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Interview with: Nathaniel Davis Sr.
Interviewed by: Nicolas Castellanos
Date: January, 13 2010
Number: OH GS 0005
Nicolas Castellanos (NC): Good Afternoon today is January 13th 2010, I am joined here with a Mr. Davis and he is here to give his testimony, his oral history for the African American Library at the Gregory School. And just for starters, Good Afternoon Mr. Davis.
Nathaniel Davis Sr. (NDSr): Greetings to you Mr. Nicolas.
NC: Would you please state your birth name, your birth date and where…the place you were born.
NDSr: I was born in Houston, Texas, the old J-D hospital, Jefferson Davis hospital, the first. In 1936. I was the tenth, 1101 Elder street is the address of that hospital.
NC: You had mentioned earlier that you were a young man here in the Fourth ward, and that you remembered some of those businesses.
NDSr: Few of the stores, yes, some on West Dallas, but the names, as I said, I cannot remember I was a bit young, I remember being a kid on West Dallas and right by Valentine, playing with a, believe it or not, a little truck that had a piece of glass from the ice truck. In those days they hold ice, they did not have refrigeration in most homes, very few had refrigeration. And I also remember going to the Rainbow theater, it was there, Gillette, I lived Gillette, and also House street, it is long gone, it ran from West Dallas to the Bayou, the Buffalo Bayou.
NC: And what where some of your experiences with the Bayou? Did you swim there at times?
NDSr: I don’t know about the swimming, we would go down and play on the banks, we were not very far from our house at the time, and I only spent a small amount of time in Fourth ward before went back to live with my mother in Spring.
NC: and that is in Spring, Texas.
NDSr: M-hum [yes in agreement, Sprint, Texas]
NC: And you said you had come back, after Spring, to Houston.
NDSr: M-hum [yes in agreement]
NC: What were some of the…the first job you had, first place you lived?
NDSr: Oh I went to work as a busboy, of course, being a teenager, they had then, the Davis drive-inns, there were three or four, I worked at Alamo linen service, and believe it or not, Alamo linen was over on Mason Street, here in Fourth ward. And I would walk from, believe it or not, my home in the Third ward area, work all day and walk back, we were too poor then to even buy tokens to ride the bus.
NC: And that was probably, I am thinking, two to three mile distance straight down Gray.
NDSr: No. We had to come across from Elgin and Ennis, I would walk from there and then walk all the way across through various other streets and neighborhoods until I came over to Gray street. And then from there of course, to Taft and Mason.
NC: This is part two and welcome Mr. Davis. And you had shared some wonderful stories with us about your childhood and your memories when you were a young man here in Houston. What are some of the other places, businesses, things that you would do? Or for instance, what were some of the movies that you remember that played at the Rainbow Theater?
NDSr: Oh my goodness, there was Tom Mix, Hop Along Casidy, Gene Audrey, the Rocketman, he would stand, and he would just go straight up like they do now. And he would always go to someone’s rescue, and in order to make you come back the next Saturday, that is most times we went to movies, on Saturday, it would happen where this person needed to be rescued and he managed to be there to rescue them, and you would think that he would perish.
NDSr The movie we would have…cartoons would come on before the main event and that was real good…and the fee was not very much a dime.
NC: A dime?
NDSr: A dime.
NC: How about news reels.
NDSr: That was there too.
NC: They had newsreel.
NDSr: But you don’t remember a lot about the newsreels. Here again, I am alive. There is some interests in some things and not in others.
NDSr: I remember the Rainbow theater was just South of the cemetery, that Jewish cemetery that is there. Growing-up you were taught to fear the dead. I would run from one side of the cemetery to the other, to get home fearful that something would come out of the cemetery, particular in the afternoon when it may be late over there afternoon like 5 or 6 o’clock in the summer and you just knew something was going to get you.
NDSr: Then there was the Jefferson Davis hospital, the second Jefferson Davis Hospital, that I attended with my mother when she would come from Spring to that hospital when she was sick, now I watched them build Memorial Drive from that hospital sitting in the front of that hospital that’s part of it.
NC: Let me ask you said you remember the Carnegie Library, what was that like?
NDSr: That was the building, now I had no need to go in at my age at that time, it was sitting there besides two other famous buildings, someone else can tell you that, The two…they were very important to this community, but I can’t right now remember the names of them, I hate that.
NC: And how about high school. You said you were a member of a high school here in the Fourth ward.
NDSr: Booker Washington, yes, I did not attend it, but it was here, it was a prominent, now I will share this with you. My grandmother went to old colored high and my mother went to Booker Washington when the name was changed in ’25 .
NDSr: Henrietta Goodman was my grandmother. Nancy Lee Goodman was my mother.
NC: Well thank you so much Mr. Davis for participating in our project, I hope to see you again.
NDSr: My pleasure sir.