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Belva Holder

May 29, 2004

Diaz: This is Davin Diaz; it's May 29, 2004 in San Bernardino.

Holder: I'm Belva D. Holder at 1570 West 16th Street, San Bernardino. In the late '50's my husband, fresh out of medical school came from Washington D.C. The family with two small children relocated in Riverside, California at Riverside General Hospital. We came and it became our new home. My husband did his internship at this hospital. A third child was born during the two years we spent in Riverside. Before coming to San Bernardino we looked for housing near the Patton State Hospital where he would be employed. This would be impossible, because there were no houses available for Blacks in our around the hospital grounds. There was one Black doctor on the hospital grounds with an empty house next door, but we were told that there were no other houses available. Real estate agents would not discuss the possibility of an empty house in this area. We were told the name of a Black realtor. He got in touch, and moved in with a lady that was going overseas to be with her husband. After a few weeks in this house the owner told us her sister wanted the house. Another realtor was contacted. She was building a home in Loma Linda, California. She invited us to live with her family until they moved. This worked out fine because we purchased the house and lived there for a few years. At this time we were expecting our fourth child. We were the proud parents of four wonderful daughters.

There was a great need for a preschool in the neighborhood. The Methodist Nursery was a dream, then a reality. I was the director. We built the nursery from the ground and we were very proud of it. We had a program that covered the drop-in students from the elementary school across the street. Children from the ages of two years to four were all day students. Five year to nine-year-olds would drop in for the after school program. Saturday morning dance lessons were offered, tap and ballet because there was no nearby place for children to learn how to dance. Many groups in the area used the building for their monthly meetings. On Sunday the church group worshipped there. After a couple of years, as director, I was asked to take a kindergarten class at Mitchell Elementary School. I worked there for a year. After Mitchell School I moved to Mount Vernon Elementary School because I asked for a transfer to this side of town because I felt like I wanted to be near to my children and also wanted to help my own neighborhood. After three years as an afternoon kindergarten teacher I only did half days because I wanted to spend the morning with my children. I dropped them off at the nursery school for lunch and left. I was able to spend most of the afternoon with them after I returned from work. I also closed the school each day and then I moved on to Vermont Elementary School as a full-time teacher after three years of working as half-day kindergarten teacher. I taught from kindergarten to third and fourth grade at Vermont. I retired from Vermont after 29 years of teaching in this school. Thirty-eight years would complete my experience as a teacher. I had several years in North Carolina, New Jersey and upper New York and Washington area. After retirement in 1995 I had been working as a long-term substitute teacher. I've been at Ingram Elementary School for seven years as the substitute on-call as floating substitute.

I have witnessed many changes in San Bernardino during my years here. Schools were not really integrated when I first started working. I was the first Black teacher at Vermont School and no Black children. The second year, one Black child. She was assigned to a white teacher. The teacher's comment in the teacher's room was, "she could not work with a Black child." I asked her to send the child to me each morning after she called the roll. The teacher left the district.

My two older daughters integrated Davidson Elementary School. They were harassed by some students, but not harmed. From Davidson they moved onto Arrowview junior high school and they graduated from San Bernardino high school. Two other daughters followed the same routine. For higher education, my oldest daughter graduated from Cal State San Bernardino and also from law school at Western State. I now have a daughter, Pamela, who is at Cal State and will graduate in June. Also, a younger daughter who went to U.C. Riverside, San Luis Obispo and then finished and is now working as an officer because she did not want to be a P.E. teacher and after doing physical therapy for about nine years she decided she wanted to get a better job, so she works in the prison system at Chino in the men's section.

I served on the Home of Neighborly Service Board for many years and also was a Community Service Agency Board Member for many years. I also was the Chairman of the Board for about five years. I served many years as Trustee Board Member at Saint Paul Methodist Church. I am a Stuart Board Member now #1, at the present time. I have served as the Director of the tutorial school at the same church. This June I will serve as Educational Director of the Bible School Program at Saint Paul Church also.

In the late 1980's a dying father asked me to become guardian of his two small daughters ages 2 and 4. This was done through the courts to make it legal. They are now 16 and 18. The 18-year-old is finishing high school this year; a very outstanding student.

Diaz: We were discussing when you had transferred from Mitchell Elementary to Vermont Elementary.

Holder: No, from Mount Vernon Elementary to Vermont.

Diaz: And they told you not to come to the meeting at night.

