Maybelle Craig Broussard ’31

Maybelle Craig Broussard, Class of 1931

My mother was born in Cape Girardeau, on the Mississippi River, in Missouri. She went to Wilberforce University outside of Columbus Ohio. [Editor’s note: Wilberforce University is a historically black university located in Wilberforce, Ohio. It was the first college to be owned and operated by African Americans.] It is amazing that she went to college. Even when I went to Cal, only 10% of Americans went to college. Her father was a minister and the family moved around a lot. When she finished high school, he sent her to Wilberforce so she would have a more permanent home. It was a black college named after an Englishman. She became a teacher in Prairie View, Texas. She taught “Home Ec”. She married my dad in Texas.

My father was twenty years older than my mother. He was born in the last year of slavery in 1863 in Missouri, but since Missouri hadn’t seceded from the Union, it didn’t fall under the Emancipation law and had to pass its own law in 1865 to free the slaves. My father’s mother was a slave in Kentucky and she came with her owner to Missouri. Her owner fathered all nine of her children. My father was the last one born in slavery. She crossed the Missouri River to get to Kansas to be free. Two of her nine children died and then she had another one, her tenth, after she got married. My father’s youngest sister (my aunt) was born 1965 in Kansas, the only one of ten born free.

She had an amazing life. My aunt (Nettie Craig Asberry) was a brilliant woman. She had graduated from a music college in Leavenworth, Kansas. All the siblings had pooled their money to send her to college. She lived in Tacoma, Washington. She was one of the founders of the NAACP in the Pacific Northwest. I visited her in Tacoma when I was only 14. She sent for me, sent money for me to come visit. She had a really nice home in Tacoma. Her husband owned the barber shop downtown in the Tacoma Hotel, which was very elegant. There were newspaper articles about him when he died. He had a lot of prominent customers. Two or three presidents even had their own mugs [for shaving] there. Tacoma was the place of commerce at that time. Seattle came along later. My aunt had people in to meet me, her niece from California. She was involved in a women’s club and when the world’s fair came to Seattle, her women’s club came away with some prizes for their sewing. Those things are in a museum now. When her husband died, he left her five houses and a couple of lots and I eventually got one of those lots outside Tacoma which I sold not long ago. She lived a lot longer than he did and lived on that money.

That was the only trip I’d ever taken. I had never been away from home before. My father was the only one of the ten siblings to have children. I knew Aunt Nettie, one uncle, and Aunt Martha who lived in San Diego. I went there a couple times to visit her when school was out.

My parents met in Texas and moved to Nebraska. My brother was born in Omaha in 1906. Then they moved to Denver, Colorado and my father worked for the Union Pacific Railroad in Denver. That was where he had a horrible accident. He was supposed to jump off the train at a certain place at a certain time. It was dark and the train was off schedule. He jumped off too soon and instead of landing on the platform, he fell into the Platte River. He messed up his legs and couldn’t walk. He finally managed to crawl to someone’s house. His leg had to be amputated below the knee. He was in his mid-40s. My father had been married before and he had a daughter who was only a few years younger than my mother. They moved to Oakland and I was born there in 1914. He got a job as an elevator operator in City Hall where he worked until he retired. He died in 1958 at the age of 94.

I attended Cole Elementary School, which is now a police station, and Lowell Junior High School, both in West Oakland. In my childhood, West Oakland was an immigrant neighborhood. At that time lots of immigrants were coming to the US from all over Europe. Our neighborhood had a lot of Italians and Portuguese. Next door on one side lived a black lady. Then there was a store. I loved playing handball on the outside wall of the store. In the next house were the Kalunians from Armenia. The other way nearer to 12th Street was my best friend who was Polish. I remember we had some friends in West Oakland that had a great big dining table and when you lifted up the top of it, there was a pool table underneath! I remember that!

All the kids spoke English, but none of their parents did and I was always fascinated listening to them talking with their parents in their native languages. I think my love of languages started right then. I was just fascinated with that and I eventually turned to languages, majored in Spanish at Cal, and took some French. I am sure I still remember my Spanish even though I haven’t spoken it for 40 years!

My family moved from West Oakland to North Oakland so I could go to Tech. North Oakland was considered a better neighborhood. I walked to Tech, a long walk, but I enjoyed it. We lived in a black neighborhood in North Oakland and it was really nice. West Oakland was considered kind of rough. It had that reputation anyway. North Oakland was considered a better neighborhood. We lived near 35th and West and Market. Black people couldn’t buy houses after Grove, only below Grove [now Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.]. Nobody would sell you a house above Grove. Everyone knew that. You didn’t need to be told.

