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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Balancing family and social activism

MacLachlan talks about how her mother tried to balance her work in social activism with her family responsibilities. Although she became actively involved in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching later on in the 1930s, MacLachlan recalls that her mother's primary focus was on her children during the 1910s and 1920s when MacLachlan was growing up. MacLachlan also notes here that although her mother discussed her concerns about lynching and racial violence with her later on, she was protected from such topics as a child.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emily S. MacLachlan, July 16, 1974. Interview G-0038. 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:
What do you remember your mother saying about Jessie Daniel Ames?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Well, she admired her very much and worked very closely with her. She felt that this was something that very much needed to be done. And she used to travel back and forth to the Atlanta meetings of the Southern Racial Commission. Dr. Will Alexander, as you know, was in charge. And she used to speak a lot about the Rosenwald people who were funding it. And it was really one of the activities that my mother did. I don't know whether you would say it was the foremost thing she did, she did a lot of things. I think her main interest was in running her own family and taking care of her children. My mother was a spartan. She never believed in demonstrating her affection openly, but she demonstrated her affection for children by always having a well run house or good meals, everything done on time and required us to be neat and on time and to never show any discouragement. We had always to be cheerful and she said that it was "our duty to be cheerful, even though you didn't feel like it." [Laughter] She was a disciplinarian.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she feel any conflicts between the time that she devoted to things like the anti-lynching movement and the time she devoted to her family?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
That's an interesting question. I imagine she did, because in those days you were supposed to put your family first.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And she did.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
She did.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She probably made sacrifices in that direction.
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
Well, it wasn't easy in those days to travel to Atlanta and back. I suppose that she did it on the train, I guess that those were days when trains were running. I'm sure that she did it on the train. And so, it took away from her time at home. You didn't have the kind of servants that you could just leave and they would run things, you know. You had to be directing there. They had so many problems of their own. I remember that we had a cook that cooked for us for many, many years. She was a marvelous cook named Fanny. And she came in tears to my mother once and told her, confessed that the doctor said that she had an advanced case of venereal disease and she would have to stop cooking for us. And my mother saw to it that she had medical care and she was taken care of. I guess that by that time they had learned what to do about it. They didn't know about the anti-biotics, but they knew about something else.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you never home again, then, after …
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
I was home during vacations.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You were home during vacations. Do you remember lynchings taking place in Mississippi? That your mother investigated or was really concerned about, incidents like that?
EMILY S. MACHLACHLAN:
It wasn't talked about. Lynchings were not talked about in the household. They were in the paper, you know. I really didn't understand the seriousness of the problem of lynching until I did graduate work here in the sociology department. I did know about the history of lynching and how many had taken place, the statistics of it. I was very protected, over protected, I guess, as a girl. A little girl from Mississippi was not supposed to know about the harsh things of life. Perhaps I was too lightheaded and … little girls are concerned with their own crowd and movies and their studies. I don't remember my mother talking to me seriously about lynching when I was young, but when I became a student of sociology, she did talk to me about it. And she impressed on me that her mother had felt this way about black people. They had suffered so much and that there must be something that could be done about it. She did talk to me when I was grown up.