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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

African American reaction to minstrelsy

Here, Turner briefly recalls having seen a minstrel act in a vaudeville show when she was a child. Turner remembers this as a unique experience, although when questioned by the interviewer she does not recall whether the performers were whites in black face or African American performers. She assumed that they were white performers, despite the fact that it was during the early twentieth century when it became increasingly common for African Americans to perform in minstrel shows. Regardless, Turner does not seem to posit that the performance was psychologically damaging or rewarding either way.

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

I believe vaudeville is what I saw in New York in the early years. I mean, my earlier years.
WALTER WEARE:
Musical productions?
VIOLA TURNER:
Yes. I saw what was an outstanding minstrel show there. And the only thing I can remember about that, aside from seeing the outline of a minstrel show, was the name, Lubock State, I think. Which was supposedly indicative that it was the outstanding minstrel show of the time. I remember seeing that the first time I'd ever seen these people sitting around with the banjos and, nothing on them, then getting up and telling jokes. The Interlocutor coming down and asking Mr. Bones something, and Mr. so-and-so something. They'd come up and dance and sing, that sort of thing. That was at the opera house.
WALTER WEARE:
Were these all black performers in the minstrel show?
VIOLA TURNER:
I have no idea. I imagine they were black-faced whites. You know how the minstrels took off and made themselves look like us to entertain.
WALTER WEARE:
At this point, though, they did become black performers. I was wondering if you could remember.
VIOLA TURNER:
I don't know that. I really don't. That was in the early years. I must have been twelve, thirteen, fourteen. Somewhere in there.