Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sheila Florence, January 20, 2001. Interview K-0544. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Florence remembers unquestioning obedience to Jim Crow laws

Florence remembers life in segregated Chapel Hill, when she and other African Americans believed white people to be superior to black people and did not question Jim Crow. However, she has fond memories of her childhood neighborhood, where neighbors forged strong bonds with one another.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sheila Florence, January 20, 2001. Interview K-0544. 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

BOB GILGOR:
I appreciate your sitting here talking with me on a Saturday afternoon. The first question I want to ask you is what was it like growing up in Chapel Hill?
SHEILA FLORENCE:
As I think back, it was good for me growing up. My school years, I attended Northside Elementary School and I had good teachers. I had teachers that showed that they cared for the students and worked with us and as I think back at a younger age, as a child, do I go back that far, as a child? I think back growing up as far back as when things was not integrated, and back then, that's the way things was, that's the way we was brought up, and we just figured that's the way its supposed to be. And the way they had the signs at the bus stop-me and my Mom used to go to the Trailways bus station to catch the bus to Durham-they had black, well it was "colored" back then, on one side and "white" on the other, and we had our place on the bus, we had our water fountains for coloreds and our bathrooms for coloreds, and we figured that's just the way its supposed to be until later when integration did come about, and we came into the knowledge that it's not supposed to be that way, everybody's supposed to be equal-but being white, white thought "white meant right" and back then white was superior, and we just assumed that's the way its supposed to be, and we just let things go as it was, and that's just the way it was until Martin Luther King came and then we could see the light and knew that it wasn't supposed to be that way.
BOB GILGOR:
So were you taught to just follow the system?
SHEILA FLORENCE:
We were taught that's just the way it was, that's the way it's supposed to be, and everybody just automatically knew. You just didn't get out of line, you didn't go to the water fountain, cause you could see the sign, or if you didn't read our parents would show us-"now, we use this water fountain, or this bathroom, and this is for somebody else, this is for white people," they'd say.
BOB GILGOR:
Did you grow up in the same neighborhood right here?
SHEILA FLORENCE:
Yes, right down the street, and we all got along and, back then, it's not like today, everybody going this way and that way and nobody has time to visit. Back then, everybody knew each other, and everybody took time with each other, cause everybody was somebody in the black community, back then. We had time to go to visit, and when one child got out of line, then that parent would correct them and call the child's mom and say "Sheila, or Charles, or whoever, was cutting up and I had to correct them." And then when we got home, then we would be corrected again.
BOB GILGOR:
Double trouble.
SHEILA FLORENCE:
Double trouble. [Laughter] . But now, nobody, you can't discipline anybody else's child, so a lot of that's changed. So it was nice, had a good life back then.