O'neta "Pink" Cavitt

Duration: 1hr: 3Mins
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: O'neta Pink Cavitt
Interviewed by: Nicolas Castellanos
Date: May 22nd, 2010

Archive Number: OH_GS_0013

 

Nicolas Castellanos (NC): Good afternoon,  today is… ,

Oneta Pink Cavitt (OC): Good afternoon

(NC): Hey, good afternoon. Today is May 22nd, 2010 and we are at the African American Library at the Gregory School. We are joined by Mrs. O’neta Pink Cavitt, and again good afternoon.

(OC): Good afternoon.

(NC): And right now we are going to begin just for our record asking you to give us your birth name, your place of birth, and also your birthdate.

(OC): O’neta Pink Cavitt.

(NC): Mmmm Hmm.

(OC): Born May the 23rd 1914 to Robert and Cora Tarver Pink, the oldest son of Robert Pink Jr. who was born not in Kendleton, Texas but a little place farther east, farther west called…ahhh, you gonna have to cut that out because I can’t think of the little place they were born.

(NC): That’s fine. Again we wanted to talk to you about your life and you were born in Kendleton, Texas.

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): In 1914.

(OC): That’s correct.

(NC): And you said you were celebrating your birthday tomorrow from this recording.

(OC): May the 23rd.

(NC): Mmm hmm and you will be 96 years old.

(OC): That’s correct.

(NC): Great, and what was it like? What was your first memory of Kendleton, Texas? We just wanted to ask you what was the first thing you remember? Maybe an action, maybe learning a word, maybe seeing an animal, a cat?

(OC): Oh, we lived on a farm.

(NC): Ok.
(OC): It was my grandfather’s farm, Robert Pink Sr, and my father was named for him, Robert Pink, Jr. And he had a 200 acre farm, back then he moved into that community and they were able to purchase large tracts of land for five, ten, and twenty dollars an acre, so with what finances he had he bought 200 acres of land and he had seven children, 3 sons and five daughters and they built a nice home there. Because there were not many blacks who settled there during that period. Now I can’t recall just exactly when they moved into that community, but they lived there, they had a school there. They didn’t have a high school but they had an elementary school. So they sent their children to school. He had seven children-3 boys and 4 girls. They sent them to public school and then later they sent them on to high school, because he wanted to educate his children, so he had 3 boys and 5 girls.

(NC): And, just excuse me for a second, this is the life of  Robert Pink, Sr. He bought tracts of land in Kendleton, Texas which is located in Fort Bend County, is that correct?

(OC): That is correct.

(NC): Ok, and that is an excellent description. Umm so let me ask what ahh, when you were in Kendleton, Texas what was it like as a child? What was school like? What was your school day like? When what time did school start? And if you would please describe the school that you attended in Kendleton, Texas.

(OC): I attended, the school was named Powerpoint.

(NC): Powerpoint.

(OC): It was first an elementary school, in later years it became a high school. And uuh, we walked about I guess we lived about a mile from the school. We didn’t have… we had dirt roads and when it rained, most time we didn’t get to school but otherwise we did not miss because we enjoyed going to school. My grandparents lived near the school because the school, the land that the school was built on was purchased from my grandfather who owned a large very large tract of land. And he had 8 children and he sent all of his children except maybe 3 older ones to school. They finished high school, they went to college, then they became classroom teachers. That was an inspiration to us because we all, it was I had 2 brothers my older brother, the younger one came late and I had 3 sisters and another sister came late.

cue point

(NC): And what were their names? Would you go over their names please?

(OC): Vergie (sp), Olive, Vivian, Clemett, and Rogers and we lived on my grandfather’s farm because he and my father farmed together. He had 2 other sons, Nelson and T.L. T.L. was the youngest. T.L. was the one who had an opportunity to finish high school and go to college, because during that time the older children did not, they went to public school but they were not able to go to college and so and his daughters, he had Johnnie Mae, Jessie Mae, Willie Mae and Rosa and the younger girls they went to college too. So they believed in an education and they encouraged us to go to school and receive an education. And I can hear my grandfather now saying to us when we would go to school, we had to come by their home. They had a beautiful big 2 story house and we all lived on the same farm. And we would have to take out grade cards or papers by there so granddaddy could see it. And I can hear him say “Oww that’s what granddaddy like. Grow up and be somebody.” And we tried to do just exactly what he said. So that was a lot of encouragement and that is what children needed then and they need it more so now. Because we are losing a lot of our young people. Especially out of an education. Need to be still encouraged, almost need to be enforced. Because as I say, all the time an education is so important in the big beautiful world we live in now. You better try to get it.  If not, you are lost.

