Interview with Estelle Jones Hyson
Conducted and written by Mary Lipsey for the Providence District History Project Providence Perspective
Estelle Jones Hyson was born October 13, 1920 on a farm in Leesburg, which was owned by Governor Westmoreland Davis. Later, her parents, William and Mary Jones, moved to the West Falls Church area at Gravel Bank. Estelle's father was a farm hand. Estelle attended Falls Church, Chesterbrook and Dunn Loring for elementary grades 1-7. At the age of fourteen, Estelle started work where she was hired to do cleaning for 25 cents an hour. People would hire her for three hours a day at the most. Her family and neighbors had gardens, hogs and chickens which would help feed them. Around Thanksgiving, the families would get together for hog killing. The meat would be put in jars and turned upside down so the grease would be on top. They also made sausage from the meat. Vegetables and fruit like collards, potatoes, and turnips would be preserved in canning jars and kept in the cellar under the house where they wouldn't freeze. The ice man would deliver a block of ice once a week for the ice box. The family would wrap the ice in newspaper to keep it cold longer. Dinner time was family time and everyone was expected to be there.
The family did not have a car, electricity, telephone or indoor plumbing, only an outhouse. Everyone walked everywhere: to church, school to the store. Estelle said "when you didn't drive, you just didn't mind, 'cause no one had a car." She added, "You walked or you stayed home." Her mother sewed a lot of her clothes and they wore a lot of "hand me downs" or bought clothes at the rummage sales. For fun, children would take tires up to the top of haystacks and roll them down. The children would also play in the gravel pit. On Shreve Road was Gravel Bank, (the gravel pit) where trucks would drive in and haul out gravel. It was a hill with no top.
For medical care, midwives delivered babies; the mother in the family was also the nurse for childhood illnesses. There was a Doctor Johnson in Falls Church who could make house calls. For anything as serious as surgery, they would go to Freedman's Hospital (Today Howard University Hospital)
Estelle remembered a special holiday on September 22nd each year; Emancipation Day was held at Purcellville, Virginia. Emancipation Day celebrated President Lincoln's order to free the slaves from the plantations during the Civil War. The order also stated that the Union Army would help maintain the slaves' freedom. Black families from all over the state of Virginia would attend the all day affair; it was like a family reunion. There was food, bake sales, entertainment and "a little gambling in the woods" according to Estelle.
Once she was married, Mrs. Hyson was a member of clubs at First Baptist Merrifield church such as Helping Hands. Women members would make items to sell and hold dinners as fundraisers to raise money for building the new church.
When asked about whether she had ever experienced prejudice, Estelle clearly remembered two events. She described when some white children "meddled" with her. As Estelle was playing in the gravel pit one day, the white children got off their train ride from school (W & OD rail line). One of the white girls yelled to Estelle how she had learned about "coons" (a derogatory word for blacks) in school that day. Estelle was so mad she threw rocks at the white girl.
Another time, Mrs. Hyson explained how "I was Rosa Parks, way before there was a Rosa Parks." In the 1940's, Estelle would ride the bus into Washington, D.C. on Thursdays, her day off. Once, on her way home, she could not get a seat, because white men had rushed in and blocked the way to the rear of the bus so that only whites could sit there. (Since the Jim Crow Laws started after the Civil War, blacks could only sit in the back seats of the bus.) It meant that Estelle had to stand, holding a strap. When a seat became available in the middle of the bus, Estelle sat down (in the white section). Estelle explained "I had been a long time been standing, so I sat down."
Mrs. Hyson said, "Some white man behind me touched me and told me that I was not supposed to be sitting there." She replied, "Well, I am sitting here." The bus driver was alerted and he pulled the bus over to the curb and called the cops. The police told Estelle that "if you don't move, we will take you to jail." Estelle continued, "I stood up, until a little while later when I knew we were in a place where there were no phones and I sat down again." No one bothered her this time. By the time the bus reached Falls Church, Estelle's bus to Tremont (near Merrifield today) had already left so she had to walk from Falls Church to Tremont. When she was asked about childhood chores, Estelle said they consisted of bringing in the wood and water, weeding and picking the produce. When asked about what changes she had seen, Mrs. Hyson marveled about the development of suburbs. She also described how children had so much more freedom when she grew up and could roam anywhere. "Of course, back then everyone knew everyone and watched out for each other." She remembered her husband's family farm off of Lee Highway and added "Nothing left of Hyson property today, but the name. Nothing, but the name."
When asked what advice she had for young people today, Estelle said, "Walk straight, pull up you pants, put on a belt and be human."