Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Use of the Old South among middle-class New South whites

While the myth of the Old South says that white families had access to wealth and power, Durr describes how the myth breaks down when investigated. She contrasts her maternal and paternal lines to show the difference between the comfortably middle-class and the truly wealthy in the antebellum era.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. 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

Everybody wants to carry on like they came from some great noble family, but it is a matter of fact that they all came over because they were poor and they weren't doing so well. If they had done well, they would have stayed. It's like the people in Virginia, you cantell them that your people were from Virginia, but they always look at you like there is something peculiar there, because nobody would have left Virginia if they were doing 1 This was the first brick house built in the Tennessee Valley, well, because of course, Virginia is Paradise. Well, we felt the same way in Alabama about the people that went to Texas. I know that I used to tease Lyndon Johnson about going from Alabama to Texas, his family, because we felt like anybody that went to Texas had the sheriff after them. (laughter) This was always the big joke you know, if you went to Texas, you got out mighty quick. (laughter) The point is that nobody moves if they are doing well. They all stay where they are if they are doing very well. In any case, my grandmother on my Mother's side was named Josephine Rice and I heard that when she married, the slaves were lined up in two ranks from the house to the gate and her father gave her fifteen slaves when she married. All of which was a total and complete myth because my father and I went up to the TVA for the dedication of a dam, the Wheeler Dam, so it was not far from Sommerville and we decided that we would go and see it and this great plantation and great big house . . . (laughter) . . . and this is the kind of myth, you see, that southerners are brought up on. Everybody has an old plantation andthe houses get bigger and bigger. So, we turned aside on to a country road and found Somerville, which is an old decaying village that has a great deal of charm, but it was just moulding in the ground. It was built around a square like old New England towns and you could see that at one time before the Civil War, it must have been a charming little place. We asked about the Rice place and they knew about it, so we went out. And sure enough, there was a brick house and it consisted of two rooms with a dogtrot in between and a loft up above. That was all the brick house there was. It was brick all right. But it had two rooms and a dogtrot in the middle and upstairs was this loft. And then in the back, of course, they had the kitchen. There wasn't any great plantation at all. There was a boy here in Montgomery who was doing his Ph.D. thesis on the affect of slave ownership on the votes in the legislature before the war. So, I asked him if he would look up my grandfather whom I had heard had hundreds of slaves. So, he looked him up and found that he had twelve slaves. Thegreat plantation and the great brick mansion and the hundreds of slaves just turned out to be a perfect myth. I think that they were fairly well off and he was in the legislature and he was a public man and they probably lived very comfortably.