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 >>

Learning racial etiquette

Earlier in the interview, Durr had described how her sister Josephine responded when her aunt attempted to enforce racial hierarchies in her friendships with the African American children on the family's plantation. Here, Durr relates what happens when her cousin expressed her racism by insulting Durr's nurse's daughter.

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

But in any case, the great trauma was that when my birthday came along, I had always had my birthday celebrations in Union Springs because it was in August and we were usually down there in August. This time, I was seven years old and I was going to school the next fall. I always had my birthday in the back yard with the black children and we would have barbeque and they would let us barbeque over a little pit that they would dig for us. So, this time, my mother and grandmother and aunts and all said that I had to have it in the front yard and with just the white children, no black children could come to the party. Well, I got very angry about that and the main thing was that I wanted the barbeque. (laughter) You see, they would dig a pit in the back yard, which was sandy, and then the cook would give us chickens and we would build a grill over the hole and build a fire and then we were allowed to baste the chickens and turn them over and of course, by the time that we got through, they were full of sand, but to me, (this had been my usual birthday party) and to me, this was a great event. Here I was presiding over the chickens, you know. Well, anyway, I had a tantrum at breakfast and made strong protest about the party in the afternoon and no barbeque. So, they agreed that I could have the barbeque in the morning and the party in the afternoon. This was the compromise that they reached.
SUE THRASHER:
The barbeque was in the backyard?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
With the black children and the party would be in the front yard with the white children. Well, Elizabeth, Aunt May's daughter was there and Aunt May would bring a French maid with her when she came, if you can imagine. You can imagine how happy the French maid was. (laughter) Aunt May, as you could say, really put on airs. Anyway, Elizabeth was always dressed up in these beautiful dresses with sashes and everything matching and her hair curled . . . .
SUE THRASHER:
Was Elizabeth your age or about your age?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She was a little older than I was, about my sister's age. So, we had the barbeque and everything was going on fine and we were dividing up the chicken and one of the little black girls was tearing up the chicken and she offered a piece to Elizabeth and Elizabeth, who must have felt like an outcast in this group anyway, she all of a sudden said, "Don't you give me any chicken out of that black hand of yours. I'm not going to eat any chicken that your black hand has touched, you little nigger."
SUE THRASHER:
So, how did you respond when your cousin said that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, you see, the little girl that did it was my nurse's little girl. You see, I was brought up with her. My nurse had a little girl just about my age and I was brought up with her, she and I played together all the time. Now, Nursey didn't live on the place. She had a husband or a beau who would come and get her every night. I forget his name, we just called him Nursey's beau or whatever. He was a tall yellow man and he would come every night and take her home. My mother resented this because she wanted her to stay on the place. So that she would get up with us in the night, I reckon. But anyway, mother liked the servants to live on the place and Nursey refused to live on the place, she went home every night with this tall yellow man. Sarah wasn't his daughter, she was the daughter of the first husband. Sarah and I were just raised together there in the kitchen and played together and I was very fond of her. So, it was Sarah that offered Elizabeth a piece of chicken and she said, "I'm not going to take anything from your black hand, you little nigger." Well, I got furious with her and threw the chicken at her and also tried to throw a knife at her, which got me to bed very promptly, because she said that I had tried to kill her or something. And I was furious. They put me to bed for being so bad. I called her a damn fool, too. Now, how I heard that, I don't know. (laughter)