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Title: Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Betsch, MaVynee, interviewee
Interview conducted by Taylor, Kieran
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 116 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-10-30, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0301)
Author: Kieran Taylor
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0301)
Author: MaVynee Betsch
Description: 104 Mb
Description: 22 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 22, 2002, by Kieran Taylor; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by L. Altizer.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series R. Special Research Projects, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002.
Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Betsch, MaVynee, interviewee


Interview Participants

    MaVYNEE BETSCH, interviewee
    KIERAN TAYLOR, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Mostly the tours, people coming down here in their buses. [unclear] adore that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'm going to keep an eye on this. I think it's doing right. I'll set this kind of close to you. I think that should be good. Don't, you shouldn't need to aim for it. It should pick up everything.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
[unclear] take it all down. Stay up there. There you go.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Let me just for the sake of the tape if we could start out, if you would just say your name and maybe when and where you were born.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
My name is Marvene, naw, the spelling is different now because I took the R out. But it, I know spell it M-A—capital V-Y-N-E-E. I took the R out because of Reagan. I am an environmentalist and of course he had the nerve to say when you've seen one redwood, you've seen them all and that infuriated me so. So I took my R out. The middle name is Elizabeth. I changed that because I found out in my, well, I say the last five or six years, that Elizabeth was the one who started the slave trade. Remember in school—oh yes, darling. I have news for you. See I know I had the same thing. Shakespeare, the Elizabethan age. Bull, that woman financed that slave trade. Okay, so I took my middle name out, and my middle name is now Oshun for the goddess of love, the African goddess of love and the arts. My last name is Betsch, B-E-T-S-C-H. That's the German side on my father's side, way back the grandfather, whatever. So and I was born in Jacksonville, 1935. What a year. That's the same year the Afro got American Beach. I like to think they did it for me. Of course it's also the year of the great hurricane. My mother and daddy used to tease each other, well, it's not our fault we've got this eccentric woman, girl who's just into all things that are a little bit different from us. I grew up in Jacksonville, went to the usual public schools, and then my dad was so disgusted with the school system, we went to Washington. So I went to Banneker Junior High School, which is a black school. To show you how the difference between the southern, real southern and even just DC, I mean God we're taking geometry and I'm coming home, and they're just—are you crazy? They didn't have that until the eleventh grade. It's just amazing how backward the south was let alone segregated schools for the African Americans.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you come from a prominent, an important family of Jacksonville.

Page 2
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Of course. Yes, my great grandfather Abraham, what else, that name. He'd have to have that name. Abraham Lincoln Lewis was born in 1865 in Madison, Florida, and he was one of the seven founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, 1901. Don't forget now. There was no way to bury black folks in those days. They'd pass around a hat, several of them got together at Bethel Baptist Church, that beautiful church downtown Jacksonville. Each man put up a hundred dollars and they started the burial society. Well, I mean we were it. It's hard for you to conceive what, how completely self-contained that world was. We could go weeks and never see another white person. We lived in an area called Sugar Hill. There was a park and then the white folks usually, there's a railroad or whatever that divides the rich and poor, the white and black or whatever they used, the tracks. Well, for us it was the park. On the other side was Springfield. You'd see some white folks through there, but I mean this wasn't, our world was completely self-contained. The Afro sponsored clinics for the children whenever they got their premiums with the insurance company. The Afro sponsored the big dance at Christmas time. The Afro, once the beach was here, it was a big picnic in August, which was the social event. Of course there was my dad who was, oh God, I mean, don't forget now this little so-called country boy from North Carolina is marrying into money. I guess, bless his heart, he had to prove his worth. I mean, Daddy did everything. He, well, he was vice president of the company. He was what do you call that, the manager over all the districts. At one time we were all the way to Texas, Texas. He did people's income taxes. He was an architect. Oh man we didn't have one kind. We had two. But it was a world, when I think of the way the wealthy and supposedly poorer people live now. It wasn't like that. Our house was always like Grand Central Station. People were there. It was never a question of we were in a different class or whatever from other people. The managers were spending the night at our house, and of course their children would stay there and sleeping in our room and—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So there was a lot of activity.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh social, the world. I mean, it's just, I mean, it's almost embarrassing to see some black people now who have moved out into the suburbs now and who literally would not be caught dead in supposedly African-American areas of the city now. It's just, it's a different breed now. Absolutely. We were together. I only heard of the NAACP and so forth when I went to a white college. I mean, we took care of our own. Everybody was there although we had a maid. My great grandfather had a chauffeur. I

