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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lillian Taylor Lyons, September 11, 1994. Interview Q-0094. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Lighter skin tones in Oxford result of coercive interracial relations between whites and slaves

Lyons discusses issues of skin tone among African Americans in Oxford, North Carolina. According to Lyons, many African Americans in Oxford had lighter skin tones because racial intermingling had been so common during the antebellum era. In fact, Lyons describes how her own mother was the result of a sexually coercive relationship between her grandmother and her grandmother's enslaver. According to Lyons, people rarely thought twice about such situations, pointing out that even if they had, there was nothing anyone could have done about it because "it was slavery times."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lillian Taylor Lyons, September 11, 1994. Interview Q-0094. 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

EDDIE McCOY:
Why are there so many people and families around Oxford are so much lighter than others and people resent—?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Well, just like the all the Tylers and everything. Because they intermarried. Grace Tyler intermarried and married—her husband was her cousin.
EDDIE McCOY:
Oh, that's what happened.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yes, they intermarried in the family. To keep the family white. They didn't want no [unclear] .
EDDIE McCOY:
Well, why your father went off?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Huh?
EDDIE McCOY:
Tell me about the time your father was sent away? Who was that?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
That was Papa Charles, my grandfather.
EDDIE McCOY:
Who was he working for?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
He was working at the dispensary. I don't know who the people were.
EDDIE McCOY:
What is the dispensary?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
That was the—whiskey—where they sold whiskey. They had a regular dispensary where you could buy whiskey.
EDDIE McCOY:
And he was working for a white man?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah.
EDDIE McCOY:
And he sent him to work?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Sent—he was—no, Papa Charles worked for the—they sent Papa Charles—he sent Papa Charles—he decided that he wanted Grandma, and Grandma was working for him.
EDDIE McCOY:
For Mr. Gregory?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
No, Charles Lewis, Mama's father.
EDDIE McCOY:
He was working for what white family?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I don't know.
EDDIE McCOY:
But they wanted—?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
But the Gregory man wanted Grandma.
EDDIE McCOY:
Uh-huh, and so—.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
And so, he sent Papa Charles down south to Mississippi.
EDDIE McCOY:
To do what?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
To work down there. And he had intercourse with Grandma and that's how Mama was born. That's why Mama looked like—Mama had [hair to her waist].
EDDIE McCOY:
And what did your father think when he—your grandfather think when he came back?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
What was it to think? It was slavery times.
EDDIE McCOY:
Ain't nothing he could do about it.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
It wasn't anything he could do about it.
EDDIE McCOY:
Did the Gregorys look after your mother? Was they good to her because that was his daughter?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yes, the [unclear] sisters knew it. The family that lives next door, the—my grandfather, Mama's father, Charles Gregory, lived in the gray and white house on the corner of College and Forest Avenue. He lived there and his daughter, Marybelle, lived in the next house. Her husband was a lawyer. He lived right—the house that's right beside the—where the minister lives.
EDDIE McCOY:
Timberlake.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah, right beside where Timberlake lives. And across the street, the [Minors] own the property where the undertaker shop is and the next house, one of the Gregory girls married [Ashton]—what in the world was his name? Leonard was named for him. Married the man that had the beginning of the carpenter shop where Hillside is now?
EDDIE McCOY:
Hilltop Lumber Company.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Hilltop Lumber Company.
EDDIE McCOY:
So, your mother had white half-sisters.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yes, and they knew it. They knew—all of them. They knew that Mama was [unclear] Charles Gregory's. His son owned a big house out in Stovall. He was the one that declared that he was going to burn the school down if they ever had Negroes out there.
EDDIE McCOY:
And he had a half black sister.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
And that Mama was his sister. Everybody knew it.
EDDIE McCOY:
She was the maid?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
No, Grandma worked for them. And how they got married, Papa Charles, his people came from Lewis.
EDDIE McCOY:
Lewis's.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Lewis's. That's right, the name Lewis. The Lewises and the Gregorys owned all that part of Granville County.
EDDIE McCOY:
Uh-huh. And he went to Mississippi.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
They sent him down to Mississippi and when he came back, Grandma had Mama. Cause she had two brothers, Uncle Handy and—what was—Uncle Albert. And Uncle Handy just died. He lived up—the house that Mr. Lloyd owns over here for rent next to his house. That's where Uncle Handy and Aunt—what was her name? I can't think of Uncle Handy's wife's name. Lived over there in that house. Mrs. Lyons, that's why they talk about Antioch was named Howelltown, and all those people out there was light skinned, too, and there never was slavery in that part of Granville County. We have a lot of pockets of Granville County that it wasn't slavery and because it was free-issue slaves like Jerome Anderson. They came from the [unclear] farm. They own all that land out there throughout their families, [Hattie Hester], and they was free-issue slaves and that's the way it was. They was free-issue people, and they call it "issue" and "Antioch". Why did we have such pockets of that in this county, and so many light skinned people? Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was the blackest thing in my group at school til I [went elsewhere]. I was—Lucille [Boyd], Lucille Shepherd, Annie, Effie Anderson. Anderson whose daddy was white, that lived where—the Anderson man that had the barber shop uptown that was downstairs.
EDDIE McCOY:
That basement barber shop.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah, Leonard worked there. Leonard and Gus [Burton] worked there shining shoes.
EDDIE McCOY:
And you was the darkest kid in your class?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
In my social group.
EDDIE McCOY:
[Laughter]
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I was the blackest one. All of the rest of them had straight hair—Effie Anderson, Lucille [Hall], Annie Davis. Those were the closest children to me.