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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Work with the women's movement rooted in experiences with the Fellowship

In this excerpt, Morton draws connections between her work with the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen during the 1940s and 1950s with her later work in the women's movement. According to Morton, she would not have become cognizant of the need for women's liberation had she not worked on issues of race and labor with the Fellowship. Additionally, she explains that her work with issues of race and labor had allowed her to see the complexities of interactions between race, class, and gender later on.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nelle Morton, June 29, 1983. Interview F-0034. 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

What else do you think I should know?
NELLE MORTON:
Oh gracious! Well I know I'm seeing the work of the Fellowship as infinitely more important since this writing has . . . is being done about it, and that I am pulling up. It's the only work that I have been in that's been as deeply satisfying, because I mean you felt you could put everything you have in this, because this is the way it ought to be. And I can see your cult. I've been thinking a lot about that. I was telling John when he was here, there are overtones in the Fellowship that are cultism in a sense. Well, they may be spiritual overtones, but a person who puts their name on the line in membership and reads that membership statement . . . well, I mean you just trust them. And it's just a beautiful thing.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
It was a kind of consuming thing.
NELLE MORTON:
Right! Exactly! And so and so's a member of the Fellowship . . . and here's a new member, something like that . . . and the same too, it cut right through any kind of class . . well, or race. It was anybody might invite you to a meeting, and you might invite anybody you might see around. There was just no . . well it was just a different relationship than I ever had with somebody who was just a member of . . and I think that's what the church ought to be . . . the church community, but it never was. The one thing that I learned a very great deal-I've got this in my material that I'm working on now-and I learned this in the Fellowship, is that . . . and I've applied it to the woman's movement . . listen everything I've learned in the Fellowship is just so applicable to what women are about now, and I never knew I was prejudiced until I got into the women's movement. I thought when I got into the Fellowship that I would go all the way . . . I knew that I identified myself with the blacks and with the workers, and I just thought I kept thumbing my nose, so to speak, to people who couldn't deal with the issue. And when I began to realize the prejudice against me, and the discrimination against women . . . wow . . . that I just . . . I hadn't scratched the surface when I was in Fellowship. And probably none of us had. And one thing that, when we were in a community and I'll just give this as an example, at the workcamp at Columbia, and maybe we'd go after supper that night into a black home or when I would be invited into a black home and this happened many times at Benny Mays' . . so may black people gathered in kitchens-that was where they let their hair down-and I discovered that in the small community in the South the black people knew every single white person, and made it their business to know-they knew who they could trust and who they couldn't. The white people knew one language among the whites . . . they had to say "boy", they didn't know anything else to say . . and now when I'm in the women's movement I began to transfer that to the blacks are women-both men and women-and the blacks have not yet faced that because I thought of this a little while ago when you talked about the blacks have taken over the masochistic feelings of man-stance of man and to display it where they could. I have discovered that while all the blacks are, you know, like that, they know the white community . . . the white and the . . . but the black women know the language of the black man and the white. . . . and they're the only ones who know four languages. And I think that ultimately it's through the black woman that we are going to find liberation. And the loneliest person in the world, I think, is the white man. He knows one language. And you see we have made it our business to know the male language, and to think male, and to read male-hear male lectures and get male degrees. But the men have never done this about women. And it is denigrating to man, in other words, to begin to have to think . . . or even admit . . that women have another way of thinking and the theologizing among women is altogether different.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
I wrote a paper about a year ago on authentic religions in which I dealt with the androgyne-the god of both male and female-and we don't have that . .
NELLE MORTON:
Well I've got an article for you to read, I've got an extra copy, I can't find the extra copy flat back, but I used to go all out for Androgynes, but now I think it's sexist. Androgynes is a male concept because you do not put . . it is still reckoning . . . it is still reckoning deity to think of an adrogynous god-a deity in terms of half man-half woman, if you will. And it is still reducing . . . let me get it right now . . . from the . . here it is, just take it with you. We've got a long way to go, don't we?
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
We always will, probably.
NELLE MORTON:
Right . . because the minute you begin to solve one thing, . . . here you see I'm all for this black God because I think that . . I think it's idolatry, but I think it is a way of confronting the white man in the old God, but I don't think the blacks could say "The Goddess" yet. And I think until we can say "The Goddess" that would confront the maleness in the old God. I'm getting more and more into . . . I started this collection in the theological vein but I moved to the images that are projected and that the common people are hearing whether they're religious or not, and how these images out of the theology that we've grown up on have spun themselves out into the very social and political structures that have made Reagan, and it created the destruction of the environment.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
One of my theories is that, even in the Fellowship, people were operating out of images . . . out of traditional images . . . that they didn't let go of them. The paternalism . . . that's why I've asked about females and the role of blacks . . . apparently the images . . . you've contradicted what I've assumed would be going on. I thought it would be male dominated, that females . . . their opinions would not be accepted very much . . . that the males would assume that the place for the woman would be in the home . . . I see that operating in the Committee of Southern Churchmen . . . in that group . . . and I'm not sure that I'm right on that . . . the little bit that I've been with it. And so I thought that the Fellowship was the same way, but apparently not.
NELLE MORTON:
Well, I'm sure it was to a large extent. I don't think I could have avoided it. But when I think of people like Sadie Hughley and Brownie Newman and Flemmie Kittrell, oh I can't think of the labor movement women I spoke of earlier, and . . . I think these people . . . and Mary Lakenan who was very conservative ordinarily but gave money more . . . as much as anybody else nearly to the Fellowship . . . she taught Bible for years at Mary Baldwin College . . . and going to Pleasant Hill to a conference it caused her to move down there . . . she wanted that atmosphere . . . she wanted to end her days there . . . she's not living now . . . but she left money to the Fellowship . . . Mary Lakenan was very open in the way she spoke in meetings and . . . I'm sure a lot of us were quieter . . . I guess I'll have to think about that more because I'm sure there was a lot, but the very fact that Scotty Cowan would mention that . . . he was conscious of it.
DALLAS A. BLANCHARD:
He was struggling with it.
NELLE MORTON:
Even that far back, and that was in the 30s, the latter, well I knew Scotty first in the 30s and then in the 40s. No I guess not in the 30s because he wasn't thinking . . . he was thinking of this in relation to me as somebody, as an executive in the Fellowship. I never could be doing what I'm doing in the woman's movement now if it hadn't been for the Fellowship. And the experience I had with race and labor.