Interview with Oscar Greene (1)

Sam Stiegler 2005

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Interview Participants
SS
Sam Stiegler, interviewer (male)
XX
Unidentified interviewer, interviewer (female)
OG
Oscar Greene, interviewee (male)
SS
Sam Stiegler and I'm interviewing Oscar Greene about his friend, Mr. Alonzo Field. Today is Sunday, Feburary 13, 2005.
SS
How are you doing today Mr. Fields?
OG
I feel very good today, thank you.
SS
Alright, I thought we would just start, you were also involved in a part of Mr. Fields' life, so we're gonna get a little background on you first recorded down. So just, I know, I know you said you were born in Williamstown.
OG
No, I was born in New York City- Harlem, New York.
SS
Ok.
OG
Then I ah. My mother was a graduate nurse of Lincoln Hospital in New York and she did not like the city. So she moved around, I understand, quite a bit. When she and my father divorced I did not know him, because I had no awareness of him. Ahh. She came to Williamstown, because she formerly lived in North Adams, the town next there. And then she married my step father. There was no opportunity there for hardly anybody.
OG
Uh, those who graduated from Harvard or Yale, or received their Ph.D.s came back to Williamstown and were in competition for a job at the A&P store. That's your small, Atlantic and Pacific Stores for $ 15 a week. So she was there and uh and I lived there, in Williamstown, and graduated from high school, Williamstown High School, and then I went out to Hampton Institute in Virginia, which is now Hampton University. And I graduated from there in May of 1941. I graduated on May 27th and my birthday was May 28th.
SS
That's a good birthday present.
OG
And then I came back to West Medford to look for a job and I.
SS
In a
OG
Pardon me
SS
In1944?
OG
In 1941
SS
1941, Ok
OG
And then my cousin called a fellow named Mr. Jackson, Sheep Jackson, who was a great football player in this area. And he came out immediately and said that there were no jobs available at the time. So, anyway, a week later I received an application for a teaching job in Illinois and I was concerned, I could fill it out except for the wages. What would I ask for?
OG
It said state the wages, state the salary you expect. You know? Well, I wanted to ask for 80 dollars a month, I guess you can't conceive of that, $80 a month. But my uh, see, I was afraid to ask for it. So I put the application in a drawer and sorta forgot it.
OG
And I was told by Mr. Jackson that GE was going to interview 12 black college graduates on Jan...July 1, 1941. So, about 2, 10 days later my mother called from Williamstown and said "Oscar, there's a telegram here for you from a Mr., uh Mister, Joseph Taylor and he wants to know if you will come out and accept the job for $120 a month?" [laughter]
OG
So, I went home and I said "Oh, boy, I'll take it." and mother said "Well let's talk about it." Here I am 23 years old "Let's talk about it."
OG
So I went home and I never forget that was the same night Joe Lewis and Billy Caan were fighting. And Joe Lewis was almost defeated, and I was just, just a ragamuffin. You know, because we always felt like we had a lot to prove.
OG
And so anyway, I had two very emotional things: leaving my cousin here, leaving West Medford that I loved. And then Joe Lewis almost, almost losing. But there was one more thing.
OG
At 11:30 at night my mother knocked the my door, came in the room, smiling, very pleasant. Sat on the edge of the bed and said "Oscar, you've been away for over four years now, at school. Why do you wanna go again? Why do you wanna leave your family?" And so I explained, "If I don't go, I'll always regret it." Well she said, "Well supposed you go out there and get sick." Well, she being a nurse knew that who would take care of you?
OG
What are you going to do. She went through a whole, a whole list of questions, each one stabbing at my heart. But I held together, then I heard, then I heard the clock in the downstairs living room strike 2 o'clock in the morning.
SS
haha
OG
She's been on me for that length of time. At a, Then I was almost ready to quit and say "You know what, Mother, I won't go." She got up and said, "Well I guess you're, I guess you're no longer my little boy." She went out of the room. But she had won. She had won! She had whipped me over so much, she had really won.
OG
Anyway, two days later I had to borrow money from her to get out to Illinois. So I went out and taught there for a year. On the National Youth Administration.
OG
Then I moved up to pass the Civil Service Exam and moved to the Rock Iron Arsenal as a skilled, skilled worker, as a skilled worker there. One of the few black skilled workers in arsenal, out of 18,000 workers. In fact, there were only three of us in Shop, Shop L which was, Oh I don't know, must have been 1000 workers there.
OG
And there was an awful lot of racial prejudice there at the time and I didn't know how to handle it. I knew what it was like, but I didn't know how to handle people who didn't like you and were hostile towards you. Either ignored you completely or hostile towards you. But, it was a good paying job!
