The goal was to save the older stories. When civic groups gathered in Yellow Springs a dozen years ago, they began a comprehensive civil rights oral history project to collect the stories of blacks and whites who had worked together to secure civil rights for all. WYSO participated early, and over the next month we’ll be sharing edited versions of their oral history interviews. Hear from Betty Ford and Phyllis Jackson. They were cousins born in the 1920s who graduated from Bryant High School. They both had long careers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and were deeply involved in the community and especially the AME Central Chapel Church. These two women helped lead this community oral history project. Phyllis Jackson was particularly passionate about black history and genealogy and spent years researching her family’s story. They were interviewed by Amy Harper.
Betty Ford: My name is Betty Ford.
Phyllis Jackson: My name is Phyllis Jackson. I was born on September 26, 1924 at 503 Dayton Street on the corner of Dayton and High Street.
Betty Ford: I was born in Yellow Springs, where the Antioch Library is currently located on South to 16, not South Street here in Yellow Springs.
Amy Harper: So this area wasn’t part of the college when you were born?
Betty Ford: No. My grandmother sold it to Antioch.
Amy Harper: who is your grandmother
Betty Ford: Tennie Lawson. She was also Phyllis’ grandmother.
Phyllis Jackson: And I don’t know exactly when it came to Yellow Springs, but our grandmother was born in Spring Valley in 1850. Their family was in Minnesota and they were born in Georgia. And that was in 1850. And I’m sure they fled the South too, because they were free at that time. And then after the Civil War they came back to Ohio. My memory, I said, was when I was 4 years old after that, you know, it’s hazy. But I remember going to what I think was the Elm Street Black Kindergarten. And it was run by two black women at the time, one being Harris, a minister’s wife, and the other being Beatrice Carlisle, a Yellow Springs woman.
For the last ten years I attended a community nursery and on their notice board there were some pictures of the nursery I had attended. They identified it as the first community nursery. I’m not sure why it was called a community nursery, but at the time I went there I thought it was a black nursery. It was run by two black women and all the people that were there were black. And I don’t remember seeing any white kids there, but they might have been. After that I went to first grade at Dayton Street School and stayed there for six years. And then I went to Bryan School.
Amy Harper: Dayton Street School, Old Village Hall. It wasn’t isolated, was it?
Phyllis Jackson: No, as far as I know, segregation ended in Yellow Springs in 1887 when Ohio passed a law requiring public education for all children. But someone mentioned to me just this week, “You went to a black school, an elementary school, didn’t you?” And I said, “No, I went to public school,” and they were surprised that there was a black school here. But I’m not sure when it closed, but it wasn’t opened in 1900. That’s all I know about the Black School.
Amy Harper: So you didn’t feel like you were going to a separate place other than kindergarten?
Phyllis Jackson: No. As for my education, I didn’t feel like I was going to a separate place. I knew I was black and I knew about discrimination. When I was growing up, we didn’t have role models. The only role models I felt were ministers, and those who chose not to become ministers didn’t really know about other professions. But we soon learned that there are other professions. I guess you could say that our knowledge of the possibilities was limited.
Amy Harper: When you say you had no role models, you are talking about people in leadership positions.
Phyllis Jackson: And other successful fields, whether it’s entertainment or business or medicine or whatever. I just felt that if we had gone to a black school, we would have had role models.
It was Phyllis Jackson, and before that, her cousin Betty Ford. In 2014, when Amy Harper interviewed them for the Yellow Springs Community Oral History Project. Betty Ford advanced in 2019 and Phyllis Jackson in 2020.