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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Miriam Slifkin, March 24, 1995. Interview G-0175. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A response to criticism that NOW reflected a white middle class bias

Slifkin addresses the common criticism that NOW primarily addressed the needs of white, middle-class women. According to Slifkin, many of NOW's activities were aimed at aiding lower-class women as well. She discusses an event held at Lincoln, formerly the black high school, after it had become an administrative center. Interestingly, Slifkin conflates issues of class with race and suggests that problems associated with either category were one and the same. She notes that there was only one African American member of the Chapel Hill chapter of NOW during the 1970s and compares this to the local chapter of the ACLU. Slifkin acknowledges that the ACLU had more black members than did NOW, but she believes that the ACLU faced less criticism for its biases because it was more of a male-driven organization, unlike NOW which was predominately female-driven.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Miriam Slifkin, March 24, 1995. Interview G-0175. 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

The sad thing I think, is that people called it a middle-class struggle. But so many things we were trying to do affected the lower classes. I remember when I brought the EEOC representative. I arranged for her to talk at Lincoln, which was then a black, well I guess it had been changed form a black high school to an administrative center, but there were a lot of black activities that took place there. And I intentionally arranged to have it there, against one of the churches here that serves middleclass white. So that black people would come. And there were a number of black people in the audience. But when it was time for question and answer, they left. Almost in mass. Which I was disappointed, I was very disappointed, because it had a lot to do with janitors, maids.
You know when I first cam here and I wanted to pay social security for my maid, the other people that had her were upset with me. Because she didn't want to take out of her salary to pay her part. Because her salary was small. You don't blame her. And they were upset because they would have to pay not only their part, but for her as well.
I wasn't on that close of terms with any blacks, except the one in NOW. There were very few blacks involved. LYNNE DEGITZ Was ACLU also accused of being exclusive, of being for white, middle-class people to run?
I don't think people pointed fingers at them. A lot of people were very upset with them. I don't think there was the same attitude toward them. you know with women, you can put them down publicly as well as privately. But ACLU is more male than female. So I don't think that got it at all.
I wasn't so obvious in the ACLU. My main function, well I gave a couple of talks but not many, but my main function was chairing the board. And that was about it. And trying to set a direction for the organization. We had some black members. They were men. I'm trying to think if there were any women blacks. I don't know. A large number of our clients were black. But that's understandable because they're the one's who get hurt the most. Their civil liberties are very tenuous. So they come to the ACLU for help. It's a quite different organization.