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


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Interview with Randall Parker, 12 July 2005

Audio Recording

About This Recording

In this interview, Charles Smith and Karen Smith interview Randall Parker; a World War II veteran from San Domingo, MD. Randal Smith talks about his upbringing in the area, including his life on a farm and his education through high school. He speaks about his time in a segregated US Army unit during World War II, describing his training, his involvement in the Invasion of Normandy in 1944, and his experiences as an African American during the war. He also talks about his community of San Domingo, MD, and some of the changes he's seen in recent years.

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


Interviewers: Charles Smith and Karen Smith
Narrator: Randall Parker
Date of Recording: July 12th, 2005
Keywords: Segregation, World War II, African American Education, San Domingo, Salisbury, schoolhouses

[Recording begins with static and shuffling sounds, interview begins at 00:23]
Charles Smith (CS): Today is July 12th, 2005. My name is Charles Smith, I am a schoolteacher at James Bennett High School in Salisbury, Maryland. I am joined by my wife, Karen Smith, media specialist of Wicomico High School in Salisbury, Maryland and we are making a recording today for Salisbury University. This is being done through a Teach American History Grant and the purpose of this is to meet and interview people in our local community and record and share their life experiences. We're here today in the house of Mr. Randall Parker. Mr. Parker lives in the community known as San Domingo, it's a small community located between Mardela Springs and Sharptown and we are just going to sit back and chat with him for a few minutes and get some information from him. Mr. Parker, could you briefly share with us when you were born, where you were born, your parents, and that type of stuff?

Randall Parker (RP): Well, I was born in what they call New Fall (?) which is about, a couple of, [tape squeaks] 8 miles from Delmar, east of Delmar, on the Delaware-Maryland line practically, and my family was farm family, my father was a farmer all of his life and my mother was a housewife. She did not work anywhere except to help my father during the summer occasionally out on the farm, harvesting crops.

CS: What type of crops did your father grow?

RP: My father grew all types of crops like vegetables and grain, those are the two main things.

CS: Now were these hauled to like, Delmar?

RP: They hauled it to Delmar, which used to have an auction block.

CS: Uh-huh.

RP: And then sell it at the Delmar auction block, or go to Laurel, both auction blocks at that time.

CS: Now, how did he get the stuff there?

RP: Usually, you had to have a mule and wagon and then when trucks and stuff, when they became available, he had an old Model-T truck that he used to use to deliver this stuff to the ____(inaudible) markets.

CS: Now do you remember the meetings and did you work with him for the meetings?

RP: I remember the meetings and remember driving to them, I was able to drive the truck when I was about 13 and I could drive it into there, enough to have a license which were at the farm at some point.

CS: And is, a lot of people that you worked with share that livelihood with farming and working?

RP: Oh yeah, in fact, the entire area were farmers in where we were living.

CS: You shared with me prior to this interview that you attended Owen's Corner Elementary School. Could you tell me about that? Was it a small school, big school?

RP: It was a small, two-room school, two-rooms, had grades from 1 through 8 and we attended Owen's Corner from 1 through 8 and we graduated from Owen's Corner, we went to Laurel, to a school called Paul Laurence Dunbar, which was grades from 9 through 11 and when we completed the 11th grade at Paul Laurence Dunbar, if you wanted to complete high school, had to attend Delaware State College for one year, 12th grade at that time.

CS: So after the Dunbar school, you attended Delaware State College?

RP: For about a year.

CS: and that was in Dover?

RP: In Dover.

CS: Okay.

RP: You know, Delaware State College was one of those land grant schools.

CS: Right. Going back to Owen's Corner, you said it was a two-room schoolhouse. How was it heated?

RP: It was heated with a coal stove. Some of the bigger children would go out in the morning, shake it down, and get the fire going good in the hope it's heated when the students got there in the morning. Schools used to take you in at 9 o'clock and let out at 4.

CS: 9 to 4?

RP: 9 to 4.

