Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 17, 1979. Interview C-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Perception of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs during its formative years

Turner describes her perception of the Durham Committee on Negro Affairs during its early years. Specifically, Turner focuses on her admiration of the vast cross section of the African American community represented in the Committee as evidenced by her discussion of a working man (likely a tobacco worker) who spoke at one meeting about the need for improved conditions for African Americans.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 17, 1979. Interview C-0016. 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 want to get back to the Durham Committee.
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, yes. Well the only thing I started to say there about it, that I wish I could remember. I went to a meeting. I used to go occasionally. I wasn't one of those people who was at every meeting or anything, but in the earlier days I used to go occasionally. And I went there one night and I don't know what happened. John either had to leave the meeting, or he found out late that he couldn't be at the meeting, and they were just getting back knowledge in the evening, that he would not be there to preside. Two things impressed me that I still remember. The first thing was the cross-section. There were people from every walk of life at that meeting. People you knew; people that you knew what they did; people that you had heard of; people that you'd never heard of; people that you'd never seen. But many of them, they would maybe get up to say something and you'd say, "Oh, yeah, that's such-and-such a section", where they named ‘East End’, or ‘West End’. And I said to myself that I know the area, that's all. But not a single person that got up to say anything at all, every last one of them had something to say. They may not have said it exactly like you would have said or like I would have said it, or John may have said it, but you understood it perfectly; and you appreciated it; and you recognized it. You recognized every comment they made, one way or the other. Well, that, to me, was impressive. I had never been in a group where you knew these were all different types of people, but they were there with just one single thought: and that was improvement. And out of that—and this man that I have seen and I know his name, but it escapes me, and I haven't been able to think of it. I even have tried to think of who I could call and they would tell me who it is. But this man got up and took charge of the meeting, and, by golly, John could not have done any better than he did. I can just see him. He was tall, slender, very dark brown skin, not educated like John. He could easily not even have had a high school education. But he spoke well. And he took charge of that meeting with the same ease, the same grace, or whatever you want to call it, as anybody could have. And I left there the most impressed person, you know, over it, because I was so delighted. After that, I sort of just followed, you know, wherever I'd see anything about him.
WALTER WEARE:
He remained active in the Committee?
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, yes, he was.
WALTER WEARE:
Was he a tobacco worker, or anything?
VIOLA TURNER:
Could have been. He was probably a tobacco worker. Or, if he wasn't that, he was some other worker. He was no one that I had come in contact with as such, knowing him from working in the Mutual or working in the Savings and Loan, or working in the bank—working in any place, you know, that I had come in contact with anybody.
WALTER WEARE:
Was the labor union represented or active in those meetings?
VIOLA TURNER:
They became. When you said labor union, I'm trying to think if that man was a member of the labor union, but I'd be afraid to say that, because I'm too vague on it. But, yes, I do know that members of the labor union, and I think they are still, very active in that organization. I know they have been and I think they still are.