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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Experiences in Detroit and growing awareness of ramifications of discrimination

Woods talks about her experiences living in Detroit, Michigan, during the mid-1950s. Woods had moved to Detroit with her husband, where they worked at the Ford Motor Company until 1958. Woods explains how having grown up facing segregation and discrimination in Robeson County, North Carolina, as a Lumbee Indian, she was surprised that people in Detroit weren't concerned with her ethnicity. According to Woods, her experiences in Detroit played a major role in her growing awareness of the ramifications of racism and discrimination and it led to her later activism in the civil rights movement.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. 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

What was your first husband's name?
Roberts. James R. Roberts. So, I wanted the folks at Ford Motor Company to know that I was Indian because things had happened in Robeson County that if folks went in and got employed and folks didn't know they were Indian, once they found out they were Indian they fired them. So, I knew that I was a long way from home and that I needed to work so I kept saying, "Well, you know I'm Indian." And I got very upset because I didn't get the kind of reaction from folks that I was supposed to get. You know, it was like "So what else is new?" You know, and I kept pressing this thing about "But I'm Indian and Indians don't do this and Indians don't do that." And they look at me like "So what?" You know. "Big deal." But here is my limited exposure, experience, and education about cultural pluralism and the different ethnic groups that live in cities. That knowledge came ten, fifteen years down the road.
So you were coming from a more segregated society and expecting this to be a big deal.
Right, expected it. And finally I said, "Well if it doesn't matter to them you drop it." Because pretty soon you realize that you're overplaying the record. So I guess it was sort of like some of the veterans say, that we went off and fought the war and came back and we were over there giving our lives and folks aren't giving us any respect or opening any doors for us. So I'd made it off the reservation and found out, hey, you know, people are okay. There is a better life. There is a better way. Yet, would never have been happy to have stayed in Detroit because there was always that thing about going back home to help my people. Going back home to show them the way, you know.
Were there other Lumbees in the area? So that was a place of migration there?
Were they doing the same kinds of work that you were?
Most of them worked in the manufacturing industries, General Motors, Ford Motor, because that was the only place they could do anything other than on the farm and teaching and everyone didn't want to become a teacher. So, because of the automobile accident I ended up back in North Carolina and then, I guess, having seen the bright lights of the city and then going back home seeing, from a different perspective, how really deprived folks were, then when civil rights came along that was my opportunity to right all the wrongs in the world, to be a woman Don Quixote. So, I don't know that I contributed that much to increased access, increased opportunities, diminished discrimination, except that it gave me an opportunity to become involved with a philosophy that was compatible to my own personal philosophy about the value and worth of human dignity of all people and to be accepted not because I was an Indian but because I was an Indian plus Ruth.