The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.
The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.
The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:
The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas 77002
The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.
For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at email@example.com.
Interview with: Elizabeth Wilder
Interviewed by: Nicolas Castellanos
Date: February 17, 2010
Archive Number: OH GS 0008
Nicolas Castellanos (NC): We are here at the African American Library at the Gregory School. Today is Wednesday February 17th 2010, and I am joined by a Mrs. Elizabeth Wilder, Good Afternoon.
Elizabeth Wilder (EW): Good Afternoon.
NC: And just for our record, would you please state you name, your place of birth, and the day you were born.
EW: My name is Elizabeth Wilder, did you want both.
NC: Yeah, where were you born?
EW: I was born in Lebeau, Louisiana, under the name of Elizabeth Ford.
NC: Elizabeth Ford, and what day were you born?
EW: July the fourteenth.
NC: And what year?
NC: Ok, So today you are 95?
NC: And I wanted to ask you, you were born in Lebeau, and you came to Texas, you mentioned earlier that you first came to Texas when you were six-years-old.
EW: I think I was, I am not sure, I think I was about six.
NC: You were a child, and what were your first memories of Texas, you had mentioned a flood in your town?
EW: I do not know what me first memories was, might have had many. I do not know…
Alan Brown (AB): …But you remember the flood? The Flood..?
EW: The flood, we came out of the flood, you know, of course, we had to stay under the…in the wagon or under the wagon for protection until we got somewhere to live. And like I said these deaf and dumb couple had an extra house, and they let us stay in that, until we got somewhere to live.
NC: And you know, flood is a…must have been a traumatic experience, but what are some of your memories from that flood, things that had happen….happenings that you witnessed.
EW: I can’t remember too much because, that happen when we first came to Texas, and of course like I said that was in ’21 , and I was very, very young at that time. And I don’t remember a whole lot like the children remember now, you know, they remember the world, but I don’t.
AB: The animals floating
EW: I remember the animals and the horses and things gone…floating down the water, you know. Dead animals floating down the water, the horses, the chickens trying to survive, some of them sitting on top of horses as they float down.
NC: And how did you receive the message that a flood, that the levees broke?
EW: I did not know about the message at that particular time, but to receive anything…I had to do just what my folk…my parents told me to do, get-up, get dressed and let’s go, and that is what I did.
AB: How did they warn you, how the flood was coming, that the flood was coming, who warned you.
EW: They warned my parents, they told my parents about it, and my parents tell us when we were all going to bed, and sleep, and they just woke us up, and told us to get up and get dressed, let’s get out, because a flood was coming. Well, that didn’t mean anything to me.
AB: How did they get the news to you?
EW: This is what I said in the beginning, I think, that there was a man riding a horse, and he was going around, telling the families, to get out because the levee had broken and there was going to be a flood, and it didn’t take it long for it to spread out, all over the community. So everybody was in a hurry to get out, and they had no way to get out but get out in a wagon.
NC: And let me ask, you also mentioned that you lived in College Station, Texas.
EW: I beg your pardon.
NC: Well you had mentioned that you lived in College Station, Texas.
EW: What about it?
NC: What was life like there? While you were there, and when were you there?
EW: I don’t remember how old I was when I was there, I guess, maybe I, probably was still young because that was the year, I mean, I don’t know the year, but, anyway that was the time, if you all remember me telling you that I was blind at one time, and how this man came by and told my mother what to do, and I would be able to get my sight back. And then three days, I was able to learn a brightness, you know, and this is the way my…my eye-sight came back, when he told my mother what to put in my eye, which was sugar, and I assumed, she never knew and I didn’t either, but soon as I was old enough to think about it, I imagined that sugar was cutting a cataract, that’s what I was thinking, that the sugar did. He said, he told her how many drops of iodine to give me in some water. I don’t know how much water, but…and neither how many drops. And he told her how many times to give me that, per day, I don’t know how many times that was, either, but then that is what she did and that…my sight began to come back. Had never seen the man before, never saw him since. He just passed through.
NC: So you lost your sight as a young child and no medical intervention to regain your sight, other than what this gentleman has prescribed to you?
EW: MM [no].
NC: That’s an amazing story.
AB: There were no Doctors?
