Bettye B. Gillespie
Interviewed By Rebecca Ory Hernandez
11 July 2012
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Bettye B. Gillespie
Rebecca Ory Hernandez
11 July 2012
Copyright © 2013 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Gillespie, Bettye, an oral history by Rebecca
Ory Hernandez, 11 July 2012, WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, University
Archives, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
Bettye B. Gillespie
July 11, 2012
Abstract: Bettye Gillespie met with Rebecca Ory Hernandez from Weber State
University’s development office to talk about her life and education, along with
the life and activism within the NAACP of her husband, James Harding Gillespie.
James Harding Gillespie was the chair of the Ogden, Utah NAACP chapter for
over 30 years. Bettye joined “Jim” in his work as a civil rights leader. Bettye also
speaks of attending Ogden High School, then continuing her education in politics
and later at the University of Utah in the Human Resources Management
master’s level program. Bettye served and retired as the first female Equal
Opportunity Director at Hill Air Force Base.
ROH: Today is Wednesday, July 11, 2012, and we are in the home of Ms. Bettye
Gillespie. I am Rebecca Ory Hernandez, here to do an oral history with Bettye
about her involvement with the NAACP Organization and the civil rights
movement in Utah as well as nationally. Why don’t we just start with talking a
little bit about your education and how you came to be involved in political
BG: I have a degree in political science from the University of Utah. I also studied at
Howard University in Washington D.C. and nearly completed a Master’s Degree
with the exception of a written thesis. My aunt lived in Washington D.C. and
that’s how I got there. I came home and got my Master’s Degree at the University
of Utah in Human Resource Management after I started working.
ROH: How did you become so interested in politics?
BG: My husband was president of the NAACP for thirty-three years. Of course, that
automatically involved me in politics.
ROH: Was he the president of the Ogden branch?
BG: Marshall White was the president and my husband was the vice president.
Marshall White was an Ogden policeman and was killed in the line of duty. My
husband then became president. That would have been quite a number of years
ago. My husband passed away three years ago.
ROH: Do you remember the year when he became president?
BG: I don’t remember, but they have a really nice portrait of Marshall White at the
Center and they could tell you.
ROH: What were some of the things that you did as a member of that group?
BG: I was a Youth Director. We had quite an active group at that time. My kids were
all involved and two of my daughters served on the National NAACP board. My
oldest daughter, Shauna, and my middle girl, Deon, both served on the youth
board and we were seriously into it. There were so many demonstrations and
marches going on all over the country. We were equally involved. Just before we
lost Marshall White, we moved to a house in Riverdale. It was up on the edge of
Washington Terrace. We bought this house and some people threw tar through
the window just before we moved in. It caused quite a stir.
ROH: What year would that have been? Give me a time frame.
BG: That would have been about thirty-five to forty years ago (early 1970’s).
ROH: What were you able to do? Was there any kind of response?
BG: It was all over the paper and in the news. There were neighbors around there
who came with their scrub buckets and cleaned it all up. Of course, the FBI was
involved and they don’t tell you a lot but they took care of it. There were some
kids in the neighborhood that my kids knew. We didn’t know they lived there at
the time. I’ll never forget one lady who came with her grandson and he had his
scrub bucket and they were really cleaning that tar. My kids were little and the
Stake President on the side had two big strapping boys and he told them, “Go
look after and make sure the Gillespie girls don’t have any problems.”
As it turned out it, not everybody was nice. There was one man who said, “Well, our
property values are going to go down.” Before it was over with, the Men’s
Layman League from the Congregational Church came out and formed a circle
around that block. They were going to protect us. There were other people we
knew personally that came from the United Methodist and Episcopal Churches.
There was one guy that came and sat on our front porch with a big rifle.
ROH: How long did you live there?
BG: We lived there for about eight years.
ROH: Were there other incidents after that first incident?
ROH: Crank calls?
BG: Yes. My oldest girl loved to answer the phone and it got to the point where they
had to go through a telephone operator in order to get to us. We got a lot of crank
mail, so all of our mail went through the postmaster before it came to us. Those
were interesting times. In the meantime, they were having riots in Los Angeles
and throughout the country. We survived and before it was over everybody was
our friend and all of their kids were in our yard wanting to play in the kid’s pool
and the swing set.
