PRIMARY DOCUMENT

Fulton Oral History Project

CONTEXT

In these excerpts from an interview conducted in 2012 by Caroline Morris for the Historic Fulton Oral History Project, Linda Braxton, Pamala Rogers, and Sheila Smith recall what it was like living in Richmond’s Fulton Bottom neighborhood before it was razed under urban renewal and the effects of redevelopment on the community.

FULL TEXT

CM: Alright, well let me–. There’s something all three of you have touched on that I would like to just throw it out and talk about some more which is that you’re all talking about a neighborhood where everyone knew who you were which now is fairly unusual so let me ask you, what was it like then specifically growing up in a neighborhood where everyone knew who you were?

LB: Well [clears throat], excuse me. At night, especially because during the summer I used to love to sit on the porch just about all night long and people would come from down Rockies and come up in the field, you know, usually they’ll be going to Frozen Delight or they’ll be going to get some crabs from Mr. Baker or they might be going to the Bel-Air Social Club or they might be going, you know, a little earlier than that, they might have been going to the playground, you know. And they see you sitting on the porch, they’ll wave, you know. No one would bother you. You can lea–. I remember leaving the back door open. The screen would be locked but the door would be open all

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night long, you know. No problems. It was just a loving neighborhood. Yes, and, you know, I also remember the guys, you know, they would be, used to have a football, no, a baseball team, softball team down there. And then the guys, you know, they would–. Some of the guys from Church Hill or the girls from Church Hill would come down and mingle or try to mingle with the guys from Fulton and we weren’t having it, you know.

All: [Laughter]

CM: Why not?

LB: They were Fulton guys. And the girls, they were from Church Hill so that by itself was a conflict, you know. Mmmhmm.

CM: Sounds territorial.

PR: Yeah [laughs].

LB: Mmmhmm. It was, you know [laughs]! But it was fun, yeah. You know, it was fun, yeah. And, you know, I also remember, at my house where I lived, we used to have a grapevine. And we had a peach tree. And my grandmother, great-grandmother used to make wine.

CM: Mmmhmm.

LB: And had about four or five jugs of peach wine and you talking about good? It was delicious. It knocked your socks off. It was delicious.

[Whispering]

CM: [Laughs]

LB: Oh, I used to taste it every now and again.

All: [Laughter]

LB: Yes I did, I used to taste every now and then. I remember we had a hurricane one year and it was Hurricane Hazel.

CM: Mmmhmm.

LB: The one that–. That was the first one that I remember. And we used to have a weeping willow tree. And I would stand upstair, stand upstairs in the back door and I saw the wind just take the tree from out the ground and lay it over the fence, you know, the roots and everything. Yeah, and I was sad because I enjoyed, you know, just enjoyed the tree. And we would have little parties every now and then out in the yard, you know. And that was fun. And my cousin Brenda, we would–. We grew up in the same house. When we were little we got along but as we got older, you know, it came to be conflict, you know. Yes but that’s the way it was. That’s the way it was. I grew up with my cousin Brenda, my aunt Lucille which was her mother, her father, Brenda’s father Benjamin Brown and my great-grandmother Rosa Banks, my grandmother Kathleen Braxton and they had a tenant, a man that would rent a room. His name was William Watkins. And my great-grandmother’s brother, Willie Whiting, he had came to live with us for a while before he passed. And we really had a house full, you know, a house full.

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CM: Mmm.

LB: You know, and my sister would come up every now and then or I would go down to her house, you know, uh huh.

CM: So it sounds like you had people all over Fulton.

LB: Yes, yes. And the neighborhood, the neighbors, you know, I stayed at Miss Louise White. I would stay up her house more than I did my own house, you know, because she had a big family and I loved that big family, you know, relationship. And because I remember one of the girls saying, “Well, why she don’t stay at home sometime?” You know, but I didn’t pay it any mind, you know, I just went on up there anyway because I really enjoyed the family. Yes, and it was the Robinsons that used to live two doors from us. Odell Robinson and Miss Bernice White used to live on the corner. And this other lady, Miss Sis White, she used to live kind of in the middle of the block.

CM: Mmmhmm.

LB: And I remember going upstairs in my aunt’s apartment and looking out the front window and this day I saw Miss Sis White in the yard and I would peep up, “Hey, Sis White!”, you know, and I’d duck down, you know. And she kept on looking until she caught me and then she told my grandmamma and that was the end of that, you know.

CM: [Laughs]

LB: Yes, it was. Yes, it was. But it–. You know, I was a child.

CM: Yeah.

LB: You know, and I did childish things. And I enjoyed my childhood as much as I could. Yes.

