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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role in mediating a strike of African American nurses

Stevens offers an especially revealing anecdote regarding her work with the Bethlehem Center regarding a strike of African American nurses at a local hospital. The nurses went on strike after one was slapped by a white male supervisor. Stevens describes her role in mediating the situation. In so doing, she alludes to the interconnected nature of social justice movements related to race, gender, and labor during the 1930s.

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

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 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 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.