ROH: You mentioned some marches that went on here in Ogden. Can you tell me
about a couple of those and what was surrounding the reason for the marches?
BG: The one I can remember was when they completed the Marshall White Center.
My husband had a lot to do with that center being built. The Secretary of Housing
and Urban Development was on the National Board of the NAACP. We talked
back and forth to him and got it funded because there was no recreation at all in
ROH: There were no parks or recreation centers on that side of town?
ROH: At that time in history, were things pretty well integrated in Ogden?
BG: Well, certainly some people were. We did have a problem with Lorin Farr Park.
At that time, they didn’t want black people to swim in that pool there. I was still in the
youth group when people told us that, so I threw my bathing suit over my back
and with a couple of men went out there to see. Sure enough, it was true. We
went to the city council and they talked about, “Why don’t we build a swimming
pool in that area?” Now, we’re talking about one tenth of one percent black
people at that time. They didn’t have any money to build a swimming pool for a
handful of black folks. Weber State was on 25th Street and they had a pool. They
said, “They can come up here and swim.” It really surprised everybody. It turned
out that they were embarrassed. Of course, I was no great swimmer and when I
was a child my mother would have never let me go into a public pool. We had our
share of problems and there were restaurants that would not serve black people.
ROH: Do you remember any of the names of those places?
BG: I’ll never remember the names of them. One of them was a Chinese restaurant.
It’s long gone. There was another one where they were just as nice as could be.
There was one that Jimmy and I would go to and one day we took another black
couple and they wouldn’t serve us.
BG: Really odd. That was that same Chinese restaurant.
ROH: Was this early in your marriage or after you’d already had children?
BG: I know that would have been in the sixties. I do remember that because after the
Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, we went right back to that same restaurant
with that other couple and they gave us such good service. They gave us so
many shrimp we didn’t know what to do with them. We were in Washington, D.C.
when the Civil Rights Bill passed. The NAACP lawyer came into the meeting and
told us that the bill was passed. After we got home we went to the restaurant.
The couple with us was also quite prominent. Much later, Margo was on the
board of trustees of Weber State. They were just really lovely people.
ROH: What were their last names?
BG: Margo and Ira Horton.
ROH: What was it like being in the meeting in Washington D.C. when that bill was
BG: There was a really big celebration. People were seriously into civil rights and
there were a lot of people there. There were a lot of big branches in Washington
D.C., from New York, Maryland and Virginia. There were really a lot of people
there. They just really whooped it right up.
ROH: That must have been amazing.
BG: It was. That was before we got to know Governor George Romney of Michigan.
ROH: Tell me a little bit about that.
BG: We always liked him. He was always here for something. There were meetings
we were involved in all kinds of things. He was the one that came here a lot. The
Detroit branch of NAACP was the largest branch. They just had loads of people.
They were really active. The NAACP had a meeting in Mississippi—that’s where
my husband’s family was from, Starkville, Mississippi. The meeting was in
Jackson. My kids were really little and it was just really hot there. We’d never felt
anything like that before. I almost got sick. Jimmy took me back to the hotel, but
the people of the Detroit branch said, “As far as we know, the only Governor in
the United States who is coming to this meeting is George Romney.” They
asked, “You know the Romney’s don’t you?” I said, “Oh, yeah.” They asked,
“Could you go meet them for us?” We said, “Yes, we can.” When the limo pulled
up in front of the conference center and he got out he said, “There are my Utah
folks.” He remembered that we were from Utah. He was so happy to see us
because he didn’t know what kind of a reception he was going to get. He just
hugged and kissed me. He only knew us from when he was coming back and
forth home and since we got invited to everything we were always somewhere he
ROH: Were both of your families’ friends or was the relationship primarily with George?
BG: It was just with him.
ROH: Was he active in helping with the NAACP at that time?
BG: I think he was in Michigan. He must have been because they liked him so much.
ROH: Tell me about some of the other memorable times in the sixties and seventies
with the NAACP. There were a lot of changes going on in the country in the late
sixties as well.
BG: After the Civil Rights bill passed in 1964, the voting rights act passed in 1965. We
still had problems. A lot of people were killed on the court house steps trying to
vote in the South.
ROH: Was that also happening here?
BG: No. As I said, we just had a handful of black folks. Throughout the country there
were all kinds of changes. It was just absolute turmoil all over the South and a lot
of other places like California. They had fires, riots and all kinds of things. There
were a lot of other groups other than NAACP. Urban League didn’t have a lot of
turmoil with them but there were also the Black Panthers.