(NC); Well, that’s umm… you lived on an orchard farm and your family, ahh, what did your farm produce?

(OC): Cotton and corn and a garden. And fruit. They had a fruit orchard. Peaches, pears, plums, figs, and I can remember how we would go to my grandparent’s home to gather the fruit. That is what we would do everyday during fruit season. To gather the fruit because my grandparents and my parents they preserved some of the fruit that was preservable and that was a part of their livelihood.

(NC): Let me ask you, did this farm, your family’s farm, did they take their produce to Houston? Did they ever make trips? And did you ever….

(OC): No. No. No. No because Houston was a little bit too far away.

(NC): Ok. It was a different market.

(OC): That’s right, but they they did not try to sell it they gave it to the neighbors that did not have a fruit orchard. Umm hmm, but they never sold any.

(NC): Ok, and let me ask you umm, did you ever work out on the farm?

(OC): I surely did, but one thing about our parents, they did not force us to go out and work on the farm. We went when we wanted to.

(NC): So, yeah it sounds that so far that is a rich experience. The school, working on the farm here in Kendleton, Texas. Ahh, ok do you recall any trips when you were young living in, with your parents in Kendleton, Texas? Do you remember any trips to Houston?

(OC): Yes, because I had several aunts that lived in Houston. They were married. And they took residence in Houston and we would, as long as I could remember we had a car.

(NC): And your aunts, you had some family members live in Houston.

(OC): That’s right.

cue point

(NC): And as a young adolescent and as a young child you visited Houston at times?

(OC): That’s right. They lived here because they were married and moved to Houston and Johnnie Mae, Jessie Mae, Willie Mae were school teachers. Grandfather sent them to Prairie View A & M, where they received their college education. And then, one son, T.L. Pink was also a college graduate and we would come to Houston to visit them.

(NC): And what were those visits like? Do you remember any businesses or do you remember any locations or do you remember, say Antioch Baptist Church? Did you attend these places or see them as a young lady?

(OC): Well, uhh  I didn’t attend Antioch or I don’t recall Antioch as a youngster coming up, but St. John Baptist Church on Dowling Street, Reverend S.A. Pleasance was the pastor. He served my family that lived here. They were members there, so that is the church I attended during those early childhood days but after I came here to go to college, I joined Antioch Baptist Church.

(NC): Ok, we’ll begin there. You did come here in 1935. Was that the year you came here to go to college?

(OC): Yes.

(NC): Would you please explain where you went and what some of those experiences were like? And what graduation was like?

(OC): Well, I lived with my brother because he was married and he came here to live, he got a job here and he had a family. So, I lived with him. And went to, I had finished high school so I entered Houston College, at that time it was Houston Junior College, so that is where I attended school because my family believed in an education cause I had 4 aunts and an uncle and they were all educators and my grandfather sent them to college. They graduated from Prairie View A &M. Cause they had Prairie View back in that period. So we had always aspired to be like our aunts. We wanted to go to college and we did. So we came to Houston and went to Houston Junior College and then after they added it as a Senior regular college we went there, and my husband also attended the same college. That is where I met him.

(NC): And what was your husband’s name?

(OC): Roscoe Alvin Cavitt.

(NC): And what year did you meet him? Do you remember the exact year?

(OC): Ooooh….

(NC): And where? Where did you meet him?

