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Title

Anita Turner Interview

Subject

Saratoga Springs (N.Y.)
Saratoga County (N.Y.)
Turner, Anita

Description

In this interview with Courtney Reid, Anita Skinner Turner discusses her family history, food, school, urban renewal, and the Black Elk's ball.

Creator

Turner, Anita

Source

Saratoga Springs Office of the City Historian

Publisher

Saratoga Springs Public Library

Date

1999-05-16

Contributor

Signor, Leona
Fitzgerald, Mary Ann
McKee, Elijah

Rights

This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Relation

West Side Oral Narrative Collection
Transcribing Discourse and Diversity; Skidmore College.

Format

MP3

Language

English

Type

Oral History

Identifier

SCOH031

All Available Item Data

Interviewer

Reid, Courtney

Interviewee

Turner, Anita

Location

Saratoga Springs, NY

Transcription

COURTNEY: —Anita Skinner Turner, in her home, Sunday afternoon May 15—16.
ANITA: Right. Yeah.
COURTNEY: Right. For the West Side Oral History Project. And, and Anita, maybe we can begin with your grandmother and how she came to Saratoga, and kind of trace the history of your family through there, start there.1
ANITA: My grandmother Georgia Lee Johnson—Jackson, came to Saratoga from . . . Richmond, Virginia where she was born. Um, she migrated here in the summer, and I guess as a lot of southerners did, uh, in coming north from the south. And, um . . . she married, well, my grandfather, whom I did not know, who—he deceased before I was born. I think he deceased, in—yeah, he deceased before I was born, so, and I was born in ’37, so I really didn’t—I never knew him. But, um—
COURTNEY: Do you know what year she came?
ANITA: To Saratoga? No, I really don’t know what year she came to Saratoga. I have no idea. And actually, um, from my knowledge of my grandmother, we, really—though I was born here in Saratoga Springs and so was my mother born here in Saratoga Springs. Now, the part about my mother and my grandmother is the fact that my grandmother adopted my mother. And I had tried, some years ago, to find out the history and the background of that, which was actually to no avail, but making no difference as far as I was concerned. So, um, what would happen was, my father—who was from Havre de Grace, Maryland—came to Saratoga, and he worked on the railroad. And he would come here in Saratoga in the summertime when everything was lively and wide open back in those days. And then he and my mother met and they moved to New York City. And my mother worked in New York City where she worked as a domestic. And then as things begin to change, actually she was the first Black to work in the department store, Blumstein’s Department Store on 125th Street in New York City.2 And we would come here in the summertime. Now, at this time, my grandmother already had the boarding house, which was on Congress Street. And we would come here in the summertime after school was over, and we would stay here until after Labor Day. So that’s where I, uh, was able to find out the history and the background of my grandmother and the boarding house. My grandmother’s name was Georgia Lee Jackson. And she rented rooms to the waiters and different people that worked on the track. At that time, Newman’s Lake House was very, very popular.3 And there were many, many, many waiters that would be—come here, even from the south and those that lived here, and they would work there. And that’s what she did. She rented rooms to them and—which was actually right across the street from the old Grand Union Hotel. I could see the backyard of that. And so that was really a, a, [laughs] quite a difference. And you had, uh, you could say one side of the coin, you had the glamour and pageantry of the Grand Union Hotel and then with my grandmother’s boarding house—entirely different, renting rooms, but to a different, an entirely different type of clientele. So, uh, then we would go back in September, back to New York. My mother would go back to work, and my father was on the railroad, and I would go back to school. And this would go from year to year to year. Uh, Congress Street, as I’m sure you’ve heard from—or maybe other interviewers have heard from various people—was actually quite the place, quite the place.4 There was s—there was so, so very much action. Um, my grandmother’s house, the boarding house was right in between, which was Jimmy’s Bar and Grill, which was on the corner. And then there was a little alley, and up that little alley was a, was a nightspot, which was called The Blind Pig. And, um, I can remember even now to this day, um, Mr. Finley, who ran the Blind Pig, would give me all of the cherries. [laughs] And I’d have all of the chasers. My mother, uh, when she came up here in the summer before we came up here to live, actually was a number writer. And numbers, taking numbers was—it was a legal thing. And all of the people that would come to Saratoga from New York, and the buses would come in and they’d unload either down on Congress Street and Washington Street. And they would have their numbers that they would want to put in and they put in their numbers. Actually, before that time of day, my mother would go out to the raceway, out to the racetrack early, early in the morning, four o’clock in the morning in the backstretch, and take the numbers from the people, the men out there at the backstretch—the trainer’s, the jockeys, the exercise people—and then she’d come back in town. And during this time, I’d be home with my grandmother. And she’d come back in town and have some rest and then get up and then go out during the day time. I would be there with my grandmother. My grandmother took extremely good care of me. Um, everywhere she went, when my mother wasn’t home, I was right there with her. And she would sit on the porch there, in between the screen door and look at the people comin’ and goin’—and I’d sit right there watchin’ ’em, to look at the people coming and going with her. She was very strict as far as the boarding houses was concerned. And, uh, you came there as a waiter or as a waitress, and if you were not there with your spouse, your legal spouse, there was no way was anybody else coming in there in that room other than you that rented the room. She was very, very strict about that.
COURTNEY: How many rooms?
