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Oral History: Hobert Sutton

Description:

Interviewee: Mr. Hobert Sutton (HS)

Interviewer: Celia Tvstvnvke (CT)

 

CT: Hello Mr. Sutton. This is Celia Bateman, I’m with the University of Oklahoma’s Environmental Studies department. It’s nice to speak to you today.

HS: Ok

CT: Can I have your full name, please?

HS: Hobert M. Sutton

CT: Ok. May I also have permission to record this phone call?

HS: Yes

CT: Ok, thank you. I have a few different questions for you about the time when you lived in or around the JFK neighborhood. Could you tell me about growing up in that area or the time that you spent there?

HS: Uh yes. I was born in OKC in 1940. I am 81 years old now. I was born on NE 4th street around the corner of the area that they call Deep Deuce

CT: Deep Deuce, yes!

HS: Yes, I was in the same block except I was on 4th that’s 2 blocks north of Deep Deuce. My father worked at [....] and he bought a grocery store and he had a grocery store on NE 4th. I am one of 9 children. He had a grocery store on 1416 NE 4th street. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with NE OKC or not.

CT: Not too much, I’m from Tulsa

HS: Ok, you’re from Tulsa, ok. I have 7 sisters and 2 brothers.

CT: Very nice. Can you tell me if you recall the name of your father’s grocery store?

HS: Yes, it was Sutton’s Grocery

CT: Very nice. What types of things did he sell?

HS: Well he sold, you know, the usual things that you have in grocery stores. Eventually, after a few years, he closed it up. He had a lot of people who bought food on credit and didn’t pay their credit bills. So he opened up a BBQ place. He closed the grocery store and opened up a BBQ place. It was kind of like a little shopping center there on 4th and [...]. It was a barbershop, cleaners, beauty shop, and he opened up a BBQ cafe and he sold beer. He was a bootleger; that was when Oklahoma was dry.

CT: I see. That is really cool! My dad also has a barbecue business.

HS: Oh, in Tulsa?

CT: Yes

HS: What was the name of the BBQ place?

CT: It was called the Que spot. He doesn’t have the shop anymore but he still takes orders like commissions and I’m a little biased because I think he has the best barbecue OK.

HS: Oh ok

CT: Did you notice any environmental issues while you were living in that area?

HS: Not really. There were no-you know the city had that sewer plant on northeast 10th street. That was the only environmental problem back in the day, during that time. That’s where the sewer system and water treatment plant was there on northeast 10th street.

CT: Can you tell me more about that?

HS: It was just east of 4th street. It was a water sewer treatment place. It’s not there now but back then that is where they would treat the water for the city. I don’t know where it is now or how they do that now. I think they moved it. We used to go when I got older in my twenties. We used to go out there and we would get some of that fertilizer, that water treatment fertilizer, and actually it was just sewer, and we would put it on our yards. It would smell but it would–you would have a beautiful lawn. Putting that treatment sewer stuff on your yard, on your lawn.

CT: What kinds of things did you grow in your yard?

HS: Well just the yard, trying to have a great lawn. We would put that on the lawn and the grass would be really, really green and thick. The neighbors didn’t like it though because it would smell the first week or two that you put it down. It was just the treatment from the sewer system. We’d go out there and get a little bucket and put it on our yards.

CT: It makes a difference

HS: Yes it did.

CT: Can you tell me about how you have seen the neighborhood change over your lifetime?

HS: I grew up on 8th street on 1400 block. Actually, our address was 1439 and during those days when we was coming up there was no African Americans north of 10th street. Everybody knew each other and back then if you were out doing something wrong, seem like everybody or any adult knew you or knew who your parent was.

They would tell you “I know you, you’re Sister Sutton’s son and I’m going to tell your mother.” But they don’t do that now, but back then I think the worst thing we did back then was we might raid somebody’s fruit tree. That was about it. We’d go up and down the alley. Do you know what an alley is?

CT: Yes sir

HS: We would go up and down the alley during the daytime in the summer and we would spot peach trees and cherry trees and come back at night we would go back and raid them.

CT: What school did you go to?

HS: I went to Paige elementary which was on 2nd street. It was a block east of Deep Deuce. And then I went to Dunbar elementary, F.D. Moon junior high, and Douglas. F.D. Moon back then was the old Douglas up there on 7th. It’s no longer there; well the building is still there. That’s where they changed that school into some apartments.

CT: I was getting ready to ask you about that because I heard they changed that school into some apartments but I hadn’t heard too much about it.