OG
So I was complaining, and I went back to Williamstown as I said, as I told you in there. And had to mow lawns, 'cause there was nothing to do. Left a good paying job to come home and mow lawns. To be with Momma, to mow lawns. So, Anyway, then I went into the army. Served in the Pacific in the final campaign at Luson.
OG
And then after that, I came home and got a job at General Electric. And my career there, I started as a machine operator. Of course, they have training programs, you go to school and so forth. And then I went up to become an engineering technician. And I was an engineering technician on the Gemini Space Program. And was responsible for the fuel cell on Flight 7. The fuel cell provided water, electricity, and power for the Gemini Space Craft.
OG
And then After that I became a Tech Writer, I became a Senior Tech Writer with 8 writers under me and I retired in 1981 . I guess that's it.
SS
Uhh. Where in there did you meet Mr. Fields?
OG
I met Mr. Fields, I was living down the street, and I was reading an article in, in uhh, the, I was reading an article in the Ladies' Home Journal and it was entitled "My 21 Years in the White House." And I looked at the pictures and everything and all of a sudden I looked out the window and somebody was passing by. And it was the same man I was reading about!
SS
Ha ha
OG
I didn't know he lived in the area- I didn't know him. I didn't know him. And so I said, well and they spoke about his book, so I rushed the next morning down to Jordan and Marsh, which is now Macy's, in Boston.
XX
Right
OG
Pardon me
XX
yeah
OG
And then I bought his book, "My 21 Years in the White House." So two weeks, and I wondered, "Should I have it autographed?" Should I go down to his house and have it autographed? And I worked down myself because sometimes celebrities can be pretty nasty. And I didn't want to be rejected. You know.
OG
And so, finally I got up enough nerve, you know, one afternoon I went down and he was very gracious. He took the book, he said "What's your name?" And of course I knew his name, he didn't and so he autographed it for me and he autographed it in 1961.
OG
And so I felt I wanted to write, so I saw him, I saw him at ahh, wedding reception, a long line, I'll never forget. Up at Tufts. A long line to get into sitting down to eat and he's standing in line. I walked up to him and I said to him "Mr. Fields, how long did it take you to write your book?" And he stepped out of line and told me it took him three years and then he went back to the end of the line, which was quite lengthy.
OG
But the exact moment I met him, I'm not sure. But he started keeping company with our dearest friend here in Medford
SS
Mrs. Fields
OG
and that's when we got to know him.
OG
Both Ruby and I got to know him. I remember she went out of town one time, and he was the speaker at the church and Ruby and I invited him to come by for dinner after he spoke. He was very gracious and very anxious to come by. I didn't realize that someone who was famous, everybody's pulling at him, could still be lonely. And still needs people. Somehow you feel that fame would, cover everything, but it doesn't. You need that personal relationship.
SS
So from there, you're relationship sort of developed.
OG
Oh yes it grew there, yah
SS
You called him Lonnie, right?
OG
Pardon me?
SS
Your nickname for him was Lonnie
OG
Yes, Lonnie.
SS
Spelled L-o-n-n-y.
OG
uh, L-o-n-n-i-e. yeah, Lonnie, yeah.
OG
In fact, Ruby set up that every Mother's Day Saturday, we'd go in town to the Sonesta on the river there, on the Charles River there and we would have breakfast. And we did that for years.
SS
The four of you?
OG
Four of us yes. His wife, Mayland, Lonnie and then Ruby and myself., mmhumm
SS
Um, What was Lonnie like? You told the story of how he was in line and got out of line to talk to you and then went to the end of the line. Was that very typical of his character?
OG
Yes, yes. Very gracious, very gracious to everyone.
OG
You couldn't miss him because he was 6'4", very handsome and because he'd worked many years in public and had seen many famous people, he'd taken on the habit, the posture of graciousness. He knew how to act with people, Extremely modest. He could never understand why people made over him. He told me "After all, Oscar, I was in the White House, but I was just a common servant."
OG
Uh, he also was always a gentleman and teased about the fact that he was always a gentleman, so people expected him to be a gentleman and uh never had any fun. That was his joke. You know.
OG
He knew about everybody. Everybody knew him. Uh, he said, he told me a story when he left the White House, he left the White House in 1960, I believe it was or it was early '61. And he left to come to Medford because his wife had been quite ill, she had 13 operations. And she wanted to be near her doctor here, in Medford and partly the Boston area. And he left there the White House and was given a civil service job in the area as a quality control inspector.
OG
And he'd been here about two months and his boss came up to him and said, "Mr. Fields, starting Monday we're sending you to North Adams, transferring you to North Adams." Now up in the boonies up in the Western part of the state.
OG
And that was a uh, uh a records depository place, the end of the earth. So Lonnie didn't say anything, he thanked him.