ANITA: Oh, gosh it was huge. I couldn’t—I couldn’t even begin to think how many rooms it was. I just remember it as an old big gray wooden house. Um, there was a second floor. There was a third floor. At that time, naturally, you had the, uh, great big coal stove and wood stove, and that’s the way it would be heated. Uh, course, as I say, we didn’t stay here in the winter but sometimes come, like, September when it became—it’d get a little bit colder. Then my mother—my grandmother would then get the wood in the coal stove, and I can remember—I can see her now stuffing that wood down into that stove. But it threw out a lotta heat. They were very, very good. Then, um, as things begin to turn in New York, and, uh, times begin to change—actually, I started out in public school in New York. And then things begin to change, and, uh, my parents thought it’d be better to put me in to Catholic school. So they took me out of the public school and put me into St. Joseph’s in New York. Um, then my grandmother became ill, and she wanted to come here to Saratoga and just stay here, in Saratoga. Which is what we did. And I began school. I started, it was a Domi—old—it’s not here anymore—Dominican Convent. Used to be over on Regent Street, but that—it’s, it isn’t there anymore. And it went—it was Dominican nuns—and went to the sixth grade. And then from sixth grade, then you transferred over to St. Peter, which is where I went. An alumnus from 1957. Um . . . my grandmother dearly, dearly loved Saratoga. And—as my mother did. My mother, as I said, was born here at the old hospital in Saratoga. Not this new hospital that’s here now. There was another hospital.5
COURTNEY: Where?
ANITA: Over on Church Street, where the new hospital is.
COURTNEY: Uh-huh.
ANITA: And it burned. And then I guess that’s when they built, built the new hospital. I myself was born in the new hospital. And, um—
COURTNEY: Do you remember your doc—the doctor?
ANITA: No. But I’m—I may—it could have possibly been . . . it could have possibly been Dr. Magovern. I don’t know if Dr. Swan or Dr. Grace—or, Swanner—was a pediatrician, though I do remember her as my mother’s doctor and my own doctor. But I don’t know that she was a pediatrician, so it could have quite possibly have been either Dr. Rockewell or Dr. Magovern. I’m not really really sure, as far as that is concerned.6 Um, as I say, my gr—when my grandmother died in 1944, and we were then living here permanently. And we only had like—well my mother had rheumatic fever as a child, which gave her a rheumatic heart. She had a heart condition all of her life. And naturally the rooming house was just going to be too much for her to take care of. And, uh, as years went on, as time went on, she decided that she was going to sell the rooming house, and about that time, Urban—there was talk of Urban Renewal gonna come in to play. So it was gonna have to be gone anyway, and, um, she wanted to just, to get something smaller, which she bought this house. And, uh, she sold the, the boarding house and moved here.
COURTNEY: Do you know who she sold it to?
ANITA: I’m trying to remember, I’ve been trying to remember. I’m—as I’m thinking, I’m thinking it was some relation to a Helen Winney who no longer is with us. She’s also deceased. And I think she sold it to Helen Winney’s mother. That I’m not too sure of, but I’m, I’m—the more I’m thinking about it, the more I’m thinking, possibly that is what happened. Big family, big family—
[ COURTNEY: Of Winney’s?
ANITA: —of Winney’s. Exactly. Big family of Winney’s. And actually what happened, I think that Helen married into the Winney family. I do believe. But that’s how that happened, you know, with them coming here. Um, but going back to the boarding house and, and all of the businesses, all—everything on Congress Street, it was just . . . . I think as a child, had I known then what I know now, I would have possibly or I should have even taken in more of it. Because I’m certain that, in this day— with all that was there—would have been a fantastic story, would have been a fantastic story for any amateur or professional writer. Because there was just so, so very much that went on. And Miss Hattie’s, good ole Miss Hattie’s Chicken Shack around on Federal Street.7 Gosh, I can remember working there as a, as a kid. Um, going out, if we went to a dance or something as I got older and you thought, “Well, okay. I’m big. I’mma go to Miss Hattie’s for breakfast like everybody else.” And the place would be packed, and Miss Hattie would look out and she’d seeus sittin’ there and, “Anita Skinner get in here and help with these dishes. You can eat later on.”8 [laughs] Ya’d say, “Ah, Miss Hattie. You’re so embarrassing.” But you did it. Um, goodness, the cigar store across the street, Willie Moseley’s Cigar Stores. I can remember the horse rooms where all the people—all the waiters, the black waiters, and then the race track people—they would do all of this, they’d go there before they went out to the racetrack to do their regular job or to be there for the rest of the day.9 And then there was the different restaurants. Um, as I said, Jimmy Elliot’s Bar and Grill, he had a restaurant there. There was just so much! So it was actually like, I would say a little Harlem in the early, early days. It was just so, so much going on.
COURTNEY: Would you travel up by train?
ANITA: We’d come by train because, as I said, my father worked on the railroad. So consequently, we were able to travel free [laughs] by train. And, um, back then they had the conductors, all conductors. And they’d say every year, when we’d come down to the train station—I had a bird. I had a canary. The bird would have to come in the cage. And the same conductor, he would remember us an, “Well, it’s time to go to Saratoga. See ya in September.” And this, this, this went on year in and year out. It was just a grand, grand time. When I think about today—children, teenagers, young adults today—and thinking how much they missed and not even knowing or having a part in any of that. Um, the things that are happening today would never ever enter into our minds. Never enter into our minds. There was never a time that if Miss Green or anyone saw me doing something wrong that she knew that I wasn’t supposed to be doing, she would snatch my little tail up and spank me and send me home to my grandmother. And I got home, and I got another spanking. And there was no problem and anybody coming out saying, “Don’t you dare put your hand on my child.” Times have really, really changed. It’s too bad. I really feel sorry for young people today bringing up children ’cause it’s, it’s really very, very bad. Very bad. I just had a, just had a great childhood.
COURTNEY: Tell me more about your father.
