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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ruth Vick, 1973. Interview B-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Payscale and hiring discrimination at the SRC

Even progressive organizations like the Southern Regional Council were home to racial prejudice. Vick remembers that the black employees at the SRC were paid less than their white counterparts and were rarely promoted to leadership positions. Vick felt that despite the amount of work she put in at the SRC, she never received any recognition. Racism led to a lot of tension within the SRC.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ruth Vick, 1973. Interview B-0057. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
All the conflicts among the staff of SRC, had that kind of thing not happened before?
RUTH VICK:
It had not happened before.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Until Paul was in, that kind of thing didn't go on before? What was that all about?
RUTH VICK:
There's been quite a little instances of little subtle things that people have done to some of the black members of the staff.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were there different people there, like what new white… I mean, why did the conflict between black and white come about then, and it hadn't happened before?
RUTH VICK:
We had more blacks on the staff, but blacks were not being hired in top jobs like heads of projects. And if they were hired, they were not hired at the same salaries that whites were hired when they were hired, even though they had experience and things like that. There were a lot of little things that maybe part of the staff didn't know, but some other part of the staff did know .
JACQUELYN HALL:
But that had probably been going on all along.
RUTH VICK:
It had, but nobody paid too much attention to it. But you had a few people who knew what was happening, and they just decided that they would get together. And Weldon Rougeot was there then, he was one of the ones, the guy who's at Harvard now at law school, who was working with VEP for two or three years. He knew it. And Mildred Johnson was very close to Paul; she knew what was happening. And of course they had to know that I knew what was happening.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had you been conscious of that kind of thing before, though?
RUTH VICK:
Oh, yes, I'd been conscious, because I was being paid one of the lowest salaries, and I had told Paul, I said, "Well, if a white person had been in this job, they would have been making a top salary. Make no mistake about it." And I said, "They wouldn't have been doing all the work that I'm doing. They would have had all sorts of help." And he said, "Aw…" Let me tell you this: Marion Wright, who was the President when I first went there, saw me grow into the job that I'm in. He saw me do things that maybe nobody else had done, and worked myself to death. I used to work on Saturdays and Sundays because I didn't have adequate help. I used to bring stuff home. I worked like a dog, overtime. I never got any recognition, I don't care what I did. And when Paul became Director—you know, Paul and I were good friends— didn't he of not letting me have anything to [Interruption] in Mobile, Alabama. And someone in Mobile, Ed Stanfield, had met him in his field work for the Alabama Council and said he was a good guy and Paul should hire him. So Paul hired him as the executive assistant.
BOB HALL:
Was he a salesman?
RUTH VICK:
I think that's all he was, a salesman.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Paul was trying to bring Jim Wood in as a in the Council.
RUTH VICK:
He did bring him in, but what he did was, the things that I had done before… And of course, before he could present this stuff to the full Council, he had always come to me to get some stuff. Like for the budget, he wanted to know how much we'd spent this year and what Social Security was going to be. Well, all right, I worked all this up, and put it on paper. He'd present it. Well, you see, that looked like he'd done all the work. See what I mean? And all this sort of stuff. I was put in the background. And Marion Wright wrote him about a four-page letter, and Paul didn't know that I saw the letter, but he told him he didn't like the way that he had treated me at all. He said, "I have told you from the very beginning that I thought that her salary should be next to yours and that kind of thing. She works hard and I've seen her grow in that job. I know what it's like. I know what she's gone through." And he said, "I think it's a shame." And of course, when the black committee was formed and everybody expressed themselves, I told them that I really knew that there was discrimination itself on the Council, because I knew that if a man—I said be he black or white—had had my job, he would have been making much more for the length of time and the experience and all the work involved.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did George come in at a higher salary than you were making?
RUTH VICK:
Right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
At that time?
RUTH VICK:
Right.
JACQUELYN HALL:
After eighteen to sixteen years, .
RUTH VICK:
Right. So you see …
JACQUELYN HALL:
That's amazing.