Page 3
love this story of—I tell this all the time. He would ride in the front seat. Okay. All right. As children we would be in the back seat. We're driving to this filling station, and of course he's going to pull out the money to pay for the gas. What would he pull out? He didn't know I guess, just pull out the first thing you came. The twenty-dollar bill. You know who's on the twenty? That God awful massacre creep, Jackson.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Jackson is on the twenty.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
He takes the twenty and puts it back into his pocket, gives the chauffeur directions. We go to the next little store to get change so he'd have four fives. Who's on the five? Lincoln. Even money, this man was so, he must've been a philosopher in a past life. I mean he was so deep into, he went to Africa in the '20s, and he used to sit on this [unclear] he'd sit there and he said if you keep walking you'll be in Africa. He'd tell us about how the black kings went north. He never went past the sixth grade. He was steeped into his culture, and you know how Africans love to use a lot of proverbs. He would ask us things like, one of his favorite proverbs was the one, I think it's Ethiopian, when spider webs—let me get it right now. Tie up, when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Oh yeah.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Don't you like that one?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It's beautiful. Then he'd tell us about the fact that in the middle of business, what word is in the middle of business?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Sin.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Sin, absolutely. And he'd tell us if it's not a cause, it's sin. That's the reason he went back to get those four five-dollar bills. He said everything you do, you're making a statement. If you'd given that twenty-dollar bill to that man, it's almost like you're condoning that. I mean, how dare you this man—oh God. And the fact that they called it Jacksonville, I can't—. It should be called Johnsonville after Andrew, James Weldon Johnson. But anyway, so was my upbringing. So was my upbringing with this man. Every Sunday we ate dinner with him. We went to church. He was of course, my mother was an organist.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
By the time you're aware, he's seventy-five years old, right.

Page 4
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Well, he died when I was ten. He died when I was, that's my great grandfather. He died when I was ten.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So if he died in forty-five, he died at eighty was it?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Eighty, it was '47. It was '47 when he died. But as children, he was such a, I feel sorry for children who have their parents, grandparents in nursing homes or whatever. It's so said because oh the memories of this man are so important to me. I can still hear his voice. We'd go to, there was this ritual. You ate; you went to church; you went to the cemetery. You should go to the cemetery. It's out there on Moncrief in Jacksonville. I have a marker there. From there we'd go to the beach. This was from Easter to Labor Day. It was that ritual. As children we looked forward to this, seeing him.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It seems like there was a consistency in his life, just in terms of his, I mean people don't live like that.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh God yes. Yes. Look at this man. Even then he was ahead of his time socially. Now it's politically correct for employees to own—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Stock.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Stock in the company. But you know who owned the beach? The pension bureau. My great grandfather of course was wealthy. He had stock in Wall Street, he could've bought the beach by himself. He could've been the elite. No, no. It was the pension bureau that owned this. The money that the employees put in. Over there on Julius Street, [unclear] little cabins for them, free so they could, employees could come down. He never, never forgot his poor, his simple lifestyle and upbringing.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Would you ever remember him talking explicitly about race?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No. No. It's so strange. I know this may sound funny, but because we were, for example we went to school in a car. You see, the wealth, money believe it or not, kept us away from a lot of things that were normally associated with that time. We didn't ride the bus that much. So we wouldn't have come into contact with that. We could go to the beach when they were fighting about the swimming pool, integrating the swimming pool. That wasn't a problem. We could come. We had our own beach, go in the water in there. It was definitely an economic thing. Definitely, we went to a private girl's school. Oh yeah, Boylan-Haven had a girl's school, a school for black girls.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you went to the boarding school.

Page 5
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No we didn't. We went as day students. It was a boarding school, but we went there as day students. Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What about in terms of, I've talked to a number of people who remember fondly walking down with their friends to Ashley Street. Could you, would you do that as a—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. No, no. Ashley Street was sort of off limits to us because this was where they had the poolroom and the, we were girls. We were the prize of Jacksonville at least the upper class. You know how that is. We had our debutantes' ball, oohhh. So you just didn't go down Ashley Street as girls, oh no darling. Daddy had a poolroom. He had a what else? Hair parlor, beauty parlor, he had a restaurant. It was called [unclear] Sandwich Shop. But [unclear] as I said you had the Manuel's Tap Room I can see it now with all the big colored lights on it. We thought it was fascinating. Daddy would go, but we couldn't get out of the car to go in, to walk the streets. Oh no. This was where people went to get their liquor and stuff and everything. No, no, no. But actually right around, it was just unfortunately here was the school, Stanton was right there. I remember sometimes in the car, that's where all the boys were. We would go by and just kind of, we would look at the boys and stuff. God, I was very young in school. I graduated sixteen. So all my girl friends were having dates and taking company as you called it in those days. We weren't even allowed to have the boys. Daddy, did put a poolroom up on the third floor of our house, gorgeous house—my grandfather's—so he could watch the boys you see. But that was about the extent of that. But Ashley Street was booming. Oh man, you had to—now the closest thing we've got to Ashley Street was the theater.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You went to the theater.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah, we went to the movies every Saturday, watched the gangsters. What are you talking about? Was it Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. Oh God, I'm glad—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
To the Strand.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yes. That's right. To the Strand. We went there, but not this end of Ashley Street. That's where the liquor store was.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you would go the Strand. Would you need to be chaperoned or how would you—?

