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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Samuel James (S. J.) and Leonia Farrar, May 28, 2003. Interview K-0652. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Hard work in Durham, North Carolina

Samuel worked extremely hard in Durham, sometimes balancing as many as three jobs. He and Leonia recalls struggling to support their family, refusing hand-outs and taking pride in their work.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Samuel James (S. J.) and Leonia Farrar, May 28, 2003. Interview K-0652. 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

PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Now when you left the farm, you had no job, you had no home, you had nothing. What did you do?
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
Yes, the first attempt to leave the farm was, we moved out of the tobacco pack house. We went to Durham and stayed two years. I went to work at Duke Hospital. I worked there for two and a half years just to get off the farm.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
What did you do there?
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
I worked in the dietetic department. I started off there busing tables for the nurses and doctors in the dining room and I worked myself up from that into the storage room. From the storage room, when I left there two and a half years later I was Supervisor of the storage room. There had never been a black man held that position before. My wife was home and I was making $22.50 every two weeks. And she had to make do with that. She's torn up furniture, we bought second hand furniture out of Apex and she'd turn out the drawers and try to keep the kids going. It's been a journey. One thing I appreciate her so, she didn't ever give up. She stayed and looked after the children and raised them. After we got a little on foot she still stayed with the children and I'm on the road trying to make a living. I used to work two and three jobs. Come home, get a cup of coffee, shut my eyes for… lay down, then go right back to another job. Carolyn was in school. What I do know, the Lord did it for us. I look back now, I had nothing to worry about. She'd help me clean up a building, that's after we got here and started doing some things. Things were looking better and getting better for us. If you persevere things will get better. It will. I'm a personal witness to that. You can't give up. Doesn't matter how dim it looks or how hard it gets.
LEONIA FARRAR:
A mother when you have seven or eight children, mother is around that child mostly all the time, a mother. That mother can see something in that child as they grow. I told him, I said now we have had a hard time. I mean a hard time coming along on the farm. Our children's not going to come up the way we came up. I could see something in every one of these children, what they were cut out to be. I kept telling Farrar, and he said well, Honey, it takes money. I said, you working, so we got to get these children in school. That's how Carolyn… cause I could see Carolyn. She never liked to work on the farm, she worked a little bit. But I could see something in that child that I guess he couldn't see that. I said that girl's going to be a teacher one day. We kept sending those children on to school and sure enough, that girl, she accomplished her goals.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
And she did it without a lot of fanfare. She never had any scholarship, never had any money given to us, never had any welfare. We never accepted any kind of social benefits, never. I wouldn't accept it. I wouldn't even apply for it.
LEONIA FARRAR:
It takes a family to stick together. If you pull together, if you love one another you can make it. It's hard but you can make it. Because I worked in homes, these white homes, cleaning the house and did all of that. What little bit of money I made I give it to him, not much but whatever they gave me I accepted with some clothes. They gave us clothes, that's how they paid us, with clothes. So I gave that money I brought home to him and he put it together. We tried to make things wise. You can do it, you can make it. It's hard but you can make it. We did the most of our children like that. And most of them are educated.
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
I had so much pride until I came home. While we were living in Durham I'd never been away from my mother. She was getting old. I had never been away from her when we were on the farm, from one farm to the other farm and it was always in the same community. I got homesick and I was working at the hospital. One day I got so homesick I told my wife, I had a day off in the middle of the week, I said I'm going to see my Mama. She said, alright, go on. I didn't have a penny, a dollar and it was fifteen miles from Durham to my mother's home. I said I'll get a ride. I got on the road, I put my thumb up when a car would just come in sight way back there on the dirt roads. I'd put my thumb up and the closer the car would get to me, I'd lower my thumb. By the time it got there where they could see me, I'd take my thumb down and keep walking. I never accepted handouts, never. I just would not do it.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Not even a ride?
SAMUEL JAMES FARRAR:
Not even a ride. I'd walk. I'd walk from East Durham to Duke Hospital in the dead part of the winter. Cold. Get on that railroad track and walk four and a half miles from my house to Duke Hospital I'd walk. Didn't have a dime to get a bus token. Bus tokens at that time were ten cents. I'd walk there and back. If I would get there I had some friends that would work there and they would get me back. But I look back now and I say, thank God we made it. With all of the handicaps, and really we were handicapped, I had no schooling. My wife had no schooling. All of our schooling has come later. I worked day and night and I took my seminary work on Saturday mornings when I should have been home resting. Instead sitting in a classroom, sitting about half asleep. Professor would have to wake me up every once in awhile, but dead tired.