Oral History: Bettie Hooks


Oral History; Work/Business; school; Mt. Zion


Hooks, Bettie



Sarah Harbin


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Sound Recording-Nonmusical


TMB RCD 10.mp3
TMB RCD 10 Transcript.docx


Sarah Harbin


Bettie Hooks


Trinity M.B. Church, Florence Alabama


Florence African American Heritage Project
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Florence Alabama
Interviewee: Bettie Hooks
Interviewer: Sarah Harbin
S: My name is Sarah Harbin, and I will be interview Ms. Bettie Hooks for the Florence African American Heritage Project on September 17, 2017 at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Florence. Ok, Ms. Hooks would you like to start off by telling me about your parents?
B: Yes, my parents were Tom Williams and Laney Goodloe. She was married twice and from those two marriages came 11 children, 7 girls and 4 boys. And I’m the 3rd from the top, therefore I caught a lot the workload. The oldest being a boy, and the girl next to him was sick most of her young life, so I feel like I’m the oldest. Life was not easy during those times. We had to work in the fields. I had worked picking cotton, chopping cotton, gathering peanuts, potatoes, whatever the labor task was, I have had to be a part of that. Because we did that during the winter months when it was too cold to work in the fields, my parents had canned the food so therefore, that’s what we (ate). Even if you weren’t working in the fields, or if it was raining, (mom) would tell you, ‘get up and get your hand on something’ (laughs). So work ethics were really part of our culture, you didn’t just do nothing, you had to cut wood, bring in wood. Like I said, whatever it called for us to survive, we had to do it. We went to school, went to many schools. The first school we went to was Goodhope, a very small school. And after that we went to Mt. Zion, and that was not always a bus run, and you had to walk many miles and the thought of that now, I (realize) it had to be God, working on our behalf. And after Mt. Zion we moved on the Gunwaleford Road and (went to) Bethel Lauderdale was the school that we attended. Mrs. Ella Bell Rucks, she was the principal all those years.
S: What years were these?
B: Well I finished high school in ’58 so it was ’55 I think when I finished at Bethel Lauderdale.
S: Ok, so before our break you were telling me about when you were going to school, do you want to continue there?
B: I think the last school I was telling you about was Mt. Zion?
S: Yes ma’am.
B: And Mt. Zion was in the Rhodesville community out near Oakland, out the Waterloo Road. And then we moved to the Gunwaleford Road we went to Bethel Lauderdale where Ms. Ella Bell Rucks was the principal. And Ms. Hannah Hawkins and Frances Henry, they were all very good teachers but Mrs. Rucks, she was my mentor until the day she died. She was very interested in the students as a whole. You don’t really see this type of teacher, at least I haven’t seen this type of teacher in a long time. We worked in the field when the weather was fair, and when the weather was bad and we got a chance to go to school, she would make sure that you were caught up to your level of education before you moved on, whereas the state nowadays requires that you cover a certain amount of material, whether the students really get it or not, you have to go through that process. And that is not always a good thing, because so many kids get left behind and fall through the cracks. And I will always love her for that. And also during that time, the schools were very small, and most of the time there were three grades per room. And the students really had the chance to learn because you couldn’t cut up in the classroom, you still had to pay attention. And by the time you made it to the next grade level, you were ready for it because you had already digested what was going on at that time, and that element made it good for the students. In the county, when you finished 9th grade you either had to quit school or transfer by bus in the city. And I was transferred by bus to Burrell Slater School from 10th through 12th grade. And I graduated in 1958, and thank God for Ella Bell Rucks, I was basically an honors student, so that was good. And also it was mandatory that you had P.E. classes, I’ve heard that some schools you don’t really have to have P.E. but we had to play ball and all of that stuff so when I came to the city I played basketball, softball, and ran track also. I thank God for my mom and that she put the time in so when I made it to Burrell she did not let me stay out of school to work in the fields, but as soon as I got off the bus I changed clothes and went out in the fields and did what I needed to do. And with 7 girls in the family, and my mom, there were 8 people. My mom’s hair was way, way down her back (laughs). We lived also in a community where there were a lot of people and I was able to really fix hair when I was home from school and on Saturdays. And sometimes they’d give you a dollar or 50 cents of something, sometimes they didn’t give you anything. But I learned early on that that was a gift. And my mom wanted me to go to some other college and I knew that wasn’t for me and she was going to have to struggle much harder than she was because by this time she had gone through 2 divorces. So I was doing hair, what we called bootlegging (laughs) I was doing hair at home and my brother lived up here in town, so I was doing hair at his house, and one day Mrs. Hattie Thompson, she sent word back to one of her clients to tell me to come see her, because she had seen a lot of my work. And she said I was doing good work, but that I knew the craft of it but I didn’t know the theory behind it. And so when I went up there I enrolled in the beauty school. And once I finished I worked there for awhile and also once I got my license in cosmetology I re-enrolled and obtained my instructors license in cosmetology. So it’s been a good thing. And Mrs. Hattie Southern was a student also, we both worked there, at Mucko Beauty School, it was Mucko Beauty School and Men’s Shop. And we opened a beauty shop down on Mobile Street. Across the street from where Mademoiselle is right now, she and I were partners about 19 years, and there were other operators in that shop to the point where it was overcrowded, we knew we were going to have to do some more stuff. So we went looking for a new location, and it had always been a dream of mine to be on Court St, the main street. And looking for a place, we had an agent carrying us around, she would carry us everywhere but downtown Florence. And so finally we said we’ll look for a place ourselves. And the first place we took an interest in was on Court St, is it Papa John’s? Down on that corner where Kreisman’s used to be.
