Oral History Avis and Melva Franklin

Description:

Avis and Melva Franklin talk about life in Northeast Oklahoma City.

 

Transcript:

Patricia Gizzard (PG):

Alrighty, first of all, where are you from?

 

Melva Franklin (MF):

Oklahoma City

 

Avis Franklin (AF):

Oklahoma City 

 

PG:
Do you know how your famillies got here?

 

MF:

Relatively yes, relatively speaking. 

 

PG:
Okay, how did your famillies get here?

 

MF: 

So dad was born in Waco Texas and came here when he was around five or six years old with his mother and her sisters, and grew up here in Northeast Oklahoma City, near here on Third Street.  My mom… I’m not sure what age she was when they relocated here, she might remember, but her family is from Wellston Oklahoma, and like I said: I’m not sure what age she was but she was a very young child when she came here. 

 

PG:

Your dad came from Wellston? 

 

MF:

Dad is from Waco, and mom is from Wellston.  

 

PG:

And that’s the same for you? 

 

AF:
Yes.

 

PG:

Each of you can answer this question: what is your most memorable place on the north east side of town.  First of all, is it where you grew up in the Northeast part of town?

 

MF:
Mhm 

 

PG: 

What is your most memorable place on the North east part of town in Oklahoma City? It may be different for each of you. 

 

MF:

Well… I guess it depends on what memory we’re recalling with the reference but…

 

PG:

If we’re talking, for me for instance it was a place that I used to go to the movies.  That was for me.  The lady that I just interviewed she said where she went to school. 

 

AF:

Let us just start by saying this [laughs] we grew up in north east oklahoma city and are very family oriented.  So, in this particular instance, really reflecting back, I think about this area in general because it was a block away from my grandmother’s home, and that’s basically where our family usually gathered, was at her home.  And when I say our family, I’m talking about: her daughters, her nieces, her nephews.  And our family was very much entrenched in the church, particularly Fifth Street Baptist Church, which isn’t far from here.  So there were a lot of memories created right around this area early on. Now since we have been here in this area- I have most of my life- there are a number of memorable places, where I spent most of my time, and probably for most young people, where they spent most of their time and created a lot of memories would be in the school.  And I also went to school in Oklahoma City Public School system in the Millwood public school system.  Our schools were in this community.  My mother was a teacher so she taught in this community.  And our brother is a teacher, and he coached in this community, so there were a lot of memories created right here in north east Oklahoma City. 

 

PG:

Okay 

 

MF:

I would echo that.  When the question was first raised, I sort of [unintelligible] between our family home- mom, dad, my brother, and sister- and my grandmother’s home, actually both grandmother’s homes.  But my maternal grandmother lived here on fifth street as Avis just said a few blocks away.  All up and down fifth street was our home turf.  Those family gatherings on Sunday afternoon, after church, were just incredible memories.  But also, our immediate family - mom, dad, brother, and sister- were raised on Park street a few blocks away.  So our neighborhood was actually a very diverse neighborhood, a culturally diverse neighborhood, so we had lots of play time, fun times, and memories just there in the neighborhood. 

 

AF:

And part two of that story would be the extensions of family of people in the community in both of those areas. 

 

PG:

Can you describe any feelings associated with what you were just talking about and the places you were just talking about? 

 

MF:

For me it’s a lot of warmth, a lot of love… [AF: a lot of faith] a lot of faith.  We were talking the other day about how so many of the community’s pastors were family friends, and they were always at our house, our home.  So that Christian value system was a major part of our growing up years, until all of those feelings are invoked when we talk about growing up here.

 

AF:

And not only that but the… learning experiences and the emotional experiences were taught both in the school, the home, and the church, and because both parents were public servants so to speak.  The embracing of those things for us as well as  other people in the community. For instance my mother taught.  She was a planner, and she had a very disciplined approach to teaching, very committed to that, and it extended out to other people in the community.  My dad was a firefighter and he was always helping people, to serve people, and that extended out into his daily life to others and outside the family.  That was very much an extension into the community. 

 

MF:

Security is another feeling.  We felt very protected.  I felt very protected, and I think we all did. Just as there were a lot of pastors in our home, because dad was one of the first twelve black firefighters, there were also a lot of police officers in our home, not a lot, but there weren’t a lot. And the handful that there was…

 

AF:

That community of public servants frequented in our homes.  It was very limited at that time.  So that black firefighters and the black police officers at that time… 

 

MF:

They were very close 

 

AF:

They were very close in mind, and I would have to say also that my dad was very committed to helping others and in the community because he always talked about how people helped him specifically.  Dr. Moon, Mr. Moon, Urban League, a lot of the football coaches thought a lot of him. He played football at Douglass. He was a leader there, and they made significant contributions to him as a young kid, probably through his early adulthood.  He was forever grateful for that and he always talked about them, and had a lot of respect for them, and he never forgot that so he always found a way to always reach out between those above and those not so fortunate.  Just to be there.  He didn’t always have something to give, but he was always there.  And he basically did that throughout his entire life.  


