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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Laura B. Waddell, August 6, 2002. Interview R-0175. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rare acknowledgement for skilled African Americans

Waddell remembers that there were many skilled black workers in downtown Savannah, but they often performed skilled tasks while being paid for unskilled work: Waddell remembers an African-American maid who helped her employer balance his books. Waddell herself endured casual discrimination from whites, but whites also gave her much of her business.

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

KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, I'm wondering how many—first off, I'm wondering what it was because you obviously worked on Broughton Street when it was segregated. So what was that like? You must've been one of a handful of black workers right, or were there many?
LAURA B. WADDELL:
No, there were many.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
There were many.
LAURA B. WADDELL:
There were many because even the young lady who, I can remember there are so many skilled jobs that blacks had downtown. They didn't get credit for it, but the young lady who was the window trimmer downtown, she was on the books as the maid, but she was trimming the windows. You see. She worked in that store. I was the alterationist. She was the maid and the window trimmer. She even helped the manager do the books. She did not get credit for it, but after she had been there for about seven or eight years, then she became assistant manager before she left. But there were several people that I remember, there was a young lady who was helping the owner of her shop make hats. She was also the maid.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Considered a maid.
LAURA B. WADDELL:
Yeah, that's what she got paid for.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Someone who might have been called the janitor, but he was actually a carpenter or a skilled tradesperson.
LAURA B. WADDELL:
Right. Right. I remember I was just teasing with someone this past week, on the weekend years ago downtown, that was the time when people from the rural areas came to town to shop. My alteration department was on the balcony like, and you had to go through the back to go to the balcony, and the bathroom was also in the back. So I came down the step one day, and these three little white kids were down there playing, and when I came down the step, he said, "Hi." I said, "Hi." He said, "Are you the cook?" This poor little kid didn't know any better, but although I was furious. Don't ask me if I'm a cook just because I'm black. This was just the attitude that people had, and you learned to accept it because this was the way everything was. Who knew that it was going to be any different? At that time I didn't know.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Did you have an exclusively white clientele at that point?
LAURA B. WADDELL:
I would say seventy-five percent of my customers were white because everyone who came in the shop that needed alterations well, naturally I did that. But because there were no alteration shops downtown that I can remember where you can go into a store with something you bought somewhere else and bring it to this store to be altered. I was right on the same block with the bank, and there were a lot of white tellers in the bank, and well, I had a reputation of doing very good work. Thank God I had that practically all my life. I've never remember having any complaints. Then this store, which was called Lord's at the time, they sold moderate and inexpensive clothes. But because they were a chain like most stores, there are always going to be some real nice things coming in the shop that you would not expect to be in a store like this. Now Fine's was next door, which sold the very best of ladies' clothes. But because I had these young ladies from the banks, the tellers and the cashiers that came in the shop, alterations, any time Lord's had something special that I thought they would like that would go with a blouse or a something that I'd already altered for them, I'd always hold things aside. I ended up selling sometimes things out of the store more than the sales girls did. But I could not get any percentage credit for it, so I would give it to some of the other girls. But there were always people coming in going to the alteration department because they knew that I either had something that I wanted to show them or had something for them to pick up. So I did a very good business there.