Hector Black was born on February 12, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. On the cusp of being sent to the front lines in World War II, Hector realized he could not kill another human being. After the war, Hector attended Harvard University, where he joined a Quaker community and had sex with a man for the first time.

After graduation, Hector volunteered with an international Quaker work camp trying to improve the lives of Belgian miners, then joined an agricultural commune in Paraguay where homosexuality was firmly rejected. Deeply conflicted about his own attractions, Hector submitted to treatment with estrogen supplements, a popular homosexual ‘cure’ at the time. Believing himself to be cleansed, he returned to the United States, fell in love with Susie Maendel, and married her. 

For eight years, Hector and Susie in religious community. They had three daughters, and Hector continued to work with Quaker organizations to promote civil rights. In 1965, the family moved to an all-black neighborhood in Atlanta to be on the front lines of the civil rights movement. When Hector organized a rent strike to improve the living conditions in a housing complex, and got arrested, Martin Luther King Jr. joined those demanding his release. During these years, Hector had occasional flings with men. Afterwards, he begged Susie’s forgiveness, which she always granted.

In 1995, one of Hector and Susie’s daughters came out as lesbian. Hector finally felt he had no choice but to follow her example. At age 70, he offered Susie a divorce, which she declined. In 2000, Hector and Susie’s daughter Patricia was raped and murdered. Hector and Susie got through it together. Drawing on his Quaker roots and beliefs, Hector successfully pleaded for his daughter’s murderer to be spared the death penalty, visited him in prison and forgave him.

Hector and Susie remained married until her death in 2015. 

Today, Hector lives in a house perched over a ravine at the end of a long dirt road, a few miles outside the town of Cookeville, Tennessee. He has found a sweet passel of queer friends at the Short Mountain radical faerie community, about an hour’s drive away. He also continues to visit prisoners on death row. He likes to quote Mother Teresa, who said, “Lord, break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”
Kate Kunath: [00:00:00] ... and room tone.
Hector Black: What's the best way to handle if I don't hear you?
Kate Kunath: Um, if you don't hear ...
Kate Kunath: [00:00:30] This is room tone. Okay, that's room tone with no refrigerator. Hector, will you tell us your name and how to spell it?
Hector Black: My name is Hector Black, H-E-C-T-O-R B-L-A-C-K.
Hector Black: [00:01:00] My middle name is Neil, N-E-I-L.
Kate Kunath: Okay, and tell me your name again and where and where you were born.
Hector Black: My name is Hector Neil Black. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, February 12th 1925.
Kate Kunath: Great. Let's talk a little bit about your family. Who were they, who were your parents?
ManSee Kong: [00:01:30] And also, if you can just look at Kate, try to look at Kate and not the camera.
Kate Kunath: Yeah, here, yeah.
Hector Black: Oh, okay, yeah. My father was born in Scotland in Edinburgh. He had a very difficult life.
Hector Black: [00:02:00] His father died when he was one year old and his mother died when he was about 12 or 13 and he had to go to work. He told me quite a bit, even showed me where he lived in Edinburgh. Usually it's such a beautiful city, you can't picture what we'd call a slum,
Hector Black: [00:02:30] but it was, a cold water flat was where they lived. They had to go to a public bath down the street. He was raised by a half sister and he never forgot what she did for him. She never married, she looked after my father and his brother,
Hector Black: [00:03:00] who is about a year older or so. I was named after his brother and his father was also Hector Neil Black. My mom grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. She also had a pretty rough upbringing I think in a lot of ways. My grandfather became,
Hector Black: [00:03:30] I think it was a Seventh-day Adventist, but it might have been Jehovah's Witness, I can never ... He was very interested in both, but he left the family to hand out ... Well, the story is he left the family to hand out religious tracts. My grandmother,
Hector Black: [00:04:00] I think they had a fairly big house. My grandmother turned it into a boarding house in order to have enough income to live on. My mom remembers those days when there wasn't a great deal to eat and my father as well.
Kate Kunath: [00:04:30] You grew up in, tell us where you grew up again and what the era was, what was going on?
Hector Black: Yeah, I grew up in a middle class white suburb in Queens, pretty close to the Forest Hills Gardens, which was a very exclusive community. Ours was less exclusive,
Hector Black: [00:05:00] but in terms of racial diversity it was completely white. I don't remember any people of even Italian ancestry living there. We were Nordic, English, American, Scottish, whatnot.
Kate Kunath: Look here when you're talking to-
Hector Black: [00:05:30] I'm sorry.
Kate Kunath: Look at me when you're talking, you're looking at the camera. Just to remind you, yeah.
Hector Black: My eyes are bad and I can hardly see you.
Kate Kunath: Okay.
Hector Black: I just can't see in the dark well.
Hector Black: I'll try to remember, if there was a tiny light.
Kate Kunath: You know, I'm going to put a light on me.
Hector Black: Yeah, that would help. Yeah,
Hector Black: [00:06:00] it was a long way from diversity and it was WASP, essentially. My mother told me about an Armenian family moving in the neighborhood and the neighbors made it so unpleasant for them that they moved away. My father, to some degree, because he knew poverty,
Hector Black: [00:06:30] but he was ... Race was not a concern of his particularly, racial justice or anything like that, but it was very important to my mom. She was an ardent feminist and socialist too.
Hector Black: [00:07:00] She voted for Norman Thomas as long as he ran, which caused a lot of contention in the family because her brother, my uncle, was determined he was not going to be poor.
Hector Black: [00:07:30] My mom was trained as a secretary. It was one of the few professions that women were allowed to join, so she went to secretarial school and became secretary to the owner of a factory up in Massachusets, who was well to do.
Hector Black: [00:08:00] She was able to introduce the man she worked for as a secretary to my uncle, who had lots of ideas on how to make money. This man, Russel Grinell, invested in my uncle's ideas of metal-plating and it was very successful. It was in the depression where there wasn't a great deal of success.
Hector Black: [00:08:30] The differences in politics were quite dramatic at times, I think.
Kate Kunath: That was pretty forward-thinking if your mom was a feminist.
Hector Black: Yeah.
Kate Kunath: What is this, 1930?
Hector Black: Yeah, in the '30s.
Kate Kunath: [00:09:00] And your mom, does the memory that you have of her feeding vagrants, as they were called in this article-
Hector Black: Yes, that was amazing. When I think back on it, that we would come home from school and mom would be feeding somebody in the kitchen. I think somehow the vagrants marked the house so that other people could find it as a friendly place,
Hector Black: [00:09:30] a place where you could get a meal. She did other stuff. I remember it was desperate times during the depression and a family on our block, a man lost his job, and so mom, we were not doing all that well, but my mom went to the grocery and she packed a huge, she ordered and chose all the stuff for a big,
Hector Black: [00:10:00] huge basket of food, which she left at their door anonymously. She was very generous. There was another person who was also a very generous woman. She was a boarder in my grandmother's house,
Hector Black: [00:10:30] I found some old papers once and I saw her name in my grandmother's records of the rent being paid and all that stuff. Her name was Mary Capron. She was a spinster and she was my grandmother's, she became my grandmother's best friend and my mom's best friend. She lived to be 90 some years old.
Hector Black: [00:11:00] She worked for Wealthy Women, New England, and they died and left her things and she gave them all away. I think I still have a glass or so from the things that she gave my mom when she inherited them or was given things like that.
Hector Black: [00:11:30] I remember her talking once about passing a store and seeing two little urchins looking at the bakery goods inside just longingly, so she went in and took them in and bought it for them and gave it to them. Just little actions like that that really impressed me.
Kate Kunath: Who were some of your other role models growing up?
Hector Black: [00:12:00] Role models, let's see. I guess my mom and this elderly lady that I remember. My parents were agnostic,
Hector Black: [00:12:30] but they wanted us to make our own choice, so they sent us to congregational Sunday school. I do remember hearing Paul's letter to the Corinthians, "The greatest of all is love, if you have not love you're nothing," and I must have been, I don't know,
Hector Black: [00:13:00] an early teenager or something, somewhere around early teens, I'm not sure. It really hit me somehow, I don't know, I just remember hearing that for the first time.
Kate Kunath: Will you repeat it again, what it is, what that-
Hector Black: Oh, yeah, let me see now, how does it go?
Kate Kunath: Even the theme.
Hector Black: Yeah, the end of it I know is, "Now remain faith hope and love,
Hector Black: [00:13:30] but the greatest of these is love," but there's other parts that are so important in that. I should remember, this is hard, but ... Oh, yes, I remember some of it, "If I know all mysteries and have all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing.
Hector Black: [00:14:00] If I have all the wealth in the world, but I have not love," it just goes through all the things that people on the world seek and desire and fight for.
Kate Kunath: As an early teenager, this impressed you?
Hector Black: Yeah, it did impress me.
Hector Black: [00:14:30] Also, my uncle's life impressed me in a kind of, I suppose, a negative way. He had to pay people to play cards with him. I thought that was just the bottom.
Kate Kunath: Because he was not a nice person?
Hector Black: [00:15:00] He had friends, but of course he always wondered if they were his friends or if they were there just for what they could get from him. He must have been a terribly lonely man. I didn't dislike him, but I just didn't want to be like him. He was quite pompous and he liked to impress people.
Hector Black: [00:15:30] He had a beautiful home, he built it on my Moms land. My mom had a sister who must have been a remarkable woman. She went to secretarial school, saved money and bought a farm and went and lived on this farm with hired hands in the same house. It was scandalous before World War I.
Hector Black: [00:16:00] My uncle was just horrified, I'm sure. I never met this aunt, she died quite young and it was said from overwork, that she just threw a sack of grain on her shoulders and hauled it off and it was the animals, I think it was the pigs that would come through the kitchen. It must have been a humdinger or a three-legged pig,
Hector Black: [00:16:30] some damaged animal that she petted. She bought this farm and she gave it to my mom because I'm sure my uncle, I don't think they had much of any relationship at all because of her choice of life. There was no way he could hide it. She was just living right there outside of providence and the farm.
Hector Black: [00:17:00] We used to go in summer, it was a cow barn that had been turned into a house and when we were really small we used to go there every summer and live, and it was delightful. There was no electricity, it was all kerosene lamps and candles for light. Then we'd take baths, we had a pump with a long handle, you'd just stand up
Hector Black: [00:17:30] and pump it back and forth and it would pump water from a well to a tank on the roof and it would overflow off the eaves and that's where we took our baths in the summer time. It was just great. There was an outhouse in the back.
Kate Kunath: You were living in Brooklyn then and you would go out there?
Hector Black: No, actually we moved to Queens when I was one, my youngest brother was born in Queens. We were all born at home
Hector Black: [00:18:00] and my youngest brother was born in our house in Forest Hills in Queens, but my other brother and I were born in Brooklyn, Prospect Boulevard or some place like that. I think it was Brownstone or something over there, I've never been back to see. I don't remember the address.
