Mary McLeod Bethune protests segregation policies
Earlier in the interview, Durr had described how Mary McLeod Bethune desegregated a hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. In this anecdote, James A. Dombrowski calls a meeting at a hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina, and when Bethune again protests segregation, the hotel's African American staff quietly honors her.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. 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 was thinking that we could go on and talk about how the Southern Conference got so involved in the Progressive Party campaign.
- VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, that's what I wanted to go on to. Well, then, as I remember, Clark came back and we had a meeting in North Carolina. I can't remember where it was. (Greensboro, North Carolina in January, 1947) But we still had segregation. So, we met at some hotel there and this is just an episode about Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune, which illustrates the situation; we had permission to meet in the hotel. So, when lunchtime came, Jim was the secretary and he got up and in the sweetest way said, "Well, you know, I'm terribly sorry, but the hotel won't serve any of our black members and we have arranged for you to be carried over to the Negro school." So, Mrs. Bethune got up and she just let out a real diatribe. She said, "Now, look Jim Dombrowski, when you arrange a meeting, you arrange for us to eat together. We are not going to be shunted off this way." Oh, she got very upset about it and poor Jim was just terribly upset. But Mrs. Bethune refused to go over to the black school to eat. I said, "Mrs. Bethune, you come on up to my room and I will get you a sandwich." I wanted her to lie down because she was an old lady and . . . she didn't have an asthma attact that time, but she was pretty agitated and got everybody else pretty agitated too. Mrs. Bethune could make the most marvelous speech about black roses. You've never heard her rose garden speech? About how she went into this lovely rose garden and there was a pink rose and a yellow rose and a white rose and the red rose and then one day, she went into the garden and there was a black rose, the most beautiful rose of all. She was a masterful orator. She was an amazing woman. So, I took her up to my room and she lay down on the bed and I called down to the dining room
and asked if I could have lunch sent down to the room. And they said yes. So, I asked for two chicken sandwiches and two glasses of iced tea. Well, in about five minutes, here come in three black waiters, not one but three. Theyset up a table, put on a white cloth and set it beautifully and then they brought up the chicken salad sandwiches and the iced tea and they stayed and served Mrs. Bethune and me, one behind each chair and one to serve. (laughter) They were trying to show Mrs. Bethune honor, you see. This was their way of showing her honor and they did. And she sat there like a queen and ate her sandwich and drank her iced tea and these three black waiters were just bowing and scraping. She was a powerful woman, I'm telling you. She broke segregation in that hotel, too. That's the second time that she did it. She didn't let anybody fool around with her.