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Title: Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Stevens, Thelma, interviewee
Interview conducted by Hall, Jacquelyn Hall, Bob
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 268 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
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The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-12-19, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0058)
Author: Thelma Stevens
Description: 85 p.
Note: Interview conducted on February 13, 1972, by Jacquelyn Hall and Bob Hall; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series G. Southern Women, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972.
Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Stevens, Thelma, interviewee


NOTE: Audio for this interview is not available.

Interview Participants

    THELMA STEVENS, interviewee
    JACQUELYN HALL, interviewer
    BOB HALL, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, of course, I grew up on a farm in Mississippi, and my mother died when I was six.1 And I lived on the farm, then until I was about ten. And I think one of the things that I remember with great agony of spirit, even as a child, since I was a child, was some of the things that happened around in the county where I grew up. I grew up in Montgomery County. And our farm house was about three quarters of a mile from the farm house of the farm that was used for prisoners. It was called a county farm in those days, as I recall. And black men - no women, as I recall - black men were brought to that farm to work. They wore suits with stripes, you know. And for a child to see that was frightening. And it happened that the man who ran the farm was named Mr. Jim Reed, and he had a daughter whose name was Ruby. And she was one of my closest friends. We were little tykes together, you know, three years, four years, five years old. Together, you know. And I visited her, she visited me. And when I would go to her house, one of the things that would just haunt me, even in the night I'd have nightmares over it, was the way the prisoners

Page 2
were treated. They would be sent to the dining room, a very old ramshackle dining room, and what . . . they had to eat out of tin plates. They weren't human beings. They were treated like animals. They ate out of tin plates. They had what was called in those days corntack with sorghum molasses. I don't know if you've heard of such . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
I've heard of it, but I've never eaten it.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, that's practically all they had. I don't know what else they had. Maybe they had black-eyed peas and cabbage and things like that too, but it was a very sad kind of thing. And they were whipped with a rawhide whip, and when they were sent out to the fields to work, to plow, or work on the roads, or whatever it was they did, they always had men around with guns, you know, to guard them. That kind of thing. And that was one of the things that haunted me, as much as anything else, as I grew up. What in the world makes people treat people like that, you know, and I . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
When your friend's father was . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
My friend's father was the man who did it, you see. My friend's father was the man who did it. Well, now, I think your life is made up, as you grow up, of instances or incidents that make an impression on you, one way or another. And the kind of school we had was a little one room school across the branch from where we lived, about a half a mile from our house. And we went to school, oh, maybe . . . maybe I went to school four months, sometimes three months in a year, until I was about ten years old. And it was a very poor school, and the people who came to school, some of them were a lot poorer than we were. We were poor enough, God knows. But some of them

Page 3
were poorer than we were, and some of them were . . . were . . . well, they were different from the standpoint of never having been taught cleanliness, that kind of thing. Well, I grew up in a family where we did have the advantage of having good training, and we knew some of the things that were important, lot of the things that were important.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of background did your parents come from?
THELMA STEVENS:
I know very little about their background. My mother came from Alabama. Her father came over to the United States from England, and he built up his business in Alabama. And I am told . . . I've been told this since I was a little child, so I suppose it's true. I'm told that he built, the first lumber house in the city of Montgomery. He owned hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of acres of land in Alabama and in north Mississippi. And he had I don't know how many hundreds of slaves. And when the war ended - he died pretty shortly after the war ended, the War Between the States, I'm talking about . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was his name?
THELMA STEVENS:
The name was Palmer. Mr. Aurelius - A-U-R-E-L-I-U-S - Aurelius Palmer, P-A-L-M-E-R. And he married four times, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was not unusual in those days, because women died early.
THELMA STEVENS:
Had eleven children, and my mother was the youngest of eleven. And he died when she was just a little tyke, and her mother died . . . when she was born, I think, or shortly thereafter. And so my mother was brought up by her cousin, whom I never knew. See, I never knew any of the family, but when my grandfather died, his oldest son was his executor. I mean, the man responsible for all of his estate. And he was evidently a cheat and everything else that was bad, and so he

Page 4
made away with all the property and everything connected with it. I don't know anything about it much, but I know that the slave business, of course, legally, was declared unconstitutional after the war was over. Whatever money there was, he took care of one way or another. I don't know what happened to it. So my mother came up in that kind of uncertainty, see. Right after the war was over, everything was topsy-turvy in the South. And she had a very limited education. I had really . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did she remember being the daughter of a slave owner? Did she remember having . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
No, see, she was born in 1861. And, you see, the war ended in 1865. She wasn't old enough to remember much about the thing. And so she didn't remember anything about it. But my father was born in Florida. He was the oldest of four children, I believe four. Three sisters, and he was the boy, the oldest one. And his father was killed in the war. And at the age of twelve, my father . . . twelve, wasn't it? Yes. Maybe he was thirteen. Between twelve and fourteen, right in there somewhere, when his father was killed. And then he went and joined the Confederate Army as a waterboy. And he was about fourteen, I guess, 'cause he was born in '49. Yeah, he was thirteen or fourteen.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know what his father had done?
THELMA STEVENS:
No. No, I don't have the faintest idea. But I judge he must have been a farmer in Florida, maybe up in northern Florida. And my father had never been to school a day in his life. Couldn't read or write. And yet, I don't know of anybody who was any more alert to and concerned with the issues of the day than he was. And when I was a youngster growing up, seven or eight years old, I can remember sitting down and listening to my

Page 5
father talk, and hearing him say, "It won't be many years till we'll have another war." And it just frightened me to death. I thought, "How can Papa say that? Doesn't he know that we just can't have another war, because that means some people are going to be killed?" You know, a child. I didn't know what it was all about. He said, "The things that are happening today, we're going to have another war." Well, as I said, he could neither read nor write, so . . . I spent a good many hours of my early years reading aloud. I learned to read long before I had started to school.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your father never went to school?
THELMA STEVENS:
Never went to school a day in his life. Couldn't even write his name. He voted, he'd make his mark. Whatever he had to do, he'd make his mark, you know. He could neither read nor write. Now, Mama could write, read, and she had a . . . I would judge . . . in those days you wouldn't say elementary grade education or high school education or anything like that, but she was . . . she had a very limited education, shall I say? And the time passed, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, there were nine in our family, but three of them had died before I was born. I was the youngest of nine. And six . . . I really knew . . . I only knew six. There were three brothers, and there were three girls. My oldest sister was the person who probably meant more to me in my family life, because my parents had died when I was about six.
Well, my mother had died when I was about six. And when I was ten, I went to live with my oldest sister. Because my father had married again, and various circumstances seemed to make it necessary for me to go and live with my sister, where I had a greater opportunity to do the things that any child needed to do. And so . . . My father died very shortly

Page 6
after that. So I went to live with my sister, and her husband was a Methodist minister. And he lived in Slate Springs, Mississippi, I remember very well. And I went to school, the first day in the fall, after I'd come to live with her in July. And I didn't know what grade to go in. So finally my sister said, "Well, you've been doing a lot of study at home, as well this irregular going to school and everything just sort of topsy-turvy. Why don't you try the sixth grade?" I was eleven. I mean, when school opened I was eleven. So I went into the sixth grade and, sure enough, I was able to do the work. And I worked awful hard, because I didn't have much to build on, in terms of real academic background. But, anyway, I worked at it and got along fine. And went on to finish high school. And after I finished high school, I couldn't go to college, because I had to work and make some money. So I taught school three years after I finished high school. I finished high school, I'd just turned seventeen. Turned seventeen in May and I finished high school first of June. And I taught that fall. Took what in those days was called a county examination, you know. And I really passed it then with flying colors. I made ninety-five or something like that. But now I'd flunk every bit of it. But, anyway, I taught school in a little consolidated school down in Kemper County, Mississippi. And we had to go by bus to school. You know, all this complaint about the busing business gives me a pain in the neck. Well, anyway, the bus we had to ride in was drawn by horses, or mules, I don't remember which. And the first day of school, I fainted in the school house. Scared to an inch of my life. Kid seventeen with all that bunch of kids there I had to teach. But fortunately, the chairman of the board of trustees of the school was a doctor, and he was there that day. And so Dr. Gulley

Page 7
came, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Revived you.
THELMA STEVENS:
. . . brought me to, and told me to rest a little bit. And so I did, and went on about my business. And had a wonderful year, enjoyed it very much. And so I taught for three years, and in the spring of the third year I had a letter one day from a man by the name of Mr. Paul Murphy, of Lexington, Mississippi. Never will forget it as long as I live. And he said, "Dear Thelma . . . " He'd never heard of me in his life. He said, "You have been recommended to the Field Cooperative Association as one of the young women in Mississippi who needs to go to college. And we have a scholarship waiting for you for your full four years in college, if you want it." I don't know who recommended me, I don't know anything about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And where did this come from?
THELMA STEVENS:
The Field Cooperative Association was an association inaugurated, or initiated, by the Jones brothers. Mr. Bernard Jones and his brothers, who were from Mississippi. He'd struck oil in Oklahoma and had made millions of dollars. And he said that he wanted to establish this fund in memory of his mother, who had never had any opportunities in life. She'd been brought up in poverty. And he wanted to establish this fund so that young women in Mississippi would never have to face what his mother had to face. And so he started the fund. Every year during my years in college, he had about eighty young women in various colleges in Mississippi. There were about . . . seems to me he had about thirty-five at our college. I was at Hattiesburg, at what was then State Teacher's College. It later became the University of Southern Mississippi. Well, anyway, it bowled me

Page 8
over. So I followed through, and went to college that fall.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And you'd been trying to save money hoping to go to college?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, I'd been trying to save money, but I didn't have much saved, because you don't save much money. You didn't save much money. First year I taught school, I started out at fifty-five dollars a month, and I'd been teaching a month and I had a letter from a friend of mine over in another county saying, "An opening has just developed. If you'd like to come over here to teach, you can get ninety-five dollars a month." So I went to the chairman of the board of trustees, and I said that I wanted to talk this over with him. And he said, "Well, now, Miss Thelma, let me tell you something. I hope you won't do it, but I can understand how you feel. I hope you won't do it, because this is your first year teaching. You don't want a bad reputation." I said, "No, I don't." He said, "Well, why don't you take my advice and just stay on here." And I said, "All right. I'll stay." And then he said, "And we'll give you a raise." He told me that after I said I'd stay. He gave me a raise to sixty-five dollars, which was pretty good. I didn't have to pay but ten dollars a month room and board, so that wasn't so bad.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You weren't living with your sister any more? You had to . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
No, I was teaching then, away from home. My sister was in Chester, Mississippi. I always went home on vacation, you see. So I, as I said, I taught those three years.
The third year I taught was out in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. And I suppose the event that happened that year was maybe the second most devastating thing that ever happened to me in my growing up days. See, I was still just nineteen years old then, at the end of my third year of teaching. Still

Page 9
hadn't turned twenty. And, of course, I think nineteen year olds in those days were more mature in some ways, and yet knew a lot less, than kids today. But one morning . . . I was teaching high school the third year. And I coached the basketball girls and I taught Latin, Caesar, and all that bunch of junk. Worked my head off. So early on morning, just before time for school to open, some of my basketball girls came dashing over to the teacher's home where all th teachers lived, and called me. Said, "Miss Thelma, we . . . want to go on a little bus trip, but the principal won't let us go unless you go with us." They were all as old as I was, you see, but anyway, I was the teacher. So, I said, "Where are you going?" "Oh, that doesn't matter. Come on and go with us. We just want you to go with us." So I said, "Oh, all right." So I got myself out and got in the bus and went with them about three miles down the road. And suddenly the bus turned down into the hillside. And there were hundreds, literally hundreds, of people on the hillside. And there was a man hanging from a limb. And men standing all around him with guns in their hands, shooting at him. See, they . . . It was a lynching. And you can't conceive it, and I'm not trying to tell you what it was like, but if you can imagine anything any more devastating than that, then you're very good, you're very imaginative. But, anyway, as quickly as I could, I got the bus turned around. I got the man, the driver, to turn the bus around.
The girls had jumped out of the bus before we stopped, and then I just went out and just made them . . . you know, I just really just . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
And had the principal of the school known where they wanted to go?
THELMA STEVENS:
I don't know. To this day I don't know whether he did or not.

Page 10
I think they probably just . . . I don't think he could have, because he wasn't that kind of man. I think they probably went to him and said, "Can we leave the school grounds? Can we get the school bus to take us down to such and such a place?" And he probably said, "Well, it's forty-five minutes before time to begin school. Yes, it's all right with me if you get Miss Thelma to go with you." So there we were. So I made up my mind on that day that if the Lord would let me live long enough, that I would do something to bring a little bit of relief from fear and a little human dignity to black people in Mississippi. And everyplace else I could. But I was still living in Mississippi then, and never had . . . didn't, hadn't dared dream of the fact that I'd ever go any place else, you know. And . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of relationship or contact with black people had you had before that time, growing up, you know?
THELMA STEVENS:
Very wonderful contacts.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had you had black people working on your farm where you . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
No. We were not that wealthy. We were just ordinary, what you call poor white farmers. But there were neighbors, there were black people living in the community, and a lot of people in those days called them aunts and uncles. And I always worried about that. I said why do we call them aunts and uncles? Why don't you say Mr. and Mrs, you know. I mean, just as a child it always worried me. They were people to me. I don't know how I got that way, 'cause my family certainly didn't feel that way.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Your family didn't feel that way?
THELMA STEVENS:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Including your older sister?

