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Irma Josephine Barber

Irma Josephine Barber was born Irma Josephine Mason on March 13, 1904, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Raised Catholic by her parents, Barber enjoyed attending a private Catholic school and planned to become a nun. When her father, who had supported the family by working for the city of New Orleans, died, she had to leave school to help her mother, brother and three sisters. In 1918, the family moved to Chicago, seeking greater opportunity. In the city, Barber and her sisters were able to earn money working as seamstresses.

Barber was living in the Black Belt when the murder of a young black man at the 31st Street Beach triggered the infamous Chicago Race Riot of 1919. The riot went on for days. She later married and stayed at home to raise her four children. When her husband died in 1949, Barber took a job as a calculator in the Chicago Department of Forestry. She worked for the Forestry Department for thirty-eight years before finally retiring at age eighty-three.

Her four children rated as Barber's greatest successes. All four of her children went on to earn advanced college degrees and worked as teachers. The oldest, Shirley Dillard, worked as a teacher and assistant principal before retiring. Daughter Barbara Bonner was a teacher of special education before her death. Barber's only son, Vaughn Barber, taught school before earning a law degree and starting his own firm, from which he retired. The youngest of Barber's children, Beverly Martin, was a retired teacher who taught at Truman College and DePaul University.

Barber and her family were members of the NAACP. She was an excellent seamstress before her diminished vision forced her to give up sewing, and she also enjoyed gardening and tending to her roses. A devoted Catholic, Irma Barber was a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church.

Barber passed away on February 17, 2004 at age 99.

Accession Number

A2003.051

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/18/2003 |and| 3/26/2003

Last Name

Barber

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widow

Middle Name

Josephine

Organizations
First Name

Irma

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

BAR06

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

California

Favorite Quote

In One Ear And Out The Other.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/13/1904

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Garlic

Death Date

2/17/2004

Short Description

City government employee and seamstress Irma Josephine Barber (1904 - 2004 ) lived in Chicago for over eighty years, where she worked for the Department of Forestry.

Employment

Chicago Department of Forestry

Favorite Color

Aquamarine

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Irma Josephine Barber's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Irma Josephine Barber lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her maternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her childhood favorite foods

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Irma Josephine Barber remembers the names of her childhood churches and schools and the area she grew up in in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her childhood hobbies

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about Mardi Gras, music, and foods of her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls her childhood personality and interest in education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her dreams of becoming a nun and her relationship to her relatives

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Irma Josephine Barber remembers her father's illness and death

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls moving to Chicago, Illinois as a teenager, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls moving to Chicago, Illinois as a teenager, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls working in raincoat factory and the area she lived in in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Irma Josephine Barber describes her memories of 35th Street in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Irma Josephine Barber notes differences between Chicago and New Orleans and remembers her parish in Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls the use of horses and streetcars in Chicago, Illinois in the 1910s

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls meeting her husband through church in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls her marriage and talks about her husband's work as Fred Harvey waiter

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls the demands of her husband's job and their honeymoon trip to California

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her husband's interest in Haiti

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her mother's adoption of a girl in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls her family's move to Englewood in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls her family's move to Englewood in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her husband's family background and personality

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her husband's parenting

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her husband's death

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her children

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about how she supported her family after her husband's death

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her children's post-secondary education

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls working for the City of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about working for the City of Chicago, Illinois under the Daley administration and retiring at eighty-four

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about the prospects of having a black mayor in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Irma Josephine Barber remembers the 1919 riots

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about her family

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about moving out of Englewood and her concerns for young African Americans

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Irma Josephine Barber talks about the role of religion in her life and others' lives

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Irma Josephine Barber reflects upon her achievements

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Irma Josephine Barber reflects upon how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Irma Josephine Barber shares her health secrets

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Irma Josephine Barber recalls an issue with family land in Mississippi during her childhood

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Irma Josephine Barber describes how streetcars were segregated in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Irma Josephine Barber describes riding on a segregated train in the 1950s

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Irma Josephine Barber describes how her faith, exercise, and her diet have kept her healthy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Irma Josephine Barber narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Irma Josephine Barber narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

