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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, June 27, 1989. Interview C-0062. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Interest in community advocacy and revitalization

Cannon discusses her involvement in Community Advisory Councils via her role in the United Church of Christ. During the early 1970s, Cannon became more actively involved in CAC following her retirement. Cannon describes her growing interest in community matters, which eventually culminated in her decision to run for mayor. Here, she stresses her particular interest in community advocacy and revitalization.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, June 27, 1989. Interview C-0062. 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

Still, then, on this period before your decision to run for mayor, there's the civil rights movement, but I'm wondering if there are other activities or organizations that you were involved in that you would describe as being politically oriented during this period?
Again, I'd have to go back to the United Church. They opened up to me the importance of being a citizen and an involved citizen, and I began to get involved in the political things, particularly in the Democratic Party to attend precinct meetings, and in the early 70's, the revenue sharing mandated that the cities had to set up these neighborhood organizations, which in Raleigh we called Citizen's Advisory Councils, known as CAC's. This was a very good thing for me to become involved in. I had retired from N.C. State University in 1970, this was the early 70's. I was looking for things to be involved in. I was involved in many of the activities of the Democratic Party, so I began to get more deeply involved both in the precinct activities, but particularly in the CAC activities. The CAC activities were very direct, very straight forward citizen involvement: going down to City Hall saying these are things that we should be doing, these are things we should not be doing. So I began to get very deeply involved in the CAC's. We met monthly, and I became Vice Chair and became Chair of the CAC and was able to go down, I remember the first time I went down to City Hall. I was terrified at seeing these people sitting up there like a group of judges with all sorts of power, but I got over that and realized, again, they were people just like I, but the first time is very frightening. The thing that I remembered always while I was Mayor and would try to tell people, "Remember, we're your neighbors. We're just people like you." But it is terrifying if you're not a public speaker. I have been involved in public speaking all my life, so I was able to go down to City Hall as a vocal and sometimes vociferous advocate of things that citizens wanted and things that citizens could do. That became a very important part of my life.
It certainly seems that way in the sense that what I've picked up reading articles about you, and that sort of thing, is that those kinds of activities were your spring board into your running for Mayor.
That's right, and they still are terribly important to me. Our CAC in this area is not, at the moment, very active, but I have been instrumental in forming and being very active in some other neighborhood organizations. I organized in the neighborhood here - I wasn't the only one, there were several of us - organized the University Park Homeowners Association because we have a very vulnerable area close to N.C. State University, and we're feeling the tremendous impact from the growth of N.C. State University and the effect it was having on our lives. Later, when the new Chancellor came, I was able to talk to some of the people on the, some of the Deans and the faculty at N.C. State and to help get established to bring before the new Chancellor the need for a liaison committee between the neighborhood and the University, which is somewhat less active than it was, but has also had an impact on Hillsborough Street. Our University Park Homeowners Association has been extremely active, and we will, indeed, this fall, once more, have a candidate's forum, which is usually the most highly-attended, the best-attended forum, of any of the political activities in the city. So these were avenues besides the CAC and, of course, I am also, was two years ago, Chairman () Chair again of the CAC, and I am precinct Chair for this area and have been for the last several years and that puts me on the Wake County Executive Committee and sends me to meetings and district meetings and so on like that, so those political activities do tend to ripple out.
What were some key issues for the CAC that you were involved in before you ran for Mayor? What things stand out in your mind from this vantage point as having been key issues?
These things tend to blur. It's very difficult for me to put a date on some of them, particularly zoning issues. The efforts here in the neighborhood, again, with the impact of N. C. State's growth and the fact that N. C. State did not provide housing, nor eating places, nor parking, and the fact that people were buying beautiful old homes they had paid maybe five thousand dollars for, and somebody came along and offered them fifty, and they're elderly and [they said], "Oh my!" you know, and turning them into undesirable residences. Hillsborough Street began to change from being a beautiful street with trees and a median and lovely homes into a rather shabby street with fast food places, and our constant efforts to try to keep it from deteriorating to that extent. Now, we're trying to bring it back, and there has been some progress, but it's still a continuing problem, but to identify it, I don't know how to put dates on these things. I don't know how to do it prior to being Mayor. I think I would have to go to some of my records to identify that.