Ruben "Jelly" Samuel was born February 4, 1919 in Holey, Louisiana. Early in Ruben's life, he decided to hobo his way to Lufkin on the Southern Pacific train in order to join the Diboll Negro League baseball team eventually known as "The Eagles." Much of Mr. Samuel's life revolves around baseball and the memories he has derived from those experiences. Mr. Samuel is one of three children. He had to quit school at the fourth grade level and help his mother support their family consisting of two other sisters and himself. He is a devoted grandfather to his grandchildren and a loving husband to his wife, Ruby. Mr. Samuel and his wife reside in Lufkin, where they have been since 1958. He is currently ninety-three years old and maintains good health.
Please note that this interview is based on two previous interviews conducted by the Diboll History Center, which is viewable online at http://www.thehistorycenteronline.com/oralhist_transcripts.php
The interview was conducted on June 15, 2012 by Aaron Grimes in Samuel's home in Lufkin, Texas.
[Samuel's wife, Ruby, can be heard in the background cleaning dishes and turning fans on and off].
GRIMES: It is June 15, 2012. This is Aaron Grimes, a graduate student in English at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. I am in the home of Ruben "Jelly" Samuel to interview him as part of a summer oral history graduate course taught by Dr. Paul Sandul. This and the other interviews being conducted for the oral history course is to document more about the African American community in Lufkin, East Texas. So with that, I wanted to go ahead and start the interview. Just tell me a little bit about where you were born and raised.
SAMUEL: I was born in Holey, Louisiana. [Community was a flag station for the KC&S railroad. It no longer exists. The exact location could not be determined.]
GRIMES: Holey, Louisiana.
SAMUEL: Holey, Louisiana.
GRIMES: Is that H-O-L-E-Y?
SAMUEL: That's right.
GRIMES: Okay. Tell me a little bit about your early childhood years.
SAMUEL: My early childhood years? I was born in Holey, Louisiana, in 1920.
SAMUEL: Yeah. I moved to Shreveport in '20. I was raised up there, working at a grocery store delivering.
GRIMES: Working at a grocery store delivering.
SAMUEL: Delivering. Yeah.
GRIMES: Like the delivery boy.
SAMUEL: Then I started to play baseball, and them boys from Diboll come up there and beat me. And so that's the reason I'm in Texas. I followed them back to Texas and played with them, and I've been here ever since 1940.
GRIMES: So you came to the Diboll/Lufkin area in 1940.
SAMUEL: Went to the army, stayed three years [enthusiastic expression]. Went both ways. When the Germans fell, I was there. When the Japs fell, I was there. I traveled both oceans before I come home.
GRIMES: Okay. Some of the other transcripts I read [from previous interviews] said you were born in 1919.
SAMUEL: Okay, I know, but that's what my momma told, but when social security flew down there and checked, I was born in 1920. That's what they figured. See, when the midwife delivered me, I was in the country, and she didn't turn it in 'til 1920 cause we didn't have no way to go to town.
GRIMES: Okay, so the official year was 1920.
SAMUEL: Yeah, that's right.
SAMUEL: That's what she turned in, 1920, cause back in them days you had to have a buggy and wagon to go to town. Wasn't that many cars, back in them days. And so, she didn't go to town 'til 1920, see, March the fifth. So that's when she turned in when I was born. But my momma said I was born in 1919, February fourth. So that's what the social security goes by, so that's what I have to go by.
GRIMES: I understand. Tell me a little bit more about what Holey was like as a town.
SAMUEL: Holey was nothing but a flag station for KC&S [Kansas City & Southern Railway; also known as KCS], and they had a big store there in Holey. For you see, all the people around there traded at Holey.
GRIMES: Now you said KC&S?
SAMUEL: That's what the train run through, that was the KC&S train.
GRIMES: Okay. Now was that the train you mentioned about catching to come to Lufkin and Diboll?
SAMUEL: No. I had to catch the Southern Pacific [railroad] to come here.
