Title: Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015.
Interviewer: Weare, Walter
Interviewee: Turner, Viola
Subjects: African Americans--North Carolina--Durham--Social life and customs African American insurance agents--North Carolina
Abstract: In this part of an extended interview, Viola Turner, treasurer of North Carolina Mutual Insurance, reflects on her childhood in Macon, Georgia. Born on February 17, 1900, Turner was the only child of her African American teenage parents. Her remembrances are of those of a joyous childhood in which her mother encouraged her to excel in school. In her vivid depictions of Macon, Georgia, Turner describes a town in which segregation was not acutely visible. She was largely unaware of racial discrimination during her childhood. Nevertheless, she discusses at length her perceptions of skin color and the ways in which some of her lighter-toned African American friends were often treated differently than those with darker skin. Educated at the American Missionary Association schools and Morris Brown, Turner's first job was as an administrative assistant at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in the summer of 1920. Shortly thereafter she took a job working for the Superintendent of Negro Education for the State of Mississippi, which she held for six months before going to work for the new branch of North Carolina Mutual that opened in Oklahoma City in 1920. Turner eventually settled in Durham, North Carolina. The latter portion of this interview focuses on her descriptions of entertainment and race relations. Specifically, Turner describes her interaction with various black performers and her experiences attending both black and white theaters in Durham. In addition, she explains her friendship with Eula Perry—who could easily "pass" for white—and the reactions their friendship elicited from various observers.