Ella Barksdale

March 16, 1987

109 Union Street, Hudson, NY


Marcella Beigel

Marcella Beigel


Ella, now sixty-nine years old, was born in Albany and adopted by the Edmunds family in Hudson. She was married in Hudson and has lived in Hudson from the time of her marriage on.  Her husband was from Virginia but loved it here. She has two children, a boy and a girl. Her daughter has two boys, one has a baby. Ella’s son had many children, six children. His children also have kids, her great grandchildren.  Her son’s daughters have two kids each except for one daughter. She has at least great-grandchildren. 

She learned about her birth mother, Laura Jackson who came from Kinderhook but lives in Troy now,  when she was 19 years old. Laura is 88 years old. Ella visits her in Albany as does Ella’s daughter. Her mother may have done housework.

In 1974 Ella moved into this house. Soon afterwards husband died. Her daughter continue to live with her and grandchildren

Ella raised her family on Columbia Street before the projects were built. She found it to be a comfortable friendly neighborhood once but it changed and deteriorated since then. After her marriage it took time for her and her husband to buy a home. They bought a house on Mill Street that she had loved since she was a child. The house was gutted and the owner gave them time to renovate and clean it but then they had lots of little white bugs after the urban renewal development of the area.  Then they had sewer rats and she sold that house. 

Ella went to school in Hudson, to Charles Williams school on North 3rd Street then the 4th Street School. School kids were both black and white, no problems. They would eat at each other's homes. It wasn’t like now because now there’s discrimination but she doesn’t pay much attention.

Growing up there was no dish washing or cooking on Sundays. They set the tables and prepared all the  food on Saturdays.  But Monday mornings everything had to be  washed. Often Ella wore hand-me-downs that were still in good condition. They went to Church all dressed up for Easter. Then came home for a meal then and afterwards they would walk to Promenade Hill to take pictures. 

As a child she would go to Spook Rock to swim and picnic. It was rumored that at night Spook Rock would turn over! Ella enjoyed her childhood, she especially loved to go roller skating. Even as an adult she would go with the kids from the NYS Girls’ Training School to skate at Henry Hudson and also bowl in town. 

Ella recalls that the farmers brought produce into town. From a beautiful white horse and wagon she got buttermilk that was poured into a pitcher brought from her house.  At that time they used an ice box. The bakeries were reasonably priced. One was across the street from the church. There was a local bakery run by a black family.  Trolleys and tracks used to run in Hudson.

The Rialto and Playhouse Theaters were on Warren Street. Now that they have been torn down, people must go to Fairview Avenue to see a movie.. There was discrimination at the Rialto Theater.  Blacks weren’t allowed to sit downstairs, only upstairs. Otherwise, in Hudson, although they knew there was discrimination it wasn’t always obvious. In the South, when Ella visited her husband’s family, she refused to be oppressed by the racism, which was distinctly different from what she experienced in Hudson. Here, there were no sanctions as to where you could go.

Before the shopping centers were built they had grocery stores in Hudson. Ella loved to eat pickles straight from the wooden barrels. Ella and her friend Beulah would go to the store that was across the street from their house and charge the cookies or pickles to her mother’s account. Miss Crank would organize block dances on Saturday nights. 

Her husband’s mother came to Hudson for work and then gradually her five sons followed from Danville, Virgina. When her husband was living in Hudson, they started speaking. But he was afraid of her mother.  He had to ask both her biological and adopted mother permission to marry Ella. They were married in the parsonage. Ella’s mother-in-law, who was from the South, taught her how to cook. And her husband taught her how to cook beans. Ella learned to cook soul food/ southern food, especially to make southern fried chicken. First, the stray little feathers are singed from the chicken skin, then sprinkle salt and pepper and paprika and let it set. Pour flour into a zip lock bag and shake while the grease is heating. Put the chicken in and turn the heat down. Cook chicken slowly in a cast  iron skillet. Before they eat, their food is blessed.

Ella’s husband worked at Atlas Cement. Mr. Edward Cross also worked at the cement plant. They wore masks due to the dust. Her husband had dust mixed with the wax in his ears which hardened and had to be removed by the doctor. He worked near the train station loading cement. She would walk down to him bringing his lunch. Back then there were a lot more trains. 

Dr. Pierce, who delivered her son, was the one black doctor in Hudson. His office was on Warren Street and he  lived on Columbia and Second Streets. It is possible that he did not have privileges at Columbia Memorial Hospital. There were no black lawyers, but  recently Mr. Fowler, a black teacher, taught her children.

Ella believes in going to church, she was raised going to church and raised her children to attend church. Religion plays a large part in Ella’s life, as well as many of the other black people. Shiloh Baptist on Warren Street was previously a synagogue. The Masonic Hall on Columbia Street was originally the Shiloh Baptist Church before it moved into the synagogue.

On Christmas they opened their presents and the tables were set with an extra set of dishes the evening before. They had a tree and presents. 

She used to work for Mrs. Koweek who owned Town Fair. Ella spoke very highly of Mr. Miller the bus driver.

Ella worked at the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson. The school was a reform school for delinquent girls. They were not criminals, but needed supervision. Mostly the students were from New York City. Ella worked there for 19 years and many of the kids called her Ma Barksdale. Over the years some of the kids have called her near Christmas. There were about 23 girls who lived in each house. Ella really liked the girls and her job there. 

Ella was at the training school working when she heard that JFK was shot. They had TV and radio there to hear about it, although they could hardly believe it. The adults were crying but also consoling the distraught students. 

Today Ella finds that children are no longer respectful to adults. They are sassy so she hesitates to correct them. She does think that the new generation is different from her generation and those of her kids. Ella would advise young people if she could,  to stay away from drugs. Ella has no problem with today’s young people, they even call her Ma.

Ella recalled a fire at the Second Street junkyard that was felt all the way across Columbia Street.  She also remembers the mushroom factory that caught fire, and later became Providence Hall. As well as the Methodist Church in which the fire was extremely hot.

Interviewer Bio:

Marcella Beigel

Marcella Mary Kane Schneider Beigel (Marcella Beigel) was the RSVP Director and originator of the BLACC Oral History Project. She moved to the Columbia County area at the age of 60 and was involved in many civic projects in Columbia County. She believed in the importance of the area’s black history and enlisted seniors to cull old newspapers as well as interview local residents in order to gather information on this history. She also was instrumental in creating a curriculum guide for local schools of the history that gathered in this collection.

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