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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clement learns pragmatic resistance

Clement credits her family, particularly her father, with awakening her activism early in life as he taught his children a system of pragmatic resistance. Regarding education or other important aspects of their lives, the children learned to accept segregation in specific circumstances, but in areas of indulgence or entertainment such as movie theaters and department stores, he told them to go without rather than giving in.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. 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

I'd like to begin with a bit about family background in terms of your interest and commitment to civil rights. If you would describe some of that.
I'd be glad to, Kathy, because civil rights was not known by that name either publicly or in my family, but it was a way of life for us. It was the way my parents taught us, and my father in later years became known as a great civil rights worker, although they were not calling them that in that day. But we had rather strict rules in my family that you never accepted segregation if you could possibly get around it. For instance, if you had to take a segregated streetcar to go to school, then that would be a sacrifice worth making, to get your education. And so you sat on the back of a streetcar and went to school. But if it were a matter of going to a theater for pleasure, and you had to go in the back door or the side door, then that was no pleasure, and so we were never permitted to accept conditions like that. I can remember, growing up, being very afraid and very shaky but still standing up for my rights at various times. I can remember my father, when we were young, refusing to be sent to the back of a department store, and saying, "Well, we won't buy anything here," and leaving. Finally, eventually you had to buy someplace but you would have made your point. The same at gas stations when he would take us on trips. You stopped at segregated stations, or maybe even stations that had no facilities for black people, or had one for men and women--had signs, "gentlemen," "ladies," and "colored." We were trained to jump out of the car when he stopped and head for the restroom which we needed to use anyhow. Then if they said we couldn't use it and they had started the gas, he would say "stop" and we would go on somewhere else. So, this was a way of life for us. I heard my father talk about the Supreme Court decision of 1857, I believe it was, the Dred Scott decision, also the decision of 1896 which established the separate but equal. Of course, at that time we were trying to get equal though separate. That was the concept that had not yet been struck down. These are the concepts and the strategies that I grew up with. And doing that, or standing up for myself, or not permitting myself to be called by my first name--and it's ironic that now everybody uses first names--or being mistreated in any way that I thought we were mistreated, was a way of life. We just did not accept this kind of thing. My sister Mattiwilda [Dobbs], who was the second black woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera Company, established the policy of never singing before a segregated audience. Of course, she ended up singing mostly in Europe. [Laughter] This was my contribution and this was the way I lived it rather than marching in a movement, which I did support, but wasn't able to participate in.