HS: Yeah it’s nice apartments plus they built some new apartments around it. Have you been in that area lately?

CT: I haven’t, no

HS: It’s real nice up there. Back then those are the schools that I went to. I graduated from Douglas in 1958 and we used to have a rivalry with Tulsa Washington.

CT: OK

HS: We’d go to Tulsa and they would run us out of Tulsa after the game and then they came here and we would run them out of Oklahoma City. I’m not even sure if Douglas plays Tulsa Washington anymore, do you know?

CT: No, I’m not sure

HS: Ok. Did you go to Tulsa Washington?

CT: No, I went to boarding school in Tahlequah.

HS: Oh ok

CT: I went to Sequoyah High School

HS: Ok

CT: Do you have any connections with the landfill that was started in the area?

HS: The landfill. I think I remember something about that. I’m not sure I remember, do you know what year that was?

CT: I’m not sure I think it was recent though. There’s like a landfill and a recycling plant I want to say in the last 20 years or so.

HS:  Is that the recycling plant on Reno?

CT: Yes

HS: Ok my daughter lives over there on Ash: NE Ash. She built a new home but they’ve had some problems with that dumpster over there making a lot of noise over there.  I’m not sure. I think they did something. I’m not sure if the city council did anything to correct that or not. I think they were taking up those neighborhoods that were still living in there they were taking it up to the city council and I’m not sure if they corrected that or not.

CT: Ok

HS: So I know about that dumpster there on Reno because she told me about it.

CT: Ok, thank you. Do you know anything about any old or active oil wells in that region?

HS: Well, my mother used to get a royalty check from one of the oil wells that was in our neighborhood. It wasn’t a lot of money it was like, it was maybe 20 something dollars a month. She owned that property there on NE 8th street. She finally sold it but that’a about all I know about that house that we lived in. It’s still right there on 8th street. 1439 its right there–are you familiar with NE OKC Celia?

CT: Not too much, no sir

HS: Ok. So you’re a student at OU

CT: Yes sir

HS: So this is exactly what? What you’re doing here now?

CT: This is my capstone project I have to do it and complete it before I graduate.

HS: Oh ok

CT: Yes.

HS: Yes when we were living there on 8th street it was, like I said it was no African Americans North of 10th street. And then later on after I graduated from high school, there was a lot of Black popele that lived off of Euclid. But that was back in the 50s before I graduated there was no African Americans living North and there was no African Americans living west of probably Central or west. There were African Americans living in Walnut Grove. You’re not familiar with that are you?

CT: No

HS:  That was an area that was west and south of OKC.

CT: Ok. Do you know anything about the houses that were knocked down and rebuilt in the JFK area? I think it was in the 80s

HS: There was a Urban Renewal that came to us in the 80s an they rebuilt a lot of homes in there. They’re not as nice as the new homes that they’re building in there now. But yes the urban renewal we used to call it the “Urban Removal.” That’s mostly what they did they removed a lot of people that owned property in that area.

CT: Do you know how long that project lasted?

HS: What project?

CT: The Urban Removal

HS: The urban renewal was over a period of probably 15-20 years. The new homes that are in there now are new homes and much more expensive homes. Most of the homes that are in there now are probably $200,000 or more.

CT: Wow

HS: The newer ones they just built in the last 20 years. I was a realtor in that area and I sold quite a few homes in there. I am retired from real estate and I was an employee at Tinker Air Force base. I’ve retired from that and real-estate. That was probably over a 15-20 year period.

CT: Ok, thank you. One portion of our project is focusing on environmental rascism and envuronmental justice. Do you think you have experienced any environmental rascism while living in the area?

HS: Let’s see. Not a lot. Most of everything in NE we pretty much kind of controlled. The person that’s on the city council it was usually somebody that we knew. I think [...] James was one of the city councilmen and I think the councilman now…I’m trying to think of what her name is. I can’t think of her name. Nice is her name.

CT: Yes Ms. Nicki Nice

HS: Yes Nicki Nice. And the councilman before her was…she was a councilman for a long time in fact she was a couple of years ahead of me in school. I can’t think of her name. Let me see. To his wife: “What was the councilwoman before Nicki Nice? She graduated from Douglas. Do you remember? You don’t remember her name? Oh, ok.” Yeah Nicki Nice is doing a pretty good job now but we mostly kind of controlled everything going on in the Northeast part of town.

CT: Alright. Thank you for talking with me.

HS: Ok, you have a nice day.

CT: You too, bye-bye!

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