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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Rita Jackson Samuels, April 30, 1974. Interview A-0077. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Hiring blacks while denying specific advocacy on their behalf

Samuels emphasizes that her identity as a black woman does not drive her decision making; she said the same thing to the governor. While she denies trying to represent the black community, however, she has worked to fill vacancies in the capitol with African Americans. She describes how Governor Carter is becoming more comfortable with the presence of blacks in the capitol.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Rita Jackson Samuels, April 30, 1974. Interview A-0077. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER DE VRIES:
So you are the first black in the state capitol, the first black on the Governor's staff. When you took that job, how did you feel? Did you think it was going to work out this way?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
I thought it could work out this way, but I thought I had to be, and I was, I was very careful about how I worked . . .I mean, how I started off working. The timing is so important in politics, and, I mean, the Governor will do some things because it's politically expedient for him to do it. The Governor will do some things because he just feels that he'd like to do it. And there're other times, if the timing is wrong, the Governor will not respond at all. And so, you know, I did not participate in community meetings, you know. I was not completely honest with the community about the kind of influence that I may have had in the beginning, because I didn't want anybody to say, "Well, you know, if you recommend me for this board appointment, I will get it." You know. And I didn't try to come up here and represent the black community. No one black can do that, no two blacks can do that, you know. I'm just one black person. I was very concerned about getting other blacks on the Governor's staff, and we got a black to work in the secretarial pool downstairs. There were other vacancies in the Governor's office where I recommended that they look at some blacks. You know, I just made it very clear to the Governor that I did not represent the total black community, that I was black and I had my own background, my own training and experience. And whatever answer I gave to him would be based on all of those things. And the way I thought that we should work would be to have me call up some people, you know, and get advice on how we should go about doing certain things.
WALTER DE VRIES:
How were you received by the rest of the executive office staff? On the staff meetings on Monday mornings?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, this probably will seem like a very, very conceited answer, but I think that all of them just loved me to death, for a lot of different reasons. They got to meet Hank Aaron because of me the other day, and they got to take pictures with him because of me the other day, and they got to shake Andy Young's hand because I know him. And whenever he's here he stops by to see me. And they got to go to Claudine's premier last week, the movie Claudine. And they got to meet Dianna Carroll and Gladys Knight and the Pips and people like that because of me. So, I mean, you know. They . . .you really have to ask them, you know. Because I don't know. But they treat me fine. They cooperate with me on whatever I'm working on. We're getting ready to organize a salute to Hank Aaron, and, you know, I don't go out on the outside and get other staff. There will be some staff in this office who will assist me in doing that. The Governor's press secretary assisted me on Dr. King's portrait, so, you know.
JACK BASS:
Do you . . .have you noticed any change in the Governor himself in his attitude and sensitivity toward black people and the problems of black people?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, I have, but I don't think that it's because of me. I just think that it's because he's had more experience dealing with black people than he ever had before.
JACK BASS:
Where are these changes?
RITA JACKSON SAMUELS:
Well, I think the Governor understands that, you know, blacks have not always felt welcome to come to the capitol and accomplish something. And whenever we have visitors day in the Governor's office and we have that once a month, that anybody can come in and see the Governor without an appointment, and I try to encourage blacks to come, because, you know, it means something for a black person to be able to go back and say to other blacks, "I met the Governor today", you know. And I think he realizes that, and he might, you know, he might be more sympathetic to some things that may have seemed like absolutely nothing, just a matter of policy.