A Wonderful Life…
THE WONDERFUL LIFE OF SEDALIA L. CRAIN TAYLOR
I met Mrs. Sedalia Crain Taylor when she would come to visit my neighbors Janie Mae and Robert Caldwell, who had known me since I was two years old. When my parents died, they became my neighbor mama and daddy and I was like a daughter to them. Mrs. Taylor was like my neighbor auntie. All three were my village elders. Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell have passed, but Mrs. Taylor is still going strong at 95 and continues to be an example for me as an independent strong Black woman.
In the early 1940s, Sedalia Crain migrated from Longview TX to California when she was 14 years old. She and her friend Bessie, also 14, left together. Bessie was going to Richmond, California to visit her sister for the summer. Sedalia went along for the ride during summer vacation and was supposed to return to Longview when school started. But neither girl intended to go back. They had had enough of Longview, TX. Bessie’s sister had moved to California during the start of the United States’ involvement in WWII. War jobs were plentiful. Most Black people worked at the shipyard. She and her husband had good jobs and a home in Richmond. The girls stayed with her until they graduated from high school.
Every week for months, Sedalia’s mother kept telling her to come home. Sedalia would always say she would return “next week,” but she knew she was going to stay in California.
Life was hard in Texas. Racism was a way of life. Black people couldn’t enter stores from the front. They had to enter through the back door to buy what they needed.
Longview was a small segregated little town. There were very few opportunities for Black people. Most were sharecroppers who worked in the fields, raised crops, and sold them for less than survival money. Children were paid 10 cents a gallon for berries, plums, or other produce. They had to work in the woods, putting their hands in bushes with snakes and other critters. That’s why Sedalia wanted to leave. She didn’t want to get married and raise children in that environment. There was nothing to look forward to. There were lots of lynchings. The men would go out in the field to harvest and they would find someone dead or hung up in a tree. It was really hard. The women had it better than the men. The white men didn’t bother the women. They were after the men and Sedalia doesn’t know why. She just knows that life in Texas was just really really sad.
Sedalia’s dad and mom died in Longview. Her mom died in her 40s. Her dad died when she was 3 years old. Her mom worked washing clothes for a white woman and earned 50 cents for the entire day. She had to iron and fold the clothes after they were washed. It was terrible. All of the children had to help their mom when their dad died. Sedalia’s mom was a good seamstress. She would make the children’s clothes. They all looked as good as those who had store bought clothes.
Sedalia and Bessie migrated to California on a segregated train. They were so far in the back that no one could hardly see them. It took them three days to get to California. There were no adults
looking out for them. They had to look out for themselves. It was hard because they had to sleep in their seats fully dressed. When they got ready to go, Sedalia’s mom gave her a shoebox with cake, fried chicken, bread, and a lot of other edibles. She cooked enough for Bessie. Bessie’s parents also cooked food for them, so they had a lot to eat on the trip.
The week after they arrived in Richmond, Sedalia and Bessie began job hunting. They went to the Naval Air Station in Alameda. Sedalia was put on a dishwasher. She was asked if she knew how to operate it. She said “yeah” even though she had never seen a dishwasher. She didn’t know how to “pour piss out of a boot.” An older woman, Ms. Martin, stood by Sedalia and touched the button that started the dishwasher for her. Thus began her first job. The dishwasher washed the dishes and pushed the dishes out the other end to someone else who dried and stacked the dishes. After the dishes were washed, the workers served the Navy men.
Sedalia and Bessie worked part time because they were not yet 16. They went to Encinal High in Richmond at night. After they graduated, Sedalia worked full time. After a while, she wanted to make more money and got a job at the Naval Supply Center in Oakland driving a food cart. They were called roach carts because they weren’t cleaned and were very dirty.
After being in California for a while, Sedalia told Bessie, “we should have come here long ago.” Initially, she and Bessie were afraid that they were going to be treated as they were in the South. The white people in California “were different as night and day.” They would speak and talk to
you. Ask where you were from. They were very cordial and became increasingly friendly. Eventually, Sedalia felt safe.
After a while, Sedalia made a little money and again wanted to make more money. She decided to go to nursing school at Veteran’s Hospital in Livermore. There was a “jitney” (an old school name for a car) where you could pool with other folks to get to the hospital. Sedalia go to know those people and started riding with them until she was able to get her own jitney. In those days,
students were paid while going to nursing school. She passed the test for nurse’s aide and worked at Veteran’s Hospital for many years, emptying pots, making beds, and performing other such duties. Continuing a life pattern, Sedalia decided again that she wanted to make more money. She transferred to Highland Hospital in Oakland and decided that she wanted to be an LVN.
She and Bessie went to Sacramento to take the LVN test. They both passed. “We were just two busybodies. We didn’t stay still at all.” They both had been at Highland for quite a while working as nurses’ aides. They became LVNs when they passed their boards. Sedalia worked at Highland for 30 years as an LVN.
Around 1944, Sedalia moved from Richmond to Alameda. She applied for a three- bedroom apartment in what was known as “the projects” and sent for her two sisters from Texas. Each one had their own bedroom. At that time, they paid $55/month. Sedalia admitted that Alameda was racist (although not Texas racist), but that anyone could live in the projects as long as they paid the rent. The three sisters could easily pay that rent. At the time, many other Blacks from the South moved there, including the Caldwells, and formed a strong, long-lasting community. Almost all who lived in the Alameda projects left when they purchased homes in Oakland.\
Sedalia stayed in Alameda until 1955 when she moved to Oakland with her second husband with whom she was married for 62 years. He was a good man, always stayed employed and brought his check home. They had the same view about finances and came to Oakland because homeownership was possible there in certain areas.
Oakland was segregated in 1955. Black people could not go to Sobrante Park (which is all Black and low income now). You couldn’t buy a house past 105th Ave. If you got caught in Sobrante Park or the city of San Leandro after dark, you would get beat up or arrested. Sobrante Park was all white then. Blacks could go to but not past Lake Merritt. They could go down E. 14th to 105th but not past it. Blacks couldn’t buy houses around the lake. They weren’t even shown a house in San Leandro. Better not look at a white woman too hard. Black people could buy above E. 14th but it was hard.
Socially, Black people went to a lot of house parties. West Oakland used to be all or mostly Black. Slim Jenkins was a popular place. Mrs. Taylor was a dancer. As soon as the music started playing, she was on the floor. She went to a club in Berkeley. but forgot the name.
They cooked most of the time. Prepared the Southern cuisine they brought from home. They went out to eat on special occasions. Black people could go to Sizzlers, Red Lobster, and Pipers. Pipers was an all-you-can-eat establishment with delicious fried chicken and food seasoned the way Black folks liked it. Sedalia said they closed Pipers down because women would bring big bags in and take a lot of food home.
Sedalia is happy she came to California because you can make more money and buy property. This was virtually impossible for Black people in Longview, Texas.
Sedalia’s advice to future generations is:
“I would like to see all of us get along. When we get a job, get a fair share on the job when they get paid, not one person get one thing and one get the other, another get something else. If that could happen, I’d be ready for the Lord to take me home. Be fair with everybody. Treat everyone fair. If you do wrong, punish you ‘cause you did wrong. Let others see how it feels, let you feel how it feels when you treat somebody wrong. If I could see all that happen, I’d be ready for the Lord to take me home. I wish it would happen but I don’t think it will ever happen.”