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Title: Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Harris, John, interviewee
Interview conducted by Taylor, Kieran
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 164 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-10-30, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0185)
Author: Kieran Taylor
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0185)
Author: John Harris
Description: 229 Mb
Description: 33 p.
Note: Interview conducted on September 5, 2002, by Kieran Taylor; recorded in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by L. Altizer.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series R. Special Research Projects, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002.
Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Harris, John, interviewee


Interview Participants

    JOHN HARRIS, interviewee
    KIERAN TAYLOR, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JOHN HARRIS:
Have gone and they have to remind me.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Picking up here. Let me just start out by asking you, for the sake of the tape, if you'd just state your name and when and where you were born.
JOHN HARRIS:
I'm John H. Harris the third. I was born on May 8th, 1930. I was born at 352 North Regan Street. The house that I live in now, I can look out my bedroom window in the back door of the house I was born in. My father couldn't afford to send my mother to the hospital; so I was born in the house. I moved, my family were tenants in that house. We later moved to a rented house on Beech Street. Then my father bought a house on Beech Street further in a different block. We lived there for five or six years, and we moved into a bigger house on the next street over, on the same street that I was born, on Regan Street. There we took in, my parents, it was a big house, and we took in roomers. This was during the World War Two. We had military families living with us from all different segments of different places in the country. These weren't just people who had occupied a room. They became like family. We still have personal contact with some of those folk. My mother and father maintained contact with them until their death, and they're on occasion now I hear from some of those same folk, and it's, now I'm hearing from their children. So it's been an experience.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So these were troops that were moving in and out of Greensboro.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yes.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What were they doing in Greensboro?
JOHN HARRIS:
They were stationed at ORD. That was an ordinance that were I think, I don't know whether they offered basic training there, but these were troops that were preparing for overseas duty or returning from overseas duty. The military provision or the camp is now a part of the A and T State University, I guess the north campus.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's where the base was.
JOHN HARRIS:
That's part of the base.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Part of it.
JOHN HARRIS:
Summit Avenue, Summit Shopping Center, Bessemer Avenue, all of that was part of the base.

Page 2
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Wow. Well, that must've, can you remember a dramatic change between the '30s as a young child and then when the war came? I mean, I'm just imagining the character of this whole area must've changed.
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, everything changed. I think the person that owned that, I'm not, I'm just I understand that they rented that facility for a dollar a year whoever owned it. But that area, it was wooded land. Before they built that military base in there, it was just woods. My friends and I used to play cowboy and Indians in those woods. There was a stream that went through it, and it was a tar branch, and I think it was the runoff of old Duke Power plant.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That you were playing in.
JOHN HARRIS:
We played in it. Yeah. Even went swimming in it one day. Worst whipping I ever got was because my mother had that night, she had to clean me up with kerosene trying to get the oil and the tar off me. Oh boy, that was an experience. But well, we were just kids. We didn't know. We just saw water.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So the military, they didn't provide enough housing.
JOHN HARRIS:
No.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The troops were kind of forced to find—
JOHN HARRIS:
These were people that came, that had families, and there were no on post facilities. So they had, these were troops that brought their families. These were men that brought their families in.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So wives, children would move into the houses.
JOHN HARRIS:
Wives and children. Most of them, these were young men; so they had children. We had several children born while they were living with us because they were just, they were young men. They were very talented men. We had a gentleman that lived with us from Louisiana, I remember. As a teenager he was a trumpeter, and I was must've been in my early teens, nineteen or twenty, I went to DC one summer. His name was Calvin Boze. He wrote a song that was very popular at that, at one time. It was Safronia B. Calvin was out of Dallas, Texas, is where he was from. But he was playing, I saw a sign saying that he was playing at the Howard Theatre. So I made it my business to go. I went backstage, and he recognized me, and we just had a good time. There was another gentleman that was a musician. His name was Leek, Sergeant Leek. He was a singer and a dancer. He and his wife lived with us. They were from Saint Louis. In this neighborhood we

Page 3
had several, they all, they'd find a place, and then what they'd do is they would go back and tell their buddies where, so the neighborhood was just full of them.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I know you were young, but was there any, what you remember or what you can guess looking back, was there a, I'm wondering were black troops forced to find board with families in town as opposed to the white troops that were brought into Greensboro?
JOHN HARRIS:
They both had to.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Both were.
JOHN HARRIS:
They both because they did not have, I was a student in high school one winter. During the winter break I worked on the post. I worked at PX, and so there were no. Most people, most of the troops just lived in the city. They were, it was a small facility by comparison. So there was some housing, but I think they were for officers. Under the non-coms, I don't think they had facilities on post. But even if they did, it was more convenient in the city.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now tell me a little bit going back. You said you're the third. You're John Harris the third. What, was your grandfather born in Greensboro as well?
JOHN HARRIS:
No. South Carolina.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He's from South Carolina.
JOHN HARRIS:
My mother and father and my grandparents were from, they were from South Carolina.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Whereabouts in South Carolina?
JOHN HARRIS:
A little place called Ridgeway.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Ridgeway. And where does that come in.
JOHN HARRIS:
Ridgeway, my mother was raised in Ridgeway. My father was raised in Ridgeway. My mother came from, my mother's family owned their land. My mother was raised on 550 acres of land. My father was a tenant farmer. His family, they just moved from farm to farm. Every year there was a different farm to work. But my mother's family and my grandfather, my grandmother, my great grandmother was bought off the auction block in Charleston by Tom Davis. Of course, Tom was the plantation owner. But Tom Davis didn't have any other family. He had ten children by my great grandmother, and he died first. He died about 1870. My great grandmother went to court because he had a

Page 4
brother that wanted the land. The court in South Carolina awarded my great grandmother the plantation, and I have often wondered how in South Carolina in 1870s that that happened. So I was reading an article about the early South and especially South Carolina. There was a black, a young black man that was in law school at the University of South Carolina in Columbia in 1870. He went to law school two years, 1870, '71, but he was not allowed to come back in 1873 because they had a liberal governor during the 1870s, the early 1870s, late 1860s, 1870s. They had a very liberal governor. After about 1870 it was already very difficult in South Carolina, but in 1873 is when the Ku Klux Klan raised its ugly head. So it was just unheard of, but the die had been cast my great grandmother. She gave each one of her ten children 250 acres apiece. That's why everybody in that area, all my cousins, that's why we're all related, and we all own our own land down there. I have receipts where my great grandmother paid the taxes on that property, and when she couldn't and when one of her children couldn't pay their taxes, she saw to it that those taxes were paid. I have receipts dating, going up to 18, going up to 1902, and by this time now her children now, they're able and capable of paying their own taxes. So as a result well, my grandmother, I said my mother grew up on 550 acres. That's because her father was the youngest, and he had a brother that was an invalid, and he took care of him. So he got his 250 acres, and he bought another 50 acres from another brother. So this is why he had 550 acres. He got the home place.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Okay. Which is still there.
JOHN HARRIS:
Which is still there. It doesn't look like, my mother's baby brother lives in the house and raised his sixteen children there. It doesn't look like modern, but it's still, it's been fixed over so. But the original house was built was pegs. They didn't use nails to put it together. It was built with pegs. Didn't have a kitchen originally. The kitchen had a dirt floor. In fact the kitchen was sort of like a separate thing where they prepared food. But eventually they added a kitchen to the house. But now the house you wouldn't know it because it's altogether different, but I remember it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So is it your understanding that this planter Davis, he essentially lived with your great grandmother. I mean, they were husband and wife for all practical purposes.

