Oseola McCarty

Feb. 22, 1996, Oral History Interview

(Shana Walton, interviewer)


Excerpts from Original Electronic Text at the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi.


Born in 1908, Oseola McCarty was an African-American woman who grew up in southern Mississippi, living with her grandmother and aunt. She left school in the sixth grade to care for her aunt who was recovering from surgery. McCarty did not marry nor have any children. She studied hairdressing but worked as a washerwoman until she was in her 80s, living very frugally. Despite her limited income, she saved so much money that she was able to donate $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi in 1995 to establish a scholarship for needy students. - smv


McCarty: The first time I went to school, I reckon [I was] about four or five years old. . . . The first school . . . was a little red school then. And then they built the school what's down there now. And we was going to Red Circle, they called that down on Mobile Street. . . . That was a Masonic temple, but they had us, let us go to school up there that session. . . . And they told us that if we bother anything up there -- why it was a goat in them little houses they had up there. But I didn't know. I thought it was really a goat was up there. I was scared.
Walton: What'd they tell you would happen to you?
McCarty: The goats would get us, I reckon, was what she meant. But see, we was a lot --
Walton: Where were the goats?
McCarty: Wasn't no goats there. They was the Masonic Temple.
Walton: Uh-huh.
McCarty: It was a secret organization, had their meetings up there, and they was doing that to keep the children from interfering with the things what they had to --
Walton: They told you the goats were going to get you.
McCarty: And my aunt, my aunt what I was telling you about lived on McComb Street, she was a Eastern Star. And she knowed about what it was and when she come over here and I'd be telling her about it and she'd tell us, "Yeah, it was a goat in there." And "Y'all better not bother those things. The goats will get you." I believed it but (laughter) that was to keep us, you know, a gang of children going to play and go meddle things.



Walton: Do you remember your teacher, who your teacher was?
McCarty: My teacher was named Miss Neal, you know, Miss Clark, Miss Jones and Miss Henry and Miss Hill. . . .
Walton: What did you think when you first went to school?
McCarty: I don't know. My aunt in the country wasn't nobody for me to stay with and they was all -- my aunt was going to school. So they asked . . .must have been the superintendent -- asked him could I go to school, bring me to school and let her out, you know, to let me go to the restroom.
Walton: That was your Aunt Evelyn.
McCarty: Yes ma'am. She tended to me. . . . I reckon she was a teenage, because she cared for me at school. And when I want to go out to the bathroom, I call it bathroom, it was a place they had fixed for you to go to the restroom.
Walton: The outhouse.
McCarty: Yes ma'am. And, well, she taken me.
Walton: You must have been little bitty.
McCarty: I was. . . . I went to school there in Shubuta, but I wasn't old enough to go. . . . I had to go with her to school every day. She fixed my lunch and fixed her a lunch and we'd take it to school and we'd eat and she'd feed me at school. She'd fix enough and if I'd get hungry, she'd go and give me something to eat. . . .



Walton: But what did you do all day long at school? you played?
McCarty: They let me play. I'd go out and play by myself.
Walton: Uh-huh.
McCarty: The teacher'd let me go and play. And when I want to go to the restroom or outside, why, she'd give her permission to take me on out.
Walton: Uh-huh. But you didn't bother the class.
McCarty: No ma'am.
Walton: No?
McCarty: No, I didn't. I was quiet.
Walton: Uh-huh.
McCarty: I always have been quiet, and still quiet. . . .



Walton: Do you remember what it was like [later when you went to the elementary school in] Eureka?
McCarty: It was fun going down there. I had fun, had plenty of schoolmates, had plenty class buddies and all like that. I just really enjoyed going down there to school.
Walton: Uh-huh. It sounds like you had a good time.
McCarty: Now, when I was little, everything I'd see my mother and them do -- they'd wash and iron for people -- and when I got big enough I'd wash and iron, too, just like they did.



