CGP Community Stories

Robbie Dancy, November 11, 2018

Title

Robbie Dancy, November 11, 2018

Subject

Utica, New York
Youngstown, Ohio
Alabama
World War II
Great Migration
African Americans
Civil Rights Movement
Voting Rights
Bassett Hospital
Race
Lab Technician
Black-owned business
Black Panthers

Description

In 1943, at the age of two, Robbie Dancy moved from Alabama to Utica, New York with her grandmother, mother, and uncle. They were part of the mass movement of black individuals and families from the rural South to the urban North and West during the Great Migration, which began around 1916 and did not end until the 1970s. During that time, more than six million African Americans moved to northern and western cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. In these cities, demographics changed, black southern culture spread, and black-owned businesses opened. Dancy’s family was a part of this trend. In Youngstown, Ohio, her grandparents opened Floyd’s Barbeque, which brought southern homestyle cooking to the North. Dancy’s parents followed by opening Liberty Street Cafe in Utica, New York. The cafe would later become Club George. Operating from 1946 to 2006, it was one of the oldest black-owned businesses in Utica.

During her college years, Dancy went to Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. There she participated in the Civil Rights Movement, practicing non-violent resistance through picketing and helping to register black southerners to vote. She would go on to graduate from Bennett College with her B.S. degree in Biology, later becoming a medical technologist. Today, Dancy works per diem for the Bassett Healthcare Network in Herkimer, New York. She is also still active in the Utica community through her volunteer work.

The heart of this interview is Dancy’s recollections of the differences between southern and northern life for African Americans during the Jim Crow era. As she says, she did not really understand racism until going to Greensboro, North Carolina from Utica, New York. Dancy brings us on a journey through her life of activism then and now. She also discusses her family and her hopes. At age 77, Dancy still has a fiery determinism and fighting spirit that show through in this interview.

Creator

Tashae Smith

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2018-11-11

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association
Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
70.5mB
image/gif
3264 x 2448 pixel
image/jpeg
22 in

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Coverage

Upstate New York
Utica, New York

Interviewer

Tashae Smith

Interviewee

Robbie Dancy

Location

Utica, New York

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2018

RB = Robbie Dancy
TS = Tashae Smith

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]


TS:
Hello, this is Tashae Smith. Today is November 11, 2018 and I'm here with Miss Robbie Dancy at her home in Utica, New York. Before we get started, can you state your full name for me?

RD:
My name is Robbie Jane Hamlett Dancy. Hamlett was my maiden name. So that's it.

TS:
Thank you and also thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. Very much appreciate it. My first question for you is, why did your family move from Albany to Utica in 1943?

RD:
From Albany?

TS:
From Alabama.

RD:
From Alabama to Utica. My grandmother had a friend that was here in Utica. It was during World War II, and they were saying that jobs were available at Rome Air Depot, that was in Rome, New York. So she came up here. You have to know somebody when you're coming from the South because we were coming from Alabama. My grandmother came up here and she got a job at Rome Air Depot in March of 1943, and in June of 1943 we came up here. It was my mother, myself, and my uncle. And my mother started working too. She started working at, I think it was one of the wartime places in Utica, and I can't think of the name of the place now. But, Mom got a job too working. My uncle, he was only ten years older than I was, so he was still in school too. I was going to be two years old in August. We came in June. I was going to be two in August. So my uncle was 12.

TS:
So you said your grandmother also came up, can you tell me more about your grandparents?

RD:
My grandfather was in Ohio, in Youngstown, Ohio. They [grandparents] had never been together. It was my mother's father. They had never lived together anything, but my grandmother was a hard worker down south in Alabama. She worked for a couple in Alabama. She did everything; she went from the cotton fields to the house person. [recording paused]
[TRACK 1, 02:38]
TS:
Yes, let me hit record again. Yes.

RD:
So my grandma, she worked. She did work for them. They helped her in every way too. They were really good to her. As a matter of fact, I was named after one of the people who she worked with, named after their grandchild. [Laughs] It's funny. It was during the 1940s; it was still during that time when we were still working for the white people and couldn't get no place. You couldn't get any place; that's all there was to it. They wanted to better themselves. In order to better yourself, you had to migrate. We were part of that Great Migration, coming up here to Utica, and a lot of people came up here at that time because of the jobs during wartime, during World War II. There were a lot of jobs in this area because of Rome Air Depot. Trying to think of the place my mom used to work at and I can't. Should be in my brain somewhere but I can't think of it right now. She'd tell me. [laughs] My grandfather lived in Ohio and my grandmother was here from 1943 to 1946, and then she went to Ohio to be with my grandfather. They stayed there. She got married, and she was there until she passed away in the [19]80s, [19]82, I think it was. My grandfather passed away in [19]80. No, [19]89, my grandfather passed away. They lived long lives. My grandfather did. They lived long lives. My grandmother was 70-something when she passed and he was 90, 91 something like that. [19]89, he was 91.

