Matthew C. Carter


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CARTER, Matthew C.

Matthew C. Carter was born on July 5th 1926 to Cleo &   Carter in Laurel, Mississippi. on July 4th 1926 in Pensacola, Florida

Mr. Carter registered for military service on 3/17/1945. In the meantime he moved to Chicago to work on the boats of the Great Lakes Fleet. While working for U.S. Steel his draft assignment came up. He was enducted in to the U.S. Army on 6/00/1945;  Home at Entry: Chicago, Illinois.

Private Carter was directed to report to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois about the time of D-Day (June 1945) in the European Theater during WWII.

He was assigned Company C for basic training. It was a mixed race company that trained together but they slept and ate separately. To prepare for deployment to Germany they were transferred by train down to Fort McClellan near Anniston, Alabama, 

PVT Carter's brother also served in the Army. He was with the 92nd Infantry Division. He was killed in action in Innsbruck, Austria near the close of the WWII. Since there were no other caretakers for their mother back home in Mississippi, the Army gave PVT Carter a discharge.

On February 6th 1946 he was sent from Fort Sheridan to Camp Shelby, Mississippi where I was given a general discharge to take care of his mother back in Jackson, Mississippi. There he married Helen Louise [Lewis] and they started a family.

After getting his mother situated, he took a train back to Chicago until he was called on the boats. He spent another 40 years out there on the Great Lakes and eventually settled in Duluth, Minnesota.

When the Carters looked to buy a home in the Lakeside neighborhood they ran into racist resistence ffrom some members of the community. One of his good friends, William Maupins, a fellow Veteran, and who was the local chaper president of the NAACP, helped them by launching a campaign that led to a city fair-housing ordinance. The Carters have lived in Lakeside ever since.


Albert J. Amatuzio Research Center | Veterans Memorial Hall (

U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 -



Oral History:

                                Interview with Matthew C. Carter

                       Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program

                        April 7, 2018 at the Duluth Depot Boardroom

Veterans Memorial Hall is a program of the St. Louis County Historical Society.



                   © April 7, 2018, by the St. Louis County Historical Society
 All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy and recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the St. Louis County Historical Society.


Veterans Memorial Hall Oral History Program

Interview with Matthew C. Carter

Location: Duluth Depot Boardroom

April 7, 2018

Barbara W. Sommer, Interviewer


MC: Matthew Carter

AC: Anthony (Tony) Carter – Mr. Carter’s son

BWS: Barbara W. Sommer

Track 1



BWS:  Today we are interviewing Matthew C. Carter, correct?

MC:    Yes.

BWS:  Matthew Carter worked on the U.S. Steel Great Lakes Fleet Boats from 1945 to 1986. The Great Lakes Fleet Boats were a division a division of U.S. Steel. Matthew worked for U.S. Steel. Some of the boats that he worked on were the Homer D. Williams – that was the first one, the James A. Farrel, the Byron C. Taylor, the Edwin H. Gott, the A.H. Ferbert, and then sister ships: the Governor Miller, and the (S.S.) William A. Irvin. He worked as a porter and then as a second cook and eventually as a chief cook.

            Today, during the interview, it’s April 7th, 2018, his son Anthony, also known as Tony Carter, is sitting in on the interview. And I am Barbara Sommer and I am doing the interview.

            So, Mr. Carter, if you would start by telling us how you ended up coming from…Jackson, Mississippi?

MC:    Jackson, Mississippi.

BWS:  To the Great Lakes

MC:    Yes. My mother’s first cousin was sailing and he got from Mississippi – in fact he used to live with us when I was a small kid, back in the (19)30s. So, his cousin married…

            (BWS stopped him for a minute for a question to Anthony)

BWS:  Thank you. Go ahead. Start again.

MC:    (He asked if he could start over.)

BWS:  How did you get from Jackson, Mississippi, up to the Chicago and the Great Lakes to get on the boats?

MC:    My cousin that lived with us back in the (19)30s, his first cousin married a man on the boat. She knew the condition that we were living in in Mississippi. In my family, if one leaves Mississippi or goes anywhere and if he finds a better place, they would pull and go. My cousin came down Christmas of ’44 to visit my mother and he saw the condition that we were in. Poor, and I was making $17 a week there and our house was poor. So, he asked my mother would I come up, get on the boats, and be at their house and make a life a little better?

            So, I said, “Great!” I jumped for it. He said that I’d be making $145 a month, and to me that was a king’s ransom. [laughing] So I couldn’t wait ‘til the time. I was working at the Independent Linen service there in Jackson, Mississippi, on South State. First, I started out separating linen, all of the—They were catering to the hospitals and they’ve got the hospital sheets and the things all, you know… hospital.

            They saw how I worked and there’d never been a Black person up in front, just a stockroom boy. So, one of the foreman saw my work and he says—And they needed help. This was during the war – end of the war [WWII] and help was short, and so they needed someone up there to study [the job] as a stocker boy. So, they took me up there, temporarily until they found out I was doing a heck of a job. The trucks were going out on time. Linen from the main groups was coming up on time, the stock room, the baskets, they were emptied. If they weren’t emptied, I would have everything placed away so—To make a long story short—this one foreman, he didn’t want to see me up there. So, we had a little lull one time – a little slack time – and he came up there and he told me, “Whenever you have twenty minutes, you get back there and ” You know, so he just [tried to put me back down].

            I said, “No one talks to me like that.” So, this kid, fourteen years old, he was working with me, a white kid, so he went and told my foreman that I was quitting. And so, he said, “Matt, what happened?”

            I said, “Mr. Clayton here cursed me and told me that if I had 15 minutes, to go back there and start sorting the stuff. He said, “What?” So, he went and told the general manager. The general manager called me in and said, “Matt, what’s the problem?” I told him and he said, “No one talks to my help like this. I don’t talk to the help like that.” And he said, “I tell you what, Matt. If you promise that you won’t quit, I’ll promise you that this will never happen again.”

            I said, “Mr. Foster, I like my job here.”

            He said, “Ok.” He stood up, first time he ever did it, shook my hand and said, “Go on back out there, you’re doing a good job.” Went back out there and next time I saw Mr. Clayton heading for the general manager’s office. So, he was in there about 15 minutes, he came out with his face all red, and he walked up to me. First time he ever shook my hand. He said, “You can do whatever you want, and this will never happen again.”

            I said, “Fine. Great.” So, I worked there until my cousin came down and he said that I could get a job on the boat, which I did. I couldn’t wait until the time. This was in December that my cousin came down. March, they always start fitting out [hiring] in March. So, he called me, and I had to come up to catch the boat. I went in a couple weeks before I left and told the general foreman I was going. The first supervisor that ever said that, of course I haven’t worked at another job. But when I went in, I said, “Mr. Foster, I thank you for everything. I enjoyed working here.” He stood up. He said, “Matt, I know you’re going to a better place but if you ever, if it shouldn’t work out and you need a job and you come back, if I don’t have one, I’ll make one for you.”

            I said, “Thank you.” And I never went back. I never looked back. So, come to Chicago, got to my cousin’s house. She put me up until I got all my papers to get on the boat there. I had to go through the Coast Guard to get the legal papers, birth certificates, all that stuff. So, I got my seaman’s card and went aboard the Homer D. Williams, I don’t know what date it was. The boat was in March and I caught the North Shore train from Chicago to Milwaukee.

            I’d never seen—Well Jackson is just about seven—In other words, there’s no water around Jackson so I never got to see any of these big boats. I got off the train, took a cab to Jones Island. All of these boats were tied up and I said, “Holy Cow, this is where I’m going?” So I went to the shanty where everyone’s signing in, and I told the guy which boat I was supposed to go on so he said, “Ok, you take this gate, you go up and go two boats over and that’s the William.

            Went there, my cousin and my great-uncle, he was the porter, too, there. They had brought him up. He said, “Well, go around and change clothes. You’re going to have to get you some whites.”

