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Norm Monroe Oral History Interview
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TitleNorm Monroe Oral History Interview
IntervieweeMonroe, Norm
InterviewerWhite, Charlie
TranscriberFernández, Natalia
Description/NotesNorm Monroe discusses growing up in Washington D.C. and his early experiences with sports; moving to California to attend Compton Junior College and join the track team and later being recruited by the Oregon State University track team; his experiences at OSU as an athlete, for both track and basketball, as a student, as well as a newcomer to Corvallis during the early 1960s; his return to Washington D.C. and working at a hospital morgue and later at the National History Museum; his journey back to Oregon and residence in Lake Oswego with a job with the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration; and his personal and professional experiences with Mental Health. Related Materials: OSU Basketball Desegregation Event
SubjectAfrican Americans
Alumni & alumnae
Track athletics
Original CollectionOH 18 Oregon Multicultural Archives Oral Histories Collection
File Nameoral_history_norm_monroe.pdf
Full Text1 Norm Monroe Oral History Interview Date: May 18, 2011 Place: Corvallis, OR Length: 01:20:02 Interviewee: Norm Monroe Interviewer: Dwaine Plaza Transcriber: Natalia Fernández DP: Dwaine Plaza NM: Norm Monroe Nancy: Norm Monroe's Wife [00:00:00] DP: Let's get started. I want to ask you a little bit about your growing up experiences. Can you tell me where you were born and where you grew up? NM: I was born in Washington D.C. and I grew up mainly in Northwest Washington D.C. until later we moved to the projects in Northeast off of Bennings road. My early childhood experience was pretty interesting because of my grandfather, my father left the scene – I think I was about 14 when he left. My grandfather and my uncles were still in the house. We had about 11 people in a two story house. It was two generations, almost three actually generations of folks in one house. That was about typical. DP: Very typical of the time, sure. NM: My neighborhood was very rich with a bunch of interesting people. Across the street from me was Willie Wood, he later went on to fame at SC – he played football there, he was first black quarterback there. He and my brother were pretty close – my brother was a better basketball player than I ever hoped to be. Gus and Willie played together against Spingarn in the city tournament – Armstrong vs. Spingarn, I had no idea that I had any athletic ability whatsoever. I was chosen to go to the first inter-racial high school in Washington D.C. after Brown vs. Board of Education and I end up at McKinley High in Northeast Washington D.C. – there was a school of 42,000, I mean 2,400 in it. DP: And how many African-Americans? NM: 19 DP: 19 of 2400. NM: 19 of us integrated the school and initially it was fine, no problems the first week. The second week is when all hell broke loose. Someone had started a rumor that one of us had raped a white girl in the back hallways and that started the riots but it was not true. The athletes, black and white, we just stood there and watched. Nobody bothered the athletes for some strange 2 reason. I wasn't an athlete initially – all my friends went out for teams and I was sitting in the stands waiting to go home with them and I was agitating them. Oh, yeah I was a clown for the girls. I was telling them "I can beat you in my street shoes" And some of the guys I lived around, we all had fun going home. In the morning we would get our breakfast which was hostess cupcakes and Rock Creek orange sodas [laughing] it was always great going to school in the morning. So then after school they decided to go out for teams and I decided I would sit in the stands waiting for them to go home. I would just be the clown. Well one day I said that too loud and Mr. Brooks who was the track coach said "prove it" (that I could beat them in my street shoes) [laughing] He called my bluff and I got down there in my street shoes and I obviously got smoked, but I impressed him that I was pretty fast, so he tried to talk me into coming out. So I hemmed and hawed about it, but then I said alright I'm come out and try – it was the best thing I ever did actually. I think the strength of our track team in high school, was that we had guys who were absolutely just good athletes – we beat everybody in the city of Washington. The real rivalry was between McKinley and Cardoza high schools. We both had great track teams. [00:05:30] DP: Were they both integrated? NM: Yeah. And then we were so good in the mile relay that we got invited to all the East coast relays, but then someone said that we should run against the University of Maryland since they were the top college team in the area – but we were only high school. The varsity wouldn't run against us, we didn't know why. Maryland's coach decided it was ok to let the freshman run against us and we smoked them. So we were heading to the Penn relays with the accolades of being one of the outstanding high schools, track teams in the country, and we got to the Penn relays and we were slated to win. There were two teams that were pretty good – Brooklyn Boys High and another school from New York, we dropped the stick. We made up for it, we almost won. We picked the stick up and there were 11 teams and we came from last place to get third. So, we basically thought we could win. After track, Willie, we were sitting out on the corner – you can't go in the house at night in Washington D.C., it's too humid – you have to wait until after the street cleaners come when they water down the streets to get a little breeze, there was no air conditioning in our days. So we were running so well, Willie came over one evening, we were sitting down, while we were talking and he said "you know, you' all should come out to the West Coast – Hollywood, you have got to come out to Hollywood" We were all thinking Hollywood –that's where the movie stars and things like that were at, so we didn't think much of it. And I was in my senior year I have to figure out where I'm gonna go – I asked Willie about SC and he was telling me about it and he said that he would talk to the track coach out there and tell him about me. And obviously he must have because I got contacted by Jess Mortenson from Southern Cal and asked me if I was interested in coming out there – he had obviously checked on my background and my running ability. DP: So he didn't actually come out and visit you…he checked it out in newspapers, made some phone calls. [00:08:30] 3 NM: Exactly, and I told him I was very interested so he asked me to contact Hershel Smith who was a coach at Compton Junior College and because I had to make up some English credits and other grades, before I got out there…so they made arrangements for me to attend Compton junior college. I mistakenly mixed the dates up so I was out there a week before school opened. DP: Oh, okay NM: And I landed in downtown L.A. thinking that I could just take a taxi out to Compton. I had no idea where it was. And my grandfather and my mother had scraped together $95 