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Interview with: Doris Peavey
Interviewed by: Nicolas Castellanos
Date: February 26, 2010
Archive Number: OH GS.0011
Inclusive Date Range: 1930-1970
Biographical Note: Mrs. Doris Peavey is a native Houstonian who is an alumna of The Gregory School, Jack Yates High School (1941), and Hampton University (1945). She is married with three children and was a homemaker for most of her life. She was employed at the Houston Informer and various Houston businesses. Mrs. Peavey was 84 years-young when we interviewed her and an active member of the Blue Triangle group in Houston.
Scope and Content Note: Mrs. Peavey discusses the Fourth Ward community, Houston movie theaters, Houston office buildings and the businesses that were tenants in those buildings. She discusses her and her Mother’s experiences at the Gregory School; her mother is Mary Ellen Chapman who was a Gregory School teacher for 33 years during 1930’s-1960’s.
Nicolas Castellanos (NC): Good afternoon, today is February 26th 2010 we are here at the African American Library at the Gregory School conducting our oral history project and we are joined here today by a Mrs. Peavey, and good afternoon.
Doris Peavey (DP): Good afternoon.
NC: And for the record would you please state your name, date of birth
DP: My name is Doris Chapman Peavey; I was born June 1st, 1925.
NC: And you had said you were born here in Houston, Texas is that correct.
DP: I was born here in Houston, Texas and I lived in third Ward.
NC: And your mother’s name is?
DP: Mary Ellen Chapman.
NC: And she worked here [The Gregory Elementary School, Houston, Texas] as a teacher?
DP: She worked here as a teacher and she taught the fourth grade for 33 years.
NC: And would you…
DP: She retired from Gregory.
DP: I also had a sister, Mary Ellen Chapman who also attended Gregory we are a year and six months difference in our ages so she went to, she attended Gregory, grades one through five.
NC: Ok, and what years did you attend Gregory?
DP: Let’s see, I guess in 1924.
NC: Ok, and uh what…
DP: No, not 1924 because I was born in ’25. 1930, I would say, I started at four, started school at four and we came from another neighborhood we weren’t resident of the Freedman’s neighborhood, but having a mother that was employed here, we spent the time here at Gregory. My grandchildren, I married, and had children and my mother brought my grandchildren here to Gregory and that was three of them and they attended Gregory until she retired.
DP: As far back as I can remember, the first principal that I remember here at Gregory was Mr. Francis, who was from the West Indies. And after him, after Mr. Francis, death or retirement, Mr. _____Chester was the principal and proceeding, I mean after Mr. Chester retired, Mr. W. L. D. Davis was the principal. Mr. W. L. D. Davis was a principal that was very interested in boy scouts, and of course he went to Harper middle school to be the principal there. After his departure, Mrs. Libby Boutte was the principal of Gregory, and after Mrs. Bouttee retired, Mrs. Lois Brantley became the principal. And those are all of the principals that I knew that was here, I think there was a Mrs. Brooks that followed Mrs. Brantly, but I am not certain.
DP: But my days here at Gregory we had recess we played out in the front and we had 10 o’clock and two o’clock recesses, and the regular lunch period. In May we always had a “May Fay;” which was, the teachers taught us how to dance, and we had wrapped a May pole and they had a lot of activities for children refreshments that were sold and the neighborhood participated in what they call, “May Fay.”
NC: And uh, speaking of “May Fay” and the festivals that, what else, would you explain that a little more so we can get an idea of your experiences and also what had gone on, like you are talking about the flag pole and how the neighborhood participated.
DP: They wrapped the May pole, uh, certain grades were assigned to certain activities for this particular event and it always occurred in May and they did a Latin dances, Spanish dances all kinds of dances that the teachers had taught the children to do in groups and of course the culminating activity was the wrapping of the May pole.
NC: And when you say wrapping…
DP: Each kid had a thing and they would go in out, in out and wrap it and the May pole was coming down.
NC: So this is an event that people look forward to.
