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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jonathan Worth Daniels, March 9-11, 1977. Interview A-0313. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Benefits of white paternalism for blacks

Daniels argues that white paternalism created amicable cooperation between blacks and whites. He also contends that blacks preferred the system of white paternalism to economic gains. This sentiment is echoed later in the interview.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jonathan Worth Daniels, March 9-11, 1977. Interview A-0313. 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

JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Yes. We had a gardener and a maid and two nurses and a cook. And of course they were paid nothing. I don't mean to say that my mother and father were particular scrooges. They paid at least the going rate. Of course there was a very clear difference between black and white, but there was a very intimate relationship, too. Now that may be difficult for your generation to quite understand, the closeness of the ties. It was paternalism complete, but in our time we've become a little too unsympathetic with paternalism, because it did put a heart into a relationship even if it didn't put equality into a relationship. And where somebody was suffering or anything, my mother and father were quick to try to help. And I thought of our servants as just practically members of the family.
CHARLES EAGLES:
Do you remember any of them in particular?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Oh, yes, Sophie and Harriet were the nurses, and I remember them particularly well. Have you read a book called South to a Very Old Place?
CHARLES EAGLES:
Yes.
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
He makes a very good point there about how the negro mammy has been . . . He chose me and Faulkner to both be talking too damn much about that. He's right. The notion that the mammy really took the place of the mama didn't really exist. And it came to the point where having a mammy and saying you had a mammy was almost like saying your folks would have had a mansion if Sherman hadn't burned it down. It was a status symbol with many people. And the mammy was as often a yellow slut as a black angel. It's become a romanticized symbol.
CHARLES EAGLES:
Well, which were Sophie and Harriet?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Harriet was mine.
CHARLES EAGLES:
I mean were they the black angels or the yellow sluts? [Laughter]
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
They were both pretty damn good women. But Harriet had a great sense of cynicism. And both of them, you know, they were great snobs, particularly about white people. Even today on this island, though you wouldn't get anybody to admit it, the blacks would rather work for the quality, even though they don't make quite as much, than work for somebody that they didn't think was up like that. So at the end of slavery, they didn't adopt the names of Henry Lloyd Garrison and people like that; they adopted the names of their old masters. I remember once my brother, when he was getting older—Sophie was still around—he started going with a girl in Raleigh who was perfectly all right.
CHARLES EAGLES:
This is your brother Josephus?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Yes. And one day Sophie said to him, "Boy, you've got to do better than that." [Laughter] Yes, they were great snobs. And they were very kind people.
CHARLES EAGLES:
How long were Sophie and Harriet around?
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Harriet was around until, I would say, very nearly 1930.
CHARLES EAGLES:
Then she went to Washington with the family.
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
No, she didn't. My Uncle Henry occupied the house in Raleigh, and she stayed there. But she came back to Wakestone, and then we pensioned her and kept her in the St. Agnes Hospital for a number of years until she died.
CHARLES EAGLES:
You actually paid her bills while she was in the hospital.
JONATHAN WORTH DANIELS:
Oh, sure. That was standard. And I don't think that was just with us. Almost all decent white people looked out for their blacks. That was part of that paternalism I was talking about. And of course there were some of the meanest in the white family, the white community, that ever...That's one thing I keep on trying to make people understand, that there are white sons of bitches and black sons of bitches, and good blacks and good whites. Sometimes we just sort of draw the line, as if the whites are all bastards and the blacks are all mistreated angels, or vice versa.