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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Roy Ham, 1977. Interview H-0123-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Inequal race relations

Ham's description of a bizarre birthday ritual—cutting short the celebrant's pants—segues into a revealing discussion of race relations in Ham's community. He remembers an old African American man who was the beneficiary of some community charity, and excusing himself for using the word "nigger," tells two stories about African Americans in his area.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Roy Ham, 1977. Interview H-0123-1. 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

PATTY DILLEY:
You were telling us some stories about what they did to people down there on their birthdays. They celebrated people's birthdays kind of funny, didn't they?
ROY HAM:
Cut their britches legs off. And I would sneak in the front door and out the back on my birthday.
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
ROY HAM:
I never got mine cut off.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they ever try to? They ever get you down?
ROY HAM:
No. If they'd ever tried it, I would just let them cut them and then been embarrassed. Because you can't fight a crowd.
PATTY DILLEY:
Did they ever cut James? Did they get lots of people's?
ROY HAM:
Oh, yes, everybody's, if they found out when their birthdays were. Now I could see them cutting a girl's britches legs off. The girls would cut the girls' britches legs off, and the boys would cut the boys' britches legs off. It got so bad they had to put a stop to it. And I was glad of that. The next week after they put a stop to it, this old colored fellow, they never had found out his birthday. He was sixty-two years old. And everybody in there loved the old man. It was on a Friday. And they found out Friday was his birthday. And they didn't find it out until he knowed for sure they wasn't going to cut his britches legs off. And on that Friday some of the white ladies had took up a collection and bought that old nigger some awful nice birthday presents, and they made him one of the prettiest cakes you ever saw. The old nigger died that night. He was happy; he was good. And he was telling about his step-daddy left Georgia when he was eight years old. He got caught selling liquor. It had been fifty-four years, and he had never been back in Georgia. He wouldn't eat a watermelon that come from Georgia. He said, "Them's the meanest white people I know of. My step-daddy left down there, and he had to leave one night after the white folks had gone to bed." His brother went up and tried to pay off, and the sheriff said no. He said, "We don't want the money; we want the nigger." And he said, "In my home town, there was a sign that said, ‘Nigger, if you can't read, you'd better run."’ And he said, "They means that, too." [laughter]
PATTY DILLEY:
[laughter]
ROY HAM:
That was a fine old nigger if there ever was one. A colored person. Now when I said "nigger," that was just an expression. One day got two out, and they were fighting now. One of them hit the other, and the other say, "You do that again, I'm going to beat all that black off of your head." And that would have been a pretty good job. He wouldn't have his lunch; it would have been a whole day's job.
JAMES HAM:
We've got one colored girl that's worked . And I'll tell you the truth. Now you're talking about somebody that's lively and full of theirself. You don't get nothing on that gal. She don't call herself black; she calls them gold. And she's all the time picking at you.
ROY HAM:
all the time got something to say to you and picking at you. Picking at one the other day, and if she sees that she's getting away with it she'll just carry it on that much more, get away with you. And she got on old I. A. Travis … She was just fooling, she was having herself a ball. And one day Travis's wife, his wife over there complaining. And she looked at him and says, "Aw, he ain't got nothing to worry about. He don't like these here goldies no way." [laughter]