Holder: Yes. I was told by the principal and some of the teachers that it probably would not be safe for me to attend the PTA meetings at night and be in the neighborhood at night. But I really did not listen to them, because I felt like I was there for a reason and I was not afraid. So I did not miss any of the meetings. I attended all the meetings and everything that was going on at the school. During the first year of teaching I had two children whose parents were (I won't call names), but they were known to be children from a family that had ties with groups. I had the brother and the sister in my classroom and the mother and the father came to the school and asked questions about - of course this was my second year. When I was there the first year I did not have these two children. The first year went smooth, but the second year these two children were assigned to me, and the principal said, "Do you think you really want these two children in your class?" I said, "Oh yes, let's give it a try." The children were assigned to my class and I had a Christmas party and brought all the children from my class to my home. These two children's parents signed a consent form and they came to my home for the Christmas party. That was a big step for that family. Of course the father could never accept me, but the mother came to all of the programs and all of the things that we had after school. Also at the time for the kid's conferences, she came to the conferences and all of those things, so it was not really, really a big thing with her. But with the father, he never spoke to me ever. No matter where he would see me, in the grocery store or whatever; he never raised his head to speak to me, which was his privilege. It didn't bother me. But the children are wonderful children, and they still are, the whole family. And through the years I've had other children from the same family, some of the grandchildren and it was never a problem.

Diaz: Never a problem?

Holder: No, the children were never a problem. The children were very wonderful. Now some of the older members of the family didn't like - well they accepted me because I did not do anything for them not to accept me as a person. So I think it was a good thing for them. Coming back to the incident with the Black child at Vermont Elementary School, the White teacher did not want to teach her at all. She said she just couldn't do it. So she was questioned by some of the teachers in the teacher's room if she realized she was in San Bernardino and not in the south, the deep south. She said that was just something she couldn't do. So I accepted the child in my classroom and it work out fine because we had the same grade level. So the only thing she did was keep the child on her roster to make her numbers, but I did work with the child.

Diaz: What years are these, roughly?

Holder: Late '60's, early '70's.

Diaz: And did she direct any racist attitudes towards you at all?

Holder: No. She just didn't have too much to do with anybody. She was that kind of person. She wasn't that friendly to anyone.

Diaz: We were discussing Neighborly Service and the cleaning service.

Holder: Yes, Home Neighborly Service was very interesting to me because I had heard about how they helped a lot of people in all different kinds of ways. I served on their board because I wanted to know more about what was going on there and I felt it was my obligation since I lived in the neighborhood where the place was located. I felt like I needed to know more about it. They do great things at that place, and I felt that it really helped me in many ways to help myself when I had my own nursery school and they had a nursery school and all of that there. I'd attended a lot of meetings at the Home and Neighborly Service office too, or in the school part and it was always interesting to me to find out more about what was going on in the community.

And you asked me about the Community Service Agency Board. I served five years as a member of the board for my sorority, which was Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. After that, five years they made me Chairman of the Board and I worked until I could no go anymore because I had too many obligations. I have gone back to visit and it's always very interesting to me. On that board also, they do many, many things for the community. They pick people up that have no home and give them all kinds of things. They get them started when really they don't have anything. So they actually help them to get started. There are really a lot of things that they do.

You asked me a question about the Mother Goose Day Nursery. When I first opened the school I found that we were driving all the way to downtown San Bernardino because their parents wanted them to take dance lessons because my children attended dance lessons. So we filled up two station wagons and drove them downtown for about a year. Then I decided let's have the dance class. So many people were interested in the dancing so we had the dance classes held at the nursery school on Saturday morning. This is what we did; we had a teacher to teach them different things. We also had another teacher who came in and did dances other than tap and ballet. That went on I guess for a couple of years or so and then those children went on to different places and they sort of lost interest in the dancing. But it was something that really was good for the neighborhood too.

Diaz: Can I ask a question? You mentioned to me that you wanted to expose the neighborhood.

Holder: Yes, the children had not really been exposed to dancing and some of them came in from different places. They didn't all come from this immediate neighborhood. We had children that were driven in from Rialto and different places. The parents worked and it was very inconvenient for them to take their children to dance classes or what have you, so I thought it was my obligation really to expose them to these things because we could do it. We had the time and we had the facility to do it, so that's what we did. It paid off in the end, we have some dancers that came out of that experience who are very good.

Diaz: And other organizations met at Mother Goose?

