Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jean Fairfax, October 15, 1983. Interview F-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Challenging segregation on the train

Fairfax talks about how the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen (and the YMCA) were interested in challenging segregation in social institutions. In her remarks, she recalls one incident in which she and other members of the Fellowship were traveling between Richmond, Virginia, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by train. She describes with amusement how Nelle Morton kept coming back to visit the African American travelers in their segregated car, much to the chagrin of the conductor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jean Fairfax, October 15, 1983. Interview F-0013. 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

DALLAS BLANCHARD:
Were you aware of any efforts to integrate churches and universities and that kind of thing in the Fellowship?
JEAN FAIRFAX:
You are talking about prior to 1946, when I was there at the time?
DALLAS BLANCHARD:
Yes.
JEAN FAIRFAX:
I am trying to recall. I am sure that when I went to the campus of the University of North Carolina it was while I was in the South. But whether I went to their campus first under the auspices of the Fellowship or the YWCA, I can't recall right now. But there were a lot of efforts to get students involved, although I don't know if there was any specific effort to integrate the institutions by pressing for students to get enrolled or not. I remember that there was a family from Austria who had a coffee shop or bake shop there. And they were one of the first institutions in Chapel Hill to open up to blacks. But whether or not that was after I came back from Austria, I don't remember. That was probably after. Because the fact that I had been in Austria made me be interested in meeting them after I had gotten back. I doubt whether there were targeted efforts to desegregate institutions. As I said meetings, merely to find a place to meet. But I recall too some very funny experiences we had when we were traveling together. One time we were going either from Chapel Hill to Richmond or Richmond back to Chapel Hill and I can't recall why we were going in one direction or the other. At that time trains were totally segregated, the white member and I remember particularly Nelle got on the white coach and the rest just got on the black coach. But as soon as she settled down she came back to where we were. And she was moving back and forth. And the conductor was totally disorganized by her behavior. He went up to her and said "Is you a Nigger?". And she just looked at him very directly and said in her nice deep southern voice, "Well, I don't know.". And they continued to watch back and forth in the coaches. You can try to imagine what it was like at that time merely traveling together and meeting together anywhere was a political act. And another person Rosalie Oaks. I knew Rosalie in the student movement and I am sure she was in the Fellowship also.