Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Positive reaction to desegregation

In this excerpt, Turner describes her father's job at the Dempsey Hotel in Macon, Georgia. Crediting his work in the hotel restaurant there with his insistence that she exercise good table manners, Turner remembers having to go to the back door of the hotel if she needed to see her father while he was working. Later on in her life, when Turner visited Macon on business, she chose to stay at the Dempsey Hotel rather than the new Holiday Inn so that she might experience the pleasure of knowing that she could finally enter the hotel "without being hampered." While staying there, Turner happily remembers seeing an integrated troop of Boy Scouts in the lobby and feeling that progress had truly been made. Here, then, Turner offers a positive portrait of the effects of desegregation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015. 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

Oh, boy. I'll tell you what I think is funny: I remember that on Sundays, Sunday breakfast could be special. Because, aside from bacon and eggs, which was pretty standard-bacon, and eggs, and grits-most Sundays you had pancakes. But that was just like a side dish. Pancakes and syrup. And I say syrup because I met a man in the store last week and we got to talking. I said, did he ever have cane syrup? Down in our section, your syrup is made from sugar cane. There's nothing like it. It's better than anything you get up this way. But anyhow, so you'd have maybe a stack of pancakes and cane syrup over here. And your regular breakfast. You could have either or both. And another Sunday you could have fried fish with your grits, instead of the eggs. But usually it was sort of standard, but nevertheless. I recall very vividly the first time my father stopped and says, "You can't eat pancakes like that anymore." I had to eat them with a knife and fork. Up until that time I had been sopping. Did you know what sopping is? [laughter] Do you recall when somebody stopped you from sopping and made you pick up a knife and a fork? Horrible experience when there's syrup you got to eat. I just couldn't believe it could be accomplished. So, you see, I even got table manners early. All because of my father's exposure, I'm sure, to the hotel. Incidentally I went to Georgia in '65, and Mutual people who were sending me to this meeting said, "Do you want to stay at the Holiday Inn, which is brand new, or the old hotel?" I said I wanted to go to Dempsey. Nobody could understand why the Dempsey. So I go to the Dempsey and they're explaining how it's just been re-modeled. Even though it's not up to par with the other one, I still want to go to the Dempsey. So I went to the Dempsey and I saw that hotel being built, as a child. It was the tallest building. It was our skyscraper. You could go down and see it going up. And then my father worked in there, when he hoteled in the summer. So then I announced to the folks after I got in to the hotel, I said, "When I was a kid and I had wanted to see my father on a life or death business, I would have had to come down Cherry Street, go back around on this side, go through there, and go to the back door and ask, 'Please, could I speak to Philip Richard. Would you mind telling Philip Richard that his wife is dying?' " Or something like that. They said, "Are you kidding?" And I said, "No, I'm not kidding. That's what I would have had to do. I probably didn't know that's what I had to do. But if I'd have found it, that's what I would've ended up doing." You know, I had to come and walk through the front door of the Dempsey Hotel and be served. It really was a thrill, just to know that I was not going to be hampered in any way. Because they were perfectly lovely. As a matter of fact, the hotel was filled with little boy scouts, and there were as many little black boys as there were white boys, all up and down the place. This was something to behold. Dear old Macon.