Title: Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, April 11, 2006. Interview U-0186.
Interviewer: Thuesen, Sarah
Interviewee: Fillette, Ted
Abstract: This is the second of two interviews with Ted Fillette, a southern lawyer who began working with the Legal Aid Society of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in the early 1970s. The interview begins with Fillette's assessment of grassroots activism within Charlotte, North Carolina, neighborhoods in reaction to urban renewal in the mid-1970s. He describes how residents of the Biddleville neighborhood organized with the help of the Legal Aid Society of Mecklenburg County and explains how plans to demolish the run-down neighborhood were revised to provide better public housing for the existing residents. Fillette paints a bleak picture of life for low-income tenants living in Charlotte during the 1970s: when he arrived in 1973, low-income residents had no legal protections requiring that landlords repair damaged property. Subject to substandard living conditions and given no notice for evictions (which were often retaliatory in nature), low-income people in Charlotte found themselves victims of urban renewal programs. Moreover, federal welfare programs such as AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and Medicaid often failed to provide relief within the parameters of federal regulatory processes. Fillette devotes considerable attention in this interview to a discussion of the legal and political measures taken to ameliorate these kinds of conditions. In so doing, he describes how court cases such as Alexander v. Hill and Taylor v. Hill of the 1970s aimed to provide medical care for the mothers of unborn children and to ensure that the needy would receive welfare payments in a timely manner. In addition, he describes how he helped lobby the North Carolina General Assembly to adopt the Residential Rental Agreements Act. Fillette describes the staunch resistance the advocates for welfare rights faced in the General Assembly, drawing attention to the adept political maneuvering it took to ensure the act's passage in 1977. Fillette also discusses how housing advocacy changed in the late 1980s and describes his work with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (founded in 1988), which sought to meld business and leadership in order to encourage private investment in public housing so that the community was no longer reliant on federal and state subsidies. The interview concludes with Fillette's assessment of continuing disparities in social class in Mecklenburg County in the early twenty-first century. While acknowledging that marked progress had been made, Fillette worries that continuing wage gaps and inequality in public schools are indicative of continued tensions.