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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Speaking at a Baptist program for women workers

Kester describes his participation in a program for women workers sponsored by the Baptist Church sometime during the 1930s. Invited by Una Lawrence, Kester spoke to the women workers about labor conditions in the South. As throughout the interview, Kester emphasizes the relationship between his Christian faith and his thoughts on social justice here and he argues that his stance especially resonated with the young women workers in attendance.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
That reminds me of something I wanted to ask you which is: why you did so much more of your work with the tenant farmers than with the industrial workers?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, because they were in such great need, and they had no voice except that of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Textile workers were in great need too.
HOWARD KESTER:
Sure they were, everybody was in great need. This will illustrate. A Mrs. Lawrence from Kansas, whose husband belonged to the Union of Locomotive Engineers, is that right, yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Railway worker?
HOWARD KESTER:
Railway Engineers. She called me and asked me if I was coming to Chicago anytime soon and if so she would like to talk to me, and would I let her know, and I happened to be going to an Episcopal Convention of some description, and I wrote and told her I was coming to Chicago and that I would be delighted to see her. Mrs. Una Lawrence, that's it, and I saw her, and she said to me . . . I guess we talked together for two hours, and she said to me, "The reason why we wanted to talk with you, or they asked me to talk to you, was to see whether you were radical enough or not, to speak to the Young Women's Auxiliary up here at Ridgecrest." When she used the word "radical," she meant it in terms of the Christian faith.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she mean a radical Christian, or just a friend of . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
NO.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did she mean?
HOWARD KESTER:
She meant that it was New Testament Christianity and I believed in it, and I could and would . . . I never tried to hide anything from anybody, and they had about four thousand girls to come from all over the South.
WILLIAM FINGER:
To Ridgecrest?
HOWARD KESTER:
To Ridgecrest.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What kind of girls?
HOWARD KESTER:
They were textile workers, factory workers . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was it the Summer School for Southern Women Workers?
HOWARD KESTER:
No, no, no, that is something else. This is called, it still goes on, the Women's Auxiliary . . . Young Women's Auxiliary of the Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Church. I'm sorry, maybe I'm getting . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, we got it mixed up.
HOWARD KESTER:
Leaving things out.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So y ou went to speak.
HOWARD KESTER:
So I went to speak at Ridgecrest.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And Una Lawrence, she really knew about you, what your politics were and that's what she wanted?
HOWARD KESTER:
They wanted me to speak about working conditions here in the South. And they gave me a little room, not much larger than the kitchen for the first meeting, assuming that would accommodate us. There wasn't even standing room, and the second day they put us out on the porch . . . front porch of one of the larger buildings, and again we had the thing filled. On the third day they gave me the largest classroom at Ridgecrest, and it was packed. Know why? Because these young women were hearing the gospel as they knew it but never heard it from their preachers.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What were you talking to them about?
HOWARD KESTER:
I was talking about wages and labor conditions, you know, hours, all the conditions that were confronting southern workers, particularly women, and some of the things that ought to be done about it, and they listened gladly because they had never heard it from the pulpit, you know, and they felt that was what the church ought to be saying.