Page 11
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, my older sister did, after a while. But at first, in the beginning, she didn't. But later she did. See, I didn't know enough. I didn't have enough help, to understand it, in my childhood days, what was going on, see? You see, I think it's good to keep in mind that every individual came out of a different kind of background, to some degree. And yet across the board there was a common base, a common culture pattern, that gave me the feeling . . . I mean, gave you a sense of acceptance, on the part of most people, without questioning the kind of pattern where you lived — — — you lived with the whites. And your friend that you played with out in the back yard, that was black, and lived in a little house that was a little smaller than yours, although not always was this true. There were plenty of white people who lived in little houses too. Ours didn't happen to be, at that minute. It happened to have seven rooms instead of two, but then that wasn't anything to our credit. It just happened to be the case. But there were some people, I'm sure, in that community . . . (Interruption for telephone call.)
JACQUELYN HALL:
There were some people . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
I'm sure there were some people in that community who felt differently about it. But I can remember years later, oh, long years later, maybe ten, fifteen years ago, I was driving through that county where I grew up and where my sister grew up, with my sister in the car with me. And I said, "Big Sister . . . " I always called her Big Sister. I said, "Big Sister, why does this countryside look so devastated?" And she said, "Well, I don't know whether you know what I'm saying or not, but I think the Bible is proving true here." She said, "The sins of the fathers are going to be visited upon the children unto the third

Page 12
and fourth generation. After a short silence, she said "Thelma, you are too young to remember what happened back then. This Montgomery County was shot through with violence and cruelty practiced against the Negroes. So many people - white people, descendants of those awful years are the victims, too, weighed down with the sins of the past. Breaking out of such behaviour patterns is so hard." My sister had gone away to study. She had taught school for many years and was one of the greatest persons around. She supported me in the things I believed in and wanted to do, even when she was not sure what I was doing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had she gone off to college before you did?
THELMA STEVENS:
We didn't have high schools in Mississippi in those days — at least not very many. We had what were called agricultural high schools in my day, thirty years later. But in her day we had none. But she went to Highland Home Academy, in Alabama, not very far from Montgomery. There's no such place any more as far as I know. And she had that training above what we would call elementary school education I suppose. Anyway, she had that kind of experience, away from home training. And

Page 13
she . . . I suppose it would have been the equivalent of a high school education, in the long run. I really don't know for sure. It might have been more than that. It might have been a junior college type of thing. I don't know. But there was nothing accredited about it. But she did teach school. Oh, I think she taught school 36 or 37 years of her life, even while she was a preacher's wife. Because the preacher, her husband, was a Methodist minister, and they had three children, I was living with them, and my brother-in-law's mother was living with them. That meant there were seven of us. Yes, that makes seven, doesn't it? There were seven of us in the family. And he got five hundred dollars a year. So, you see, life . . . you learn a lot. Maybe that's the way to say it. You learn a lot about life when you've lived through circumstances that are as fraught with . . . well, maybe . . . uncertainty is not the word, because I never really had any uncertainty about things. I always felt fairly sure of what I could do. I . . . well, she always had courage, you know, and we did . . . we didn't realize we were poor. I mean by that, we just didn't realize it.
. . . I'm sure she knew more about it. See, I didn't have to worry about the budget, and she did. But it was a good life. I had a lot of things to be grateful for. Even when I was in high school, I had some good teachers, who meant a lot to me. And, I don't know, in college, oh, it was great. I had people that meant so much to me. Helped me do so much. I mean, helped mme understand so much.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When the lynching took place, would you have known anything about it, even though it was only three miles away . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
The afternoon before, late the afternoon before, somebody - I don't

Page 14
know now, I don't remember now who it was,- had come by the teacherage and had called the principal out. It was his house, their house, you see, that was the teacherage. The other teachers just had rooms rented in the house. And they called him out and said a little girl, that was maybe going home from school that afternoon, went on a trail through the woods. And when she got home she told her father that a black man, or surely a black "boy", you know, a black "boy" had followed her on the trail. That is, he had walked behind her, some distance behind her. He might not have been following her. After all, he didn't molest her, didn't touch her, and didn't say anything to her. Well, the father got all upset. That's what happened. I found that out later. But this was the tale that was going the night before. So what happened was that the father alerted all the men in the community, so they got a big posse out in the woods, and they finally found the so-called follower, the "boy", who had followed this little girl. And they just took him out the next morning, out on the hillside by the woods, hanged him to a limb and shot him to death. I mean, it was just as simple as that. That's the kind of lynching that happened thousands of times, I'm sure. The courts, and the justice of a trial, just didn't work.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
THELMA STEVENS:
But I suppose that was one of the deciding factors. Then when I went to college that fall, I became deeply involved in the student YWCA, and in those days, the student YWCA and the student YMCA were real organizations. They really had something for students. And in more recent years, the churches have had student activities, more or less, on college campuses. I doubt if when you were in college, either

Page 15
one of you, you even knew there was a student YWCA or a student YMCA.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Then it was the Westminster Fellowship and that kind of thing . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
That's what I mean.
BOB HALL:
MYF.
THELMA STEVENS:
Campus ministry of denominations, Wesley Foundation, Westminster Fellowship, and whatever the Baptists are called, I don't know for sure.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And when did you go to college?
THELMA STEVENS:
I went to college in 1922. I finished high school in '19. Went to college in '22. And I stayed through summer school, and I finished in '25. Did four years in three by staying the summers.
BOB HALL:
Where was this? Where did you go?
THELMA STEVENS:
I went to college in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which was then called State Teachers College, because I planned to be a teacher. But it's now called University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg. And then I got a job and I finished college, got a job in a junior college in Perkinston, Mississippi. But one of the things that happened, in my junior year in college, that probably changed my decision, or influenced my decision. The personnel worker of the Board of Missions in the Southern church, at that time, was out on college campuses all over trying to recruit young people for full time work under the offices of the church. Missionary work, they called it in those days. And so she (Oscie Sanders) came to our campus and stayed a week on the campus. And she said, "Thelma, why don't you work for the church?" And I said, "Well, the church doesn't have anything for me. The church wouldn't be interested in anything that I'm interested in, and so I can't work for the church." I said, "I made up my mind a year ago that when I finished college I was going to apply to

Page 16
the national YWCA and get the necessary training to work with students on college campuses, under the auspices of the YWCA." And, see, I had been to conferences of the YWCA. I'd been to training conferences at Blue Ridge, all kinds of places where the whole world opened up.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tell me something about the kinds of things that the YWCA and the student branch of the YWCA was doing.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, one of the things they were doing that just hit me right in the eye was alerting us to concern for race relations. And this was when it was almost unheard of. A friend of mine and I - she was president of the YWCA on campus and I was one of the officers in the Y - the president of the college called us in one day. We'd had a series of Wednesday evening discussion sessions. We'd invited some black schoolteachers from the town, from Hattiesburg, to come out and discuss, you know, . . . be a part of our YWCA meeting that evening. And they spoke to us about black people and what their problems were and what their needs were, and we had questions.
BOB HALL:
They were women?
THELMA STEVENS:
Women, yes. Women schoolteachers from the black school there in Hattiesburg. And we had about a hundred of the girls sitting down on the floor in the lobby of one of the dorms. We stayed till . . . oh, well, maybe a couple of hours. And the next day the president called us in to his office. And he said, "Well, I called you two [unknown] in because I just wanted to tell you something." And he said, "I want you to know that I didn't start this college . . . " He was the founder of the college. "I didn't start this college to train a bunch of Yankee schoolteachers. And if you think you're going to stay on here

Page 17
and build up a climate for training Yankee schoolteachers, well you just got it going wrong." He said, "Don't you ever let another black person . . . " He called them niggers. " . . . come on this campus to meet with the student body." Well, we walked out of there just sick, just literally sick. And, see, in those days you didn't rebel as much as you would today. Because we didn't know how, you see. But what we did, we got a group that wanted to go with us, and we went downtown then. And we had discussion groups in the local schools, or . . . well, we didn't do it but a couple of times, but at least we finished the program that we had set for ourselves. And we'd planned for three discussion groups with the black teachers, and we did it. But it did something for me. I don't know whether it . . . I suppose it did something of the same kind of thing for my friend, but I don't know. It made me realize how hard the whole thing was. And so my college experience taught me a lot. I had some professors, both men and women, who were able to see what the world was going to be like a few years ahead. And they were very sympathetic with what I . . . with the things that some of us were trying to do. And, in fact, some of them were so sympathetic that they got into the same kind of trouble with the president that we got in to. Of course, it was worse on the faculty, because, you know, you could be kicked out without any trouble. We couldn't have been kicked out for that, because that wouldn't have been a shipping offense, I judge, for us. But for a faculty member, to subvert the student body, even in the mid-twenties, was a real issue.
But, I don't know . . . And then when I went to teach, the first

Page 18
year out of college, I had two classes, and what we called in those days . . . What did we call it? What you give teachers, you help to train teachers. What would you call it? They really don't do it any more, hopefully. (Laughter.) Anyway, the equivalent of the techniques of teaching, you see. That's not the proper word. I don't know why I can't say the proper word. But, anyway, that was what we did. And I had about fifteen or twenty students in these two classes. And I decided that I would give them some practical experience on the techniques of teaching. So . . . I went over to the Rosenwald School, which was about, oh, half a mile or so from the college where we were working. I lived in a dormitory. The Rosenwald School was the black school, because black people in Mississippi in those days had no real school buildings that were worth anything. And the only school buildings that were decent were those that were built with the Rosenwald fund. And so I went over and talked with the teachers, and I said, "I've got a bunch of kids over in my class that would like to be of any help they can to you. What would there be . . . would you have any earthly need for them?" I said, "They need the experience of working with young people because they hope to be teachers. And what . . . is there anything that you can think of they could do?" So the teachers said, "Oh, it would just be wonderful if they could come and help on the playground." Well, so I'd take turns with the kids, and take them over, each little group one day a week, you know, for them to have a couple hours in the afternoon after school, or whatever time was convenient, with kids on the playground. And they just had a wonderful time with those kids. And while they were working with the young people, children, on

Page 19
the playground, then I worked with the teachers inside. And it was . . . whatever their problems were, and then . . . we'd talk about it. And sometimes I could help them get resources that they needed. It was a very poor way . . . nothing of any significance, except it was significant at two points. One, it gave the youngsters in my class a little understanding of the needs of young people, black young people, on the playground. It gave them a sense of the lack of understanding of even how to play a game, many times. And it gave me an understanding of the problems that black schoolteachers, in those days, faced. No training, no equipment, no decent salaries, no nothing. Nothing to work with. Nothing. Well, the . . . You know, it's awfully hard to say that any one thing made you do what you did, because life is . . . life, for me, is hopeful. I mean, it's always been hopeful. Things come at you from all directions. And you're influenced by an awful lot of experiences, and I suppose that was one of the good experiences that I had, that helped me know a little bit more. And then, at the end of that year, near the end of that year, I had a letter again. Another letter. From the Methodist Board of Missions in Nashville, saying, "We understand that you might be interested in working for the church. We have a scholarship waiting for you at Scarritt College if you'll come in September. And so, I . . . you see, this personnel worker (Oscie Sanders) that had been on the campus before I graduated had evidently put my name on the list.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why had you decided not to go to work for the YWCA? You had . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, at that point, at that point, I couldn't. I had to go to work to make some money as a schoolteacher, because I'd just left college, you see. I didn't have a thing to go on, you see. And I

Page 20
couldn't even go to the YWCA and say, "Let me take special training to do this job for you. "Because I didn't have the money to do it. So I had to teach, after I finished college, before I could do any kind of graduate work or any kind of specialized training to work for the YWCA. And then this letter came. And so I really just worried, and I didn't know what I was going to do. So I got on the train and went home to talk to my sister. I got leave from my school for three days, and I went to talk to my sister. And, of course, she was just excited to death at the thought that I might want to work for the church, and that influenced me. But then I still didn't know what I was going to do.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did you not want to go work for the church?
THELMA STEVENS:
What I told you just now. I didn't want to work for the church, because I didn't think the church would give me a chance to do what I wanted to do. See, my experience with the church had been sort of isolated from life. I mean, it had been a sort of . . . well, I hardly know how to say it, but the church was isolated from life. It was a place where you go on Sunday morning and listen to the sermon that didn't mean a thing to you. You'd sing the old gospel hymns and people would shout or people would amen or people would do this or that. But the church didn't give a darn about those kids out there in that black school, that they got three dollars a year for their education, and the white children got from nine to twelve dollars, in that generation. Of course, now, a lot more than that for both of them, and they're on an equal basis now, but they sure weren't then. I mean, moneywise. And, you see, the church wasn't interested in that kind of thing. The church was highly evangelistic, you know. Argued about whether you were going

