African-American seamstress sets up a business in a white store
Waddell established a very successful alteration business in clothing store, agreeing to answer phones and perform repairs in lieu of rent. Her business was her own, and when African-American Savannans began to boycott downtown shops, she could not convince her peers that she was essentially an independent businesswoman despite her location.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Laura B. Waddell, August 6, 2002. Interview R-0175. 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
While I was
working, still working downtown when I graduated, this was in 1950 I
graduated, I went to one of the ladies' stores downtown where
a lady, one of the owner's of the—not the
owner—one of the managers of the stores—. It was a
chain of stores, and she offered me an alteration
department, and I didn't have to pay any rent. But I had to
do the repairs for the store and answer the phone for all incoming
calls. It was on the balcony like, and that's the service
that I rendered to the store for free rent. That's where I
started building up a clientele.
- KIERAN TAYLOR:
Your own clientele.
- LAURA B. WADDELL:
My own clientele. Everybody who came in the shop came to the alteration
department whether they were customers of the store or not. They paid me
for the work that I was doing, and I started making so much money, much
more money than the other sales people in the store, until the manager
changed the rules. He asked me to give her a percentage of what I was
taking in. I didn't like it at all, but I said to myself how
could she tell how much I'm taking in. She can only tell how
much I tell her I'm taking in. So well, anyway it worked out
fine for me. I had no overhead. I didn't have to pay any
taxes. So I stayed there for, I can't remember exactly, I
think about seven years I stayed there, and this was just the beginning
of the integration. There were demonstrations downtown, and I remember
one weekend they were asking a number of the blacks to come downtown and
not to shop in any of the stores. I could not make anyone understand
that although I was downtown I was not helping nobody else make money
but myself, and if I didn't come downtown to do my work, then
I wouldn't get any money. They didn't understand,
and I couldn't explain it to anyone. But I still maintained
my business during the demonstration, which was really hard for me.
People in my position had a hard time during the demonstrations