Bettye B. Gillespie
Interviewed by Forrest C. Crawford
22 January 2014
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Bettye B. Gillespie
Forrest C. Crawford
22 January 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
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The New Zion Community Advocates worked with community members age 80 years and older to have
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Gillespie, Bettye B., an oral history by
Forrest C. Crawford, 22 January 2014, WSU
Stewart Library Oral History Program,
Special Collections, Stewart Library, Weber
State University, Ogden, UT.
Bettye Gillespie, photo taken at
her home on January 22, 2014
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Bettye B. Gillespie
conducted on January 22, 2014 by Forrest C. Crawford.
FC: What we’re doing, Bettye, is this. I’ve got a series of questions that I’ll go through.
Some of them will be follow-up questions. Feel comfortable to respond to these
questions on whatever level you want. The whole objective is not just to capture all of
your NAACP activist work, but to really catch a broader, deeper picture of who you are,
your work and legacy in the community. So, that’s my goal and it might take a little
more than an hour. What we’re trying to do is work through these questions, some of
which might overlap a little, but we’ll see how it goes. The point is that you answer
whatever you feel comfortable answering.
FC: I think we’re ready to get going – more on your life. The good thing about it, Bettye, is
that in the past, Weber State has not had these kinds of histories on the local African
American community members and we’re really pushing to make sure we have some of
that kind of history reflected in our Special Collections. I think I might have mentioned
to you that we did Joe McQueen. Funny, he had different experiences than you relative
to 25th Street. But then he was a jazz saxophone player. He doesn’t mind telling you
that he’s 94 years old.
BG: I remember Joe McQueen. I haven’t seen him for years, but I’ve seen articles about
him in the newspaper. As I recall the path of lower 25th Street ended (and still does) as
it intercepted Wall Avenue on approach to Ogden’s Union Station. The Davis Hotel and
Restaurant near the corner of 25th Street and Wall Avenue was owned by a gracious,
widowed, “Negro” woman. I believe Mrs. Davis operated both of those facilities. As a
child, I had no reason, nor was allowed to go anywhere on lower 25th Street. Billy
Weakley, husband of Annabelle Weakley, owned the Porters and Waiters Club on lower
25th Street which was primarily patronized by the Black employees of the Union Pacific
Railroad. My family’s home was on Lincoln Avenue near 28th Street across the street
from the St. Anne’s Center.
FC: O.K. Let’s get started. My name is Dr. Forrest Crawford. I’m a professor at Weber
State University and I’m here on this day, January 22, 2014 in the home of Bettye
Gillespie to do an oral interview for the purpose of preserving for posterity the life and
legacy of Bettye Gillespie. This is part of a variety of ongoing projects where Weber
State University for many years has attempted to preserve the history of many of its
patriarchs and matriarchs, and we want to make sure that Weber State does a good job
of not only selecting those voices, but also making sure that those voices are
representative of our diverse community, including the African American community. To
that end, I am here to try to explore some questions with Bettye, and as a result, we will
try to get a much wider and deeper picture of who she is, the work she has done, and
the life she lives. And I might also say as a sideline, that Bettye’s husband, Jim, who is
no longer living, was president of the Ogden Branch of the NAACP for 33 years.
FC: Those two individuals were my personal mentors when I came to this community as a
student-transfer from Oklahoma to play football at Weber State. So, they were two of
the first people I met when I arrived in Utah. So, it’s really an honor for me to be here
and it’s almost like a full circle kind of experience for me and, I’m very excited about it
Thank you, Bettye, for giving us the privilege of filming you and, in particular, allowing
me to explore these questions with you.
FC: The first question is “Tell me you name.” (I already know your name). What are you
doing these days, what are you doing now?
