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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The vestiges of segregated schools and the problems of low-wage labor

While some discrimination of public accommodations was erased, the vestiges of discrimination persisted in post-1960s Charlotte, particularly in employment. Low-wage jobs were viewed as expendable, as English describes one incident with one of her employers' requests. City-sponsored job training allowed English to obtain better paying jobs. However, the distant location of such jobs posed transportation problems. Consequently, English assumed a closer, but lower-paying job.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Diane English, May 19, 2006. Interview U-0183. 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:
By the late '60s, early '70s a lot of the segregation you were describing from earlier times was gone.
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was mostly gone.
SARAH THUESEN:
Mostly gone.
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was still around.
SARAH THUESEN:
Where did you still see it?
DIANE ENGLISH:
You could see it when you applied for jobs. It was still there. You didn't get your good paying jobs. When you went to school you didn't get the better books. You got all of the old raggedy books. It was obvious that it was something wrong but not as much so as you see what went on in Alabama and Mississippi. It wasn't to that state. It should've been but it didn't get that far. I think we had some riots here back in the '70s or protests and whatever. I never attended them.
SARAH THUESEN:
You've mentioned jobs. What other types of work was left to be done in the early '70s in terms of Civil Rights that you saw? Was it mainly economics, jobs?
DIANE ENGLISH:
The only jobs I knew of were—. My mother, they did housework, housekeepers and babysitters. We baby-sit. That was basically it. And a cafeteria job working in the restaurants or maybe driving a truck or something. You would be out on a construction site. Other than that, that was basically all I ever saw.
SARAH THUESEN:
Just limited choices for—.
DIANE ENGLISH:
Very limited choices.
SARAH THUESEN:
Speaking of the choices you had, how long did you work at the S&W Cafeteria?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Probably about a year or two.
SARAH THUESEN:
Then what did you do after that?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I went to school and went to—. I went to school at night to get my diploma. I had to get that because my mother wouldn't rest until I got that. I went to Presbyterian Hospital and went through their nursing assistant's program. Then I stayed there—I had to work for them for a year because I had to work night shift. I had to leave my mother home by herself. I decided I couldn't work nights. It was the only thing for the next three to four years was second shift or third shift. I went to Orthopedic Hospital. I worked in the Outpatient Emergency room for eight years. Back then it was Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital.
SARAH THUESEN:
What is it today?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I think its Orthopedic something. They've remodeled and redone everything over there now. I worked there for eight years. I was an OR Tech. I worked in the Emergency Room, the operating, taking patients, prepping them for OR. Then I went up to the nurses' station as a nursing secretary until one of the head nurse's daughters got out of summer school and needed—got out of school—and needed a job for the summer. She asked me to go back to eleven to seven on the floor and take a dollar cut in pay. I refused. I was only making $3.72, give me a break. You telling me to give—. I had about eight weeks of vacation. I took up all my vacation and I never went back. That was the end of my career with Orthopedic Hospital.
SARAH THUESEN:
Is that when you started working for the City Transit then?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Nope. I went to school, went back to school. I went to CPCC, took up some trainings, job training. I started into the nursing program. Then I decided I didn't want the nursing program. Then I went into business administration. I liked it. Oh, I loved business administration. Then I never could settle on one specific field so I just went and took different classes just to see what it was like. That's what I did for a couple of years. I went through certain programs like the Urban League. They would pay you to take up a training. At this time they had neighborhood youth services.
SARAH THUESEN:
The Urban League sponsored that?
DIANE ENGLISH:
No. It was just called a neighborhood youth services. It was for young adults under the age of twenty that didn't have much job experiences. They would train you on the job and pay you a salary while you go to school. I took up a lot of training with them also.
SARAH THUESEN:
Any particular job experiences during those years that stand out for you?
DIANE ENGLISH:
The only one that stood out was working for Duke Power at the Catawba Nuclear plant in construction. I loved it. I loved the construction world. I got my credentials for a powerhouse mechanic which is only a pipe fitter. An under licensed plumber is what it's called. You can fit pipes. You can do your own plumbing.
SARAH THUESEN:
Were you one of the few women doing that or—?
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was 500 women out of 5,000 employees on the day shift. So, yeah I was just one out of five hundred. We loved every bit of it. We all worked the same shift. It was something because it was something new to do everyday and something to learn. Something different and you made money. I couldn't believe it. By this time it was 1980. To find a job that say they pay you thirteen dollars an hour that a female could land. I thought I was the thing at that time. Nobody could have told me nothing different. It was in York, South Carolina. I used to have to commute to York, South Carolina everyday.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh, that's quite a drive, huh?
