Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clement joins the Board of County Commissioners

Ten years after joining the Durham City Board of Education, Clement decided to retire. At the same time, Eleanor Spaulding, who had been the first woman on the Board of County Commissioners, decided to retire, so Clement ran for her seat.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Josephine Clement, July 13 and August 3, 1989. Interview C-0074. 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

After the end of ten years I thought perhaps I had made my contribution and I had given what I could give. I decided to retire from the Board. I had given ten years. I think you do get to that point, you can stay on too long. There's a time at which you feel you need to move. I came out in December, but I had announced this earlier in the fall. I was 65 and that was another thing. I said, well, this is the time for people to retire, retire while I'm ahead. Moving out to the Board of County Commissioners, Eleanor Spaulding was the first one [black woman]. She was the same Eleanor Spaulding that was the founder of Women in Action. She ran for Commissioners, and she was on the Board roughly the period that I was on the Board of Education. She was the first woman, black or white. They hadn't even had any white women on the Board of County Commissioners. You talk about a good old boys' network [laughter] that is it. Hidden but, you know, carrying on their business very much out of their vest pockets. That has changed now a great deal. Women and blacks have really opened up government in Durham County, as I imagine they have other places. Eleanor announced that she would not run, and the Durham Committee [on the Affairs of Black People] asked me if I would consider running for that seat. Well, it's like an old fire horse, it is the [laughter] My husband told one of the children on the telephone, he said it took your mother all of five minutes to make up her mind. [Laughter] And I said, "Well, I think I'd like to do it," and found out maybe I wasn't as old and decrepit as I had thought. I filed and ran. The county election is partisan, so you have to have a primary, a Democratic and a Republican. At that time, a Republican primary was a rarity. You hardly had any Republicans running, you certainly didn't have more than five. You only have to have a primary if you have more than five, because you can only have five candidates since there are five seats. On the Democratic side you would have as many as ten or twelve people running, so you would have to have the primary to bring it down to five. I used to hear my father say, back in Atlanta when he was fighting to eliminate the exclusiveness of the Democratic primary--and nowadays when I tell people that when I first voted, I couldn't vote in the Democratic primary, now I run in it, they can't believe that--he used to say, the Democratic primary is tantamount to election. Therefore if you elect out of the Democratic primary, you don't have any vote because when you get to the general election in November--and the South at that time, you see, was solidly Democrat--the election was a mere formality. You didn't have any Republicans running. I've seen that change just in the last four or five years.
KATHRYN NASSTROM:
Oh, right.
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
You know the whole state is changing. It's reflected itself here. The general election is now getting to be as important as the Democratic primary. You're running all year, for a two year term.