(OC): I was at a social with four other girlfriends. We decided we would go out for a little recreation. And he asked me to dance with him and I agreed. He carried me back to the table where my friends were and later he came back and asked me again. So we made more conversations and he wanted to come to see me again, you know, how men are…got your address, telephone number, etc. etc. And from that we began a relationship which lasted I guess about 3 or 4 months. And then he asked me to marry him. We didn’t know each other very long and that was exciting to me. Then I had to tell my parents and ask my parents, and I think it was my aunt that I told because she was teaching and she lived here in Houston and she said “You gonna get married?” And I said, “Yes Ma’am”. She said, “Who you gonna marry?” I said, “Roscoe Cavitt” She said, “Oh I know him. We had classes together in college.” Said “If you gonna marry him, you marrying somebody.” And that just gave me more encouragement, so I said yes and we married. And we stayed together for the rest of his life. It was a happy marriage, we didn’t have any children, but uh I raised my little sister, two little sisters because after they finished high school they came and lived with us and went to college.

cue point

(NC): Ok. And uh, so what year did you and Roscoe get married?

(OC): I believe it was 1933. I think it was, I am not sure. I may have it there but I don’t know if I put it on there or not.

(NC): Ok, and so you get married and you start a life a life in Houston. Where did you live?

(OC): We lived in the Third Ward area. Our community is divided up into wards. Third, first ward, second ward, third ward, and fourth ward. So we lived in the Third Ward area.

(NC): Umm hmm. And what were some of the businesses or civic associations that you remember in your neighborhood in the Third Ward?

(OC): They had civic clubs, and then entering college they had sororities. Sigma Gamma Rho was one of the sororities and I became a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority undergraduate chapter and they had many activities and functions. You really weren’t considered a popular student unless you joined a sorority or boys a fraternity. I am still a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority and my daughter is a member.

(NC): And for the record, would you give us your daughter’s full name?

(OC): excuse me?

(NC): I asked would you please indicate, say your daughter’s full name?

(OC): Cheryle Layonda Cavitt

(NC): Ok, and uhh . Ok so you are married and I guess at some, in 1938 you open up, you go into business for yourself. Would you please explain that business? The name?
(OC): See, I went to Franklin Business School. You may have heard of Franklin Beauty School. It was widely known throughout the country. Madame N.A. Franklin was the founder and owner and then her daughter married and after she passed on they took over the school. That is where I got my beauty culture and then from there I met and married Roscoe Cavitt and he was a student at Texas Southern, which is Houston College at that time. So I became interested in going further in my education going on to college and I went to Houston College at Texas Southern myself. I graduated from there and I went into the classroom.

(NC): Hmm mmm.

(OC): That was my career.

(NC): Yeah, oh yeah and you went to Paul Quinn College.

(OC): That’s right, I went there too.

(NC): And you also went to Prairie View University for graduate school work.

(OC): Correct.

(NC): And I wanted to, if you would please share your memories of the shop. Neta’s Beauty Shop.

(OC): oh yeah…

(NC): And uh, where was it located? How did you come up with the idea for it? And you started that business in 1938 is that correct?

(OC): Well see I, when I came to Houston that was the first thing I did. I wasn’t able to get into a college so I went to beauty school because I was able to afford the tuition for that. After I finished that, it was during that time that I met my husband and I finished beauty school and I got married and we moved into our own home, a house and I opened me a shop where I lived. That’s where I did my beauty work and I had nice clientele and that’s later my husband was a student at Houston College and he went on and finished Houston College. But, he was a worked for the Rainbow Theatre on West Dallas. Mr. Fox, a Jew, owned that Theatre and he made him manager of that Theatre. And uh, so I finally after I finished beauty culture and opened my shop. I continued with my shop and I decided I wanted to further my education. I went on to Texas Southern, it was Houston College at that time. I went on to Houston College. And you have my education.
[End]

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[Part 2]
[Begin]
(NC): Ok, and umm you went to Texas Southern you were saying.

(OC): That’s right. Uh huh.

(NC): And um, alright and so your husband worked at the Rainbow Theatre.

(OC): That’s right. And he was in college himself.

(NC): umm hmm.  And then he finished college and he became an accountant.

(OC): That’s right. He wasn’t interested in teaching.

(NC): No. He went right to the business world. (Laughing)

(OC): (Laughing).

(NC): And he had his business. Was located in the Pilgrim Building.

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): And in that Pilgrim Building, you had a hat shop there.

(OC): I did.

(NC): Ok.

(OC): And he had his office there.