Page 6
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Well, we had an adopted sister, Millie went to Edward Waters. She became our baby-sitter. Bless her heart. She's still living. She's up in Greensboro where my sister is now president of Bennett College. Millie was the financial officer there until she retired.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did, how was she brought into the family?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Well, she was just a student at Edward Waters, and you know how you go get, you advertise for a baby-sitter. She started out as a baby-sitter, and then she just didn't want to go home. Mother and Daddy sent her through college. She, so we called her like our adopted sister. So she was always there. When we went to Washington to live—remember I told you we went to Banneker she went there too to be with us. She was going to Howard.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
At what age did you go to Banneker?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Let me see, that was seventh, eighth and ninth. That was middle—what you call now middle school, junior high because then high school we came back to go to this exclusive girl's school for black girls.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So but I'm wondering is did you have, you had, so you weren't gone for your complete, entire adolescence from Jacksonville.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No, no. Just those three years. We went first to sixth grade in Jacksonville. Seventh, eighth and ninth we go to Washington and we come back to Jacksonville those four years. Johnetta went, my sister went directly to Fisk. They had that accelerated program where you could go eleventh grade. She went to Fisk. I went to Oberlin directly from high school. Then she came on up there with me. I was in the music school.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What years were you at Oberlin?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
'51 through '55, and then I went to Europe and sang there in the opera.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
'51 to '55.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
To '55. Yep. Sure was.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Did you find, do you ever remember as an adolescent finding this all as a constraint that the expectations or not being able to go to Ashley Street?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No, because don't forget Mother and Daddy are doing an awful lot of entertaining. So why would we have to go—there were always parties and Daddy—oh God, we had two. In fact I don't know

Page 7
why he was all that much, although they were very responsible with their drinking, but we had two bars in the house, but Daddy was, no, you these girls you are not going to go down on that part of Ashley Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear]
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Always entertainment—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear]
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
That's a little bit much. Now we're in the house, but not down there. I know it may sound weird, but that was in his idea of the way you controlled this thing. At least if they're in the house, I'm watching them. Okay.
So anyway, but our house was gorgeous, but I'm just sick because that's another thing they tore down for urban renewal. You know what happens. They go through the black—they went through the best part of the black community is where that God awful hospital complex is. Right there on the corner was my great grandfather's house. He gave that to my mom. She was the only girl. It was twenty-two rooms, black built. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Oh God. The rafter in the ceiling, all this architecture. I mean, when I look at this stuff they put out, even down and these people are paying a million dollars with sheet rock. Come off of it. I know my Daddy. I know quality building. This stuff I wouldn't put my dog in it. I mean, it's just but it looks on the and the fact that you're living in the Villas. What do they give these names to it. Americans are obsessed with the perception of wealth rather than the actual quality. We had quality, darling. Trust me. Trust me.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Who were your neighbors?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh wonderful people. Mostly family. We were on this—it was like a triangle. We were on this corner. My uncle was on this corner by the way Florida's first black corporate lawyer.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Who was your uncle?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
James Leonard Lewis. That was my great grandfather's grandson. My mother's brother. On the other corner was my great grandfather. Other people were oh my gosh. What would I say, Johnetta's godmother who was married to a very prominent black physician from Palm Beach. I remember the lady down the street who used to bake our bread for Sundays. The Simmonses who were also part of the Afro. He was the first black actuary, you know the man who told you approximately when you were going to die. Let me see who else were some of our neighbors. Oh the big minister at the Bethel, lived down the street from us. It was a beautiful community, absolutely. It was on Eighth and Jefferson, the

