Major goals of the Bethlehem Center
Stevens describes the major goals of the Bethlehem Center in Augusta, Georgia. According to Stevens, the Center was intent upon providing service activities for the community, promoting leadership development among local churches, and to provide Paine College students with experience in community development. In describing these goals, Stevens offers several anecdotes about the type of work she and the other Center employees did in the community and discusses how they were received by both white and black citizens of Augusta.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
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
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
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.
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
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 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
- 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.