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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 3, 1999. Interview K-0143. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing up in a close-knit African American community

Ridgle discusses his life as a child in Durham, North Carolina. Ridgle emphasizes community togetherness, arguing that most of his neighbors were poor and worked to help one another during trying times. In addition, he describes the various things people did to earn money during the Great Depression when many were plagued by unemployment. Finally, Ridgle discusses his views on welfare, which he returns to at several points later on in the interview.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 3, 1999. Interview K-0143. 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

Do you want to go ahead and start with when and where you were born here and coming up here in the community? What the community was like at that point.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
Okay. You want name and age and whatever.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Sure, yeah, yeah. I might actually. You know, Mr. Ridgles, I might move this telephone because sometimes hand-held telephones do weird things to the computer, ah the—
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
They do weird things period.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
That's true. Yeah. Great. Okay, go ahead.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
My name is Lawrence Ridgle, Jr. I was born 1931. I was born in Durham. Lived in Durham all of my life. I was born about a block from Main Street in an area they call Peach Tree Alley. I stayed there until, I guess, I might have been three or four years old. And it there was kind of ghetto type place. And my father being the man that he was he moved us over to where I live right now and been there since 1935. This was like a rural area when we first moved back here in the thirties. It—I don't guess there was more than nine or ten houses on the whole street. We thought it was the country. Right across in front of me where I live now there was a big wooded area. I guess two hundred, three hundred yards over there we had—that's where our hog bins were. Everybody over here had hogs. We had cows. So, I guess, this was the country in that sense. When I moved over here it was real quiet. People were real closely knit neighbors. For instance, it was a taboo in this neighborhood to walk the street and see a neighbor and didn't speak, a child—boy, you'd get a whooping for that because that neighbor would call your mother—well, we didn't have telephones. But they'd come by one evening, the neighbors. And you would see them coming and you knew she was going to tell something on you. Tell you, "You know that little ol boy passed right by my house and he didn't even speak." As a kid I thought this neighborhood stunk because the neighbors were just meddlesome. They'd get everybody to know what everybody was doing. Everybody was concerned for each other. The people over here were very, very poor and they did a lot of sharing: borrow a cup of sugar, or a piece of meat, go in the garden and get some beans and some corn or whatever they had. And I just remember my mother, she was real—I guess she was considered to be—for lack of a better word, a patron saint, because my mother would—. They were doing it right after the Hoover days when times were hard and a lot of men didn't have work. They just didn't have no work for people because—. I don't know. Nobody over here that you could classify as we do today as welfare recipients or—. They didn't—lazy. I don't think we had any people like that in this neighborhood because everybody tried. Right beside my house here there were some men—one of them was my godfather. And several men in this community, they had children, but they couldn't find jobs. They went looking for jobs everyday. And they didn't find jobs but they would find something to do. Now these men, I've thought about it afterward—the neighbor [unclear] because they made ends meet out of nothing. They didn't get no food stamps and they didn't get no welfare but their family survived. These factories around here like the American Tobacco Company, Liggett & Myers, at that time they used a little thing called a band that you put around [unclear] to keep it from opening once you put the tobacco in it. And it didn't have metal bands back then. You had to make wooden bands. And these men I'm talking about they used to go down in the woods. And there's a certain type tree. I think it's an elm. Whatever it is, it's the type tree that you can bend. You can—they take long strips out of it and they could make hoops out of them. This is what they fastened the barrels with. And these men used to go in the woods with a cross cut saw and an axe. And they made them some little tables out here. And they had made some homemade knives that they shaved and planed down because they had to be smooth. I used to see them sitting out there when I was a kid not knowing that they were trying to support their family. But they couldn't get jobs so they—. And it was real hard work and they got fifteen cents for-
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
And they were doing this for the companies?
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
For the companies.
ALICIA ROUVEROL:
Working at home.
LAWRENCE RIDGLE:
Yes. Anybody could do it. You know, like, well, the tobacco industry was blooming in that day. And they needed—without those bands they couldn't house the tobacco. And the tobacco that they raised—like this year, they might not use it for ten years. They have to store it. And they had to have those hoop-type things to fasten the barrel. And some of the men did it, too. That was the only way they could make money. And it was hard work. And they had almost primitive tools. You know, an axe, a mole, and these little knives that they made. And they used to sit on the benches and they'd just have shavings and shavings. And then they would even save the shavings and they'd put them in baskets and they'd sell them to the butcher shop, butcher man. And this is how they improvised. And I think about how we are today and I kind of hate the government for intervening for people because back then people didn't have nothing, but we made it. And that's why I praise this neighborhood because thanks to Uncle Sam and my way of living my life, I've been a lot of places. But when I really looked at how things are or how things were, this was a beautiful place to live. And I guess the most things that we had was the love of the community. We had a little white church down there, which is one of the biggest churches in Durham now. But that church served as—I don't know. It was something sacred to the community. The church was where we went to—for help when people got real down and couldn't make it. They had a lot of children. They'd stick [unclear] with the church. You look to the church for what the government tried to do and they made it work. I used to think grown people were too nosey because they would watch you like a hawk in this neighborhood. And if you got out of line, like, disrespect, curse, or something like that, somebody's was going to tell your people. I think it was for the best. There wasn't anybody in competition with anybody like I see today. I think it was two automobiles on the street, three. And people weren't jealous or trying to outdo. I don't think at that time, we didn't have but about maybe two homeowners on this street that owned their home. And people weren't, you know, like today everybody's trying to build a big house, have the most cars. It wasn't like that. Even the people that we thought were well off, we looked up to them because they owned their house and they had bathtubs in their house, which was unheard of. They had electric lights. We had lamps and oil. We kind of looked up to those people. But they were lucky to have—but I've learnt since then that in some of the word they living worse than we were.