Friday, February 6, 2015

Growing up Black in Junction City



In 2007 Mike Heronemus, then Managing Editor of the DU and now a member of GCHS Board, interviewed 5 local African-Americans about what life was like growing up in Junction City. In honor of Black History Month we’re going to share their stories with you again in a three part feature.
Part I
Growing up in Junction City through the mid-20th century in just about all aspects of life in this "melting pot," community of about 19,000 people.
Five long-time residents of Junction City gathered February 23, 2007, to talk about their lives, segregation, integration, and changes for the better they've seen materialize in the town that prospered beside one of the Army's enduring installations—Fort Riley, home of the Big Red One.
Geraldine, "Jerry" Turner came to Junction City in the mid-1930s and enrolled in the fourth grade. Her father had been offered a job as chef, cook, and pastry man at the Bartell House, a famous establishment on the corner of North Washington and Sixth Streets.
"He was in charge of the kitchen and did the hiring in the kitchen," and moved his family from Newton, Kansas to take the job. "My mother also worked at the Bartell. There were a lot of memories there," she said about seeing the historic hotel being remodeled for a new life in the 21st century.
Joyce Peoples came to town from Abilene, Kansas a little later—1944—as a freshman in high school. Her family moved to Junction City to be nearer her aunt and uncle, who was pastor at Second Missionary Baptist Church.
Her sister, and later her mother, got jobs at Fort Riley, and her mother remarried to "a 9th Cavalry man," Joyce said. She also married a soldier and spent some time stationed in Babenhausen, Germany, before returning to Fort Riley for good.
The Army sent Lee Gates to Fort Riley. He was born and raised in Arkansas and took care of his mother until she died. He was 18 at that time, so he enlisted and came to the Junction City area in January 1941.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, "I was in for the duration,"" Lee said. He eventually shipped overseas for a while, guarded an ammunition bunker in the German mountains near one of Hitler's former headquarters. He returned to Fort Riley in 1945 and was mustered out at Fort Leavenworth a short time later.
Lee decided to stay. He got work at Fort Riley running a snowplow, mowers and dozers, "just whatever they needed done," he recalled. While Lee worked on post, he raised a family with four daughters in Junction City. "They were all born in the hospital at the end of Jefferson Street (at the intersection of Ash Street)," he said.
Minnie Boyd was born was born at Fort Riley in 1928, while her father was stationed there. "We (Minnie and her only sister) came into town to go to school," she said.
After graduating, Minnie attended teacher's college in Emporia and, from there, went to Kansas City to teach. She later married a soldier and moved around the States and spent time in Germany, even teaching in a Department of Defense school, before returning to Junction City in 1965.
Gilbert Hammond's family claims the distinction of being one of the first black families in Junction City. The family's history stretches back to Alex Johnson who came to Junction City shortly after being freed of his slavery by the Civil War.
The family has been prominent in the town's history, even earning the distinction of having a city proclamation making July 29, 1984, "Hammond Family Recognition Day."
Jerry recalled many times she and other young black children would lie on the floor and listen to the slave stories her grandmother, Hanna Johnson, would tell.
"My grandmother was real strict," Joyce recalled. "She made you say, 'Yes, Ma'am' and 'No Ma'am, but she'd get down on the floor and play marbles with the boys. She could jump rope. She was always very active."
Fort Riley and military life played big roles in the lives of most the people talking about their lives in Junction City. Jerry couldn't relate personality to those experiences. "We were strictly civilians. None of our family was in the service," she said.
Joyce worked at Fort Riley for 36 years, retiring in 2002 from her job in finance. She had started working on post at the Post Exchange, then moved into civil service when the opportunity presented itself.
Fort Riley was a fruit, Jerry recalled, the local blacks right out of high school and wanting work tried to pluck. "Actually Fort Riley was the only place you could get a decent job," she said. Minnie said her experience at Fort Riley was unpleasant. "I went to Fort Riley to get a stenographer's job, but at that time they weren’t hiring blacks (for that kind of work). They gave me an appointment to Washington D.C., to keep from hiring me here. I couldn't go to Washington D.C.," she said, and so gave up on trying to get a civil service job.

The story continues next week with part II.
Bartell House, circa 1940. Jerry Turner’s father was the chef and pastry man at the Bartell in the mid-thirties; her mother was employed there as well.