Interviewee: Lennette Pembleton
Interviewer: Tom Day, John Versaggi
Summary: Lennette Pembleton is a lifelong resident African-American of St. Augustine. She had a long and very prosperous career in the area.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you born?
PEMBLETON: Well, I am a little Georgia girl.
PEMBLETON: Mmm Hmm. Georgia girl. My mother and father are both from Georgia. My mother was born in a little place called Wadley, Georgia, Jefferson County. And also, my father. So, I came to St. Augustine. I didn’t know anything about it. I don’t know if I was about one or two but I know all my life and I was raised out on Pine Street in North City. And people have asked me, “You lived back there a long time ago?” I said, “Yeah what am I gonna be ashamed of?” They say, “Well I thought you were a Florida girl.” I said, “No, I’m a Georgia girl.” And every summer when school was out my mother would send my brother and I back to Georgia to grandma and we loved it. Because she had acres and acres of land-cotton. And she used to get at me. She’d say, “(inaudible)…don’t you touch the blooming cotton. It looked like a flower.” You know flowers and I’d go and pick ‘em. She said, “You are gonna get in trouble.” So, I left that alone but every summer we looked forward to spending it with my grandmother.
INTERVIEWER: Why did your family move from Georgia to St. Augustine?
PEMBLETON: Well, I never knew but I think it was because the small town that Wadley was there wasn’t any, a lot of stores or anything. They had to depend on their farming, picking cotton and selling their things like that. That’s the only reason that I know but other than that there was no reason that they had to do it because my father had a first cousin, and it was called Louisville it was like 10 miles from Wadley, Georgia and he had the biggest funeral home and it was named after their last name – Davis Funeral Home. And it’s still going now because he passed away but his daughter has it. And every two years we try to have a family reunion and get everybody together to see who is who and still living and everything. And we had it here in ’10 I think it was. Everybody came down and I set my house up and left it that Friday and came back to it that Monday. Everybody stayed at the beach. Real nice.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what year it was that your family moved here?
INTERVIEWER: Well, if you were one you can mentally subtract how old you are by one.
PEMBLETON: Well, it’s been I know 80 or 90 years.
INTERVIEWER: Really? Okay.
INTERVIEWER: So, your family moved here and your first home was on Pine Street?
PEMBLETON: Pine Street. And I can remember all those people that lived there: Dr. Hareck, you know him. Dr. Walker lived on Water Street. Water Street is that street that would run into the fort.
INTERVIEWER: Big homes.
PEMBLETON: Yeah, big homes.
INTERVIEWER: Judge Jackson.
PEMBLETON: Well, he lived on the corner from us. George Jackson. Mr. Parson and them live there. The Hawkins. The Englands. And the dentist, what is he? He lived on Water Street.
PEMBLETON: Elkins, that’s right. I knew all of ‘em. The girl that Mrs. Hawkins and them raised, Prudence she was adopted. And every Sunday morning, I remember that was my first little job. I would go walk from Pine Street just one block and go and wake up Prudence, get her dressed and give her, she liked pancakes. Make her pancakes for breakfast and tend to her until her mom and dad were ready to get up so they didn’t have to worry about her. That was my first job.
INTERVIEWER: I know a lot of people that would hire you today if you wanted to do that again!
PEMBLETON: Yes, it was fun. And we enjoyed it.
INTERVIEWER: In your childhood years, when you were starting school and grade school, what did you do for fun and entertainment?
PEMBLETON: Well, we didn’t have a lot of toys and all that stuff like the kids have now. We played marbles with the boys and we skated and we had bicycles. And every Sunday, we would go up to the fort. A whole group of kids would go up on the fort.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you a question about Pine Street because Pine Street used to be the northern border of the city at one point. You were right across the street, if you lived on Pine Street, you were right across the street from the Mission.
INTERVIEWER: All those grounds were open. Did you get to play on those grounds?
PEMBLETON: No, we didn’t. I’ll tell ya. At the end of Pine Street there was a river that runs on the waterside. And we kids learned to crab. We’d get a rake and get a big…Jerry Kass; they owned a grocery store right across from Firestone. Firestone was here and the grocery store was here. And we’d go there and we’d tell him we going crabbin’. And they would save the bones that they trimmed the meat off. They would save it for us and we’d go there. And we didn’t have line. We’d get some cork string and wrapped it real tight on that bone. And one of ‘em would get a rake, a regular yard rake and you could just walk right out and throw that bone out there and you’d see the crabs coming and you’ll have two of ‘em. One on one side. Get the rake like this and up come four or five of them. You know. That’s what we did. That was the best fun! And then what would happen, we’ll go home and our mothers and fathers, most of those ladies did washing and ironing for other people as my mother did it for Dr. Farrell and Miss Hartley, she worked at the store. Her son now has that chiropractor thing, Mary Bergwin.
INTERVIEWER: I know Mary Bergwin.
PEMBLETON: Yeah, Miss Hartley. Yeah. Well uh, my mom did their laundry and she had a little red wagon. She’d go and get the clothes and bring ‘em, wash ‘em, iron ‘em, and take ‘em back. And all of that I was a part of it because like kids get out of school now and have free time. No! When we got out of school my mom gave me time to get home because I either had to finish cooking the dinner or get out there in the washtub and help her wash those clothes and things. So, I learned to really know how to housekeep at an early age.
INTERVIEWER: So no washing machine? You used a tub and a washboard?
PEMBLETON: Amen. A scrub board and three tubs. Two of good solid water and the last one, a girl and I laugh about that now, called the Blue-in. Put Blue-in in your last rinse water.
PEMBLETON: Blue-in. Yeah. It’s blue. The whole tub would turn blue and you’d rinse your clothes in it. Don’t let em stay in it. Rinse your clothes. Put them on the line. We didn’t know what a dryer was! I’m telling you. We did not know what a dryer was. And the sun, your white clothes right today. If you hang them out in that sun they stay white. They stay white.
INTERVIEWER: Really? I’ll remember that. You mentioned going to school. Where was the school?
PEMBLETON: Right up the street.
INTERVIEWER: So you walked all the way from Pine Street?
