Joan Willis

Joan is from Westminster, MD. She is one out of 15 children in her family. She lived on a farm where they housed pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks.

Transcription

SEAN GALLOWAY: Good morning. We’re here with Joan [INAUDIBLE] Willis. My name’s Sean Galloway for Carroll County Remembers history project. And how are– how are you today, Miss Willis?

JOAN WILLIS: I’m fine.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Good.

JOAN WILLIS: I’m fine.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Good. I appreciate you coming in and sharing your memories with us today. Let’s start. Where are you from? You mentioned you were a Carroll County girl.

JOAN WILLIS: I’m from Westminster, Maryland.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: I was born and raised in Westminster. I came from a family– my mother had 15 of us, and I’m number 13.

SEAN GALLOWAY: You’re 13.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh wow. Did you guys like– you lived on a farm or–

JOAN WILLIS: We didn’t live on the farm. We lived right on Charles Street.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: But we had like– we had like a little farm, because we had our own pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK.

JOAN WILLIS: And we raised all that stuff. And my mother canned all the food, had gardens, and she did all the canning and– to feed us children.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, nice. So tell me, what was it like growing up with all those brothers and sisters?

JOAN WILLIS: Well, I was in the lower group.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Uh-huh

JOAN WILLIS: My mother had my first brother and sister and seven straight boys.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Wow.

JOAN WILLIS: And then at the end, four of us girls came along.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Wow. That’s amazing.

JOAN WILLIS: Yeah.

SEAN GALLOWAY: So how was it being– being in the second group with all– with all those older kids?

JOAN WILLIS: Well, you know, most of them had gone away.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Uh-huh.

JOAN WILLIS: In the service, gotten married, lived away from home. There was only three brothers left at home when we came along.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK. Oh–

JOAN WILLIS: And an uncle and his daughter.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK. So that means you had a little more– you had a little room than as opposed to being all 15.

JOAN WILLIS: Right.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK. So what were holidays like?

JOAN WILLIS: Holidays were beautiful.

SEAN GALLOWAY: What was your favorite?

JOAN WILLIS: Christmas.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Christmas. Why’s that?

JOAN WILLIS: We had older brothers who always tried to help with the family, they always– they would ask us what we wanted. And then they would try to get what we wanted to get at. If we said we wanted a dollhouse, they put a dollhouse together for us.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: Even baby dolls that we wanted, they see that we got it. Yeah.

SEAN GALLOWAY: That must’ve been nice.

JOAN WILLIS: And that was a help for my mother and father.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Uh-huh.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: What did your mother and father do? I mean, your mother, you say she tended to you guys.

JOAN WILLIS: My mother stayed home. She never worked.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Wow.

JOAN WILLIS: She had all that work with all of us.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Righr, she had all of you, right?

JOAN WILLIS: But my father worked construction.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: He worked a fertilizer company. He worked a hotel.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: He used to go around and do– they had different places where they would shuck the oysters for the people, slice the turkeys and hams for them. That was his extra job on the weekends.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: To help make extra money.

SEAN GALLOWAY: All right.

JOAN WILLIS: Yeah.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Did your father– did you get a sense that your father enjoyed his work?

JOAN WILLIS: I think he did. And I think he enjoyed those weekends when he was going to those different places like the riding club and different places to shuck for oysters.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: And to slice the turkeys for the people. And he’ll be dressed up in a dark suit and a bowtie. [LAUGHS]

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, and I think he enjoyed that.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK. So what was it like growing up in Westminster when you were a child?

JOAN WILLIS: It was different. You know, it’s– you couldn’t go to the movies, the white movies. We had a state fair. And we couldn’t sit down even in our movies downstairs. We had to go upstairs.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Ah, really.

JOAN WILLIS: There was a black man that ran the movies, Mr. Thomas Dixon.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: And– but we went to that movies. I mean, we didn’t have a chose to go to the Carroll Theater. And you couldn’t sit down at any of the restaurants. If you bought something, you had to stand outside a lot of times to get it. You know, they wouldn’t let you– you know. And a lot of times there was black people working in the kitchen.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mm.

