Aaron: Hello. My name is Aaron Fountain and today is February 8th, 2022. I am in Cleveland, Ohio and I am speaking with Charles Williams. Hello. So I have a couple of questions and we will get through. So the first question I love to ask everybody is, can you tell me about yourself, where you’re from and where you’re born, your parents, and childhood up?
Charles: Yes. I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, not in Nashville, Memphis, Tennessee, but I was raised in Churchill, Mississippi. I was raised by my grandparents who lived there and mother Lucille went to college. She went to… And just up my mind just that quick. The Black college in Nashville across from Fisk. What is that?
Aaron: Tennessee State,
Charles: Tennessee State, Helen Hart. But anyway, I live in Mississippi until I was 14 years old and my mother and my stepfather came to Cleveland after graduating. Then at 14 I came to live with them. I was born in 1938 and while I was still here, so actually there’s no telling how long that’s going to be, but my, my, my mother still living. She’s 104 and she lives in Detroit. After coming here, I went to high school, went to junior high, Patrick Henry and Glenville High School. And this place, this church called United Methodist, it was wasn’t at that time United Methodist. It was just Cory Methodist Church. It has a gymnasium and it’s attached to it, and it’s where all the kids would come after school. And I was a teenager. I started coming here, I guess it was 15 I kept, until I left and went to the service. I came back from service and got married. Well, I got married while in service and my wife was coming to this church and she a member of the church. I was a member at the time of Antioch Baptist Church. But after I got back to the service, then I started coming to this church and finally joined here. And I joined here in ’79. And I’ve been here ever since. After joining, such a bizarre thing, I joined one Sunday and the Sunday they made me a trustee. It was kind of weird and that I’ve been since 79 a trustee here. Of course, United Methodist has this plan that you’re on the board for three years. You can serve as an officer for a year and you’ll be either reelected or someone else becomes an officer. You know the chair, vice chair, secretary, treasurer. I’ve been selected chairperson just about half the time I’ve been on the board, maybe a little longer, because after a while you run out of people to make this rotation that is required by United Methodist. So a lot of staying here on the board. Chairperson for long time. So that’s just the crux of it.
Aaron: Okay. No problem. I’m going to backtrack a little bit. So what were your parents’ occupations?
Charles: My mother was a schoolteacher and my stepfather was a postal worker. He was the supervisor, I think mostly a night supervisor at the post office.
Aaron: What part of Cleveland did you live in when you came here as a teenager?
Aaron: How would you describe the neighborhood at the time?
Charles: It was very, very alive. Everywhere you look, people were there and doing something and going back and forth. To me, being raised on a farm in Mississippi it was like, I don’t know, it was like the liveliest thing I’d ever seen. All of the vacant areas that you see now on the street, had a building there and something was in it. Store of some sort. Drug stores, haberdashery, restaurants, record shops, shoeshine shops, ice cream, barber shops, all over the place. Every spot you see that is vacant had a thriving business in it. It was nice. It took me a while to get used to but then once I got used to it was like the place to be.
Aaron: How was the high school environment in Glenville?
Charles: The high school environment was, it was good. It was a good environment. The time I was in junior high, it is always crowded. Schools at those times or classrooms had either, I’d say from 18 to 25 students in them. And it was just in Glenville High School, before I got to Glenville, I was about in the seventh. I was in eighth grade, and Glenville at that time was mostly a Jewish school. And I would say it was like about 25 percent black and 75 percent Jews. And by the time I got there, I had almost flipped the switch. It was about 25 percent Jewish and 75 percent black. And at that time, it just seemed like. It’s hard to it’s hard to really compare. You had more structure, teachers were stronger in developing a child at that time. In other words, if a kid would get in trouble and do something stupid, the teacher would have a more active role in straighten it out. And they had more comradeship with the parents and things worked out great. I don’t know where that changed, but it changed kind of drastic later on.
Aaron: Okay. So. So you were here when Glenville went from around 90 percent white in 1940 to, like, almost 90% black in 1950?
