WGVL Community Member. One of the first African American women to work in a factory after desegregation.
“Everything I do, I try to do it well. I feel like I have done pretty good.”
Sarah, you are 94 and your birthday is coming up!
In December. If I live to see it. I thank the Lord. I ask the Lord, when I get to where I can’t do for myself…He knows.
Tell me a little bit about growing up in West Greenville.
Well, I lived in Anderson County. But my Momma worked over here, and stayed over in town. We would walk over from Anderson county on the weekends…that was a long piece. A long way walking. That sticks out in my mind, how we walked so much. My Daddy died when I was little, and I don’t know anything about him. But she raised us two girls. I was the oldest; My sister’s name was Janie. She passed away 50 years ago.
Were the two of you very close?
Her daughter was three years old when she passed. We were very close.
When you were here in West Greenville while your Mom was working, where did you stay?
We lived on Pack Street, just down the street. Here in West Greenville. The house we lived in was just like this one (my current house) but it had two sides. Can you imagine that? There were a lot of people in and out. We made it. We made it. West Greenville has changed a lot. A real lot. It used to be fields up there where there are houses on Julian Street. It used to be fields all around where those houses are now.
What did your Mom do growing up?
She worked at a boarding house on Woodside. It was the Woodside Boarding House. She would walk to work everyday and now we can’t even walk to the end of the street. We would go to work with her when school was out. She had to clean up the rooms and cook. The Todds ran the boarding house, I can’t think of their first names. We used to go there and make up the beds and clean the bathrooms. She worked there until she died. That was a long time. My Momma was a really good cook. She cooked really different than I did. I always think about the real good chicken dressing she could make. Macaroni. Cakes. She’d make these pound cakes, strawberry cakes. All kinds of cakes.
So when did you make the transition to living in Greenville full-time?
Well, my Mom was born in Anderson, and I was born in Anderson and I came to Greenville when I was about 12.
And how did you end up on Doe Street?
I’ve been on this street...I married my husband Robert Ware in 1943. We stayed in Easley for about a year and then we moved back to Greenville. We’ve been here every since. I met him through my Aunt and Uncle- they lived in Anderson. They knew my husband’s people. That is how I got acquainted with him. He used to live down in Easley and walk into Greenville for a job on the weekend. And he would come by my house. Believe it or not I would run and hide from him. I just didn’t like him. Ended up marrying him. When he came by I used to tell my Momma or sister to tell him I wasn’t there. I had a good many boys come by too see me— not a whole lot— but he kept insisting and just kept coming by. He was a real good person. He was a minister before he passed away. He had that in mind for a really long time but the Lord…He passed away in 1980. He was a minister for more than 15 years, the pastor of Golden Grove in Travelers Rest for 15 years.
Tell me about your life together with Robert.
He was in the army first. We went together for about two or three years and I remember we got married at home, the one down on Pack Street.
So as soon as you got married, Robert went into the army?
Yes, World War II. He was stationed at Fort Bragg and stayed there all his time. He was away two years; came back in ’45. Then he worked in the funeral home and was a pastor until he passed.
Tell me about your family.
We had five children: Robert Jr., Barbara Jean, Calvin, Kenneth, and Sherrilyn. Kenneth was a boy that we raised who was just one of the family. That was my husband’s niece’s son and she wasn’t taking care of them. So we took him in, and someone took the other ones. She had them, but just wasn’t taking care of them. My baby girl, Sherrilyn, was the youngest. She passed away in 2015. She was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t live two years after that. They all went to the West Greenville School and then to Sterling.
I am sorry to hear about Sherrilyn. Were you all living in West Greenville at this time?
Yes, at that time we moved to Bob Street. And then moved to Doe Street. I done lived around in a circle. There weren’t this many houses out here. We had a store out here— Cason’s Store. We got snacks and things from there. We had a Kash ‘n Karry on Buncombe Road. That is where we got our groceries. I go to Bi-Lo now over by Kmart.
Ok. So let’s back up. What was it like to grow up here in West Greenville?
Well, you know, they say West Greenville is a rough place to stay, but I’ve never had any trouble. When we first moved here, they said it was the worst place to live. But I have been here all my life and I don’t want to go anywhere. It sure was different when I was growing up. Just mostly fields back then. For me, it has been a nice place to live. I remember, my husband bought a lot in Nicholtown, and we were going to build out there, but when we got to talking about building out there, I told him I didn’t want to move! So. We ended up selling the lot to somebody.
Tell me more about the changes that have taken place here.
I have known Reverend Fleming a long time. When he first came over here, he went to different churches and reached out to everybody. He did a lot for West Greenville.
When I was coming up, all the peoples around here was just real close, you know, with everybody. Everybody knew everybody. It’s not that way now. I don’t have a lot— I don’t see them much. I used to have neighbors that we would go out on the porch and holler at one another. Talk to each other. I have a neighbor next door…She is ok. And the house down here… I don’t see them. Even years ago, there were some men in those apartments down there, I hated to see them move. They would come up here, and I would fix them meals and things. They were kind of older men.
How does that make you feel-to see the neighborhood change?
I tell them all the time in my church…I am the oldest person in my church right now. Antioch Baptist Church. I knew just about everybody around here in West Greenville, now I don’t know any of them. The Lord still has got me around, I don’t know what for. But to me, this is a good place to live. And I enjoy all the people— my family around.
After you were married, and starting your family, what was your life like?
I didn’t go to high school. I hated that. I had to drop out to help my Momma. I was hard on her back then. When we were growing up, my sister, she would do the cooking and I would do the cleaning. I never did like to cook. But, I had to cook after I had a family. I worked too. The first job I had, I worked in a factory making dresses. I worked there for twelve years. I never can think of the name of it… I sewed zippers in dresses. They went out of business. When I left there, I went to StyleCraft and they made sleeping bags and I zipped zippers in there. They changed the name to… I don’t know to what. It was on Whitehorse Road. I worked there for twelve years too.
The first job I got sewing, that was the first factory that opened up, you know, for blacks to work in. I prayed about that job, and I got it and loved it. I had wanted a factory job. And I prayed that I would get it, and I did. I was hired the first year they started hiring African Americans. I don’t remember what year. It was after I got married. After 1943 sometime.
That sounds very busy.
I don’t like sitting around, getting wore out. I was workin’ and raising my babes too. I had this lady who would care for them, and she was like a mother to them. That was good because it is hard to get people sometimes to watch your children and take care of them.
After I retired from work, I worked in housekeeping and kept the children for the Ashemores. He was a lawyer. Her name was Laura. And then I worked for the McDonalds, doing housekeeping. They didn’t have any children. He had polio when he was younger and it left him in poor health. I love to stay busy.
What was it like living in Mill country?
My daughter had a daughter who worked in the mill. I liked sewing at that time. It was ok. You know, I never confronted a lot of hateful people. You know, back then, we couldn’t go and eat in certain places, but at that time it didn't bother me. I think the Civil Rights movement was good because it brought us closer together and made us better people. And, you know, we all have differences of opinion, but there is nothing like being together, loving people. I never thought about hating people. If we work together, we can do a whole lot.
What is something you feel proud to share about your life?
I have enjoyed life. Life has been good. I have had some rough days, but in all it has been good. And my children, they all love doing good, and I am thankful for that.
Everything I do, I try to do it well. I feel like I have done pretty good. My mom worked hard. She worked hard trying to keep us put together with food, clothes, keep us warm. She was a really good Momma. And I look back on her life, and she didn’t have much—her husband died when we were small— she didn’t have no help. But she always said she had the Lord. She had strong faith.