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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

CJ Mitchell’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

CJ Mitchell grew up in northeastern Texas. In this interview, he describes moving to Hanford after graduating from high school in 1947. Only sixteen years old, Mitchell took a job working on the trailer park in North Richland, and worked on other construction projects. At first, he lived in a tent with his relatives in East Pasco. He eventually studied at Columbia Basin College and got a job at one of General Electric’s Hanford laboratories as an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) specialist. He describes the racism he encountered in the Tri-Cities area and how segregation and the Great Migration impacted him and his family. Mitchell, an avid sports enthusiast and coach, was also famous in the Northwest for his work as a sports official.

Date of Interview:
September 13, 2012
Location of the Interview:


CJ Mitchell: It’s CJ Mitchell, Junior. That’s just CJ. No periods or anything. It doesn’t stand for anything. And Mitchell – M-I-T-C-H-E-L-L.

Kelly: Great. I would have made that mistake. Just like Harry Truman. It’s Harry S Truman, no period.

Mitchell: Yeah, my dad was a CJ as well.

Kelly: Was he?

Mitchell: Yes.

Kelly: You’re a junior. We started chatting, but why don’t you tell us for the camera, where you’re from and how you came to Richland.

Mitchell: I’m from Northeastern Texas, out in the piney woods, rolling hills, and the red clay there. My relatives migrated here. Primarily my uncles and my father-in-law and some other people from that community migrated here, during the Manhattan Project back in 1943.

I was a young man back home, ten, eleven, twelve years old, in that age range. We would hear when they would write back, or people in the community talking about Hanford. They came out here and worked on the Hanford Project.

Then, when I got out of high school in 1947, I was just sixteen years of age. I ended up coming to Hanford—well, North Richland, really. I came into East Pasco first, and then into North Richland.

Kelly: You were lured by the stories of your uncles?

Mitchell: My uncles and other relatives coming through, they had worked out here and they had come back home. They could earn much more money – about three times the money – here than they could earn back there. The word got around pretty fast. People were going not only to out here, but they were going to California, Houston, Dallas. They were beginning to migrate different places, because of the work and the war, and the opportunities there.

Kelly: Did you go by yourself as a sixteen-year-old?

Mitchell: When I came out to Washington the first time, it was myself and two first cousins and two other people from the community. There were five of us that came into the Tri-Cities.

We lived over in East Pasco, in a little tent. It was probably maybe eight or nine feet in diameter and it was only, oh, maybe three and a half to four feet high. We actually didn’t sit around in that. That’s where we slept. This tent sat just outside of two small trailers. Each one of them was eight feet. In between, there were some steps going up on each side. Before you go into the trailer, there was a little place, like eighteen-twenty inches, where you could stand, turn, and go in the door.

My uncle and his wife lived in one side, and my great uncle and his wife lived in the other one. For my lunches, my aunt would fix my lunch. I think my great-uncles aunt fixed the other guys lunch. But anyway, they charged us a small fee for that.

Then, we had to leave East Pasco and walk down to downtown Pasco on Second Street to the bus terminal. Then, we would catch a bus to Richland. We worked out at North Richland. They were working on the barracks and putting in the trailer court, and all of that.

That’s what we did. We stayed there for a while. We commuted for about two or three months. They finally built the barracks, and we moved out into the barracks.

Kelly: [Inaudible] move. 

Mitchell: Well, that was a system, a numbering system. What she’s talking about is a number system, when they were identifying people back in the time my uncles came out. I would say it was the government coming through the community.

My uncle’s name, Willie Daniels, say, they gave him a ten, and when he gets to Pasco, there’s a ten that matches up with Willie Daniels. Then he finds out when he gets here that there’s another forty miles out to the townsite of Hanford. He would tell stories about some things he didn’t know about, but he just kind of followed the crowd and asked questions and made his way to Hanford. Of course, once he got here, he would write back and let people know. They wrote back. They didn’t call back. They weren’t using phones in those days.

Kelly: What was it like to work here?

Mitchell: When I first came, everything was segregated at that time. Over in Pasco, while we were living there, there was no running water. There were outdoor facilities, outdoor outhouses. The streets were not paved. You would just go to a spigot and fill up your bucket, or whatever. We did that for a while.

Shortly after that, we moved into the barracks. We would live in the barracks, and it was two to a room. That’s where I ran into all of the guys. I’m sixteen years old, and here all these men are. They have words I haven’t heard before, and they could make a little noise and trouble. I know my head was doing like this all the time, because I hadn’t heard stuff like this before.

On Sundays, I would make my way back over to East Pasco so I could go to my aunt’s place and eat their cooking. We would sit around. We’d play a game called Dominos. I don’t know if you know what Dominos are, but we’d play a game called Dominos because it doesn’t cost anything to play Dominos. You just play.

In those days, we lived in the barracks for like $1.40 a week. That included daily maid service and clean linens once a week. Now, those days are gone forever. You don’t see those.

I worked on all African-American crews, and had an African-American boss. I worked with common laborers, primarily, when I first came. The trailer park in North Richland, that was my first job, helping put in the wash houses. The plumbers would go in and put the pipes together, but they needed little holes dug up so they could work. They call it bell holes. My job was to dig these bell holes for these guys. That was my job. Later on, I got other jobs.

Kelly: Was it backbreaking work, or not too bad?

Mitchell: The part was not real backbreaking, particularly in the washhouse area when I was working there because on their demand, I would stay ahead of them. When they got ready to work, it was all ready to work.

Then, later on when I worked on other crews, it wasn’t real backbreaking work, but it was steady work. You worked all the time. You maybe handled 2x12s or 2x6s, eighteen to twenty feet long, staggering lumber. Not green lumber, there wasn’t any green lumber there. Then we’d do clean up, around the area where they’re going to pour cement. They have cleanup crews. That’s for the trash and all that stuff to clean up, so you can get ready pour the cement and stuff.

Kelly: This is a real education for you?

Mitchell: Yes, you bet. I hadn’t ever seen anything like this before.