BG: Well, I can’t say I’m doing a lot. I have done some work at Weber State and the Black
Scholars United gave me a nice award and scarf; and I spoke on the occasion of a
memorial honoring the life and times of Rosa Parks. I also received an award from the
Weber State Alumni Association for community service. I remember when Weber State
moved from 25th Street to the campus where it is now located. There were just a few
buildings. The ones I remember were the Union Building and the Browning Center and
FC: This is interesting. You earned a B.A. from the University of Utah in Political Science,
and M.A. degree in Human Resource Management and received a Merit of Honor
award from the Alumni Association from the University of Utah. You served two terms
on the University of Utah, Board of Trustees. Since a lot of your work and legacy have
been at the University of Utah, you have also been engaged in a number of activities in
the Ogden area. So, the question I have is what important lessons have you learned in
life to date, and if you had 25 youths sitting in front of you, what couple of things would
you say are most important that they should know about.
BG: My mother was from Dallas, TX and my father was from Ft. Worth, TX. When they
married, they moved to Ft. Worth where the Berliner family lived. Berliner is my maiden
name. A friend of my Dad’s, who lived in Ogden, while visiting Ft. Worth told my Dad of
the many jobs available out here, how pretty the mountains were, how nice the people
were and talked him into moving out here. I had heard of Utah, but I had never heard of
Ogden and thought we were moving to Oregon.
The first school I went to was Central Jr. High. I was 13 years old. As I recall,
there were only two Black boys and I was the only Black girl attending Central at that
time. I remember going to a little store across the street from Central - 25th and Monroe.
The store owner and the two Black boys had some kind of incident and the store owner
would not serve me and I could not understand why. I immediately went to the school
principal and told him that the owner would not serve me because of some problems
he’d had with the two Black boys.
My principal, an imposing man, grabbed me by the arm, took me over to the
store and asked “Why is it that you’re not serving her because of something somebody
else did?” The man explained what it was that the boys had done. The principal said
that he would not allow any of the Central kids to shop at that store. Since that store
sold candy, ice cream and that sort of thing he said, “Oh, no, no, no, I’ll serve her, I’ll
serve her.” As you can see I am little, always have been. He served me. This was one
of the first things that happened to me after we moved from Texas. I didn’t expect it.
That fall, I went to Ogden High School, still only 13 years old. I turned 14 that
December. One of the first things I learned was to “Hang in there.” My friends were the
Kinseys, Velma and Shirley. Did you know the Kinseys?
FC: I remember the name.
BG: Ogden High School has a large population and I believe there were about nine Black
kids in attendance, five girls and four boys. I was in Ogden High’s most prominent class
at that time. My classmates became doctors, lawyers, dentists, business owners,
college professors, and one congressman. Since I was only 15 years old, I was the
youngest graduate at that time – that was my “Claim to Fame.”
FC: Do you have an opportunity to go to any of the class reunions and that kind of thing?
BG: Before my husband died, we went to all the class reunions. We quit going after my
husband became ill.
FC: That’s interesting. Bettye, when you think of Ogden and all the time you’ve lived here,
how has Ogden changed over the years? What are some of the things that stand out in
your mind that convince you that Ogden is really evolving into a different place now?
Share with us how Ogden has changed over the years.
BG: When Marshall White was alive, I was a part of the Youth NAACP. We had many
problems. Blacks were not allowed to swim in Ogden’s public parks swimming pools.
Some restaurants would not serve Blacks, nor would lunch counters, places of
entertainment and some hotels. We went to the Ogden City Council meeting about
Lorin Farr Park’s swimming pool and some council members denied discrimination. As
a result, I went home to get my swimming suit. NAACP members said I could not go
out there by myself. They assigned Marion Carter and Frank Satterwhite to go with me.
We were all denied. The press became involved and the incident appeared in the
newspaper. Guess who said we could come and swim in their swimming pool? Weber
FC: I remember reading about that.
BG: Weber State was still on 25th Street.
FC: Interesting. Beautiful. You know, as you were talking about that, I remembered that in
a previous interview you did with Weber State you had a chance to talk a little about the
time when you and Jim moved into your home in Riverdale and there were some
incidents there. Can you speak briefly on that? It had something to with someone who
had thrown tar on your home.
