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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harriet Herring, February 5, 1976. Interview G-0027. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black and white tenant farmers do not mix

As Herring chuckles about the idea of her very literate mother belonging to a woman's suffrage organization, she recalls the racial dimensions tenant farming in North Carolina in the early 20th century. Farmers with tenants tended to have tenants of only one race, because of tensions between white and black tenant farmers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harriet Herring, February 5, 1976. Interview G-0027. 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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
I asked if she ever did any work for women's suffrage?
HARRIET HERRING:
Oh, it wasn't even talked about; didn't hear the term 'til I was grown and in college.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
[laughter] Did she ever participate in the women's club movement or anything like that?
HARRIET HERRING:
Well, who would you have in it? Three families there that you visited with; the rest of them were unknown tenant farmers, what were white. Most of them were black. See, the combination of white and black on the same plantation didn't work very well. If a person had white tenants he had white tenants, but very few. Now there was one family that the daughter in that my age, we were great friends, and I was quite disturbed when they moved, you see. I mean, people stayed in their houses, I thought; they were born there, they ought to stay there.We had, let's see, seven tenant houses; had that many black families. And you ask in here about servants. Somebody in one or another of those families, when they were bargained with it was understood that somebody was going to do the laundry, and they did the laundry. And they helped with housecleaning and so on. But we didn't have a servant that came in every day. I didn't know but two families in my whole neighborhood who had; and one of them didn't have one all the time, but the other one, he had. Incidentally, this Mr. Kennedy had some of the land that belonged to Henry Herring of several generations back; it had been changing hands and he got it. And both of them had money besides a good-sized plantation, and had no children. My father with eleven to give some education to, you see, made a difference.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Exactly. Well then, were all of the tenants black?
HARRIET HERRING:
Oh yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
You didn't have any white tenants at all?
HARRIET HERRING:
No. They would refer once in a while to when (I've forgotten the last name, but the man and his two children were Dick and Bink, and there was something else that rhymed with that) there were four of them that stayed on the farm for a year or two. But they weren't very satisfactory; didn't mix well with black tenants. So a person would have one or the other.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did the tenants stay for a long period of time on the land, or did they tend to come and go?
HARRIET HERRING:
Well, some of them were second generation. Joe Brown, for example: his mother had lived on the farm. He was raised on a farm, and they didn't forget it. And, of course, when I was young you were still in the period when somebody would tell you that "My husband belonged to your grandfather." And then they expected a little more consideration, you know. You'd run into that quite often.