MF:

Yes… he was quite a guy [emotional pause] quite a guy 

 

PG:

Sounds like a very loving and warm family, sounds like a very good upbringing 

 

MF:
Yes we were very very blessed 

 

PG:

Sounds like a very good time in your childhood 

 

AF:

We have to go on to say that my parents went to Langston for a period of time, and my mother and Clara Luper were very good friends.  They were roommates in fact at Langston.

 

MF:

Yes she was another who was frequently at our house.  She stayed there. 

 

AF:
She stayed at my grandmother’s house when they were in college, so she was in fact responsible for my parents meeting and their marriage, and they remained friends for a very long time.  They always say that it was because of me that my mother could not participate in Clara’s efforts because she was pregnant with me at the time when they were doing a lot of the sit ins, but they remained very close friends for a very long time.  

 

PG:

Wow… that’s very interesting.  That’s great.

I too attended  fifth street for a long, long time.  I don’t know if you all remember Reverend Lefall?

 

AF and MF:

[affirmations of agreement]

 

PG:
I attended when he was the pastor.  I used to love his theatrics [laughs]. I really enjoyed his ministry. 

 

MF:

Yes he was a good man 

 

AF: 

Yes we go back quite a ways.  My great grandfather was an organizer for Mount Rose and Mount Rose eventually became fifth street.. 

 

PG:

Is that right it used to be another name?  Now that I did not know. 

 

AF:

It’s interesting because mostly everybody’s obituary to probably 2010 [laughs]  will repeat that story.  It’s kind of interesting because they thought a lot of that. 
 

PG:

What has changed the most to you within this neighborhood?  What specific changes have you noticed in this neighborhood?

 

MF:

Well what’s missing is the stately homes in this neighborhood.  They were beautiful big homes for blocks, not just one street but for several blocks, along Stonewall, Fifth street, Sixth Street, Seventh Street, on over to Park and as far south as Fourth and Second.  I miss seeing those homes because they were beautiful, well-architected homes, and their playfuls streets, and children playing outside, and it was just a wonderful, thriving community.  And that’s missing.  Front porches of my neighbors who we used to play on and visit.  Mom’s and Dad’s sitting outside watching kids play in the yard.  So I miss that, and I miss seeing that.  I pray that we get that back and we can recapture some of that.

 

PG:

Do you know what happened to those beautiful homes?

 

MF :

Oh yah… Urban Removal [laughs] those families were displaced or moved to other locations and cities, and the homes were eventually torn down in the name of progress.  I think it was for a lack of knowledge from both the planners, and to some extent people in the community, to be aware of the need to structure or actually restructure our community, instead of being placed… not placed… but guided [emphasis] to other areas of the city, with no real plan or attention to the redevelopment of this area.  And I don’t fault the neighbors or the community for that.  To some extent the planners, I just think it was a lack of knowledge or information.  At the time people didn’t realize that you have to plan or structure a community to build community.  There has to be a plan for it, rather than just kind of a “let it be, we’ll see what happens over time”.  I imagine there were some who were intentional, but I don’t really think that was the intent of the masses to destroy… I’m sure there were some whose intent it was to remove black people- African Americans- from wherever they might be.  

 

AF:

The interesting part about it is that as the city began to develop this part or quadrant wasn’t important to anybody for that matter.  The major the reason for the urban renewal was for landscaping, highway, or the medical center, beyond that there was a period of time when people weren't interested in this quadrant period.  Not them, not us.  Then they recognized to move forward and to have economic development that they would have to entrench certain areas thus the Bricktown, Deep Deuce area, so on, and during that time we were segregated and our eyes became focused on things outside the values of the community.  Thus people tend to move to other areas of town, primarily for convenience and updates that weren’t occurring over here.  Their schools were not here.  A lot of people in this community didn’t even go to school here.  So therefore they were entrenched, unless they were in the church here.  And the church wasn’t the only reason but one of the primary reasons that people would come to the eastside was to go church.  So you had a segment of time where… the offerings of this community didn’t seem to be of value to anyone or to a limited amount of people.  Therefore, the housing values went down, they weren’t selling any areas, therefore the property values went down, it wasn’t profitable to most people to buy in this area because they wouldn’t experience the increases of property values, and schools , except for [untillegable followed by laughter from MF].  It wasn’t drawn to attention, so we lost a sense of value for what was ours.  While there are millenials and young people who know some of that, they couldn’t become vested in it because it wasn’t valuable when they walked outside of this area.  So they tended to gravitate towards other areas, and those things - the growth in those values- became a priority to them, rather than a community that they know has some jewels [thoughtful pause] they know it. 

