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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Kennedy Goodwin, September 26, 1997. Interview R-0113. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Describing the African American community in Durham from the 1920s onward

Goodwin speaks at greater length about the nature of the African American community in Durham, North Carolina, prior to urban renewal in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to thriving African American businesses, Goodwin recalled that the community operated as one big family that was largely self-sufficient. African Americans would only venture into the white business community when the black business community did not have equivalent establishments. To explain how this worked, she offers a description of what it was like to buy clothing and shoes from white vendors. Her comments are indicative of race relations and community solidarity from the 1920s up until the escalation of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Kennedy Goodwin, September 26, 1997. Interview R-0113. 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

But going back to what you cast as urban renewal, urban removal that you sort of started before. You mentioned all these businesses. It seemed before, um, the construction of the highway took most of that away, your neighborhood was really close knit.
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Yes, and thriving businesses. Everybody knew everybody all the way up the street. Everybody knew everybody's children and helped to raise them. If you saw somebody's child you shouldn't, you spanked him on the spot and sent him home and momma spanked him again. I've gotten many spankings like that. Um, the businesses as I say were thriving businesses. The home modernization company that I mentioned was owned by a gentleman who lived three doors up from here. He built all these houses along this street and they kept them in good repair and, we were practically self-sufficient. In those days, black was black and white was white and never the twain should meet unless it was something that we couldn't raise or do for ourselves. [pause] Clothing and shoes were out of our range so we bought them uptown. We were not allowed to try them on. But we could buy them, try them on and if they didn't fit take them back but you had to stay on the rug with shoes. And the clothing could not have one speck in the lining.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
You couldn't try on the clothes in the store?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
No.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
But you could at home?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Yes, you could bring them home and, try them and if they fit you kept them. You paid for them before you brought them home, but you did get your money back if they didn't fit. Not, we didn't, we didn't realize that it was amazing because that was the way it had always been. Not just in Durham, everywhere in the South.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
There was no conception of having, um, a colored dressing room and a white dressing room?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
Oh, no. No, no. Water fountains, black and white. And in the train station and in the bus station, there were colored waiting rooms and white waiting rooms. And until the youngsters came and changed all of that, we just accepted it as what was. It took a few bright minds to say it is, but why?
ANGELA HORNSBY:
Um, how many people lived in your home?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
On Fayetteville Street?
ANGELA HORNSBY:
Yes, um, besides — Were there any people that lived there besides, um, those in your immediate family?
MARGARET KENNEDY GOODWIN:
There was always somebody from, as we call it, from down the country, staying with us going to school. When one finished, another came. Oh, I have fond memories of maybe twenty, twenty-five people who came and stayed, went through school and then, you know, were gainfully employed and went on about their business. Relatives mostly, not always though. Uh, and that was the way it was with lots of homes in Durham. If you came from some where else, there was nowhere else to stay but a relative or friend. There was no hotels or motels open to us. No, well when the YMCA and the YWCA came along, though we've never had a black YMCA, but when the YWCA came along, that was a place where young ladies could stay. But that was, oh, well into the '30s before there was any Y [black] and it no longer exists. It was on Umstead Street. [pause] Looking back, you wonder why we didn't resent actions like that. I guess it was because we were making our own way and busy with that and not so much bothered about what somebody else was doing. That's the only explanation I can think of for it. And I remember how frightened most of us oldsters were when the youngsters started changing things. They went through some terrible times, spit, hit on and put in jail. But that was when the peace movement was coming along, don't fight back, just stand your ground. And it worked. The good Lord had us all in his hands and he took care of us. Some died, you know, the Alabama children and the lynchings and the outright murders, but most of us survived and it had to be God's will.