to get me over – the first month in school. DP: That was a lot of money. NM: If those folks could put together $95, I wasn't going to let them down. So I came by train the first time – 5 days it took me to get to the west coast. I was in downtown LA, I got off the train, I called a cab to go to Compton and when I was going out there, it was kind of funny, I kept going and going, kept watching the meter [laughing]. My little $95 was dwindling very rapidly; cost me $50 to get out there. DP: Oh, my god. NM: Not only that, when I got there, there was nobody in the parking lot, no cars in the parking lot. DP: School's empty. NM: So why? What's going on here? And it turns out that school - I was a week ahead of school. I didn't know anybody there, didn't even know how to contact the coach. There was nobody at the school, not even a janitor. So I remembered a kid named William Kelly told me that if I ever get out to Compton, his grandmother lived out there and to contact her and tell her that I was a friend of his. So I looked at my wallet and luckily I had written her telephone number down on a matchbook. I pulled the matchbook out and I pleaded with, I even forgot her name, I pleaded with her to let me come over. She told me I could walk 18 blocks from Compton, she lived on Central and El Segundo and I walked all the way from Compton to Central and El Segundo. DP: You weren't going to take a cab again? NM: No, No [laughing] you couldn't pay me to get in a cab again. So she said that I could stay if I would do things around the house…wash the windows and do some yard work. So I did, I did the yard work and on and on and then at the end of the week I contacted coach and he told me that he could find me a room or that if I liked where I was staying, I could just stay there. So I decided, what was her name? I loved staying there, you know, and she was an elderly lady and so I enjoyed working for her. Then some other friends of mine, I called it a mass exodus of Washington DC, because eight more of my buddies came from Washington DC to Compton to go to the junior college there. So we decided we were gonna get a house. 4 [00:12:19] DP: Let me come back to that, though, how did the eight guys get out there; on scholarships? NM: No, none of them had scholarships. I was the only one that came out there with even the inkling of a scholarship. They just came because they wanted to get away and they heard all the DP: Let me come back to Willie for a second. How did Willie get a scholarship? stories that Willie had told about Compton and about LA. NM: Well, Willie was an outstanding athlete and I mean, three sports – he could have been good in football, basketball, or baseball. And see, we were raised in the boys club, number two boys club in Washington DC, and he was so good at everything he did, and he was two years older than me, so he was like the elderly person on the block. So when he got the scholarship out to Southern Cal and we watched him on TV playing, he was that good, he was the first black quarterback starter, and it was fun watching him. He was a celebrity every time he came on; we didn't have many successes on my block, and anytime you had one, you celebrated it. And he was such a great person anyway. So after his stories, the west coast became very interesting to us. More of us went out to the west coast, some of us went out to Coalinga Junior College, and that was up near Sacramento, and the rest of us went to Compton. DP: Were you all paying for this on your own, tuition wise? NM: Oh yeah, everything except for me, I got mine paid. We all decided that we needed to find a place for all of us to live, so I moved out of the house, god, oh that lady's name just escapes me. Anyway, I moved out of her house and we found a one bedroom house and the front room had an old stuffed chair and there were eight of us, so we decided that we would rotate the bed, so everybody got three days in the bed [laughing], then the floor, then the chair. So we pooled our money to buy food. None of us had jobs at the time, so I remember the first thanksgiving, it was just everybody but me went home and I had to stay that thanksgiving, the first thanksgiving away from home. And I had to stay there. And I remember looking into the cupboard and there were two potatoes. My first thanksgiving and I had two potatoes and some mustard. [00:15:25] NM: So we decided, when the guys came back, said "hey look, we got to get some food some kind of ways." Our first task was everybody had to go get a girlfriend [laughing] and then the next one was we had to find jobs. The coach got me a job at Avalon Diary which was a dairy out on Central and Rosecrans just selling milk and things. I was a clerk so I got butter, eggs, cheese and bread free. I told my wife, Nancy, who lived in Mexico for 10 years and she loved it, loved tamales, and I told Nancy I hate tamales ‘cause that's all I ate – they were 10 cents. And you'd get some ketchup and some tamales and sometimes we would take the ketchup and just put it in the cup and take it home and mix it with water – tomato soup [laughing]. So anyway, I didn't have the discipline and maturity that was really necessary to be away from home – it was my first time away from home. But along with that was the idea that just being away from home for the first time, I just didn't have the discipline or the maturity to get the grades. I didn't know how 5 to study or what to study. And then I started drinking cheap wine was our thing. Then some guy found reefers, we didn't call them marijuana at the time, they were reefers, and we'd just get stoned in the morning. Sometimes when I tried to go to class I was so stoned, I didn't even know where I was. But I ran well. I had no idea how I still ran as well as I did. DP: Youth. NM: Stupidity and youth I guess [laughing] DP: Youth, that's what it is, you had the energy. NM: I started to become a really consistent winner for Compton and so much so that the school, SC, hadn't given up on me yet, and Hershel was just a great coach and a good person on top of it and he stated to talk to us about the potential of Olympics. Because we had two Olympians who competed from Compton. Charles Dumas was a high jumper, he was the first one. And then there was another named Dicky Howard. Dicky was a 400 meter hurdler. And the only thing that I bring that up is that we had such a great team there, but some of us didn't have discipline, so a lot of us got in trouble. One of my closet friends held up a supermarket and got killed. DP: Oh boy. Was he living with you? NM: No, he wasn't. He was just one of those really great guys. And then there was another friend who went to the Olympics as a 400 meter hurdler. And then he overdosed with heroine. I met, Paul Lowe at Compton. Paul Low came to Compton from Oregon State. And I knew he had attended Oregon State but I didn't know where Oregon State was, but I remember him being there. I ran so well at junior college that I didn't realize that SC had given up on me. In fact, I just thought that I was still was going get in there, that some miracle was gonna happen, but then it turns out that the miracle wasn't gonna happen. I was invited to