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Paulette Davis Horton Interview Clip


Paulette Davis Horton Interview Clip


Part of the VOHP interview of Paulette Davis Horton, discussing her book, Avenue, the People, the Places, the Memories, and discussing her experiences interviewing Mobilians for the book


National African American Archives & Museum,
Museum of Mobile


National African American Archives & Museum,
Museum of Mobile
Mobile Public Library, Local History & Genealogy






Oral history interview




Kern Jackson


Paulette Davis Horton


1454 Ohio Street
Mobile, AL 36604


Jackson: The uh, when you started doing the work on the Avenue, what caused that to come about?

Horton: Believe it or not, I don’t know where that came from. I was at uh a patient’s house. You know I’m a nurse. And I was at a patient’s house named Evelyn Cox. It was December 16, 1998. And I was at her just doing my work and something Davis Avenue wasn’t on my mind, it wasn’t in my thoughts or anything. And something just said write a history of Davis Avenue. I mean just out of the blue. And I said, you know I don’t where that thought, it just came, you know. And I said, “That is interesting.” Because I remember back back in ’72, I did ask the question, “Why they call this str..” because I was going to Bishop State, I said “Why they call this street Davis Avenue?” And someone said it was because it was black man named Dave Patton. I said “Was does that got to do with Davis?” I said, “His name is not Davis.” “Yeah, but they call it because he built the area.” I said, “Davis, his name is Dave.” And they said, “We don’t that.” So, I went and looked it up. I went out I wanted to find this Dave Patton. So, I went out in the cemetery and looked him up in the census and everything. No where is his name Davis or anything like that. So when I found out it wasn’t. That’s when I found it wasn’t Davis at all. You know, it was Dave Patton and Jefferson Davis, name of the street. But, I learned a lot about this man. I talked to people that knew Dave Patton and he leveled that area off. That was a hilly area years ago. And he his mules leveled it off, you know, kinda leveled it you know. And they thought, you know, the street was named after him. In fact, it was Davis Avenue even before he was born.

Jackson: And what did you think about the irony that it actually was Jefferson Davis Avenue?

Horton: Oh, I didn’t uh. Considering that it was after the Civil War it didn’t come in as a surprise to me. You know, cause I saw it in 1867 Davis Avenue. And that’s when I knew it wasn’t Dave Patton. I ruled that out. But it didn’t, uh, I don’t think it was as ironic you know back then because you know if you look back then uh considering what it was back then. Just a little straight street with uh, you know and who lived there years ago. Ah, that was not unusual because their were white people living there years years years ago.

Jackson: I’m a tell you something just about the impact of that book. Um, there there are people, older people in their ‘70s ‘80s, who’ll go “You know, I I hadn’t thought about Live Oak Street and I read that book,’ and their just get real big, ‘And you know, it made think about when the Davis Avenue was paved up to that point.

Horton: Uh, huh.

Jackson: And they then just go on and on and their eyes roll back and get this look like the book took them somewhere they hadn’t been in awhile. You know, it’s really, it’s it’s really interesting because I believe people of Mobile, black folks in Mobile like to tell the story. It could be very guarded though.

Horton: Yeah. Uh, huh.

Jackson: Was that your experience when you were collecting these?

Horton: What you mean guarded?

Jackson: Guarded. They don’t necessarily wanna just open up.

Horton: It it depends on who their talking to. Um, alots of times if they feel comfortable with you. I I didn’t I did not have, you know, that problem because sometimes when I’m interviewing ‘em and if it’s something that they wanna say. They’ll say, “Uh, now cut the tape recorder off.” You know, they’ll say, “Now, now cause I don’t want I don’t nobody to know ‘bout this.” Because there’re a lot of things that. And I’ll tell you this, because you know this, cause the person that, you know cause usually if the person that’s told you that’s dead. You know, I guess it wouldn’t really matter now. But, the thing that I found that was interesting um, like I have a friend that’s… Well she she died maybe 2 years ago. She’s a white lady and she’ll she’ll tell you ‘bout anything, she’ll tell you her feelings about anything or anything like that. And I compared her experiences with some of the older black women. And I said um, now this is what this is what and older person told me happened. Uh, they said that it was a lot of uh back then in order to make ends meet white people white men in Mobile would have a black women. And the way they and I said well how was that so. And they told me this cause I I wasn’t aware of this and she said they said if it wasn’t see the white man had a better job and they furnished this black women with a nice home and gave her money and he told her I don’t want you to work. I want you, now this is the white man telling the black woman, “I don’t want you to work, I want you for me.” And I asked a white lady, I said, “Where you aware that this was?” They said, “Sure.” I say well what did your husband tell you, “They told us to be a lady and don’t worry about his personal…’

Jackson: Business.