            I said, “Ok, I’ll get my whites later. So, I went around, changed clothes, and he said, “This is what you do. You wash dishes” because it was between breakfast and noon then. He showed me the routine and the next day I made beds. I took care of the engineer’s rooms because that’s what I—they’re forward. The captain’s and the mates—I mean, the engineers are back and the captain’s mates are forward.

            So, I’m assigned to the engineer’s quarters, and I did that. Then the boat, all season up until June, I was drafted. I got off the boat, I think it was Chicago, the boat went back to Chicago. So, I got off that and I was told to report to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. That was my first camp. Then I took some of my training there and it’s the first time—When I got to Fort Sheridan, there was a bus there that takes the guys to the camp. And he says, “Matthew Carter!” I was the only Black guy. He says, “Matthew Carter, step forward.”

            I stepped forward and he said, “See that hut down there? Go down there and report to Sergeant Jones.” We were segregated in housing and everything, but we trained together. We trained there every day. Some of the guys, I recall, one was from up around Berlin, Wisconsin, there. Sergeant (name? 12:07), that was his name. He was a Sergeant, too. He would pick out the guys who could lead the squad once we got going. So, I was chosen. I’d drill them. So, then he took out—Next time he would have a white guy took drill.

            This particular day, another Black guy was drilling us, and the guy said, “I’m not going take commands from an “N.” I used the word “N.” (So he doesn’t have to say the word.) He said, “What’d you say? Step forward,” and Corporal (name?12:57) went up and down that guy’s back. He said, “This guy might be the one who pulls you out from under fire.” And he went up—I can’t tell you about all that. Anyway, that was my [training].

BWS:  What unit was it?

MC:    I was in Company C at Fort Sheridan. They didn’t have that many Blacks, so therefore, you were in—My company, when we would march together, was Company C.

BWS:  And it was a mixed company?

MC:    Yeah. Like I said, we trained together but we slept and we ate separately.

BWS:  But you trained together.

MC:    We trained together, yeah.

BWS:  And this was in the summer of 1945?

MC:    June of 1945.

BWS:  So, we’d already had D Day going on.

MC:    Right! D Day was going on, right. Germany, you know. And then, before we left there-I think we must have left there, was it August? I think it was.

BWS:  It was in August when the bombs [atomic bombs] were dropped.

MC:    Yeah! Ok, there you go. There you go.

BWS:  The beginning of August.

MC:    Yes.

BWS:  Were they training you to go into Japan in case the bombs didn’t work?

MC:    No.

BWS:  Were you going to invade Japan?

MC:    No. We didn’t know anything. Now, this is not my training fort. Once we shipped out of Fort Sheridan to Alabama, it took us three days to get down there because a troop train would zig-zag, you know, due to sabotage. And this was a troop train. But when we got to—The train was there and we got to the station, and I had made friends with this here white guy from South Chicago. His name was Green. He says, “Ok, Carter.”

            When I got to the train, the whites went one way, the Blacks went to the baggage car. There were nine of us in the baggage car from Fort Sheridan to Birmingham, Alabama. Fort McClellan is I think about 30 miles from Birmingham. So we got into Birmingham at breakfast time and we— Oh yes, let me—During our ride from Fort Sheridan to Birmingham, Alabama, they would bring our food back – the porter would bring us brown bags of food, sandwiches, (and) no coffee – pop. That’s what we had to digest those three days, from Fort Sheridan to Birmingham. Got into Birmingham, Alabama, this big, I suppose, cafeteria. They called us out, and of course we were separate, but all the white guys went in the front door. They told us to go in the side door and, so help me Lord, we went in there and we ate in the storeroom. It had a table for six, something like that. Six people sat there and the others, we ate—I sat on a bag of potatoes and had my breakfast.

            And so, ok, when that was over, we got on the train. I can’t remember if it was a train or bus. It must have been a train into Anniston, Alabama, 30 miles away. We got there, and then we went to, they had a bus to bring us there to Fort McClellan. And I was there for 17 weeks, to make a long story short, for basic training, 17 weeks.

            At that time, of course my brother, he was killed in the war before I entered the service, but I didn’t know about the law that the sole surviving son would not be inducted into the service. So, when I found out about that, I applied for it. You know, I had to get the chaplain to intercede on the basis of my troop was going to Europe – Germany. Everything was turned down. I didn’t have the right papers. So, I went to the chaplain and I told him. He says, “What?” And he wrote this captain or lieutenant a letter. The chaplain’s name was on it. And when he looked at this letter, he took it, he says, “What you want out of me?”  I said, “I want to get these papers filed so that I won’t be shipped out with my troops, with my friends.” I was ready to go, you know. But I knew that I could do better on my new job because they told me that I had a job.

            Anyway, this was in February of 1946. They kept me there until February—I was sent from Fort Sheridan to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and that’s where I was discharged at: Camp Shelby, Mississippi, I think it was around the 6th of February or something like that.

            I went on home to Jackson – my mother was there – and I spent from February to March with them. Of course, you could apply for unemployment as a soldier, I think, fifty dollars a week. So, I went down to the employment office and applied for unemployment. They said we can get you a job out to Knox Glass Company. They were building a factory in Jackson at that time. They had the Blacks doing nothing but pushing wheelbarrows, you know, they didn’t have these machines back in those times. I said, “No, I’m going back to my job in March.” But some of those other soldiers who were there—and one, he was a captain in the Army, and they offered him a job out to Knox Glass Company. And he says, “What will I do?” They said) “Whatever they want you to do out there.” And this one particular woman, oh, she was a warden. She called this guy a big sissy.

        She called Blacks—And you walked up to the gate that had the Blacks in line and they’ll call two or three whites before they call a Black. You just stand there. And then you were, “You idiot, why can’t you do it? You’re big enough.”  But once they found out I was going back to my job, I must admit, I wasn’t harassed or anything, just sign. “Had you been looking for work?” “No.” ”Why not?”

“I am going back to my job.” So that skipped me.

BWS:  Where was your brother killed?

MC:    In Innsbruck. He was in the 92nd Division.

BWS:  Infantry?

MC:    Yes.

BWS:  And so, you ended up going back [to the boats].

MC:    Yeah. That March—My last week at the employment office I told them I was going back to my job. And I took a train back to Chicago and lived with my relatives until I was called on the boat. And then I spent another 40 years out there.

BWS:  What boat did you go back on?

MC:    I went back on the—My cousin was still on the Homer D. Williams. But the guy that brought me up there, the cousin that brought me up, he was a cook; he hadn’t been promoted to a steward, or chief cook, whatever you call it. So, it was my cousin’s husband and my uncle and I that were both there. Then from there on, I went with my cousin, the one that brought me up. I think it was on the James A. Farrell. And we followed that captain for six years. We were with the same captain for six years. The captain—if he wanted a cook, if you had a good cook, boy, that was pride and joy to take him with you.

            So, we went with Captain Leo James Brezett until he got promoted to the Benjamin F. Fairless. They didn’t have any Blacks on the Benjamin F. Fairless; they had white cooks there and so he couldn’t take us.

BWS:  What boat was that?

MC:    The Benjamin F. Fairless. We went from the Myron C. Taylor to the Benjamin F. Fairless – the captain did. Wait, wait, wait, wait, no. From the Governor Miller, because we followed—Remember I said we followed him for six years. This was the (James A.) Farrell, the (Myron C.) Taylor and the (Governor) Miller. He went to the Benjamin F. Fairless. That’s the president that I will talk about when we get to it.

BWS:  Describe the boat. What did you think of it? Describe it to me – the first boat/boats.

MC:    It was a huge, cold boat, steel. You know when steel gets cold, you were cold! And I wasn’t tempered for it, you know. [laughing] But, to me, $145 as I said, that was glory, glory.

BWS:  Where did you live – stay – on the boat?

MC:    We had cabins, you know, for the cooks. The cooks had their own cabin. The two porters shared the room together and the cook and the chief cook shared a room together.

BWS:  And what position were you when you went?

MC:    I was a porter. I saw how the guys got along. Guys come into the galley for coffee, when you serve them for breakfast or dinner. Just a family, just a big family, that’s all we were.

BWS:  Was there segregation on the boat?