run in the NCAA the National – I was the only junior college guy invited to run in the Nationals against the University guys. DP: What year approximately was that? [00:20:02] NM: This was 1957...'58, cause I left in '59. And when I as up there, it was in Boulder Colorado, when I was there, this guy came over, Darrel Horn, came over with Norm Hoffman they said that Coach Bell is the coach at Oregon State, he would like to talk to you" and I said "oh yeah? What about?" [laughing] They were two white dudes coming, you know, and I came out of an environment where I didn't trust white people. There was nothing in my community that you trusted about white folks. The only white folks you trusted, and that was half way, was the Jewish dudes, who ran the grocery stores. I said, "Okay" so I thought about it and I went over to meet Sam Bell, and I met him and he told me, he said that his friend was assistant coach at SC, told him that I had failed out. DP: Of SC? 6 NM: Out of SC, out of Compton. And he heard from him that I had a lot of potential and if I was very interested in coming. He was building a track team at Oregon State and if I was interested in coming to give him a call. So what I did, I just, I asked him, I said "Oh" because I was working at a clothing store in LA, so I knew that you could get, there were benefits going to big colleges. So I asked him what was in it for me, he told me "what do you mean?" and I said, "You gonna give me a car? Or is there money around? Clothing?" And he says "No. the only thing that we can offer you is a good education." DP: Right NM: I said "Oh" [laughing] I started laughing and walked away. So I was invited to the AAU meet , the Wide World of Sports was in Randall's Island New York. I was invited to participate in the AAU Championships on the Wide World of Sports in the 800m. I had pulled a muscle in my thigh and couldn't sprint. DP: Track event. NM: And so I thought that I would run well enough to make one of the summer traveling teams, but I was never in good shape. DP: You just never really practiced. NM: No, most of the time I was drinking wine [laughing]. DP: Smoking reefers. NM: Drinking wine and trying to figure out life. Nancy: Jazz. DP: And the jazz. Enjoying life, you were young. NM: Well, at Randall's Island we snuck out of the little compound to go down to the village vanguard to hear Art Blakely. Myself and the guy who actually turned out to win the race, you know, Adolf Plummer from New Mexico. Adolf and I were friends and I can remember the next day we had four races to run and I can remember burping down in the blocks, [laughing] Nancy: At the Olympic trials? NM: No, the summer Wide World of Sports. And I was down in there burping [laughing] and we were running and Adolf came around the curve and he said "Norm, come on man, we're gonna have to run" We were young and I was on my last gear [laughing] I couldn't go anymore. It was just so funny. I didn't make any travel teams that year, but I had to go home. I went back to DC and about my second week in DC, I went to check in at the Barber Shop, Boxers Barber Shop across the street from where I lived and you know, I was one of the local heroes now. 7 DP: Sure, cause you were actually on TV. NM: Exactly. And the kids wanted to see what I looked like up close. Gus, my brother brought them over to the Barber Shop and they were looking up and I thought I got to get out of town and come September. So I called the coach up and I said I had second thoughts and I'm really interested in coming out to Oregon. [00:25:00] DP: Coach Bell? NM: Yeah, and he says to me "If you're really serious I will help you come out here but you're on your own in terms of picking up your grades. He said, "I'll get you enrolled into Clark Junior College" And he told me, he laid it out for me that I had to pick up 36 grade points in that first year. It only took me a half a year. DP: Wow. NM: Yeah, cause I was 41 behind and it took me half a year and then I came into Oregon State September of '59 on academic probation and the stipulation was that I would have to make the rest of those up my first semester. And initially when I got here, when I came to Oregon, I hated it. I lived over on Skidmore Street. The thing that was so interesting with Coach Bell, I don't think he'd been around that many blacks, [laughing] he took me out, he was gonna show me around Portland. DP: So he met you up in Portland then? NM: Oh yeah, he met me up in Portland. And he took me out to the street corner of Williams Avenue and Skidmore, I lived on Skidmore, and he said "Norm, look down the street" And I said "What am I looking for?" And he says "well there's a lot of black people, Negros down there, and so don't hang out down there at night" [laughing] I said, "Coach, have you looked at me?" I grew up in some of the worst parts of Washington DC. DP: [laughing] this looks like a pretty good place to be. NM: Oh man it was a resort [laughing] DP: it was a resort compared. NM: compared to where I lived. And I couldn't believe it. Later on you know he and I apologized for a lot of things we said to each other. I remember my first week at Oregon State when I got down here they put us all in Poling Hall and it was just noisy as the dickens and you know we played cards and we visited back and forth and I thought, this was a recipe for another disaster [laughing] let me get out here. 8 DP: So just to come back, this was about 19 of you in each residence? NM and Nancy: Nine. DP: Nine of you? Okay, sorry NM: But there were six, no five Africans, nine student athletes. Nancy: Two of them were women. NM: Well, no they weren't women. There were only two black women, but they weren't athletes, they were students: They went home every weekend DP: Oh boy, so the community then was really small. Was it mainly Portland African Americans that came to Oregon State? No, they came from all over. NM: Actually my first, the year I spent in Portland was interesting because it's like a small country town. DP: Portland at the time? NM: Oh yeah and I remember I used to hate the rain every time I'd get ready to go out, it was raining. DP: Really? [laughing] NM: So I'm from DC and I got galoshes, raincoat, and I went outside, raincoat, galoshes, rain hat on, and people started laughing [laughing]. What space ship did you fall out of? So my landlord laughed so hard, she said "Norm, you don't need that to go out here. Rain is a soft rain, it's not that cold and nobody wears that stuff" I said, "oh, I wear it" - I'm jumping around. DP: No, the Portland stories are good, that adds context. NM: I went out for basketball at Clark College and I made the team and I remember one game we were playing Gray's Harbor and I remember fouling out and when I fouled out, the students started, or I can't remember if it was a band, the students stared singing "Bye Bye Black Bird" So I said "Oh, these people are really serious about their basketball and racism." DP: Were you the only African American person on the team? NM: Yeah, I was the only African American on that team. It's always been like that: that's been part of the difficulty of my timing because I've always been the pioneer. I got tired of