Interview with Harris Sharpe

Harris Sharpe was interviewed by Alexandra Sharpe on April 14, 2012

Harris Wade Sharpe was born in the Carr Community in North Carolina in 1935. She had two parents, Jessie and Will, and four older brothers, Jack, Bill, and James. Her family owned a tobacco farm in Carr. She worked on the farm, and at a dress store in Burlington, Belk-Leggett’s department store, banks in Durham and Mebane, the Post Office, and the contracts and grants department at the University of North Carolina. Mrs. Sharpe and her husband Victor Thomas Sharpe have three boys, Tommy, Bob, and Ed. Her husband passed away in January of 2000 after battling an undiagnosed form of lung disease for 27 years. She is also a breast cancer survivor and has been cancer free for five years. Mrs. Sharpe is currently 76 years old and lives in Efland, North Carolina, where she has lived since getting married.

On Being Southern

Oh me, prim and proper [sighs]. You dressed for the occasion, where so many times today I think we dress so different from what I would have dressed – not everybody, but some people. Even back then, I don’t think I can remember ever seeing my daddy go to church in overalls or blue jeans or whatever. He always had a suit. I’m not saying he’d have two or three, but he always had a suit and he wore that to church. Well people today are different because you and Taylor were taught your manners, and when you’re supposed to use them, and how you’re supposed to use them. Now those were taught as well when I was growing up, but just like now all parents didn’t teach them then, and all parents don’t teach them today. There’s a lot of changes, but there’s still a lot of things that haven’t changed.

Listen to the audio of Mrs. Sharpe’s response about expectations in the South.

On Household Work

Mrs. Sharpe was asked how she and her husband divided up the work of their household.

Well, because of the husband I had, I think we did real good. Papa was always willing to help and do his part. When we got home from work it wasn’t, “This is the household – you do it.” He always helped me. Even when the boys were little he would get up at night with them just as much as I did, when we had to get up with them. All I can say is I was very fortunate in that respect.

Listen to the audio of Mrs. Sharpe’s response about gender and work.

On Leisure

In discussing her hobbies, quilting and cooking, Mrs. Sharpe described:

As much as we want to help our children, sometimes our help is more of a hindrance than it is help. I think that night I learned for myself, “I can’t just be a soft pillow for him to fall on.” Sometimes you have to be a hard rock. That’s hard for the parent to accept and I know it’s hard for the child to accept. I think our theory for years is, “Momma’s going to be there,” and momma will be there. But sometimes not in the respect you wanted her to be, but that’s life. We can look at somebody else and say, “Oh my Lord, don’t they know what they’re doing to that child.” You just have to believe inside that if they don’t really know what they’re doing, somebody else is going to come along and show that child the right way.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Mrs. Sharpe’s leisure.

On Raising Children

As much as we want to help our children, sometimes our help is more of a hindrance than it is help. I think that night I learned for myself, “I can’t just be a soft pillow for him to fall on.” Sometimes you have to be a hard rock. That’s hard for the parent to accept and I know it’s hard for the child to accept. I think our theory for years is, “Momma’s going to be there,” and momma will be there. But sometimes not in the respect you wanted her to be, but that’s life. We can look at somebody else and say, “Oh my Lord don’t they know what they’re doing to that child.” You just have to believe inside that if they don’t really know what they’re doing, somebody else is going to come along and show that child the right way.

Listen to the audio about raising children.

On High School

When discussing her high school experiences, she remembered one experience which she really missed out on:

Well, I remember in high school I wanted to play basketball. Oh I wanted to play basketball so bad. Momma and daddy said no because of my knee that I had broken. I begged and I pleaded and finally they says, “Okay we’ll go see your doctor and see what he says.” He looked at me and he says, “No. You cannot play basketball. That’s too much of a risk of doing damage to that knee.” And he said, “Next time it won’t be as easy as it was the last time.” I thought to myself then, “Lord if it’s not as easy as it was the first time, I sure don’t want anything to happen.” I was a cheerleader, not like cheerleaders today. We didn’t throw each other up in the air and all of this. We just led, you know, sayings or little songs or whatever. And then when I wasn’t being a cheerleader, at most of the games I helped keep score.

Listen to the audio of Mrs. Sharpe’s response about her school experiences.

Interview with Mildred Huey

Mildred Huey was interviewed by Britt Johnson on April 22, 2012.

Mildred Huey was born on September 13th, 1933 on a farm in Caswell County, North Carolina. She was married to restaurant owner Ralph Huey, who was nine years her senior, in November 1954. She had two children with Ralph, Ralph Jr. and Debbie. Ralph Sr. passed away in 1973, leaving Mildred with a booming restaurant empire and two teenage children. Mildred had no formal education when it came to running a business; all she had to rely on was the mentoring and information she received from her husband while he was alive. Under Mrs. Huey, the multi-state Huey’s restaurant chain flourished until she sold the last one in 1993. In her free time Mildred loves to travel the world, especially Asia, Europe, and California, and to play golf.

On Food Rationing During the Great Depression

Mildred grew up on a farm in rural North Carolina during the Great Depression but her family didn’t feel the strains of the economic downturn like many others did. She said:

But since we grew our own food, even to the meats, we didn’t worry about going hungry like some people did… As I said, the most I remember was the rationing and stuff how hard it was for people that lived in the city. We could remember the long lines that we saw for people being hungry, but it didn’t affect me because of the fact that in today’s terms, we was “poor.” But I had no idea that I was poor [laughs]. I really didn’t – because we were wealthy in that sense of the word. I had no thoughts of being hungry or anything like a lot of people were in the depression.