Kate Kunath: Where did you go to high school?
Hector Black: [00:18:30] Went to Richmond Hill High School. The Forest Hills High School hadn't been built, so we walked through Forest Park. Amazing, when I think about it now, it would be impossible. Kids walking through a park? It's just a different world.
Kate Kunath: When did you discover that you were a little different than other kids or other high schoolers or other boys?
Hector Black: [00:19:00] I think it was pretty early on. I knew something was different because I was attracted to men. Gosh, even maybe at the age of eight, ten, somewhere around there. It was never spoken about.
Kate Kunath: [00:19:30] Did you know what it was?
Hector Black: Had no idea in the world. I had no idea in the world, I thought I was the only person in the world who felt this way. It was the most unpleasant, to put it mildly,
Hector Black: [00:20:00] to think you're totally weird. You never meet anybody with anything similar even and you can't talk about it because you never talked about stuff like that. I guess maybe that's partly why I was sort of a loner as a kid. I played with the other kids and I played baseball from time to time and stuff like that,
Hector Black: [00:20:30] but for the most part I was at home. I learned to play the piano. My mother got me lessons from a lady down the street and I made leather things and learned to weave and all kinds of stuff like that, and I gardened. I loved gardening from the time I was about 9 years old I reckon.
Kate Kunath: [00:21:00] Then, so you didn't meet anyone that was like you? When did-
Hector Black: I never met anyone like me, not until, good heavens. Even then, my first year of college I'd met people
Hector Black: [00:21:30] who were sort of effeminate, but I don't remember ever even talking about it until ... Good heavens, I think it was after the army when I went back to college after two and a half years in the army,
Hector Black: [00:22:00] I finally, I started studying, I took a course in psychology and started learning about things and meeting people who were like me.
Kate Kunath: When was that, what year was that?
Hector Black: Let me see, I graduated in '49, it had been about '47.
Kate Kunath: [00:22:30] What college was this?
Hector Black: I started at the University of Massachusetts and then the war came, in agriculture, and the war came and I went to Harvard on GI Bill and graduated in 1949.
Kate Kunath: After going to the army and then coming back you went to Harvard?
Kate Kunath: What was your major?
Hector Black: [00:23:00] I wound up in social relations, social anthropology and things like that. The army turned me upside down in many, many ways.
Kate Kunath: Let's talk about that.
Hector Black: [00:23:30] Yeah, at the very beginning in basic training, I was 18 years old, I said, "Well, I could die in this thing. I better find out what life is about and stuff like that." I started going to chapel. I had not been much of a church-goer before that, so I started going to chapel and I couldn't put together what we were hearing in chapel and what we were trained to do,
Hector Black: [00:24:00] so I quit chapel and became a very ardent atheist. My brothers were in the same boat, so we wrote back a lot, encouraging each other. Then in the army,
Hector Black: [00:24:30] because you never know what you're going to ... I guess some publishers were giving books for soldiers and stuff, and of all things I found a book on Buddhism and I started reading that one and I thought, "Good grief, this is good stuff." There were things like, "Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time. Hatred ceases only by love." I thought,
Hector Black: [00:25:00] "Good night, that's the truth. What we're doing is totally wrong. What I'm trained to do is totally wrong." I'm trying to remember this sequence, I was trained as a combat engineer,
Hector Black: [00:25:30] to blow up buildings and railroads and build pontoon bridges and stuff like that. It was very dangerous. I went to England around the time of the invasion of Normandy and members of my unit
Hector Black: [00:26:00] were being flown to the front in France to replace the dead and wounded. It suddenly dawned on me that I was not going to be shooting a target. I'd be shooting a human being. I felt like I couldn't do it, so I talked to some of my friends. Actually, that was one of the things that happened in the army,
Hector Black: [00:26:30] even in college I somehow escaped from my cocoon or whatever it was. When I went to this agricultural, it was MASS, it's now in University of Massachusetts in Amherst. When I first went there, I became popular. It was very strange to me.
Hector Black: [00:27:00] I remember some of my friends ran me for office. I almost became class president. I led a panty raid, oh gosh, when I think of it all it was just crazy stuff, crazy stuff. It was just a bunch of crazy guys. Of course, it was a very riled time,
Hector Black: [00:27:30] I mean the war was on, every able-bodied man knew they were going to be in the army, navy or wherever. They were going to be called up, so it was just a time when it was all crazy, people were leaving school, being drafted. Me leading a panty raid is just a humdinger.
Hector Black: [00:28:00] Anyway, I didn't, when I went in the army, I was with people of all backgrounds. It wasn't integrated of course, but there were people of all kinds of backgrounds thrown into a barracks together. I guess we,
Hector Black: [00:28:30] hearing men crying, they must have missed their home, their wife or their girlfriend or whatever. We really were all equal and we were all treated equally badly,
Hector Black: [00:29:00] I guess, by the sergeants, but we were all in the same boat. There was no special privileges for anybody.
Kate Kunath: There was a time, though, that you felt that the ... [inaudible 00:29:23]
ManSee Kong: [inaudible 00:29:25].
Kate Kunath: You had mentioned at some point that the army,
Kate Kunath: [00:29:30] it wasn't integrated, but there was a group of black men that had invited you into their tent.
Hector Black: Oh, that was at the very end, yeah, at the very end of the thing.
Kate Kunath: Tell me that story.
Hector Black: Yeah, that was, we were on our way back. The war was over. I had an extraordinary good time at an army university at this fancy resort town
in France called Biarritz stayed 2 sessions, 4 months. Army had thousands waiting to go back to U.S. Know we would be trouble if idle. Brought profs from US and those in the Army.
Hector Black: [00:30:00] We stopped saluting our officers. A friend of mine and I, we saved our cigarettes, and it was like currency in France. And neither of us smoked, and so we decided since the French engineers ... We couldn't read the orders, army orders are all abbreviated, and they're very hard to read, even if you know English,
Hector Black: [00:30:30] but handing them to a French conductor on a train, I mean, he had no idea what it said. And so we just figured, he and I, we planned this thing that we would wave goodbye to our comrades, heading home, and we'd take a couple of weeks, and see France while we were there. So we saved, had our cigarettes, and we saw ... Gave our orders to the conductor, and went up to ... I've forgotten, Tours I think was the name of that,
Hector Black: [00:31:00] and saw all the chateaus of the Loire Valley. And stayed in nice hotels. And it was right after the war, so there wasn't food, nothing was fancy, everything was kind of down at the heel, but it was delightful. David and me arrived late, of course, we stayed a couple of days in Paris, and then we went to Le Havre, where we were supposed to pick up our ship, handed our orders to this lieutenant,
Hector Black: [00:31:30] and he read them, and of course he know what they said. "So where the hell have you been?" And we hummed and hawed, and he said "Well, you're not supposed to come here, you're supposed to go to that sergeant over there, but if you were to come in here, I'd court martial your ass." The war was over, you know? It was just. But we went to the sergeant,
Hector Black: [00:32:00] he just laughed, and waved us through, and that's when we went and saw a tent with black soldiers in it. And I thought okay, we went in, found a couple of bunks. The guys were friendly, and no problem. And we were all set there, and then a sergeant looked into the tent and saw us. He said "What the hell are you doing here?"
Hector Black: [00:32:30] And he marched us out, and put us in a tent with white soldiers. But that was pretty much the end of ... That was the first time I ever saw an African American soldier the whole time I was in the army. They were that rigidly segregated.
Kate Kunath: What were they doing?
Hector Black: [00:33:00] I think these guys were probably also on their way home.
Kate Kunath: But if they were that segregated, like what were the black soldiers doing. What were their assignments and what were your assignments?
Hector Black: I really don't know. I think they were kept in separate housing. Maybe in separate camps even. I don't remember seeing anyone until that time, the whole time I was in the army. I must have, maybe not paid any attention,
Hector Black: [00:33:30] cause I don't know that I was particularly conscious of race and racial issues in those days. I don't think I was really very aware. I was just actually, the army woke me up to all of these kinds of social problems. And so that's when I went back.
Hector Black: [00:34:00] That's when I went to Harvard, and I gradually changed my major from ... Well they didn't have an agriculture course there even, when a friend of mine convinced me, the same guy that I went awol with. Absent without leave. It was not the first time I did that. I used to go over the hill or under the fence, or whatever it was many, many times.
Kate Kunath: [00:34:30] So what were the social problems that you recognized?
Hector Black: Well the first one was when we were at this ritzy resort, we saw a bunch of orphans being led by nuns, and so we decided that we'd like to invite them to our hotel, which was a very elegant place. And the nuns have them all come down and have a meal with us, and that maybe we get them in the back of a truck
Hector Black: [00:35:00] and take them for a drive somewhere. And things were that loose, you know, at the end of the war, that we were allowed to do stuff like that. And that was probably my first effort in that direction. Becoming aware of social problems like children without parents, and of course the destruction of war.
These were little girl orphans and some, looking very ashamed, had their hair cut short for what I assumed was some sexual infraction. A sad sight.
Hector Black: [00:35:30] I made very good friends with a family in the city where I was stationed, and their son had been shot on the street by the Germans, and of course the city was bombed to ruins, it was a big port town, Le Havre, and the Germans held out there for a long time after the Invasion. I think if you could get me a glass of water.
Kate Kunath: Oh, yeah.
Hector Black: I think the-
Kate Kunath: [00:36:00] When did you learn about the Quakers?
Hector Black: Oh, at Harvard. You know, I'd heard about them in history. William Penn in Pennsylvania and all that, but ... And I knew they were a peace church,
Hector Black: [00:36:30] but beyond that. A friend of mine had been going to the Quaker meeting in Cambridge, and he invited me to go, and I enjoyed it, and then there was also a youth group, college kids from all around the Boston Cambridge area, and that was an enormous help to me.
Kate Kunath: [00:37:00] Why?
Hector Black: It was just, what we did was we got together and under the care of the Quaker meeting, and we were not Quakers necessarily, I think very few of us were Quakers, but we ... The meeting was very interested in what we were doing, so they supported us and we would go to a poor white or black,
Hector Black: [00:37:30] mostly black area, and find a church that would be interested in housing us overnight, and we'd find landlords who were willing to provide paint and plaster to patch up, basically, their miserable apartments, and find tenants who would be willing to work with us, painting and plastering.
Kate Kunath: [00:38:00] Where was this housing?
Hector Black: It was in South Boston, it was in Roxbury, it was in Cambridge, there's a really poor African American area in Cambridge. And we'd set up the whole thing. I've forgotten where the meals came from, I think the church or community center, or the settlement house provided the food. Although we might have brought our own food too.
