Joan Crawford, Arlene A. Paden, and Karen Crawford

Recorded September 3, 2005 Archived September 3, 2005 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: MBX000499



  • Joan Crawford
  • Arlene A. Paden
  • Karen Crawford


StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:00 Okay.

00:08 My name is Joan Crawford, and I am 51 years of age. Today is Saturday September 3rd 2005 and we are in Chicago, Illinois. I'm happy to be here interviewed by my two nieces my oldest niece Arlene and her sister Karen.

00:33 My name is Arlene Angela Payton. I am 45 years old and again today is September 3rd 2005. And where in Chicago, Illinois.

00:46 I'm Karen Crawford. I'm 42 years old. Today is Saturday September 3rd outside the field museum in Chicago, Illinois. I am Joan Crawford's nice and Arlene Payton's sister.

00:58 Joan now that we know who you are. Can you tell us a little bit about where your parents were born and raised both of my parents were raised in Vicksburg, Mississippi and a community called Jonestown actually my mom live outside of Jonestown on a farm, but after she married my father they both lived with his parents in Jonestown a little neighborhood in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

01:32 My day Joan Jonestown gosh, I never made that connection. No. No, I actually my mother's sister my Aunt named me. She thought it would be nice to be the feminine derivative of John which was my father's name and also would be sort of cute and funny to be named after the actress.

01:54 Do you remember any of the stories that they used to tell you about growing up in Mississippi? Yes, both of my parents were born. I believe in 1913 and so they grew up during a time when there was enforced segregation and it was the Jim Crow South. I remember my mom talking about being chased by white boys as she would walk to school and having to lie down in the fields and pray that they did not see her and I remember my dad talking about how tired he was in Walking on it unfair it seemed to him that he had to walk to school when the white kids.

02:40 Road by him on buses. It's probably one of the reasons he didn't continue in school past the eighth grade.

02:47 Did you ever visit Vicksburg when you were young? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah anything you remember specifically about those visits? Yeah, there's some specific things. I remember one is driving to Vicksburg. I don't know if I'm thinking this was before the interstates were developed entirely. And so we would take small roads or small highways and I remember once we got close to Cairo, Illinois, my father and his best friend JW who was my godfather would become very nervous and worried and they would be careful to stay within the speed limit and adhere to all of the traffic guidelines because they knew once they got to Cairo people began to harass black people for little or no reason. I remember my parents always

03:47 Picking up lunches with sandwiches and and and chicken and cookies and big thermoses of coffee and along the way I always wanted to stop and get something different to eat being a child. I'd want a hamburger or I'd want a hot dog and it was only until I was an adult that I realized one of the reasons we could not stop along the way was because of the discrimination at one point. I my pleading must've gotten to my father and and and my godfather and they they relented and decided to pull into a place to get me a hamburger and they walked to the door and the lady at the door told them they had to go to the back and again, I believe this was south of Cairo but not clearly yet into the South.

04:46 They walk to the back and she didn't appear.

04:52 And they didn't know what to do. They were about to turn away and then they heard her say ring the cowbell and they looked up and there was a cowbell. So despite the fact that she knew they were there. She humiliated them by insisting that they ring the cowbell and again later in life. I realized how much my father and God father must have loved me to have gone to that extreme to get me a hamburger.

05:23 Don't I don't think we establish where you grew up I grew up in Chicago born and raised in Chicago.

05:33 And did your parents at all prepare you for your trips down to Mississippi?

05:38 Yes, they did. But I think they prepared my brother even more. My brother Eddie is three years younger than I am and in the early sixties, I distinctly remember I think I was maybe eight or nine and he was six or seven.

05:58 And they sat him down and told him all they told both of us, you know, we're going to visit our grandparents and how things were different in Mississippi and that we needed to be extra careful. They especially told him that he wasn't to look at white women. This was even though this was some years after Emmett Till's murder. It was still in the Forefront in and of course to this very day and the minds of people so they they cautioned him to do not look not to look white people in the eye.

06:37 They told us that when we got on the bus we needed to go straight to the back and sit down.

06:45 Are you afraid surprisingly? I wasn't afraid you don't children see things differently. And at that time I was probably more afraid of my grandfather Mr. A lie who happened to be blind and when you would visit him he would like he would feel your face and to determine who you were and that to me as a child was frightening. So actually the race situation was in the background of my mind visiting my grandfather who also had a penchant for telling the most scary ghost stories. That's what fear was more fearful to me than anything else.

07:40 But

07:42 I remember.

07:45 My cousins they were maybe a little older than my brother and I were they in Mississippi they decided to take us to the movie.

07:54 And we were very very excited. We were going to see King Kong versus Godzilla and my brother and I remembered our instructions. We stood on the corner waiting for the bus. And as soon as the bus came we walk straight to the back things were fine. We got to the theater and again in my excitement to see this movie. I immediately ran to the front of the theater.

08:26 And my cousin

08:28 I could see her panicking. She grabbed my arm, and then she scolded me and said, what are you doing?

08:36 My parents hadn't prepared me for the fact that I needed to go to the back of the theater to enter and so I stood in line in the back a little confused but nonetheless excited about seeing the movie.

08:50 What hurt me more than anything else was the fact that once we got into the theater?

08:58 We had to sit in the balcony which I start a light because in Chicago, I always want to sit in the balcony and my parents never would let me sit in the balcony. But what bothered me more than anything else was that they they wouldn't sell buttered popcorn to us.

09:14 The black children who were in The Balcony could only buy stale boxed popcorn.

