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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Motivation to pursue change and its required characteristics

Josephine and William Clement discuss their motivations for pursuing racial change and their hope for real progress. As elsewhere in the interview, the Clements again stress here the importance of self-esteem and confidence, and they add economic security to the list here. In addition, they discuss the importance of solidarity and strong leadership.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. 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

What intrigues historians, though, is that you didn't know how it was going to turn out, that you were going to have this happy outcome, that there was going to be integration, yet you continued the work anyway. Now what really intrigues me is how both of you - and one could list countless people - kept from becoming bitter. How is it that you kept your sense of balance, that you didn't become so frustrated - what would keep you, after untoward incident, from just kind of going off the deep end? - and of course, some people have. Is there something special, do you think, that explains this?
I think there are two factors: first, a strong family. A strong family can receive you back when you've been buffeted by the community. You get your first sense of self-esteem from your family, and we were never allowed to feel that we were inferior - it was just never a part of anything. I didn't even know that you were supposed to feel inferior 'til the civil rights revolution came along and people began to talk about it. I remember once we were going down to South Carolina - Bill stopped to go in the office there - and I had Kathy - she was a little girl - in the car, and she got restless, and I got out and walked along the sidewalk with her. This elderly black man came up to me and said, "pardon me, Miss, but are you from around here?" I said, "no, I'm not." He said, "I didn't think so. I just watched you going down the street with your head held high and your good clothes on." And I didn't even think I had good clothes on - just traveling in the car, you know - nor was I aware that I had my head held high. These were the things that the family gave us. And the second was: enough economic security not to have to be at the beck and call of everybody and everything. You didn't have to worry about survival, you could develop yourself and get your education. And so I think it gave us a base to withstand some of those things.
Another thing to consider, Jo: I don't think we ever had our conflicts in the presence of white people. We had enough intelligence to carry on some kind of conversation, and regardless of what direction it went - we weren't an authority and all that - but at least you had an opinion, you could have solved what was being said, and you could make a contribution. And people were just amazed. White people were just amazed that black people could talk, that they could express themselves, in terms that you could be understood in. I always found out that you and the white man, on one-on-one, he would deal with you. But if you came in a mass, then he became frightened. And I remember Whitney Young making a statement - he was executive director of the Urban League - he said, "Yes, we need Jesse Jackson, we need Martin Luther King, we need McKissick, and and all those people, for us to negotiate in the board room." I'm not out on the street protesting, but we need all types. Now, some of our children were involved in the movement. We encouraged them. But as far as being out there actually marching and so forth, I never had that opportunity.