Kate Kunath: [00:38:30] So what was the job you were doing? You were-
Hector Black: We'd spend all day Saturday, we'd get over there either Friday night or Saturday morning, and then we'd go out to the houses that we were assigned to, and we worked with the tenants painting and plastering their apartment, and the purpose of it wasn't to improve the housing particularly, because they were just ... Some of them were just beyond improvement,
Hector Black: [00:39:00] but it was to expose us and working together sort of breaks down that barrier of privilege, our privilege and their need. It made it easier to talk, easier for them to talk, and easier for us to talk. So that we could understand more of why there is poverty, why people are ...
Hector Black: [00:39:30] Why do they land in this kind of a situation. And also why do we land in our situation of privilege. And it was-
Kate Kunath: What did you learn?
Hector Black: Beg you pardon?
Hector Black: A lot about circumstances, sickness.
Hector Black: [00:40:00] Well of course, we all came from middle class families. We were used to, especially when it was a matter of racial difference, we were used to being treated with respect. We inherited ...
Hector Black: [00:40:30] And I found most of the poor people worked just as hard, but they paid exorbitant rents for wretched housing. The schools in those neighborhoods were much different. Not nearly so well equipped.
Hector Black: [00:41:00] It was just everything was kind of geared to ... I don't know, it's not like it's a conspiracy to keep poor people poor, but it's just ... I don't know if that plays any part in it at all, but it was mainly just that the circumstances of your growing up affect
Hector Black: [00:41:30] what your life is going to be to a very large degree. Now there are people, certainly, who come out of it, and become very successful, and very wealthy, like my uncle. He managed. My father, he did very well. He lost it all in the depression, but he did very well before that.
Hector Black: [00:42:00] It's just ... It's like ... I felt as though life is stacked against you if you're black, and if you're poor. Your chances of getting out of it are limited ... Of course later it was all ... In those days I don't remember there being much in the way of drugs. There certainly was alcohol, problems with alcohol.
Kate Kunath: [00:42:30] And so, let's see, what year is this? When you're at Harvard?
Hector Black: Let's see, it was in 1946 to 49. I got one year of credit for my half a year at the university of Massachusetts, and my army university.
Kate Kunath: [00:43:00] Did you make any special friends, or have any connection with men at Harvard?
Hector Black: Yes. Yes.
Kate Kunath: And so what was it like for you to finally find some people that were like you?
Hector Black: Well, it was delightful in many ways, but it was also ...
Hector Black: [00:43:30] I carried a lot of guilt about it also, because I knew it was frowned on to say the least. And we just sort of ...
Hector Black: [00:44:00] It wasn't accepted at Harvard, I would say, it wasn't unspeakable, because we did talk about it, but it was not anything that the university welcomed particularly, that's for sure.
Kate Kunath: Where were you guys able to talk about it?
Hector Black: In our dorms, in our rooms. You know, I had a ...
Hector Black: [00:44:30] It was a pretty nice set up really, at Harvard, the dorms were, I thought, were elegant ... I had a little room just to myself because in those days I was a vegetarian, I was able to eat in my room, so I didn't have to go through the ritual at the dining room with a tie and a jacket, and all that stuff. And so I could invite people to have dinner with me,
Hector Black: [00:45:00] or supper or whatever. I had a hot plate and a refrigerator in my room. It was really, that part was pretty nice.
Kate Kunath: So would you have dates in your room? You would have dates over for dinner?
Hector Black: Sometimes. Sometimes I would, and then we'd go out to the movies. Someone might ...
Hector Black: [00:45:30] I'd have strong attachments to men, and some of them were straight men. And they were very kind to me. I mean, we just understood each other. And we remained, although it never became a romantic relationship, we became very close friends. And I felt especially grateful that my being gay didn't turn them off from being really good friends. Some of my best friends were straight guys from Harvard.
Hector Black: [00:46:00] I introduced one of them to his wife. I was doing my thesis for graduation, and interviewing some of the people who had been to these work camps to try to measure how much it changed the attitude towards poverty, and so I had this ... My friend was a vegetarian, so he was having dinner up there, and I invited this young lady to have dinner after the interview.
Hector Black: [00:46:30] And she did, and they married, and had a family and all. They're not alive anymore. None of my friends of those years are alive. But Im in touch with their children.
Kate Kunath: Was anybody out that you knew of in Harvard?
Hector Black: I don't think so. It was still a matter of some concern.
Hector Black: [00:47:00] I think ... I never. You know, they had housemasters. I was at Elliot House, and I think one of my friends ... He was pretty close to being out, but I don't think he was.
Hector Black: [00:47:30] But the housemaster was concerned about relationships in the dorm and stuff like that. But not to the point of doing anything. At least, nobody ever spoke to me about it, but I heard that he knew somehow that I was gay. Or that I was attracted to men.
Kate Kunath: And that was ... That felt scary, that someone might find out?
Hector Black: [00:48:00] It's kind of weird. I'm not sure exactly why, but I remember sitting on a bench along the Charles River, and necking with my friend. And people would walk by, and kind of look weird at us, but nobody ever did anything. And so, we were always
Hector Black: [00:48:30] like we didn't give a hoot, I guess. When I think back on it, it seems kind of careless for that particularly time. Like-
Kate Kunath: Do you think it was because there wasn't really a name for it? So people couldn't vilify it yet?
Hector Black: I think that's part of it, yeah. I think.
Hector Black: [00:49:00] I remember rhymes about Harvard and gay men going to Harvard, and stuff like that.
Kate Kunath: What was the rhyme?
Hector Black: I think it's hes got lace upon his underwear, that's all I remember. Oh Lord.
Kate Kunath: So when did the reparative therapy come into the picture?
Hector Black: [00:49:30] I'm sorry?
Kate Kunath: Was there some reparative therapy attempts?
Hector Black: No, not there. The only time I got into that was at the religious community that I joined.
Kate Kunath: And where was that?
Hector Black: That was ... I went to Paraguay in South America. There were three guys I'd read about,
Hector Black: [00:50:00] these guys had gone from Harvard to visit this religious community way out in backwoods in Paraguay. The community had come from Europe, they were refugees from Europe, because nobody wanted pacifists, and nobody would let them stay. And the only country that would let them in was Paraguay. The wanted farmers to tend the interior.
Hector Black: [00:50:30] And so I went to Paraguay and lived there for a year. And I knew the group was strongly homophobic, and considered it a major sin.
Hector Black: [00:51:00] And I hated myself and who I was enough that I went through a treatment there. I took hormones. That was the only thing people knew to do in those years. It was 1951 maybe, something like that. And so, the standard treatment, as I understand it anyway, at that time was to give men a female hormone,
Hector Black: [00:51:30] and so I was happy to do it, because I didn't want to be gay. And so, I started growing breasts, and that's when they quit. That was getting a little bit overboard or something, I don't know.
Hector Black: [00:52:00] After time, they thought I was cured, and I thought I was cured.
Kate Kunath: You felt different at that point?
Hector Black: I felt good.
Kate Kunath: Did you feel different?
Hector Black: I suppose in some ways I did. You know, I just, it was like I ...
Hector Black: [00:52:30] If I was attracted to someone and I nursed the attraction, then I'd go to the minister and confess. And that was sort of the ... That did help, because it's kind of humiliating.
Kate Kunath: [00:53:00] So.
Hector Black: I think I did have much less, and not nearly as strong feelings, because I just never let my mind wander in that direction particularly. You know, if I saw someone who's particularly handsome, I'd just look the other way.
Kate Kunath: [00:53:30] So okay, so then you got some breasts. Then what happened? Did you stay and was it Uruguay or Paraguay?
Hector Black: Beg your pardon?
Kate Kunath: Is it Paraguay?
Hector Black: Paraguay.
Kate Kunath: Okay. So you've taken the hormones, you have some breasts, did they send you home at that point?
Hector Black: [00:54:00] No, I stayed on and became a novice there. And then they were gonna start a community in the United States, because a lot of Americans had heard about it, and had joined the communities. These three guys from Harvard were there in Paraguay. And I got to meet them, and so ... Let me see, I lost the thread.
Kate Kunath: [00:54:30] So they were gonna set up in the United States.
Hector Black: Yeah, and I was sent up to ... You know, you sell everything you have, and give it to the community, it's total community of property. And so I came up to settle my affairs, I joined the group that was looking for a place, and then
Hector Black: [00:55:00] we found a place, and eventually I just stayed in the US. At the beginning of the community. It was just north of New York City. Up near Kingston. And-
Kate Kunath: What was it called?
Hector Black: [00:55:30] Because it's got to be quite sizeable. I think they have some like five or six communities in New York State alone. Two or three in Pennsylvania. They have houses in various cities. They've got a place in Harlem. They've got a place in Florida. Oh, I don't know how many,
Hector Black: [00:56:00] and then there's two in England, two or three communities in England. One in Germany. Australia. And I think in Asia, but I think those are small, smaller groups, in Korea maybe, I'm not sure.
Kate Kunath: Okay, so you're in Kingston.
Hector Black: Yeah, I was living in Kingston, and
Hector Black: [00:56:30] that's where I met Susie. Well, actually I met her in North Dakota, where she grew on a Hutterite farm. And you know about Hutterites?
Kate Kunath: No, what are Hutterites?
Hector Black: They're like the Amish, very similar, except they live communally, they share their property, nobody has his own house, it's everything's owned by the community, and so they're very closely related to this group in Paraguay.
Hector Black: [00:57:00] They knew about each other, they were united at one point, and then they separated on the basis of ... There were some differences of opinion on ... The Hutterites have very strong traditions about clothing and women's role, a lot of stuff like that, which the Bruderhof, coming from the modern world, didn't have.
Hector Black: [00:57:30] So there was a lot of tension, developed on some of those issues.
Kate Kunath: Was the Bruderhof all men?
Hector Black: Was it?
Kate Kunath: The Bruderhof, was it all men?
Hector Black: Oh, no, men and women.
Kate Kunath: Okay. So you guys met on this community?
Hector Black: Yeah. There were always families, mostly families, and people from all over.
Hector Black: [00:58:00] There were Dutch, English, French, Swedish, German, they were half German, half English, basically at one stage, and now it just from all over the map. And not a very large-
Kate Kunath: You and Susie met.
Kate Kunath: You and Susie met. You met Susie, and then when did you guys get married?
Hector Black: [00:58:30] 1957, near Kingston.
Kate Kunath: Will you say "We were married in 1957"?
Kate Kunath: Can you say "We were married in 1957"?
Hector Black: Would I say? Oh yes, I'm sorry.
Kate Kunath: It's okay.