CM: [Laughs] Well, Miss Rogers, let me ask you. What was it like growing up in a neighborhood where everybody knew who you were? And you knew everyone else?

PR: Well, like my sister Linda said, it was just fun. It was like, we, I guess we thought you know how people thought–. I guess we thought we were rich and we had it all. You know, like living in Fulton as children, you know, because, you know, we had food, we had somewhere to live, we had clothes, I mean I guess we thought we were rich. We were rich and happy, you know, like , not living out way out in these expensive places that they have now but down in Fulton, growing up in Fulton I think everybody, every child that grew up in Fulton felt rich and happy. And that’s one of the main things that, like, the kids now, like, when they, I mean, tore down our Fulton, people moved back, they didn’t have it. It’s still Fulton but they didn’t have it like we had it because we were family. And like I said, I think we felt like we were rich when we were growing up in Fulton. And after the age of 14, like I said, after the tanks caught on fire? I think I moved on Denny Street and I lived on Denny Street from maybe 14 until I remember 18. Growing up on Denny Street and we had–. Most people in Fulton went to Armstrong High School and we went to East End Middle School. I went to East End and I went to Armstrong but I wanted to take a trade so I had to, I changed schools and went to Maggie L. Walker.

CM: Mmmhmm.

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PR: You know, and I was like the only one from Fulton in my age that I remember that went to Maggie L. Walker but the good part of that was I had friends from Maggie L. Walker and I had the same set of friends from Armstrong, you know, and on an age limit and I think that was nice because I took, I took dressmaking when I couldn’t–. I took dressmaking at Walker whereas I couldn’t take it at Armstrong because Walker was like you could take a trade at Maggie Walker.

CM: Mmmhmm.

PR: So that was good. And then another good thing about Fulton, like–. We had, you know, organizations like the Girl Scouts. I think Miss Sheila Smith was in the Girl Scouts and I played softball at, what’s that, what’s the name of that–?

LB: Bethlehem Center.

PR: Yeah, Bethlehem Center. I played softball at Bethlehem Center. So it was just always something for us to do, you know. And like I said, it was, it was great living in Fulton. And one other thing, after I graduated I think I might have moved, I got a job and I worked at a cigar plant on Main Street. And ( ) that was my first job, I think. The tobacco was so strong! You couldn’t even stay in there. You had to take maybe a sour pickle and put it in your mouth and try to suck on it to try to not make your mind not think about that tobacco, it’s very, very strong. And I might have stayed there two years. And then they had this factory right on Hull Street ( ) across the 14th Street bridge called Freeman and Marks. And I worked in there, like, maybe 19. I didn’t stay at that tobacco company maybe about a year or two, that was too strong. But then when I got to Freeman and Marks I thought I was like, climbing the corporate ladder. In the summertime you had to sew and the wool–. You had to sew wool material in the summertime and they had wool bugs, right? And the wool bugs would tear up your legs. So I didn’t stay in that long, you know, but–. Back to Fulton, I think I lived from Lewis Street. That’s when they started tearing, started tearing, started tearing some of Fulton down. I think they tore the Lewis Street Apartments down. Or–. But it wasn’t like all of Fulton. I might have moved to south side and maybe after I moved to south side, do you think they started tearing down? They started tearing down sometime in–.

SS: Okay, they started, when they started coming through it was in the seventies.

PR: Okay, the seventies, okay.

CM: Early seventies.

PR: Okay, well yeah, that’s when I might have moved to south side for two years. But back to Fulton, I wouldn’t give anything for it. If they could have kept, like, tore a row of houses and build a row of houses I think the same Fultoners would be down here today. But the way that they did it, it was unfortunate that a lot of people left and once they got relocated, you know, they, some of us came back but I came back to south side from south side as soon as they started building. But great, great, great place to live.

CM: And I want to come back to a lot of the things you’re raising here about urban renewal. Miss Smith, is there anything you’d like to add to what it was like growing up in a neighborhood where everyone knew everybody?

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SS: Well, I always–. To me it was just a fun place. And as she said, you had everything there. We had a furniture store, a furniture store, a funeral parlor. And numerous churches.

CM: So did you leave Fulton to do shopping or anything or did you spend most of your time in Fulton?

SS: We had two department stores. I used to buy my US Keds, red tennis shoes.

LB: [Laughs]

SS: Three dollars and fifty cent.

CM: Mmm.

SS: And your Wrangler jeans, they were very cheap. Mmmhmm. And they had–. Remember the ( ) called perfume for women?

[Laughter]

LB: I don’t remember that.

PR: Good smelling perfume, good smelling perfume.

SS: Ten cent a bottle. Very good.

CM: So it sounds like a self-sufficient community.

SS: Yes it was.

CM: Got everything you needed.