being the only one here, the only one there. [00:30:23] 9 DP: A couple more so of thoughts on your time up in Portland. So you'd lived there, did the coach arrange for the housing there? Did you… NM: Work or anything? No, but I don't think I can talk about…I was to go up to this, let me see, I can't remember his, oh it was the meat market up on Burnside. And there was an alumni there who would give me $15 or $25 and I never had to work for it, but that was the only money I had at the time. Later the coach got me a job at a restaurant in downtown Portland. So I don't know if that legal or illegal at this point [laughing] DP: Don't worry. NM: But then after entering Oregon State, when I first got there. DP: Yeah, let's hear about your first recollections. NM: My first, when I walked around campus and I noticed that the white kids would just stare at you, like, who are you? What are you? And it used to bother me; because you know in DC you don't look directly at people. DP: Right. Basically everybody just, you keep to yourself. NM: Exactly, when you look at someone, it's an aggressive threat. Obviously you're gonna do something and so you're on alert to defend yourself. And so I couldn't understand why these folks looked at you so harsh. And my second week here, went to the movie and I remember this kid and his mom and dad were sitting, sitting behind me, and the kid said "mom there's a nigger in front of us" And I thought, "what in the world is this? What's going on?" and I turned around and I really got belligerent with them but, then I looked at the kid and the kid is only a product of his parents so obviously he had learned that from his house and so he didn't know any better, but I knew his parents did. Low and behold, they didn't call the police in the theatre, and I left, but when I got back to the campus, Coach called me down to talk to me about getting in trouble. And I said "wait a minute? What do you mean about getting in trouble? Those folks insulted me" He said "Norm you have to learn to not take everything serious" I said, "Serious? That's a racial slur." So the Coach and I never had that really a close relationship initially because he was out of a different world and so was I. And so I remember I decided I was gonna stay away from him and anybody else. So I wasn't really a team person when I first got here because I thought all white people were out to do you some harm and I couldn't trust them. DP: Sure. And the team at that time was mainly white? Track athletes. NM: Oh yeah, all of them, let me see…no, there was Amos Marsh. Amos later became a Dallas Cowboy Football player. Amos was a sprinter. And let me see. Amos, me, and I'm trying to think of…Leroy, no Leroy wasn't there yet; Leroy Whittle and Lynn-Whittle, actually only Amos and I. No, Amos brother Frank Marsh was on the team also. 10 DP: Were on the track team? DP: The whole relay team was white. NM: Anyway, so I was shocked to see or feel that I didn't really have a place that I could relax, not be on guard. I felt like a birddog in field of pheasants constipated on corn [?] all the time [laughing]. I could not believe it. You didn't have a chance to relax. DP: Sure. NM: So in fact when I moved out of the dorm at Poling Hall and couldn't find a place I got a friend of mine, Mike Shapiro from LA to find us a house. So he found a place down on Jefferson Street next to the Barber Shop, the barbers own the apartment and I remember thinking "This is great" but he didn't tell me that he didn't tell the barbers that I was black [laughing] I remember that face on these dudes when I came. To this day, forty years or so more later I still remember the look on their face, like "What did we do? Where did we go wrong letting this guy in this place?" [laughing] But it turned out pretty good because that way I was much more relaxed because at that time I hadn't gotten into the swing of things, I didn't know how to study. And I remember when I went to English class, I really enjoyed reading, but this was sort of my secret. Jazz and reading were my two things. Oh man, I loved the classics, I loved Moby Dick or sort of those types, adventure stories. DP: Tom Sawyer? NM: Oh yeah, in fact Nancy got Treasure Island, back to the classics again. Anyway, so we were still looking for something to get us acclimatized to Oregon and Oregon State, so Mike said "Norm, dorm food on Sunday is lousy, it's horrible. Why don't we go out and recruit some girls from different countries and we all chip in and have them buy the food from their native countries. So we did it. We had everything but Orientals. (Asians) He says ‘You know any Orientals" I said "No" "There's one up at Sackett Hall, her name's Jean Yoshihara from Milton Freewater." DP: She's Japanese? NM: She's Japanese and she was my first wife. In fact, Nancy and she get along better than I do. [laughing] [00:37:18] DP: So coming back to, how many students of color then were on campus? Other than black students. NM: There was only six Africans, that was all I remember. Nancy and DP: Asians? 11 NM: I remember three Asians, one Hispanic was Hank Rivera, he played football, he was a football player…and that was it. DP: That was it. And so you all knew each other. NM: Oh yeah, you couldn't help but know…even then you were not encouraged to hang out with each other. This was the strangest place. And it was almost like you were in the military when I first got here. The folks expected you to perform but not to participate in society. DP: Interesting. NM: You know, it's like you'd be trotted out to perform and then after it was over they wanted you to go back and hide back into your little cave or whatever. Mentally, it began to wear on me and my mental discipline was shot anyway, so I just thought that these people are lousy, this is not right. And so when I tried to talk to the coach about it, he was not there, he just couldn't relate. Luckily, I enjoyed art, I enjoyed my art class, the art teacher was named Demetrius Jamison, and that was the beginning of some of the best time I ever had here. Because Demetrius was one of these old bohemians, he was a character till the day he died. I had a great relationship with him and enjoyed him as a professor. And we had this loft over in the art department over there. DP: Where was that? When you were going? Was it at Fairbanks? NM: Yeah, I think it was at Fairbanks. He used to let the loft down and we used to sneak up in there and have wine and cheese [laughing] DP: That's great [laughing] NM: He'd tell me "Man, we got to get some girls to come up in here." I was thinking wait a minute, you're a professor. He was great; he actually started getting me thinking that I could do more with my life. And then I went into English and RD Brown, oh man what another great guy. And RD was the one that really got me thinking that I had a brain. And he's the one that made me really work for my grade. But later I saw my transcript and I don't know how I got into anybody's school or got a scholarship. It was amazing to me. But later on after I really understood what college was all about, it was a lot more fun, especially when you could get a good grade. DP: Sure, sure. NM: And