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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Turner, June 7, 1976. Interview H-0235-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Depression brings alcoholism, then religious conversion

This passage offers insight into Turner's core beliefs. The death of Turner's husband ushered in a difficult period in Turner's life, including a seven-year bout with alcoholism, but she emerged from her troubles with a newfound religious faith and an acute sense of the struggles of the poor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Josephine Turner, June 7, 1976. Interview H-0235-2. 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

JOSEPHINE TURNER:
Well, after I found my husband was dead in the bed, this was hard to accept and I started drinking. I just went off the deep end——I don't know whether Stephanie even knows this——for about four years; but I had been drinking, I'd say about seven years. But then God came into my life in '64 when my last baby was born. And I had a Caesarean and then … they never told me it was a cancer operation, but I always will believe that that was what was happening to me. I had this severe hemorrhage, and I wasn't weighing a hundred pounds when they put me in the hospital. The doctors had gave me up. And I made a vow to God on my death bed that if he would let me live I would serve him and I would be more humble—and which I tried to be. So he did: he raised me up off that bed in '64. And from that day to this one I've tried to live the best I know how for God and tried to help my fellow man, because I come up on the rough side. Now I know what it is to be poor; I know what it is to have the lights turned off, the water turned off, and I can sympathize with these people. And my mother, I know what a hard time she had bringing us up. This is what gets me so sadly … like this incident we had this other day of the boy stabbing the baby thirty-two times. I knew this family. I haven't forgot from whence I came—you understand what I'm saying? And nothing I have materialistic gets on me; as you can see I don't care that much about it. But I'm going to try to do better, you know. But I've had all my children in my house, and I tell them to bring their friends in. That's why I don't have anything; they bring their friends in and they just takes over. So now that they're gone I'm in the process of trying to do something. But I don't forget, as I say, from whence I came and the people around me. This is what hurts me, when the people uptown will sit behind their desks and try to run the lives of the people out here, when they don't know what's happening out here. They're not out here; they've never seen the starvation or the sick. They've never went in the hospital and seen these things, and I know they haven't. And this is why I ran, to try to help somebody. I said, "I may never win it," but I'm always there trying to help somebody, because there's nothing I've got. Everything I've got belongs to God and he's just lent it to me for a little while. This is the way I look at these things. Even my children: I'd accept it if one of them would die or get killed tomorrow. I've accepted this, because my mother used to tell me, "God loans children so there's just a little sunshine loaned to you for a little while. And don't love nothing better than you do God." And I try not to love nothing. I don't put anything in front of God: I put it this a'way. So this is why it kind of gets on me when they sit up there and say they know something. And I say, "You don't know because you're not out there. You haven't seen those children hungry, you haven't seen those poor people." We had a lady by the other day that they sent home from the hospital. They know she was going to die, but they should have put her in a home before they sent her back home by herself. The police had to break in; she was up there naked, struggling for breath. I had been to see her, but I couldn't go back. These are the things I'm talking about.
KAREN SINDELAR:
You don't think there's anybody right now in city government that really knows what's happening with these people then?
JOSEPHINE TURNER:
I won't say one or two may not know. But I'm talking about the majority of them don't, no; no, they don't know what's happening out here, 'cause we have to bring them out and show them the stuff. I mean, you saw my picture in the paper the other day protesting the condition down there? And this is what irks you, these houses that they've got the people living in that's not fit for dogs to live in. And they won't do anything. We have some old people—the reason I don't push it as hard as I do 'cause I'm a housing inspector, they put the old folks out of there and they've got nobody to go to. Some of them can't afford to pay the thirty dollars a month, the thirty-seven dollars a month. And if you force them, then they're going to tear them down and fix them up for the people to live in. And we have a lot of old people over here. It's heartbreaking. If you could just walk in and see the conditions. If I had the money—and maybe that's why I don't have anything—I'd like to put some kind of a … not a high-rise (that I'm afraid of), but say something like they've got on High Park, maybe two units to a house. But it's elegant, and the poor people…
KAREN SINDELAR:
Sort of like or something, yes.
JOSEPHINE TURNER:
And I just see the need, but I don't have the money and I don't have the , so what're you going to do? But I'm going to cry as long as I can to them and appeal to them; that's all I can do.