MC:    Oh yes! Oh yes! You can only work in the galley department. Yup. There was segregation in employment, but if it come to—Because every department had their (unclear? 25:51). But one thing that I would say (about) United States Steel, they did not put up with discrimination on the boat. If you came on there as a prejudiced person, you won’t last long. Someone, if you have a guy who is prejudiced, forward, some of the forward crew is going to say, “Hey, you guys,” back in the galley now. Hey you guys, got to watch out for so-and-so, he’s a prejudiced guy.”

            Same way in the engine room. I remember the chief, the guy was from Alabama. He and his son worked together. His father was an oiler and the son was a coal passer at that time. And the galleys was something—I wasn’t there, but my cousin, he was cook and he said, “You can’t be in here at this time.” There was time when you can’t come in the galley because you were prepping for food. You didn’t have time. So, he’d gotten smug. So, he invited him up out on deck, so then he got gracious, you know. And the chief engineer, at the next port. And his father said, “I have no ill feeling.” He’s (got) a prejudiced boy and he said, “It didn’t come from me.” That’s what his dad told. From Alabama, too. Say, “He learned that, but not from me.”

            Any incident, discrimination, oh you know, they didn’t tolerate with name calling. The captain or the chief. They didn’t.

BWS:  So pretty good working conditions.

MC:    Oh, Lord, you better believe it. It’s just like a family, you know.

BWS:  But you still could only do certain jobs.

MC:    Oh yes. You were segregated. You were segregated. Absolutely. But, yet, everyone was treated the same. The cooks, you had—the white crew, they’d get to know you. They’d come in your room but you would never go in theirs, because you didn’t know how their roommate felt. So, you make him welcome because you know how your roommate was, you know? Some of them kept their distance but there were guys that I met on the boat that I—for a lifetime received cards, received Christmas cards and things like that until they died.

BWS:  What did a porter do? You started as a porter.

MC:    A porter— Two porters. A porter washed dishes. He and the other porter mopped the floor. One porter would take care of the engineer’s room, and one porter would take care of the forward crew’s room. And one porter, at serving time, would take care of the mess room—the crew, the unlicensed men crew. In the galley, it’s just like your mother was preparing for dinner. That cook would direct you, what he wanted you to do: peel potatoes, chop him up some celery, whatever.

BWS:  What kind of food?

MC:    Oh Lord. Good food. That’s why the captain—If you had a good cook, the captain treasured him. And he would take him as far as he could. Food, you always had, oh Lord—The dining room was about this size.

BWS:  In the Depot Board Room here, yeah.

MC:    And the captain sat on this end, the chief engineer and his crew sat on that end, and the mates and wheelsmen in between. This door here would be from the galley into the dining room. He would serve the captain and the crew there.

BWS:  Any food that you liked?

MC:    Oh, the food. Oh Lord. Breakfast would consist of pancakes, French toast, if you wanted. But this was regular—standard. Sausage or bacon, one of the two.

BWS:  Eggs?

MC:    Oh, eggs, any style, absolutely. Fruit juice, you name it. Cookies, doughnuts for breakfast. Oh yes. In fact, I had one of their old menus out, I ran across it. And it’s so brittle, I said, “I’m not going to take that.”

BWS:  You’ve got to be careful of that. But all the meals were like that?

MC:    Oh, yeah. This was breakfast. Breakfast could consist of hot cereal, a variety of cold cereal, juices, fruit of all sorts, and fruits that were in season were apples and oranges, bananas always, because that’s always in season. Lunch consisted of soup, either an entrée would be meatloaf or ham, some of that dish. And then at night it would consist of roast beef, chicken, oh Lord! If I could find one of those Thanksgiving dinners that we put on, I’ll bring it down to you. I’ll give it to you.

BWS:  Thanksgiving dinner?

AC:     They were huge.

BWS:  Huge?

AC:     That was before my time, but I saw pictures of it.

MC:    At night you’d have cake, different flavors of pies, cake all the time, homemade cookies, homemade bread there, you name it. Hot rolls, oh Lord, I just can’t think.

BWS:  Was this for the crew?

MC:    Yes! For everybody.

BWS:  For everybody, captain on down?

MC:    The same thing that went on the captain’s table went on the crew’s table. No different. Absolutely.

BWS:  So, the crew was well fed.

MC:    Oh, Lordie. Now you have a lunch box not quite as long as this desk here, an ice box. You filled it up, the bottom of that with all types of cold cut stuff: Ham, bacon, eight or ten different types of cheeses. Bread was here on the table. Doughnuts, cake, cookies out, 24/7.

BWS:  Yeah, I suppose, because the crew is working 24/7.

MC:    Yeah. Every four hours. They worked four on and eight off. You always have four on and eight off. The crew, except the cooks. We’d come in at 6 (a.m.), work till 8:30 or 9, and then come back at 10:30. And then work from 10:30 until 1:30 (p.m.), then off until 3:30.

BWS:  And then what?

MC:    And then you come back, then you serve dinner. Then, when dinner is over, you’re off until the next morning. And what I loved about my job is I worked my way up. They had these boats enclosed and I was a hundred feet from my job—from my room. I walked from my room to the job. I would wait until 6:30 (a.m.?). The crew’s in at 6:00 to mop the floors and get the counters cleaned off before I come in to start my dinner. Soup, with my meats, my soup, etc. etc, whatever I’m going to have.

BWS:  So, you worked your way up from porter to what?

MC:    I worked my way up. I was with my cousin for porter for up until 19--, I went on the (George A.) Sloan as second cook in 1946, I think. 1956. My cousin passed on the boat, 1958. I worked my way up. I was porter for seven years. And then I was second cook for twelve years because when the company started selling off or retiring these old boats and bringing out new ones, then they got a new president, Donald C. Potts. He didn’t promote a Black cook—I think it was for six years he was in, six years and he did not promote a Black cook from second cook to chief cook at the time. He would not. And then I got caught in this layoff. The smaller boats, they would lay up five and build one, so to speak. That’s when those 1000-footers would start coming out.

BWS:  So as the bigger boats were coming in, they don’t need as many workers.

MC:    The bigger boats take three times as much as one small boat and have the same crew, you know. And they make it in a day or less. So, I got caught in that. And then, when my time, finally, in 1959, we had a strike and I was temporarily chief cook. I went back—I was on the (William A.) Irvin and I got set back from second cook to porter. First, I was second cook, then they laid the boats up due to the strike but they kept some of the cooks on. I was a cook, but I was doing porter’s work in order to keep me on.

BWS:  On the Irvin.

MC:    Yes. The Irvin was one of the boats that they kept the cooks on. And due to the reason I was so—They didn’t want to integrate the crew so they had three guys, three cooks on one boat: the chief cook, the second cook, and me. They had three former chief cooks. They had one cook doing the second cook’s work, then the porter, then myself there. In order to keep the boat ready, just in case the strike was over, they wouldn’t have to go lay the engineers off and things like that.

BWS:  Two questions: Why did they want to keep those boats running? Was it because they had passengers? Or not?

MC:    We were laid up— the Irvin. But they just transferred these cooks and they kept the crew on the Irvin. The Irvin had extra room for the mates, I mean, for the captain to (“liver boys” ? 39:51) they called them. He couldn’t stay aboard his boat because there was no room, so the Irvin was used for these three extra captains, three extra chief engineers, and three extra cooks.

BWS:  During the strike.

MC:    Yeah, during the strike. Right.

BWS:  So, they kept the Irvin kind of ready.

MC:    Yeah.

BWS:  Well, it’s one of the big boats on the fleet. It’s one of the most well known.

MC:    Right.

BWS:  So, they kept that going. What does a second cook do?

MC:    The second cook was the baker. He was the baker.

BWS:  So, what did you bake?

MC:    Oh! Everything the cook tells you. I always wanted to advance myself. I left Mississippi as a little uneducated young man, but if I could learn something from you, my friends, if I couldn’t learn something from them, “bye!” You’re not going to get me in trouble. If you are trouble, uh uh. That’s not me, bye! I didn’t want to—My mother did the best that she could for us. And she taught us the best she could. I did not want to let my mother down. I had never been inside a jail in my life. I don’t have anything but parking tickets, and I deserve them, many of those, because I was speeding.

