Elaine McCreagh Interview
McCoy: Okay, Ms.Elaine McCreagh. Thank you for coming in today. Tell me, what have you brought us?
Elaine McCreagh: Hi, I bought today a book from my grandmother that's called 'The Negro Baptist History'. This book is very old, very very old. It was published -- it has here -- 1750-1930.
McCoy: That's a lot of history.
McCreagh: It sure is, a lot of history in this book.
McCoy: It's got some nice, worn pages in there -- it looks like it's been flipped through a few times.
McCreaugh: Yes it has.
McCoy: Is it really special to, your uh --
McCreagh: --Yes, my grandmother left it here for me --
McCoy: She left it for you?
McCreagh: Yes, and I was going through a lot of things. It's a lot of things that I didn't know about the Negro Baptist History, but this boo is very, very interesting.
McCoy: Does it say anything about Cincinnati in particular?
McCreagh: Yes it does. I have one particular page, and it has Mr. D.W. Hayes Zion Baptist Church; Reverend Wallace Shelton is here; and Brother Shelton was ordained in 1883. So, this is the church -- Zion Baptist Church here in Cincinnati.
McCoy: Zion Baptist Church here in Cincinnati. So, how long have you had this book personally?
McCreagh: I've had this book for about twenty years.
McCoy: About twenty years?
McCreagh: Twenty years.
McCoy: This is such a nice book. It's got the, uh, green cover. It's a little bit faded, it's a little bit worn out but, it's special. Apart from the Cincinnati portion, is there anything in there that you like in particular?
McCreagh: I like to look at the old pictures.
McCoy: I'd like to look through there too.
McCreagh: The old reverends and things, it's interesting. How it looks, in the old churches. Beautiful.
McCoy: Very beautiful. So, what does this say about the West End?
McCreagh: For me, looking at this book, the West End had beautiful architecture. Beautiful. I think the West End was unique from other neighborhoods, in that I was raised in the West End. I loved the West End... I don't know what I can say, but I loved the West End.
McCoy: You loved the West End?
McCreagh: I loved the West End. I loved it, I loved it. And most people from the West End loved the West End.
McCoy: Very tight community from what I've heard.
McCreagh: Everyone knew everybody, and they knew the parents, grandparents, all those things.
McCoy: Kind of the same way that this book is a collection of all sorts of people.
McCreagh: Yes, Yes.
McCoy: Okay, I think that's good. We can move onto the photos if you'd like?
McCoy: Alright, let’s talk about the cotton club photos. Dressed to the nines. You got those out still? Let’s take them out and look at them while we talk about them.
McCreagh: Here's one.
McCoy: There's one. What did I do -- do I still have your other one? There it is.
McCreagh: Well, I guess they were out at the Cotton Club at a dinner dance or something.
McCoy: They're dressed real nice, aren't they?
McCoy: And it says 'Guest OF Club President'. So, where'd you get this?
McCreagh: My mom kept it. This is her right there.
McCoy: This is her, in the middle?
McCreagh: Here is she right here. The last one on the far right.
McCoy: What does that say right there?
McCreagh: Galaweds. What that means, I don't know. Maybe it means the ladies were married... I don't know. I don't know what it means. But it was all the ladies.
McCoy: So, I don't know much about the cotton club. Seems like it was important to your mom.
McCreagh: I don't either. It was a black club, and I think it was pretty high end. Everybody that would dress up back in the day... they did dress well. They would have a lot of fun. It was something enjoyable. I think all of the people in the neighborhood talked about the cotton club. I was too young, but they was always talking about it -- how they had fun at the cotton club.
McCoy: Was it gone by the time you had been old enough to go?
McCreagh: I think it was gone by the time I was around. I think it was gone. But, everybody loved it -- the cotton club.
McCoy: The cotton club, eh? That's amazing. And, uh, we don't know the exact address on that, but we'll figure it out.
McCreagh: I sure don't.
McCoy: So, what -- they were dancin', listenin' to music, sit around the table?
McCreagh: Well, I guess the jitterbug, whatever they did back then. Do a slow dance, you know, whatever they would call it back then. But that's what they used to do. The jitterbug.