Hector Black: I'm forgetting that. Yeah. Yeah. We were married in 1957, Susie and I. I met her out in North Dakota,
Hector Black: [00:59:00] she had been traveling, the Bruderhof has sent people to the Hutterite community, and they had sent people to the Bruderhof. To try to pull the two groups together. And Susie had been off traveling in two other Hutterite communities, talking about the Bruderhof, and what being ... the Hutterites are cut off from the world, basically,
Hector Black: [00:59:30] and this was a group that was connected to the world, and they wanted, a lot of the Hutterites wanted to be connected. They felt that that was part of their belief was to share their life with other people. Not just with people who grew up, and were born into their community. That how it's been for years, you know.
Hector Black: [01:00:00] You're born a Hutterite you usually stay one, and it's so similar to the Amish this. I've read a lot of Amish leaving, but I don't know, I think they're always enough left that they're still growing in size.
Kate Kunath: The brothers, the community that you're a part of, it's a faith based community, it's a Christian community?
Hector Black: Yes, very strongly.
Kate Kunath: [01:00:30] Did you ever feel like that was not the greatest idea because they would not accept gay people?
Hector Black: No. You see, at that point I didn't like who I was. I didn't want to be gay. I was ashamed. I had taken on
Hector Black: [01:01:00] the beliefs of society about it, and so I wasn't proud at all. I felt very differently from the way I feel now.
Kate Kunath: Susie and you had some kids.
Hector Black: Yes.
Kate Kunath: [01:01:30] Tell me about that.
Hector Black: Let me see. Well, Rose was our first, and there's some really beautiful things about that community. When a couple has a child, they have a building where they send the parents and the baby, because often the family has other children,
Hector Black: [01:02:00] and some other family takes care of all the children so that you can just be, for a couple of weeks or months, you're just there with the baby. The mamma's there to nurse the baby, and then daddy goes to work, but they'd bring meals to you, you get special treatment, it's very nice. And then you go back and take your regular role,
Hector Black: [01:02:30] and the baby goes to the baby house where they're looked after. Everybody works. The children from, good night, pretty young. They come home, you have your apartment, and the children come home. They're there at night. They're there for breakfast and family supper a couple of nights a week, and you see your kids Sunday, they're there running around in the community at whatever nursery school.
Hector Black: [01:03:00] It's not like you're giving your children away, but you know they're well cared for. And the kids interact with one another even at that young age. They love being with other little children. It just amazing.
Kate Kunath: Rose was your first?
Hector Black: [01:03:30] Yes, and she was born in Kingston, and then Aggie, Agnes, she was named after my mother. She was born second, and then we left the community and ... We were sent away actually. I was sent away because I had feelings against one of the leaders of the community. I felt as though some of the leaders were treated ...
Hector Black: [01:04:00] And it was like George Orwell, "We're all equal, some are more equal than others." That was the kind of feeling I had. And so, I was sent away, and lived in Poughkeepsie, and then Susie was having difficulties also. She was sent with the two children to live with me.
Kate Kunath: [01:04:30] They sent you away, and split your family up because you were having some differences?
Kate Kunath: And then, okay. Then she's sent ... Okay, then she came to you with the two kids?
Hector Black: Yes, she came with the two kids, and then we moved to New York because my mother had died, and my father was living alone, so he was very happy to have us. I Just need to go to the restroom.
Kate Kunath: [01:05:00] Okay. When you were married to Susie there were some transgressions at times?
Hector Black: Yes. I had this feelings against one of the ministers in the community,
Hector Black: [01:05:30] that he was getting more privileges, and it was supposed to be equal. And the way I looked on it is everybody should be pretty much the same house, food, everything, clothing. Then I realized that it was ... And I must have known even, and that it was because
Hector Black: [01:06:00] the members of the community realized that he carried a lot of burdens from various people. He was the person you went to when you had to confess things. And so, there's a lot of personal things that a person like that had to carry with them, and that was the reason why it was done, but I just felt it was a little more than necessary or something.
Hector Black: [01:06:30] And that got me in trouble because there has to be complete trust.
Kate Kunath: When you and Susie were living together off of the community, did that change your relationship?
Hector Black: [01:07:00] I don't know that it did particularly. It was stressful, just coming from that. I think it was both for Susie and me. She had never lived outside of a community. She's never lived on her own, gone shopping on her own, or anything like that, and they made all their own clothes.
Hector Black: [01:07:30] She probably went to the Dairy Queen and stuff like that once in a while when her father went to town. As far as the life, which is the normal life for most of us, it was totally unfamiliar to her. It was very difficult for her to get cooking meals even,
Hector Black: [01:08:00] a simple thing as that. She's a great cook actually, she'd learned to cook at Hutterite, when she was a Hutterite she'd learned. You start taking care of your little brothers and sisters at a very young age there, and you start cooking and all of these other things. You learn all of that type of thing,
Hector Black: [01:08:30] women's jobs. And the men learned men's jobs, even the young boys learned all the things that men do. Taking care of the hogs, or chickens, or farming, or whatever it might be.
Kate Kunath: Just watch your collar.
Hector Black: Oh, sorry.
Kate Kunath: Yes. And so, what did you do for a living then after you left the community?
Hector Black: [01:09:00] I got a job. Well, I had a lot of jobs in Poughkeepsie, I've worked in the Smiths Brothers cough drop factory, and I worked in some kind of electronics place, and then in New York city I worked as a payroll clerk at the airport at Idlewild, or Kennedy Airport it is now.
Kate Kunath: When did you live in New York city?
Hector Black: When we went down to live with my dad, after my mom died. Or sorry, we moved to New York city
Hector Black: [01:09:30] after my mom died, and my dad was alone and really wanted ... He was very lonely, and he wanted us to move in. And he would take Susie, or pay for her fixing her hair, something she'd never done in her life before. I think she had a haircut and her hair styled,
Hector Black: [01:10:00] which was really something that just never happened to her before. He used to take us sometimes out to a concert, my dad would, and he wanted us to look ... I was not wearing these in those days. I was wearing normal clothes, but I still had my moments. I remember, I was just thinking about my uncle.
Hector Black: [01:10:30] I went to visit him from college one time, and I arrived in Providence, he lived about 15 miles out, you had to take a bus. The last bus had run. I was a student, I didn't have much money. I got a newspaper, rolled myself up in newspaper and went under some of the shrubbery downtown for the night. And then,
Hector Black: [01:11:00] when I got to his house the next morning he said, "Where did you spend the night bud?" And I told him, he said, "You what?" He was furious, because if I had been found as the nephew of Rathbun Willard, the big guy, sleeping under the bushes. Another time I came to visit him,
Hector Black: [01:11:30] and my hair wasn't brushed or something, and he said, "You look like a Chrysanthemum on a stick." I was very skinny.
Kate Kunath: So, you and Susie were then living with your dad, and how many kids did you guys have?
Hector Black: Two.
Hector Black: Annie wasn't born yet, and then we got a visit from the community. They said they felt they'd been to harsh,
Hector Black: [01:12:00] and they wondered if we'd like to move back up so we could be visited more often and more easily, and that we could come and visit the community if it seemed like a good thing. And so, we said yes. I was very happy to return, and we moved to ...
Hector Black: [01:12:30] We had a little cabin in one of those motel things. Actually, it was in New York city that Susie first got the signs of her, one of the many, many illnesses that she had. She had red spots on her shins, and went to the doctor. They had a number of different diagnoses.
Hector Black: [01:13:00] They didn't know really what it was, but we gradually found out it was Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Kate Kunath: Did you and Susie ... Were you having any relationships outside of your marriage with men? Or what was happening there?
Hector Black: [01:13:30] No, not at that point. There was a point later on where I was unfaithful to Susie, and that was ... It's very kind of complicated situation. We were in and out of the community, and eventually they said to me, "I think you'll be happier living with Susie. Why don't you just go stay with her," and that's what I did.
Hector Black: [01:14:00] And we got a house with a VA loan, and I started work as a gardener. It was Woodstock New York where there're quite a lot of wealthy people, so I tended peoples shrubbery, and gardens, and stuff like that. And one day at the nursery there was a fellow giving me the eye,
Hector Black: [01:14:30] and he was attractive. And so, we arranged ... There was going to be a meeting that I was going to, and I went to his house instead. And then, a couple of days later a friend of ours came by and said, "Where were you at the meeting, Hector?" And there it was,
Hector Black: [01:15:00] and I was a wreck really. Susie called the community because she was worried that I might try to kill myself,
Hector Black: [01:15:30] and they offered to take us back and help us through this, so we went back. I guess that was the last time we went back. We went back in ... Wait a minute there's something else in there though. I know ... That's right, Susie ... I left out Annie's ...
Hector Black: [01:16:00] Susie got pregnant with Annie while we were outside the community. It's hard to ... It was so many different times going back to the community, then leaving, and then going back, and leaving. And she was losing weight, and-
Kate Kunath: Susie was?
Hector Black: [01:16:30] She was losing weight when she should have been gaining, carrying a baby. Of course, we went to the doctor, and the doctor called me in and said, he said,
Hector Black: [01:17:00] "Susie's got to have an abortion, or you stand a pretty good chance of losing them both." And so, I talked to Susie, and I said, "I can't decide this for you. I don't want to even say how I feel about it, as far as that goes." But she chose to go ahead, and that's when she was losing weight,
Hector Black: [01:17:30] and then the community offered to take us in no questions asked. They wouldn't try to get us to rejoin, they just wanted to look after us. Susie decided to go ahead and have the baby. And so, they did, they took wonderful care of us, all of us. And then Susie finally started gaining weight,
Hector Black: [01:18:00] and we decided to leave again, because neither one of us felt that was where we should be. And that's when we decided ... Wait a minute, no, we went back to Kingston to our house, it was still there, and everything went well with the birth.
Kate Kunath: A birth at home? A birth at home?
Hector Black: [01:18:30] No, we went to the hospital.
Hector Black: It was so complicated, Susie having been so ill, taking all this Prednisone and lord knows what for her illness. We had no idea what might happen to the child as a result of all of this. Of course, this is all before ultrasound and all that stuff.
Kate Kunath: This was your second child?
Hector Black: Third.
Kate Kunath: Third, okay.
Kate Kunath: You have three daughters?
Hector Black: [01:19:00] We have three daughters, and then another daughter joined our family when we moved, after we left Atlanta. What happened, Annie was born, and ... Let me see, how did that all ... We went back to Kingston, but then ... I'm sorry, that's when I was unfaithful, and that's when they said ...
Hector Black: [01:19:30] Yes, that's when they said, "Come back," and we went to the community in Pennsylvania, because I felt awful about what had happened, and we left. We were there for a year, and weren't getting anywhere as far as rejoining or anything.
