Resisting workplace discrimination
Although Clark often says that she did not protest discriminatory treatment, in this excerpt she recalls complaining that her employer denied her a state-mandated pay raise. But even by the late 1960s, she was suffering economic discrimination, and managed to secure a decent salary at one position only because she knew the man in charge, and still did not receive a merit raise she was entitled to. This excerpt reveals the depth and endurance of economic discrimination. Clark conveys it with a tragic story about her brother who desperately wanted a car and eventually died in a car accident.
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
BG: This affected the pay scales when you were working?
RC: Pay scales. In pay scales, the Negroes have always been low on the totem pole. I’ll never forget: I was working at ( ) one year. ( ) ten years I worked at another place. The state would give us a little raise. ( ) I just remember what this raise was. I may call the lady soon and ask her but she may have forgotten because it was back in the ‘60s. I didn’t get a raise. I went to my director. She told me the reason why she didn’t give me a raise—everybody had gotten a raise but me—my sons, they had good jobs. I said, “My sons have families.” And so I went down to the business office to talk to the lady. The lady said, “You should have given her that raise and not this one. She would have had a little bit more.” And because I carried that lady down there, she really made it hard for me on the job. So I knew through the years that I was going to be leaving there sooner or later. So the following year, I left. And she probably was glad to get rid of me, but she was all right at that time. Because I had a lot of ( ) in the fire but I wanted a break. I had no money but I wanted a break.
Then when I left there and went to another job, they accepted me. Then, they told me what my salary was going to be. I said, “This being a university, why can’t I have the salary that I had before?” “Well, this is what we’re paying.” Well it so happens the director, I knew. He knew me and my families. He had hunted with my families and he said he had had white liquor with them and all stuff back then in the ‘30s and ‘40s. So he went to the lady and said, “Give her what she asks. Give her what she was getting.” So I found that hard, was where they were beginning to see the light. That was in the ‘70s, early ‘70s, ’69. But right there on that job, you would get an income raise once a year. You would get a state raise.
But after you’re there so long, if you haven’t had any problems; your work has been good, they didn’t have to call you in for anything, you’re supposed to have a merit raise. So I had talked to the ( ), the aides, and asked them, “Have you all had a raise like that?” They said, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “Tell me the truth, because I’m going to get busy.” So, “No, I haven’t had a raise.” ( ) A merit raise, they hadn’t had it. The onliest thing we had had was two or three state raises, that’s all we could get. They never gave us that four-five percent.
So we had this new director and I felt comfortable talking with her. So I went to her and told her, “Nobody said anything to me about my work. I’ve been up to par. They haven’t called me in to anything.” And she always called me “Squeaky” because I was always squeaking about something. She called me “Squeaky Clark.” She said, “Clark, you haven’t had a raise?” I said, “No. All I’ve had is a state raise and an income raise when I came here.” She said, “Well I sent up for all of them to get a raise.” I said, “The ( ) and aides, they haven’t had a raise.” She said, “Well you go downstairs and talk to the director. He’s in his office.” Well I knew him well; I considered him being a fine man. I went down and I talked to him and he said, “Well that hasn’t come to me.” He had to sign off. So what had happened, this director had probably given it to the secretary or whatever. They, too, didn’t see the need. But every time you turned around, RNs was getting one. So when I told him, apparently he called up and in a few months, in our checks, we had a raise.
BG: She was white, the ( ).
RC: The RNs were getting raises, but the blacks weren’t getting anything. And when she came on duty, she didn’t want to stay there. I said, “Please stay. Because this director wants you to stay. These other ladies are fighting among themselves for your position.” I left her there. And when I told her I was going to retire, she said, “( ), don’t go before I go.” I said, “I’m not going to stay here and wait on you.” She encouraged me to stay there and take a leave of absence because I was retiring a year early, before sixty-five. “No,” I said, “because I won’t be getting any money.” She said, “But your time is ( ).” I said, “I won’t be getting any money. I can retire at sixty-four with twenty percent. I’m taking care of my family out in Greensboro.”
So I retired. Then along with her and two or three more, I ( ) and I had it shining and pretty. Had them here for lunch. We had a ball. But that was after the fact that I was out of there. But it took a long time coming. When I think about the years they wouldn’t give a raise because of my sons working. They won’t buy me a loaf of bread; won’t even give me a dime. I still have to help my husband with the money we’ve been making to pay for our home. And we had worked hard to try to educate them, you know what I’m saying?
And another thing, black folks weren’t supposed to have cars. I’ll never forget: I had a brother that was a veteran. In ’53, he had been hurt in Okinawa and brought back to America, to Raleigh-Georgia in a body cast. And he survived it. And was going off to college and he had to wait two or three days—during that time, veterans had to stand around and wait to get in line to register. He was one of the more impatient folk you ever saw in your life. But anyway, he came here and started working at the School of Public Health as a custodian. And one Saturday morning, he was going to Durham ( ), and we had school—UNC used to have classes on Saturday mornings—and he was coming to class, passed a car, and lighting a cigarette all at the same time. Hit my brother head on. And it just so happens, the car he was passing was once a neighbor of mine and she saw it all. She came and she called me, said, “I think that’s your brother. If so, he might be at the hospital.” And I had worked nights and I had just got home at about nine o’clock in the morning. And I rushed down to the hospital. He had become a quadra-paraplegic.
So in 1954, he died for a car, died for a car, so he could drive. So I got the car for him. And I was at Fowler’s foot store and came out one night. I’ll never forget it: I was getting in the car. One of the doctors from the hospital said to me, “Is this your car?” It wasn’t mine but I said, “Yes it is.” He said, “How can you afford it?” I said, “I can’t.” You weren’t supposed to have anything. Back then, when I came to Chapel Hill in the ‘30s, most blacks and whites knew everybody that had a car. Very few blacks and not a lot of whites, because those that worked here worked on the campus. They lived near the university. Most of the men worked ( ).
But after World War II, the place grew out of proportion. As you see it’s still growing. Nowhere to live now.