EW: No Doctors. I guess, I don’t know whether my parents didn’t believe in doctors, or whether they just didn’t have money to take you to the doctor, I don’t know which it was, but they would always get some kind of a herb or root or something, you know, and boil that and give you that, for this or for that, you know, pneumonia or something or so on, you know. They never took us to the doctor, they always doctored on us on themselves.
AB: Home remedies.
EW: Home remedies all home remedies.
NC: And you were talking about planting, planting crops to eat, what did you plant and how did you plant it?
EW: Well…I don’t know what all we planted, but I think I told you about the potatoes, how we planted those. My dad would cut the potato vines, and we would lay them, and of course he would make a little slit, and a stick, just like a broom stick or something like that you know, and that’s what you would stick them down in the ground with. And the others would come, and push them in the holes, and cover them up, you know. The gardens, and like I said, he would plant long rows, and he never let a grown person plant okra for him, he always let growing child…now for what reason, I don’t know. Plant okra, and that okra would bear, and bear we had to cut it off, and just throw it down, throw it on the ground…so much okra.
AB: A lot of okra.
NC: So let me ask, you always had food through this growing process and you never went without.
NC: That’s good.
EW: That’s right.
NC: That’s good.
NC: I see in today’s society moving away from that. Ok, so you lived in College Station and you mentioned you lived in Texas, in many places in Texas. You came to Houston, Texas as an adult, as a young lady. What were some of the first memories of Houston, Texas that you have? Was it a dress that you bought? Was it a store that you went to? Any memory that you have.
EW: I don’t remember a particular dress, but I know if you needed cloths you just go buy cloths. Go to “Pennies” [ J. C. Penny] any little store downtown, you know, there used to be a Pennies downtown, and there used to be a Paul Parrott…all these kind of little places you would go, and buy shoes, and the dresses. They had other places as well…like Folders and things like that down there, and Sachawetz.
EW: But, they were the biggest store, you wasn’t able to find nothing there, because you didn’t have the money.
NC: And, you talked about the Rainbow Theater.
NC: You talked about the Rainbow Theater.
EW: The Rainbow?
NC: What do you remember about the Rainbow Theater?
EW: You mean when I first came here?
AB: The Rainbow, the movie theater.
EW: Oh the theater, Ok, I don’t know if I have any thoughts about it, just didn’t care to go because I didn’t know what was going on. I suppose that is the reason why, I do not know the reason why I didn’t want to go.
NC: Did you go to church and what church did you go to?
EW: I went to church, when I came here, through Houston, and the first church I went to was Mount Carmel, and that was in 1940. Now I had joined a church before then, but then that’s when I had came to Houston, and lived with my father’s sister trying to find me a job or something, you know, and of course it was nothing for to do, but work in the white lady’s house, all the time, and that was, that was it, so, caught a bus, we rode the bus for a dime.
NC: For a dime, in 1940. And what was the, do you remember the name of the bus, or the number?
EW: No, I don’t.
NC: Ok, what street did you catch that bus on?
EW: Well, excuse me, the first bus I remember catching it on Lyons avenue, I was living on Oats at that particular time. And, I caught it on Waco and Lyons avenue. Now in what direction, I could not tell you, but I rode the bus by myself, went were I had to go, and everything, but I don’t know where it is now.
[13:34] serious distortion begins here.
NC: Good afternoon again Mrs. Wilder.
EW: I am doing fine how about yourself?
NC: I am doing well.
NC: You told me before you came to Houston, that your mom was sick and needed to go the hospital. What she did was go to the Jeff Davis hospital.
EW: Jefferson Davis hospital was over here on Waugh drive. I just remember Waugh Drive that’s all and my mother, and I don’t remember how long she was there in the hospital but she was…my mother had cancer, she was a very good patient and a quiet patient and I stayed with her day and night. When I noticed that she was about to leave here, I asked her did she remember who I was and she said “Yes Mam.” And I said who I was.
EW: The nurses and the doctors, they were very nice to me and nice to my mom as far as I know. They didn’t have the experience that they have now I don’t think they did, but at that time I didn’t know. They said, “Well, we have done all that we can do.”
[16:02] serious distortion that was not monitored during the recording. I believe this distortion is a faulty connection in the microphone devise.