DIANE ENGLISH:
By this time I had had my daughter, my oldest daughter.
SARAH THUESEN:
So you were working full time, commuting a long distance and raising—you have two daughters right?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I had the other one shortly thereafter, about four years later. They are four years apart.
SARAH THUESEN:
What made it possible for you to juggle all that?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I had to juggle it. It was either or. My mother was still living at that time. She wasn't getting any income. I had to work. Somebody had to work. We had to have somewhere to stay. It was just something I wanted to do. I wanted to do better. I wanted something better for me and my family and my kids and my sisters and brothers. It was just seeing something better. Each day I could see something a little bit better that we could've had or should have had. It was like I had a thing about I can do better. I just wanted to keep doing better and better and better until I got to CATS [Charlotte Area Transit System]. I've been stuck there for eighteen years.
SARAH THUESEN:
How did you make the transition—? Did you go directly from Duke Power work to—?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Nope. I went to Charlotte-Meck schools as a school bus driver. Then I worked in the cafeteria during the day and drove the bus in the afternoons. I decided I didn't want to do that anymore because the kids were like barbaric, coming from another planet, especially your junior high kids. Those are the ones that have the most problems. Your high school and elementary kids are sweet. Junior high is that detrimental part of their life. It's like everybody's got to fight, fight, fight. I left and I went back to CP again. I went back to CPC again. I lived off of my pensions and my stocks and bonds that I had purchased during that time that I worked at Duke Power for three years. I just went back to school, took up more classes, engineering. Basically, I just took up classes to see what I could do to actually make more money. That happened. I stayed there for about a year and went to school on Saturdays. I worked during the day doing nurse's aide work, going and sit with people, working at the different nursing homes through a private duty setting service where you'd go and they'd give you a job to go sit with people.
SARAH THUESEN:
What year did you start working for—and just to clarify when you refer to CATS that's Charlotte—?
DIANE ENGLISH:
Charlotte Area Transit System.
SARAH THUESEN:
—Area Transit System. What year did you start working for them?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I believe it was '88.
SARAH THUESEN:
Okay.
DIANE ENGLISH:
That was a big drop in the bucket with salary too.
SARAH THUESEN:
Oh really?
DIANE ENGLISH:
I loved Duke Power. I went to—what was it? The school system was paying about $6.50 and then you had to work your way up. I think I had gotten up to $7.35. CATS kept calling—well, Charlotte Area Transit kept calling me. I kept telling them if they could give me $7.35 I would come. They kept saying no, we can't give you $7.35. I wouldn't come until they actually called and said we can give you $7.35 and that was in '88.
SARAH THUESEN:
That was still a lot less than you had been making at Duke Power?
DIANE ENGLISH:
It was a whole lot less. It was a drop in the bucket really. It was to the point—Duke Power has a point system also just like Charlotte Area Transit. We have a point system. You get points for not being on time. You don't get to work. You get points if you out sick, if your family's sick, it doesn't matter. You're still going to get a point. It was really better for me because I didn't have to commute twenty-five miles a day. Then I could be, if one of my children got sick I could actually take them to the doctor instead of having to take points and be threatened to be fired if you get X amount of points. I think Duke Power had eight points at that time. It was like rain, sleet, or snow you worked. At that time we were working six days a week. It was Monday through Saturday. It was a must that you showed up Monday through Saturdays.
SARAH THUESEN:
That must've been really tough.
DIANE ENGLISH:
They fed you on dinner Saturdays, duh. After they keep you at work all day of course feed me. It was six days a week. It was a big drop in salary but it was worth the change for me.
SARAH THUESEN:
You could spend more time with your children.
DIANE ENGLISH:
I didn't have to worry about—I had this raggedy old car. It used to break down, be broke down on the side of the street. It was awful. Then we had fifteen feet of snow in '88 and I had to go to work from Charlotte to all the way to York, South Carolina and that was murder. There was nobody on the roads but me trying to go to work. We had to go to work. On our days we had to go to work. They didn't even give us that day off.
SARAH THUESEN:
They don't plow the snow very well around.
DIANE ENGLISH:
Especially on your back roads. They don't touch the back roads. York, South Carolina has a lot of back roads.