ANITA: My father, he’s from Havre de Grace, Maryland. John Henry Skinner, Jr. And, um, as I say, he would come up here—well, he w—he started working on the railroad in Havre de Grace, and then he moved to New York. And then his sister, my aunt Helen, uh, married—they called him Few Clothes. He worked on the railro—worked on the racetrack. And they called him Few Clothes because he would just come with some very few clothes. [laughs] Because, he said he didn’t come to party or be a great looking guy. He came to work. So he’d have very few clothes, [laughs] so they gave him that name of Few Clothes. So my father would come up, and then, as I say, he’d go back. And course as things would happen, uh, every marriage is not made to last. And they separated. My father moved back to, uh, Havre de Grace. And as I say, we moved here. But, um, everybody still stayed very, very, very close, very, very much attached. In fact, we would go to Havre de Grace twice a year. We would go there for Christmas—no, for Easter, we would go to Havre de Grace. And we would go down there in the summertime. And then my aunt Helen and my cousins would come here in the summertime. In fact, my Aunt Helen, uh, used to work over on—there’s a hotel on the corner of Division Street and . . . what is that? It would be Lawrence Street? No, I don’t think it’s Lawrence. Division . . . I’m trying to think of the name of the hotel. It’s now, uh . . . like a boutique. It’s right across the street from the Stewart’s plant over on Division Street. I’m trying to think of the name of the hotel that it was used to be called, where my aunt used to come. ’Cause she used to work there every single summer. It na—it escapes me now. But it was a big hotel right there on that corner. And I think there’s . . . uh, I don’t know if it’s a little bridal store in there, as I, I’ve driven that way . . . the Russell Hotel! That’s what it used to be called. The Russell Hotel. And that’s where my aunt used to work. And, uh, she was a chamber maid. And at that time in Saratoga—course now that type of money is nothing, but at that time, there was a lot of money to be made. And everybody made good money in the summertime when they were here. And this was actually, this was the place to be. Saratoga was definitely the place to be. Um . . . . There were changes, many, many changes that we have seen. Some for the good, not all for the good. Course now, I’m, I’m getting to the point that there’s just too many people coming here. It’s just too many people. I read in the different papers, and I’m looking in the paper last week at work, I was looking in the New York Times and here’s this great big advertisement about Saratoga Springs. Like, “Please stop advertising. Don’t! Let them come to the races and then go back.” [laughs] Ya know? Now they want to stay here; they want to live here. But it is a great place. Um, I don’t know exactly what you really want.
[ COURTNEY: Where, where do you work?
ANITA: I work in the State, um, the Department of Taxation and Finances. I—actually after—um, my mother used to work for the State too. After, um, things begin to close down, and everything wasn’t as wide open as it used to be, when everybody needed a job job. [laughs] A legal job. So she worked for the Department of Labor up to the time that she deceased in, um, 1964, she worked in Albany at the Department of Labor. And then the Department of Labor moved here to Saratoga. And, uh, at that time it was right on Broadway, I think upstairs over the top of . . . Endicott’s, perhaps.10 Up to the time that she deceased, she worked there. I, uh, worked first for, um . . . New York State Naval Affairs, on 112th State Street in Albany. And then I got married and moved away. We went to Bangor, Maine. I married an Air Force—
COURTNEY: That was Tim Turner?
ANITA: —a career—right. A career person. And we went to Bangor, Maine. And, um, then we just traveled from place to place. My daughter, Stacy, was born in Bangor. The only child that we have. And from Bangor, I think we went to Japan. And it’s just all over. Japan, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, just back and forth all over until he got out of the service in 1970. And, um, came home to stay. And I’ve been home here ever since. I went back to work for the State, for the Department of Taxation and Finance where I am still now employed.
COURTNEY: Can you tell me more about the whole, the Little Harlem, or if you want to call it Little Harlem and—and also I’m curious to know, um, Chris knows, if you even draw a map. They’re looking to see if we can get a map made of the whole—that whole Urban Renewal area. I’m also curious about other Black-owned businesses in the area. If you can remember.
ANITA: Well, um, uh, Congress Street was just, just full of it. Um, starting down at the corner of Congress and . . . Federal, which around the corner where Miss Hattie had her restaurant. And hidden around the corner, coming like up Congress Street, there was . . . would be the horse room. There’s Willie Mose—Willie Moseley’s Cigar Store. Willie Moseley was Miss Hattie’s first husband. Right, on . . . . Next to that was, uh, a barbershop. Miss Hattie Saunders is—I—there may have been someone else in there, but she is the only one that I can recollect, and I’m, I’m thinking she was perhaps the owner of the barbershop. And across the street from that was, uh, Jimmy Elliot’s Bar and Grill. And he had—there was a restaurant there. And back on the other side of the street was The Palace, which was owned by Mr. Frank Rippers who was from Florida, Miami. And he had a place in Miami, and he also had the, the place here. Um—
COURTNEY: Did you eat there? Did you go in there?
ANITA: When I got older.
COURTNEY: Yeah.
ANITA: When you got old enough, that was up—downstairs, it was big. It was the whole corner. That was a big place. Um, there was the bar in there, and he had a restaurant. And upstairs was like a ballroom . . . type of place where he had, um, loud music, [music plays in background] an dancing, and—it was one of those places that you couldn’t wait till you were, at that time, eighteen, that you would want to be able to go into these places, and you see all these people all dressed up on Saturday, or Friday and Saturday night, or, in August, it was every night. There was, I—it was like nobody ever went to bed. [laughs] It was constant people on the street.
COURTNEY: This was right across from the boarding house, isn’t it?
ANITA: This is right across the street from my grandmother’s. Right across the street from my grandmother’s, and we would be sitting in the door. She had like a little screened in porch. And you could not see in unless you actually came there to the screen. So actually, we could see everything and nobody could see us. And we just watched everything that was going on in front. It was just so grand.
COURTNEY: Could you hear the music?
ANITA: You could hear the music. Um, you’d, you would—it was between there and right up the street from there was, uh, Jack’s Harlem Club . . . where—he had live entertainment, uh, “Peg Leg” Bates, uh, different entertainers that still—well I think Peg Leg Bates just died recently.11 But, um, that would come here in the, in the summertime, and these were people that were entertainers in New York or in Florida or whatever. And of course at that time, being so young, I had no idea who Peg Leg Bates was. I had no idea who Duke Ellington was, or any of those people. I didn’t have [laughs] a clue. All I knew was that they were here.
[ COURTNEY: Did Duke Ellington come?
ANITA: Duke Ellington played here. COURTNEY: He did?
