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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Willa V. Robinson, January 14, 2004. Interview U-0014. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Childhood absent of racial awareness

In this excerpt, Robinson remembers growing up poor in Maxton, North Carolina, but she did not know she was poor until she reached high school. Nor, she says, did she know she was black, because she grew up in a congenial environment that was racially diverse but not racially discriminatory.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Willa V. Robinson, January 14, 2004. Interview U-0014. 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

WR: Well, I didn’t realize until in later years how bad off we were for at that time it was great. [BOTH CHUCKLE.] WR: Because, as I say, everybody took care of everybody. I’ll put it that way. In the communities there was more of a togetherness than there is nowadays. All the grown ups that were old enough to be your parents were allowed to chastise you for whatever. Also, we all lived in houses that was inadequate, they say now, but at that time they were. We called them air conditioned in the wintertime because you could feed the chickens through the cracks in the floor in the kitchen. You’d wake up in the morning and take the dipper and break the ice in the water bucket. That’s just how cold it would be in your kitchen, and you had to make a fire in order to heat up. In the winter there’d be one big heater where you made a fire in there, and you banked it at night so it wouldn’t just completely go out. In the morning you would stoke it up, and add more to it, and that’s where everybody came in to wash up and get dressed. You didn’t walk around in house coat, house shoes and all of this kind of thing because the house wasn’t that comfortable. You hurried up and got your clothes on. Everyone had their own garden. They had their own chickens. A few had a cow, and everybody had hogs. You didn’t buy a lot of things from the store, so that’s why I say we were poor, but we didn’t realize it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know that I was black and I was poor until it was told to me in high school. MM: Wow. [BOTH LAUGH.] WR: I didn’t, because those things we didn’t think about. MM: Everybody around you was black? WR: No. MM: No. WR: There was Indian and white. MM: And everybody. WR: But nobody ever talked about what color you were, and we all visited each other’s homes. We played with each other’s children, and nobody said anything about the race thing. It just wasn’t talked about, and nobody made you feel inferior in my neighborhood. But as I say, once I got to high school is when I found out that I was poor and I was black.