my writing was atrocious, I mean, I had no idea about grammar. [00:40:41] DP: Yeah, and that probably came because of your poor high school education 12 NM: You know, that was also very interesting because that was also a contradictory thing. I always had somebody who saw something in me. I was the luckiest probably kid alive. When we went to the interracial high school in DC, they had four black teachers that came with us, and Miss Cumby was my homeroom teacher and her husband was Colonel Cumby and they invited me down to their beach home to work: they showed me the other side of black life in Washington DC. They had a house in Maryland on the beach. And she always told me that she didn't understand why I'm wasting such a good mind. And I said "What do you mean?" And she says "you are bright when you want to be but you always look to shuck and jive, or kid with the kids in the class. When are you gonna get serious about your life?" And I thought I was already serious about my life. I think that carried over when I got here because I really didn't trust people. I stayed to myself; in fact I stayed away from black kids. I was just a loner. And I remember when Mike left campus and I moved out of the apartment I got a room in an attic because I had to stay here in the summer. And the coach got me a job, the first job I had was in the cannery and that was a disaster. DP: Tell me about that. NM: Oh gosh, it was at a cannery and they got me a job breaking up the frozen food so it could go down the shoot and be packaged. I remember I thought I would never eat frozen food in my life [laughing]. They had this big thing that looked like a bat and you'd use that to break up the sheets of frozen vegetable. Sometimes we would stomp the sheets with our feet in these rubber boots [laughing] and people didn't wash that stuff. I never, would eat frozen food again. DP: Okay, that's pretty funny. NM: So that was one of my first jobs. DP: And that was right here in Corvallis? NM: That was here in Corvallis. And then this guy said we need to get some of this stuff up to Seattle and I want you to drive this 18 shift thing [laughing]. Another kid that was with me, we were going to deliver this frozen food to Seattle and he was supposed to get out and direct me to back the truck into the ice locker in Seattle and all I heard was cruuuunch. He forgot to open the other door and I backed into the door. That was my short driving experience for Birdseye. Next year they got me a job, in a lumber mill. I was spending time in Corvallis year round. It actually reinforced my racial hatred of white people – these people had no idea of anything different then they lived like and I almost think that they thought that we were animals. And so I had some really pretty nasty experiences here, when I was living here in the summer. And I decided that, sometimes I used to go back to my place and I lived in an attic, in fact I have, to this day I don't remember seeing the landlord because the coach paid the rent and I had a back way into this place and I don't think I ever saw those folks. And I would play my music and drink my cheap wine and feel miserable and I thought this is not good. [00:45:04] 13 DP: Not healthy. NM: Not healthy at all. And I couldn't figure out why I was doing this to myself. In fact I was so miserable sometimes I'd just cry. For a dude to cry, that is unbelievable. So when school started that next year, 1960 was my best year, both academically and athletically. I decided I was going to put all my efforts into running and athletics, but before that some guys asked if I was interested in playing intramural basketball. DP: Had they seen you play before? NM: Oh no, they just assumed that I could play and we had a neat team. We played, the fraternities, and we would kill them. I mean we loved to smoke them. And I thought to myself, we beating them so bad, I don't think they have ever played against a black guy before, so it was really fun. Then one day Jimmy Anderson came over and he said, ‘Come on, let's go play some one-on-one" I said "Where?" he said "Down at the gym" Gill Coliseum and I thought oh, okay, this is alright with me. DP: Were you playing before in the men's? NM: So I went down to the Coliseum with Jimmy and we used to play one on one and I liked Jimmy because he was just a regular guy. But then one day we were playing one on one and I just happened to glance up to the radio booth up on the second level in Gill Coliseum and I saw shadows in there and I thought "whoa, what are these people looking at? And then after we finished our one on one we were just sitting on the bench and here come Slats, Rocha, and Paul Valenti and Slats asked me if I was interested in coming out for the team and I said "oh, yeah, that would be fun." And I came out for the team. That was the beginning of a very interesting time here. I never played organized ball that was set and required discipline. I had never thought anything about how I shot, when I shot, anything about running, dribbling, anything. DP: No individual skills at all. NM: No individual skills, it was all about team. DP: Play the way the coach wanted you to play. NM: Exactly; and when you had to think. Nancy: It was instinctual, because you were doing it instinctually. NM: Well, you grew up on the playground you didn't have to think about what you were gonna do, you were going to do it [laughing]. DP: Right. 14 NM: Next thing you know you're gonna be landing against the wall someplace. So I, sometimes - he would stop because he'd get mad because we weren't doing it the right way. And then one day I remember I was coming down the court and I dribbled behind my back because I was trying to get away, I think it was Steve and boy, did all hell break loose. DP: He blew up. Did you see the video yesterday when that happened? NM: No. Nancy: No, but he's seen it. NM: Oh yeah I saw the video. DP: When they criticized the guys for dribbling behind the back. NM: This is how we did it; I mean that's how I grew up. I didn't try to make any rules, I was a good ball player but my brother was three times better, four times better than I ever was. DP: Who? NM: Gus. But I could hold my own on the basketball court. I was just shocked. So then I played eight games and then this is just not working, this is miserable, this is not fun. So I think Slats must have come to the same conclusion [laughing]. So we had a meeting one day and he said "you know, you don't seem to have the maturity to play with this team and you don't seem to be enjoying it" And I said "you know, I think I am more of a track guy than I am a basketball player" He says ‘well that seems to tell me that we mutually think that you should withdraw from the basketball program." I said, "I think you're right coach; it's time for me to stop playing basketball" So I left and went back to playing inter-murals, which was much more fun. [00:50:00] DP: Now at that time when you were playing the six games, did you get the chance to play any other African American players from other teams? NM: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Well in fact, one of my best buddies played for the University of Portland, Art