TS:
Your grandfather, did he migrate to Ohio before your grandmother and what was his job?

RB:
He worked for the railroad. He worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Picking up luggage, just baggage. He and my grandmother did well together when they were in Ohio. They got together; he worked for the railroad. They saved money up. Bought a building, and developed it. They had a restaurant, a barbecue place, well-known barbecue place. Floyd's Barbecue, that was my grandfather's name, Floyd. They had three places in Youngstown. They did so well; they did really good there with their barbecue restaurants. So they did that until they retired. You know that was it. They were too old to do it and they sold it.

TS:
Were you able to ever visit the barbeque?

RD:
I used to go every summer, I'd be at my grandmother's house. I was with my grandmother. When she moved to Youngstown in [19]46, I moved with her because my mother and father. My mother got married to my father—he wasn't my biological father—in 1944, a year after we got here. She married her Sunday school superintendent. That was my father; he was just my father in every sense of the word. He adopted me with his name. What was I talking about?

TS:
[Pause] I was asking if you had visited.

RD:
My grandmother.

TS:
Yes.

RD:
So I went with my grandmother. I stayed with her because my mother and father were also opening a business. I stayed with my grandmother for two years. Then after that I'd go every summer, and during the summertime when they had their restaurant I worked there. I was a kid. I was like 10, 11 years old and helping them out in the restaurant. I was a little waitress. [laughs]

TS:
Can you tell me more about your parents?

RD:
My mother met my father when we moved here in 1943. The first thing they did was, they started looking for churches. They’re Baptists, so they found St. Paul Baptist Church. At that time, where the Utica Auditorium is now, that's where St. Paul Baptist Church was. It was a small church with a potbelly stove in it, and they all sat around that one room for the church. They went to that church and my father’s uncle was one of the ones who founded the church in 1925. My father was a superintendent there, and my momma laid eyes on him and she goes, “Mmm, he's a good looking man, you know mmhhmm.” [laugh] They met and they had something going, both of them were religious bound. They had good things going, and they got married the next year, 1944. In 1945, my father also worked during wartime; he did a lot of stuff. He worked at Savage Arms. Savage Arms is the place where they made guns and that's where my dad worked, at Savage Arms. My mother worked at Utica Radiator, that's where she worked. It just came to me just now. They were all situated close together. They saved their money up, bought the building, and had this place called Liberty Street Cafe. It was on Liberty Street and they had it for a year, the restaurant for a year. They decided to get a liquor license, and it became Club George in 1946; and it stayed Club George until 2006, so 61 years. I think it was 61 years, I'll say that. I thought it was 2007, but 61 years it was Club George. I think it was the oldest black-owned business in this area in central New York State when they had it. They were hard workers too. They never put the business over their religion, though. My father was a deacon in church. The business was their business, and that was it. They brought me up the same way. It was the business and that was it. I worked there. I knew the business. My father taught me how to write checks; he taught me how to do everything, which was a blessing because kids nowadays don't know how to do all that stuff. What else?

[TRACK 1, 10:33]
TS:
Do you feel that your grandmother, mother, and uncle moving from the South to the North offered them more opportunities?

RD:
Oh my god yes, I know it did. My grandmother would never have been on her own making her own decisions and things if she hadn't come up here. My uncle, same way. He went into the military when he got out of school; he graduated and went. It was during the Korean War, he went into the military in the Korean War and then when he got out he got a job at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome too. That's where he worked. But it was different. It was Griffiss Air Force Base then. It wasn't Rome Air Depot like it was at the time when my grandmother worked. My uncle worked there until he passed away. He passed away with pancreatic cancer at a young age. In his 40s, I thought it was a young age. He was there the entire time and he did well, he did well. They would never have been able to do any of the things that they did. My grandmother would not have had three restaurants in Ohio if she had stayed in Alabama. Believe me. Neither would my grandfather, though he left a long time ago, I think. But, she never would have done [that]. She had a third-grade education, but she was really smart, really smart.

TS:
What kind of constraints did your family feel while they were living in the South?