Page 5
JOHN HARRIS:
No, for all practical purposes he was still the plantation owner, and he owned her, and he owned them. We had a picture of him in the living room, and he was pretty mean looking, but also in the living room there was a picture on another wall of my grandfather's older brother, and he was dressed down. So apparently he did some taking care of—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Of his children.
JOHN HARRIS:
Of his children, yes, because he had no other family.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He had no other.
JOHN HARRIS:
Except when the night that he died we sent, we sent, my great grandmother sent message to his brother in Ridgeway that lived in town that his brother had died. They came in and got the body, but they never saw him anymore. They never saw it anymore. Never heard. There was no funeral where they all went. So that's—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This is an incredible story. Where, is Ridgeway somewhere near Charleston. Is it in the low country?
JOHN HARRIS:
No, it's twenty-seven miles from north of Columbia. It's in Fairfield County, South Carolina.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So half-hour north of Columbia.
JOHN HARRIS:
About a half-hour.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And you still have, there's family still there then.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yes, I have, and I'll show you a picture in a little bit. About twenty years ago my grand, my uncle, my mother's sister's husband, my mother's sister died, and then thirty days later her husband died. Then he had a sister that was a lawyer, and she wanted her brother's part of the family. So there was a thing. It was five, my uncle had lived and raised, lived on the property, on the 550 acres, and he had raised all of his sixteen children there. As a result it was 550 acres that belonged to everybody, but then it didn't belong to anybody really. So anyway, she forced the land to be divided. So by this time there were only five descendants. So they divided the 550 acres into five parts. So I own 110 acres of that original plantation. Yeah. I belong to an organization, an Afro-American organization that they talk about plantations and where their parents were born. I own, and I'm about the only one in there that owns a plantation, own a part of a plantation. So it's in my family. It's been there all these years.

Page 6
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Wow. Is it a national organization, kind of genealogical—
JOHN HARRIS:
Genealogical society.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So how did you get to North Carolina or how did the family—
JOHN HARRIS:
My father had two sisters, two older sisters that came to Greensboro in the early '20s. They were tenant farmers, and so eventually they got jobs. They came here, and they got jobs. They did service work. They worked in Irving Park, and one of my aunts had gone to college, but she when she came here, she sort of knew what life was all about. Probably the best jobs at that time were these types of service jobs. They were live in. She had a place to live, and she had a place to eat and sleep. So these were good jobs for them. As a result when people start doing well, then they send for their siblings, and this is what happened. So I had two aunts. They sent for another aunt, and she did basically the same thing. Then my father, he came, his brothers. So the whole family ended up. This was in the late 1920s. Then in the late 1930s about 1936 or '37, my father brought his mother and father because they were tenant farmers. So they didn't have any roots. But there was just home. So he brought them to Greensboro.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So your father would've come in '28 or so, '27?
JOHN HARRIS:
Right. He came in '28 and worked at Cone. His first, well, before that, he went back. He came and then he stayed, and then he went back and got himself a wife. That was my mother. My father was unique in, back in that time young men stayed at home until they were twenty-one. Now you get sixteen, seventeen, you're ready to leave, go out on your own. But my father was true to the course. He stayed home, and his father told him—. He worked, and he gave his father his check, and his father gave him what he wanted him to have, and he was satisfied with that. So that Wednesday before his—. Well, his twenty-first birthday fell on a Wednesday, and he always got paid at twelve o'clock on Saturday. His father was always there waiting for his check or whether it was cash or check I'm not sure. I said check because that's what I'm used to. But he was waiting for his money, for my father to give him his money, and then he would give him what he wanted to have. He said on this particular Saturday he had turned twenty-one that Wednesday, and he said his daddy was standing there and he says, "Boy, didn't you forget something." He said, "No Papa. You forgot something." He says, "I was twenty-one this past Wednesday." He said, "I don't need you to take care of money now. I can take care of my own money." From then on he did, he

Page 7
took care of his money. He bought his own clothes. He bought him a car, 1928 A-Model, 19—Ford A-Model or such. I don't know it is, but it was a Model-A Ford. That's what it was. He took his family the first trip they went to, they all came to Greensboro from South Carolina. They all packed the car full, and his two brothers rode on the running board of the car all the way from South Carolina because the car was too full. They had so much stuff in it. They laugh about that all the time. They came, and they stayed with one of their sisters who had a house here. That's the way families did. My father went back to South Carolina and married my mother, brought her here. His first job was at Cone, the Cone family's home on Summit Avenue. He worked in the yard. He said he used to go to work every morning. He'd drive his car to work, and he said his boss, his boss's son admired his car. He said he went to work one morning, and he said his boss told him, "You don't need a job." He said, "You don't have a job." So he fired him. He says well, now I've got a wife that's expecting a baby, and here I am with no job. So he would, he didn't know what he was going to do, but he had a nice pretty car. So he used to go on East Market Street at night there and late in the afternoons, and he'd park his car he said. Invariably somebody would come up to him and say, "Man, I'll give you ten cents to run me here or I'll give you a quarter to run me here. I'll give you fifteen cents to take me over here." He said he found out he could make money with his car. So as a result he said some of, so he found out he didn't really need a job. So he just sort of hired himself out. He just sort of hired himself out, and he got a reputation for well, if you want to go somewhere, John Harris will take you. So by this time he had developed some friendships of some people that, and they all were doing basically the same thing. They say they got so good that they were using a public phone, and they had people just calling them and said the—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's some low overhead there.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Said about 1933, '33 or '34 the police came down and put them all in jail for solicitation, they were driving a cab without, being hired out without a license. There were five of them. So all five of them went to jail. The judge told them, he said, "Why don't you guys get you a license and just form you a company?" Said they didn't know what it was about that. Said after he planted the idea, said they investigated and that's what they did. So they formed in 1934, they formed Royal Taxi and Royal Taxi Company, and the Royal Taxi Company was born as a result. So they put signs on the sides of their

Page 8
cars, and they got licensed from the city. So they were in the taxi business. The owners of Yellow Taxi, which was a national franchise were really not happy with it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I was wondering about that.
JOHN HARRIS:
They were not happy with it. I've had, I had a friend of mine that knew the situations that went on, and she said the fellow that owned the Yellow Cab franchise hated my father. But he couldn't do anything about it. He was white and because my father had, he bought, he must've had four or five cabs, and he hired young fellows right out of school. Well, at that time, once a fellow, once a black finished eighth grade, there was no high school for him to go to. They had to get out and make a living for themselves. Up until 1929, '29 they built Dudley High School, and then after that then they had a high school to go to. But before 1929 the only school they had was East Washington Street, and once they finished East Washington Street that was it. Then they could go to Bennett College or A and T High School division, and the city would pay, but most time, they just didn't bother. That was it. But that's how my father got in the taxi business.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now at that time I'm imagining that your father, did he drive both black and white patrons or was it just for the black community?
JOHN HARRIS:
It was in the black community.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yellow, I'm assuming, didn't have any black drivers at that time.
JOHN HARRIS:
No.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So they were, obviously those white drivers wouldn't pick up black customers.
JOHN HARRIS:
So that's why it turned out that it was, they served this community.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
By and large it was separate.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Right. But you had some white customers that liked to ride in the black taxis. They would search us out. There was gentleman in particular, I think his name was Troy Livengood. Anyway, it was Livengood. I know him, I've heard my daddy say, my daddy used to bring him home sometimes. But he would just, he'd just like to go. He liked to hang out in the black community. With a black taxi driver, he could just go about anywhere he wanted to in the, well, he could go just about anywhere he wanted to anyway. But he felt more at ease if he, with a black taxi driver.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So he was some sort of businessman.