PEMBLETON: Yes sir. Past Ketterlinus, you walk. I never rode the school bus in my life my whole twelve years in school. We walked. Rain, sunshine, whatever weather and we were not late.
INTERVIEWER: You had told me before you had graduated high school at Excelsior. Was that also the grade school?
PEMBLETON: Yeah, 1 through 12.
INTERVIEWER: 1 through 12? Okay. I didn’t know that.
PEMBLETON: Otis Mason’s mother was my first grade teacher. Mildred Mason was my first grade teacher. Right up there.
INTERVIEWER: I actually walked two miles to school.
PEMBLETON: You know, it was fun for us because you know Twine? Well, Twine’s mother and that whole family belonged to the same church. We all did. Diane Chase is married to Arnett, her mother and grandparents on Bernard Street, it was on this side of San Marco. Well, all of us kids would walk to school every morning. And we used to say Lord, poor Twine and his sisters had to, they had the force to come because they were out there by the Fountain of Youth, on Gault Avenue. That’s where they lived. They would come and you would walk out of San Marco and wait for the others to come and all of us get in a group together and we went to school. We didn’t fight and we were not tardy. And you better get your lesson because when you get back home your momma gonna set you down and get it. We didn’t have time to play. And my mother was cooking. I had dinner on a wood stove. She said, “Okay. Today you stay inside and watch that food.” And she tell me just how it was supposed to be and come out. Then you get your lesson. You might have a few, maybe an hour for play time but 8 o’clock you were in the bed.
INTERVIEWER: Tell us since you helped with the cooking what were some of the typical meals you had in a week’s time?
PEMBLETON: They laugh at me now all the girls. “Oh we going out to dinner. We going out to dinner.” I said, “You know why I don’t want to go because my mother cooked.” We didn’t have hamburger and French fries and all of that. When we came home from school, my mother had a nice wood stove. She had sweet potatoes in them and she would get the smaller ones not the big ones and she would oil them in bacon grease, the best kind. Put ‘em in a pan and put ‘em in the oven, that stove. When you get home she’d already started dinner. You could smell it and the candy would be running out of them. Because they were like this. You take those out. And she loved lima beans, black eyed peas. My mother boiled. We hardly ever got fried food. She boiled her food. Well I’ve never been sick in my life. I’ve been in the hospital one time and that was this year, Mother’s Day.
INTERVIEWER: Oh no, really?
PEMBLETON: First time. First time.
INTERVIEWER: It’s all that good food growing up.
PEMBLETON: And before we went to school she made us drink a hot cup of chocolate or tea or something to get your body started for that walk. And we just thought we were in heaven. Really, truly we did.
INTERVIEWER: You had a very happy childhood.
PEMBLETON: Had a happy and such a group of us because there were kids on Gault Avenue. Then you get to Pine Street. There was Bernard Street. You go up to Spanish Street. And when you see them coming you get in a group and we walked. If anything was happening over here at the school or on this side where the barber shop is right up there was Mrs. Pooler’s Drug Store. She had a drug store there and she knew the kids so she would buy the things that the children had liked. And me? I loved Mr. Goodbar, candybar. She would buy them. She would freeze them for us and just before the bell rang to go back in for recess, we’d go and get us a candy bar and stick it in our books. I remember that so well. Because you could break off a piece and it would be cold and we did that. And then on weekends, we were allowed, she would have a social and Mr. Parks that owned all of the juke boxes you know he was on St. George Street.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, Parks Hotel.
PEMBLETON: He would put those juke boxes in the different places that wanted them and if you paid a quarter you’d dance all night just about off of a quarter. With the juke box.
INTERVIEWER: How about that?
PEMBLETON: Every Friday night they had a social for the school kids.
INTERVIEWER: Now you were in grade school or high school at this point?
PEMBLETON: Oh, well I’d hit the grade school, ninth grade. Oh no, don’t you think about going anywhere when you back down in there in that 3rd and 4th grade. And then after we got to be teenagers we had to go in groups and we had to come back in groups. Our mother said “Okay, I’m letting you go but you better be here at that porch at 11 o’clock.” They gave us the time and minute and if you wasn’t home and they could hear you out there at 11 o’clock and what made it so good was that all of the mothers, parents did the same thing to every child. And they said man we better start and check we have to run from that so we could be home and hit that porch at 11 o’clock. Or we couldn’t go anymore. We couldn’t go for two or three weeks. That was your punishment.
INTERVIEWER: Where were the socials held?
PEMBLETON: Right up here now but see it’s where that barber shop is right there. That was Pooler’s Drug Store and in the back was a little library they had started. But they had plenty of room for dancing and boy that was our weekend pleasure!
INTERVIEWER: How about that.
PEMBLETON: You know. We all enjoyed it. And then Saturday morning, if you had something to do you got up and did your little chore. And the Jefferson Theater was right down where Barnett Bank was. Every Saturday morning at 10 o’clock, they had these cowboys on. Twenty-five cents. We’d go.
INTERVIEWER: How about that? That’s great.
PEMBLETON: You know. And the thing about living then was that all of the parents’ children came under the same supervision. You know? And where we lived on Pine Street there was a lady called Miss Triay. She had a little store and she would watch all of us in that lot while our mothers worked. And if she told our mothers that we didn’t behave or if we didn’t get home from school with the rest of them boy you got a lashing.
INTERVIEWER: Oh boy
PEMBLETON: But she raised us. I never will forget. And you might know her granddaughter, Maryann [inaudible]. As long as she was at First Union, Maryann used to laugh about that because she remembered us growing up because they lived right there on the corner from the grandmother and we were all along the street. Remind her. Her name was Miss Triay. I never will forget her. She was a nice lady.
INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you a question. About the time you were there, there was an ice plant on Barnard Street. Do you remember getting ice off the back of the ice wagon?
PEMBLETON: Yeah. Uncle Tom we called him. He lived on Osceola Street.
INTERVIEWER: Oh yeah, okay.
PEMBLETON: And he was our ice man. We just called him Uncle Tom. Mmm hmm and his wife, I can’t think of her name, she pierced every little girl’s ear with a needle and thread.
