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Interview with Rev. Philip Price

Philip Price, 1963
Philip Price, 1963

Date of Interview: 1 February 1996; Rev. Price's home, Blacksburg, VA
Interviewer: Tamara Kennelly
Transcriber: Cindy Hurd

{ Tape 1, Side 1 - Tape 1, Side 2 - Tape 2, Side 1 - Tape 2, Side 2 }

Begin Tape 1, Side 1

Kennelly: Where are you from originally?

Price: Here.

Kennelly: Blacksburg?

Price: Blacksburg, yes.

Kennelly: So your family is from this area?

Price: Yes they are.

Kennelly: Did your parents grow up here too?

Price: My father [Leonard Price], I think, grew up in Floyd county. My mom [Christine Page Price], she grew up in Pearisburg I think. She moved here when she was about 8 years old. My father moved down by the cheese factory. Somehow they met and got married. There's nine of us--seven boys and two girls.

Kennelly: Do you know why they came to Blacksburg?

Price: I think from Pearisburg, they came because his father died, and they were given 40 acres of land. I think that was the time they were given land to be settled around the early 1900s. My mom, her father used to work in the coal mines, and he lost his leg, and I think that's why they came this way. Both of them settled up on Roanoke street. His family bought the house right down below my grandfather's house, and eventually when my Dad and Mom got married they bought the house next door. After my grandparent's on my father's side died, they moved down to the house on Roanoke Street.

Kennelly: So the house on Roanoke was your father's parents'?

Price: Yes, my father's mother. His homeplace after moving up from the cheese factory.

Kennelly: Was he working in the cheese factory?

Price: No. I think he was working at Tech in the dormitories over there at one time.

Kennelly: That's your father's father?

Price: No. My father's father [Phillip Price] died before they moved over from Floyd.

Kennelly: So your father was working over at Tech in the dormitories?

Price: Right.

Kennelly: What was he doing over there?

Price: I think he was a janitor.

Kennelly: Did your mother work?

Price: Yes, she did. She does, well she still works today. She cleans homes and all. She's a domestic worker. He left Tech and went to work for...he did house cleaning and all too during the day, and then he'd work at night. When he moved from Tech, he went to ElectroTech, the electronic place down the road, ElectricTech. He worked there, him and Mom both worked there at night as janitors. Eventually Mom stopped working there and went back to doing housework in between raising all of us.

Kennelly: That's a lot to do! What happened with the family land then? You said there were 40 acres your family had.

Price: They sold it to move up and buy the property there on Roanoke Street.

Kennelly: Your father was originally from Floyd?

Price: From Floyd, yes. The Price side of the family. They moved to Floyd from Martinsville down in that area.

Kennelly: Do you know where your parents went to High School?

Price: My parents? They would have gone to Christiansburg Institute.

Kennelly: May I ask how old you are?

Price: I'll be 50 in ten days.

Kennelly: Were you parents at all politically active?

Price: No. They voted and everything; they were active in that form. They were civic- minded in a lot of ways. They did attend the PTA meetings and things like that. Very active in church activities.

Kennelly: What church?

Price: First Baptist Church around on Clay Street. My grandfather on my mother's side was one of the original ones to help start it up. Gave money to help start it up.

Kennelly: What's his name?

Price: John T. Page

Kennelly: So he was one of the founders of the church in the sense that he helped provide financial...?

Price: Right. That's the church my Mom goes to now. She's been there since the beginning. She's 80 now.

Kennelly: She's still living around in Blacksburg?

Price: She lives up on Roanoke Street still.

Kennelly: Oh, she's still in that house, in the family house.

Price: Still in the homeplace.

Kennelly: Did they belong to the NAACP?

Price: I don't think so. You mean when I started school and all?

Kennelly: Yeah.

Price: No, I don't think they did.

Kennelly: When you were growing up that wasn't.... So more civically active in the sense of going to church and PTA, school things?

