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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 13, 1979. Interview C-0013-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reflections on a balanced life

Spaulding reflects on balance. The interviewer is seeking Spaulding's thoughts on Durham's culture, wondering if the city's residents were more devoted to work than to play. Spaulding uses this opportunity to argue for the importance of a balanced life, one that eschews greed and seeks spiritual satisfaction.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 13, 1979. Interview C-0013-1. 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

WALTER WEARE:
I'm interested in the fabric of life here, the social life, how people….
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Social life is important here, but it's not all. You find some cities where people strive to be the social leader. People like social life here, but it's not the all-goal in life. It has it's place.
WALTER WEARE:
What kind of outlets would there have been say in the thirties or forties?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Families, or certain people, they would have parties and things, then, and still have them now.
WALTER WEARE:
But with segregation, there were no restaurants by and large, and no theatres.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. Well, you see, you had your own black theatres. Had some nice theatres here in the thirties, very nice theatres, and very nice shows—first-run shows. I mean, the movies.
WALTER WEARE:
Were there other forms of entertainment? Were there stage shows, vaudeville?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, they would have their dances. And the sororities would have their parties, you know, and dances, and things of that nature.
WALTER WEARE:
What about music here? Did the big bands come in?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Uh huh.
WALTER WEARE:
Both jazz and…
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes. But where they got too rowdy I didn't go to.
WALTER WEARE:
Was there a kind of distinction then in entertainment that working-class people might prefer one type of music?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, I wouldn't categorize it that way, but a lot of working-class people were just as sober and sane.
WALTER WEARE:
I'm trying to get at this texture of this fabled black middle class in Durham, if they had a distinctive social life and community institutions that would set them apart.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
That's a judgement decision, or opinion, and I'm not sure I can read the innermost thoughts or feelings well enough to make a statement to go down in history, as categorizing it.
WALTER WEARE:
Well, there's this outside view. Frazier wrote about it, saying that in Durham, you find none of the life and leisure you find in Harlem, but rather the Protestant ethic, the work ethic.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
That's true. I'm a firm believer in the work ethic.
WALTER WEARE:
How that translated itself into everyday life. Was there, as he was suggesting, less excitement in a way?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, I'm a firm believer in balance, a balanced life. And you can take that any way you want to. You can look at it from a business standpoint—a balance sheet. If it's out of balance, that corporation is unhealthy; it's not well managed. And it can be out of balance in many ways: in forms of investments, or as liabilities exceeding its assets, or the proportion of assets of one type or another. You have a different expense from when it's in better balance. If the chemistry of your body is out of balance, you don't have a healthy body. You may have diabetes; you may have this or that or the other. And I think that thing runs through life. When the forces of nature get out of balance, what do you have? The tornadoes, the floods. In other words—well I guess that says it. I may be—and if I am, I am, I have to be me—I may be from this modern standpoint, an old fogey. But I think there are some eternal values that will hold good anytime. Now, honesty may not seem the best policy to the person who wants to get rich quickly, but he may get it improperly, and then he may wish later he didn't have it, because of the consequences. Another lesson—and I don't want to fill that too full of references to the bible—but you know the parable of the rich farmer, who had such a harvest that his barns wouldn't hold it. Now, he didn't say a thing about sharing it, did he? He said, I'm going to tear down these barns and build me new ones, and put it all in there. And then for what? So that I can sit down and tell my soul to be at ease, because I don't have to worry anymore the rest of my life. He didn't see anybody around him that he could share it with. The thought didn't occur to him. And what does the parable say? Whether this actually happened, I think it's good teaching. ‘Thou fool. This night thy soul is required of thee. To whom shall this go?’ What'll happen to it? All we remember about him is not the good he did, but how foolish he was in his value system. So these kinds of things, and I guess travel and exposures, and meeting all kinds of people and all kinds of circumstances. I had an experience with Idi Amin in Liberia in 1976. And when I read what happened yesterday, I wasn't surprised. Because these things may flourish for a season.
WALTER WEARE:
When you met him in '76 something happened?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. Just to size the man up. The way that he came into the church that Sunday afternoon to the services. This whole thing just covered with—what do you call them?
WALTER WEARE:
Medals?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Medals, yes. And two .44's, one on each side. And he sat through that sermon, and the way he looked, a solemn, mean look on his face. Not moved by anything. I said, ‘Is this a human being? Is it possible for him to have any empathy for anybody?’ And then I heard of some of the atrocities that happened under him, and I saw on T.V. the other night, Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure", and in the end how things turned out. And I thought of that statement, ‘The measure you meet is the measure that will come back to you.’ If you really study life and people, the rise and fall of nations, and things like that, it seems to me like I see a thread running through there that says something. I didn't want to preach a sermon