Interviewee: Betty Flint
Date: April 27, 2009
Location: Batesville, Mississippi
Description: Betty Flint worked as a foodservice director in Mississippi.
Jeffrey Boyce: I’m Jeffrey Boyce and it is April 27, 2009, and I am here in Batesville, Mississippi, with Betty Flint. Thank you, Betty for taking the time to share your story with me today. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you were born and grew up?
Betty Flint: I grew up in a little town close to Canton, Mississippi, called Farmhaven, and I was born in 1928 and I went to school there until I got to high school, and then I went to Canton High School and I graduated from there. And from Canton High School I went to MSCW and graduated from there with my Bachelor of Science in Home Economics and Nutrition, and came to Batesville to teach school and met my husband, Armistead Flint, and then later taught three years and stayed out seventeen years to raise four children. And they came to me one rainy day and said to me, well, they came to the store and asked my husband, “May we go and talk to your wife?”
JB: About taking over the school lunch program?
BF: About working – going to work for the school.
JB: Oh, OK.
BF: They had never had what you would call a supervisor here. There was a lady in the office who was the wife of the superintendent, but she didn’t do any of the things as far as setting up and as far as all of the requirements that later came with the program. She had none of that when I went in there and they sat me down in her office and I went to my filing cabinet I looked through and I found a few blank pages of this, and that, and the other and I found out later that she had only been there six months, but she had not done any of the purchasing and she had not really visited any of the schools, and knew really nothing about it. She had a title in other words.
JB: Well before we get to your career tell me about the school and the town that you were from. What was the name of the town that you were from?
JB: Farmhaven. Well, was there a lunch program there?
BF: Yes. They had one.
JB: So you participated in school lunch in elementary?
BF: I ate. [Laughter] Primarily they gave commodities of a sort there, and one thing they gave a lot of was grapefruit.
BF: And you know how people feel about grapefruit; primarily children don’t like it. It was primarily run by mothers and they had one lady who – you might call her the manager of the cafeteria. And there were about four hundred children there.
JB: What were some of your favorite menu items?
BF: Well, of course you know that you always called it a soup kitchen and everybody had soup. And even back in those days they gave yellow cornmeal and nobody liked yellow cornmeal. I guess that you have heard that before.
JB: Really? Actually I haven’t heard that before.
BF: Well you know, it depends. Right now, we have people who probably back then if they had white cornmeal they were satisfied and now they are going out hunting yellow cornmeal and it is hard to find.
JB: Yes ma’am. Everybody’s getting back to whole grain.
BF: But primarily they gave a lot of apples, they gave fruit primarily, and I think that yellow cornmeal and a few other items, maybe butter, I’m not sure. But anyway, I carried my lunch a lot but there were days that I would eat in the cafeteria. And like I said, there were about four hundred students, 1-12 in that school.
JB: So then you went on to Canton High School you said?
BF: I graduated from Canton High School.
JB: Was there a lunch program there?
BF: They had one and you could go in there and everyone could eat for twenty-five cents. But there was a lady across the street that did lunches. And if you got your name on the list quick enough you could go to this lady’s house. And she had about four tables in a humongous old house with a dining room and she served family-style meals. We sat down and we had a hostess and the eight girls at the table. If we had a bowl of butter beans then the butter beans rotated around just like in family-style and you passed the cornbread and everything. You weren’t served through a line. That’s where I primarily ate my last two years.
JB: Did she just feed students or was it open to the public?
BF: No, it was primarily you would get your name on and if you knew the right people you could get your name on the list. And I happened to have a real good friend who said, “I’ll see what I can do,” and somebody else was about to drop out so I got the place. So that is primarily where I ate my junior and senior year.
JB: So then you went on to the W you said?
BF: I went on to the W. There were seven girls out of my graduating class that went to the W. So we had a real good time because we knew everybody. And my freshman year I roomed with triplets. I am not sure how familiar you are with Mississippi?
BF: The Riddells of Canton?
JB: No ma’am, I don’t believe so.
BF: Back in those days they had a lot of different enterprises so the name is really familiar; and they had triplets.
JB: Triplet daughters?