Page 9
JOHN HARRIS:
He was a businessman.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He was looking for either liquor or women or something.
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, mostly liquor.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now, at what point did your father stop driving? Did he always remain a driver or did he at some point sort of assume more managerial responsibilities?
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, he, he was always a driver.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So even when he had drivers under him—
JOHN HARRIS:
Even when he had drivers. My father at one time owned fifteen cabs, at one time. That's as many as he's ever owned at one time, and even then he drove.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was that always under Royal Taxi or did it—
JOHN HARRIS:
No, no. Now Royal Taxi was good, and they served the community well. Then the Army came, the war came. That brought in really big business. That kept taxis busy. If you weren't a soldier, you had a hard time getting a cab during the war. So my father was, at that time the restrictions on taxi drivers, it wasn't restricted. In fact my father used to during the war, he might pick up a load of soldiers and go to, take them to Fort Bragg. He would stay in Fort Bragg until he would get a trip, take another load somewhere else. Sometimes he would go and be gone for weeks at a time. He would go to Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune. They were free to just, they could just go and stay and pick up and take anywhere. So as a result the community got a little upset with Royal. So when the war was over, their business was kind of slow. By this time, we had other cab companies here, but Royal and Daniel were the two major ones in the black community. By this time though now they've got Harlem, Harlem Deluxe and MacRae Taxi Company. Now MacRae Taxi Company was a young black entrepreneur that had a nice built a strong company. So the people at Royal decided that our business is too slow. We need to get with MacRae. So about 1946 or '47 we went to, about '46 I think it was, we went to MacRae and MacRae was doing, they did a tremendous business. I was then a teenager and I used to collect, I used to, it was my job to collect the every twelve hours they would change shifts, and I would be there to collect the money. I had cigar boxes with everybody, all the owners' names on it. They didn't even have to do that. I would collect the money, put it

Page 10
in their box, and they'd just come by and pick up their box. This went on, and they were really doing a good, they did a good business. They must have operated at least fifty taxis.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But the difference was they were seen as a little bit younger, a little bit more responsive to the community.
JOHN HARRIS:
They were a little, MacRae was a little more responsive to the community, and the war, the soldiers had gone. The camp had been, so that wasn't a situation anymore. That wasn't a factor anymore. In fact some of the, most of the drivers, we had a lot of drivers that were, they were holdovers, fellows that had gotten discharged here at this camp. They just stayed here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
For whatever reason.
JOHN HARRIS:
They just stayed here. So and some of them became, came in with us as cab drivers and just stayed. One of our managers who was originally from Boston. He just died seven or eight years ago, but he was with us for twenty or twenty-five years.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When did you start driving?
JOHN HARRIS:
When did I start? I started when I was eighteen years old. You had to be twenty-one to drive a cab. I had just gotten married, and I was going to A and T. My wife was going to A and T. My father said, "You need to start driving yourself." I had a couple of drivers. My father gave me two taxis and two drivers, and then one of my drivers sold. Anyway so anyway my wife—we went to school, and that was my income, but I lived with my father. So it was good for me and good for us.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This was before you were eighteen you had your own—
JOHN HARRIS:
Yes.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Taxi cabs.
JOHN HARRIS:
Uh huh.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And your own drivers.
JOHN HARRIS:
Right, yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, that's kind of young.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, well I didn't have any brothers or sisters. So my father and that was what my father did for me to get me started, but he said, "Now you need to go to work for yourself." So I had to go down, he said, "Go down there and tell them you're twenty-one." So I said, "Okay." So I had to go down there and

Page 11
apply for a chauffeur's license because you had to have a chauffeur's license, and you had to be twenty-one, and I just told the man. I told him I was twenty-one, born in 1927. He says, "Okay. Here it is." Then I went down and got my taxi permit, and there was also another classmate of mine that graduated from Dudley High. His father was in the taxi business. His father saw me driving a cab, and he told his son. He said, "Man, you'd better go down there and tell them you're twenty-one." So we sort of started, I sort of started a trend, and so up until a couple of years ago, my driver's license showed. I never changed it. I never changed it until a couple of years ago. I thought it was a big deal, but it wasn't.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Did you have to come clean with anybody down at the state?
JOHN HARRIS:
No. I thought I would have.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You just show your—.
JOHN HARRIS:
I applied one time I just told them, my age is wrong. The year I was born—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
There's a mistake here.
JOHN HARRIS:
[unclear] just correct it. That was it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, that must feel nice to suddenly be three years younger.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, right. It made good conversation piece.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, where was Royal, where was the—
JOHN HARRIS:
Royal Taxi was originally at the corner of Clinton and East Market Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Okay, which is about what hundred block on East Market Street.
JOHN HARRIS:
That would be the eight hundred block.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So kind of in the heart of—
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, at the corner of Clinton, Regan Street, right in the heart of the Palace Theatre. The theatre was across the street. Everything was right in that area. Everything was built around—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now you mentioned, spending before the war spending time in the woods and in the area—
JOHN HARRIS:
We called it the College Woods.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The College Woods.
Would you also go up to Market Street?
JOHN HARRIS:
Oh yes.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Because it's really what three blocks.

Page 12
JOHN HARRIS:
Oh yes. Oh yes. What did they have on Market Street. They had everything on Market Street. Anything and everything that you wanted. It was an exciting place to just go up on Market Street. As a youngster, we used to go, we'd go, you could go to the bakery shop, the bakery because they sold doughnuts and ice cream, Harris Bakery. They, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, we didn't realize, but they were really ahead of their time because they had everything in that little shop. There was the poolrooms. We couldn't go in those, but some of our friends that put up their age, they could slip in now. They were a little more astute than we were. They were a little more grown than we were. But just walking up Market Street was, there were grown men, what you have to understand, and it's easy to understand because in your old pictures that you see of New York City, you see everybody in New York City, old pictures. You see everybody dressed down, suits, ties, hats. Ladies, same thing. They're dressed down, and that was the style. So if you didn't do anything but just go home, take your work clothes off, dress up and just walk up, just walk up on the street, that was good enough. Men used to go to the poolroom and stand around the poolroom. They dressed up to go to the poolroom. I worked in a shoeshine shop. I worked in a shoeshine parlor as a teenager. We would see, I saw all these young black men, old black men, young and old black men. They would all come. They prided themselves in how their shoes, how they dressed, everything had to be just right. They would come up and when they would shoot pool, they would take their coats off, hang them up, and they would shoot pool, but they dressed up to come out. It's not like it is now where jeans, that's what you worked in. I mean, it wasn't just like that in the black community. It was the same way in the white community.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was that job in the shoeshine, was that your first job?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, shoe shine, yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where would that have been about?
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