5$3

DATitle
Irma Josephine Barber recalls moving to Chicago, Illinois as a teenager, pt. 1
Irma Josephine Barber remembers the 1919 riots
Transcript
Did you attend high school before you moved to Chicago [Illinois]?$$No, no, I was--when I--I only went to the seventh grade. And when I came to Chicago as I told you, it was during the war [World War I, WWI]. And I, instead of going to, back to school, I went to work.$$So--$$And I worked--raincoat factory.$$Here in Chicago or in--$$In Chicago.$$All right. Before we get into that, tell me about the move to Chicago. When did you move? I mean what happened?$$That was quite a move. Okay.$$As I said, my brother [James Mason] was supposed to have made arrangements to meet my mother [Albertine Mason]. And for some reason or other, they had moved him to Iowa without telling. He wasn't able to call my mother. So we arrived in the old Dearborn Station in Chicago.$$So you came by train.$$By train. And there were--I think in the beginning I told you my sisters and my aunt, there were about seven of us or so. And at that time in the station they had Red Caps. And we arrived in the morning. And all day we were waiting for Jimmy. So when it was beg--getting ready to--it was a little late. And one of the porters came and he told my mother, he says looks like you probably have missed your son. He says you're gonna have to try to find some place to go. So he says I have an aunt that will have--rent out rooms. You know that time people had, had these rooms and they would rent them quite a bit. And he said he'd call, he will contact his aunt and ask her did she have any room. And he, he did, but she said no, but send them here and maybe we can help them to find something. So my sister and, and my Aunt Sedonia [ph.], they went there to, I don't know really how they got there, to her, her aunt, to his aunt's house. And when she--when the person opened the door to everyone's surprise it was a person, her name was Pearl [ph.] that she had graduated with in New Orleans [Louisiana]. And so then the aunt and she, she didn't have any room. But she got the Defender. She says it's always rooms in the Chicago Defender. And she looked in there and she says well, here's two rooms. And this would be maybe, I don't know whether they called or what. But try these two rooms. So Edna and my Aunt Sedonia, they came back and the, the rooms were at 22nd and Dearborn. And it was in a, a red light district.$$Okay that's the vice district.$$Yeah, it was terrible, it was terrible. And so they, they did have the two rooms. And I remember this vividly 'cause we had to sleep on the, the seats and things, nothing was clean. We slept on all--had to--just as people would leave. And in order to cook, they had to go down to the basement, and it was terrible. Now how long we stayed there, I don't, I don't know.$$The stove was in the basement?$$Everything. There, there was--we had--it was--we had to cook and bring the food up. And that's when I learned a good butternut bread and butter was--we ate quite a bit of that and I thought that was the best bread and butter. It was real hard for my mother and that's why she had came up and that's--she had to do that same type of work as--then she went out and did day's work.$What were your thoughts about the Civil Rights Movement? When you saw things changing in the South.$$Well you said what?$$How did you feel about the--some of the changes in the South brought on by the Civil Rights Movement? Did you ever think you'd see those changes?$$No. I'm still thinking there's a lot of changes yet can be made. But they're--it's better. I think some black people have a better--living down there now, than in Chicago [Illinois] is very prejudice. And a lot of them are moving south and whatnot.$$Now were, were you--backtrack way back for a minute. Now I forgot to ask you this and I, I neglected to do it, but you were in Chicago--you came here in 1918, right?$$Yeah.$$And so you were here for the riot in 1919.$$Gosh, yes.$$Yes, tell us about that.$$That was terrible, yeah. We were living--I, I remember 37th and Vincennes. And we lived in a house at that--we had a, a house because we had--my aunt was living with us, with her two children. And I remember the--right on the same block with us there was two old Jewish shoe, shoemakers we used to call them. They had their shop right down the same block from us. And the reason I'm mentioning that, because the car came through the street one day, open--they were standing in an open car and shooting from--just shooting at random from one side to the other. And they killed one of the old men. And then right across the street from where we lived, there was a, a man--it was a two flat building. And he was reading his Bible and they shot him. And he just fell over. I remember that very--but we--$$You actually saw that yourself?$$Yeah. And we all ran--we all ran quickly into the house. 'Cause we were--had been sitting outside. And of course it, it was terrible.$$So these, these are the white people from the beach, or from Bridgeport [Chicago, Illinois]?$$Well I don't--we don't know where they was from, but they, they just drove through like that.$$So did that happen all day long?$$Yeah, nobody was able to do anything, or afraid to go out. People couldn't go to work.$$And how long did it last?$$It didn't last too long.$$A day or two, a day?$$Yeah, it last more than a day. Just the other day they had something about the riot on TV.$$Did--what did you understand at the time to be the cause of the riot? Did anybody try to explain what the cause was to you?$$Of the riot?$$Yes.$$At first I thought, I thought when really until later, that the--when--what was his name? Till--Williams. What was that young fella that was, was killed down in Mississippi?$$Emmet Till?$$Yeah. I used to think it was when they--at the 31st Beach [Chicago, Illinois] when the people went to--when black people went bathing and I thought it was an incident that something had happened there. But that really wasn't it.$$What, what, what was it?$$I'm, I'm trying to remember. I don't know because the beach is when we, when we used to go to the beach, I left (unclear). We would--right there in the Jackson Park Beach, we weren't able--the blacks weren't able--they put a, a fence up and to divide the black people could only swim on one side of that fence and they weren't allowed to go on to--on the other side. And that was when my children were coming up. We left that out.$$Okay.$$They can remember that.