Kelly: You’re smiling. It must have been difficult. Wasn’t it hard to be away from home?

Mitchell: It was, at sixteen years old. I tell the story now about being homesick. If you’ve never been homesick, you don’t know what I’m talking about, because there’s no sickness like homesick. I’m sixteen years of age, and I have nobody, no one in common, as far as my age or anything like that.

Later on, this is like ’47 and then like 1948, right after the flood, I worked on helping build ranch houses in Richland. I worked construction there. In the fall, I worked on H Area. I worked the swing shift there. I was on a cleanup crew there. That is where they’re getting ready to pour cement, and you would go down and get all the trash out and get everything all clean and picked up there, and preparing for that.

Kelly: Who were your mentors?

Mitchell: I would say my mentors would be my uncle, because I had a lot of respect for him. Back in Texas, he taught school. He was a schoolteacher. Of course, I had others. His brother was here as well, plus another uncle, and my father-in-law – who wasn’t my father-in-law at the time – was here at that time. These were uncles are on my mother’s side. But I also had an uncle here who was on my dad’s side.

Kelly: Actually, you had a whole crew of “parents.”

Mitchell: Yes, yes, we did. Yes. They were all out here.

Kelly: But no cohort?

Mitchell: No cohort, that’s right. I got homesick. It was a little difficult, yeah.

Kelly: Did you go home at all during the year?

Mitchell: Yes. The first year, I went home. The first time was right after Christmas. I had only got here October 3, but right after Christmas was the first time. Then I came back—that was ’48. Then I came back a few weeks, and then I left again, and then I came back right after the flood again. So I had gone back several times. It didn’t take long, two or three months and I’m gone. I’m going back. I was homesick.

Being here, like I said, if you’ve never been homesick, you don’t know what I’m talking about. I could see all of the dirt roads, the railroad tracks, the schools, the people walking, and the terrain. I could see all of that. It seemed like the clock would stop. It just seemed like the time was going so slowly all the time.

Then I came back the summer of 1949I worked on the ranch houses after the flood out there. Then I started beginning to get a little bit better at staying away. I stayed here through the spring of 1950, through the big hard winter.

Then, a person from my hometown and one of my friends, who was a little older than I am but grew up with me, we left and went from here back to east Texas through California. We went from here to San Francisco.

Along about Williams, California, some people approached us about picking cherry blossoms. I had never heard of anything like that. We got into San Francisco. Once we got into San Francisco—we pulled a small trailer house because the person that was with us had, one of those trailers in North Richland trailer park. We pulled this trailer park, it might have been like a ten-footer or something like that.

But anyway, we went into San Francisco. My one friend left and went to the military. I went back to East Texas along with the other gentlemen. We went back to East Texas. Well, this was 1950 by now, so I married my high school sweetheart, June 3, 1950. I took her right out of the fields to Chicago.

We went to Chicago, and we stayed there for fifteen months, and then I came back to the Tri-Cities. Once I came back to the Tri-Cities, I came back to Pasco. I worked on McNary Dam down in Oregon. I moved out to Hermiston, Oregon. I always liked to be close to work. I moved out to Hermiston, Oregon, and I stayed there through the winter and the spring of 1952, and then I came back to the Tri-Cities. I worked on the Blue Bridge and also on the irrigation canals that were helping to put the water down in through the basins, which we use so much for all the growings that we do now. I did that.

Later on I went to work out at the 100 K Areas, the K Reactors. Then, from there, to the PUREX facility. The PUREX facility in the 200 East Area was my last construction job. Then I worked for General Electric in 1955. That’s when I started out in fuel prep, where you prepare fuel elements for the reactors. That’s when I learned that there is a break in life. I mean, as far as a work break.

When I went out there, we were working eight hours, just eight hours, and that included a lunch hour, which I was not used to. Then we had locker rooms. I wasn’t used to that. I was wearing their coveralls. I worked on what they called the canning line. My job was to get up and take two fuel elements and put them in a basket, and they’d go down in a thing of aluminum, [inaudible], and agitate. Then, somebody would take them over and put a cap under the cooling tank, quench tanks, and that.

I was on the canning line. At ten o’clock in the morning, everything shut down. This gentleman, he comes over and he said, “Come on.”

I said, “I’ll be all right here.” I already had a chair. I put a big cushion about like that on it. I never sat down in this chair, but I had it there to sit on if I wanted to.

He says, “Oh, come on.” I reluctantly went with him. I go in there, and there’s a smoke room, there’s a restroom, there’s about six or eight stalls. Guys come from everywhere. I’d never heard of a break. Then, at two o’clock, same thing. We got a break. Our work day is from 7:18 to 3:18, or whatever it was, eight hours total. I had never heard of that. We had a lunchroom and all that stuff, refrigerators and all that. I had never heard of that kind of thing.

I got so soft. I had moved into a two bedroom prefab with a small yard. I got so I couldn’t cut that yard in one shift. That’s going from hard work to essentially doing nothing. What I call “work” was essentially doing nothing.  

Now, right after I got into this facility and we start working—of course, I talk to everybody. There was a bulletin board in the locker room. These jobs are gotten by seniority. Every Monday morning, they post these jobs. When they post these jobs, I notice nobody ever turned those jobs down. Whenever their name came up and they came eligible, they left. I’m observing all this. I says, “There’s got to be something over there better than what I’m doing over here.”

I started paying attention. I listened to people in the locker room. We would go in at lunchtime, and we would play checkers and all that stuff. I thought I was a pretty good checker player, but I wasn’t. Those guys would clean your clock. They were good. They were the checker champs. Some of them lived overin Kennewick. They were checker champs. They were good.

Just to keep going on the business of these jobs over there. I played basketball back in those days, semi pro basketball. One of the guys who was on the canning line with me, told me to go with him during the break. He had seen me play basketball the night before. There was another gentleman, his friend, had played basketball.

In talking to these guys—I didn’t have a degree or anything at that time. One of the guys told me, he said, “If you’re going to go to school or anything, if you ever get a degree, take as much math and chemistry as you can. Do that.”