ROH: I remember them. They used to scare me a little bit, but I was glad that they were
BG: I’m sure. We had an NAACP meeting in Los Angeles and I believe it was Hubert
Humphrey that came. I can’t be sure, but I can remember this Jewish man who
was on the board. They’re still giving awards in his honor. There was a group that
actually broke into the convention hall before Jackie Robinson died and he was
standing on the edge of the stage when these guys broke in. He was a big,
strong man and stopped them. The Black Panthers came in and just took them
right out of there. They had been marching around protecting us. That was some
kind of time.
ROH: What is it like compared to now? What are your thoughts about the changes that
have been made?
BG: It’s just really, very different. I’ve served two terms on the board of trustees at the
University of Utah. I was involved in a lot of things. I was on the Martin Luther
King Commission and the Utah division of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
That was when Clarence Thomas was head of the Civil Rights Commission.
ROH: What kind of projects did you work on in that role?
BG: We worked on just about everything. People who worked with the city and the
state could file a complaint to the Civil Rights Commission. We did some of those
ROH: You handled those hearings?
BG: Yes. Of course, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission did everything.
ROH: You’ve seen a lot, that’s for sure.
BG: Yes. I remember when Coretta King came to Utah. I think that was after he
(Martin Luther King Jr.) was assassinated, but I’m not sure. I believe she went to
the Unitarian Church that was right on the corner from the University. That’s the
only time I recall ever seeing her. I know that Martin Luther King Jr. came here
once. I didn’t see him. I know they had put up a great big billboard that said he
was a communist and all that kind of stuff. It seems to me that it was on what
used to be Highway 91.We didn’t have Highway 89 then. Highway 91 is still there
but it just goes through Kaysville and Farmington. They were not anywhere near
as big as they are now. Anyway, there were a lot of people offended and I think
they might have made them take it down. As I recall, he must have been going to
the University of Utah to speak.
ROH: Did you get to visit with either of them when they came to Utah?
BG: I don’t think I ever saw Dr. King, but when Coretta was here I did visit with her.
ROH: What was that like?
BG: There were a lot of people around but she was very gracious and very pretty.
They had so many people, they were all outside. I can remember that. I
remember being seated in the choir loft of the church, so I was really close to
her. That was after he had died because I can remember giving a donation for
the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. I think that’s why she was here. I don’t ever
remember seeing him.
ROH: Are you still involved with the NAACP today?
BG: I still belong, but I’m not as active as I once was. I try to go to a few things. I
should be able to go to more. Before my husband died we went to banquets and
ROH: I know they do a lot on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Are you involved with
that at all?
BG: After my husband died I had a difficult time. So, I can’t say that in these past
three years that I’ve done a lot, but I have been to things. I’ve been up to Weber
to various things. Julian Bond is still President of the board. I got an award for
ROH: You did?
BG: That’s what that article was about in that book.
ROH: Did you ever have an opportunity to meet her?
ROH: What was your favorite part of living in Ogden and being a part of the Civil Rights
BG: I never thought about any favorite part. We were just always going. We were
always busy. Believe it or not, we got invited to everything. We got invited to the
Governor’s Ball and we were always going somewhere. If you’re involved like we
were with the University board, we went to everything they had. I said, “I’ll never
eat another meatball in my life. I’ll never eat another olive.” We went to all of
those things and all of their athletic games. We went to Weber’s games and we
were always really busy.
ROH: Active in the community too. Is there anything that I might have not touched on
that you’d like to share? You’re being very modest, I know.
BG: I can’t think of anything.
ROH: Did you ever serve on the City Council in Ogden or any committees?
BG: No. I got an YCC award. Actually, they were the YWCA and then they had some
kind of a falling out. That’s when they became the YCC. I got their award early on
when they were still YWCA. They were located near the Eccles Center. Then,
they built this other facility and that has been there a really long time. I was a little
bit active in that. I was always involved in something. I was pretty active in the
League of Women voters. I always had the NAACP youth group.
ROH: What did the youth group focus on? What was their purpose?
