Tom Nixon was born on July 17, 1922, the son of Joe and Mary Smith Nixon, in the Tucker’s Grove community of eastern Lincoln County, and was one of eleven children. He attended Tucker’s Grove School under the instruction of Vic Summey and Pauline Lander, and attended high school at Oaklawn.
He rode his bike twelve miles from Tucker’s Grove to Oaklawn in Lincolnton for school. He was a tenant farmer along with his family on the old Brevard family farmstead near Macphelah in eastern Lincoln County before moving to Lincolnton and working the farm of Luther Abernathy.
Later, he and his family relocated to the work as tenant farmers on the D.A. Cline farm off Reepsville Road in Lincolnton. He left the D.A. Cline farm during his early years to work for Lineberger’s Ice and Fuel before enlisting at age nineteen in the segregated United States Navy for service in World War II. Tom and his brother Fred were the only members of the Nixon family to enlist during World War II. He married Levinia Propsts upon his return from World War II.
The audio recording and printable transcript of the interview are available below:
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What follows is the transcript of Tom Nixon’s interview:
Interviewee: Thomas (Tom) Nixon
Interviewer: Robert Hamilton
Coverage: Lincoln County, North Carolina, 1920s to 1960s
Subjects: Tucker’s Grove School; Oaklawn School, D.A. (Amos) Cline’s Farm in Reepsville, Lincoln County, N.C.; World War II; United States Navy; Race (Jim Crow, segregation); farming (sharecropping); Nixon Family; Smith Family; the Great Depression; and Lincolnton.
RH (Robert Hamilton): Go ahead.
U (Unidentified): Your name?
TN (Thomas Nixon): That’s Thomas Nixon.
RH: All right. Now, your parents, who were they?
TN: Joe Nixon and Mary Smith Nixon.
RH: All right. Now who were their parents?
TN: Their parent — my daddy’s parents was Elizabeth Nixon and Webb Nixon. And my mother’s parents was Jo Smith and Marthy Smith. And I knew them as well as I do myself. I walked and talked with them, ate with them, that was the main part at that time, and I recall food was scarce at that time and we was glad to get it anytime we could get it.
RH: What year were you born?
TN: July the 27, 1922.
RH: 1922. All right.
TN: [Real farmed up 'til I got] 18 years old, and I — left the farm to begin a haul ice, drive ice for Lineberger’s Ice and Fuel. And I left from there and went in the United States Navy. I stayed until World War II was ended. Then I come back, and married my wife.
RH: Who’s your wife?
TN: Levinia Propst Nixon. She and I was engaged to get married before I went, but I told her no, I wouldn’t want to marry her, then get killed in the service, and some other guy would get all of my benefits and everything (inaudible)! (laughter) (break in audio) "You want to marry me, you wait ’til I come back." She said, "Yeah, you know I’ll wait ‘til you come back." And she did just that. And every day, the whole time I was in service, she’d write me a letter, every day go by.
RH: Well, let me ask you this about growing up here in Lincoln. You grew up on the farm, you say, and what were some of the crops you grew on the farm there?
TN: Cotton. Corn. Watermelon. Okra. Green beans. Carrots. Anything eatable! We have sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes.
RH: You have nine brothers.
RH: Yeah, tell me — you have nine brothers?
TN: Nine brothers. And two sisters.
RH: Is that right?
TN: And you know about that? Whenever the bread plate go by, how many biscuits was gone, and how long a sack of flour would last. It wouldn’t last very long.
RH: So tell me, did you go to school here in this Tucker’s area?
TN: Tucker’s Grove, yes sir, by the old school house. And I left from there and went to Oaklawn after I left from Tucker’s Grove.
RH: Who were some of your instructors at Tucker’s Grove?
TN: Vic Summey was the principal at Tucker’s Grove School while I was there, and Pauline Lander, and then after she got married, she was Pauline Moore. I went to school under her. And then I left and went to Oaklawn. I was under G.E. Massey.
RH: And Mr. Massey was your instructor there.
TN: Yeah, he was the principal at Oaklawn, and –
RH: I’m trying to think — who were some of your classmates right here at Tucker’s? How many was in your class, as a matter of fact?
