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Oral history interview with Charles B. Maxey
- 1994-02-25 - 1994-11-18 (Creation)
.1 cubic feet; 12 audiocassettes (10 hr., 50 min., 47 sec.) + transcript (329 pages)
Name of creator
Charles Britton Maxey was born in St. Augustine, Texas, in 1917. His parents separated when he was young, and he moved with his mother to Longview, Texas. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Texas College in Tyler, Texas. In 1939, he and Johnnie Obina Samples were married; they later had five children. After briefly seeking employment as a teacher in Utah, he relocated to Portland, Oregon, in 1943, where he found work in the shipyards during World War II. Johnnie Maxey followed soon after. After the war, Charles Maxey got his certification as a barber and owned barbershops in North Portland. After his first two shops and his home were seized by the state of Oregon for the construction of Interstate 5, he opened a barbershop and grocery store in North Portland, which the family operated for many decades. He was also active in the Oregon Republican Party. He died in 2001.
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Scope and content
This oral history interview with Charles B. Maxey was conducted by Jim Strassmaier at Maxey's home in Portland, Oregon, from February 25 to November 18, 1994. Johnnie Obina Maxey was also present and occasionally contributed to the interview. The interview was conducted in six sessions.
In the first interview session, conducted on February 25, 1994, Maxey discusses his family background and early life in St. Augustine and in Longview, Texas, including his education, growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood, and learning to navigate a racist world. He speaks at length about the importance of reading black authors in high school. He then discusses trying to find decent-paying work in Texas, Colorado, and Utah after graduating from college, and describes how he ultimately decided to settle in Portland, Oregon, in 1943. He talks about working in the shipyards in Portland during World War II and describes his frustration with being denied promotions and other job opportunities due to his youth and race. He then talks about beginning his career as a barber. He also reflects on his college experience at Texas College in Tyler, Texas, and talks about meeting Johnnie O. Maxey and his unrealized plans to go to law school. He discusses his political beliefs and involvement with the Republican Party in Oregon; talks about his first impressions of Portland; and describes how life in Oregon for black people differed from the South.
In the second interview session, conducted on March 4, 1994, Maxey revisits the topic of his early life in St. Augustine and in Longview, Texas, including racism he experienced, learning to navigate a racist world, and working at a drugstore. He also revisits the topics of his first impressions of Portland, working in the shipyards, and beginning his career as a barber. He describes racism he experienced in Portland.
In the third interview session, conducted on March 25, 1994, Maxey talks about a fight between his father and a white police officer in Texas, and how the fallout affected his family. He discusses conditions for black people in Texas, and how they changed during the lead-up to World War II; talks about his experiences working wartime jobs; and describes the development of his political philosophy at the time of the war. He talks about his involvement with the NAACP; discusses people being accused of communism for advocating for civil rights; and discusses conditions for black people in Portland after the war. He talks about the social life of the black community, racism they experienced, and the passage of Oregon's various civil rights acts. He also talks about the experiences of black members of the U.S. military during World War II, as well as his involvement in the Oregon Republican Party.
In the fourth interview session, conducted on April 1, 1994, Maxey continues discussing his involvement in the Oregon Republican Party and his involvement in the NAACP, as well as people being accused of communism for advocating for civil rights. He also continues discussing his involvement in the NAACP. He discusses the slow progress of civil rights in Oregon; talks about his own activism; and shares his thoughts on interracial marriage. He talks about experiencing discrimination at a Young Republicans convention in Utah and discusses his experiences with Oregon Republicans such as Tom McCall, Clay Myers, and Sig Unander. He describes how the black community was disproportionately affected by the state's land seizures during the construction of I-5, including his own loss of his home and first two barbershops. He then discusses owning and operating a grocery store as a family business in North Portland, as well as a barbershop and other businesses that he ran on the side. He talks about raising his children, including their education.
In the fifth interview session, conducted on May 3, 1994, Maxey discusses the reasons why many black people left the South for the West. He talks about the types of jobs that were available to black people in Oregon during World War II and the impact of Oliver Smith's campaign for the Oregon Legislature, and he revisits the topic of people being accused of communism for advocating for civil rights. He discusses his political views, his disagreements with the national Republican Party, and his reasons for remaining a registered Republican. He then revisits the topic of experiencing discrimination at a Young Republicans convention in Utah and talks about having dinner with the governor of Utah. He shares his opinion on school integration and busing; talks about racism his children faced in Portland schools; and discusses the importance of historically black universities. He also revisits the topic of working in the shipyards and describes discrimination he experienced there. He describes the subtler forms that racism took in Oregon as opposed to the South. He then talks about his children, their families, and their careers; discusses his upbringing in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; and reflects on his accomplishments.
In the sixth and final interview session, conducted on November 18, 1994, Maxey revisits the topic of experiencing discrimination at a Young Republicans convention in Utah and describes the process through which the convention passed his resolution that the Young Republicans never again hold a convention at any hotel with discriminatory practices.
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Conditions governing access
Copyright for this interview is held by the Oregon Historical Society. Use is allowed according to the following statement: Creative Commons - BY-NC-SA, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/.
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Related archival materials
Oral history interview with Johnnie O. Maxey, by Aaron Brand, SR 4000, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
Preferred citation: Oral history interview with Charles B. Maxey, by Jim Strassmaier, SR 4001, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
Description control element
Rules or conventions
Finding aid based on DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard), 2nd Edition.
Subject access points
- Oregon--Politics and government--20th century
- African Americans--Oregon--Portland
- African American barbers--Oregon--Portland
- Business enterprises--Oregon--Portland
- Grocery trade--Oregon--Portland
- World War, 1939-1945--Oregon--Portland