BWS:  You were what?

MC:    I was speeding. [laughing]

BWS:  You went through fifth grade, right?

MC:    Yup! Oh yeah. There were many times that I couldn’t go to school because I didn’t have shoes. I didn’t have shoes. I was always a tall, lanky kid, big, and I would lie—I lied when I was hired at the Independent Linen service about my age. I was tall and I could do the work. I lied. I got my license at 13. The foreman saw that I could back these trucks up, the 18-wheelers, up to the door. Otherwise they’d have to go and get a driver to, they call the stockmen.

            He (foreman?) saw me out there out, backing this truck up to the door and he said, “Man, I didn’t know you could drive!”

            I said, “Oh yeah.”

            He said, “When did you learn to that?

            I said, “No one here, and the truck had to be loaded, so I did it.”

BWS:  So here you are, you’re a second cook for how long?

MC:    I was second cook for 13 years.

BWS:  And you were kind of moved from ship to ship, too. [oops. bws correction: boat to boat]

MC:    Oh yeah. Remember I said, the captain—We would follow the captain.

BWS:  So, you’re a second cook on a bunch of different ships [boats].

MC:    Yeah.

BWS:  Were the kitchens all kind of similar on those ships [boats]?

MC:    Well, on the old ones they were. But on the new ones, the Irvin and the Miller were sister ships and they had stainless steel cabinets in the galleys. And then the other boats, the best was stainless steel. The Irvin and the Miller, they were the—I suppose the Irvin, I think, she was the—what’d they call it?—oh, my memory. All of the other boats have to salute her.

BWS:  Yes, the boats have to salute her because she’s the captain’s—

MC:    Yeah, flagship! The Irvin was the flagship. I remember when the Irvins made their trip. Now, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. You want to ask me?

BWS:  No, no. Go ahead, talk about the flagship.

MC:    The Irvin was the flagship and I remember when any official was on the boat, the other boats would salute her.

BWS:  How do they salute?

MC:    They (imitating a repeated boat whistle – long, long, short, short) [laughs] Something like that. [laughing] The captain would say—And if I wasn’t on the Irvin, the captain would call back and tell the guys, “Here comes the Irvin. They have an official on there. You guys want to come up?” You wouldn’t know the cook, you know, because only Black cooks were on the passenger boats. We’d come out and wave.

AC:     They all came out. Because I was on a boat once. They would look over at the other guys when those ships would pass, and we’d all step out and do that.

MC:    Because all the Blacks cooked. Another thing, they kept the Blacks and the white cooks separate and they tried to build a wall between them to keep them from joining the union. And when the white cooks found out that we weren’t going to bite them and some of the Black cooks found out the white ones wasn’t going to bite them, we started talking and we got together and joined the union.

BWS:  What union was it?

MC:    America Maritime Union. It’s saltwater, AMO, America Office of Maritime Union (American Maritime Officers’ Union).

BWS:  That’s interesting. But it was a saltwater union on the Great Lakes, huh?

MC:    Yeah. But they were the ones that organized us because that’s what the engineers belonged to. Yeah. And then the company started having spring meetings and bringing the cooks together. And we got to know one another. Of course, you knew some of the cooks: Floyd Madden, a friend of mine who just died here a year ago, last November, he would be the first Christmas card that I would get from Floyd Madden. He was a cook out there, you know.

MC:    So, the company tried to keep us apart so that we wouldn’t join that union. And they kept about half and half: half Black, half of that, you know, white. They were trying to keep us apart so—They would tell the whites that the Blacks would come in and take your jobs. That type of thing… The Blacks knew what was said and doubted it.

BWS:  Well, and you said that you were kept in the second cook job, before we started the interview.

MC:    For thirteen years.

BWS:  Talk about that a little bit.

MC:    When Donald C. Potts was made president, he came up through the ranks of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company and he was a prejudiced man. He did not promote a Black cook from the time that he was president to the time that they transferred him to Pittsburgh and fired him. Donald C. Potts. He knew all the guys. I think he started out as a clerk of some kind, you know, you follow a person. And he knew all those cooks. And he had a Black chauffer, you know, and everything. But when he was made president, that just turned him, oh! Oh my goodness.

BWS:  So, you were stuck for a while.

MC:    I was stuck. Then the new boats began to be built. A lot of the boats had the same capacity of these—almost—whalebacks. James J. Hill, the, I can’t think of them. They had three, not whaleback but the capacity. And they laid up about twelve boats and, whew! That’s twelve boats! at one time and never came out. And then, as the (Alvin) Clark, (and) the (Cason J.) Callaway started coming out, they came out, and then the Roger Blough.

AC:     (Str. Robert C.) Stanley?

MC:    The (Arthur M.) Anderson was out already. The Anderson, Clark, Callaway and—

BWS:  Which is the one that went down? The Anderson was following it, you know, the famous…

MC:    Oh, that was the (Edmund) Fitzgerald.

BWS:  Yeah, the Fitzgerald. Did that come out about then too?

MC:    That wasn’t a U.S. Steel boat.

BWS:  Oh, that wasn’t a U.S. Steel boat. But the Arthur M. Anderson was, right? That was a Steel boat.

MC:    Yeah. When they built the Anderson and the Callaway and the Clark, those were the three super boats. Then they built the Blough and that started laying up boats. And then I think they laid the Irvin up here or sold it or something that the Irvin was in that crowd.

            I was caught. First, I was stuck here due to discrimination. And then I was stuck again when they started laying off boats. There weren’t jobs. But Donald C. Potts and some of the Black cooks that got—Oh yeah, you could be out there forty years and get left. That was your job. Oh yes!

            B. B. Daniel, a Black cook, lived in Chicago. He had thirty some years out there and got left in Lorain, Ohio, and that was his job. Some of that crew got—This is Potts now, Donald C. Potts—

BWS:  What do you mean, “got left”?

MC:    The boat left them before they could get back aboard, you know. They left them ashore. The boat left before they got back to catch it. Now, some of the guys that got towed so they would put them on, if they weren’t too far out there. But I know a lot of that crew that got left. But they could go to other fleets. The Blacks couldn’t. The Blacks couldn’t.

            Shanango Furnace Company, the only company out there that had Black cooks. And they had all Black cooks once. But, a few of the Black guys that got laid off, I mean, that got left— I know a couple of them went to Shanango, but if a white guy got left today, the Lake Carriers’ Association may ship him out tomorrow. You had large fleets out there.

BWS:  That was another way that there was segregation or racism in the fleet?

MC:    Oh yeah! Segregation is the one that kept me back for all these years because, at the end, they started integrating the galley. When the steel mill closed, I had two or three guys out there as porters on the boat, you know. They all didn’t stay, but they had jobs. They could have stayed. But that’s when they started the integration.

BWS:  When did the company start integrating?

MC:    When the steel mill closed.

BWS:  Which steel mill?

MC:    Morgan Park, American Steel and Wire, that was the name of it. That’s the division. It was a division of U.S. Steel. When that started closing—They closed in the (19)70s and, as I say, some of the guys shipped out on deck and some shipped out on the engine room and some shipped out in the galley. Because, I had three or four guys from the steel mill in the galley.

BWS:  When you were cook, talk a little bit about that job. What did you do as cook? What were your responsibilities?

MC:    The chief cook, he is the dietician, the [laughing] supplier, because he orders everything, all food, all bedding that goes in the rooms. Someone tells you that they need new pillows, a new mattress, things like that, new furniture. But mostly you order all food. And God knows, if you run out of something, make sure that you have a friend upstairs because you don’t have one on that boat! [laughing]

BWS:  You have angry people – an angry crew, huh?