 

MF

Mhm. 

 

PG:

This is the same line of questioning of what you were talking about.  What businesses or buildings that you wish were still here?  I know you talked about the beautiful homes that were once here. 

 

AF:

I know there were a lot of skilled resources in our community, and I know my dad always patronized them, and he did some work as an electrician, so he knew the value of black men in this community having skills and trades and utilizing them to help grow and sustain this community like Mr. Luper, Clara’s brother in law, for a long time.  And there are limited resources for services and there was some of everything.  More than just beauty and barber salons, but people made the most of what they had and what they knew.  I was fascinated as a little girl by the convenience store around the corner from fifth street.  There was a candy store, of course there were candy stores all over the place, and it wasn’t a store it was home, and the homefront was a candy store, and a part of that candy store was a doll repair shop.  That was fascinating to me as a little girl.  And still to this day, I’m looking around for this doll shop and…  I like to collect dolls [laughs].  So I’m like “okay what happened to that deal?” [more laughs].  But you know Al’s Ice Cream, you guys were talking about Blanch’s Drive In, I remember Al’s Ice Cream.  Everybody wanted to go through there.  And the grocery stores.

 

MF:

Yes that’s what I’m thinking too. All the facilities that make a community fun and wholesome.  Access to and really being a part of those establishments.  Not only the buildings themselves but the people who ran them.

 

AF:

Being able to offer something to the community and to our state in other ways than a degree or a diploma. While we need those things today, there are other ways we can make it and pull it together, we can sustain ourselves.  I don’t think our young people have a good sense of making that happen, making that a reality, and of course they have a whole different concept of how to make fast money.  But the people that I saw, and that I remember, just went daily in faith that whatever they brought in and however they helped somebody, it was going to multiply.  And they would sustain themselves and propel their families, and for the most part they did. 

 

PG:

Do you think that the… [thoughtful pause]

 

AF:

Disconnect?

 

PG:

Do you think the disconnect with younger people and the older people is our faith?  Because we know how to wait and they want it now. As you said that fast money, what is going to get me what I want now?  And a lot of times they say “well momma I’m gonna do me, and you’re [old folky?]  and they want to get money right now. 

 

MF:

Mhmm. 

 

AF:

I want to see the efforts of my hope now [emphasis]. 

 

PG:

Without realizing that it takes [physical preparation?] if it’s something solid that is going to last you because that fast money is going to get them in trouble. 

 

MF:

Mhmm.  More often than not. 

 

PG:

What things that you see really have remained the same in this area?  Maybe you though would’ve changed by now?

 

MF:

Well I guess most practically speaking the desolation that had occured since the community's disbursement.  It hasn’t changed, it hasn’t improved.  So I know that this building that the crew worked on and this community that has been reestablished has been a major significant change for the better.  Certainly the medical center and it’s growth, which is a good thing.  I don’t think that’s a terrible thing.  I think that’s positive, but the surrounding community hasn’t.  I think it’s far past due, and  it’s time for us to, as one of my friends said, to come out of retirement and start rebuilding this community, as a community that is accessible for all, not just for a single group: high income, or low income, or middle income, but for all.  

 

PG:
Do you have any thoughts on that? [directed at Avis] 

 

AF:

I would say that the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is our thinking that somebody that someone else is going to do it for us.  I think that has been around for far too long.  If you’ll look around, you’ll see every other district in Oklahoma City has figured out how to unite themselves and establish what’s important to them.  We’re the last group, and we probably have the biggest piece of Oklahoma City.  I think about it and I try to remind people that Northeast Oklahoma City is not just fourth street to second street to I-35 and Britton road.  But we have a whole host of contributors from the Dunjee, Spencer area.  I think about Reverend Parker and how he walked and how he was such an activist, and civil rights, and Clara’s contribution to Dunjee and all the people that came out of Dunjee and that area that we haven’t even tapped yet.  We haven’t even got them involved yet, and we have got to expand everywhere because there are jewels that are in that area too.  [Renn?] Walker in TrueVine, they were so impactful in the late 60s and 70s, and that are over by Rev. Howard’s church, was that Garden Day, Garden Oaks? What is that?

 

PG:

The 16th and Bryant?