Holder: Oh yes. Over the years sororities and fraternities and we had meetings we also had parties. We had a church that used it for about five years for their church. They didn't have a place to meet, so they met there. We also had community meetings in the place too because we have had meetings with the mayor and the Superintendent of Schools and all those different places that parents needed to get together and talk to those people. So we had meetings on that order too. So it was well used all the time.

Diaz: Good. When you mentioned the sororities, fraternities, the church group; were these all African-American organizations or were they mixed kind of.

Holder: Well, sometimes it was mixed because in the neighborhood you had different people. I belonged to one sorority and they did meet there and I was the first Black member of that sorority, Alpha Delta Kappa. It met there a couple of times too. They also met in my home, but that was later on down the line because I was not a member until after I'd been here quite awhile. They accepted me as a member and then we had two other members who were Black. When I left the sorority I had only three members. My schedule kept me so busy I just couldn't go. I belonged to three sororities, so I had to choose one. I could not keep up with all the activities and the financial obligations also with all of them. Because I had grown children, teenagers, so I had to give up some of the sororities. But during the time I was working with those groups I enjoyed them very much.

Diaz: The Mother Goose Nursery. When you started it there was a need?

Holder: Very much so; very much so. There was really nothing in this immediate neighborhood other than the elementary school down the street where you couldn't just have had anything going on in there. You were able to use it now and then, but we had something ongoing. So, therefore, a group of men got together with my husband and we discussed it with them and he had two other people that volunteered to come in on the beginning of the nursery school and they did it together. Then they pulled out and we bought it from them. So we were the owners for most of the time because they didn't stay in it very long. They didn't want the obligation of taking care of it or whatever, so we wound up buying it, which was good. Us old wives we wound up buying it.

Diaz: You also mentioned before that it was actually good for you too.

Holder: Very good, because I had four children and it meant that I could be with my children all morning at home (that's before they started elementary school), and bring them to the nursery school at lunchtime where they would have lunch, and then go to sleep. By the time I came home from my afternoon kindergarten class, this went on for three years, I could go there and stay until closing time and then take them home. That means I was spending more time with them. They would sleep I guess about two hours and I was actually at kindergarten about three hours, so they didn't have to do without me too long. So that's why it was real good. So you see I had a reason for building the nursery school.

Diaz: Oh, I understood it was free. Was it free?

Holder: No. That was paid, very small pay though. Very small pay. And actually you had welfare mothers, who that was taken care of for the welfare mothers. So it really worked out. It really worked out nice because some kind of way the welfare gave them money to pay their fees for the children. Also they had welfare mothers who had never worked, so they gave them jobs and sent them to work and then that's how they had their children there. And they also gave us, in the end we used to have to buy our own food, but in the end we had so many welfare mothers and so many welfare children that the City sent us lunch.

Diaz: What time period would that have been?

Holder: That was probably in the '80's.

Diaz: Well I had interviewed Tamara [daughter] and she had mentioned that the rates were kept low.

Holder: Very low. The rates were very low. You couldn't find a nursery school - we did it that way because we knew they couldn't afford it, so what they needed was this facility and we had many children that were there and didn't pay. That's because maybe the husband had left the wife or something and she wasn't on welfare and, so therefore, if she had the children we'd still keep the child. We would not let the children suffer, so we still kept them. It paid off, you know. You really reap what you sow, so we reaped good things because we sowed good seed. It was in my heart that we have that nursery school. It wasn't for profit. We never made a profit. We were always in the red. We didn't want profit, because if we'd made a profit the income tax would have eaten us up. So it was always in the red, which was good. We never tried to make money on it.

Diaz: You'd been a teacher in the community for a while.

Holder: I've only been teaching 57 years, but I think I lived 48 years before I retired in 1995. After that I've been teaching ever since. Sometimes long-term at schools and I've been at one school, as I said before, the Ingram Elementary School, I've been there for seven years. The long-term teaching was at Davidson School and at Vermont School. I had also gone back to help new teachers who are just coming on. I had a young lady who is coming from New York and she was late getting here for the school year and I took her class and I had her class and when she arrived I stayed with her a month until she could get settled in the classroom, which was a good experience. I was at Vermont, and that was my old, old, stomping grounds, so I enjoyed that very much.

Diaz: How would you say Vermont has changed? Have the children changed at all?