ANITA: Yeah, his band was here. Um, and—I—again, I had no idea, you know. No concept of who—as in my later years, would say, “Well, I kn—I saw these people. I actually saw these people. I heard these people”—before I was old enough to enjoy that myself. Um, Jack’s Harlem Club, as I said. He would have, uh, all kinds of entertainment in there. Um, I can remember this one man in, in particular. His name, his name was Phil Black, and he was a female impersonator, and oh my goodness. He was really—he was really something. He was really, really something. You had no idea until you saw him into his act in there, then when you saw him on the street, this was the same person. [laughs] You had no idea whatsoever.12 Um, there was . . . hmm, let me think. Dorsey’s, right—The Tally-Ho, which burned down some years ago.13 As you’re coming up the hill—
COURTNEY: A restaurant?
ANITA: I don’t know if they had food in there or not. I don’t really recall if they did. He also had a place in Albany. But it was the Tally-Ho, and he had live entertainment in there. As I say, in August in the summertime, everything—there was just 24-hour nonstop. You wondered, “When do these people ever go to bed? Or did they ever go to bed?” [laughs] It was just constant. Um, there was a restaurant, um . . . Miller’s. It was a restaurant across the street on the other side of this street. I can see him now. Where he always had a red nose. We used to call him Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but [laughs] you called it—it was Townsie’s restaurant. It was named after his wife. Then there was the, um—before the Elks Club was purchased over here, it was the old Elks Club down on Congress Street.14 Um, which—well at that time, the trestle was there because the railroad was there. But the train’d come right past there. But it was this trestle that you walked under. And it was the, uh, IBPOE of W, the Elks, the Black Elks, there. And that was a lively place. That was a very lively place. They had, they had—at that time it was, a 24-hour license. I mean it was just open all day an all night long. Um . . . as you come up, Burgas’s is the only thing that’s still there. The only place that was— existed and is still in existence. Course owned by different people now. But, um, it was there at that time. And as you came up Congress, and you went—if wanted to walk down Franklin an turn the corner on Washington Street there was, uh, Sam and Ernestine Bailey’s store, um, 112 Washington Street. It used to be like a little convenience store. And in fact, uh, Ernestine still lives here in Saratoga, though she lives, um, on the east side now. But, uh, actually—
COURTNEY: That was a Black-owned grocery store?
ANITA: Yes. Yes, yes. Ernestine and Sam Bailey’s. Yes.
COURTNEY: And tell me again where that was.
ANITA: Uh, it’s going to be—they’re going to do something with that. You know here, as the, the, here down on the corner, well there’s like a little alley. That’s where the train used to go all the way through. Over on the Washington Street side, there’s this building—it’s 112 Washington Street—that I don’t know if they’re gonna, turn it now into, uh, another shelter, exactly what they’re gonna do with that. I have heard some information that something was gonna be done with the building. But originally, it was a Black-owned store. Sam and Ernestine Bailey owned it. Um . . . then . . . actually I don’t know if Ruth even mentioned to you that, going back as far as Daggs is concerned, that her father-in-law had a rubbish business that is still in existence, that is now owned by . . . one of her nephews.15 It is still now owned by her husband’s sister’s son, William Vandenburg who now lives over on Ash Street. And this Daggs’ Refuse, that has been in existence for, oh my God, I don’t know how long. Past—oh I dare how long.
COURTNEY: She did mention—she mentioned also the Andersons. That they, the Andersons also had a rubbish business. And they were—
ANITA: Yeah. Um, Andersons who owns Burgas’s now. Oppie Anderson, his father—in fact they used to all live out that way. In fact, I was out to Margaret’s house—Ruth’s sister-in-law’s yesterday, and we were talking about that. And it was—it was a small, it was a small rubbish business. And I don’t know what happened that they went out of business. But the Daggs—that’s from the father Emery Daggs to the son, uh, that passed to the nephew that now has the business. So that’s gone through generations. It’s been it, in—and still in existence, and even though Billy Vandenburg owns it, he’s—it’s still Daggs’ Refuse. The name was never, never changed. Um. Then what else do you have? So far as, type of store, industries, consumers. Um, the people that used to own Burgas’s, which got the name Burgas, used to own—have a restaurant out on Washington Street. It used to be called five points, which, actually now the way things have been changed out there, as you’re going out to Washington Street, say if you went to Grand Avenue and you turned, there’s a tire company, there’s Verro Electric across the street, um, then, that’s—what is that—Outlook [Avenue] that comes out of there. So it was like a five points, and it used to be called, it was out—Burgas’s Restaurant, out there at five points.16 And they were, they were, those—you had Miss Hattie’s. You had Burgas’s. You had, um . . . the restaurant in, in Jimmy’s Bar and Grill. You had Townsie’s Restaurant, Townsie Miller’s Restaurant. There was really no competition, because there was just so many people that it wasn’t that anybody was taking any business away from anyone else.
COURTNEY: Did they serve different kinds of foods?
ANITA: It was basically all the same. It was the, the fried chicken. It was basically the whole soul food type of thing. Um, I don’t know that any was—one was any better than the other, because they were, they were all good. The one that actually stayed totally in existence was Miss Hattie’s. And, um, then that was . . . left, Fred—Franklin—Federal Street, and went downtown. But, um, that’s the only one that actually still stayed in existence, up to maybe—actually, Miss Hattie, even after she sold it, she was still down there. Um, there was a little tailor shop. There with a little tailor shop as I’m thinking, and what was his name? Max, Max. And you have, you would have to know the area to understand where I’m talking about. We’re back on Congress Street. We’re coming up Congress to where the trestle was, to where the old Elks Home was. And back in there, like it was back into an alley way, there was this tailor, Max Taylor.17 And I guess, he was—at that time, you’d be considered as a top notch tailor as you would have today. And everybody would take their, their clothes back there. And I can remember that I had, had to take some stuff sometimes for my mother. And it was like a little ole shack that he had and the old time sewin’ machines, n things that you just don’t see today. You know, that was, that was there. Max Taylor, yeah. I—as you think about it, and you go back into your mind, so many different little things come to mind. And as I’m saying it, it’s gonna be like outta context because it’s just popping in there, you know, as I’m thinking about it. [pause in recording]
COURTNEY: —Biddie.