OG
But, When he left the White House, Eisenhower had told him, "Fields, if there's anything I can do for you, call me." So he went home that afternoon and he called President Eisenhower. And he told him the story, the next morning he got to work. The fellow came running up to him and said, "Oh, Mr. Fields you can forget about that we've changed our mind." Mmhum.
OG
So he said he only went back to the White House twice, in all the years he was away from the White House, he was away from the White House for 24 years. Twice he went, he went once on this mission because they were going to transfer him
OG
And he went again for a one, a fellow from the neighborhood who was, had been a captain in the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy who had stayed with men when they were wounded, when he was wounded and this man had lost his mind, had gone senile.
OG
His wife had him in a nursing home and she was about ready to lose her home and she couldn't get him into the Veteran's. So he went back to Eisenhower and Eisenhower got him into Veteran's that afternoon. So there's power to that, there's power.
SS
I wanna go back a little bit to sort of start to see what you know about Mr. Field's sort of childhood? Specifically his younger years before he got to the White House. I know you didn't know him.
OG
I didn't know him, but he had spoken about his brother and how he had helped birth his younger brother. And that made quite an impression on him.
OG
His father was in charge of 18 aggregation Military Band, that's the band that marched at different, different uh, different uh affairs. And they were very good, they were always excellent. They were a brass, brass group.
OG
His younger... Pardon me.
SS
Where was this?
OG
This was in Lyles, Lyles uh Lyles center Indiana
SS
Indiana
OG
Indiana, yeah, I have the book here. I'm going to turn this material over to you.
OG
Lyles Station, Indiana, yeah, this was an all black community, thats is where he was brought up at. And his dream, his dream, Lonnie's Dream was to come East and to be, to attend New England Conservatory of Music and to study brass instruments and to receive his degree in brass interments and return to the high school in Indianapolis, Indiana and teach. That was his dream.
OG
That never materialized and he was haunted by that right to his grave. He never accepted That was his dream and he never recovered from that. What he did,
OG
He came East he worked for Dr. Stratton who was then president of MIT and Dr. Stratton was his sponsor. And Dr. Stratton died. So Lonnie was without a job.
OG
But Mrs. Hoover, President's Hoover's wife, had seen him at singing engagements around the Boston area, she liked him, liked his appearance and everything. And she and her husband, President Hoover, took him to Washington uh for three years to work in the White House and they paid him out of their pockets.
OG
And then he went on civil service and stayed there 21 years. As a person to know he was easy to meet and easy to know. And he loved to talk about the White House, to you personally, and individuals because he knew these people personally.
SS
He met so many people.
OG
Hmm...Yeah, He met all "the" people. You know, He knew them, he knew everybody associated at the White House until Jimmy Carter came in, then he didn't know those people.
SS
Who would you say his favorite president that he worked for was?
OG
Oh, President Truman. Truman. Yeah, oh yeah.
SS
How come?
OG
Truman was very fair had a lot of courage and spoke his mind. You knew were you stood with Truman and Truman never treated him like a servant.
OG
Roosevelt did, treated him like a servant, literally ignored him. And, uh, Hoover yes.
OG
He didn't say much about Eisenhower, expect to say that Eisenhower was, Eisenhower was, a staff man who was used to giving orders and used to having them carried out. As an honored general in the army, whereas when he got into the White House it didn't work that way. Kennedy, he didn't think much of Kennedy. He said Kennedy was untruthful.
SS
When did he leave the white house 60, 61?
OG
Pardon me?
SS
When did Mr. Fields leave the White House?
OG
Around 1960 or 61. 1960 or 61 Yea, Yea Kennedy came in 1963 well no 60, 60, 60, yes. So ah, he left, he would have had to of left sometime in 1960 cause Eisenhower was in when he left
SS
Ok
OG
Eisenhower was in Kennedy came in 1960. Uh, lets see what was that January . I dunno January or February
SS
He probably was elected in November of 1960 and came in 61
OG
Yeah, It would have to be that way yeah, yeah so he left in 60
SS
I was talking to Mrs. Fields last week and she said that it was Truman who promoted Mr. Fields to the position of maitre d', is that true?
OG
That would be true, she would know that. I wouldn't know. He never talked to me about things like that, he talked to me about personal things that happened to him in the White House and individuals he met in the White House, who were after all, simply human beings despite their great power, their position. They were just people with good points and flaws. And he saw both sides.
SS
Some body told me something about Churchill and that Mr. Fields had a funny story about Winston.
OG
Yeah, he tells about Churchill. He said Churchill was the boss. The man was the most authoritarian person he'd ever met. When Churchill got on the phone to call somebody, they jumped. They jumped.