JOAN WILLIS: But that’s the way it was.

SEAN GALLOWAY: That’s the way it was.

JOAN WILLIS: [INAUDIBLE] segregation. And that’s the way it was.

SEAN GALLOWAY: How was it when– when segregation started to end? Was it a good– was it a– I see a lot of video where segregation, when it came to an end, it was pretty rough in a lot of places like Alabama and places in the south. How was that transition in Westminster?

JOAN WILLIS: Well, we started, like at school, we started playing basketball– I think the school here in Taneytown, different schools we played, the white schools. Some of the kids left when they could go to other schools. We had one girl in our class, Marvel Brown, who went to, I think it was called, Wolfe High School. It was in Union Bridge.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yeah, I’m familiar with that name, yeah.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, and she had to sit up at the front of the class because the kids were not nice to her. But she had in her mind that she wanted a good education and that she wanted a scholarship. So she did. She went there, got a scholarship, and went to Morgan.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: All right.

JOAN WILLIS: A lot of them that went in Union Bridge, the Butler kids, I’m trying to remember some of the other names. But anyhow, they had to pretty much sit near the front or, you know, because they went through a lot of nastiness.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Right.

JOAN WILLIS: Our kids didn’t know that when they started school.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Really?

JOAN WILLIS: [INAUDIBLE] children.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Really. What school did you go to? Was it Robert Moton?

JOAN WILLIS: Robert Moton.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: From the first grade to 12th grade.

SEAN GALLOWAY: To 12th grade, all 12 years.

JOAN WILLIS: All 12 years.

SEAN GALLOWAY: All right. Who were some of the people in your class? I’ve interviewed a lot of people that went to that school.

JOAN WILLIS: All right. I went to school with Vivian Thomas, Scarlet Roberts, Thomas McRuder, Richard Hill. I just had a 50th anniversary. I’m trying to remember everybody that came. Oh, George Dorsey Hudson, her husband. She married one of our classmates, William Hudson.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: I don’t want to miss any of them. And Marvel came up and joined us, because she was in our class. And we had her to come up. And she’s on our picture.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: Did I miss anybody? Oh, I said Dorsey. Char– Charles Davis and Char– Dorothy. Who else did I miss? I hope I didn’t miss any of them. I was trying to remember–

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, it’s– it’s fine. It’s– I–

JOAN WILLIS: Did I say Vivian Thomas?

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yes.

JOAN WILLIS: Dorothy, yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yep.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, it was just a nice group that turned out.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: Out of the 27 of us that graduated out of class, 12 of them had passed.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh really?

JOAN WILLIS: Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh wow.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Wow. So you mentioned that you had kids.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, I have– I don’t have 15 like my mother.

SEAN GALLOWAY: [LAUGHS]

JOAN WILLIS: I have four daughters.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: My first were twins.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm.

JOAN WILLIS: I had twin daughters. And then I had two other girls.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK. And are they still in the area?

JOAN WILLIS: My two youngest girls go to PG County.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: My twin daughters live right here in Taneytown.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK. So you see them a lot?

JOAN WILLIS: That’s why, I had– like I live here. My daughter built a home.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK.

JOAN WILLIS: Over on Fairground. And she put on a room for me.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Uh-huh.

[PHONE RINGING]

JOAN WILLIS: And my own bath area and everything.

[PHONE RINGING]

I still have rented a house too. And it’s– it’s nice living with her.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: ‘Cause I live– after my husband was killed, automobile accident, I lived seven years by myself on Main Street.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, OK.

JOAN WILLIS: That was different after coming from a big crowd of people. [LAUGHS]

SEAN GALLOWAY: I’m sorry about your husband.

JOAN WILLIS: Yeah.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yeah.

JOAN WILLIS: It’s been 15 years since [INAUDIBLE].

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, wow. And how– how are the– how are your other two daugh– what do they do for a living? What do your four daughters do?

