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Interview with Lin Forney

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  • Forney 1 Subject: Talinda (Lin) Forney Interviewer: Emma Miller Location: Pigeon Community Center, Haywood County, NC Date: May 27, 2016 START OF INTERVIEW Emma Miller: Could you state your name and birthplace for me? Talinda (Lin) Forney: Yes, Talinda Gibbs Forney, and I was born here in Haywood County. EM: Okay. Did you grow up here your whole life? TF: Absolutely, my whole life, and the space that we’re in, I went to elementary school here until consolidation. EM: Okay. And you lived here your whole life? Okay. And I know that Pigeon Street, now where the community center is located is an historically African American community, and you always lived here? Did you live on Pigeon Street? TF: I didn’t… No, I didn’t live on Pigeon Street, but I lived just about a block or so up the road. EM: Okay. Can you tell me like, how has it changed over time? Is it still a, like a traditionally African American community here in Haywood County? TF: Well, I guess it’s still considered that, but the demographics has changed from being mostly African American to a really mixed community with Whites, Hispanics, and still African Americans. Most of the African Americans are senior members, you know? EM: Okay. What was Haywood County like when you were younger? TF: Oh goodness? EM: Asking some hard questions? TF: That is. Well, growing up, I guess, during the time I was in school here, at Pigeon Street, Haywood County was… I guess, very segregated, which in some respects it still is that way. But, it was a fun place to grow up, knowing all of our neighbors and friends, you know, just being right there to play with. And then, being able to be in a place where you could just go, like leave in the morning from home and go back at dark, and your parents know you’re fine. So, that definitely has changed. Here in… I think people do not know their neighbors like they used to do, and are not really interactive with their neighbors as much as they were when I was growing up. And I think another thing for me that I notice is that, the community-as-family, like taking care of one another, that seems to be lost in a sense. And that’s one of things that Pigeon Community Center, we try to do, is try to get that bond back to where community is family and taking care of each other and helping each other out when need be. So, that part has changed, and Forney 2 that’s what it was like then. And I guess I really talked about what it’s like for me now. So, it’s still growing. I think it’s real good that we are getting people into the area from other places, because sometimes in a small rural area like we live in, people tend to not have a bigger sense of the world, you know? So, with other people coming in and bringing their vision and their ideas, and you know, their life stories, I think it’s opened up a lot. And it’s causing a lot of conflict as well. But, I think it’s been good for the area to have people come in from other places, which also brings in a lot of different cultures and things like that, that are good for the area. EM: I agree for sure. What was your family like? Did you have any siblings? TF: Yeah. I grew up, two older brothers and an older sister. I was the baby of the family. So, my brothers were, I guess they’re about… one just had a birthday yesterday, and he turned sixty-seven. So, he’s the oldest and he’s like seven years older than me, and then it dropped down to… My sister was two years older than myself. And so, we were very close, always were. They kind of moved - When I was in high school both of them were away, and actually my sister was away at school for a time. She had a brain injury when she was two years old, so she had some lingering, some ongoing issues from that, so she went away to school for that reason. And so I was like an only child during high school, at home by myself and that was kind of weird. But, my family, my mom and dad had taken in this young man from a juvenile center over in Swannanoa. So he was in and out also when I was growing up, you know, during that time. So it wasn’t like I was alone. And then there’s always close family. My mom and dad both had thirteen kids in their families, and a lot of those stayed in the area, so a lot of cousins, a lot of aunts and uncles and all that, but… My brothers and sister and I were always close, and we lost my sister in 2010, and that definitely has changed our family dynamics a lot. She was like, the person that kept things going in the family, so we miss her so much. EM: What did you do for fun when growing up? What did everybody do around here? TF: Well, mostly growing up we just played outside. Hopscotch, ball, jump-rope, you know, all those childhood kind of games. And you know, swinging on grapevines in the woods. EM: It’s too beautiful of an area to not be playing outside. TF: That’s right. Playing in the water. I didn’t so much play in the water, but a lot of my friends would play in the creeks and things like that. So just regular, normal, just hanging out, you know. Just playing, having fun, which I don’t see the kids doing as much these days as we did then. EM: I definitely understand that. Were you, are you married, and how long have you been married, or…? TF: Yeah, I am married. We got married right out of high school. I will be married, what, forty-three years? EM: Oh gosh, that’s awesome. TF: ...in a couple of weeks, to the same man. Forney 3 [Laughter] EM: That’s amazing. TF: It is amazing. High school sweethearts. Who knew it would last this long? So, yes, I’m married, and we have two older daughters and a son that we adopted. He was a baby when we adopted him, EM: Can you tell me more