Oral Histories

Interview of Gail Valentine Taylor

Third-generation owner of Woods-Valentine Mortuary in Pasadena, California.
"Where Do We Go from Here?" Histories of Long-term Black Business Ownership, Community, and Family in Los Angeles County
African American History
Biographical Note:
Third-generation owner of Woods-Valentine Mortuary in Pasadena, California.
Hester, Yolanda
Taylor, Gail Valentine
Persons Present:
Taylor and Hester.
Place Conducted:
Woods-Valentine Mortuary in Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Yolanda Hester, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; M.A., African American studies, UCLA.Hester prepared for the interview in this series by looking at a number of books and articles that examined Black business ownership in a historical context, as well as articles that examined it from a social science perspective and looked at current socioeconomic debates and findings.For the Taylor interview, she also reviewed articles on the Valentine family in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Sentinel, the Pasadena Star, and the Pasadena Weekly. She also consulted a number of articles on black funerals and funeral homes, including “The Colored Embalmer: Homegoings, Capitalism, and African American Civil Rights” by Paul Harvey and “The Disappearance of a Distinctively Black Way to Mourn” by Tiffany Stanley, published in the Atlantic.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Taylor was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
7.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents long-term and multigenerational business ownership in the black community through oral history interviews with owners of businesses located in Los Angeles County. The title is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, which focused on economic issues, including issues related to black-owned businesses.Businesses were chosen to participate in the series based on two criteria: that the business had been in operation for at least twenty-five years and that it was currently active at the time of the interview. An effort was also made to ensure that the businesses selected represented a variety of sizes and industries. They range from small, local businesses with only a couple of employees to enterprises that have a regional and even national reach, and the industries represented include construction, real estate, insurance, communications, dry cleaning, restaurants and catering, mortuaries, barbershops, and stove repair. Due to limited resources and time constraints, the interviews focused primarily on businesses in the Pasadena area and in South Los Angeles, with selected businesses in Hollywood, Gardena, and downtown Los Angeles as well. South Los Angeles remains one of the most important centers of Black economic activity in the region, and the Pasadena area has historically been a final stop for many Blacks who migrated to Southern California. It is also important to note that although the series focused mostly on these two areas, the reach and customer base of these businesses span well beyond their local communities.The first section of each oral history covers the individual’s family and migration history. The second and third sections then examine each business from two perspectives: (1) the day-to-day functioning of the business, i.e., staffing, profit and losses, marketing, etc., and (2) broader businesses strategies, including responses to policy changes, technological development, demographic shifts, and changes in the economy. For reasons that included scheduling, health, and capacity issues, some of the business owners who were invited to be interviewed declined. Those businesses included Eso Won Books, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Pete’s Foods Products, Winmax Construction Corporation, Beauchamp Distributing Company, and Gallery Plus.The UCLA Center for Oral History Research has also created a website that offers more context about black businesses in Los Angeles and includes numerous audio clips from this interview series. See https://www.library.ucla.edu/community-commerce-oral-histories-african-american-businesses-los-angeles
Birth and family background—Father’s history—Mother’s history—Migration to Pasadena, California—Family life in Pasadena—Childhood neighborhood—“Homecoming” in Mt. Olive, Arkansas—Life in Arkansas—Taylor’s maternal grandfather—Religion and community in Mt. Olive—Shifting from sharecropping to factories—Financial advice from her father—Attending school in Pasadena—Pasadena High School—Father purchases mortuary business in 1954—Protest at school—Political involvement and politics at home.
College years—First Black history class at University of California, Santa Barbara—Life at UC Santa Barbara—Transferring to University of California, Berkeley—Life at Berkeley—Taylor’s first job outside of the family business—Working with substance abuse in Oakland—Transferring to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena—Working for the family business—Learning the business—Transitioning to ownership—Staffing—Changing demographics in Pasadena—Technology—Trends in mortality rates—Policy changes in the industry—Changing African American mortuary traditions—Advice to entrepreneurs.