EW: And that is when my cousin was up there and they told her they had did all that they could do of course she passed away as I told you. And she came home and I didn’t go back to the hospital, but she had, call, Daniel; which is not operating now, and I don’t know if any of you all remember that, funeral home, it used to be on West Dallas, also. And that’s who had my mom’s body.
EW: And, we took it to Mount Belleville, and that where we had the services, and also buried her there, where my dad was, so she is buried beside my dad. But the grave is not there anymore, it was close to where the ground was…what do you call that? When you…when the ground is falling away?
EW: Whatever, but anyway, they are not there, so...
AB: Was Jeff Davis hospital the only hospital that you could go to?
EW: That was the only one I knew. There was one…it wasn’t a hospital…it…well…Baytown, but it wasn’t Baytown at that time it was Goose Creek.
AB: Goose Creek.
EW: See it was a “Tri-city,” it was Pelly, it was Goose Creek, Pelly, and Baytown. So, but now it’s all Baytown.
AB: You said Jeff Davis hospital was on Waugh drive and what is now Allen Parkway.
EW: I believe it is, isn’t it, I believe it is.
AB: Down by the bayou, Buffalo Bayou.
EW: And it use to be, a tall, a tall building, and I did not know that you had to even pay in the hospital. We never paid anything for my mother being in the hospital. So I did not know that. It was just a lot things that I was ignorant about.
NC: Nobody told you.
AB: Could all people go to that hospital?
AB: All colors?
EW: All colors, everybody, anybody could go. I don’t know why, but I think some people paid, and some didn’t. I suppose it was the ones that was able to, and the ones that was not able, didn’t pay anything. But I didn’t know this, but I know we didn’t have any money to begin with. So, but they did accept my mom.
NC: After your mom passed away, and you went to bury her, with your father, you came back to Houston, and when you came back to Houston you talked about…and that was…what year was that, 1940?
EW: I came back to Houston, soon after they, after they buried my mother, and I came back and I was still living with my cousin, and then after that I had another cousin, which was a man that had married the aunt to my husband, and I didn’t know him, and I didn’t know she was his aunt. Until he came down here you, you know, years after that, but then anyway, that’s where I was staying with at that particular time, and she was a member of Mount Carmel, was the reason why I went to Mount Carmel, and joined at Mount Carmel in 1940.
EW: Now what day that was, I know it was on a Sunday, but what month it was, I don’t know, I don’t remember.
AB: But the year was 1940?
EW: 1940, m-hum.
NC: What do you remember of the Fourth ward neighborhood in 1940? What was it like when you walked through the neighborhood?
EW: When I walked through the neighborhoods? I didn’t have time to walk through the neighborhoods, got to go catch a bus and go to work.
NC: Well when you did walk through the neighborhood.
NC: When you did walk through the neighborhood, what do you remember?
EW: I just remember some of the people and they be sitting on the porch, you know, people a lot times sat on the porch, you know. When you pass by you waive at them if your distant or if your close, and you know how close these houses was in…on the streets, right on the streets, you could just say “Good evening,” and keep going. “Hello,” or how ever you wanted to speak, and keep going. But we was always courteous with it, you know, you never turned our heads to keep from speaking to somebody, we always spoke, it didn’t matter who it were we didn’t have to know them or nothing, and they didn’t have to know you. And the men would tip their hats to you, you know, and all that. Now they pass by you like they don’t see you. So, hat tipping is all over with now.
AB: That is how they, the men greeted the ladies?
EW: Yes, how they greeted the ladies, and they weren’t trying to tempt nobody, you know, just being courteous, tip their hat, and keep going.
NC: What was your response, what was a general response to that?
EW: Nothing, but speak back to them and keep going.
NC: Now let me ask you, you said you met, or married your husband in 1943.
NC: What was his name, and did you meet him here in Houston?
NC: What was his name?
EW: His name was Bennie Wilder Jr.
NC: And where did he work?
EW: He worked, what would you call it now, part of the labor union. What would you call that, anyway, that’s where my husband use to work. He did that kind of work, until he was disabled to do it. Because he had an early retirement from that because he hurt his back, but he did yard work a whole lot. He did a lot of yard work, and I…one of his customers still calls me, right now, and she planted a tree in Isreal, she said. They have his name, you know, and she gave me a picture of it, and I have the picture a home, of the tree, that she had planted, in regards to my husband.