Page 13
JOHN HARRIS:
My first encounter with shining shoes, I must've been nine, ten years old. I had a shoeshine box, and I used to go to the bus station, and you'd start shining shoes, and you'd look up, and here comes a cop, and you've got to grab your shoe shine box and head out for home or somewhere because they didn't allow that. But most kids, that's the way we did. We'd get out with our little shoe shine box, but it was "agin' the law."
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So were you, do you think you have a particular kind of—that's pretty young to be shining shoes.
JOHN HARRIS:
No, my father, my father taught me you work. You make a living. Whatever you do, in my neighborhood, in this neighborhood there were some old houses along here, one of my the worst jobs that I ever had the little old lady, nice little old lady, she said, "Johnny Harris, I want you to paint my house." She had a room she wanted me to paint. That house had never been painted, and that was the worst. She had cheap paint, and I just whipped myself to death. I couldn't have been eleven or twelve. But I had heart, and I knew I wanted to make some money. I knew if I could paint this room, I was going to get five dollars. But I finally got it finished, but I'm going to tell you that was the worst job I ever had. But I did the job. She was satisfied, and then I had another little lady that lived next door here, next door to this house right now, she would come out, and she would, we had a little convenience store around the corner. She would come out, send me to the store, and she was the penny lady. I'm going to get a penny from her. Well a penny would go a long way for what I wanted. But I learned to hustle. I learned to work because my father insisted.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So at about what age, it sounds like you were also pretty independent too.
JOHN HARRIS:
Um hmm.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
For as long as you can remember, like would you go up Market Street unsupervised as an eight, nine, ten year old?
JOHN HARRIS:
Oh yes. My friends and I, we used to go up on Market Street on Sunday's we would go, we would go to the bakery shop. We would have, we would always end up, I don't know why we would end going to get pictures. We'd have pictures taken.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where would you—

Page 14
JOHN HARRIS:
We would go to the photographers shop, Mr., fellow named Mr. Richmond, a nice little old man that had a photography shop upstairs. He'd take pictures and Mr. Richmond, and that's all he had done I guess all his life. When I say he was an old man, I'm not because we were teenagers, and he was, we weren't even teenagers yet. I guess we were, but he had been taking pictures for years. I've got some of those pictures that Mr. Richmond took or Mr. Troxler took. They were photographers, and for some reason we dressed up. I guess we always wanted to see ourselves. So the photographer was always an important part because back in those days they had photographers just on the street to just take candid shots. They would just take your picture, and then if you decided you wanted it, you paid for it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How about the theatre? You were, did you go to see movies?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. I went to see, well, in our neighborhood we had the Palace Theatre. On Friday and Saturday when they had the same pictures, they had the same serials. They had a serials on Captain Midnight, the Lone Ranger, what else. Charlie Chan, these were and they had these [unclear] , Buck Jones, these were old cowboys. Somehow when you go, when you'd go in and you'd see those pictures when you'd come out of the movie, you were ready to imitate or emulate what you had seen. It was and families went too. They carried their children to the Palace Theatre. They had raffles at that theatre. So you come in. You buy a ticket, and then they would have raffles that raffle off fifty dollars, twenty-five dollars, hundred dollars, and so that made it attractive.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
A lottery basically.
JOHN HARRIS:
It was a lottery. So as a result lots of people—you need to cut that off.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
JOHN HARRIS:
Where were we?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, the theatre, and would you ever go to the Carolina Theatre?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, we went to the Carolina Theatre. We went, they had a section in the Carolina Theatre in the balcony. They had one in the National Theatre in the balcony. They had the Criteria. They had several other movies downtown, but you just didn't go. It was for white only. So those you didn't even think about. But the National, they had a ticket, the National and Carolina had special ticket booths.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Even separate ticket booths.

Page 15
JOHN HARRIS:
Oh yes. Separate ticket booths. Separate entrances and separate, so you had all that. You didn't buy your ticket at one entrance and go in another. They had a separate booth.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What about, would you ever go to Elm Street for shopping?
JOHN HARRIS:
Oh yes. Yes. Elm Street was a nice place to go. It was like on Market Street, Elm Street was cluttered with people. East Market Street was cluttered with black people. Elm Street was cluttered with white people and black people. [Phone ringing]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you want to—I can flip it off.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So Elm Street, you would go down there to shop as well.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, I remember going, my mother and my aunts would go downtown, Woolworth's Kresses, some of the shops downtown, ladies shops, shoe shops. That was about the extent.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So there may have been some specialty items that you couldn't get—
JOHN HARRIS:
Specialty items—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That you couldn't get on Market.
JOHN HARRIS:
That you couldn't get on East Market. These were things—yeah. There were a lot of things that you couldn't get on East Market. We had some of the basic services on East Market, haircuts, beauty parlors, we had service stations. We had an auto mechanics shop, and we had doctors' offices.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Plenty of food.
JOHN HARRIS:
Restaurants, drug stores, fish market, we had wood and coal yard. Now that's something that's almost unheard of today. But most people had coal stoves. There was, there were florists, funeral homes, nightclubs, law offices, we had newspaper offices. We had rooming houses, taxi companies, photograph studios, dance halls, hospital, pawn shops, laundromat—no, we didn't have a laundromat. That was not back then. But we had lots of tree mechanics. You know what a tree mechanic is?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
A tree mechanic? I don't.
JOHN HARRIS:
That's a guy that knows how to fix your car and didn't have a shop. So he's just, you just pull up under the tree, and you get your car fixed.
But we had grocery stores. Most of the grocery stores in the black community on East Market Street were run by white folks.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that right?

Page 16
JOHN HARRIS:
Come to mind the Coble Store was probably one of the better stores, kept fresh meat, but they also had little hanky panky going on, you could put your numbers in there.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So that was where the numbers was run out, huh.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Really.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was the numbers pretty big?
JOHN HARRIS:
The numbers were real big. Most of the guys that hung out in the poolrooms, these were the guys that handled that kind of thing.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
They were running and—
JOHN HARRIS:
They were number runners.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Placing money.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did that work in terms of I'd imagine somebody in the black community was kind of in charge or was—
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, but eventually you did have some people in charge, but they weren't, they were just sort of skim off the top. But the, we knew where the money came from. But now numbers were, the numbers game was really a part of the neighborhood. If you could hit a number, you could hit a number, you could win yourself a hundred dollars, two hundred dollars, a thousand dollars, five thousand dollars. If you were and you know and some people played it to that extent. My father used to tell me, he said, "Now you could hit the numbers and buy a car." He said, "But you can't depend on hitting the number to keep the payments up. So you have to be careful. You need a job."
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Don't count on it.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, numbers that's something you couldn't count on. You could count on it for the big haul, but now you had people that played numbers, hit the big number, bought a car, and then when the time came to make the payment, they couldn't even make the first payment. Eventually you know what that meant. So that's repossession. So they were satisfied with that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Maybe the point of it is just having it for that first month. Was this ultimately protected by the sheriff or was there, to what degree would the police have been in on it?

