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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 17, 1979. Interview C-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Two marriages and two divorces during the 1920s

Turner discusses her two short-lived marriages. The first occurred from 1920 to 1923, when she lived in Jackson, Mississippi, and the second occurred shortly after she moved to Durham, North Carolina in 1924. Turner's second marriage, like her first, lasted only several years and she was divorced again by the late 1920s. Her comments are revealing of somewhat unusual experiences in marriage and divorce for southern women during that era.

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:
As a side light, you had two marriages from the time you left Mississippi.
VIOLA TURNER:
From '20 to '27, yes.
WALTER WEARE:
Now Mr. Taylor, he worked for the Mutual?
VIOLA TURNER:
Yes, that's how I happened to meet him. The brought him to Jackson just about the time I came to Jackson. In a way, I was getting away from home, because the young man that I was liking very much had come by to see my father and asked for my hand in marriage and my father told us to wait a year. And so that was why I took the job in Mississippi, because he would not give consent. I don't know whether he was going to give consent or not. He just said to wait and year and come back. So I went to Mississippi, and that's where I met Taylor. He came up to work for North Carolina Mutual. And our offices joined. The Department for Education and the North Carolina Mutual offices were right there together. So, I guess love was in bloom and I was young and I thought everything was wonderful in the world. So that's what happened. So we left there and went to Oklahoma to open up Oklahoma.
WALTER WEARE:
So you and he worked together out of an agency in Oklahoma.
VIOLA TURNER:
Yes, we worked for North Carolina Mutual and set up an office in Oklahoma City, that's right.
WALTER WEARE:
And that would have been roughly from '20 to?
VIOLA TURNER:
'23. Am I right? Yes, into '23. Because I came here in '24. And between Oklahoma City, where I left Taylor—no. He was transferred from Oklahoma City. Now, we've got it straight. To Alabama. That's how I got to Alabama. And I went with him to Alabama. But in Alabama, I left him. I had written to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where there was a law firm that I knew about when I was in Oklahoma City. So, when I decided that I was going to leave Taylor, I wrote to this law firm and made application for a job. And I got acceptance on the basis that I was willing to accept the job, and if I was satisfactory. They were going to offer me one amount of money. I don't remember what it was, but better than anything I had. And if, after thirty days, I proved satisfactory, they would raise that amount considerably from what they were offering originally. Since they didn't know anything about my status, getting away was what I was after. So I would have taken anything they offered me. But, because I had been working in the district office there, I felt I could not leave and go straight to Oklahoma. So, instead, I left and went to Jackson, Mississippi, to tell Mr. Cox that I was leaving the Montgomery office, and to tell him the shape I had left it in. And that I was not travelling on any of the North Carolina Mutual's money. But I was on my way to Oklahoma where I had a job. I ended up in Clarksdale, Mississippi because he says, ‘I don't have anything to do with your personal life. If you've made up your mind that you're going, I'm not going to do anything about that. But I'm not going to see you go out to Oklahoma when we need somebody right here.’ So he took me to Clarksdale, Mississippi. So that's how I got there. And, of course, I had—well, to be perfectly honest about the thing—slipped away from Alabama. I waited until my husband went on one of his trips for the company, around the state, and then I packed my little bag and left. Of course, he had no idea where I was. Nobody else did, because I didn't tell anybody.
WALTER WEARE:
Then you me Lawyer Thompson when you came to Durham.
VIOLA TURNER:
Yes. Yes, I did. [laughter] I can't say that with great joy, but I did.
WALTER WEARE:
Was this another romance, love at first sight?
VIOLA TURNER:
No. I don't know what Tommy thought of me. I guess he thought he loved me. But I think, really, when I look back on it now, for him, I was a novelty. I didn't fall head over heels and turn flip-flops about him.
WALTER WEARE:
Where was he educated? Where was he from?
VIOLA TURNER:
Do you have your tape on? [laughter]
WALTER WEARE:
This is going to be very intriguing.
VIOLA TURNER:
I'm not going to answer that question if your tape is on.
WALTER WEARE:
All right, just go ahead. You don't have to tell me where he's from.
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, I don't mind telling you where he's from. But that question you asked about where he was educated [laughter] , I don't think I'll put that on tape. He was from North Carolina.
WALTER WEARE:
He was a lawyer?
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, yes. He was a lawyer. And he got his law degree from Howard. But anyhow, I think I was unique because apparently he had—probably always, and certainly since he'd been an attorney—a lot of girls who'd just fall on their face about him. Because he was truly—though I was never able to quite understand—he was truly a lady's man. And he had whole lots of girls. And they all seemed to have been very, very much in love with him. All expecting matrimony. And I didn't have any of that feeling or reaction to him. So I guess I intriqued him in that way. Not intentionally. But evidently it happened that way because he pursued me, so-to-speak, you know? And I was at a state where I didn't think I was ever going to have any deep romantic feeling about anybody. And I said, ‘Well, maybe. Afterall he has a profession. Maybe we can make it. And I like him all right.’ I didn't dislike him. And I didn't have anybody else I thought I might like or like better, or one of those things. There was no conflict. I was at that stage.
WALTER WEARE:
Were you down on men, in general, at this point?
VIOLA TURNER:
No. Not really. Just wasn't enthusiastic. I always had had boyfriends. There was always somebody in my life who was an interest.Right then, when I came here, I met a very lovely person, a person that I probably could have liked, had our friendship been of any duration to amount to anything. But he came into Little Rock very shortly before I was leaving. And, as a matter fact, left with me. We travelled from Little Rock to Atlanta, I believe—Memphis or Atlanta—because he was from Charleston, South Carolina. He was coming to North Carolina. And, of all of the people that I had met, he was the person that I felt I could have liked a great deal more than I did. And certainly a whole lot more than I did Lawyer Thompson. But it was a short relation, and he went his way and I went mine. He had finished his pharmacist, and then had decided that he wanted to be a dentist and he was back in dental school, and was either a junior or senior at that time. I believe it was the senior year. But any rate, I came here, not disliking men generally, but not looking for a husband either. But Tommy just kept on and kept on and kept on, until finally I just broke down and said, ‘OK. It's a nice state. I just didn't do too well the first time. It'll be all right.’ Sort of like that. I don't mean it was quite as drab as that sounds, but I mean, there was no real emotional work-up and that sort of thing. I think it could have probably developed into a very satisfying relationship and a nice relationship if I had not found such vast difference in our character. Those discoveries that I made later. Maybe not so important to anybody else, but to me they were. And I finally just said I couldn't live with him. And, I guess, being of my disposition, whatever I'm doing, I take a good long time, almost anything. Then suddenly I decide I can't take that anymore, now that's it. If that happens, that's it right there. So that's what had happened.
WALTER WEARE:
Was there ever any conflict over your working and your professional interests?
VIOLA TURNER:
No, none whatsoever. He was quite happy. I was paying more of the bills. There was no conflict there. Our character was different. I shouldn't say this, and yet it's the truth: I'm not much of a liar, and he was a profound liar. And you'd be surprised how hard it is if you can't lie and don't like liars, to live with liars. [laughter] This is funny. I'm not going to talk about Tommy. He was OK. He found a wife and she loved him dearly. And I was happy for both of them, because I said, well it just goes to prove that just because you can't make it, it can be done. And I think she was as happy as she could be. And she's a lovely person. We're very good friends. I knew her before they got married, and were church members. We'd seen each other just about every Sunday. And we're very good friends. I was delighted with their marriage, you know, for them, because she seemed to be happy with him. And I didn't feel no jealousy whatever. I was delighted for her.