CS: Now did you have—what was faculty, the staff? Did you have one teacher, or two?

RP: Oh man, we had a big faculty of two [both laugh] One teacher taught from first through the fourth grades and the other from the fifth through the eighth.

CS: And I'm assuming they were custodian, principal, school nurse, everything all and everything?

[Unclear as both are speaking]

CS: They're the complete package.

RP: Yeah.

CS: Looking back on it, do you think that the, did you receive a good—Was it a good education?

RP: I have received a very good foundation. Yeah. They were fair about teaching reading, writing and arithmetic and from there it went on. We got up to division and everything else.

CS: This would have been in—you were born in 1921, so this would have been in the late twenties and early thirties.

RP: Late twenties and early thirties.

CS: I'm assuming it was a segregated school, or?

RP: It was all segregated. Both DuPont's schools, Owen's Corner and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

CS: and Dunbar, and Delaware State?

RP: It was segregated at that time.

CS: Wh—how—I'm familiar with Delaware State as it exists today, is it, was it still in the same location, basically?

RP: It was basically the same location but, a lot of the buildings were wooden structures and so forth at that time. Today, of course, they're all brick buildings.

CS: After high school, I see you went back to Del-State in 1953?

RP: I graduated from Del-State again in—

CS: 1953.

RP: College, I went back in 1949.

CS: Oh, okay. So you actually graduated from there twice, then?

RP: Twice.

CS: Okay, right. Following Del-State the first time, was that when you were drafted, or?

RP: No, following Del-State the first time, I came home and went to work at DuPont in Seaford.

CS: Seaford, Delaware, Okay.

RP: I worked for DuPont until I was drafted in '43.

CS: Uh-huh, in the United States Army?

RP: In the United States Army.

CS: I'm a veteran also, so from a different war, a different era. So, I respect that if you don't want to share anything, or if you don't, or whatever. Would you like to share anything about your military service?

RP: Oh, it's just plain military service. Got my basic training in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

CS: Okay.

RP: When we completed basic training, we were sent to England. We were in England about a month and then we took part in the invasion of Normandy Beach.

CS: So you were involved in the invasion of Normandy?

RP: Yeah we landed—my outfit landed at D-5, which was the fifth day of the invasion and we fought up the, or up until we got to, until the war was over, then we were stationed in Bremerhaven, Germany.

CS: Fascinating. So you follow, you were with, the whole way across France?

RP: The way across France, then through Belgium then back up into France.

CS: What did you see? Was it war-torn, was, were the people happy to see?

RP: People were happy to see us. The destruction was unimaginable.

CS: I'm sure, I can't imagine. You received royal treatment from the French citizens?

RP: Even surprisingly from the Germans.

CS: Is that right?

RP: That is, yeah, the Germans were very nice when we got there. However, there were no men in Germany, I mean we saw nothing except women and children.

CS: Small children, or maybe older men and women?

RP: No, they definitely were not old, that's something that I do not remember seeing, an older man in Germany, until after the war.

CS: Now, Mr. Parker, why do you think even the Germans were happy to see the American army?

RP: Just to looking at us as liberators or something, I don't know, but they were very friendly, very nice.

CS: It was either you or the Russians I guess, and they're better off with—

RP: With the Americans.

CS: Americans, yeah. Did you serve in a segregated unit?

RP: It was a very segregated unit.

CS: Were not NCOs and officers African-American or?

RP: Yeah, we had a couple of incidents while we were in Kentucky, where the white officers, and the—we got some prisoners, from the (inaudible) jail, even trying to understand "Gee, I think they're trying to yell at me," and they were, well, pretty rough and the white officers could not control it, so as a result then, about six or eight months into my training, we got all black officers.

CS: and the NCOs were all black as well, so your whole chain of command...

RP: ...whole chain of command, black.

CS: You, you were in Germany, after the World War ended,

RP: ended,

CS: How? You were there all the way to 1947, or?