I listened. I paid attention. I said, “I better go get something between the ears.” I worked there for about a year or a year and a half. I’m observing this. I’ve got a wife and three children. I got to thinking, “You better go get something between the ears.”

I took my bargaining unit—where I was working was a bargaining unit—where I had seniority. I gave that up, took a $17 week pay cut to move out of that, because I knew there was something better out there some place. I left there, and I went to what they call a 327 Building, which is where the examinations of radioactive fuel. They did metallography on why fuels rupture, and start uncladding, and things like that.

Once I got over there and I had started going to school—I would go to school in the mornings,  because I was working a swing shift, and then go to work at 3:30, something like that. In the meantime, while I was going to school, I had taken a pay cut from construction work to go there. I started at $69.97. That was about $35 to $40 less than what I was making.

I moved into Richland into government housing, which helped out. Then I could ride the bus to and from downtown. I could do that. That was good. But going to school, some quarters I couldn’t go because I had children. There was no tuition reimbursement in those days. They didn’t give tuition reimbursement in those days. Then, they started giving 50% tuition reimbursement. That lasted for three years, and then they started giving 100% if you make a “C” or better. Man, I died and had gone to Heaven. I couldn’t understand why anybody wouldn’t go to school and take classes.

I looked at that, looking back, as a great scholarship. All I had to do is put in the time, because there was bread on the table. There’s medical benefits in that. In going to school and doing that, I had gone to sixteen interviews before I got anything. I had gone to fifteen interviews. My boss—they all knew I was working hard—he says, “I got an interview for you.”

I said “Okay, I’ll go do it.” You know, out of courtesy to him. I went for the interview.

When I got over to the 327 Building—Radio Met, they called it—there was a guy named Bob Olsen, who was a manager. Instead of coming in at a $17 a week pay cut, he brought me in at a $12 a week pay cut, which was good. But during that time, I got over there, and I started working for a gentleman by the name of Mike McCormack, who was a chemical engineer by profession. He had taught over on the west side of the mountains. He had designed some of the waste cask and things like that, that they use for transporting waste and different things, fuel elements and things like that.

In working with them, I’m learning all I can learn about things. They came in one afternoon. They had a meeting with all of us. They said, “We’re going to put on new shifts next week. If there’s anybody here who wants to go to college”—CBC, Columbia Basin College, is what we had—“They can volunteer to go. That way, we don’t have to identify and ask people to volunteer.” My hand went up, which was the only hand that went up.

We go on back after the meeting. I’m working every day. About two weeks later, they call another meeting. They said, “We are not going to have those jobs. We don’t have anybody to go on swing shift, or whatever we need to do.” But since my hand went up, they set up a special shift for me, which tells me if you try, somebody will help. They set up a special shift for me so I could go to school in the daytime. That helped me speed up my time. Mike McCormack, being a chemical engineer by profession, he taught me chemistry. I’d come in early, and he’d teach me chemistry. That, I thought, was very nice.

Then, as a result of doing that and continuing my education, there was a job that came up in the 325 Building that had to do with working with one of the engineers over there doing compatibility studies on rare earth oxides. That was where all the space capsules they had—they had parts of the space capsules that would freeze up when you get out in space. They were using neodymium oxides for stand-in for samarium oxide, or vice versa—whichever one was more radioactive. They were using one that wasn’t radioactive, which we called “cold.” The one that was cold, that’s the one we used for our work. We were using a miniature hot press to do these little pellets. That was an interesting job. I was working one-on-one with my manager there.

Then, the civil rights movement started. The civil rights movement got going. They wanted somebody to come down as an EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] specialist, trying to upgrade people or give them a chance or whatever. About a year ahead of that, one of my managers told me General Electric was getting ready for this civil rights thing, moving people up. He said, “You’ll probably want to be ready for that.”

Prior to that, moving my job from Radio Met to the other place, over in the 325 Building where they were doing these pellets, I had more chemistry than anybody else in the laboratory except for the people that had degrees. I got that job over there. I worked two and a half years over there with a guy by the name of Hal Fullam. Hal Fullum, [E. J.] Wheelwright, and Lee Burger, some of those big heavyweights. They’ve got all the patents and stuff. I started working with some of these guys.

Then I got a job in Human Resources as their first EEO specialist for the [Pacific Northwest National] Laboratory. I had been studying science, engineering, math and science, then I ended up getting a degree in business. But overall, I went to night school for fourteen years to get my degree. because some of the quarters I couldn’t go, because of family. But I’d do it all over again. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it.

Getting back to human resources, there’s an opportunity to always listen. I always listened in staff meetings, picked people’s brains, and whatever. I had the privilege of working with a guy by the name of Dick Diebold, who was an expert in group dynamics. He had taught over in Western Washington [University], and then he taught later at CBC, but he was an expert in group dynamics. I learned from him how to handle groups, how to work with groups, how to do speeches without giving everybody else everything so you would have something to expand upon once they start asking you questions.

I also learned no matter how good you think you are, there’s somebody on the other side 180 degrees from where you are. I learned things. So I learned from these guys. Then, one day I just went in and asked my boss, I said, “I want a crack at that benefits job. I think I can do it.”

He said, “You think you can?”

I said, “Yeah, I think I can do that job.” He gave me an opportunity to do employee benefits. Out of that, I learned industrial relations. I learned a lot of things about human resources, and things like that.

As it turned out, I helped put in their 401K program and did a lot of things for the laboratory. Then, additionally, just being in places—there was a guy by the name of Gary Petersen and I know Maynard [Plahuta] knows Gary. There’s a department there called Public Relations. He was the junior person in public relations. When they had the downturn, Gary had to go. He left, and he went to a place called Holosonics. But it was kind of a spinoff from the lab from Battelle, I think.