BG: We bought a home in the upper part of Riverdale, on the ledge, just a block or so away
from Washington Terrace. We were just driving around and I saw a house for sale that I
liked. We bought the home. Before we moved in, someone threw a bucket of tar
through a large window. It caused quite a stir. The FBI, local law enforcement officers,
the news media, became involved. Marshall White, President of the Ogden NAACP,
was still living. My husband was the First Vice President. Since we had not moved in,
we did not lose anything. But some of the neighbors decided to clean up the glass from
the broken window and the tar. An elderly woman brought her grandson over, a
Hispanic family from nearby Washington Terrace came. The man was a carpenter and
he knew how to do a number of things. He did whatever needed to be done. The
Laymen’s League from Ogden’s Congregational Church came out and encircled the
block, joined by the Washington Terrace Methodist Church and the Young Democrats.
Ogden’s Episcopal Church did not have a priest at that time, but the Vicar came. A
number of other individuals came, including one who sat on our porch with a rifle.
We had two small children. The Stake President of the area’s Mormon wards
assigned his two big sons to “look out for the little Gillespie girls.” Our house was on a
corner with a very large yard and lots of playground equipment. We became
everybody’s best friend. Guess who moved across the street from us?
FC: The Rod Julander Family.
BG: Rod was a Political Science professor at Weber State. I was a Political Science student
at the University of Utah. We became good friends and solved all the world’s problems
almost “every day.”
FC: As you became more and more familiar with the greater Ogden area, who were the
most outstanding characters of that time? Were there any large personalities that stood
out in the community?
BG: Marshall White. He was an Ogden Police Officer. He may have been the only Black
policeman in the state of Utah. It was not long after we moved into Riverdale, Marshall
White was shot and killed in the line of duty. My husband, Jim, became president of the
Ogden Branch of NAACP.
FC: Were there leaders among the non-minority who often times found themselves in
collaboration and partnership with the minority community?
BG: Yes. One of our lawyers was Attorney Ira, who was our consultant. Jim Kirkham was
with us for 40 years and passed away just a few months ago.
FC: What was life like for you? I know we talked about it a little bit, but did you feel like you
had a fulfilling childhood? Did you have a nickname?
BG: I was an only child. I had one white and one Japanese best friend in addition to the
Kinseys, and lots of boyfriends. My mother was very protective and strict and she didn’t
know about my boyfriends. My other best friends were Hazel Johnson McEwen, who
passed away last year and Ruby Lewis Coppadge who lives in Dover, DE. I did not
have a nickname. In high school, I told my gym teacher that I wanted to be in the Pep
Club and since I was qualified, I got in.
There was a group of boys, all of whom wore green T-shirts who stood around in
the hall, meddled and made snide remarks to me. One of them was running for student
body president, 14 years old and five feet tall. I stood before my very large Pep Club
and gave a speech on behalf of another boy who was a much better candidate, who not
only won, but also became a U.S. Congressman.
The green shirt boys always hung out in the hall not too far from the girl’s
restroom. My gym teacher reported it to the principal. He put a stop to it. Would you
believe that one of the boys ended up teaching law in one of Utah’s most prestigious
Law Schools? Whenever we went to a class reunion, he would always immediately run
up to my husband and say “Jim, please don’t let Bettye tell anyone I belonged to that
green shirt gang in high school.” We ended up being friends.
FC: Life places all kinds of twists and turns, it’s interesting. When and how did you meet
BG: Well, it was quite a while. On “Game Day”, we wore our orange and black uniforms.
They were so cute. At that time, I had long hair. Jimmy and his military group did not
know many people here. So they would attend Ogden High’s basketball and football
games. He saw me and wanted to know who the little girl with the long hair and the big
eyes was. One of the students who knew me told him to “forget about it.” “Her mother
is not going to let her go anywhere with you. Her mother is really strict.” After I
graduated from high school, I went to Washington, D.C. where my Dad’s only sister
lived. I attended Howard University for two years. My father was ill and I came home
from time to time. I can’t remember exactly when I met Jimmy, but as I recall long-time
residents, Ray and Wilma Freeman introduced him to me.
