interviewer: Persiah A.
interviewee: Milford W.
Fair skin and hair touched by age, I began to scan the man I would be interviewing. at 70 years old Milford Watson could paint a vivid picture of his life story. Milford H. Watson was born in February, 1941 in Jasper, Texas. Jasper was a small town in Texas that was heavily populated by struggling African-American families. “I can’t really remember much to be honest with you I only lived in Texas for two years...my parents left to California after my 2nd birthday” Watson recalls. Quickly I asked why his family decided to leave Texas and of all places go to California. He took a slight breath “jobs”. The Civil Rights movement rattled southern and northern states and often erupted in violence, but on the western end of the United States it opened up employment opportunities for Blacks. In 1943, the Watson family made an extreme trek to Alameda, California. At the time the government had put in place the Alameda housing projects. These housing projects would house government workers at a low price. “My father was a crater. He basically packed crates for the government to ship across seas...it wasn’t the best job or whatever, but it put food on the table”. I asked “How were the housing projects? I always think of very low income, bad water and air, all the ills”. Watson quickly cut me off and began to explain to me that living in the projects was normal amongst African-American families. According to Watson the Alameda Housing Projects were broken down into 3 areas: Encinal, Gibson, and Estuary. The Encinal projects housed the Watson family.
After a quick break we came back together to talk about Watson’s childhood in California. “We didn’t have as much money as other families but we made every second count” Watson recalls as he describes a scene in which His older brother, Grant, and himself created scooters out of wooden crates and skates. “Sometimes father took home crates from work and we’d take them and attach them to roller skates. It was our little way of making the time pass in the summer”. He would also go on to tell me about planting and maintaining a family garden one summer, creating club houses with his older brother as well as stumbling upon a blackberry bush. “We shook that bush for every berry it had. Every berry. We took about three big bags of berries back home and mother made...everything! I mean, blackberry pies and jams. Mother could cook.” Watson began to tell me how his mother, Mildred Watson, always wanted her sons to know how to do the basic things in life. Things such as: sewing, cooking, cleaning, ironing, washing clothes, etc. “She wanted us to be able to do things on our own because back in those days most men needed a wife just to do every day things. She didn’t want her sons to be that dependent on a woman or anyone really.”
The government decided to end the housing projects, Encincal would be the first complex to be torn down. The Watson family would move to North Oakland california, but by this time a 16 year old Watson would be venturing out into college. Shocked by his age I immediately asked how he graduated at 16. “Mother put me in school 2 years early because father had a gambling problem so any money he brought in he took out just as quickly. She refused to be one of those woman who went without because the man was supposed to work and all that crap” With a lack of time to watch her child Mildred Watson pushed Milford into school 2 years early. Watson would attend Merritt community college because as Watson said “I was 16, my educational opportunities were limited” Milford would transfer to (what is now known as) Cal State East Bay and finish with a degree in Accounting.
Coming outside of my interviewer’s personality I kindly asked “wait pop, when did you meet grammy?” He answered “Too soon.” Moving the conversation back to the facts he began to tell me of their courtship. According to Watson he met Frankie Woodard at Philips Temple CME church in Berkeley, California. “She had a nice smile and she was educated. Didn’t meet a lot of women back then that wanted to do more than become kindergarten teachers and nurses.” Watson recalls seeing her speaking at the podium about supplying low income families with enough food for their children’s school lunches. Watson would date Frankie for a year before going into the army for two years, but as soon as he returned to California they began dating again and would get married.
“The rest you already know little girl. We had your mom, moved on up, had your aunt, got divorced and I’m still living.” An impromptu way to end an interview but as Watson told me before we departed ways “Football is calling.” From the short interview it is evident that the move to California had it’s downs but more so ups.