 

MF:

Garden Oaks is where I think his church was, and Edward’s edition, and Carverdale,  all those communities there 

 

AF:

A rich heritage there but we haven’t tapped their interest to participate in projects like this, and to some degree have been silenced and paralyzed about doing...

 

PG:

Not realizing that the change is within us to come together to find a common denominator, where change can be within us, and partnering with other  people that are like minded, instead of expecting, like you said, someone else out there to do it. 

 

MF:

And recognizing along those lines recognizing that we’re not homogenous.  We’re not one thinking, one thought, one right way.  That doesn’t exist.  That’s a myth.  And for us to disconnect because some person, leader or otherwise, doesn’t want to do it the way we want to do it, and just drop out and say nothing or do nothing.  That’s non productive, and that’s why this community looks like it looks.  I think that’s a tactic of the enemy, whatever that enemy might be.  It’s a means of getting people to fall into a state of being disenfranchised, and we have to change that.  We have to be open minded and receive everyone.  We have to allow everyone to contribute in whatever ways they can, or desire to, and just recognize that we need to determine the direction and the primary objective, and then start working toward that.  Quite honestly, I think it’s incumbent upon our generation to lead that charge.  I was a kid when there was Martin Luther King and there was Malcolm X, and when those people were actively engaged.  I may have been a little bit too young to be a big  part of those organizational efforts.  But I can remember them well enough to know that it takes a large organizational effort to make change happen and we have to engage.  We simply have to engage.  I look forward to that happening.  I think it’s yet possible.  Crazy enough to believe that our God is able and that he doesn’t fail, and if we keep that first and foremost we can see some things happening, and we can see some things happening in a positive way 

 

PG:

I believe that. I believe growing up what old folk used to say that “where there is a will, there is a way.”

 

MF:

That’s right. 


AF:

And that kind of goes back to the entrepreneurship thing I was talking about [laughs] I need to do this because I need to have a little change in my pocket over here, in my little bowl, and pretty soon that bowl will be full enough to send my granddaughter to daycare [laughs] 

 

MF:

Really for what it costs.  

 

PG: 

Now this is the last question: Do either of you know anyone else that you would suggest we talk to to ask these questions?

 

MF:

You know when you started asking about the communities and the homes, I started thinking about people who lived in the neighborhood, and one of the first families that popped up was the Provos, Marvin Provo and Deborah, and all that family.  They should probably be here.  And as we were talking about police and fire relationships,  I thought about my classmate Ryan Summners and his family.  They should probably be here. 

 

PG:

How do you spell Provo? 

 

MF:

P-r-o-v-o. 

 

PG:

You mentioned somebody Ron?

 

MF:

Ron Summners.  I guess a couple of my good friends: Chequita Smith Owens

 

PG:
How do you spell her name?

 

MF:

C-h-e-q-u-i-t-a

 

PG:

Smith?

 

MF: 

Mhm. Owens. And Connie Johnson. 

They lived in the… the part that I remember of their family life… in the Edward’s Edition issue and working on the Edward’s Edition project so it comes to mind.  But they probably have some significant stories about the growing up years in Oklahoma City 

 

PG:

Now when you mentioned the Provo family, did you mention a specific name?

 

MF:
Marvin is who I remember most.  

 

AF:
Deborah 

 

MF:

Deborah was one of the sisters. 


AF:

And Sharon.  Sharon is at the paper.  Sharon’s at…


PG:

Yes I know who Sharon…

 

MF:

And the Howards… Reverend Howard’s children: Moses, who is a junior or a third, or something.  His dad was Moses senior.  

 

MF:

I’m sure I’m leaving out some people but those are the names that I can remember of my contemporaries. 

 

PG:

Okay

 

[pause of silence]

 

MF:

Carruthers, Victor- Victor Carruthers.  They have a huge family, deep roots

 

C-a-r-r-u-t-h-e-r-s

 

AF:

And put Sherri Anderson - Beasely. S-h-e-r-r-i

 

PG:

Beasely? B-e-a-s-l-e-y? 

 

AF:

And then put my brother on there: Ralph Franklin.  He’s supposed to be coming through 

 

MF: 

He’ll have a whole host of other names because I’m thinking about the Chandlers, and Bobby Alexander 

 

AF: 

Ya, Robert Alexander put him on there. 

 

MF:

And Albert Chandler 

Marianne Jones 

 

AF:
Marianne Moore 

 

MF:
Evans… What’s the Evans name?

 

AF:

Stanley- Stanley Evans

And you need the Cox family on there 

 

PG:

Stanley Evans… and you said the Cox?

 

AF and MF:

Kevin 

 

MF:

We know so many names.  We’ll be naming now to next month. 

 

PG:

So you want to stop on the names 


AF: 

Yah. 

 

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