(NC): umm hmm. So as you are growing professionally, you are understanding business and how to grow and network, and you open up a hat shop, and you made hats, I believe it is called, correct me if I am wrong, millinery work?

(OC): umm hmm.

(NC): A millinery craft?

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): And this is, would you please explain some of  the designs? What they looked like? Fabrics that you need? Also, the life long dedication that you have had to open this building?

(OC): Well, I had always been interested in hats and millinery. So I did get a chance to take a course. I did that through the mail and then finally I learned about a school in Chicago, and so I went there and took a course.

(NC): In 1940?

(OC): That’s right, and I went back and opened me a shop. My husband was Executive Secretary of the Houston Negro Chamber at that time. They had a Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce. And it was located in the Pilgrim Building on West Dallas. And so I opened me a hat shop in that same building because they had a vacancy in there. And I opened this hat shop in that building. And then across the street was Booker T. Washington High School. They had vocational classes-sewing, cooking, and I was able to encourage them to put a class in millinery for adult women along with the sewing. And I was able to get that position. And that was at night and I operated my shop right across the street in the day. And in the evening I would go across to Booker T. Washington and conduct my class for adult women.

(NC): So, if I can recreate this time. You are in the 4th ward during the day?

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): And so is your husband because the two of you have your businesses

(OC): That’s right….in the same building

(NC): Which is the Pilgrim Building located on West Dallas.

(OC): At 220 West Dallas

(NC): 220 West Dallas and you live in the 3rd Ward and when you say you went across you were going to Booker T. Washington in the Third ward?

(OC): Well, I had moved…..

(NC): Ok

(OC):  to the First ward

(NC): (clarifying) Ok..at this time.

(OC): Which is nearer to the Fourth Ward.

(NC): Ok, and so that was your route?

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): And …um, yeah you had this shop and explain please, what were some of your memories of operating the hat shop?

cue point

(OC): Oh, it was exciting because it gave an opportunity to meet so many fine women in the town because that was my life..was that shop and I enjoyed it and I had quite a number of customers. Now you had white customers, and I designed hats and I restyle hats if they had hats, good hats that they already purchased from other stores. They would bring them and I would restyle them and make them over. And then I made new hats, and I, Dallas was my outlet for buying the millinery materials.

(NC): The city of Dallas?

(OC): That’s right because they had quite a few stores there that sold different material and sold hat material, and some of it I had to order. But I had a wonderful business and I had not only did I have black clients/customers but I had so many white ladies that I did hats for. And finally I introduced it to the school board to place it in the.. ..because they had evening school classes for adults-sewing and cooking. And I was able to sell them on the idea of putting hat making, millinery in the evening school program and I had classes-one at Yates and one at Booker T. Washington and I had nice students. Some of those students went and they completed the course and went into business.

(NC): And let me ask, when did you close? When did you open the hat shop and when did it close?

(OC): Ohhh…

(NC): For business.

(OC): You know I been around a long time and I have to try to think back.. but uh

(NC): Did you close  maybe in 1950?

(OC): No I think maybe it was like in the early 1960s.

(NC): Ok, that’s when you closed your business.

(OC): Uh huh and then I decided to go back to the classroom, because what happened was..they were selling that building and I didn’t have a place to relocate  because that was in the downtown area. I wanted to relocate in downtown where it was open to the general public around there. So I couldn’t, so that is when I decided to go into the classroom. Cause I was already certified to teach English in the high school.

(NC): And um…ok, so then you start to teach as you say in the high school. What was your first high school?

(OC): Booker T. Washington.

(NC): Ok, Booker T. Washington. And about what year was this?

(OC): I beg your pardon?

(NC): Do you remember what year this was?

(OC): Ummm..I don’t think I do.

(NC): Ok. Ok. And um I see that um, ok so you have the shop, you have the hat shop and you have very popular customers ..do you have any…what..you remember my name, let me ask you did you have any traveling customers? Famous customers? And when I say famous, I mean a national appeal. Maybe somebody from Atlanta, or somebody from New York, or somebody from San Francisco? Do you remember any of those people?