Price: Church and PTA, right. And social things. My Mom said my father used to call figures and all for square dancing. He could play anything with strings on it. They loved to dance. so they were real busy in that.

Kennelly: He would call dances for square dances. Did he play in a group?

Price: I don't know. I know Mom said that he played at the square dances, called the figures and all.

Kennelly: The square dance was where?

Price: I guess right here in this area--in town.

Kennelly: Would those be integrated dances?

Price: I don't know, I'd have to ask Mom. I don't think so.

Kennelly: I didn't know they were having dances, that's interesting. You grew up in Roanoke Street then?

Price: Yeah, I grew up right down below the cemetery. It's 506 Roanoke Street. My grandparents home was on the right side of us. Which now my brother owns that property. That became the dividing line for schools now. They use Roanoke Street for where the children will go to school and all.

Kennelly: Actually there were three houses then? Not when you were growing up I guess, later on your brother got a house there. He's got a house there now you said.

Price: My family owns a house behind us too. My uncle [James Price] lived there. It was sort of a tight little circle.

Kennelly: You had a lot of family when you were growing up right around you. Was that neighborhood segregated, integrated when you were growing up?

Price: I guess starting at Rutledge going back up toward the cemetery, that whole area in there was just about all segregated except for a few houses on the corner of Lee and Rutledge where the Allens lived. I think from Rutledge up to the cemetery it was where most of the blacks had settled. Now most own still all that property too.

Kennelly: Was the church that most people went to, was that the First Baptist?

Price: On Clay Street, right. There was small groups of blacks around there too. We had let me see how many--about 11 families there between Roanoke Street and Lee Street. Then we had probably ten or twelve families out in what we used to call New Town off of Progress over near where the power plant is on Tech. Then we had an area around on Clay Street where you had about four for five families too. Then we had what we called “Down the Mountain,” which was off of Grissam down there. We had about 10 or 12 families also. That primarily made up the black population. Groups like that. Then you had what it called Lake Forest down near Longshop and down there.

Kennelly: Sounds like you were very conscious of where people were actually. You really remember so clearly 10 families here and...

Price: I guess that's because that's basically where you socialized and all at that particular time. Except for down the street on Roanoke Street we had friends down that way. The Martins and the Mexlers and children like that that we'd all play together on Roanoke Street. So we had white friends we visited and played with and all. I mean for social purposes that was generally the areas that we went to.

Kennelly: So you had both, like you just mentioned, a few families that you had white friends. How did you get to know those kids that you played with?

Price: They just lived a couple of houses down from us.

Kennelly: So you just kind of got to know them just like neighbors. But your real social life as far as your parents and stuff go...

Price: It's primarily always been separate. At least that's the way it was when I was growing up. As far as dances and all like that goes. The nightspots, they were all segregated. Around here you didn't have that many places we could go to. So maybe every once in awhile somebody would open up a joint where they'd play records and go dancing and things like that. But mostly we went to Radford and Christiansburg for nightlife or social life.

Kennelly: Where were the nightspots in Blacksburg? Are they still going?

Price: No, I don't think so. The only one that I remember was off of Woolwine Street, up the alley was where we called it. It was just a house they had turned into...they had put a jukebox in and it was a place you could dance get sodas and all like that.

Kennelly: It was kind of informal in the sense but somebody just decided to make their home a club?

Price: They rented it...

Kennelly: a club. Do you recall as a child growing up, was race a big factor? Did it come into you consciousness much? Was it a painful factor?

Price: I was aware of it, but it didn't really take hold because Blacksburg was a small community then. The kids down the street we'd be playing with them--ball and hide-n-go- seek and all those type things anyway. We just accepted that we couldn't go to school with them, but after school sometimes we'd even go down to what was the softball field down behind the armory, and we played softball games and all like that. Or we'd go up on what is the Middle School now, we'd have say pick-up football games and all like that where we'd all get together and play.

Kennelly: Were the restaurants and the eating places downtown integrated? Could you go?

Price: We had to go to the back door.

Kennelly: Did that bother you doing that?