about your kids and your spouse. TF: Yes, I can. Tasha, who you just met actually, is my oldest daughter, and she helps me here at the community center. My other daughter Abra, works as a - in the spa at the Grove Park. Well, it’s the Omni Grove Park now, I think. So she does that, she loves that. And Shaun, my eighteen-year-old, soon to be nineteen, is just trying to find his way in life right now. Trying to figure things out. EM: I understand that. TF: Yeah. So, he graduated high school last year, and he’s just trying to figure it all out right now. EM: Yeah, it’s hard. TF: Yeah. EM: Well, it’s nice that your kids have stayed around here. TF: Yeah, I like that. I think for him, it’s going to be different because he’s a boy, and you know, there’s not a lot for young people in the county to do. And I think it was different with the girls because they are what, Tasha is what? I always get her… She is thirty-four, getting ready to be five. And so, that means things were a little bit different. Her class of kids, and her group of friends had it a little bit different than Shaun does now. And I think for an African American boy, things are just different and harder. And so I think for him, staying here is maybe not going to be the best thing for him. EM: Yeah. TF: Yeah, whereas girls, you know, they…it’s different for them. I don’t know, we’ll see how that all turns out. But, yeah, yeah, I’m glad that they are here. I love family. Family is just my number one. That’s just, I just believe in family, I always have. And I believe in us being as close as possible, and being there for one another. So it’s nice when they’re right there, you know? EM: Yeah, definitely. Forney 4 TF: Yeah. I kind of feel like my mom is my best friend, you know? So… I just look at Tasha and myself and how closely we have to work together every day, and it just seems like, you know, it just flows. And I know that’s crazy sometimes for people to understand. EM: No, it’s nice. TF: But it does. You know, one of those things where you’re almost always thinking alike and you know, doing things the same way, it just helps. But I think when you are together a lot, then that happens. You know, you just get to know each other and how you operate. And you know, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but I’m very fortunate that it has worked that way for me. EM: So, can you describe to me the schools you went to? I know you attended this school when you were in elementary school. TF: Mm hmm. Yeah, I went here from kindergarten to fourth grade. And then in fifth grade, when the schools consolidated, I went to Central Elementary for fifth grade, and then to Waynesville Middle School. And then Tuscola High School and I graduated Tuscola in seventy-four. EM: Okay. What was it like, the integration process? Was it difficult? TF: Oh, it was very difficult. It was very, very difficult. For me, going from an environment where the teachers knew your family, your family knew the teacher, went to church with teachers, you know, saw them in the community, and interacted with them almost on a daily basis. And having your friends be in that same kind of situation where you saw them, you lived near them and they were just friends, you know, your friends. Going from that kind of situation to a school where you were the only African American in the classroom number one, was so hard, and then feeling like you were not accepted, not wanted, that was… made it harder. EM: Yeah. TF: And then too, I think, for me, I never felt like another teacher cared as much as they cared. EM: Yeah. TF: Or another teacher knew the potential that I had like they did, and did everything they could to get it out of me. You know what I mean? EM: Yeah, definitely. TF: So, it was a real struggle. It was a lot of hateful things being said. EM: Yeah. Forney 5 TF: Lots of fights. It was just not good. Not good at all. And it… I think, for the African American community, I think at times it was about the worst that could happen. EM: Yeah. TF: Because it just tore up the community, and it’s never, in my opinion gotten back to what it once was. EM: Yeah. TF: So, in respect that we were to be getting a better education, I don’t feel like we did. And even now, I don’t feel like that’s happening so much either. It was hard. It was very, very hard. And then our teachers from this school, tried to go on and, you know, be a part of the other schools, and that didn’t work so, you know, we lost all of that, really. But it was tough. It was a very tough. EM: I know that there’s not a lot of information about the Civil Rights Movement in Western North Carolina, really. I know you talked a little bit about the… your experience with integration in schools in Haywood, but if there are any other stories you’d like to share, is there anything else that you think happened that is important to share about the Civil Rights Movement and everything that went on here? TF: Well, I think the struggle for this area is that we never really had that here. I think we never had any big situation come up. And I think because of that, people tended to, not really sweep it under the rug, but not really acknowledge it like it should have been acknowledged. And I think today we are still struggling with that, and still trying to get people to understand what that all meant, what that whole thing caused, and what it did to people’s lives. I know growing up, I was young during that time, so, my parents kind of sheltered and shielded us from a lot of that. We didn’t really get to hear a lot of that, or know a lot of it. And it’s been since I’ve been an adult, you know, in high school, where it’s really started to sink into me. And I know that for me to get the information I had to go. The school didn’t