BG: They were being brought up in the tradition. They had a national college chapter
and they did all kinds of things. There were those who sat at lunch counters and
they did all kinds of things. John Lewis, who is now a congressman, was beaten
up over that Pettus Bridge. Some of these things I remember from television. I
was the Equal Opportunity Officer at Hill Air Force Base for twenty years.
I remember having to go what they call TDY, to Maxwell Air Force Base in
Alabama. This lady who was from here had been with the Clearfield Job Corps
center and she heard that there were some people from Hill Air Force Base out
there at Maxwell. I looked up and there she was to see me. I had to stay there
three weeks. We had a whole bunch of training. She came over to see if there
was anybody she knew. She just screamed when she saw me because she had
taught at the Clearfield center. She said, “I’m going to take you to see this Pettus
Bridge.” and all that. That was the highway that went from Montgomery to Selma
one way. She took me to where Dr. King’s father’s church was. In fact, we went
to one of the churches. I don’t remember whether it was Dr. King’s church. I think
it was his father’s church that she took us to. We went to see that. I thought that
was sure interesting. It was something else.
There was a man who was in the Nixon administration who came down to
speak. His name was Laurence Corb. He’s still active in some things. He did the
Civil Rights work for Nixon when they were working on Affirmative Action.
ROH: What are your thoughts on Affirmative Action?
BG: I was definitely in favor of it because there had been so many incidents where
people wanted to go to colleges and they couldn’t get in because there was just a
little bit of segregation and discrimination. That really helped some kids get a
really good education. We knew one of the Little Rock Nine, Earnest Green. We
were involved in that. I think he is still working for the government. Some of them
have passed on, but I saw something in the paper about one of the women not
too long ago.
ROH: She still gives lectures.
BG: Does she?
ROH: She does. One of my friends lives in Little Rock and she’s part of a book club and
they invited her to speak to their book club. It’s a pretty big group of ladies. It’s
probably been about three or four years ago now. She had written a book, either
a children’s book or a young person’s book about her experience. So, she was
talking about her book.
BG: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine. I can remember it was in a magazine. It
was these two military men with fixed bayonets taking this little girl to school.
What was that magazine?
ROH: I can’t remember. It wasn’t “Highlights,” was it?
BG: It was a regular magazine that everybody took. If you saw any of his drawings on
back of his magazine you would recognize it.
ROH: Norman Rockwell?
BG: Norman Rockwell. He had this little girl with the braids going up like that and
there she was going to school having to have two military people escort her.
ROH: Was it Ruby Bridges?
BG: It could have been. I remember that they just weren’t going to have it.
Eisenhower was President and he had been a general and he didn’t take any
nonsense. He just said, “Go down there and get those kids in school.”
ROH: What was it like being in Utah while that was going on in the United States?
BG: I can’t say it was all that bad because I have warm feelings about my teachers.
Not all of them, but some. I remember when I was in high school there were only
maybe eight black kids in there.
ROH: How could you even imagine that was happening while you have access here in
Utah and they did not have access in another part of the country? Did it ever
occur to you?
BG: No. We never had more than eight kids in the high school in one of Ogden High’s
largest graduating classes. It might still be the largest. We had problems. There
was a group there that all wore green shirts and they were kind of like a gang.
They used to hang around in the hall and you had to pass them to get to the girls
restroom. I was kind of afraid of them and I was really little. One of the guys that
was in that group ended up as a law professor at BYU. He said, “Bettye, don’t
you ever tell anybody how awfully we behaved.” They just meddled. They weren’t
that much into racism or anything. They were awful but he didn’t want me to ever
tell anyone and I said, “I’m going to tell everybody under the sun,” but I never did.
He turned out to be the nicest fellow. We’d go to class reunions and he’d say to
my husband, “Jim, when are you going to join the Mormon Church?” He said,
“My wife can’t even get me to join the Episcopal Church.” There was one other
on the university board from that group and he didn’t want me to say anything
about it because he had grown up to be quite a business man and had a lot of
money. I never said anything about him to anybody.
ROH: Why do you think you stayed so involved and served for all of those years? What
kept you going?
BG: I don’t know. It’s just something we got into. My husband was President of the
NAACP and I wrote all of his speeches he gave and all those articles.
ROH: You wrote a lot of his speeches?
BG: All of them.
ROH: All of them. Wow. That’s impressive.
