“People are people; whether you are black, white, blue, or whatever…”
Cathi Compton, Interviewing Vernita Ellison
VE: [I have lived] In this building, thirty-nine years; in El Dorado, off and on since fifty-four.
CC: Tell us a little bit about your background.
VE: I grew up in a place called Lou Ann, Arkansas; then, I left there and went in to Camden, at the age of seven. And, that’s … Camden is in Ouachita County.
And I went to school in Lafayette High School and transferred from there to Lincoln. And, I was at Lincoln for a hot minute and then, I dropped out, started to work.
CC: What caused you to drop out?
VE: [I dropped out] because my mom was unable to buy my books. At that time, they wasn’t giving out books.
CC: Did you get married?
CC: Where did you and your husband live?
VE: [After getting married] We lived in Camden for a while. And that’s where we got married, and then he left and went to Milwaukee. And I followed, later on, after he had got a job. And we stayed there, maybe, I think about two years. And left there and went to San Diego, California. He was in the merchant marines. [Did not like it there.] All winter I didn’t even need to put a coat on.
CC: You came back to El Dorado, what year was that approximately?
VE: We moved back to El Dorado in Fifty-four. I believe it was fifty-four.
CC: Tell me about the first time you became aware of differences in people, along the lines of race and ethnicity?
VE: When I was a little girl, about six or seven, I went with my grandfather to the store, and some more people came in…. And the lady said to her husband… I don’t remember his name… But, she said, “Come and finish waiting on these N’s because I want to visit with…!” Whatever, the other people were named.
CC: Do you remember how that made you feel?
VE: I don’t remember how it made me feel, but I asked my grandfather why would she just leave us and go to the other people. And he explained it to me. He said, the word that she used, don’t let it upset me, because words cannot hurt you. And I think he told me to just stand up and be a lady and ignore it because she will learn later on.
CC: By the way, do you mind telling us what your current age is?
VE: [My present age ] Eighty-two.
CC: What kinds of experiences, do you know, did your parents have with other races?
VE: I’m not aware of any [problems regarding race between parents and whites]. I knew that my dad worked at the paper mill in Camden. And he was the chef/cook at the White House Café. My mom… they were… so I don’t guess they had no problems. If they did they didn’t express it in my hearing.
CC: Who was the first person of a different race with whom you had a meaningful relationship?
VE: [The first white people I recall] It was two little ladies, they were sisters and they got permission from my mom… they had a lot of company, in and out every day. [They asked] If I could come and wash the dishes ; which would be, mostly, cups and glasses and ashtrays. And they would, one of them would stand on the porch from the time I left my porch to go to their house; and when I would get finished with what I was doing, if it was past four o’clock; one of them would drive me back, because the shift would have changed at the mill and they wanted my safety more than…
CC: How old were you when you worked for them?
VE: I guess [I was]about nine. Really I didn’t have no view [about race at that time].
CC: Were they good to you, did you enjoy working for them?
VE: Yes, I did [like working for them]. I could eat candy and my mother didn’t allow too much candy.
CC: How has your view of other races changed since then?
VE: Some say it [race relations] has changed a lot, but by me not being out with them … If it has changed, then I never seen the difference in it. People are people. .. whether you black, white, blue or whatever, if you cut yourself, and I’m black and I cut myself… It’s gonna be red blood coming from both arms. Because that’s the way God made me.
CC: Do you think that relationships between black women and white women have changed over time?
VE: [Relationships between women of different races have changed] Some. And then, it’s some that still got that… I guess the correct word would be “Jim Crowish” [attitude]. And some of them will never change…either side, even if we have a black president. He’s catching hot fire, because if he was not educated and with quite a bit of wisdom, they would have done run him off.
CC: Would you like to add anything we may not have talked about?
VE: Add too, this little lady that’s interviewing me [Cathi Compton] has always been my baby. I knew her before she got here. And I have never found any difference in her family… whether I was black, white, blue or green. But we all is God’s children.
CC: Thank you.
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The Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock was founded in July 2011. With a vision to make Arkansas the best state in the country for promoting and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity, the Institute conducts research, promotes scholarship and provides programs that address racial inequities. It does so by facilitating open and honest dialogue aimed at empowering communities and informing public policy to achieve more equitable outcomes.