BF: Yes. And so that year we were going to the W and one of the triplets decided that she was going to get married and she did so she didn’t go to the W. And I was to room with a girl from Indianola and we had been corresponding and meeting one another but when they asked me to come live with them I said ok, I would. We lived in Calloway Hall at MSCW in Columbus. One of the roommates was a commercial major of one kind or another; I think maybe the other had a Bacteriology degree. They both are around and they’re still good friends. And when time came for us to graduate, people came to the W to interview, principals did. There were several people that came and I interviewed and I had a couple of job offers and one of them was Horne Lake, believe it or not. I went on and told him yes, I would come up there to see him, and he acted like he was very interested in me and I said, “Well, I can’t come unless my dad comes with me and he says I can take the job.” And I interviewed with a gas company out of Memphis, and I could have gone to Memphis. Mrs. King from the State Department of Education walked into the post office that same morning that I was to go for these places and I don’t remember where we were going to go first. She said, “Betty, the principal from Batesville, Mississippi, was in the office this morning and he’s got a brand new school” – you passed the building on the way up here; its two stories –
JB: Yes ma’am, it’s a pretty old building.
BF: Well anyway, they had never had Home Ec here and so she said, “I thought about you.” She said, “Why don’t you go see him?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve got a job.” My dad, he didn’t like the idea of me being in Memphis, and so we came by here. And strangely enough he took me right off. He said, “How long will it take for you to get here?” And I said, “About three hours, I think” because I was coming from Columbus, so about three hours. And I did. I came over here and talked to him and he said to me, “Well, I’m going to tell you like this, I think you can have the job if it was left up to me,” but says, ” the board meets on Tuesday night and you’ll have to be approved by the board.” I said, “Well that’s ok.” And I went on to the Horne Lake, and I went on to the other thing. And my dad kept saying, “I like that little town of Batesville.” When I came into Batesville it looked like something out of the Wild West. All the buildings were wooden buildings, two framed, Flint’s Hardware being one of them. In fact, it made an L around the square, and everything in there was a two-story building. A lot of those upstairs were either beauty parlors or law offices or that type thing. But anyway, we went on back home and I told him, I said, “Well, let me think about it,” and he said, “Well, I’m going to call you Tuesday night.” And meanwhile my daddy had talked me into this town. So anyway he said, “I like the little town. It’s on a railroad track, and the bus comes by here to Jackson five times a day.” So those were advantages. Back in those days not everybody had a car.
JB: So could you take a passenger train?
BF: Yes. And walk two blocks home after I got off the train. Wait, that was the bus, but with the train they were always meeting me there because that was down in Canton. And back at that time it didn’t look like it looks now. I wouldn’t have been afraid to walk then, but now I wouldn’t walk it. But anyhow, I took the job here.
JB: And you say that you taught first? How many years?
BF: Three years. I had one hundred and thirty-five girls. They had never had Home Ec, and it was grades 9-12, mixed ages. And of course that was kind of a difficult situation because four years difference in a girl’s age makes a difference in how they think and what they can do and what they can’t do. But anyway, I took it and I finally tamed them and I had a real good year except you know when new teachers come and the old ones there, they try to put all of the stuff on the new teachers. They gave me the Junior/Senior Banquet that year, which I had never had any experience in – about two hundred people. But we set the banquet up and had a fine banquet. Then this lady that was supposed to be my co-worker, she had two young daughters and she said, “Well Betty, I’ll help everything else get through if you will do the Junior Play.” So I did the play. I had never done a play, but it was fun. Just the other day I went to a DAR program up at Senatobia, and there were two of the girls that had been in my first play. They were still living and it was kind of fun to talk to them about old times. And after three years I quit and started having my family.
JB: Now how many children did you have?
BF: I had four. And my baby was four and I had signed her up starting at Christmastime to go to Kindergarten. Well this happened at Christmastime. The principal wanted me to start at the beginning of the year because we were going to integrate in 1970 totally. We had token integration in ’69. I think we had maybe like six children.
JB: So you went into child nutrition just at integration then. That must have been an interesting time.
BF: Well, everything was different. We had had meetings on top of meetings. We had parents who would not under any circumstances send their children to black schools. We had, it was called Patton Lane. They had sixty-seven classrooms. They had a big cafeteria, and a fine manager in that cafeteria, and I think that there was one white girl in that whole school. Her husband was in law school at Ole Miss and that is the reason she was over there. She had a room right across from the cafeteria. Well the superintendent took me down there and you know, I ask a lot of questions and still do. And I said, “Now you know, I’m going in here and they don’t know me from Adam.” And I said, “What is going to be my approach?” And he said, “You just do what you want to do.” And I said, “I am going to treat them just like I’d like to be treated.” And from that point on that was my philosophy. And I got along fine with them. There were, like I said, sixty-seven classrooms. They fed over a thousand in that one cafeteria. And then he takes me to a little town below here, eight miles below, Pope. They fed forty-five hundred.
JB: Oh, so you were the supervisor for over more than one town?