Page 17
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, the police would have, it was against the law to start with. Every once in a while somebody would get busted. But who got busted, the little guy on the street corner. He's the one that got busted. They never got, they never get to the top. Nothing's changed. It's still the same way. So it's just, the numbers game is just a poor way to try to make a living. It's no way to make a living. It's just something that you do.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'd imagine just driving a taxi that you kind of, I mean you must've known everybody's business just I mean you must've really sort of had your finger on the pulse of this street.
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, that's, I guess that's part of what goes with the territory of driving a cab. And you're right. You know certain things. Now if you, you could develop a reputation. If you were a talking cab driver, you didn't get, everybody knew it. So they never, anybody that was going to use a cab on a regular basis, they're not going to call you because you talk too much. So if you were able, if you could build a reputation of not being of seeing and not seeing and seeing and not talking, you became respected for that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So in a sense you're a priest, an attorney—
JOHN HARRIS:
That's exactly it. That's exactly it. Because people get in your cab and they'll tell you things that just like is what they would tell their priest. You could either, you could either accept it and just say well, or you could discuss it. If you're smart you don't discuss other folk's business.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What about even with your wife or family. Would you ever bring stories home?
JOHN HARRIS:
No. No. Well, sometimes you would, but most people, you don't talk about the misfortunes or fortunes of people. Well, everybody likes to talk about the fortunes of people, but sometimes you sort of just learn to not to discuss the misfortunes of people.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How long did you drive? When did you stop driving?
JOHN HARRIS:
I haven't. I just don't drive that much.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're still driving?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, I just don't drive that much. I got two cabs now.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Operating under—
JOHN HARRIS:
United Yellow—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Under United Yellow. So at what point did you go from MacRae—

Page 18
JOHN HARRIS:
About 1948 a group of men that were with MacRae sort of, MacRae was a nice guy. But he was dictatorial. So there was a group in there that didn't like his methods. So they said well, we'll just pull out and we'll start our own. So in 1948 they had meetings at my father's house on Regan Street. They had meetings. There were men at MacRae's. There were men at Harlem Deluxe. There were men from Daniel Keck the other cab companies that found out we were going to form another company. They met with us. So in 1948 United Taxi was formed, and it was born in my father's living room. I was a senior in high school at that time. So they were trying to decide on a name so lots of names came up, and I suggested United Taxi, and they liked it. So that's what it became, United Taxi.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where was that located?
JOHN HARRIS:
At the corner of Clinton and Market Street. There was a little building at, right beside the Shell Station that they made the cab stand. So the man that ran the Shell Station was glad to see us come because that meant that we would be buying gas from him. We didn't have to pay him any rent, just buy gas. So it worked out very well. So we had to only thing we had to do was buy a phone, hire somebody to man the phone. So being new we just all sort of chipped in. The phone didn't ring like it used to because we used to sit, between rings we'd play checkers and do a lot of, have a lot of conversation because we weren't as busy then as we are now. We were just getting started. So we did a lot of advertising, and so we just, it was a lot of well, it was new. But we did, we finally, now we ended up the biggest company. We have at the United now, we have seventy-seven cabs in our—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But at some point you affiliated with Yellow, did you say?
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, no, what happened was we had a manager that's a professor. He's a professor at A and T State University now. He had a cab with us. He thought that if we change it from, if we would add Yellow it would sort of change our image. So it was, Yellow was brought in as an image change. So we could and by this time the city had required that we have our color schemes. So our color scheme was black and white. So when we added yellow, United Yellow then that meant that we could put a yellow cab on or we could use black and white. I had two cabs. I've had a yellow one and a black one and a black and white. So I'm putting on one now, and I'll show it to you. It's yellow. I just decided that I wanted to make it yellow. So I had a car that was torn up a couple of weeks ago. So I decided I'm going to replace it and just make it yellow instead of black and white. So it's just a choice.

Page 19
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you didn't affiliate with the national Yellow cab.
JOHN HARRIS:
No, no. We have nothing to do with that. We're an independent.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Independent and locally based company. But the one that lasted.
JOHN HARRIS:
Oh yes. Yes. We're pretty well grounded. Our telephone runs, our business is as good at two o'clock in the morning as it is in two o'clock in the afternoon. It's been, that's a sign of the times. We're living in a different, used to be that everything died at eleven o'clock at night and didn't wake up until five o'clock the next morning. So we used to, used to be we didn't have. We'd just close the door. But now we have twenty-four hour service, and the night operator is as busy as the day operators.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is there a hall that the drivers gather at when they're out between runs or are they just—
JOHN HARRIS:
No, we have a cab stand.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
There is cab stand.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Somewhere downtown.
JOHN HARRIS:
We're downtown now. Urban renewal moved us from that Shell station and moved us to Gorrell Street. [Phone ringing] They moved us from Gorrell Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Should I stop this?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Yeah. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.] Okay. Where were we?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you were moved in what year? You were moved from you said—you moved to Gorrell Street.
JOHN HARRIS:
We moved to Gorrell Street in the '60s, yeah. Probably in the '60s. No, no. We moved to Gorrell Street in the '50s or '60s, '50s or '60s I'm not sure. But then we had moved redevelopment came into that area, and we ended up prior before going to Gorrell Street, we didn't pay any rent because we were at that service station. So when we moved, so then we had to, when we went to Gorrell Street, we had to pay rent. We went into what was an old store, and so we stayed there, and then eventually the store went up for sale. So we decided let's buy the place. So we bought the place. So for the first time we owned our own building. Then we improved on the building. We put, we built a new building on that same spot because that was a frame building that we were in originally. Then the urban renewal or urban removal came in, and so we had to—we had to find a new spot. So we found a building on South Elm Street, Elm

Page 20
and Bragg. So I was manager at that time, 1997 I think it was. So I made arrangements to for building a new building to suit our needs. So we did, and I found it, and we were able because with what the urban renewal paid us, it wasn't such a bad deal moving—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You got a decent price.
JOHN HARRIS:
Because we got a decent price.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But I was just in '97 that you were, you were relocated for the second time.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. For the second time. The first time was when, I don't when it was they moved off of East Market Street. I can't remember. That's why I said it was either the '50s or early '60s, something like that. Late '50s or early '60s. Okay. So we're on, right now we're on South Elm Street in the eight hundred block of South Elm Street. We have a nice new building, big lot. So every move that urban renewal has caused us has helped us as a result.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It has been a help.
JOHN HARRIS:
It has been a help.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What about in terms of your trade along Market Street now? That must've changed dramatically. I'm thinking that in the '40s wasn't a lot of your business on the street.
JOHN HARRIS:
In the '40s everything was, in the '40s and the early '50s, everybody that, if you wanted a cab, if you were anywhere near Market, you knew you could come to Market Street and get one. We had also I could get in my cab and just ride certain streets and especially downtown and just, not even depend on getting a trip from the office because we would get a lot of flags. If the cloud came up, it started raining, then you'd really go downtown because people want to go from point A to point B and not get wet. So sometimes I could work, I could work all day and not get a trip off the switchboard and stay busy and make money. I could even go into anywhere down, just ride up and down East Market Street, and somebody's going to flag you.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When did that end do you think?
JOHN HARRIS:
That ended with the, we're living in the drug culture. That's when it ended. We're living in the drug culture.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you're thinking—