(OC): Well… yes I had a few of them because as far as shops for negroes and hats and what not they didn’t have them in most places. It was kind of unusual but I had maybe friends who had relatives to come into town, and maybe I was doing hats for them, they liked their hats and wanted something made or whatnot and would bring them by and I was able to ship hats, they would tell me what they wanted, what color they wanted, and send me a picture of the hat. Cause I was very creative anyway and I would do the hats for them and they were pleased.

cue point

(NC): Yes, I am sure. Um, I wanted to ask, ok, just thinking about your family in Kendleton. Your parents and grandparents, because now you have been successful in Houston , as in you have found, as you say beautiful man and that you had a beautiful marriage with Mr. Roscoe Cavitt, and you also have a business, so you have the independence and leadership of having a business. When your parents or other members from Kendleton when they have come to visit. What were those experiences like and what did you enjoy showing them?

(OC): Well….

(NC): Cause it was a different lifestyle I would think.

(OC): It was…

(NC): From living in Fort Bend.

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): And then living in Fourth Ward or Third Ward or First Ward Houston. Seeing the town, right, because there was probably more energy in Houston.

(OC): That’s right and more places to go and things to see.

(NC): mmm hmm

(OC): And I did take them around various places, friends, and what not. Because I had some fine friends that lived in Houston and I was active in clubs and organizations. We had various activities and I had a chance to introduce them because my sorority, I was very active, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, which I became a member of while I was in college. And then they were very religious and I would take them to St, John’s Baptist Church on Dowling Street. You may never have heard about that. I don’t know how long you been around here? But anyway, it was one of the larger Baptist Churches in Houston. Very popular.

(NC): And uhhh in Houston, while you had operated your hat shop in the Pilgrim Building..

(OC): Across from Booker T. Washington School

(NC): uh huh, and this was you said you operated until the 60s, well let me ask what were some of the other businesses that you remember in the building and some of the people that you talked to? What were some of their names?

(OC): I was…name of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority

(NC): mmm hmmm..and the Pilgrim Building where you had your business. What were some of the other businesses there?

(OC): They had..well my husband had his office there. An accounting office and uh cause we were in the same building and then there was a drug store and…

(NC): You remember the name?

(OC): What was the name of that drug store Cheryle? I don’t recall.

(NC): Do you remember who operated it? The person that operated it? Maybe the pharmacist or someone that worked there?

(OC): I don’t recall right now.

(NC): Ok. And any other businesses in the Pilgrim Building that you remember?

(OC): Doctors and dentists, they had their offices there. It was more of an office building, uh huh, but there were not a lot. Well, Franklin Beauty School I think I mentioned that. They operated there in the Pilgrim Building and  uh…

(NC): Well let me ask, your business operated in the Pilgrim Building, did it have a storefront?

(OC): Yes.

(NC): Ok you were in a store front on actually West Dallas…

(OC): On the first floor is where the business offices were. Upstairs they had doctors and dentists and other people who rented an office space up there. And they also had Franklin Beauty School in the same building. They operated a whole floor. Jemison. Mr. Jemison operated the Franklin Beauty School. He was married to Madame Franklin’s niece, so they operated it. He had, well he was part owner in that building. Then you had doctors and dentists. And I am trying to think if there were any other people who were in that building? But anyway, it was a 3 story building or 4 story, and so they had offices. I said Franklin Beauty School was there.

cue point

(NC): Yes

(OC): Then they had a drugstore on the first floor where I was. And so it was occupied and across the street was Booker T. Washington High School.

(NC): umm hmm. Let me ask, what do you remember of the design of the building? The inside. What was the color of the paint on the wall? Did it have… What was the staircase like as you walked up? No there wasn’t a staircase, it was an elevator that’s what they used. What was it like inside?

(OC): It was beautiful inside. It was founded and owned by a white company and so they didn’t have to do a lot to it. They had on the, I believe it was the third or fourth floor, a ballroom. Where all our sororities and fraternities would have their dances and what not. Throughout the year it was occupied with those kinds of functions. And then there were doctors and dentists who had offices there, and Franklin Beauty School was located on one floor. It was downstairs though. Then my office was down, my shop was downstairs then there was drug store and a barber shop on the first floor. It was a very nice building. One of the finest, I would say this side of the Mississippi. It was a really nice building. They used the, must have been the third floor, for the sororities and fraternities had all of their dances. Formal dances.