There weren’t many black students at Tech when I was there. Some of my friends there were Japanese. We were close friends, but I lost track of them after high school. I was shy in high school. I don’t remember being part of any clubs or activities. I remember Neils Johnson who taught Spanish. He had a lot of influence on me and my majoring in Spanish in college. I remember I had a good algebra teacher. I was never good at math before that. I took all college prep classes, no business classes, but I did go to business college, Merritt College, for a semester after high school and took typing. Then I went to Cal. My mother made me go to college!

There were very few black people there then. Walking around the campus, I hardly saw any. I remember one of my English professors told us that only 10% of the population went to college at that time, so you can imagine how few blacks went. I was friends with a few black girls who were there too, Esther and Madeline. Lionel Wilson, who later became Mayor of Oakland, graduated the same year I did, 1936. I had no negative experiences at Cal. But after college, you didn’t get a job! Black women didn’t even get office or store jobs. Some of my friends “passed” to get jobs in stores. That was the only way to get a job. I took every exam they gave for state jobs, but you had to have graduated in the last five years to even take the exam. If it was longer than five years, you could not take the test. I was interviewed for a lot of jobs, minor jobs, and even with a college education, I couldn’t get them. One lady interviewed me, but didn’t take me. She said the job was filled. Then two or three weeks later, I was invited into an interview for the same job because she forgot that she had interviewed me. She didn’t fill that job! I never went back.

I worked as a junior clerk in Sacramento for a couple of years. I earned $70 a month and was the 2nd or 3rd black person who’d been hired in Sacramento. There weren’t even any black teachers then. Then I got married and after that I worked part time jobs in tax season sending out notices and things like that. I always worked part time. My husband, Ernest, worked for the Post Office and sold real estate on the side. After he got home at 3:00, he napped, and then went out in a suit and sold real estate. He did very well. We bought my current house [in East Oakland] 50 years ago. We met at a lodge down on 8th Street in Oakland. I saw him there and I said to this guy, “Who is that guy? Introduce me to him!” At that time Ernest was working at the Southern Pacific Railroad then, traveling to Chicago. He worked in restaurant car as a dishwasher with a lot of older men. He hated that job. After they worked, they ate their dinner and then turned the tables into beds and slept there. He used to say, “I had to work with them and sleep with them too!” Then he worked for a black insurance company and then took the Civil Service exam and got hired at the Post Office. When he died, he was a supervisor. He worked until 9:00 at night at the main post office in Oakland. One night the doorbell rang at 9:30 and a man was standing there, the coroner. He told me that my husband was dead. He died in a car accident on the way home from work. He was only 56. Seventeen years later, I married my second husband, Bronak Kuciak, a Polish man. He died at age 86. He was really nice.

Ernest and I had three children: Ernest Jr. (Now retired, but he worked for United Airlines), Antoinette (Toni) (a self employed a writer and co-producer of her daughter’s TV show) and John (an elementary school teacher). I have four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. After my children were grown, I went back to school at Cal State Hayward to get a secondary credential. Thirty years after I’d graduated from Cal, I went back! I worked as a bilingual employment counselor for the state of California and I taught ESL [English as a Second Language] at an adult school here in Oakland. I also volunteered for the American Cancer Society for ten years, talking with women who had had mastectomies and giving them materials. I really enjoyed that. And I have gotten active in my sorority again, Delta Sigma Theta. They gave me a scholarship to go to Cal when tuition at Cal was $25 a semester! Then it was raised it to $26.50! I have been a sorority member for 80 years. We meet the third Saturday of the month. They came to my birthday party when I turned 100.

I have traveled all over the world– Europe , Asia, Central America, Mexico, South America, Japan. I wanted to go to China when I was in Japan, but at that time, you couldn’t go there. I traveled with a girlfriend in the years when I was between husbands and I went on some cruises with my second husband. My favorite place was Brazil, but Brazil should be ashamed of how people were living up in the hills with no electricity or water. I loved the beauty of the country, but I thought that was horrible. It was hard to see that. And I went to Poland with my second husband and met his family in Warsaw.

The happiest time in my life was when I had my three children. That was the best time.