Page 8
streets. But the business community was awesome. I mean not only did you have what one, two, three, four, you had I think four theaters and at least three or four hotels.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Clubs.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Clubs, you had the nightclubs. Oh God this was it. The Two-Spot, we know now that may have been the largest in the south. It had a balcony. That's where we had the ball, the debutante ball.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now I'm, am I right that you would have never been inside the nightclubs?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No, no.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Because you would have been too young.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Too young—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And by the time you come back they're gone.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yes. Yes. They're all gone.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
They're decrepit.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
That's right. I did go, of course I was inside the Two-Spot.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The Two-Spot was a cotillion sort of—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
That's where we had the debutante. No, we didn't go inside any of those. Nope. Nope. That was off limits. But I mean even the grocery stores, it's interesting because you had a lot of Syrians and Jewish, people who were in the black community. It was a strange combination although you had segregation. They would somehow own some of the smaller stores within the black community. The other ones were black-owned of course, but you did have that Middle Eastern influence within there. I remember deliberately—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Any Greeks?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No, not Greeks. It was mainly Middle East. The man who owned Daylight I remember was Jewish. What was that little store on the corner? He was Syrian. It was mainly Middle East, just little corner stores. Nothing, the other big ones and stuff were still predominantly black the shoeshine, the shoe repair shop was black-owned. The corner drugstore was black-owned. But you would have one or two smaller ones and they would be either Jewish or Arabic of Arabic descent. Interesting combination. All that's gone now. Once they put that, when I came home, they had put that highway. See I-95—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When you came home from Oberlin or from Europe.

Page 9
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
From Europe.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
From Oberlin it was still, well, '55 don't forget—when did they have that integrated. What was that Brown versus—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
'54.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
'54, okay I graduated '55, but I go directly to Europe. So I'm not really noticing too much what's going on. I missed a lot of the fights. I mean, like my brother was in jail and all this other stuff. I don't remember any of that. But I as doing my own thing over there because I remember can you imagine I'm the only black woman in Germany. I mean, I'm for the cause. They would come in and say Frau Betsch, Frau Betsch remember when the woman got the gold medal, the black woman, Wilma.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Rudolph—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah, Rudolph. I mean, the whole theater was alive. There's Frau Betsch. This is someone from America, dadadadada, black American. So I was doing it in an indirect way. They were so proud. Well, here was this African American singing in Germany. Dadada, don't forget now. There weren't that many Americans period in that '50s in Europe.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Sure. This is ten years after the Holocaust.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah, I'm still, I'm like Queen Tut over there. There weren't that many. I'm in the northern part of Germany, not the southern part, where you may have had a few of the military. They would see black people there but they hadn't seen that many blacks in the northern. But no, my brother and sister were more part of that integration. I missed all that. I'm in Europe now. Don't forget when I come home it's '65. So the worst part is over. The Selma—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was Oberlin a strange move from Jacksonville?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Not really. My piano teacher was, oh God. She was African American, fabulous woman. She did jazz and classical. She did a darned good job. I mean, I was ready for Oberlin. In fact I was going to go to Fisk and then Todd Duncan who was the man who sang Porgy and Bess came through Jacksonville. I remember he was at our house and he told my mother, let her go directly onto Oberlin. Don't go to Fisk. I was going to go as a piano major. When I got there was when I changed to singing.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where did you begin singing?

Page 10
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Hmm, well, we had a little glee club in high school, but I was mainly piano. My mom was the singer at the—she had this choir at the church, Mount Olive AME Church. Oh it was so great because my great grandfather would get so furious. God, this preacher was long winded. You see you'd have to, the game was to get to the beach at two o'clock. So he would give my mother the little wink—mother would, everybody had a certain spot where you sat in the church. My great grandfather of course being the elder sat certain here. My mom sat on this side. Mother would get up and get on the seat at the organ press that power button and drown, drunn, drunn, drunn and by [unclear] . It's time to go the beach. [unclear] shut him down. So a little after two we would be leaving for the beach. But Mother had a gorgeous voice. She was a contra-alto. She had a quartet, a men's quartet. I never, they used to rehearse in—I think that's how I loved hearing with the singing part although I was a piano major. But my mom would, she'd sing all the voices. She could do it. She had a wide range and they would come to the house to practice. I've had all this in my background, all this hearing this and the music. My great grandfather, every Sunday hearing him talk and philosophize about life.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What did he sound like?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Very soft spoken, never, never—we never had a spanking. We never, they never yelled at us. Never. I never heard a curse word in my life from him. No, no, nothing. But he had the most awesome stare. He would just stare at you and say nothing. You just want to crawl—what did I do wrong? Beautiful voice, beautiful voice—here's his picture. Black history calendar, 2001 there he is on the other side. Awesome man. Very dark. Small eyes. God [unclear] . I tell you he was a saint. Absolutely, absolutely. When he died, there were as many whites as blacks at the funeral. That may not sound like much now, but back in those days in the '40s in the South.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This was prominent city people, mostly?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. It came from—he even knew the man who was in the defense department in the federal government and don't forget now. These are the three. There's the Afro here, Atlanta Life and [unclear] and they used to call themselves the big three. I remember when [unclear] all these A. Philip Randolph grew up and went to Edwards Waters. This is the man who organized that march on Washington. Okay, so we're almost in the soil of all this activity with African Americans. They had the National Negro, my great grandfather was the treasurer of the National Negro Business League founded by