Easterly. Art and I, we've been friends now ever since our college days and his Vietnam days. So, I remember Art was just lighting us up. He was playing for the University of Portland and they were killing us and Art was lighting us up and I remember the halftime in the locker room. We went in, everybody's head was down. I was sitting on the end of the bench. Slats came in and he banged the locker and he said, "Can't any of you all in here stop that colored boy?" I was sitting down there laughing to beat the band. That was so funny. That was so typical of the time. Though, you know, it's like I was invisible man, it was like I just didn't exist. My wife, Nancy, just hates it because I won't move to get out of the path of anybody white if they're walking towards me. I mean, they must see me. I have as much a right to this space, I'm going forward. People bump into you. 15 DP: That's right. Especially here in Oregon, I find that happening to me all the time. NM: Exactly! Nancy: Really, people bump into you? DP: Absolutely, oh all the time. NM: They will not, they will walk right into you. I keep telling her, she says, "you're just paranoid." No, I said, "No, this is how people walk here." You don't exist, you are an invisible property. Nancy: I know what racism is, well I know that. NM: Yeah, but see I just get her so mad, "Just move out of their way." Why? I used to ask myself, why should I move out, why don't they move out of my way. Nancy: OK, well now I am understanding it now that you are explaining it in a way that I have never heard before. NM: The other thing that cracks me up is because there is not a high visibility of blacks here, when you go into a store, people will bring their kids around to look at you to make sure that they see a black person. DP: Oh really, when you were here? NM: Oh yeah, they still do it. And it's because they don't have the variety of people, ethnicity so they want their kids to see that there is more in this world than just white people. Nancy: I'm sorry but it's not much of a story? DP: So, let me come back now to that early 1960s period at Oregon State University. What was it like beyond sports? Let me just come back to your sports. Did you have to do a lot of training? Was there a regimen? NM: Here's the thing that I enjoyed. I didn't want to work out with the team, but I enjoyed running. So I would take off and run up in the hills, up around the golf course. I would just take off and run about 5 miles. And the coach, told me "I want you to work out with the team." And I said, "Coach, if I lose any race, I will come down and workout with the team. I will make you a promise; I will come down on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and work on speed work. And I will work with the team" And he agreed to that. DP: He agreed for awhile with stipulations. Wow, that's amazing that he would agree to that. NM: Well, I was shocked that he did, too, because, I knew it just bothered him. And so we had four guys, we had four sprinters. Two of them I had run against in California. Bob Johnson and, 16 what was that other guy's name? (Ron Bach). Actually Ron Bach had beat me in the finals of the Junior College Championship at Mount San Antonio Nancy: Lynn? NM: No, No, Lynn was from Canada. It was Bob Johnson and Morgan Gross wasn't here yet. I can see his face, but I cannot remember his name. Anyway, we had four guys who were just great quarter milers. And, so I had more competition on my team than I had in the league at that time. And I never, well I - that was before Otis Davis got to Oregon. DP: OK, so this was the Pack eight, then? NM: Oh yeah, this was the Pack eight. And I promised the coach that if anybody beat me in the 400 meters, I would come and practice with the team. And I never got beat, in a dual meet. I take that back because I lost a race to Lyn Eves in a dual meet while at OSU so I didn't think that I had to come and practice with the team. I was like Ferdinand the Bull; I just loved to run out into the hills. I just took off. I loved to run. I would just take off and run up in the hills. It was so interesting because I would run past this house and I noticed the people in the house would wave and I would wave back. Turns out that the person waving was Heather Maser, the dean of the business schools daughter, Heather was also in my Art class. Nancy: In your wine and cheese class. NM: Yeah, in my wine and cheese class. DP: So this was, Heather was the dean's daughter? NM: The Dean's daughter, yeah. So, one day, Heather invited me up for dinner up at their house. Kim made the best coffee cake in the world. I mean, I had never had hazelnuts in a coffee cake in my life. I didn't even know coffee cake existed until I got out here. So, I met the Masers, and boy they were so much fun. They would invite me up on the weekend and then they would take me out to see the rest of Oregon. They loved to swim in the high lakes. I didn't know how to swim. Well, I thought I knew how to swim, but I don't swim. But, they talked me into diving into a high lake. DP: Oh no, that's cold water. NM: Oh, I have never heard people laugh so hard in my life. She said I broke the world record. DP: For getting out? NM: Getting out of there! But I went the wrong direction. I went to sit on the rock. And I was sitting on that thing thinking, now I've got to go back! I have never felt water that cold. And they said I screamed when I hit the water. They talked about that for years. Norm and his world record getting out of the lake water. They were the greatest people. It confused me because they were different white people than I was used to. It was sort of an interesting thing because I couldn't say the things. They were so different that I started to treat them different. And so, I 17 started ragging every chance I got about how bad I had it and how bad white people were. And Cliff got just tired of it. You know he just told me, he says, "Norm, you haven't had it bad." He told me about Kim and he. I didn't realize that Kim was a refugee. You know, she was French Jewish and that Cliff was in the Red Cross and that was how they met. And I had no idea how hard they had it. And then he just told me one day he said, Norm, we like you, but your story is getting old. Everybody didn't have it good because they were white. Some people really suffered and he told me about how people suffered and things like that. And I got mad and decided I wasn't ever going to come up and see them again. They had taken my thunder away from me. To this day, well when Kim was dying, I was driving at a hells pace from Portland to get to Bend before she died because Heather had called me. I didn't get there on time; she died before I got there. Nancy: But we saw her not too long before that [00:58:45] NM: Oh, I saw her yeah, I saw her before that. But that contradiction, that started me on a new sort of path. And initially, after I got married, what I wanted to do, I met this army Colonel here. I think his name was Townsend. I was gonna graduate and he said that he enjoyed watching me at track all and he also heard that I was a very smart guy and he said "you ever thought about running in special service?" "No, what's