Listen to the audio of Mildred’s response about her experiences during the Great Depression.

On Gaining Respect in the Professional Community as a Woman

When Mildred’s husband passed away in 1973 she inherited his large multi-state restaurant empire. Mildred’s personality and determination to be successful garnered respect in an era where women rarely held business executive positions. She noted:

The only time I think that I really felt it was after he passed away. It was hard for you to walk into say, a restaurant equipment company and get the respect that you would have. They would look at you like, “does she really know what she’s really looking for?” Or whatever. It didn’t take them long to know that I wasn’t there just to look and shop; I knew what I came after. But that would probably been the only time and I never felt it too much in the business world and around here. I just never did.  Anything I ever tried to do, I done it [laughs]. They had to just tolerate me. I guess that’s what the best thing you could say for it. I didn’t feel no disrespect because they had to accept me. And what I went after, I got. Does that make sense? That’s the way it is, that’s the way it was. But no, I didn’t get showed no respect. Not in the world that I lived in.

Listen to the audio of Mildred’s response about respect in the professional community.

On Balancing a Career and Family

Trying to balance her successful restaurant empire with being a mother to two children proved a challenge to Mildred. Her children might not have liked her solution, but it allowed them time together. She said:

The hours was long. I usually tried to get there about 8 o’clock in the morning, 8:30, and it was 11 o’clock when we got home at night. That was our pattern of our life. But they adjusted [laughs], they’re fine. They might have been cheated out of some things, but they were there with me and we shared in everything that we had to do together. They might not have liked it. Ralph might not have liked washing dishes, or he might not have liked bussing tables. Debbie might not have liked waiting tables…

Listen to the audio excerpt about Mildred’s experience.

On Integration and the Restaurant

Running a restaurant in the South during the fifties and sixties could have led to major tensions in the community. Mildred reflected on her husband’s fears following the passage of new integration laws:

I think that was his fear when they made it law that they could come into the restaurant. He worried about that more than anything else because of how the white people would react. And I would say, “Ralph, it’s the law. If the white ones can’t accept it they can’t come.” He says, “It could ruin the business.” I says, “Everybody’s got to do it. We’re not just the one.” I knew that we would get the most because we had always made a place for them so they could come and eat or take out and stuff like that. Even in the early fifties and he was in business and small they always came. He always had a big black following. And they all was friends. When that happened he really worried about how to handle it. It was really bad there for a while. We had a few walk out.

Listen to the audio about integrating the restaurant.

On Advice for Younger Generations

Mildred offered advice for the youth of America:

Do anything. Do whatever you want to do, but do it well. Don’t take a backseat to nothing. I tell Ivey [granddaughter] all the time. People say, ”I can’t do this.” I say, “You can do anything you want.” Especially in today’s world. If you’re really willing to sacrifice – to do what you really want to do – because you have to spend all the rest of your life working. And if you’re working at something that you don’t like, it’s not a very pleasant life that you live. So do what you really want to, make the most of it and give it your best. That’s my advice. Good things will come, and it may be hard for you, but good things will come. Eventually you will get there. It might take you a while.

Listen to the audio of Mildred’s advice.

Interview with Brenda Tate

Brenda Tate was interviewed by Sentrell Allen on April 24, 2012.

Brenda Anne Rone was born on September 5, 1947 and raised in Roxboro, North Carolina. She is sixty-five years old. She is the oldest of six children, and her mother raised them as a single parent. Brenda’s  career path included being a house keeper, mill worker, dietician, and finally a dietary supervisor. She is currently disabled due to a severe spinal injury. Brenda decided to separate her life into three chapters, one being family and relationships, the second being her faith, and the third being her life now. She has two children, a daughter and a son, Sheila and Steve Allen, from a previous marriage, and has seven grand kids and two great grandchildren. She is currently married to Kenneth Tate.

On Childhood

When asked what she did for fun when she was a child, Brenda said:

Well, you take like grass, it growed tall, we would plait, like we was plaiting hair and we would get corn out of the garden, and we would just comb that maze, and plait that, we had that for a baby doll and we’d take towels and roll it, roll it and get it.

Listen to the audio of Brenda’s response about her childhood.

On Dating

Brenda described what dating was like when she grew up:

It wasn’t like it was now. We couldn’t date until we was sixteen, seventeen, but when we was sixteen we couldn’t go out; we had to date in the living room. Everybody had a living room; that’s where your boyfriend would come to see you. And mom had a certain time that he had to go – ten o’clock he had to go, whether he had a ride or not. He had to find him a ride; he couldn’t stay there. And we couldn’t go out when we were sixteen years old. And I think that’s better now, because after I growed up I see that when you’re younger you don’t think with your mind; you think with your feelings. And a lot of times your feelings will lead you the wrong way, down the wrong path, and you meet somebody that’s not good for you, instead of waiting for somebody that’s compatible for you. So as a girl dating I was real cautious, yeah.

Listen to the audio of Brenda’s response about dating.

On Work

Over the years Brenda had many jobs but the one she was most proud of was dietary:

I’m into food, so that’s why I worked in dietary. I made sure that the meals were presentable for the residents and made sure they got the diets that they were supposed to have. And I would always tell my staff that you don’t want to give nobody nothing you wouldn’t eat – ’cause you eat with your eyes, if it looks good you’d eat it. So that’s what I liked. I learned how to do everything in the kitchen and dietary. And I taught others how to do it. And I showed them the value of it and just act like that was your mother in the nursing home how would you feed her. You wouldn’t give her cold coffee; you’d make sure it’s hot! You wouldn’t give her cold food. So that’s what I liked doing.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Brenda’s work.