provide the information. And, so I think because we don’t know all that history and people don’t really recognize that history, that we are doomed to repeat it. And I feel like that is what all this racial tension that’s in our country right now, is going on, is because we as a country, have never really dealt with that side of our history in a positive way, and in a way that… I mean it’s ugly. It can’t all be pretty because it was not. And we can’t make it that way, but we do have to accept that yes, as a country that’s who we were, and that’s the things that we did. And I think until we can really have a real serious conversation about it, things are just going to continue to escalate, into what, I don’t know, but something not good. EM: It’s scary. TF: Yeah, very, very scary. EM: Did you attend a higher level school after Tuscola? Forney 6 TF: I did not go to college. I took college classes for my jobs along the way, but I did not attend college. And that was one of the things, I never wanted to. I didn’t really like school like that. And that’s where my son is, he’s like, “Mm, no.” EM: Yeah. TF: But, I just never did, and my thing was to get married, and have kids, and raise a family. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I did. So, I don’t regret any of that. So for college, not for me. EM: Definitely. What influenced your decision to stay in Haywood County? TF: Family mostly. Yeah, yeah. That, and I love the area. I love the area. There’s a lot of things that I would change if I could about it, but it’s the most beautiful place in the world. I’ve done some traveling to other places, and just getting back to these mountains is just like coming home, you know? It’s like, I love it. So, I think that’s what influenced me to stay mostly, is just family. EM: Okay, so we’re switching over a little bit from past to present, mostly. I know that church is important in… institution in the Pigeon community. How has religion and church been important in shaping your life and life here at the Pigeon Community? TF: Well, church always was a part of my family, you know? That’s what we did. We went to church, went to Sunday school. And so, that’s just molded me to the person I am now. I don’t attend church like I used to attend church, but I feel like my relationship with God, my personal relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. And I know that my family molded me and guided me at a young age through church, and to understand about religion. And to me, having a personal relationship with Christ is a different picture than religion is, you know? EM: Definitely. TF: So, I am not anti-church, but I think that churches, as institutions, could do a lot more for communities than what they’re doing. And so, I just, I feel like the work that I do here at the Pigeon Center, is my mission. It’s a ministry. Because I feel like I get to minister to people, and I have been ministered to by those same people. So, my relationship with the Lord is just utmost, it’s like… I’m going through a situation now, with a family member that has cancer, and that’s what . . . I’ve been back and forth to Florida to do, to help take care of her. And I know when you’re in these kind of situations, that without God we could not go through them. They are just so hard. So I’m just thankful that I have that, that I have Him to hold me up when I cannot stand up, you know, when I cannot go another step. EM: Definitely. I know that you’re heavily involved in a program called Lift Every Voice… [Cell Phone Ringing] TF: Sorry. Forney 7 EM: Can you tell me more about Lift Every Voice and your involvement in…? TF: Yeah. I think Lift Every Voice is one…another one of those dreams that I think God put in my head because I, I’ve grown up with all the older people in our community, and I know their lives are so rich with the stories and the things they have gone through. And I just felt like we needed to capture that before they were gone and could not tell their stories. And I wanted us also to be able to have documentation in our county about the history and the lives of the African Americans, because there is nothing out there, really. There’s little pieces here and there, but I wanted to have a bigger picture, you know, on the day-to-day life, how it was. And just to hear their stories. So, that project started in, I think in 2009… eight or nine. I think, it’s been so long I can’t even remember. But, we just started talking and gathering information from people. Letting people tell their story, letting that… Lift Every Voice, letting everybody have a voice in history in Haywood, as much as we could. So, it’s important to me. We have had a lot of good people on board helping make that project happen. Sarah Jenkins, bless her heart, she walked in the door, and she did not know what was going to be but, but she has been so helpful in trying to make that all happen. And a lot of other people have as well, but she particularly has been that right-hand person for me in the project. EM: What prompted…oh, you already told me that. What have you learned about the Civil Rights Movement in Haywood through Lift Every Voice? TF: Well, one thing I have learned is that people do not want to talk about that part of history. That is a definite. And I think people have, instead of sharing it, they’ve kind of glossed it over to make the picture look prettier because that’s what we’ve been taught and trained to do. So, I know that that has definitely happened, and it’s hard to get people to talk about that. And then also, like I said, I’m finding out that nothing big happened here. There’s little things that happened, but I also know, not just here, but it took a lot of white people to make things change. Because African Americans couldn’t