Hector Black: [01:20:00] And I felt, and Susie felt too, that we needed to get on with our lives. And we were just marking time. And Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the great civil rights speakers, from Mississippi I believe, came and spoke to the community
Hector Black: [01:20:30] and I thought that was a best thing happening in the country. And so I, and Susie, we decided to leave, and they were sad about our leaving, but that's when we moved to Atlanta. Because it was the headquarters of the civil rights organizations movement, and I thought that would be the best place to start.
Hector Black: [01:21:00] I didn't know anybody. We moved to Atlanta, I went all over the place looking for work with Dr. King's organization, with the Mennonites, the Quakers, there might have been one other. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And the only one that had a job that would pay a little
Hector Black: [01:21:30] was the Quaker thing. I applied, and was accepted, and I think the idea was, it was a tutoring program, trying to get college student volunteers to work with children in the neighborhood to help them with their studies.
Hector Black: [01:22:00] And I felt immediately that I should live there, and that the only way I'd ever understand the lives of the children would be to live where they lived. Not nine to five, which was what was expected I guess. I would walk around
Hector Black: [01:22:30] the neighborhood called Vine City. I don't think any white person had ever lived there. It was not a changing neighborhood. It's one of those that from civil war times was African American. And I remember walking down the street asking a young lady
Hector Black: [01:23:00] if she knew of any apartments and buildings for rent. And she just looked at me and said, "Honey, ain't you on the wrong side of town?" And I laughed and said, "Yes, I guess I am."
Kate Kunath: And you were trying to move your whole family there?
Hector Black: Yes. And so, eventually we found a house and moved in.
Hector Black: [01:23:30] Of course, the neighbors were wondering what in Sam Hill these white folk were doing here. And as soon as they found out what we were ... They were no unfriendly at all, but as soon as they found out that we were there to help, they were just ... You couldn't have had better neighbors. I don't think I've ever felt safer anywhere than in that neighborhood.
Hector Black: [01:24:00] It was like there were watchful eyes on our house all the time. It was just ... And there were a lot of people who were shocked, thought we were risking our lives, our children's lives. I remember this sociologist looked at me one day and said, "You're marking your children's lives forever."
Kate Kunath: How long did you guys live there?
Hector Black: [01:24:30] Two and a half years. We were, at the beginning, in a fairly nice house with a little back yard. But hell me, stubborn old man, I wanted to be where the really poor people were, so we eventually, we bought one of those slum houses. And Susie's family came down
Hector Black: [01:25:00] and said they've given us a bunch of sticks, and we tried to make a house out of it. Her father and two of her brothers, maybe, came down and put it together. And maybe they went and built a porch on the back, which was just delightful.
Kate Kunath: You had lived in a couple of different houses there? Kids were in school.
Hector Black: [01:25:30] Same school, always the same school, and I remember there was another fun thing that had happened. I went down to the school to enroll my children, because the principal was black. And I said, "I'm Hector Black," and he said, "I'm George White," and of course we started laughing, and it broke the ice. I told him why we were there and everything.
Kate Kunath: [01:26:00] And how old were the kids then?
Hector Black: Let's see, Annie was quite young. She actually, the Kings, Martin Luther King and his wife lived ... It was a middle class neighborhood, but the neighborhood changed. It was maybe 10 blocks away, and they sent a car over with their youngest, Bernice, to pick up Annie to go to the only integrated nursery school in the city.
Hector Black: [01:26:30] That car came over every day, and Annie went. And then I got arrested, but I didn't know the Kings terribly well. I met his wife more often, we had a mutual friend, and we'd go over together and visit with her. But I didn't know
Hector Black: [01:27:00] Dr. King himself except to greatly admire who he was. But I tended to hang out with the SNCC group, the more radical young people. It was Julian Bond, and then John Lewis, and then Stokely Carmichael was Black Power. We worked together ...
Kate Kunath: [01:27:30] You worked together doing what?
Hector Black: Yes, on housing and stuff like that. Actually, one of the things that happened was, it didn't take me very long to realize that housing was even a more serious problem than tutoring,
Hector Black: [01:28:00] because there was no place to put a book in so many houses. There was no table. This was frightful places, just places you wouldn't put a cow, just awful. And we had started to organize a little neighborhood group,
Hector Black: [01:28:30] and we realized we had to start protesting the housing conditions, hoping they would change, and that kids would have a place.
Kate Kunath: That was probably part of the integration issue, right? Were you guys working towards integrating schools?
Hector Black: [01:29:00] Well, I'm trying to think. I think it was before school integration had actually happened in Atlanta. I think it was on its way, but I don't know. The neighborhood school certainly wasn't integrated. It was all the faculty, all the students were black. Ours were the only white kids.
Hector Black: [01:29:30] And our protests on housing didn't draw much attention, so somebody in the neighborhood in one of the meetings said, why don't we picket the landlords, the slumlords out in the suburbs, and that got attention. We got photographed and all that stuff, and that drew attention to housing conditions where we were.
Hector Black: [01:30:00] We blocked off the street, the main street where the buses rode that brought the maids from our neighborhood to the middle class white neighborhood where they worked. We blocked it off again to demonstrate the streets ... There were no playgrounds there, so this is, kids are only safe in the street, the only place they can ... I'm sorry. The only place they can play is the street, and we wanted to make it safe,
Hector Black: [01:30:30] until you give us a playground. So we got a couple of little cindery playgrounds out of that.
Kate Kunath: So how long were you involved in housing and civil rights?
Hector Black: The whole time pretty much, two and a half years. We worked ... Well, we worked with
Hector Black: [01:31:00] Julian Bond and John Lewis, but of course, Stokely Carmichael wanted us out of the neighborhood. He said, "White folks, your problem is in your neighborhood, not ours." And it made good sense, except that I felt like I had been there for, I guess, nearly two years by then, and people trusted us and we were able to ...
Hector Black: [01:31:30] We had a little bit of power as a group in making change, and people felt empowered for the first time. I remember how hopeful we all were about the possibility of change and things being better.
Hector Black: [01:32:00] The reality was grim. People in the neighborhood would come over and say, "Hector, you've got to see this place. This is awful, this is not right." And so they'd take me over to see it, and one of the places was a building called the Markham Hotel, there was a couple of stone steps and a kind of porch
Hector Black: [01:32:30] and you go in, and there were four rooms on the right and four on the left, and a long hall and public toilets at the end. And it was the same upstairs. And I walk into a room and there was just a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, no shade, no nothing, one bed that everybody slept in. Soot black everywhere,
Hector Black: [01:33:00] all the walls were black, they had a little coal stove. It was January when I first went in there, very, very cold and everybody huddled around this stove and that single light bulb. It's unbelievable. Of course the toilets were unspeakable. And so I started to organize a rent strike.
Hector Black: [01:33:30] And I was going back over to that building, and the landlord, the man who owned it, who I'd known about before 'cause he owned a lot of slum housing in that neighborhood, he saw me headed, and so he went and called the police. And so the police met me at this building and they said, "You take one step up there,
Hector Black: [01:34:00] I'm going to have to arrest you." And I said, "That's a public building. I know people in there. I have every right to go in and visit my friends." And "Take one step, I'll arrest you." So I said, "Okay. Stay here." So I went off, phoned a friend of mine to let him know what was happening and went back and took my step up and got into the handcuffs in the back of the car, and drove down to the jail in town.
Hector Black: [01:34:30] Walking up the steps to this beautiful courthouse, and he turned around and he said, "You damn Yankee troublemaker." I wasn't sure what was in store, but nothing ...
Kate Kunath: So what happened? He took you to jail?
Hector Black: They took me to jail and I was in jail overnight. Martin Luther King heard about it, he went to see the Markham Hotel and saw how frightful it was,
Hector Black: [01:35:00] and he was going to try ... As I understand, he was going to try to start in Atlanta with fighting poverty instead of just civil rights, but poverty is a real important part of it. I was in ... Yeah, I was in jail and the people from our neighborhood group came and visited me and said,
Hector Black: [01:35:30] "Hector, they're going to swallow us up". That SCLC, was King's organization, "they're going to swallow us up. They're huge and we're just this tiny bunch of us. You've got to get out of jail." I'd already been listening to black power and I got out of being the chairman
Hector Black: [01:36:00] and had local people as chair people and chairman of the thing, and I went and I took a job downtown just to be out of it. Actually part of that thing of they're coming to me to say "Get out of jail" as though I was such an important part of the neighborhood organization, so it was really kind of like the very thing
Hector Black: [01:36:30] that I didn't, or that Stokely Carmichael made me aware of, was the thing that had happened. I was the leader, whether I wanted to be or not. I did come out of jail after one night, I guess it was, and ... 'Cause they realized
Hector Black: [01:37:00] they had a hot potato I think then, and eventually I got five bucks from the police department for false arrest and the landlord was fined several thousand dollars for having me arrested. And the police for arresting me was just five bucks, but I've got it somewhere, I wanted to frame it, and I put it in a place I wouldn't lose it, and I have. Lost it.
Kate Kunath: [01:37:30] So you decided to leave the movements?
Hector Black: Eventually we did, yes. I tried ... It wasn't quite then. I just felt like I was becoming bitter about the pace of change. Things would happen,
Hector Black: [01:38:00] like I'd visit an apartment, the lady would show me how high the water came every time it rained hard, it came up like that in her house. And I reported it, went down to the housing department, asked why the housing inspector hadn't done anything about this place and a month later
Hector Black: [01:38:30] the woman who lived there came to me with a letter with a heading ... Atlanta, the Dogwood City, and Atlanta, the City too Busy to Hate. And the letter said, "Your apartment has been found unfit for human habitation. You have 30 days to move." So it was just ...
Hector Black: [01:39:00] We hadn't helped, we'd caused trouble. It's things like that that just ... It was just like nobody, I mean ... Well, we often used to talk all the time about the power structure and all that, and that they are not willing to change.
Hector Black: [01:39:30] There were several incidents that really ... We tried to run a woman for office from the neighborhood because we'd invited our representative to our meeting to talk to her about the issues and the problems in the neighborhood. She was what they call, high yeller, light skinned African American woman who lived in a neighborhood
Hector Black: [01:40:00] that was just up a steep bluff above Vine City, there's no roads going from where we lived to where she lived. And she came down to our meeting with two huge bodyguards, and that didn't sit well for a start. And then she really didn't seem to understand, or even want to understand, the issues that were concerning us,
Hector Black: [01:40:30] housing and all that sort of stuff. And so we ran a woman from the neighborhood for office, for representative to the Georgia Legislature. It's one of these extraordinary people you meet in places like that. Had ... I don't know if she graduated from high school,
Hector Black: [01:41:00] but she had this extraordinary wisdom and sense of humor, and everything. She was just very smart and capable. And so we ran her ... We didn't win. But there was a guy who said "You have to have 500 bucks to qualify in the election." So a guy, a black man,
Hector Black: [01:41:30] democrat, said, "You'll raise 250, I'll give you the other 250, and we'll qualify that lady." So we worked and we raised the 250 and the day before qualifying we went to collect the 250 from him and he was nowhere to be found. It was just a way of stopping us.