Page 21
to be immersed or whether you were going to be sprinkled when you got baptized, and, you know, things that were so - for me, at least - irrelevant. What difference does it make whether you were immersed or sprinkled? In my mind, it doesn't make a difference. That's the reason. I mean, I don't know any other reason. And so when I kept corresponding back and forth, I finally got the word that I would have a chance to do some of the things I wanted to do. And so I eventually made up my mind that I would come to Scarritt that fall, and I did. And I got my masters at Scarritt, and about four months before school was out, they gave us all who wanted to go to work the next year physical examinations to see if we were able to go. So my doctor told me that he wouldn't recommend me for anything. He said, "You won't live many years." And so he turned the report into the office down at the Board of Missions, and so Mrs. (J.W.) Downs, who was then the woman in charge . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Mrs. Downs, who was in charge, said how sorry she was. She really was deeply sorry and sympathetic with me. So I said, "All right." So Miss Louise Young sent for me, and said, "Thelma, the church won't have you and you want to work in the field of race relations. I can get you a job." And so she called a friend of hers, who was the principal of Hampton Institute High School, up in Virginia. In those days they had a high school and a college. I don't know whether they do now or not. So she talked to this man, and she said, "I have a student who is interested in teaching

Page 22
in your high school on your campus. Would you like to interview her?" And he said, "We're in desperate need of some teachers. Have her come up. We'll pay her expenses."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Miss Young was a teacher at Scarritt?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, Miss Young was a professor at Scarritt from [unknown] from 1924 until she retired around '58. And she was my very favorite professor. And so we made the arrangements, I got on the train and went to Hampton. Stayed about three days. Was very excited by it. I got the job, and came back. I'd been back one day, and the contract was scheduled to come any day. I had to sign the contract, but they were mailing it to me. And Mrs. Downs called me in. She was the one who told me how sorry she was. She called me and said, "Would you come down to my office?" I said, "Yes." She had a way about her, you know, you didn't tell her no. You just went. She was very bossy. And so I went down to her office, sat down at her desk, and in her abrupt, gruff voice, she said, "Miss Stevens, I hear you got a job." And I said, "Yes, Mrs. Downs. I have a job. I've been to Hampton and I'm going to teach at Hampton next year." And she said, "Well, . . . " she said, "I think the church needs you." And I said, "Well, Mrs. Downs, I thought you told me the church didn't have any place for me." She said, "Well, I've changed my mind. We've got a job for you, and we want you to go in August. And I said, "Where is that?" And she said, "Augusta, Georgia." And said, "We've got $75,000 in reserve. We want you to go and make a study for a year of that whole community, and then recommend to us what kind of new building facilities

Page 23
we need. We're going to put $75,000 into a new building." Now, this was back in '28. And so I can't tell you how I felt, because I wanted . . . by that time, see, I was sick because the church wouldn't have me. I wasn't worried about my health. I was worried because the church wouldn't take me. And then when she said they would, then I said, "But, Mrs. Downs, I promised Hampton." And she said, "Well, have you signed the contract?" And I said, "No." And she said, "Well, why don't you go and send a wire to Mr. [unknown] and ask him if he would release you." She helped me word a wire. So I sent it to Mr. [unknown] and explained it to him, and so I got released. And I went to Augusta, Georgia and they built a center for blacks, and I worked there for eleven years until I came on this job (in 1940) and retired from it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And that's what the settlement house . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, community center, was what we liked to call it. it is the same thing as a settlement house, except I think it's . . . at least, my concept of what we did was not like my concept of what people used to do in settlement houses.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How was it different? What kind of things did you do . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, I always thought of settlement houses, the ones I read about and studied about, as more or less a charity operation to a great degree. By charity I mean you had just a bunch of poverty ridden people, for whom you're providing some of the necessities of life and some of the activities that were important. But you didn't have a long term leadership development process. It was not my concept of development, of community development. I'm talking about community development, not just community organization.

Page 24
And to me a community center doesn't have the same connotation in the minds of people in the community, as I thought . . . as I used to think - maybe I didn't understand the settlement houses. I had read a lot about them. But anyway, it was called a community center. It was, I suppose, in a way, most of them were the same things that the settlement houses were, but ours was a little different.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And were you director of the Bethlehem center?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, I was.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It was already in existence when you went there?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, that's another story.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'd like to hear something about the background of the center.
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes. Well, . . . I can give you that story. Would you mind if I go and turn on my oven before I start in on that?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No. (Interruption in recording.)
THELMA STEVENS:
. . . telling you a lot of stuff you don't need to know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, that's not true.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, I would like to know something about what kind of place Scarritt College is or was.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I'd love to tell you about Scarritt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I've always had the impression . . . I've started coming across the name of Scarritt College an awful lot, in turning out women who went into these kinds of professions.
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, well, Scarritt College had its original home in Kansas City. It was started back in 1892, if my dates are correct. Yeah, I think I'm right. 1892, in Kansas City. Because the Woman's Home Missionary Society

Page 25
and the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South wanted a training school for the missionaries that they were going to send overseas and that they were going to use for the deaconesses, [unknown] in the home mission program here. And there was no place that they felt was adequate for that kind of training. There was a training school, called the Nashville Training School here in Nashville [unknown] It was training of a kind. But they started this one in Kansas City, and it stayed in Kansas City from 1892 till 1924, and then it was moved to Nashville. It had, as its purpose, when it moved to Nashville, becoming a standard graduate school. See, in Kansas City it was a training school, not a college, not any of the standardized programs. So it was moved to Nashville in 1924. It still continued to have the same purpose, but with much better, and much different, type of training for the people who went there. See, they came to Nashville because you have Vanderbilt University and you have Peabody College and Fisk University. Of course, I must admit sorrowfully that in those days Fisk University and Maharry and Tennessee State University, which was called "A&T" in those days, were not allowed to play much of a role in the life of Scarritt. Some of the students were deeply involved, and some of the faculty were, but Scarritt, for the first . . . up until 1951 or '52 - I can't remember the exact date - up until that time it was for whites only. In my day there, it was for whites only.
BOB HALL:
It was always co-ed, though?
THELMA STEVENS:
No. In those early days, when I was there . . . well, when I

Page 26
was there, there were Vanderbilt students who took classes there, but no full time men students in those early days. There were no dormitory facilities, no apartment facilities, no housing facilities, for men students on the campus. And men could come in and take courses, but it was primarily for women, in the days when I was there.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were the teachers primarily women?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, no. Oh, no. We had . . . well, let's see. My major professor was Dr. Albert Barnett, who was a New Testament man. Strangely enough, I wrote my master's thesis in the New Testament field. had two sociology professors. Both of them were great people, Miss Louise Young was a sociology professor, and Dr. Duncan was a sociology professor. I had all the work that they gave.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there an orientation toward social consciousness in those days here?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, mercy, yes. Oh, mercy, yes. You couldn't take a course in New Testament without being alerted to the whole world in which you lived. It was . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you think more so at Scarritt than at other . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, the purpose of Scarritt was to stimulate you to understand the world in which you lived. In those days, Scarritt was really geared to the issues in the world. Of course, I . . . there were some of the professors that were not quite so much so as others, but by and large it was socially oriented.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And did the women's division of the Methodist Church cooperate? They financed it . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
They paid your . . .

Page 27
JACQUELYN HALL:
. . . and did they have control over it?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, yes. Up until the women requested the General Conference to make Scarritt a General Conference school. But even through the years since then, the Woman's Division made the greatest financial contribution. The Board of Missions as such, I mean, the other divisions of the Board, paid little to Scarritt until 1964. I think at the present time the Women's Division makes its contribution to Scarritt through the National division. But Scarritt was a child of the women. I mean by that it was . . . it was born for a purpose, see. And they still support it, and still supported it. And I remember when Mrs. Bragg retired as president of the Woman's Division after having served eight years, the Woman's Division gave the money for this Bragg Dormitory. That's where the continuing education is housed today. And then when Mrs. Laskey retired as president of the Woman's Division, four years ago, they gave most of the money for that new library that's there. The Virginia K. Laskey Library. And then, many years earlier, when Rankin Hall was built, it was named for a long time missionary, Miss Lochie Rankin. Well, anyway the women have built buildings over the years.
BOB HALL:
Was it the women in the church who saw the need for that kind of institution, or was it . . . was that a need that . . . I mean, that implies, in a sense, the women of the church were the ones that were staffing and taking a lot of responsibility for the community centers and for making sure that those things were going on, the church had that kind of outreach.

Page 28
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, up until 1964, the women had full responsibility for a program of home missions and a program of overseas missions, you see. And they recruited and staffed the programs in overseas ministries and in home ministries, including community centers, [USA] colleges, and all kinds of programs overseas. But there was a cooperative . . . there was a coordinated program in the overseas spots at many points, but not until 1964 did the Woman's Division transfer its home missions administration and its foreign missions administration to the World Division and the National Division. And then, after that, the Woman's Division put into the budget of the National Division the money that they had previously used in the home mission programs, which approximated anywhere between five and six million dollars a year, in home missions. And into the foreign program they gave the same approximate amount, somewhere between five and six million dollars. So that since 1964, the program has been administered in the World Division and in the National Division.
So now, the women . . . the program that the women have responsibility for is primarily an education and action program, geared to the issues of the hour to a great degree. And this is why that it's possible for certain programs to be underwritten on the spur of the moment. For instance, this conference over the weekend here. You see, the Women's Division put some money into this, into this conference, although there was a grant made by the Board of Christian Social Concerns, which provided some. [unknown] I don't really know how much. I don't want [unknown] to say an amount because I don't really know for sure. But it could never have happened . . . it would never have had this money and plans for this program if the Women's Division hadn't been a part

Page 29
of the planning process.
This is one reason why Joyce Hamlin of the Women's Devision came down here. You know Joyce? Joyce Hamlim, who led one of the groups today?
JACQUELYN HALL:
I haven't met her, but I . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
She is the legislative staff person of the Women's Division in Washington. Quite a woman. And so this is what has happened, you see. The Women's Division is able to do a lot of things, like making available funds for the Delta Ministry down in Mississippi, like making a contribution of a good many thousand dollars to the theological education of women in seminaries. Like giving some money to some of these craft programs for the poor in Georgia . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
THELMA STEVENS:
But let me say, in the twenties and thirties the women's organization of the church had two clearly defined concepts, and ne'er the twain shall meet. See, it wasn't that the concepts were different, it was that the understanding of the concepts was different. Unfortunately, when you talked about a community center to the mission minded people, you talked about something that you were going to do for the Negroes. You notice that word "for the Negroes." On the other hand, there were people who saw that not as something you were going to do for the Negro, but as something you were going to do in community development with Negroes, you see, or with the people in the communities.
BOB HALL:
And this difference existed, you're saying, back in the twenties?
THELMA STEVENS:
The twenties and thirties, yes. They were even . . .
BOB HALL:
That's very interesting, because a lot of people will say that that

Page 30
issue itself, between paternalism and real cooperation, say, was just not even available to people.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, this is what I was trying to say a while ago, when I was trying to contrast a community center with a settlement house. See, when I went to Bethlehem Center, I went with the full grown concept that I'd gathered from my training by Miss Louise Young. She's a great woman. And in the twenties, when she helped me - and not just me. She helped hundreds of young women get new concepts of the meaning of working with people.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She was talking about race relations?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, she was talking about race relations, but she was also . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Other things too, but, I mean, that was part of her sociology courses.
THELMA STEVENS:
Human beings. See, her pride . . . she ought to tell you this herself, but, you see, her first job was - I think she was dean of women at Hampton Institute. And then her second job, she was dean of women at Paine College in Augusta, Georgia. And she did it in times, the late teens and early twenties, when things were not as easy to do. When I went into this kind of work, even in the late twenties, well . . . I had lived in Augusta for three years before any white people ever invited me into their homes, you see. But then black people did, so it didn't make any difference to me except I was sorry about it, because there was a wall. The different philosophy of "for"and "with" has been going on a long time. The only thing about it was that there were so many more people who knew the meaning of "for" who didn't even know there was a preposition "with." So that made a difference.

Page 31
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there any criticism or opposition to the kinds of things that were being taught at Scarritt? From either the community or any part of the church or . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, there was opposition within the framework of the Scarritt administration itself, lots of times. Because there were some professors at Scarritt . . . See, I was at Scarritt in the days when Dr. J. D. Matthews was there. I had my Old Testament under him. Do you know who he is?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No.
THELMA STEVENS:
Who he was? He's dead now. He later, after he left Scarritt, joined the Communist Party and worked with the Communist Party quite a while. I don't remember how many years. Then he left the Communist Party and became one of the key figures in the McCarthy era, you know, on the McCarthy side. And some of the things that I have read, that I read in the fifties, that J.D. Matthews wrote, just made my blood run cold, because I had sat in his class for two years, and I'd never known a Bible instructor as great. He taught Old Testament - he was a brilliant man. He was superb. And what little that I know about the Old Testament - it isn't much, but it isn't his fault - what little I know I got out of the inspiration of sitting under the leadership of Dr. J.D. Matthews. And then, of course, he left . . . even while he was on the Scarritt campus, he eventually had to . . . because of his leftist leanings. That is, because he was . . . he was a . . . well, he later joined the Communist Party. I don't know whether he was a communist . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
But even while he was president of Scarritt . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
No, he wasn't president. He was professor. The president of Scarritt was Dr. Cunninggim at that time. And Dr. Cunninggim was a very

Page 32
great man, broad-minded in every way. Well, broad-minded for that era, I guess you'd say. But he wasn't at the point where he was ready for women to have a communist professor of Old Testament on the Scarritt faculty.
Pages 32 B through 36 have been deleted at the request of Thelma Stevens. The interview is continued on page 36.

