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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, August 4, 1974. Interview G-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Cultural conditioning of ideas of race

Lumpkin explains why she wrote her book, <cite>The Making of a Southerner</cite>, in 1947. Earlier in the interview, Lumpkin had explained how during her childhood, the "Lost Cause" had been heralded in her family. By the time she was an adult, Lumpkin had come to realize that perceptions of race were culturally conditioned. In particular, she addresses the impact of her education at Columbia University during the late 1910s and at University of Wisconsin in the mid-1920s as helping her to form new ideas about the role of race and racism in society. In writing her autobiography about her upbringing in Macon, Georgia, she hoped to expose how this happened in order to change ideas about race and racism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, August 4, 1974. Interview G-0034. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, tell me, why did you write that book?
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Why did I?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
I can give you my general purposes, I think, if I can vocalize them. I felt that there was still extant, widely extant, at the time I wrote it, which was in the late forties, a conception of a whole people being "inferior." I mean, innately inferior. The black people, Negroes. Hence, out of this grew the notion that prejudice was natural and could not be overcome if these people were inferior. So I knew out of my own personal experience, that it was neither innate nor true, and so I thought one of the best ways to demonstrate this was to give a picture of my personal experience which showed that I was indoctrinated with all these conceptions, and I got over it, completely. This was one of my aims. The other was to show the … so to say, the other side of the coin, that these feelings and attitudes were not innate, namely that they were culturally conditioned, that they came out of one's cultural background. And hence my reasons for this attempt to evoke how I was culturally conditioned was this story of my family, its background, its upbringing, our indoctrination with the Lost Cause, the way I loved it. Now, if a child learns to love this thing, so that she herself is caught up in it, this is really heady stuff. This is terrifically potent. And this could explain more for us, because we placed unusual emphasis upon all of this - but it was similar for white children of any class. And if people could but realize, at the period at which I wrote, you see, one just has to keep bearing in mind, this was pre-1954. At that period, segregation was just as intact as you can conceive of, as it had been for the last … well, for the period before it. So my wish there was to say, if this is culturally conditioned, then it can be changed by the culture.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You went to Columbia University, you taught at Smith, you were at …
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
I was at Mount Holyoke for a year.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Mount Holyoke. When you speak of the kind of intellectual climate at the end of the forties, in which black inferiority was assumed, Sumner's notion of mores being embedded, not amenable to intervention, was that …
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Well, this was the kind of sociology I was trained in, even in Columbia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right?
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Sure. Summer. Folkways. I know you wouldn't have been brought up in it, but I was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
By 1947, when you wrote Making of a Southerner, was that still the kind of training that people were getting in universities?
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
It depended upon the university, as to how much stress. At Columbia there was Giddings … you wouldn't know him, but he was one of the great sociological pioneers in this country. But, at this time, and even out at Wisconsin, when I went there, in the late twenties for my doctorate - I took my doctorate, I guess, in 1929 there, there was still a great stress on this conception of the mores and how implacable they are. I don't suggest for a moment that this affected people in general. I'm now thinking of my particular field of specialization, where much of this was accepted. But in some universities - at the University of Chicago, I doubt if it was, by the books that came out of there in that very period. They had Park. You wouldn't know him, perhaps, but he was a great scholar in this whole area. So I don't think one could generalize about that. It just happened to be my experience. And you must also realize that when I went to Columbia University for my master's degree, which I took in, I think it was 1919, if my memory serves me right. I'd have to look up on my vita to see. But when I went there, I was raw, fresh from the South. I'd never been out of the South, until I went there, and this meant that everything that I was seeing, learning, hearing, was mediated through this kind of veil of southern experience, even though I found I welcomed breaking these good old taboos in which I'd been reared, I thoroughly enjoyed having Negroes in my classes, eating with them and listening to them and feeling, oh, my this was very exciting. I was just throwing overboard all these stupid things, I mean, you know, the way a youngster does. And I was very, very raw, I felt … I feel, as I look back. I didn't feel it then. But, again, so that my biases of breaking away from the mores, myself, would have made me see probably more emphasis than was placed on the mores, I suspect.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But this book was meant to be read by, in effect, a popular audience more than to …
KATHARINE DU PRE LUMPKIN:
Oh, very much so, very much so. That's why I attempted to make it as personal as I did. It was not, I'm sure, as personal as the publisher would have liked, But I had these certain objectives in view, so that I brought to it what material I felt was pertinent to my objectives, not a lot of side issues that might have been — looked into in a full-fledged autobiography.