BG: Formal speeches and stuff like that. If he had to just talk to the press, he’d talk to
the press. He was cute and had a cute personality so the people liked to
ROH: Are there any words of wisdom or advice that you have to give to young people
today? If students at Weber State who are doing research on civil rights and just
about the future, is there any kind of message that you would like to leave to the
BG: They have this group up there, Black Scholars United. This past year and they
gave me an award. I don’t know how deeply involved they are in that but most of
them knew about it because it’s a part of the history, the books. I’ve spoken at
Weber a couple of times. I did one on Rosa Parks for one of Adrienne’s classes.
They were interested and they wanted to know about this back of the bus thing. I
had to tell them about the military people that went off to a segregated armed
services and how President Truman desegregated it. I had a colonel out at Hill
Air Force Base that said he went over in a segregated Air Force and came back
in a desegregated one. He was white. He knew a lot about it. I had to tell them
about that and how those men came back home and had to sit at the back of the
ROH: Were they shocked?
BG: I don’t know whether they were shocked, but they were sure interested.
ROH: Can you imagine putting your life on the line and coming home and being told no
you can’t sit where you want to?
BG: Prisoners of war had more privileges than black veterans. Through the years
various presidents have gotten rid of it. I remember this colonel at the base said
he remembered that.
ROH: Do you have any recollection of segregation as a child? You didn’t mention
anything as a young girl when you first got to Utah, do you remember there being
separate places for blacks and whites?
BG: No, just that restaurant thing. I remember we had a junior high school called
Central Junior High School at either 24th or 25th and Monroe. There were not a
lot of black kids in school but there were a couple of black boys. There was a
little mom and pop drug store that sold candy and they got into it with this man
about something. Of course, I didn’t know anything about it. I went over to get my
candy and he wouldn’t serve it to me. He said because these two black kids had
been over and raised a fuss and I said, “Well, what does that have to do with
me?” “Well, I’m just not going to serve any black people anymore.” I went right
back across the street and told Mr. Junk, the principal, “I don’t know why he
blamed me because of something that somebody else did.” Mr. Junk took me
over there and he told him, “You’ll serve her or none of the kids will ever come
over here again.” That’s where he got most of his money from. I tell you, he was
surprised and so was I because there weren’t many people who were willing to
do that. I’ll never forget him. He was a big fella too. There I was only five feet tall.
ROH: Well, you have seen a lot of changes over time.
BG: I have. There are other stores. For example, Walgreens got into it for a while.
People didn’t know what to do here. You could go in there and buy anything you
wanted but they didn’t want you to sit at the counter and have a soda or a malt. I
was old enough to remember that we boycotted that place. They didn’t have that
many people going in there. They had to shut down. It was a long time before
they ever opened up in Ogden again.
There are fifty-two units in this condominium complex and I’m the only
Black. When we lived in Washington Terrace we bought a really pretty home. My
husband just loved it. He had three vegetable gardens, twenty rose bushes, fruit
trees and this, that, and the other. It was just really nice and that’s where we lived
all the time. It was right near the schools and the kids could walk to each one of
them. We lived there for a long time. He became ill and was ill for a long time
before it dawned on me that he was seriously ill. He was not doing well.
My kids, by that time, had graduated from college and had moved away.
My youngest daughter Kendall went to Weber. The other two went to the
University of Utah. My youngest was daddy’s baby and he said, “If you go to
Weber instead of the University of Utah, I’ll buy you a car,” and he did. He bought
a car because the Gillespie’s have been in the Ford Lincoln Mercury business for
years. So, she stayed home and they went away. Pretty soon, Jimmy and I were
there all by ourselves. Here I was trying to do all this yard and for a while we had
some little deer babies passing through. There were some twin deer we had
occasionally. We don’t know where they came from or how they got there but it
was not far from here. They came running through our backyard and I was trying
to get the neighbor boy to come over so he could see them. I kept saying, “T.J.,
come see the baby deer.” He never got over there in time. He was only about
three. I look in the paper and there is T.J., he’s the quarter back at Fremont High
School. I couldn’t believe it. When he was three years old, he said, “Mr. Glesky.”
He couldn’t say Gillespie. “Would you come play with me? My sisters won’t play
ROH: That’s so sweet.
BG: I thought that was something else. Now, there’s a big picture of him on the sports
ROH: Well, thank you so much for sharing your stories with me. Thank you for being
such a great humanitarian too.
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