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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Willie Mae Lee Crews, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing up in a sharecropping family

Crews describes what it was like to grow up in a sharecropping family in Alabama during the 1930s and 1940s. Crews recalls that her family suffered economically and she remembers working hard to help with household and agricultural tasks. At the same time, she also describes a happy childhood and emphasizes the positive influence of her family's close-knit relationship on her upbringing.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Willie Mae Lee Crews, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0020. 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

We are going to start by talking about how you first became interested in becoming a teacher and about your childhood.
Where do I start with that, because I was not interested in becoming a teacher until later in life? My childhood was interesting now that I look back on it. There was much hard work as a child of a share cropper, so I never had the opportunity of attending school for the full nine months. Usually seven, sometimes six and a half months because the crops had to be planted, tended and reaped. I was interested early on in the printed word in books. We had very few books. There was always a Bible. We did something in our home that I see designers doing now; we papered our walls with the pages from magazines. I learned later that the pages were not only for a pleasing appearance, but they served as insulation because these were share cropper's tenant houses. I read what was on the walls, and sometimes I would do something you would find amusing; if I found a page with part of a story I'd read that part again and again and again hoping and wishing that somehow I would find the other part of that story. Of course it was plastered against the wall, so there was no way of ever doing that. That was my interest in reading, so I find it very difficult to get rid of anything that has print on it no matter what, magazines, papers, college books I have every book I think that I have ever read all over my house and my basement. I learned a lot on the farm. I learned discipline. I learned how to manage my time well. I lived with family that loved family, so I always knew that. I lived with my grandparents the majority of the time; I didn't leave Marion until I was seventeen, and so leaving there was coming into a whole new world for me. There was also the fun of jumping into creeks and hunting muscadines and blackberries, as opposed to what the hard work was, like taking care of cows and mules, the cooking, the canning, that was difficult. I still learned discipline and that has been very important in my life. I think that all of my relatives but my first cousins were like brothers and sisters to me and my aunts and uncles were like parents, so we were a large family but we knew everybody. I don't find that to be the case as much now. There was great respect for elders and for the knowledge that they had. Going to town on Saturday was a big deal. Having major days at the churches, the anniversaries, the society turnouts with great food and getting a chance to speak to a boy, who was not allowed to come to your house, but you could talk on the church grounds. So, that was life for me growing up. For the first three years of high school there were no buses for children who lived way out in the country, so we got to school the best way we could and many times it was to walk the distance into town. My high school was founded by the American Missionary Society in 1867 and so that was the one school. The training school for black children, African Americans was in Uniontown eighteen miles away but that was established much later. The schools were designated training schools for black children and high schools for white children. So we were trainable, but not teachable. I have one brother and one sister. My sister is deceased and my brother lives here. I had two cousins that lived with us and they were brother and sister, but not biological in the sense that we lived together. That's pretty much it for growing up, I learned from my grandfather not to fear. He had no fears of anything or anybody. He was an atheist until I was ten and he was probably seventy five or so then. My grandmother was as devout as anyone can be. It was unusual for her to be as devout as she was, and she was a woman I wanted to emulate and I still do. I still would like to be the woman my grandmother was, the love, the kindnesses, and the patience.