SS
Wouldn't you?
OG
Oh yeah.
OG
And he said the man could drink, like nobody's business. He said he never went to work until around 10 o-clock at night and they worked almost all night long. And Churchill kept on sending for another bottle of, he did name it, I can't remember now. Anyway it would be another 5th of Brandy or something of that sort
SS
Um You mentioned this a little bit so I wanted to bring it up again I wanted to know sort of about how Mr. Fields sort of felt how he sort of was treated from, in the white house in terms of first by people below him because when he was sort of promoted to maitre d' and he was in charge of quite a few people and also from the people above him, Did he ever talk to you about that?
OG
He always spoke about one woman, who was in the kitchen, and Truman has asked Truman had asked, Truman had asked, for hot rolls in the morning for Bess (Truman). And the woman went out and bought rolls, and he said Mrs. Truman tasted them and put it down. So Truman said "Fields, my wife wants hot rolls." So Lonnie goes down into the kitchen to tell the woman and the woman says she not telling me what to do, so he had to fire her.
OG
He spoke about that, He spoke about the treatment he received from those above, Senators and so forth. He said that Gerald Ford came to him and said, "Pardon me sir, but this is my first trip to the White House, what do I do? What is the protocol here?" He said the Southern Senators would see him and say "boy." See there was a difference in respect.
OG
He also spoke about General Marshall coming, General Marshall at that time was at that time was Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy, Marines and all of it.
SS
Everything
OG
Everything, And he came in and he didn't see Lonnie.
OG
He rushed in to see the President, and he said "Mr President, we gotta do something about those niggers." Now this is Gen. Marshall, then he saw Lonnie, no he didn't see Lonnie. Roosevelt gave him the eye and he turned around and saw Lonnie and he shut up. See, he revealed himself. The big man now the biggest man, all the power of the services you know and still is still can't get over certain things in his life.
OG
Uh he knew Churchill, he knew Churchill and he said Churchill could not stand anybody whistling, it bothered him, bothered his concentration. And um said he drank a great deal.
OG
And He also me about being in the same room with Roosevelt and a telephone call came through, it was the night they were going to invade Anzio Beach, in Italy. And Churchill called and told and told Roosevelt not to invade, he just had a feeling something was wrong.
OG
Not to invade he didn't have any intelligence. But after they landed the troops there, Intelligence told them and they found that two crack German [panzer] divisions had moved into the area shortly before for practice not practice, for maneuvers and you know they were tied down there for months and months at Anzio Beach, they lost a lot of men. They lost 5,000 men invading.
OG
So that was it, he got to know what Churchill's code name was, just by listening. Lonnie was also the only man, the only servant in the room on Pearl Harbor day when Roosevelt received the news that uh Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
OG
He said he broke down completely, broke down completely and asked to see, asked to see the Japanese representative and they brought him in. Lonnie said "I stood there and Roosevelt insulted that man something awful." All the racial slurs and everything came out
OG
And he said that at 3o-clock in the afternoon he met with all the heads, the heads of government and he was Roosevelt of all. The cigar, the cigarette with the johnty and all. He was in charge, completely changed in a few hours.
SS
It seems like in his time in the white house Mr. Fields pretty much everyday, pretty often that he had interaction with the President or the First Lady
OG
Everyday.
OG
After Pearl Harbor, shortly after Pearl Harbor, he did not leave the White House for 8 months, not one day. Because of his position and because he was the only one allowed in the war room the only servant or domestic allowed in the war room.
OG
He said he would get in there, and there would maps all over. He said "they weren't identified, but I could read them. And I knew what was going on." See so, he had first hand information all the time. And in part was he did not leave the White House for 8 months even though his wife was very ill at home.
SS
Did you say he lived in D.C. somewhere
OG
Yeah, Washington D. C. yeah
SS
Do you know any of the specifics about his what the position of the maitre d' they were in charge of sort of all the social functions in the ...?
OG
You were in charge of setting up for social functions and for the public coming in, at that time the public came in more than they do now.
OG
In many times they had to entertain large groups, two or three times a day. So he said they would usher them through, serve them lettuce sandwiches, and get them out the door and then bring in another new group for another meeting. So he was in charge of having to move furniture, having to set up for social functions. It was a real pressure job,
OG
Real pressure job. And also to take care of State dinners, to make sure everything was right at state dinner and so forth. And during that time many, many celebrities came through the White House because of the war.
SS
How many people would you say he was in direct supervision of?
OG
He said there were about 300 working in the White House. I think he told me about 300.
SS
So he was sort of in charge of all of them
OG
He was in charge mainly of the kitchen group, the meals and so forth. And the protocol of waiters who had to know how to act. When you are in the dining you never smile, he said, and his position was directly behind the president. And sometimes he said they would talk and tell jokes to see if you were going to smile, if you were listening. And you always pretended you weren't listening.
