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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 >>

Role of women in the civil rights movement

Clayton describes the indigenous civil rights movement in North Carolina. She served as an advisor to some groups of students who were staging protests, and got to know the movement at the college and high school level. At its heart were women, she believes, attending to the details of protests and watching over the young people at sit-ins and other protests. As she reflects on the role of women in the movement, Clayton remembers a pioneering black woman who ran for a seat in local government, demonstrating her strength and independence.

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

KATHRYN NASSTROM:
As I was thinking about questions for this, I did sense that the time line was that you had more or less gotten out of college about the time that the civil rights movement, in terms of sit-ins and protests, got rolling on college campuses.
EVA CLAYTON:
I was out, yeah, I was out.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
But then am I right you were working probably at UNC at that time?
EVA CLAYTON:
Somewhat.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Would you recount what you recall about what was going on with college students at UNC at that point, what you remember from other North Carolina communities, and your perspective on it, having just recently finished college?
EVA CLAYTON:
Although I was involved as an employee at UNC, I don't recall very much, my recollection isn't very vivid as to what happened at UNC. I do recall a little more of what happened at North Carolina Central, the students in the marches and the protests in that area. I also recall when we moved to Warren County . . . The movement takes a while, it goes in waves, and so it may be in the college campus, [then] two years and three years later it's in the communities themselves. In Warren County you were about three or four years behind the student movement. There was a movement in North Carolina called, I can't think of the name of it, it was an adjunct of the NAACP, I cannot think of the name. But they were college kids who worked to free, they called them freedom riders, or . . .
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Are you talking about SNCC?
EVA CLAYTON:
It wasn't SNCC. There was something indigenous to North Carolina. At any rate, we requested for that youth leadership to come to Warren County and they helped to mobilize marches and to inspire and to work with the youth that were involved. So in addition to knowing what the college kids did on North Carolina Central, I was intimately involved with the high school kids who protested the local drugstore, who protested [by] going to the various department stores, or those kind of things. So I served as their advisor. But we also were assisted by this youth organization I can't think of the name of, who assigned two people to come to us and they stayed for I guess about four months. It was the sort of thing young people did more than adults, but adults were very supportive. I was there probably more than many other adults were. But it was clearly a youth driven activity. I noticed your comments about your interest in women earlier. I think women were not necessarily the backbone, but they certainly probably contributed far more of the sustaining power, meaning they were there to provide the food, they were there to kind of be the extra protector. They might not have been actually demonstrating, but you found as many women around that drugstore, around the theater, just to be eyewitnesses if something happened to their kids, or to their neighbor's kids. They were the ones who not only provided the food, the transportation, went to the rallies. Men did that too, but men weren't as present or ever attentive to some of those details as . . . The movement didn't change anything in society, similarly, like anything else that's going on in the South, women tend to details, men don't. That's the nature of the difference, and so it was there, too. There were men who stand out in my mind in warren County in encouraging . . . I think if not for those men, the women probably wouldn't have been as free to do it. They were older men by and large. They were, I guess, the same people who dictate in various churches. My church was outside of that community, but I would suspect they were the same people who were the deacons or stewards or things like that. You had older men and probably all age women, but the older men stand up in my mind very vividly. There was an individual woman who stood out in my mind, just as the epitome of a classic woman who was black. She was in the insurance business and I don't think that had anything to do with me selecting that, since my father was. She had taught school and had left it to go into business, and she stood out as doing something quite different from what women were doing. They either were housewives, or they worked for someone, or they were teaching school, or they were a secretary. Ransom, I think her name was. And I think she was the first person that I knew of that ran for local government that was black. She didn't win, but just stood in my mind as being her own person, as being very independent. She wasn't very well off. Her husband, I think, had been a cabinet maker and he came from a long line of cabinet makers, so there was some distinction about that. In fact, I think there's some architectural significance to the Ransom cabinets, because I think . . . But she just exuded independence, and being her own person.