Clark's political activism during Howard Lee's mayoral campaign
Clark remembers registering her neighbors to vote and, it seems, helping them get around literacy tests. She was working to elect Howard Lee as mayor of Chapel Hill, and when in 1969 Lee became Chapel Hill's first black mayor, he thanked Clark for her help. In this passage she reveals a bit about the nuts and bolts of her contribution.
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
When I was twenty-one years old, I voted. When we moved in here, there was only five of us moved in here the same day. ( ) day after. I marched everybody across the field, over to Carrboro because we were in the county then—we were annexed in the late ’60s. I registered every black person as they moved into this neighborhood.
BG: Were you having trouble registering?
RC: Yes, we were having trouble registering as they began to move and build homes and people were buying them. I carried a man that worked down at Eubanks Drug Store, I carried him out here. The man that was there—I think he’s dead there, I won’t call his name—he said “You bringing this man here.” That was after I had gone out there and I was kind of—well, because I could read, they wanted everybody to memorize the Constitution, whatever. He said, “He can’t read.” I said, “Yes he can.” He said, “Well, you read it to him then.” So I read it to him, and he could write his name. That’s how I got Mr. Cole and Mrs. Cole. That was back then in the ‘40s.
It was hard as black folks moved in here—I’m still doing it.
Getting back to that—these folks that ran for office knew they could depend on me to get some folks in so I’ve done it all these years. With many candidates. And if I got a few dollars to spend ( ). I figured if one person can provide fifty votes and get about a hundred more to get fifty votes, then your candidate will win. I bet ( ) dollars and dollars from senators, congressmen, state, county commissioners, school board members. Back then, “Rebecca, if you get so-and-so proposed, you can drive my car, I’ll give you ‘x’ amount of dollars, my ( ) for you.” I never took a dime. ( ). I do it now. ( ) congressmen now and I worked together with Howard Lee. We led his song, we got out literature, we worked into the night. That was when David was working at Duke Hospital, David Price. He worked for Howard Lee. Back then, the Democrat Party was just the thing to be. We worked hard ( ). Looks like we don’t have many interesting people that come.
BG: Did you help Howard Lee in his campaign to get elected mayor?
RC: They said I did. They said I did. What happened, I’ll never forget: this lady called me to her home and said, “You know, Rebecca, we’re thanking you. We got a young man on campus, have you met him?” I said, “No, I heard of him.” “His name is Howard Lee. We would like for him to run for mayor. We want a black mayor.” And I said fine, we met two or three other people. He lived up on McAuley Street. And we all got together and we worked. And talk about working; we worked hard.
At that time, my son had a Greyhound bus. My children were all registered to vote. We were getting everybody that we knew to vote. So on that election day—I’ll never forget it—my son had a Greyhound bus ( ) and he went street to street and they knew he was coming. We loaded them to the poll. Howard Lee won before the votes all got in.
And I’ll never forget because I was working with Charlotte Adams and Mrs. Pappas, from the School of Social Work—Dr. John Pappas’s mother. We were out at that poll with Charlotte Adams and others counting that night. Then we were doing it by hand, counting ballots, one, two, three, four, five ballots. And that place was packed. We must have had a thousand people to vote in our precinct that night. And I had a man at our table who became a good friend later. And we were counting. And ( ) was standing there. ( ). And Howard was winning. And in doing so, the fellow was looking to see how we were tallying so he’d know what to call into the newsroom. And this fellow turned and said, “Stop standing over me! I don’t want you breathing over me!” Of course that fouled up everybody’s count. We had to count over. We did more counting over than we were really counting that night because of this man at our table.
So we had this lady by the name of ( ). I was hoping I’d remember her—I’m getting where I forget. She worked at the Y. So she was there. And in doing so, the votes were coming in, the votes were coming in. And she came to me and said, “When you get a break, come into the janitor’s room.” After a while, I asked for a break because you’re not allowed to have radios at the polling place. But somebody had put a radio in the janitor’s closet. So we were sitting in the janitor’s closet. And Howard Lee was getting ready to make his acceptance speech. I said, “Can’t be. ( ).” She said, “Oh, yes, we are.” But we’re still counting at Lincoln precinct. And he went on to thank all the folks that helped him, called out all those names. She said, “You heard that?” I said yes. He called out all those names.
And when he was winding down, he said, “I’m asking for Rebecca Clark. Where is she?” And they had packed St. Joseph’s Church. The spread over in the street; there wasn’t any room inside. The whites and blacks; they had to close off part of Rosemary Street there where St. Joseph Church is. “Rebecca Clark, Where are you? Come on down.” And we’re standing there, laughing. We’re in the closet at Lincoln Center. And they were applauding, they were applauding.
You talk about work. We had worked and registered more people--. ( ). But what I’m going now, I do absentee ballots with the city. I was in the ( ) in March. By April, I had a lady bring me absentee ballot sheets and had another lady that carried them to all the folks that couldn’t go. They signed the absentee ballots and sent them in. They came back. Those that needed help, I helped, a week before May the 6th or whenever it was. I had been allowed to drive and I would go to their homes to assist them or help them, whoever would call. I gathered all of those and carried them to Carrboro. The lady said, “If you bring them to me, I’ll take them to Hillsborough.” I don’t know why—this always happens—they were sent out the same day, two of them didn’t get there ( ). So that meant, when they got ready, they called me on Sunday. I said, “Well I tell you what. You put it in mail, it may not get there because another gentleman did it the other year and his wife never got into the box to vote.” I always stayed until everything is counted in my precinct—I’ve been doing it for thirty years or more—and doing so, they brought them to me because I said I would get them to Hillsborough. They brought them to me all sealed. And I called the sheriff’s department. They said, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get somebody there to bring them up for you. Somebody’s in the area, be coming back to Hillsborough.” So that’s how they got in. I did more laying in my bed that some of these ( ) walking around. I’ve been doing it since 1920. ( ). Late ‘30s.