MC:    Yeah. And I’m telling you, I stayed stocked up. That’s one thing. But then Potts, I’m getting back to him, he started that day, the meal cards: you have to have your meal card. And that’s when some cooks just went too far, trying to be the first one—the lowest one. I never was the lowest one and didn’t even try to be the lowest one. I kept the supply inventory. I kept my inventory all the time. And I was right up there in the middle, where I wanted to be. And when the company started this prepared food aboard the boat, like buying all your baked goods, all your precooked foods—I was one of the three boats that they put this on to rate this, to give my opinion, whether [to do it].

            I did the best I could. Some of it—But I never did use canned soup. Now canned soup, like cream of tomato soup or cream of mushroom soup, but as far as just using canned soup every day, no, no. I made my soup and the guys appreciated it, too. Because that’s one thing, the guys want potatoes twice a day.

            But some of this prepared food was good and some of it wasn’t. The roast beef and the pork and gravy, I didn’t want that because I could get a ham and serve it and make two meals out of it, different times. And this here stuff, it was expensive too. So, you had a choice of working some of the frozen stuff in and cooking something, which I did, which the crew appreciated.

BWS:  What about the passengers? The Irvin and the Miller were passenger ships, weren’t they?

MC:    Yeah, there were passengers on the boat, but I was never on the—

BWS:  They were passenger boats.

MC:    Yeah. I was never on the—What I mean about passenger boat: they had a crew on there special for the [passenger] quarters, especially for the passengers. And usually they would use the regular cook back aft, as the passenger cook, and they would get a cabin boy and a waiter for the three months that they were up there.

            I was on the Irvin 1948. I never worked so hard in all my life. I was a young man and everything and the job was wonderful. The Irvins made their trip. The captain, Carl C. Carlisle, he was something. I’m getting off the track now. But, anyway, he was captain [and he had thoughts about the] cook. He didn’t want anything but Black cooks but the reason he wanted them – he could dominate them. So, he didn’t like Catholics and he didn’t care for Blacks.

            Oh yeah! [laughing] He told his officer—Of course, they going to tell you. If the captain tells you something, (that) they don’t like so-and-so, you’re going to hear from someone. So, I went (bow width?) and everything worked out so beautiful. Mrs. Irvin, I bonded with her because the cook that’s on there, he had been cooking for her for 20-some years, so he told me what she wanted and what she expected. So, I do!

BWS:  Mrs. Irvin?

MC:    Mrs. Irvin.

BWS:  Was she a passenger?

MC:    Oh yeah! The Irvins, when they made that trip, they’re owners, you know. All the state rooms were the same, but she always slept on the port side, the upper port state room so that he would be between the observation rooms and the main deck. So, she brought four women on, her friends – they were guests from Europe. She brought them. I never will forget a face—I’ll get some of the names. 

            One of the names was Mrs. Frank Destorks, Mrs. Earl Nadneson, and the other room across the hall was Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Depont. Those were her three (four) guests and they were all widows. And Mrs. Irvin, she’s giving them this trip. And Mrs. Brown, she offered me a job. She lived in the Waldorf Astoria. That lady always would call me “Master Carter.” “Well, how are you today, Master Carter?”

            I’d say, “Thank you, Mrs. Brown.” And Mrs. Nadneson , she had the biggest diamond ring on that you ever saw! [laughing] And Mrs. Frank Destorks, she had some problem in her side, and Mrs. Irving, the cook had told me I’d have to put her on a chair. She had – sacroiliac? ( Sacroiliitis (say-kroe-il-e-I-tis) is an inflammation of one or both of your sacroiliac joints – situated where your lower spine and pelvis connect.)

          You don’t hear much about that now, your sacroiliac gets out of whack. And that was her problem. She would (say), “Oh, Matt, I can’t come down, I can’t come down!” And she would tell me what to do. I’d give her a chair and put it there and I’d massage it, massage her hip. And I looked out of the corner (of my eye) and I saw something flash. This was the second deck, so I know it wasn’t a deck hand. If they would wash it down, you would hear the water. I looked up: the cook was peeking through the room to—He was (afraid?) that something else was going on. [laughing] And he had told me what to expect. Because his son was on there the year before.

            Mr. Irvin would come around (and say), “Matt, you’ve got to go up there and rub the old lady’s back.” Something like that. And I’d do it.

BWS:  Any other passengers that you remember besides Mrs. Irvin and the others?

MC:    Oh, Lord, yes. Mostly I had some from Chicago. They wrote poems about me in the guest book. Yeah. And you have the president of the company, not Potts— Hemmingway (sp?) and his wife, the loveliest lady you ever wanted to meet. Oh! The passengers!

            And you had Mr. Irvin’s daughter and son-in-law make that trip, too. They were real nice people. I don’t recall—I don’t have the memories that I used to have. We had some from Canada and they sent me a book about the queen, had it autographed by the author and—They sent me cheeses from way up in Nova Scotia and all that.

BWS:  Because you were their porter.

MC:    Yeah. I was the porter. She had a cape on, and her dress got wrinkled. So, she asked me, “Do you have an iron?” I said, “Oh yes!” And she said, “Could you iron [it]?”

            I said, “Oh yes I could iron.” My mother taught me how to iron, so I said “Yes.” I made her dress. And she was so elated. I didn’t scorch it, I didn’t (unclear 1:06:54) it or anything. And for a couple years I always got a Christmas card and gift from her. I received accolades from so many of the guests that I can’t recall.

BWS:  Were you ever afraid on the boat? Crossing the lake?

MC:    Oh yes! Oh yes, many times! We were behind the John Steinbrenner when she went down on Lake Superior.

BWS:  Which boat?

MC:    John Steinbrenner. One of the Steinbrenner boats went down on Lake Superior. (Henry Steinbrenner?) We were out there when the (SS Daniel J.) Morrell went down on Lake Huron. I was out there when the (SS) Cedarville went down and I was in Conneaut, Ohio, when the [Edmund] Fitzgerald went down.

            Now that’s something about the Fitzgerald that she was built in Detroit, River Rouge. And we passed along there the day that boat was launched. Can you imagine that? And when they got ready to tow her to Milwaukee to be christened, we were in Jones, Iowa, when—I think it was owned by the Northwest (Mutual Life) Insurance Company. His wife christened the Edmund Fitzgerald in Milwaukee. We passed her on the first day of her voyage, right up there up the St. Mary’s River before she reached Lake Superior. Because we all went out and waved at her. The captain saluted. The Edmund Fitzgerald is coming by and we all went out there and waved. They had streamers all over.

            I was in Conneaut, Ohio, when she went down. Some of my wife’s friends and mine, heard about the Fitzgerald. They knew that I was on a boat. They said, “Helen, which boat is Matt on?” I know a couple of Helen’s teachers came in her room and asked her. She said, “He was on the A.H. Ferbert.”

            They said, “Oh, well the Edmund Fitzgerald just went down.”

            And she said, “I don’t know.” Because it was a different fleet, you know, Helen, she didn’t know (that boat). And several of her friends called her and asked, “Which boat is Matt on? One of them just went down.”

BWS:  That’s a frightening message to get.

MC:    Yes.

BWS:  How did you feel on the boat when you found out?

MC:    Well, you’re always sad. You are always sad. We were getting ready to go down the seaway. I think they went down the seaway five years. They would take grain and bring back ore. Canadian ore was just like is fine, shaved. It’s more than these tac iron, this taconite. So, we would take our grain, and sometimes we’d be out there three weeks: from the time we left here to the time we got back up here would be three weeks. It’s a beautiful view. What else did you ask me?

BWS:  I wondered about the danger on the Lakes.

MC:    Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh, Lord! I’ve been into some storms that I would think… For instance, on the Irvin, the crews’ room is down in the cargo hold. And I’ve seen that boat roll over, so you see nothing but black water, black. Of course, you have your port holes, sealed. But when the boat, she rolls—Oh! You’re way down here now. And when that boat rolls over, then there’s nothing but water, and you hope she’ll come back. [laughing]

            They had to put water in the cargo hold to stabilize her, if she was light. Of course, if she had ore, then naturally that would keep her down.

BWS:  The boats came into Two Harbors sometimes?