Page 33
BOB HALL:
Did you know Bishop McConnell?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, yes. He worked with the labor organizers, and he worked with the people who were trying to get a chance to organize the coal miners and the steel workers in Pittsburgh, back in the "teens". He was the bishop of the Pittsburgh area at that particular time.
BOB HALL:
Would he help them finacially?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I don't know whether he helped them financially. I don't suppose he had to. I suppose they had money, financially, to operate it. But he worked with them in terms of helping them get off the ground on the whole question of organized labor. You see, we had the Social Creed, which was created in 1908, and the Social Creed said explicitly that labor shall have the right to collective bargaining with the management.
BOB HALL:
In 1908?
THELMA STEVENS:
In 1908. In 1908. And, see, this was . . . this was ten years later, you see, that Bishop McConnell was in Pittsburgh, working to make it a reality at that point. And, of course, it wasn't until the late teens and the twenties and the thirties that the labor movement gained much power, you see. See, in the thirties, early thirties, the CIO was formed, and split off from the AFL and formed a separate labor organization. The CIO was

Page 34
the more liberal group, and they split off from AFL, and became a very powerful organization. And in the 1940's I'd worked regularly . . . I mean, not only I, but the committees with whom I worked in the church, worked closely with the Political Action Committee of the CIO. And the men who were primary moving powers in those days, both - there're two of them - both of them have died and I don't remember their names. But the man who was the head of the United Automobile Workers, was just a young man, Reuther, Walter Reuther, was just beginning his career back in the forties. He was a great guy then. And so the church really has been related to this kind of thing all along.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I've been surprised, in gathering names for this oral history project, how many people in the thirties and forties went from very . . . an involvement with the church and Christianity to become socialists or communists. A lot of people, who didn't see a conflict, easily moved out of a kind of social gospel Christianity into socialism or communism. I think before the McCarthy era that wasn't such a scandalous thing to do. Does that seem right to you?
THELMA STEVENS:
Probably so. Buy I doubt if you can document this with more than a score of people who were really involved in the Church. In the thirties, for instance, I was not involved . . . you see, I was in Augusta, Georgia. In Augusta, Georgia fascism and communism were not our chief problems. (Laughter.) But when I moved to New York in 1940, which was just the end of the thirties, I realized that one of the big issues in the thirties had been fascism, and our government supported fascism in Spain and elsewhere, in contrast

Page 35
to the more liberal or the more humane, leftist concept, you see. See, People for whom I had the greatest respect, and who were very dear friends of mine . . . were involved in leftist organizations, [unknown] see, because that was the only way, the only channel there was to fight fascism, and fascism was growing in this country. We were . . . we had an awful lot of fascists. Well, not . . . maybe not fascists with any real knowledge that they were fascists, but who practiced a fascist philosophy. And I think that there was a carry-over from the kind of philosophy that was developing in Europe, you see, that led to the war beginning . . . when was it? '39? When the war began in Europe. So I think the thirties were the years when a lot of people were involved, as you said, without realizing that there was any reason why they shouldn't be, and there wasn't from my standpoint. But in the forties, then, the late forties and early fifties, then they began reading their names in the Congressional Record. And people who were not involved. For instance, I was a member . . . I was at the organizing meeting of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham in 19 . . . when was it? '35?
JACQUELYN HALL:
'38?
THELMA STEVENS:
Was it '38? No. Before then. Must have been before '38, because I left Augusta in '39. Wasn't it about '36, '37, more or less.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'm sure it was '38.

Page 36
THELMA STEVENS:
/ Anyway, I was there. And when I came to New York in '40, I was on the executive committee of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, that met regularly. And then, all of a sudden, the whole thing keeled over, and the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, began to be listed in the Congressional Record as a communist organization. And there were volumes, in the McCarthy era, about it, you know. So I suppose we all were active in one spot or another, because of the issues involved, you see, without any tie with the communists or any other kind of philosophy. Just a matter of being concerned about an issue and trying to get hold of a channel that would help make it . . . help resolve it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
About Scarritt also, I . . . still, the major purpose was to train missionaries?
THELMA STEVENS:
That's right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Either for foreign missions, or . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Home missions.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What would they call people who would be turning to the home . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Deaconesses and home missionaries.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Deaconesses? And that's what you were called?
THELMA STEVENS:
Deaconesses and home missionaries. No, I was neither a deaconess or a home missionary.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So people . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
I was what was called an employed worker. See, they couldn't consecrate me as a deaconess, because I wasn't physically able to stand up to being a deaconess. (Laughter.) And so, that was in 1928 . . . How long has that been? Well, anyway, 28, 30, 48, 58, that's thirty years. '68. Forty years. Well, pretty nearly forty-five years ago I couldn't stand up to it. But, anyway, it worked out all right.

Page 37
JACQUELYN HALL:
I would imagine that a lot of young women at that time became missionaries, who today would become . . . the same kind of woman with the same kind of motivations would become a lot of different things than that. Women who wanted to do something in the world. To become a missionary was one of the few things a woman could do, to have the assurance to go out in the world.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I would put it another way, myself. I would think that those same women, ones that I know - and I knew an awful lot of them - today would have gone as a missionary with quite a different motive. I mean by that that the paternalism would no longer be in their minds, because they went out with a concept of mission that was all they knew, you see. I mean, they . . . the whole meaning of "missions" with an "-s" on it, was different . . . forty years ago, thirty years ago, from what it is today. And, of course, the whole training program, the whole . . . tests. I mean, when you were examined to see if you were the type of person who needs to go, and your philosophy is looked at to see if you're the type of person who could fit in to a situation in a given area. You see, your concepts would be different today from what they were thirty years ago, forty years ago. But I think you're quite right that there were not as many professions open to women thirty, forty years ago as there are now, but . . . and today the need is for a different type of person. Now, you . . . people who go as so-called missionaries to India or someplace, anyplace. They go because they have certain skills that are needed at that particular point. They don't go because they had a Christian motivation to go. They go because they've got the Christian motivation, but it's rooted in the contribution that they can

Page 38
make to the training of the people in a given area. Not for any conversion or spreading of the gospel in a vacuum, you see. It's a much more visible, much more meaningful kind of experience, to go to fulfil. I don't know, I suspect a lot of missionaries went out because that was the best they . . . that was the most challenging vocation they could come up with. I think you're probably right that there were some that went like that, but an awful lot of them went so fully committed, you see. You all are going to have to excuse me and rest yourselves. (Interruption in recording.)
JACQUELYN HALL:
. . . and I know we have to move along, but if you remember . . . were there any other teachers there besides Miss Young that you especially remember as being . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, yes. There were several . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Are any still around?
THELMA STEVENS:
Umm-umm. No. No. None of the other teachers are around, but I knew . . . that I had in those days. See, Dr . . . I gave you the run-down on Dr. Matthews. Dr. Albert Barnett was one of my very favorites. He eventually went to teach in the seminary at Emory, and died about three years ago. And Dr. Batten, who was church history professor, also died five or six years ago.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there any others that got very involved in the left like Matthews did?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, Dr. Duval, who was teacher of religious education in those days didn't get involved in the same direction that Dr. Matthews did. He and his wife were, in those days, very far out on the point of sex education and that sort of thing.
In that day, for a man and his wife to write their

Page 39
Portions of the original pages 42 and 43 have been omitted at the request of Ms. Thelma Stevens. own marriage ceremony was something unheard of, you know back in the mid twenties, in the late twenties. But they did. His wife Evelyn Duvall is a very famous woman, you know, in the field of family life. You know of her? She's probably one of the best known so-called family life specialists.
BOB HALL:
How do you spell the last name?
THELMA STEVENS:
Duvall. D-U-V-A-L-L. Duvall.
JACQUELYN HALL:
It sounds familiar, but I can't remember.
THELMA STEVENS:
He was a professor at Willimas University . . . or Willimas College, I guess it is, in Chicago, for years and years after he left Scarritt. See, he left Scarritt, not because of any leftist problem that he had.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of course did he teach?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, he taught religious education. Of course, I had several of his courses. It was just that they weren't adequate . . . at least, he wasn't adequate for the needs of young women who were going out to the mission field or who were going to be deaconesses. They needed some help to become Christian education leaders, and to help wherever they were needed, and not . . .
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did they begin Community centers?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, the Bethlehem Center in Augusta is the oldest of the Centers for Negroes.

Page 40
JACQUELYN HALL:
It is the oldest?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes. It had its beginning in 1911. The story goes, that in 1910 down in southern Alabama a young woman by the name of Miss Mary DeBardeleben had the idea. (Laughs.)
BOB HALL:
What?
THELMA STEVENS:
Mary is her name. You can spell that, I'm sure. (Chuckles.) D-e-B-a-r-d-e-1-e-b-e-n. DeBardeleben. I think it's a French name. I don't know.
THELMA STEVENS:
De Bardeleben. I don't know what background it is. Anyway, Miss Mary DeBardeleben lived on a big plantation down in southern Alabama. And one day she came in and told her father - maybe her mother too. I don't know that. I just know that . . . she came in and told her parents, maybe, that she was going to Africa as a missionary. That was in 1909 or '10 that she told them. And her father said, "Why are you going to Africa as a missionary when you're needed right here? Look at all the Negro people around in this country that need your help. Why are you going to Africa?" And so she started thinking about it, so she decided she'd work with black . . . with Negro people in this country. And so she told the Woman's Missionary Council, . . . which was the administrative agency in the southern church for Methodist women, that she would like to be appointed to a job to work with black people. It was the first time that any white woman had ever worked . . . either volunteered or been appointed to work with black people. Just was unheard of to send a poor, innocent white girl into a black community. Lawsy me, that was just beyond any comprehension anybody could have. So Miss Mary said to this power structure of this Woman's

Page 41
Missionary Council that she wanted to go and work with black people in a given community. And so they said, "Well, all right. Since Paine College is in Augusta, Georgia this would be a good place to begin a community center. So we'll begin a community center there, and we'll send you." So they sent Miss Mary to Augusta, and she looked . . . she cased the joint. (Laughter.) And finally went down on Campbell Street, which is right in the heart of the Negro business community in Augusta, and found an abandoned beer saloon. And so she opened a kindergarten in this abandoned beer saloon, . . . and began increasing the activities, doing whatever the facilities permitted, until such time - several years, I don't know how long. I don't remember that - until they finally bought a house, a Bethlehem Center home, a house, quite a way from there on Brown Street. And it was a great big old one room thing with two little anterooms in the back. And so the Bethlehem Center was moved into that old place. And then, after Mis Mary left other workers came and worked for [unknown] for quite a few years in this old house. And then I was sent there.
So when I came we were in that old barny place.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And you were the only person?
THELMA STEVENS:
No. I was the director of the Center. But there were . . . two black workers, two women black workers on Brown Street when I arrived.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And was that in the same house?
THELMA STEVENS:
In that same old house, yes. And we stayed there a year, until we

Page 42
had . . . became acquainted a little bit with the community and knew more about the population spread and where the needs were greatest. So then we thought they ought to buy a certain piece of property in a different location, nearer the heart of the community. And so they did, and built the buildings, one big two story building and a big gymnasium. And we had a small playground, and a little worker's cottage where the white workers lived. And the Negro workers lived in the upstairs of the big building. My white co-worker, Dorothy Weber (from Lake Charles, Louisiana) and I were told that we could not live in the big building. Negroes and whites living together in those days would not be wise in the minds of people in the city and would destroy our chance to develop a community center. We moved into the little four-room cottage at the corner of the playground, but had our meals with our co-workers in the big building. We faced acres of cotton warehouses! Police patrolled the street in front of the cottage and banged on our door at all hours of the night "to use the phone." We were far more frightened of the police than we were of the drunks who wandered around at night on the playground. In 1930 - 31 "bootleg liquor" was flowing freely — the kind that drove people crazy. We were both very young and the strain of constant anxiety was too great. Finally, when a drunk tried to get in our bedroom window, we knew we had to move. The Negro community advised Dorothy and me to move for the community's safety as well as our own. If we had been molested in any way, mob violence against Negroes would have broken

Page 43
loose. So we moved into an apartment upstairs in the residence of Mrs. Verdery, one of our Bethleham Center Board members. We had our Negro friends and some of the activity groupd come to our apartment as often as busy schedules permitted. We would [unknown]
(Portions of pages 46 and 47 have been omitted by Thelma Stevens. This is her revised version.)