Charles: When I came to Cleveland, it was probably 50-50. Thinking back, quite a few blacks owned their own homes. That was the biggest part that was amazing to me. Some streets was so beautiful. But you still had mostly black people on the street and another, be mostly white that I could tell. It is, as I said, this is a Jewish community. So you would have people mixed in some areas. It was quite different to me at the end. But I got to understand it and appreciate it a lot. The change of the racial structure of it.
Aaron: So you went to the service at the high school. What year was this?
Charles: This is in, 59, 1959.
Aaron: Okay. How long did you serve?
Charles: Three years and 15 days.
Aaron: And how was that experience serving?
Charles: That was pretty, pretty rough. The one thing how I can explain this is like when you growing up in the South and on a farm and in a segregated place like the South. For us, there were a lot of uncertainty about a child growing up what to do, what not to do, and how to do it, and who to talk to and whatever. But when I got into the army, there were some things I had to do with, interact with others. Well, the uncertainty was very prominent to me. And I just didn’t have a feel for. The next thing I did whether I was doing it right or not. My most fear was messing up. I didn’t want to go before anyone with any problem, especially officers. I can’t explain the change. But I can tell you that by the time I got out of the service, it seemed like that was all. I had no problem talking to anyone on any basis or whatever. I had no problem speaking up for myself, which was very hard for me in the beginning. At some point, I don’t know if it’s the association with the other soldiers who didn’t have that problem. But it did a lot for me in some ways. But my basic training from my home more than less came to help me out more than anything else. So the training, the raising that my grandparents did for me. It was my backbone. My strength.
Aaron: So, you did mention this briefly, but I’ll just go back to it. What attracted you to Cory? Because I know you said you became a member in ’79?
Charles: Yeah, it was my wife. Yeah, really. It was in her family was a member here, and we only lived right down the street there on Adams. And we would come to church here because we could easily walk, it was a short distance. And I never really acquired the desire to go back to Antioch. I never really wanted to do that. But most of all, I spent a lot of time here learning people here. This is how I came here.
Aaron: What disinterested you in Antioch?
Charles: Well, that’s where my parent was going to church. They were Antioch members. My mother still is a member there. Because (illegible) distance away to. And I didn’t want to get up that early to travel if I had worked the night before, because usually I was on the second shift, getting up and getting prepared to go out there. It just didn’t hit me. It just didn’t feel right.
Aaron: Okay. Did you come back to Glenville after the service?
Aaron: Okay. So I know Cory was pretty essential when it came to civil rights activism. Were you involved in any of those activities?
Charles: The question about civil rights. Well, I wasn’t so much involved in the civil rights movement because at the time I was getting out of service and I had a wife and a baby. And my main interest at that time was getting a job and preparing and making a living for. That was pretty difficult at that time. When I got out of service, I couldn’t find a job. Things were very, very hard. I just stuck to my guns about trying to find work more than getting involved with civil rights and what not. Even though I felt it in my heart. I knew that it was something important to deal with because I’ve been knowing about it all my life. It was something that I just couldn’t put aside. But at that time, the most interesting thing to me was to provide for my family. Once I landed me a good job, it was just like catching up. And it took me a long time to catch up from where I was at. But I was aware of all the civil rights movement and my wife and I talked about it all the time. We taught our children about it. It was something that was present in our lives. But it wasn’t anything that we really went out and participated in, even though we really wanted to.
Aaron: What was the job?
Charles: The job I finally got would have been crisis staffing plan in Twinsburg. It was a pretty good job for me. And that was two years after I got out of the service. Bounced around quite a bit before that. I worked there for five years and I finally went to another company that I worked at for 31 years, and that’s Lincoln Electric on St. Clair. That was pretty good outfit.
Aaron: Even though you weren’t that involved with the movement for understandable purposes. Do you have memories of the church leadership when you first came to Cory since many of them were pretty active in the community?