BF: Well, I wouldn’t call Pope exactly a town, [Laughter] but it was a school and a very good school and it was 1-12 at that particular time. And we had Batesville Elementary School that you passed on the way up here. They had, they even used that red brick building and the little low building and they fed around a thousand. And the high school was that yellow two-story brick building. And they fed in the neighborhood from six to eight hundred there. They had another little low brick building and they had a walkway and that is where the sixth grade was. To make a long story short, these people met and had their meetings and they formed their own private school. It was a little school – I would say it was halfway between Marks and Batesville. It was called Lake Carrier and I would say that out of the total school population, maybe you had out of that group you had about four hundred people to join the private school. And of course they did their own thing. My children at that time – I had one child that was in the tenth grade. None of her close friends left. I think two of her friends left and went to Lake Carrier. And Edwin’s, maybe five or six of his – boys – went. And then Barry who was in the sixth grade, I think he had one or two of his that left and went. And my youngest had just started kindergarten and there was a kindergarten across over in the second block where she could walk to kindergarten. They had a nice kindergarten over there. So that’s how we first integrated. But the thing that happened that whole summer which was the summer of ’70-’71 maybe, we had the total task – the board met and they tried to decide how we could save the school. And as you can see we have saved the school where so many Delta schools have fallen. But they decided to close Patton Lane with sixty-seven classrooms. And the other black school was between here and Clarksdale and the building still stands there. You can still see it but it’s deteriorated. But anyway, they closed that school to clean it up and reopen it as our seventh and eighth grade. So what really happened – they went around and every nook, every cranny that they could jam a body in they jammed a body in. The old red brick building up here, well they took the auditorium, they made four rooms out of that. It had little dressing rooms on the side; they made little special education classes on the sides of that. They took the basements and used them for various and sundry things. Of course they still had to have the facilities for a bathroom, but even they split some of those little corners and redid them and put some special classes in there. They didn’t even do away with the music. They even had it. And then they moved in a series of trailers. They took the gym and they made four rooms out of the gym floor. One thing they did, they fed, they had a kitchen up on the stage of that old gym and you could march through there and get your plate and you could go sit up on the bleachers and eat your lunch. Along the girls’ dressing rooms – we also had school nurses – and they put the school nurses down there in the girls’ dressing rooms. And like I said they did the gym, I don’t know how many rooms they made out of that and then we go over to the yellow brick building and we take the auditorium and we make four more classrooms. We take the stage and we make another classroom.
JB: Was there a cafeteria there also?
BF: That yellow brick building fed all of those people.
JB: So how many different cafeterias were you over?
BF: I was over seven all total.
JB: And how many people were you feeding?
BF: Ah, let’s see, over five thousand.
JB: Wow. Did you also have a breakfast program at that time?
BF: No. That was later on. That was very much later on. I would say that that was fifteen years down the road.
JB: Oh OK. So that was in the mid-eighties then before you got a breakfast program?
JB: How did that Home Ec degree prepare you for your job, or did it?
BF: It did to some degree because there was a lot of nutrition in it and it helped me meet requirements and helped me to do some of the actual figuring. Of course mainly where I learned what I did I went to Ole Miss for two weeks –
JB: For summer training?
BF: Yes. Like the purchasing, that came under one thing. Now when you go to purchase for that many folks and you’ve never done any of it, of course you had to solve problems. They gave you the printed material that you studied and all, and worked things out. And they had a big book that had recipes that were primarily cut out for a hundred, and you purchased for that accordingly.
JB: So you multiplied those by fifty? [Laughter]
BF: But anyway, I did plan the meals.
JB: Do you remember what department the Ole Miss training was through or who taught it?
BF: Well, one of the ladies is still over there, and one of the streets is named after her.
JB: Dr. Janette Phillips?
BF: She was in it and Dr. Tansell.
BF: Tansell is old, old, old. She evaluated me one time, Dr. Tansell.
JB: Oh, really?
BF: Yes. But anyway, I went to Ole Miss a couple of times, maybe three times. And I went to Southern for a week or maybe even ten day, something like that.
JB: For summer workshops there?