09:22 I could not understand that that that was so hurting to me my brother remembers that you can only buy Good and Plenty of all the candy that was available there.

09:36 Black children could only buy Good and Plenty.

09:40 What do you think about Mississippi?

09:44 Back then or today.

09:46 Both. Oh gosh, what do I think about, Mississippi?

09:53 Rich in stories

09:56 Stories of those who survived

10:01 Stories of those who prove to be heroes and stories of those who silently suffered

10:13 And

10:15 Even to this day, you know with the hurricane and all its when people are under pressure whether it is the laws of segregation or it's The Misfortune of nature.

10:29 That we are challenged to be who God calls us to be.

10:35 And unfortunately, unfortunately in American history often times that is seeing in the lives in the stories of people in Mississippi.

10:48 I like going to Mississippi now. I like visiting my relatives.

10:53 I'm not a big Casino person. But I like the fact that they have casinos there and that their economy has turned around and I know my father and my god father would be so proud of the progress Mississippi has made. What was your cousin's name who pulled you back from the movie theater and you going to the front?

11:15 It was either doll or birdie. I think it was birdie because later that summer birdie came up to Chicago and spent several weeks with us. Did you go to the movies with her in Chicago? No, the big treat wants folks from the south came to Chicago was to ride on the owl so he took a ride on the out.

11:35 Okay, did I ever talk to you about the differences that they saw when they came to visit Chicago?

11:44 I think back then again. We're talkin close to fifty years ago. The economic development was so different. They were a lot more dirt roads where they lived they were all black cities and towns in Chicago. They were able to see

12:06 African Americans who had beautiful homes and had really made a success.

12:13 For themselves

12:15 But of course things have changed and a my cousin's who saw that 4050 years ago are all very successful professional people now too and some of them have chosen to remain in the south.

12:32 Joan do you have children? Yes, I have three daughters.

12:37 Season

12:39 Who's going to be 28 Carson? Who's 25 and Mariah? Who is 20? Have you taken them to Mississippi? The first time I took my children to Mississippi was two years ago for our family reunions. It was the Crawford Family reunions the first Crawford Family reunions, and I was able to take season and Mariah the biggest thing they remember is that it was very hot. And it was the funny thing was it was prior to my mother passing away. And when we told her about the family reunions in Mississippi and how we were going she said what why would you want to go there? It's too hot.

13:21 They say anything about their experiences during the family reunions my girls.

13:27 I think they were surprised that they had.

13:31 So much in common with all their cousins and their relatives, I think that's probably what most young people find when they go to a family reunions for the first time and meet cousin said they've never seen before they liked it so much that they they season return the second year.

13:52 Don't even mention your parents, but I don't think you've mentioned them by name you want to tell us their names? Sure Eddie Mae Garrett Crawford and John Lee Sullivan Crawford. I'd also like to mention their two sons my two older brothers Howard Lee Crawford and Darnell Crawford.

14:20 When they discuss why they wanted to leave, Mississippi. Do you remember what their comments were my parents? Oh, yeah, because it was they didn't want their children to my brothers Dawn and Howard to have to face the hardships and the Discrimination that they were facing my parents both. They owned a small Cafe and Vicksburg and I remember my brother Darnell telling me that in preparation for the 4th of July. My father had saved quite a bit of money and was able to go out and purchase liquor for the celebration many people in the town would come to their Cafe.

15:10 And when he drove up to the cafe with

15:15 The items he had brought. I don't know if it was.

15:21 The white Sheriff but some prominent white man came and and busted all of the bottles of liquor.

15:30 And Darnell was in the doorway watching this.

15:35 And his eyes Met My Father's Eyes. So he says and I think for my father that probably may have been the turning point that he did not want his sons to go through.

15:50 That humiliation and hardship so shortly after they my parents made the decision to come to Chicago.

16:01 And they were all able to move as a family. No now I believe my mother gets a little hazy here. I believe my mother came first my Dad served in World War II and I believe shortly before he returned or shortly after he returned. They made that move. She first came to Detroit worked as a domestic and later came to Chicago. They left their children, Don and Howard with my father's parents.

16:36 And after they were able to find housing which they said was very difficult back then where they able to bring them up.

16:46 Is there anything you've never told anyone before that you'd like to say now?

16:53 The most important thing I wanted to say. I think I've already said I wanted most importantly to relay the story about how Mississippi discrimination might've look to a young child who was not allowed to buy her favorite treat and who had no idea of what what that truly meant to the people who live there constantly and the other thing I I'd like to say when I went sometimes when I tell these stories to young black people now they say well I wouldn't have taken that. I would have laughed if I would have did this or I would have done that.

17:33 And I realize that the nonviolent resistance that my parents demonstrated and so many other African-Americans was what gave them the strength to persevere and it gave them the ability to survive and most importantly for their children and their grandchildren to survive and to function in the society. I'm so thankful that they were able to keep their heads held high and not resort to the same hatred that was being exhibited towards them.

18:15 Very good. Is there anything you wanted to ask us?

18:19 Is there anything that you wanted to know about me that you haven't asked before?

18:24 Or about you

18:26 Dad are your grandparents?

18:31 You mentioned mr. A lie told a lot of stories. You never mentioned your grandmother. Who was she miss Berta. She didn't like because grandma or Nana or any of those things. She like to be called and I think Eddie and I were the only ones that called her grandma and it always sort of took her by surprise. But yes, she she always seemed to be in the background. I remember my grandfather more than I remember her.

19:01 Okay.

19:04 Thank you. Thank you.