Price: Well, that's all I knew at the time. I never did pay that much attention to it. You were aware of it. Eventually I ended up in my last year up at Blacksburg, the two years I was up there I worked for the Lyric Theatre taking the tickets for the section upstairs. We couldn't go in downstairs, we had to come the side door, and I'd be standing there taking up their tickets and all. Taking their money.

Kennelly: I working on an exhibit of Lyric materials, that's interesting that you were working there. You don't have any photographs from that time do you?

Price: No, I don't.

Kennelly: Was that a popular thing? Did a lot of people go to the movies there?

Price: It would depend on the movies but normally we'd have maybe two, three a night and on the weekend it picks up.

Kennelly: Would your family go out to eat much when you were a kid? Growing up, before you got into high school, like just as a kid would they take the whole family out?

Price: Maybe on picnics or something like that.

Kennelly: But not to...I guess with so many kids! How many kids all together in your family?

Price: Nine. Seven boys and two girls.

Kennelly: That's major. So with the restaurants you had to go in the back door, but then did everyone sit where they wanted to sit or were you seated in a special section?

Price: Most of the times we weren't seated. We could get things to take out. Like up at what use to be the bus terminal, do you know where that is?

Kennelly: No.

Price: Do you know where the BevNet office is on Main Street?

Kennelly: Yeah.

Price: Down in that next block on that corner coming back going South. Up at that hill, well there use to a shoe store in that block and the Greek restaurant and all, do you know where that is?

Kennelly: Yeah.

Price: OK, you go up the hill and that building sitting on the corner there used to be the bus stop. You'd have to use the back door and things like that.

Kennelly: So it was getting carry-outs rather than actually going and sitting down and having everyone served like that?'

Price: Well that was the same way at the Lyric Shop. We couldn't sit at the counter at the time.

Kennelly: There was a shop in the Lyric?

Price: Yeah, there was a fountain, sold the candies and the sodas and ice cream and things like that.

Kennelly: With like stools or seats or something?

Price: Right, on one side. We were not allowed to sit on those stools. The bottom two floors in the theatre were for the whites, and the top floor was for the blacks.

Kennelly: Did that make people upset?

Price: We thought we had the best seats, really. At the time I don't think there was that much tension. Here in Blacksburg anyway. It was something we grew up with, and we just had learned to accept it. Everybody wasn't happy with it but it was something that you learned to live with.

Kennelly: Do you recall when that changed then with the Lyric?

Price: Probably shortly after I left. I left in ‘63 so I don't know for sure the date. As long as they needed somebody upstairs to take tickets it wasn't integrated. It was, after I left, a couple of years probably.

Kennelly: Sometime in there. I suppose there was a lot changes in the 60's anyway but that would be a period when it would have changed.

Price: But it would probably have been the latter part of the 60's or 70's...

Kennelly: ...before it actually....Now where did you go for elementary school?

Price: I went to Harding. Well, I started off on Clay Street; we had a school. The black school is on what is now the park, the Middle School. It was on Clay Street on Middle School property.

Kennelly: So there was a school that you started off with that was just a black school?

Price: Right. We had two rooms.

Kennelly: What was it called?

Price: Blacksburg Elementary I guess. I went there until the fourth grade, until the third. Then we moved over into Harding I think for my 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. It was on Harding Avenue.

Kennelly: Originally at that all black school did that go through kindergarten or first through 8th?

Price: Right, first grade through 7th, first through seven. Then we have to go to Christiansburg Institute 8th through the 12th.

Kennelly: What did you think about your education for those first years up to 4th grade at that school? Did you think it was a good education that you were getting?

Price: Well, yeah. I guess those are the years you're not much aware really of what's going on as far as whether it's a good education or not. You knew you were getting an education. Then we moved to Harding Avenue that was still all black then.

Kennelly: Oh, Harding Avenue was all black then. I didn't know that.

Price: It just, I guess, changed a couple of years after I had went to Blacksburg High School. Everything started changing.