INTERVIEWER: Oh really?
PEMBLETON: Yes, mine is pierced from her from when we were little. Yeah. She was a heavy set lady. She had this soft lap I guess. She’d take you in there and she’d put your head on that lap there and you didn’t feel it but she had a needle. Just a regular sewing needle and put white thread in it and greased it real good with Vaseline. And she’d rub your ear down and rub it down like to no feeling and she’d pierce it but you didn’t feel it but you couldn’t put your earrings in for about two weeks.
INTERVIEWER: Oh really?
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm. But every girl, every child. She pierced I don’t know how many kids’ ears right out there on Osceola. She lived on Osceola Street. Mmm hmm.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that’s interesting because that was before Route 1 went in and Bernard Street had a big lumber yard down there and there was an ice plant. We have some friends in the city that grew up chasing the ice wagon.
PEMBLETON: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
INTERVIEWER: Like James Banta and that crew. Weren’t there also people selling shrimp and fish from wagons?
PEMBLETON: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. And he would come and I often wondered and sometimes I think about that now, how in the world did my mother, we keep the food and we had nothing ever to spoil? And he had the big block of ice and he had this big creosote brown bag like this and when he come in with it he come in with that ice wrapped up in it. And put the creosote up in your refrigerator and your refrigerator would stay cool and that ice would last.
INTERVIEWER: And no power bill! (Laughter)
PEMBLETON: And people you know, I have a couple friends say “I don’t know”, some people don’t remember anything. They talk about, “How can you remember all that?” Well, it was fun to us. It was fun. And our mother raised us, most/all the mothers they didn’t know your child they didn’t do this and they didn’t do that. No, if she said you did it you just gonna get it. You gonna get a lick. You gonna get something! (Laughter) So if you didn’t do it this time you may as well do it the next time. Because those mothers, I have to give them credit. Mine and all of us I know and most of us, a lot of ‘em have passed away because I’m the only one in my class.
INTERVIEWER: You’re the only one left in your class?
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm
INTERVIEWER: You graduated, I think you told me in 1949?
INTERVIEWER: ’43? Wow, okay. So, you were just out of high school about the time of the war?
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm.
INTERVIEWER: What did you remember about St. Augustine and how it may have changed because of the war?
PEMBLETON: I can remember a lot of things like going where 207 and all of those stores going on out that way. Used to be woods! My mother had a cousin in Daytona and whenever someday, some weekend we would go spend the day with them on Sunday. All you could see was woods, woods, woods. I don’t care how far you were going all those buildings and it was up in town in St. Augustine. But now you don’t know if you’re in Daytona before you get there because the whole thing is built up.
INTERVIEWER: You’re right. You’re right.
PEMBLETON: So really I say “my God”, the same way going to Jacksonville. My goodness they are gonna connect after a while!
INTERVIEWER: But did your routines change during World War II and the 1940s because the war was going on? Were there effects of rationing? Things you normally could buy that were no longer available? What do you remember about the war?
PEMBLETON: Yeah, that’s right. Well, not too much. Mostly I can remember a lot of that where you couldn’t go to certain places and buy was when the integration started.
INTERVIEWER: Right. Do you remember a lot of military people in town?
PEMBLETON: St. Augustine didn’t have many. There were some but it wasn’t that many.
INTERVIEWER: They had tents set up on the San Marco lot. That’s where they housed a lot of them when they came in for weekend leave.
INTERVIEWER: Was there training at the Ponce de Leon Hotel for military, Coast Guard?
PEMBLETON: I can’t remember too much of that. They might have, they stayed there but I do remember they used to have fashion shows there a lot because I would go. And “the Ponce,” they would hold that big fashion show and Akras] was in it (laughter) and I was over there with all of it and then the umm little house right there where I think they still have their dinners with the Catholic Church on the corner of Treasury. What was it that they called it? The Treasury? No. They would have luncheons there at that house to benefit I think the Catholic Church. The house sat on St. George Street. Right on the street at Treasury.
INTERVIEWER: The Women’s Exchange?
PEMBLETON: Women’s Exchange! That’s what I was trying to get. Yeah, I remember that. Going down there with bundles of clothes and dresses for the fashion show they would have there sometimes.
INTERVIEWER: So the fashion shows that were held at the Ponce was it for the guests of the Ponce or for local people?
PEMBLETON: For anyone.
INTERVIEWER: So, it was when the hotel was open and operating?
PEMBLETON: Uh-huh. When it was open and operating. Mmm hmm.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever go to one of the fashion shows where they had a cake walk?
PEMBLETON: Had what?
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember a cake walk? The cake walk…it was a dance.
PEMBLETON: Dance. Mmm hmm.
INTERVIEWER: It was a contest and whoever won was considered the most stylish and won a cake.
PEMBLETON: Oh! That was something. Like all those stores on St. George Street, I often wonder what happened to…there were brothers, I don’t know if they were twins but they looked like it, had this café right on the corner of St. George and Cathedral.
PEMBLETON: Neptune. Yeah and then the [inaudible] had another further down by the bank.
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm. I remember all of those and then there was Mr. King, the eye doctor. There was the Leonardi’s with the jewelry store. And all those little stores. Somebody said to me, “Girl you’re crazy they didn’t have all that down there.” I said, “Yes they did.” And I said, “As big as this town is now, why is it that we don’t have a place for our telephone bill because it was right across from the [inaudible] in that little building.”
INTERVIEWER: Yep. I remember. Lennette, when did you move to Lincolnville?
PEMBLETON: My mother bought a home, I just finished it was my last year in high school.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, so in the forties?
PEMBLETON: Yes, my last year in high school.
INTERVIEWER: I have heard that Lincolnville was very independent in that you had every kind of merchant here: clothing, food, barber shop, beauty salon.
PEMBLETON: Washington Street was totally owned and run by blacks. There was the pool room. There was the bar. There are the churches. They built the theater down there. The big grocery store was down there on the corner of Bridge and Washington.
INTERVIEWER: Quality Foods.
PEMBLETON: That’s right. And then the Casto?