Page 44
have the kids come over for some of the things they'd like to do, have a party for them. So, in one way, we broke the ice. It was something unheard of, you see, that we would bring our Negro friends to our home!
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did that family react to what . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Perfectly all right. Anything we wanted to do, they were just as happy about it as they could be. They wouldn't have done it themselves, but that was our business. So they were very . . . we were very free to do what we pleased about it, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of things did you do in the Center?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, we had the usual activities. And I say the usual ones. We had kindergarten. We had two sessions of kindergarten every day because we had so many children. We had maybe about a hundred children in kindergarten and, of course, you couldn't have that many in one session. So we had kindergarten. And we had . . . for a long time we had a day nursery. And then we had various groups for women, for young mothers. We had clinics. We had clubs for younger boys, older boys. We had a big athletic program in the gymnasium. We had a playground. Then we had a lot of . . . we had Saturday morning . . . all days, well, mostly Saturday, we had what we called Bible School. It was really . . . it was when the kids would come and we'd have stories and we'd have just a good time together for a half a day, you see. And one of the things, among the many things, we had clubs for older women, clubs for various types of younger mothers with help in child care, and diet and . . . we had a big kitchen. We had some home ec groups, you know. It was just a miscellaneous community service center, you see, of one kind and another. Of course, we had a big visitation program. And I had

Page 45
a class that met three nights a week of ministers, of black ministers in the community. All of them were Baptist. We had only one . . . we had only two Methodist churches in the black community. And there were seventy-nine Baptist churches. So I had . . . oh, about six or eight. Not very many. About six or eight ministers who came three nights a week. And we worked on sermon outlines and Bible study sessions of one kind or another. Bible study geared to sermon making. I said I did not know how to make sermons, but I probably knew a little bit more than they did because most of them could hardly read. And they'd had no training whatsoever. And so, in that way I got an entree into churches, their churches, you see. And the kids that went to their Sunday Schools then just came in droves to the Center, you know, where they'd have the kinds of opportunities they'd never have in their local churches. I . . . we said, from the very beginning, when we began trying to set our programs . . . We did a lot of other things. We did . . . For instance, we had an Interracial Advisory Board that met once a month and where you had women and men from the community itself, of the black community, and then you had women - I don't think . . . we had many one or two men - but mostly the white women from other communities from the white churches, you see. We had two Jewish women. We had two Catholic women. And the others were . . . well, I think we had one Baptist. But we had . . . most of the others were Methodist. And they came and really we . . . we had the board meetings so planned that that group of black and white that had never met together or been together in their lives before, had to work on problems together, you see, when they met. We had a camp. We eventually bought forty acres of land out about thirty miles from town, and worked . . . provided a camp for the kids. And we used the camp for the community too, after we

Page 46
built a very nice building and had a deep well and had running water and all that sort of thing out there. It was in the WPA and NYA days, you know. A group of young men were paid by the WPA program, and I'd get up every morning about four thirty, and take four of these young men and then one of the neighbors of Bethlehem Center would take his car and another four of theyoung men. This good neighbor was Mr. Frank Gardner, who supervised the job. Those young men cut a road down to the creek, and then made a swimming pool in the creek, and so we took the kids out to camp. And then we got a community center set up for the rural community. This was in the heart of the Tobacco Road country of Georgia, and we had . . . oh, just dozens and dozens of families, black families, that lived in that general area, you see. So we got some health clinics, some home ec classes, and some sewing classes and other activities going.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Would you ever get doctors or nurses to work in that project?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, but rarely.
JACQUELYN HALL:
White doctors?
THELMA STEVENS:
No! We used black doctors. We used black doctors in our clinic at the Center in the city too, all the time. No we didn't use white doctors. Dorothy and I went to Dr. Josey's office once for medical service. He was our clinic doctor at the Center. He serviced us. Then we asked if he would be our doctor. He said "No, that would not be wise except in an emergency. I'll help any way I can then."

Page 47
So, no, we didn't . . . we wouldn't have . . . I'm sure that we would never have found a white doctor that would go out thirty miles in the country to tend to these . . . needy persons.
The doctor went, oh, maybe twice a month or something like that. We had the health classes in between and then had county nurses, you know, county health nurses that would come to work with us on some of these things. And had sewing classes and discussion groups and, you know, we . . . just all kinds of things. Whatever the group needed, whatever they wanted, see, we'd try to provide.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you get any other help from New Deal agencies?
THELMA STEVENS:
No, we didn't. Except for that kind of thing.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Now, what years was this that you're talking about?
THELMA STEVENS:
I went there in '28, and I left in '39.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So you were there right through the depression.
THELMA STEVENS:
Umm-hmm. (Yes.) And, boy, was it a depression.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was it like?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, if you think . . . if you can imagine living in the heart of 35,000 people, with the vast majority of them, maybe three fourths of them, out of a job and on relief. And . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Where did the money for relief come from?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, it was government. It was a county . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
The federal government?

Page 48
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, no. It was a county . . . I don't know where . . . it probably came from the state and the county taxes, but . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
It must have been just a very small . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
It was just measly. Just measly. Nothing. I've known women, during that depression period, to work for a full week as a maid or in some capacity for somebody else - up on the hill, as we called it, where the rich people lived - and maybe get as little as two dollars a week. Fifty cents a day, sometimes not that much. But that was the only income the family would have, see. That was what the depression was like, you see. That wasn't an exception. That was what it was like all over.
BOB HALL:
Was the Center used to distribute food?
THELMA STEVENS:
No. It was never a distribution center. They got their food . . . they did get groceries and things through the welfare office. But they'd go downtown to get it. No, it never . . . we never did . . . in fact, we had no facilities for that sort of thing, you see. Of course, we could have turned the gymnasium into a warehouse to store food, but we would have had two handicaps. One, it would have taken the space we needed for the kids to play, and for the kind of recreation that the community needed. And, for me, at least, that was more important than turning it into a distribution center for groceries when they could get them . . . it'd be a little distance to go, but the kids needed a place to play, see. They needed it. So we didn't do that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was your relationship like with the black community? Did you have any problems . . . I mean, suspicion?

Page 49
THELMA STEVENS:
You mean did they have suspicion of me?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Uh huh.
THELMA STEVENS:
Took a couple of years to get to where they trusted me, and then, I suppose . . . at least, I feel that I don't have any friends anywhere in the world that are any more real than friends I have there. And when I went to New York to live in 1940, all through the years, especially the first ten or fifteen years I was there, not many weeks passed that some of the kids didn't come . . . you know, that had gone to New York, that some of them didn't come up to see me in the office, you see. And even all through the years I was there sometimes grown men that were forty years old or so would come by and say, "I was in New York and I came by to see you." I mean, it was . . . they were . . . they trusted us and we were friends and they were friends. And we depended on one another, and it was a good life. I had a real decision to make when I left there, as to whether I wanted to stay where my roots were down and where I already had enough entree so that I could do things . . . I think I could . . . I don't mean I could do them, but I could get things done with the people and by the people that needed to be done, and I could get people at headquarters to provide money to finance programs that needed to be financed. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that maybe because I had had ten years of experience, that I would be in a better position to try to do some of the things on a more . . . on a broad base, on a wide geographical area. So it's awful hard. You never know whether you make the right decisions or not. So . . . one other thing.
As I recall, and as we planned all of us together, black and white, planned our goals at that center, we had a three-pronged goal, a

Page 50
three-pronged program, and an awful lot of things fed into all three of them. One was service activities for the community itself, you see. The kinds that I've been talking about. Two, was leadership development related to the local churches, and we did all kinds of things, not just the ministers coming to learn to make sermons. But we worked with local church groups and they . . . local church groups met there for all kinds of things. And we had a good rapport with the church groups. As I said at the beginning, most of them were Baptist, practically all were Baptist. Even the Catholic church worked . . . we worked well together. The Catholic church had a fairly small constituency, but they had a boy scout group, and their boy scout group at the Catholic church came over. We had boy scouts from all the groups, used our place as a big central place where they'd come fairly frequently and do things together. And the Catholic priest would come over . . . every now and then. Every now and then, and we'd have discussions about what the community needed, see. It was a good . . . it was a good thing in the community, the Center. It was a part of the community life. Now, that was one phase of it. The community service activities, of whatever kind we happened to be needing, that seemed to be needed. And the second was leadership development in the churches, of the church groups. And the . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have a sense of success in developing leadership?
THELMA STEVENS:
You can't measure success. Well, I didn't worry about success. The thing that seemed evident was that there was a changing climate in relationships with the local churches to the Center. And if you needed . . . if the Center needed some men to do something, if we

Page 51
needed the creek cleaned out, out at the campsite so that the kids could swim better, before the camp season opened, you had men just ready and running to go, you see. And if you needed a place to take the kids on a picnic . . . you know, this sounds as if it's not a hard thing to do, but you take, in those days, if you want to take a hundred and fifty or two hundred or three hundred black children on a picnic somewhere, you want to get a half a dozen trucks to take them. First thing you have to do is to see if you can find a half a dozen trucks. If you've got some men working around who operate trucks and they say, "Oh, I'll bring my truck," that's good, you know. And then if you've got somebody else to say, "Miss Stevens, I know where there's a place where they'd just love to have these kids come. I'll speak to them about it." They speak to them about it and come back and say, "Mr. so-and-so's got a big pasture with a swimming place in it, and he's got a big pasture with a baseball . . . room for a baseball field where the kids can play baseball, and he says he'd love to have you come." So we take the kids to the place they can go, and in those days there were very few places where black children could go. Ours was the only gymnasium in Georgia for black children, in those days. And high school kids from all over Georgia . . . in the basketball season, would rent our gym for their games. And college . . . black college teams from South Carolina and one or two in Georgia, one or two. Paine was one, but they didn't have a gym then. And there was another black college down in south Georgia.
So, it was . . . it was a very much used facility.

Page 52
Oh, I wanted to tell you the third thing that was our purpose, was to provide an opportunity for young people who were students at Paine College to get experience in community development programs and in community activity. So we had as many as sixty-five [unknown] students working at the Center, and sometimes we'd have as many as seventy-five or eighty that worked there. We had . . . we would work with them on various kind of programs. Some of them would just supervise the playground. Some of them would work with children in sewing classes. Some of them in the kitchen with the diet, you know, helping them to know how to cook and this kind of thing. And some of them would work with the older groups, and some of them would work in the gymnasium with physical education classes for girls or boys or what have you. And then we'd take . . . I'd take them in my car and we'd go out to hethe rural center two or three afternoons a week, and work with the groups, you see. So the students at Paine College worked with us at the Center, and we got to know the students and they got to know the program at the Center. And it was really great. I mean, it was a lot of fun to see those young people take an interest in that kind of a community, because . . . a lot of them would go back to their own home communities that were no different, so that means . . . They could use their local churches at home, where they didn't have a community center, they could make a community center at their local churches. See, this was the kind of thing . . . one of the kinds of things we kept working at. And this is one of the kinds of things we tried to do with some of the local churches in Augusta. Because, you see, our center wasn't big enough to minister to the needs of as many

Page 53
children as wanted to come, as many young people as wanted to come. And then it was an interracial experience for a lot of the people in Augusta, that they never had at any other point. We had Goodwill Programs at certain seasons of the year, usually at Christmastime and then again in May. In those days, we observed Goodwill Days on the eighteenth of May. And we would plan some sort of goodwill experience that involved both black and white children together, you see. And it was . . . and it wasn't a paternalistic kind of togetherness. It was good hard work they had to do, but they had to do it together, you see. Oh, I don't know. It was a great life.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What about your relationship with the white local government and the white churches, and white people in Augusta? At first, you were completely in isolation . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, yes. We were completely isolated as persons, at first. But we were . . . we went to church, and we were asked to teach classes in the church school and that kind of thing. But after the first two or three years, we became a real part of the total community, both white and black, you see. We . . . there were some things we did . . . of course, most of our time we spent in the black community because that was our job. I mean, that was part of our life, the biggest part of our life was in that particular community.
But we were invited to be a member of the Quota Club, which is a club for professional women, supposedly only one woman from any one profession. And I was invited as the director of the Center, and my friend was invited as the director of girls' club work in the Center. And so we got . . . made some

Page 54
friends that were good to have. And one of the women that we knew in that Quota Club is now a resident at Park Manor in Nashville. It's the retirement home over there on Woodmont Boulevard. It's where Miss Young lives.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you get involved in trying to mediate between the things that the black community needed and what the white power structure could provide?
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
THELMA STEVENS:
You know what a shotgun house is? It's a little old house where the rooms one behind the other, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
THELMA STEVENS:
And usually it's about three rooms, you know. The front room, the second room, and the back room. And then you usually have a little yard in the back with a washpot, and a tub and a place where they do their laundry, out in the back yard. And you have a little stoop on the front, maybe a little porch. And on O'keefe's Alley there were thirteen houses there, with big families in each house. And most of the children were illegitimate children. I know one woman who lived in that alley had five children, and she didn't know . . . I mean, none of them had the same father, you see. You had that kind of family life on that alley. And you looked at the houses, you looked at the alley, there were two outdoor toilets, for thirteen families on that alley. There were maybe three hydrants. You know what a hydrant is? It's where they go with their buckets and tubs, and get their water out of the hydrant. No running water in the houses at all. Just think of having two outdoor toilets for thirteen families. Well, we went to work on the man who owned that alley property.