DP: they looked forward to it, and most of the schools in the HISD had May Fays in the summer they also had some musical activities, but I don’t recall the type of activity.
NC: OK. Were there any other seasonal activities that you remember celebrating here at the Gregory School?
DP: Oh yes they had Halloween, activities they bob apples and wear the mask and do all kinds…have a, what is a, haunted house, that type of activities that the children would enjoy and then most of the parents would come back for these activities they would start maybe around two o’clock they bring their sisters and brothers that didn’t attend school.
NC: And when you bobbed for apples that’s a, you had a bucket of water, filled…
DP: They had a tub of water…
NC: …A tub of water and you would, what would you do?
DP: You would put the apples in there and you would have a chance, they’d blindfold you and you would have to get an apple and you put your head in the tub and get an apple if you could, if you couldn’t your turn was over and they would blind fold the next one and they would do that.
NC: No hands
NC: You didn’t use your hands?
DP: No, no, no.
NC: You used your mouth and you bit into the apple and tried to pull it out…
NC: Try to get an apple out.
NC: Uh-m, great, and how about any other seasonal holiday that you remember celebrating, what were some of the activities?
DP: Well I cannot, like I said, recall Halloween and Christmas activities, we would always have a Christmas pageant or something and the teachers would train what…each grade would be assigned some particular activity to participate in the program.
NC: Now let me ask you, when you were a student here, or any time in your life did you know a Mrs. Pinky Yates.
DP: Yes Mrs. Pinky Yates was my second grade teacher.
NC: And what was that like, do have any memories that you can share with us?
DP: I faintly remember Mrs. Pinky Yates because like I said I was in the second grade when and I think she stopped teaching there.
NC: Ok, and, ok, so what grade did you complete at the Gregory School before you moved on?
DP: I completed grade 5.
NC: And then what was your next school?
DP: The next school was Jack Yates high school in the 6th grade and we went from 6th grade to 11th.
NC: Ok and what was that like and where was Jack Yates high school.
DP: Jack Yates was located in Third Ward that was the feeder school that I should have gone to, from my neighborhood, and Blackshire and Douglas they feed, those two schools, elementary schools feed into Jack Yates. Because Jack Yates was the big school at that time, there were only three high schools for Blacks and that was Jack Yates, Wheatly, and Washington, Booker Washington. And there was a great rivalry, and they had a lot of activities. The football games and the basket ball games the marching bands, and it was exciting to be a student at Jack Yates.
NC: And do you remember the old Carnegie Library?
DP: Yes I do. Carnegie library was located between Antioch Baptist Church, I think, and, going toward West Dallas. It had a lot of steps going up, it was a big building.
NC: And what were your memories of inside the building?
DP: Inside the building?
DP: Just looked like a regular library, that’s all I can remember about it, Miss. I guess it was Ms. Lois Brantly was the librarian at that time.
NC: Ok, and, excuse me, and what were some of your memories, share, please share some of your high school memories with us.
DP: Well, I went to Yates high school, and of course I was exposed to my neighborhood friends that lived in my neighborhood. I was in the marching band, and we participated in parades, football games, activities…I did not sing in the Glee club, but they did have a glee club. We did, they had the Y [YWCA] sponsored what they called a girl reserved and we had meeting as a girl reserved you would wear a white outfit with a blue tie around your neck. So, that was the extra-curricular activities that we participated in and they were other clubs that the students participated and to give them experience and leadership and “what-not.” Of course when I graduated I was 15 going on 16, and I was 16 after graduation.
NC: And what year was that?
DP: In ’41 
NC: Ok, and, so in 1941 you graduated from high school, then what did you do?
DP: I went off the Hampton University, Hampton Institute at that time and it was in Hampton, Virginia. Went by train, took us two and a half days to get there.
NC: From Houston?
DP: From Houston.
NC: By train, to Hampton, Virginia, and how many years did you spend in Virginia?
DP: Four, but I came home in the summer.
NC: And what some of the unique differences that you were able to compare with Houston and Virginia.
