History and the people who make it: Mildred A. Hill-Lubin, pt. 1

Mildred Hill-Lubin [H], recently deceased UF literature professor, was interviewed by James Myers [M] in June, 2009.

This is the 51st in a series of transcript excerpts from the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection. Notes in [square brackets] by SPOHP; interpolations in {curly brackets} by Iguana.

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

H: I was born in an area known as Uchee Hill; now it’s Seale, Alabama.

M: What year?

H: 1933. My father’s name was Luther Anderson, and my mother was Mary B. Johnson-Anderson. My grandmother was very much a part of my family, and her name was Lizzi Johnson Lewis. 

I don’t remember my grandfather. I heard about him. He was the first Black man in that area to own an automobile. He could not buy it in Alabama. He had to go to Detroit to buy the car. They did farming. They had a great deal of timber, and—these are the rumors from my family—during Prohibition, they also made white liquor for the Kennedy family.

Down in the country, we lived in the family home. My uncle and his wife lived on one side, and my mother and father lived on the other. I remember vividly that there was a storm, a very big storm, that came through—I think it was the same storm that maybe Zora Neale Hurston talks about in her novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” I was home with my mother, and we were getting ready to come into town. I was sitting on a trunk looking at the window, and I said, “Momma, it’s getting so white outside!” And she said, “Oh my goodness! It’s storming! Save us Lord, save us!” From then on, I was really, really frightened of storms. 

Our house burned down. We understand it had to with family politics, but anyway, when we came back from town, the house, everything had burned down to the ground, had to be when I was around three years old. Shortly after that, we moved into an area called Girard—a part of Phoenix City, the area where most Black people lived. The Whites live up further in, and they called that Phoenix City. 

We moved into my grandmother’s house on my maternal side. I had a sister who was born at that time. There were three girls. My mother also learned how to sew, so she could take clothes and take them apart and dress them. At that time, we had moved back to Phoenix City. My mother was having babies a lot, and she was sick a great deal. So, I was always worried about her. 

Things were rationed, you couldn’t get soap powder, you couldn’t get stockings, you had stamps to get sugar. 

When I started school in Girard, I already knew how to read. I learned how by {riding} the bus. You know how they have information on the bus, and advertisements, things like that? I could read so well that the teacher would stand me up in a chair and let me read to the class. Now, that didn’t make very good friends for me, because everybody thought I was a smarty-smarty. [Laughter]

My father worked on numerous jobs. The earliest job I remember his working on was on the railroad. Later on, my father started working at the Golden[s’] Foundry, which was doing steelwork and iron. He worked there, but he started selling vegetables. We were not farming, but he would go at the farmers market, and buy vegetables to sell. He began by pushing a cart, and he would go hollering, “Vegetable man! Vegetable man!” He moved from that to a fruit stand. Later, he moved to a tent store, then he opened a brick store. 

We were in Alabama when the war was going on. But most of your purchasing had to be done across the river, in Columbus. Then my mother decided, that we were going to move, because we were living in, like, shotgun house. They were building public housing projects in Columbus, so my mother went over and applied for us to move into the Warren William apartments. 

We moved there on V-J Day from Girard, Alabama—to Columbus, Georgia. We didn’t have a radio or anything. We were going through town and everybody was shouting and hollering, “We’ve won the war,” and blah blah blah! I tell people we thought we were moving on up then, because see, we wouldn’t have to take a bath in a tin tub as we did in Alabama. We’d have an indoor toilet, running water, and all those things. I left to go to college from the projects.

M: You went to your bachelor’s at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, correct?

H: I did go to Paine College, and I enjoyed that. I still have very close ties with Paine. I should mention that before going to high school over in Columbus, I went to Mother Mary Mission, which was a Catholic school, a place Sisters of Mercy started. They recognized that Phoenix City, Alabama was a poor area. 

I should mention that our school in Girard was burned down, and we think it was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan. For a while, we went to school in churches. Later, the nuns came to town, and they went from door to door asking the parents to let us go. Many of the White people said, “No, don’t let the children go to Catholic school!” But my mother did let us go. I went there until tenth grade. Even after we moved to Columbus, I went for one year, on the bus back to Mother Mary Mission. When we moved to Columbus, I went to Spencer High School. Just two weeks ago, I went back for my sixtieth high school reunion.

Education was always important for African Americans. We were taught they could take everything from you, but they can’t take what’s in your mind. So, you want to get as much education as you possibly can. They didn’t have to tell me that; I always enjoyed learning and reading. 

Unfortunately, my father didn’t ever learn to read and write well. He did learn how to write his name. He could count money better than anybody! He could read his Sunday school lesson and the Bible some. But he didn’t ever learn how to really read and write. My mother, did go to eighth grade. I went to Paine College for two years.

In the summer of [19]50, I had done my freshman year. I met a young man named Walter Hill. He was a soldier at Ft. Benning, and I was working at the USO. And he came in, and somehow became enamored with me, and I certainly was enamored with him. So we got married after my sophomore year, with the promise that I would go back to school. That was my husband’s agreement—unfortunately, he didn’t want to keep that agreement. He did let me go back the fall of [19]51, and at Christmastime I went home to try to persuade him to let me continue, but he said no. So I stayed. We were living in Columbus, and his home was in Charlotte {NC}. So, he persuaded me to go with him back to his hometown. 

I should say something about my getting into Paine College. You remember that I told you that my teachers didn’t think I was going to college because we were so poor? But I always had this desire to go to college. I knew that you made an application and so on, but I didn’t know that you had to get any information back to say you had been accepted. So I went to college without being accepted! [Laughter] 

At that time, everybody took entrance exams. And I made the highest score of the freshman class. So, they weren’t going to send me home after that. They worked with me. I did get a scholarship, and that really helped. And they gave me a job working in the library. 

But that marriage didn’t work out. I did move with him to Charlotte, and discovered that he was just extremely jealous. But I was still determined to go to school. 

To our regrets and my happiness, I suppose, when I got ready to go back to college, I was pregnant. That meant I didn’t get to go back. I took me about eight more years. I left in [19]52, and went back in [19]60. I had two sons by that time. But I still was ready to go back, and I looked for scholarships. 

I think we separated by that time. Then I found Atlanta University taught an off-campus course in Columbus. I wrote to Paine College to ask, was I eligible to get an NEA grant? They said yes. I went back to college and my parents kept my two sons. That was the beginning of my continuing education. This was [19]60—the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. I did not participate in the sit-ins, but I participated in the planning. 

When I almost finished Paine College, I was just about ranking the same as the young lady who would have been the valedictorian, so they gave us co-valedictorian. As a result of that, I was given a small fellowship to go to graduate school. A teacher there, a deaconess in a Methodist church, Dr. Ruth Bartholomew, thought that I should come back to Paine and teach. They couldn’t hire me unless I had a master’s degree. So, she asked my parents if they would keep my children while I went to get my master’s at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. 

That little fellowship would not have done it, but Dr. Bartholomew loaned me money as well as gave me some money. That’s how I did get my master’s. 

I taught at Paine College until [19]72, when I began to get ready to go to University of Illinois. From [19]60 to [19]72, that’s the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I was very much involved. 

To be continued in the March Iguana. 

Search for “Hill-Lubin” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu “Quick Links” for the recording of this interview and another, on African literature, in 2014.

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