Page 55
Now, at first we called, tried to find out who did own it. And we did find that out. He was a very prominent member of one of the white Methodist churches, Mr. Bob Peebles by name.
JACQUELYN HALL:
(Laughter.) Is he still around?
THELMA STEVENS:
No, he's been dead years, but he might have some family living there. But we won the battle so that he came to my office and two or three of us sat down . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
You called him up?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes. I called him up and asked if he'd like to come out and talk with us. And he did and we pointed out the problem to him and took him on a little stroll. And then he began rehabilitating the place, and put some toilets in the houses. Did a few things like that. He didn't make it perfect by any manner of means, but it helped a great deal.
And one of the things that I think that we did that was about as disturbing as anything that I participated in while I was there was at the University hospital, they had two sets of nurses in training, one black group one white group, you see. And once an intern, a white intern, slapped a black nurse. And all the black nurses walked off the job. And so one of the black nurses . . . we knew most of them, you see, at the Center, but one of the black nurses went to a telephone as soon as they walked off the job and called us at the Center and asked me if I'd come over there. And told me what had happened. So I went over there and talked to the girls. There were, oh, I suppose fifteen or twenty of them. I don't remember. A good group. And so they were just as angry as they could possibly be, and rightly so. And they said they would never . . . they couldn't continue their training, they just couldn't do it. They just couldn't work under those circumstances. And they were right, absolutely right. And so I

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persuaded them to wait there at the hospital, in this little sitting room, little parlor place, where they were waiting when I got there. And I went to the telephone and called John Hines, Dr. John Hines, who was rector of the Episcopal Church. St. Pauls Episcopal Church. I didn't call a Methodist minister, because I knew I didn't ahave any there that would help me. So I called him. He was a young Episcopal rector at that time. Now he's bishop and the head of the whole Episcopal church. He's quite a guy. You may know Bishop John Hines. Well, . . . I told him what had happened, and asked him if he would come. And so he said he'd be right there. And so then . . . oh, within twenty-five or thirty minutes he was there, and I met him out front and explained to him what had happened, and asked him if he would go with me to see the superintendant of the whole thing, you know, the man who was in a place of authority. He was a man. He wasn't a woman, see. But he was the one responsible.
There was a superintendant of nurses, but then she couldn't do a thing about this. And so we went to this man's office, and I told him what the young women had told me. And then John Hines picked up on it, and he just really . . . it was wonderful the way he helped the man to see what ought to be done. The man said, well, he thought the only thing that could save the situation was for him to call the young man in, that had done the slapping, and persuade the young man to apologize to these black women publicly. And I said, "Well, let me go and talk to the young women and see what they will say, if they'd be willing to accept this kind of . . . this kind of solution to the question." So I went and told them what he suggested, and they said, yes, they would. If he apologized to them and if they could have some assurance from the superintendant that nothing like this would ever

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happen again, because they just weren't going to put up with it. And so, then the superintendent called the young man and talked with him. And then the superintendent called a meeting with these nurses, these black nurses who had walked off the job. The young man was in the room. And John Hines and I waited, stayed there. We were in the back of the room. And the young man apologized in a very, very . . . well, what I considered to be a very acceptable way. I mean, it seemed sincere. He just lost his temper, I guess, and he didn't have enough respect . . . he wouldn't have done a white girl that way. But the women went on back to work. I mean, the black nurses went on back to work. Nothing else was heard of it. I don't suppose anything like that ever happened again. I hope it didn't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you involved in any other organizations, while you were working at Bethlehem Center?
THELMA STEVENS:
What kind of other organizations?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, like when did you become involved in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, honey, I never was involved in that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You weren't involved in it at all?
THELMA STEVENS:
Uh uh, uh uh. (No.) I went to two or three of the meetings, but, you see, that started . . . the Association for Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching was started a good bit before my day, in that part of the country. And before my day of really active work in the field. It was started very shortly after the incident . . . not too long after the incident I told you this afternoon, about the women . . . about Dr. Will Alexander.2 See, Dr. Will Alexander was also instrumental in helping to get this Association of Southern Women off the ground, too, see. And when it was organized, Mrs. (Jessie Daniel) Ames

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came from Texas to be the chief executive, and I think she came some time in the middle or late twenties. I don't remember that date. Was it about that late?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Late twenties.
THELMA STEVENS:
Late twenties. Somewhere along there. And when I went to work at Bethlehem Center, when the Association would have its annual meeting, they usually would have it in Atlanta in the Piedmont Hotel. And they had a luncheon. They'd get a room way off in the back of the hotel somewhere so nobody'd see it, and then they'd have some black women there. They'd invite the black women to come to the luncheon. There were a few black women that were related to it in a general sort of way, but the problem was not the problem of the black women. This was . . . the major problem was the problem of the whites. But the women - Mrs. Ames and her associates - would invite some black women, usually to the luncheon that they had. And two or three of us from Augusta would come. Sometimes we'd bring one of the black women in our community with us, to come to that luncheon, and hear the report and be a part of the discussion and that kind of thing. But we never did actually . . . we were never actually active participants. I was never an active participant in the program. But I was awfully close to it. You see, Mrs. Ames was the head of the program. Mrs. Tilly became deeply involved in it, and she and Mrs. Ames together did a very, almost unbelievable job enlisting women all over the South in this whole process. And it really was almost unbelievable. Now, let me ask you a question.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Okay.
THELMA STEVENS:
Have you, in your conversations with the people at the Southern Regional Council, gathered the data or had the data on the Fellowship of the Concerned?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Not very much, really.

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THELMA STEVENS:
Well, this is one of the most significant programs of involvement of women that took place, that has taken place in the South. Mrs. Tilly initiated it. I think it started about . . . around 1950, although I'm not sure. First . . . its first major program dealt with getting women to sit in the courts to be present in every community across the South where there was a court . . . where there was a courthouse or where there was a court, to hear the cases. Women were asked to get themselves organized into teams of two, three, four, however many they could spare, and go to court at the times . . . especially at the times when any black people were going to be on trial, just to go and sit. By their very presence, demand that justice be done. And if perchance anything happened that indicated there was not a fair trail, then it was their business to enlist the whole community to join them in protest to the court and put it on the line the things that had happened that were not in keeping with the principles of justice that should permeate the life of the court. And this . . . this spread like hotcakes all across the South, and hundreds, literally hundreds, of women participated in this program. Now, this was particulary focused on the courts. Then in 1954 when the Supreme Court decision was made on the school desegregation, then Mrs. Tilly began a program of education and guidelines for action on desegregation. I mean, to carry out the Supreme Court decision. Once every year, usually in the fall of the year, about October or November, Mrs. Tilly would have what she called an annual meeting of the Fellowship of the Concerned, where women from various denominations, Jews, Catholics, blacks, whites, from all over the South, would sent their representative - their top official, usually. In the case of The Methodist Church, it would be the president of the conference or the Christian Social Relations secretary of the conference, or, you know, people in places where they could have channels to alert people to

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action. They'd meet together for about two days, and during that two days Mrs. Tilly would have resource people, both for content - that is, for information about what the issues are, what the progress is that's being made and what steps are being taken - and then second she'd have people there who'd talk about what are the strategies, techniques of specific action programs in which we should involve ourselves. And then they'd set a program. "Now this year we've been saying we're going to do this or this or this." And then when they'd come back the next year they'd talk about what they'd done, where they'd failed, what the new needs, were, you see.
Now, for instance, when this voter registration started in the Southern Regional Council, back in the . . . I guess in the late fifties or early sixties. I can't remember which year.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, the voter registration project started about 1965, but I guess they were probably doing voter registration before that.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, see the voter registration project that now is going is not in the Southern Regional Council.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes, it's separate.
THELMA STEVENS:
But John Lewis was in the Southern Regional Council at the time that the voter registration project started in the Regional Council, and I don't remember the date. Maybe it was in the early sixties. Seems to me it was before '65. But it may not have been. I can't remember exactly what year it was. But, anyway, it was in the early sixties . . .
And I can remember the first time he wrote a report to this annual meeting. It was a report of the data that had been gathered on the voter registration process in all the states, you know. And brought that and gave it to these women and indicated, "Now in this particular section of this state

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it's not going well, see. You better get to work on it. This particular section of the state, it's going a little better, but if you do this or this or this, it would help." So Mrs. Tilly, for my money, was one of the greatest. She died about two years ago, year and a half . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
When did you first know her? First get acquainted with her?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, well . . . well, the first time I really got acquainted with her was about 1930. When I knew her in 1930, she was a conference officer in the north Georgia conference when I went to work in Augusta in 1928, but I didn't really get to know her until 1930. Because I was away on sick leave during the whole year of 1929. Had major surgery and didn't get back to work for ayear. So I didn't get to really know her until 1930.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was she like?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, she . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
As a person?
THELMA STEVENS:
As a person?
JACQUELYN HALL:
How would you describe her?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, just let me tell you this story. In the first place, she was a very dainty, ladylike, attractive, beautifully dressed, just perfectly groomed all the time. No matter when or where. She had a husband she always called Mr. Tilly. And he was a great guy. He was not a front man in any sense of the word. Whatever Dorothy - that was her name - wanted to do, he wanted her to have a chance to do it. And she used to tell this story, which I think is one of the great stories. She said that several years before she got involved so deeply in these things, that Mr. Tilly would get up every morning and he'd say, "Now Dorothy, let's go for a ride before we have breakfast this morning." And she'd say, "Now, why

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do you want to go before breakfast?" He'd say, "Well, I just want you to go with me before breakfast, if you don't mind." She said, "No, I don't mind." So she said they'd get in the car, he'd drive. He'd drive through the slums of Atlanta, and through all the ugly places. Through all the places where the little children were out without many clothes on, where the houses were bad, and where everything was all messy and ugly, and people were deprived and had nothing that made life good and beautiful. And everything was just awful. And she said . . . finally, she said, after he'd done it for quite a few times, she said -
"Tell me Eben, why is it that every morning when we come driving you always bring me through these awful places? Why don't we go out in the Druid Hills, or why don't we go out the Ponce deLeon or the Peachtree Road or someplace. Why don't we go where things are beautiful?" And he said, "Well, Dorothy, I'll tell you why." He said, "I believe that if anybody sees people hurt long enough, that they'll do something about it. I've been bringing you through here because I know you know how to do something about it." He said, "I've been worried about these people an awfully long time, and I just thought if I just brought you through here enough times, that you . . . at last you'd come through and go to work on it." And she said after that she began rubbing her brain to see if she couldn't find some way to go to work at it.
BOB HALL:
That was before she got involved with the ASWPL?
THELMA STEVENS:
You mean the Association for the Prevention of Lynching?
BOB HALL:
Yes.
THELMA STEVENS:
It was all in that part of the whole process.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did he do . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Pardon?
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did he do for a living?

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THELMA STEVENS:
He was a chemist, a manufacturer of perfumes. He was not a . . . not what you'd call a very wealthy man, but he had ample funds for her to do anything she wanted to do, see, and not have to worry about it. Mrs. Tilly was a woman who could always get the thing done that needed to be done. She was one of two woman named by President Truman in 1947 on that Commission on Civil Rights, you see. There were nine members of the commission, as I recall. I think I'm right. And Mrs. Tilly and Dr. Sadie Alexander, a lawyer, a black woman lawyer from Philadelphia, was the other one. And then there was one black man, Dr. Channing Tobias.
I don't recall but one. But anyway, Mrs. Tilly said one night, late at night, her telephone rang, and she answered the phone and somebody said, "Is this Mrs. Tilly?" And she said, "Yes, it is." Said, "Well, just hold the line a minute. President Truman wants to speak to you." (Laughter.) And she said she nearly fainted.
BOB HALL:
I guess so.
THELMA STEVENS:
Said in a few minutes President Truman came on with that raspy voice of his, and he said, "Mrs. Tilly, I want you to do something." She said, "What is that, President Truman?" He said, "I want you to be on on my commission to study civil rights in the nation." And she said, "There's nothing that would make me happier." And so she was a member of that commission on civil rights. The report came out in November of '47, if I remember correctly, and in November of '57 the Woman's Division of the Methodist Church asked Mrs. Tilly to come to the annual meeting of our Board of Missions, Woman's Division. And Mrs. Tilly came. We had a little job we wanted her to do, just wanted her to come. And so we had planned a citation for her,

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and gave her a lovely plaque and this and that. And the president of our organization made a speech to her, and it was a very, very lovely occasion. We had the whole meeting honoring her, you know. And when she came down off the platform she said, "Thelma, take me to a telephone." And I said, "Why can't you wait until after you have your refreshments?" And she said, "No, I've got to go tell Mr. Tilly." So she went and told Mr. Tilly before she went to have any refreshment. She was quite a woman.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you a personal friend of Jessie Daniel Ames, or did you mostly just know her in . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I suppose I was about as personal a friend of hers as she had. She did not make friends easily.
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's the impression I get.
THELMA STEVENS:
She was not a warm person. You didn't get a note from her sometimes when things were going badly saying "Don't forget I'm thinking about you." You know. I mean, she wasn't that kind of person. Mrs. Ames is dead now, isn't she?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No. She's still living.
THELMA STEVENS:
Is she still living? She's in North Carolina?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Mmm-hmm. (Yes.)
THELMA STEVENS:
Where in North Carolina does she live?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tyron?
THELMA STEVENS:
Tryon?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Tryon.
THELMA STEVENS:
Tryon, North Carolina. I hadn't seen her for quite a few years, and she looked like death itself the last time I saw her.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes, well, that's what I've heard. I mean, people have been really

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surprised that she's still alive. As far as I know, she is.
THELMA STEVENS:
You see, one of the things that happened to her, long long years ago, from the first time I ever saw her. First time I ever saw her must have been about 1930. And she was a chain smoker then. And I think she just smoked herself to death, you know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right? Did she have emphysema or some . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Of course, I don't really know what her problem was, but you just . . . you just . . . I never did go in a meeting, I never did go in her office, or never went anywhere, that she didn't have a cigarette in her mouth. And I always used to worry about her, and I used to say to Mrs. Tilly, "Can't you do something to stop Mrs. Ames from smoking so much?" And she said, "Nobody can stop her from smoking. She'll smoke till she dies."
JACQUELYN HALL:
About five years ago, I guess, Pat Waters, [unknown] at the Southern Regional Council, did a tape, an interview, with Mrs. Ames, which I have listened to. [unknown] She has a collection of papers at the University of North Carolina and I've gone through all of her papers, and I still don't have a very good idea of what kind of person she was. I mean, it would be very hard to write a biography of her. Her relationships with people seem to have been, at least, as they come across in her correspondence determined by her character as a very hard-driving, professional woman. Is that . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, I would think that would be a fair estimate. You see, I'm not a . . . I'm not the right person to evaluate Mrs. Ames, because I never found her easy to know, and, frankly, I never thought she herself did much in the process.