change them themselves, so it took… That, and… So, when we gather this history and tell these stories, we have to have stories from the African Americans and also the whites to make it work and fit in. So, I guess those are the things and the takeaways that I have from this project, is that, you know, we’re all in it together, and we all have stories, and it’s amazing how different those stories are from perspective. EM: Yeah. Definitely. What is your guys’ plan for this year? Do have like upcoming projects and stuff like that? TF: For the Lift Every Voice? EM: Yeah. TF: Yeah. We are planning an event in September, where we can go back to the community and share with them some of the interviews we’ve done, some of the photographs we’ve collected, and just kind of pull that back and let them know, “We are still working. We haven’t had much to say, you know, and this is what we’ve been doing.” So we’re going to share that coming in September. Forney 8 EM: Yeah, that’ll be awesome. TF: Yeah, we’re excited about that. EM: Yeah. Do you have like, a specific, like, end-goal that you’re reaching, or are you just like, learning about the history of the community as you go? TF: Yeah, it’s funny, we keep asking ourselves, “What are we going to do with all this?” We’re not sure either. We’re not sure. I think our main focus was just, gather it. And now that we are gathering it, we are asking that question, “What are we going to do?” We’ve talked about putting together a little booklet, kind of, with the interviews that we have made, just snippets of it, and pictures of those, those that were interviewed. Just some little takeaway, some little handout something that people can see what the project is doing. But, we haven’t fully decided what that bigger picture looks like yet. Yeah, yeah, we’re still trying to pull that together. And we have many different ideas about it. Like we may want to do a display, and have a museum kind of exhibit. That kind of thing. Or have people come and just share their stories in like, story circles for the community. So, we’re still working on trying to figure out what a big picture looks like. EM: Yeah, definitely. I know how important you are to this Pigeon Community Center. Can you tell me more about what the Pigeon Community Center does on a daily basis and…? TF: Yeah. So the Pigeon Center, our biggest programs are for youth. And we have, we’ll be starting in a week and a half, our summer – fourteenth year of summer enrichment program, and it was developed for families that could not financially afford the other summer camps that are out there. But, they needed a place for their children to be, because they were not mature enough, maybe to be left at home, and the parents had to go to work. And, we wanted the parents to know that their kids were having fun, they were safe and happy, and they could do their job and not worry about that. And we wanted it to be a fee that they could afford to pay. So that’s why it was developed, and it’s a nine-to-ten-week program from eight to five, Monday through Friday. And so during that time we have, within that program we have a reading and math tutor in three times a week. We have volunteers that come in and read and work with math, one-on-one with the students. So, we wanted the program to be fun, but we also wanted it to help the kids to stay on track with their academics over the summer. So, they’re reading, they’re learning new things, there’s field trips, and they are getting lots of good food. And they are so tired when they go home that their parents are like, “My goodness, what have you done all day?” So, that’s our biggest, and then we have an after-school program where they come in the afternoon to do their homework. That was developed so that kids could get their homework done, and when they go home have some family time, not worry about homework. And we feed them so if the parents are just tired, they don’t have to worry about really, a meal for the kids. Those are our biggest ones. We’ve got a senior program that we’re trying to get cranked back up. We just need volunteers to come for that. But we have senior luncheons, dinners is what Tasha calls it, but it’s really a lunch meal, where they just come and share a meal, fellowship with each other, just get out, and you know, just have fun. So that’s… we want to get back on track, and it’s once a month. We have a food pantry for emergency and also, just supplemental, you know, to try to make, try to make the month last, you know. So we have that going on, and then of course we talked about the Lift Every Voice. We do in partnership with Grace Episcopal Church, Change Makers for Racial Forney 9 Understanding. And that came out of a call to the Episcopal Church to repair the breach that slavery has caused, and for the church’s part in that. And that’s, that’s the kind of healing and acknowledgment that our country needs to do. To just recognize it, apologize for it, and try to move forward. They had a healing service and so, out of that came Change Makers. And that, it’s a monthly forum – group - that gets together and kind of talks about racial issues. But mostly it’s to build relationships one-on-one, so that we can hear each other’s story, and then, so that we can know one another in our community, across racial lines as individuals. Because I think when you build a relationship across race, then you get to feel the person’s story instead of just hear their story. It becomes more of a personal thing for you to know what that person is going through. So, that’s another big part of the Pigeon Center. EM: I was reading when I tried to find some articles online about the Pigeon Center, I saw some articles that there have been, you know, issues concerning like, lack of funding