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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Julia Peaks de-Heer, January 8, 1999. Interview K-0146. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Moving from the country to a city neighborhood

de-Heer talks about moving to Hopkins Street in Durham, North Carolina, after having spent her early childhood in Stagville. de-Heer explains how she was initially wary of leaving a rural area for the city, but quickly felt at home in the close-knit neighborhood. Throughout the interview, de-Heer stresses the importance of community; her comments here are indicative of how her neighborhood experiences were particularly formative in developing her ideas about the role of the community later in life.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Julia Peaks de-Heer, January 8, 1999. Interview K-0146. 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

JILL HEMMING:
And your family. Tell me a little bit about them.
JULIA PEAKS DE-HEER:
Yes. My parents, actually my parents J. C. and Mary Peaks—my mother's maiden name was Hafkins—and she married my father. We lived in a place when I was younger called Stagville. That is in the county of Durham. We lived in a log cabin. And my father, around the 40s, I was very young, but I remember my father and mother working in tobacco. And we would come home in the evening and my father—while he would wash up and we would play, my mother prepared dinner. And I loved that. Then the big move came. My father had gotten a job with the Nello Teer, it's a construction company. He was working with the water pipe line, which he worked with that company for about thirty-five years. Anyway, when we moved this broke up the family unit. We moved to Hopkins Street, 728 Hopkins Street. It was like moving from the country to the city. That was kind of hard on me, hard for me to accept, moving to the city because I was used to the openness—you know—like the grass and the trees and being outside and running, and just running and playing. And playing in the creeks. I loved the outside so when we moved to the city it was devastating to me. Because I said, "Oh no." But fortunately, my grandmother still lived I the country so in the summer I could go back to the country. And I always did that. But after a while I got used to living on Hopkins Street. My mother tried to make it as pleasant as possible. And she played little games with us, with me and my sisters and brothers to try to keep the fun thing. But nothing took the place of the country for me. I'll never forget that. I'm one of the ones that say, "You can take a girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl." And that's me. I've traveled a lot, extensively. I lived in New York. I lived in Maryland. I lived in Canada. But all that—I decided to come back home. But back to Hopkins Street. It was nice. It was nice there because it was like a family. Everyone. Once we got to know, once I could relax and say, "Hey, I've got to make the best of this. This is where we are going to be." And my mother explained to me that my father had a job, a better opportunity and we took it. So we lived there. I said, "Well, okay."
JILL HEMMING:
What were the circumstances of the farming that your parents did around Stagville? Was that family owned land, or—
JULIA PEAKS DE-HEER:
No, it was working with the people. Working for someone else as a tobacco hand or something like this. So when he got this other job it was more money, making more money and we would have other things. But I'm a child. I didn't understand this. I just knew it was nothing like it was at that time. But after they explained this to me, I said, "Oh, okay." You know, "You remember the little doll that you wanted, now we can get some of the things that you want." I said, "Okay, so this is better." I started looking at Hopkins Street a little closer then. I began to feel the people out and the children.
JILL HEMMING:
How old were you then?
JULIA PEAKS DE-HEER:
I was eight years old when I moved.
JILL HEMMING:
And your parents bought the house? Or did they rent to own?
JULIA PEAKS DE-HEER:
Rent to own the house. Yes. I just ran from one end of the street to the other. Just ran. I'll never forget that. I guess, I don't know why. I think it was to let people know that, hey, I'm here in this new place. [Laughter] But finally we got to meet the people. And next door to where we lived was a very old lady. She was sweet as she could be. Mother White. We used to call her Mother White. She was really old. Her hair was gray. She reminded me of Cecily Tyson, that picture she played. Her little white hair and stuff. She kept everybody in the neighborhood in order. That was the mother of the neighborhood. I used to visit her. I always loved to listen to older people talk. Always. I could just like lay on the porch and just listen to them talk. I always was a stickler for history.
JILL HEMMING:
How many older people were there in the neighborhood at that time.
JULIA PEAKS DE-HEER:
Oh, we had Mother White. We had Miss Holloway, Mr. and Mrs. Calhoun. One, two, three, four, five, six—eight that I can remember. And the others were married couples with children. And we got to meet, I got to meet the children. It was—we became a family. You know, like a family. We played together. It was nice and clean. Grass. And if one person didn't have grass one of the neighbors would come over and say, "Well, here, you can do this." Talk to my father and show him what to do to get grass in our yard. In the back we had a garden, so part of the country did dome with us. [Laughter] And I was happy for that. And we helped, you know, you'd see the people helping each other. If one didn't have something, two or three would go over, like sharing. A community together. It was a bond. It became a bond. And we were safe. We could play in the street. We didn't have to worry about the cars flying down the street. It was a—you know—now that I think about it as I am talking about it, it was a respect for one another. That's what it really was. A respect and appreciation. Really a love for one another that the people had when I was a child. It wasn't that I have it and you don't. I have it so let's share. I know how to do this so we're going to help our neighbors. We're going to show our neighbors. And this is what on Hopkins Street I was brought up around. People helping people.