Reflecting Back

Brenda was asked what advice would she give to herself when she was younger.

To my younger self I would say to take it easy, not work so hard, that things come and go in life and you can’t have everything that you want. If you try to work for it, working two or three jobs, you work yourself to death and you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. So that’s my lesson in life to myself.

Listen to the audio of Brenda’s advice to herself.

Best Experiences

One of my greatest experiences, let’s see…. One of my greatest experiences is well I bake cakes for people and when they come to pick it up they enjoy it so much, they tell other people about it and they call and want it and they’re like “Who made this? Who did it? Who made that?” and yeah, I love that.

Listen to the audio of Brenda’s response about her best experiences.

Interview with Norma White

Norma White was interviewed by Adam Portoghese on April 12, 2012.

Norma White grew up in Reidsville, North Carolina, on a tobacco farm with her mother, father, and sister. Her family employed several African-Americans to work the farm, and Norma grew up in an atmosphere of racial understanding. When integration later came, she needed no time to adjust. She attended Wake Forest University and majored in math. She became a teacher after college, and taught in a number of different locations due to her willingness to follow her husband’s changing career path. Her husband, Alan White, played football in Canada after college, but they soon made their way back to the United States to pursue careers in teaching.  After several more moves throughout the South, Alan became the athletic director at Elon University, and Norma settled into Burlington teaching at Western Alamance High School. She and Alan had a son, who also ended up going to Wake Forest. He is now married and has a child of his own who is now looking at colleges.

On Career Options

Norma spoke of the career possibilities available to women at the time of her graduation from Wake Forest.

You either became a teacher, a social worker, or you could major in business. There were not many options. So I thought, “I will be a teacher, and I am going to stay here. And I will think about nursing later.” I majored in math, and I really had as many hours in science just in case, but I never really thought that I’d have a career. I never really thought I would do that. Because [the way] I grew up, my mother worked in the home, and I just never thought I would do anything. But this was great; I was growing up.

Listen to the audio of Norma’s response about her career choices.

On Teaching

Norma described motivation and passion she found in the teaching.

It was good, challenging. But what I realized was that I loved the students and my subject was just the vehicle to get to work with these students. I would have never been able to if I had not had something to teach them. But my passion was the student. I mean it. I taught the subject because I wanted to do a good a job. I took a lot of pride in what I did and I worked very hard. But at the end of the day it was the student that I just loved. And I keep up with them.

Listen to the audio of Norma’s response about her experiences teaching.

On Values

Norma placed faith as one of the four central themes of her life.

I guess my whole life has been faith: faith in God. I have a strong faith in God, and involvement in my church. My Bible study too. We go to Franklin Street Methodist Church, but the church is a whirl. No matter who I am meeting with we talk about God.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Norma’s faith.

On Humor

From the start it was clear Norma liked to laugh and its value to her daily life.

Humor: You know I have given you four things that I just think in life that just keeps you energized. Finding laughter. Everything is not funny, I know that. But you can get it a way, and [my friend] Jeanne has been a humorist. I see her doing this – finding humor in stressful situations [Laughs], and she can find it. Now there are times in life that everything is not funny, for sure, and that is common sense. But if you just look at things a little differently….

Listen to the audio about humor.

On Tobacco Farming

While at Wake Forest, Norma began to reflect on her family’s livelihood in new ways.

Growing up on the tobacco/vegetable farm, I did not like that. I did not like working in tobacco. I did not think that it was morally good. It was a bad thing. I didn’t know a lot about ethics, but going to Wake Forest I learned a lot of things [Laughing] that we never talked about. But I knew that was how we made money, and it was a good life.

Listen to the audio of Norma’s reflection.

Interview with Patricia Hall

Patricia Hall was interviewed by Courtney Rafael on November 6, 2010.

Pat Hall was born on October 12, 1946, and is sixty-four years old. She was born and raised in Alamance County, and has lived there all of her life. Mrs. Hall lived with her parents until they got a divorce when she was nine. Her mother, Mary, died when she was nine and she moved in with her father, John, and step-mother, Thelma. Mrs. Hall was influenced and helped raised by many members of her family because they all lived in close proximity of each other and worked on the farms together.  She grew up farming, mostly in tobacco and continued to grow tobacco for the first couple of years of her marriage. Mrs. Hall started dating and got married at age sixteen to James Thomas Hall. They had two children, Donnie and Kim, by the time she was eighteen and several years later they had their third child, Lori. Mrs. Hall worked several jobs, including Woolworth’s lunch counter, Glen Raven Mills, Bell’s apparel store, and her current job at Carolina Biological. She has six grandchildren and her proudest achievements in life are her children.

On Equality

Patricia Hall discusses her feelings on equality between males and females today.  As Patricia said in the interview:

Well I am a woman so I should say, “I just think it’s great,” but there again I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I mean, I remember how life used to be and it was much simpler. Now granted I think that it’s wonderful that if a woman is out there doing certain jobs that she can make what a man could make. I suppose it will never – it’s never going back – you can’t go back. So I mean if a woman is out there doing the same thing a man is doing, then she should be making what a man is making. [CR: I agree.] I know that sounds a little… [CR: No.] I’m sort of torn between that. I mean, I remember how it was, and it seems like if you are coming along today you would look back and think women weren’t treated fairly. But, you know, they didn’t have all the pressure on them that you have today. I mean it was just a whole different world. It was. Things were a lot less complicated.

