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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Motivation to teach at Paine College and first impressions

Young explains that part of her decision to teach at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, was fueled by her desire to understand the nature of race problems in the South. She explains that while growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, the things she learned in church and at school led her to believe in the fundamental equality of all people. While acknowledging that other members of her family with the same background did not share her views on race, she explains that her thoughts on race as well as her awareness that she knew little about race relations led her to Paine College. Here, she describes in detail her first meeting with the president of the university, who was white, and the other faculty members, who were primarily African American.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. 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

ROBERT HALL:
You felt that if you were a southerner you should know . . . ?
LOUISE YOUNG:
I should know something about it don't you see, and I knew only the servants on our place and the workers on our place, but at that time Bob Church, a Negro of mixed blood was a great Republican leader, Negro Republican leader. And I recall my father saying, I'd heard about him. I'd never seen him. That he didn't see how anybody could fail to respect Bob TAylor when he'd done so much for his people. That was all that I can remember of Negro leadership. I recall my father saying that one time. But the other thing was that our little church, Sunday school, and our home and St. Mary's where the sisters were all you might say biblical Christians in the best sense, not concerned so much about the second coming in that sense, but very should I say, sound Christians. And it was just no doubt, if you read the Bible, that all men were brothers. And this carrying on of Negroes being so different just plain doesn't fit the Bible. So that I thought of this when somebody over television introducing a sermon I suppose, and describing Jesus' childhood, and what he heard at the Synagogue, and what he heard at home. It was not a shadow of difference. And I would say the same, that there wasn't a shadow of difference between what I got at church and at school and at home. There wasn't any other way to read it. Each reinforced the other so I just couldn't understand . . .
ROBERT HALL:
Other people in your family didn't draw the same conclusion from the same teaching?
LOUISE YOUNG:
No, no they didn't. No they didn't, and I don't know how that was, but that I think explains mine. And when I got down there, to Paine, right at once. I spent the first night in a hotel in Augusta and the president met me I suppose and was taking me out the next day.
ROBERT HALL:
What was his name?
LOUISE YOUNG:
Dr. Betts, a South Carolina man, and quite a missionary family. A lot of his children and kin . . .
ROBERT HALL:
He was white?
LOUISE YOUNG:
White? Un huh. There was a white president and a white vice-president and then I. There was just the three of us and about fifteen or sixteen Negro teachers. And he was taking me out to the campus and to the first teacher's meeting. I was seeing it all. It was a . . . the school was founded about the time that Vanderbilt was. There were magnolia trees and an old brick house on the campus. But it was very sort of shabby. We went to his office and it was a very small room, not any bigger than this, and one corner of it was the bookstore. And his black secretary was sitting in the chair there. She was black, overly plump, and not very much in character for a secretary of the president of a college. And he said, he introduced me to Miss Richardson. And it was the first time I had met, face to face, a Negro with a title. I'd seen my father write the letter but I'd never heard anybody in my presence call a Negro by a title. And here I was meeting Miss Richardson who didn't look as though she suited the title. So I feebly responded. I don't know just how I responded, but I at once knew that I was not measuring up in any sense. I had just fallen on my face. So he escorted me on upstairs to the teachers. And it was an old building with long stairways landing in the midst, you see, and I said that I think this is a good test for most anybody. I had a liberal education, as I walked up those steps. I was going to meet my colleagues on the faculty, and I had come, to my mother's great grief. So I said to myself, as I walked up the steps, is that the best you can do when you come down here just practically at great cost to your mother, and if you're not going to do any better than that you'd better turn around and go home. So by the time I got to the faculty meeting I really think I'd grown quite a few inches. And in the faculty there, about sixteen or seventeen Negroes, were several very fine people. Some of them weren't so fine but several very fine, very able, well educated and just very lovely people. So that I learned a lot just to start and I taught a little of everything.