But anyway, he was doing all the tours for not only our lab, but for the other sites as well. The other thing about PNNL [Pacific Northwest National Laboratory] or Battelle at the time, they had some of their own private monies. They could do things that other contractors couldn’t do. For example, for every so many staff members, they’d have a tour of the laboratory and host you to lunch, things like that. Other teams couldn’t do that, because they didn’t have the funds. You couldn’t take taxpayer’s money and do this.

When Gary Petersen left the lab, it fell to Human Resources, which was “Personnel” in those days. It wasn’t Human Resources until later on. My boss and I went with Gary on about three tours. That’s like 1972. Then, Gary leaves, and then my boss and I go on tours. My boss says, “I don’t like this. It’s yours.” That’s how I fell into doing tours. I guided tours out there for the lab, for PNNL, until last summer, I gave my badge back. Turned out, they were paying more for training than they were getting work out of me. But I had done work for them.

I retired officially there in ’93, but I went back on an hourly basis to help out there. I also, in the meantime, was doing work for Bechtel International with tours of their vitrification site. The staff here were going there. I was working with them doing tours, too, because a guy that was with them was my officemate over at Battelle. He knew I had done tours over here, so that’s how I got involved with that.

I had always been interested in the B Reactor and all that. Once I found out about that, I just hooked up with these guys. But in the meantime over at PNNL, in working with them, I got a chance to meet people from all over the world, because they had people from all over. I would do tours, and there would be Russians or Indonesians or whatever. So I had the chance to meet people from all over. Plus, they worked with people from all around the country, other labs. I did recruiting at university campuses for science and engineers, and things like that.

It turned out, I ended up being a human resources generalist. You can do it all. I did the orientation of new staff for like twenty-four, twenty-five years. I was in charge of tuition reimbursement, writing people off on educational leave, and getting their advanced degrees and things like that. I see people now that say, “If it hadn’t been for you, I would have never had my PhD, or, “I would have never gotten my Master’s.”

The way I went to school and the way I got mine, you know, what they’re doing is nothing. I would say, “If you don’t want to go, don’t give me no sob story. I don’t want to hear it.”

I have people come up to me and tell me, “If you could do on your situation, I can do it on this. You’re why I got my degree.” I look back on that. I’ve always been involved in the community. Always been involved in community.

I’ve gone through what it was like when you couldn’t buy houses. I couldn’t buy a house in the city of Richland in 1965 because I was black. In 1976, when I moved to where I am now, when I moved in, the next night, I got a phone call that said, “This is the Ku Klux Klan, and you’re next.” I’ve gone through all of that.

When I couldn’t buy the house, then I had [American] Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, somebody wanted to come step in and help out. I said, “Well, for us, we live here. Our kids go to school. They walk down these streets. We’ll handle it ourselves.” Which is what we did. We handled it ourselves, and it turned out for the better.

I’ve always observed, and I’ve worked on planning commissions, all kinds of things in community involvement. As our kids grew up, we always encouraged them to get into student government. We always said, “You need to be able to get up in front of a microphone, and say thanks.” When they were going to grade school or middle school particularly, we wanted them to be involved in student government, whether you’re the president or the secretary, be involved in some kind of way in student government.

We also stayed involved with the school programs. We helped set the curriculum for our kids because in Richland, where our kids went to school, when you get to be, I think, the ninth grade is when they start counting. But you can get in there and if you get in and watch, you can know what they’re going to take for the next four years, and you can monitor that. They always took speech, got involved in student government, and they all played sports. We felt like one complemented the other. We never had any trouble with them getting up and going to school. We never worried about learning. We never had any problem with them going to class.

I always tell people, you can always learn. If you give me the business, “I can’t learn. It’s hard.” Well, everybody knows how to sing happy birthday. I know if they can learn how to sing happy birthday, they can learn stuff. That’s what we did. We always were involved. One of the best skills you can have is listening.

My son, right now, is a Superior Court judge for the Benton and Franklin County. We went over to my aunt’s house in Pasco one day when he was about eleven, twelve, maybe thirteen. I’m a big sports fan. Richland, which is a big school, was playing Pasco. They’re rivals. We go to our aunt’s house, and the kids eat. They always got something to eat at aunt’s house. On the way home, they wanted to buy hamburgers. I said, “Well, you can’t buy hamburgers. We don’t have any money to buy hamburgers. All you kids want to do is eat.” That’s me, that’s dad.

We get home, and there’s a big game tonight. I’m walking through the house saying, “Everybody has got to get ready to go to the game. If you’re not ready, we’re just going to go to the game.”

He turns to his mother and says, “I don’t understand. Dad says we don’t have money to buy hamburgers, but we’re going to the game, and he’ll buy us treats. He’ll buy us anything we want, once we get to the game.”

If he never said that to his mother, and I didn’t get that feedback, I would have probably continued to do that. So I see that you can create all your own problems by the way you behave. I found out, so you learn from everybody. I learn. I watch what I say. I watch what I do and how I behave. I watch that.

Now, as we’re going through school, Ann Roseberry down at the [Richland Public] Library—Maynardknows her—and our older son, who is an Air Force Academy graduate. Well, she went home one night and her father was a liaison for the Air Force Academy. He wanted to know from her, “Who were some of the young men she thought were worthy of going to the academy?” She mentioned my son. That’s how it all got started.

He went to the academy, and he played football there. He played in the Sugar Bowl. He came out and spent his twenty years. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. Now, he’s come back home. He’s teamed up with Ann. He’s on the library board with her, and he’s on the board of trustees and helping out at the school. He’s always doing something. In fact, he helped develop the GPS system you use to drive around in your car. He helped develop that.

As you go through, you keep doing things, and you keep going, and you keep going. We’ve gotten all kind of awards. The day I cried was the day when they put the judge on my son, and swore him in as Superior Court Judge. That’s the day I cried. I had gone to a lot of things, got a lot of awards for a lot of different things. They’ve done a lot of different things. A lot of things good had happened. Those were tears of joy, now. I wasn’t angry at anyone. I’m proud.

