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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, March 2, 2006. Interview U-0185. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Early recognition of connection between race and class while growing up in the South

Fillette offers an anecdote regarding one instance during his childhood when he became aware of stark class differences in Mobile, Alabama. Noting that he felt uncomfortable about the privileges accorded his social class, Fillette explains that he was unaware of any poor white people in the community. Instead, he understood that the vast majority of impoverished people were African American. Later in his life, he began to draw connections between that experience and his understanding of how issues related to race and class were very much interconnected.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ted Fillette, March 2, 2006. Interview U-0185. 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

Getting on a slightly different topic, you were talking about your racial awareness at that age. Do you remember any incidents or just general memories about when you became as a child of the differences between classes, rich and poor?
I remember the most vivid memory I have is the time I rode with my mother to take her housekeeping maid back to her house. I remember we were driving in my mother's old Lincoln Continental down an unpaved road by these completely run-down shacks. I saw these little black kids with no shoes walking around with very little clothes on and staring at us, like we were on some kind of a golden chariot. I didn't fully understand it, but my emotional sense of it was they must think that we are extremely privileged and somehow, I felt bad about that. I felt somewhat ashamed. And then I watched my mother drop this housekeeper off in front of her house and saw about three or four kids run up to her and realized that when she was gone, there was nobody there to take care of her kids. I still have that memory pretty vivid in my mind. I was too young to ask any intelligent questions about it, but I never lost that memory.
Did you, at the time, see the class divide as somewhat similar to the race divide, or were you also aware of class differences among whites?
I was not that aware of class differences among whites. I think that that was because the lower-income white folks mostly lived out in other rural parts outside of the city of Mobile, very similar to what we have here in metropolitan Charlotte, frankly. The poor people in the city were almost all African-American. And so there was a heavy coincidence of class and race as far as I could tell. Then when I got into college and became much more aware of the issues and worked for an antipoverty agency after my junior year in college, I was much more acutely aware of how great the overlap of poverty and race, that is African-Americans, was in that community. When I was in elementary school, there were very few poor white kids in that school.