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I had the feeling that she was more or less the front person in that organization, but that people like Mrs. Tilly and some of the others were really the instruments of change. Because people loved and respected Mrs. Tilly, and they did . . . if anybody . . . If Mrs. Tilly wanted something done, everybody would do it, you see. I've heard women say . . . I've sat in meetings where a hundred and fifty or two hundred women from all over the South would be there, and Mrs. Tilly would get up and just ask the impossible of those women. And they'd go out for a recess or something, and I'd say, "Well, what are you going to do about this?" And they'd say, "Why, Thelma, will you ask us what we're going to do? Of course we're going to do it. Mrs. Tilly asked us to do it." I mean, it was a personal thing with her. You know, there are some people whose careers are built within themselves, you see. Some leaders are not the leaders. They are the program. You see what I'm saying?
BOB HALL:
Yes. They project themselves.
THELMA STEVENS:
She was the program. I mean, she not only had the idea, but she did it, you see? And she did it . . . Her projection was of such a nature that when she as a person was no longer there, then the framework of her program had no stability. There was nothing to hold on to.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You're talking about Mrs. Tilly?
THELMA STEVENS:
I'm talking about Mrs. Tilly. But, you see, what I'm saying is that people loved her so much they'd do it. But Mrs. Ames, it just didn't work that way, you see. No . . . I think Mrs. Ames probably had good ideas that she helped to project, but she had to have somebody who could project them for her, you see, because people just didn't enjoy her.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes. And do you think that . . . was that true of the Association of

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Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, or are you talking about more the Fellowship of the Concerned?
THELMA STEVENS:
No, Mrs. Ames wasn't connected with the Fellowship . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yeah, that's right. I think she was retired.
THELMA STEVENS:
She retired before that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Mrs. Tilly was involved in the . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching.
JACQUELYN HALL:
All along, she was . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, in the . . . throughout the decade of the thirties, see. I don't think she was in the twenties. If she was I didn't . . . see, I didn't know about much then, but Mrs. Tilly was involved in it in the thirties, and then there were women . . . I wish I could think of the name of two women. One was a Presbyterian, U.S. [unknown]. I can just see her. She's a beautiful woman, pretty white hair. The other was an Episcopalian. Both of them were very great women. And then there was a Methodist woman, Mrs. McEachern Episcopalian and the Presbyterian had the same name. I mean, they weren't related I don't think they were in-laws, but they were very much alike.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I should know. Mrs. Newell, of course, was involved in it.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, Mrs. Newell was involved in it, but Mrs. Newell . . . Mrs. Newell and Mrs. Ames were very good friends. They were both of the same type. They were very professional, as you've described it. Mrs. Newell was a very brilliant woman. I think she had her doctorate . . .
[END OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]

[TAPE 3, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE B]
JACQUELYN HALL:
There was a Mrs. Turner.
THELMA STEVENS:
Mrs. Turner. There were two Mrs. Turners. That's it.

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Good, you thought of it. Mrs. Turner . . . there was a Mrs. Turner who was a Presbyterian, U.S. and a Mrs. Turner who was an Episcopalian.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Mrs. W.A. Turner? Was that one of them.
THELMA STEVENS:
I don't remember her initials, but I remember what they both looked like. And they were very good people.
(A portion omitted by Jacquelyn Hall.)
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you know whether any of these women are still around?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I know Mrs. McEachern is dead. I know Mrs. Newell is dead. I'm trying to think who would know. They should know at the . . . they should have a record of that at the Southern Regional Council, as to whether Mrs. Turner's still living. I think one of those Mrs. Turners lives in Atlanta. Well, wait, I know somebody who would know. Let me think of her name. Penelope Hardy. There's a Mrs. A. A. Hardy who lives in a town about thirty miles from Atlanta. Hardy, Hardy. Mrs. A. A. Hardy. Everybody called her Penny. And she was one of Mrs. Tilly's right-hand "men." She knew the Turners.

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[END OF TAPE 4, SIDE A]

[TAPE 4, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]
THELMA STEVENS:
I was at the Bethlehem Center, and I went to . . . The Woman's Misoionary Council of the Southern Church met in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I was asked to go to Tulsa to make a report of the Center. And when I got there the nominating committee was waiting to interview me to see if I would take Mrs. Newell's place in the Southern Church. This was in '38, just two years before the final union of the three churches was to be consummated. And they wanted to get a younger person in this job in the Southern Church before unification, because Mrs. Newell said she could not go on at all after unification, because she was almost seventy then.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Mrs. Newell?
THELMA STEVENS:
Mrs. Newell, I mean. I didn't mean Mrs. Ames. I said Mrs. Ames, didn't I?
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
THELMA STEVENS:
Mrs. Newell couldn't go on, and so she said she wanted to resign. And so they accepted her resignation and asked me if I would take the job. And I told them that I would take the job, provided . . . I mean, if they had nobody to send to Bethlehem Center in my place at the minute, and they said they didn't know how long it would be before they did have somebody. Then I said I wouldn't leave the Center without a worker, so I told them that I would take the job and carry it, since it wasn't a full-time job anyway, supposedly at that time. It was the kind where you got an $85 a month stipend, and $1500 a year office money. And so I told them that I would go back to the Center for a year and still continue to be the responsible person, but that the salary . . . my salary at the Center was $75 a month. It would be an

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increase of ten dollars to get the other. So I said I would turn my salary over to the Center, the one I was getting from the Center, and we would employ another staff person there, which we did. And I stayed on as the director, giving whatever time I had, whatever time was needed, which was practically full time. And then we got another black person on the staff with the salary which I was not using any more, because I was using the $85 stipend. So I stayed on that year, and they got a successor, and then I left and came to Nashville in September, 1939.
JACQUELYN HALL:
A black successor?
THELMA STEVENS:
No, they got a white successor. Got a deaconess that time. See, I was not a deaconess. And I . . . moved to Nashville and was here two years, and in 194 . . . I was here from '39, September, '39, until December of '40, I guess it was. And when the Board of Missions was organized in July of 1940, they elected me as the executive for Christian Social Relations in the new Women's Division. And I went to New York in December. So I had thirty . . . well, let's see, I went there in 1940. I had twenty-eight years in New York . . . at work, you see, and I had had eleven years at Bethlehem Center.
BOB HALL:
How did you like . . . what was your first impression of New York City? Or had you been up there so many times before?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I had n't been up there but a couple of times before, before I moved there, but . . . well, my first impression was, I suppose, was that everybody tried to eat all the time. (Laughter.) You get on a bus and ride down the street, every restaurant you'd pass would be full, whether you'd pass at midnight or whether you'd pass at eight o'clock in the morning or twelve

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o'clock at noon. That was my first impression of New York. (Laughter.)
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's right.
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, New York's quite a city. I liked it, though. I enjoyed my years there very much. And I miss it, but I like Nashville very much too.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Could you talk a little bit about the kind of work you did while you were in Nashville? What kind of things you were trying to do?
THELMA STEVENS:
You mean those two years I was in Nashville.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yes.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, I was . . . I was responsible for the Christian Social Relations Program of the former Southern Church, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did that involve?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, it involved an emphasis in the field of race relations and in the field of citizenship education, and the field of economic relations and rural community. I guess that's about it. Let's see. Alcohol. That was the other one. Well, my job was to try to work to get guidelines for mailing out suggestions to women in the local organizations across the church, to get them involved in it. That was one type of thing. The other type was . . . the other thing I did was I had a seminar for six weeks at Scarritt, where forty women were brought from all over the Southern Church. And we spent that six weeks seminar period working on the issues in Christian social relations in terms of what type of strategies and program plans ought to be suggested. And, boy, that was an exciting time. We had all kinds of these sorts of people coming in, here, there and yonder. And we had . . . that was really a liberal education for me. I had . . . one phase of the program, I had never done any background work on at all, and that was in the whole economic field.

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Labor relations and all the aspects of working conditions, what have you. Just the whole gamut of economic issues. And we had resource people come in from labor unions and just a variety of people. I wish I could remember who all they were at the minute, but I can't.
JACQUELYN HALL:
You had . . . Do you have papers and records from your work? During those years?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, not for those two years. I have some things, but I don't have much for those two years. See, in the first place, I jumped from the community center work into this transition period. And I suppose the two most important things that we did in the two years before I went, to New York were geared specifically toward the transition to the new program. One was this seminar, which was a projection into the future, you see. What is it? Now, are we going to move in 1940 into this new relationship, with a new format for our working plan, everything. Now, how can we utilize it to the best advantage without having a slack? We must speed up the machine instead of making it run down while we're making the transition, you see. That was . . . that dealt with the whole gamut of programs, you see, including race and all the others. And then the other thing that we did that was very exciting, to me at least. We planned a conference, I guess you'd call it, where women from the South could get acquainted with women from the other two denominations involved in Union. And we had it at Paine College in Augusta. There were about sixty of us there. And we had, out of the sixty, there must have been fifteen blacks. And, you see, in the Southern Church we didn't have any blacks [unknown] And we met at Paine and about fifteen blacks and about fifteen whites . . . about thirty people from the M. E. Church and the Methodist Protestant Church, We

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were the M. E. Church, South. And there were about thirty of us, which made a total of about sixty. And we were there, oh, I guess about four days, together. And we got acquainted. And for one thing, it helped to bridge a barrier that existed between the white women of the Southern Church and the black women of the Northern Church, you see. Because fortunately or unfortunately, however or who ever's looking at it, the southern women, by and large, in their relationships to black churchwomen, offically, in any capacity, had related to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, called the C.M.E. -"Colored," at that time, Methodist Episcopal Church. And most of our joint efforts, working relationships, had been between the southern . . . M. E. Church, South and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. And what we were now needing to do was to move . . . not to abandon the working relationships with the C. M. E. women, but, from my standpoint, to get a new concept of what those working relationships were. When I came into this job, one of the most evident marks of paternalism that I found when I moved from the community center into the job of the national body, you see, was the working relationship of white southern women in my church with black women in the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What were those relationships like?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, for instance, the women of the CME Church had leadership schools in various places, and we . . . had leadership schools in various places. And we would . . . we . . . our leadership . . . when I say we, I didn't do that. I wouldn't have done it. I couldn't have done it. It wouldn't have been me. But they encouraged women in various areas adjacent to or within reach of those leadership schools to provide scholarships for women, black women, to go to the leadership schools. And usually they . . . Mrs. Jones

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would go to her local church, or Mrs. Smith would go to her local church, and say, "Now, Mary, my maid, can take a vacation that week, and if you'll provide the scholarship for her, she can go to that leadership school. Then she can come back and report to us." See? See what I mean. You . . . you provide Mary a vacation trip, and Mary didn't have the kind of background or the kind of competence that would make that leadership school have any meaning for her. Instead of going to the C.M.E. church in the town and saying, "We'd like to make available a scholarship if you have a woman who is . . . whom you would like to have represent you at this leadership school then come back and be of some service to your church when she comes back. And maybe when she does come back she can be of some service to us, too, in our church." But, you see, we didn't work like that, and so women would send Mary and Sally and Julie and Molly and all the others to the leadership schools. And it was good for them. I mean, it was great. But it was the way it was done, you see. And those women that would go would feel under obligation to that white woman for whom she worked, who had made it possible for her to go. That was one aspect of the paternalism. But, you know, there's something intangible about paternalism that I can't describe to you.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yeah. You know it when you see it.
THELMA STEVENS:
And it's just that we weren't working on a horizontal level, you see.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were those leadership schools the main program through which . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, they were one denomination and we were another denomination, and naturally they had their own programs and we had our own programs.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Yeah, but I mean the main way that the two tried to relate to each other.
THELMA STEVENS:
No, they weren't . . . That was one of the most tangible ways, and one of the things that we've never done was to actually work and plan together

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to do things together as groups.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And that hasn't happened?
THELMA STEVENS:
No, it hasn't happened yet.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is that right?
THELMA STEVENS:
Not in the same . . . not in the way that it ought to have happened. I suppose there're lots of reasons why it hasn't happened, probably. We've worked hard at it. But one of the difficulties is that each denomination has a full-fledged program, and we worked in our United Churchwomen together with all the various denominations, but it's very hard for two denominations carrying full-fledged programs of their own, and separate entities, to find enough time to have a full-fledged program together. You just can't do it that way. So the only thing . . . the only thing's that got to happen before we ever arrive at that is to come to some place where we can have another union, where the United Methodist Church and the C. M. E. Church and the A. M. E. Zion and the A. M E. can unite so that there'll be a total Methodist Church, you see, made up of all these groups.
BOB HALL:
In a sense [unknown] it seems like you evaluate the programs of the thirties and the forties from a perspective enjoyed by us today. I mean, what we know today to be paternalism, a lot of people didn't even know it was paternalism then. They didn't think about it in terms of paternalism.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But some people . . .
BOB HALL:
That's what I'm wondering. How great was the awareness among some people that it was paternalism, and, in other words, how strong were the forces that other people had to ignore, [unknown]

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THELMA STEVENS:
You mean . . . are you saying . . . are you asking, if the black people, for example, were . . . made it evident that they were aware of a paternalist . . . paternalistic attitude of the Methodists toward them . . . is this what you're saying? Is this what you're asking?
BOB HALL:
Well . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's a good question.
BOB HALL:
Yeah. Yeah.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did they have . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I'm sure they knew it. But . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
But there weren't any demands . . . pressures being brought to bear, or demands being made on the white women, that they relate differently to black women.
THELMA STEVENS:
No. No. No. You see, . . . you see, I was the only one that ever made those . . . that ever brought those pressures. I brought it to both groups. But, you see, the point was that the C. M. E. women, for instance, were very low on funds. And the Methodist women had money. And they were very generous. They made it available, you know. It's awful easy to give a thousand dollars. But it's awful hard to sit down and plan something that you do together that makes both groups stronger, you see.
BOB HALL:
Right.
THELMA STEVENS:
Now, as far as . . . You see, I think there were very few people on our side . . . and when I say on our side I mean in the Methodist group - that would have admitted that we were consciously - maybe we weren't consciously - being paternalistic. But we were being paternalistic. But I think there would be very few that would admit that we were. They'd say, "We're not. We're doing what they want us to do." You see. And that was true.

