Title: Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, March 2, 2006. Interview U-0185.
Interviewer: Thuesen, Sarah
Interviewee: Fillette, Ted
Abstract: This is the first of two interviews with Ted Fillette, a southern lawyer who worked with the Legal Aid Society of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, beginning in the early 1970s. Fillette grew up in Mobile, Alabama, during the late 1940s and 1950s. Fillette begins the interview by describing his lack of awareness regarding the plight of African Americans in his own community, noting that he was a very sheltered child. He describes his limited perception of the civil rights movement during those years, explaining that he was sent to a private and racially segregated military school following the
Brown decision. In addition, he describes his understanding of class differences and their intersection with race, an understanding he was able to develop more fully later on when he became more aware of social injustice. Fillette attended Duke University during the mid-1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement and student activism. After hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Duke, Fillette was inspired to take action and become a fervent advocate of the movement. He joined the VISTA program after graduating and was sent to Boston, where he worked with the Massachusetts Welfare Rights Organization. Fillette explains that his experiences with VISTA revealed to him the obstacles facing impoverished people and the importance of legal and political intervention. During the early 1970s, Fillette attended law school at Boston University, spending one summer interning with an ACLU lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina. After graduating in 1973, Fillette returned to Charlotte to accept a job with the Legal Aid Society of Mecklenburg County. Highly inspired by the strong civil rights advocacy of Judge James McMillan, Fillette became involved in offering legal assistance to people who were displaced by the city's new program of urban renewal. Fillette describes his work on important cases, including the Margaret Green Harris v. HUD case, which resulted in a resolution that displaced people must be offered alternative housing. The interview concludes with his description of his work with Charlotte's Cherry neighborhood during the 1970s, which resulted in finding alternatives to demolition in the form of public housing.