I’m thinking about all the days, when he was a high school All-American athlete in football and baseball. He was the smallest of our kids. He was All Pac-10 Academic. He played in the Holiday Bowl for WSU, [Washington State University]. He had a chance to go back to Buffalo and run back punts. But instead, he went to law school. He says, “I’m not that big.” He could see it. He had gotten an injury in Tennessee. His own guy ran into him. But, anyway, he went to law school.

I remember all those days when he would leave to go back to Salem. He graduated from Willamette University, down in Salem. I remember all those days when he would be driving on Sunday nights about this time, heading back to school. I’m thinking about all those days. Everything he does now, I just smile when I see him walking around or something like that. That’s the day I cried, when they put the robe on him. You see things happen.

In the 1970’s, I coached baseball. I coached American Legion Baseball. Maybe I started in ’75, till about ’79, I coached baseball. During that time, and even now, I can’t go for a walk in the city of Richland, unless somebody stop and saying, “Mr. Mitchell, do you need a ride?”

In the old days, if I were to walk, I had to go down by the river. Because since then, if I were to start walking, somebody—“Screech!” “Mr. Mitchell, do you need a ride?”

I would say. “Well, I’m all right.”

I would go along. “Screech!” “Mr. Mitchell, do you need a ride?”

“Yeah, I’m all right.” That’s a good feeling. That’s a good feeling.

Another thing that happened to me—what goes around comes around. During the time I couldn’t buy the house in 1965, there was a gentleman at a real estate company by the name of Avery Green that called me up and says, “Hey CJ, I hear you’re looking for a house. I’ll sell you a house.”

I said, “That’s fine, Mr. Green. But your prices eliminate me.” He’s on the upper end, and I’m down here. I just got a weekly salary. I’m trying to get by down here. But anyway, I said, “That eliminates me right there.”

In the end, I sell real estate in town now. I’m a realtor part time. I did it since I retired from the lab. That was my plan, to get into real estate. I had the privilege of selling his home. Avery Green. That guy, I had the privilege to sell his home.

I want to go all the way back, when we starting out unloading box cars and there’s a production line. There was a gentleman there by the name of Forest Grub. When I first started on this education thing, he says, “You’ll never make it.” He says, “You’ll never make it.”

In ‘69 or ’70, when I got into human resources, they had a summer program where it was based on income. By that time, he had gone through a divorce, and I had one of his daughters work for me one summer. This guy that said, “You’ll never make it,” and his daughter, I ended up being her supervisor, for one summer. That was a good feeling, too, to be able to help her.

But from there, it just goes. I got into officiating sports. I spent thirty years in the old Pac-8 and 10. I worked a lot of World Series and Olympic Games, and stuff. I just had a great career, a good community. I live here. I had chances to leave, but I wouldn’t.

Another thing that happened in this whole thing, the Manhattan Project. Like I said, I married my high school sweetheart. In our community back in east Texas, there has always been things in the laws—looking back—that there were things for minority people, but you never got it. But there were rules where you were supposed to get a few things, here and there.

My father-in-law, he ended up getting a place—and I was a young man—when he came into east Texas. He had a 157 acre farm, two mules, maybe a cow or something. He bought an older home, and the older home came with it, all of that, plus the pastures. It was $4,000. The whole community, all his relatives, everybody he met said, “This guy is crazy.” They wanted to know what’s wrong. “Has he gone crazy?” He had relatives from all around different communities, coming down to see what’s wrong with him.

The big house they had had a Dynamo in it. You know, a Dynamo, the generator? He didn’t know anything about generators. Evidently, the construction guys took the generator because he didn’t know. He got kerosene. They rebuilt his house, and he had kerosene lamps. They already had electric lights, but he didn’t know the difference, I guess.

Anyway, the continuation of the story is that in ’19whenever that was, he got that home with a forty-year mortgage, and they thought he was crazy. But then, he came to Washington during the Manhattan Project. He’s one of these guys, instead of making “X” amount of dollars, he’s making three times “X.” Well, in the meantime, his wife and the children stayed home and ran the farm while he worked up here. By 1945, by the time they dropped the bomb, he had the place paid for. They still have that place back in east Texas there.

I look back and think about the times. Have you ever heard a guy named Art Linkletter? I heard him say one time, “You’ll never have anything, if you’re afraid to stick your neck out. You’ll never have anything.” I’ve always stuck my neck out. It’s gotten chopped off a few times. I’ve always known about real estate, never had any money. Work never hurt.

I’ll go on record and say I’d never make a good social worker, because nobody ever gave me anything. The ones that cannot work, can babysit for those who can. They can do something. There’s no reason for them to not be able to, so don’t talk to me about social stuff. You can do stuff. All the farming, all the apples that need picking, and everything else that needs picking. If you don’t want to do that stuff, don’t be looking to me for me to hand out. There’s work. Work doesn’t hurt anybody.

I lifted the crossties. I ran the old crosscut saw. I stacked a green lumber. I’ve got a toe missing. When I was thirteen years old working in the woods cutting logs, for one of these portable saw mills. I’ve done all that kind of work. That doesn’t hurt anybody. You only get so tired.

But the thing about it is, the story needs to be told. The African-American community—we hear about what it was like for me. But I never heard that story turned around, what it was like for the Caucasian people, from the time we had the segregation—we still have it—but still, up to how things change. What’s it been like for them? I’ve never heard that side of it. It would be nice if somebody would come in sometime and talk about, did somebody else have a change in how they feel about things? All those kinds of things.

I’m open. Like I said, the best skill I think a person can have is listening. In thirty-some years in the old Pac-8/10, I only ejected two people. If you’re doing your job, you don’t need to eject anybody. If Maynard’s the coach and he wants to talk to me, I don’t know if he’s getting fired at the end of the year or not. If he doesn’t win, he doesn’t eat. Especially college guys, if they don’t win, they don’t eat. Alumni people don’t want them around if they’re not going to win. Who do you think he’s going to tell? He’s not going to tell the players. He’s not going to tell alumni, so he’s got to tell me. That’s just kind of the way it is.