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BOB HALL:
Black women would come to the conferences and they would report back and they would say, "Thank you, thank you. This is just what we wanted."
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, we stopped that. We stopped that kind of business, that scholarship business, about the second year I was in the . . . you know, as soon as I got to where I could do anything about it at all, see. I redirected them and . . .
BOB HALL:
But apparently that was something actually that went on in the Association of Southern Women. It was all white women, but in some of the annual meetings when they . . . some black women would be brought in and they would say, in a sense, things that the Association liked to hear. You know what I mean.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, that could be. There . . . wasn't at the meetings I attended. I didn't hear many black women speak. They just listened to what was going on. But of course the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching didn't really do any work with black women, because they . . . that was white women's job, and they didn't . . . well, the black women couldn't have helped much at this point, you see. This was something that was so terrible that white people would do it to blacks, but I don't know that black women could have been of a lot of help in doing something about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I'd like to hear about what you . . . the work that you did after you took the position with the Woman's Division in New York, but I'm still . . . I'm afraid you're getting awfully tired. Is your voice going to give out?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, the kind of . . . I think the kind of work that I did, of course, related to the overall program of Christian Social Relations. And what we did was to help establish policies as to what we were going to do in the program, and then we worked out the kinds of programs that we were going to engage in. And we moved from year to year dealing with . . . we had

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long term plans, but they were flexible about them, so that they adapted to the needs of the times. And I could take, year by year, and in most instances highlight the big event of the year. But that would in no sense encompass the broad scope of the program. You see, we had a broadly based program, all through the years, in the field of peace. And when the United Nations came along we had one full-fledged staff person in the beginning working in the United Nations field, and when I left the office we had . . . let's see, we had three . . . we had four staff people and we had quite a few office personnel, some seminar assistants and all that sort of thing. Had a big program relating to the United Nations and international affairs. We had a whole building, had a whole floor with people working in that field, and they're still there, you see. In 1940 when I went into the office, of course, there was just me, just one person on the staff. And then in 1944 we got another staff person whose primary job was in the economics field, and as a legislative representative in Washington, you see. Then shortly after we got . . . we got a third staff person, whose job was . . . well, for one thing, it was more or less administrative director, in some ways, in the office itself, and another to do just an awful lot of field work in terms of conferences, seminars, that kind of thing, related to the total program. And then, in 1965 we got a person who carried the portfolio on race, for quite a few years after that, Peggy Billings became that staff person.
I had carried that portfolio myself all those years, but my portfolio got heavier and heavier with so many interdenominational things, and so many inter-board and inter-agency things. We got involved in so much that you can't give full time to what you need to. So Peggy came along and

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took that portfolio. She became my successor when I retired, and . . . there was another person who came in to take the Race portfolio. But now, when you really want to see the big issues that we dealt with, and the kinds of problems that were confronted they're all in the . . . annual report. There is a section that's called, "Report of Christian Social Relations" that will give the full details of policy statements that were made and the programs undertaken.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, most of your work was on a national level. I mean, how much relationship did you have with what was going on in the local women's organizations?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see . . . my work was done on a national level, but the work that was done on the national level was in terms of program planning and promotion through Conference and districts to the locals, you see. And, when you have 36,000 local units all over the nation, you can't deal individually with every local unit. Our church is what we call a connectional church. I mean by that that the national office has direct connection with the conference channeling to them guidance and suggestions, plans and programs. And bringing the conference officer to some central place for training on the job, that kind of thing. The kinds of things that conference officers ought to know if they're going to promote the local program in their conference. Then this conference officer would go back to her conference, and do the same with her district officers. And then her district officers would promote the locals, you see. So your national staff person has direct contact with representatives of the local women's societies, when you happen to have a chance to go to

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that particular conference meeting, or to a school of missions in that conference, or if you happen to be in a district meeting, or if you happen to be fortunate enough to get into a local situation.
BOB HALL:
Did you organize that process, the school of missions, set up structure?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I didn't organize it myself. It had originated much earlier. I was on the Division committee. But, you see, we have a special staff person who's responsible for coordinating that plan, but there is a committee that plans the schools But, the school you went to in Jackson Tennessee was a regional school. And, in addition to the regional schools - we have five regional schools, one in every one of the major regions - and then we have conference schools in every conference. We have . . . how many conferences? Seventy-three conferences, I believe. In the conference schools and in the regional schools, [unknown] if you can go . . . you can't go to very many, because you're just one person, you see. But when you do go, you have a chance to get to know an awful lot of women. But, even though I'd never been in a tenth of all the local . . . no, not a hundredth of all the local societies in the country, of course, but when I was on the job, I felt I knew them. Ithink that if your name is familiar to them, then they have a feeling that they know you. If you happen to see them somewhere, why, it's great. I was invited to speak at my church here . . . at my church women's society here in Nashville, Belmont Methodist Church, the other day. And when I finished, there were about a hundred and fifty women there, and I'll bet . . . I'll bet fifty women, in one way and another, said to me, "Well, I've seen your name somewhere, and I'm so glad to get to meet you." Or something like that, you know. I think all I'm saying is that in a national structure as

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big as ours, in the United Methodist Church, your relation to the local church has to be through your connectional channels. And, of course, the strength of your organization is there, because no national staff person has the sense to make this connection any better, or half as well, even, as a conference officer could make it. And, see, we . . . the strength of our organization is in the power of the volunteers. And if we have 36,000 societies that means we have 36,000 presidents. If we have 600 districts, we have 600 district presidents with officers in the district. There are 73 conferences with 73 conference presidents and all the conference officers. We have five regions, with a president and the officers of that region, see. So, you see, if there's any strength at all in the program that we create, it comes from the fact that you've got alert, trained volunteers on all the steps of the organization. And this is one of the reasons why Methodist women work effectively many times - not always, I'm sorry to say - but many times, more times than not, on issues that they are asked to work upon, it's because they've got a channel of communication, you see, step by step. And the most important is the local, when the news gets home, gets down to the local church. And I think, really, over the years some very wonderful policies have been set by the Women's Division. And we've taken action on things that were . . . that upset the apple cart lots of times. People were awfully troubled and upset about it. But, in due time, it worked out. One of the things that I remember, the second year that I was working in New York, in 1942 . . .
[END OF TAPE 4, SIDE B]

[TAPE 5, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 5, SIDE A]
THELMA STEVENS:
. . . December of 1941, the first annual meeting we had after I moved to New York, two of the recommendations that our department brought to the Women's Divisions were these. One was that we

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work for . . . that we work for social security for domestic workers. That was one of them. The other was that we have . . . demand a union label on all the printed material of the Women's Division. Now, those two recommendations, in December of 1941, just really rocked the building. You just can't imagine it. We had one old lady, about ninety years old, from Ohio, Mrs. Good. She was the former president, the outgoing president, of the Woman's Home Missionary Society, you know, that had merged, you see. And she was on the board on a temporary basis for the transition. [unknown] Well, Mrs. Good just had forty-eleven fits about the recommendation for union labels. But she was all for the payment of social security to domestic workers. Mrs. Piggott from Kentucky, also an older woman who was there for the transition quadrenium. Mrs. Piggott wasn't quite as old as Mrs. Good, but she stood up and said, well, she didn't know that she minded union labels, but she couldn't bear the thought of paying social security to domestic workers. And so that body of some sixty women just had one big discussion there. So finally they tabled both motions. I mean, both recommendations. And so after the session adjourned, I was in my office. I knew they wouldn't accept them, but, you see, it was an education to bring the recommendations, and have them discussed. Mrs. Piggott came into my office. She stood in front of my desk and said, "Thelma, I know you think I'm awful." "No, I don't, Mrs. Piggott But she said, "Well, I'll tell you what I came in here for. I want you to give me some material to read on this social security for domestic workers." She said, "I'm not just plumb down on it, but I just don't know anything about it and I don't think I like it, but I want to know what it's all about. And I'll be honest. If I find out I think it's all right, then I'll come back and

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tell you, and I'll vote for it." Well, about . . . oh, nearly a year later she came in one day, she said, "Well, I've got something to tell you." She said, "I want you to bring that recommendation back in on social security for domestic workers, because I want to speak for it." And sure enough, we did. And . . . we brought "union label" one back too, and we got it passed, years later, modified. The only thing they would be willing to say was that the Christian Social Relations Department could have its materials with a union label on it. So we did, from that day on. We had all our materials that were published specifically for the department, with union labels.
BOB HALL:
Well, wasn't it printed by the [unknown] by some Methodist publishing house?
THELMA STEVENS:
They did not use union labels. We had to have all our materials printed outside the Methodist publishing house.
BOB HALL:
That's what that resolution meant?
THELMA STEVENS:
That's what that resolution meant.
BOB HALL:
That you wouldn't do it in the house?
THELMA STEVENS:
That we wouldn't do it in the Methodist publishing house. See, that was in 1941. Now, if the Methodist publishing house uses a union label today, it's been done since I retired. Frankly, I haven't kept track in the last three or four years, so I don't really know. But they've got a new regime, and the man who was the head of it retired. They've always fought unions, and I don't know whether they do or not. You were going to ask me something.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What time is it?
BOB HALL:
It's ten o'clock.

Page 84
Pages 88 and 89 were irrelevant to the interview and have been deleted by Jacquelyn Hall. (Conversation about meeting Miss Young.)
THELMA STEVENS:
Miss Young is one of the really great women of the thirties and forties and fifties. Well, of course, she's still, for my money, great, but I mean in her influencing people. She . . . most of her activities, is recent years, of course, have been focussed here on Nashville, but she's been a great influence on a great many women that have gone through Scarritt College, you see, as students. And so her influence is scattered pretty well over the nation and over the world. And some of us hold her in very high regard. So . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Can you think of anybody else I should talk to, that you haven't mentioned? Or that I should find out about?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you're going to try to see Mrs. Trimble maybe, and if you can get some . . . if you can get with Penny Hardy, she might have some information about some of the people that were close to Mrs. Tilly, you see, and close to Mrs. Ames. And I really . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Anybody active in the YWCA in the South?
THELMA STEVENS:
I don't know of anybody. And if you can't talk to Mrs. Jones, or if you can talk to Dr. Willa Player, either one of them would be very good in terms of, not only Bennett College, but in terms of black women that have played an important role in the South, you see. I tell you somebody in Atlanta who might know some important black women, who's . . . she's a very important women herself. Mrs. J. W. E. Bowen. She's a black woman in Atlanta. She's the wife of Bishop Bowen. The Bishop died several years ago.

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JACQUELYN HALL:
B-O . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
B-O-W-E-N. Margaret Bowen. Mrs. J. W. E. Bowen. She lives . . . you can find her in the telephone directory. She was the president of the central jurisdiction for the first two quadrania. That is, from 1940 to 1948. And I have great appreciation for her. She's one of these people who speaks her mind with great clarity. Of course, she's not as young now as she was, but none of the rest of us are either. But I haven't seen her in a couple of years, but she's a very good person.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Okay.
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, I know somebody. If you ever have a chance to talk with her, it'd just be great, because she's a wonderful person herself. It's Dr. Capitola Dent Newburn. Do you have her name anywhere?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No.
THELMA STEVENS:
She's a professor at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Is her last . . . now, what's her name again?
THELMA STEVENS:
New burn Capitola . . . Dr. Capitola Dent Newburn. And she's teaching music and religious philosophy, I believe it is, at the C.M.E. College at Lane. At Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. You may remember her, Bob. She was . . . she attended that school.
BOB HALL:
Oh, yes.
THELMA STEVENS:
She's fairly stout, woman. Used to teach at Paine College for a great many years. And she's a native of Georgia. And she's very . . . she's really been a very influential person. She's got a doctorate in social work, and she's worked with the national YWCA, back in the days when Montclair, New Jersey was having such fits over the race business, she was head of the YWCA out there. She married a C.M.E. minister, and he died several years ago.
END OF INTERVIEW
1. See addendum for additional information regarding Stevens' early life.
2. Reference is to the Memphis meeting of 1920, at which the Woman's Committee of the CIC was formed. The Anti-Lynching Association was organized ten years later.