Page 21
JOHN HARRIS:
This is where everything changed. People live, that's why I told you earlier that our business now is as good at two o'clock in the morning as it is at two o'clock in the afternoon because the night, when night comes everybody's moving, doing something. It's all, most of it's drug related.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that right?
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you're—
JOHN HARRIS:
But by the same token, now you have, and this isn't just, it's not limited to us. Used to be, I told you everything used to close up at eleven o'clock. Now nothing closes at eleven. In fact drugstores stay open twenty-four hours. Grocery stores stay open twenty-four hours. There has to be a reason for these people staying open. There has to be a, because people are moving. I'm not just saying that everybody that's moving is involved in drugs. I'm not saying that at all. But it's a sign of the times.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Has driving become more dangerous?
JOHN HARRIS:
Very dangerous. Very dangerous.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
At what point did you put up plastic—I'm assuming you've got it in your cab.
JOHN HARRIS:
I don't have it in mine.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You don't.
JOHN HARRIS:
No. I don't because—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're like the hockey player that won't wear a helmet.
JOHN HARRIS:
Right. Right. I'm from, I've been driving a cab for so long, I trust everybody and that's bad. I've been told. If I pull up to a situation and I don't like the situation, I just pull off. You never know what you're, how you're going, you may misread it. But so far I just haven't. Call it luck, dumb luck, whatever. If I see a situation that I'm not comfortable, that I don't think I can be comfortable with, I just pull off. Even I may pull up to you and you might be all right, but if I don't like what I see or what I perceive as being dangerous to me, I said I'll just pull off. I said you catch the next guy. You may be a good guy. You may be legitimate, just want to go from point A to point B. I said but I don't like the way, I don't like what I read.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you haven't been held up.
JOHN HARRIS:
Once. [interruption] Cut it off. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]

Page 22
KIERAN TAYLOR:
We'll probably wrap this up in a few minutes, but so you were held up once.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, I was held up once, picked a guy up on Tate Street. He was a hippie. This was during, must've been during the hippie time, I guess '70s, and I was giving him advice, and he was sitting here and driver's side, driver's side here on the left. He was sitting on the right side in the back. He pulled his gun, and I just looked around. I said, "Oh my gosh." I said, "I've never been held up before. I've never had anybody pull a gun on me." But I've always said if he puts it here, I probably have to give it up. But he was sitting here, and I said that's enough space for me. So I slowed down. He said, "Don't stop." I had slowed down enough. I just hit my brakes real hard, and by the same token I was out of there. So I was on the ground. The car had stopped momentarily, and then by this time it had started back up again because it was rolling downhill. I'm sitting on the outside looking at him, and he's like, he's trying to decide what do I need. What do I do? So the car rolled down to the intersection of Chapman Street, hit a stop sign, jumped the curb and went down into a little clump of woods. So when the car stopped, he got out and ran that way. Well, I'm standing up there like this. So I went down there, and I called the cops. They brought the dogs out, but they didn't find him. So about two weeks later they came by and asked me if I would come down and look. What happened, a guy had broken into a house and he had [unclear] the roof of the house, and he went into the lady's kitchen and that's how he got in the house. But they caught him. When they found out where he lived, they went to his apartment, and they found a pouch, a money pouch where he had robbed one of our cabs prior to that, found this cab driver's pouch in his house. So they wanted him to identify. They asked me. They took me downtown showed me a guy and I couldn't, I really couldn't.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Too hard to tell.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, he was white, long hair and thin built, but I couldn't honestly say that was him or wasn't him. So I just told him, I just told him I couldn't just say that that was him because I couldn't honestly remember what he looked like because I just picked him up and just was, I was just talking. I was giving him advice on, that's one of my—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're a brave man.
JOHN HARRIS:
I drive cab, driving a cab for me has been an outlook for giving people advice because lots of time people ask for advice, and my father was good at it. So I was good at it too.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How long did your father drive?

Page 23
JOHN HARRIS:
Forty-five years.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So he would've stopped in about the mid '60s.
JOHN HARRIS:
No, no. '70s.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
In the '70s.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. In fact he, my father died in '76, and he drove I guess up until about four months after he, he got sick. He told me. He said, "You know they sent me on a trip the other night." He says, "I couldn't find it." He says, "They sent me to five-something Julian Street." He said, "And it took me two hours," and I said, "Well, okay." So I knew something was wrong. He had the problem a couple of times lately, but he continued to work, but he said it was just an incident where he said, "Why couldn't I find Julian Street?" My father never complained about his head. He looked good. He would just stop by, I used to run, I ran a little beer joint over on Gorrell Street and redevelopment took me too. My father used to complain about pain in his lower back. Actually he had cancer of the brain. When it was discovered, there was nothing they could do.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Too late.
JOHN HARRIS:
Too late. Anything they would've done, they said if they tried to operate, it would just leave him a vegetable. I guess about four months after, he passed. But he worked, my father was a workaholic, and I guess it runs in the family because I hate to say I don't know how to relax, but I guess I've learned, but my thing, a lot of people talk about retiring and traveling. I've traveled. I've done everything so I don't find that fascinating. Right now I find, I have more fun with my computer than I've ever had in my life. I'm having fun. So I got the cabs. In fact I've got a couple of guys that work, and so there's always somebody wants to drive. But we have at our company now, we have a lot of Sudanese drivers. I think that's good. They have been good for our business because it's very difficult to get young blacks to drive a taxi.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Why is that?
JOHN HARRIS:
Because it's dangerous.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And they know it.
JOHN HARRIS:
And they know it. They sort of, they told themselves I won't do that. So these guys, these Sudanese. They have come in, and they work. They work hard. They're like well, an analogy is they say

Page 24
that Mexicans come in here. They'll do this and they'll, well, Sudanese will do. They drive cabs, not just in Greensboro. They've been doing it, they did it when they first started coming to this country these were the people that drove the cabs in the big cities. So it's just trickled down to us. They do a fantastic job because they're out there. We just, it's just rare to see a young black wanting to drive a cab. When we do, we just open arms, glad to see them but don't many.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So how many drivers do you have in your company now?
JOHN HARRIS:
We've got seventy-seven cars running.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Seventy-seven cars.
JOHN HARRIS:
You can take that seventy-seven and divide it in half and you might get the number of people that we have driving.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Thirty-five, forty drivers.
JOHN HARRIS:
Hmm?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Thirty-five, forty drivers.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. Yeah. Most of these guys, most of these Sudanese, they lease their cabs. So they feel like they're part owners. A lot of the black owners, they've gotten like, they're like me. They've reached a senior citizen age, and they don't feel like driving a cab no more. They lease their cabs. I just haven't leased mine out yet. It's coming to that point.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So pretty much what you have are either older black drivers of your generation or else these younger Sudanese drivers.
JOHN HARRIS:
Right.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Are there other ethnic groups who are driving in your company? Or is that pretty much it?
JOHN HARRIS:
No, that's pretty much it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.
JOHN HARRIS:
Either blacks or Sudanese. Yeah. Some South Africans, we have some South Africans
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But generally they're Africans or African Americans.
JOHN HARRIS:
African American, yeah.

