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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lillian Taylor Lyons, September 11, 1994. Interview Q-0094. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Importance of African American education to Oxford's racial progress

Lyons discusses the importance of African American education in Oxford, North Carolina. Shortly following the end of the Civil War, white Canadian teachers began to teach the newly freed African Americans. Lyons's mother had been part of this initial group and earlier, Lyons had explained that education continued to be important in her family. According to Lyons, Oxford had always been "a forward-looking town" and she cites the high value placed on African American education as evidence of the town's progressive outlook.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lillian Taylor Lyons, September 11, 1994. Interview Q-0094. 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

EDDIE McCOY:
Could you explain to me why Canadians came to Oxford, how they got here. Were they seminary people of the church? Were they affiliated with the church?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I'm not quite clear, but they—there were several of them in the area, because Miss—there was a Miss Hawkins who was a white woman that was working at the black orphanage that was in Oxford at the same time. And they were a part of the group of whites who came south to teach the Negroes after slavery. There are several institutions in different parts of the south. I am now connected with Penn Center in Paris Island, South Carolina, that was operated by Canadians who came south to work for Negroes, work in the Negro schools and other various industries.
EDDIE McCOY:
What did the whites in this town thought about outsiders coming in teaching? Were they staying in the white people's homes, or were they staying in the black people's homes?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
They stayed in white homes, I'm sure. Relations have always been good in Oxford, all my life, between blacks and whites. They are at the worst point now. I was just saying to—last week, at the podiatrist's office, I ran into Mrs. Katherine Royster—and I was saying to her that Oxford isn't, from several standpoints, isn't the same as far as relationships between Negroes and whites. They're not as good as they were back fifteen or twenty years ago. There's lots of prejudice in my town now, as far as—not particularly living conditions. Of course, Negroes and whites live in the same areas now. And there are Negroes that live in $250,000 homes two blocks away from where I live now in Oxford.
EDDIE McCOY:
Mrs. Lyons, I have done research in Oxford on schools, and there are approximately sixty or seventy schools for blacks from the first to the fifth, or from the first to the fourth or third grade. Therefore, I think that each black back in the early 1900s did have the opportunity to learn how to read and write. Can you explain to me why this county was so dedicated in trying to educate their people?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Well, it was probably a attitude that developed way before my time or your time, before each of us were born, and before our parents were born, that there have always been good relations. All of my life, Negroes and whites have always worked together. Negroes worked in white people's homes. But they—they went to separate schools, of course, but there's other ways been good relationships. It was just in the late years that such things as the, as the Penn—I can't remember the name of the relationships. But the tobacco factories and other industries developed in Oxford, and Negroes and whites have always worked in the industries in Oxford, the tobacco industry and carpentry work, electricians and what-have-you. Oxford has always been a forward-looking town.
EDDIE McCOY:
Mrs. Lyons, I have looked into some history and how did this town attract doctors like Dr. Bowie and doctors back in the early 1900s where other communities in the south didn't have a black doctor before the early '20s or '30s? We had black dentists and four or five black doctors in this town in the early 1900s.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Well, I'm sure a lot of that was due to the fact that Dr. and Mrs. Shaw, who were president, and the teachers who came to—Dr. Shaw's wife came from Pennsylvania down here to work. And there has always been [intermingling] and relationships in education and industries in Oxford all of my life. The industries have always existed in Oxford, even the tobacco industry, because tobacco grew in the county. But other industries—now, as of now, Revlon, the big cosmetic industry is one of the biggest industries in Oxford, and there have always been good relationships between Negroes and blacks. Of course, there was prejudice and it still is. It's more prevalent now than it was a few years ago. Can you tell me about the teachers that went to school and they finished the eighth grade and they started teaching and some of them did a very good job in these schools throughout the county? How was they picked? Or why did they work so hard trying to educate in the community until they could go to summer school and learn? Well, getting a teacher's certificate—some of—a lot of them who were in eighth grade and going away to Shaw University and to Bennett College. There were always plenty of teachers in Granville County because they were smart, intelligent, and they had gotten good backgrounds in Oxford at Mary Potter and they went to summer school at Shaw University, in Charlotte, and Bennett College, summer school at A&T University.
EDDIE McCOY:
And North Carolina Central, too?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
And North Carolina Central University that was started by Dr. James Shepherd. And members of those families are still in education. And at present time, we have black doctors and dentists here. We have blocks of property that has entirely black industries and all-Negro jobs, living and interested in them. The taxi industry, the morticians, the carpenters, electricians—because they have taken advantages of the colleges nearby, St. Augustine's and Shaw University in Raleigh and Central University in Durham. Just last year, a cousin of mine, Miss Minnie Lyon, who died at a hundred and four years old—they had a missionary training department at Shaw University and she went there for training. And some white rich people in some part of New Jersey got interested in her and she went to Africa and set up the school over there and she worked in Africa for more than sixty years.
EDDIE McCOY:
Was Miss Minnie Lyons born in Oxford and reared in Oxford?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yes, she was born—and she was my husband's cousin. She was born up in the Berea community of Oxford, that's north of Oxford about ten miles. It's the north of Oxford. She was born there. So, we have always had—Negroes—Oxford has always been a very progressive town and Negroes worked hard, but they worked in the factories and every place else they could get a job and they learned all the trades. And it has grown to—even now, there are streets in Oxford where only white people lived. Now you can buy a house anywhere in Oxford. There are no restricted neighborhoods. You can buy a house in any section or district in Oxford. All you need is the money to pay for it.