Holder: It's a better school because you have new housing in the area. You have beautiful homes out there now. I don't know if you've been out in that area, but they have beautiful homes and they're getting a different clientele of people coming to the school. Because when I first started teaching at Vermont School it was really a place where I think all the gangs ran to and all the big groups (I'm not calling any names) were there and it was a dangerous place really. That's when the principal was teasing us and he said, "All of you have to learn how, if you're going to go down a certain street, you have to learn how to go up into the field when you're passing certain houses." So that was a big joke, so we all had to learn how to drive the wrong way. But anyway, after a few years had passed and one group came in and shot up the other group in front of the children sitting on the front porch and killed their father. That changed the whole thing, and a big change. Those people moved out of the neighborhood and now they're living one block from here, right on that corner, and they're living like people, they're not doing all that stuff. They have never given this neighborhood any problem. And when they're going to have one of their big to-do's they always let the elementary school where I teach, let them know that they are having friends come in during the daytime. So anyway, it's work out fine. This neighborhood has always been a nice neighborhood, so it still remains the same. Of course there's lots of things going on now that are not making us happy, but you can't change the world in one day.

Diaz: Are you aware of the Omni, the bus, how they have their big depot?

Holder: Yes, down, it's about six to eight blocks from here. But basically they cleaned that up. I felt sorry for the people in that school area because I can imagine what they were going through, it's frightening to have something like that to poison your system, and especially children. There are so many things that we have that are not so good, but you don't really need to add anything onto it. I think they cleaned it up now because they were really up in arms for a while.

Diaz: Were there any like community meeting concerning that?

Holder: Yes, but see I wasn't involved, so I didn't go because they had enough on the issue. They are about six to eight blocks from here and my school that I work in is right there. We haven't had any big problems really and truly. Not in this area so far as the schools are concerned, just the usual human things. Not that the shooting are human, but you have those too. But they're not as bad now as they have been. Thank God for that.

Diaz: [inaudible]

Holder: No. This was gang related and on the next street over, you had one shooting around the corner here and the apartments about two blocks away and then another shooting. It was still gang, gang related or whatever. It might have been drug related, who knows, because I never asked questions about what happened, but there were at least five people killed in a space of two weeks. So they were out of either a gang or drug dealer. I think it was drugs instead of gangs. That was very sad and frightening too. But once they got all the people they wanted that was it, it was over. We haven't heard anymore about it lately.

Diaz: And that was recently?

Holder: Yes, that was about six months ago, that's recent.

Diaz: Yes, that's recent.

Holder: And the schools have lockdown you know. They have a bell that they ring and you lock your classrooms.

Diaz: You lock the doors?

Holder: You lock the doors and the janitors lock the gates. We haven't, not since I've been there and I've been there seven years. It hasn't happened since I've been here. And we didn't have lockdown at that time, because it wasn't something that was happening too often. But I understand before I came there that they had had lockdown before, but in the seven years I haven't known them to have lockdown, so that means it's better; but they have had it before I came to the school.

Diaz: It wouldn't create a fire hazard or anything?

Holder: Well you just lock down the doors, you've got the key to get out. You can get out, they're not locking you down, you lock the door. When you hear the bell you lock your own door. All the teachers lock their own doors. That's just so no one can run into your room, which would be a terrible thing to have someone run into your room. And actually, I noticed in nursery school, my nursery school that I sold, they have the front door locked at all times, which is good, because basically sometimes you're in the back yard with the children or different places, and the City has built a new preschool right next to it. So it's a preschool plus a daycare type thing and they come across the street and pick up the children. They've always done that even when I had them. The teachers come across the street and pick up the children. When I had it the teachers from the school walked the children across the street so they don't have to walk across the street on their own. It's always been very convenient really.

Diaz: Are the lockdowns because of the gangs.

Holder: I don't know if it's that or not, because we have little children there and the teachers are busy out in the back. There's nothing but ladies there, so that might be one reason. So, therefore they keep the front door locked most of the time, not all of the time they keep the front locked. I think it's certain times they go outside they probably lock the door so nobody can come in the front. You never know what's going on in the street, I don't care where you live. It doesn't matter where you live, because there's so many things happening and it's really upsetting these times that we're living, but you have to go through these things, so you just do the next best thing. I think that's why they keep it locked down because it's not always, like I said. But it's right at the street any anybody could just run in there at the door and rob the place while they're out in the backyard with the children you see. Because they have lots of play area and everything and they're sometimes outside.

[End of Interview]