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Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Josephine Dobbs Clement (1918-1998) was one of six daughters born to Irene Ophelia Thompson Dobbs and John Wesley Dobbs. Her father was a prominent businessman in Atlanta, Georgia. Clement received her bachelor's degree from Spelman College in 1937 and her master's from Columbia University the following year. In the late 1940s, she moved with her husband, William A. Clement, to Durham, North Carolina, where she was active in local politics and social justice movements. In this interview, she describes how her father instilled within her a sense of justice and the tools to protest inequality. In keeping with this heritage, when she arrived in Durham, she quickly became active in the YWCA and the League of Women's Voters, helping to desegregate both of them. Throughout the interview, she maintains that her identities as a woman and an African American could not and should not be fractured. Rather, she argues, true freedom will only come when both racial and gender hierarchies are destroyed. Though her husband became politically active during the 1960s, she did not do so to the same extent. Instead, she participated in activities that concerned her children, and became involved in her community through those outlets. Eventually, these activities led to an appointment to the Durham City-County Charter Commission. After that, she ran for a seat on the city's board of education. During her time on the board, the courts ordered the city schools to desegregate, a change which prompted white flight and drastically altered the racial composition of the city. For a time, she chaired the board, and under her leadership, the city selected its first African American superintendent of schools. After a decade of working with the board of education, Clement decided to resign, and she became a county commissioner. Clement believes that her various civic roles have allowed her to accomplish some of the social change she desired, though she sees more that needs to occur. At the end of the interview, Clement explains how she tries to balance her concerns for social justice, her interest in environmental issues and her pragmatic recognition that new building in Durham is inevitable. After this interview was completed, Clement remained politically active and even co-chaired the successful gubernatorial campaigns of Democrat James Hunt in Durham County in 1980 and 1984.
  • Clement learns pragmatic resistance
  • Impressions of Durham
  • Integrating the YWCA and the League of Women Voters
  • Reasons for activism
  • Differences between the integration of the YWCA and the League of Women Voters
  • Clement gains awareness through her children's activities
  • Desegregating Durham City Schools and the resulting white flight
  • Integration of the schools and the failings of the new superintendent of education
  • The Board of Education finds a rescue: Cleveland Hammonds Jr.
  • Clement joins the Board of County Commissioners
  • Clement's perspective on merging Durham city's government with county administration
  • Increased need for education in the twentieth century
  • Accomplishments alongside future hopes and fears
  • The state of women's rights in Durham
  • Facilitating involvement by minorities and women in government
  • Balancing various concerns as a county commissioner
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • School integration--North Carolina
  • North Carolina--Race relations
  • African American women in politics--North Carolina
  • Durham (N.C.)--Politics and government
  • North Carolina--Biography
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.