Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History & Culture Enduring Connections: Exploring Delmarva's Black History


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Interview with Elaine Ross, 13 July 2005

Audio Recording

About This Recording

This interview was conducted by Matt Gresick and Christel Savage with Elaine Ross. In this interview, Elaine Ross describes her upbringing in San Domingo, MD, and her experiences with racial tension and race relations on the Eastern Shore in the early 20th Century. She describes how different races were educated at the time and the impact of Brown v. Board of Education, and other aspects of segregation that were felt. She also speaks of how those relations compare today.

This interview is part of the Teaching American History Program. For more information, see the Edward H. Nabb Center Finding Aid.


[00:00:00] Interviewer [INR]: Wednesday, July 13, 2005, this is the start of an interview with Elaine Ross at 25954 Quentin Road, San Domingo, Maryland. The interviewers are Chris Grondy(?), Matt Gresick and Christel Savage. This interview is done in connection with Teaching American History Project. Well, first question: when and where were you born?

[00:00:25] Elaine Ross [ER]: San Domingo, Sharptown, Maryland but later on we named it San Domingo. It was an extension from the white folks and they had, well, when black folks weren't living there. So, we decided to name our little area San Domingo after it was founded by my great-great grandfather, [James] Brown.

[00:00:44] INR: And when were you born ma'am?

[00:00:49] ER: October 17, 1931.

[00:00:53] INR: What was your earliest memory as a child?

[00:00:57] ER: Earliest what?

[00:00:57] INR: Earliest memory as a child.

[00:00:59] ER: Getting a beating [both laugh] well, I just remembered every little thing because it was only in our family, it was more like everybody did something together. Your parents had you pray together, they had you to eat together. When maybe as a small child, my grandmother, I used to visit her and she taught me how to cook and my grandfather lived on a farm and we went out and took care of everything, he had every animal that was on the farm and we had to do that. Feed the pigeons, and eat the pigeons, and feed the pig, then we ate pigs, and we had cows and ate cows and we didn't have any vehicles to ride in, but horse and buggy. We rode in the wagon on—during the week, and on Sunday we rode in the derby. And that was what I remember even from a small age, before we went to school.

[00:01:56] INR: That kind of leads to my next question. What was your childhood like, growing up?

[00:02:01] ER: Well, people today would think it would be boring, but I enjoyed it because I didn't get to go nowhere and just as I said, everything we did was, it was church and school and home and like on Saturday night, people born in Salisbury, places like that, we didn't have the opportunity to go because we'd have to go on a bus and it was eighteen miles from Salisbury and my grandparents and mother did not allow me—and father—did not allow me go in town. You know, some of them did, and we would always have donuts, something special on Saturday nights, and sit in the corner and drink lemonade and I don't drink iced tea, but they'd make iced tea, pop popcorn, and then we'd listen to the show. We didn't have nothing but a radio, then we had a Victrola and had this big record, you know, and then it would get half-way through and you have to wind it up. Then we'd have to take our finger and keep it going so we could hear the music. So that was our entertainment. So, that was all we knew. So, but nothing else we could do. In church, go to church, stay all day Sunday, lay on the benches, children go to sleep then walk back home with my grandfather. He wouldn't go Sunday night, so Mom and I had walked back home in the door to the rest of the family.

[00:03:19] INR: What were race relations like at that time in America?

[00:03:21] ER: Race?

[00:03:22] INR: Race relations between black and white?

[00:03:24] ER: Well, it wasn't too bad with us, but I could see in a lot of places right in San Domingo because it was a couple of families wanted to build a house down in this area, Sharptown, and it was a kick up about that. But see, my grandmother always worked for white people. She liked—the children would come, there’s a man that owned the filling station down in Sharptown. His name was Herb and Mary Wright(?) And they had two children and they—the children—were same age of me and my uncle and they spent the weekend, the week, with my mother, my grandmother and the girl and I slept together. Her name was Mary Jane and the boy's name was George and he slept with my uncle and we just knew no hardly no difference and where they didn't bother with a lot of black people down in that area, they had to bother with my grandmother because she washed the clothes and she'd cook for them and they come got them on Friday nights and brought them back Sunday. So, they knew nothing but us in that way and we knew nothing. So, they weren't mean to my grandparents, because they had worked for—my grandfather, worked for a white lady. She was always good to him, giving, like, give Pop a bag of flour, or some beans or something like that, I'm sure, for a day's work and very little money was there, but we were happy and today people would think we were poor but I didn't call our-self poor because we got a lot. I mean, we ate chicken—I don't eat chicken today—but we ate chicken about every day, especially on Sundays and killed a cow, killed a pig or whatever, and we didn't know nothing about going no store to get no steak or nothing, my grandfather raised the vegetables, so we would just have it. Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, everything that we needed, we had, and we had plenty of it. So meanwhile we couldn't really say we was poor. We had no money in our pockets, but I mean, you pick a few strawberries like Fourth of July, or blackberries, could have a little picnic out at school, maybe we'd make a dollar. They give us a quarter or $0.50 of it and go out there and get some homemade ice cream. So, that was all we knew.