Hector Black: [01:42:00] As you get ... I'm not used to living with that, with cynicism. There's something about it that really ... It's where you can't trust. I can't trust anybody. I just thought that when a person said ...
Hector Black: [01:42:30] I just find it so darn difficult. It's like walking in a marsh or something, when you can't believe what somebody says to you. But, at any rate, that was another lesson ...
Kate Kunath: [01:43:00] So the lesson, I guess, the takeaway from your time in Atlanta, if you could sum it up, the moral of that story is what? What was the lesson that you learned there?
Hector Black: Well, several I guess, that people in power ...
Kate Kunath: Just watch your hands there.
Hector Black: [01:43:30] Oh yeah. That people in power don't want to give it up. People in control don't want to give it up. We worked with the ... It was during the Johnson administration when they had the war on poverty, and the phrasing of the law was poor people were to participate to the maximum feasible degree,
Hector Black: [01:44:00] and so that maximum feasible turned out to be yay much. It was all social workers telling poor people what they needed instead of asking them what their needs were. It just ...
Hector Black: [01:44:30] I guess it sobered me up in some ways about believing people when they tell you something, even if they look you in the eye and everything. And you think, "Well, he really means it." And find out that he doesn't. And then just the ... It's kind of ...
Hector Black: [01:45:00] With Stokely Carmichael, the needs are huge, why fight a white person who's trying, instead of join in and help. Do your own thing in the neighborhood, don't waste your time. He had a sound truck going around asking "What has your white Jesus done for you today?"
Hector Black: [01:45:30] And the result of that ... I forgot about that story. A crowd of men came one evening to our house, I hardly knew any of them, but they wanted our organization to join them in going down the street to burn out the SNCC office, which was, gosh,
Hector Black: [01:46:00] maybe six blocks away. They thought because SNCC was trying to get me out of the neighborhood, that I'd be happy to get rid of them. And I called a friend of mine, African American fellow, and asked him to please come over and give me a hand, 'cause I wasn't sure who these people were or what was behind it.
Hector Black: [01:46:30] He came over and we talked them down and there was no way I was going to do that. But one of the men shot me a look of hatred that I had rarely met. He was a African American guy.
Kate Kunath: [01:47:00] Why did they want to burn out the SNCC office?
Hector Black: Well, it turned out actually that this guy was a paid police informer. The neighbors told me, they knew who he was and what he did. People do know, that's one thing. They say have a little whatever. They know who does what in the whole neighborhood,
Hector Black: [01:47:30] and they knew this guy as a paid police informer. And he was the one who was insisting on it, and I expect the Atlanta Police Department was behind it because they hated SNCC. Everybody hated SNCC. They were ... Except for some of us respected them, but when ... The line with me came with violence, and also I just couldn't understand
Hector Black: [01:48:00] why they'd bother with somebody like me when there's so much else to be worked on, to be improved.
Kate Kunath: Well, they wanted to know where you stood probably, whether you were on ... Whose side you were on, right? They wanted to know more about you maybe?
Hector Black: Yeah. I mean, did they want to know more about me, the guys, the people who came in?
Kate Kunath: The cops. Yeah. The undercover cops.
Hector Black: [01:48:30] Yeah. Maybe so. But I have a feeling that the way that system works, and that's what people told me afterwards, if you're a paid police informer or if you're an informer, it's sometimes a person who has committed a crime, and the police let him off if he does something that helps them. And getting rid of SNCC, they would consider very helpful 'cause they just hated that organization because they were radical.
Hector Black: [01:49:00] They were more radical than I was, but ... And definitely in terms of violence, I think they maybe went off the rail there, but still I respected them for what they did, the other stuff they did.
Kate Kunath: So moving forward then, you eventually moved out of ... Did you move out of Atlanta, or how did you separate yourself?
Hector Black: [01:49:30] Yeah. I moved. We got a scholarship at a Quaker school up in Pennsylvania and we went there. There were two little girls who had been in our family a whole lot, their mom was an alcoholic, and she'd drink up the rent money and they'd spend a while with us 'til she found another place where they could live.
Hector Black: [01:50:00] They got to be friends of our children, and Susie and I got very fond of them both. Trish was the older one, she was really a neglected child,
Hector Black: [01:50:30] she had impetigo sores on her legs, her hair hadn't been braided in a long time. She was just very skinny. Her sister was her mamma's favorite, and she was a year younger, a year or so younger. She was just about the age of our older daughter, and Trish was about a year older than that. And so, they asked if they could come with us.
Kate Kunath: [01:51:00] From Atlanta?
Hector Black: From Atlanta to Pennsylvania. And I talked to Susie, and we said, "Well, why not?" And I went and talked to their mamma, and she said " Okay. It's going to be a year."
Hector Black: [01:51:30] So we moved up to Pennsylvania and the schools were so good. They were ... Priscilla hadn't really learned to read and write. Trisha loved books and she loved reading. She was like a starved plant, just suddenly you give it water and fertility, and she just blossomed.
Kate Kunath: [01:52:00] These kids were they African American kids?
Hector Black: Yeah. We ... Susie got to the point where they wanted to operate on her knees and one hip. It was the early stages of
Hector Black: [01:52:30] knee and hip replacement, and they had a long recovery period from it. And so Susie was going to be in the hospital, and I had five little girls,
Hector Black: [01:53:00] and I knew I wasn't going to be able to manage. So I took our three to their grandparents in North Dakota and I took Priscilla and Trisha back to Atlanta to their mamma, in the middle of winter. I think it was January or so. And I stayed on and visited Susie in the hospital and continued with my studies at Pendle Hill.
Hector Black: [01:53:30] And then Susie got out, and we talked about the future and decided to move south and stay there. We just felt that people in the south were more honest about their feelings regarding race.
Hector Black: [01:54:00] We'd experienced when we were back up north, people who said, "Oh, I have no prejudices" but then an African American family moves next door and there's a big uproar about it. And in the south you'd hear, "I don't want them people living next to me." And
Hector Black: [01:54:30] I just felt I knew where I was a little more clearly. And there were things about the south that we really did enjoy. It just seemed much more personal than the north, that people would ask about your family. And right here on the road, you pass somebody you know, you park,
Hector Black: [01:55:00] you talk to each other and maybe even hold up a car or two while you're having your conversation about how are you and how's your family and your kids, and talk, whatever. It's about as far from the way it is in New York City as you could get in a lot of ways. You just pass each other by so much,
Hector Black: [01:55:30] but here, especially rural. But even in town, people do enjoy striking up conversations very readily. And we like that. So we looked for a farm, and I found a farm about 45 minutes out of Atlanta and moved Susie back. It was ...
Hector Black: [01:56:00] She could still walk with crutches, and it was a slow recovery. She used to go into town and people from the Quaker meeting used to take her to the hospital, to the doctors and all. It was almost once ... It seemed like almost every day she had to go in for a few hours of exercise in the pool and stuff like that. And that's where I started the nursery
Hector Black: [01:56:30] cause I knew I had to either work at home or I had to find a job in town and hire somebody to be at home to help Susie with the kids. We were ... The farm we bought was right on the edge of an African American community of landowners, which is really nifty to see.
Hector Black: [01:57:00] And of course we were back and forth there a lot, but also the school was newly integrated. But unfortunately the school was passing children who could not read or write. We still had Trish and Priscilla in our family,
Hector Black: [01:57:30] but they both wanted to come back out and stay with us when we came back to Atlanta. And so their mamma would let Trisha come out, her less favorite child, but she wouldn't let Priscilla. And Priscilla told me later that she ran away at the age of 12 and hit the streets.
Kate Kunath: Who did? Trish?
Hector Black: Priscilla.
Hector Black: [01:58:00] Her younger sister. It's just a world that I ... It's just hard to comprehend. That a 12 year old ... Anyway. We did see Priscilla for just a little while. For a few years she'd come out and visit a lot, but
Hector Black: [01:58:30] then she was pretty much disappeared, until later in life. I got a call, it was even after Trisha died, we barely got her to the funeral in Atlanta. And she was just glassy eyed and all that.
Hector Black: [01:59:00] Then she came to Trisha's burial, which was here, and she was completely sober, which was great. But she was still her rascally self. I was walking down the hall here with her and I said, "You know what your sister would want you to do, don't you Priscilla?" And she said ... Turned round with that mischievous look of hers and said, "What?" And I said, "You know."
Hector Black: [01:59:30] But she inherited some money from Trish and she and her husband blew it on crack and alcohol. I got a call from a rehab place in Atlanta. It was Priscilla saying she and her husband were both out and they'd both been clean for a couple of months and they intended to stay that way. This is wonderful.
Hector Black: [02:00:00] Then she came up here and visited and told me about the first time she ever came to our house in Vine City. We used to sell used clothing. When we moved there people used to drop off boxes of clothes and we'd just let neighbors come in and rummage through,
Hector Black: [02:00:30] not very nice really so our neighborhood group decided we'd just start a thrift store and sell the clothing on the porch of our house and use the money to help people who didn't have the money for their rent and were in danger of being evicted. Eviction is a, I had no idea of it before. If you're in the hospital sick,
Hector Black: [02:01:00] if whatever reason if you don't pay your rent the landlord gets a marshal that comes out, takes all your belongings, puts them in the street and a padlock on the house so you can't get back in and that's it. You may not even know, you may be in a hospital bed somewhere. Why did I start talking about eviction?
Kate Kunath: [02:01:30] Tell me about Trish, what happened with Trish?
Hector Black: Well, Trish ...
Kate Kunath: [02:02:00] She came out to you, right?
Hector Black: No, I came out to Trish eventually.
Hector Black: Well, she went to college actually. She started, I think we were still in Atlanta when she started at Xavier University in New Orleans.
Hector Black: [02:02:30] She was terribly homesick. She'd call I guess just about every day and we'd cheer her on and tell her to take it one day at a time and she stuck it out and got through her first year then she switched because she was interested in art so she switched briefly to one other school, I think it might have been Howard.
Kate Kunath: [02:03:00] One second, just one second.
Hector Black: Did I do it again?
ManSee Kong: No, it's okay, it's just when you grab like that but that's okay.
Kate Kunath: Okay. Alright, go ahead.
Hector Black: Then she switched to Fisk when we moved to Tennessee, Fisk in Nashville.
Kate Kunath: Sorry, I think I missed that other part. I missed the part about Howard.
