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Boise Voices

Boise Voices

Oral History Project

John and Vivian Parker

50 Years (0:16)

John and Vivian Parker

    We've been in the neighborhood since 1959, so we've 50 years in the neighborhood.

    Almost.Yeah, 50 years! Oh my gosh, yeah.

    I like people, so I never really meet any strangers.

    I love seeing people walk up and down with their dogs and their bikes and riding their bikes and pushing baby buggies and carriages--I mean, just everything.

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    • My name is John Henry Parker, Jr. I was born in 1933 in Arrowrock, Missouri.

      I'm Vivian Paker, I was born in 1940 in Eldorado, Arkansas. I left Arkansas when I was about four years old because my parents moved here during the war time in the 40s and they got work in the shipyards so I was only in Arkansas about four years.

      Have you guys visited your home town recently at all?

      I've been to the place where I was born once, and that was as an adult. When my Dad was in the south, you know, back in the 40s, things were not very good in the South for black people. He had a very hot temper and he said that when he left, because of his experiences there, he was going to get killed or kill somebody. So he left and he said he would never go back and he never went back so that's how I happened to not know my grandparents or anything like that. So it was based upon his experiences that he had in the South.

      Arrowrock, Missouri, where I was born, I've only been back there one time, because most of my relatives who were there have move from there. But where I was raised, in Omaha, Nebraska, I usually go back there at least every other year.
    • Was Portland, like, much different from what it is now? I'm sure it was, but, like, what are some specific things that you can remember?

      That's different?

      Yeah, like you personally...

      There's some good differences. When I first came to Portland as a child, we lived in Vanport, which was a segregated area--it was a place where there were poor people, whites and blacks living in that area but the blacks lived together, pretty much, and the whites lived together--but we were all poor.

      Getting older, just jumping forward to when my husband and I was married, young--I married at 18, almost 19--and we went to buy a home. Right, there was a flood in Vanport, that's why we had to move from there. And buying a home here back in the 50s, it was very racist because your weren't shown--we were not shown a home past 7th Avenue, if you can believe it, back in the 70s. You couldn't get a loan to purchase a home so it was very restricted where you could look for a home, money was not available to purchase a home. Some of those things have changed. And some of those changes are good changes for me, so you know, some of my memories.

      We purchased a home on North Michigan back in 1959, and we moved into the block there--maybe about 15 houses on the block there. We were the second black family that moved there.

      When did things start to change in your neighborhood? You were saying that you couldn't, like, buy houses past 7th, you said?

      7th Avenue. There was sort of like--we heard that there was sort of like red-lined, you know, there were areas you couldn't go past, that they wouldn't show you the house. Then, even if you saw it, you couldn't purchase the house because no bank would loan you the money if you were going to buy a home past that area that they blocked out. So what happened was, in the 50s, 60s, probably 70s, there was a lot of white flight because when one black person moved into a neighborhood, then everybody on that street just kind of flew to the suburbs.

      It was probably 66 when things began to break like that.

      Yeah, we lived through that.

      Then things started to like, expand further and you guys didn't have problems getting loans, stuff like that?

      It got somewhat better, right.

      Somewhat better?

      We've lived on the block there for 50 years just about. The original house we bought for $5000.

      We've been in the neighborhood since 1959, so we've 50 years in the neighborhood.

      Almost.Yeah, 50 years! Oh my gosh, yeah.
    • How long have you guys known each other?

      51 years.

      About 51 or 52 years. I married her about a year or so after I met her.

      Wow, that's cool. Things worked out well.

      Yeah. Doesn't mean it's been perfect, but it's been good, been real.

      How'd you guys meet?

      We met about a block, two blocks from here, there used to be on the corner of Beech and Borthwick was a church there, Beech Street Church. And so we met there in the Sunday School class.

      Yeah, he was teaching my Sunday School class.

      She was supposed to be the teacher, she was late.

      No, my teacher was late. You were teaching.

      I came, I was a visitor, they let me teach. I was from Nebraska.

      What was the name of the class?

      It was Sunday School--the Young Adult class.

      I never attended Sunday School.


      We'll talk to you afterwards.

      Anyway, the church never rebuilt. It burnt, there was a fire there and it's still a vacant lot. It's been years ago.

      Right on the corner of Beech and Borthwick. 625 Beech.
    • What would you say is maybe one of your favorite memories about Portland?

      The thing I remember about Portland when I came here that I liked most about it, it was misting rain. It wasn't a hard rain, but it just kind misted all the time.

      You didn't have that kind of weather where you were born?

      No, where I came from it was hot, hot, hot and not too much rain, and then cold, cold, cold all the time. But Portland, it was always misty rain and then the beauty of the city--that's one thing that I really liked too. It's just--the greenery, so forth. I hadn't seen all that before so it really was intriguing to me.