SS
Of the people he was in charge of, what was the racial make up of the group?
OG
That was all black.
SS
All black...um...
SS
You said a little bit about I want to make sure we address it specifically just sort of looking at race questions in the white house about him, he was probably the highest ranking African American in the white house.
OG
Yes I would say he was.
SS
So um, sort of, you know, were people cognizant about his positions. Would some people talk down to him until they realized who he was. You said some senators called him boy...
OG
He tried to conceal what he was. Once he left the White House he tried to conceal that,
OG
In the White House remember at that time you had two American armies: one black and one white. In the White House you had two groups of servants: one black and one white. Those who in the White House who were black knew him, those in the White House who were white knew him. He mixed with both very well and they got to know him very well.
OG
That was America in those days, you know. The South had written separation into its laws and its constitution, the North practiced it but didn't put it in its laws. So you had to know how to move in both areas at that time. And you got very skilled at that.
SS
Washington, D.C. being right in between the North and the South.
OG
Well, Washington DC was very segregated at that time, very segregated. At that time, You couldn't go to a movie, but today it's different. But it isn't different because people's attitudes are different, it's different because the laws have changed.
OG
SS
Any other interesting stories you remember from his White House days?
OG
In his days?
SS
In his white house At the time, at the time he was in the white house
OG
One story is about Errol Flynn, the movie actor. There was a saying, if you wanted a movie to fail put Errol Flynn in it. He was a nice looking guy, but he was characterless.
OG
He said Errol Flynn was there and Errol picked up this young lady physically so she was hanging onto the chandeliers and he wanted her to swing back and forth.
OG
He walked over and said "Mr. Flynn, I wouldn't do that, it's old and we don't know what might happen."
OG
And Errol Flynn reached in his pocket, took out a nickel and said "Here's a nickel I didn't ask you for any advice, go, go." And Lonnie reached in his pocket, took out two cents, and said, "Here's two cents, I hear ya."
OG
He threatened to hit Lonnie, but Lonnie's a professional boxer, see and at that time, Jimmy Roosevelt came running over and separated them
OG
And he said Errol Flynn kept watching me all night long, but that he was never invited back to the White House again. He was a nothing, absolutely a nothing. A good looking nothing.
OG
There again is character toward people, let see what else did he say about different people coming in
SS
Are there any stories that kinda, are there any stories that really sort of point what Lonnie was like, Mr. Fields?
OG
Oh, he never told anyone he was working at the White House,
OG
because
SS
Later or during
OG
During the time he was there.
OG
Because, See the White House had a set up like this, once you worked at the White House you decided you wanted a job you went to the head to the number one of all civil service lists.
OG
And Lonnie was afraid that would look like favoritism and he was also afraid that people would be after him for a job in the White House. Because jobs weren't very good at that time.
OG
He tells me about Pearl Harbor day, he was there all day. He came out about 12 midnight, he said he listened all day to what they had to say and they didn't know how they were going to defend America.
OG
So what they had planed to do was to take every police force in the country, mobilize them and send them out to California and fight delayed actions all the way to Chicago, the line of Chicago all the way south to Texas and that would be the final fight right there.
SS
Because they thought America was going to be attacked.
OG
Yeah, it was going to be attacked by the Japanese Army.
OG
And uh,He said when he got outside, fellows were walking around saying "Oh, this won't last long, we'll kill those lil' Japs in about two minutes." He said he was hearing this kind of talk in the crowd and he had just heard the truth inside.
OG
That we had no we didn't have a, That we didn't have an army, you know. We actually had nothing. And that's how we were going to defend America in 1941.
SS
That's an amazing story
OG
The line of demarcation would be from Chicago all the way down, that was the final line. That's were our final battle would be against the Japanese Imperial Army. Who had been training for 20 years.
OG
Because they were training for conquest. The only thing about the German, Japanese Army that we found in the Pacific, they had no supply lines.
OG
There's a name for that, their, ooh I don't know why they never thought of that. They would move into a country and scourge on the people there and steal from the people there. They had no logistics, where as the American Army had excellent logistics,
SS
My grandfather was in the war as well ... in the bombing in Tokyo
OG
Was he flyer or a pilot?
SS
He was a navigator
OG
Navigator, I was in Southern Japan shortly after the surrender. [Kerry] Naval Base.
SS
What was Mr. Fields' first wife's name?
OG
Yeah, oo-oo-oo, Edna. Edna, yeah.
SS
She had a child from a previous marriage, right?
OG
Yes, she had a child oh what was her name? Virginia, Virginia, yeah
SS
And when were they married?
