Ralph Deaton was born in May of 1936 in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland and spent much of his youth during the war living in Church Hill, Maryland. Clarence Deaton, Ralph’s father, owned a trucking business as well as a popular tavern called the “Country Boys Inn.”
Throughout the interview, Ralph shares his father’s businesses. He particularly details his father’s inn which was a substantial outlet for the community during the war. Ralph also speaks about his experiences with German POW’s and talks extensively about his experiences with race discrimination and segregation.
Father’s Tavern in the Community
My father’s tavern also served as an outlet for most of the people in the community because in 1947, he bought a television set. Well, on up in Church Hill, there were only so many places that you could go and you could come to the beer garden. They used to have Wednesday night fights. They had fights on Friday nights in Madison Square Garden. I think Monday nights, they had fights in a place called United Arena over in D.C.
But during that time, the tavern served as an outlet. The men came in. Plus, he had a couple of pool tables at the back of the beer garden. They came in. They shot pool. They watched fights, ball games and that type stuff. Well, see football hadn’t gotten into the way it is now.
He had something usually for mostly everybody to do. Like the older men. See the men that were fifty, sixty years old during that time, they used to do what they called a promenade. It was something like a dance; it was a male and a female, but it was done to accordion music. Or the guys that were in the 20’s, 30’s, younger guys, they used to like to do what they called a spot dance. Up in the walls, you would have these pin-ups made out of crepe paper, and I think it was like fifteen bucks or twenty bucks or something. You put twenty bucks up on one of those things and they would play music on a jukebox. And then after a certain time, they would say, “Stop!” So when they stopped, the person that was under or nearest to where this spot was, where the money was, they would get the money. So this was different types of outlets that the beer garden was used for back during those times because it was probably the only place in the neighborhood you could go as an outlet.
Childhood Fear of German POWs
That used to be a prison camp. That was a German prison camp. Back after the war, when they brought these German prisoners over here, they had them stationed over on 213 just outside of Churchill. And that’s something that scared me to death. ‘Cause back in 1945, I’m nine-years-old now. And I used to like to ride on the trucks with my father, grandfather, that type stuff. But if I found out that some of those prisoners were working out on the farms, I wasn’t going. You know, you’d be lying in bed at night; it seemed like to me I could feel these guys coming up out the woods or something like that. So, I was unnerved by the fact that, you know, the prison camp was that close.
Segregation in Church Hill
You knew you couldn’t go certain places, couldn’t do certain things. The theatre in Church Hill— at that particular time, I lived around on the other block. I could always tell when the first show was out. And all the traffic leaving the show would come round the road, so we knew this show was over with.
Well, we couldn’t go into the Church Hill theatre at all. But in Chestertown and in Centreville, they did have an upstairs where you could go. Over in Church Hill, you couldn’t go into the theatre at all over there. There were certain place you knew you couldn’t go, so you didn’t. It didn’t bother me; I didn’t get upset about it back during that time.
There was a bar right at our front gate. Blacks din’t go in that bar. Then around the corner, they had another one. Down the street was a bar that was owned by a black guy. That’s where you hung out. So, this stuff was carried all over the world. I don’t care where you are and when. That’s the way I see it.
“The Congo Man”
The one night I did happen to be on the back of a truck that went out looking for these guys, Armed Special Forces. After they didn’t find any, they stopped, and it was a beer joint. And anyway, when I went in there, I was the only black person on the back of this truck. When we went in there, I didn’t know it at the time. And these people told me they hadn’t seen a black man since in the 40’s, and they were asking me if I was the Congo man. So this was happening down in Southern Germany.
Growing Up on an Integrated Block
I grew up on an integrated block, and the white kids, they would come up and play with us. And it wasn’t the kids, it was the adults. They would call you names and all this kind of stuff. And we had couple guys who’d come around, and we played with them and got along fine with them. But it was, you know, it was the adults, and some of the stuff they would say.
Black History Week
Now they have Black History Month. Back during the time that I was in school, you only had Black History Week. So during Black History Week, Dorie Miller, General Benjamin O. Davis—the father, the son became generals in the Air Force—the Tuskegee Airmen, the Red Ball Express trucking company in the Army, are what we learned about during Black History Week.