Kennelly: So the first school you went to, can you estimate in a rough figure about how many kids were there? You said there were two rooms.

Price: Two rooms, yeah. You go through first through the third grade, and then you'd go from the fourth to seventh over in the other room.

Kennelly: Oh so it was kind of a mixed, sort of like the new theory.

Price: We didn't have separate classrooms.

Kennelly: And just two teachers and a principal?

Price: One of the teachers was I guess you'd call the principal.

Kennelly: About how many students were in your class?

Price: I guess anywhere from I'd say maybe 30 on up maybe. To my guessing I would say maybe 30 or 35 per classroom.

Kennelly: Big classes for the size...

Price: I might be exaggerating, but I think that's...maybe a little smaller. I'd say from 20 to 30 per class.

Kennelly: Were you the first group that went over to Harding?

Price: Well the whole school. They shifted the whole school over there. Over there we only had two classrooms too.

Kennelly: Who else was taking up the rest of the space over there?

Price: There was just two classrooms.

Kennelly: Oh, I see. I haven't actually been in Harding, so I don't exactly know what it's like. So it was just two rooms there too?

Price: Right. Two big rooms with sliding door in between to divide the classrooms. We gave out plays and everything during school. One side of the school would give plays and all that stuff.

Kennelly: Were you moved into a brand new school then? Was Harding a brand new school when you moved into it? You were the first class that went in there?

Price: Yes. I was part of...all seven classes went in. That time they completely closed the other one down. Over on Clay Street.

Kennelly: Did they have a principal at that point over at Harding when they moved you over?

Price: Like I said maybe one of the teachers would be considered the principal but there was just two teachers.

Kennelly: OK, so it wasn't' like you're conscious of this other person walking around-- just the two teachers?

Price: No, you had two teachers, and they lived in the community. It was community sort of raising at the time. Because whatever you did got back to your parents. Any of the adults could discipline you and tell you to stop doing something, and you very well would listen. ‘Cause you knew your parents would find out if you didn't. Same way with school. So we pretty much stayed out of trouble like that, knowing that somebody could possibly see and tell your parents. That was in both the whites and the blacks. At least it felt like everybody knew my father and Mom.

Kennelly: Pretty much a sense of community in a way for the students in that people would all know you?

Price: In the growing up part too. In our playing and all that sort of thing.

Kennelly: When you were growing up, it felt like a safe neighborhood say because it wasn't...

Price: You could walk well up on the hill, where we lived, you could walk into anybody's house, and the doors would be open, wide open and all like that.

Kennelly: Really.

Price: I had some friends say, “Well we walked through your house all the time nobody was home!” I said, “OK.” Our house was sometimes a place where most of the kids would come because we had so many kids there. I guess it was sort of like a neighborhood gathering place, for those on the hill anyway.

Kennelly: People were trusting sounds like. Where are you in your in your brothers and sisters? Where are you in the family of children?

Price: I'm in between. Four older and four younger.

Kennelly: So you're right in the middle. You went to CIT for eighth grade?

Price: I went the eighth, ninth, and tenth.

Kennelly: You had to take a bus over there?

Price: Yes. There's a bus that would start down in Wake Forest, the Longshop area. The driver would be down there, and so he'd pick up the kids there, and he'd come on up and pick up all the kids here in Blacksburg. Then we'd head down to Vinton, no Vickers. We'd go out to where Triangle Lanes is, and we'd have to turn down that road, and we'd go back down in there to Vickers. We'd come out...I'm trying to remember, maybe pick up one or two from Cambria then go to school.

Kennelly: It took awhile to get to school with all the pickups?

Price: Yes, it did.

Kennelly: What was that experience like at CIT?

Price: It was Christiansburg Institute.

Kennelly: I'm sorry, I don't know where I got the “T” from. Excuse me.

Price: Well, it was...

End Tape 1, Side 1

{ Tape 1, Side 1 - Tape 1, Side 2 - Tape 2, Side 1 - Tape 2, Side 2 }

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