SAMUEL: I had to hobo on the Southern Pacific to come here, going to Houston. After they [Diboll baseball team] come there and beat me, then I didn't have no other way to get here, so I hoboed to Lufkin and walked to Diboll [smiling].
GRIMES: Okay [laughter].
SAMUEL: To play ball with them.
GRIMES: To play ball for the, I think they were, what, the Eagles?
GRIMES: Okay. What was it like growing up, back in your time?
SAMUEL: Oh boy, I was young. I stayed right here in Diboll two years before I went back to Shreveport to see my momma. I was havin' so much fun [laughter].
GRIMES: So you stayed here and played baseball for two years.
SAMUEL: Two years before I went back to Shreveport to see my momma. I was havin' so much fun [laughter].
GRIMES: Yeah, I heard about the peanut patty story, too. [A peanut patty is a
popular candy in the South.]
SAMUEL: Oh yeah, baby! [Laughter.] Yeah, well, I hit a double, you know, and slid on second base. My peanut patty come out while I was slidin'. I went back and got it and got throwed out. All them boys talked about me [laughter]. In them days, every time I hit a homerun, they would give me a peanut patty, back in them days. I liked them peanut patties. And, so, I got throwed out. Them boys talked about me.
GRIMES: Tell me again how you came about and got the name "Jelly" ?
SAMUEL: Well, now, back in them days they had a song [by jazz artist Earl Hines in 1940] come out: "Jelly, Jelly, Jelly. Jelly stays on my mind. Jelly run my pappy off and run my momma stone blind." Well, they started callin' me Jelly cause I was so fat, you know. I just liked the name, so I kept it up [laughter].
GRIMES: Okay. In one of your previous interviews Reverend [Bettie] Kennedy had mentioned that you had a community garden at one time?
SAMUEL: Oh, yeah.
GRIMES: Do you still have that?
SAMUEL: Back of my house, but my son-in-law, he works it. I can't stoop over. I doesn't got too old. My son-in-law works it for me, now. Peas, okry [okra], and all that. He got it back there. He goes back there and picks it and takes it to "his" house, not my house [laughter].
GRIMES: So, he gets the benefits of it.
SAMUEL: That's right, he gets the benefit of the little garden I got back there.
GRIMES: So I understand that at one time you would pass out food to the community, from that garden.
SAMUEL: Oh, yeah. I used to do it all the time.
GRIMES: So, what did that mean to you as a man in this community, able to do that?
SAMUEL: See I been goin' to church ever since 1950. I'm a soul Christian. So, ever time I see somebody that wants somethin', I try to help 'em. I don't care what I get, I will divide with people. I don't care what it is, I will divide [brief pause].
GRIMES: I noticed also that you had mentioned that you were in the army.
SAMUEL: I was in the army.
GRIMES: Could you kind of tell me a little bit about that, your experiences?
SAMUEL: Oh, man, I tell you. That colonel we had told us he gonna take us to see the world. I think we was in Louisiana, basic training. He took us to France. When D-Day was in France, we went in right after D-Day, in France. Okay, blood was on the water when we went in there. And we cleaned up everything. I helped, I was in the engineer, I helped build a road 'cross the Rhine River [unintelligible phrase]. That's the way we got in over yonder.
And then when I left there, we loaded up in France, brought me all the way back to [unintelligible phrase], and took me to South Pacific. Never stopped. I traveled both oceans at the same time. And when Japanese fell, I moved up in Korea. I stayed there six months before the Korean War. Then I come out on points. I had got thirty-two points, they discharged me, and I come back to the United States. I've been back here ever since.
GRIMES: So what did they discharge you on?
SAMUEL: On thirty-two points. That's what I had to have before they would discharge me out of the army.
GRIMES: Thirty-two points.
SAMUEL: Thirty-two points. Back then they would let you out on points.
GRIMES: So what did that mean? They had a point system?
SAMUEL: Yeah, that's right. You couldn't get out without earning that.
GRIMES: So once you earned your thirty-two points, then they would-.