DP: Well, having gone to Virginia and being so many miles away from home, I didn’t get a chance to come home for a special days like, Thanksgiving and the other seasonal holidays, so I had met, made friends with many of my college friends, and of course, my mother became friends with their parents, also. And I got invitations to go to South Carolina for Christmas, D.C., Washington D.C. for Christmas. New York and, one of my friends father was a chaplain in New Jersey and we there so I had many experiences in travelling because I didn’t get a chance to come home for the holi…vactional seasonal activities. We had very very strict rules the Dean in order for you to leave the campus or go anyplace; you had to have written permission from your Mother and an invitation from the person where you were going to visit.
NC: In 1941?
NC: That was kind of difficult to get that permission then from your mother.
DP: No it wasn’t, you call…you see I just went there in ’41 but I stayed there four years, I finished in ’45.
NC: I wasn’t thinking about the telephone, I was thinking about a letter.
DP: Well they would write letters. She wanted a written permission coming from your mother or talking by the telephone, you didn’t get a chance to leave the campus without that.
NC: And so when you were in Hampton did you get to take any trips to Washington D.C.?
NC: And what were some of your experiences there?
DP: Well, I went to Washington D.C. in, I went with my classmates from Hampton and we also…I sang in the choir at Hampton. And so the choir took some trips, we got to D.C. we went to Portsmouth, and the war broke out the first year was there, and that was ’41 or ’42. And it was Langly Field and there were some bases around the campus that they would invite the college students and they would take us on buses to the activities and of course the students like to go because they always had plenty of food and they have band, we had to wear formal dresses and it was fun.
NC: So college students were hungry then too in 1941.
DP: Yeah, were ever they could go and get a whole lot of good food.
NC: So you finished Hampton University with a degree, and you come back…do you come back to Houston?
NC: And when you come back to Houston, what’s your first job and what was it like?
DP: Well, when I first came back my friends wanted me to go back come back to New York and my mother did not want me to go back out of town and so I worked at a newspaper company; which, was one of the Black newspapers “Informer,” Broussard at the “Informer” was a graduate of Hampton, so he naturally welcome me to their staff and we started an alumni, Hampton alumni club then because my roommate was also from Houston, as the university here, TSU, grew, a lot of our faculty came, migrated to Houston, too, that’s how big its got here, came with some other teachers.
DP: …Some other folks, too, wanted to be on the staff at Texas Southern, and I think Dr. Lanier was at, at Texas Southern, and he had also been Dean of Instruction at Hampton. So my work experience started out with the newspaper, the local newspaper, Black newspaper here [Houston]. I had job offers in the county, for county, county demonstration, but Mother didn’t want me to go, you had to have a car, and you had to live with somebody, you know, so I didn’t pursue those jobs. And I had some jobs offered in, some Mississippi towns, and some small places, and my mother wasn’t receptive to my, leaving, and go to work there, I got married and I met my husband at the “Informer” newspaper. We got married and children came.
NC: Ok, and now Mrs. Peavey, when you returned from, when you returned to Houston from Hampton [Hampton University], you said you were a switch board operator….
DP: No, no, no…
NC: I am sorry…
DP: That was before, that was while I was in school.
NC: Oh, Ok,
DP: It was a summer job.
NC: Oh, Ok, so you would come home in the summers and you would…
DP: And. yeah, look for something to do.
NC: And. so you worked as a switch board operator. and would you please explain how some of that switchboard worked.
DP: Well, they called. And if you were, if they needed to go to the editor, social editor, or circulation, to the plant, they had the plant, and they had different persons that were over these different departments, that you, they had a line, and you would punch into that line.
NC: So you would actually plug in…
DP: To where ever or whoever the person, the incoming call would want. And then of course, there was also business going on people were coming in, the place to buy newspapers, or looking for…to…submit news to the various departments.
NC: Ok, and then when you started to work, you said you started to work in the circulation department.
