Ozella Tanner, born in 1927, has lived in Canton since 1942. (Her daughter, Pat Tanner, was on the Canton City Council.) In this first person excerpt of an interview with the Cherokee County Historical Society conducted by Mary Cissell and Jack Fincher in 2011, she describes the years of daily life with segregation in Canton:
I’ve been living on Teasley Street ever since I came to Canton. I worked in a nursing home and I was always inspired by the nurses; I loved the uniforms and the things they did. But then I got married and had children and that took up all of my time. …
When my children were growing up, we had segregated schools. At that time, (1950s-1965) that’s just the way it was and you accepted it, like everything else that went on and prayed that things got better, which it did.
In fact, I remember when they first integrated the movie theater and I just happened to be coming through town. I had just been over to visit my aunt. Everybody was gathered down there when the people went to the movie that afternoon, and I got rocked. I didn’t go to the movie but they threw rocks at my car because I was a black woman driving through town at a time when they were integrating the movie theater. You as a colored person had a special place you had to sit in the balcony, and you had to go in the side door, up the stairs to the balcony. You were not allowed to go to the concession stand inside.
Restaurants were segregated, too. You had to go in the back entrance, if they would even serve you. There were separate restrooms in the court house, separate drinking fountains.
Everything was separate when I was growing up. My daughter Pat was in North Carolina at college during the Civil Rights Movement. She was in the march. I didn’t know that she was marching or I’d a probably been a nervous wreck! I didn’t find out about it until later. But she marched with Dr. King and that group. We didn’t have any marches here in Cherokee County but there were some demonstrations like the one at the movies. Reverend Freeman [from Hickory Log Baptist], my dad and all the ministers at that time were a part of the movement. They tried to do it in a decent, peaceful way.
Clifford Durham’s children was among the first to integrate the schools here: Cynthia and Chuck, and Priscilla
Moody. They were the first to integrate the high school. There was some trouble, because everybody didn’t accept the fact of what
was going on. We have to realize, there are still some people that’s not comfortable and I don’t know why.
We never had a black doctor, so when you went to see the doctor, you had to go in to a separate waiting area. If you went to the hospital, there were just so many rooms for black patients, and I don’t know what would happen if you were overcrowded.
Back then the only work around here was the mills and a lot of the kids went to work there after high school. The boys could work as a service station mechanic and the girls in homes doing housework. There were some who went to work down at Lockheed. There was also the chicken plant in the 1940s. But back then it was harder for a black person to get a job in any of these places. You know, they just had certain jobs for you to do.