Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing awareness of racial discrimination

Turner explains how she finally became cognizant of racial discrimination in her own life. Earlier, Turner described how she had been largely unconscious of racial segregation and its consequences as a child. This continued to be something that was "nebulous" in her life, she remembers, until she went to Morris Brown in Atlanta, Georgia. While attending Morris Brown, Turner heard Heiman Perry of Standard Life Insurance speak about the importance of voting. At this point, as a young adult, Turner states she finally began to recognize how African Americans had been denied their civil rights. For her, being in Atlanta—"the business center of black America"—was an especially formative experience in terms of her growing awareness of race relations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Viola Turner, April 15, 1979. Interview C-0015. 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

You know, when I really became fully aware, I'm quite sure there must have been some incident somewhere along the way that made me know that I couldn't do something. I imagine that it was so nebulous, or happened so rarely, that I didn't get the things together. I just can't imagine that I was seventeen before I had some awareness of it. But, actually when I was fully aware was when I got to Morris Brown. Now, there were people in Atlanta. Atlanta was really the business center of black America. A man named Harry Pace and another man-can't think of his name now-they had an insurance company . . . .
Heiman Perry?
Heiman Perry. Standard Life-at the time it was changed to something else so I was getting confused, but that's right. And another man, Ben Davis. If you know anything about Atlanta, you know. Ben Davis was a newspaper man. He was speaker of the truth, loud, wide and handsome. And he was also a politician, and apparently a very smart, smart man. I never knew him. I don't recall that I ever saw him. I saw Heiman Perry, and I knew Harry Pace because he came to the school on one occasion, to really talk to us about the power of the vote, and the need to exercise your franchise, and that sort of thing. So that's when, really, my attention was focussed on the fact that I had rights and that I had a need to recognise that I had them and to protect them. Even, I remember, they brought paper ballots on one occasion, to show us how to vote, what you would do. And one of the discussions came up at that time: there was to be vote about cyclorama. I think the cyclorama then was supposed to be depicting the Civil War. Memory's right good, huh? Because I wasn't sure; it's been years since I thought of that. But at any rate, it was discussed greatly at Morris Brown. And why you should vote against, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And what it all meant, and the significance of this, that, and the other thing. Of course we couldn't vote. But we were right there indoctrinated to know you did have some rights, that these are things you have to know, and should know about. And I think, as I recall, they did have a vote over it, and it was defeated by the citizenry of Atlanta. But that was really and truly my first recognition that I had been living in a dream world.