Walton: Um-hm. Well, so, when your grandmother quit with the farm and came here, she went to washing and ironing clothes for folks.
McCarty: Yes ma'am. And she'd work out, she'd work out. People want to work, well, she'd go and house clean for them. That's the way they made their living, and washing and ironing. They'd mostly rough dry them. People didn't have no washing machines like they do now.
Walton: Right.
McCarty: And they'd just, they'd rather wash -- they'd iron. I imagine they didn't iron too much. They mostly folded clothes up and then put them up and just pieces they had wanted to iron. Well, like top pieces, why they'd iron them and sometimes they'd get them to come back and iron their clothes.
Walton: That ironing is heavy work, hot work.
McCarty: Yes ma'am and some of them didn't like to iron. Well, they'd do a little ironing, whoever washed for them they'd go back another day and iron for them. . . . Mama [ie McCarty's grandmother] and them worked and they trained me how to work. And I was wanting to do whatever I seen them doing and that's the way I was raised. I learned how to work. We all worked. Every one of mama's children worked. I reckon, just cause she was a widow woman she didn't get a chance to, you know, sit back like most women do. She had to work, trying to raise her children, trying to feed them and keep them clothed, send them to school. They didn't get that much education, but they tried it some what and get a little so they could read and write.
Walton: Um-hm. And they all learned to read and write, all your [uncles and aunt] --
McCarty: Yes ma'am, all but one and he learned afterwards.
Walton: That's great. That's a good accomplishment for a woman in her time. She really worked hard.
McCarty: Yes ma'am. And I worked hard myself.
Walton: Oh yes, but you came by it honest; you learned it from your grandmother. . . . Did your grandmother ever tell you about working hard? What did she used to tell you about work? What'd she teach you? McCarty: She just trained me how to do whatever she done. And now, she didn't have to tell me because I just loved my grandmother to death and everything I see her do I tried to do it. . . .



Walton: What was the story behind you having to quit school?
McCarty: My aunt had to be operated on. She had a fibrous tumor.
Walton: Is this Aunt Evelyn?
McCarty: Yes ma'am. She had a fibrous tumor and she didn't know it. . . . She didn't have any children, and so I was the smallest thing was in the family and we didn't have too many grandchildren at all. And I was the only girl was to stay with her and so the rest of them was boys. And so I was the only one to stay with her and that's how come I had to drop out of school. . . .Because she needed somebody there to give her things when she needed.
Walton: Um-hm. So how long was she laid up?
McCarty: She stayed there, I think, about three weeks, I think, or a month, not over a month. . . .
Walton: Yeah. But then you didn't get to go back to school after that.
McCarty: I could have went back to school, but I didn't want to go back because of my classmates. . . . I didn't want my classmates to leave me in the sixth grade. See, I'd have been left in the sixth grade. I lacked three months finishing that sixth grade. I'd have been left in the sixth grade and I didn't want the other children under me come up in there and I'd be with them the next year. . . . I wanted to keep on going with my classmates. . . .



McCarty: Miss Ola Garroway [for whom McCarty's mother worked] . . . . told me that everybody what we see was going on and was large, they wasn't school-age children. They some of them up and some was down. It was all of them not school age. Some of them done passed school age, but they still going to school to get their education. Well, that's what she's trying to tell me, to go on back to school and get my education. But I didn't see it like that. I didn't want my classmates to leave me and they was good friends to me and we all were buddies together at noon hours. And so, I didn't see it then, but I see it now. You have to come to a bridge before you can understand it.
Walton: So, she tried to get you to go back to school but you wouldn't. You must have been about twelve years old or thirteen or fourteen? . . . So you were young and so you just quit school then?
McCarty: I shouldn't have did it. I should have went on back. I had a cousin, too, you know, her mother was sick like that and she had to drop out of school. Well, she went back to school and got her twelfth grade education, but I didn't go. She didn't go no farther than the twelfth grade, but she got that. I told her, well, I didn't get my diploma, but I got a diploma just the same, but I got it taking up hairdressing.



Walton: Mm-m-m. How did you study that? Tell me about that.
McCarty: I went to a lady's house and she taught me. . . . I was in my teens then. . . . And I went on and got my diploma. I finished up them thousand hours. I didn't stop till I finished them thousand hours. That's what you have to put in for a diploma. And so, I went on and put them thousand hours up and worked every day and stopped time enough to go take my lesson, come back, go right back to work.
Walton: Now, when you quit school, so, you went to work then, you went to work when you quit sixth grade. What kind of work were you doing then?
McCarty: Washing and ironing like my grandmother. . . .



Walton: But then, so, you decided to finally retire and you donated this money to the university and life has been sort of different ever since then, I guess. You've become very famous. . . .
McCarty: Well, I was just surprised. I didn't know it was going to be like this. I called myself making out my will, so if I happen to go, why some of them wouldn't get nothing and some of them would. And so I just called myself fixing it. Wasn't intend for it to be like this, but it is.
Walton: And so, when you were making out your will, why did you decide to give so much, $150,000, to the university?
McCarty: Well, after they counted it up and said I had more money than I ever would spend, I could use up. See, just me, one, said I had more than I ever would use. Well, I just commenced to thinking I'd give it to the school. I said, "I could give it to the school over here." I said, "No, I believe I'll do it this way." I said I'd give it to the university. They all get the twelfth grade, but the university -- I had some people out there -- [is] kind of hard for them to get in.





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