Page 11
Booker T. Washington. I'm trying to tell you man. This is big stuff. When A. Philip Randolph, when they got ready to go out to California to the National Negro Insurance, he provided the sleeping car for them to go out there.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you're father, obviously he knew Mr. Randolph.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Everybody, oh yes, I don't remember him—I'm trying to visualize this. I remember as a child trying to see him, but that was all part of their talk, their, I guess they met or whatever. Oh yeah. It was a time. Absolutely.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I think of him as somebody with, I don't know, the same kind of poise that you describe.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh he was. A. Philip Randolph was very cool, very reserved. My great grandfather was like that too. Very, very cool.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
There would be no reason to raise the voice.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
He never raised his voice, never. I remember some of the family reunions. My uncle in there all grrr fighting over, my dad or whatever or something. He would just come to the door and stand. He wouldn't say a word, just stand there. Somehow this calm just drifted over the whole room. Talking about, I guess they called it charisma, whatever, I don't know what the word is. But he had it. I mean, just think now back in those days, there was no other insurance company that he could even use as a role model. He's got to fight the white—not fight the white establishment but at least be on which he was—he was first name basis with the head banker, Barnett Bank. It wasn't Mr. So and So and calling my great grandfather Abraham. They both called each other by first names. This is very important in the South. You know this. The names you called. So here is this man. He's got the white establishment here. He's got the blacks because this is all new for them too. Yet, now on I think about this difference between the rich and the poor. God we were never robbed. There was never, I don't know. He was able to just have such a calming affect over the whole community, and I guess the word is respect. That's what you really want.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was he still, was he involved in the business until he died?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No, he retired. My became the chairman of the board which was, what would they meet. I think the last couple of years he was just chairman of the board. My grandfather was at that time the president. I remember as a child but the house up on the hill, the Simmonses the woman is still living. She

Page 12
was his secretary. It was just a wonderful time and like I said and did you see the Masonic temple building?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
That's the only and of course you saw the Afro Building.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah. I walked into the Afro. Actually I was, I took a couple of pictures of it.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Isn't that awesome? He built that in 1953. The white folks didn't even have all this glass and steel. We used to go around and brag about—darling, we were the first for everything.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
A security guard was sort of, he was eyeing me suspiciously, and so I did go in and introduce myself and said I wanted to look around and they were—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah, that was the Afro. It was built back in—I remember. The original building was there. Of course they tore that down. That was a—oh it was awesome.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It was much bigger.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. You had the apartments in the back. There was a printing shop. Afro did its own printing, had their own machines and stuff.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Would you have ever, I know later on you lived there, but would you have ever as a child, were you down at that office?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh God yes. Oh we used to love it because my grandfather had this machine that you could make like artificial money. We loved, as children—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that a secret?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
He would tease us about how he could do this, and oh we used to love to go down there and Daddy, go in his office. Oh yes. I definitely have fond memories of that at the Afro, and then of course he always had devotion. When I came home from school, I was asked to sing. Oh yeah. My great grandfather, he, the spirituality, for him if you do it that way money was sin. I told you. So you would have prayer and what would you call it. The preacher would come and they'd sing and have the—it was almost like another church. This was what, once a week and then all the, not the managers, what do you call the men who go out in the field.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The agents.

Page 13
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
The agents would come and give their amount of money and stuff like this, and then they'd celebrate or reward the man who had gotten the most. You know how they did those little things.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Business and religion were fused.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Right, were fused. Were fused. Because don't forget now, all the churches the schools financed, Edward Waters, that's an AME school. All these Fisk. All these, Johnetta's up at—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Bennett.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Bennett, Spelman is by what Methodist school, Methodist church. Each one of them saying, like you have Catholic whatever. These were black. This is where the money went from the church directly in to finance the schools. Of course the insurance company would be there financing the building of the schools or the churches. So it was all fused. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. He was a big man in the AME church. Oh God, the bishop came to our house. This was all—I don't know. Maybe all cultures, people need a big outside enemy to make the thing cohesive. I don't know what it is, but it was such a time and the vibe, people were helping each other and oh God. I just don't know. It's just so different now. Black people are just, well, I mean, Americans we picked up all the bad habits from—I'm not knocking. I don't mean this in a negative way. But for white folks who want to live out in their little exclusive areas, and I've got mine to hell with you. We've picked up that bad habit too. Black people basically are gregarious, but now it's me and all the rest of y'all can go to hell. I just don't care.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But segregation created some of that cohesiveness.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It sure did, sure did, sure did. Sure did. Sure did. Absolutely. Absolutely. It was wonderful. But like I said that Ashley Street, I remember one section because you had the barbershops because we would go down and see Daddy at the barbershop. Oh God my Daddy loved this barbershop. Remember how the men—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Which barbershop?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Okay, you know where the Clara White Mission is? Right next door, it's still there My dad, oh he used to, oh God, they gave these men these packs because black men have this problem with their hair growing in their skin—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Ingrown.

