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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Printing the poetry of local African American workers

Seeman describes how Seeman Printery would occasionally print the poetry of local African American workers. In particular, he explains how one group of Durham African Americans would write religious ballads that they would have printed out in order to circulate within their community. His recollections here are illustrative of the culture of Durham's working people during the rise of the tobacco industry there.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that when you were working in the printery, when you were heading the printery, that on Saturday after the factory workers got out some black workers would come by and ask for special printing work? They wanted their poetry printed?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
That's interesting. They wanted to have a ballad printed. They were religious Negroes who would compose a hymn about Moses, Joshua, or anybody they happened to think of. They'd got somebody to help them write it out, or they'd dictate to us over the counter. They were very proud of this piece that they'd thought out and written, and then they'd take them on the streets and sell them - a penny apiece, you know,
MIMI CONWAY:
Did they make many copies, or sell many copies of their ballads?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No, that's a long time ago. In the printing office files in Durham (see, that's still going), Wallace Seeman (who is now head of it) could probably find some old ballad if you go down there. [Interruption] Dr. Boyd is from Duke University, he was interested in history, and he was a pretty good scout to find these old pieces. And he was down there one day and saw one of these ballads the Negroes had had printed, and he wanted copies of them. So we gave him copies for his files at Trinity College.
MIMI CONWAY:
And did you say he printed them up at Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He took them away to put them in articles, historical articles, Moses and the bullrushes, or whatever it was they were writing about. In this