RD:
Well, see I'm not sure, when we first moved up here, you can only live in certain places, you can only sit in certain places. You know those are big things that the Jim Crow laws did, because they had the Jim Crow laws down there. That was it right there. Then when she came here, the first thing she did was look for an apartment. When she was looking for an apartment in Utica, she didn't know where to look but somebody [phone rings] [inaudible] [Pause] She was looking for an apartment, and I guess someone had told them most of the people in Utica lived in certain areas, certain sections. Well, she went a little bit out of the section. She didn't know that. She was on, I’ll say, the east side of Utica where most lived and she was looking for this apartment. She asked the woman for the apartment and the first thing she told them she says, well the guy says, “Well, I've never rented to colored people,” and my grandmother says, “Well, we'll be real good colored people.” [laughs] It's just typical of what she would say. We'll be real good colored people, you know, and that's how we stayed there. Not long but we stayed there. I was a little baby girl but I became friends with all the neighbors around there, all the old folks and stuff, I'd sit and talk to them. They'd be sitting outside and I'd go out and talk to them. It was wartime; it was during World War II, and we had blackouts and all that stuff. It was alright, it was alright. The only thing that was hard was in the wintertime. We weren't used to all that snow and I can remember my grandmother and I sliding and trying to get to the bus to go to church. It was awful. I still don't like winter.

TS:
Can you tell me more about your experience growing up in Utica and how that affected your life?

RD:
I loved growing up in Utica. When I see kids now, they don't play; they’re on their computers, those little pads all the time, but I really loved growing up in Utica. We were a close-knit group of people. And like I said, when we first moved here; my mother and father after they got married, they lived on a street called Spring Street in Utica. I can say the majority of those people on that street came from Alabama. You know on the other side of the street, they came from Alabama, and then they had just built projects in Utica and we used to go down to the parties in the projects and had a great time. We had a wonderful time. We had a man who, we had a drill team, and he was interested in the kids with our drill team and we were in parades. I mean they went to New York [City]. This was after I was out of the drill team. Most of us, the original people, were out of the drill team when they went to New York in the [19]60s. We were in the drill team in the [19]50s. In the [19]50s, this was the original one, and it kept us off the street, kept us out of trouble. I had no problems growing up in Utica. I had no problems at all. I still have really good friends. We meet at the senior place three days a week and we see each other. We just got back together. It's like getting back together. You know it's nice.

TS:
Did you experience any racism living in Utica?

RD:
The only time, I didn't realize it until I got out of high school. My advisor. I took college prep courses when I was in high school. My advisor never advised me to go to college. I'm taking college prep, I wasn't the dumbest student, but I think I was a C average maybe. And he never advised me. Who advised me was the minister's wife from an A.M.E Zion church. She was like our mentor, Mrs. Whitfield. She told me she says, “Robbie, you're going to college.” I said, “Oh okay.” I had relatives that lived in North Carolina and her daughter went to Bennett College, which is in Greensboro, North Carolina. And I had a cousin that was going down there. So one time when we went down there I took a tour of the college. I liked it; it was a historical black college. I never realized the racism until I went down there to college. This is when it opened my eyes that my advisor should have advised me to go to college or something somewhere. You know he didn't. [recording paused]

TS:
My adviser.

RD:
My adviser, he didn't. Mrs. Whitfield, I was blessed to have a mentor like Mrs. Whitfield. She did it [for] a whole bunch of girls; she was a mentor to us because we belonged to a youth group at her church. At that time we went to all the churches. It didn't matter if you were Baptist. I was Baptist, but I went to all the youth churches for various things. I belonged to a youth group at Hope Chapel, which is A.M.E Zion, and my church, the Baptist church. So that was how I got to Miss Whitfield. She advised me. She said look into it, so I looked into it and I liked it. It was an eye opener when I went down there because I went down there in 1959. And 1959 was the start of the sit-ins, [19]60. February [19]60. Those boys I knew them; those young men that were sitting down in there [at Woolworth’s lunch counter]. We knew them because a couple of them were freshmen, one was a sophomore. I think two sophomores and two freshmen. And so we knew them. [Recording paused] The young men that started that, it involved all of us. The sit-ins. It was the start of my activism when I went down there and I could see the segregation and the racism and everything. It was an eye-opener. It was an eye opener, believe me, when I went down there. My roommate was from New Jersey, she was from Princeton, New Jersey, and I'm from upstate New York and both of us got involved really a lot. And we're both just like that still.

