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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

An African American founds a taxi company

Harris describes his father's decision to take his family from South Carolina to Greensboro, North Carolina. There, out of a job, he started an informal taxi company, that with some urging from a judge, became official. Beginning in 1934, the Royal Taxi Company served only the black community and its success earned the resentment of his white peers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Harris, September 5, 2002. Interview R-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

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 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 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.
JOHN HARRIS:
He was a businessman.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He was looking for either liquor or women or something.
JOHN HARRIS:
Well, mostly liquor.