Charles: I thought it was at that time was rather small, but the transformation idea was working with other trustees and maintaining the boilers and caring for certain things around the building, learning the roles of being a trustee. And it was great. It was interesting. Time of life for me because I would always, I had a one fellow I used to always cling to, and his name was Porter Lee. And Porter Lee was one of those guys, he was a no nonsense guy. He would smile when it was something to smile for. But you never seen him just rare back. And just cut loose, big laugh. He used to laugh and then carry only walk away and find something to do. I found a comfort in working with him because he told you. He taught you how to do it, and then he let you go to work on, let you do your thing, and then he’ll walk up to you and tell you if you missed up, and said, ‘see, I didn’t tell you that. You’re doing this on your own. This is something you decided to do.’ That was some good teaching that I got from him. Another things around. We had enough people that were (illegible) nervous thought that was needed then. Unlike now, one person had to take on two or three different roles. That was my contribution to leadership.
Aaron: Who was the pastor at the time?
Charles: When I got here, it was. Actually, it was the pastor who married me and my wife. I remember Sumpter Riley. Okay. When I got here and joined, it was…Roy Neel. Roy Neel was his name. He was only here for two years. And then Rev. Talbot came in and he is here for about 13 years. 12, 13 years. So I’ve seen a few pastors come and go.
Aaron: How would you describe their overall involvement in the Glenville community?
Charles: Well, the only thing that I can point to is that we were always open to anyone who wanted to come in and have meetings and whatnot for the community. We were open for Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. There were other leaders. Black Nationalist. No, not the nationalist. There were a time when we did have the Muslim open up the church for the Muslims.
Aaron: Nation of Islam?
Charles: Yes. Nation in Islam. There was a time when. I can’t think of the name of the group right now, but we are open to just about everyone who are interested. The Jewish people would come back sometime and have a look through, teaching their children how where they went when they were small and different rooms and whatnot in their talk. The doors of this church was always open.
Aaron: Did you attend any of those events when Dr. King or Malcolm X came?
Charles: No, I did not. Those are during my lean years. I had a chance to see him. I knew he was going, he was on Superior, there was a church down on Superior, St. James, I think it was. He was going there and I got to hold (illegible) ready to go and to meet him. Because he was going to be out shaking hands and I said, ‘Maybe we’ll get to shake his hands.’ So as soon as we got there, the sky opened up and he was standing out there, too. He was standing out there. I waved to him, he waved back. He was getting ready to get out and it just dumped on us. We got back in the car and he ran on in the building and we missed that opportunity. But it was good to see him. It was a nice thing to do.
Aaron: Cory was pretty active in created recreational activities for the community. Did you have any involvement in that, or did you kids participate?
Charles: No, the only thing the kids participated in was when we had Easter pageants, and they had the, what you call it when they march out to show their show dresses and whatnot. Easter parade or whatever they had boy scouts and football and baseball and stuff like that. I didn’t get to get to participate in that because the jobs I had wouldn’t allow me to do that. If you had one shift job you all right. Even if you were on one shift, then on the second shift, they would take all that out. So I never had a chance to just come up and participate in anything like that. But I knew the guys who did. And as a matter of fact, [Holland Nash?] was one of the guys who was in charge of football, coach football. And he coached, Ted Gan, senior who was very instrumental in getting a lot of guys out of Glenville into Ohio State, Troy Smith and all those guys. The ties, goes real tight through here. Just so happened I wasn’t a part of it.
Aaron: I’m kind of curious of what were your responsibilities as chair of trustees.