SAMUEL: Points, you could get out of the army.
GRIMES: Okay. What was your experience that sticks out the most in your mind?
SAMUEL: In the army, was the work. Building roads and bridges. That's the best thing I know how to do. I did all that in the army. All the way. Both ways.
GRIMES: Were you ever in the middle of combat?
SAMUEL: UhUh. We weren't in the middle of it.
GRIMES: You were just part of the army-.
SAMUEL: Just part of the army, working.
GRIMES: Preparing for the others to come in-.
SAMUEL: To come through, that's right.
GRIMES: Building the roads and bridges-.
SAMUEL: Roads and things, bridges. Because on some of 'em we had to build bridges across them lakes. We could put a bridge down in one hour. Run from here up to that corner up there [about a quarter of a mile]. We had started to put that bridge down all the way across that river [Rhine] in one hour. We had two companies going. "A" and "B" company. They could put that bridge down in a little of no time, I'm tellin' you.
GRIMES: So what year was that you were discharged and got to come home?
GRIMES: 1946. So, what year did you go in?
SAMUEL: I went in '44.
GRIMES: So, from 1944 to 1946.
SAMUEL: I did all that traveling.
GRIMES: That's a lot of traveling.
SAMUEL: You bet it is [laughter]. That colonel we had told us he was gonna show us the world. I mean he really did.
GRIMES: So, do you remember the name of your colonel?
SAMUEL: Colonel Raw [spelled phonetically]
GRIMES: Raw? How do you spell that?
SAMUEL: I don't know how to spell it. I didn't go to school much. I had to stop and raise my momma and children. My daddy and momma quit when I was young. I had to quit going to school. I never did get no higher than the fourth grade.
GRIMES: How far did you go with your schooling?
SAMUEL: Fourth grade.
GRIMES: Fourth grade.
SAMUEL: Fourth grade. All I got.
GRIMES: What was it like going to school?
SAMUEL: Oh, I had plenty of fun going to school. Cause I was nearly about the biggest in my class [smiling]. I had two sisters and momma. I had to go help them, so they could make it. I had to get a job, and I worked all the time.
GRIMES: At the end of your fourth grade year, you had to quit and help out the family.
SAMUEL: Quit school and go to work cause of my momma and sisters.
GRIMES: What did you do to kind of do that? I mean, what were some of things you did?
SAMUEL: Well then I worked, the first time, I worked at a candy kitchen. I quit that and went to a place where they poured concrete back then, you know. I put that concrete in them trucks like they gonna pour concrete? I'd do that, put them bags of concrete over in them trucks and things. When I quit that, I come down here [Lufkin/Diboll area].
GRIMES: And when you came down here, where'd you go to work here?
SAMUEL: At Southern Pine. [This is a lumber company.]
GRIMES: Southern Pine.
SAMUEL: In Diboll.
GRIMES: Is that where you retired from here?
SAMUEL: No. I retired from Lufkin, at Angelina Hardwood. I worked at Southern Pine 'til I went in the army.
SAMUEL: When I come out of the army, I worked at Southern Pine a while, then I quit and come up here [Lufkin] and worked for Angelina Hardwood [unintelligible phrase]. And that's where I retired from twenty years ago. I stayed there forty-four years at Angelina Hardwood before I quit there [brief pause].
GRIMES: Did you earn any medals, or any recognitions or anything when you-
SAMUEL: Nothing but, when I was in the army, I earned two T-5s. That's what they give me to go on my shirt, you know.
GRIMES: Two T-5s?
SAMUEL: T-5. Texas Sergeant, see.
GRIMES: Okay. Texas Sergeant.
SAMUEL: Put on your shirt, T-5s. That's all they would put on that sleeve.
GRIMES: Regarding your baseball experience, you had mentioned at one time that you played, I think it was, a White team one time. Was that correct?
SAMUEL: Yeah. Well see, in Diboll, it was a White team White run and a Colored in the Colored run, and we wanted to know who was the best [laughter].