Listen to the audio of Pat’s response about her feelings on equality.

On Rural Life

Well, when they were real little we were raising tobacco. And actually when your mother was born -[CR: Mm- hmm.] she was probably – maybe a year old – maybe not even a year old – when we decided we were going to move back to where his daddy, his mother, and grandparents lived. And live in this little house and raise tobacco [CR: Mm-hmm.] for this tobacco season. [CR: Right.] But we had to move back and it was probably March, it was still cold. But the house didn’t a bathroom, it didn’t have any running water. It wasn’t even wired for an eclectic stove but he had it wired for an electric stove. But we moved back in this house with two babies in diapers, and no bathroom for one tobacco season. And like I said, that usually starts in March because you’re starting to plant and everything. And it runs through, maybe, October when you’re starting to get everything sold. So we lived there and that was a experience. Going to the laundry mat, pulling water up in a well with two babies in two diapers. And we didn’t have pampers – we had diapers – [CR: Like cloth?] cloth diapers. So that was a experience. And I’d have to take them to the tobacco field in the playpen. And we would sit the playpen up, and they would be right there in the playpen while we were doing tobacco. But, you know, we made a whole lot of money off of that tobacco crop. And so we did it for that one season. [CR: Right.]

Listen to the audio of Pat’s response about rural life.

On Dating – Rules and Restrictions

My daddy had to meet everybody I dated. He had to have them come in and get to know them. And I had to double date, and I had to be home. If Daddy wasn’t there when your date come you had to wait till he got there, because you couldn’t just get in your car and leave. He had to personally see you getting in the car with who ever you were going with. And you had to be home by eleven o’clock so if you were at the movies and it ran late, too bad, you had to leave before it ended. Because you had to be home before eleven o’clock or you were going to be grounded. And you knew you better not call and say, “Is it okay if I’m coming late.” You’d be grounded even worse [laughs]. And when we came home from a date we couldn’t sit out in the car. [CR: You came right in?] Yes, you couldn’t pull up in the driveway, and just sit out there with a boy in the car. No, you didn’t do that. So yeah it was pretty strict [laughter] growing up.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Pat’s response about dating – rules and restrictions.

On Work Experiences

Okay. Well she set in front of me – in the machine in front of me. And back then, you know, people would smoke but they would take their breaks and run to the bathroom and have a cigarette or whatever. But when you were in production and you were pushing to make that money, you know. You didn’t do a lot of talking, everybody was really pushing hard. And I can remember one day I was just pushing away trying to make get them stockings sewed, and heard Peggy say, “Pat.” And, you know, I didn’t stop to look. I could hear her saying my name but, you know, I didn’t. She said, “Pat,” and I would say, “What?” [Laughter] And she had the needle – the needle had went down – she got her finger up there, and some how another that needle went down through her finger. [CR: Ahh. Oh my gosh.] And she was just sitting there with the needle through her finger. And I said, “Oh Peggy!” [Laughs] [CR: Like all the way through?] Yeah. Oh Peggy [laughs]! [CR: Oh, gross.] And they got it out. They had to take her to get her a tetanus shot. I mean, it was like a when they pierce your ear, you know? It was a little sharp needle. [CR: But all the way through her finger, uhh?] Uh-uhn. It went right down through there, and her little finger was sort of hung right there [laughs].

Listen to the audio about Pat’s work experiences.

On Southern Women

Asked about the ideal appearance for Southern women, Pat explained:

Well, you always wanted to look nice. You wouldn’t have went out in public not looking nice, you know. When I go out now, that’s one of things I’ve noticed that’s changed so much. You know, when we were growing up and coming along – when we went places and went out in public – I mean, you were dressed. [CR: Mm-hmm.] Your hair was fixed, your make-up was on, and you were dressed. But now you go out, and I mean you see people out anywhere – [CR: I know.] they just don’t take any pride in their appearance. I don’t know if I gave you a good description [CR: You did.] of a Southern belle. But you know, I think it’s a stereotype when they say Southern belle and people are thinking of somebody in a ball gown. But [CR: Yeah.] you know, a Southern belle to me is just a, you know, a lady that’s well groomed and well dressed. And in my era, when I’m saying my time – that a Southern girl was someone that took a lot of pride in their appearance, and their appearance of their home, and their family. And they took a lot of pride in their manners, being polite…

Listen to the audio of Pat’s response about Southern women.

Interview with Cheryl Jeffries

Cheryl Jeffries was interviewed by Joanna Rabiej on November 5, 2010.

Cheryl Jeffries is a primary care physician practicing at Burlington’s Kernodle Clinic.  She was born in Alamance County but moved to Maryland at seven years old when her mother re-married.  She came back to North Carolina when she decided to go Duke University for undergraduate education.  Dr. Jeffries attended medical school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Dr. Jeffries is very active in the community and is involved with a faith-based health improvement ministry.  She has also been instrumental in helping her clinic became more welcoming to female physicians.

On being a female African-American doctor

Cheryl tends to feel there are more issues in medicine related to gender rather than race.  This is apparent in her response to some of her experiences:

Female African-American doctor?  Yeah, I have had patients, they think you’re the nurse – and I don’t know if that’s more of a gender thing. You go in the room in the hospital to take a history and examine the patient, and they’re like, “When’s the doctor coming?” “Ma’am, I am the doctor.” Or “Sir, I am the doctor.”  I don’t know so much as a racist thing, probably more of a gender thing. They assume the doctor is going to be a boy, or they did back then, just assume the doctor’s going to be a guy.  When they saw you, and they’re like, “Excuse me, nurse! Nurse!”  That occasionally happens today. When I went into private practice, I think in residency it wasn’t such an issue because you’re taking care of a lot of indigent patients at that time, so they were just happy to get any care that they could get.  There was not a lot of issues of that kind of thing, “I don’t want her taking care of me.”  I don’t ever really remember experiencing that.

