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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Samuel James (S. J.) and Leonia Farrar, May 28, 2003. Interview K-0652. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A light-skinned black woman draws unwanted attention from white men

Leonia remembers her mother, whose light complexion and beauty drew unwanted attention from white landowners. Her rebuff their attention drove Leonia's family from farm to farm. On these farms, the whole family chipped in, relying on hard work and talent in an environment that denied them training.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Samuel James (S. J.) and Leonia Farrar, May 28, 2003. Interview K-0652. 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

Did you all get your own plot of, were you allowed to work your own plot of land or did you, you were field hands wherever you were needed?
We were just field hands.
Didn't you rent from year to year?
Yes. And my mother, she was fair complexioned and nice looking, beautiful lady. The man owners would always want special favors from her. That's the best way to put it. That's the way you can tell it to everybody. I guess the more education, you'd put it using that kind of grammar. She wouldn't go for it. She made them keep their hands to themselves and she had to move every year because she wouldn't put up with it, from farm to farm, very small from farm to farm. There was always one of us, as the children grow older the boys would be what we call "rented out." They would work on a larger farm and be hired out to the land owner of that farm for a certain amount of dollars per year. Then you'd get twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old, then we was what we called "being pulled out of the nest" and had to work for somebody else for just a few dollars. That was the only way my mother could make it. I had seven brothers and the oldest one, the first I can remember the oldest two were already working what we called "working by the month." That's what we called it. The oldest children, especially boys was hired out. The first time I can remember they were all ten to twelve years older than myself. CT, he lived right down the street here, he was already working. My oldest brother Odell, a very talented, he could do anything with his hands, he was a machinist and was never trained to be a machinist. He could take a tractor apart, and at that time old tractors would come in and he was working with a man that was operating a sawmill, he could take that sawmill completely apart, put it back together. He was just mechanically inclined, but working for nothing.
But you all wasn't allowed to learn anything back there in those days.
No, nothing but what you could pick up. And the more talented that you was was the more you was allowed to do, if you could do it effectively. But never paid for it.