OG
That I don't know. I don't know, I didn't get to know him until after Edna died. I don't remember.
OG
I used to see her passing by, she'd always wave. She loved to drive.
SS
Was she from West Medford?
OG
I think she was from the Boston Area. Yeah, I don't know
SS
My question just sort of so that I can sort of get the chronology straight is, Was he, um was Mr. Fields ever in West Medford before he went to the White House? Was, had he ever been in this area? Or was it...?
OG
You said before the white house?
SS
Before the white house
OG
I don't know. During the time in the White House he was in the area. SS: He would come up.
OG
He would come up,
OG
I think he had a home down in Randolph, don't quote me on this, but there was a home down on the South Shore. '
OG
'Cause he used to tell me that people used to come down on Sunday, droves of people would come down on Sunday, sit around in his yard and have a picnic. So sometimes, he and Edna didn't want any company so he would shut up, shut the house down as if there was nobody there. And they would still come down and sit there and have a picnic.
SS
So did Edna back up here because she was so sick?
OG
Yes
SS
Would he come back and forth?
OG
Well he no she lived here She come to see her doctor here who she had a lot of confidence in.
SS
So she would go back and forth, from D.C. up to Boston?
OG
She had 13 operations. He said sometimes her medical costs exceeded his salary.
SS
What was she sick with?
OG
That I don't know. He never said.
SS
When did she pass away?
OG
Oh. It was in the 60's anyway, I don't know the exact date.
OG
Wait a minute, yes I can tell you. He married in 1980, so he said he was single 7 years, so that would make 1973. May 1973, mmhhmm
SS
So um ,so transition out to the time after the white house, he left the whit house and came up here you said you read the article about him. Was it sort of like a "celebrity" moving to West Medford?
OG
Well he was already in Medford, I didn't know him or anything, I just happened to pick up this magazine, Ladies Home Journal, it was quite a magazine in those days, and there was the article, with his picture, "My 21 Years in the White House" And these were excerpts from his book.
SS
OK
OG
And then I just happened to look out the window and there he was, he was heading home.
SS
That was, What year did you say that was?
OG
1961.
SS
Um, Did you know what sort of, What was he doing when he got here?
OG
Yes, He was a quality control specialist. Quality control is he would go from plant to plant that was doing government work and inspect their work, inspect their work to see if it was alright, see if they were following procedures. If you work for the government, the government has a way to tell you to do everything. That's cut in stone, you don't vary from that.
OG
You'll find that out when you go to work. They call that specifications. Alright, so, And that was his job. And I think He worked on it maybe 2 or 3 years. I think he worked that two or three years.
OG
And then he linked up with a fellow named Hagerman, who was President Eisenhower's Press Secretary, I think.
OG
And Hagerman had a silver polish, so Lonnie would demonstrate the silver polish and show how it worked and also sell his book.
OG
So he traveled all over the country doing that. Then he got into speaking. And he was speaking at universities and locally and so forth. And he was speaking on the White House. He'd tell personal stories about the White House and about the people in the White House.
SS
Who was he, was reading by some of churches or community centers. What times of groups were inviting him to speak?
OG
These were church groups, the Federation of ladies, the National Federation of Ladies Clubs, the ZANTA club, the uh...what's that men's group that is made up of all businesses?
SS
The Lyons club, The Lyons Club
OG
Yeah I spoke of the Lyons and there's another one the Lyons but with lines
SS
The Rotary Club.
OG
Rotary, yes, And he speak at church groups all the time He speak at public libraries, he speak at the universities and colleges.
SS
These are sort of government institutions also organization both black and white groups that are inviting him?
OG
Oh yes, yes. They invited, Everybody invited him to come, there was no color line about him coming. He spoke about speaking out at the University of Indiana twice. Then he spoke overseas in Europe, spoke in Hawaii.
SS
Did he enjoy the speaking? You know, since he did it so much
OG
He did, he enjoyed the speaking. It got him out, he was single and you could feel the loneliness. We men don't mind attention at all. We accept that readily. Yes and He had a story to tell. Though, one time he said he was getting tired of it, but he did it all the way up until just before he died.
SS
He looked back on his time in the white house with sort of bad or good feelings?
OG
Yeah Well He told the good stories, he did not tell the bad experiences. He asked me once about the prejudice he encountered and the hurt he suffered from certain high officials that he wanted to talk about, and I told him no. People don't come to hear that.
SS
Do you know any of those stories?
OG
Those stories? No, he concealed those from me. He never told me any stories about, he just told me about Marshall and the about the Southern Senators never respected him, they respected him but they still called him "Boy."
OG
Oh, and one woman the person he disliked intently was Madame Chiang Kai-shek, China, Chiang Kai-shek's wife, remember the old China Chiang Kai-shek was the self-imposed President before the Communist regime came in.
