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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of mother as a strong, moral influence

In this excerpt, Morris describes her mother as a strong, moral influence in her life. Trained as a school teacher, Morris's mother did not work outside of the home when Morris and her sister were young, but instead taught them at home before they went to public school. Later, her mother worked to educate adults through a federal program. According to Morris, her mother was a strong woman who was very much a leader in the family and the example she set informed the career and life decisions Morris made for herself later.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Naomi Elizabeth Morris, November 11 and 16, 1982, and March 29, 1983. Interview B-0050. 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

Judge Morris, the first thing that I was thinking it would be interesting to talk about, as we sit here this afternoon three weeks before your birthday, are your father and your mother. You're the daughter of Blanche Beatrix Boyce, and I thought it would be interesting if you could just think for a little while out loud about her, the kind of woman that she was. I'm interested in how old she was when she had you, what kind of a person she is, if you think that you're like her in certain ways. Tell me about her.
Mother was a schoolteacher, and she was twenty-nine years old when I was born. She was born in Edenton, North Carolina. Her father was a farmer, and she left Edenton in 1914, I believe it was, to go to college, and she only returned there for visits after that. She taught in the county for a while and then went to Spring Hope, North Carolina, to teach, and that's where she met my father. At that time, Spring Hope had a tobacco market, and my grandfather was in the tobacco business-he had two tobacco warehouses in Spring Hope-and my father was in business with my grandfather. Mother was teaching there, and they met and were married just before my father went across the waters to fight in the First World War. After he came back from France, the market in Spring Hope was closed a few years thereafter, and they moved to Wilson. I was born in 1921, and they moved to Wilson when I was less than a year old, so the market in Spring Hope was closed, apparently, in 1920 or '21. They moved to Wilson, and my father continued with the tobacco business. He was with Center Brick Warehouse for a while. Mother did not teach anymore after she was married. She felt that it was necessary for her to be at home with my sister and me, and we were very pleased that she didn't teach. But at the time of the Depression, things were friends and sat down, as though I were going to be a student, and was terribly disappointed when she had to come get me and take me out. She saw how disappointed I was, so she went to the principal, whom she of course knew, and they worked out a plan under which Mother was going to teach me and check with the teacher periodically, and if I was up with the class after Christmas I could go on in in January. She had regular times for me to have my lessons, and if I didn't come, which I didn't one time, I was punished, and it was the first punishment I got in school. I was playing in the sandbox with the little boy across the street and didn't want to come for my lesson, so she switched me, and I didn't do that any more.
Where would you have your lessons, at the kitchen table?
I don't remember that. In the living room, I guess. We had a big library table; I guess it was there. At any rate, she was an excellent teacher. Of course, I knew how to read. She had taught me to read before I was six. But we had a grand time, and I had sort of learned along with my sister, who was one year ahead of me in school. She taught me, and I entered school in the first grade in January, and at the end I was up with the class. In fact, I was a tad ahead of them, so Mother always told me. At any rate, at the end of the year they wanted me to skip a year, and my mother wouldn't let me, and I'm so grateful that she didn't, because I was small and the youngest one in the class anyhow. She felt that it would not be in my best interest to skip a grade, and she was absolutely right. I went on in the second grade,though sometimes I had the advantage of knowing some of the material because I still learned along with my sister when she was working on her lessons. I got along fairly well; I had no problems. Mother then didn't do any teaching until. . . . I don't remember the year, but at a period of time, and I'm reasonably certain it was after the Depression had started to work itself out. At any rate, within a period of time back in those days, there was a program by the federal government to teach adults who had not had an opportunity to go to school. Mother volunteered for that program and taught. In Wilson there were many people, although we didn't know it, who could not write their name or couldn't read. She taught a group of men and women at night, and it was a real challenge for her, and she enjoyed it thoroughly and obviously was a good teacher, because her students would call her. They'd get involved in a simple arithmetic problem, whether eight and ten are eighteen or twenty-eight, and they'd get fussing and they'd call her to settle the argument. She taught many of them to read and to sign their name. The thing that I recall so vividly was how proud she said they were when they could finally write their name and when they could read a newspaper, even the headline. I'm convinced that she was an excellent teacher. She was an excellent teacher in many ways. She had a strong moral character, and I think that was taught her by her own parents. My grandmother was a strong moral character but had a lot of humor about her, too. My mother taught by precept and example, as well as from the printed page. She was a true lady in every sense of the word, in my opinion, and I think that's what everybody who knew her would say. She was ill for the last, possibly, fifteen or eighteen years of her life, not an invalid, but ill. She had a heart attack the year after I finished law school, a very severe heart attack, and, although she recovered from that, she from that point on began to have illnesses, heart problems anda light stroke and then a more severe stroke, but recovered from all of them except the last stroke, and had to have somebody with her during the last years of her life, although she was never an invalid. She still could play bridge. She couldn't drive a car, but she had someone to drive it for her. She loved life; she was willing to accept most any challenge that came her way; she was just a really fine person. She expected a lot of her children, and as a result she got a lot. She was perfectly capable of saying no and standing by it. When I was a child, we were never allowed to sleep late on Saturdays. We got up on Saturdays and Sundays the same time we did any other day. Although we had help at the house, we had our jobs to do on Saturday. I know now that she had a difficult time finding things for us to do, to give us responsibility. It didn't make any difference who came or who came by for us or whatever; until we had done our little chores, we could not leave on Saturday morning. I remember one Saturday morning she had told me to wash my underwear, and I was doing it but complaining every step of the way, because some people had come by and were waiting for me. I said, "Well, Mother, why can't Nellie do this for me?" Nellie was the maid. She said, "Well, of course, Nellie could do it for you, but it wouldn't do you any good." And I thought, "Well, that's the silliest statement I've ever heard," but now I know exactly what she meant, and she was exactly right. It was her way of teaching us responsibility, and it worked. She was an unusual person but a very fine lady. She had a multitude of friends, and I never heard anybody say anything about her. If I had, I probably would have knocked them down. Even the nurses who were with her in the last days of her illness said that she would remain a lady until she drew her last breath, which I thought was a fine compliment, and she did.