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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-0016. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Parents found ways to encourage segregated play in an integrated neighborhood

The neighborhood Clark grew up in was integrated, but that did not imply that neighbors always related to each other well. Parents encouraged their children not to play with kids of other races, and Clark's mother found ways to keep the German neighbors away from her home. Clark's mother also proved reluctant to cooperate with a white police officer.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Septima Poinsette Clark, July 25, 1976. Interview G-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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it common for the streets to be integrated at that . . .
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
At that time. Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When you were growing up?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
We had Italians and Irish on that same street, and Germans, all living in between.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the children play with each other? Did black and white children play together?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No, unh-uh, as a rule they didn't. When the black children were out in the street playing, all of the whites or the others would be in their homes. And whenever the white children came out, why, the parents kept you away from them, too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your mother have any good relationships with her white neighbors, any friendly relationships with the whites and the blacks?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
I couldn't say yes. I know she didn't have. My father would speak to everyone, but my mother wouldn't. And there was a group of I guess they were either Germans or Irish right across from me, and they had a car out in the street and they sold this bootleg, and they would come and sit on our step, you know, and when people'd come up you'd see them going into this car, you know, selling the bootleg liquor from that car. I really didn't know what they were doing at that time. My mother didn't want them to sit on her step. I guess she understood what they were doing. And she would lock the door and then take some water and throw under the door, and they couldn't understand where this water was coming from. That's the way she did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You mean she would wet the step and then go inside and lock the door?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She'd throw it down?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Throw it underneath the door.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, under the door.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Yes. Throw it very quietly. Yes. They'd be getting up and looking, wondering where this water was coming from.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Amazing.
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
She had this kind of.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Can you think, were there other instances of confrontation that she had with whites or with the authorities?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
Well, with a policeman. I think I told you, when our dog scratched the little boy's face and the woman called a policeman.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it a white boy's?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
White boy's. We didn't have colored at. And she told him that she didn't know where the dog was, and she'd put the dog up in the attic. And he wanted to know whose dog it was, and she says, "My daughter, and my daughter's dead," which was true. And he wanted to come in to look, and she refused to let him. She said, "Don't you put your feet across the sill of my door." She had a little saying. She'd say, "I'm a little piece of leather, but I'm well put together," "And if you come through here, something's going to happen to you." She meant that, too. She would fight if she had to.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did your parents keep a gun in the house at all?
SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK:
No, not as I know of. I never had seen a gun there. Just that tone. [laughter]