FC: You had three beautiful children, now all college graduates. They were actively
involved in the community. They have come to be leaders in their own right and my
suspicion is that this kind of shaping and influence really had an impact on their lives.
The question that I have is, when you think about it in retrospect, all of them are now
grown and out. How has being a parent changed you as an individual? Did it change
you at all?
BG: Well, it certainly influenced me. As with most mothers, I was involved in many things. I
was secretary of the PTA, attended all kinds of activities and served on many
committees. Our oldest daughter, Shauna, went to Sacred Heart Academy because she
had no one to play with. She was only about four years old, but we told the nuns how
smart she was. She knew her address and telephone number and would talk to
anybody. (True) They let her in. When we took her over there, she immediately
marched into the Priest’s dining area to help him eat his breakfast. Everywhere she
went, she took over.
FC: It holds true today, huh?
BG: Shauna went to kindergarten and first grade in the Ogden School District. We
discovered that her first grade teacher, Mrs. Piper, was also her pediatrician’s first grade
When we moved to Riverdale, we had only two children, Shauna and Deon.
Kendall arrived two years later. They attended school in the Weber County School
District. They were well behaved, honor roll students with warm personalities and far
too many friends. They participated in both the school choir and orchestra – Shauna,
soprano and first violin, Deon – alto and viola. Kendall was every teacher’s dream –
honor roll, sweet personality, too many friends, Pep Club and toyed with the clarinet and
ukulele. Teachers sent her post cards from their vacation sites. For their good grades
and behavior, they were rewarded with a little black Scottish terrier, “Raven”, who was a
member of our family for 14 years.
Shauna graduated from the University of Utah in three years and taught Head
Start. She is currently a Conservator Investigator for the California Superior Court in
San Francisco, CA. To our surprise, Deon received scholarship offers from MIT and
Georgia Tech (high math scores). She chose to go the University of Utah, majored in
Broadcast Journalism, worked for KTVX and KSL for a short period of time and KUSA in
Denver, CO. She is currently a writer for the Daniels College of Business at the
University of Denver.
After graduation, Kendall decided to go to Weber State University where she
majored in Fashion Merchandising. She worked in the Ogden City Mall until she moved
to California. She is currently a beauty consultant, promoter and distributor for Mary
Since their dad was still president of the NAACP, Ogden Branch, we took them to
both Regional and National NAACP conventions. Deon and Shauna served on the
National NAACP Youth Board and had an opportunity to attend meetings in New York
City, NY. They both rode the subway despite my counsel and to my dismay.
FC: I think it’s that fighting spirit that really, as a result of the way that you raised them was
really a part of their upbringing, as they were growing up and in a lot of ways they
couldn’t help but to be the type of people that they are today, you know, so and I think
that’s wonderful and really a tribute to, you know, the very solid grounding that you gave
them as parents. What about you? Let’s see. You worked as Director of Equal
Employment Opportunity at Hill Air Force Base. Is that right?
FC: For how long?
BG: Twenty years.
FC: For twenty years? For that long?
BG: Yes. When the air force did some realignments, I received a collateral job of staffing
for selective organizations. Not to worry, I received an additional staff of people who
were already organized and trained. I remained the only Equal Opportunity Officer at
Hill Air Force Base and the only woman Equal Opportunity Officer in the Air Force
Logistic Command, our headquarters.
The air force bases in our Command were located at Oklahoma City, OK; San
Antonio, TX; Macon, GA; Sacramento, CA and San Bernardino, CA. We lost San
Bernardino and some of our smaller bases to reorganizations.