TS:
How were you able to deal with the segregation and outright racism when going to Bennett college?
[TRACK 1, 20:31]
RD:
When those young men started those sit-ins in February, that was our freshman year. Our president was very, very good. She told us, she says, you can participate but don't forget about your studies. Don't forget about your classes, your studies, and everything, but you can participate. Bennett women had to look nice all the time. We could never wear pants, never wear pants at all. We had to go looking decent when we did picket. We had to make posters and walk with those posters down there, and we did that. We had certain shifts that we'd have to do with our classes and stuff. That was the first year. That was the first year at the Woolworth’s. We couldn't sit down at the Woolworth’s [lunch counter] and then during that summer they opened it up when the students weren't there. So they said okay, we got you now. You know, so that was fine. Then after that, it was the voting. We started trying to get people to register, I think because North Carolina may have been one of the first states where they were able to vote without taking the test where they had to know the Constitution and all this stuff. You know it was ridiculous how we had to know the Constitution to take the test and everything in order to vote. They're still trying to make it hard on you. In certain places you got a P.O. Box, “Oh, I'm sorry you can't vote. You got to have an address.” They are still making it difficult for us [inaudible]. I think it was [the] next year that we tried to integrate the movies, because we all had to sit upstairs in the movies. My roommate and I, we both went to jail for that because we wanted a ticket to sit downstairs and they said you're not sitting downstairs, and I said, “We ain't moving.” There were so many of us we had to go to the armory because so many of us were arrested and we were there overnight. That was it, but we were fingerprinted, mugshots, everything. Greensboro has my fingerprints and my mugshot. When you see people going in the back door to order something and you can't go inside to sit down, that in itself that was the racism that I really saw and brought it out to me. Afterwards when certain things happened I could see it again in certain things in my life, certain periods of my life. I saw it again. That was when it started, my activism. I was glad it opened my eyes to things that are going on in the world. They want to bring it back. Some people want to bring it back.

TS:
Can you tell more about getting arrested at the movie theater?

RD:
Yeah. What we did was, we were in line and we kept going up there and just taking turns going up there. He got so sick and tired of us that's when he called the police on us because he got tired of us going up there wanting a seat to sit downstairs. We went to the armory and getting in line to get your fingerprints and other stuff, and I said, “Oh my god,” and the mug shot and all. It was devastating. [laughs] Some of the kids earlier when they had jail space they were in jail, but they didn't have any more jail space for us because they were all full. That's why they had to take us to the armory. They had this one guard who was taking care of about seven, eight people, he had to be a guard of. We tried to wear him out because every ten minutes somebody had to go to the bathroom. We tried to wear him out all night long. He was sick of us. He was probably glad that we went home the next day. That's the only thing I can remember is just the mug shots, the fingerprints, and sitting up there in the armory bugging that guard. That was it. We were quiet. We didn't we didn't do a lot of screaming and stuff like that in there, but we were quiet. We just bugged him.

TS:
What were some of the other activist activities that you did at Bennett College.

RD:
Besides the voting. I remember during the voting time babysitting for some young people so they can go and vote. Doing that. I remember helping elders to get them to take them to vote and helping them to vote. That's the only thing I can remember. It's been a long time, been a long time. That's the only thing I can remember unless I called my roommate up and say “Tish, can you remember anything else?” Because we did things together. That's the only thing I can remember mostly was the voting the movie theater and the picketing. We did picket the movies too. We did picket there too. We picketed at Woolworth’s, and we marched all the way from the campus downtown. Jesse Jackson was going to [North Carolina] A&T at that time. He was one of the stewards. I think he was a year ahead of me. He was one of the stewards to make sure that we were in line and were quiet when we marched from the campus to downtown and everything. Everybody was quiet. Anyway, it was a quiet march downtown.

TS:
I'll start with my next question.

RD:
I'm trying to think of the word. Sometimes I can't think of words I want to say. Dr. King was what?

TS:
Nonviolent.
RD:
That's it. Non-violent. That's what I'm saying. That’s actually what I was trying to think of, non-violence. That's the way it was when we were marching. It was all quiet and nonviolent. That was it.

TS:
How do you see Bennett College leading you into the civil rights movement?

RD:
It led me into the civil rights movement because if I had been here I wouldn’t have known anything. People don't realize how it was down there unless you're down there. They really, really don't, and when I tell them, they don't know unless they are from the South and lived down there and came here. But people who are from here, they have no idea what it was like. They don't. It opened my eyes when I went down there, because otherwise I wouldn't have known, I would've been just like them, saying “Oh really,” and that would have been it. You know, you don't know, you don't know. Unless you face it, you see those Jim Crow laws up in your face like that and that's just what they were.
[TRACK 2, 00:00:00]
RD:
It was something, really was. It opened up my eyes to the civil rights movement all the way, Bennett did. I probably wouldn't have known if I hadn't gone down there.

TS:
What made you decide to become a medical technologist?

