Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martina Dunford, February 18, 1999. Interview K-0142. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Witnessing blatant racism in Durham, North Carolina

Dunford talks about how dismayed she was at the "blatant" racism she witnessed upon moving to Durham, North Carolina, in 1991. Arguing that racism seemed less overt during her years spent in Norfolk, Virginia, Dunford points to lingering problems in race relations, specifically within the school system, and discusses the detrimental impact on African American children.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martina Dunford, February 18, 1999. Interview K-0142. 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

ALICIA ROUVEROL:
What did you think of Durham when you first came?
MARTINA DUNFORD:
I was like, "Oh, how racist." Really. I have been in Durham for this period of time and I declare so many things that go on here. I am like, "Jesus. How can you guys let this happen?"
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
More so than Norfolk in your opinion?
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Yes. Yes. The town is so—that's why I say. It's quiet, it's nice. It's small enough for me. And I have certain friends. It's not like knowing everybody that you grew up with all your life, and the phones all the time—and folk dropping by. It's not like this. It's comfortable for me to be here. I like that. But a lot of the issues that go on, especially concerning the white community and the black community—there are some things that I think could make some major differences and changes that people are not making, and it's blatant. It's not hidden, it's blatant. And they don't see. They won't recognize it. And I think Durham is that kind of city. I mean, just school issues.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Anything in particular that strikes you?
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Social issues, drugs and alcohol. Drugs. Communities. You can't tell me that you can dig as much information on Clinton and Monica Lewinski that you can't dig up the folk that's trafficking these drugs in these communities and selling and making it happen. Because truly we are not manufacturing it. We're selling it and distributing it, but we're not manufacturing it. So if you want to do something, you can do it. If you want to make a change—not Governor Hunt, not Ann Denlinger, who is the school superintendent—none of these people live in Few Gardens. Come down here and live for a month or two. You'd fix some things. Those people who make the standardized tests and make up these tests—come down here and live in a community that's not subjected to those kinds of things. Come down here. We've got two computers down here for the entire community. Where most kids go home and sit at the internet, we're not even hooked up to the internet. Hello. You know what I'm saying? Grocery store—people in the grocery store just push and you mean—like what happened to manners? [unclear] Excuse me, I beg your pardon, or you own everything. It's like, I was like no, no, no, no, no. These are some issues. Schools, now they've taken this entire sector of people. It takes these kids who ride the bus at least about an hour or so in the morning to get to school.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Durham's not that big.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Thank you. Even if you left here by car, left here—left Edgemont and went Neal Middle School—it'd take you fifteen minutes to get out there, twenty minutes. Now, most of these people here don't even have a car. So how are they supposed to get out there and support a system up out there? You've taken them totally out of their comfort zone and set them someplace that's unfamiliar. And you expect for them to produce [Phone ringing] [unclear] about something you expect for them—it's ridiculous, and you know that can't happen. That can't happen. It's a set up.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
A set up.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Yeah, and you can't tell me. How can you explain that? How can you explain giving a kid out here the same test that you give a kid who is not on AFDC? Who does not live in the projects? Who does not live in a system where anything could happen? Who does not live in a concrete building like this—when the heat is on you cannot even get cool so you stay outside 'til three or four o'clock in the morning in the summer months? [interruption] Could you pause this?
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
So you're saying that—where were we?
MARTINA DUNFORD:
It's blatant. It's dumb. You can't expect these kids with those characteristics and these behaviors behind them—
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
The tests.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
The behavior, the things that go on in the community like this go into a system the next day. With a difference—they go to sleep because it's comfortable for them right then and there if they spent all night up, not knowing what was going to happen. [Phone ringing] All those kind of things matter. But they don't see. And then the language, the language barrier. You call a couch a sofa. I call it a couch. So when I take a test and it says, "Name this item." I say, "couch." I'm wrong because I didn't call it a sofa. [unclear] Now—
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Yeah. To understand that.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Yeah.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
But it's there. It's sad that it happens and our kids are held accountable for it.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Kids are held back for that.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Exactly.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Or get trapped.
MARTINA DUNFORD:
Kicked out.