Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Rebecca Clark, June 21, 2000. Interview K-0536. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Economic discrimination hurts African Americans

Here, Clark recalls the difficulty she had earning a living—long hours of piecework with few breaks. Economic discrimination appears to have kept social tensions relatively muted, because, as Clark says, "there wasn’t a lot of hostility because we knew we had to work."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Rebecca Clark, June 21, 2000. Interview K-0536. 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

So I was interviewed, ‘‘97 I guess it was, by a young, good-looking man—I don’‘t know whether he was black, white, Jewish, Italian or what—but he was a very, very good-looking man. He said, ““You know, you’‘ve been documented.”“ I said, ““Where?”“ He said, ““I’‘ll get you the book.”“ And the book of the month, it was here—my husband says he don’‘t know how it got here, but anyway it got here. In this book, there Dr. Frank Graham was fighting for the same thing we were fighting for. He had gone to the ( ) group in Raleigh. He was saying how unhealthy it was for the employees to be working at the laundry with no air conditioning. And the heat was out of sight. It was unhealthy for us to be in there, they needed a raise. And during time, the ( ) Labor Bank came in around 1941. So they were wondering how they could put us in and let us make more than nine dollars a week on piece goods. So they had us doing piecework. That meant they count every shirt you did, or every whatever you did. There were only certain departments that would get paid by piecework. And some of them made a complaint. So in this book it tells us what group complained. And they wouldn’‘t pick that department. But I was on shirts. I’‘ll never forget the first week they started doing that, I think my salary came to about twenty-three dollars, more than I’‘d ever seen. I worked harder. In the next week or two, it was around about twenty-seven dollars. I think that’‘s as much as I got. When we left out of there, we only had thirty minutes for lunch. Those that lived near would run home to eat. And I’‘ll never forget: I was living right here, which was a ( ) block from the laundry. I would run home and eat and go back eating. I had a relative that lived right up here at the corner of Merritt Mill Road and Crest Drive. He was saying, ““Rebecca, the way you working, I want you during your lifetime in a day, to lay down ten minutes and stretch your body out because you need it.”“ But we were then doing what we was taught to do, was work for a dollar. And I almost had no choice. Because when you were even doing, before the laundry, doing domestic work, if your child got sick and you couldn’‘t come in, they’‘d tell you, ““If you can’‘t come, I’‘ll have to get somebody else.”“ They didn’‘t have no sympathy for you. And they didn’‘t have no meals for you. ( ), you left it there for supper. Your meal wasn’‘t included in that. And most times, your lunch wasn’‘t included in that; you ate whatever was left. So coming up, the relationship between white and black, I guess everybody respected everybody, but there wasn’‘t a lot of hostility because we knew we had to work and they knew they had to have some help. Back then, there wasn’‘t that many black folks in Chapel Hill. During that time, in 1931, ‘‘32, ‘‘33, about five thousand people in Chapel Hill. There wasn’‘t that much more than that were students. ( ) a little before that time, this group that was written, that my uncle was the secretary of, Dr. Frank Graham asked them—let me back up: they had an organization. And during this organization, the janitors just paid about ten cents a month. They did that in case somebody got sick or died among the group. They carried them some food. So Dr. Frank Porter Graham asked them once, ““If you all see fit, would you all give us five dollars to help with the students?”“ Would you believe what those janitors did? Gave them five dollars. BG: Each? RC: No, out of their treasure. They were only paying ten dollars a week. You know what I’‘m saying? [tape stops].