RD:
At first I wanted to be a doctor. Then I said, “Well…” after I got out of school, and then I said maybe research or something. I went to [Washington] D.C. after I got out of school. I had majored in biology. When I was in Greensboro, I had gone to the black hospital in Greensboro, and I saw the rotation of the lab and all that stuff. I wanted to be a doctor or research, and after I got out of school, I went to Washington and applied for a job at NIH [National Institutes of Health]. I had just gotten out of school. When I went there, they told me, you haven't done this before. I said, “Yeah, I just got out of school. That's why.” They said, “No, we can't use you.” If I had been someplace else, somewhere else, somebody else, they would have hired me directly out of school. So I said, okay. I left and there was another place I applied at in Washington, too, to do research. I was into researching I think, and I just put an application in. I came back to Utica and was still thinking about being a doctor, and I said, “No, I don't think I want to go to school for four more years, and then two more years.” I started thinking, and I said, I don't think so. I went and applied for a job at Faxton hospital in Utica as a med[ical] tech[nologist] and they hired me. And that was it. That was in November of 1963, and it was just when Kennedy had been assassinated when I got that job. It was November [19]63 I started working at Faxton. I don't even know if there's any other black med tech in this area still, and that’s been since [19]63. I don't know any. The only one I knew was the public health director who was here for a minute and she left and went to Georgia. She was a med tech. That's the only one I knew, but I don't know any other ones. I like it. I've been at it now for 55 years. I didn't want to be a nurse. It's still a way where you're helping somebody. I always call us doctors’ diagnosticians because they would not know what's wrong with the patient until we test their blood, their urine, and everything else that comes out of their body. That's what I call us. People don't know that. A lot of nurses don't know that. Believe it or not, but they don't. I asked one nurse one time what [we did]. She said, “Oh you do transcribing.” I said, “No, that's not it.”

TS:
How was your experience working as possibly the only black medical technologist at Faxton hospital?

RD:
Good, it was good. I had no problem at all, had no problem at all. It was very good. I worked there from 1963 until I got married in [19]66 and moved to Rome. I got a job in Rome Hospital as a med tech and was there for a year when my husband transferred and went to California and we moved to California in, I think I moved to California in [19]68. Started working for Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in [19]68 and stayed there for 21 years. Then moved to Chicago. Stayed there for ten years. My husband passed three years after we got to Chicago. Became a supervisor in their transfusion department and came back here because of my mother. She's 94.

TS:
Why do you believe that there are not many black medical technologists?

RD:
I don't think they know enough about it. I think you have to tell young folks about the field. Once in a while we'll have young people coming through the lab. When I was in Chicago and in California we had the schools that have to rotate there, they'd have to rotate in the laboratory for two months, three months, whatever, the semester. The different areas of the laboratory, they'd have to rotate. Since I've been here I have not seen a rotation at all. I asked them about it. Also, I think when if you have those job fairs and things like that that they don't have enough people to tell about it. I'm still working because they don't have enough and I'm old and I'm still working because they don't have enough med techs to cover things. I tell them you need to get somebody to go to go to Albany to talk for us. If the money is not enough, that will increase it, because we always had somebody in Sacramento in California. There was always somebody in Sacramento speaking up for med techs, always. They don’t have nobody. I tell them that, but it don't make no difference.

TS:
Do you see yourself being that person to speak up for med techs?

RD:
I'm too old now. I did go to Girls Inc. I went there one time and talked to these young ladies about this field. You know to go into the field or if you are interested in anything that had to do with the healthcare field and I talked to these young ladies about it. I just feel like that's the only way I feel like you can get it through is to talk to young people about it. I'm not going to Albany. I'll talk to young folks about it. I will do that. There's a part in there. Did you ask me about the Panthers, my time in California? It's coming?

TS:
Yeah, [laughs] it's coming. I do want to ask, though, more about your family. So how did you meet your husband?

RD:
Okay. Griffiss Air Force Base was right up there in Rome, which is 16 miles from Utica. I met him at my father's bar. He was a quiet guy, good looking, cute, to me he was. He didn't say too much. That's where I met him and he was quiet. He was from Chicago. We started going out and I'd invite him up to my mom's house for dinner and holidays and stuff, and he was very nice. Then after going out for a while we drove to Chicago and I met his family. They were really nice people. I was the only child; he was the oldest of seven. I loved it. My husband passed, but I have a lot [of family]. I have two sisters that are in Chicago that I have adopted. I have a young brother in California. They lived with us when we moved to California. Two of them came out there to stay with us until they got situated, so it's like an adoptive family for me. They were an adopted family for me. And a lot of nieces and nephews because when we lived in Chicago, we always had family outings at our house because we had the biggest house and so they'd all come in. We lived outside of Chicago, like 30 miles outside Chicago and they'd come. I asked my husband, I said, why do you live so far outside of Chicago? He said, because of my family, I don’t want them too close [laughs]. I said, thanks. I loved it, though; I just did. It was nice. We had family celebrations for Christmas and holidays and stuff they'd always be out there. It was very nice. I loved it. That's how I met him. He was in the Air Force. Met him at the bar. He was a jet mechanic in the Air Force. When he got out, we moved to California and then he started working for AT&T. He was an AT&T technician, and he worked with them from 1968 until he passed away in [19]92.