I just hope someday they’ll have a big thing out here [at Hanford]. Another thing, Cindyyou can help do this. I would be pushing a dinner train. If I had some money, I’d be pushing a dinner train, because there’s too much out there to see—the Visitor Convention Bureau, and all these other TRIDEC [Tri-Cities Development Economic Council] and all these guys. We’ve got it right here! We’ve got all the work. You wouldn’t have to maintain the rail much, because you’re only going to go ten miles an hour at the most, and you get off at the B Reactor. You go all through everything [around Hanford Site].

If I had the money, I’d be pushing it hard. But I don’t have the money. But I don’t mind telling people how I feel about that, because there’s too much to see out there. All the technology that’s grown out of what’s going on out here and other Manhattan sites. We may have created a mess, but we created so many opportunities, because of what we’ve done out here.

Hats off to these guys at the B Reactor and guys like you, who are trying to do something about all this in here. I have a real passion for all that stuff. I never get tired of the stories.

When a guy is saying, “This is what happened.” He said, “No, that ain’t right. That was before you got here. That wasn’t the way we—.” You know, that’s kind of fun.

One of my first cousins that came here and lived in a tent with me, he’s having his ninetieth birthday, and I’m going to Portland this Sunday down at the Civic Center there. They want me to talk about family history. I’m going to go down there, and hangout with him. He’s ninety years old now. We came here and lived in that tent together. He went back to the old 3C [Civilian Conservation Corps] camp. Do you remember anything about CCC camps, and all that stuff?

Kelly: Oh sure.

Mitchell: See, he was one of those guys, CCC camp and everything. He was one of those guys.

Some of my relatives are migrating not only out here, but they went to Dalhart, Texas; Ogden, Utah. All those places where they had different stuff.

Kelly: The Depression was horrible, but it was an opportunity, too.

Mitchell: It was. I would be still plowing a mule. I’d be still in east Texas plowing a mule, really. If it wasn’t for the Manhattan Project, I’d still be there plowing a mule.

Alex Levy: When your relatives wrote back to Texas before you went to Hanford, were they uniformlypositive about their experience?

Mitchell: Oh, yeah. When you come out of segregation, you knew it wasn’t going to be any worse than that. You’re making a living, there’s work.

When I first left home and went to Chicago, when I left coming out here, I left with some of my uncles. I got to Texarkana, Texas. I don’t know if you know where that is. But right down Stateline Avenue, this side is Arkansas and this side will take you right into the train station. I’m one of these guys that likes to go places and do stuff. I’m a nomad kind of a guy.

I get back on the train. When you leave Texas in those days, you come to Saint Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. Then you come down through Billings, and down through that to Pasco. That’s the way you came. When you got to St. Louis, you don’t have to ride in the segregated cars anymore, once you go to St. Louis.

I’m on the bus, and I’m on the train. I get back on the train, and we’re heading on out to Chicago. That’s the first time, with my uncles. I don’t have my billfold. I don’t have no money. In the meantime, I had gone into one of those little booths where you take self-photos. When I got back on the train, all I had got was my ticket and everything. I get to Chicago, and my one uncle, my uncle’s brother—the brother to the one that poured the first cement—he gave me twenty bucks. My oldest brother lived in Chicago. His address was 4002 Lake Park Avenue, Chicago. I still remember that address, 4002 Lake Park Avenue.

I got on the train, and, “Oh hell, I’ve lost my ticket, and everything.” My uncles look at me, “What’s the matter with you?” I’m like every other kid. They’re like, “What’s wrong with this kid?” Anyway, I lost my money and everything. He gave me twenty bucks. I got a cab and went to my brother’s address, 4002 Lake Park Avenue. He comes home. It’s just him and his wife. They got a little place that’s not much bigger than those trailers we were talking about.

Anyway, I sleep in the chair there for a while. I get a job, and I stay in Chicago. For three weeks, I worked for a place called Curtis Candy Company. I was splitting Punch Boys. You remember the Punch Boys? You could go to a tavern, you could punch them out. Well, I worked for Curtis Candy. I worked there for three weeks.

I was homesick. I begged them to let me have some money. They didn’t pay me all my money. I got on the bus, and I go to Paducah, Kentucky. Go out through [inaudible], Arkansas, and back to Texarkana. I got an aunt that lives in a place called Atlanta, Texas. It’s about fourteen miles from Kildare, where I was born. I get back to her house, and then three weeks later here I am back in Kildare.

My mother said, “What in the hell are you doing back here?” Everybody wanted to know what you are doing back here?”

I stayed there for maybe a couple more weeks, and my mother went to one of the gentlemen in the community there. I think she borrowed sixty or sixty-five bucks from this guy and said, “We’ll pay it back in six weeks.” That’s the way I got my money to come back, after I had messed up the other time.

I come back. I got a long enough layover. Curtis Candy, where I had to work, they finished paying me up. Then, I came on back, and that’s when I came in the tent with these guys, after the five of us came back.

Now, I’ll tell you another story. In 1948, when I had come back to work on the ranch houses, I had gone back to Texas because I got homesick. In Billings, Montana – I’m one of these guys always got to get off the train to do something. I’m a newspaper guy. So I get off the train in Billings to get a newspaper, and to get back on. Here’s the train, it’s going, leaving. I run and I catch this train from behind. This is in early spring, getting close to July. 

I had left my coat and my ticket and everything else on the train. I ended up catching this train from behind. I caught it and worked my way back around. I don’t know how far. I finally got into the car where all my relatives were that I was coming back here with. They thought sure as heck I was in Billings for good, that I was going to stay back there.

Anyway, I did some crazy things. But you know, in the end, I think it all worked out pretty good. I was never afraid to go places and explore. I was never afraid to do that. I was never afraid to work. It’s scary, looking back. I feel very blessed.

I grew up close to a railroad track, close to a school. I remember the trains coming by, and we would read all of the writings on the boxcars. If they had a new Northern Pacific or a Union Pacific boxcar on that, we knew we’d never seen that one before. Then, we’d tell our friends about it. “Hey, have you seen that new Northern Pacific this, or that new Union Pacific whatever it is?” That was kind of an education thing for us.

