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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembrances of Jim Crow segregation while growing up

Matthews describes what it was like to grow up in Cary, North Carolina, during the 1950s. Matthews recalls Cary as a racially segregated community, noting that all of the "blacks lived on one side, on the other side of the railroad tracks." Additionally, she describes what it was like to go downtown and face segregated facilities, which always seemed inadequate in comparison to those reserved for whites.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. 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

I wasn't thinking so much as it being broad as the changes that have taken place. I knew Cary, when I was growing up and was going to Cary High, from where Cary High is now to what in a sense is downtown area, I remember when, you probably heard where Blacks lived on one side, on the other side of the railroad tracks. That's how I knew Cary to be, was all of my Black friends were on the other side of the railroad tracks that run through downtown, or not through the middle of downtown necessarily but are right there. Well, my friends were over there on the other side of town, they were Black, and across the tracks, and to see Cary now and how it has grown and how far it has extended it's boundaries is just phenomenal. I had a friend who used to live there, Steve, and he and I talked together, his name was Steven Jones. And he lived in Black Cary proper, you know. And he was considered "old Cary" because he was originally from Cary, he always attended Cary schools, his family had lived there and that's where he grew up. And so he was always amazed also at what was happening to Cary. It's nothing like what it was then, nothing. It was very, it had a much more rural flavor to it when we were growing. Not that it was rural in the sense, but it was a small town, it was very small. And so now there's this large place, it's very, very interesting to see the growth of Cary over the years. I'm not sure that I like it. Those who are not from Cary don't have anything to compare it to and so they probably like it. But it was so quaint, is almost the word, when I was growing up. And I really liked Cary, the town itself. I don't remember so much about Cary and it's racial situation, the town, as I do about Raleigh. Because I remember going downtown, for instance, to Hudson Belk with my grandmother on Saturdays. We would always go on Saturdays. And I remember the water fountains and the bathrooms, one was labeled Colored and one was labeled White. And I remember the Colored bathroom was always filthy. I mean, it was always just dirty. And you didn't want to drink out of the water fountain either, so we would sneak a drink out of the White fountain when no one was around because it was just. Oh the crud that was down in there just wasn't clean looking. So if we did go to the bathrooms, we made sure if we had to go we waited until we got home or something. So I don't remember that much in that regard about Cary because I never went to Cary downtown. I don't know what they had down there. I just remember looking at it and I liked the way it looked. That's what I remember. So all this growth has just been phenomenal in terms of Cary. It has a very different feel to it now. Much more, and I guess it's because of the flavor of the people who have come in from outside of the South, it doesn't feel like the Cary that I knew when I was there. It feels very different now.