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Oral History Interview with Lawrence Ridgle, June 9, 1999. Interview K-0144. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    This is the second of two interviews with Lawrence Ridgle, who spent most of his life living in Durham, North Carolina. Ridgle begins this interview by offering a detailed description of his father's work with the American Tobacco Company, explaining that his father had a fairly good job with the company, considering the opportunities open to African Americans at the time. Following in their father's footsteps, Ridgle's sister also worked for the American Tobacco Company, she for more than forty years. Initially employed as a cleaning woman, Ridgle's sister eventually rose in the ranks of the company to become the first African American foreman. In chronicling her unique achievements, Ridgle argues that her success was a source of tension for some African American workers, who dubbed her "the slave driver." Ridgle shifts to a discussion of his years spent in the army, arguing that much like his sister, he covered new ground in the area of African American leadership. After first serving as a noncommissioned officer over an all-black battalion in the army, Ridgle presided over one of the first integrated battalions during the early 1950s. He offers numerous anecdotes about his experiences in the army, including the racial tensions he witnessed. Ridgle devotes the last third of the interview to a discussion of his thoughts on the state of affairs for the African American community at the time of this 1999 interview, focusing primarily on the impact of demographic changes resulting from a rapidly growing Latino population. In outlining some of the emerging tensions between African Americans and Latinos, Ridgle argues that Latinos offered a good example of industrious behavior for African Americans and expresses his hope that the two groups could learn from one another. Asserting his belief that urban renewal in Durham was detrimental to African Americans, Ridgle also spends considerable time explaining his disdain for the current welfare system and his perception of drug abuse in Durham, arguing that both contributed to the decline of the African American community. The interview concludes with Ridgle's ideas for promoting alliances between African Americans, Latinos, and poor whites to work together for the benefit of all three marginalized groups.
  • Opportunities for African Americans and father's job at American Tobacco Company
  • Sister becomes first African American foreman at American Tobacco Company
  • African American non-commissioned officer in the newly integrated army
  • Negative impact of urban renewal and opposition to welfare
  • Impact of rapidly growing Latino population in Durham
  • Benefits of African Americans, Latinos, and poor whites working together
  • Role of the church and politics in community building
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  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.