Page 25
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I want to just finish off by getting some of your reflections on overall on what happened to Market Street. Is there a time that you can remember where you kind of sensed that things are going to change on this street or things are changing?
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, I grew up being born in the depression years, being born in 1930. I grew up when times were, when the economy, times were tough. Then the war came along, and then I saw times get better. By this time and it was my impression that everything that they had downtown we had on East Market Street. In fact you could probably live a lifetime without even going downtown because you had everything that was downtown was on East Market Street. So but for the most part what happened when redevelopment came, they took these places and people had to be removed. Well they had to move because either they had not made arrangements, or they were not financially stable enough to open somewhere new, or they had gotten to the point where well, this is it for me. It's time for me to go anyway. I guess those kinds of businesses, service, because all of them are service, most of them were service businesses. They had to do it. The people that ran the cafes, they were service-oriented, and they were the ones that were offering the service and doing the service. Depending on their age, I mentioned the bakery shop, Harris Bakery shop. These people, this was a young black—
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

Page 26
JOHN HARRIS:
Carried on the business. In that particular case, they carried on the business.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Somewhere else.
JOHN HARRIS:
Somewhere else in another section of town. But they weren't as stable sometimes as their parents. So eventually their business went out. There were dry-cleaning businesses; they were relocated. I have in mind of one place that the gentleman, he moved, but after he had moved he did fine for a while, but then age caught up with him. There was nobody else and it was a family business. But there was nobody left in the family that was interested in carrying it on. So it died. It was, I was thinking of the newsstand. There was Boss Webster's Triangle News Stand where you could get sandwich, news, get your shoes shined, get your shoes fixed. But now when redevelopment came in, the only thing left then for him when he moved was he just fixed food. The shoeshine stand disappeared. The newsstand disappear, and the shoe shop disappeared. So he was left fixing hot dogs and hamburgers and good ones at that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've heard.
JOHN HARRIS:
I heard they honored him the other day at A and T. Good man, but by this time he had, his age was setting in. So there was nobody else to carry on the Triangle News. It eventually died. I guess it's the same way with all. When you think about it, most of those businesses were good businesses, people made a living out of them. They educated their children, but their children were not interested in that type of business to make a living because they had become educated, and they could find something better. It's as simple as that. They could've stayed, but they didn't. They found something better. My case, I guess I just, I stayed and just continued what my mother and father had started. I say I'm still in it. But it hasn't, it's been good. It's been good for me and my family. I guess that's why I guess I'm still in it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What do you think the goals of urban renewal were?
JOHN HARRIS:
The goals of urban renewal, I think, were plain. They wanted to make the life, no, they weren't interested in the life of the people. They wanted to make things better for the city because it was a blighted area. The buildings that most of those businesses were occupied by, we didn't own those buildings. Very few people owned those buildings that they were in. The housing in this area had gone, it had gone kaboo. It was terrible. But people that are survivors, they do what they have to do. They live where they have to live. They live where they can and they make do. Even though, well they can't say, I

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can't say they knew there was something better but I guess they knew but it wasn't available to them. So I think what redevelopment did was a good thing because I lived on the next street over. I lived on Regan Street. The houses that faced Regan Street were pretty nice old houses. They were old. The houses in back of us where really shanties. People lived there. People I played with lived there. But it wasn't the best housing.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you think it was a well-intended effort.
JOHN HARRIS:
I think it was a well-intended effort. What it did, it exposed, and the landlords, these were slums, these were really slumlords. The same thing on East Market Street. These buildings, we didn't own them. They were old raggedy buildings, but people were, did a business in them. But the man was there every week or every month to collect his rent. But he didn't do any improving. So from that standpoint, and I say it because everybody in the end, everybody was really, everybody did better as a result of moving. Those that stuck with it. The sad part was that some of them didn't have the resources to move with it. They just said—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's it.
JOHN HARRIS:
That's it for me. So it died.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What about even the churches? Did they need to tear down all those churches?
JOHN HARRIS:
My church is the only church that survived East Market Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Which one is that?
JOHN HARRIS:
The Institutional Baptist Church. It's still there. It had a strong pastor, C.W. Anderson. He was strong. He almost refused to go. He let them know that he wasn't going anywhere. So they made arrangements, we made arrangements, the church made arrangements to improve ourselves, and we got, we built a new church building. That's the building we're in. This is fifty years old. So it was in the early '50s. The old building, we tore down. The old plank building, we tore down. But the church survived. As a result we got more land. We were just sitting on a little corner. We were just sitting in this little spot; so it ended up we were the big guys on the corner. But when they got through doing all their architectural configurations and what have you the layouts, we were able to get more land and because I guess they said, you said you're not going anywhere. So we'll just, so we were able to get more land. So as a result now we have now we own, in fact we just bought a parcel of land about two months ago at the corner of Murrow

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and East Market Street. About 1990 we bought another piece of property from the guy that we just bought this last piece from and built a parking lot on. So we've got, we ended up with a block. So I don't know whether you've ever noticed it, but next time you go up East Market Street, you'll see it. It's across the street from the new Dudley Lee Building. We're the only church on East Market Street. There were other churches there, but they went in the, they were able to move to other places. Providence comes to mind. They sat right where the old post office building, they were in that area. So there were some other churches. There was another church, a smaller church. So it just went out. So you, if you weren't prepared, you just went out. If you were prepared, you went to a better place. So I have to agree with that. But because every thirty years this has happened. I have been a witness of two moves. The move from East Market Street to Gorrell Street and from Gorrell Street—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now again.
JOHN HARRIS:
To Elm Street. So we went from, now we're on Elm Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Isn't that ironic?
JOHN HARRIS:
Right. Right.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When did the industry desegregate, the cab industry ?
JOHN HARRIS:
It was a slow process, but eventually they had two cab companies, two white cab companies. Two major, they had a lot of little ones. Bessemer had a cab company. Terra Cotta had a cab company, but your two bigger ones were the Yellow Cab and Blue Bird Cab. They were well-organized white companies. Of course, by the time that, by '48 we had just about, we would get calls just about anywhere. If white folks found out that they didn't, that Yellow Cab or Blue Bird was too slow, they would try us, and of course, we had, we hauled all of Irving Park's help to and from work, and then on occasion they'd say, "Well, we need a cab. Who do we call?" "United." So that's who we used. I used to go and pick up, we had a lady that rode with us all the time. Any time one of her children of the people she worked for needed a cab, needed to go somewhere. She would tell them, "You call John Harris." Say, "He'll take care of you." So it was that kind of confidence.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So starting in the late '40s just after the war you think things started to really break down.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. It had started during the war, but it really broke down during the war.

