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Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 17, 1979. Interview C-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    This is the second part of an extensive two-part interview with Viola Turner, former treasurer of North Carolina Mutual in Durham and first woman on its executive board. Turner continues her vividly detailed discussion of early twentieth-century race relations from the first interview, beginning with several anecdotes about her experiences with racial discrimination while traveling by train in both the North and the South. She describes an itinerant musician she encountered in a Jim Crow train car while en route to Memphis, an experience she uses as a segue for discussing the Mississippi Blues as an especially unique form of regional African American popular culture. Although Turner argues that the Mississippi Blues was not pervasive in Durham (where she had settled in 1924), she explains that the city did have a thriving African American culture. After describing elaborate social gatherings for dancing and music within the African American community (particularly for the black middle class), Turner describes how community leaders worked to bring in prominent African American performers. According to Turner, the intricate social network of African Americans in Durham was integral in supporting African American professionals who traveled through the South. Turner also devotes considerable attention to describing the role of African American community leaders, including Dr. James E. Shepard of North Carolina Central University and C. C. Spaulding of North Carolina Mutual. As an employee of North Carolina Mutual, Turner had a unique relationship with Spaulding. She describes him as a paternal figure (she and other employees called him "Poppa") and offers numerous anecdotes about how he looked out for his employees. She recounts, for instance, how Spaulding ensured that his employees had the opportunity to vote by personally accompanying them through the registration process. Turner provides insight into the inner operations of North Carolina Mutual as a landmark African American business in Durham, and stresses its central role within the community. In addition, she discusses her perception of nascent civil rights efforts, such as the formation of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs; the effort of the NAACP on behalf of Thomas Hocutt to integrate the law school of the University of North Carolina; and lingering racial tensions in Durham. Finally, Turner offers commentary on gender dynamics, sharing her thoughts on instances of sex discrimination at North Carolina Mutual, expectations of single women workers within the community, and relationships: she describes her two short-term marriages in the 1920s, and concludes the interview with a lengthy discussion of her third husband and his support of her work and in the home.
    Excerpts
  • Interstate train travel and racial discrimination
  • The Mississippi Blues and intersections between race and popular music
  • African American social gatherings in Durham, North Carolina
  • Public entertainment and segregated audiences
  • Registering to vote with the help of African American community leaders
  • Perception of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs during its formative years
  • Charlotte Hawkins Brown and her preparatory school in Sedalia, North Carolina
  • Gender equality and discrimination at North Carolina Mutual
  • Living in the Clerk's Home for Single Women
  • Two marriages and two divorces during the 1920s
  • Initial impressions of Durham and its offerings for African Americans
  • Admiration of African American lawyer William Hastie
  • Brush with the Klan
  • Advice regarding race and job opportunities
  • Julian Shakespeare Carr and his half brother John O'Daniel
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • North Carolina--Race relations
  • 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.