PEMBLETON: Casto had like, they sold…
INTERVIEWER: It was an appliance store, right?
PEMBLETON: Appliance store with refrigerators and things right over there. And then on the other side there was a café. Right on the corner there was the Iceberg right there. And then come on down there were another café called the Black and White [inaudible] further down. I mean the whole street up to where Park Place is there were stores and they were all run and owned by blacks.
INTERVIEWER: How about that? Frank Butler owned…
PEMBLETON: Oh yes, his home is still down on Washington Street. Mmm hmm.
INTERVIEWER: He owned the Iceberg and I think his brother operated the grocery store.
PEMBLETON: There’s two doctors up over the Iceberg. Dr. Ford and Dr. Freeman. Dr. [Inaudible]’s home is still down here on MLK almost where, past South Street. His home, but they’re not. There were the two doctors up there.
INTERVIEWER: Was there anything you couldn’t buy on Washington, or within Lincolnville? Did you have to travel to buy things?
PEMBLETON: Well clothes and the like for ladies and men. Somethin’ like that. But other than that, if you wanted entertainment and like they had in this Lincolnville probably the first one was on Washington Street from Bridge to Park Place. They blocked the whole street. That was when it was really a festival or what you call it. Since they stayed there about three I think or four years and then I don’t know what happened. They decided to move it and take it to the Links and it has never been the same I don’t go anymore.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to church down there?
PEMBLETON: No, we went to church on Pine Street or Bernard Street. There were three churches on that one street. There was the Baptist church coming from San Marco, was North City Baptists. There was Hurst Chapel, which was the Methodist and there was Dawson Chapel which was down near the railroad, the last one on that side. That’s where I went to church and I still belong there. I still belong to that church. I’ve been out this morning we were collecting and Diane Chase, she was a teacher at Murray. She taught there for 32 years. That’s Arnette’s wife. I knew her before she was born. And I let her know it! (Laughter). When she starts acting up I say, “Calm down now.” I say, “Now listen, you’re the child and I’m the mother. Remember that.” And we have more fun together. She and I work all the time and we love working together in the church. And I’m still a member of that church.
INTERVIEWER: Where are they now? Where’s their building now?
PEMBLETON: Who? Arnette and them?
INTERVIEWER: The church building.
PEMBLETON: Oh! Across in front of Webster School. Do you know where Webster School is?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Mmm hmm.
PEMBLETON: That big beautiful church across the street. Well anyway when McDonald’s built McDonald’s on that corner it took it up. The plot that we had we didn’t have too much for parking but still people would let you park in front of their door for so much. You know. When they got over there they didn’t want anybody parking there in the lot unless you were buying something so the pastor said well we just have to do it because we have to have parking. So at that time we had a lot of the men, Mr. Twine and Mr. Johnny Jackson, he was one of the principals in the school. They all belong to the church. They got together and found this lot to be sold. It was just woods. I mean woods! But they got it and they started clearing it off. So we bought it and we built the church. So the pastor that built that church he was with us for 23 years. He went to college and finished and was teaching at Bethune Cookman and he worked like he needed to work to support a family. He did. I wish ya’ll would go by and look at it.
INTERVIEWER: We will. We’ll do that.
PEMBLETON: It’s right in front of Evelyn Hamblen. And we are so proud of it. We are really proud because it was really tough but we worked on weekends. And different people in the community would help you know with labor and what could they do to help. And some of those people are living today to see the development.
INTERVIEWER: The church actually raised the money and did the construction of the church?
PEMBLETON: And we had one gentleman, McElroy I think was his name. He drew the blueprints and everything for it. And like you have to pay for it. He didn’t because he knew one of the gentlemen in the church. He knew him real well and he told him whenever he needed his service he would do it. He drew all the blueprints. We have his picture hanging in the front of the church in a big frame.
INTERVIEWER: The name was McElroy?
PEMBLETON: If I’m not mistaken. He passed away but his wife, anytime she knows we are having a big day or having something, she comes. She comes to it. And we always say it’s more like a family, really. It is. It is because most of us, all of us there, our forefathers started it and we were raised there. We had a little junior choir. Oh boy. You couldn’t tell us anything! (Laughter) But I think now the way that the young people…I told one girl I said you know I look at the young people and they didn’t have any more fun than we had. They might have more technology and all that stuff I said but we didn’t have it and we didn’t worry about it. We made our own fun. I can sit here and tell you some of that today and I can tell you with joy because I was in it.
INTERVIEWER: That’s right. Lennette let’s move ahead a little bit. Tell us how you were hired by Akras. Tell us about the years you enjoyed working there.
