Individual worries over black political progress
Clark was thrilled when African American Howard Lee was elected mayor of Chapel Hill in 1969, but she recalls that not all African Americans were as pleased. Some worried that the election could roil the town. But Clark thinks that Lee kept the peace.
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: Rebecca, what were your thoughts, what were your feelings when Howard Lee was elected?
RC: I felt great. It was time. Time had arrived. He was very liked then. People worked with him. That year, when he was elected, he carried in with him—not only did I work with him, we worked for a slate and our slate got in—Joe ( ), Steve ( ), Joe ( ). Our slate went in. Our slate won. ( ). So it made you feel good. I’ll never forget: there was a certain minister, a black minister, at the corner of Robinson Street, Graham Street, Franklin Street. I was waiting for the red light. I was coming up and he was going down. As he passed me, “Oh, you’re the one that nominated Howard Lee!” Because what happened was, he—well, I’ll leave it at that.
BG: He was obviously upset--.
RC: He was black but he didn’t want Howard Lee. Said he wasn’t ready for a black mayor. And he walked the street early in the morning and all the department stores, “We want to keep peace in Chapel Hill. We don’t want a black man.” And I had an uncle that felt the same way.
BG: Did Howard Lee keep peace in Chapel Hill?
RC: Oh, yes. Howard Lee was one of the ones along with Edith ( )’s husband who was a doctor at UNC—they’re the ones that went in during the nights when the cafeteria workers went on strike. He helped them through.
BG: Howard did?
RC: Yes, sir. I called Howard, I said, “They’re going to be there in the morning to keep the milk and bread from going in. I’ll go with you down there.” He said, “No, Miss Clark, don’t you come. You got enough.” I used to be bold. I was tomboyish. I played basketball and I played tennis. They always called me a tomboy for playing basketball.