[00:05:36] INR: What memories do you have about the area or stories that you heard from your parents about the area, like stories that your mom or dad would tell you?

[00:05:44] ER: Well, I tell you what, my great-grandfather and great-great grandmother were slaves and I did—and maybe I shouldn't say it, but I am going to say it—but I do remember that I always heard a story about my grandfather and my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother. She had ten children and she was a real dark black lady and all these children are white and they said that it was—that my great-grandfather was living there and it wasn't his children but I mean, what could she do? He couldn't do nothing. She couldn't do nothing either because we always said that even when they were growing up, they're all dead now, but I remember talking about that and I remember how mean they used to be to some of them. Like I said, and they weren't mean to my grandmother and grandfather. But actually, you know, like I said, they beat them and I can remember that they said that one time one of the men got killed, the farmers, and said that they gave one of my cousin's life and they said they were about to kill the other one but then the sons came forward and said that they killed their father, see. So, they let the one out of jail and I don't know what happened to the other one but I knew that's how mean they were to that side of the family. But it wasn't where the parents that I stayed with, the grandparents and parents that I stayed with, but it was on the other side, on my father's side. But out of all of them, and most that they did, most of the children I talked to, they always said that their mother went out in Sharptown and worked and they sent them home, some scratched, something they, something they didn't need, you know. I did carry one woman home one day when I got bigger and she was asking the lady, "Can I have the chicken off that bone?" enough, but we were integrated then but it was, I guess, something she had been used to, you know, just asking the white people first, levels and what not. I mean, it seems sad to think about it because, like, it bothers me now that even like when the store routes(?) come on, a lot of our children got upset about it. But see, I was almost in that situation when I was growing up, but I had no reason to get upset because I wasn't mistreated. But I could see their point, you know, not liking it happened to our grandparents or parents like that. I guess I was just a little different because I don't get upset about anything now, anyway. You're not going to mistreat me, honey. You know, just forget it. Pray about it and keep on going.

[00:08:29] INR: We read about San Domingo, that it only went up to a certain grade level.

[00:08:33] ER: Mm-hm.

[00:08:34] INR: Um, we wondered how many years of education have you completed in your life?

[00:08:37] ER: I went to college.

[00:08:39] INR: Okay.

[00:08:40] ER: I did—well, I guess I did complete. My last college was of Towson, and I went to Salisbury State, but I graduated from high school. It was at that time it was 11th grade, didn't have the 12th grade. Our class was the last one, 1948, was the last one for 11th grade, and then I got a job at a Teen Adult Center and my education had to go farther so I was sent to Towson and sent to Salisbury State to pick up the rest of my education. I mean, we graduated, it was graduated from Old Salisbury Colored High School, that's what it was called. So, but we were the last year and we went up to sixth grade at this school right here, we had a four room school and we always looked at it like we were blessed because most of the schools that we've got around and look at now, where they were always on the one floor, you know and we had two floors, you know, you thought you was something with the second floor. And we had three classrooms and the other room upstairs was like an assembly room on Fridays, we'd always have assembly and we had a big closet up there, and we had a little stage where we could go put on our little Sunday clothes, same thing we wear every day if it was Sunday, and just clean them up for Sunday. Go and polish your shoes on Saturday night, then wear the same thing on Sunday. And I remember my grandmother and them the day when they started buying feed, they had these colored feed bags. They had the white ones at first. They made our undergarmets there and then they go on, they got these colored feed bags. Flowers and stripes, everything, and mom made us dresses out of them, we thought we was uptown because we had a new dress.

[00:10:27] INR: How did your community respond to the Brown versus Board decision in 1954?

[00:10:36] ER: Excuse me?