Listen to the audio of Cheryl’s response about her experience as a doctor.

On Spirituality

Well, I think, from being young, I’ve always had a spiritual foundation. My theory on happiness is that you have to have something to believe in that’s bigger than yourself, you have to have something meaningful to do, you have to have somebody to love or take care of, and then you have to have something to look forward to.  Those are my four personal things that I need to have in my life to have balance. I’m finding that my daughter is the same way.  So when I’m sort of spiritually out of balance or not spiritually connected, then things aren’t going right. When I don’t feel like I’m involved in some sort of project that is helping somebody else, then things aren’t going right. I always need something to look forward to. I need a trip, or I need a vacation, or I need something to look forward to. I have kids and significant others, there’s always somebody to love and take care of, somebody always has a need.

Listen to the audio of Cheryl’s response about spirituality.

On differences between certain cities in North Carolina

Cheryl has lived in several cities in North Carolina.  Here she describes some of them:

Well, Durham is Durham. I was there at the university. Durham has really grown, and it’s become a very nice town, but at that time, it was Duke, and then it was Durham. The two just didn’t mix.  So I don’t really have much experience with Durham.  Chapel Hill, of course, I think Chapel Hill and Asheville are the two places in North Carolina that are somewhat eclectic and contemporary and are probably the most liberal cities in North Carolina.  I would say Asheville, Asheville’s really eclectic and kind of liberal and Chapel Hill, so Chapel Hill was a fun place to be and to live and to work. Charlotte is a big city. Booming, growing city, and much bigger now than when I was there, I think.  I left Charlotte in 1992, so I was there from 1986 to 1992. Incredible growth, a lot of young people going there to work in the financial industry, and so it was a yuppy, young urban professional-type place.  So it was a good place to be, socially, and when I was in training, even though you’re on call every third night, you still find some time to socialize at that point.  And all the cities are unique. I like North Carolina, I think you get a little bit of everything in North Carolina.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Cheryl describing North Carolina cities.

On her most rewarding community involvement

Community involvement is very important to Cheryl, as seen through the faith-based health improvement ministry related to her work:

I think probably the most rewarding thing has been this faith-based health improvement initiative because I think we’re going to see more and more of that. That’s been fun and rewarding. I can see it carrying on. Every once a year, the group will say, “We need to get another one of those classes! Everybody’s getting fat again! We need to do our class over!” So people, they re-do the class, and people get motivated and get back on track. We have made some changes in our communities and in our churches that alter the eating, and they’ll remind each other. They’re going through the line at the homecoming dinner, “You know you’re not supposed to eat that fried stuff!” So made some changes. We’ve actually had a nutritionist come out, had somebody go out with them shopping at the grocery store. Each week in the class, you do a little different thing. So that’s been fun.

Listen to the audio about the health improvement ministry.

Reflections on her proudest achievements

Cheryl is a very accomplished woman, as a mother and a physician.  Here she discusses some of her most significant sacrifices, choices, and skills:

I don’t know, I think you make sacrifices, and you make choices. I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in terms of career things because I wanted to have a family, and my children have always been the most important thing, most important part of my life.  I think that women in general don’t hang their self-worth on their careers or what they do. That’s just a part of who they are. Men tend to have their whole self-worth tied up in their careers and how much money they make and their successes in terms of their careers. I don’t feel that at all.  I mean, I think I’m good at what I do, and I’m probably good at what I do because of the skills that I possess that have nothing to do with medicine. The same skills that I possess that make me good at being a good mommy. So I guess those would probably be the achievements, the chief of staff and being the oldest and only African-American female partner.

Listen to the audio of Cheryl’s response about her proudest achievements.

Interview with Miriam K. Slifkin

Miriam K. Slifkin was interviewed by Georgina Oram on November 6, 2010.

Mrs. Slifkin may be known around the state most for her development of the first National Organization for Woman chapter in Chapel Hill as well as her development of the Rape Crisis Center there. Mrs. Slifkin was born on May 24, 1925, in Birmingham, Alabama.   Mrs. Slifkin attended college at the University of Alabama to study chemistry and other sciences. She graduated and received her bachelor’s when she was 21 in 1946.  Mrs. Slifkin’s began her research in Mycology at Princeton and continued it while moving through in Urbana, Illinois, and during her time in graduate school at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill through a division of the Botany Department. Being a woman in the science field in the mid twentieth century was an experience that was controlled by gender. From listening to Mrs. Slifkin talk about her early life and careers, it is clear that her experiences inside and out of the workplace led her to her interest and passion for the Women’s Movement.

On changing her name

Mrs. Slifkin had an interesting experience with her name after her marriage to Larry Slifkin:

I was born Miriam Kressus, and I was identified as Miriam Kressus until I got married. And when I went to get my license – Larry wasn’t there at the time – they wanted to know what my married name will be. And I said, “Miriam Kressus.” And they said, “You can’t.” This was in Alabama. And I said, “Why not? That’s my name.” He says, “You’ll take your husband’s name, it’s the law.” [GO: Wow.] So I was kind of angry about this. I tried to find reasons to be happy about it. And the only reason I could find is that when I was smaller, I was teased, because there was a big chain store Kress, HS Kress, and people used to laugh at me and say I was very wealthy when the opposite was the truth. It was Depression and we were quite poor [Laugh] So I had this anger of being forced. I mean, had it been voluntary, I think I would have felt a lot different.

