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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kay Tillow, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0180. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Burgeoning career as a social justice activist

Tillow briefly discusses her work in the civil rights movement. In particular, Tillow explains that while a college student, she went South to work for SNCC in Hattiesburg and in Atlanta. Tillow also began working in the labor movement at that time, foreshadowing her career as a union activist. Here, she draws connections between the civil rights and labor rights movements.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kay Tillow, June 23, 2006. Interview U-0180. 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

SARAH THUESEN:
What were you involved in in the South?
KAY TILLOW:
Well, SNCC.
SARAH THUESEN:
And where did you go in the South with SNCC?
KAY TILLOW:
Oh man. Well, I was in Hattiesburg for some of those demonstrations where the police marched in these yellow rain slickers in huge-like platoons or something. It was because there was a voter registration drive going on there. So I was in Hattiesburg and Atlanta. I think those were basically the places that I went. Then I ended up working in Hazard, Kentucky on a project for miners, the Appalachian Committee for Full Employment. We put out a newsletter and worked on that.
SARAH THUESEN:
How long were you involved with that project?
KAY TILLOW:
For many months, I don't know exactly how long.
SARAH THUESEN:
Was that allied with SCEF?
KAY TILLOW:
Well, I knew Carl and Anne Braden. I had been to their home. I mean, we talked with them. But it wasn't, I don't think it was directly allied with them. That was later, the McSurelys, when they were there.
SARAH THUESEN:
Did you know the McSurelys?
KAY TILLOW:
Not then. I knew them later. They were there at a later time.
SARAH THUESEN:
Were you organizing miners? What was that project?
KAY TILLOW:
Well, at the time it was the Appalachian Committee for Full Employment, which was an effort to raise the issues of poverty in the area. And at the same time, there had been two cases in which miners who were attempting to keep the mines union had been arrested and charged. We were working on defense cases, raising money for the defense in those two cases, and tried to organize people. You know, we had a group of people that met every Saturday or something and talked about what to do. We put out a newsletter. I did the newsletter.
SARAH THUESEN:
So you went directly from working with SNCC to this project in Kentucky?
KAY TILLOW:
Mmm hmm.
SARAH THUESEN:
What connections in your mind did you see at the time between the civil rights movement and the labor movement?
KAY TILLOW:
Well, I mean people drew them at that time. People were around it and I think it was a pretty general drawing of that conclusion. I think Dr. King drew the conclusion when he organized the Poor People's March when that breaking down of the barriers in public accommodations was just scratching the surface of inequality and injustice in the country, and that buried deep beneath that was economic inequality. Therefore, one of the ways to change that was for working people to organize and to push forward with demands that would change that situation and end the poverty. I mean, that's really, poverty is the scourge of our country, the degradation of everything we believe in.