special service?" "I'm down at the Presidio in San Francisco, and I would love to have you down at Special Services. I'm running the army intelligence and I would love for you to be a part of that" I said "oh, what do I have to do?" he said, "Where's your draft board?" "It's in Washington DC" "Well have it transferred out here. Then I want you to just go on and enlist in the service and we'll take it from there." So, I wrote my draft board and they wouldn't transfer my draft board, they told me I had to come back there and to appeal. So I went back and I was at Fort Halliburton, Baltimore, and they talked me into signing up as an enlisted man and just going on and that they would take care of it after I enlisted. Well Vietnam was DP: Right around the corner, yeah, hello? NM: So I didn't think much of it, but I had this letter from Colonel Townsend I gave to the Sergeant when I first got there. So all day long I took tests. So my group was sworn in but I wasn't a part of that group that got sworn in. So when the Sergeant came out of the Captain's office, I said "Sergeant, what did my test scores qualify me for?" He said "Son, you're test scores are so bad you couldn't even be a cook" [laughing]. I said, "I don't think I want to be in your army" He said, "You already are. We're gonna let you go home until Monday and then we'll ship you off" DP: Oh my gosh NM: Well, I had been sitting there and I heard the Sergeant ask the Captain "what are we going to do with that Monroe fella" "I don't know, just ship him to Fort Dix with the rest of them. Let them handle it." So that's how…and then I said "Don't you have to be sworn in" my name wasn't on the list of people that were sworn in, he said, "oh come on over we'll take care of NM: 18 He said "we are going to draft you anyways, might as well come on and do it now" I said "I don't think so" He says "We're not going to give you a bus pass back to Washington DC" I says, "Sergeant I'll walk" [laughing]. I left there laughing. I got back to DC, my first wife was pregnant with our first kid and I had to find a job. So my first job I found was in a morgue, at the hospital morgue. DP: Wow DP: So you had gotten married here in Corvallis and you had both traveled NM: Back to DC. DP: And her family is still here? NM: Oh yeah, her family is in Milton Freewater. DP: How did they see you as an African- American marrying a Japanese woman? NM: Oh geez [laughing] you wanted to get there. [01:02:40] DP: I'm just curious. NM: I can say her dad was a sweetheart; her mom never spoke to me in 13 years of marriage. No, I take that back, the day she divorced me, I had to call there and she did answer the phone and talk to me to me for about five seconds, but that was the first time, and I understood. Milton Freewater and Jean was the only Japanese family in Milton Freewater at the time and they all had told her that she was gonna be on welfare if she married a black person because blacks only go on welfare; they don't have a career, they don't have a life. And so it was very interesting, but we made it for 13 years and it was a difficult 13 years but we made it Nancy: You got two great kids out of it. NM: Wonderful kids. And after the divorce, I wanted to, I came back to Oregon. DP: Let's come back to the morgue. NM: Yeah, I worked at the morgue. While I was working at the morgue, I used to come to the hospital and this lady would be standing at the door and she and I would just pass the time of day and it became a routine, so one of my jobs as soon as I got into the morgue, was we prepared the bodies for autopsies. DP: I couldn't do that myself, not me. 19 NM: I actually got to the point where I could eat my lunch. DP: You could? NM: [laughing] Oh yeah, I got to the point where I could eat my lunch. So I worked there from 3 until 11, actually it was 3 to12 before I got off, so in the daytime I would go and look for another job. I happened to be in the Smithsonian Institute looking up in the National History Museum, a guy came down who I knew from a long time ago, Pernell. He said "Norm, what are you doing' out here" I said "I'm in between jobs, looking for a better job and I come here to eat my lunch" [laughing]. So he said "Didn't you graduate?" I said "yeah, I did" "You know anything about geology" "Oh; I had a class in geology at Oregon State" "Do you know anything about the Dewey Decimal System?" "What's that?" [laughing] He says "It's about books. Our geology library is so messed up; we got a six month contract we would love to hire somebody for. Why don't I take you back to talk to Dr. Cifelli I said, "You mean you want me to take a job for six months? I got a kid on the way" He says, "Well; you never know what's gonna happen here." So I took a chance on it. They gave me a six months contract; it took me three months, no two and a half months to get the library in shape. And then one day Dr. Knapp came into the library and he was looking for a book and he found it in five minutes. He says "who did this?" so they pointed to me and Dr. Cifelli got kind of pleased that the library was in such great shape. He says "I need an assistant." I says "what does an assistant do?" ‘A library technician, I mean a museum technician" He said "we need a technician in paleontology" I said, "In what?" [laughing] he said, "we need someone to go through this protozoa and identify them…he said, "I bet you could do it" I said, "I got to the point where I could take the balsum put them in [thin sections] make thin sections of the skeleton. DP: wow [01:07:20] NM: the best part is I became a specialist in [scumba lava] DP: [laughing] NM: There were tuna larva and you could make thin sections out of those too. But then I got promoted to Museum Technician in Ichthyology and that was the beginning of my downfall because I had to work in formaldehyde and we didn't have hoods, so you were working 8 hours, and I worn no mask. So you were working in straight 55 gallon drums of alcohol and formaldehyde with all this fish that we were collecting from all over the world - I had to tag them, and identify them, and put them in all these different containers, and I was working straight out of the formaldehyde. So I started getting more lethargic and lethargic and lethargic and so, I had to go to the hospital. And while I was in the hospital I heard the doctor begin to talk that he hadn't seen a chronic liver case this bad in a while and he asked me "how much do you drink?" I said, "I barely drink at all" He says, "Your liver seems to say that you drink an awful lot" he says "if you don't drink, so you work around caustic materials?" I said "I work around formaldehyde" he says "oh god, you're dying. This is killing you." So Dr. Cifeli, I told him that I would have to quit, because I couldn't work in formaldehyde anymore. He says "well what do 20 you want to do?" I said "well I want to go back to Oregon." So he said "well you know I got a brother- in- law in Roseburg. Let me call him up to see if we can find you a job in Oregon." He called him up and it turned out to be Julian who was the juvenile director of Roseburg and I got a job at Wolf creek job center in Glide, Oregon and I was the recreation