Stories From The North End : Loretta Hilliard

Stories From The North End : Loretta Hilliard

“Mansfield is made of good and hardworking people....But we still have a long ways to go.”

I love history, especially black history. The Mansfield News Journal used to do articles on African Americans who had been appointed to a high position - attorneys, notable people, etc. - and as I read those, I would clip them and keep them in a box. Eventually, the News Journal would always call me when they had someone for the black people of Mansfield history from 1800’s through the year 2000, and later on I was able to use those for my book. One day, the Journal asked me to do a program on black history, because of my community involvement and writings on the Company line. I thought, “this will be easy, I will just go to the library and check out books on black history”...but they didn’t have anything! That’s when I came home and said, “Okay, I can do this.” So I put an ad in the paper that I was collecting materials about black history in the area. I wanted to show a positive look at the African Americans of Mansfield. I got so many responses. Even when my book came out, more and more people came to me telling stories about their families. It only took me two weeks to put this book together since I had so many stories!

I was born and raised in Mansfield, on North Main Street by the airport. It was a small neighborhood, and it was predominantly black. There were white people that rented apartments across the street, but they usually moved on quickly. Our neighborhood was largely made up of some of the six million who had left the South during the Great Migration. Back in the day, the steel mill went South to recruit laborers and paid for the transportation so they could come North to work. That’s how a lot of the blacks got to Mansfield! I would sit on the front porch with my sister and see so many people arriving from Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi...Me and my sister would giggle about which boys were the cutest from which states. We did not realize at the time that these people were here because they wanted a better life, and because they were treated so poorly in the South.

I remember as a child, my and my brother would stop at a small restaurant on Main Street, and you could get 10 hot dogs for $1.00. Me and my brother would get a dollar’s worth and share them! I would sit down at the bar, and the waitress would tell me, “little girl you can’t sit here, you have to go stand by the door and wait, blacks can’t sit here”. But I would sit there every time, because I just didn’t understand.The situation wasn’t very overt like in the south, but it was still a racist town at the time.

I graduated in 1957, and I got a job right away at the Shelby Airforce depot as a key punch* operator (*a form of data entry at the time). By this point I had three kids; I had gotten married at 17 and was divorced by 21. I had to take care of those kids, so that was my motivation. I really wanted a job in Mansfield where family was, but most places wouldn’t hire me because I was black. The worst experience I ever had was when a large factory was being built in 1955. I had an interview at 10:00am, and they let me sit there for hours as other people came and went for interviews. I saw all of the employees go to lunch…then I saw them come back from lunch. There were other girls waiting to get a job as well but they were all white. They all got hired. By 4:00pm I was the only one sitting left and they were getting ready to leave. I had decided I wasn’t going to leave unless they told me something. I could see accountants peeking at me around the corner and I could hear them whispering, “that’s a darn shame. They need to talk to her.” Finally the secretary came and told me, “he isn’t going to hire you...he’s just been hoping you would leave. I had to come tell you he can’t interview you because you are black”.

Childcare was a huge issue. I tried to have family watch my kids, but I realized finally I have got to find a job in Mansfield. I flooded this town with my resume, calling in the evenings, and everything. Now one day, I was telling my mom, “I don’t think I can do it, my application is everywhere...I’m not going to get a job in Mansfield”. We were sitting there after breakfast and I called work and said I’m not coming in. As soon as I hung up the phone, Kelly Services called and said, “Loretta I have a job for you. You’re going to be the first black woman to work at Westinghouse!” When I arrived to start my new job, the manager called me in and said, “I just want to tell you, you got in but you are not going to last. The girls aren’t going to want to work with you, and you are not going to make it”. I said, “well I’m going to try”. And so I did. They had this one girl named Frannie who was so sweet, but Frannie made a lot of errors in key punching - she was a newlywed and her head was in the clouds. They fired her. She was crying, and said, “Loretta you’re next. They don’t like you, get ready”. I found out that all of the work I had key punched had not been verified (checked for errors). So I had a plan. I snuck in early before anyone else, and I went through and checked my work and fixed any mistakes. At the end of the week, the manager told the verifiers to check my work, but of course they didn’t find any errors and I didn’t get fired! I worked there for five years, and over that time, the girls and I became very close friends.

I’ve had a lot of great experiences in Mansfield, though. The NECIC approached me one day and asked me to be a speaker for their luncheon on black history. I went and I spoke and everybody was so nice! And I’ve been going every since! I like everything about the way things are moving in Mansfield and the North End. I love a small town. Mansfield is made of good and hardworking people. As a nation I think we finally have more inclusion and diversity, and I love that. But we still have a long way to go. There was a recent report put together by nine universities that stated African Americans still face challenges today even with all the diversity gains. The report showed that we’re still behind in health, employment and housing. So we still must fight to get things turned around.

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