ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS
by Susie E. Sansom-Piper
LIVING CONDITIONS 20’s-30’s-40’s-50’s
During the 20’s-30’s-40’s, the majority of Blacks were home owners. These homes usually
consisted of three rooms, built “shot-gun” style, or four to five rooms in bungalow
style. The most elaborate home was the Frank“Doc” Cummings home which was formally
located on Rice Street. Other homes that were considered to be elaborate were the homes
of Jack Shields, Paul Moultry, Buddy Speed, Jimmy Johnson, Rev. G. T. Burley, Arthur
Morgan, Jim Beals, Willis Beals, Henry Smith, Willie Floyd, and Lena Perkins. Most were
beautifully painted, well furnished, and had large porches for sitting areas (The Arthur
Morgan home still stands on Spruce Street).
Running or piped water did not exist. A few people had wells from which they used wooden
or metal buckets to draw “up” water. Others had barrels or cisterns to catch rain water,
or they hauled water from the city water pump which was located near the Old City
Cemetery. Water was 25 cents a barrel. Rural residents hauled water from Yegua Creek,
Brushy Creek or the San Gabriel River. The San Gabriel River also provided a favorite
swimming hole. This water served all purposes: drinking, cooking,bathing, washing, etc.
Clothes were washed by hand in #3 washtubs with a metal rub board. White clothes were
boiled in an old black iron wash pot, and all were rinsed two or three times and hung on
clotheslines to dry. Some of the outer garments were starched stiffly with Argo or
Faultless Starch that was cooked. Some of the soap consisted of homemade lye soap. A
popular soap that could be purchased for washing was P and G. Bluing was also used in
the rinse water to give the white clothes a vivid white look. It always took two days to
do the household laundry — one for washing and one for ironing. Irons consisted of heavy
iron metal and were heated on the stove, in the fireplace or a special furnace for irons.
With the invention of the gasoline iron, the electric iron, and the washer/dryer, the
down-side of doing the laundry was eliminated.
Sanitary conditions were very poor. A washbasin or wash-pan was used for hand and face
washing, and the #3 tub served as a bathtub. There was an outhouse located, usually, on
the far end of the property. Certain times of the month, a scavenger man was provided to
“clean out” the toilets. In later years, the pit toilet was introduced. These were
rounded cement curbs placed inside the outhouse over a huge ditch. When affordable
bathrooms became available, the septic tank for waste was put in use.
Electricity was not available during this time. Oil lamps, candles, or perhaps a lantern
provided light. In the late forties, shortly before the coming of Alcoa, the late Frank
Owens, shop teacher at Aycock, and also a carpenter, helped to lay and supervise the
provision of sewage and electricity in this area of the city.
There was little interest in politics. The Poll Tax fee of $1.75 was required for all
who wished to vote, and most people could not afford it.
Lawlessness was practically obsolete. Folks left their doors unlocked, even when
attending functions outside the home. Many slept outside on an iron cot during the
summer months to keep cool. Occasionally, there would be an arrest for drunkenness or
fighting, but generally, folk who lived “on the other side of the tracks” catered to
happenings in the area, managing to keep free of any trouble.