DP: Yeah that was at…
NC: “Houston Informer…”
DP: the “Houston Informer,” that was after I finished school.
NC: Ok, so you finished school, you are at the “Houston Informer,” and what was it like to work at the “Houston Informer” and please explain what the “Houston Informer” is.
DP: The “Houston Informer” was a Black paper, a Black newspaper, and it was published Mr. Carter Wesley.
NC: And did you know Mr. Weasley? And what was he like?
DP: He was a very important figure in the Houston community. I am not, I think he was a graduate of Fisk University, but he was very highly educated man. And he ran the newspaper; I was incomparable to the “Defender,” “Chicago Defender,” the newspaper in other cities, kind of connected with those. And they would publish all the events that occurred in the Houston area and the city of Houston.
NC: And you said you worked in the circulation department, and you also shipped papers outside.
DP: They ship papers to small counties, and areas around.
NC: And you said you had a little Texas geography lesson.
DP: Yeah, I learned about these little towns that I had never heard of.
NC: And a…just explain a general day, or a general attitude at the office while you worked at the “Houston Informer,” and what was that like?
DP: We come in, and we’d have to, they had files that we would have to post information about their accounts, take care of any business that, inquiries that were made, you know, from the, I guess you call them the clients, the people that dealt with them.
NC: And what year was this?
DP: I finished in ’45, so that would be in ’46, between ’46 and ’47.
NC: You are a professional woman in 1947.
NC: No, I was asking you were a professional woman in 1947.
DP: Well, I don’t know if you can call it that or not, but that is when I, I had graduated from school.
NC: Absolutely, and let me ask how long did you work at the “Informer” and what did you do following the “Informer?”
DP: After the “Informer,” I taught in a small, in Alief, a three room school, for Blacks, in Alief, it’s off of Weistheimer.
NC: Uh-m, Ok, and how long were you there for?
DP: Mmm…A year.
NC: And then what you do…what did you do following that?
DP: I took care of my children.
DP: I had children, and I went to TSU [Texas Southern University], I got a…started on my Masters and a, after…when I started on my Masters I started working for H.I.S.D. [Houston Independent School District]. I think it was the first or second year I went to UT [The University of Texas at Austin] for, I did 18 hours at UT, I was working in special ed. [Education].
NC: You had said that, you had mentioned that you moved to Austin,
DP: No I didn’t…yeah I just went for the summers.
NC: Right, Ok, now let me ask, so you were a teacher.
NC: Like your mother.
NC: U-um. And did you ever work at the Gregory School?
NC: No, not even as a substitute?
DP: No, I didn’t do any substitute. The only substitute work that I did was at BlackShire.
DP: And that was just a, like December to January, I think I started at Dogan, after that.
NC: Ok, and you have, how many children did you have? And what are their names?
DP: Rufus Fanz, Wilber Fanz, and Marcia Fanz and, and they all attended Gregory.
NC: They did attend Gregory, and what years did they attend Gregory?
DP: Let’s see, ____in ’47. Around ’51 – ’52 something like that.
NC: Ok, so early to mid 1950’s, they came to school, and how did your children get to school?
DP: My mother brought them.
NC: And she was still a teacher here?
NC: Mm…And do you remember any activities, or events, or socials that you attended while your children were here at the Gregory School?
DP: …Everything, whenever they had any programs or anything, I always come, because I was teaching, too, at other schools.
NC: And what were some of those programs like?
DP: They were very nice, they didn’t have, well, Gregory was a framed, I think the cafeteria was a framed building, sitting on that side of the campus and.
NC: And that is the West side.
DP: Yeah the West side, and it was nothing elaborate, you know nothing fancy, just, they had, everything was, just makeshift. They did a huge make over, but I don’t know what year that was, and they called it Gregory-Lincoln then, they added some buildings, I think, on this side of the campus, and then I don’t think that it worked out and they just went on over to Gregory-Lincoln on West Dallas, and whatever, they went on to the junior elementary and junior high together. But they tried to remodel Gregory, and bring it up to par, update. But I don’t know what year that was.
