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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 14, 1979. Interview C-0013-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Segregation fails to penetrate a rural community

Segregation was relatively unfamiliar to Spaulding in his childhood, he remembers. His father had white employees, and ran a restaurant without a color line. Only just before Spaulding left the area, in 1918, did a divider appear in the restaurant, intended to separate black and white patrons. When Spaulding arrived in Durham, North Carolina, he found a more segregated society.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 14, 1979. Interview C-0013-2. 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:
Would white persons work for him? Do you ever remember a white person working for him?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Well, white persons worked for us on the farm, chopping cotton and picking cotton. We all worked in the field together.
WALTER WEARE:
And that would violate any….?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No, nobody thought anything about it. That's why this matter of discrimination or segregation to me, coming up there—I just was not aware of it until just a little before I left there. When I mentioned that my father operated this restaurant out there at Elkton. When he first started, he didn't have to have this dividing.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you remember when he started it?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I left there in 1918. I would say that he was operating it at least three or four years before I left there. I remember another thing, on Saturday nights. he'd go home, and he had one of these long pocketbooks that the money was kept in. And one of my jobs on Sunday morning was to count his money. Separate it into the pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters. Right on. And then the paper money. To get it in form for him to bank it on Monday.
WALTER WEARE:
This restaurant. Was it a railroad stop?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes. It was in Elkton, North Carolina, which was another railroad station between Clarkton and Rosindale.
WALTER WEARE:
Did he own the land that that was on?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No, I don't think he did. He rented it.
WALTER WEARE:
Now, when he began this, there was no segregation, even for dining.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Not that I recall. Because there wasn't much dining. This was the first restaurant that I remember being opened for serving the public.
WALTER WEARE:
But then you mentioned, as time passed.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I remember later there was this little divider between the section where the blacks ate and the whites ate. That developed just a little before I left. But it was such a thing. They could just look across it and see each other, you know. It was just something to separate. It was not even waist high.
WALTER WEARE:
Before this, when these whites came to your father's house on these hunting trips, would you eat together?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, we would eat together all the time. They'd come there and come right on in the kitchen. We'd all sit around the table together and think nothing about it.
WALTER WEARE:
Would they tell stories to one another?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh, yes. And they'd each call each other by their first names. No differences were made.
WALTER WEARE:
What about the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mr.’ for the colored population? Was that withheld in that area?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
They were called by first names. If your name was Armstead, it was Armstead, or if it was James, you were Jim. White or black across the line.
WALTER WEARE:
You were talking about the ‘Mr.’ and the ‘Mrs.’ yesterday in North Carolina Mutual.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes, well that was after I came to Durham. Naturally, you see, that was not the pattern in Durham. There was separation. They knew that the people living in the rural areas were called by first names. Just as I mentioned, in Columbus County, between my father and the whites that he dealt with, it was a first-name basis. And they were the people that I had come in contact with.
WALTER WEARE:
So he could call whites by their first names.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Sure. Like Jim Elkins, or John Elkins, or Walter Porter. They were all by their first names: Walter, Jim, John, James.
WALTER WEARE:
Politically: your father could vote?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes.
WALTER WEARE:
Was your mother politically active at all? Did she vote, do you recall?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
She voted at times. But, you know, she was of a retiring nature. The Indian traits were reticence and retirement, not being very vocal, and being more introverted. Now, my father was an extrovert. My mother was an introvert. So I guess I'm somewhere in between.