TS:
How was it raising your children in San Francisco and Chicago?
[TRACK 2, 00:11:35]
RD:
In San Francisco we lived outside of Berkeley. It's beautiful, the Bay Area is beautiful. And my children were strictly California kids. Where we lived we never locked the door. You go out the door, you don't lock the door. So when they left, when my daughter went to college, I said, you’ve got to lock your door and close your stuff up because you're not used to that. I had to tell them that. There are a lot of things I don't want to say in here too. It was nice; it was it was okay. When we moved there we moved into a place outside San Francisco. We lived outside San Francisco and then we moved from there to outside of Oakland, outside of Berkeley, a place called Kensington. I liked Oakland because Oakland had a lot of ethnicity for us, whereas San Francisco was beautiful and that was it. That was it. It was beautiful. I was able to take my children to many things in Oakland that I couldn't take them to in San Francisco because nothing was available there. When I moved to Chicago, I said, “Oh my god,” I really like Chicago. People talk about Chicago. Every place has a horrible district to it, okay. People talk about it, but I really, really like Chicago. If I wanted to go to a play cheap and see a nice, cheap black play I could go and see it. It was good. You know that's what I like about it. I was able to see things relating to me in Chicago. My grandkids probably don't want us to live there now because they say you can stand on the street and somebody will see you and might shoot you thinking you’re somebody else. They don't want to live there anymore. They don't. I don't think so. I don't think my grandson does, and I don't think my granddaughter does either. Their friends are all there. They love it but I just feel like. I don't know. I've lived there, and I would live there.

TS:
While you were in California, you got involved with the Black Panthers. How did you get involved?

RD:
I’ve got to think about that, you know my husband more so than anything, I think that's why I got involved because he liked the Black Panthers. For one thing, the Black Panthers were not a nonviolent [group]. They were, what's the word I want to use for them. It's in my paper most likely. They saw things that weren’t right in the government and they said we're not going to take this. At the time, the police chief was a racist and they knew he was and they said we’re going to get you out of there and they got him out. They did get him out. They carried guns, they carried guns. [Recording paused] We lived in a neighborhood in California, in Kensington, where it was mostly all white. There was another black family up the street from us. My husband broke in these black boots like the Panthers wore, and he wore them all the time. [Laughs] He looked like he could have been a Black Panther, but he wasn't. But he felt that what they were doing was right. At that time I think I must have been working for Ron Dellums. He was running for Congress and I was working for his congressional [campaign] making phone calls or stuff like that. Ron was a pretty good person too. He also believed in the Black Panthers. He did. They did so many things for the neighborhood, for the people. People had a lot of things against them but they had a school. They opened up a school for the kids. They had a health clinic for the people. I used to do volunteer work down there at their health clinic. About once a week I’d get off my job and go down there and help them with their health clinic, and many of the doctors from San Francisco, the young black doctors, would come over and donate their time to them too. They gave out free groceries, they gave out free groceries to the people. They did a lot for the neighborhood, for the people, not the neighborhood, but the people in Oakland. I'm just thinking that a lot of people didn't know this. I don't know. I think a lot of people don’t know it. Angela Davis was real influential with them. The George Jackson free health clinic, that's where she got arrested. They said she was trying to break him out of jail and all this stuff, but they started that George Jackson free health clinic after his name. I just felt like what the Panthers were doing was the right thing. They were helping the community in all efforts with the children, families. Everything they did; medical, education, and food, whatever they could they helped. I think my husband was probably one of the first ones who probably got us involved with them. That's what I'm thinking. That's what I think. He looked like one, he did [laughs].

TS:
What would you say to individuals who consider the Black Panthers to be too militant and angry?

TS:
I'd just tell them that they weren't too militant. Maybe you think so because they had the guns. That's why they thought they were too militant, but they didn't use those guns. They didn't use them at all, but they carried them. That's all they did was carry them. At that time it was going from nonviolence to militant. That's what it was, and it was just extreme opposites. I don't like guns, but at that time when I saw them and what was going on in Oakland, I said go ahead. But like I said, they didn’t shoot nobody; they didn't kill nobody.
That was part of their get-up, the caps, the guns, and the broke ends. That was it. That was it. And they marched. They marched. You asked me about their militan[cy], did I answer the question?

