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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brooks, October 2, 1974. Interview E-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Makings of leadership in the food workers' strike

Brooks explains how her participation in the food workers' strike was her first taste of leadership. After having spent her earlier years raising her nine children, the food service job at Lenoir Dining Hall was Brooks's first "real" job. Although she had been involved in the community via the PTA, she says she was not initially active in the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, Brooks describes her family upbringing, in which speaking one's mind was always encouraged, and her experiences with discrimination at UNC food services impelled her to act.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brooks, October 2, 1974. Interview E-0058. 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

BEVERLY JONES:
Have you ever been a leader before?
MS. ELIZABETH BROOKS:
No. In fact that was my first job. Because I have nine children. And before I had never worked, anyplace other than home and I had gone to work because my baby was in kindergarten, and all the children were in school and that's why I was working the second shift. Because in the mornings I was home with them to see them off to school, and then I had a chance to cook for them and then my husband would be with them in the afternoon. So that was my first real job.
BEVERLY JONES:
I see. Were you active in any community organizations, or the churchoor any of the schools?
MS. ELIZABETH BROOKS:
Well, I had been active a little in the P.T.A., but really not as a leader. I would just help prepare different foods and I helped as each one would come up in school and their class would need help for something. But noe of it was like leading and things, mostly preparing different things that they needed. Let's see. . . no, at that time I wasn't very active in anything.
BEVERLY JONES:
Did you ever participate in the civil rights struggles, or were any of your children ever involved in those?
MS. ELIZABETH BROOKS:
No, not at that time. Now, since then, I have become more active. in a lot of things. But at that time, when my children were small, I had never participated in anything.
BEVERLY JONES:
How did you become so active in the strike?
MS. ELIZABETH BROOKS:
I think what really triggered me off, I had been raised that you do what you say. And my father was just real strict. And if he promised you anything, or he was supposed to, he done it. And if someone promised him something, he just didn't stop until he got it, or he would find out why. And I think some of this maybe did come from there. When they first hired me, telling me the different things about the job, and the Permanent Payroll schedule after ninety days, and this type of thing, and then after I got there and I found out that there were so many of the workers there that had been there two and three years and hadn't been on permanent payroll, and we were checking our checks each week because they were being shortened, I just [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
MS. ELIZABETH BROOKS:
always asked questions and tried to find out why. I had to have an answer. It - someone had to let me know. I didn't only ask about the things that were happening to us, but the supervisor any number of times, how did he like my work. Because really I worked hard to make the position. And to me, I'm a person, that anything I do, I like to advance. I don't like to just stay in the same thing. It bores me. And I've got to move and do something, you know, kind of reach a level. So, you know, I thought he was really giving me great compliments on my work and everything, so I just couldn't know why they were not giving me a better position.