Humor, family helped defuse racial tensions
Racial tensions coursed through the veins of larger cities during the 1950s and 60s, but not so in Pocahontas County. Although black communities had separate schools and churches, black and white families were often neighbors, and good neighbors at that.
Pocahontas County native Gloria Boggs Thompson remembers growing up in Brownsburg, one of the many black communities in the county.
ﾓBeing up in Brownsburg, most of the people were farmers and so my dad and them worked on different farms and helped the families,ﾔ she said. ﾓNot only the black families, but the white families, too.ﾔ
Although they worked together on the farm, when they came into town, segregation was enforced.
ﾓWhen it came to going to restaurants and so forth, that was a different story,ﾔ Thompson said. ﾓWe had to go in and take our food out to eat it.ﾔ
For some, it was hard to understand why it was okay to work together in the fields on a neighborﾒs farm, but it wasnﾒt okay to eat in a restaurant together. But, Thompson said she just went with the flow and didnﾒt let it bother her.
ﾓIt was something that you knew you couldnﾒt do, so you paid attention to it, but you went ahead and lived,ﾔ she said. ﾓThe theatre, we had to sit in the balcony, the restaurants, you could go in and get your food, but you couldnﾒt sit down.ﾔ
Thompson, the eldest of seven children born to John and Mildred Boggs, attended Greenbrier Hill School, a first through eighth grade black school, before going to Marlinton High School.
Attending an integrated school wasnﾒt difficult for Thompson, an outgoing teen who ﾓdidnﾒt know a stranger.ﾔ
ﾓFor me, it wasnﾒt hard. I got along with everybody,ﾔ she said. ﾓNo name calling as far as for me. Now, my brothers and them said they had problems. One of the funny things was one of the white boys said to me one day, ﾑyou have any brothers or sisters in the junior high?ﾒ and I said yes, Johnny, and he said ﾑno, he canﾒt because youﾒre that half-white colored girl.ﾒ So thatﾒs the only thing I got during the whole four years. It was so funny. I thought it was hilarious.ﾔ
Thompson explains that her father is lighter skinned and her mother is darker, so she and her six siblings are all ﾓcolors of the rainbow.ﾔ
Having a sense of humor about the situation may be what got Thompson through school and helped her avoid racism.
ﾓWe had a lot of fun,ﾔ she said. ﾓAs far as Iﾒm concerned it really wasnﾒt bad. I enjoyed it.ﾔ
After schools integrated, public places followed suit and members of the black community were able to patronize shops in Marlinton.
ﾓEventually, we were able to go in the Tastee-Freez and sit down,ﾔ Thompson recalled. ﾓWeﾒd go there the nights they had the social parties.ﾔ
Thompson graduated in 1964 at the age of 16.
ﾓThere were five of us blacks that graduated that year,ﾔ she said. ﾓMy cousin, myself, two girls that relatives of mine raised, and another guy.ﾔ
After graduation, she moved to New Jersey to live with an aunt and to find a job.
ﾓI went to New Jersey with my aunt because, of course, there werenﾒt that many jobs here,ﾔ she said. ﾓMy father didnﾒt want me to go because I was young. I said, ﾑDad, you have six children here at home so Iﾒm going to work and try to take care of myself.ﾒﾔ
Although he didnﾒt want his daughter to leave, her dad had been working in New Jersey for years, and eventually moved the entire family there in 1968.
After a year in New Jersey, Thompson moved to Washington, D.C., where she reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Arthur Scott, who left Pocahontas County to join the Army. The two were married in 1966 and moved to Europe in 1967 when Scott was deployed.
Before she left for Europe, Thompson recalled a tragedy her family suffered back here in Marlinton. On January 13, 1967, her cousin, Harry Walker, Jr., age 6, and a white boy, Dennis Hoke, age 4, drowned in a settling pond at the Tannery which was located on Second Avenue on the site of the present ARC.
ﾓThey had a double funeral at the Presbyterian Church [in Marlinton] here, and I was at D.C. at the time,ﾔ she recalled. ﾓI came back because I was getting ready to go to Europe, so I wasnﾒt working.ﾔ
To have a dual funeral for a black boy and a white boy is a testament to the success of integration in Pocahontas County.
Integration was very similar in Europe, Thompson said.
