Advice regarding race and job opportunities
Turner describes the advice she and her friend, Eula, received from a white woman who came to train them in the "mail-o-meter operation." According to Turner, the woman feared that they would face socioeconomic discrimination because they were African Americans. Because Eula could "pass" for white, the woman encouraged her to do so because she might receive higher wages. Turner was likewise advised to seek employment out West. Turner and Eula did not take the advice, believing they had the best opportunities available at North Carolina Mutual; however, her comments are indicative of the types of socioeconomic inequality African Americans faced during the early twentieth century.
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 that brings to my mind the little lady from the mail-o-meter
operation. Little lady, she came up here one year and walked in.
Evidently she had been there before, but before Eula and I were in that
area. She looked at Eula, and over there at me. She looked at Eula
again. So she walked over there and she said, ‚ÄòWhat are you doing here?‚Äô
So she knew this was a black company, because they had sold us this
mail-o-meter machine, which all your mail ran through. So Eula answered
her, ‚ÄòWorking.‚Äô She said, ‚ÄòYou don't have any business here. You could
walk right out of this office anywhere in Durham and make more money.‚Äô
She was not partial to her working for a black firm. She was disturbed
that she wasn't doing the best she could do for herself. She said, ‚ÄòOh,
you could do so much better. You could get more money anywhere than
you'll be able to get here. They just can't pay you as much as you could
get. And I just don't know what you're doing here.‚Äô Well, Eula laughed
and said, ‚ÄòWell, I've been with them x number of years. I came up from
Mississippi. I was working for them there.‚Äô So, now, I guess all the
time she's talking to Eula, she's looking over there in the corner at
me. And, at that time I was wearing my hair with
the bangs, just like you have it here. She walked over there. She says,
‚ÄòHello.‚Äô I say, ‚ÄòHello.‚Äô She's looking at me. ‚ÄòYou know, you ought to go
West.‚Äô I say, ‚ÄòGo West?‚Äô ‚ÄòYes. You can't get the advances here which you
deserve. Now, if you'd go out West, you'd be able to get better-paying
jobs than you'll ever be able to get down here. It'll be rough on you
here.‚Äô I looked at her and laughed and said, ‚ÄòWell, m'am, I just left
Oklahoma, and I wasn't doing no better out there, than I'm doing here.‚Äô
[laughter] . She couldn't do anything
but laugh. But she told Eula to get another job in the white community,
and she told me to go West, so that I could do better in the West. So
the only thing I can figure with my nose and those bangs and everything,
that she decided that I could be an Indian
- WALTER WEARE:
Eula could pass for white and you could pass for Indian?
- VIOLA TURNER:
Yes, that's the only thing I could figure. But that's the way she left
it. Eula should leave, not because of the company. It's a good company.
But she could just do better. She'd never make any money with the
company. And, of course, she didn't see no hope for me; she told me that
I just should go West. I let her finish telling, then I told her that it
hadn't been long since I had been West, and I hadn't found it too
different from the East.