GRIMES: Was that the only time you got to play a White team?
SAMUEL: A White team, that's right.
GRIMES: How did that make you feel?
SAMUEL: See that was in Diboll, see old man Temple had that all together. Back in them days every sawmill town had a baseball team. Old man Temple had a White and a Colored, and so we wanted to know who was the best.
GRIMES: So he actually owned both, or actually run both of the teams.
SAMUEL: Both of 'em. That's right.
GRIMES: And I suppose it was that way for most of the communities here.
SAMUEL: That's right.
GRIMES: All of the sawmill communities.
SAMUEL: All of the sawmills. Sawmills run everything.
SAMUEL: And every sawmill in Texas had a baseball team. Even this one out here at Keltys. [Keltys is now part of Lufkin.] Keltys sawmill, it had a baseball team. They used to come to Diboll and try to beat us. Yeah. Every sawmill in Texas had a baseball team.
GRIMES: If you could leave like a legacy or a memory behind for this community, what would you want that to be?
SAMUEL: What do I want it to be? I want all the baseball [unintelligible word] and all of them to try to get together and understand each other, and work together. I would like for 'em to do that. Cause I don't overdo nobody. I like everybody I meet. I don't care who it is, I treat you right.
GRIMES: What was it like when they kind of desegregated everything?
SAMUEL: We were together.
GRIMES: What was that like for you?
SAMUEL: Well, it was alright. You know, you use to have to [unintelligible word] sit in the back of the bus. Couldn't get on the front. Well, after they desegregated, you could get anywhere you wanted. Yeah, anywhere you wanted. That was nice!
GRIMES: Let's talk a little bit about your family. How many children do you have?
SAMUEL: Oohwee! Look here, back in Diboll, I married twice in one year [laughter].
GRIMES: Alright. Twice in one year.
SAMUEL: I married one, and we only stayed together a year. I married this other girl who had four boys. My boys grew up in Houston, where they are right now. Then I met Ruby [unintelligible phrase]. Then I moved right here in the house ever since '58, raised my children.
GRIMES: How long have you and Ruby been married? [See image number Samuel002: Ruby is pictured on the left.]
SAMUEL: Ever since '58.
GRIMES: Ever since 1958. Well, Mr. Samuel, again in the community here, when you said you wanted everybody to work together, what are some of the things, what do you really mean when you say that? What would you like to see some of these young, Black men learn today? If they could learn something from you-.
SAMUEL: Well, now see, right now, you couldn't catch a Colored playing baseball. They don't do anything around here now. Drink that stuff and smoke that weed and things. I'd like to see 'em cut that out and go to doing something healthy [unintelligible phrase] because they're not able to do nothing. I'm serious. They go out that door, all of 'em that smoke that stuff and dope. [Unintelligible phrases and Ruby turns on more fans making it difficult to hear the audio.] Nobody comes down here much.
GRIMES: So, nobody comes down here very much.
SAMUEL: No, that's what I like about it.
GRIMES: Well, Mr. Samuel, is there anything else you would like to tell us, about anything about your life that we haven't talked about, that you would like for people to know?
SAMUEL: That's about all [unintelligible phrases]. Everybody go to church.
GRIMES: You mentioned church several times during the interview. That makes me want to ask another question. What does that mean to you? How involved are you in your church?
SAMUEL: Well, I started going in Diboll. When I come up hear, I found Long Chapel. I joined them in 1950. I've been there ever since. I ushered on the door forty-four years.
GRIMES: Forty-four years.
SAMUEL: Forty-four years, on that door, ushering. When I got down and couldn't stand up, I had to sit down. Well, now, every Sunday I don't leave here 'til I go to church. I get up Sunday morning on my way. That's right.
GRIMES: So for you, church is what defines who you are and how you live in the community.
SAMUEL: That's right. I thank the good Lord for keeping me [unintelligible phrase]. I'm ninety-three [unintelligible phrases].
GRIMES: Mr. Samuel, I think that concludes our interview, then, for today.
[End CD 1]