one thing I told you about in chapel, we had to learn things and we would do it in chapel so she taught me this poem about the watermelon. I have to stand up to do this. (clears throat) so, it goes like this:

William, William. You William? Come in to me son. What’s that in that box? Ain’t nothing but rocks, passed to me audacious particular sposing days of a new kind. Hi ya, yall’s think I’s blind, I calls that a plain watermelon and I know right where it’s from. It comes from Johnson’s corn field down by the side of the road. You stole it you rascal, you stole it. Case I watched you down by the lock, and when I gets through with you sir, you won’t then be a greasy spot. Mirandi, go fetch me a hickory. Get the biggest and toughest you can find in the field. I’ll teach you, you young sinner, to lie and steal, disgracing your old Christian mammy. Making her leave cooking dinner. They’s taking it down up yonder in red and white letters, one watermelon stolen by William Josephus Thaddeus. And what you and your brother thinking, your teacher in Sunday school would say, if he knowed you braking them golden rules? Now ain’t you shaming yourself sir? I is, I’s ashamed at you my son, and the hole reclosing angel, they’s ashamed at what you’ve done. I’s gwan to cut it right open, and you shan’t get nary a bite. Cause anybody steal a watermelon brought up in daylight, aint… Lawd, its green. Well stealing a green watermelon. Mirandi, come on here with that switch. Don’t know when they’s ripe. Well you thump um. If it goes ‘ponk’ they’s ripe. It they’s goes ‘pink’ they’s green, and that’s just what I mean. And the next time you steal a watermelon, you little Mirandi’s son, if you don’t want a licking all over, you better be sure they said ‘ponk.’

As the 60s unfolded, how did you guys react to the news of you know like MLK and different things that were happening outside of Marietta, what were your reactions to different things like the March on Washington, the sit ins, at different counters and stuff like that?

Well we were all very pleased with it, with what, we were very pleased with the sit ins, because it didn’t turn out you know, real bad, not in Marietta. We didn’t have that trouble like you did some places. Well on our street, white and black lived on the street, and so deacon mays? was the youngest, and he would babysit for him, wouldn’t charge my daddy anything, feed him, he took him in, now he (laughing) said, the lady’s name was Mrs. Evans, she had two boys, but she said, white folks love gravy, white gravy. but he said they ate two or three meals a day. He said she would sit him down with those boys and they’d have their lunches. They wouldn’t charge my daddy anything. They were just friends. And he said after they got grown, the boy he was raised up with went out and served. He was out there and saw him, and he came over and hugged him and would tell the people ‘we grew up together’. That’s what I meant; we just got along with the neighbors.

We couldn’t ride, we had to sit on, we had one seat in the back that we could sit, and at that time the white people would go back in the back and fill that seat up, and you weren’t supposed to sit beside them. This was on the Greyhound bus, because I used to be an insurance agent, and I had to go back and forth to Atlanta, and so, um, you had to stand up all the way to Marietta, I stood up all the way to Marietta, but um, finally, you know, that got better. But that’s just the way it was earlier, you could, but that was, I won’t say that was people from Marietta, because that was the Greyhound bus, that was people from everywhere. They would just go back and sit on the backseat first. But as far as Marietta’s neighborhood, we didn’t have that type of strife like that. Like racial strife. It wasn’t all bad.

Last updated: May 30, 2021

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