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Franklin W. Proctor Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Franklin W. Proctor

Employee of the U.S. Department of State, 1937-73. Served first as a messenger and eventually as head of the Reproduction Department. The first black on the board of Directors of the Department of State Recreation Association and was a member of the Credit Union Committee, chairman, 1953-73.

Washington, D.C.
June 19 , 1973
by Richard D, McKinzie

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened July, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Franklin W. Proctor


Washington, D.C.
June 19 , 1973
by Richard D, McKinzie


MCKINZIE: Mr. Proctor, could you tell us something about how you came to the State Department in the 1930s, and perhaps give us some background about your life before you came to work for the State Department?

You were, as I understand, one of the first black people to work for the Department of State.

PROCTOR: Well, I was born in Fairfax County, in 1915, on part of the original estate of President George Washington, Mount Vernon. I attended the local school and in going to school I had to walk a


mile and a half a day. I went to school the whole seven years at this little one room school without missing more than three days, when a vaccination made me ill.

At this school there was a complex where we had the church and school, and the Odd Fellow's Hall. This little place was known as Woodlawn, and the only area now that is recognizable there as having been Woodlawn is the cemetery, which is off limits right in the middle of a part of Fort Belvoir. It has made Ripley's Believe It or Not about four or five times. My parents are there; I went to the cemetery just this last May 28th to decorate Dad and Mom's graves. Our church had to move because of World War II when the Government took over this property for expansion of Fort Belvoir, and so this cemetery is by itself. Near this area is also a Friends House -- a Quaker House as it's known by some -- that has its cemetery, but it's part of the church. Our cemetery is unique because it's the only cemetery in the United States of America that is in the middle of a large military complex and is off limits for the military people.


Anyway, I went to this school for over seven years. We had a one room school with one teacher, of course. Dad, being a very progressive man, wasn't satisfied with this kind of education for his children, but he could do no better.

MCKINZIE: Did you have brothers and sisters?

PROCTOR: I have three sisters. I was the only boy -- the first child. Of course, I had a sort of ''king of the roost," feeling.

Well, Dad began to make plans, and Dad also worked for the Government. He worked for Fort Belvoir at this time. It was known then as Fort Humphrey. He tried to be progressive, and during the same time that he had to send us to school he took a correspondence course out of Cook Engineering School of Chicago. It was recognized at that time for what we now call electrical engineering, then we called an electrician. As the things would happen -- as we get to it we'll see how things haven't changed much -- Dad was classified as a laborer. When the time came for promotions and chances to be supervisor, Daddy wasn't qualified, because he wasn't classified so


he could be made one. And to describe to you the kind of man he was, there was a man by the name of Rudd, who lived in the Blackstone, Virginia area. Dad, being the kind of man he was (a Christian gentleman), rented a truck from a farmer (an old Indiana truck that they don't make anymore). He drove that truck, I guess, two hundred plus miles to Blackstone and picked up this man's furniture and his family. He brought them here and helped them get established, knowing that this man was coming to take his job -- that was the kind of man he was. With all injustice at the time, he didn't bother with it. I recall Dad many times didn't have money to buy shoes, so he'd take cardboard and use a shoe last where you fit the shoe. Every night he would have to take nails and tacks and work on his shoes. Well, working in a brickyard where a lot of strain was put on him, inner soles would break loose and then the tacks would stick in his feet. His feet would be sore and bloody, but he would be singing such hymns as "In That Great By and By," and he'd come home across the hill with the sunset. That sounds dramatic, but this is the way it actually


was. You could come across the hill and you could see him and hear him singing. As a youngster today, who'll tell you what they are thinking, I thought Dad was sort of nutty at that time, because I couldn't conceive of a man having to put up with the things that happened to him. For example, he had to call the little girl I used to play with -- Margaret Roberts was her name and she was Caucasian -- Miss Margaret. Those are the kind of things.

MCKINZIE: I gather he was a religious man. Did he give you a good religious education?

PROCTOR: Very much so. In that conjunction, he insisted on sacrifice. Dad went to Gammon Theological Pastor's School to study for the ministry in the summer months, and he received deacon's order in the United Methodist Church during his lifetime, too. Bishop Shaw ordained him at Constitution Hall back in, I believe, the very early sixties or late fifties. He elected to stay with the parish in Woodlawn as assistant minister as a volunteer.

Mother was also very dedicated and she worked -- she had to work to help us -- all with the idea of


giving us an education. So, Mommy was working at this little tearoom and she would give Dad the money to put in the bank, because the man was totally in charge at that time. There would come times when we needed the money and Mother would say, "What happened?"

He'd say, "Molly, they couldn't pay the minister. I had the money -- it hadn't been in the bank -- and I loaned it to the church." He did that on numerous occasions. Every week, Thursday, Wednesday or whatever the day was, he would go to his prayer meeting. He would walk a mile and a half to the church. He would sometimes be there alone, do whatever praying he wanted to do, and come on back home and not grumble. Out of those kinds of things came the word excellence -- he believed in excellence.

I have three sisters. We are all pretty close, and there is about five years between the baby and me. I have one sister who is with me in Alexandria now. She is one of the assistant superintendents of the largest black Methodist Church in Alexandria. I have another sister who is married


to the first black district superintendent in the United Methodist Church in the State of Virginia. And then my other sister lives up here on Hamilton Street and has two daughters, who have been quite successful. I like to believe that some of this same character has transferred to them, because one is a counselor in New Jersey and another is working for Human Resources in the District of Columbia.