PEMBLETON: Okay. They had an ad in the papers that they needed someone to…it wasn’t in the papers. My mom’s sister well she had some kind of way. She had started working for Mrs. Akras when she had one girl, Clarinda, the oldest. And they needed somebody at the store because the store, you know where it was on St. George. It hadn’t been where it was up there. It was back down there. There was Williams’ little Five and Ten store. And then [inaudible]. And then the telephone company had a big office, go up those steps there. And uh…see one lady was working for her but she was much older and she took sick. Her name was Bea Matthews. So when momma’s sister came they were over there talking and they said that Mrs. Akras was looking for someone to do the cleaning at the store. So, I said, “Well, any particular age?” I knew how to clean because I had to clean homes so that wasn’t a problem. So she said call Mrs. Akras and ask them. So sure enough I did because I like wanted to work. I wanted to help my mother after she had found this house. I said you know she’s given up a lot. She was working two jobs. It was only two of us. I was the oldest of my brother. And I said you know everybody said when I graduate I’m going up north, I’m going…I said to myself I’m gonna stay right here where I am and I did. And I went up there. Helen Akras was living then and she interviewed me. She told me, “Lennette, right now it’s slow and it’ll be a half day if you can work from 9am ‘til 12 or 12:30pm.” I said, “Yes ma’am. Whatever hours you want me to work. I’ll work. I’ll be here because I want a job.” And I did. I started cleaning the bathrooms, dusting the stores. You know cleaning and stuff. I did that for about two weeks and she came to me one morning. She said, “No. You’re not cleaning anymore.” I said, “Oh. Did I do something wrong?” And Ms. Mary Bergman was working for them and a lady named Mrs. Johnson was the one marking and stuff in back unpacking the clothes. So, most of the time I was between Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Bergman. So, I said, “Oh did I do something wrong?” She said, “No. We hired someone else to do the cleaning. I want you in the window with me. I’m gonna teach you how to dress these mannequins.” So, I said, “Oh God. I know I won’t be here long.” (Laughter) Taking those arms…you had to unsocket the arms you know? Raise them up and then pull them out. They standing there looking at you naked. I said, “Oh well. I’m gonna give it a try.” She showed me one time. She said, “Okay. Come up in the window with me and I’ll show you how to do it. Take your time. Nobody is in a rush. We have somebody else to clean. I want you to start doing the windows.” And I said to myself, “God. I’ve never dressed no mannequin and doing all that stuff.” I did it. And that’s when I started and when we moved way down to the big store there was three big windows. Okay I did it. And one morning I said to myself, “Where is she?” She just done left me here. You know. I’m by myself,” I realized that. But they were beautiful people to work for. I don’t care what anybody say or what. They treated me royal. To me it was royal. And that’s just the way I feel today. And those kids – Clarinda, Kathy, Freddy and Nicky. When we drove up and I got out of the car in front, Nicky was half way to the door coming because I don’t see him often because he’s in Carolina. I said, “Freddy, I didn’t know you. You’re really looking like a man. Your hair done turned gray.” And I was teasing him you know? I have nothing but positive things to say about the Akras family. What they treated and what they did other people I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I was using what my mother taught me. Always be polite and if you need something you ask for it in a kindly way. Always say thank you and those are my traits today.
INTERVIEWER: You had a number of people who insisted on you waiting on them in the store.
PEMBLETON: Exactly. Wouldn’t let nobody else touch ‘em. And Mr. Akras and Mrs. Akras when she would be working in the store she’d say, “You help me.” And if she had to charge things like they have charge accounts, she said, “Lennette you write it.” And I said, “But you do it.” And she said, “You write it.” Because all of ‘em say, “You got beautiful handwriting!” I’d be charging things for customers. They’d say, “Wow boy! You got nice handwriting!”
INTERVIEWER: Really? Did you learn the handwriting in school or did your Mom teach you?
PEMBLETON: Well, my momma she taught us you know. I could say this I miss my mother today, really. She died in ’77. She was 75 years old. But she walked and you thought she was 25. She didn’t ride a bike. She never drove a car. My mother liked to walk. Wherever she went. Sure did. Yes sir.
INTERVIEWER: You have any funny stories about customers at Akras you want to tell us?
PEMBLETON: (Laughter) The ladies that were there were not a bunch of youngsters. Now he would hire at summertime and holidays younger girls, but most of them were middle-aged or elderly women. Just down-to-earth people. I can say this about them. If you worked there and you thought that you wasn’t gonna do what you were hired to do. Yeah if you were hired as a salesman but each department of the store they would assign you to that. You come in, in the morning. You see the shelves needed stock on them or dusting or whatever you just didn’t come stand and look and wait for people to come in the store. They did that, you know? And we had one lady and she was a little tiny something you know about a size 8. She thought she had to stand at the door you know and be a store prop. I laugh about that sometimes now. And Clarinda would follow me. She called me up all the time. “Oh Lennette I miss you my God.” I say, “Clarinda you ought to be used to it by now. You got three teenage daughters almost.” She said, “I don’t care you know they’re children.” But she and I would get together and she would follow me and we’d have more fun than [inaudible]. She talks about it now. She calls me all the time. They were just people that treated you like a human being. And if they told you what to do you didn’t have no trouble following up and looking to see if you’re going to do it. I say, I’m here. I’m supposed to give them my 8 hours job and that’s what I did.
INTERVIEWER: Was a wonderful career.
PEMBLETON: That’s what I did. And I loved it. And right today, we’ve been closed, the store I think its 21 years. When we came back from Christmas and New Year holiday, Mr. Akras called me in the office. He say, “Lennette, come in here I want to tell you something.” I said, “Okay.” So I went in. He said, “I’m getting old and my health is failing me bad.” Helen had passed away. And they did their own buying. Nobody did it. They’d go, he and his wife, or he and Helen used to go before she passed. And anything you wanted that they didn’t have in stock you’d tell them. They would buy it for you, ship it, and when it comes in get it ready for people to look or want. They did their personal buying for people. And they didn’t pull any punches with anybody. They treated, as long as I was there, you with respect. Mrs. Akras, it got so good I would ask, “My God is this me?” But I loved the work. I loved them because they treated you like people. Not, “Do this or do that” or something like that. The kids were the same way. Right to day. Clarinda’s gonna call me and I better answer the phone; if I don’t she’s gonna keep on until she gets me, “Are you okay?” And every year since I have left that store she has sent me $100 for my birthday.
INTERVIEWER: Really? Wow. That’s great!
PEMBLETON: And it’s about 21 years. Mr. Akras told me, “Lennette we’re gonna close the store. We’re gonna sell everything in it.” He said, “But I want you to be the first one to know.” He said, “Are you gonna be all right?” I said, “Mr. Akras, I’m gonna be fine.” He said, “Well don’t ever…if you feel like you need us you come to us.” He said “no problem whatsoever”. He said because we have enjoyed you working here. You have helped us with our business. And everybody likes you. He said “and what more can you ask of a person?” So, when I said, “Mr. Akras well I’ve enjoyed working here” and I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” I said “you all have been good to me down through the years”. And I learned to appreciate that. There’s nothing more you could ask for when people treat you like that. And for every birthday, Clarinda gonna say, “I sent you a package. Call me when you get it. I want to know you have it.” And then Freddie and his mother would give me $100. So every year I could look for $200. I’m still getting it. They still do that.
INTERVIEWER: That’s great. The beauty of a family-run business. Not Wal-Mart.
