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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Miriam Bonner Camp, April 15, 1976. Interview G-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Eventual breakdown of racial prejudice for one southern woman

Camp discusses race relations in Washington, North Carolina, during the early twentieth century. Camp argues that the only contact she had with African Americans while growing up tended to be adult servants, primarily cooks, who worked for her family. A self-described "child of the Confederacy," Camp explains that racial prejudice was second nature to her and that it was not until later in life, after she had attended college and interacted with more African Americans in different organizations, that she began to see African Americans as her social equals.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Miriam Bonner Camp, April 15, 1976. Interview G-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

MARY FREDERICKSON:
You said that when your mother grew up on this plantation she had played with the children of the black people on the plantation.
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Yes, I'm sure she must have, because those were the children that were there.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you have the same sorts of relationships with black children in Washington?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you ever have any contact with children of the . . .
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
. . . people who worked in your house?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
No.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you remember any very close relationships with blacks?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Oh yes, but it was not with black children.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But with adults?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
But with the adults, because these great-aunts of mine had these marvelous cooks that they'd had for ages. We'd call them Aunt: Aunt Julia, Aunt Lettuce. But those were the old ones. The younger ones, like the cook we had, we just called them Molly. We had a good relationship, but it was a servant. . . .It was no feeling then of any kind of equality.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Do you think that that situation has shaped any of your later feelings about race in the South, or about race relations?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Well, of course it was very difficult for me, because also the Civil War and the South. When I came out here, I remember the first time, for instance, they were singing "Marching Through Georgia." Well, to me that was the most terrible thing in the world, because Sherman had burned so much of Georgia, burned our town. When I was little I was brought up as a child of the Confederacy. So it was very, very difficult for me, and my whole world was just simply turned upside down topsy-turvy. I remember the first time in high school there were some black students (not many, just maybe two or something like that) that were athletes. And I remember . . . I mean, it was a little hard getting used to it, the equality that you had in the classrooms. But certainly I had. . . certainly absorbed these prejudices and customs of the group in which I grew up. But they were of course broken down decidedly, and I have had many very fine black friends.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did the whole process of breaking down those prejudices . . . ?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
It was very painful for a child.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did it go on for a long period of time?
MIRIAM BONNER CAMP:
Well yes, in a way, because I didn't really have too much contact there. There were only these two boys, as I remember, that were in school, so there was really very little contact. Then when I went up to Berkeley there really wasn't much contact. It was really, I guess, after I came back from Bryn Mawr and the last time when I began to have more association as I went into different groups and joined in things. I had been very active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which was founded by Jane Addams in 1915. But I went out in these different areas and met black people on an equal plane and of course came to know them as people, why there was no problem then. It just simply melted away; it didn't mean anything.