Hector Black: Oh yeah. I think she went to Howard for a year and she might have been in Xavier for,
Hector Black: [02:03:30] well I can't quite remember, is it two years at Fisk or one? I have a feeling it might have been two years at Fisk, one at Howard and Xavier. I think those were the three and she graduated with highest honors from Fisk in art. It was a very, very proud moment.
Hector Black: [02:04:00] Of course the question is how do you make a living with art and she was really gifted her sense of color. She made her own high school graduation dress. I'm not sure about elementary school but her high school graduation dress and her dress when she graduated from college.
Hector Black: [02:04:30] She had ... When she moved back to Atlanta she was working in the library and her sideline income was bridal gowns. She had a couple of sewing dummies in her house that she used. That was again her sideline, her main work was in the library. She got a masters degree in library science in Atlanta.
Hector Black: [02:05:00] She went and worked with kids such as she had been in a library in one of the poorer neighborhoods teaching children to speak clearly, to enjoy reading and giving them the love that they, is so often lacking when parents are poor and harried and stressed.
Kate Kunath: [02:05:30] Tell me about when she came out to you.
Hector Black: When she came out here?
Kate Kunath: Did she come out to you? Was she a lesbian?
Hector Black: No.
Kate Kunath: She wasn't.
Kate Kunath: Were any of the kids gay?
Kate Kunath: Did you have any gay kids?
Hector Black: My youngest daughter.
Kate Kunath: And what's her name?
Hector Black: Annie.
Kate Kunath: Annie, okay.
Kate Kunath: Tell me about Annie coming out to you.
Hector Black: I have to be kind of careful here, it's not Annie, it's her partner who ... She doesn't want to be outed.
Kate Kunath: Annie doesn't?
Hector Black: Her partner does not want to be outed.
Kate Kunath: [02:06:30] Her partner, okay.
Hector Black: So I just don't know what I can do there.
Kate Kunath: You don't have to use names.
Hector Black: Beg pardon.
Hector Black: Okay. Well actually it was very important when she spoke to us because that was, I had thought about coming out several times because I was living with a huge load of guilt.
Hector Black: [02:07:00] I would be unfaithful to Susie and then it troubled me and I confessed to her and then I thought this is stupid, just do this and I hurt Susie and she forgives me but
Hector Black: [02:07:30] then I go do it again. I lived a separate life, and my gay life was separate from my family life until
Hector Black: [02:08:00] Annie came to us and told us with tears she was lesbian and she hoped we would still love her and that just broke my heart that she would ever think we would not love her because of that,
Hector Black: [02:08:30] and for a situation where people cannot share things like that. I talked to Susie and I said I can't do this anymore, I need to be open
Hector Black: [02:09:00] and Susie understood. She was more comfortable with me being gay than I was.
Hector Black: [02:09:30] I was sitting on my bed in there feeling real blue and she just looked over at me and said, "What's wrong Hector?" And I just burst into tears,
Hector Black: [02:10:00] I just felt so bad. It was like a real high to come out to tell people, my friends and the Quaker meeting and ... I'm sorry. All that kind of that, it was liberating.
Hector Black: [02:10:30] Also this gay and lesbian transgender and whatever commune not very far from here, an hour or so away, I'd never been there and
Hector Black: [02:11:00] I started seeing a counselor at the mental health place in Cookeville. I told her about this place that I'd heard of and I'd met some people from there and she says, "Well, have you been over there?" I said, "No." And she said, "Why not?"
Hector Black: [02:11:30] It's just kind of weird things. Part of the reason for moving into the wilderness here was I thought I'd get away from temptation ...
Hector Black: [02:12:00] But I did finally... went. I was afraid the neighbors would shoot me if I asked because it was known to be a gay and lesbian community and Tennessee and this is bible belt, Tennessee and not friendly to people like us.
Hector Black: [02:12:30] I couldn't find the road going to the place it's called ... And so I saw a little lady herding some goats and I asked her and she said, "Oh, it's right over there, you just went past it.
Hector Black: [02:13:00] Take that road by the small house on the left." So I went back and drove up and found the place and people were very friendly. One of the fellows wanted to go for a little walk and I just kind of backed away and they wanted me to stay for supper
Hector Black: [02:13:30] and I didn't but I enjoyed the people and there was a feeling about being with people like yourself who've been through all of the miseries of being gay at a time
Hector Black: [02:14:00] when it's sort of the last thing you want to be. So I went back, I stayed for a meal, got to know, it was mostly men in those days but now it's women and transgenders and all kinds of people living there,
Hector Black: [02:14:30] people who are going through sex change operations and it's just, it's called Sanctuary and it is, it's just a safe place for people who are different.
Kate Kunath: Is this the Radical Faerie place?
Hector Black: Hmm, yeah.
Kate Kunath: Where is it exactly?
Hector Black: [02:15:00] The Short Mountain people prefer not to give out their exact location to people they dont know.
Kate Kunath: The first time you went there was around what year?
Hector Black: Well, I must have been 70. What year was that? 70.
Kate Kunath: [02:15:30] Okay, so you were 70, that's good enough.
Hector Black: 23 years.
Kate Kunath: And Susan knew that you were going there?
Hector Black: Oh yeah, yeah. She was actually not troubled by it a bit. I was the one that was more troubled about it
Hector Black: [02:16:00] and that's the way it was, I'd be talking to my counselor and she'd say, "Well how does Susie feel about it?" And I'd say, "She feels this way but I, every time I go over there I come back thinking here I've had a wonderful time visiting, chatting with people who are like me and Susie's just sitting here by herself or with the kids, visitors but still,
Hector Black: [02:16:30] she's stuck and I'm out having a good time and it just felt wrong." So she said, "Well, bring Susie in." So I bought Susie in and she knew, I told her how Susie felt about it. She said, "Susie,
Hector Black: [02:17:00] would you tell Hector how you feel about he's being gay?" So Susie did and it was no problem to her.
Kate Kunath: What did she say? What did she say?
Hector Black: Oh she said, "I'm fine with it, I do not mind, that's the way God made him and I understand that it's not ...
Hector Black: [02:17:30] It's a part of who he is and it's not going to change." I don't know what else she said but it was all in that kind of line.
Kate Kunath: Did she support the idea of you having a relationship with anyone?
Hector Black: Yes. All she said was, "Well, I hope I like him."
Kate Kunath: [02:18:00] Did you ever meet somebody that was special in that way?
Hector Black: There was one fellow that I had a special feeling for but it didn't last. He came here and Susie did like him and everything.
Hector Black: [02:18:30] He's a really very pleasant guy so it wasn't, he's quite a lot younger than I am.
Kate Kunath: Why didn't it last do you think? Why did it not last?
Hector Black: He found somebody else. That's one of the things with Short Mountain, people don't ...
Hector Black: [02:19:00] Well, some relationships do last a long time but usually they're the ones that are open relationships and I was really hoping to find an exclusive one I guess so now I'm, now there is nobody.
Hector Black: [02:19:30] I have very close gay friends and I have some friends that are not gay and we kiss each other. I think the whole concept of sex is much more fluid than it ever was in my lifetime and I'm glad.
Kate Kunath: [02:20:00] When was the last time you went to Short Mountain? When was the last time you went to Short Mountain?
Hector Black: It's been, it's been a couple of months, more than that, it might have been last fall. It's hard, I went there one time and it was very cold
Hector Black: [02:20:30] and we were snowed in and so I just had a really hard time getting warm. Everything's heated with wood, small wood stoves and I slept in a place which I probably shouldn't have slept in and I got very cold at night so it took me a long time to get thawed out the next day. I wasn't frozen literally but I was just really very cold
Hector Black: [02:21:00] and so I just hesitate to go over there in the winter time because I know they would put me in a room with a stove or something. They're very kind and especially me being the oldest fairy there gives me status.
Kate Kunath: [02:21:30] Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? Hold on one second. Okay, so yeah, anything you would have done differently?
Hector Black: I don't think so. I kind of think that usually
Hector Black: [02:22:00] even things that I thought at the moment were wrong they all seemed to fit into a kind of whole picture. It's hard to explain really,
Hector Black: [02:22:30] some of the things were pretty awful. I think probably the worst was Patricia's murder and that's one of the places I don't ... One of the places
Hector Black: [02:23:00] where I think I'm not meant to know somehow. I have a feeling there's just things that happen that I don't need to have an explanation for.
Hector Black: [02:23:30] That was probably one of the hardest things in terms of testing faith that I ever went through. I had a beautiful watercolor painting that somebody gave me once, had a verse from a psalm that I love very much but in it were the words,
Hector Black: [02:24:00] "my loved ones rest securely from every peril, surely our God will guard their heads." And I just had it reframed and I just couldn't hang it up because it's a question of how could God allow such a thing to happen?
Hector Black: [02:24:30] For a while I lost faith and I was just sort of living in this little world of pain and loss
Hector Black: [02:25:00] and then for some reason I started looking out at the world, here I was thinking I was the only person in the world that had ever had a daughter murdered
Hector Black: [02:25:30] and her body violated and the world is just full, everywhere, families blown to bits, parents picking up children and identifying them by the pieces of clothing attached to a bit of flesh. I mean my God,
Hector Black: [02:26:00] it made me ... I just think
Hector Black: [02:26:30] that I had been exempted from a lot of the suffering that goes on, the things that we do to each other and the pain we cause each other.
Hector Black: [02:27:00] I wound up pretty much with knowing that love is stronger than hate.
Hector Black: [02:27:30] I felt that in dealing with the man who killed Trish, eventually forgiving him, visiting him
Hector Black: [02:28:00] and ... I just feel that my, and he has said really at first he didn't want my compassion, he wanted to die
Hector Black: [02:28:30] and then what I said in the courtroom ... that he felt it, it's nothing really to do with me but just that human beings can be used by love
Hector Black: [02:29:00] and he felt God's love coming through me to him and it doesn't, I'm not saying that to my credit or anything like that but just that's the kind of thing that can happen and needs to happen.
Kate Kunath: [02:29:30] Did you talk to him before the courtroom? Had he already interacted with you or no?
Hector Black: No, I'd never seen him until I saw him in the courtroom.
Kate Kunath: So you visited him in prison?
Hector Black: [02:30:00] Yes. Susie did. We both went. Took a long time to get permission 'cause I think they thought that the only reason somebody like me comes to visit the person that murdered somebody they loved, is just beat him up. But I hardly look like an assassin. They couldn't understand why,
Hector Black: [02:30:30] but then ... One of those strange things had happen. I always thought chaplains were ... they're just there for the paycheck. I didn't have very much. And it was a chaplain who understood, when I called him up and told him my story on the phone. He was the one who understood and made it possible.
Kate Kunath: [02:31:00] What were some of the first things that you said to this man when you sat down with him?