PEMBLETON: Really. That’s right. And I see more people like I’m in the grocery store sometimes I’ll hear somebody say, “Lennette, is that you?” I say, “Yep. This is me.” They’ll say, “Oh my God.” You know how they were the other night. I’ll say I come here to be with the kids. And Freddy sit down to tell me something and somebody got him up right away. He said, “I’ll be back.” I haven’t seen Freddy anymore.
INTERVIEWER: You’re a local celebrity.
PEMBLETON: Here lately. I said what have I done for all of this you know? And everbody say, “You just don’t know. You’re the same all the time.” And Mr. Whitaker that was the painter. You know? His daughter Cindy. Cindy wouldn’t let nobody even call her to tell her about anything. Oh no! Lennette’s picking my clothes out. She knows exactly…she knows exactly what I need. And when they come in there, Cindy wasn’t gonna let no one touch her. (Laughter) I said, “Cindy, don’t be like that.” She said, “Oh no.” She was something. She told me she was gonna retire from Flagler. I don’t know if she’s still over there, but where was I? I was somewhere and Clarinda called and told her something. She called me up, “Tomorrow don’t worry about eating we’re going to Red Lobster. I’m taking you to Red Lobster.” I said, “For what, Cindy?” She said, “I just want to take you out!” (Laughter) And everybody that I waited on those people and I see them. And you saw how they were up there. Vee Markle? I said, “You used to be Vee Wilson I know who you are.” (Laughter)
INTERVIEWER: What a wonderful career!
PEMBLETON: I’ve enjoyed it and right ‘til today I’ve said, “My God I can’t believe it, you know?” And I thank God for my health because I really don’t be sick. I still try to eat right and I work out I don’t just sit here. I’m not a TV person. There are certain things I like to watch but after that it can go, you know? I just try to do and I go to church and I like working in my church and everything. I can’t answer anything any better at my age.
INTERVIEWER: Lennette, you lived through 1964 and all the racial tensions.
PEMBLETON: That’s another thing I respect them for because I would go and get coffee in the morning when I got to work from the drug store down there.
INTERVIEWER: St. George Pharmacy?
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm. I would go and get it and when he found out what was really fixing to blow apart he said, “Lennette, be careful coming to work. Do we need to come and get you?” I said, “No.” I’m never one for crowds in groups and I say because you never know who’s in your group that’ll say something to set something off to involve everybody and you don’t know anything about it. So, I walked to work and I walked back in the afternoon. I never had one person to say anything nasty or holler out or call anything the whole time that this was going on. And he said, “Don’t worry. Freddie will get the coffee.” So, Freddie would go and get all of us a cup of coffee and bring it back. So, he never liked, you know little errands or going to do things. I would do ‘em but not while all that was going on.
INTERVIEWER: St. George Pharmacy I recall was one of the sites where there were sit-ins.
PEMBLETON: And Woolworth’s. So but I never been called anything or you know how people are and when I see people I just speak and keep going. Never was one for a group. And at that particular time - no. And this child I’m talking about, Diane Chase, she was one of those that got locked up. She and her sister. And she was here we had Black History week at the church the other week. We always try to have it once a year in February. And she got up because we have a lot of little kids coming in now to church to junior choir, so Diane said she’d like to be over them because there are some things I’d like to start telling them and want them to act according. Don’t follow the crowd. Use your own mind. Your own thinking. And be by yourself. She said, let them say, “Oh you’re by yourself.” It’s better to be by yourself then to get a bunch of people hurt and you get hurt. We took those little kids in and we are proud of them. Got a little dance team they do. And making them know that you don’t have to be out in the streets to do what you need to do.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever go hear Dr. King speak? I think he spoke in front of the church on Bridge Street.
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm. Yeah. I know. I would listen to his speeches too you know on TV and read all of his stuff. The couple that just moved, sold their house here, they have a little girl and she was born over there. She is six this year and then she had a little boy. Well, she was a teacher I think at Pedro Menendez. Well, when she moved here it was just her and her husband but they were nice people. Her name is Amy and he was named Chris. So when the little girl was born she said, “oh me,” but one thing I must say they, from the beginning, they raised that little girl and she would love to come over here to me ‘cause I would tease her. I’d say, “Gosh, you’re getting to be a big girl.” She’d say, “See Mommy brought me this and Mommy brought me that.” I’d say, “Yeah. You’re looking real pretty.” She was taking ballet so she wanted me to see her dance. But I must say Amy and her mother, Amy’s mother, moved way up somewhere when that little girl was born. They got in a fit to come here and they came with her and Amy didn’t have to worry, her Dad early in the morning he had her out on the porch. They had two big rocking chairs and he was just rockin’ her. She must have been just a week old. But they loved her. And they finally sold their home and moved to Palencia up here to be near children and what do you know, Amy and her husband both got a call from some place up there in Maine with a fabulous job for both of them. So, I was sitting over there in that chair and I saw them coming in the gate. I said, “Oh my God I wonder what’s wrong.” And they came in and they came to tell me that they were going to accept this job because it was really, while they were young, they could really see it. They were somewhere way out there but whoever knew them and they could do the job called and offered and they accepted. They just finished moving about three weeks ago. And they went and got the job. So, the little girl sent me a postcard, “Miss. Lennette, I miss you! (Laughter) I miss you! And she had a little boy. He’s just three. Now he’s [inaudible]. I told Amy, I said, “Baby you are gonna have a difference in raising that one than you raising this.” They had a little shed right here that they kept their bicycles in and their stuff in and one morning I heard this voice, “No! No!” I said, “Who in the world is that?” Because it was right off of my bedroom window. And it was him talking to his Mom. So, I got up and I said, “Ben! Who you talking to out there?” He wouldn’t answer me. He wouldn’t say a word. I said, “Ben are you there?” So, Amy came around the corner of the house. She said, “You hear Miss Lennette talking to you.” He was so mad! Boy he wasn’t saying nothing to anybody. I said, “Amy, I told you didn’t I” She said I can’t believe I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I’ll have to put his Daddy on him (Laughter) Three years old! But they were nice and her mother and father came down. They loved it down in here so they moved and I didn’t want to tell Amy but I said, “Amy, they came and bought a house down in Palencia and they would be here all the time and everything having fun and now you’re gonna leave them and going to Maine?!” She said, “Isn’t that sad?” I said, “Mmm hmm.” She said but it’s a good opportunity for them. They are both young. Your kids are young. Take it now.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the time to do it, isn’t it?