Page 14
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
So he would, whatever they would sit there and pick all the hair this pampering and putting all the hot towels. Oh we used to love to go down. Oh Daddy, daddy. He said wait a minute, I've got another hour and then I'll be ready. He loved that. That was once a week going to the barbershop. That was on Ashley Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What would you do at the Afro?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Like I said playing with this machine that made money, what else did we—that was the main thing. Like I said these programs.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This was you and your sister—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
I would always sing and Johnetta of course, played the violin—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
At the programs.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
At the programs. We would be like the musical selection.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
By this time somebody had realized or you had realized that not just that you could sing but that you had some gifts.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Absolutely.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did that, when did you first realize, or someone realized.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Well, well, we had this teacher, my teacher who of course is African American. This woman is awesome, taught us jazz and—she'd have her recitals. I was always the last one on the recital. So you'd get the hint oh I must be the star here. You know how you do the little kids first, and you gradually get to the ones who are a little bit more advanced. I was always the last.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So she recognized it.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. She was my—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This was high school aged?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Junior, no, even before then I was taking—my mother was my first teacher. Even when I was in elementary school, we would have those little simple things, dee, dee, dee dee, dee, God. Those little practice things.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But still you go to Oberlin as a pianist.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. My audition was Beethoven. That Pathethique. Dom, da, dom da dee.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When did you make the transition?

Page 15
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Sophomore year. My piano teacher was a woman, and the voice teacher was a man. I guess I was going through that—oh yeah, you know how it is. You're eighteen and oh this man is flattering you and oh God. The voice was there. He was awesome. This teacher was very good. I switched majors.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Were you, you know—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It happens.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
More often than not. Were you recognized immediately as—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. I was top in my class. I graduated and they select twelve students to give the senior recital at the graduation. I was one of those twelve. I was selected to sing at the commencement exercise. My senior recital was the recital. Oh yeah, it was big. And then from there I went directly to Paris.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did that happen? Who, how did you arrange that? Was it initiated by people in Europe?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh no, my voice teacher. No, no, no. My voice teacher had studied in Paris. Ah ha. That's the connection. He had already been there, and so when I went over, I studied with Madam Th [unclear] she was my art song. Then I had another teacher for opera. These are all people that my voice teacher had known.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I see.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
So I'm going there, yes, and so I go there and then from there, one of the pupils of these, this Madame Th [unclear] says would you like to audition. They're going to do a role of Salome, Seven Veils. I am twenty-one years old. This is the opera you sing when you're forty because the Germans say by then the woman is, your hormones either you are having an affair, your marriage is breaking up or whatever. So you're in this irate kind of mode you see. So at forty you can sing it. So here I am at twenty-one. My mother, I wrote her. She said you are mad. Do you realize there are 140 members in the orchestra? You're going to get—. It was fabulous. I've never had so much fun in my life.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How did your parents feel about?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Well, Dad had passed. Bless his heart. My dad passed when I was a sophomore in college. Mom, I was always kind of spoiled anyway. Since I'm the more artistic of the family, she just pampered whatever I wanted to do. So she said do what you want to do. I'm with you. So sure enough.

