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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eva Clayton, July 18, 1989. Interview C-0084. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Parents shape their daughter's work ethic and ambition

Clayton describes her background and focuses on her parents, both of whom were undereducated but successful African Americans in Savannah, Georgia. Clayton remembers that her mother resented the fact that she had a white father.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eva Clayton, July 18, 1989. Interview C-0084. 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

EVA CLAYTON:
Well, let me just say a little bit about my background. I'm from a small but relatively, [by] North Carolina sizes, relatively large community. I was born in a place called Savannah, Georgia. Came from a typical small family. There were only two of us, my brother and myself. My father was in the insurance business, and I gather in some ways, though he was not part owner, he was part of the leadership. He was insurance director for the state of Georgia and had a staff of, I guess it was, 50 people. My father only [had] an eighth grade education formally, but later went on to take his GED and went to whatever they call the insurance institute. So, he's what you call an itinerant business person. My mother, similar situation, was a teacher but never graduated from college. She went to normal college, which was in those days equivalent to a junior college. One of the things that strikes me [about] both my parents is an undying loyalty to one business. He worked for one company for forty-two years. That's something I probably said I wasn't going to do. But also out of that experience both my brother and I both said we were going to one day own that insurance company. That didn't happen, but anyhow, that was somewhat of a notion. My father was the kind, gentle, patient, understanding person. My mother was understanding but very demanding, high standards, workaholic, A-type, and probably, if [she] ever had the education, could have been anything in the world she wanted to be. And never doubted for a moment her abilities. Confident and somewhat arrogant, knowing who she was, and that, but for color, she was superior. So I had that knowledge. My mother also had the understanding that her father was white, and she resented that. So in many ways I came with that sort of understanding in my bones [unclear] . Both of them wanted for their children to be and both of us did that. At first I wanted to be a doctor——missionary. My ambition was to be a missionary in Africa, and at that time in my life Albert Schweitzer was the hero in my life. He was a genius; he was the philosopher; he was a musician; he was a medicine man and also had a religious . . . You know, if you've got to think of somebody you can be, why not pick the very best? But that soon dissipated. So I went to college, with that kind of preconceived notion which didn't materialize. And I don't think I've lost that too much. I haven't gone to Africa but one day I will, but under different circumstances other than being a missionary. So I think that background and those original motivations are very much there.