MC:    Oh yes. That’s why we moved here. We moved here in 1960. School was out, she waited, and I had—One of the engineer’s wives rented an apartment, I found out. So, I spoke to him about it, he said, “Yeah, my wife rents apartments, so when you get ready to move, tell her. Tell her that the next time she’s down to the boat.” So, I did. I spoke to her. She was in the dining room. She said, “Oh yeah. When?” I said, “In June.” She said, “Ok, I’ll have an apartment for her.” So, when my wife and kids got ready to drive up here, they got up here and—She didn’t tell me that it was a furnished or room. And, Lord, you couldn’t have (sounded like “stealed it”) to sleep on that stuff. So, my wife and Tony—Tony slept in a cardboard box and my wife slept on the cardboard. And that’s strange. First thing, it’s— You have any person go and talk to the priest? We’ll go.”

            Father Hayden gave her the name of a flophouse. And when my wife said—I said, “What?” But, thank God, it didn’t take too long for the furniture, a couple days, now that’s from Chicago to here. So,, she was able. But this filthy stuff that she had expected you to sleep on.

BWS:  A little bit of a surprise, huh?

MC:    Yeah.

BWS:  More than a little. A big surprise.

MC:    Yeah.

BWS:  But that brought you to Duluth, then.

MC:    That brought me to Duluth. Now I had been coming to Duluth since 1945. But the reason I wanted to live in Minnesota was due to a mayor, Hubert Humphrey, during the Democratic Convention. I had never heard a white man speak like that before. When he spoke on civil rights, I said—My first year of voting, because I voted first time in 1947. I said, “What? I’m going to— Of course I had been coming up here and I said, “I’m going to take my family and move to Minnesota, because I’ve never heard a man speak like that before.”

            And you know what? Thank God I got a chance to thank him. He was at a county meeting here at the Labor Temple and I told him about that and he light—Oh! You could just see a glow, you know. I really did. And that was a high point for me, too. I told him, “You’re the reason that I [moved here]” And so, was it hard? It wasn’t easy when we moved here, due to the discrimination in housing. But I didn’t let that stop me. I knew my rights and I was going to insist on them to the end.

            When we tried to rent another spot, you would see signs. It’s rented. Or you knock on the door, you see them in there, they have these like this here and you could look out on the porch and see them. Some of them would come—It’s rented. Or someone would take the sign down.

            And then, ok, well, we weren’t able to build a house out on London Road, but we did. We saved up enough money to buy the lot so that we could build in the future out there. My wife’s cousin, he was discharged from the Air Force from Duluth and he was telling her about the hills. He said, “Try to get on a level place.” So, I would ask the guys that live here. They’d say, “Yup – you can go out east [East Duluth]. If the boat comes into Two Harbors, your wife would be between—and just live out there, Lakeside or Lester Park.”

            Oh good! I would hop a cab, run out here on London Road, and I saw that these lots, I think it said, “Fifteen lots for sale.” And I had the cab driver stop. I took the phone number down. When I came back up here, I called him. “Oh yeah, yeah, place for sale. Can we meet?”

            I said, “Well, I’m on the boat.” So, he found out that I was Black, you know, in his office, he saw that I was Black. Oh, they ah—he told me, that his sister; it was a family affair and she didn’t want to sell.

           Ok. Then (I looked) up on Blackman Avenue here. Well, they found out that I was Black. Nothing for sale. Went out here in Woodland. I never will forget the name of the street: Leicester Street out there. The guy took me out there and showed me the lot. I said, “Oh boy, it’s a big lot. Really, this really looks good.” I said, if somebody didn’t want to be next to me, they could build up there. Found out, he called me, “Oh, uh, no” This guy, the salesman, he said, “To tell the truth—” It was Bond Realty. He said, “To tell the truth, you seem like a nice guy, but they don’t want to sell to you because you’re Black.”

            I know that when President Kennedy was giving his inaugural speech, I had called down here to Gallette, no not Gallette, that was one of the salesmen. It was the Fourth Avenue and Superior Street realtor. I had called and wanted to see a house a little west of St. Luke’s Hospital on First Street. He picked me up and he said—I know he kept saying, “That’s too bad,” driving me down. And when he got to the building, a duplex, exactly three bedrooms in each one—I think it was about $15,000 at that time. He said, “Look. I could sell it to you, but you can’t live there.” I said, “What? You mean to tell me you can sell me the building, but I can’t live there? I don’t want it if I can’t live in it! I want someplace to live.”

            But then the mayor, Mayor E. Clifford Mork, I went to him for help. I called him, went up and told him my plight. He said, “Well, I know that I would love to live out there, but I can’t afford it.” He said, “I’m not going to stop here,” so he called in the county attorney, Weinberg. He says, “Tell Mr. Weinberg your problem. I told him I was discriminated (against). I can’t buy a house. I can’t buy a lot.

            He talked with me. He said, “Well, have you tried Hillside?” I said, “I’ve tried practically all—Many places. But I want a decent place to live.” He said, “Well, Hillside—” I said, “If I can buy a nice place up there, surely.”

            He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. If I go out west [West Duluth] I’m discriminated (against); I’m a Jew. And if the clerk tells me that he doesn’t have a room, I can’t ask to look at his ledger. And if he doesn’t want to rent to a Black man, he doesn’t have to.” That’s what he told me.

            OK. A program was named “Mr. District Attorney.” (The) District Attorney had a TV program called “Mr. District Attorney.” I saw that people, they go to the District Attorney with their problems and I said, “I’m going to the District Attorney!” And I went down there to the courthouse and went up and I told the receptionist, “I’d like to speak to the attorney.” I didn’t know the attorney’s name.

MC:    So, she said, “Well, wait in there, in the waiting room.” If I could recall, it was a round thing and the office and here and here and here. So, (people) kept coming in, passing by. I said, Gee, when am I going to get [in]?

            A guy crossed and he said, “Are you—?” And I said, “No!” So, another one said, “Oh, I thought you were—” I said, “No.” So he called me, his name was Keith Brownell, and I went in there and I told Keith Brownell my problem. He looked (it) up. He had a book. He said, “Well, it says ‘There shall not be discrimination,’ but there’s no penalty. There’s no penalty. And some people, if there’s no penalty, it will have no end to it behind it. I said, “OK.”

            He said, “I do know that I will send you to a lawyer; he has a church group that will buy—that may do it.” So, he sent me down to Andrew Larson, and they’re right on the corner of Third Avenue West and Superior Street on the upper side. I think the Plaza Eight building or something. Anyway, so I went in to talk to Andrew Larson and he knew Bill Maupins, the president of the NAACP at that time. So, I told him my problem. He said, “Yeah! I think I have a church group that will buy this lot and sell it to you.”  I said, “OK.”

            He said, “Well, do you know how much the lot costs?” I think it was $1500 or $2000. I’ll just say $2000. (I) handed Andrew Larson the $2000, made a receipt for it, and he said, “You’ll hear from me in a couple weeks.”

            I’m still sailing. We hadn’t moved up here yet. So, I get in town, I talk with him, he says, “Yeah, When you get off the boat, come in.” That was this winter, now. “When you get off the boat, come in and I’ll introduce you to them and we’ll get things going.”

            Brotherhood Week – they used to have it, I don’t know if they still have Brotherhood Week here or not. Anyway, we knew one of the guys from Sacred Heart that we used to be in the Bible study with. And he says, “Yeah, I know a family that has to have a church member, a pastor, to buy a lot for them.” And, oh brother, the phone started ringing!

            Then the guy who sold it to him, he called Tom Smith. “I thought you were—!”  Words, you know. And then they had a TV guy out there, examining the lot. Nothing.

MC:    And from there, oh we started to get threats: “Keep away from 45th (Avenue East)” and all that stuff.

BWS:  What church bought it for you?

MC:    The Unitarian church. The pastor was named Tom Smith. So, he bought it and it wasn’t known until the Brotherhood Week and they were on the radio. And one of the guys mentioned about Brotherhood, and he brought this in, “I know a church member that had to buy a lot for a Black person because they wouldn’t sell it to a Black person.” My pastor, Father Hayden, I told him about it. (He said), “Oh no, no, no, no, no! You can’t—People are so dangerous now. I would advise you to not do that.”