Page 29
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So that by the '60s you were driving—
JOHN HARRIS:
It was just old, by the early '50s it was just old hat for us.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you would drive to a white neighborhood and pick up a phone in.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. We get anybody that would call us.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you remember the sit-in protests and—
JOHN HARRIS:
Very well.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What was driving like during them? Did it affect driving at all?
JOHN HARRIS:
No. No. It was, you had, it was select. People were select. But when they would, when whites would call you, you just take them where they want to go. It was, you would find it odd, but you could make, the interesting thing was that you could make a living if no whites ever rode with you. But you could make a better living if they did. You see what I mean?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Right.
JOHN HARRIS:
Because they're part of the riding public. So eventually we just saw it just disappear. People just want a cab. I just need to get to point A from point B. So color wasn't—it just got to be where it was just natural. So with the taxi industry anyway.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I was just wondering if the protests caused any chaos downtown that made driving difficult or anything like that. Not that you noticed.
JOHN HARRIS:
No. Not really. No. Nothing. No. There's always that, it's always been that black-white thing. But we're in the business, we were in the business to serve the public. Now if you were white and you wanted to go somewhere, we would take you and tell you how much it costs. If you were black we did the same thing. But we didn't make too much difference. It was business as far as we were concerned. I'm going to tell you it happened so—I went to jail during the sit-ins. I was working then I was working at the post office. I worked at the post office for about sixteen years. They, Jesse Jackson was a student, president of the student body at A and T, and I had a friend of mine to call me. We were both working the night shift, and he said, he called me. He said, "What are you doing? I said, "I'm getting ready, I just got off. I'm getting ready to eat dinner. My wife's fixing me dinner." He said, "Well, come on. Let's just run down there and just protest a little bit." So I said, "Okay." I told my wife, "I'll be back.

Page 30
We're going to protest. I'm going to do a little protest march from the church down to the Carolina Theatre." So that's where we got arrested. I didn't get home for three days.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
They held you three days.
JOHN HARRIS:
They held us three days. They took us down to the old polio hospital in massive. I had, I was working at the post office, but I was driving a cab too. So I called in the post office and had my wife call in the post office and told them I was in jail for protesting. Well, they didn't hold that against me. In fact I guess that was the only reason, and so I had a bunch, I had my little pouch because I drove cab in the afternoons before I went to the post office, and I had my little pouch full of change, and we went, and they took us. They took us to the polio hospital first. Then they transferred us to the National Guard Armory and I was hungry, didn't get to eat and when I walked in here. When they took us in there, they had all these vending machines, and so the young protesters leaders of the protest, they said we're going to boycott these machines. They turned all the machines around, and I'm sitting here with all this change, and I'm hungry. So I said well that's out. So the next morning, we didn't get anything until the next morning. They brought us some thick bologna on two pieces of bread. Now you're talking about good. I just, I just nibbled it because I was so hungry. But we ended up staying there for about three days. They let us go. We never did have to go to court. They had somebody that was, took care of everything. In fact I had a niece that was living with my wife and I, my wife's niece from Connecticut. She was a student at Dudley High, and they were all in that thing together. So they didn't, we didn't ever have, none of us had to go to court.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
About what year was that?
JOHN HARRIS:
That had to be, I don't know it must've been the early '60s, yeah whenever. It was during the time of the sit-in.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
During the first sit-ins in 1960.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah. That's when it was.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Okay, it was part of that. Were you driving the day the Klan shot the Greensboro protesters?
JOHN HARRIS:
Driving a cab?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.

Page 31
JOHN HARRIS:
No. I was running a business up on Gorrell Street. It was on a Saturday morning, was it a Saturday? I think it was. I had just come in, and they said they had a shooting down in the Grove. Well, that wasn't nothing, that wasn't news to have a shooting in the Grove, but the plot thickened, and I found out it was the Klan, and they had, not only a shooting, some wounded and killing as well. That really was news. Yeah, that was rather shocking. It was shocking reality.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've seen the, that film footage. It was unbelievable.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, and it had to have been planned, and it was typical of, I guess, Klan operation. They've always done what they wanted to do. That's an example of it. They weren't used to resistance, and I guess that's what has happened in the modern times with the Ku Klux Klan is they met with resistance. I think that's part of, and they had the law on their side. That's why they were so powerful. This is what Martin Luther King did. He attacked these unethical laws. They were just doing what came natural to them. What they had been doing all, that's what they had been taught as children I can imagine. That's all they've ever seen was, and it was ugly, and it was wrong, but nobody had challenged it. So that's what happened. It was, I guess, and it took, it took a Martin Luther King and an attitude like he possessed to make the changes. It wasn't really, I don't call it a black-white thing. It was a black-white thing because of the way people thought, but it was a human rights thing. It's not, you just don't treat human beings like animals. It goes back, it goes back to the 1600s when they first started bringing, robbing, abducting Africans off of African soil and bringing them, or putting them on ships and bringing them over here. That's the ugly part about it. It's just, it's the worst thing that ever happened to human kind. They talk about the Holocaust. It was bad. Hitler did it. But we, there was some Hitlers before him because we suffered. I think blacks, slavery is the worse thing that ever happened in human history, worst thing. It just didn't, and it took we suffered for three hundred years, and it's going to take another thousand years to really make it, get it where it's supposed to be. Things that are happening now, they're evolving, but it's not, it's still just going to take time for it to really just go away and say I can't remember. But it's just one of those things that's just going to take time.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you remember Dr. King speaking at Bennett College in 1958?
JOHN HARRIS:
I remember Dr. King speaking. I knew he was there. I wasn't into, I was trying to make a living. But I didn't, no, I talked about we talked about Boss Webster. I saw Martin Luther King in Boss

Page 32
Webster's place. He had been to Danville, and I think they'd had some demonstrations over there, and they had come to Greensboro. They had come in Boss's to get some sandwiches. Somebody said that's him. That's him.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Wow. So he came in for a bologna and crackers.
JOHN HARRIS:
Yeah, one of Boss's famous bologna sandwiches. But he, that's what I remember.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you have any just any final thoughts, anything that we didn't cover that you want to state for the record that you know either having to do with driving, Greensboro, urban renewal, Market Street? Just any final anything, you'd want to add.
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, this getting along or making decisions about people, people's lives has changed because now we have black people in positions of power, in positions to help make decisions. Decisions that we didn't have anything to do with in prior years, and this has helped because our voices now are being heard, and I have to compare that with a time when our voices didn't even matter. Nobody cared, but now we have people that do care. We have young blacks that speak for their communities. Prior to that, nobody listened. You've got, you used to get campaign promises at election time, and that was all. That's all they were, promises until they got elected. I think we've learned, and we've learned what campaigning is all about and what the reality of it is. Now our, I think our biggest job now is to really get out and vote. We need to learn, and we need to study candidates running for public office. We need to make ourselves available to them, and they need to make themselves available to us. We need to look, take a good hard look at the facts and not, we had one time, I had a lady to tell me yesterday. She said, "What are we going to do? I don't know who to vote for." George Simpkins is dead. He used to send out—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
A slate.
JOHN HARRIS:
A slate of officers. Who am I going to vote for? It's that kind of thing that lets, that you, you can't legislate people into reading. They have to read on their own. We're not, we're just not going to do it. We have to encourage. We have to encourage reading in our communities because that's why it's important, and that way we don't allow other folk to make decisions for us. We can make a decision for ourselves. This is one of our, I guess, one of the things that we're sort of weak in. We need that. We need that reading program. We need that to learn how to think independently, and this is where we're really short on, and the only way you're going to do it, the only way you're going to solve it is to read and draw

Page 33
some perceptions for yourself. Otherwise you're going to be waiting and looking for somebody else to make your decisions for you. So that's about it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
All right. Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
JOHN HARRIS:
I've sat here and talked forever. I don't know what I said anything.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
No, this was great. This was really good.
END OF INTERVIEW