NC: Good afternoon, and let me ask, you said your mom was a teacher here at Gregory School, do you know what inspired her to become a teacher? Where she found her inspiration? And what it was like as a teacher, what her life was like?
DP: She was very energetic, and she lived with these people in Prairie View, The Uwells, that family in Prairie View she lived in their home, I guess like most youngsters that live in that kind of work, and then they moved to Houston, and she stayed with them, and they encouraged her to…like I said she didn’t no other family. She went to, what was called Houston College for Negroes then, and she would teach, and then go to school in the evenings, and she would take us, with us we had some folks call us classmates because, we were always around while she was in class, and she just had ambition, and she wanted to be, and she got her Masters. She got her Bachelors from at that time when she was at Prairie View it was a normal just a two year course, and that would give you the opportunity to teach, and that is where she started in these rural places.
NC: Ok and you said, yeah she travelled by horse at some times…
DP: Yeah they had to…I don’t know what kind of…see I don’t recall what part of the…I guess she…I remember, seems like it was Missouri, Missouri County.
NC: Ok, and then she started her at the Gregory…
DP: When she finished her tenure at Booker Washington, at supernumerary she became a fulltime teacher at Gregory.
NC: And her name was Mary Ellen Chapman.
NC: And, you also, it became, you knew the Covington family here in Houston, and what were they like?
DP: They were very nice, well Dr. Covington was my mother’s physician, and he had an office on Dowling, too, which was in the next block from the church, from my church. Mrs. Covington he had a lot to do with that Blue Triangle Y [YMCA], she worked with that. And she had beautiful flowers, a garden and what-not, that’s how we got the garden club started. She had very, her daughter was very talented, she was a soloist soprana, I think, and her father was president of Dillard University, there in New Orleans. And her daughter would give concerts; they were very, a very well known, well thought of family. Jessie Covington and she married Mr., Dr. Dan Ferret Jones.
NC: When your mom was teaching at the Gregory School, and you were a student at the Gregory school, what path did you take, what street did you use, or what streetcar, or bus did you use?
DP: We had the street car, let me tell you, as I said, we didn’t have a car, so my mother would come as far as, she ride the street car as far as Milam, no Louisiana, Louisiana and I think its Louisiana and Prairie. And sometimes they would pool, and she would ride with some of her co-workers, but when she didn’t she rode the streetcar, and as I said we got off at Pierce, and did I say Milam? I believe and my mother would walk us, make us walk from there to the school to keep from being late.
DP: And sometimes it was very cold and she would wait for that San Felipe streetcar, and we would just walk on across, you know Pierce is right there.
NC: And what are some of your memories of the streetcar? Like how fast did it go?
DP: It didn’t go far, it didn’t go fast.
NC: How much was the fare?
DP: I don’t know, because I did not have to pay the fare, but the streetcar came and…it was San Felipe, it was Pierce [Street], and then you could connect on to San Felipe, and it would come on out here to, and would turn, is that? And go back up West Dallas. What’s the street crossing there?
DP: I believe it was Gillette.
DP: Wilson, Wilson turned Wilson, and it would go back to San Felipe, West Dallas and go on up to West Dallas and go on up to town.
NC: Ok, and what are your memories of West Dallas, the industries the businesses that were there?
DP: Well the businesses the Pilgrim Temple was there and we had some, my doctors, my doctor, Dr. Perry was my doctor, and he was the one who delivered my children. That was The Pilgrim Temple housed the, many of the medical doctors had their offices there, and Mrs. Bula Horn had her accounting office there. Mrs. Cabit, Mrs. Onita Cabbit had her hat shop, her husband was also a CPA [Certified Public Accountant] and he had offices there. And then, seems like to me that there was another business place there, but I knew doctor Thelma Patton Law was, her office was up there and Dr. Ford. There were a lot of Black doctors, Dr. Madison, they were all physicians in that building, and the interesting was Mrs. Onita Cabbit hats, she is still living, she belongs to Antioch Baptist Church.