JOAN WILLIS: My other two daughters are licensed practical nurses in PG County.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: And they went to Boise State University. They didn’t finish, but they end up pursuing a nurse’s, you know, license, yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yeah.

JOAN WILLIS: Yeah.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yeah, definitely. And what do your two daughters that live in Taneytown?

JOAN WILLIS: Regina works at Copper Ridge. She’s a receptionist there, and she also works for the Red Cross.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: Yeah, so she’s working two jobs. [INAUDIBLE] is– works at Western– it’s not Western Maryland College. It’s Mc–

SEAN GALLOWAY: McDaniel.

JOAN WILLIS: And she works there with the deaf education students. And she just got her degree this past May.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Uh-huh

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, and she’s still working at the college there.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK.

JOAN WILLIS: And she also works at the– different shelters, the homeless shelter and the– domestic violence shelter. She works there also.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK. Now, we did– we did an interview with a Barbara McGruder some time ago.

JOAN WILLIS: OK.

SEAN GALLOWAY: And she talked about how when she grew up on, I believe she said, Union Street–

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, there was only two black streets in Carroll County, I mean, and Westminster at the time. And that was Union Street and Charles Street. And then there was a few that lived on Green Street.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK. She– I remember her telling the story about being– being a child and being able to walk around in the area and not worry about anything happening to you.

JOAN WILLIS: Oh, yes, we never had a key to our door.

[LAUGHTER]

The doors were left open. I mean, you– you didn’t have anything going on that was really bad, really. And you felt safe. I mean, we would walk from Charles Street to Union Street. And I think it was a mile and a half. But, I mean, we were just happy kids walking. And we walked a lot.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mhm. And she also mentioned that you guys– that her and her friends played at what was then Western Maryland College.

JOAN WILLIS: Right. And that’s where my sisters– a lot of my family worked there.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Uh-huh.

JOAN WILLIS: I had a brother that worked over 47 years.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Mm.

JOAN WILLIS: And we would go up there sometime and put the little uniforms on their [INAUDIBLE] at the college and play up and down with the squirrels, up and down on that hill. Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: OK. So that must’ve been a lot of fun for you guys. Imean–

JOAN WILLIS: Yes, it was. It was fun.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Yeah. It was almost like having a really big backyard out there.

JOAN WILLIS: Right.

SEAN GALLOWAY: I mean– yeah.

JOAN WILLIS: And, I mean, they would take us, and then they’d walk– most of them didn’t have cars at that time. They’d walk from– to our street to the Western Marylyand– to the college.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Wow.

JOAN WILLIS: Yes.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Wow. OK. Well, is there anything else that you’d like to add to this story? It’s been really nice talking to you. Is there anything you’d like to add to it?

JOAN WILLIS: Well, there’s a place like home. And I love Westminster. I love the people that I growed up with. My mother was always friendly. She never saw color. She always tells us that– I don’t see color. And so many white people did help our family, and give to us, and helped us along.

And– I didn’t know about the prejudice. I didn’t feel the prejudice. Because I didn’t know. We were kids. And we played with a lot of the white kids. And we were kids, you know. But, I mean, after we got older we realized, you know, what was going on. But at the time, we had a beautiful school. Robert Moton was the best school in the world. And they graduated some outstanding people, yes. And we were just proud that we lived in Carroll County.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Oh, well–

JOAN WILLIS: I wouldn’t live nowhere else. I’ve lived other places. There’s nothing like Carroll County.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Keep coming back home.

JOAN WILLIS: I keep coming back home.

SEAN GALLOWAY: All right.

JOAN WILLIS: I lived in New Jersey for four years, and I lived in Baltimore for a time. But there’s nothing like home.

SEAN GALLOWAY: All right.

JOAN WILLIS: [LAUGHS]

SEAN GALLOWAY: Well, thank you very much for joining us. This was a very delightful interview. And I appreciate you sharing a memories with us today.

JOAN WILLIS: All right. Thank you.

SEAN GALLOWAY: Thank you.