02 – Neighborhoods Chorus

“But when them streetlights came on, you could be blocks away, and you’d hear your name, and you knew that was the time.”


This is part 2 of a 5-part series, Chorus of Voices: Retelling Northwest Indiana History. Several of the original interviews were recorded in partnership with StoryCorps: www.storycorps.org

Part 1: Migration

Part 3: Flight Paths

Part 4: Impact

Part 5: Thinking Regionally

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Transcript for Neighborhoods Chorus

The neighborhood was a bunch of cookie cutter, two bedroom, Cape Cod houses. For blocks and blocks around there. Little bungalows, little houses. It was very ethnic; it was all white. All white people, 100% white people.

There was very, very, very little housing for black folks. There were significant redlining practices that would work itself out in terms, usually, of obviously somebody of color wanting to get a mortgage in a white community and not being allowed to do so.  

Being in Gary at that time, it was an all black community. It was also a community that was very well intertwined. In those days, everybody was Mr. or Mrs. or Grandma This and Grandpa That. They were just neighbors, but we presented ourselves and talked to them with respect like that.

I got to see doctors, lawyers, dentists, architects in my neighborhood. So I knew that if I grew up and this is what I wanted to be, I saw an example of it.  

Nobody had any money. This wasn’t doctor, lawyer, that kind of a neighborhood. These guys… where the fathers were steelworkers. It was very working class; everybody’s parents made about the same amount of money. Lot of home cooked food. We didn’t go out that much. We didn’t have a refrigerator back then. You had a icebox, and I can remember eating beans three days in a row.

Five kids, two adults, two bedroom house, one bathroom. There were four adult families in my household, so I know what it’s like to sleep seven deep. Mom and Dad slept in the living room on a pull out couch, my grandparents stayed in one of the bedrooms, and the four of us girls stayed in the other bedroom.

Get up.

Get up.

Sweep up.

Feed the chickens.

One of my brothers would mop.

Get the eggs.

My sisters would dust.

Slop the hogs.

If it was Saturday or Friday, we’d have to wash the windows.

We had dogs, of course, so you had to feed the dogs.

Once you finished your chores, you could go out to play, but finish your chores first.

During the summer, we got up, ate breakfast, went outside, ran the streets till we were hungry, came home, had lunch, went back out.

It wouldn’t be unusual for a friend of my brother’s to come in the house and say, “Hey, what’s going on? Hi, Mrs. O,” look in the fridge see if there’s a little snack, you know, help yourself. That was all normal operating procedure.

You know, if my parents weren’t there, the next door neighbors were like my surrogate parents or my surrogate grandparents. It was a time when the neighbor’s mother wasn’t shy about telling you if you did something wrong. We was disciplined by everyone. If I did it with my neighbor, then that neighbor parent got a chance to correct both of us if we was wrong. And then my mother would say that, too, “If you did it with them, then you deserve the punishment with them.” Getting in trouble really was kept at a minimum for us kids because all eyes were watching no matter where you went. And it was a great feeling; it was a very secure feeling to know everybody in your neighborhood.

We would play out in the street quite a bit. Play baseball out there, and the curbs were kind of the defining point, it was kind of narrow, so you had to hit the ball out at the center field all the time. We had sports: basketball, baseball, biking. We rode miles away from the neighborhood and didn’t have to worry about anything. We’d go over the back of the school and play in the dunes and come back with our socks full of sand.

But when them streetlights came on, you could be blocks away, and you’d hear your name, and you knew that was the time that, “Hey, I need to get home” and your friends did, too, so you could see us all flying home on our bikes ‘cause we knew those street lights come on, we had to be in the house. There was sometimes the alarm, and the alarm was the voice of a parent calling down the block, and you heard that name, and you’d say, “Pat, your momma calling you!” “Benita, your momma calling you!” And you knew to head for home.