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Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    In this part of an extended interview, Viola Turner, treasurer of North Carolina Mutual Insurance, reflects on her childhood in Macon, Georgia. Born on February 17, 1900, Turner was the only child of her African American teenage parents. Her remembrances are of those of a joyous childhood in which her mother encouraged her to excel in school. In her vivid depictions of Macon, Georgia, Turner describes a town in which segregation was not acutely visible. She was largely unaware of racial discrimination during her childhood. Nevertheless, she discusses at length her perceptions of skin color and the ways in which some of her lighter-toned African American friends were often treated differently than those with darker skin. Educated at the American Missionary Association schools and Morris Brown, Turner's first job was as an administrative assistant at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the summer of 1920. Shortly thereafter she took a job working for the Superintendent of Negro Education for the State of Mississippi, which she held for six months before going to work for the new branch of North Carolina Mutual that opened in Oklahoma City in 1920. Turner eventually settled in Durham, North Carolina. The latter portion of this interview focuses on her descriptions of entertainment and race relations. Specifically, Turner describes her interaction with various black performers and her experiences attending both black and white theaters in Durham. In addition, she explains her friendship with Eula Perry—who could easily "pass" for white—and the reactions their friendship elicited from various observers.
    Excerpts
  • Upbringing and family values in the Jim Crow South
  • Elite African American society in Atlanta
  • The role of skin tone in establishing racial identities and hierarchies
  • A segregated community in the South
  • Growing awareness of racial discrimination
  • White community reaction to crime commited by an African American woman
  • Positive reaction to desegregation
  • African American reaction to minstrelsy
  • Description of interaction with George Washington Carver at Tuskegee
  • Transgressing racial boundaries in a segregated hotel
  • Description of the African American-owned Wonderland Theatre in Durham, North Carolina
  • Challenging Jim Crow segregation and perceptions of race
  • Contrasting racial boundaries in the North and in the South
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • African Americans--North Carolina--Durham--Social life and customs
  • African American insurance agents--North Carolina
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.