Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Geraldine Ray, September 13, 1977. Interview R-0128. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing Ray's childhood with white children to her time at an all-black high school

Ray had a harder time relating to classmates at her all-black high school than to the white children she grew up with in Barnardsville. She mentions how black and white children criticized her for her skin color; some thought it was too light while others thought it was too dark. She also learned to deal with local whites' ignorance about racial issues by sometimes questioning their own racial lineage.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Geraldine Ray, September 13, 1977. Interview R-0128. 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

KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
So, you didn't have much of a problem adjusting?
GERALDINE RAY:
No, I didn't have a whole lot of problems adjusting. The main thing adjusting was being throwed in with all of these black folks-because see I was mainly brought up around with the whites. And that was kind of strange to me.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
So, the high school was also segregated at that time?
GERALDINE RAY:
Yes
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
So, when you say you were brougt up around whites, you mean in Barnardsville?
GERALDINE RAY:
And out here too. [first telephone interruption]
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
[announces that there was a telephone interruption and that the interview will continue with a discussion of Geraldine's experience growing up around whites, while attending segregated schools].
GERALDINE RAY:
(Geraldine continues) Well, where I grew up as I said - which is in Barnardsville, North Carolina; and they at one time there were a lot of Blacks there;but when I grew there were only five families and most of the ones I grew up with were whites, which I had no problem. I didn't have any problem with em. When I left there I ran into more segregation among the blacks in high school and down here in elementary school than I had with them.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
What do you mean by that?
GERALDINE RAY:
What I mean by that; I was considered; Well, at that time they kept saying, Well, you think you pretty. I was among the ones with long hair, light [skin] and a lot em was jealous and they treated me as so. So, I had more segregation among them then I did the whites and I got a lot of that when I first went to high school until I got to the point where I ignored it. And then they learnt me for myself and then I got along fine. But, I never; really as far as I've had some to call me nigger, but that didn't bug me because some of them were darker than I was.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
Some of the white people?
GERALDINE RAY:
Some of the whites and some of them had black ancestors even down to their grandmother and some of em was much darker than I was.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
And you knew that then?
GERALDINE RAY:
I knew that then. Which when I said, Well, you just as black as I am; I never had that no more. So, they kind of looked out for me, 'cause I was there usually one by myself. There was another family there that had actually ended up having sixteen children, but they lived a mile from me. I saw them when we were going to school but during the summer and the weekends when we was home I hardly ever seen em. So, I was more or less with my cousin, which was L.D., my uncle's son, he and I was there together, but he was four or five years older than I was. So, I was a little girl and he was a little boy. Back then they didn't let you run around with little boys and play.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
So, who did you play with?
GERALDINE RAY:
I played with little white kids.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
And you didn't have any problems?
GERALDINE RAY:
I didn't have no problems. I can still go home and have no problems. I was out there, in fact, yesterday. (chuckles)
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
In Barnardsville?
GERALDINE RAY:
Mmhmm. I didn't have no problems.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
So, you were saying some of em called you nigger-when was the first time that someone called you a nigger?
GERALDINE RAY:
(a deep breath) Oh, it was a guy that lived below me I think he was the first-I was coming home from school one day and he hollered out 'hey there little nigger.'
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
Was it like he was bein' friendly?
GERALDINE RAY:
No, he was bein smart. And I said, Well,you black as I am. Which I happened to know that his father was whi . . . black too. He was actually dark as I was or darker, really.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
He didn't know it?
GERALDINE RAY:
Yeah, he knew it. (laughs)
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
He was actually passing as white?
GERALDINE RAY:
He was just being smart. Well, his mother was white and his daddy-so far was white-you know, that's the way he was.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
So, he was living as a white person?
GERALDINE RAY:
Yeah, he wasn't livin like no black person. but, uh. Then it was some little girls that used to live next door to me then one of em got mad at me one day 'cause I run em off from the house. I was lookin after em and told em to quit doin' something, and one of called me nigra, Ya nigra She couldn't talk good and so uh I told her, Since I'm that you stay home. You don't come back up here; So, I made her stay home for over a week and she came back and she begged me could she come back and I said if you can behave yourself you can come back. So, I let her come back after a week and she never did say that anymore to me. So, you run into that; You still run into it. You run into now around;where some of these people-you just might as well say they are ignorant; they live back in these hills and they got these little children believin' black folks are bears.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
Are what, now?
GERALDINE RAY:
Bears.
KELLY ELAINE NAVIES:
Bears?
GERALDINE RAY:
Yes, Mama is that a bear? J. T. and had that happen to us one day in the store, grocery store. Little baby, just big enough to talk, Mama, that's a bear. They ignorant. It's very ignorant, so, as I said I got along fine.