TN: In my class? Most of them are dead now. Olivia Foster, Mabel Foster. Cola Mae Wingate, and –
RH: Let’s talk about Oaklawn, if you remember who some of your classmates were up there.
(break in audio)
U: — did you get from the rural area to Oaklawn?
RH: Good question.
U: What type of transportation did you have in those days?
RH: Yeah, how did you get from Tucker’s Grove up to Oaklawn, if you was up there in school? How’d you get up there?
TN: Well, after I finished at Tucker’s Grove (break in audio) high school, that was belonging to the blacks. That was Oaklawn.
RH: OK. You said that — yeah, that was the only high school in Lincoln County for black folk.
RH: But how did you get up there every day?
TN: How’d I get up there?
TN: I rode my bicycle a lot of days.
RH: Is that right?
RH: From Tucker’s up to Oaklawn.
TN: Yeah, I’ve rode my bicycle from Tucker’s to Lincolnton times and again.
RH: About how many miles was that, roughly?
TN: Well, that’s right close to 12 miles, about 12 miles.
RH: Round trip?
TN: One way!
RH: One way!
RH: Wow. What time in the morning did you have to leave to get there?
TN: I’d leave at 7:00 to get there by 8:30.
U: Ask him about why he didn’t get to school a lot.
RH: OK. So tell me something — we’ve covered that — just what do you recall, how was it, growing up in the county, I mean, just what you recall, anything that stands out in your mind. During the Depression, I know you were old enough to recall that. How was things during that time?
TN: Well, it was rough. Bread was hard to get aholt to. There was no money in circulation.
RH: Did y’all own your own farm?
RH: Whose land were you living on?
TN: When I moved from here, when my daddy moved from here to Lincolnton, he was living on Luther Abernathy’s farm. Old plantation home.
RH: You was sharecropping there on that farm?
TN: Yeah. No, no, I wasn’t; my daddy was.
RH: Your daddy was sharecropping there.
TN: Yeah, my daddy was.
RH: How was that situation? Was that pretty pleasant, as you remember, or was it pretty rough?
TN: Well, I’ll tell you, it was… Most of the way it was, whenever a boss man had come to settle up, he’d sit down with a pencil and paper and he’d say an out’s an out, a figga’s a figga; all for the white man, none for the nigger. (laughter)
U: And most of ‘em didn’t know how to count, and they couldn’t, and they cheated a lot.
TN: That’s right. And all that kind of stuff that I went through, with these hands and with these feet right here, and now I’m 82 years old and I’m able to work every day, lay down and sleep, eat most anything that I feel like eating. Get up in the morning, do a day’s work, and the satisfaction is the most of anybody that I work for.
RH: Well, let me ask you this question. Now, you went to the Navy. How many years were you in service?
TN: About three years and a half.
RH: When you came back to Lincolnton, did you really find things had change a lot?
TN: Well, yes. A lot of things changed, because see, when I left and went in the Navy, there was lots of stores that blacks couldn’t go in. Now, you go in a drug store, you could go in the drug store and have your subscription filled and everything like that, but they had counters that sell ice cream, sodas –
RH: Soda fountains.
TN: — yeah, and all that, and you wasn’t allowed to sit down on it. If you sit down, they’d call the cops on you, and you’d end in jail. Even to little old Lincolnton, certain streets, they didn’t allow you to walk on.
RH: Is that right?
TN: Yeah. That’s true.
RH: Certain streets you couldn’t walk on.
TN: No, sir.
RH: I’m just going to explore that a little bit, but what street? Was it Main Street, or –
TN: Yeah, some parts of Main Street, when you’d get there, you’d have to detour and go across on the other side and go down. You couldn’t go down that.
RH: What year was this?
TN: This was –
RH: Or what time?
(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
TN: Yeah, end of ’30s and the early ’40s.
RH: Is that right?
TN: Yes, sir! That is true!
RH: What else do you recall, as far as growing up in Lincoln? Anything else in particular?
TN: Oh, yeah. Any time that you go to a white man’s, you didn’t go to the front door (break in audio) back door and knock, and whenever the lady comes, you take your hat off and bow down. If you didn’t, she’d call the police on you. "This nigger come walking up to my back door, and he wouldn’t take his hat off and bow down to me."