SS
Early 50s?
OG
Hmmm?
SS
Are we talking about the early fifties?
OG
Oh yeah way back there, We're talking about...
OG
Well, I would say earlier then that, the 50's and She came to the White House and would never address him. She would do this. [snaps fingers] Even in talking about her he became angry. He had to show emotion about her, he didn't like her at all, no.
SS
He went back to the White House with Mayland once? Is that correct?
OG
Yes
SS
There are pictures of them. They went back for, I think David McCullough had written had written a book about Truman
OG
That's right
SS
and Mr. Fields was mentioned in it.
OG
Yes. They went back then.
SS
What year was that?
OG
Ohhh
SS
It was the first Bush
OG
Yes, it was during the administration of Father Bush and he wanted Mayland to see the White House and so forth, and he said about 350 had been invited. So he wasn't back all alone.
SS
Right
OG
mmhmm
SS
Do you know how he felt about going back after so many years? Was he anxious? Was it sort of exciting or was it part of his life sort of...
OG
No he just took it for granted, "I'm going back" just like going to a super market. And he knew David McCullough and he received an autographed, autographed, autographed copy of the book, which Mrs. Fields has now.
OG
It's quite thick if you've seen it. Quite a hefty book
SS
David McCullough is great,
OG
Oh yeah
SS
What about um, We talked about music earlier, sort of on later parts of his life was music still an important part of his life?
OG
Oh yes, It was important, but he never had a chance to do it. But he still had a beautiful voice as an older man,
SS
Have you heard him sing?
OG
I heard him sing. Yeah he had a beautiful voice. That is why when he came here, when he came here, to study brass instruments, Dr. Stratton became, his mentor, his supporter.
OG
But at that time another black singer named Rowland Hayes and he was doing very well. And Lonnie had a wonderful voice and he was a better looking man then Roland Hayes, so Dr. Stratton wanted him to study voice. That's all he would pay for, so he had to study voice. He never got to study his brass instruments, which is what he wanted to study.
OG
And that was always a terrible disappointment to him.
SS
What was his favorite instrument?
OG
He didn't say He was going to teach 'em all,
SS
Trumpet?
OG
Trombone, bass horn. He was going to teach them all to the school children out there in Indiana. Indianapolis And then perhaps form a band like his father had. Because his father taught brass instruments and he organized a military band.
SS
What of the sort of the final years after he retired what sort of kept him busy. What kind of ...?
OG
Pardon me
SS
How did Mr. Fields fill the end of his, the end of his days? What filled his days sort of?
OG
Oh well, The speaking engagements because he was speaking out of town many times down as far as Connecticut. And he was, His wife was very active socially at that time and he would go with her. And he would visit around the community and at that time they would have clubs social clubs in the community maybe 20, 25 people belonged to a club and he belonged to two or three of those clubs.
OG
He read a lot. And he Attended Grace Church and attended all the social things there. He was busy until he became very ill. And then he would go out to Indiana to see his family. So he was busy and He took two or three trips with, two or three trips to Florida with Mrs. Fields and took two or three trips to California with her. She wouldn't fly so he had to go by train.
SS
So, you said he went back to Indiana so he was able in touch with his family after all of those years?
OG
Oh yes.
SS
How many did he... Did he have brother and sisters? I know you mentioned...
OG
He had a brother and I met two sisters, I don't know how many all together.
SS
Are they all still in Indiana?
OG
They're all living in Indianapolis
SS
Have you seen the play that was written about him?
OG
No I didn't see that
SS
Do you know how that came about or anything about it?
OG
Well, the play was taken from his book, My 21 Years in the White House. And the gentleman just wrote about the high spots of him of, of coming to the White House and leaving the White House.
OG
I understand the play opens up with him leaving the White House and then it's, it's what they call flashbacks about his experience at the white house. I didn't see it, they say it was very good
SS
Is it a one man show?
OG
Yes, yes one man show yes mmhmm
SS
Umm, Did I mention that Sharon Kennedy came to our class last week, did I tell you that?
OG
Oh no, no, no
SS
She came to our class to sort of talk about her work with her book and then to sort of about interviewing to get us into it and she told me to ask you something
OG
Pardon me
SS
She told me to ask you something
OG
What was that you ask?
SS
She said that Mr. Field asked you to say something about him at his funeral
OG
Yes
SS
She said to ask you about that story what he said to say
OG
Well I went to see him, I knew he was dying. I went over to Mount Auburn to see him and uh I sit and he turned to me And he said to me, "Oscar I want you to speak at my funeral. Don't talk too long and don't tell the truth."