TS:
Yes.

RD:
OK.

TS:
How did you start working at Bassett Hospital?

[TRACK 2, 19:57]
RD:
Well, when I moved back here to Utica, I moved back to Utica in December of 1999. My mother was still here and Club George was still going, the business was still going. It was getting too hard for her, so I came back here to help her with that business. So I started applying for jobs in the area, in Utica, and I was being very, very specific of what I wanted. I wanted to work part-time and didn't want weekends. You can't work in any lab in a hospital and work part-time and not have weekends. And they told me that and I said I know it. So I kept looking. A friend of mine who works for I think it's Workforce, Work something in Utica. He told me they were looking for med techs at Bassett. I said, where is Bassett? He said, in Cooperstown. I had never been to Cooperstown. I went down there to Bassett and it was a beautiful drive down there. I said this is a beautiful drive. I must have brought my resume and stuff with me and they looked at it and they said it looks good. Since I had worked in blood banks for many years, they asked me if I wanted to work down there in Cooperstown. Part-time, too. I said, “No I don't think so.” I thought about that drive, it was a beautiful drive, but I thought about the winters and they said, we have some openings in Herkimer, so I said, “Oh, okay.” I think it was three days a week. I said, that sounds good, and weekends? They said, “No, you just have to be on call.” I said, “That's all right. I'll take that.” So I started working at Herkimer and this was 2000. September of 2000. I started working there three days a week and taking call every fourth weekend, something like that, which was okay with me. Then I retired three years after I started working there, and I have been a per diem person for 15 years. I work there two to three days sometimes four. My per diem days are two, but sometimes I work three. I've been there for 15 years per diem at Bassett. And it's been good, it's been good.

TS:
How has the Utica community changed since your childhood?

RD:
Well, for one thing where I played in Utica, the area I played in, everything they had, it's all been knocked down. Nothing. There's no African-American section of where we used to have our businesses. The projects and everything is all gone. They put the auditorium there and all the businesses were torn down leading up to the auditorium. Then down across from the auditorium was where the projects were. And those people had to move out of there and get relocated. Some got relocated and some had to find their own places and stuff. It’s changed tremendously because we don't have really a section where there's African-American businesses and nothing else here. I don't think so. I haven’t seen any. And that's mainly what I miss. We may have one restaurant now. Finally, maybe.


TS:
How did you get involved with the NAACP where you are now a silver lifetime member?

RD:
I started going to the NAACP meetings in Chicago. In Chicago, how did I start going? I can't even remember. I can't remember exactly how but I became a life member. I joined and said I'm going to become a silver lifetime member. Evidently, they must've been doing something at that time that I was interested in, but I can't remember what it was. [Recording paused] I can't remember how or why I joined the NAACP. Maybe that was because it was a black organization, I felt like I needed to join it. When I got out of school and came to Utica it was CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]. I belonged to CORE. CORE was real important to us when I was in school, so I continued on. After that fizzled out I just felt like it was an organization where it's better for us. I think that's why I did it. I can't remember now, but it must be it was something going on. I can't remember what it was.

TS:
How do you still keep up with the NAACP and events?

RD:
You know I'm not as active for the last two years. I have not been active. I used to be. Before that I was the health person, I was the health chair of the NAACP where I had health fairs here. Just about every year some place. But the last two years I have not been involved too much because I belong to the senior
[TRACK 3, 00:00:00]
RD:
program we got. I’m on the board of the senior program so I'm putting all my energy in them. It's like a Black Community Center. It's the Mid-Utica Neighborhood Preservation Corporation, but it’s the Leisure Time Center. I've been involved with that for the last seven years, something like that, but all my energy has gone in that for the last two, three years. We were trying to get people motivated to come back. We're trying to get programs going. So that's one of the reasons why I’ve not been in the NAACP too much because of that. We’re trying to get programs going into our own community center. We have a nice senior program and this community center was the first adult case care center in Utica in 1979. Once it opened and did well the other ones opened and that took away the business again. Again.

TS:
What is your role in the senior program?

RD
Nothing. I'm just a member but I'm on the board of the mid-Utica. I am Secretary-Treasurer of the Utica M.U.N.P.C. But we're just a member of the senior program, just a member. They have their own officers and everything, but we do a lot. We have ZUMBA on Mondays. We have Bible study on Wednesday; we have arts and crafts on Fridays; play cards on Fridays and Mondays. We have a good time. It’s really nice. It is.

TS:
How do you see the senior program being important to the Utica community?

