Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Beatrice Webster, April 10, 1984

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - On coming to Philadelphia for a better education and becoming a nurse

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Partial Transcript: The schools in the vicinity where I lived in Virginia...

Segment Synopsis: Beatrice Webster came to Philadelphia from Virginia in order to get an education. There were no high schools near her hometown. She lived with her mother's cousin in South Philadelphia while she went to night school. Eventually she became a nurse, and married a man named Cecil Webster. Even after she retired, she continued to volunteer her nursing skills.

Keywords: Education; Nursing; Philadelphia; South Philadelphia, Pa.; Virginia

Subjects: African American nurses.; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:01:49 - Growing up on a farm in Virginia and making ends meet

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Partial Transcript: But I, I got along fine then.

Segment Synopsis: Webster's 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.

Keywords: Childhood; Farms; Segregation; Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood; Race relations

00:03:08 - A childhood spent helping sick neighbors

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Partial Transcript: And my mother started my brother and I out...

Segment Synopsis: Webster spent her childhood helping sickly neighbors. They delivered food and helped clean those who couldn't bathe themselves. Even after she moved to Philadelphia, she helped her neighbors whenever she visited her hometown.

Keywords: Childhood; Christmas; Nursing; Sanitation; Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African American nurses.; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Health and hygiene.; Childhood

00:04:17 - Hometown issues: sanitation, access to education, and alternate forms of payment

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Partial Transcript: And as far as sanitation is concerned, around home...

Segment Synopsis: 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.

Keywords: Lynchburg (Va.); Outhouses; Sanitation; Typhoid Fever; Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Health and hygiene.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood

00:05:39 - The mountain folk and the covered-wagon yard

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Partial Transcript: One thing though, that we were possessed with near my home...

Segment Synopsis: They had a wagon yard nearby where men and women from the mountains stopped on their way down to Lynchburg. Oftentimes Webster's family would allow women from the wagon yard to sleep in their house and the women would repay them with bolts of fabric or other goods on their way back to the mountains. While the mountain folk were a rowdy bunch who liked to drink in excess, they never bothered Webster or her friends.

Keywords: Bartering; Covered wagons; Lynchburg (Va.); Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood

00:07:22 - Buying and selling goods in Lynchburg, Virginia

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Partial Transcript: But, uh, I enjoyed it when my mother would go to Lynchburg...

Segment Synopsis: Webster never liked accompanying her mother to market days in Lynchburg, but she loved when her mother brought back exotic treats like bananas and oranges. It wasn't as easy to get exotic fruits in Lynchburg as it was in Richmond or Norfolk.

Keywords: Lynchburg (Va.); Norfolk (Va.); Richmond (Va.); Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Economic conditions.; Childhood

00:08:54 - Going to church and Sunday school

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Partial Transcript: And of course we had to go to church, Sunday school or something...

Segment Synopsis: 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.

Keywords: Childhood; Church

Subjects: African American churches; African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Religion.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Childhood

00:10:08 - Recollections of her family and their neighbors in Virginia

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Partial Transcript: He would be doing the praying...

Segment Synopsis: Webster had a pleasant childhood. They were fortunate enough to have some small comforts like an icebox and the occasional steak dinner. They did their best to try and help their less fortunate neighbors. They knew some who lived in conditions akin to slavery and others who lived in squalor. Her mother made sure that they kept their home clean regardless of their financial status. Webster also reflects on the accident her mother had, when a car hit her wagon. In spite of the negative impact it had on her health, Webster's mother maintained her high standards for cleanliness.

Keywords: Baptist Church; Cars; Food; Housework; Lynchburg (Va.)

Subjects: African American churches; African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Health and hygiene.; African Americans--Religion.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood

00:14:39 - Making butter and dealing with the flies

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Partial Transcript: That was life, that was, that was. And after we left home...

Segment Synopsis: Webster never liked the milk and butter that characterized Homecoming picnics she attended. Churning milk into butter attracted flies and there was never a fool-proof way to keep the flies out of the butter.

Keywords: Butter-making; Food; Homecoming

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Childhood

00:16:03 - Racial divides in her family and in Virginia

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Partial Transcript: But the nicest part was about--I know my mother and father...

Segment Synopsis: 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.

Keywords: "Issues"; "Passing" for white; Colorism; Interracial relationships; Miscegenation; Segregation; Slavery

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Genealogy.; African Americans--Race identity.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood; Race discrimination.; Race relations

00:26:35 - On misbehaving in her youth

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Partial Transcript: They would s, they would say anything they think...

Segment Synopsis: Webster's parents were strict but she and her siblings found ways to get around their parents' rules. She and her sisters would ride to church with the other young people so they could talk to boys.

