Documenting the American South Logo
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 gains awareness through her children's activities

During the 1960s, Clement found that her children required too much of her attention to allow her to be active beyond their interests. Through the PTA and other organizations, however, she became aware of greater community issues. She joined Women In Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes, a local organization, which led to her appointment to the Durham City-County Charter Commission. Through this, she joined the Board of Education.

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 think of especially the early sixties, in light of the fact that about ten years later you came on the school board. What your perceptions of that earlier time are? How it might have influenced your decision to go on the school board?
Let me say that that period was one in which my husband was more active than I was, the period of the sixties. I had a child in '57, I had a child in '60. My mother came to live with me in '61. So that period, leading up to the actual integration, although it was following the Brown decision, was one in which I was very much kept at home. My husband, however, served as chairman of the Education Committee for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. It is composed of many subcommittees. Most people hear about the political subcommittee to the exclusion of others. But during that time that was a very active [education] committee because the suits that were being instituted were for equalization, they were not against segregation. We had not caught up with that in suits that had already been filed, even though the Supreme Court had spoken. It does take some time for things to filter down that way. So they had suits trying to get schools opened up, trying to get facilities in the black schools which they had in the white schools. They couldn't get into the white schools. They had to get a court order to get a photographer in to take pictures of some of these things to document it that way. So that was a very important period in there. We always were part of any group action, class action, suit that was filed that our children were involved in. We had children in schools so my approach to that then was as from the perspective of a parent. I knew a lot about what was going on in the PTA and within the schools and so forth and my husband was working actively with the Durham Committee. At this particular point they had been working on, as I said, equalization of teachers' salaries, for instance. Black teachers did not earn the same money that white teachers did, principals, all the way through. There was segregation and a differential everywhere. This is what they were working on. After Brown came they took a little time in there to shift over to other things that you were going to have. So, I did not actually get into the political arena until 1971. Eleanor Spaulding had organized back in the sixties an organization called Women in Action for the Prevention of Violence and its Causes, which is never called by its full name. The men used to laugh at us and call us the Violent Women. This came out of a national meeting that McCall's Corporation called. The women who were invited there were asked to go back to their communities and set up organizations. It was a very significant organization because it was one of the few--you're talking about the League and the "Y"--that was not a national organization, but one of the few local organizations we had where black women and white women could come together on the basis of equality and meet each other. I was active at that time, and was program chairman as I remember. It was interesting in that when we had, say, committee meetings and had to go to each other's houses we always had to draw maps. You didn't even know there were sections of town, and there was a great deal of fear about white women coming into the black communities and their husbands did not want them to come and that sort of thing. That was very significant. In 1971 there was set up a Durham City-County Charter Commission which was a group empowered to write the charter for the consolidation of the city and the county. That stayed in existence for three years before they had the referendum which failed. We never had that to vote. That was really my introduction into the public arena. As a result of that, the Durham Committee, which was very active in this Charter Commission, I got to know them and to work with them for the first time. As I mentioned earlier they had me on their list for an appointment to the Board of Education. I had already worked with the League of Women Voters. Those were the two big organizations that sponsored me for appointment. So in 1973 I was appointed. The Board of Education was an appointed board at that time. There were four-year terms and I was appointed in 1973, but in two years the legislature had made it an elected board and there was a great controversy and decision about whether I should run. This was a big thing to enter the public arena and go out and offer yourself for election, and it was something very different from what I'd ever done. So we went through a lot of soul searching here at home before . . . But I wanted to do it in a way I would not have wanted to earlier on, but after having had the experience of being on the board for two years I felt more comfortable with it. I felt I was just beginning to be comfortable and well-informed and to make a contribution. It was also the beginning of a difference in the make-up of the board. They had had in the past white men, with usually one white woman on the board. They were lawyers, CPAs, architects, business people, who brought that perspective to the board. I guess the women--I really don't know how it worked with the white women before I went on--but women bring an entirely different approach and my approach was certainly through the schools as a mother who had been PTA president of two or three schools and worked on all kinds of committees and been in and out of all of the schools. I brought an entirely different perspective, too, but began to learn something of the business aspect. I was the first black woman on the Board of Education. Five years later when I was elected chairman I was the first woman, black or white, to serve as chairman. In fact they've never had a woman since, but they've just had two chairmen since. You know, as I look back on it, I think of the old saying, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." [Laughter] But here again, my earlier training took me on and I just accepted these things. I was very interested in the schools, what was happening. And as we get older, here again I'll quote Erik Erikson who says our attention and interest and love and compassion turn outward from our families. We are beginning to move community-wide. When you have your own children all your interest is just tied up right there at home trying to get them grown up. So all of that came in together, plus the civil rights movement and the women's movement and so forth.