FC: I can recall in my early involvement in the NAACP, the presence of a lot of military men
and women who were members of the NAACP here. I think it was because of the link
between EEO, Hill Air Force Base and the Ogden Branch of NAACP and how Jim and
others outreached to military personnel to become a part of the Ogden community and
so it makes sense to me now as I look at the bigger picture. It’s wonderful that you and
Jim were right in the middle of all that and helped make the NAACP the organization it
BG: My husband was the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer at the Defense Depot
FC: Defense Depot, I remember that.
BG: They had 1,400 civilians at that installation and we have 16,000 at Hill. His major job,
his EEO job and his collateral job as Blood Drive Coordinator for the American Red
Cross kept him plenty busy.
FC: Wow! That’s amazing.
BG: The Social Action Office and The Judge Advocate Office had the responsibility of
assuring equality among military personnel. Occasionally, a military wife would come to
FC: When you think about your life, when you think about your legacy, what would you say
was the proudest of your life?
BG: There were so many proud moments. When my children graduated from high school
and college. When my EEO Office was declared the most distinguished office in the
U.S. Air Force and many more - The Martin Luther King Commission, the University of
Utah-Board of Trustees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and many
FC: There was a woman’s organization you were involved, I am trying to remember the
BG: I was involved in many women’s organizations – Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, YCC
(formerly YWCA) and League of Women Voters. I don’t know where I got the energy
from, but I also taught Sunday school, third grade. I recently saw one of my third
graders who is now 6’4”.
I also served on the Utah Merit Council (Civil Service Board), the National
Endowment for the Humanities, Utah’s Comprehensive Health Board, the Federal
Executive Association, not all at the same time. I was president of the Ogden Alumnae
Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for two terms and Director of the Youth NAACP.
I also served one term as president of the Habitat for Humanity (local).
FC: Teacher, counselor, trainer, mother, oh, you name it, as you say, and you’ve kind of
done it all. It makes me think because over the years, you’ve had a significant number
of awards and accolades bestowed upon you. As you said earlier, Weber State just
acknowledged you with an award through its Alumni Association and there have been
many other awards. Would you care to share some of those awards that you have
received over the years?
BG: Yes, if I can remember. I received the YCC award, the Juneteenth Legacy of Freedom
Award, Utah State Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, Minority Bar association, Habitat for
Humanity, Delta Sigma Theta Women Make a Difference statue, NAACP Rosa Parks
Award, University of Utah Merit of Honor award and a Mother and Child Wall Plaque
constructed and presented by a talented co-worker.
FC: It’s truly amazing. As we conclude this, are there other thoughts you would like to
share? I recall that you were in Washington D.C. during the signing of the Civil Rights
Bill of 1964.
BG: We were at an NAACP Convention when an NAACP lawyer interrupted the session to
announce that the Civil Rights Bill had passed and been signed.
On a lighter note, the NAACP held a convention in Jackson, MS. George
Romney, Governor of Michigan and Mitt’s father was the only governor in the nation to
come. We knew him from his many visits here in Utah. As we approached the
Convention Center, his limousine pulled up. There were hugs, kisses and even a few
tears as he explained to the Detroit delegation, “These are my friends from Utah.”
My husband, Jimmy, was from Oktibbeha County, Starkville, MS. He was one of
14 children, five girls and nine boys. His youngest brother was killed in a one car
rollover in the only car in that town. Jimmy took us to the place where his family’s farm
was located. Their saw mill, sawdust, woodchips were still there. They also had a
country store – long gone and a small burial area. He said that there was no noise
pollution in that town and folks chopping wood could be heard miles away.
FC: That’s a great story, Bettye. I appreciate the time you have given me to interview you. I
think that your legacy clearly outlines that the importance of family, the importance of
faith, the importance of education and the importance of being involved in the
community and activism. But I also think that it’s a legacy of perseverance and having
dignity throughout that perseverance and I think that’s why you are a living legacy
today. It is that you are a testament, really, to that living legacy, and I’m just hoping that
I can shape my life to be at least a little bit the way that you’ve shaped yours.
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