Interview with Helen Shinaman

Helen Shinaman was interviewed by T.J. Keller on date November 10, 2007

Mrs. Helen Shinaman was born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is seventy-one years old and now resides in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. She lived in the state for nearly her entire life, outside of a short stint in Atlanta, Georgia. She grew up in a lower middle class family. They did not have much money or material wealth, but she had a great family, which is one of the most important things to her. She had five siblings, of which only one is still living. Her father died when she was in high school, but the lessons he taught her have led her life. She worked her entire life as a dental hygienist and this is how she met one of her husbands. Her life fits into the same mold as many other women in North Carolina and the opinions she shared with T.J. in the interview encompass what he feels the majority of women in North Carolina feel.

Mrs. Shinaman on race

Mrs. Shinamen participated in an important historic event:

I was in the first sit-in in 1961 – I believe it was ’61, ’62 – at Woolworth’s. I was there. [TJK: Wow!] My picture is there, when they got a collection of pictures a couple of my pictures are there.

TJK: Wow, that’s amazing, at the Woolworth’s. I was going to ask you about that since being from Greensboro, that was there. Wow, you were there.

HS: I was in Woolworth’s, right there. And I was there to back the blacks. It’s the first time I knew that there was that much of a difference in us. And I thought, “This is stupid.” And you know, Daddy was gone by then; he probably wouldn’t have let me gone. Momma didn’t know I was going. So, you know, I was grown, so I went.

Listen to the audio of Mrs. Shinaman’s response about race:

Mrs. Shinaman on her family

Mrs. Shinaman’s father didn’t subscribe to traditional gender roles:

Daddy had a garden from which we gathered everything. We canned everything. Didn’t freeze in those days because I don’t think we had a freezer any bigger than a little cubicle and a little icebox where you just made ice. Daddy would say, “Go down to the garden and get me something for this,” and he’d come home from work and he would fix supper. He was a good cook. Oh, was he ever good. He could make cornbread in the frying pan on top of the stove like nothing you’ve ever tasted. You know, with six children you got a pretty busy house and there’s a whole lot going on.

Listen to the audio of Mrs. Shinaman’s response about family roles.

Mrs. Shinaman on gender roles

Mrs. Shinaman’s thoughts on why people in the past didn’t respect what a woman had to say:

I don’t honestly know. I really do not know. Maybe women weren’t forward enough then to really try to get involved in things. I don’t know when the tide turned. I know this man/woman thing happened. What is it, the war between the…? [TJK: Battle of the sexes?] Yeah, the battle of the sexes; that’s what it is. I know that happened, but you know, I wasn’t really a part of that. I worked all my life and I never really thought about being bigger than a man or having a better job than a man because my profession was strictly women. I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. I just know women today can do anything they want to do. They can go anywhere they want to. I tell every girl that’s going to college, every girl particularly, get out, go overseas one year. See the world, see what’s going on because this is not the world right here. Lord, London and England and France, when I was there I couldn’t believe – and I’m a grown woman now – I couldn’t believe the beauty and wonder of what goes on out in the world. They need to get out and experience that when they’re in college.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Mrs. Shinaman’s beliefs on gender.

Mrs. Shinaman on religion

Mrs. Shinaman relates her family’s experiences with religion:

Mother wasn’t really, really outgoing and she thought if she got all of us to church she was doing wonders, and she did. Because she made most of our clothes and daddy worked on Sunday. He drove a bus. So daddy said, “I have to take everybody else to church.” And in those days people did take the bus to church because we didn’t have cars. So daddy was saved in April – March or April -before he died in May. He was attending a little church near our house. He’d been going on Sunday night and he was baptized. So that was good, but I do not know whether my mother was baptized or not. I know mother had a Bible; I know she read it; I know she lived by it; but I don’t know whether she was ever saved or baptized. I have no idea. And I wish I knew; I should have asked her. We don’t do the things we should do, though. But religion was very important our whole life.

Listen to the audio about religion.

Favorite Memory

When asked to describe a favorite teenage memory, Mrs. Shinaman related a humorous story:

[Laughs] I’m going to have to think on that one a minute. One time I was in the band in Junior High School. We did a parade downtown and mooning was not heard of in those days, hardly. But three of the band members – not me [laughs] – but three of the other band members in the parade, it was a Christmas parade, mooned some people. And I didn’t know where it was coming from; you know we didn’t know anything about stuff like that. Of course I wasn’t involved in that. That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen; it really was. I hadn’t seen that in a long time [laughs].  I really don’t remember a lot of things about those days, but I do remember that. Because maybe I was a little instigator. I might have been right there pushing them. But momma said don’t ever let anybody see up your pants and all that stuff, so I wasn’t going to show my butt [laughs]. I would today [laughs].

Listen to the audio of Helen’s response about her favorite memories.

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