RP: About, yeah. Fall time, about three months before, and we came back to France, left them all their cigarette cans, and we stayed in there. We were waiting for transportation back to the States.

CS: What you saw in Germany, was it very war-torn, were the people hungry, was the-?

RP: Every good, large city, was very war-torn. The people did not seem to be hungry but the cities were, you know, levelled.

CS: Did you ever run into any German P.O.W.s or soldiers or?

RP: Part of my job while I was in the service we had, just think about, 10,000 P.O.W.s at one time, and we had about seven or eight enlisted men. So, you see the matchup, [both speaking—unclear] I'd be able to furnish them food and clothing and so forth and they sort of police themselves.

CS: How did you find the German P.O.W.s? Were they hostile, were they—?

RP: They were not hostile to us. However, word came out that the P.O.W.s did not want to be supervised by black soldiers. So as a result, we were removed and replaced by white soldiers.

CS: Were the soldiers—did they look like they'd been through some rough, the Germans—

RP: Some of them did.

CS: —Because I am sure they had been fighting for enough years.

RP: It seemed to us that they were starved when they—because it was the first time in my life I ever seen people eat out of garbage cans but the German soldiers were eating out of our garbage cans and then anywhere they could get food for a while. And of course, as this structure, you know, and they'd work be coming and getting the food and so forth there. That food there, and the living conditions, were much better for them.

CS: Got out of the Army, where were you discharged?

RP: I was discharged at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and at that other army (inaudible), I went back to work at DuPont.

CS: Okay.

RP: And I couldn't make myself very contented at DuPont, so I decided to go back to college. When I went back to college.

CS: Did you do that on the G.I. Bill, or?

RP: Yeah.

CS: That's what the college that—when there was veteran's benefits. What did you study at Del-State, what was your?

RP: Administration.

CS: Administration.

RP: Yeah, and as a result of studying administration, I got a job as a social worker in Georgetown and then through the ranks I moved up to become the administrator for about 10 or 12 years.

CS: How did you get from living—How did you wind up in San Domingo? What brought you here?

RP: Well, I met a girl from San Domingo before that tour of service, and we used to write to each-other and so forth. Well, when the war was over I came back and we picked up where we left off, and next thing I knew I was married [both laugh] and when I got married I moved down there, but you can understand that and lived (inaudible)

CS: What year did you move to San Domingo? You may have—

RP: '47.

CS: '47. What was this community like in '47?

RP: In 1947, it was all black and they have the one family work(?) to my knowledge. And It was, everybody here worked, they owned their own property and it was a very independent community.

CS: We've done a little research on it, about San Domingo, and it's got a fascinating history, dates back to the early 1800s, Mr. Brown had made—

RP: Yeah.

CS: So you're familiar with all that. Tell me, educate me.

RP: I don't know much about Jim Brown, you know, I do know where his grave was up here on Dashiell’s Road.

CS: On Dashiell’s Road.

RP: Uh-huh.

CS: And he came here from Jamaica, he married a free woman, and then his descendants, one of his granddaughters, married, after the Civil War, a man named John Quinton, have you heard that name before?

RP: Yeah.

CS: John Quinton established a school

RP: Well I don't know who established the school.

CS: And the church, and the church as well I believe. Was there—'47, the 50s was there any type of filling station, store, anything like that here?

RP: There was a store, there were two stores; there was one down here and there was one down in what we called down in the country and they were both operated by black people and they did really good business.

CS: Are there still, to the best of your knowledge, any descendants of Jim Brown or John Quinton living in San Domingo?

RP: I would assume that the Quintons over here are some descendants of the John Quinton. Jim Brown's descendants I do not know. I mean, they never knew any of them. Not direct descendants.

CS: Your wife, she was born and raised in San Domingo?

RP: Yes, she was born and raised in San Domingo.

CS: What was her maiden name?

RP: Her maiden name was Stanley. The Stanley's, and incidentally, her grandmother lived to be 100 and-

Vivian Parker: [Randall’s Daughter]: 18.

