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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 >>

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, ‘What are you doing here?’ 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, ‘Working.’ She said, ‘You don't have any business here. You could walk right out of this office anywhere in Durham and make more money.’ 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, ‘Oh, 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.’ Well, Eula laughed and said, ‘Well, I've been with them x number of years. I came up from Mississippi. I was working for them there.’ 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, ‘Hello.’ I say, ‘Hello.’ She's looking at me. ‘You know, you ought to go West.’ I say, ‘Go West?’ ‘Yes. 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.’ I looked at her and laughed and said, ‘Well, m'am, I just left Oklahoma, and I wasn't doing no better out there, than I'm doing here.’ [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 [laughter] .
Eula could pass for white and you could pass for Indian?
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.