We had dirt roads and all at that stuff. When I married, they still had dirt roads. I took my wife straight from the sticks to Chicago, straight out of there. They still have properties. We still have properties. My family, both sides, has property there in east Texas. There’s nobody living there, but we keep it up. We didn’t sell it or anything. We have a place to go if something happens, if something goes belly up.

Another thing I tell a lot of times when I’m talking to people is, where I lived—especially my mom’s grandma’s place—there was water, a little stream coming down from a spring in the back of what we called the field. It was maybe as wide as from him to him. There may be a fish or two in there, or something like that. Where you could grow stuff was like fifty feet. That’s the farthest you had before it starts.

When I moved where I am now, there was a guy that lived in back of me. He didn’t put his yard in right away, and he had a garden. He has a bucket, and he has got the most beautiful corn, squash, peas, tomatoes. I’m looking at this guy. Every night he would come home. He had no sprinkler. He’d get a bucket, and he would go water those plants. I was sitting there—here I am. This is thirty-six years ago. I said, “Well, I’ll be darned.” That’s not really what I said, but it was something like that.

I had water. I had the ground. I had everything I needed right there in east Texas, and didn’t know what to do with it. That bothers me right now. All I had to do is take that bucket and I could have worked thirty minutes a day to have all the corn I needed, all the peas I needed, all the okra, all the spuds, anything I needed. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it.

Do you know what sweet potatoes are? Okay, they plant them, and they grow like regular spuds. Whenever we set those vines out, we would water them from a bucket to get them started. I don’t know why we didn’t think to water them to keep going. We sat there waiting for rainfall and to water  everything, and everything was right there for me. I have to say that God put it there, I just didn’t know what to do with it. That hurts right now.

But right now, if something went belly up, and I had to move back to the farm, I would use it to a great advantage. I’m hoping now that my grandsons will go down and put in some tree farms and grow trees or something, so they can use it. I think they will. I think they’ll utilize that. But it’s been a great ride for us as a family.

I have a wife and six children. They know how to do things. We always told them that, “You could always come back to nothing. Try stuff. You can come back to nothing.” So far, they’ve all tried stuff. My second son had a chance to go to the Naval Academy. He went back to the prep school during the summer. He called one day and said, “Pick me up in Pasco tonight.”

We picked him up. “How’d you get out of there?”

He said, “They wanted to know what were my reasons. I told them, ‘I can’t do nothing for the Navy, and they can’t do anything for me.’” They sent him home.

I said, “Well, you had your chance. You can go to school at the Columbia Basin College.”

He went over there for a couple of weeks. He came back, threw his books down, and said, “I’m not going there.” He was gone for about three weeks. We don’t hear anything from him.

He finally called my wife, and she said, “Where are you at?”

He said, “I’m at the University of Puget Sound.”

She said, “You’re what?”

He’d gone to the University of Puget Sound, and walked on. He played football four years over there. She said, “Why are you over there?”

He said, “I looked at their schedule, and I see they’re going to Honolulu next year.” That’s why he walked on and played. He did. It’s amazing what kids will do. He says, “There’s no way I’m going to CBC.” And the naval thing wasn’t for him.

Another thing, too. My daughter, she had a chance to be in the first women’s class at the Air Force Academy. She had a chance to be there, she had a chance to be in the first class. My one son, who was a high school All-American, I came back from work one afternoon out at the lab.

He was sitting with the liaison guy from the Air Force in my office. He was saying, “We want guys like that to come to our school.” Of course, my son didn’t go there. He ended up going to Washington State University instead. But he had a chance to go to the Air Force Academy, and my daughter had the chance to be in the first female class there. That was pretty cool.

Alex Levy: We did have a few people earlier talk about what it was like to see segregation and how unfair they thought it was. Then, another person said that she didn’t realize how unfair it was until she went to Virginia, and really saw how bad it was.

Mitchell: You’d be surprised. It took forever for my uncles. It took them many hours in city halls trying to get paved streets and sewers and stuff over there in east Pasco. Before I moved to Richland in ’55, they had what they called the East Pasco Improvement Association, which tried to clean up some of the old vacant lots that had a lot of trash and stuff on them, trying to clean them up to make the neighborhoods look a lot better. They had done all of that.

The interesting thing, when I first moved here and was living in that tent over there, there was a guy who lived downtown just across the tracks and downtown to the north. He had a church. People lived in this church for a dollar a night. His name was Coleman. They’d have to get out of there on Sunday morning before nine o’clock, so he could have service. They would live for a buck a night. That’s a pretty lucrative business, as many people get in the church. A buck a night. That’s pretty good money. In fact, that was good money.

The old cafeteria where we ate our meals is still up there. The old foundation is still up there. In fact, today I got a picture. A guy showed me the old trailer park, and what it was like. I’m going to have it blown up so I can kind of see where I used to tromp around over there and everything.

Jeff Nalezny: When you first met those guys when you came up, the ones that knew all the colorful language, did it scare you?

Mitchell: Yeah.

Nalezny: People who inspired you or scared you?

Mitchell: I was scared to death. None of those guys inspired me, I’ll tell you that right now. It was my relatives who kept me inspired. Of course, the money was good money.

Sixteen years old, these guys were swearing and saying all kinds of stuff. There would be some of those guys from the Bay Area. You get paid on Friday in the morning around nine o’clock. Well, about noon, those guys are heading to Oakland and Sacramento and places like that and Vallejo. They’d go out and come back on the weekend. They’d drive all night. They’d drive all night and then in on Sunday afternoon, and they’d drive back.

Nalezny: Was it a dangerous place, in some regards?

Mitchell: No, they’re not hurting anybody, nothing like that. It’s just the way they were. I wasn’t used to people gambling and things like that. I just wasn’t used to all that kind of stuff. That was pretty scary for me. There was just nobody my age there. I was just in an incompatible situation, as far as the social part was concerned.