NC: Let me ask, when was…
NC: This is the third take, we are joined here by Mrs. Wilder, and company. Mrs. Wilder is talking about her experiences in the Fourth ward. Now you were just talking about how you raised a few children, and you had one children…one child that you raised from…we’ll say from nine-years-old throughout, the rest of his life you still contact him, and you said he is fifty-some-years-old now what, your children, this particular child, what is his name?
EW: What’s his name?
EW: Wilbert Washington.
EW: And his middle name is Glenn.
NC: Glenn, and is Glenn what you call him?
EW: Yes, we called him Glenn.
NC: Ok, and Glenn went to the Gregory School?
NC: Ok, and when he went to the Gregory School…let’s just talk about that what are some of the teachers you remember?
EW: I don’t, I don’t remember the teachers but them seem to have been very nice teachers, and he liked them very well. He liked going to Gregory, he didn’t want to leave and the reason why he did leave is because his mom took him, like I said, you know, she carried him away. This is when she took him, and put him in the school over there he didn’t…she coundn’t manage him so when, she had to give him back to me.
NC: And this, what you are talking about Glenn’s biological mother, who lived in California, and that’s where “over there” is…correct? I was saying, Glenn, he left Houston, and left your care to go live with his biological Mother in California, but he didn’t like that, so he came back to Houston, Texas, to live with you, right.
NC: And so when he was at the Gregory School, how about subjects, did he have a favorite subject, that he talked to you about.
EW: He loved the children, and there was two little boys that lived on the corner of Matthews and O’Neil. I don’t remember their names, he does, but I don’t. They were his special friends, and they also was going to Gregory School. He talk about them, and then he talk about some of the children that I didn’t know that was here at the school, but he was, evidently a good child and in the school, and a well behaved child.
NC: And when Glenn graduated, from Gregory School, did they have a ceremony.
EW: He didn’t graduate.
NC: Oh, Ok.
EW: His mother came, and got him that’s when she came, and got him, and kept him, and then when he come back to me, we had moved in, so then he went to Lamar, he was going to, well I don’t know…but anyway.
NC: He went to Lamar high school.
EW: When he got in high school, he went to Lamar, and that’s where he graduated from Lamar. And that’s as far as he went, he didn’t want to go to college. We tried to get him to go, but he didn’t, and we know insisting on him going it was a waste of money because we knew that he wouldn’t do anything, because he didn’t want to go, and because he didn’t want to go, we didn’t highly insist on him going.
NC: And let me ask, how long did you live, did you ever leave Fourth ward? Did you ever move somewhere else?
EW: Yes, where I am at now.
NC: What year was that, when was that?
NC: 1966, so you lived for 26 years in the Fourth ward.
NC: And when you moved here do you remember any other types of shops, any other barber shops, or maybe a shoe-smith, do you remember any of those places?
EW: Yeah, they had, mostly everything was up on West Dallas, they had a barber shop on West Dallas and shoe shop on West Dallas.
EW: Stores on West Dallas, drug stores, grocery stores, and also churches, ‘cause…What was that?
AB: Good Hope?
EW: No Good Hope wasn’t, Where was Good Hope, where was Good Hope? But this was, I can’t think of the name of it.
AB: They had Lounges, and cafes, and all of that.
EW: Yeah they had all of that on, they had all of that on West Dallas.
AB: Do you remember “Ask You” drugstore?
AB: “Ask You” drugstore?
AB: Do you remember that?
EW: U-hum, yeah.
NC: Do you remember the “Doghouse,” it was a restaurant?
EW: I heard people talk about it, and I think my, I think I have a sister-in-law that work there, that was Reverend Ford’s wife, she was young, and she used to worked there.
NC: From what I understand it had the Fourth ward’s best chili.
EW: That’s what people say, I don’t know, I never been there.
NC: Your chili is the best chili, that’s your answer.
EW: I suppose.
NC: Let me ask, your son, your son Glenn he did come to Gregory school, is there any thing else that you remember about the Gregory school any events that they had here any social organization?
EW: I never did come to any of the events, and, so there is not a whole lot I remember about it. Only just bringing him to being to be in his classes, you know, that’s about it.