      And what about you?

      Well, I think one of the things I think is memorable to me--because growing up, because of being in the flood and being moved to, you know, living with somebody, living in a school, living on Swan Island, and just moved back and forth during my early elementary school years--but when we, after we got married and moved into our neighborhood, like he said, there were just two black families, our neighbor and then us back in 1959. But what I liked about the neighborhood though was that it was mostly populated by Scandinavians, Norwegian people and Mississippi Avenue then had little neighborhood stores that catered to the kind of food they liked. And they would just kind of sit on the benches and talk--you know, little old men and little old ladies. And they were very nice people and they had names like Sarka, Carlson and you know we got to know them--Reynakeyna. Just a really nice environment, you know, when we moved in. And a lot of those people stayed until I guess they got too old to stay in their homes. It was very nice. You overlooked some things. But it was a very nice environment.
    • You mentioned something about the Civil Rights movement, I believe you mentioned something earlier, and I was wondering if you had any personal experiences during that time.

      Not in the national Civil Rights movement, but here in the 80s there was the Black Power and the Black Panthers were big. And, you know, there was lots of violence in the streets because I guess people were angry.

      Burning things--back in 67 there was quite a burning over on Martin Luther King.

      And the stores got closed up and boarded up and nobody wanted to be around.

      The pastor that we had at that time, he was very instrumental in working with a lot of people who were very hostile because a lot of the things that were going on.
    • Do you have children?

      Yes. We have eight children: we have four sons and four daughter.

      We have four boys and four girls. And sixteen grandchildren. And two great-grandchildren.

      And two great-grandchildren.

      And did you raise your children in Portland?

      Right on Michigan, North Michigan.

      I wasn't around until 1990.

      Oh my Lord! Yeah, you missed a lot.
    • Do you think it was a good neighborhood to raise kids?

      Well, we tell you we moved there in 1959 and then in about 1970 the neighborhood took quite a drastic change. It became quite a drug trafficking area. And up around where the Fresh Pot is, that corner used to be quite a drug center--that whole block, all four corners there. So we lived through that with our children and they saw a lot of things and we tried to keep them from those things and I think we did pretty well keeping them from them.

      We got involved with it at the community level--our neighbor more so than us, Mrs. Loving. We had police meet at our house, neighborhood meetings at our home and other homes in the area to try to deal with the drug problem because it was just pervasive. And that's why nobody wanted to live around here. You know, Mississippi was boarded up. And it was interesting when the coffee shop moved in and it said, "Fresh Pot" we thought, "What?!" Of course we didn't think coffee pot; we thought drugs--because the corner of Mississippi and Shaver was hot.

      That's a drug center.

      So anyway, that was kind of comical.
    • What do you think was one of the most stressful experiences living in this neighborhood?

      Well, I think that when we first moved there, you know, we--as I said, we were only one of two of the first back families. Some of them that lived around there, they didn't want their children to speak to us, and so forth like that. But we kind of got through that. The children kind of had more sense than some of the parents, you know. But eventually that worked out. And some of the neighbors became great friends of ours.

      Very good friends.

      We're in touch with some of the kids now. Some of the neighbors, I've done weddings for them, and also I've done funerals for them.

      Some of the people that didn't want to speak with us when we came in there, you know, they are just tight now. Some of them passed on.

      But I would have to say that one of the stressful things being a mother was that drug period. It was dangerous, you know, and then the neighborhood went through the time of having, you know, shootings, you know, you'd hear gunfire a lot. It's different now, but that whole scenario, people hanging out--the corner right across the alley from Fresh Pot, when it was like a vacant lot down there, and trees, people would just hang out all day and there'd be drugs and our kids would come past and go to the store--which is the same store that's up there now.

      So we had to be very careful when the children were going up to the store or something like that.
    • Is there anything that maybe you'd like to add about the community or growing up that maybe I didn't mention?

      Well, I'm excited about the good changes in the community that we have seen over the last ten years. I think that the neighborhood is becoming a place where people can live without fear--where you can be up and down the streets and there's safety and so forth like that--that's what I appreciate about the newness of the neighborhood.

      Yes, I have to agree with my husband. The interesting thing, though, is that every establishment has liquor, so that is a concern. But I do love the changes in our neighborhood. I love seeing people walk up and down with their dogs and their bikes and riding their bikes and pushing baby buggies and carriages--I mean, just everything. So it's a great change. I'm glad that we still live here.

      I like people, so I never really meet any strangers.
    Defining quote: How would you like to be remembered: (0:42) - How would you both like to be remembered? - I would like to be remembered by bringing people from a state of darkness into a marvelous light. - That's a good way to put it. - I would like to be remembered as being a very positive, righteous influence on young people particularly. I like being around them and I like to think that my life was something that made them want to emulate or pattern after.
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