An Interview with Preston Mosley
Townsville, NC (circa 1950s)
Interviewer: Thomasina Jefferson, December 8, 1998
The South in the mid 1900's was a difficult place to be for someone who aspired to be upwardly mobile, especially for someone who was an African American. Preston Mosley grew up in rural Vance County in North Carolina and later migrated to the North in search of a better way of life. He shares with us here his childhood years through the years when he married and moved North.
Preston Mosley was born the second child of four, on November 24, 1924 in a tenant house on the Hunts Plantation in the Townsville Community (Vance County, North Carolina). His family moved to the Williamsboro Community on the Thomas Road when he was five years old. This remained his home until he left for New Jersey in 1953 to make a better living for his family. He remained in New Jersey for thirty-nine years returning home to live only after he retired, to enjoy the rest of his years in the South.
Q: Did you know your grandparents and where did they come from?
A: Yeah, I knew 'em, they came from Mecklenburg County, Virginia.
Q: What did they do for a living?
A: They farmed.
Q: Were they educated?
A: No, not in school; my grandpa taught hisself to read and write somewhat.
Q: Where did your parents come from?
A: They were from Vance County, right here.
Q: How many members were in your family?
A: Six counting myself.
Q: Did any relatives live with your family?
A: Yeah, we had some of Aunt Bett's bunch living with us. Four of my cousins.
Q: How many rooms did your house have?
A: Let's see, it had four rooms.
Q: Did any relatives live close to you?
A: Yeah, Uncle Tom Mosley lived across the hill from us.
Q: Would you say that your family was a "close-knit" family?
A: Yeah, we were very close. Looked out for one another.
Q: What religion was your family?
A: Christian religion.
Q: Did your family attend church and what church?
A: Yeah, we attended Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Q: How far was the church and how did you get there?
A: About two miles from us. We had to walk, did not have any other choice back then. Wasn't like now, you see.
Q: What can you remember about the appearance of the church?
A: Just a small church with only a few graves then.
Q: What did your parents do for a living?
A: They farmed cotton and tobacco.
Q: Did they grow their own food?
A: Yeah, they growed grain, wheat, corn, all vegetables, raised chickens and hogs.
Q: Did they have to buy any food?
A: Only coffee and sugar.
Q: Where did they buy this food?
A: From the Williamsboro Store.
Q: How far away was the store and how did you get there?
A: Maybe about two or three miles away, and you walked there too.
Q: Did your family have credit at the store?
A: Yeah, uh huh.
Q: What kinds of food or items did you family have to credit and how much were they?
A: They credited sugar and coffee and whatever else they needed. They won't much, cause back then prices were cheap, didn't hardly have much money.
Q: Were there any ranges, refrigerators and things like that during this time.
A: Nah, they came later.
Q: How old were you when you were given chores or made to work at home?
A: I started round seven years old.
Q: What kind of work did you do at that age?
A: I plowed and dragged.
Q: Did you attend the Williamsboro School?
Q: How far away as the school?
A: Uh, about three miles or so.
Q: How did you get there?
A: Had to walk or didn't go.
Q: What grade did you go through in school?
A: Fifth grade.
Q: Did many children attend the school?
A: Yeah, right many.
Q: How far did they go in school?
A: Well, a lot of them finished seven grades. You know then when you went through seven grades, you finished.
Q: I understand you played baseball in your teen years. How was it for you and other black males during this time as far as segregation was concerned?
A: Was a little rough on us, you had to ask for the "colored settlement" in towns when we went to play. See you had to stay and eat in the colored section then.
Q: Were the teams segregated in baseball also?
A: Sure they were; you had your black team and your white team.
Q: Did the blacks play against the whites?
A: Yeah, an whipped ‘em too.
Q: Were there any problems after these games?
A: No, no problems.
Q: Were you old enough to play ball when Jackie Robinson made the Major League?
A: Yeah, matter fact I was playin’ at Peterson Park in Danville, Virginia round the time we heard about it.
Q: Did this inspire you in any way?
A: Yeah, I was happy, and it made me a better ball player.
Q: Were there any blacks recognized for their performance in baseball?
