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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Wilkins, 1972. Interview G-0063. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishing the Citizen's Fact Finding Movement

Wilkins describes how she went about establishing the Citizen's Fact Finding Movement during the late 1930s with the aid of a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation, known for its work with African American schools. As president of the League of Women Voters, Wilkins had found that a lack of information about the state made statewide organization difficult and she organized the Fact Finding Movement as a way to bridge those gaps. Here, Wilkins focuses on the potentially conroversial nature of the League of Women Voters receiving funding from an African American organization and she explains how she finagled a tenuous interracial alliance in order to fund her initiative.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Josephine Wilkins, 1972. Interview G-0063. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Where did you get your funds?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Well, I had several fellowships. The one thing for me that it started was I got a $3,000 grant from the Rosenwald Foundation which was given to me as a grant to do what I wanted with. [Laughter]
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you apply for it?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Did I apply for it! Did I apply for it! Edward R. Embree was coming to Georgia to speak out at Emory and I was present - this was back before we even started. In fact, I doubt we could have even started Fact - Finding had it not been for this. And I thought, Well, now, we ought to be able to get some money from Rosenwald, but there's a need for an angle in there. Is this wise for the League of Women Voters to take this money that the public feels this way about?
JACQUELYN HALL:
People were suspicious of Rosenwald money?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
I don't know whether I would use the word "suspicious," but it was stamped Negro, you see. And those were days when, regardless of what your interest was in race - and of course I was just getting into this. When I was a child I asked my mother why in the world we couldn't read the funny paper on Sunday and all these things on Sunday, and that the Negro servants in the house had to work so hard on Sunday. And she said, "My dear, I give them some other time." I said, "Mother, it's Sunday, it's Sunday." And this blessed woman, this very wonderful woman, she says, "Josephine darling, it's never been established that the Negro has a soul." This was my mother when I was a child . . . When I was a child.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did the League of Women Voters try to deal with racial issues at all?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
No. Where was I? Oh, I was speaking about this $3,000 grant. I talked with Dr. Will Alexander; that name, I'm sure, is familiar to you. Dr. Will said, "Now, Josephine, just don't bother the man. There's no chance of your getting anything. Just don't bother the man." Then I talked with several other people, lawyers who were interested in what we were trying to do with the League, about whether they felt that it would be wise for the League at that time to take Rosenwald money. And I felt that I had covered the waterfront enough that if we got attacked in taking it that there were some pretty top names that would come forward and support us in it. And so, regardless of what Dr. Will said, I was going to see this man.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why did he say that? Why did he discourage you?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Well, I've got my own ideas. [Laughter] He didn't want anybody . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
That was his source of money?
JOSEPHINE WILKINS:
Yes. Anyhow, I was ill with this terrible cold when this man arrived, and this was very bad. I was getting myself doctored and whatnot, and finally I called and found out the hotel where he was. I couldn't get an answer. Finally I found out that he was maintaining his room, but he had gone to Washington and was due back at such and such a time. And in time I got him on the telephone. He was going out to speak at Emory. And I introduced myself and I said, "Doctor, I want very much to see you while you're here. I would have tried to get in touch with you earlier, but I've been down with a cold." And he said, "Well, Josephine, I'm on my way out to Emory to speak now." And I said, "Oh, doctor, I do want to see you." Anyhow, he said, "Well, maybe you can bring me back." So I went out . . . trying to size this man up. Finally we got going coming back and he said, "Where are you taking me?" And I said, "I'm taking you to our office." And he said, "Don't you think this is a little high-handed?" And I said, "Yes, I do, doctor, but I'm going to bring you right back after you see our base of operation." So we pulled into the garage there and I said, "I will take you back." So we went upstairs. I already had it arranged. I had several coffeepots there and so forth, and didn't he want some coffee? And he did want some coffee. We had some little cakes and so forth. We sat on this little couch there and talked. And he said to me, "What are you trying to do?" He asked me this and it came so quickly and so suddenly that for a moment I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I said, "I'm trying to make Georgia discontented." He said, "What do you want from me?" I said, "I want three thousand dollars." He said, "After all, three thousand dollars is very little money to make Georgia discontented." He said, "I can't do that." He said, "The League is political in focus, and I just couldn't do it. But I am more interested than I like to admit to myself." He said, "Will you have breakfast with me?" And of course I had breakfast with him. But before I had breakfast with him I had this gal who was volunteering down there to go up to the Carnegie Library and look up all these things about Rosenwald. And so at breakfast he tried to tell me Mr. Rosenwald couldn't do it, and I would quote Mr. Rosenwald on something, don't you know, and finally he gave me the $3,000. But he said it would have to come as a little grant to me, and it was a residue of a fund that he had and so forth and so on. But I never was able to get with him anymore to try to get any more money out of him. [Laughter] I told him, I said, "Remember, even if I did kidnap you, I didn't take you across the state line." But we became very good friends in time. But I had that little $3,000 to work with, and what I did was I endorsed it over to the League. And in forming the Fact-Finding Movement I said that we had a thousand dollars that we could use and draw on in getting this thing started. And we did.