with the center and stuff like that. How have you guys overcome those obstacles? TF: We haven’t. We haven’t overcome them at all. We used to be funded by grants, and that grant whole thing has just kind of trickled to not much of anything. EM: Yeah. [Phone Rings] TF: Excuse me, let me. Excuse me. If you want to stop the tape…. TF: Yes, okay great. So, we do fundraisers and that is not enough to sustain our programs. We have a huge community support from local businesses and churches, and that is really what’s sustaining us at this point. So we are just looking at that picture and trying to figure that out, because I don’t know what we are going to do if we can’t get that figured out. And what we do is so valuable it would be a shame to lose it because of funding. EM: Definitely. TF: I am the only paid staff here. Everyone else is volunteer, to get paid when and if they can. So that’s tough too. It puts us all in not good places sometimes, but, when you’re going through financial struggles and you’re trying to figure out, just like families do, what bills to pay, what not to pay, what you can’t pay. EM: Yeah. TF: You know? It’s hard. It’s hard and it kind of puts a damper on the programs that you’re trying to do when you have to worry about that. So, I just hope somewhere in the very, very, very near future that’s going to change and get better. Yeah. EM: How many children do you guys cater to on a normal basis? TF: Well, in the summer we have about sixty kids, with about forty-five-ish a day. Forney 10 EM: Yeah. TF: And for our after school program we have had as many as fifteen kids, but the last couple of years it’s been only about five. So we’re hoping to continue to build that program up, and the funding is a part of that, is that, you know, you have to pay your staff to come and do that every day, but then the parents can’t really afford that either, so… It’s, you know, again, the funding, to try and get some funds for those kind of programs. EM: Let’s see. Is there any other future plans for Lift Every Voice or the Pigeon Community Center that you guys are working on that you want to talk about, what’s going on this year? TF: Well, we’re trying to get the space recognized as a historic site, and hopefully that will bring some funding in as well. But, we’re just working on that, and hopefully we’ll have that resolved soon. EM: I can’t believe it’s not recognized as a historic site. TF: Yeah, not yet. It has never been designated as that so, we’re hoping that’s going to be soon…coming. And then we’re talking with the county, the commissioners, about potentially owning the building, because we’re leasing the building from them at the moment. But until we get this funding situation straightened out that possibility is just on the back burner. EM: How do you go about making this a historically site? Like, do you have to go through… TF: We work with the state, yeah, and it is a long process. And they have to gather a bunch of information about what the space is, what it was, and the impact that it has on the community, and all of those things. And then, there’s different levels of it. And we want to be designated as a historic site, but not to the point where we can’t change the space, you know. Like the colors would have to stay. We don’t want to do that. That would be kind of not in line with what we’re doing. But it’s a long process. It’s a long process. Yeah. EM: Let’s see. Oh. We’re planning to keep this project in the future, and I hope to keep coming back and doing this. Do you have anybody else that you think would be a good candidate to be interviewed for the Appalachian Oral History Project? Just prominent people in Haywood County that you think have good stories to tell? TF: I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that have good stories. For me, of course, an African American would be my first go to. And not because he’s family, but my father was one of the first black business owners here, in the county, so he has stories to tell about that. EM: Could you give me his name and I could write it down? TF: Mm hmm. Hilliard Gibbs. And I can write it for you actually. I’ve got a sticky right here. EM: And we’re always looking for… this is only our second year so, we’re trying to expand and interview as many people as possible. Forney 11 TF: And I think the next people that we’re going to try to interview are the African Americans that have served in the military. I think their stories would be really rich. And so, there’s several of them in the community that you could talk to about… Thomas Bryant would be another good one to interview. We keep trying to get him to sit down. EM: Yeah, I know how difficult it is. TF: Yeah, it’s hard to get people scheduled together. But unfortunately we have already lost people that we didn’t get to sit down that I know had, you know, real stories. Wilbur Eggleston, one of the teachers at the high school in Canton, the black high school. We didn’t get, we interviewed his wife so, she had some stories from his life, so that’s great. But there’s lots of people, and if you’d like I’ll make a list for you. EM: Yeah, that’d be awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks. Is there anything else you’d like add for this interview? I don’t have any further questions for this interview, but if there’s anything else you’d like to talk about or share with us then…? TF: Not necessarily that I can think of right now, but thank you for doing the interview. And you for doing the work you’re doing. I hope you continue to work in that. You’re great. You’re great. I appreciate that. END OF INTERVIEW
Object
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Object’s are ‘parent’ level descriptions to ‘children’ items, (e.g. a book with pages).