Keywords: Childhood; Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Recreation; African Americans--Social conditions.; African Americans--Social life and customs.; Childhood

00:28:11 - How Webster's father became a farmer and what makes up a farm in Virginia

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Partial Transcript: Now you say that your, your father, um, owned his own farm.

Segment Synopsis: Webster's father and her mother's brother got together and bought land to farm around her mother's childhood home. Farming was hard work and required many many people, especially during the harvest. Webster's father and uncle split the land and her father got all the existing buildings while her uncle built new ones.

[There are 20 seconds of silence at 31:17]

Keywords: Education; Farming; Sharecropping; Tobacco farming; Tobacco farms; Wheat farming

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; Childhood; Family farms; Traditional farming

00:32:28 - The decision to send Webster up to Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: So then um, so then, he owned his own farm.

Segment Synopsis: 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.

Keywords: Education; Pemberton Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Philadelphia (Pa.); Washington, D.C.

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:34:43 - On visiting her hometown in Virginia and visiting family

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Partial Transcript: The same kind of advice...

Segment Synopsis: Webster rarely missed an opportunity to visit her hometown in Virginia. She would return home to help take care of the cemetery at their church. She also liked traveling to other places as well. When she moved to Philadelphia she lived on Pemberton Street with her mother's cousin. Her mother's cousin worked as a governess and her employer didn't realize she was Black until they met Webster. Webster also noted that down in Virginia, African Americans had to pay a dollar to vote and prove they could read by reading the U.S. Constitution.

Keywords: Detroit (Mich.); Going home; Governess; Literacy tests; Miscegenation; Pemberton Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Racial identity; Segregation; Voting

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Race relations; Suffrage.

00:39:31 - First impressions of Philadelphia in 1910

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Partial Transcript: So when--what, what did you do when you first arrived in the city?

Segment Synopsis: 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.

Keywords: Education; Washington, D.C.

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Employment.; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:42:46 - Comparing race relations in Lynchburg, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Partial Transcript: Now, you say where you grew up outside of Lynchburg, Virginia...

Segment Synopsis: 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.

Keywords: 1324 and 1326 S Garnet Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); 19th and Wharton (Philadelphia, Pa.); Broad and South (Philadelphia, Pa.); Capital Theater; Church; Domestic work; Girard Ave and 40th Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Italian Americans--Philadelphia; Lynchburg (Va.); N 52nd St and W Stiles St (Philadelphia, Pa.); Public transportation; Segregation; Segregation in Philadelphia; Virginia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Race identity.; African Americans--Relations with Italian Americans; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Race relations

00:50:55 - Moving to areas of Philadelphia where Blacks were not welcomed

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Partial Transcript: So where did people move then when they--when the houses were bought?

Segment Synopsis: When the Italians bought many of the houses in the neighborhood where Webster and her husband lived, they and many of their Black neighbors moved out. The Websters moved several times, but in 1929 they moved into the house where they would live for the rest of their lives. The neighborhood was mostly white but they never had any problems. They knew of Black families nearby that faced racism and even outright violence for moving into nearby neighborhoods.

Keywords: 1300 Block N Alden Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); N 23rd and Spring Garden Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); N 55th and W Thompson Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); N Redfield Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Schuylkill Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Segregation; Segregation in Philadelphia; Segregation: Housing

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Relations with Italian Americans; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Race relations

00:55:06 - On living in a mostly white neighborhood

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Partial Transcript: I'm, I'm, you know, interested, how did you...

Segment Synopsis: Webster and her husband talked among themselves about the challenges and dangers they faced in being a Black couple in a white neighborhood. In hindsight, she feels they were "young and foolish" and that they shouldn't have been taking such chances. She reflected that at the time they were trying to build a better life for themselves which is why they moved to that neighborhood.

Keywords: 6th and Girard; Housing; Race relations; Segregation; Segregation in Philadelphia; Segregation: Housing

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Race relations

00:57:59 - On trying to help her neighbors

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Partial Transcript: They were just different people, you know.

Segment Synopsis: Webster and her husband tried to be good neighbors. They did their best to help others even if their good will was rejected. Webster recollected a time when she helped a neighbor who had fallen. He had never spoken to her before but he was always polite after. She remarked that segregation was a habit that was hard to shake.

Keywords: Great Depression; Race relations; Segregation; Segregation in Philadelphia

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Housing.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Race relations

01:01:03 - Comparing her experiences of segregation in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

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Partial Transcript: But I actually never got really bothered...

Segment Synopsis: Webster never experienced racial violence but knew people who had to deal with it. She said segregation was worse in Washington, D.C. That was where she had her more obvious experience with segregation. She went to a lunch counter with her father and was turned away.

Keywords: Lunch counters; Public transportation; Racial violence; Segregation; Segregation in Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.

Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Race relations