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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 >>

Admiration of African American lawyer William Hastie

Turner discusses the case of Thomas Hocutt. Having attended the hearings of the NAACP's legal efforts to help Hocutt gain admittance to the law school at University of North Carolina, Turner explains that young people such as herself were particularly taken with lawyer William Hastie. Turner describes their admiration for Hastie and explains that he offered an especially positive role model for African Americans at that time.

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

But we went down just to see, Turner, then, lawyer, I guess he was. And we were thrilled to death with his appearance and his polish and his education, his training, and the way he handled himself in the court. And, you see, at that time, and for many years after, most of the black attorneys were not accorded the respect that they were entitled to. They would be called by their names. No ‘lawyer’ this, or ‘attorney’ that, or anything of the kind. This was so superior to anything that was in the court—white or black. They realized they had to accord him a certain amount of courtesy. He was recognized as an attorney, and, or course, you know that gave us the greatest joy. They just couldn't bring themselves to ‘William’, or ‘George’, or ‘John’—the things that they had forced down the throats of many of the black attorneys.
WALTER WEARE:
Did a lot of people in the black community turn out for this?
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh! The little courthosue was packed. And most of us were there.
WALTER WEARE:
This is the Holcutt Case, 1933, I think?
VIOLA TURNER:
Yes, it was somewhere in those days; it was early.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you remember any of the background of it?
VIOLA TURNER:
No, not really. Nothing more than like every other black in the community. You were proud that he had had the courage to make the application to attempt to enter. You were proud to feel that you were a part, even if it was nothing more than contributing to the NAACP, for the fight that we waged. Then, of course, you followed it prayerfully all the time. You know, of the outcome. Then, of course, when Judge Hastie got here, that was the topping on the cake. Because there were few of us—not only young people like myself, and those of us who were younger people—who had seen a man like Hastie representing us in a situation. Not only in that particular situation, but in the courts, carrying himself and accounting himself is such a dignified and marvelous manner. He ignored all of anything anybody tried to use as a put-down, you know. And he could do it with such grace, that I'm sure most of them didn't even realize what had happened to them, except that they had not been able to get a rise out of the man. Yet, he handled himself so cooly and so smoothly, they would capitulate without even knowing they had done that almost. It really was about as smooth a thing as I've ever seen. And so natural for him. There was nothing about him that made you feel he was putting on an act. He could've been, but you had no feeling of it. You just felt it was the most natural and normal way of life for him. Of course, us younger women, we were just drooling, worshipping at his feet. And in that sort of respectful, you know, oh! he's one of us; he belongs to us; you can't take that away from none of us. That sort of feeling, pride.
WALTER WEARE:
That was the victory, just his being there?
VIOLA TURNER:
Oh, yes, yes. And then, those gentlemen sitting there getting red-faced by the minute, with the facility with which he could request this or ask that, or stand his ground here, or everything. Really, he was something to behold. And that wasn't just because he was one of us. He would've been something to behold anywhere. The way he handled himself and conducted himself. And I'm quite sure not many people in that courtroom, white or black, had seen his equal. Not many of them.
WALTER WEARE:
Was Dr. Shepard there, do you recall?
VIOLA TURNER:
No. I don't recall if he was there. He could've been, but I don't know that. You see, we went after working hours. We would go from work, on by the courthouse, and they would still be in session, that sort of thing. So, usually when we were there, or when I was there, you were there with your peers, and any other workers near your age-group, or in your same organization. Because, at that time, Bankers was in our building. Anybody in Bankers North Carolina Mutual, we'd all be traipsing in there. And getting seats where you could. Because many of the seats were already filled and you were lucky if you got in. Then, with me, and I guess with most of us, there was excitement of going into a courtroom for triumph. We had never been in there before. You know, the courthouse and all of that went together, so far as you were concerned, and was synonomous with jail.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you think that anybody really believed or dreamed that, in fact, the case would be won and Holcutt would actually be admitted to the University of North Carolina?
VIOLA TURNER:
Well, I'll put it this way. I have an idea that most of us who sat there and saw Hastie and admired him as we did, probably couldn't conceive of him losing. You see, we probably lost all sight of all of the discrimination that was back of that, that he was really up against. We were so thrilled. You were seeing something that you'd never seen before. I'd never seen such a polished, qualified. . .now, I've seen plenty of black people who'd had no training, scarcely, but who had acquired a polish and something that made you respect them and admire them.