BF: Yes, for summer workshops. And that’s where you learned all of that basic stuff and where they told you that you couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that and if you did you would be responsible for everything. And of course, a lot of it was so much book work and so much detail. Like I’m holding this card [holding up a card in her hand] and we had cards this big and USDA food was not shipped to you very nice. It came in on the train. You had people that you hired, mostly we used janitorial services and trucks, would go bring it in. We had people standing there with a card. This cafeteria got so many cases of green beans, and it was prorated out according to the number of students that were fed. I set up a card catalogue for everything and when anything was removed they put their name by it, how many cases were removed; nothing got by very much that I didn’t know about. Even a peanut butter missing, I found out about it. A lady came up here from Jackson and we had a gallon of beans missing and I never heard such carrying over about a gallon of beans. And then I’d say to them, “I’m going to tell y’all something ladies. If we’re going to fight over this” – I said, “Let’s save our time” – me and my mouth – “We need other things worse than we need to hunt that gallon of beans.” I said, “If I have to I’ll go down on the square and buy some gallons of beans because we can’t stay here all day on account of a gallon of beans!” But anyway, that kind of stuff – we were highly responsible. But when I would walk into the black cafeteria down there I gained their respect. I would be the only white lady in there. But it so happened that the principal would see me coming and he would get up and walk to the door and walk with me through the halls. I wasn’t frightened. I was forty years old, and I don’t know why I took the job but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
JB: How many years did you work?
JB: What was a typical day like when you started out?
BF: Well, I would say, “Well, I got this accomplished today. I felt like I did a little something that was worthwhile, but I’ve got so much yet to do and so much to learn.” And, “Can I do this? If I can’t God will show me the way.
JB: That is a good, positive attitude.
BF: And that’s because really and truly I felt like that, I guess I was a little bit jealous because there were two or three other people who wanted my job and they were probably better qualified than me. Because there was a lady here who worked for, and I am not calling names because you would probably know her. She still exist, but she worked for the state of Mississippi and there were four or five people wanting the job and I guess in my own selfish way I’m like this. “She wants this job but she ain’t gonna get it. I can do it!”
JB: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
BF: Mostly personnel, and that didn’t last too much. I had some managers that had been there as long as fifteen or twenty years. And I had known them personally. And I felt like they thought, “Well, who is that little nincompoop coming in here telling me what to do?” And I walked up to one of them and said, “What are we going to do today?” and she said, “I don’t know, that is up to you,” and I said, “Let’s do it together,” and that’s the way we worked. And I said, “Have you got some suggestions?” I would always offer her a chance to let me know how she thought and what she thought would work better. I said, “All things are not the same, all personalities are not the same.” The challenges I had was everybody thought they could take their supper home with them. No ma’am, you couldn’t do that. Somebody would bring their greens up there for somebody to wash [Laughter]. I could tell you a lot of funny things.
JB: Well, tell us some of those.
BF: I would walk in and I would smell greens and I’d say, “What’s that cooking?” “Well, they’re just getting my greens ready. My husband likes greens.” I said, “Everybody else’s husband likes greens.” I said, “We can’t do that.” Or somebody else would be, “You know, we’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner. They’re doing my sweet potatoes for me.” and I would say, “We can’t do that. You put those little sweet potatoes in there and give those kids a little extra more sweet potato.” Isn’t that crazy? [Laughter] But that’s the fun part of it. And you know I’d just kind of laughed along with them and the first thing I knew they were laughing along with me. Now, I had managers who would only buy but from this company or that company, but when I had to do the purchasing, we would measure and do according to the rules that were in that book that they gave us. We did not buy because we like Sam Jr. or Timbuktu, or if you were friendly to us and all of that. We bought for quality and to save money. And when I left there, everything was in good shape. It was not A1, but we were the first out of all of the schools to get air conditioning. I air conditioned every cafeteria. I bought new tables. They had the little bitty chairs that you slide in and out. We got the fold up tables. I got those, and for the high school we used chairs and tables.
JB: What were some of the biggest changes that you saw over the years in child nutrition? Did you cook a lot from scratch when you first started?
BF: Oh very much, very much. Everything is packaged now. You had to use that. What were you going to do with it? You had to do something with it. You could not throw it in the garbage.
JB: Did you bake bread?
BF: Sure! Cornbread muffins! The best you ever saw, except for yellow meal. They did not like yellow meal. We made biscuits. We even made rolls. Have you ever eaten batter rolls?
JB: No ma’am.
BF: You haven’t had a good roll. We battered the rolls and we put them in the muffin tins, and they came out fluffy and light. Oh, they still talk about it today. “We haven’t had any rolls like that.” Of course we did the other kind too where they rolled them out. We had caboodles of flour running out our ears. We had that cornmeal and butter. We used LOTS of butter. Of course now that would be a no no, but we had the best tasting food of anybody. We used real butter.
JB: Was that a USDA commodity?
BF: That was a USDA commodity. They supplemented the farmer and they kept the farmers up with USDA butter.
JB: Any more memorable stories or anything else you’d like to share?
BF: There’s so much, really and truly, and so many of them that have passed on.
JB: Well thanks so much for taking your time to share your stories with me.