ANITA: Lord. Yeah, she’s, she’s—she would be able to give a lot into this oral history, Biddie would because she’s been here in Saratoga—she came from Pittsburgh, but she was here in Saratoga—actually, she was my mother’s best friend. Um, now—I will be 62 in December, so she’s been here all of those years. So, she would be able to like give a lot of things—
[ COURTNEY: Now, who is this? ANITA: Her name is—well, actually, her nickname is Biddie. Everybody always call her Biddie, but her name is Mable Anthony. And she lives right here on Grand Avenue. Um, she—her husband used to be one of those famous waiters out to Newman’s. She would be able to give a lot of information. Some of the things that I may have forgotten. Of course, she—being right there really in the action of everything, uh, knows a lot about different things that, that happened in Saratoga. She probably knows a lotta people that I may have forgotten that she was in contact with, at that age. Ah! I forgot the Golden Grill. I forgot Miss Goldie’s. Again, as I’m thinking about these things—which the Golden Grill is now—but that used to be on Congress Street. And it used be go—owned by Goldie Alexander.18 She was a grand lady. Quite—
COURTNEY: Tell me more about her.
ANITA: Grand, grand, grand lady. I think she came from Philadelphia. Um . . . how she happened to come to Saratoga, I really don’t know. But she came from Philadelphia. She had a son, John Alexander who was a musician. And I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if he was sick, but he died. I really don’t know exactly how he, how he passed. When she purchased that, I honestly don’t know. I often heard she was a very good friend of my mother’s, and really very good, real friend of my grandmother’s. And she used to tell me all the time that my grandmother would always say if I never had anything else, I would have great legs. Because she says she can remember coming to my grandmother’s, and my grandmother bathing me, and she would be sh—stroking [strokes] and lotioning [slaps] my legs and making them strong, and she would do that. It was a ritual every night. Miss Goldie said she would come there, and Georgia Lee would be right there, “Gettin’ this ‘flip tail’ ready for bed. I gotta get these legs all oiled up.” And that would be every single night. Um . . . she kept the business for quite some time. She used to live around on Ash Street where— it was, Ash Street, and then there was this little street in between called Center Street, which went over to Williams Street. Which all of that is now—that’s, um, all [sighs] gone. That’s all gone now, all—that whole area. But she used to live there, she and Joe Jackson, um, who was a bartender, one of those singing bartenders, singing waiters type thing that you just don’t see today. And she had the Grill, and then at every [inaudible]—
[ COURTNEY: Did he sing in the Grill? Did he—
ANITA: No. He was, he, he—here again, as everything is sporadic here. As I’m thinking about these things, they’re just popping up as people come to mind. Um, Joe Jackson, he was a waiter, and he used to sing. He used to play the piano. And he was one of those type of people, just go into the place, an he’d sit down and start playin’ the piano, and everybody’d be sit—standing around, and—ole songs and singing, and just havin’ a grand time. Um . . . he used to live right next to Miss Goldie. He use—he had a house right next to Miss Goldie on, on Ash Street. And then as Urban Renewal came, Urban Renewal took all of that. With that—now it’s Stonequist, uh, that’s there. And uh, Gaslight is there. All that, all of that, Urban Renewal just, just took. And all these people had to relocate. Um, Miss Goldie’s still was on Congress Street when she sold the business to Eddie Walczak.19 And then soon after then is when Urban Renewal came in, and Eddie went down to Phila.
COURTNEY: He still owns it now, right?
ANITA: Yes. His—well his daughter. His, his daughter and, and the boys have it now. Sherry, and her brothers have it now. But, um, that used to be quite the place on Congress Street. As I say, unless you actually were here at the time—and the only reason why I was able to really see so much of it is because of the fact of being right there on the street. Not being old enough to go into any of these places, but living right here and constantly being into the whole overwhelming . . . attitude of it, is only the reason why I can think of these people. And these names keep popping into my mind, and these places keep popping into my mind. As time—when I got older, when I’d go out to Jack’s, all the places were still there, ’cause at that time 18 became the legal—it wasn’t 21 then. So, um, all of these places were still there. So I was also able to then go into these places, and then see what it was all about—
[ COURTNEY: Would you get, still all dressed up?
ANITA: Oh yes. It was a big, [laughs] big, big, big, big thing. That was definitely the—you just did not step out into any place without being totally dressed up. I can remember seeing, uh, some of the, the people that were coming, and they would come here to work, but when they got ready to go out, and they’d go home and get out of those uniforms from the waiter or waitress jobs or whatever. And then they’d put on their grand clothes, and it was just positively beautiful. It was just something that you just would never even think that you would see . . . see here in this little town of Saratoga. Um . . . ah I’m forgetting Tom’s Lodge over here, that they’re getting ready to take down— which uh, Mr. Tom Furgess, he came from New York, and, um, he made that into a beautiful place.20 It could of been a gold mine. It was beautiful the way he did it. He, he, he made it into a beautiful place. He used to have a swimming pool out back. Um, in fact he came from New York so he knew a lot of people in New York, and the chartered buses would come up from the different churches and places in New York and they’d come in. [chsh] You’d hear ’em. Two or three o’clock in the afternoon and the buses would be lined up all the way down Grand Avenue and they’re getting off the bus, like, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon and like, when the buses came then you say, “Okay, that’s it. No more sleep. You’re up for the rest [laughs] of the night.” But he’d have the rooms over there, an his wife, Isabel, she still lives up Grand Avenue. And she ran the kitchen there, and the people would come in. They’d have breakfast, and they’d go to their rooms, and they’d get ready to go to the track. And they came back from the track, they’d have dinner. He had a huge ballroom right there, and he had entertainment. It was just a wonderful thing. Wonderful, wonderful place to be. And to see now, compared to then, again, I’d say you just wouldn’t think that it was the same place.
COURTNEY: Do you suppose she has pictures? ANITA: Isabel? I’m sure she probably would. I’m sure she probably would. In fact, she lives right across the street from Biddie, the lady that I was telling you about. I’m sure she does have pictures of, of— COURTNEY: Do you have any pictures? Of the boarding house?
ANITA: Um—
COURTNEY: Or of your grandmother?
