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Conversation with Chris Christine OConnor

OConnor, Chris Christine
Jung, Hye-Jin
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with People and Places; Then and Now; Cultural Identification; Childhood Adventures; Tolerance and Respect
Chris O'Connor talks about some opinions that Caucasians have of African Americans and the differences between the North and the South.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Hye-Jin Jung interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Interview Audio: 
CO (O'Connor, Chris Christine): Hi. My name is Chris O'Connor. And um, I'm a host-family, person for Hye-Jin. And I'm, I'm, um, I'm honored um, to participate in the project. Um, what I would like to do is explain to Hye-Jin an experience I had, um, as, as a young child, uh, something that um, has stayed to me really all of my life and is especially meaningful now that I live in the South. Because I was born in the North, I was raised in the North I, you know, truly am, um, I consider myself a northern American, um, and quite by surprise um, we came to live in Charlotte two and a half years ago, um, mainly for work reasons. Both my husband and I had lost our jobs in the North. So, we came south, because this is where the jobs are and fortunately, we were able to get work and re-located here. So, this is two and a half years later, and my husband and I are employed in the public schools in Charlotte. My husband is a teacher, and I'm a counselor. And um, we find ourselves in a very diverse school, which is all good uh, we find ourselves um, working with many many more uh, black or Afro-American people than we were ever exposed in the North. And that has um, made me remember um, that when I was in um, the second grade, I was seven years old. And I was um, growing up in the North in Wilmington, DE. And my father was transferred to Pensacola, FL. And we had never lived in the South before, except for one other brief, brief time I should say we had lived in Camden, SC um, where act, actually one of my brothers was born. But when I was seven, we moved to Pensacola, FL, and um, we, there were four children, and we were enrolled in a Catholic school, because my parents were Catholics, and um, they wanted us to go to the Catholic schools in the South. So, I went to, I was in the second grade, and I went to Sacred Heart School in Pensacola, FL. And I became friendly. Um, I made friends. And two of my very good girl friends when I was in second grade, their names were Patricia Callahan, and Linda Emanuel. And their families, their parents were southern born and bred. But um, in time we became very close friends, and then to our childhood friendships, our parents became good friends. So, most of our social life was spent visiting back and forth in each other's homes, and our parents would have dinner together and they would get together, and have parties, and they really had a wonderful time. And um, as time wore on and our families and our parents became better acquainted, I can imagine that my parents really being the only northern born and bred people began to see the differences in their attitudes, uh, in their racial attitudes as opposed to the attitudes of their friends and by that I mean um, my parents had been raised in the North, and there were never um, very many black people around. But they were never raised with any prejudice. I guess I can say they were Christian, they were Catholic um, [pause] I don't believe um, they really had any predisposition or any prejudice toward black people. And I think that when they moved to the South and they saw the prejudice of their good friends. I think it really uh, really bothered them to the point that they wanted to make sure that their own children did not grow up with those prejudices. And I can give you a good example. Now, it was very common, when I was seven years old and I was the oldest of the four children, um, my mother hired a black woman to help her once a week. The lady's name was Ira Lee, and she was a black lady. And she would come to our house once a week, and she would help my mother clean. She would do all kinds of household, um, activities, because my mother had four children, very close in age and I'm sure she was a big help. It was, it was just a very acceptable thing to do among middle class people. I don't think I really thought twice about it. So um, my mother learned of Ira Lee from her very close friend, my girl friend's mother. Um and we all went to the same school together and the same church together. And so that's how we found out about Ira Lee. And Ira Lee come to our house once a week, and then she would help my mother, and then at dinner time, I can remember we all sit at our dinner table uh, four McDonough children and my two parents and Ira Lee always sat at the table with us. I remember it very well and she was just part of our family. She was like our guest, she just ate dinner with us. But I'll never forget when we went to have a lunch at my girl friend, Patricia's