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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A black man earns respect in a segregated southern city

Betsch remembers her great-grandfather and her father, both of whom possessed a steely reserve. Without raising his voice, her great-grandfather carved out a niche in segregated Jacksonville, earning the respect of his white peers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. 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

KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where did you begin singing?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Hmm, well, we had a little glee club in high school, but I was mainly piano. My mom was the singer at the—she had this choir at the church, Mount Olive AME Church. Oh it was so great because my great grandfather would get so furious. God, this preacher was long winded. You see you'd have to, the game was to get to the beach at two o'clock. So he would give my mother the little wink—mother would, everybody had a certain spot where you sat in the church. My great grandfather of course being the elder sat certain here. My mom sat on this side. Mother would get up and get on the seat at the organ press that power button and drown, drunn, drunn, drunn and by [unclear] . It's time to go the beach. [unclear] shut him down. So a little after two we would be leaving for the beach. But Mother had a gorgeous voice. She was a contra-alto. She had a quartet, a men's quartet. I never, they used to rehearse in—I think that's how I loved hearing with the singing part although I was a piano major. But my mom would, she'd sing all the voices. She could do it. She had a wide range and they would come to the house to practice. I've had all this in my background, all this hearing this and the music. My great grandfather, every Sunday hearing him talk and philosophize about life.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What did he sound like?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Very soft spoken, never, never—we never had a spanking. We never, they never yelled at us. Never. I never heard a curse word in my life from him. No, no, nothing. But he had the most awesome stare. He would just stare at you and say nothing. You just want to crawl—what did I do wrong? Beautiful voice, beautiful voice—here's his picture. Black history calendar, 2001 there he is on the other side. Awesome man. Very dark. Small eyes. God [unclear] . I tell you he was a saint. Absolutely, absolutely. When he died, there were as many whites as blacks at the funeral. That may not sound like much now, but back in those days in the '40s in the South.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This was prominent city people, mostly?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. It came from—he even knew the man who was in the defense department in the federal government and don't forget now. These are the three. There's the Afro here, Atlanta Life and [unclear] and they used to call themselves the big three. I remember when [unclear] all these A. Philip Randolph grew up and went to Edwards Waters. This is the man who organized that march on Washington. Okay, so we're almost in the soil of all this activity with African Americans. They had the National Negro, my great grandfather was the treasurer of the National Negro Business League founded by Booker T. Washington. I'm trying to tell you man. This is big stuff. When A. Philip Randolph, when they got ready to go out to California to the National Negro Insurance, he provided the sleeping car for them to go out there.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you're father, obviously he knew Mr. Randolph.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Everybody, oh yes, I don't remember him—I'm trying to visualize this. I remember as a child trying to see him, but that was all part of their talk, their, I guess they met or whatever. Oh yeah. It was a time. Absolutely.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I think of him as somebody with, I don't know, the same kind of poise that you describe.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Oh he was. A. Philip Randolph was very cool, very reserved. My great grandfather was like that too. Very, very cool.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
There would be no reason to raise the voice.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
He never raised his voice, never. I remember some of the family reunions. My uncle in there all grrr fighting over, my dad or whatever or something. He would just come to the door and stand. He wouldn't say a word, just stand there. Somehow this calm just drifted over the whole room. Talking about, I guess they called it charisma, whatever, I don't know what the word is. But he had it. I mean, just think now back in those days, there was no other insurance company that he could even use as a role model. He's got to fight the white—not fight the white establishment but at least be on which he was—he was first name basis with the head banker, Barnett Bank. It wasn't Mr. So and So and calling my great grandfather Abraham. They both called each other by first names. This is very important in the South. You know this. The names you called. So here is this man. He's got the white establishment here. He's got the blacks because this is all new for them too. Yet, now on I think about this difference between the rich and the poor. God we were never robbed. There was never, I don't know. He was able to just have such a calming affect over the whole community, and I guess the word is respect. That's what you really want.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was he still, was he involved in the business until he died?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
No, he retired. My became the chairman of the board which was, what would they meet. I think the last couple of years he was just chairman of the board. My grandfather was at that time the president. I remember as a child but the house up on the hill, the Simmonses the woman is still living. She was his secretary. It was just a wonderful time and like I said and did you see the Masonic temple building?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
That's the only and of course you saw the Afro Building.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah. I walked into the Afro. Actually I was, I took a couple of pictures of it.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Isn't that awesome? He built that in 1953. The white folks didn't even have all this glass and steel. We used to go around and brag about—darling, we were the first for everything.