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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 >>

Comparing skin tone among African Americans in Oxford, North Carolina, and Florida

Lyons against speaks about issues of skin tone within the African American community in Oxford, North Carolina. Comparing her perception of skin tone Oxford to her perception of skin tone in Florida, Lyons suggest that race was less discernible visually in Oxford and she sites this as one reason that Oxford seemed to be more integrated than other areas in the South prior to the civil rights movement. Additionally, Lyons reflects on the role of white southern women in racial hierarchies as they developed in the South.

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

LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I tell you, when I went to Florida to teach summer school—when I went down to Florida, I was the most surprised person in the world because I had never seen as many blacks in my life. And the idea that blacks married blacks, schoolteachers and—black married black—that never happened in my lifetime up here.
EDDIE McCOY:
It didn't?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
No! You could name the black Negroes on the fingers of one hand.
EDDIE McCOY:
In Oxford.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah!
EDDIE McCOY:
Mrs. Lyons, I heard that Oxford originally was going—had got started down at Harrisburg. And what happened, I think, the terrain or they didn't like the area. And they wanted to move it where it is now but blacks owned all the property. And was the Littlejohns the only black Littlejohns in this town? Is that why the street was named "Littlejohn Street" or what?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I guess it was. They were always prosperous people.
EDDIE McCOY:
And that's why blacks own so much property. They had this area before the whites came in and took it from them.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yes. Allison Holeman—Allison Holeman's daddy was white, some white man. Sure. That's why—do you remember Allison Holeman?
EDDIE McCOY:
Yeah, I remember when she taught school. Yeah.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah. Her daddy was white.
EDDIE McCOY:
And that family prospers.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah.
EDDIE McCOY:
And a lot—most—some went to college.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Sure, sure.
EDDIE McCOY:
Well, what was the—?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I'll tell you, when I went to Florida to work, and I had never seen as many blacks in all my life. [Laughter] And a black schoolteacher marrying a black man—oooo. I'd never seen it. I couldn't get over it. Just like I said to Marie—Marie and Ed went to—Marie and—you know her boy, now what's his name—the Gregory—.
EDDIE McCOY:
Oh, [unclear] .
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
[unclear] . When they went to Mississippi last summer. And I said to her, I said, "I betcha you've never seen as many black people." She said, "Mrs. Lyon, I couldn't get over it."
EDDIE McCOY:
[Laughter] So Oxford always been integrated, ain't it?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
[Laughter] Sure, it's always been integrated! Sure!
EDDIE McCOY:
What did the white ladies do around here? Didn't they know these—their husbands—? What did they think about all these children popping up around here?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
What they going to say about it? Even when I came along, I knew that Miss Marybelle and Nannie and all those were Mama's sisters. Leonard was named for Leonard Ashton. He was named for the man that started the—what's the lumber shop?
EDDIE McCOY:
Hilltop.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah, the Hilltop. The people who started the first Hilltop. When I came down here and—it had just moved down where they are now. They were up here in the northern part of the county.
EDDIE McCOY:
What number were you as a kid in your family? Was you third child, or fourth?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
I was the baby.
EDDIE McCOY:
You was the baby.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
The tenth child.
EDDIE McCOY:
You was the tenth child.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah.
EDDIE McCOY:
And you knew all of your brothers and sisters.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah.
EDDIE McCOY:
Was all—you knew your brothers and sisters?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Sure. That's why I'm so familiar with New York. I've been to India, and I've been to New York all of my life.
EDDIE McCOY:
Oh. Well, OK. When I interview people and they talk about slavery, they always said that the white lady didn't have no choice. There wasn't anything she could do about it.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
There wasn't.
EDDIE McCOY:
That was instilled in them, or that was the way they were raised, you think?
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Well, what's she going to do about—if the husband was her bread and butter, where is she going? She couldn't take care of herself.
EDDIE McCOY:
And I heard they used to take the slaves, the house people to church and set them on the front row. And they looked after them, but they didn't do much for the people in the field. And they made sure they had proper clothes and everything.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah, sure. That's why the Stovall area is so progressive because Dr. Shaw went out there and developed it. Negroes own all that property to the Virginia line. Every bit of it. And the Antioch area because they're half-white down there, the Tylers and all of those.
EDDIE McCOY:
And the Howells.
LILLIAN TAYLOR LYONS:
Yeah.