PEMBLETON: So they sold the house. Mmm hmm. It’s a young couple that bought it and it’s funny, her name is Amy. She came, brought a small U-Haul they’ve been coming in. I don’t know where they work. I haven’t talked to them yet but they are always waving and hollering. “We’re going in and we’re going out.” But they seem to be nice.
INTERVIEWER: We probably need to start closing up. Here is a question for you, alright? You’ve lived in St. Augustine in the late twenties, the thirties, and you’re living in it now. What would you compare the lifestyle back in your childhood with that of today? Is St. Augustine better? Worse? Where do you think we’re going?
PEMBLETON: Well, in a way, I think it’s kind of “in-between” but one thing I just wish they wouldn’t do is just keep building on top of each other because it has taken away from the scenery. And the people, nice people, that are moving in and building but don’t let them build just right on top of each other. You know? We built this house we had to be nine feet from either side. There and there and so much going to the back but it was more here and there and I know ‘round in here, I don’t drive anymore. I can get to church and I’m not paying that insurance and all that so one of the girls, Diane, says “What you do?” We can take you to church. We can take you where you need to go.” I said, “No. You all just wanna be nosy in my business.” (Laughter) I ride on top of them. I keep ‘em going. You know. I said you all stop coming to get me to go with ya and I don’t have to know your business. And we keep something going between us all the time. But it’s good in a way but it’s not getting any smaller children in the neighborhood and I kind of miss that. Used to be a lot of ‘em.
INTERVIEWER: Mine too.
PEMBLETON: Yeah, you do. You miss those kids. At Christmas time, no kids out there playing I said, “What’s going on?” Because, oh we’d be the first ones up. You know? Oh me! This is my husband (shows photo). He was a cook in the Merchant Marine and that’s one of my high school days.
PEMBLETON: Somebody saw that and said, “Who is that?” I said, “I don’t know who that is.”
INTERVIEWER: Looks like every high school girl I ever knew. (Laughter) Yeah.
PEMBLETON: And this is one of the pictures when the class, we went to a social at the Catholic, where they are fixing the school now, the first charity ball that they used to give would be in that building. It used to be a school there.
PEMBLETON: So, the class, some of the class, wanted to go to there and we made that picture. And do you know all of them have passed away?
PEMBLETON: Let me hold that little brown envelope there.
INTERVIEWER: This one?
PEMBLETON: Uh-huh. Now this is that brick that I was talking about.
INTERVIEWER: Oh yeah.
PEMBLETON: She misspelled the name. When she got up and was reading it, I said what is she reading that for. I didn’t get no brick. So, they found out that I was in the class of 1943 so they bought the brick. I don’t know if they’re going to do something with it. And uh…
INTERVIEWER: That’s the correct spelling of your last name.
INTERVIEWER: I think I spelled it wrong here.
PEMBLETON: Oh, that’s okay.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, we gotta get it right. P-e-m-b-l-e-t-o-n. Okay.
PEMBLETON: Mmm hmm. Oh yeah. So she wanted to be sure she said when the next order go, it’s gonna be right. So, I just took it and stuck it in here and said, “Don’t worry about it.” She said, “Oh no we gotta have that name.” I said, “You all didn’t tell me you were doing that.” You all had me out here working for somebody else and then you all planned to cheat on me. And these are the people that are out there doing the yard and all. I like to keep all of these things.
PEMBLETON: Oh, it’s right there. The school and the principal. I’m standing next to him. And I graduated. Yeah, I keep all of this. Nobody has their pictures and things. I keep ‘em. I just love ‘em! See that was our class.
PEMBLETON: And this is Mr. Murray. Same Murray that the school was named after him. And there’s little Lennette!
INTERVIEWER: Right next to the principal! (Laughter)
PEMBLETON: Right near my principal! (Laughter) I’m letting him know I was a good girl. I wasn’t a bad girl, but he was a nice principal to graduate under.
INTERVIEWER: Lennette, can we borrow this and make a photo copy of it?
PEMBLETON: Why yes.
INTERVIEWER: We’ll bring it back to you of course. What we will do with your recording is we will type it and then any pictures that would belong with it we’ll put them in the file. We’ll get you a copy of it.
PEMBLETON: it’s fine. No problem. Okay. Here somebody asked me, “What did you do?” I said, “Honey I was a cheerleader for the football team.” See me in my boots and my little doo-hickey. (Laughter) I get that out and we laugh about it
INTERVIEWER: Look at those uniforms, yeah. Do you remember some cheers?
PEMBLETON: Oh yeah! And hold my knee up. I’m not gonna do it now because I’ll fall over and break something! And this is when we went to another affair. So, I have both. They all want to know, can I? I said, “Nope!” Y’all don’t know how to bring things back. No, you’re not taking my pictures.”
INTERVIEWER: Where are you here? Is that you? Where are you?
PEMBLETON: Oh. Glamour girl!
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that’s you. You said that you’re the only one that’s remaining?
PEMBLETON: Uh-huh. There’s 29 of us and all of them have passed away.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, wow. Well, two things: we can take these pictures and we will scan them into our digital history system and identify you and, if we can, the people that you’re with and then we will give you the pictures back. The other thing is I don’t know if you know Mr. Floyd Phillips who’s running the Lincolnville Museum.
PEMBLETON: Oh yeah! He done been down here trying to get me to go…I said, “I ain’t going down there and working for you.” (Laughter)
INTERVIEWER: Well, he’s a nice fellow.
PEMBLETON: I know he is. I know he is. We tease him.
INTERVIEWER: I know he and his wife. He’s got a great exhibit going on right now.
PEMBLETON: He has done wonders with it down there too.
INTERVIEWER: We’re all in the same game. We want people to remember how things were and the people that were there that made it that way.
PEMBLETON: One other thing that is really I don’t know I guess I shouldn’t feel like this but the pastor of that church he is just, he is not right. Everything seems to be about him.