ﾓWe wives got together because everybody was away from home,ﾔ she said. ﾓWe would get together and have coffee and pastry almost every morning in the buildings we lived in, because you had multi-family buildings. I never had any problem with any of them.ﾔ
Race wasnﾒt an issue on the military base, because all that mattered was they were from ﾓhomeﾔ and going through the same issues with having a husband in the military.
Thompson considers herself lucky because she was overseas during the rough times when blacks were fighting for their freedoms ﾓby any means necessary.ﾔ
ﾓI wouldnﾒt have wanted to live here [the U.S.] during that time. Thank goodness we came back from Europe and were stationed in New Mexico and Texas where it wasnﾒt as prevalent. Of course, when youﾒre military, youﾒre kind of your own little family,ﾔ she said.
Before returning to the states, Thompson welcomed her son, Arthur, Jr., in Germany. He was two-months-old when they moved to the base in New Mexico.
In New Mexico, a melting pot of cultures due to the border with Mexico, Thompson again found herself the subject of queries over her race.
ﾓIﾒll never forget, I was working at the post exchange and I had a black manager and a Hispanic assistant,ﾔ she said. ﾓAfter awhile, the manager finally asked, ﾑdo you mind me asking what nationality you are?ﾒ I looked at him and said, ﾑyou donﾒt know your own people?ﾒ We laughed about it.
ﾓThen one day, we had Hispanics that used to come from the warehouse at Fort Bliss and they came in, and was speaking some Spanish. I looked at them and said, ﾑIﾒm sorry I donﾒt understand you.ﾒ They said to the assistant manager, ﾑwhatﾒs wrong with her? Doesnﾒt she want to be Hispanic?ﾒ He told them ﾑsheﾒs not Hispanic,ﾒ and they were like ﾑWhat? She looks like us.ﾒ So Iﾒve been a little bit of everybody,ﾔ she said.
Thompsonﾒs husband was transferred to Texas, where he eventually retired. The couple divorced and Thompson married her current husband, Edward Thompson in 1996.
Thompson returned to Pocahontas County in 1999, to take care of her parents. Her husband followed in 2005.
ﾓIﾒm fortunate to have them because a lot of my friends and acquaintances donﾒt [have their parents],ﾔ Thompson said. ﾓMy father is going to be 92 this year and my mother is going to be 81. I say maybe the longevity is from them living here and the way they lived. Most of my family have lived long lives. My motherﾒs parents, my fatherﾒs parents. I really think it has to do with the location.ﾔ
Thompsonﾒs family moved to the area from Pennsylvania and Virginia. As she learned more about her family history, she made an interesting discovery.
ﾓMy great-grandparents were interracial because my great-grandfather was black and my great-grandmother was French [on the Boggs side],ﾔ she said. ﾓSo back then, even though ordinarily it wasnﾒt accepted, it happened.ﾔ
The mixing of nationalities only began with her great-grandparents.
ﾓI call my family international,ﾔ Thompson said. ﾓMy son was born in Germany. My husbandﾒs first wife was oriental, so my step-sons are oriental. We have white relatives. My extended family are all integrated with different nationalities and cultures. Weﾒve got a little bit of everybody and we accept them all. Thatﾒs the way it should be.ﾔ
Thompsonﾒs ancestors on her motherﾒs side have an interesting past, as well.
ﾓMy motherﾒs father was a slave and I think her mother,ﾔ she said. ﾓI donﾒt know if it was here in West Virginia or Virginia. They had 12 children. I donﾒt know if they were born into slavery. I donﾒt think so, but I really donﾒt know about the older siblings. My mother was the youngest, a twin. Grandmother had them in her 50s.ﾔ
As Thompson thinks about the past, she continues to keep a positive attitude about the way black people were treated.
ﾓI think it was the way everybody was raised and the opinions they taught their children,ﾔ she said. ﾓYou had your people who thought it didnﾒt make a difference and then you had others who didnﾒt want their children going to school with us.ﾔ
Thompson doesnﾒt hold grudges against those who were negative.
ﾓMy parents never taught us any prejudices,ﾔ she said. ﾓEverybody was okay unless they did something to you, then you might have some hard feelings. Maybe some of my younger siblings, I think they may have had some problems but I think itﾒs the people and the way they were raised. Thereﾒs nothing we can do to change that. We can hope. We just try to get along as best we can.ﾔ