RP: -18 years old, 118.

CS: Now she would remember something, she experienced it. How has the community changed from 1947 to where stand today?

RP: Well, it’s been a lot of changes, one that’s changed is roads, the other change is the —we've become more integrated, number of white families in here now, even a couple of Mexican families and like all parts, I guess, of the U.S., things are just changing.

CS: In 1947, when you moved to San Domingo, if you needed to go to town, did that mean you're going to Sharptown? Did that mean you were going to Mardela? Delmar?

RP: Sharptown, usually.

CS: Sharptown was the big choice.

RP: Well it was closer, too. You could really walk to Sharptown if you had to but most people back then had cars and they drove to Sharptown, and they went to Sharptown to a plant there named Marvel Package Company.

CS: What type of product did they—?

RP: Baskets, basket factory and of course, a lot of people worked there because it was viewed as work. There was no electric in San Domingo at that time.

CS: In 1947?

RP: 1947. It came through a year or two later, and Choptank came in and brought the electric lights to the entire community.

CS: Was that a big—I'm assuming that was a big event, everybody—

RP: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

CS: Changed everybody's life.

RP: Mm-hmm.

CS: Radically, in town, I've never lived without electric.

RP: You've never lived without electric?

CS: I can't even believe. How often would a trip to Salisbury be made?

RP: Every week. So the most of us had a bus that used to pick up people in Canvas Hall(?). I think they charged something like a quarter to go to Salisbury on Saturday nights and of course Salisbury was pretty segregated, too we'd go out, go to movies, sat at clubs and so forth down in the Lake Street area.

CS: What was the name of the movie theater?

RP: The Ritz, the Ritz Theater.

CS: and that was a segregated movie theater. The Ulman and the Arcade, were they—

RP: They were segregated to the extent that the blacks went upstairs and whites, down.

CS: Did you ever yourself go in either of those?

RP: Yeah, well, we used to go to Ulman's [Theater] quite often.

CS: And so that you had a balcony?

RP: A balcony.

CS: Like you said, a club or something. I'm assuming they were segregated?

RP: They were segregated at that time.

CS: Where was—what was an all-black club in Salisbury at that time?

RP: What were—what were some black clubs in Salisbury?

Vivian Parker: Moon girl(?) That was over on top of the 10-cent store, Budweiser.

RP: Not Moon girl(?), Blue moon.

Vivian Parker: Blue moon.

RP: Budweiser.

Vivian Parker: They have a teenager, they called—where teenagers went on Saturday nights just for dancing and drinking sodas. It was all black.

CS: Things have changed a lot.

RP: Oh yeah, they've changed an awful lot.

RP: And what year did you retire, sir?

RP: '83.

CS: '83, and what have you been doing with yourself?

RP: Well, for about four or five year I got to be a substitute teacher.

CS: Oh, Okay.

RP: Then after that, well my knees were getting a little bad, so I just retired and done nothing, got a knee operation and just, been taking it easy since them.

CS: Good for you, good for you. You were back into the school as an older gentleman, how did your experiences compare to what you remembered as a child at Owen's Corner?

RP: Oh, no comparison. None.

CS: I'm assuming the two teachers at Owen's Corner, they were disciplinarians as well and this one was pry a little different?

RP: Very different. Students who said nothing to them but sit down and take a seat. Otherwise, he had to call the person home. But not a, not a principal; the assistant principal.

CS: Getting back to San Domingo. Is it still, do you feel there is a sense of community there? As strong as it was when you first moved here in the forties?

RP: No, I do not, no. I think transportation and so forth has made things, it has spread it out a lot. You're not dependent on any one person or any one place. Anybody wants to go to the one church, to the one school and so forth and there was a sense of togetherness, and that doesn't exist like it did then.

CS: I know where the church is if I keep going and I make a right that takes me back to the Zion Church, where was the old school located, I'm not—?

Vivian Parker: [Muffled in background] The old school? Old school road?

