Elaine Brown


Elaine Brown

West Greenville Community Member. Runs a daycare in her house on Queens Street. Graduated from Parker High School.

"It was hard. Now, I know it was hard, compared to now. When we used to tote coal and kerosene and stuff, that was what you were supposed to do."


Full Interview

Elaine! Tell me about yourself.

I grew up just two streets from here. I had a Momma and four brothers. My Momma’s sister got killed, in 1960, so she took her four kids in. I was about six. All I know about that is that a man shot her. But my mom was a single parent: she went to school, graduated from Washington High School and then had us. My siblings were a bit older than me. We stayed on Queen street for, I say, 6 years. Then we moved onto Doe Street. Bigger house. I was about ten. My Momma worked at the hospital and then got a job at Southern Weaving, (it’s there along Woodside) and they made seat belts. She worked there for 35 years, until she retired.

What was your childhood like?

In the winter, our parents went to work, we went to school, we got home from school, did our homework, went out to play, and all the children played together. Christmas time we decided what we wanted to get. We wanted to get skates—everybody got skates. We wanted to get bikes—everybody got bikes. We’d be on Christmas vacation and our parents had to go to work and they would say, “You better have that house clean”, and “put some beans on” and “don’t let them burn!” All us kids would get together and go down Burne Street here…riding them skates and them bikes and we didn’t have watches, but we’d know what time to get back and get that house cleaned up before our parents came.

This sounds like a really close community.

Everybody in the community knew everybody and cared for everybody. We would go to their houses and eat, and they would come to our houses and eat. And it was just good. We looked out for one another. If we did something wrong… the lady next door? If she’d seen it, she’d pop us, and when Momma came home, she’d pop us. We took care of each other.

Everybody knew everybody?

Yeah, but now it’s changed because everybody don’t know everybody in their community. I’ve been living in this house, here about 22 years. I moved in when my Momma had cancer, in ’99, and I moved in and took care of her, and she passed away in 2001, and I continued to stay here because she wanted me to. She worked too hard for me to give up her house. So I paid the house off and we stayed.

The store on Doe Street. A family used to own it. First it was a man named Mr. Cason. He used to own it. And then a black family, the Hunts family. I remember you used to buy the cookies, two for a penny. We got Coca Cola bottles and take them back. Either we got a dime for them or a nickel. On Saturdays we used to get the Coca Cola tops and go to the movies, the Fox Theatre. Over by Scott Tower. We used to walk all together. It was fun, we didn’t know about cars and stuff.

What were some other important parts of you community life, growing up?

Growing up I went to Antioch Baptist Church. My brothers started to go too. I got one that is a pastor. Donnie lives in Columbia and he has got a church in Gaston, SC. Reverend Ware was a big part of him becoming a pastor. He lived right across the street from us. He pastored at Golden Grove Baptist Church as well as Antioch.

Was the city of Greenville really involved at all in this neighborhood? Was there a police presence at all?

Growing up, I didn’t see any police. I didn’t know what they were. We never had them come to our house or our neighbors. But one time a man got shot and the police came. But just arrived like they do now.

We were all together, the children played together, we took care of each other. If folks were sick, we’d take them something to eat and go check on them. But now, everyone keeps to themselves. Like today, I know the man to my left, (I know him, but don’t speak to him) the man across from me, the lady across from me, but I don’t know a whole lot of people like I did.

Why is that?

People are fearful. They might want to be friendly, but they are scared. They don’t know who to trust.

What were some lessons you learned from your Mom?

You have to work for what you want. She walked to work everyday, I don’t care if it was freezing cold. Until she got her car she would have to walk everywhere. She just taught us to work hard for what you want. You can’t think you can go out there and get a handout. You have to work. She also told me, “You take care of your brothers and sisters. They are all you got so take care of each other.”

Looking back, what were some of the challenges you faced?

I remember we used to tote kerosene. And we used to tote coal. We had a coal yard down here off of Mayberry Park. We had a wood stove and kerosene heaters in that house on Doe Street.

It was hard. Now, I know it was hard, compared to now. When we used to tote coal and kerosene and stuff, that was what you were supposed to do. They were called shotgun houses. Because it would be cold. There was no central heat. We would have to shut the doors and heat the rooms we wanted to sleep in.

Where did you go to High School?

I went to Parker High School, graduated from there. I did all the sports. I was a cheerleader. I did everything a girl could do. I ran track, I played basketball, volleyball. Just not football. I would have if I had the chance. We did play powder puff against the seniors. My ladies, Atavia, Linda Kidd Simpson, Jacklyn Moore, Janice Randwick all played sports with me. We used to all walk to school together. I go to church with three of them now and see them different places. One runs the center in Nickoltown. Italia Jones runs that center.

Did many of your peers stay in this neighborhood?

Freetown, Perry Ave, Pendleton St…. A lot of them didn’t move out of town but just away from this neighborhood. About 45% have stayed in this area.

What did you do after high school?

I played community ball after high school. I played softball from the time I was 14 till I was 36. I went to North Greenville for a semester, and I got pregnant. Had my first child at 20 and I got a job. Ursula, Innikka, and Robert. I’ve got three kids, but that is the eldest. Then I worked, never did go back to school but I worked for Greenville News. Then I got a second job at the Hyatt Hotel. Then I had my second baby. After her, I got married, and then I had a third baby.

What was that like?

I would work at Greenville News all day till five p.m. and then I would get to the Hyatt at six p.m. I started being a Turn Down. I would turn the covers back, put the little mints and the card on the pillow. I did that for about a year or two then they hired me for a housekeeping job. So I quit Greenville News and started working there for about five years. I was doing all the housekeeping. I left there and went to American Spinning and worked there until they closed. Then I went to Neutral. It used to be GMB. It is a vitamin plant. I went there in 1996 and stayed until 2010. I hurt my back, so I am on disability. I picked up a bin the wrong way and hurt my back.

So when did you meet your husband.

I met him in 1984. I met him at the Hyatt, where I used to work. I enjoyed working there, but just had to leave for more money.

My husband passed away in 2012. Passed away from a drug overdose. I didn’t know he was on drugs at first and then found out, and the next thing we know they found him in a house dead. It was ongoing. He wasn’t in my life that whole time. I had to leave him because he was on drugs. So we were married all that time but weren’t together all of the time. I left with my kids, and we went from Shoreside to another apartment.

Out of these jobs, what did you enjoy the most?

At Neutral Vitamin Plant, I was a Trayer. The pills would come out of this machine into a hopper and they would go into a bin and you would have to inspect them to make sure they weren’t leaking, because they were jell. Then you would put them all on a skid. It was good; I liked it. We used to have family picnics, and used to have Christmas dinners for us, and give us cards and stuff for Thanksgiving. It was a good place to work. Right down from Woodruff Road.

Do you think people still have that work ethic that your Mom had, or that you exhibited, working multiple jobs to support your family?

Nowadays, they will quit a job if you look at them wrong. They won’t go to work. They won't stay at work, you know? Able-bodied people and they are standing around. I mean smart. They be smart. But they just don’t want to work.