S: Oh, Jimmy John’s?
B: Jimmy John’s (on the corner of Court and W. Tennessee St) well it was 2 doors down for there that was available. Well we put the down payment on it, and when he found out, we know that when he found out we were ‘of color’—we were black—he said he wasn’t going to sell it cause he was going to wait and open a liquor store. And he refunded our money and we kept looking, and it just so happened that God gave me the building that I had looked at at first. That’s where Vogue is now. I loved the building because there was a high-priced store there, it was Shirley’s, Ms. Rosa Lee. She was a mean lady but she had very nice things. I could go there when she would have a 5, 10, 15 dollar sale (laughs). And I always admired that building when I went in there. And that building was available, and Mr. Bobo, he owned a lot of real estate, and I went in and talked with him. He said somebody had put a deposit on it, if they didn’t come through he would let me know. And in the meantime Mrs. Southern, Hattie Southern, when we were going to look at the place that day, her son brought her. And she couldn’t see very well, so she said she’d take my word for it, she was on her way to the doctor with him, so she said whatever I decide. But when she got to the doctor her sugar was up so high, and she didn’t know she was a diabetic. And they took her to the hospital. And because of that ordeal her children didn’t want her to stretch out there and that type of situation (spend money on a building). So I was able to purchase it myself, and it was such a blessing. And everybody is still friends and everything, there was no animosity, it was just that we needed more room. And she is deceased now, but um, we stayed partners about three or four years after that but because I told her I was not able to do the maintenance and repairs, she became the sole owner of that business. (?) And Vogue House of Beauty is still my building but I’m renting it now, and during the time that I’ve gotten older, I’ll be 78 in January, and my patrons are getting older too. So downtown Florence is getting so congested, and they want to make you start paying so much after you’ve been there a couple of hours or so. I’m always getting notes from Downtown Unlimited or some other folks. So my patrons were having to park way away and then walk (to the building) and that was a bit much. And the beauty shop that I’m in now, it was the Beauty School, and when it became available, I said ‘thank you Jesus.’ And I talked to the person that had inherited it, and he eventually told me that he would sell it to me.
S: And what’s the address?
B: 219 North Cherokee Street. And my home, where I was married and lived and raised my kids for 26 years is right there. And my youngest daughter Kaditra, she owns the homeplace now. That’s pretty much, and I was telling them upstairs there, when people would come in, when they were selling a product or wanted to come in and talk to you about something, they would ask, ‘who are you renting from?’ And I would tell them I’m the owner. They would ask a few more questions or something, and they’d come back to it: ‘and who’d you say you were renting from?’ (laughs). And when I said, ‘I am,’ they looked at me funny. I guess one of the most memorable ones was this supply man who was coming out of Atlanta. And we had ordered some stuff and he said he couldn’t find us. He said he want all the way down by the railroad tracks and everywhere. And he would ask everybody and they would tell him, ‘they are downtown.’ And he said it felt like they were telling him stories. So when he finally found us he came in and said, ‘I’m just going to have to tell you the truth, I had no idea you all was up here! How did they let you all (black people) get up here?’ (laughs). You know it was just one of those things, how people do you know. There was some bad experiences and there was some good ones, and I've been blessed that for the most part the people in the banking industry have been very, very good and have been helpful to me. In a sense that I've proven myself to keep my word, and I was telling the lady at the supply store the other day that my word is all I have. I went to the supply house, my daughter and I, and I had made a purchase and they forgot to put one of my items in there, but they charged me for it when I checked the receipt. I went back the next day, she was going on and on about how she'd have to check her inventory and see if she's one short of whatever, and she called the ones that were working and they said they'd put it in there. And that's when I had to tell her, in a nice way, that I would not have come all the way across town, if I had not made that purchase, and if it had not been on my receipt. Well just go and give it to her, and it'll just be free. I said how is it going to be free when I have paid for it? She said, 'well I'll just have to pay for it myself.' Well, that was so wrong, you know? And that was some of the things that you face in this day and time. And that's when I told her I care about my word. But she realized that when I had finished talking to her that maybe she was wrong. I thank God that I learned how to treat people and how to be a people person. Even now, a lot of my (patrons) are elderly, I have one lady I think she's 101. She's still driving (laughter). I have one or two, even my sister that are in a wheelchair. Unless you're a people person, you have got to quit working because you have got to know how to treat people. People are people regardless of their condition. And I thank God for that. And I thank God for Pastor Crenshaw. He's my nephew, but he's my pastor first. And we don't treat him any different from what we would any other pastor, because God helped call him to be a preacher. And he deserves our respect, and we honor that and we thank God for him. My daddy's daddy was a preacher, so we've got preaching in our geneaology. I have 5 children, I was married 26 years. And our mom was something else, I'll tell you. If you wanted to know something, you went to momma. Even at 96 she could tell you what day everybody was born, what the weather was doing.
S: Well I really appreciate you talking to me

Original Format




Time Summary

00:20 to 09:00 --Early life in western Lauderdale County; school at Mt. Zion and Burrell; early interest in hair styling
09:01 to 23:03-- Opening beauty salon; difficulty buying on Court Street


TMB RCD 10.mp3
TMB RCD 10 transcript.docx



Hooks, Bettie, “Oral History: Bettie Hooks,” Shoals Black History, accessed January 25, 2021, https://shoalsblackhistory.omeka.net/items/show/202.