Interview with Ms. Gloria Blake, 11 December 1998,
in Pennsylvania Bidwell High Rise Office, Manchester, Pittsburgh, PA.
Interview conducted, transcribed and edited by Barry Chad.
Transcribed: 17 December 1998.
Reviewed with Ms. Blake: 26 January 1999.
Entered online: 12 January 1999.
Updated: 22 May 2003.
Q Have you always lived in Manchester?
Q Where are you from originally?
A I was born and raised up in West End, but I eventually moved over to Fineview and then from Fineview to Manchester.
Q To the Hi-Rise?
Q What kind of work have you done over the years?
A I worked for a while. I worked for Community Action Pittsburgh. (The office was located on South Main Street, West End.) I worked in Presbyterian Hospital as a Nurse's Aide. Eventually I became a housewife. Raised three children. I was also the Democratic Committeewoman for the [West End] area for about five years.
Q You were born in Pittsburgh.
Q You don't have to give your age if you don't want to, but how long have you lived in Pittsburgh?
A All my life. [Laughter.]
Q "Community Action Pittsburgh." What did you do for them?
A I wrote proposals. They had a summer work program where they had youth come in. I worked with the youths. I also helped teach the ceramics classes. I was more like a secretary also there. I answered the phone, did some of the typing--different things. I was all-around person in the office there. They had an office located in the West End.
Q What kind of proposals did you write?
A To keep the program going--like for their office equipment, for buying supplies and for different programs that they wanted to carry out.
Q Where you involved in the painting of that mural?
Q You were?
A Yes! [Hearty laugh.]
Q Why do you laugh?
A I didn't think you even knew about that. Yes, I was involved in it.
Q Can you talk about that? How long ago was that?
A It was about ten years ago . I was involved in it. It was me and another person whose name was Robert Rivers (an ex-Committeeman with the Democratic Party who also worked in the office) and we had to go through a lot of discussion with different people concerning it and we finally got the City to agree to let us get it put on the wall and I didn't realize that it was going to be up there on that wall as many years as it has been. I really enjoyed working with it.
Q Can you describe what the mural was of?
A Oh, it's been a while since I seen it. It's been a while; it's been quite a while since I seen that mural and it's been quite a while since I even thought about it to be honest with you.
Q How many people were involved with the project?
A You mean whenever I had the mural and everything done?
A Okay. I had children over there cleaning the lots where the mural is. I had the school kids that came in on the work program. I had at least about, I guess, 10 to 15 children at the time when I was in there. The West End-Elliott Citizens Council also was involved.
Q Did they all help with the design of the mural?
A They helped not only with some of the design, they also helped with cleaning up the lot and getting it straightened out so we could get it all finished. We wanted eventually to have what you call a park over there where in case somebody--like the seniors--wanted to come and sit and rest and relax: this is what we had in mind.
Q Were there other projects like that in the West End?
A No, not at the time whenever I was working there. We had ideas but unfortunately Bob passed away and I got sick and I had to resign.
Q You worked at Presby?
A As a Nurse's Aide for a while.
Q How long did you do that?
A Oh, for about, I guess, about three years.
Q How long did you live in Fineview?
A I was up there for about eight years.
Q Can you describe Pittsburgh, your Pittsburgh?
A I think that by me living in Pittsburgh all my life and living here and raising my children here, I think I would rather really enjoy living here myself and raising my family. I think there's no better place to raise a family than in Pittsburgh here. I raised my children right there in West End. They went to school there in West End. I like it. I love Pittsburgh.
Q Where did you go to school?
A I went to Thaddeus Stevens from first grade to eighth grade. Then I went to Langley High School.
Q In your lifetime, how have you seen the neighborhoods or Pittsburgh change?
A Some of them have went down, some of the neighborhoods have. Businesses have closed up that I remember whenever I was coming up in West End: there's a lot of changes. 'Cause I can remember whenever I was a girl, I can remember there used to be a Kroger's over there, there used to be an A & P, there used to be a show. There's a lot of changes. Matter of fact, Pittsburgh has changed a heck of a lot.
Q How many brothers and sisters do you have?
A My mother had thirteen children and I am the oldest of twelve. There's twelve of us living. All of us live here in Pittsburgh. I have five brothers and six sisters.
Q Were you responsible for the others?
A Yes. [Laughter.] Yes I was.
Q What did your mother do?
A My mother was a housewife. I had to learn at a very young age how to take care of my brothers and my sisters plus help keep house and cook and do everything plus go to school.