RH: Here in Lincolnton?
TN: Right, right! Right up here in Lincolnton, because I was born right out here, on the other side of Machpelah church there, over what’s called Old Brevard Place, and I moved from there to Lincolnton and I was raised up from that on up at Lincolnton, right up until I went in the United States Navy.
RH: OK, so you moved out of Tucker’s up to Lincolnton?
RH: Whereabouts in Lincolnton did you all move to?
TN: Moved up on the Reepsville highway, at D.A. Cline’s farm.
RH: How was working up there on the Cline’s farm?
TN: Well, he had plenty of farm, and he had plenty of work to be done. But of course, he treated a little bit better than they did when we down here. Still it was hard a plenty, I can say that. (laughter) So, you take them axes and crosscut saws, and you’d get out there and get to chopping, would just — you had to cut his wood first, and I’d have blisters in my hand many days with the axe and crosscut saw, choppin’. They had no power saw, no tractors to haul it with. You hauled it with a mule and wagon, and chopped it with an axe, and crosscut saw. You had to get his first, and then go back and get yours.
RH: Something I was going to ask: how was it going to school? Did you get to go to school when you moved up there on his farm, or did you have to stop school?
TN: No, no. He helped me in school. D.A. Cline, he was a millionaire, of course, but he would help.
RH: That was Amos Cline?
TN: Amos Cline, yes.
RH: That was Haywood’s daddy.
TN: Did you know him?
RH: I’ve met him. I’m going to cut this off, I guess — I did meet him when I came — Amos, Mr. Amos was still living at that time.
F: Are you (inaudible)?
RH: No, I’m from — if I can get this thing going off here — get this thing going here — all right.
TN: When we first went in the Navy, we was Jim Crowed in the Navy. See, it would be barracks over here for whites and barracks over there for the blacks, and we’d go out on the drill field to drill; it would be a white drill field and a black drill field. That’s when I first went in.
RH: Totally segregated.
RH: Now, when you went into service, into the Navy, what was the reason? You just, you were drafted in, or you volunteered?
TN: I volunteered.
RH: Was you just wanting to get off the farm
TN: Get away from Amos Cline and all that hard work he had! (laughter) I told my daddy, I said, "Daddy, I’ll tell you, I’d just as soon go and let the Japs or the Germans one shoot me down than Amos Cline to work me down dead. He says, "Boy, do you know what you’re saying?" "Yeah, I know what I’m saying! Death ain’t nothin’ but death either way you take it!" And I come out of the barn from hauling manure, and that stuff was wrist deep, and we was using a pitchfork, and all of the old strings and things in there, them old twine strings and all that kind of stuff, sometimes break all that stuff fly up in your face and everything like that, but you go right on. But I got so full of myself, I threw the pitchfork down and left walkin’. I didn’t take time to get my bicycle, I left walkin’.
RH: What age were you then?
TN: I was 19 years old. And my daddy and old man Amos jumped in the automobile and came driving down there, "Tom, where are you going?" I tell them, "I’m going to the draft board. I’m going to volunteer in Germany. I might as well to go and let the Japanese and Germans for target as have you a target shootin at me as well, except you not using a gun.” My daddy said something, I told him, "No, daddy, I’ll tell you, I’ve obeyed you ever since I was a baby boy and everything like that, but I’m going to disobey you this time. No, I’m not going back Amos Cline’s farm.
RH: Were you the oldest boy, or the youngest, or –
TN: No, I was the fifth son.
RH: The fifth son.
TN: Yeah. There were five older than me.
RH: And they were still on the farm?
RH: Did they go in service, too?
TN: No, only two of us went into service. Fred, which was the third son, and I was the fifth son. We two went in the Japanese and German war. And they screwed us up.
RH: Do you ever regret going in?
TN: Yeah, I did. When I first got in there, and all that drilling and all that kind of stuff — it was more like a chain gang than it was anything else. You had time to eat, and your smoking hour, and you had time to go to bed, and you had time to get up. And if you didn’t get up at that time, you’d have to build that bad time after you get off work in the afternoon, so –
END OF TRANSCRIPT