PEMBLETON: And he is not thinking because he doesn’t live here and he never has. He’s from Gainesville.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Rawls? Reverend Rawls?
PEMBLETON: So anyway, he thinks everything has to center around him and he doesn’t want to hear people. I don’t belong there and if I did I would quit going while he’s there. I’m just going to be frank with you. I don’t like his attitude. Moving into a neighborhood that was nice and peaceful things and have been here and we are trying to keep it that way but when he tore down that Echo House that did it with me because that was the only, back then, black care place for black people to go have a rest and thing. And why did he want to do that and make a parking lot? He got all that up there. You know? I said to myself, you know Mrs. Chase had the best day care for our little kids ‘round there on Washington Street. I don’t care what you say. She retired from Murray after 32 years of school service.
INTERVIEWER: Mmm hmm.
PEMBLETON: She didn’t stay home one week because they had a woman around there at the day care. The day care was connected with St. Paul, but her husband and Reverend Richardson, he was a person that tended his church and the community.
INTERVIEWER: Mmm hmm.
PEMBLETON: And you like those kind of people. Preachers are fine. I don’t have any one thing against them being connected to things in your community, but listen, don’t take over something that we have fought to build up and train our little babies. And Mrs. Chase. It hurt her because she and her husband put so much money in there and now it’s just going down. This woman sittin’ around there didn’t know what to do with five or six kids and a big old place like that. So Diane said, “Lennette, pray for me.” She said because I gotta do something to help Reverend Richardson and my husband. I said, “You’re supposed to.” Well, she got in there and two weeks she had more children than she could handle. Everybody knows her. Everybody know what she had done for their babies raising them. She was taking them in at 2 ½ and 3 ½ months. She had to rent a room for them. She had another room - everything beautiful for our children. She graduated…she was there 14 years. She brought out a class of kids every year. Our little babies in their robes and everything and they said little speeches. She taught our kids. I’m not saying they are not getting it but he is the cause of her and he just took everything away. I said, “Diane, you don’t have to be content with that. You don’t have to do that.” She said, “But Lennette, who’s gonna help our little children? Who’s gonna teach them different things?” And she’s right. You know? They get so much of it in school but they don’t get the basic of really what happened. Somebody might tell them something and it’s wrong and cause them to go out and say something and hurt them. But wherever we go together you could hear a little voice, “Hi Mrs. Chase! Hi Mrs. Chase!” And she gonna stop and grab them all up. You know? She just love kids. She had a day care for 15 years. Do you know he did her a dirty deal?
INTERVIEWER: Did he close the place up? How did he?
PEMBLETON: And I wish you’d see it. It’s beautiful. Oh that playground and all that stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Where is it?
PEMBLETON: It’s on Washington Street. That’s where the old bar, Lincolnville Bar used to be. They added on. They painted it. It’s beautiful in there. But Matthew (Hurricane) did them some damage. They had to close. Water was in there. So what he did…the guys know her husband and all they say, “as soon as it dries we’ll go in and take everything out.” He said,” Nobody’s moving anything.” He did what he wanted to do with it and that’s not right.
INTERVIEWER: No it’s not.
PEMBLETON: He’s on my list.
INTERVIEWER: A lot of local people feel the same way.
PEMBLETON: You’re right. You’re right. You’re right. And then especially to do her like that with the little things. She’s trying to raise them up and how to be. Do you know what I mean? It’s just sad.
INTERVIEWER: It is sad.
PEMBLETON: It’s sad. The little girl right next door have a little girl that’s two. And she had to take her and get her in for two or three of the nicer day cares that knew Diane made room for so many of the children. That girl had 36 kids around there.
PEMBLETON: Thirty six. And the thing about it, she’s around every morning at 6:30am because she cooks and gives those kids hot breakfast. She gives them their lunch. At 12:00pm she puts them down for their rest ‘til their parents come to get them. And she had graduated 15 classes of them little babies.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a lot to be proud of.
PEMBLETON: Yes! “It hurt, Lennette,” she said. I said, “I know it hurts. It hurts you because it hurts me.” Because there was no sense in him doing that. He doesn’t take care of everything there. I don’t know what he’s trying to prove.
INTERVIEWER: Where’s the motive? Don’t understand that.
PEMBLETON: And when he tore that Echo House down there, that did it with me. No, huh ugh. That’s it . That is it.
INTERVIEWER: That was a landmark. A lot of heritage. Yeah.
PEMBLETON: And now, what are they gonna do with Bayview? They sellin’ that.
PEMBLETON: I’m wondering where the people in Buckingham are going.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t know. They’re closing it. That was just announced. Don’t know.
PEMBLETON: Well, we knew it because I’m part of the Mission Society. We go every first Sunday of the month at 3pm ‘til 4pm. We have service with them and give them their communion because they can’t get out and it’s just been a joy. But now we don’t know where they’re going.
INTERVIEWER: I think they are taking some of them into Bayview, the big building. Larry Lake is the guy that runs Bayview and he lives down the street from me. He said they are going to take some of the people into there. I think they’re finding places for everybody else.
PEMBLETON: Yeah but that’s the thing you know. Gotta find places, places.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I think we should go ahead and conclude the interview.
INTERVIEWER: And Lennette, thank you very much for everything you’ve shared with us! It’s been great. Really been great.
PEMBLETON: I hope I’ve been able to help some.
INTERVIEWER: You have. You have. You’ve got some wonderful memories.
PEMBLETON: I enjoyed talking about it because I was a part of it and we all just had fun. We really had fun. So when you have fun when you’re young and you’re not being abused like this and your parents are with you with whatever you tried to do right. So I’m proud of my mom. My mom’s been dead 38 years and I miss her sometimes. You just get emotional because she was a good mom. She was a good mom.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. Okay. Well Tom, unless you have another question I think we’ll call it a halt. Lennette, thank you again.
PEMBLETON: Well, I just hope it will help and I gave you something you could use.
Lenette Pembleton is the second from the right
Excelsior High School graduation 1943, Lennette Pembleton 5th from the right.
Excelsior High School Cheerleaders, Lennette Pembleton is in the second on the right.