A: Some of them were recognized.
Q: Were you recognized?
A: Uh huh, I played pro ball for Carolina Tigers and Durham Eagles-the American Association of Minor League, and was good too.
Q: What was the typical age when boys and girls would leave home or marry?
A: Well, they were different ages. A lot of them didn't even know their age, they didn't have birth certificate you know.
Q: How old were you when you were married and left home?
Q: How many children did you have?
A: Had three.
Q: Where did you work at before moving to New Jersey? Was it the mine?
A: Yeah, tungsten mine, and I drove trucks for the truck company.
Q: Did most men in the community work at the mine?
A: Nah, most miners came from other areas around. Most men in this area was farming.
Q: How much money did you make during these times?
A: I made eighty-seven cents an hour at the mine and one dollar an ten cents an hour driving trucks; it was good money then.
Q: Did you or anyone in your family go to fight in World War II?
A: My brother went.
Q: Did if affect the family?
A: Sort of it did. I had to move back home to help out on the farm; he was helping her.
Q: What really inspired you to move North, to leave home and go to New Jersey?
A: Well I wanted to better my condition, find better jobs.
Q: How was life in the North different from that in the South?
A: It was good, not much prejudices that you saw. You saw black and white together everywhere you went like eating places and things, won't separate like here.
Q: What jobs did you have in the North?
A: Worked for one year at the Charms Candy Company, the Floor Wax Company for seven years, Cable Company for two years, Knox Hotel for two years, the Bakery Company for eighteen years and my last job was with the Catholic Church for nine years. Out of all of ‘em, the Catholic Church was my favorite, the folk were so nice, but all of em paid well.
Q: Did many people move North in search of better jobs and opportunities?
A: Yeah, right many did so.
Q: Did your family move North with you?
A: Nah, my wife came couple of months later and children stayed here with my brother and his wife, your moma and daddy, 'till they finished high school, then they came. Course Pudden didn't come 'till she finished college, ‘cept to visit.
Q: Was it unusual for individuals to move North and leave their families behind?
A: No, not at all some would go back and forth when they left their family here.
Q: Did you visit home or come home much?
A: Oh yeah, rights much, especially holidays.
Q: Were there any restaurants and public places segregated in your community or neighborhood in New Jersey?
A: Nah, mostly in the South was it like that. Everything changed after the Washington area. There were some prejudices but not like it was here in the South.
Q: Were your trips home or traveling affected by segregation laws?
A: Yeah, traveling on buses and trains, blacks had to sit together in the back and the white sat in the front. If you drove, you stopped at only certain places on the road especially after Washington.
Q: Did a lot of people participate in boycotts and marches?
A: Some did, right many of ‘em.
Q: Describe how you felt when the Voting Rights Act passed? What did it mean to you?
A: Meant a lot to me that I had the right to vote, never could do it before, and felt real good.
Q: Were Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and other important figures talked about a lot during these times?
A: Yes Lord, they thought they were smart, great people, thought the world of em.
Q: Do you remember any civil unrest in your community or neighborhood during this time?
A: Oh Yeah, when King and Kennedy were assassinated. People tore up Newark and a lot of the other cities like Baltimore and had started on Washington. They had blackouts and everything going on. People was raiding and looting and some people were killed.
Q: Would you say that things have changed any in the South since the days when you lived in the South?
A: Yeah, a lot of changes; now you can sit down in the same restaurants and eat, you can go the same bathrooms and work the same jobs; not before though.
Q: Would you say that the nation as a whole has changed drastically since the end of segregation and Jim Crow Laws?
A: Sure it has. You didn't have a black mailman in this part of the country. You had separate hospitals, no black bus drivers for Greyhound. Yes Lord, it's changed, and thank God it has.
Q: Do you consider it to be a very important time in your life when segregation and Jim Crow Laws ended?
A: Yeah. It was a "rememberable" thing. I remember the restaurants in Henderson that you could order food but couldn't eat in. I remember when you did work for a white person, you had to go into the house through the back door and you had to say "yes sir" or "yes ma’m" and "fer" to them as "Mr. So and So" or "Mrs. So and So."