RP: Yeah, the Old School Road down here. You head onto the end of the (inaudible)[Quantico] road, turn right, go about 20 or 50 feet, turn left [on Old School road] and it's a large building, down there on the left. It's a large hall now, a masonic hall.

CS: A masonic hall. When did the school stop functioning as a school? Do you remember, or?

RP: No, I don't. She might.

Vivian Parker: I cannot say, because I wasn't here at the time.

RP: Victorine went?

Vivian Parker: Victorine went—Victorine didn't even go there. She went to Mardela,

RP: Yeah, I know.

Vivian Parker: —out west.

RP: But I thought you went to the school right here before we went to Salisbury.

Vivian Parker: Yeah, I went to another school that—

RP: But that's what he means, when was it closed?

Vivian Parker: I don't know when it closed because I can't say when they built the new one [continues, muffled due to distance from mic].

RP: Uh-huh.

Vivian Parker: So, I went to Salisbury High and came out of Salisbury high in '61 so, I went from the first through the sixth grade at here, and then from the seventh through twelfth at Salisbury High.

RP: Yeah, but you don't know what gave you this idea though, that's what we were after.

Vivian Parker: Not like I can, Oh! Fifty... 1950...1953? 54? Something like that.

RP: Well I would have known about that.

Vivian Parker: 53-54 [Correction: Sources vary, but San Domingo's schoolhouse stopped functioning as a school at some point between 1957 and 1961].

RP: At that time that school closed out here. Right after that.

Vivian Parker: —because they built the new one.

RP: Yeah, because they built a new one.

CS: Now, do you still know most of the families in the San Domingo? You said it's not what it was, but is it still enough that you, you know.

RP: No, I don't know everybody but I know most of them. We have a lot of strangers that come in that I do not know.

CS: Mr. Parker, is there anything—You've given us a wonderful synopsis of life, it's kind of fascinating. I had no idea about your adventures in Europe and all that. Is there anything that—your child or anything that you would like to share that 50, 60 years from now someone picks this tape up and they might—

RP: No, nothing that I know of.

CS: Well, sir, we appreciate you taking the time to allow us not only in your house, but to share your experiences with us.

RP: My pleasure as well.

CS: And these will be housed at Salisbury University at the Nabb Center and they are for you and your family to enjoy any time.

Related Records

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

Record #80

County Sussex County
School Name Laurel-Paul Laurence Dunbar School (DuPont)
Location W. 6th Street, Laurel
Date Opened 1921
Current Status Still standing in original location, served as a school until 2018.
State Delaware

All Fields in This Record

State Delaware
County Sussex County
School Name Laurel-Paul Laurence Dunbar School (DuPont)
Location W. 6th Street, Laurel
Date Opened 1921
Current Status Still standing in original location, served as a school until 2018.
Source Bradley Skelcher, African American Education in Delaware (Wilmington: Delaware Heritage Press, 1999), 57, 69. Showell et al, DuPont “Colored” Schools, 1920-1931: An Architectural Survey Report,
Additional Information Originally built as a four-room school, then renovated into a six-room school. Current size much larger after decades of additions.
State Delaware
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Record #87

County Sussex County
School Name Owen’s Corner School (DuPont)
Location White Deer Road, Delmar
Date Opened Built 1923
Current Status Still standing, now under the care of Mt. Nebo Methodist Church in Delmar.
State Delaware

All Fields in This Record

State Delaware
County Sussex County
School Name Owen’s Corner School (DuPont)
Location White Deer Road, Delmar
Date Opened Built 1923
Current Status Still standing, now under the care of Mt. Nebo Methodist Church in Delmar.
Source Bradley Skelcher, African American Education in Delaware (Wilmington: Delaware Heritage Press, 1999): 13. Showell et al, DuPont “Colored” Schools, 1920-1931: An Architectural Survey Report, 144.
Additional Information 213-C. Two-room school.
State Delaware
Click on a field to move that field into top summary row for all records in this source.