Horton: …’business.” And I said, “Well, how did they get away with it?” He said, “What they would do was they would go to the battle house and check in.” And so if someone asked about his whereabouts, they would say, “Oh, he’s at.” “Well, I can prove I was at the battle house.” But that’s not really where he was, he was on the other side of town at night. And they and they put the white man put his children through college. They made sure they made that was that was number one priority that if he had a child by a black woman, he always put his child through college. That’s what they, that’s what they told me. And they said, um, there was a saying back then, that the um, how did how did she put it, well, they was laughing about it, I mean they, this is what they told me. Uh, they said that the uh, as for as the black women, uh, you know the white woman liked the black man because uh, they said that the white man makes love like a chicken, like a rooster. I said, “What you mean by he make love like a rooster?” They say he’s… You ever seen a rooster? You’re not familiar with chickens?

Jackson: No, I was raised in a city where they didn’t have no chickens. [They laugh]

Horton: Well… this this lady she was a old old. She said that the white woman says that the white man make love like a rooster. He’s quick. And a black man goes on and on. That’s what they…[she laughs]

Jackson: Now this woman told you this.

Horton: Yeah. Uh, huh. Yeah. An older I mean they told her this and they was just passing on you know what they knew.

Jackson: Because there I know that one of the things I’m interested in talking to you about is Mardi Gras. And I know that uh, Mobile was very similar to other towns on a cost with French history or Spanish or French history. And there were um, houses for the you know, the Bondevontes999 of the white family, the rich white family in particular. You know those houses down there next to the museum on Claiborne street where that it’s a it’s a place where the um, one of the Mystic societies has a home. It’s across the street from the Holiday Inn but on the back side of the museum sort of on Claiborne and on Church street is the lawyer’s office. But um, they say that that house used to be the house where all of the young white men kept their black concubines when they were before were married before they were had established uh, their, um identity of the business world, so…

Horton: Oh, is that the red light district? Was that…

Jackson: No, I don’t I don’t think so off of Claiborne, right there.

Horton: I’m familiar with that house, I wouldn’t doubt it but…

Jackson: This was a particular family. And they didn’t want the young men living in the house with everybody else because they were too wild.

Horton: Oh, I didn’t… I’m not familiar.

Jackson: And they were allowed to be too wild. But that’s kind of the the story. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. That’s just kind of the story. And it but it kind of matches up with what your saying. Because Mobile is really obsessive about whiteness, blackness, who’s white in your family, who’s black or did your people migrate from Hale County or were they Creoles in Mobile from Mount Vernon and all this mess and I think you alluded to it a little bit when you were talking about Cross Town versus Down the Bay, if I’m not mistaken. What do you think about, well that was a lot but, what do you think about all that? Uh, the…

Horton: How people feel about, um…

Jackson: Yeah, how people in the black community particularly so strictly identify neighborhood and even skin tone.

Horton: Yes, now I did notice that uh, just like my husband is a darker complexion than me and like he would say that he noticed that when we’re public like we’re in a restaurant that if it’s a white waitress the eye contact with me is not same. They are more focused on me than him. He said he noticed that too. That people are um, I don’t know it’s just something about, um. I don’t I I I don’t understand it but I do have a friend one of my very dear friends lives in Texas. She was saying that if I was a lil’ darker my husband wouldn’t chose me for a wife. She said it’s her belief that a dark skinned man will not is not really interested in a darker skinned woman. That’s now that’s just her opinion. And I said, well, and I asked my husband about it um, he said, um that’s not true, that’s not who I fell in love with. But say but yeah but look who you chose. You know, they look at, they look at that. But, I I just never have really paid attention to it. Because in my family my mother was a very light-skinned lady and my father is a dark-skinned man. And some of the children, I had one sister that was much darker than everyone else and she used to have a problem with that. You know, she used, ‘cause people say, “Oh, you the black sheep of the family.” She used to get very angry about that.

Jackson: I bet. But there seems that are a lot of, when we talk about black Mobile there seems to be a lot of ‘isms’ around those types of issues. And that are even still kinda prominent today. Um, and I wonder in your in the capacity of collecting your information for ‘The Avenue’ in particular, even the school book, maybe uh, did that, did that issue come up?

Horton: Um, about…

Jackson: Doing what black… Doing what black folks and um, color cast of these types of feelings or is it just an undiscussed thing of my…

Horton: Oh, no. They’ll discuss it. Yeah, it’s discussed all the time. Um, I don’t recall when I was writing. Um, when I was interviewing for ‘Avenue’ um, maybe just on one occasion people were saying, you know Dave Patton, they were saying that um he had a white secretary. They look at that like “Ooh, that’s a big thing.” But I asked Mr. Besteda was Mr… you know Mr. Besteda knew Dave Patton personally and…

Jackson: This is Samuel Besteda.

