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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Communual responsibility to care for the impoverished

Raised in New Bern, North Carolina, Lane grew up watching her parents participate in their community's life. She describes the degree of responsibility they felt for the less fortunate people around them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Turner Lane, September 9 and 16, 1986; May 21, 1987; October 1 and 28, 1987. Interview L-0039. 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

If you would, just start off and give me your name, where you were born, names of your parents, your mother's maiden name, and we'll get the genealogy down.
MARY TURNER LANE:
All right. I am Mary Turner Willis Lane. I was born in New Bern, North Carolina. My parents were Mary Turner and Albert Willis. My name reflects one of the few things that southern women did, consciously or unconsciously, to pass on their own maiden name. My mother's maiden name was Turner, so I was given her name, and yet was called by both names. After I married, I really dropped my maiden name, Willis, and was simply known as Mary Turner Lane. After I became a feminist, it was interesting to note that my mother had acted in a very feminist way, although she was totally unaware of it. I think this was a practice that was done in the South, as a way of maintaining names from the mother's family.
PAMELA DEAN:
It didn't have any feminist motivation?
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, oh, no. Only in retrospect do I see it as feminist.
PAMELA DEAN:
It was really a traditional concept?
MARY TURNER LANE:
It was a tradition. I had many friends who were given their mother's maiden names, and that's the way that part of the name stayed in the family.
PAMELA DEAN:
Were your parents from New Bern?
MARY TURNER LANE:
My parents had lived in New Bern probably five or six generations on both sides, so the family in many ways was very traditional, with roots that go back to the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War. I had a mother who was active in all of those organizations: the Daughters of the American Revolution, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and all other organizations that were considered "good works," the church being a very prominent one. My father was essentially the same way, in terms of a broad community commitment. So I grew up with a great sense of participation in a community, and I grew up in a time when the Christian ethic was really not what you said but what you did: your good works were supposed to show that you were—quote—a Christian—unquote. There was no talk about being a Christian; it was just that you behaved in particular kinds of ways, toward the needy and the poor. And living in a small town, you knew those people on a one-to-one basis; you knew who was poor, who was ill, who needed a bag of coal or a bag of food, or something of that kind. So I've always felt lucky in that I had parents who were always involved with the cultural and the community aspects, the social needs of a town, in a way that could be a model for one to follow.
PAMELA DEAN:
Could you give me some further specifics? You say, bag of food, coal—were there official church organizations, or was this a very informal…
MARY TURNER LANE:
No, all church organizations in small towns in the South had, as their component, the women of the church, who fed families, and provided Christmas boxes, and did all kinds of things like that. All small towns had civic organizations, such as the Women's Club, and there were a number of men's organizations. So the towns were organized in many ways, so that groups of people could respond to needs. There were also people who came to your homes at that time, asking for food, asking for clothing, and it was not unusual, particularly toward the end of the Depression—the Depression came late in the South, or maybe we stayed in a Depression, and never knew when we were in one or out of one—but it was not unusual for men to come to our back door and ask for food, and ask for clothes. It was routine: my mother would see that they were fed, and would give them clothes. Charity was done in a very personal way, as well as in an institutionalized way.