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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 >>

Increased need for education in the twentieth century

Though still unsure whether she supports the merger of Durham's county and city governments, Clement explains that some changes are needed because of the nature of life in late-twentieth-century America. Unlike previous eras when anyone could find work, she says, even menial jobs now require not just literacy but also computer skills and other learned abilities.

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 will say this--and I do say this publicly at this time--some changes are in order. They need to be made. We have to do something about our disadvantaged children, white and black, and I say our poor children, regardless of race. We simply cannot afford the luxury of a large, growing under-class. And here in the Research Triangle Park we have a thriving community which is growing, and we have a community mired in abject poverty which unfortunately also is growing. If you pass by the homeless shelter you can see these people. When they put them out in the morning they have nowhere to go and they just hang around waiting for it to open again at night. This is no kind of life. The prisons are full, the social services is up to its neck trying to help people. It does not make for the kind of community that I think we want, that we ought to have. Helping people to get a good start in life builds a strong community and is also cost-effective.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
In the long run.
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
In the long run. Sure it is.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Along the lines of your--and maybe it's best to say evolving position, because you haven't come down firmly--is there a way . . . I suppose the question would be, do you have a vision, how the merger could take place, in a way that would satisfy your concerns and then what would that be?
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
At present I am concerned that every child in Durham receive an opportunity, an equitable opportunity. I look at foreign countries, even the communist countries, seem to be ahead of us in this aspect. They recognize their most precious resource is the young people. They recognize that education is important, an enlightened populace is very important, and in this society, I think it's more important in a democratic society. We perhaps have bent over backwards in allowing people free choice in some areas. In other areas now we're going to pull in from free choice [laughter]. But I think the sixteen-year old is hardly in a position nowadays to make a lasting decision about his future because he simply is not able to cope with this system we live in. He can't earn a living even if he should get a job and make a minimum wage, you can't live on a minimum wage. We have not only the people that are unemployed and unemployable, but we have a large group of working poor. And I think this is the greatest tragedy of all, people who work hard, all day, every day, and still can't earn a living. That's most unfortunate. I think it's like your child. You would not permit your child to make decisions before he was capable of making those very important decisions, to say, "You go out there in the street without looking and a car will come and hit you." You have to be absolutely sure that he can negotiate his way across the street before you let him, because there's too much at stake. And I think this is the way it is with our sixteen-year olds. All they're able to do is to replicate themselves, which they're doing. Saw a young mother in the library the other day who became angry with her child who was just standing up in her stroller, and reaching up and grabbing her mother's papers. She took him and pushed him back down in that stroller, and I said, "Ah!" I made a noise and I think I frightened her, and I went over to her and I said, "My dear, you cannot treat your child this way." And I talked to her and she seemed to be very surprised. But I doubt that she's ever had anybody to talk to her like this. A mother she was not. No idea. Well, I feel sorry for that child. We all know it's predictable, what's going to happen to him. He's not going to get very much from her, because she's not capable, she doesn't have it to give. This is what we're dealing with. I think there's too much at stake here to leave it to chance. In this society, right here in Durham, there's a lot you can do if you are literate and if you are skilled, and there is a very good place, a community college where you can go and get that skill. But if you don't have it you are lost.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
So the education issues lead for you directly into the job issues?
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
Oh, I think so. There was a time that you could work if you were strong and willing. I remember when we came to Durham, Pettigrew Street, Pettigrew and Corcoran was the corner where men stood if they wanted to work. Somebody would come by with a truck and get a load of men to work that day. Not very satisfying or rewarding work to be sure, but it was work. But now you have to have some skill to do almost anything. Went to a department store the other day to get a wedding gift and gave them the name and the date of the wedding and she punched a few keys and the young lady's name came up and all of her patterns and what she had and what she needed. Just in a department store you might think that's not particularly skilled labor, but you need to know how to do some computer work, so you have to read, you have to write. Literacy has taken on a new meaning. When I grew up and knew the word "literacy," it literally meant to read and write your name. That was about it, that was all you needed. But now there's so much more that you need to be considered literate. I consider myself computer illiterate, because I don't know anything about computers. They are just a vital part of our world today. But, my children and my grandchildren do, and that's the important thing.