I said, “Well, what am I to do?” He would say, “I have some realtors in that church; I’ll speak to them.” Cathedral had built this church. It was on the avenue there. So, when I was in there, like with ball games and basketball games during the winter, I would run into Father Hayden. (He’d say), “I’m working on it, I’m working on it.” And every time—Eventually, Tom Smith had bought the lot. I said, “Father, forget about it. That’s OK.”  (He said), “Oh, thank you! Oh, good, good.”

            Fast forward: we bought the lot and we built on there. It was two years, there was no problem. But I just found out that Bishop (Francis Joseph) Schenk, he came here in 1960, the same time we did. In fact, someone was telling me this, a knowledgeable person, said, “You know what Bishop Schenk did, too, because I was at St. Michael’s and Father Hayes, he always hosts the Bishop at certain times. So, he asked me what I—(and) found out that I was a cook. Oh sure.

            My friend, I would help him when he had an event out in Lakewood, I would cook. So, I asked him, would he be the waiter, and serve? And, oh, Father, hey, he’s the Bishop Schenk, felt that was—And I had planked white fish. This lady that used to own this restaurant down here next to Fitger’s, I forget the name of that.

BWS:  Pickwick?

MC:    Yeah! Pickwick! They were operating that Pickwick and I forget her name. She went, and they didn’t have planks, you know, when you cook planked fish. But she borrowed from this place here. Used to be right here on Superior Street, there, Fourth Street West and Superior Street. She brought a plank out there. So that’s how we had served the Irvins, you know, planked fish, soak the plank and get it all soggy, then put your fish on it and all those other things.

            She brought that, so I planked fish. They thought that was the most elaborate meal they’d ever had. And then the Bishop asked me—No, they asked me—they were forming the civil rights group here, a local civil rights group. So, they were trying to get as many members (as they could) in it, so they asked me, since I was Catholic, would I ask Bishop Schenk? Well, I went there, and asked Bishop Schenk and he said, “Yes, I’ll be glad to come.”

            Later on he asked me, would I be one of the representatives from Duluth to go down and represent the church in the race and religion. This was in the early (19)60s. So, I did. But, to send—Someone told me, what was that? They said, “You know why, the Catholics, why you didn’t get too much bright from the Catholics, because Bishop Schenk called every member of the Catholic church out there and told them that we were going to move out there. That we were going to build. I said, “What?” They said, “Yup. Bishop Schenk did.” I said, “Oh, I know, everything I asked Bishop Schenk.” And I was talking with different priests and (they) said, “Oh, Lord, Bishop Schenk thought the world of you.” But he died, you know. Anyway, that’s about all. What else?

BWS:  Well, that is a great story. That is a fabulous story. I never heard stories like that before, but I think they need to be told. But we’ve been going almost an hour and a half, and I want to get to Joe Gomer.

MC:    What?!

BWS:  I want to get to Joe Gomer [Tuskegee Airman who lived in Duluth after his retirement from the U.S. Air Force].

MC:    You mean I’ve been talking—!

BWS:  Yes.

MC:    That doesn’t happen.

BWS:  One hour and thirty-three minutes.

MC:    Lord! That doesn’t happen. What?!

BWS:  Yup. So tell me— I think there are more stories in you, but I want to get to Joe Gomer today.

MC:    The first time I met Joe Gomer, I think Reverend Smith, the same Unitarian minister that bought the lot for me, Joe was having problems trying to find a house. He knew the problem that we had, so they brought Joe out there. He had retired; officially he was in charge of these up the way here. (Unclear 1:33:55). He said that they were having the same problem that we had. We told him, “Yeah,” and so Joe, I think, was one house in Lakeside that they had that was owned by Juris Odden. He offered to sell them his house. It’s in Lakeside, there. So, we talked. That’s how our friendship…

            And then, his wife, Liz, she had her first attack, the first series with cancer. I was home during the winter, off the boat, so we found out. She was in St. Luke’s, and we would go up there and Joe would be up there, so we’d ask him to come back home to lunch. And that’s how our friendship began.

BWS:  Tell me about Joe Gomer. If I were to say, “What’s the thing you remember most about Joe Gomer,” what would it be?

MC:    I remember more stuff about Joe Gomer, but the words that I could use for Joe Gomer. Oh, Lord. He was the most forgiving, wonderful man, or person, that I ever met. Joe was—He showed—I’m not kidding, but he showed grace. Joe, you mention something to Joe Gomer, negative, he’d come back with something positive. You show him something negative, he’d come back with something positive.

            To tell the truth, if it didn’t come from Joe Gomer’s mouth, I wouldn’t have believed it. He was asked to speak out here off of (Highway) 53. He pointed—I was going with him to Ely to get his motor home and bring it back. He asked me would I go with him. “Sure, Joe.” It would be a nice trip because, until I got off the boat, we didn’t spend much time together. So, when I got off the boat, “Yeah, Joe, c’mon, I’d be glad to go up there.”

            We were turning—Once we passed this former Air Force Base, what do they call that thing? That (dome? 1:37:29) thing…

BWS:  Where was it? What was it?

MC:    The Air Force base, here on 53, there’s something, a landmark—past Menards.

Between Duluth and the next little town up there. He pointed out there and said, “I was asked to speak out there once, at a church. I went out there in the fall of the year, and they didn’t have heat.” They were down in the basement and he left his jacket upstairs, so he went back up there to get his jacket. He said, “Matt, do you know what I found? Somebody had defecated, and put it in my jacket.”

            I said, “Joe!” He said, “Yup, right out there.” I said, “What?”

            He said that the host was so hurt. I said, “I’m sure you didn’t wear that jacket.”

            He said, yeah, that the host took it home and had it cleaned. And he said the host told him, “I think I know who it was –” because she was the most one who didn’t want him in the church. Didn’t want him to come there and speak.

            I said, “Joe!”

         He said, “Oh yeah, those things happen.” Just like that. I would go up and get him to bring him down to see Liz, his wife. He was up in Piedmont Heights, coming down there, I’d be talking, and I said something negative. Joe whipped back with something positive. I said, “Lord, why can’t I do that?” [laughing] I said to myself, How can a person be so positive? Gee, that’s good! And I was pleased to be around Joe because I learned something from Joe. And that’s how I grew up. If I could learn something, I knew I didn’t have an education. But I did enhance my education by being on the boat, reading. That’s all I had to do, read, read.

BWS:  If I were to say, looking back, as we wind up here, what are your thoughts about being on the boat and the career that you chose?

MC:    To wind up to being on the boat, I couldn’t have chosen a better profession to provide for my family, than I did. Because I didn’t have the education and by being on the boat, I worked my way up. And also, I enhanced my way of—When I got married, I could provide for my family because I could never have done it ashore. The boat helped me. I will never forget the job on the boat, because I worked my way up from the bottom to the top. And the things that my wife and I did together, would never have been accomplished without me being on the boat. Sorry to be away from my family, but she was right by my side every time. And I married a schoolteacher.

 I finished the fifth grade, but the next time I went to school, the teachers—I went back after summer recess. The teacher said, “Matt, you passed. Go in the next room.” But the third grade—

BWS:  Tell us your wife’s name.

MC:    Helen Louise Carter.

BWS:  Thank you. I know there’s a story there that we can’t get to today, but we will. I’d like to hear her story and talk to you again, just to get her story, because I know there’s a very, very good story about your wife and your family as well.

MC:    And I would have liked to name some of the people who were by our side all the way.

BWS:  Who was that? Go ahead.

MC:    Well, in the neighborhood, there were many. There were the Dwans: their kids played with my daughter, Kai. The Dwans had four kids at the beginning, and then they got, I think, two more. Six, six girls. But one of the middle girls bonded with Kai more. Of course, she was older than Kai. But they’d come over and get Kai, (to) come over to the house and then the Prileys across 45th Ave. And the Heaths next door. Oh, Lord, I got to get them. Two of the friends from St. Michael’s church bought and built next to us.