SS
[laughter]
OG
And here is the story here that was picked up by the local paper, you can take that with you. I gave the eulogy at his funeral. When he said that I almost died you know, I'd never spoken over the body of someone I loved. Now I have to do it all the time because I am out living those my age.
SS
He passed away in 1994
OG
Yes
SS
So he was born in 1900.
OG
Yes, that's right. He was not quite 94 when he died. Because his birthday was in april and He died March, uh March 24. Yeah he died March 24.
SS
Um you said he was really sick
OG
leukemia.
SS
Um, sort of, like give me sort of a path where I'm going to take this. How would you like Mr. Fields' to be remembered if there's sort of one thing or one sort of caveat, that you want to makes sure people to know about your friend. What would it be?
OG
Uh, He was very genuine. Genuine with humility. He knew what life was about and he always looked at things realistically. He wasn't carried away with tea parties and things like that, he was very, very sincere, and very close with the dollar, yes indeed. A depression child and all of that came up in the depression tend to be a little tight fisted with money.
OG
That' s it. When he saw a situation, he understood Washington and what was going on. And I remember there was a big discussion in the living room about the press being intrusive and so forth, and he was 100% for the press and he said "That's the only thing that keeps the politicians honest." They fear exposure so they behave themselves, sometimes.
SS
One last question you sort of point it out, How do you think he would like to be remembered?
OG
Well, He never thought a lot about himself. Let me say, he never thought much about his gifts. And he did have gifts. See he wasn't a religious man, so he never envisioned that maybe God had a role for him and the role was educating people about the White house and showing that people in the white house are very human, we tend to put them on pedistals. He never could see that what he thought of was that his dream had been shattered and that bothered him right up to his final minutes.
SS
Do you think that was his biggest regret?
OG
Oh yeah, he lived that regret all his life. Though everybody was after him But had he lived another two months, he was supposed to go out to the Truman Library to be honored, out in Independence, Missouri. But he was too sick to go.
SS
I think I covered everything Do you have any follow up questions
XX
You pointed out everything... [inaudible]
OG
He was not bitter. There is a great danger among us men that we have to watch out for. That we don't consider the race question one of the most important thing in the world. Our troubles with the race question were the most important thing that happened to everyone and you have to stay away from that and he did stay away at a time when things weren't too good. And of course, as I say, if he walked into the room, you'd never forget him.
SS
He was so tall
OG
huh, He was Tall very handsome, he had that posture, and grace. You know, very mannerly
SS
Do you know who his favorite musicians were or what types of music he liked to play
OG
He liked, no he never spoke of jazz bands at that time but uh there were ballads that he would sing that I never heard before but they were beautiful where they came from i don't but they had not been written by our at that time by our contemporary composers like Irving Berlin or uh or uh Richard Rogers
SS
Do you know who his favorite musicians were or what types of music he liked to play
OG
He liked, no he never spoke of jazz bands at that time but uh there were ballads that he would sing that I never heard before but they were beautiful where they came from i don't but they had not been written by our at that time by our contemporary composers like Irving Berlin or uh or uh Richard Rogers
XX
Just to add to that was music a part of his life constantly did you notice it
OG
Yes, yes
XX
You could definitely see that it was something that he was kind of earning for
OG
He was earning for music. It was a dream he could never recover from. Imagine someone who wanted to be a star on the stage and never made it. But see, he concentrated so much on that, he wasn't able to see what his gifts were.
SS
Do you think if he was able to go back he would of pursued the music do you think?
OG
If circumstances, oh.
SS
If circumstances were different, do you think?
OG
If circumstances were different but if he had gone if he had pursued it and gone back to where he was then of course he runs into the politics of the school system thing like that and there would be no honor compared to what he had
OG
He would just be another teacher and of course being another teacher when he graduated he would have to start if he could get a job he would have to start at the entry level, and that is very hard on college graduates you have all this training and along with the training is the counseling and so forth and you get to a plant or into an industry and they have you running around delivering papers from desk to desk and it can be very disillusioning
SS
All college students
OG
Here you are a college graduate and I'm doing what a kindergarten child could do
SS
Get ready for it
XX
Yeah
OG
Oh that's right you're a senior huh
XX
That's right and to be a teacher at that too
OG
Oh no, no you're going to marry before long so you'll be with babies and so forth
OG
I'm going to turn these over to you. I don't know who's in charge but if you look at these it's an article about Lonnie and this here is a picture of Lonnie and this here is a write up about Lonnie at Lyle station and it said, "Alanso Fields, and 21 years in the white house and Lyle's station most famous product is certainly Alanzo Fields
SS
So this is book about Lyle Station
OG
Yeah Lyle Station and I marked the part about Lonnie. Lyle Station is where he was brought up at.
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