RUTH VICK:
… anyway, that's all I had to say to the committee, was that I felt that I was worth more to the Council, that I thought I had been discriminated against because of my sex and my color. And that I had talked to the Director about it, and …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Had you talked with Paul Anthony about it?
RUTH VICK:
Oh, yes, I had told him that I thought I was being treated very , and he said he was paying me a decent salary; he thought I was making… Anyway, he wrote Marion Wright back and politely cussed him out and told him, he said, "She's making as much as she needs to make."
BOB HALL:
On the basis that your husband was working, or what?
RUTH VICK:
Oh, no. That didn't have anything to do with it. At that time, I don't think I was even married, when this came up.
JACQUELYN HALL:
So the black committee formed to combat those kinds of things.
RUTH VICK:
They wrote a paper to Paul; it was in the form of a memo. It was a good memo.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did people know that the blacks were meeting ?
RUTH VICK:
No. They knew something was happening. You see, they had met about four times before they let me know.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, really?
RUTH VICK:
Though there was one person who said that "She thinks white, and we don't want her in there." That was one of the blacks.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Nobby ?
RUTH VICK:
Yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
[Laughter]
RUTH VICK:
"We don't want her in there:" [Laughter] Weldon Rougeot said, "She's a black, and she should be in here, and we're going to have her in here." He said, "Now, I don't care what you say." [Omission]
JACQUELYN HALL:
So when you got in on it, was that every black person that worked there?
RUTH VICK:
Every black person that worked there were in those meetings, every one of them me. I knew something was happening, but I didn't know what. So I didn't question anybody. So they told Mildred Johnson to invite me to the next meeting, and she said, "I hate to do this. I hate to tell you that we've been meeting." So anyway, Weldon told me exactly what had been said. I didn't ask who said it or anything, because I knew.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Who was the leader of the whole thing, and who sort of instigated …
RUTH VICK:
I think that Bernice Cook, who was in charge of the and the mail room… She started working in about '59 or '60. She'd been there a pretty good while, and a hard worker. She and Vernon had had several run-ins, and she had had one or two run-ins with Jim Wood. VEP wouldn't even fold their mail. We were doing all their mailing. Their first class mail, they'd bring it up. Which meant that Bernice had to stop and fold all their mail and put it in the envelopes, that kind of stuff, when they could have actually brought their mail up there all in the envelope. Well, they wouldn't do anything. So Bernice had told VEP that they would have to send their mail up in envelopes, because she didn't have time to do all that, so she and Jim had a run-in about that because everybody was afraid of Vernon. And this is one of the things that happened, too. They used to go to every executive committee meeting; used to be invited to come in and were supposed to have been there. Well, all of a sudden, a little over two years ago—maybe three years ago—Paul said, "Well, you don't need to come." They started meeting at night, Friday night, and then on Saturday morning he'd say, "You and Mildred can come out on Saturday morning." Well, we found out that nothing was taking place on Saturday mornings. We were just wasting our time going out there, because they had taken care of all the stuff the night before. But there was Vernon Jordan, who was a stuff member, was always in on those meetings, putting in his two cents' worth. There was always Jim Wood at those meetings, putting in his two cents' worth. And Emory Layh and Hubert Tatum. So one day I got up courage enough to tell Emory and Jim, and this was after Vernon had been up at Harvard in that government , and he came back. Well, he was demanding to make as much money as Paul, so he was going before the committee that night. Well, anyway, I wanted to put a little ink in the , so I said, "Who all is going to the meeting tonight? Jim, Emory?" And they said, "Well, we're not going." I said, "Are you sure?" I said, "Well, Vernon's going. Why aren't you going? He doesn't have any more business at the meeting than anybody else." I said, "You know what? All of you act like you're scared to death of Vernon." And they said, "We are." And I said, "Why? Is it because he's big and black?" They said, "And powerful." I said, "So you admit it." They said, "Yes, we admit it."
JACQUELYN HALL:
Gosh.
RUTH VICK:
They were . They called themselves kidding, but it was true.