Charles: The responsibilities were to oversee the property and make sure that everything is up to snuff. Like, for instance, we had boilers that would go badly. I was very instrumental in buying new boilers. We have a contract with the City of Cleveland for a recreation area. This is the only site that they have that they share a building with. The city has its own buildings, so we negotiate contracts on how the rent is paid for the use of it. And then we negotiate on how we come together and buy, take care of the boiler room to make sure the boilers are good enough, which as we speak, that’s what we are involved with right now, with code and all that. There are other items the trustees are in charge of whatever properties there are. Whatever property that we have like the parsonage, we make sure that is kept up and in a great manner. I won’t say good manner. We need that. It’s always in good shape. We had this building for the pastor who lives in it. We also as trustees, we and I say I, but as always we because this is how the trustee board works. We work in together and different areas. Different parts. One person has a part of that he takes care and another person has a part he takes care of it and so on. There are repairs on the building that is decaying, which in this instance this building now is in its worst repair stage. Over past years, sometimes things just didn’t, we just didn’t have the funds to do some certain things. And consequently we kind of got out of hand, but with God’s help and with his grace, we have been able to sustain a lot of things here and keep it in. If we didn’t do some of the things that we did, it would be in worse shape than it is now. As people went on, you get different people in different situations and it’s not always a perfect fit for a person. Sometimes people can do one thing great like repair ball or whatever due to the waterline. So the church they go through repair that, but it can repair a window. And there are those who can do that. And this is how we survive. Myself and all of my other trustees. Couple of years ago, for a few years, we had to repair the lines, the return lines from the boiler. Steam goes through, the water goes back. So the lines sometimes break a leak and usually it takes a bona fide plumber to do it. But my friend was a schoolteacher and he taught shop. So a lot of stuff, we just looked at it, we just figured it out and we repaired. Those are the things that we do as a trustee overseeing property.
Aaron: What do you think is one of your biggest accomplishment or contributions to Cory has been?
Charles: As a trustee or?
Aaron: Trustee, member, or just a long time resident.
Charles: My biggest contribution, I guess being a trustee. I’ve dedicated a lot of my time and my knowledge and funds as well. I’ve done it gladly because I enjoy doing it. And when things go wrong, that’s when I have a long face. But when things are right, it makes me happy, which I guess that’s the mark of a satisfied trustee.
Aaron: I know you can’t speak for your children. What type of influence do you think the church has had on them?
Charles: On my children? I want to say I feel that it was a great influence to them because they came here. They met children of their own age and grownups who they respected and got respect in return. And I think in my heart, I feel that it instill a lot of compassion and understanding. And they learn so much about the Lord. I could just see what they’ve learned as they were growing up as grownups. Even today, I can tell that they were here because some of the things they do remind me of what they was doing here. It jump started their life in a right way I say. I know from experience that when you get away, you on your own, you have tendencies to forget some things that you learn. But basically when the chips are down, you turn to the things that you really learned well that brings you through. I think this church did it for them.
Aaron: One last question. Glenville is a neighborhood that changed a lot. What do you think are some of the differences and similarities compared to when you first came here with the neighborhood and the church compared to now?
Charles: Oh, my god. That is humongous. See, when I first came here, this church, it was filled to the brim with people. I can remember right down the street, you’ll see a gas pump is. It was a building that at that time, it was a shoeshine shop, ice cream place, a barbershop and a drugstore, all in that one building. So I worked at a shoeshine shop, and there were some Sundays that I worked at the shop that I would see people coming here, going to church. My father and I used to come here and you would see them getting off of busses by the loaves and they would come here to church. And when church let out, it was like the whole street was full of people, waiting on the bus, getting in the cars, going home. It’s not even a glimpse of that right now. I can understand it because all the children that went here are in other cities now. It’s simply because, like my daughters, they went to college, they graduated. And whatever they that learned took them to another city to work. And it leaves the home (illegible) just like at home. Now, when they left to go to school nobody but me and mama was in the house and it was a void there because they were gone. So when they didn’t come back to the city, it’s a void here. So whoever comes back in, whoever comes in to fill that void may not have been the type. Maybe it was a better type than if our own children had come back? I believe that if every parent that came to this church to raise their children had come back here to Glenville, this would be a flourishing city all over again, community. Because what we instill in them would be here still. Those who came in and fill that void may not have that ideals for this area. So it’s different. I guess hard to compare here now within. What I see, I don’t even want to talk about it because it is hurtful.
Aaron: Okay. Well, that’s all of my questions.