ANITA: I have a huge picture of my grandmother, and I was goin’ try to get it for you. I could, I—it’s downstairs. I have a couple of boxes in front of that basement door. Um, I could probably go down there and get it. You could—
COURTNEY: We don’t need to do that now.
ANITA: It’s, it’s, it’s a big picture. Um . . .
COURTNEY: And it’s also—I mean— [pause in recording]
ANITA: —aw.
COURTNEY: Wait.
ANITA: My mother—
COURTNEY: Let me—
ANITA: I’m sorry.
COURTNEY: Just, did you have siblings?
ANITA: No.
COURTNEY: You were an only child?
ANITA: Right.
COURTNEY: Yeah.
ANITA: I was an only child. My mother was an only child, that I knew of. But I later found out, after finding out—actually, I did not even know that my mother was adopted until she died. She never told me. I don’t know why. I don’t know if she thought it was gonna make any difference. I don’t—I don’t know.
COURTNEY: Was she adopted here in Saratoga?
ANITA: I don’t know if she came from Virginia or if she was adopted here. She was born here in Saratoga, so she was adopted here in Saratoga. That was—
COURTNEY: Oh.
ANITA: Yes. She was born in Saratoga, so she was adopted in Saratoga and . . . the strangest thing happened after she passed, and I had to go to City Hall to get some more death certificates. And I went, and the name that I had—Ethel Jackson Skinner—they could not find Ethel Jackson.21 They could not find anything. I knew about the old hospital. I knew she was born in the old hospital. And that a lot of the records had burned. But they also had some records that were duplications of ones that they had in the hospital that weren’t there in the hospital. So I called up—my husband was with me when I went to City Hall. And this dear friend of the family’s who had a rooming house on Congress Street, Willabelle Scott—who moved to Canada—had come here for my mother’s funeral, and she stayed with Miss Goldie. So I’m at City Hall and I’m trying desperately to—I was like totally amazed that nobody could come up with anything. [pause in recording]
ANITA: Rom?
OTHER: Yeah? [pause in recording]
ANITA: I, I, I didn’t know what. I was terribly perplexed ’cause I couldn’t understand why there would not be a birth certificate or anything for me to go by. So I wound up calling Miss Goldie from City Hall, and I told her [voice cracks] of my problem. And so she said, “Well you just stay right there.” And she and this friend of my mother’s, Willabelle, came down to City Hall. And that’s, that time when I found out that she was adopted. And that it was probably under the name of Scott Pool. And I remembered that as a middle name.
[ COURTNEY: That’s a last name?
ANITA: I remembered—I, I’d, when sh—when my mother would—she’d say to me, I—“Anita Loretta Skinner.” And I’d say “Ethel Scott Pool Skinner,” [laughs] or Jackson, you know, “What?” But I’m thinking it as a middle name, never as . . . her [voice cracks] name.
OTHER: Aww. [pause in recording]
COURTNEY: Okay, I gotta—oops! Sorry. I gotta plug in here. [pause in recording]
ANITA: And then they came, and then they told me. An that’s when I found out that my mother was adopted, when she died in 1964. Until that time, I never knew. I never had a clue—
COURTNEY: Then did you discover she had siblings?
ANITA: Then I discovered at that time that she was a twin. Which I never knew. I never knew her. I never knew . . . who. I never knew where. I tried to get some background. There was this— her name was Lottie Foster, and uh, she was friends of Ethel Waters, the Black actress. And she lived out in California and my grandmother knew them, and there was some type of a connection. I don’t know— [pause in recording]
COURTNEY: Did that rooming house have a name?
ANITA: Georgia Lee’s Rooming House.22 That’s it. That’s all it was. Georgia Lee’s Rooming House.
OTHER: Grandma? It’s a picture of my great-grandmother, not my great-great—
ANITA: Your, your who? Your great-gran—
[ OTHER: Your mother.
ANITA: My mother? Oh, yes! You’ve seen pictures of your grandmother.
[ OTHER: I don’t know. But this big?
ANITA: Oh, no, not that big. No . . . . No, no, no, no, no. It’s very old, so you have to handle it very carefully, because any little thing could fall off easy. [laughs]—
pause in recording]
ANITA: —black photographer Charlie Barns. And he may have taken that picture. Um, and I only say that because I don’t know that she would have actually gone for a setting somewhere to have a portrait done. So I’m thinking perhaps, maybe he could have taken that. Um, it’s too bad that the majority of the older people that would have known a lot of history have since deceased and may—there may have been so very much background and history, pictures, and everything that, that, uh, could’ve been used, but no one—actually, no one that would have had them, you know, that you could—it could help you with it. But getting back to my mother and the adoption. Um . . . so this lady in, in California, Miss Lottie Foster, whom was a friend of my grandmother’s and, uh . . . Ethel Waters—she was—oh Miss Foster was also an actress herself. And I was given information regarding her, and I tried, um, to see what I could find out if she knew anything about, um, my mother or any history or— and being a friend of my grandmother’s, how this came about, or even knew who was the mother or what. As my mother’s, my mother’s sister, the twin or—but I, all of that was to, to no avail. I could not—and of course at that time there wasn’t, um . . . it wasn’t as easy as it is now, that you could go back to record as far as adoptions and things are concerned. And so now there, there are different agencies and bureaus that you can contact that would give you that information. But at that time, that wasn’t accessible to me, so I just gave it up. Um, and thinking about it, I thought well—actually, I don’t even know why I was doing it, because it didn’t matter. I never knew why she never told me. I don’t know if she thought that perhaps I would feel ill about it, or I would, I would not have accepted and/or appreciated it, you know. But I really don’t know. But I gave the whole idea up, and I said, “Well, just perhaps, maybe it’s just not meant to be.” So I just let it go, and just live with memory of my mother and, uh, my grandmother. And that and . . . I’m comfortable with that. [pause in recording]
ANITA: —something, she was fixing breakfast or dinner or something, may have said that an ate, but as a daily thing, no, because basically—like the waiters and stuff, they ate where they worked. Um, the people that worked on the track, they ate where they worked. And then when they came home, went out at night, you know, they ate. So there really wasn’t that. It was just really the, the rooms, and I—I don’t know, Biddie might be able to give you an idea about how many rooms were in there. I just know that it was huge. To me as a child, it was huge. I can just see this great big gray wooden house. Huge.
COURTNEY: Was it mainly men who, who boarded?
ANITA: No, there was wait—there was waitresses. Uh—
