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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mildred Price Coy, April 26, 1976. Interview G-0020. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The YWCA exposes Coy to new ideas and influences

After Coy returned from New York City, McLaren sent her to the YWCA's summer camp at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. While at the camp, Coy heard R.B. Eleazer, the director of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, speak about race relations. She believes that this was the catalyst that changed her views. She also talks about what Christian socialism meant for the other YWCA workers. Following this passage, she continues to explain the ways that her time with the YWCA opened her eyes to various issues of race, class, and religion in America and around the world.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mildred Price Coy, April 26, 1976. Interview G-0020. 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

MILDRED PRICE COY:
Louise said, "Now, you go to the YWCA conference in Lake Junaluska, and you can tend to the bookstore there to pay for your way." MARY FREDERICKSON This was right after school ended, your year at Roland?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes, when I went back to Chapel Hill I saw Louise. She said, "Now you go to Lake Junaluska and see what the YWCA conference is like." She said, "You can take care of the bookstore," so I did. And that's when I heard that speaker, Dr. Eleazer. See, I was ready for all these organizations in New York, because the seed had been planted in Asheville [laughter], of all places. And so then I went up there. MARY FREDERICKSON Do you remember specifically what Eleazer was saying?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. I thought I told you in the letter. Did I tell you what he said about Livingstone? MARY FREDERICKSON No.
MILDRED PRICE COY:
He said, "Blacks are fine people. You don't want to eat with them. You don't have to eat with them. They're fine people. When Livingstone, the missionary in Africa, died in the southern part of Africa, the blacks took his body on their shoulders and walked up to the Mediterranean." Oh, I was so impressed. He said, "They're good people. At the end of the Civil War, do you think they did any harm to their masters? No. Many of them stayed right along there with them." Goodness, I was so excited. My God, what is this? And then the next day, he talked about war. He said, "There isn't a bit of sense in war, spending all that money on armaments. Why, it's terrible, terrible to have war." I was still more excited. My face stayed red all the time. And then the third day, he talked about workers and how poorly paid they were, workers in factories. And I never had known any workers in factories. When we lived in Spray my brothers worked at a cotton mill there, but they just did it in the summer. So those three ideas, Mr. Eleazer planted them, and then when I went to New York these organizations told me about what they were doing. So then when I went to Lynchburg, I was pretty much of a red. [Laughter] MARY FREDERICKSON When Eleazer said these things, you described your own reaction as being very immediate.
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. MARY FREDERICKSON And yet you said earlier that it took a long time . . .
MILDRED PRICE COY:
It took me a long time to think about the blacks, I mean intermarriage and association with them. It took me years to understand everything in my own mind. MARY FREDERICKSON What about eating? He mentioned that specifically, "You don't have to eat with them"?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. MARY FREDERICKSON Was that a particular problem as far as . . .
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Most southerners just couldn't stand the thought of eating with the blacks. MARY FREDERICKSON Was that a problem for you or in your family?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
We never tried to. We never even thought about it; it was absolutely out of our culture to eat with blacks. MARY FREDERICKSON Were you able, when you heard him talk, to integrate things that you had seen like the way poor people lived, or the hierarchy in the society that you'd grown up in?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
I don't know whether I ever thought those things through. MARY FREDERICKSON It was more like a revelation than any kind of rejection of something else.
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. And when I went home from the Junaluska conference, my brothers were there—we lived in Greensboro—Brans was there. And so we were all sitting around in this living room in Greensboro, and I said, "We shouldn't spend our money on the armies and on guns." And my oldest sister Ruth says, "Mil, the Lord helps those who help themselves." [Laughter] And so I didn't have any answer for that. And then I told them about the blacks, and it was just as if I were talking to them in a foreign tongue. And that's when my brother Jimmy, who loved me so, said, "Mil, you must get married." MARY FREDERICKSON [Laughter] Quick, before anything else happens to you.
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes. [Laughter] MARY FREDERICKSON What had the reaction been of the other people who were at the YWCA conference at Junaluska?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Some of the girls wanted to go home. MARY FREDERICKSON You said that some women were there from the factories?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes, all of them. I worked in the Industrial Department of the YW. I'd go to visit factories all the time in Lynchburg. MARY FREDERICKSON So some of them actually picked up and went home.
MILDRED PRICE COY:
One or two of them did. MARY FREDERICKSON What about the others? Were they open to new ideas? Were they afraid of new ideas?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
They just were sort of apathetic. But some of them learned. Now some of the girls at Lynchburg, we became very good friends. They didn't want me to go around telling everybody. They would caution me, but we were always good friends. MARY FREDERICKSON What about the women like yourself? Was there anyone there who was in training like you were?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes, everybody. All the YWCA secretaries. They all agreed; they got Mr. Elezer. Not a one of them was a reactionary. They all were just like Louise. MARY FREDERICKSON They were all in sort of the same frame of mind about . . .
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Yes, everybody. They were all Christian socialists; that's what they were. MARY FREDERICKSON Were they able to integrate the over-all goals or ideas of the Y, which, as I understood them, were sort of. . . . Well, Christian socialists. I mean was there much emphasis on the religious aspect of it?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
Not much. Do you know that song "Follow the Gleam"? MARY FREDERICKSON Yes.
MILDRED PRICE COY:
They were sort of "Follow the Gleam"-ish. Louise was the leader of it, and she was always very nice. MARY FREDERICKSON Politically, at that time, you would describe her as a Christian socialist?
MILDRED PRICE COY:
I never did describe her. They all voted Democratic, and they didn't have anything to do with the socialists, any of the left-wing parties.