Listen to the audio of Miriam’s response about her name.

On sex discrimination

When Mrs. Slifkin was applying to jobs after graduate school, she had some trouble getting together her recommendations:

NIHS, which is the Research Triangle Park, this is back when they were first starting, and I applied to them, and you have to have people who will recommend you, references. Dr. Couch, who was theoretically my advisor, had to be one of them. And I got a note from the people I had applied to, and they said, “We’re sorry but we’ve only got two recommendations and you should have three.” And I called them up and asked who was lacking. It was Dr. Couch. And I went into his office and said, “Why didn’t you recommend me?” and he said, “Oh I was afraid you would leave Larry.” There was a chair by his desk and I took that chair, I was so angry, and I took it and went ram! [motion of breaking the chair]. And he said, “Give me, I’ll sign it.” I was so angry. I mean usually I keep my cool very well. But boy, I exploded.

Listen to the audio of Miriam’s response about this experience.

On race and sex discrimination

Mrs. Slifkin talks about her experiences with racial tension while working in a government run lab in Alabama:

I was working in the lab one day, everybody got on beautifully. The man, I don’t know what he was supposed to be. He was supposed to be the head of it, but he did what I did. He probably got paid twice as much. He was quiet he didn’t say anything. But the man that was in charge of the whole operation, all of the state, had an office connected to our laboratory. Well, one day he was in the office and he decided we were making noise. It turned out, one of the black women, a young very attractive young lady, had gotten engaged. She had a ring on. At lunchtime she was showing people the ring, everybody the black and the white. The women weren’t so restrictive as men were. Everybody was cooing over it. And this boss comes in, he said, “What’s going on?” He was just curious. She showed him her ring. He pulled up her dress and started to feel. The other black women, they had Coca-Cola’s you could buy in the lab. They broke the bottles and surrounded him with these broken bottles and threatened him. He got out of there fast. [GO: Oh, yeah] The next thing we knew, his secretary came out with a little board giving names saying, “You’re fired, you’re fired, you’re fired…” All of the black women were fired for threatening him. [GO: Oh my God] Well, I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it. I went in the office, and said I’m quitting. I just left.

Listen to the audio of Miriam’s response about this experience.

On early activism

Early meetings of the Chapel Hill National Organization for Women Chapter:

First we’d meet in other people’s houses on Monday nights because their husbands would listen to the Monday Night Football or something. Their husbands disappeared so it was very nice for them. They were mostly students so they were in small places. As we grew bigger I said, “Come here.” I asked Larry if it was all right with him, he said, “Yeah. I won’t bother you. I’ll go in the back and leave you alone.” He couldn’t stand it; he couldn’t stand it. We’d get settled here. The first thing he does is comes out, “Can I get you ladies something?” You know, and they would order, “Oh, I’ll have a coke. I’ll have cookies or whatever.” He’d usually come out with a thing of cookies and say, “Can I get you something to drink?” But, I said, “Larry what’d you promise me?” He said, “Oh I just wanted to make sure everybody had refreshments.” [Train goes by] He was so funny.

Listen to the audio about the early NOW meetings.

Experiences leading to activism

The progressive inspiration for the beginning of the Rape Crisis Center in Chapel Hill:

When I was publicized as NOW everybody thought of me as NOW even though there were other people working in it too. People started calling me with problems. I would more or less let them come to my house or I’d meet them at coffee you know in some way if it wasn’t too private. I tried to get out of the house. But some of them saying, “Well I hate to be in a public place.” They would come in. Actually they would usually sit on this couch and we would look out the woods. I found that that made people calmer. So often a woman would come in and she was nervous and she wants to talk but she can’t. I’d just sit up like this on this couch, this couch in very old and it’s heard a lot.

Listen to the audio of Miriam’s response about her meeting with rape victims.

Interview with Augusta Garrison

Augusta Garrison was interviewed by Allie Heatwole on April 26, 2010.

Ms. Augusta Garrison is an 82 year old woman who was born in Hamlet, North Carolina.  At the age of 18, she found out that she was adopted and that she had five sisters and one brother. She lived in Hamlet until she got married and moved to New Jersey so her husband could find work.  She worked as a nursing assistant before getting married and then raised five children.  After living in New Jersey for over 21 years, Ms. Garrison returned to her childhood home in Hamlet to take care of her mother.  She stayed in that house after her mother’s passing and still lives there today. 

On Living in New Jersey

Ms. Garrison was describing the night her husband wanted to show her the progress on the plant he was working on.  She described being disinterested in the plant and generally upset about living in the north:

Anyway, we started over there, got over there near Shiloh and I bust out, I said, “I don’t want to go see no plant, I’m going back to Hamlet—where people talk to you!” Because I didn’t even have him to talk to, and you can’t talk to a baby.  You can talk to them but…you know?  I had gotten very very upset living there.  And he didn’t know it, I never let him know it.  And he turned the car around, we never did get to see the plant.   

Listen to the audio of Augusta’s response about her experience in New Jersey.