house, where Ira Lee also worked. And Ira Lee fixed lunch for us. And it was my mother and me, and my friend Patricia and her mother, and my friend Patricia's two sisters and we all sat down at the dinner table together to have the lunch that Ira Lee fixed for us. But Ira Lee had to sit in the kitchen by herself. It was not considered appropriate, I guess it would be the word or it was not considered acceptable in that household to have a black woman sitting with, sitting at the same table with white women. I mean, it's not, it's not like they were mean to her or unkind to her. I don't remember anything like that. I just remember that that was the culture. You just didn't sit at the table with a black person. And I, probably, I don't think I said anything, or maybe I did, I don't remember. I just, you know, I kind of wondered about that because if you came to our house, Ira Lee would sit at the table with us, but you went to the Callahan house and she didn't sit at the table. But what I will never ever forget is, um, my parents wanted to go to the Mardi Gras, which is still a very big, um, pre-Lenten celebration in the South. And my parents were invited to go to New Orleans, and to take part in some of the festivities with people from their church. And we were very little children and they wanted to make sure that we were well taken care of, so they asked Ira Lee, would she come and spend the weekend with us, and take care of us. And so that was fine. We were all going to feel very safe and we weren't going to be too worried that our parents were leaving us. And my mother made arrangements for Ira Lee that she would sleep in my parents' bedroom in my parents' bed. And the rest of us would, you know, just sleep in our regular beds. And that was, that was the arrangement. So, um, I remember very well the first night that my parents were not there in the house, and for some reason, that bothered me. Or, I was scared or something. So, I remember getting up in the middle of the night, and going into my parent's bedroom, and maybe I was crying or maybe I was just being a scared little child or something. And Ira Lee apparently sensed my fear, or sensed my worry and she tried to comfort me. And she, in an effort to comfort me, she said that I could if I wanted to, I could sleep in my parents' bed. She was there but she didn't mind if I slept in my parents' bed. And as I remember I went to sleep in my parents' bed. And Ira Lee was in the same bed with me. And I told my, my mother about it later. And um, my mother I remember this is what I remember my mother's saying. This made such an impression on me. She said, "Well, don't you ever tell Mrs. Callahan that you slept in the same bed with Ira Lee. Mrs. Callahan would be shocked." So, I just, I just remember that very well and I never ever let this be known that it happened, although it didn't bother me, because I was very comfortable with Ira Lee. You know, I didn't even think twice about it. And I certainly don't think I was damaged by it at all. I just got the very strong message that was not something that should be repeated to this particular lady and the particular lady was a very fine person, a very good person, a very good mother, a very good Catholic, but she had been raised in the South. And that was totally, totally unacceptable to her way of thinking. So that's my um, recollection of um, Ira Lee, of um, growing up um, in the South, in the 50's probably. So, I just um, would like to share that story. I think we, I think we've come, hopefully, we've come a long way from, from that um, mode of thinking.
HJ (Jung, Hye-Jin): So that maybe that kind of thinking has changed. Do you think maybe?
CO: Well, I think there has been, I mean, if you figured that was in the 50's. Oh, I know there have been a lot of good changes. I mean since Martin Luther King and all of that um, I still think, I still, I still know though that there is still prejudice. Uh, both ways, white people to black, towards black people, and black people towards white people and with all the races, it's not just limited to blacks and whites. That was just my own personal experience, but sometimes now not that I dwell on this, when I think of my present working situation were I work in a school really there are, the black children are, there are more blacks than whites are, it's pretty even but a little more black children. And you know, our faculty, we have a black woman principal whom I respect very much. I think she is a very fine person. And a lot of the black teachers, I think I respect them very much. I will say that I'm quite impressed with some of the black people. I notice um, black teachers, black people uh, I notice that at lunchtime when we sit down to have lunch they immediately stop and say a silent prayer immediately, that's just routine of them. And you know, I admire that very much. And it's really I see it more with the black people than I do with the white people. Um so, um yes, we've come a long, long way since when I was a little girl. But we still have a long way to go too.