Learning about sex in a racially divided city
Because sexuality was such a taboo subject in her family and social circle, the only time Durr heard about sexual relationships as a child were when her mother worried about whether her cooks and maids were behaving properly. As a result, sexual intimacy was sinful and racialized for her.
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
I remember that
up until this point, sex was entirely foreign. We never discussed it. It didn't exist as far as we knew. Only thing that I knew was that something happened in the basement because Mother was always worried about the cooks having men in the basement. They lived on the place, in the basement of the house on Niazuma, there were two servants rooms and a bath and so, the cook always lived on the place. This was because they wanted them there in time to cook breakfast. Of course, they weren't paid at that time but about five or six dollars a week and having a room and board was supposed to be part of the wages, I suppose. But I remember that we had a succession of cooks and I remember the terrific anxiety about the men in the basement. I didn't know what they did in the basement, but if Mother or Daddy knew that there was a man in the basement, there was always a big row and sometimes the cook would leave. The men would creep out early in the morning and Mother would say, "I see a man going down the alley and I bet that he spent the night here." I realized that there was something going on in the basement that was just terrible, but I didn't know what it was.You cannot imagine the barrier that was built up in us about sex. It really was something that black people did in the basement. I remember that when . . . this is just something, no one ever told me about the menstrual period. When it happened to me, I was absolutely terrified. It happened in school and I thought that I was dying, you know. What did I know about it? I had no idea. So, I was just in a state of perfect terror. So, I remember that I called up and Mother came or sent for me and I went home and she said, "Well, that's just something that women have to do." She never told me why or what it was about and I remember that I said, "Mother, do black women do this too?" She said, "Yes, all women do, it is the curse of women." Of course, I always had terrible cramps after that. It was just insane. We were brought up as though
sex didn't exist. And I began very early, you see, I was a full grown woman when I was about twelve. So, I began to feel these pangs about young boys, thinking that they were so attractive and I always felt sort of guilty about it. I thought that I must be some sort of a fiend.Of course, they were just awful old boys, I suppose, but I was just crazy about them. (laughter)