Page 16
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It may not have been her preference but—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
I went on and did it. Yeah. I'd come home in-between things, and I would go the school, the high school, the black high school there Stanton and the children—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear]
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah in fact we did a performance of Salome with me directing it. I always, my grandfather, oh God he'd haunt me to death. This idea of giving back, so the children were just fascinated. Here's this local girl going away, making a career in Europe and coming home, coming to our high school. So it was pretty exciting.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was it, were you always in German—was it primarily Germany was really your base of operating?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah. Then I came home. My grandfather is getting weaker and weaker, and unfortunately Afro was going down the tube too.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
By the mid '60s.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah. Yep it's heading. That's over. Of course you read the book. It just goes from then to there but by the—Atlanta Life is in the process of buying it out. So I'm happy of that because they all knew each other. It's almost like a brother coming to your rescue sort of thing. It wasn't a case of some outside white company taking over again and stuff.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Of course you're coming home during this time, but I'm wondering if, was there ever a point when you noticed that what you'd left was no longer.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. Yeah. Because first of all it started when after I'd come home from Europe especially. This pressure to make a sell so that they could put this I-95. Don't forget that completely disrupted the whole commercial area. You had Ashley Street but East, where we lived was also a little shopping area. That was all gone and boarded up and what, I'm saying. You've got that feeling and—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Pressure to sell.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Pressure to sell, but you know one guy didn't. I don't know if you went by eighth street or not but one guy, all these little skyscrapers around here. There he is sitting right there. His name is Mormon. He did not sell. I always raise my fist every time I go by.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He should get a little marker.

Page 17
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah, right. Absolutely. Because that as the area, and of course now it looks like any other. You know my voice teacher said, and I'm afraid it's coming true, you know what we're going to die of. Boredom. Think about it. If somebody put a blindfold over your face and you got off an airplane, you wouldn't know whether you were in Atlanta, whether you were in Jacksonville, my God and the little towns. Look at little Amelia Island. We all left the big city and then the developers came and spend sixteen years making it look like what we just left. Dammit. Leave us alone. All right. We used to brag about the fact that we didn't have a McDonalds. We didn't have the fast foods. We didn't have the four-lane highways. Look at it. What is it? It's madness. It really is. Then these condos, all of them, look at these [unclear] down here. Would you pay a million dollars to look out your window to see the same thing you left. What happened to this individuality of Americans? What happened? Oh my, it's like all the architects flunked, have flunked school and then they give them, here's your little—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Don't you, doesn't that. That strikes me, that's got to be a contemporary architect, it's got to be about the most boring job there is because they're not producing anything of interest.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It's awful. It's awful. I wrote a letter to the editor once, of course, they didn't print it because it was pretty, I compared—look at this seashell. This is very unusual. Notice this one opens to the left. It doesn't open to the right. This is a rare one. Sorry about that Newt Gingrich. If you hold it like this, the opening is to the left. Anyway, I wrote this letter to the editor describing not only this oh God, look at all these other. I've got some gorgeous shells.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've never seen that and I've lived—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. This is called lightning whelk. This animal lives along here in the gulf. It's a rare one. Anyway, I'm describing all the beautiful shapes of shells and then proceeding to talk about the latest condo or whatever. At the end of my little writing to the newspaper or whatever, I make the remark on something like and who is the higher animal. Question mark, question mark. That's why they didn't print it. A little old mollusk. He's way down on the chain. Can you believe? Oh God. Some of these things are gorgeous. Look at this one. It's a beautiful. Look at this one. Look at the curves. The straight line, it's like a disease.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Are you finding these on the beach?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Yeah. Yeah. [unclear] look at this one. Oh man, look at this. Look at this one.

Page 18
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That is nice.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
See what I'm talking about how if you hold it up, [unclear] to the right. [unclear]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Everyone I've ever, and I've been looking at these when I was a kid.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
[unclear] only this is [unclear] . Yep. Well, anyway, here I am my revolutionary headquarters raising Cain. I am the voodoo queen. Whatever works. What Malcom X says, whatever works.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

Page 19
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
[unclear] Mickey Mouse country. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is this all a result of the book?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
No, this is a result of our [unclear] .
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Your agitation.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
My agitation.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Or agitating.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Everything they hear about me and don't forget, I do tours. It's not like university, the universities have all but adopted us. You've got people coming down from—I just did a tour of a school up in North Carolina. They're coming from Germany, Australia. Don't forget aha, you've heard of Lonely Planet.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yes, are you in the Lonely Planet.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Darling am I in the lonely planet. They came out here for an interview, I thought well. We'll probably get one little page.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Oh my gosh.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Wait a minute. You think that's bad enough. I have my picture in here [unclear] . Let me show you. So I've got people coming from Australia, Germany, writing their doctoral dissertations, their master's thesis.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Oh I had no idea.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
I'm it. You just don't realize. You've got Queen Tut here. Here we go. Oh yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
These are great photographs. I like that one that I saw in the book.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Here I am in front of the motor home. That was my museum. There it is because I had all the bumper stickers and stuff on. It was famous. God that—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Where is that now?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It's gone. They towed it off because of—that's another story. That's okay because I've got it all in here. I've got it all out before they got it towed and away.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is it some kind of—was it a nuisance?