[00:10:36] INR: The Brown versus Board decision in 1954 when the Supreme Court started to integrate schools, or decided that integration—

[00:10:48] ER: Well, some of them didn't like it because first place, they didn't want—the whites in Sharptown and Mardela did not want to come here. They really didn't want us to go to Sharptown. So that's why they built the Marks(?) School in Mardela. So it would be a different place for everybody on the highway, because they didn't want to come in our community, because they thought our community was dirt. Oh, but that's the way I all looked at it, talked about it that they thought we weren't as good as they were and then they didn't want us down in their area, so then they got together. But it was a few of them that were supportive and a few of the teachers and the ones that was coming up after me that understood, and then some of them just said they didn't want that want their children to go. It was a good while before they really accepted it, because really, I still don't think that we have integrated like we should be and I'm sure, you know, you don't feel the same way, you know, feel same way. I mean we're integrated but when you work in a place of business and got 25 white people and 1 black, thats's not integration. I don't why they call it that. But anyway, that's the way I personally feel about it. But I've always had, able to have what I wanted to, even when I got grown up and my children got what they wanted. Oh, what else, looking forward, well, it always worked anyway, so. But anyway, I've seen other people that have to be very poor and then the ones that were very poor, I think they really didn't understand it, too. A lot of them are without education, you know, because our older parents didn't have no education. You know, because I used to read to my grandfather when I got a little bigger, I know I was probably reading anything to him but I was reading. Thats what happen—I guess they finally accepted it, had been accepted altogether. But I know when we first started, like some teachers now are friends of mine, I think around ages of sixty something like that, I used to say "Colored" because I was always taught "Colored" and they'd tell me, "Don't say colored, say black, we are black, we are going to be black" you know, so, and I had never been taught to say black, black was a bad word for us to say, just like it was to call a white person a cracker. See, that was a bad word for us, you know, that's what our grandparents taught us. But then, the next generation, they changed a little bit. It's like in my brother's generation, my brother, 17 years younger than me, I was graduating from high school before he was born. So his, his thinking is much different than mine but, because I see he never had an outdoor toilet. When he went to school, he had indoor toilets. We had pump water, down in my ga—I remember when my grandmother got electric lights, 1948, when I was graduating from high school and I didn't know nothing but doing my lessons by lamplight. The chimney would be all smoked up and I had to go get a newspaper and clean my chimney and then go back. My brothers just come in house later on in years, he said, "Mom, you need a new bulb in there," I said, "You should have come along with me. And I said, "You should have come along with me," that's what I'd tell him, said "don't even know nothing about, you know, being without lights," you know, and all these things we had— didn't have.

[00:14:13] INR: Do you think the media of the Eastern Shore was for integration, or against it?

[00:14:18] ER: I think it was more against it than for it, me personally.

[00:14:24] INR: Do you know certain examples?

[00:14:29] ER: No, not really. I could just see it but I never got involved in it.

[00:14:40] INR: Have you ever experienced or seen examples of racism on the Eastern Shore? And if this is too personal, please feel free not to go into too much detail.

[00:14:50] ER: Doesn't bother me, but not with me, but I've seen a lot with our children. And I worked with the handicapped, mentally retarded, for 21 years and I even saw that in mental retardation because I've got one, a relative, that I look after, and even up until about ten years ago, the sort of thing that white people were getting, regardless of to how much money they got, you know, they get more money than our families did where they were getting an extra check for retardation. But then before I retired, it was such a thing that all retarded had to get this check, you know. I saw this and then I saw our children be mistreated too. Like going someplace, and you see white teachers grab over on the white children's hand, little black children, no. So I—the ones if I go on school trip, I just take any of them, but I could see all these little things while I was working in the school system, and I've always been active in the community and going in Salisbury, places like that, I could see. If they need to get involved, I get involved because we had an incident and within the NAACP. A white guy came through and grabbed one of our black girls and carried her off and that was a disgrace to our community. But, you know, we fought up for it. He didn't do any—I don't think he did anything to her, but he did carry her off and it was almost like he felt like it was all right for him to do it, you know? But we just went to the NAACP and they came in and took care of that situation. But I've seen situations where they want to bring in NAACP but I keep telling them, I said if you don't support it and you don't support your community, you know, like—most of the time it's people that don't support and don't want to do anything for anybody that wants to stir up a scene and, like from my church situation and school situation, I don't take part in it. But if I know that you around, I'll go with you all the way.

[00:17:03] INR: What kinds of jobs have you had throughout your life?