McCoy: Was it a -- would you go all year round, or was it more like a --
McCreagh: --I think we went all year round. And they would just love to dress up so they had big fun, my mother said.
McCoy: They would probably look forward to that all week: 'We're going to the cotton club on Friday or Saturday...' Oh that's so nice.
McCreagh: Sure they did.
McCoy: So, what does this say about the West End to you, you know? It seems like a very big cultural point to me, something a lot of people knew about.
McCreagh: Back in the day, I think every -- most black people lived in the West End. And the West End was a tight community. Everybody knew everyone and they had all the businesses in the West End, the black businesses. They had churches, they had restaurants, bowling alleys, theatres, they had everything in the West End.
McCoy: A self-sufficient community, right?
McCreagh: Yeah. Everybody knew everybody, they patronized the stores, all those things. And it was good. It was good.
McCoy: Sounds like you have very fond memories. Sounds like its meant a lot to your family.
McCoy: Let's talk about those tough fellows. The boxers. The golden glove, right?
McCreagh: The boxers.
McCoy: So who is that in the bottom row? Is that your--
McCreagh: --the bottom was my dad. His name was Malley Watts. He loved boxing, we have another member next to him--
McCoy: --That's a great boxers name right there!
McCreagh: Yeah, next to him was Billy Means and Billy just passed about a year ago. Our dad had been dead since about 2000.
McCoy: Okay, that's the piece.
McCreagh: But they loved it. He loved that boxing. That's always -- 'we gotta look at boxing!' Boxing, boxing, boxing. On the golden gloves. And it was a big thing back in that day.
McCoy: How old was he, in that photo you think?
McCreagh: Oh, I think he was about twenty.
McCoy: 'Bout twenty?
McCreagh: Twenty, twenty-one, something like that. He loved that boxing.
McCoy: Were those some of his best friends he boxed with?
McCreagh: Yes. It was his best friends. Everybody knew everybody when they were boxing. 'Oh, that's so and so, that's so and so.' And he loved it until he died.
McCoy: Aw man. So he was a big fan of it?
McCreagh: Big fan of boxing.
McCoy: That's awesome. So, when did he finally stop fighting himself?
McCreagh: Oh, I guess he had to be about thirty maybe. Im guessing.
McCoy: So he pushed it for a while.
McCreagh: He did. He still thought he was tough. [laughs]
McCoy: [laughing] He still thought he was tough! Did he hit real hard, or was he more of a fast guy, or was it--
McCreagh: --They said he did. But, I was a kid so I don't know. But everybody says "Oh, Smiley was this, Smiley was that.' [laughing]
McCoy: So, you said it was the Findlay--
McCreagh: --Findlay Street Neighborhood House.
McCoy: So would they -- I imagine they'd spar there, they'd train there. Would they hold fights that people would come and watch?
McCreagh: You know, I think so. I'm not for sure. But I think they probably did.
McCoy: Probably did?
McCreagh: Yeah, I don't know exactly where but I know--
McCoy: --I imagine that'd be a lot of fun to go and check that out, check out the local neighborhood boys together. When did we say -- about when that photo was taken?
McCreagh: Did we say 194- 1950?
McCoy: I think we made a guess. 1946 or 1947. As far as in the West End, how important was boxing?
McCreagh: I think boxing was really, really special.
McCoy: I mean, here we are on Ezzard Charles Lane, right?
McCreagh: In that day they loved boxing. Black people loved boxing, baseball, they loved the baseball. My grandmother and them would just -- 'baseball, baseball.' I don't know about football; I don't think it was football back then. I think it was just like boxing and baseball.
McCoy: Boxing and baseball.
McCreagh: And hockey. He liked hockey.
McCoy: He liked hockey?
McCreagh: He did, I don't. [laughing] Bur he liked that too.
McCoy: Yeah, I'm not much of a hockey guy myself. That's great. So that just goes to show, I mean, this photo is just more and more evidence of how, you know, the rich culture of that community was. It's amazing. Well, thank you very much Elaine for you time. You bought in so many nice things for us.
McCreagh: Oh, why thank you very much.
McCoy: You're so sweet. Alright, I'll end this.