Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Noblesse oblige in a wealthy southern family

Because of their wealth, Durr's family, especially her paternal grandmother who was the matriarch of the plantation, demanded a great deal of respect and patronage. In exchange, they supported the local community with paternalistic motions such as gifts for the poor children of both races at Christmastime.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. 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

Then my grandmother would take us to town, the little town of Union Springs.I got the idea at that time that she owned the town. She wouldn't even go into the stores, whoever ran the store would come out to the carriage. She had two carriages besides two or three buggies and one carriage was an open carriage, a Victoria and she had matched horses, bays, sort of reddish horses. And there was a coachman with a high silk hat, named Washington. I knew as a little girl that she owned the town. She was the biggest, richest person in town. If you go through all those clippings about when she died, you'll see all the tributes to her. Then, as I said, the people that ran the stores, she never had to get out and come in, they would always come out to the buggy or the carriage and ask her what she wanted and bring out the things. And she would buy us the most beautiful material, real linen and real lace and all of our underwear was made out of real linen and lace, made by Miss Paulk, who lived next door. They had fallen, on evil times, I suppose that they had gone to the war and lost their lands. Anyway, they had a big beautiful house too, but they had lost all their money, so Miss Katie Paulk sewed for my grandmother. Our dresses would be embroidered with a lot of scollops, hand embroidered. Well, I got the idea that this was bliss. Just lavish bliss. And I adored it, I was absolutely entranced by it. Granny Foster would go to church and in the winter, shewould go in her carriage, which was lined with red satin and she would wear a little bonnet and a little fur cape and when you went to the church with her, Wash would get out and open the door and then she would have her royal progress into the church. You knew that she owned the church. I'm sure that she kept it up mostly. The preacher was named Dr. Bell. I was conscious that Dr. Bell was obligated to my grandmother. So, once again, grandmother owned the church and she owned the town and owned the great big house with white pillars and owned the plantation and she was the queen bee. And that was what I wanted to be when I was little. I wanted to be like my grandmother and have everybody love me and everybody obligated to me. When Christmas came, it was marvelous. They would have a great big tree. In the morning, it would be just the family, you know, with presents and then in the afternoon, she would have in the black children first, and they would get their presents and then she would have in the Sunday School children. I don't think that she had them together, I think that they came at different times, but I do remember that one little black child got a toy piano, a little bitty piano and one of us wanted it and we tried to snatch it away. She wouldn't allow that, she was very fair minded about things like that.