[00:17:07] ER: Eight. Um, I worked in Maryland Plastic. That's a plastic factory. And when I had my first son, I couldn't go back to work for six months. I had complications1 and I went to Perdue's and worked there two weeks and the slowest job that was on there, I couldn't keep up with it but I didn't had to do work, like I was saying about, busses, because through our community and care, children out in the fields, the white man and whatnot, but my grandfather always had his own farm and he never allowed us to go work out. We worked in the field, but not for somebody else. I'd get everything, it was on the farm: strip lace(?), big tomatoes, cucumbers and all that but I do it at home and I worked at (inaudible), I took a nursing course and I took down work for Mr. Gaskell(?) until he died and I did a lot prior to sitting, I worked in this store down here. One time I was doing three jobs, until income tax people got me [laughs] and then I always worked in the school system or taking care of people. So when I left here, retired and remarried, and went to Bridgeville. I retired from Teen Adult Center and which is now Dove Point, and I still help out with Dove Point and I lived in a group home in Dove Point, for Dove Point and for Teen Adult Center and when I left here and I said I was going to stay retired, but I stayed one month and then I went to Milford and started working for Kent-Sussex Industries and, you know where it's at? That's a school for handicapped and I retired again five years later. So now I'm doing volunteer work at the hospital and I'm doing volunteer work at school. And right now I'm volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Laurel, at 7:00 to 3:00 and I still enjoy it, and I go to school every day—I don't work on Friday, so volunteer four days a week and I volunteer at Nanticoke Hospital. Just my kind of work I've always done.

[00:19:30] INR: Do you feel that there was any kind of discrimination in those fields?

[00:19:34] ER: I never felt like it. Not with me. I guess maybe, I guess the way you carry yourself, because some people can almost pick an argument when it doesn't even have to be, you know. I believe that they didn't want to treat me like—as long as you treat me right, okay. I'm not a lawyer—yes, ma'am or no ma'am, and that's Aunt Sally's child(?) or you know, whatever. I'll stand up for my rights, but I don't go out of my way to look for trouble. I always try to make a person right. First thing they say, "Well you always try to find the best!" Well that's what I look for, the best in somebody.

[00:20:11] INR: What were the hardest choices that you had ever had to make? And do you feel like you made the right choices?

[00:20:29] ER: The hard choice I had didn't matter [both laugh]. Twice! As far as work and things like that I think that I really didn't have to make no choices, but I just, I just had two bad marriages, and doesn't bother me now. I can live with it or I can die with it, don't make no difference. Just some people wanting to cause a whole lot of problems, so I just walked out of it and if I wasn't so old I'd walk out of this one but I learned a few things, and I've adopted a boy and I found out that he needs me and I need him, I took him when he was four days old, his mother left him in the hospital, in Salisbury Hospital and I had just got married in May and I asked my husband, I said, "You want to adopt a baby?" Because my girlfriend was telling me about, it was her grandson—I didn't know the mother—but anyway, so I said, "Well, don't, don't, don't give it away." But she gave to welfare and welfare kept him for a month. You know, I was under surveillance for a month, but I had to clear up, and then I brought him home and I just, I just, he just feels like mine because my children are now—my oldest boy is 48 years old. My baby's 47, and he just fits right in the family and I don't want to give him up for nothing in the world. That was my thing.

[00:21:52] INR: How would you describe yourself politically?

[00:22:05] ER: I mean, I'm not, I'm just an easy going person, I guess and I did, I just—right now, and maybe it doesn't suit you—but I just love the Lord and he's first in my life and I just see things that, that I could pass by knowing that he's going to help me and I've been in some tough situations as far as marriage and, um, but I know that in the end that, like I might, in dealing with people, I just love people. A lot of people say I don't like new members and they don't like me but I just love people and just like you was asking me, why I love it, was I afraid? No! Because, I mean, I've asked the Lord to direct me in whatever I do, and I just feel comfortable when dealing with anybody, so, those are my thoughts.

[00:22:50] INR: What sorts of activities did you engage in as a young person?

[00:22:55] ER: We had nothing to do, as a young person. When I got older, I bowl and I'm working on a program right now and it's called—I don't know with you aware of it because I don't think it's in Maryland, but it's in Dallas, cause they call it FAST, F-A-S-T, Children and Family First is teaching parents how to deal with their children, and children how to deal with their parents. It's a program one night a week during school time, and we eat and the children have to serve their parents and have to socialize with their parents and I have a time where it was five of us staying and we talk to the parents and tell them what the children need, the children tell us, like one little girl, wrote on—we'd have graduation and we were going to ask them to tell what they liked and what they didn't like—and one little girl, and that little white girl and she's very poor, and she wrote that she was tired of being poor, so see we couldn't read it out in front of everybody at graduation. So we just had them to give it to their parents privately, you know, and I find out that helping somebody else is a big help to me, you know, because I don't have that many grandchildren, I think I've got, I have three grandchildren but they're all doing well. I've got a granddaughter that's in Maryland State Police in Baltimore and my sons and grandsons are doing okay but, I just wanna help someone else's child. You know, I just classify myself as being blessed.

