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Tracing Marysville's black pioneer families
Their memories go back to a time when sheep grazed beside the river at what is now the 10th Street bridge.
Carol Pogue, 80, was born in a house nearby on I Street that was owned by her family.
At that time, the property did not connect Marysville with Yuba City. There was no highway.
Nor was there a Camp Beale, which was the original source of racism in Marysville, so far as the Pogue sisters are concerned.
"There wasn't prejudice when we were coming up," according to Carol Pogue.
"It was the people sent here to the base. They were Southern boys. That made a big difference."
Her sisters, Barbara Pogue Roberts, 84, and Sally Pogue Adams, 76, nod in agreement.
The Pogues — who grew in a family with six girls and one boy — trace their roots to several black Marysville pioneer families, including the Churchill, Burns and Kingsbury families.
One of their ancestors, Jim Churchill, for instance, arrived in Marysville as a newly freed slave from the famous family for whom Churchill Downs — home of the Kentucky Derby — is named.
But the Pogue women are pioneers in their own right: Carol was the first black nurse hired at Rideout Memorial Hospital, where she worked for 38 years. Her sister, Barbara, was among the first black teachers in the area. And Sally had been the only black dancer in an amateur troupe that collectively stood up against racial prejudice.
On a recent weeknight, three of four surviving Pogue sisters gathered at the home of Carol and Sally, and shared stories about their parents, grandparents, extended family members, and about the community they themselves have been part of since Calvin Coolidge was president.
In those days, according to the sisters, even hobos who rode the trains were part of the town's fabric, and the family interacted with them regularly.
Their father would make sandwiches and leave them out for some of the men who rode the rails. The food would disappear, and in its place would be a neatly chopped and stacked pile of wood beside the house, Sally recalled.
Prior to the influx of refugees from the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, Olivehurst had been friendly territory, Carol said.
But that changed quickly.
"A black person wouldn't walk through Olivehurst," Carol said. "They burned a cross on Simpson Lane after the war." "They were something else," said Barbara, of the hard-scrabble people who moved into the area.
"It took a long time, but that's changed now," Carol said of Olivehurst.
With World War II on, and soldiers from Camp Beale seemingly everywhere, the girls' father, Clarence Lester Pogue, taught his six daughters how to protect themselves with their fists — just in case.
"My girls will take care of themselves," Barbara remembers her father saying.
All three women said they had many opportunities to use their fighting skills.
"'If they're tall,' he said, 'hit 'em in the chest and hit 'em in the belly, knock 'em on their knees,'" Carol recalled. "I was the tomboy and I never lost a fight."
"When you called us 'nigger,' you were gonna get your butt kicked," said Barbara.
The women told of a child molester who had bothered several little girls, including Sally.
A few of the older Pogue sisters and their friends — eight girls all together — baited and attacked the man.
"He ran down the street naked and got arrested for indecent exposure," Carol said. "He moved out of the area and we never saw him again."
Home sweet home
Two of the Pogue sisters are now deceased: Emma Pogue Ramus and Betty Pogue Rucker. Lester Pogue, their brother — the family's historian — has not been himself lately, the women explained.
But they refer often to the pages and pages of thorough genealogy work he has compiled for posterity.
It gives them a sense of their history beyond even their own living history, which is considerable.
Much of their history is linked to the Bethel AME Church, founded by some of their relatives.
They grew up with the church's teachings and congregants, and their mother was the church organist.
"'And if you weren't going to learn to play,' she told us, 'you will sing,'" said Carol, laughing.
Thus, she and her sisters became members of the church's first choir.
One of the favorite childhood stories revolves around the time an ape escaped from the circus.
The Pogue children were lucky to have an exclusive vantage point from the house on I Street from which they could watch the Barnum & Bailey Circus unload their train cars and create a whole world of wonder at the edge of the family property.
"A 950-pound woman guarded the tent," said Carol. "One day we saw this huge ape on top of the tent."
Drama ensued when the animal jumped down and scared the hefty guard, then took off, terrorizing Marysville for 10 days or so, Carol said.
It was found on top of a church on D Street pelting passers by with debris.
The house on that I Street property, like so many of the ones owned through the years by the Pogue sisters' large family, is now long gone.
A Camp Fire Girls troupe made their headquarters in a building there for years. Now that building is due to be razed and replaced with two Habitat For Humanity houses.
It's a good use for the property now, the sisters said of their much-changed city.
"So many people here can't afford a home," Barbara said.
Their family still hosts a Fourth of July party every year at Yuba Park — a tradition that dates back to the 1930s when the house at 12th and Ramirez where their father had grown up was just a stone's throw away.
A small shopping center now occupies the land where their father's house stood.
The homes they own now in East Marysville attest to social changes the women have seen ebb and flow.
Carol said she wanted to buy a house there in the early 1960s.
"But I couldn't buy a home out here then. No black people could," she said. "Soon as they saw what you looked like, it was bye, bye Joe."
It felt strange when she first moved in, remembering those changes, she said.
"So many things have changed," Barbara said. Her house is a short walk away from Carol's where Sally also lives.
"I never thought I'd own a house," she said. "We have done well, and we have been truly blessed."
CONTACT reporter Nancy Pasternack at 749-4781