Kate Kunath: What were some of the things that were said, between you and him? He must have been very confused also.
Hector Black: He must have been very ...?
Kate Kunath: Confused. Wondering why.
Hector Black: Well, actually he was ... he felt pretty bad. I mean he was in tears. I was too.
Hector Black: [02:31:30] Somehow we walked into the building and somebody said, "That's Ivan Simpson over there." And I just burst into tears 'cause I was just ... I guess a lot of things. It took a long time, it took ... Gosh, I bet it took five years before we got permission.
Kate Kunath: [02:32:00] Did you feel like you needed to forgive him?
Hector Black: Yes. And partly it's always ... It's for my own sake. I remember somebody told me once that
Hector Black: [02:32:30] if you hate somebody, you take poison and expect the other person to die. Hatred can just corrode, eat up. And I hated him, there's no two ways about that. I yelled out, "I'll kill the bastard."
Hector Black: [02:33:00] And it was, I mean, it was toxic. And I think it affects all a person's relationships. I feel really ...
Hector Black: [02:33:30] It's been a great help to me.
Kate Kunath: What has?
Hector Black: Forgiving. And I was wretched in a just ...
Hector Black: [02:34:00] I think it seems weird to say so maybe in some, but I think human beings,
Hector Black: [02:34:30] I think our purpose is, in life, is to love and take care of each other. And yet, we seem to be hell bent on killing each other.
Hector Black: [02:35:00] They can use, put all kind of names on it, whether it's to get Helen of Troy back to her husband, or it can be make the world safe for democracy. Gosh, they can put all kind of names on it, and reasons.
Kate Kunath: [02:35:30] Do you ...? You have said a couple of times that you were wretched, and I imagine you mean with your being faithful to Susie, maybe that's what you're referring to?
Hector Black: Yes, that was certainly a wretched time when I was living two lives.
Kate Kunath: Have you forgiven yourself?
Hector Black: [02:36:00] That's the hardest one, and it's strange because Ivan wrote me the same thing. He said, "I know God has forgiven me, I know you have forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself for what I did." And so I think that's ... I don't know really. I think I have, but ...
Hector Black: [02:36:30] Maybe it's just that I, basically I have, but then there's just ... Get twinges of guilt. For somebody said... kind of hinted that I must have been raised Catholic 'cause I had so much guilt, but I don't know.
Hector Black: [02:37:00] I wasn't raised Catholic, but I seem to assume guilt fairly easily.
Kate Kunath: Well, if you were born in a different time, if you were born 10 years ago, then you may have felt more free to be yourself and you would not have been in difficult circumstances that made you do things that you think are bad, or the things that you feel guilty for.
Hector Black: [02:37:30] I think that's true, yeah. I think if I had been born 10 years ago, I would not have the guilt associated with sex, male sex. But then, the other side of it is, I wouldn't have my children, and I wouldn't have had my life with Susie.
Hector Black: [02:38:00] So I guess maybe that's what I mean when I say I don't have regrets. I mean, I can't imagine
Hector Black: [02:38:30] being sorry that I married Susie in spite of all the pain it gave to both of us. I really do think I have learned through painful things.
Hector Black: [02:39:00] I think being gay in a society where it is not tolerated helped me to understand what it is to be part of a despised minority, different, looked down on. But of course, I could hide 'cause my skin is white.
Hector Black: [02:39:30] I don't think I'd have ever understood as well.
Kate Kunath: Why do you think that's important? Why do you think it's important to know what that feels like?
Hector Black: [02:40:00] I think because it helps me not to look on other people with disdain or whatever because they're different from me.
Hector Black: [02:40:30] It's helped me to accept. I know I've had my prejudices knocked aside so many times, but even being ... Whether it's Chaplains or ... I remember when we lived in Vine City, some people from churches, white women from churches, would come in to help us and they had lipstick and hair done and all that kind of stuff.
Hector Black: [02:41:00] And I always thought women like that were kind of shallow, just a prejudice from my childhood 'cause my mom never did that. It just ... I think it's great when you get those things just knocked aside, and realize that human beings are human beings no matter what they look like or how they behave, even if they do the most awful things.
Kate Kunath: [02:41:30] What's your hope for the future?
Hector Black: I think really ... I hadn't thought ... I think, it just came to my mind, I wish we would get to the point where we listen to the spiritual teachers.
Hector Black: [02:42:00] Buddha said, 600 years before Jesus said, hatred doesn't cease by hatred, hatred ceases by love, that's how you answer. And we keep ... He didn't die for what he believed, but Jesus and Martin Luther King, Gandhi. I just ... We just ... It's a ...
Hector Black: [02:42:30] It sounds almost like we hate hearing it. We know we ... I think deep down we know how we are supposed to live with each other, but we don't. I don't know whether it's self centeredness, greed.
Hector Black: [02:43:00] I guess it's a lot of things. I know here I am too, I mean, I live, gosh this is a palace compared to what most of the world lives in. So I'm no ...
Hector Black: [02:43:30] All I can say, I try, and I try to accept people as they are. Not that I wouldn't want to change some things in people, who doesn't? But it's just, I feel as though my job is not to try to change somebody
Hector Black: [02:44:00] as much as it is to try to be the kind of person, I mean, that somebody would ... Try to be loving and kind, accepting, generous, helpful, compassionate, all those things that are ...
Hector Black: [02:44:30] All those things that are so important in, and is so missing. And I know some things have changed for the good enormously, and even in the past few years, but there's so much hate and mistrust and animosity
Hector Black: [02:45:00] these days that I don't lose hope, but it can be hard to find hope sometimes.
Kate Kunath: What would be your advice to a person, young or old, who wants to come out?
Hector Black: [02:45:30] Oh. I would say don't hesitate. Just be who you are. Be the person that you were meant to be and try to forgive people that don't like
Hector Black: [02:46:00] who that person is. I mean, if you're compassionate, if you're kind, you're a loving human being, it doesn't matter if you got tattoos all over you or if you're gay or straight or whatever.
Hector Black: [02:46:30] If you're not hurting people, but you're compassionate towards other people and reach out to other people.
Hector Black: [02:47:00] There's that book that I, one of my very dear friends in college, I don't know if you ever ... I don't know if people even read it anymore, it's Russian, Dostoevsky, I know, called The Brothers Karamazov, they had some extraordinary stuff in it. But one of them was ... This man's hope that one day people would suddenly
Hector Black: [02:47:30] be amazed that we had learned to love one another and we couldn't imagine how we lived in darkness so long.
Kate Kunath: [02:48:00] Why is it important for you to tell your story?
Hector Black: I guess really because I hope that it will touch people. It's a hard story to tell, especially some of the painful parts, but
Hector Black: [02:48:30] I have ... Quite a few people have told me how much it meant to them. Both people who were gay and people who had suffered from losing a loved one to violence.
Hector Black: [02:49:00] A lot of different people, just people who had grudges sometimes. One lady heard this story on the radio and she had to pull over and just burst into tears, thinking about the grudges she had against people
Hector Black: [02:49:30] that were eating up her soul, her heart, or whatever. And that's why really, I just do it in the hope that it will touch somebody else.
Kate Kunath: There's a quote by Mother Theresa that you've quoted before, and I wonder if you could reflect on that?
Kate Kunath: [02:50:00] It's ... I'll read it back to you. It's "Lord, break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in."
Hector Black: Yeah. Yeah, break my heart so completely. Yeah.
Kate Kunath: I feel like you've already reflected on that, but if you have anything to add?
Hector Black: [02:50:30] Only that sounds ... I mean, it sounds like you, maybe almost like you're beating yourself like they used to do. But it's not that, it really isn't.
Hector Black: [02:51:00] It's willingly, and not to punish yourself, willingly, at least to some small degree, to take on the suffering of other people.
Hector Black: [02:51:30] I think it's, for me anyway, it kicks me out of my self centeredness, when I get self centered. It's a great assistance to ... Well, like it was from when I was thinking oh, of just me and Trish being murdered and
Hector Black: [02:52:00] how my children were devastated by it, everything like that. You're just thinking about that instead of thinking about what ... And trying in my small way to help with the hurt that's everywhere really. I mean, it's not that life is all that grim and grinding,
Hector Black: [02:52:30] or anything like that, but it ... You can't look ... I mean, here in this country we're so protected and I guess, part of our thing is keeping it over there. Let them kill each other. We had our time in the Civil War,
Hector Black: [02:53:00] but keep that stuff over there at any cost. And I feel like we should be, somehow, that's why I think our immigration policy is just so cruel. I mean, if it was my brother, my sister, my mother, or whoever, my child, who was over there,
Hector Black: [02:53:30] homeless, a refugee, good heavens. And I think what we have to do is realize that it is, that we are all a part. There's that wonderful word, African word, Ubuntu. I don't know if you ever heard it, but it came out a lot in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports
Hector Black: [02:54:00] when they brought the white Afrikaans and the people whose families they had murdered, when they brought them together. And this word, African word, means we belong to each other, we are a part of each other.
Hector Black: [02:54:30] When I hurt you, I'm really hurting myself. You're blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh.
Hector Black: [02:55:00] We have turned our backs a lot on it, belonging to one another, I think.
Kate Kunath: [02:55:30] I have just one last question for you, and this project is called OUTWORDS, the interview project that we're doing. I wonder if you could tell me why you think OUTWORDS is important? And you could start your sentence by saying, " I think OUTWORDS is important because ..."
Hector Black: I think OUTWORD is important because our stories ...
Kate Kunath: [02:56:00] I'm going to start you out one more time, 'cause it's OUTWORDS.
Hector Black: OUTWORDS.
Kate Kunath: Yeah, OUTWORDS. With an S.
Hector Black: OUTWORDS. Okay. Sorry.
Kate Kunath: That's okay.
Hector Black: I think OUTWORDS is important because there are stories that need to be heard, and it gives us an opportunity to hear
Hector Black: [02:56:30] both the good and the bad, and to recognize our part in it, both for good or for bad. I think we need to be aroused, we need to be made to think
Hector Black: [02:57:00] about what is happening, both not to just ourselves, but to people that maybe we wouldn't necessarily ever have a connection of any kind. I think stories do that.
Hector Black: [02:57:30] And I'd be very glad if any part of my story was helpful to somebody else. And as you asked me earlier, that's why I tell my story, even though it's
Hector Black: [02:58:00] not easy and not pleasant sometimes, because I want to connect. I don't know if that's ...
Kate Kunath: That's great. That's great.
Kate Kunath: [02:58:30] While you're still sitting there, I'm going to take ... Just stay there for one second.
Kate Kunath: We'll take another ...

Interviewed by: Kate Kunath
Camera: ManSee Kong
Date: March 28, 2018
Location: Home of Hector Black, Cookeville, TN