Horton: Uh huh, yes. I interviewed him um, you know, you know when he was living. These people were living when I interviewed, you know when I… Well they had to be living. But um, and I said, “Was Dave Patton’s secretary a white lady?” He said, “No, she was..” You know how some people can be so light, you’ll think they’re white. But she lived off Davis Avenue. I forgot, he told me her name and I got it on tape somewhere. But she was maybe a Creole or something like that. But I did not, they were they were really telling me about themselves and um… Like Mr. Besteda’s family worked for white people, too. And I asked him, “How did they feel, how did, did you ever go in…” Just like you asked me the question did I ever go to work with him. Mr. Besteda was born in 1902. And I was asking him did he go to work in one of those white homes with his mother. And he said uh, on one occasion. The Mossellander family, that’s a very prominent family here back then on Springhill Avenue and I said, “Was it alright for you being a little black boy to go in that house?” And he said what he did was he went to the back through the back door and his grandmother would say, uh, no his mother would say, “Now, Sam, you, you sit there you know at the kitchen table and just have a sit but don’t go through anything. But I do recall a gentleman in the “Melody Masters.” That’s a black group. You know you you you saw an Avenue book, “The Melody Masters”?

Jackson: Yeah.
Horton: And I asked them ‘cause I was interested in knowing when they went to these affairs um, because they are around black people and white people, too. When y’all went to, ‘cause these people were born in 19.. Mr. Lucious was born in 1904. Okay I remember okay. And this was in the ‘30s. I say did y’all, what was understood? They said, “When you perform, it’s understood you are not to dance with their women, you are not to...” They may offer you food or something like that. You are not to mingle, you can mingle in a certain you know in a certain way but you are not to dance with their women of nothing like that. So, but they they really didn’t talk about black and white ‘cause they their skin tones in these groups were varied. So, I don’t I don’t know um, I didn’t run into anybody that talked about, you know “We couldn’t socialize with them ‘cause their light-skinned and so… “ But they tell me that the slaves, some of the older people, that the grandparents told ‘em that the slaves used to get in fusses about.

Jackson: What do you mean?

Horton: They uh, like one lady said, that the slaves um, there were some slaves living off Davis Avenue years ago and they would have a argument about uh, who’s master got the finest carriage. You know, just little silly little things like that. But I don’t recall uh us, you know, in my interviewing them talking about um, you know, who was Creole. Oh, oh, oh, I know on one occasion one lady said that if you’re a… they didn’t wanna socialize, “I’m a postman,” I’m a schoolteacher,” somehting like that. They wouldn’t socialize with someone who wasn’t of that caliber. They did talk about how people did treat people who were not…

Jackson: In the same class.

Horton: Yeah, that happened quite… They did mention that. That um, you know, “I’m a postman.” Like one lady said, she told her lil’ girl, “Don’t worry baby, ah, he, he, he’s a he’s a postman and and he don’t wanna he don’t wanna have nothing to do with you. You know, now, now that he’s a postman, he don’t wanna have anything to do with you.

Jackson: And uh, ah, it’s seems to be a theme. We keep coming back to this thing about class. And very often like when we think about Civil Rights and everything we factor out inside the community difficulties and differences. And my grandmother calls it mess.

Horton: Yes, that’s what it is. It’s mess. I think it’s misunderstanding. But when you when you really get to talking to people ‘cause I was surprised too when I started doing “Avenue”. I was really surprised at um, you know, when I called Dr. Goode. I had no idea what type of person he was, I had no idea. In fact, I didn’t know any of these people. And I just picked up the phone and I thought he would be, and see that’s just my misunderstanding, I thought that he would be uppity or you know, something like that…

Jackson: Not accessible to you.

Horton: Yes, but I was really surprised. You know, he said, “Come on in.” You know and he got had this rough, “Come on, Suga. Come on in.” I said, “Okay.” And I said, I said, “Can I ask you anything?” “Yeah, shoot.” We sitting at the table, you know, he moved the dishes and you know. I thought he would be more, just uppity. I just thought people would be uppity. But I guess it’s a matter of knowing people and just understanding them. And nobody I interviewed, they were nothing like I thought. I interviewed of the you know black-white Creole and you know, they were nothing like I thought. I just thought that they was gonna be sadity and uppity and nothing like that. And they let me ask ‘em anything I wanted to ask. Um, you know, just like they was telling me when they got married. Uh, I was able to ask them, “Well tell me ‘bout your wedding night.” You know.

Jackson: Right, right, right.

Horton: You know, I could just ask them anything. And they would you know answer the question. They just wasn’t how I thought.

Original Format



16 min 24 sec



National African American Archives & Museum, and Museum of Mobile, “Paulette Davis Horton Interview Clip,” Mobile Public Library Digital Collections, accessed November 15, 2019,

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