Nalezny: Were there single, black women around?

Mitchell: No, no. They didn’t have any single, black women. At sixteen, I probably would have been scared to death, too. No, there was just a few families around.

Nalezny: It sounds like there was a pretty active social agenda for the white people.

Mitchell: It was for them, but there wasn’t a whole lot of social stuff for blacks during that time when I came. There’s never been a whole lot of social stuff for blacks in the Tri-Cities. I belong to a group now, and we do a lot of nice, positive things. There was never a lot of stuff to do.

Now, we just all kind of fit in now, and get stuff done and everything. We feel like we’ve earned respect from people in the community. We feel like we’ve earned that.

As I go about my day, I just know you can always have prejudices. Some people don’t like hot weather, some don’t like cold. Some people don’t like the way you comb your hair, and things like that. There will always be prejudices. As long as you don’t throw stumbling blocks. You get out of my way, or give me an opportunity. I’ll take it from there.

Nalezny: Sounds like there were a few people along the way who earned your respect.

Mitchell: Yeah, and you know another thing, too. When I used to work for McCormack, the guy I was telling you about that taught me chemistry, he told me, “CJ, during the Civil Rights Movement, there were a lot of people who want to help, but that they just don’t want people to know about it. They don’t want their friends to know.” It’s always been like that.

Plahuta: You might mention, CJ, that McCormack was our Congressman.  

Mitchell: Yeah, he was our congressman. I spent all those years with him. When my son went to the Air Force Academy, he was trying to get his son into the academy. He said, “How do you do that?” He began to fly, a pilot. He wanted the two of us to go.

I said, “Mike, ‘No way I’m going to the Air Force Academy with you.’” Because Mike is the kind of guy if he sees a button, and he doesn’t know what it is, he’ll push it to see what happens. That’s just the way he was. When he would do research in laboratories for clients, he’d never say he couldn’t do anything.

He’d never say, “I can’t.”

He’d work on it all he can, and then he’d call and tell them, “That’s the best I can do with the equipment I got.” That’s just the way he was.

I said, “I’m not going to the Academy with a guy like that, who would just reach over and punch those buttons you know.” I’ve got to know a little bit more than that when I get up there. But I learned from him and the managers and everything out there. I always got along good with them.

I’ll tell you what did hurt me, though. One of my bosses one time that went to WSU. I was going to UCLA. UCLA was playing WSU. That’s back in the days when Chris Yammis was playing. He and his son rode over with us. On the way home he says, “What do you get for coming over here on a day like today?” I just showed him my check. Well, it turned out that hurt me back at work.

When I bought my new home down here on Spring where I live now, that hurt me there. That hurt me as far as my relationships at work. People don’t like it when they think you’re getting ahead of them.

When I first started out, when I couldn’t buy the house, this one guy said, “I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to go to school. After all, I’m white.” I heard him say that. “I’m white. I don’t have to do that kind of stuff.”

Then, after I seemed to be doing all right, everybody worried that, “One of these days, he [CJ] might come back and be their boss.” You get all kinds of stuff like that. The thing about it is, that it hurt me on that. The most money—and this is a true story—the most money I’ve ever made working for PNNL was $37,500, and there were a lot of people who made a lot more money than that.

But people didn’t like it, because I was successful in my sports. I got a chance to go to Honolulu every spring and work a week. I always took vacation. I never missed days of work and all of that. Then, my wife ended up getting a job. She ended up retiring from Westinghouse.

If people think you’re getting too much, they will throw stumbling blocks. But you survive it all. You survive, one way or the other. Anyway, here I am.

Nalezny: Where are the rings from?

Mitchell: This is a National Association of Sports Officials. Everybody owns this – NFL, NBA. This is a championship ring from baseball. I’ve got twelve or fourteen of them. I’ve got like twenty-one World Series’ under my belt. American Legion, NC2A, NAIA, that level. But in ’76 when I went to Omaha for the first time, there was a guy from Detroit named Doug Kossy. He says, “Hey, you guys. If you guys give me 125 bucks, I’ll get you a ring, championship ring.”

I said, “I don’t know this Kossy. I don’t know this guy. I’m not giving this guy 125 bucks of my money,” and I come on home.

In 1977, we’re both back at the College World Series again, and he’s got that ring. Man, he’s got that ring. I really wanted one of those rings. Ever since then, I found out that if you work a series, I cannot buy the ring, but the athletic department for their players can buy the ring. All I got to do is pay for the ring, and they can get it for me. But I’ve got to get permission to get it. I’ve got about fifteen or sixteen of them. I wear them interchangeably. But I learned how to get them.

When I was over at the Columbia Basin College, I was sitting there talking to the athletic director and they won a title. I ask them – because that was my old Alma matter, – I asked him to get me the ring. That’s what this is, from CBC. He played at Gonzaga University when I was working the conference. He knew me from there. He looked at me, and I said “I’d like a ring, and I’ll pay for it. This is my old Alma mater. I went to school here. I was on the board of trustees. If you go look in the board office, you’ll see my photo over there.”

This was in the first part of June. Well, the rings don’t come in until December. They give them as Christmas presents. I go over there. When he gives me the ring he says, “This is on the house.”

I said, “What?”

He said, “This on the house. I thought you were kidding me.” When I was at Gonzaga, he didn’t know I did all that stuff, either. So then, when I got it, it was on the house.

Now, the girl’s coach that wins, she played high school, and I reffed her games when she was in high school. She’s won three championships. Every time they win, I get a ring.

Then, when I go over there and they’re both there—he’s the athletic director and she’s the coach—if I’m going to basketball, I’ll take both rings.

I have to watch what I’m doing because she’ll say, “How come you’re wearing his and you’re not wearing mine? And vice versa. They kind of have a thing going. It’s kind of fun. You can get them, but you’ve got to buy them. It all depends on the relationships you’ve got.

I was involved in three major rule changes. I worked with a lot of the guys working in the majors. I know guys all over the place. 

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