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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Letters to newspapers are a safety valve for the pressure of segregation

Williams remembers that her husband, Robert, was not as able to adjust to segregation as well as some other African Americans. Keeping silent was such a strain that he developed migraine headaches, but he found relief in his letters to newspapers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mabel Williams, August 20, 1999. Interview K-0266. 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 he was a great teacher. Eventually he was a great teacher. Of course, we had our problems like any young couple will have. And especially the fact that here I am a person who was trying to accommodate the status quo. And here was this man that I had married who was always out there questioning the status quo and protesting against it. And not being able to conform the way I could conform. I could accept it and walk away. I could walk away from the conditions like in the basement of that hospital. I could walk away and accept the fact that I was given a job, and that I was allowed to learn some things on that job that would, you know, be helpful to me. But I could walk away from that and walk into another job that was just as segregated, but maybe would give me a little bit more money and a little bit more opportunity. And knowing that this is—it's a job. It's a way of living. I can help support the family. But he was not able to do that. And especially when he was in a position where he had gotten a job. For instance, they were building this highway down here. He and some of his friends got a job on the highway. The white man was a foreman and he couldn't read and write. And all of those fellows had been—had finished high school and some had been to the Army. And some of them had even had some college training. And they had these minimum wage jobs. And the foreman was a white man who could not read and write. And Robert, that was something he couldn't accept. He just could not accept. Early on he started having migraine headaches from the pressure of the things that he saw in the society that were so wrong. And when he— [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
Other than the situation being the enemy, you know. And that created a lot of friction with me and him, as well as in the society because I, at that time, could not accept a lot of that either, you know. Well, you know, everybody, all of the black people have to make accommodations with—in order to make a living, you've got to make accommodations.
And he would make accommodations for as long as he could. But he couldn't keep his mouth shut about it. He would say, "Okay, I got this job. Wonderful. I got this job. That's wonderful." But the first time he encountered a situation—. He didn't hide his talents under the bushel. If he saw somebody who was supposed to be his superior and that superior asked him a question, he let it be known right away that he knew more about it than his superior did. And that got him in trouble a lot of times, you know. Because a lot of times you have to" hee-hee, ha-ha, yeah", in order to keep a job. Black folks have been traditionally good with that. But he was not good at that, you know. I could hear jokes about black people and say, "Yeah. Ha-ha", and walk away. But if he heard a joke about a black person that was a derogatory joke, he would not feel the same. And his reactions were different from mine. And not only that, but he did not stop writing in the paper: letters to the editor and his poetry, and having them published while he was working on these jobs. And if an employer found out that he was one of these, what they called smart or uppity niggers that was writing in the paper, they'd fire him just for that, you know. So sometimes I would—I was in the position of being a part of the problem for him because I was trying to get him to conform. And he was trying to get me to see that we should not conform. So those were some of the things that caused friction in our relationships.
Especially once you had the children.
Yes, yes, yes, especially then, yeah. And he was very—. He was a good daddy, a good father. He taught the boys a lot. And they learned a lot. They learned a lot from him.