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Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    The daughter of a southern minister whose humble origins sometimes clashed with his wife's more well-to-do familial connections, Edith Mitchell Dabbs grew up in South Carolina during the early twentieth century. Dabbs begins the interview by offering some brief remembrances of her childhood. She describes her family background, offering insight into the family life of white middle-class southerners in South Carolina. Dabbs spends more time, however, describing the family background and history of her husband, James McBride Dabbs, whom she married in 1935. James McBride Dabbs married into a family that owned a sizable plantation in Sumter County, South Carolina, dating back to the antebellum period. Dabbs spends considerable time tracing the history of her husband's family tree, focusing specifically on its roots in Sumter County. James McBride Dabbs' father had married into the McBride family of Egypt Farms, as the plantation was named until Edith and James renamed it Rip Raps Plantation, after the name of the original house on the plantation. Because much of the rest of the interview is devoted to a discussion of their activities in causes for racial justice, Dabbs describes the ways in which her husband (and presumably she, too) grew up believing that the Civil War had solved the "race question" with the emancipation of enslaved people in the South. Later, both became increasingly cognizant of the impact of Jim Crow segregation in perpetuating inequalities, and consequently advocated for social change. Dabbs explains that her husband first became involved in issues of civil rights in the 1940s, when he began to speak out publicly against state legislation that prohibited the registration of African American voters. From there, the two became increasingly involved in networks that espoused the fall of Jim Crow and racial equality throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Dabbs' recollections about this early phase of the civil rights movement are particularly interesting for researchers because she addresses the alienation and opposition they faced, as well as the surreptitious nature of organization. Her description of a secretive meeting held in Montgomery, Alabama, is especially revealing of the danger that surrounded civil rights activities and the risks that activists took in trying to bring about change. Also of interest to researchers is Dabbs' perceptive discussion of "paternalism" and the lengths to which she and her husband, as white supporters of change, went to avoid having a paternalistic attitude towards those they were trying to help. Additionally, Dabbs describes her work with the United Church Women, focusing on the opposition that group faced in South Carolina because of its liberal reputation for espousing integration; the friendship she and her husband shared with Virginia and Clifford Durr, Robert Frost, and other social activists; and some of her thoughts on St. Helena Island and the Penn School, about which she later wrote two books. Dabbs concludes the interview with a discussion of her life with her husband and children on Rip Raps Plantation.
    Excerpts
  • Description of "field day" celebrations in a small southern community
  • Class tension within two marriages
  • History of Rip Raps Plantation
  • Courtship and relationship patterns
  • Religious divisions in Sumter County, South Carolina
  • Coming to terms with issues of racism and beginning to speak out
  • Opposition to and support for views on racial injustice
  • Joining the United Church Women and describing its goals
  • Risks of battling racial injustice and secretive measures for organizing
  • Admiration for a woman minister and her accomplishments
  • The United Church Women and efforts to integrate
  • Thoughts on paternalism and conscious effort to avoid it
  • Vignette about an impoverished Gullah woman
  • Self-sufficiency at Rip Raps Plantation and thoughts on marriage and family
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Southern States--Race relations
  • Southern Regional Council
  • Durr, Virginia Foster
  • Women civil rights workers
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.