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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 >>

Julian Shakespeare Carr and his half brother John O'Daniel

Turner discusses community reactions to the racial intermingling of prominent Durham families, focusing particularly on her knowledge of Julian Shakespeare Carr and his relationship to his half-brother, John O'Daniel. According to Turner, it was common knowledge in the community that the white Carr family shared heritage with the African American O'Daniel family from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century. In addition to drawing on community knowledge, Turner offers as evidence letters between Carr and O'Daniel that she received from O'Daniel's grandson, who she once dated. Shortly after this passage ends, Turner argues that this family dynamics were common and widespread throughout the South.

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:
We were talking about white folks. Sometimes it gets a little ambiguous as to who's white and who's black. There's all this folklore, and I know it's more than folklore, about Julian Shakespeare Carr.
VIOLA TURNER:
When I read in your letter that that middle name was Shakespeare—I'd never known that before. Julian S. Carr. I never had even questioned it in my mind.
WALTER WEARE:
Do you remember him at all? Had he died?
VIOLA TURNER:
I believe he had died when I got here. I say it like that, because the estate was still intact, and stayed so a good long time, so that I knew all the things, almost, that he wrote about in his letters. What he was sending home and that sort of thing. But I believe he had died. I don't believe he was still living when I got here, in '24. But even the furnishings, and that sort of thing, was in their place. I've been other places and seen pieces of the furnishings that came out of that house.
WALTER WEARE:
So the story is that Julian Shakespeare Carr—what? His half-brother? You know the story.
VIOLA TURNER:
Yes. John O'Daniel. Oh! You want to hear that? You want me to tell it? Oh. Well, as I heard the story, and saw many things as evidence that it was true, and there was no pretense of denial. But, Julian Carr and John O'Daniel were half-brothers, And John O'Daniel worked for Julian Carr. And I knew the O'Daniel family. As a matter of fact, I went with the grandson of John O'Daniel. The story went—and I think that's one that could be documented—that the O'Daniel family and the Carr family had sons, or children, almost at the same period. Identically. There's be a John Carr, there'd be a John O'Daniel. Or a Willy Carr, there'd be a Willy O'Daniel. Those are actual names. John, Willy. And I knew some more. I hope I haven't forgotten them; but I guess I have. But any rate, there were several sons. And they seem to have been born very similarly—have very similar birth dates. And they were named with the same names. So there'd be one in each of these families. And of course the talk in the town—and I guess both in the white community and in the black community; I learned they both gossiped about the same—all agreed that they were the half brothers. These two men were half-brothers and these were their separate families.
WALTER WEARE:
John O'Daniel and Julian S. Carr shared the same father, is that right?
VIOLA TURNER:
I don't think anybody ever said in my presence. They simply said that they were half-brothers. I don't think anybody ever said who was their father, to me. Maybe it was the talk that these were so-and-so's sons, but I don't know that. But the talk when I came was that they were half-brothers. Now why I considered it so authentic was two things. First this number of family sons. I don't know if there were any daughters. The sons are the ones that I knew, because I knew most of the O'Daniel sons. And the Carr sons. And then, Mr. O'Daniel had died when I got here, and they were talking about the funeral. And at the funeral, the pall-bearers had been a Will O'Daniel and a Will Carr, a John O'Daniel and a John Carr, and a so-and-so O'Daniel and a so-and-so Carr. And the other names—I don't know why they're escaping me right this minute, because I knew three sons: Willy, John, and another one. No, that's a grandson named Thurman. But whoever Thurman's father was, was another son.
WALTER WEARE:
Did you know any of the sons on the white side?
VIOLA TURNER:
No. I didn't ever know them personally.
WALTER WEARE:
Did you ever see them? In fact, did they look alike?
VIOLA TURNER:
Well, I don't know about that. They could have.
WALTER WEARE:
Were the O'Daniel sons light-colored?
VIOLA TURNER:
[laughter] I just got through telling you, mister, all whites look alike to me. And the O'Daniel sons were just as white as the Carr sons. So I imagine if you took a real good look at them, they did look alike. But I don't know. I never had seen that. What did I start to say about them? This was the conversation I heard when I got here—talking about the pall-bearers being O'Daniels and so-and-so's. But I had been in the O'Daniel home many times, which was right across the street from Mr. Sapulding, and where I lived. This great big, two-story house. And when you would go in there, like Southern homes everywhere, I guess, there's this wide hall. And after you got into the entrance, they had a parlor. Well, I guess you'd call it a living room on one side and a parlor on the other. But the two, like so many people have in these big houses, one was the living room and the other was the parlor, across. And then there was this wide staircase that you went up. And when you got upstairs that hall went all the way down. And, while I can't tell you in detail any more, because at that time I was not that interested. When I did become interested, it was too late. But down that hall, on either side, there were portraits of—what I believe I'm correct in saying—O'Daniels and Carrs. But there were portraits on both sides of that hall, going down, and big ones like that. So, that was enough to sort of authenticate what you heard. But, then, in later years, the grandson, who I used to go with, came over to where Betty and I were living right across the street, one evening. And brought several letters—three or four or five letters. And they were letters that Carr had written to John O'Daniel. When his wife died, he took a trip around the world. From the various countries he visited, and different places where he stopped, he wrote to John O'Daniel, these beautifully written letters. Old-fashioned, , flowery, flowing letters. The writing. And then the wording was beautiful, too. Old-fashioned, you know, very flowery. If he was going to say ‘sunset’, he'd have to say something about the golden sunset against the heavenly blue—all that sort of thing. But it was perfectly beautiful. He would write to John. ‘Dear John’, then he would go on to long, two or three pages of the beauty where he was and what he was seeing. And also would be in there how this or that particular thing brought back the memories of his beloved wife. And he would go into a great deal of description on that. And then he would go to the shrubbery or the flowers or the trees of the section of the world, or the country, or wherever he was, and what he was going to purchase and send home. And from all around the world, he sent shrubbery and trees, things of that kind, and then he would tell John how to handle them, what to do with them. And always the letters were with deep affection: ‘Dear John’ this and ‘Dear John’ that. ‘My dear John, be careful. Don't overtax yourself. Let. . . [laughter] Let the poor niggers do that.’ Oh yes. He's worried about it. He'd tell John not to do anything to overtax himself. Then he'd go: ‘And now, dear John, my mind turns to Durham. And it should be the beginning of the winter season. And I'm thinking of the poor niggers and how they will suffer from the cold. I want you to go out to Farm, and bring in—’ I hope I'm getting this straight now; the only thing I can remember, and I think that's right: —the last corn meal, flour, and meat. See that they get that and see that they get coal and wood so they will not be suffering from the cold.' Now after he's taken care of the poor niggers, then he turns: ‘And now I'm thinking about my good friends Shepard, C.C. Spaulding, and Charlie Amey, and Dr. Moore.’ And he might have some particular comment, tell them this, or tell them I'm thinking about that. Or he might make some specific comment on one of them. Now that's an entirely different person, you know. In another different classification, in his own mind, and everything. He refers to them as good friends and ‘you tell them what I'm doing’, or ‘you tell them I said this’, or so-and-so and so-and-so. Then he goes back to ‘Dear John’, and all of that part again is solicitous. Solicitous that he take care of himself, that he gets these things done that he wants done, but have it done. You're not to do any heavy work on it, but oversee it. Then he'd close that, and the next letter would be just about. . .that was the pattern of them. And I had those blooming things in my hand and could've kept them. But I don't think John Allen had any particular value attached to them—certainly I didn't. All I did: they just tickled me to death. I fell out and laughed over them you know, or maybe I'd see something I didn't like, or anything. But any rate, more or less I was just entertained with them. I guess, really, when I began to realize, oh that was a mistake, that family began to. . .well, disintegrate isn't the word. Disappear, I guess, is the word I mean. You know how you think something's going to be there forever.