director there for four years and loved every minute of it, the kids loved it too because it being up in the mountains, it was just great for them. They got their German Sheppard babysitter named Rommel. Rommel was a German Sheppard and Rommel was the best babysitter you could ever have. And every time, he knew that the kids had to come home at noon from the creek and he would come running up and I would say "Rommel, go get the kids, bring them home." He would run back down, come back, because they didn't want to come, "Go get ‘them, bring ‘them back." See them with their little pans and shovel dragging up the hill. It was really great. [01:10:18] DP: So your transition back to Oregon, did you drive back with the family? NM: We drove back. We loved it the whole way. One kid was born going and one kid was born coming back – both kids were born in Washington DC. Once we got back here, I started drinking again, by that time; things were starting to go bad in the marriage. Also, mentally I was beginning to have very severe mental problems. It was mainly depression. DP: Depression, oh yeah, classic case. Nancy: [inaudible] NM: Well that was in Portland, in Lake Oswego, well Lake No-negro. We moved to Lake Oswego. And I hated it there because we had just bought a new house. The neighbors decided that they didn't want fences in the backyard because they wanted to have their 5 o'clock martinis from backyard to backyard to backyard. Well I wasn't that kind of a person that would want to socialize with these clowns anyway. The first thing they did that pissed me off was I had rented all this lawn equipment to put in this new lawn and these two clowns came and didn't want to take the chance that I would have a problem putting in the lawn, so they directed me into how to put the lawn in, in fact they said "why don't we put the lawn in for you?" DP: To standard? NM: Oh yeah DP: Got it NM: They didn't want their property value to go down. So I sat down with a six pack of beer to watch them putting the lawn in [laughing]. DP: Good for you 21 NM: Then I got tired of the 5 o'clock martini, so I put a fence up, and that did it. The neighbors then probably thought that I was the craziest, meanest, stupidest, guy that they've had in the whole neighborhood. And then the New Years Eve party was the party that that really cast me out. That was the end of my marriage and of everything else. The party got wild and I got into a fight. So, then I really got depressed, I was having real problems, but I kept my job. In fact, I got the craziest job during my crazy time; I got the job, the job of my life actually. I had started out in marriage and family counseling at Multnomah County and this new guy, was running for Mayor of Portland, Neil Goldschmidt. DP: Ah, he became governor eventually right? [01:13:41] NM: Yeah. Neil said he had watched me. He was at University of Oregon I guess while I was at Oregon State. He had been watching me run and he was going to run for city council, no he was running for mayor at that time, and he would be interested in having me come and talk to one of his assistants about working for him. I said, "Neil I got a job, I had no desire to work for him. And he talked and talked and finally I said, "Okay I'll come and talk to Betsey." And what the job was, it was for LEAA, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Neil was trying to change the way criminal justice was practiced, especially juvenile justice was practiced here in Oregon. And Betsey was running the LEAA project at the time and I was just hired on and I didn't realize it, but I did have a propensity for organizational development, systems development. And I enjoyed the job, but again, I was working for a personality; my life was not my life, it was his life. So if we had to work on Sundays… DP: You worked on Sundays. NM: You worked on Sundays. And I started drinking again. Every time it seemed like the pressure went up, I went back to the bottle. And luckily when I flamed out in was in front of a presentation at city Hall – classic. I had about 16 programs to brief to City Council, the TV cameras was going and one council members kept asking me what page I was on. I finally threw all the things down [laughing] got up and walked out. Kim came to the house and came to the house that night and told me - she said she thought I needed help. And I said to her "Okay, where am I going to get help, I don't have any money" She said, "Well why don't you just sign yourself into the State Hospital? And get the help you need. Sign yourself in" and I thought I would do that. Worst mistake I ever made in my life. I signed into Dammasch, I had a great doctor, but instead of being able to go in and come back out, without anyone knowing about it, a friend of mine, who was an Oregon Stater, brother, was the athletic director at Dammasch, and the word spread that Norm Monroe had gone crazy and it was the worst of times. So everybody then knew I had been in a mental institution. I got out, I only was there 10 days, when I came out everyone wanted to know how a crazy guys acts. I had to tell Kerry Eggers. I wasn't ready to tell anybody, you're the first people, on record, that I'm telling. The diagnosis started out paranoid schizophrenic, but I was never that. DP: That's depression. 22 NM: No, no, it wasn't me at all. The doctor said, maybe a paranoid personality. I said "well what's that all about?" she said… Nancy: [inaudible] NM: That's what I told her, you going to be at least paranoid to be black in America. She said "well, you need help with your depression" I said "well, what do you mean?" she said "we're going to put you on an anti-depression drug" and I said "I don't take drugs" She says, "You have to. You'll be on it the rest of your life" I said "no I won't." So she said I would and I said I wouldn't so I went back to what I thought was a prudent practice and I just decided to work out. So I started working out again and then I changed my diet, stopped drinking, started a regiment of health. Never touched the tranquilizes in 50 years [laughing] DP: Right. Good for you. [01:18:21] NM: When I got my job which was Vice President Cascadia Mental Health, and I went there on purpose, well I had another job before that. I went to mental health on purpose because blacks don't get mental health treatment – it's the worst thing that happens to us, we don't get it. And I thought a lot of it is because most of practicing psychiatrists and psychologists have no idea of the prevailing pathologies and pressures that we're under just living in America. DP: In a racist society NM: Exactly. So I decided I was going to go to Cascadia and help change it around. Luckily, I had an administrator who wanted to do the same thing. DP: We're actually running out of time. I'm really sorry to say this but I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to us. Your life story sounds so fascinating. NM: I appreciate it. It's something that I just wanted to get out of the way. DP: Were going do a couple things with this, we're going to transcribe it and send you a copy of it. NM: That would be great [01:20:02]
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