[00:24:30] INR: Is today's race relations better or worse than previous years?

[00:24:34] ER: Better.

[00:24:37] INR: In what ways?

[00:24:39] ER: Well, always that I could see because, you know, I'll find white people or whatever, they're all nice to me and I'm not saying you put yourself in a position to be nice to people, but you know, you come up here and you be nasty to me, I don't have nothing to say to you, you know, I just go on my way. But in my family, I don't have any problems with my family, people being nasty to my family when we're together and people that I know, a lot of people call me up for advice and I just give the best advice I know. So, I just tell them, you know, you don't have that long to live to be worried about other people and you know, if you got your problems, if you've been like that all your life, if you've been precious your life, you don't need me trying change you today, right? So that's the way I feel about people, you know. I just, just love people who get along with others, I don't know. I just, I can see the difference in a lot of people. I teach bible class tonight, but—and we've got about, I guess, about 40 people that come out to my class and it's just like a big family, you know? And like I say, if I have a problem, I'd be glad to pray about my problems if I'm by mistake(?) some people you can't tell nothing what goes on in your life, and they come to the Bible class, young and old. I know one that's 83 years old, he said he just enjoys to hear the young folks talk about their problems and whatever goes on, and we have problems every week, we leave it there. You know, that's the good thing about it. People will be my comforter and going to go out and tell everybody what I say, it don't mean much to me. And I down here every—about three times a week from Ridgeville to work with my church work and I just feel like that—I just feel like things have changed so much that if I die today, tomorrow, I just feel like heaven is mine [laughs].

[00:26:46] INR: Well, what has been your opinion of this interview?

[00:26:47] ER: I've enjoyed myself because I just like to talk about myself! [both laugh] Talk about the good and the bad and, you know, I have need to change because as you all, you know, but I like to tell it like it is. But I never had no racial problems, I guess that's my big thing and I guess it's mostly because my grandparents took care of these other—because I didn't used to stay with my grandparents, but I'd be at home with kids, you know, three times a nights doing things, and she'd do all this extra stuff, you know. But I enjoyed the interview, enjoyed talking with you, and enjoyed talking about myself because as I said before, I just think I'm blessed. I didn't have decent—Well, my grandmother used to always tell me, regardless of what you have, if you got a rag, she said, make sure they're clean. She'd always see that we had clothes, clean clothes. Don't care whether it's homemade or whatnot, and I call myself blessed because I see little children now, they—I just like to dress them up and love them, they grew up and we—I knew their parents were poor but I know I was poor too but I was blessed poor.

[00:27:58] INR: I just start to conclude, please restate your full name and where you currently live.

[00:28:04] ER: My name is Elaine Rosalie Brown Stanley Jackson Ross. I live in Bridgeville, Delaware. 502 North Camden Street, Bridgeville, Delaware.

[00:28:17] INR: [Interviewer and assistants say thank you, recording ends]

Related Records

Record #23

County Wicomico County
School Name Salisbury High School
Location Lake street, location of Charles H. Chipman Elementary School, Salisbury
Date Opened
Current Status No longer standing, however, one of the original doorways is preserved on the grounds of Charles …
State Maryland

All Fields in This Record

State Maryland
County Wicomico County
School Name Salisbury High School
Location Lake street, location of Charles H. Chipman Elementary School, Salisbury
Date Opened
Current Status No longer standing, however, one of the original doorways is preserved on the grounds of Charles H. Chipman Elementary
Additional Information
State Maryland

Record #25

County Wicomico County
School Name San Domingo School (Rosenwald)
Location San Domingo
Date Opened 1919
Current Status Still standing and restored, now the San Domingo School Community and Cultural Center
State Maryland

All Fields in This Record

State Maryland
County Wicomico County
School Name San Domingo School (Rosenwald)
Location San Domingo
Date Opened 1919
Current Status Still standing and restored, now the San Domingo School Community and Cultural Center
Source The Rosenwald Schools of Maryland Multiple Property Documentation, 2010 Report, 13.
Additional Information 3-room, 3-teacher plan. Ceased operating as a school in the late 50s to early 60s.
State Maryland
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