On Men’s and Women’s Work

Men made more and everybody knew that.  I mean, this was standard knowledge.  Everybody knew men made more than women, doing the same thing…could do the same things.  And now women have, I think in my opinion, have worked theyselves into a corner.  They can do the work men do, and they should get the pay men get, but the more they know how to do, the more they gonna start to do and the men’s gonna have to sit back home.  And I don’t think God created this that way; I think He created women to take care of His children when He put them on Earth. 

Listen to the audio of Augusta’s response about wages.

On How Women’s Lives Have Changed

A woman got up, and she did a job all day in the morning to wash the clothes and did the house work and all to go visiting’ in the afternoon.  And you know your neighbors.  Now, I’m not talking about doing snobby things, like playing’ bridge everyday and all that, but just interacting with other people.  And you know their families, their families know your families and it’s like you belong to a community of people that care about you.  Now, women work, they have to…They have to work now!  Two people have got to have a job now, there’s no getting around it. Because things are so high and so nobody has time to communicate or even sit down and visit.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Augusta’s description of how women’s lives have changed.

On Differences

When asked about differences in regions and races, Ms. Garrison said:

There is a difference in the way that people are made, in the way they are, and in the way they have been raised, and in the work of the south…but you still love everybody because God made them all. Like I said, they all want to be up there. The ones believe in Jesus Christ, they going’ to be right there. So if you can’t get along with them here what you gonna do up there? You gonna say, “No, I’m going’ down there?” Uh-uh. No. Uh-uh.

Listen to the audio about differences.

Moving from the South to the North

Ms. Garrison was asked why she made the move from North Carolina, where she grew up and met her husband, to New Jersey, where he husband was raised. 

We couldn’t find any work down there.  He was a Yankee.  It’s the truth.  In 1948 the Civil War was still going on down here.  And even one of the places he put in an application for told him that.  He said, “If I hired you I’d have to fire all the rest I’ve got.”  Because he said, “Northerners know how to work,” and says, “we gotta have so many blacks and blacks don’t know how to work.  They’re slow, they don’t have education.”  He says, “I couldn’t hire you, I’d have to fire everybody else.” 

And he went one place, he put an application in and put it down, “New Jersey” where he lived and the man took the paper and tore it up and says, “Get out of here you damn Yankee!” And Ed started to argue with him, you know.  And he took him out physically and put him out the door, on the street.  Then a cop standing outside there, a patrol cop, and Ed says, “You see what he did?!” And the cop told him to just “move along fella, just move along.”

Listen to the audio of Augusta’s response about why she made the move from the South to the North.

Interview with Jeanne Williams

Jeanne Williams was interviewed by Kate MacDonald on April 28, 2010 and May 3, 2010.

Jeanne Williams was around eighty seven years old at the time of the interview.  She was born in Providence, Rhode Island but has lived in North Carolina for around fifty years and currently resides in Burlington, North Carolina.  She has three children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Williams attended the University of Rhode Island as an undergraduate majoring in Biology and Mathematics.  She received her graduate degree through a fellowship from North Carolina State University and became the first woman to receive a degree in Experimental Statistic from that program.  She went on to teach statistics at the University of Connecticut and at Elon University, where she was the first woman chairman of the Department of Business Administration and Economics.  Williams was also the first woman chair of the Alamance Health Planning Council and one of the first women on the board of directors for Alamance ElderCare.  She became one of the first women to be ordained as a deacon at the First Christian United Church of Christ in Burlington, where she continues to teach Sunday school.  In her free time she enjoys reading, gardening, and painting antique trays for her family.

On Women in College in the 1940s

When asked about the reaction to the increase of the number of women in college in the 1940s, Jeanne replied:

Well as more women attended at the University of Rhode Island, we had all kinds of athletic opportunities.  By the senior year I was on the senior basketball team and the senior volleyball team.  And believe it or not we had intramurals and intercollegiate games.  The University of Rhode Island played the University of Connecticut, we played New York University, and several.  But it was all at our own expense at that time for travel.  But girls were really beginning to have visions of continuing higher in education.  You realized that it was in 1881 that girls were first allowed into college, thanks to the American Association of University Women.  So I think that girls have the potential and now-a-days they’re going into math and science and engineering and all of the disciplines that maybe they wouldn’t have years ago.

Listen to the audio of Jeanne’s response about women in college in the 1940s.

On Technological Advancements and Service

When asked about technological advancements and service, Jeanne replied:

I guess you might say life is easier in some senses.  But people haven’t learned I don’t think to use the time that they save from saving devices to use it to good advantage in some cases.  Now we had a period in Burlington when oh community service through all the organizations like Kiwanis and Community Council and all of those different organizations were just wonderful.  And I’m sure there are some that are still very active but we don’t hear so much about the service organizations as we used to.  I don’t know whether it’s because younger people, younger adults, are not joining into these organizations because they’re off playing golf or something like that but the community service it’s important.  Now I know a lot of older people who are volunteers at the hospital and go every week and I think that’s wonderful.  I think everybody should have at least one connection to a service organization.

Listen to the audio of Jeanne’s response about technological advancements and service.

On the South

When asked about moving to the South, Jeanne replied:

I think I probably had an adjustment when I first moved to the south as a family to Crammerton.  But everybody was very welcoming and hospitable and I think that we made our contacts immediately through the church and through the neighbors.  We just had good relationships there and the children had friends and that was important.  I think anybody moving around for them it’s important to make contacts through the church, whatever church, because then you have friends that you have something in common with.  And then your children have some friends with the same interests.  It’s just been a very good experience to do that.)

Listen to the audio of Jeanne’s response about moving South.