NC: And what was interesting?
DP: She made beautiful hats; the ladies would go there to get their hats made.
NC: And just for the record would you please explain what a hat shop is?
DP: Hat shop, millinery shop that makes attractive, fashionable, ladies hats and of course they are seasonal, and after she stopped the shop she went into teaching in H.I.S.D, she started teaching in, class room I don’t know where she teaching millinery or not.
NC: And do you remember any other businesses in the Pilgrim House?
DP: Like I said the horn was a, and Mr. Cabbit, and it was a newspaper in there, that a “Labor News” or something like that, I think it was the “Labor News.” I think Mr. Julius White, you ever heard of him, anybody mention him?
DP: I think he had his newspaper, I mean he was in that building, he was a civic man, but I think it was the “Labor News” that was in that building, and that is about all that I know, like I said they used to have fairs at the Pilgrim building like dances and what-not.
NC: Similar to the El Dorado Ballroom?
DP: Right, right, because our Hampton club had its ball up there.
NC: How about any restaurants, do you remember any restaurants along West Dallas?
DP: I don’t remember the restaurants. I remember the theater being down there and there was the Harlem, Harlem, I guess it was the Harlem Grill.
NC: The Harlem Grill.
DP: Ok, Harlem Grill, and above was a dancehall.
NC: And where was this?
DP: On West Dallas.
NC: Do you remember the cross street?
DP: Sualnier, probably.
NC: And did you ever eat at the Harlem Grill?
DP: No, no, no I did not eat. I did go the what is it? The Rainbow Theater once or twice, my mother carried us there, but otherwise I did know anything about the eating, eateries there. Now there were some barbeque places over here that I did know about that would, she would buy barbeque, but I don’t, we didn’t eat at any of those places.
NC: How about the Rainbow Theater, what are your memories of the Rainbow Theater? And what was it like?
DP: Well it was just a neighborhood theater like we had Park Theater, and we had the Dowling Theater in Third Ward, and in Fourth Ward there was the Rainbow Theater, and Fifth Ward there was the Deluxe Theater, and I think that was all, I don’t think they had but the one theater. And those were the theaters Black folks were allowed to go to, of course there was a section in downtown that had the Lincoln Theater, and you could go up to the Majestic, and sit in the balcony that was long about Travis, or somewhere along in there, I don’t recall the streets, but you could go like if they had special…entertainment or something, you could go to those theaters, and they had a balcony you could sit up in a balcony. The Lincoln was an entire Black theater, and it was cross the street from the Odd Fellows? Ever hear of the Odd Fellows temple?
NC: You said Odd Fellows?
NC: No I didn’t, would you want to explains it?
DP: Odd Fellows temple was like the Pilgrim temple it had housed doctors and business, attorney, lawyer’s offices. And it was across from the “Chronicle,” where the “Chronicle” is now, it was across from there.
NC: Ok, and do you know the address, the street that it is on?
DP: That, Louisiana.
NC: What was the name of the building again.
DP: Odd Fellows.
NC: Odd Fellows.
DP: O-D-D F-E-L-L-O-W-S.
NC: And let me ask what was the Lincoln Theater like?
DP: The Lincoln Theater was just like the other neighborhood theaters it was adjacent to the Odd Fellows building, and Black folks used to go there, to the theater, and then I think there was a beauty shop right next to it, folks used to go and get their hair fixed.
NC: And when you say theater, these are places that show movies?
DP: They showed movies, yes.
NC: Any other type of entertainment?
DP: None that I know of.
NC: The theater had just had one screen.
NC: Not twelve or…
DP: No, no, no…it was just one theater, one picture you go there.
NC: And what was the price of a ticket? Think you could remember?
DP: Fifteen cents and twenty five cents.
NC: And what years would you…
DP: Maybe the most would be thirty cents.
NC: And what years do you think this was? That they were these prices?
DP: Mmm…I guess…about, in the ‘50’s.