Even at this time they are not as active in the church as were we, because, of course, the church took on a different meaning for the youngsters of this day and time, and possibly rightfully so.

MCKINZIE: The church was, I gather, a social center as well as a kind of guidance for you.

PROCTOR: Yes, our church at that time for us was our only outlet for social life. We didn't know what happened two miles away at my uncle's until we got to church on Sunday. This is why I don't have too much concern about the youngster and his attitude toward church today. Today you have the telephone, you have television, whatever you want to do.


Anything that might happen in the Far East today we'll know in a few hours. We can look at it on television as if it was just across the street. It means that the demands by an individual youngster today for a social acceptance, or for social life, certainly don't cause him to turn toward the church as they did in my day. So, I don't deserve any more credit for what I did in my day at the church than the person of today who almost completely ignores it for the purpose for which I was going. But because of the purpose I did pick up some things that I think they are missing today.

My young life was a thousand things that I can think of, the things that I saw happen as far as my father and my mother were concerned for as having integrity and believing in excellence. He always said, "Anything worth doing was worth doing well," and he insisted on that. He also said, "you don't grumble and stay, if you must grumble, be on your merry way." What he meant by that was that anytime that I had to be discourteous to him and talk back to him and I wasn't able to take care of my own needs, I'd better either listen to him or I might have to look for my own needs. As much as he loved


me and as close as we seemed to be, that was his philosophy.

MCKINZIE: Did he have any ideas about what he wanted his son to be in life?

PROCTOR: Well, he always said, "Whatever you are, I want you to be a gentleman above all." That was his idea -- be a gentleman. I think he had an inclination for me to become church oriented, but he didn't force anything on us. He didn't try to say what he wanted us to be. He left it to us to ask the questions and for us to help decide what we thought we wanted to be. But in this there was a dream toward maybe church activities -- possibly a preacher. I think that's what he really had in mind. He hoped that I would be, but he didn't push it.

MCKINZIE: Where did you go to high school?

PROCTOR: I went to high school here in the District. As I mentioned earlier, my father was dissatisfied with what we had in Fairfax County. It was the same thing, the bussing, even in that day, back in the 1920s. The little white boys and girls,


whom I played with, were riding a little yellow Model T bus in those days and they used to pass me and wave at me and yell out the window, while I walked a mile and a half to school. In those days we had bussing, but Dad didn't fight to bus. You might say that he thought the walking may have been helpful. We had one high school in Manassas, Virginia. We came into bussing later on and they sent us there from all over Northern Virginia, we passed seventeen schools to go to what was called Manassas Industrial School. And Dad said that if God gave him strength, and he believed in God to the extent that he believed the means would be made, he wouldn't allow this. During those times you could pay tuition to go to District school. Well, that was so high that Dad couldn't afford to pay it. So what Dad did then was set up a residence in the District of Columbia, which is better, where he paid thirty dollars a month for me to come to Washington and go to Randall Junior High School. I went to Randall Junior High School here in the District. After I graduated from there I went to a cousin by the name of Tryce who lived on Gresham Place near Howard


University. Dad continued to pay this monthly fee for me and then as my sisters came he paid money for them. So, all of us were educated in the District of Columbia, because he felt that the schools were better here. I graduated from Armstrong Technical High School. I had a sister who graduated from Dunbar High School. I had another sister who graduated from the Mary Washington Vocational School. My baby sister graduated from Cardozo, I believe.

In 1933, just before I was ready to graduate from high school, my college was all set and the arrangements were made for me to go to Virginia State University, but Dad had an accident at Fort Belvoir working with a person not familiar with the language of the trade. He was working on the electric lines this particular day. The man didn't understand the lingo and kept doing what he wasn't supposed to do and finally the pole came up out of the ground, spun around, hit Dad, and broke both Dad's legs. Dad was hospitalized during that period. He did not get proper Government attention because he was classified still as a laborer. Therefore,


he couldn't qualify for proper compensation, because he was working out of classification. Therefore, the family finances were drained. When I graduated from Armstrong High School in 1934, I believe, there weren't any funds. There had to be a choice made as to whether or not I would go to college or my sisters would not have a high school education. So, with love in the family and the consideration for each other, I concluded that I would go to work.

I came out and I went to work for the Penn-Daw Hotel just three miles south of Alexandria. It's interesting how it got its name. There was a man by the name of Pennlyn who had lots of money, but he had no self-control with liquor and other things. There was also a man by the name of Samuel Cooper Dawson, not an educated man, but he was still quite a man and had lived in this area nearly all his life. So he, with his dedication to duty, and Pennlyn, with his money, got together and built the hotel. They took the first syllables of each name and made it Penn-Daw. Now there's a whole community out here just on down this road. It has a shopping


center, apartments, and they are building more and more.

MCKINZIE: Was that kind of a resort hotel?

PROCTOR: No. It was just an ordinary motor hotel, one of the first major motor hotels. Each building had four cabins, and each building was individually heated. Anyway, I worked for Mr. Dawson for many ways. I was a busboy, I was a cleanup boy, then fina