COURTNEY: Single, single women?
ANITA: Yeah, yeah. Single women. Uh, there were, there were like cooks and, you know, people that, that worked at these different establishments in, in the summertime. As I say, um, Newman’s—somebody who worked right across the street at the Grand Union Hotel. And definitely the, the racetrack, the racetrack people and stuff. So some that even that worked in like the, the private homes of the people that came up for the races an, you know, things like that. But uh, I don’t recall, I nev—I, I honestly don’t recall her serving meals. I really don’t think that happened. [pause in recording]
ANITA: [audio distortion]—thought about that, years and years ago—[audio distortion]—years and years ago, how there’d be uh—Black Elks used to have their annual ball at the Canfield Casino. And what used to happen was—they changed the dates as far as Mr.—as the Whitney Ball is concerned. But then at that time, it was on Friday night—which I think it is still now on a Friday night, the Whitney Ball. Because the race would be run the very next day. And what would happen is, our ball would be the very next day. So a lot of the decorations and things from the Whitney Ball would still be there. And I can remember at, down at the bar, the grand bar there in, in the casino. And they would still have stuff stacked there that they hadn’t taken, and the guys from the Elks and we would have to go down, and we’d have to set up the bar and stuff. There’d still be champagne and everything still there from the night before. But this annual Elks Ball, people would come from everywhere. People that were not here— already here in Saratoga, for working, would come from New York, come from Virginia, everywhere for this grand ball. And it used to be just that—a grand ball. The Black Elks Annual Ball . . . Miss Whitney [laughs] could not be any better than that. It was grand. The people would come. They’d come in and they’d have the grand Elks march, and they’d have Elks from all over the world. And they’d be dressed in their finery. And even though it was August—and of course, I imagine, at that time, you have the people that—course now and at that time, there were some very wealthy and well-known Blacks. But then those that maybe were not as well-known, as not as wealthy were lucky enough. I can remember seeing the women in August, and they’d have these mink stoles on, but they were dressed up. They—that was a time that they could wear their finery. And it was really something to see them come in there. They’d have—that place would be packed. They’d have bands, the old time bands. They had, um, Cab Calloway’s Band. They had Duke Ellington’s Band. And this was before a lot of these bands became as big as they were, so it really wasn’t a lotta money to get them to play. Because then at that time, a lot of them were just gettin’ started, so they’d be glad to go anywhere to play to get their music heard. It would be until I think maybe, one or two o’clock. And then after you left the Elks Ball, you’d go to Hattie’s for breakfast. And that was a ritual, for sure. But again, I’m, I’m certain—I know that when you talk to Biddie and even Ernestine, they will be able to tell you a lot about those Grand Elks Balls. About the people coming from everywhere.
COURTNEY: Did you go?
ANITA: When I got older to go, because I am also a member of IBPOE of W, Mary A. Carter Temple.23 So, when I got older—in fact, I was, they used to have a juvenile Elks, the children Elks. And then you got older, and you’d get into the adult Elks. So, um, yes, I can—those mirrors that you see as you walk into there. Well uh—actually, everybody had to work, had to help out, so I, myself, and, and, as you speak of her, Ernest Bonner, his sister, Diane Bonner, and I, we used to work behind the bar. And we’d watch those people come in, and they’d walk by those mirrors, and I tell you, we would just stand there in, in awe, “My God. Look at this.” And then as time got on like everything else, the older people, they died out. The younger people didn’t want to pick up that torch and carry it on as the older people. And it just got to a point that—actually the men, uh, being the association, the auxiliary being under the men, the men actually were the ones that spearheaded as far as going down to, uh, city hall to get the permit, so forth and so on as far as the dance was concerned. And then the older men like Joe Jackson, and um, David Phillips and the ones that were there then, after they passed on, the younger men that belonged to the lodge, they just did not have the time and/or maybe the ambition or . . . the want to carry it on. So it just died down. But we would have been grandfathered into the clause that—at that time, you did not have to pay to have an affair at the casino. And we have been there so many years, that we would’ve been grandfathered into that had we continued to have our, our dance there. But it just got to be too much. And, um, we had to give up. But it was, it was really something.
COURTNEY: Every August?
ANITA: Every August. Every August, the day after the Whitney Ball. Every single August. And that’s what everybody would look forward to—that dance. And people that didn’t come—people that had—people that lived outta town, out in New York or wherever they lived, it was a known fact that, “Well you just make sure that whatever you’re doing, whatever, you be here for the Elks dance.” In fact, Ruth Daggs’ sister, Margaret Caron . . . Margaret Daggs Caron—oh, God. She used to sell so many tickets to people in New York [laughs] that we didn’t know if we were gonna have seats enough at the ball for all the people that would come up just for that Elks dance. They didn’t know where they were gonna live. They didn’t know where they were gonna stay. They didn’t know where they were gonna sleep. But they knew they were gonna be at that casino.
COURTNEY: And they could walk from the train. ANITA: They could walk. The train station was right there over on Railroad [Place] where the old, uh—well, I call it now the old Price Chopper compared to the new Price Chopper. Yeah, that’s exactly what would happen. They would be packed. It would be packed. You jus’ . . . I tell you, you know, the old dances, the Charleston, the Lindy Hop [laughs] and all that, you see them doing all of those old dances. And you look back now as I think about it. Oh, God. I—that’s why I say, I—so much is wasted on the young now because it just . . . it could never, ever—even my own, my own daughter, as I tell her different things, and different stories. Um, it could never ever be captured. And all the things that we did. To us, we were having a grand time. It was clean honest fun. It was just—we were havin’ a ball. We were havin’ a grand time. But today, it’s so, so different. I don’t even think you, you hear that much about Girl Scouts and YPC and different org—little things that we used to belong to when we were younger. They don’t have time for that now. They just don’t. But it was—I enjoyed it [sigh].