Q Are you active in church life at all?
A Yes I am. I attend Jerusalem Baptist Church. It's located on Steuben Street in the West End. I am an active member of the Jerusalem Baptist Gospel Choir and I also belong to what we call a Prayer Band Choir. I'm a member of it. We have an organization--it's like a club, the Progressive Club--and we meet once a month and when Father's Day come around, we give the fathers in the church a gift. When Mother's Day come around, we give the mothers a gift. And then we have our annual day at the church there--we put on a program. Also we have a group--it's called the Jerusalem Baptist Spirits. It's a mime group, which I'm a head of. I work with kids with the mime group. I also work with the Sunday School picnic and have been doing that for the last three years. One year we went to Geauga Lake, this past summer we had our Sunday School picnic at Kennywood Park and we're planning another outing for Kennywood this summer coming.
Q You keep very busy.
A I try to keep myself busy. The doctor told me that it's good that I try to stay busy and keep my mind occupied.
Q When did you start singing?
A At a very young age. I started when my mother started me singing in a choir--my mother, my grandmother and godmother did! They all started me!
Q How many people in the choir?
A The Jerusalem Baptist Choir has a large number of people in our choir. The Prayer Band Choir--we have about ten or fifteen in that. My mime group, I have about twelve children in it.
Q What does the mime group do?
A We mime at the church. We mime at other churches. They have music and make motions to the music--like, "I Believe I Can Fly." They mime it. They have red and white uniforms. I wear white gloves. But they do not use anything on their face. The youngest one I have is five years old in the group. And she's the baby of the group. We call her the baby. [When the group performed at Bidwell, the tenants] loved them. Last month they were at Ebenezer Baptist Church up on the Hill and they performed up there. Right now I am working with them on a thing for Christmas  for the Church. I have about three or four more children who wants to join the group and am eventually going to bring them into the group. I told their mothers that we have to get uniforms for them. I have two other ladies that also help me out with them--Louise Green and Edna Watts. The kids love it. They do "I Believe I Can Fly." They do a thing called "Stand." And they also do this here one by Curt Franklin--"Stomp." I enjoy working with them. I enjoy seeing kids have a good time, enjoying something that they like.
Q Have the choirs performed around the City?
A Yes! We have even been to Kentucky--which we're planning another trip this summer. We're going to Kentucky again. We're getting together now for it. We have even been down to--a couple times--David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Our choir has even been down there. They had a religious program down there and they asked for our choir to be down there, which we did. We do go different places, like different churches. Sometime our Pastor he wants us to go with him 'cause he be speaking and he wants the choir to follow him. Which we do. Also, we do have a children's choir which is called the Sunshine Choir and they also follow the Pastor sometime.
Q What's the Pastor's name?
A Reverend Dr. Alfred Brown.
Q What's life like here at Bidwell Hi-Rise?
A I've been here a year. I have enjoyed living here. Everybody's very nice. They keep me on my toes. Especially Ms. Goodman [Fannie Goodman, President of the Tenant Council]. I enjoy working with Ms. Goodman. I enjoy working with the other tenants and doing different activities.
Q What are your official responsibilities here?
A Right now I am the Secretary of the [Tenant] Council. I come down to the office here and help out whenever I can. They have asked me to help start writing some proposals for the building to get different activities going on--which I am trying to come up with some ideas of different things for the seniors. [As Secretary] I get the agenda together, get the minutes together. If there's other meetings, like downtown, at the Housing Authority and if they ask for the Board to come down, I also take minutes from the meeting down there to bring back to the Board. I just recently came back from Baltimore, Maryland. Ms. Goodman, myself and Henry Marsh attended a seminar down there. I brought back information to the Board concerning housing and HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development]. Also, I took pictures of Baltimore to bring back to the Board so they could see what was going on. I find every little bit of information that I have learned--traveling to Baltimore--I have found it to be very interesting and very useful. [There were people from housing communities] from all over. They had American Indians.... They had 'em from all over the United States come in. Just about every hotel that was there in Baltimore, Maryland, just about was filled up to capacity.
Q What would you change about Pittsburgh?
A I don't think I would change too much of anything. I think I would just leave it be. I myself I have not had it really easy, okay, but I cannot complain because I have had my ups and my downs in life. But I have learned a lot from my mistakes and I don't think that I would change anything because I feel that everybody has to learn from their mistakes and all. And this is the way I am.