(NC): Ok.
[End]

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[Part 3]
[Begin]

(NC): Doctors, dentists, insurance companies.

(OC): that’s right and then…

(NC): Located in the Pilgrim Building.

(OC): That’s right. And the Franklin Beauty School, operated by J. H. Jemison and his wife, Madame Franklin.

(NC): So what was it like, excuse me ma’am. What was it like when you walked into the building? What was the descriptions?

(OC): It was very inviting.

(NC): umm hmm. And what made it inviting?

(OC): Because it was well built. The interior was attractive and inviting. And there offices on the first floor and then you had to take the elevator to go to other offices in the building, and then at the rear of that building is where Franklin Beauty School had their beauty school. Lot of students came from out of town, even out of state because it was a well known beauty school and Madame Franklin was the first one who operated that school. And it was named for her because she was a very very important black woman, who, I guess brought beauty culture to Houston and to the country. And she was in that building. And then after she went away, her daughter that she raised, she was married to a gentleman named, Mr. Jemison, and they operated the school and took over the building and rented, they had office space all over the building. Where the doctors, dentists, and whomever would rent an office. They had an auditorium where all our dances and socials were held. All our fraternity dances and sorority dances and that was on the third floor. And then you had your dentists, your doctors, your physicians.

cue point

(NC): What was on the roof?

(OC): Oh they had a roof garden. They had dances, where you could go up there and dance too. It was…that was our building., where we had a good time. And Christmas and special holidays, and big bands that came to Houston, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and I don’t know if you ever heard of those? And all of those bands would come to Houston and so they had a ballroom floor and that was on the fourth floor. And that’s where the sororities and fraternities had their dances. All through the year they had some sort of a social there.

(NC): Did you ever see Louis Armstrong or any of the big bands come and play?

(OC): I went to some of those dances. My husband and I. Cause that is where I met him.

(NC): Roscoe.. And when you walked, let me ask, about the interior of the building what color was it inside? Do you remember? A primary color on the wall and were there some ornaments on the wall?

(OC): Yes, they did but..it  the walls were not white but it sort of an off beige because they were very careful about putting colors in those kind of places, for dance halls and what not. And then they had one floor, was all offices were doctors and dentists. They had their offices in that building. Then Franklin Beauty School was located on the first floor of that building.

(NC): Right. Let me ask, you had mentioned that you had met your husband at a social at this building?

(OC) : Yes.

(NC): So the building has so much meaning for you?

(OC): It sure has.

(NC): Do you remember one of the first years, what would be one of the first years that you may have visited the Pilgrim Building? Or when it came into your life?

(OC): I am trying to think was that the night we went to the dance there? Yes, that what it was.

(NC): Maybe, at least 1935? That was..you were in the Pilgrim Building in 1935 as a student at the Franklin Beauty School.

(OC): And I happen to go to a dance there.

(NC): And you said it was demolished in 1962?

(OC): Mmm hmm.

(NC): Ok. Around the early 60s.

(OC): Yeah.

(NC): And they just demolished the building? There was no preservation?

(OC): No.. I don’t recall any preservation cause it was finally owned by the man named J.H. Jemison and his wife. And she was the niece of Madame N. A. Franklin who was a pioneer in the beauty culture business. And the town started moving that way and putting businesses in and so they decided to sell the building. They weren’t interested in buying it. They had been operating that school for years and years. They were opening another school across town. So, Mr. Jemison, since he was the sole owner, that was the, he was married to Madame N.A. Franklin’s daughter, so they had owned it and operated it there for years and years and they had business offices there, doctors, dentists, and a school. So, they had grown older and decided that they weren’t interested in continuing and they put it up for sale so the people had to move on out. I wasn’t in there anymore.

(NC): Yeah.

(OC): But the people had to move out and relocate to some other place.

(NC): And then when the sale was final, what happened to the building? Did it exist or was it demolished immediately?

(OC): They did. They did. The city started moving that way and buying other properties and other buildings were being built.

(NC): 221 West Dallas?

(OC): That’s right.

(NC): That was the address, was it 77019?

(OC): Correct.

(NC): Alright.

[End]