Original Format

Audio Cassette tape

Duration

59:30 min

Time Summary

Part 1
00:00:30 Georgia Lee Jackson, Richmond (?) Virginia,
00:01:45 Grandmother adopted mother
00:02:15 Father came to Saratoga from Maryland to work on railroad
00:02:35 Father and mother met and moved to New York City
00:02:50 Mother was first black to work in department store in New York City
00:03:20 Grandmother Georgia Lee Jackson, rented rooms
00:04:50 Rented rooms across from Grand Union Hotel, big contrast, other side of coin
00:04:45 Jimmy’s Bar and Grill
00:04:55 The Blind Pig
00:05:25 Mother was a number writer
00:08:30 St. Peter’s school
00:08:55 Old hospital on Church Street
00:09:50 Grandmother died in 1944
00:12:10 Hattie’s chicken shack
00:14:55 Father, John Skinner Jr., from Maryland
00:20:00 Traveled with daughter and husband when husband was in service
00:21:50 Willy Mosley’s cigar store
00:29:45 Ruth Daggs, Margaret Daggs, Emory Daggs
00:31:15 Burgesses Restaurant, Five Point Restaurant
00:33:15 Max’s Tailor
00:34:15 Biddie, Mable Anthony
00:35:15 Golden Grill, Goldie Alexander
00:35:55 John Alexander
00:37:35 Joe Jackson
00:38:20 Urban Renewal
00:46:45 Discovered mother was adopted in 1964 at mother’s death

Part 2
00:48:15 Mother’s adoption
00:51:30 Boarding house
00:52:35 Black Elks
00:53:25 Annual Elks ball
00:58:15 Margaret Daggs Caron
00:58:55 Old dances, Charleston, Lindy hop
00:59:30 Then vs. now

Physical Format

Oral histories

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Citation

Turner, Anita, “Anita Turner Interview,” Saratoga Room Digital Exhibits, accessed October 2, 2022, http://digitalarchive.sspl.org/items/show/257.

Output Formats

Files

Turner 1.mp3
Turner 2.mp3

Interactive Version