Page 20
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Code enforcement. The whole—don't worry. [unclear] is furious because don't forget I'm their little heroine down here. Don't worry honey. My sister's suing. You probably hear all about—you've got to give me your card so I can give you all the latest, what's happened. But I have to show you—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
They know better than to tow—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh God. Child. That's illegal. You don't do that. Even if you're renting property and you're trying to get somebody out you have to go pay for [unclear]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It's a process.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It's a process. Look at this. American Beach is all of this and another half. Are you ready for this? Amelia Island Plantation gets one paragraph. Remember that film The Mouse That Roared? [Laughter] Oh young man, I've been in all of them. I've been in New York Times, the A section. Oh God, what else? In fact a guy came down from Detroit Press to do an article in the travel section. You know how all newspapers have this travel section. I thought again, well, I said okay just whatever. They picked it up because next thing I know I'm hearing from people, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, whatever. The whole travel section of each one of these newspapers. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean don't forget now we're it. There's no other black. Okay you've got Oak Bluff in Massachusetts. You've got Sag Harbor in New York. You've got—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Defauskee.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
You've got, you don't have any—have you been to Defauskee, you maybe have one, two, three houses. There's nothing left there. It's pitiful. It is pitiful. So we're it. I've even been in this international. You know the magazine Islands. Oh man, I'm going to have to let you go pretty soon. But one day you'll just have to come here. I've got so much stuff. This is Islands, you know the international magazine. Islands.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've never seen this.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
What? Man, this—here we are. Oh God I can just show you. What else you want? I've got all the magazines you can think of.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So what are the current struggles here. What are you working on?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
The struggles is to—

Page 21
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What's the CRAS?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
That's community development. That's another dirty trick. That will do nothing but get us off of here. I also dance for the Pygmies. You know the little people in the rain forests.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You dance for the—
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh man. I'm a member. Are you ready for this? Sixty environmental organizations. I'm a life member in ten. Don't forget now. I'm inheriting all of this money from my grandfather, my mom. I was going to save the world well, I did because all my money's gone now. But oh yeah. Here I am. Let's see what else we've got. You're going to have to come down here and spend a whole time. This was in the Atlanta Constitution.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'm sorry I got in touch with you so late in my visit.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Here we go. Here we go, Atlanta Constitution, a whole page. Of course my hair is another sensation. You know it's seven feet long and that—oh yeah. It's seven feet. It's a record. There it is.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How long have you been working on that?
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Twenty years. This is the other part, the part that goes on top of the hair, which I don't do it now. It was at one time it was way up high, all the hair here. You'll have to come back. You'll have to come back.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
I'm just showing you a little few of the things. You could spend a whole month. This is good stuff. Here's a copy of the little brochure I give out when I do the tours, my telephone number and address so you can keep in touch. It gives you sort of a history of all the different streets.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Great. I will come back and we'll do a little tour.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. You've got to do a tour man. You know I'm going to be in Southern Living.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You had mentioned that on the phone.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
You know what they—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're not the standard Southern Living fare.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Darling, do you know what they're doing for me? Normally they book two years ahead of time. In other words if they had interviewed it would be at least 2004. They are going to put me in the April issue. The South is changing now. The South is changing. I will be in the April issue.

Page 22
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's pretty incredible.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
It's my great grandfather. It's his spirit. That man, like he never died. I can walk out on that beach. Oh I can't. I get all flustered. I think of my—I know. In fact I told, I tease the developers. I say y'all are not going to even get rid of me in death because I have it in my will, I'm going to be cremated and I'm going to put my ashes right there on the [unclear] . I'm going to haunt you even then. Oh yeah man I believe in reincarnation. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. They're not going to get rid of me. Don't worry. So anyway darling. I just wish—like I said next time you're just going to have to—you can spend so much time in whatever, but I think I've given you a cross section. Here it is. Here's the motel, the motor home. It had a, oh you should see some of these bumper stickers. One said "Politicians and Diapers need to be changed."
KIERAN TAYLOR:
For the same reasons.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Another one said, let me tell you this, the Jehovah's witness people used to come by here and bug me because you know they think I'm this pagan. I am worshipping the sea and the moon and the goddess. So anyway I put on my motor home, my other car is a broom. [Laughter] You know what they did. They pass by, they go and keep on walking.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's keeps them out.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
So I'm beyond hope.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I love it. Yeah.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Oh yeah., I'm the legend. I'm the character. You got me right here baby trust me.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, let me get out of your hair so to speak.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
Well, bless your heart.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But I really appreciate it.
MaVYNEE BETSCH:
I wish—I'm so glad darling. Like I said you come back and—
END OF INTERVIEW