RD:
I feel like it's really important because like I tell you before, people that I grew up with years ago, we are just getting back together right now as seniors, and doing things together that we did 50 and 60 years ago. To me that is so important and we do a lot of things. I mean we go out to lunches. We really enjoy ourselves too. We do certain things. This past week we went to another, St. Margaret's house for lunch and a Bible study and they were really nice. It was very nice, very nice. You meet other people, you meet other people, which was real good too. I really like it. I like the closeness and the enjoyment of us going out together. It's good. We have a good time.

TS:
How do you see in today's society the correlation of racism to 1960s? Do you see any similarities?

RD:
Not overt. But if you're aware of it. You know what's there. I am aware of it. And I can see it when it is there. I can't, you know I can't tell you but, I can see it when it's there. That's all I can say.

[TRACK 3, 10:10]
TS:
Do you see your personal experiences seeing racism firsthand as helping you to see them in different places today?

RD:
I do. If I hadn't seen it years ago in North Carolina, I would not be aware of it right now. It would not dawn on me at all right now if I hadn't seen it in North Carolina. But seeing people in North Carolina and see how they think it opened my eyes. And like I say I see it. But I don't say anything. I just keep going. I know what I’ve got to do. If it's there I try to do something about it. If I feel like it.

TS:
What are some ways you tried to do something about it when it comes to racism?

RD:
Well, different things. I write letters to different organizations. Maybe doing things for another community. Telling my feelings of how I feel about it. And trying to think of other ways, I don't picket anymore. People make picket signs and they don't do that anymore I'm too old for that. So most of the time. I'd probably usually write letters to organizations that I feel this has kind of left us out for certain things and I write a letter to them. For the African-American community. Why? That's the way I do it now. I don't picket. Like I said, I’m getting too old for that now. Somebody texted me last week and says we're going to be at this building. Please come down. I said, I don't think so. No, can't do that.

TS:
Why is it important to you to have young people vote?

RD:
Oh my God. That's such a question. I mean it's like people gave their lives for young folks, for young black folks to vote. I always tell them, I say, people gave their lives so you can go out there and vote. Don't complain if you don't vote, don't complain. If you pay any kind of taxes, you need to vote. This is your country; you were born here. You're just like any other citizen. You were born here and like I said too many people have risked their lives for you not to vote. So it was so important. That's one of the most important things, I think, in a person's life is to go out there and vote. I do. I do. It upsets me if I see people, young folks not voting. I call them. You vote? It's important.

TS:
How do you try to encourage young people to vote?

RD:
By asking them. And telling them. I ask another young person, did you tell your friends? Did you tell so-and-so about voting, and she said, yeah I did. I tell one person. Are they going? Yes, they're going. Okay. But that's the way I do it, I tell a young person who may be in their 20s, 30s or something like that. Then the teenager in Sunday school will see it in Sunday school and church every Sunday. Prior to preaching every Sunday at church when it's voting time to go out there. When it's registration, to register to vote. I tell them how long it takes, how long the registration is, when it's up and then I do it every Sunday. I did it every Sunday. Sunday school and church. 18 years old. Vote. That's it.

TS:
How do you see your work at Bennett College getting people to vote affecting your perception of voting today?

RD:
That's important because those people even my grandmother had never voted until she moved up here. And you know so it was the same way. They had never voted before and they were so thrilled to be able to have that right. And that's your God-given right to vote. It's very important in a person's life. I mean I don't care what my son is doing, he votes. It's so important, so important.

TS:
Well, this is my last question to you before we wrap this up. What is some advice you would like to give to young African Americans?

RD:
Well, there's a saying that Frederick Douglass said, “Education is your freedom.” Supposed to be your freedom. And I feel like education is so important for young folks. You have to have an education. Whatever the gift that God gave you, try to figure that out and use it to the best of your knowledge. That's the way I look at it, that's my thing. But I just feel like education is so so important to me, it is. It is. But you have to have education and common sense to. It's important. So it's education, commonsense.

TS:
Well, thank you very much for sitting down with me and doing this interview. I definitely appreciate it.
[TRACK 3, 00:10:49]
RD:
You're welcome, Tashae.


Duration

30:00 Track 1
30:00 Track 2
10:49 Track 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

160 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 02:38 - Great Migration
Track 1, 10:33 - Great Migration - More Opportunities in North
Track 1, 20:31 - Civil Rights
Track 2, 00:00 - Medical Technologist
Track 2, 11:35 - Black Panther Party
Track 2, 19:57 - Utica, New York Community
Track 3, 00:00 - NAACP
Track 3, 10:10 - Racism in Today's Society

Files

Citation

Tashae Smith , “Robbie Dancy, November 11, 2018,” CGP Community Stories, accessed May 21, 2019, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/371.