Interview with Richard Stevenson, Velvet Brooks and Archie Smith

| June 11, 2013
interviewees photo

(Left to right) Wayne Township Trustee Richard Stevenson, retired FWCS Educator Velvet Brooks and retired laborer Archie Smith attended Central High School together. (Photo: Courtesy Eric Hackley)

By Eric Donald Hackley

Part 1 (from June 12 print edition)
Click here to go to Part 2
Click here to go to Part 3 
(1963 North Side and Central basketball game & fight)
Click here to watch video of the interview

Eric Hackley: I would like to put the past 50 years into perspective. You all graduated Central High School during the Civil Rights Movement and during the time of the March on Washington. And, you all went on to be successful in your respective careers. What are your earliest memories of one another?

Richard Stevenson (RS): I don’t remember not knowing Archie. Archie and I go back to the late 1940s. We were childhood friends at McCulloch Elementary School. Then in the early 1950s I met Velvet. Velvet and I have been friends so long that we are family more so than friends. She knows my family. We go to church together and we’ve been socially acquainted for a long time. As a matter of fact when I reflect back to my Harmar Junior High basketball days, Velvet was one of the outstanding cheerleaders. She has been a friend and a personal cheerleader for a long time.

Velvet Brooks (VB): I don’t remember Archie early on, but Trustee Stevenson, I can remember back to Harmar School, from GAA (Girls Athletic Association) to running track, playing basketball and high jumping. We do go way back. My mother is connected with his family, we still attend Pilgrim Baptist Church, and we’re involved in a lot of the same things. I know Archie from his being popular in high school basketball.

Archie Smith (AS): Rick and I had formative years at the McCulloch Center. We played basketball together. In fact, when I first began playing basketball, every time I took a shot, he would block it. So he kind of helped me develop my game. I knew Velvet from high school. I remember her from the McCulloch Center dances we used to have.

EH: Is there much of a difference between today’s black community and yours in the 1960s?

RS: There is a lot of difference. When we were all young, we knew each other in one way or another. When Velvet said she knew Archie because of his popularity and Archie said he had seen her a lot of times at the McCulloch Center, now called Jennings Recreation Center, was a common ground for all blacks and we magnetized there. Most of us from back in the day, if we didn’t know each other by name; we knew each other when we saw one another.

Differences among individuals were resolved much differently than they are today. Instead of a shooting, you may have a fistfight with someone, but afterwards you became the closest of friends. There were no animosities that would linger on that would perpetuate hostilities toward one another. As a matter of fact, Velvet I can remember when we were all small that no one had a lock on their door. But now, and it didn’t happen overnight, most homes have three or four locks on their doors.

EH: You mean that when fights happened, they were over and done with just like that?

AS: Most of us knew each other. If you had a problem, sometimes your parents would get involved. They would bring the kids together and sit down and talk with them. I remember when we were kids, Billy Files and I would fight almost every day. I remember once he broke my glasses and I took them home to my dad and we were talking about it. He said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll go over and talk with his family.” So his father and my father started talking about it and the next thing you know, Billy and I became the best of friends. That’s how things were resolved then. It wasn’t like I’ll lay back and wait for him and get him later. It just didn’t happen like that.

RS: Archie, wasn’t your first car a 1955 Pontiac?

AS: Yes, it was.

RS: Boy, that was a cool car back then. I say that because now days just about every kid and their sister and brother have cars. Cars among kids were a rarity back then. The way we got around was by walking or on a bicycle. Even though we lived within walking distance, often we were not allowed to go more than three or four blocks away from home. And because of that, as Velvet was living in the Madison and Hanna Street area and Archie and I were living on Hayden and Eliza Streets, I really didn’t start socializing with Velvet until I got to junior high school because we were four or five blocks away from each other.

But, the school districts had their boundaries situated where Archie and I went to McCulloch and Velvet went to Harmar. And at the time, McCulloch was a predominantly white school with really very few black students. And just a few blocks away was Harmar, that was predominantly black. We didn’t get the experience of being around a lot of blacks in school until we got to the seventh grade.

EH: What was your mindset at Harmar that made you such great athletes?

VB: A lot of it, I think you were born with. But, we had boundaries and we had to stay within that radius of where we lived. That meant we played with the same kids and we practiced all the time because that’s what we did. We didn’t have bikes at that time to ride; so instead, we built our own pole vault, made our own volleyball nets and the alley behind our houses was our track for running relays. So with all that practice and God-given talent, that helped us a lot right there. We had some good athletes that came from Harmar.

AS: We didn’t go out just to become athletes. We liked sports and we liked a lot of different things. But, as far as basketball and football was concerned, we looked up to some of the older guys who played sports. Naturally when we were younger, we had heroes we wanted to be like. We had John Kelso and Johnny Bright and these were outstanding athletes. We also had Bobby Milton (who for 34 years, was well known as a player, coach and an ambassador of the Harlem Globetrotters). There was also Mr. Jennings, who we didn’t even know was a great athlete and blanket winner from Central. We always saw the older man, but he was a heck of an athlete.

EH: Why is it that anytime Central athletes did anything great, Fort Wayne blacks felt good about themselves?

AS: That’s because Central was the only black high school in our area. The majority of the blacks at Central fed in from the innercity. The majority of blacks went to McCulloch, Harmar, James Smart, Adams and Hanna Schools and they all fed into Central. That’s why everyone in the black community showed pride in what we were doing.

EH: Did the teachers at Central care about your academic success in the 1960s?

RS: One of the things that was unique in my situation, even at an early age when I was at McCulloch, I saw the significance of education and I strived to be the best that I could be even back then. That stayed with me when I went to Harmar. At the time we had X, Y, Z and ZZ lanes for students. X lane students being intellectually the smartest. I always strived to be in the X lane, a couple of times I found myself in Y lane classes. As I went to Central, I did the same thing. My mother wanted me to do well academically, but it was something within me that wanted it, too. I took the hard subjects, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, physics, and chemistry because I just had that within me of wanting to know. In other cases at Central, they had industrial classes for those who were interested in mechanics so that they could pursue that because all of us are different. Everyone didn’t look at academics as I did. Some liked working on cars. Some liked to weld, draw, and paint. And, some of the pretty girls liked the business classes and were studying to be secretaries or were interested in bookkeeping. But I was happy with my education at Central and, even today, I’ll put my education up against anyone’s education.

EH: Velvet, you just retired from being an educator. Were you pushed at a young age?

VB: I’m in agreement with Rick, the need for an education was instilled in me from home. I can remember when we were leaving Harmar, getting ready to go to Central is where the preparation started. As I said, my parents were strict on this and we had just each other. Before I got to Central, I can remember in my last year at Harmar in the eighth grade that Herb and Nate Banks sat next to me in class. We had a teacher who said, “I came to teach. Those who want it, sit over here. Those who don’t, sit over here.” I was totally stunned that there were kids who did not want to learn. The teacher never failed a student. He was an excellent teacher. But, the kids who did not want to learn could put their heads down, but just do not disturb the others.

The above part of the interview appeared in the June 12 print edition.

Click here to go to Part 2
Click here to go to Part 3 (1963 North Side and Central basketball game & fight)

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Category: Local, Opinion

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at

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