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CM: Alright, so let me ask you–. Let’s–. I want to move the conversation a little bit to talk about this urban renewal process that Miss Rogers has already touched on a little bit. The urban renewal process, as I understand it, started coming down the pipeline in the late 1960’s. People started talking. It started with talk. So I want to ask, what was your understanding of it? Of what this revitalization would be before it started? Were you part of any of those conversations or hearing it at the dinner table or anything?

LB: Well, with me I would hear, you know, people talking about, well, in my house, you know, that they are coming in going to tear Fulton down and, you know, we got to move and I really kind of thought about it maybe a minute or two, you know. Because it wasn’t something I was grasping at the time. And then as time went by then I saw my grandmother and her sister, you know, just trying to make plans, “Well, where we going?” and this, that and the other and them thinking, you know, “How are we going to do this?” You know. And, “where are we going to go?” and, “what about everybody else?” You know, and, “Where they going to go?” and the people that you grew up with, you know. You might not see them anymore once everything is gone, you know. And it bothered me to a certain extent. But it was something that I had no control over. So, and I really left it to my grandmother and her son which, you know, they took care of that part of it, of my life.

CM: Mmmhmm.

LB: Really.

CM: Did they own their own home? The home you lived in?

LB: Well, this is the home now.

CM: Mmmhmm.

LB: Yeah, my grandmother, she bought it, she bought it from, I guess, the money that was given. You know, from the, from the redevelopment.

CM: So she owned her own home in Fulton.

LB: Well, yeah, the house that we lived, the house that we lived in in Fulton, I think it was eighty-something years old when we moved out.

CM: And so she used the grant money they gave to purchase this house?

LB: Yes, her and her sister, her sister, because it was–. Her sister was upstairs and she was downstairs and it was–. The upstairs had everything that the downstairs had.

CM: Mmmhmm.

LB: Yes, so it was like a two-family house. So when we moved, all of us moved together. Here.

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PR: And that particular house, you know, if they had–. Like we said, if they hadn’t torn down Fulton?

CM: Mmmhmm.

PR: Renovating that house, it was a beautiful house. So, you know, that’s why a lot of people didn’t want them to tear down Ful–. Maybe some of the bad houses or, you know, the houses that, you know, it would be better to rebuild?

CM: Mmmhmm.

PR: But it was a lot of beautiful houses in Fulton that they could have built around.

CM: Mmmhmm.

PR: And I guess that’s why we were like really in awes when they finally decide to tear Fulton down.

CM: So, in the beginning did you think they were going to tear down your family’s house or did you–?

LB: They had–. Excuse me. They had been talking about it for so long, you know, and you never really seen, you know, anything taking place. So, you kind of pushed it aside. Yeah, absolutely.

CM: What about you, Miss Smith? Were you part of any of the conversations leading up to it or–?

SS: No, I just went along with what my family decided to do. And our house was a family home.

CM: Mmmhmm.

SS: And I couldn’t, I just couldn’t understand. I said, how hard it would be to leave a house that’s already paid for. And to get another house and you going to have a house note.

CM: Mmmhmm.

SS: And that’s just it. You know, it was just scary.

CM: Mmmhmm.

SS: But, you know, it worked out. It really worked out. And by being a family house and by them having my mother having other sisters and brothers, you know, everybody want their part. You know, I want my part of the house, you know. But in order to get that grant that was given, you had to relocate.

CM: Mmm.

SS: So, it cut them short in a way. But it was, to me it was a little scary. I said “Oh my goodness, how e going to–.A house note? What is a house note?”

LB: Yeah.

SS: [Laughs] You know! It’s kind of scary!

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LB: Uh, huh.

SS: But you know, everybody in the house was working, you know, so we managed.

CM: But you did–. When you moved you had to take on a mortgage? You couldn’t–. You know, RHA didn’t give a big enough grant–.

PR: ( )

CM: Right. Okay, so you went from having a house that was paid off, you owned it, to having a house you needed to make a payment on.

LB: Yeah.

PR: Now, I think the payment was, like, $200. You know, I said, “Oh…”–. Back then I said, “Oh my goodness, how we gonna make that payment.” But we did. ( ).

CM: So as you watched what unfolded in Fulton as they, you know, brought in the bulldozers and whatnot, how did you feel about it? This was supposed to be a revitalization project.

PR: I never actually saw them tear down anything. I never saw them–. All I can remember, vacant houses. You know, one time it just looked like a ghost town.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Morris, Caroline. Fulton Oral History Project. (2024, May 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/primary-documents/fulton-oral-history-project.
MLA Citation:
Morris, Caroline. "Fulton Oral History Project" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (23 May. 2024). Web. 11 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 23
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