            And Miss Julia Marshall bought the lot, when we needed some more footage, and gave it to us. And whenever something would happen, like a problem at our home, in a couple days, a bouquet of flowers would come and about the next hour or so, Miss Marshall would show up. Julia Marshall. I never met her sister, but I met her.

BWS:  Carolyn Marshall was her sister.

MC:    Ok.

BWS:  You didn’t meet Carolyn Marshall, just Julia?

MC:    No, no, no. And Miss Merle Marshall, Marshall Hardware, she had a contractor there that cleaned the stuff off of the side of the house.

BWS:  And just quickly, the “stuff off the side” was the painting, the words that were painted on your house.

MC:    Yeah, offensive words, yeah.

BWS:  Offensive words painted on your house.

[It said, Niggers get out! Coons get out! Burn baby burn!] There were swastikas and “Kill Niggers” down the sidewalk and down the alley. They poured acid on the car too.

MC:    Yeah. And Heaths and the Petersons, they bought the lots and after this guy across the street, Walter Dunlap, took lease on the lots to keep me from building any further, Miss Marshall bought the lot from the owner. When he found out that she owned it, so she called up. She said, “Do you know a guy by the name of Walter Heath? I said, “Yeah. He’s a friend of ours.”

            She said, “Well, he wants to buy that lot that I own, and I wanted to make sure that you have good neighbors, so I’ll sell it to him.” Sure did.

            And the Petersons. They built next to the Heath’s. And we were friends, still friends with the Heaths, because they moved back out to the East Coast. And the Petersons moved.; Jerry, he died. There were five couples who played a major part as our friends back in those days. was Don and Margo Klaber, John and Mary Dwan. Pat and Jenny Downey. Wally and Hope Heath were our next-door neighbors. Jerry and Marie Peterson lived next to the Heath’s.

I had a 90th birthday party. Margot Klaber, Marie Peterson, Mary Dwan, and Jenny Downey was there. Those matriarchs played a part in making sure that Helen was looked after when I wasn’t there. And each time it happened when I wasn’t there.

BWS:  Anything else you want to add? I think there are more stories. I’d like to do this again, if you don’t mind. But anything you want to add right now to end what we’re doing today?

AC:     I didn’t know all that stuff. I knew some of it, and likely because I wasn’t interested. A lot of the time, I wasn’t even there.

MC:    You were in the service. Tony was in Vietnam. And the second time that this happened, Helen and Kai and Bill were in Washington D.C.

BWS:  Yeah, see, there are more stories there. Anything more you want to add right now? Because we should--I don’t want to tire you out.

MC:    The reason that I said Helen and the two kids were in Washington D.C., her brother was the assistant to Vice President Mondale. They took her through the White House, the day, the night that this happened. The night before this happened the second time.

BWS:  What happened?

MC:    You know, the marking on the side of the garage and going on.

BWS:  What was her brother’s name?

AC:     Cornell?

MC:    Yeah, Cornell Lewis.

BWS:  Ok, and he was—?

MC:    Assistant to Vice President Walter Mondale.

BWS:  OK, and that’s when the words were painted on your house.

MC:    The second time.

BWS:  The second time, OK. They were out of town.

MC:    Yeah. Going through the White House.

AC:     I found out in basic training, though. Some guy was reading a paper and he happened to know my name. I walked in there and he said, “I think you should look at this.”

MC:    No kidding!

AC:     He knew I was from Duluth, Minnesota.

BWS:  And it was the story of?

AC:     The house, when they painted on the house.

MC:    The first time it was vandalized. It was vandalized twice.

BWS:  So that was the first time. Oh my gosh.

AC:     I couldn’t do anything, but I did—who was that? Father Sporz? He was a minister at that place that called me in and talked to me about it. And then I actually got to talk— They arranged a phone call.

BWS:  So, you knew they were OK.

AC:     I knew they were OK, but I was kind of shocked, because they had a picture of it. And it was in our rec (recreation) room, which I don’t like to read a lot sometimes. But I walked in there, and the guy looked up and saw me. “Tony, I want you to see this. You’re from Duluth, Minnesota, aren’t you?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Uh-oh, somebody got killed or something.” It wasn’t that at all.

BWS:  Right. It was bad. It was really bad. OK.

MC:    And there’s another (twist?) to Joe Gomer. He had the same problem until—Once we moved in the neighborhood, they found out that we weren’t going to bite them, we weren’t going to come over with our cup of sugar. The same way he did when he moved up here on Hutchison (Road). But the only way Joe got a nice place up there was one of the captains sold it to him. One of the officers in the Air Force was leaving town. And the woman that was so against him, she ran behind the salesman’s car to tell him to not sell the house to Joe Gomer. Next door neighbor, and she ended up babysitting his kids.

BWS:  And he had served in the war.

MC:    Oh Lord, yes.

BWS:  Tuskegee Airmen, we’d call them.

MC:    Yeah.

BWS:  And she said, “Don’t sell to him.”

MC:    Yeah. Joe told me that when he was coming back from—In fact, he should have been back a long time because he exceeded his flights. He said that he came up to the line and got in line and, of course, he used the word, “RD,” which you know what that stands for, “redneck.” I don’t use it—I don’t use the term. I don’t want it. My vocabulary is so low, that I don’t need something like that. [laughing] So I don’t use “RD” and “N” words, you know.

            He said that he stood in line, then when he got up to the head of the line, this young lieutenant told him to go back and get out there. Go through—exceed his—.

And he said that he was in the room with five other officers and he said they wouldn’t talk to him. But they tight-sheeted him one time. You know what tight-sheeting means. He said he went for dinner, came back, and his bed was tight-sheeted. So he just took it apart and made it back.

AC:     They short-sheeted.

MC:    Short-sheeted! Yeah.

AC:     That happened to me.

MC:    I didn’t have that happen to me when I served. You did?

AC:     Yeah. They were just doing it as a joke. I got in from Washington D.C. one weekend. Got in there and I started cursing, you know. But everybody was supposedly asleep, but a few of them I heard snickering. [laughing] So, that was the first time. I had ever known about anything like that.

MC:    But Joe said they didn’t talk to him, but they short-sheeted him.

AC:     I found out within minutes because some of them just started laughing.

BWS:  Were you going to say anything more about Joe?

MC:    When I found out that Liz was—And she had moved in, well I’d go up, bring him down. He invited me to use their tickets for the next year to go to the symphony. They had year-round symphony and he and I, I would go and pick him up and we’d go to the symphony here at the arena.

BWS:  The Arena Auditorium?

MC:    Uh-huh.

AC:     He was a neat guy. I was at his home once, visiting his daughter, but somehow, we ended up in Joe’s bedroom. The closet was open, and I looked in there and there was all his uniforms. He was neat as a pin.

MC:    Thirty-some suits.

AC:     I said, “Whoa!”

MC:    That’s the way officer—That’s the way that military…

AC:     I didn’t say anything to him, but I was just so shocked to see how neat it was. Everything was lined up, just like that. I said, “Ooh!” Not that I do it myself, but I learned maybe 50 percent of that to this day. But I hadn’t seen anything like that before.

MC:    There’s so much that I could talk about.

BWS:  Well, I’d like to come back because I think we’re at the end of our time.

MC:    You better catch me because, you know—

AC:     He’ll go on forever.

BWS:  I know! I’ve got to come back and ask more questions, but right now I have to—

I better say “thank you” right now. We’re at two hours.

MC:    Oh really!

BWS:  One hour and fifty-five minutes and forty-four seconds.

MC:    Oh my Lord!

BWS:  I want to say “thank you.” I think has just been fascinating. I’ve learned a lot.

MC:    About professor [Chad Montrie] and he interviewed me, and he said, “I’ve never interviewed someone two hours before.” We went two hours and a half.

BWS:  Well we’re at two hours right now. Not quite. Thank you, very much.

MC:    Oh, you’re welcome.


End of recording

Track 1


Transcribed by Mary Beth Frost

Transcript audit-edited by Barbara W. Sommer and Kai Carter, Mr. Carter’s daughter.

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