On Raising Children

When asked about her philosophy concerning child rearing, Jeanne explains:

I suppose that we needed discipline but we also wanted them to learn on their own.  And we encouraged reading from very early ages and responsibility for them to learn as they run along in school, to develop their own responsibilities.  They’ve all done very well, and as I say, have gone to graduate school.

Listen to the audio of Jeanne’s response about raising children.

On Retirement

Jeanne is a retired professor.  When asked about her retirement she replied:

I have time on my hands [laughs].  Like I said, I am teaching a study course and I also teach Sunday school.  I think it’s so important when you quote “retire,” because you don’t really retire, to keep your body moving and to keep your mind moving.  And the people that don’t do this you can see them, should I say, going downhill?

Listen to the audio of Jeanne’s response about retirement.

Interview with Caryl Kelso

Caryl Kelso was interviewed by Elizabeth Donovan on April 8th and April 15th 2010.

Caryl Kelso is originally from New York City and she turned Southerner after she and her husband relocated to Whitsett, North Carolina in 1980 for a job opportunity.  Two short years later, her husband sadly passed away from pancreatic cancer.  A single mother with a twelve-year old son at home and two grown daughters, away from her family in New York, she is grateful for the help from her Church family at Sharon Lutheran Church.  She kept going because that’s just what she had to do and didn’t know there was any other choice.  She soon found a new life here when she created a career with a weight loss program and is now in her twenty-eighth year there.  Caryl was able to continue living in her house and now happily has one of her daughter’s families staying with her as well.  She describes her earlier years as a mother and wife as her happiest years but that she is content with her life now as a proud grandmother.  Things have not happened as she had planned but she still says she has been very fortunate and happy with the life she has lived.

On Southern Identity

Caryl had discussed some of the differences she saw between New York City and rural Whitsett, North Carolina.  When asked if she now considers herself a Southerner, she replied:

I consider myself a Southerner because my attitudes and things are different.  Yes, some things, I think, are Yankee probably but I think it’s a good mix.  I like the slower pace, I like the way of living here.  I could not go back to the traffic the way it was when I lived there.  When I go to visit I don’t want to drive.  I don’t want to drive because I still have friends up there that I’ll go to see.  They’ll drive around and I’ll go into the city with them.  That part was nice.  Go to Radio City. Go to Lincoln Center; those kinds of things.  But I wouldn’t want to live there again; much too hectic.  The pace is just too fast.  I like living more leisurely and taking time to enjoy things more.

Listen to the audio of Caryl’s response about her new Southern identity.

On Breast Cancer

In between our interviews Caryl thought of two details she felt were important to mention.  One of these details was her experience with breast cancer:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987 and had a mastectomy and was one of the very fortunate people.  It hadn’t spread anywhere.  It was in the milk ducts and so when they did the mastectomy they got it all and I then had reconstructive surgery the next year.  That was a big influence in how things went down and all because my husband had only died five years before of cancer so it was a very traumatic time for everybody in the family.  I got into a lot of trouble with my children because I got a call from my gynecologist office telling me that they saw something in the mammogram.  He wanted me to go and see a surgeon and I waited until after I had a needle biopsy before I told any of them.  I didn’t want them all worrying and then they told me that if I ever did that to any of them again they’d never talk to me again.  But I just couldn’t see any point of all of us worrying at the same time so I did wait.  I’ve never done that since and I’d never do that to them again.  But it all worked out very well.  I was very fortunate.

Listen to the audio of Caryl’s response about breast cancer.

On Marital Relationship

Caryl and her husband had traditional family gender roles which they both wanted.  The following is an anecdote that highlights how much they enjoyed their relationship together:

He was the head of the household.  Not that I couldn’t do anything I wanted. [BD:  Mm-hmm].  He was always very proud of the stuff that I did.  I remember when I became President of this Lutheran Women’s church group, we only had one car in the family at the time.  He went out and bought me a used Cadillac because a President should ride around in a Cadillac.

Listen to the audio excerpt about Caryl’s marital relationship.

On Gender Double Standards

Caryl  felt the inability for one parent to stay with the children was hurting individuals and thinks companies that allow men to take time off for family is great.  She made a keen observation that there remains a double-standard:

I think that’s great.  I think that’s great because I think that’s important.  I think that’s important.  I really do.  I’ve often said that all this women’s lib.  Yes, women have more rights today than they had.  However, we’re still expected to do all of the things we used to do.  What we have done is we’ve given ourselves the right to work harder but we still have all of the home stuff to take care of too.  A lot of families they do very good jobs of balancing that but a lot of families don’t.

BD:  It’s still if they haven’t had a plan in place, women are still expected…

CK:  Well, I’ll give you an example.  I remember my daughter Donna saying to me the one time.  “Why is it Mom if I want to do something on the weekend, I have to say to Mark ‘Would you watch Jessica on Saturday I want to go and do’’” She said, “If Mark is doing something, he doesn’t tell me or ask me.  He just does it.” That unfortunately is very true, very true.

Listen to the audio about gender double standards.

On Proudest Accomplishments

Caryl was clearly family oriented so her answer to what her proudest accomplishments were came as no surprise:

I would probably say my children and my grandchildren.  That would be, to me, the greatest accomplishment in anybody’s life if they can say, “I’m really proud of my children.”  Yes, they’ve done and had this going on in their lives that weren’t so great at the time but basically I’m very proud of my children.  I’m extremely proud of my grandchildren.  I find that their choices are basically very good.  I think in today’s world you can’t ask for more than that.

Listen to the audio of Caryl’s response on her proudest accomplishments.