Interview with Beatrice Webster, April 10, 1984
Project: Goin' North: Tales of the Great Migration Oral History Project
Interview SummaryBeatrice Webster grew up on a farm in Virginia. She says that her family was poor, but they found ways to make ends meet. Her mother was a thrifty woman who bought cloth in bulk and made sure there was enough food. There was segregation where they lived but it was not strictly enforced and they had good relations with neighbors of all races. Sanitation was not very good in Webster's home town. Typhoid was common until laws were put into effect which outlined how outhouses were to be constructed and maintained. Many people traded goods and services rather than using money, and Webster's mother paid for their schooling with eggs. Church was an obligatory part of Webster's childhood. There were prayer services on the evenings during the week and on Sunday mornings. Her father made sure that she and all her siblings did their part during the services. Webster's parents each had different ideas about discipline. Webster and her darker-skinned siblings always felt their father, who was very light-skinned, was always easier on their lighter siblings. Her family was made up of mixed-race individuals which resulted in a range of skintones. Some cousins even began pretending they were white. In that sense, Webster experienced racial divides even within her own family. Racial divides were also present in Webster's hometown, but she didn't really notice it until she was older. Webster believed that the mixing of Blacks and Whites was a normal part of life dating back to the days of slavery. It seemed that children born out of wedlock and extramarital affairs were more scandalous than mixed-race children.
Webster's parents thought she was brighter than her older sisters and they wanted to send her to Philadelphia to get a better education. She then went on to help her younger sister go through high school and then college. When Webster arrived in Philadelphia in November 1910 she was 16 years old. She went to night school and worked as a cleaner at a library. Her parents emphasized the importance of going to church and staying out of trouble. Webster thought Philadelphia was beautiful and clean. She was amazed by the many high rise buildings. When she arrived in the city she spent her time cleaning in a library and attending night school. She also learned the value of saving her money from her uncle who recycled glass bottles. There was not a lot of racial tension in Webster's hometown. She found that there wasn't a great deal of racial tension in Philadelphia either. She and her husband rarely had problems. She recalled being stopped when she was going to see a movie at the Capital Theater with her son's light-skinned girlfriend. She also recalled a time in Virginia when her father was told he didn't have to sit in the back of the bus with his daughter because he was perceived as white. She didn't notice things changing when the Great Migration began in earnest. She spent most of her time working as a domestic worker. Eventually she and her husband moved to South Garnet Street, a neighborhood that became a major Italian neighborhood during that time. She said they never had problems with the Italians but eventually they had to move because they couldn't afford the neighborhood.
Interview LC SubjectAfrican Americans--Employment. Philadelphia (Pa.) African Americans--Segregation Race relations African Americans--Economic conditions. African Americans--Education. African Americans--Conduct of life. African Americans--Social conditions. Childhood African Americans--Social life and customs. African American families African Americans--Race identity. Race discrimination. African Americans--Housing. Neighborhoods. Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.
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Interview UsageInterviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Webster, Beatrice Interview by Charles Hardy, III. 10 Apr. 1984. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Webster, B. (1984, April 10). Interview by C. H. III. Goin' North: Tales of the Great Migration Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.
Webster, Beatrice, interview by Charles Hardy, III. April 10, 1984, Goin' North: Tales of the Great Migration Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
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