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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Mary Robertson, August 13, 1979. Interview H-0288. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Working for civil rights in Asheville, North Carolina

Once Robertson's union involvement became known, she found it hard to get work, but spent some of those years raising her children. Her blacklisting did not diminish her enthusiasm for economic and social justice, however; Robertson also became involved in civil rights in the Asheville area, working with an interracial organization focused on employment discrimination.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Mary Robertson, August 13, 1979. Interview H-0288. 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:
What's been the history of your work in the labor movement since then?
MARY ROBERTSON:
Of course, on again and off again, because I spent a good many years when I did not work, just keeping house and taking care of the youngsters. Not so much because I wanted it that way, because I did not believe that this was necessary. The economy was catching up with this kind of philosophy, and I preferred to have a job, but because of my union background and so forth I was blacklisted, as we say. I couldn't get a job; they wouldn't hire me. And when I was able to get a job, it was always in an unorganized industry, and so I've done all kinds of work. Very little of it have I done in organized industry. But once you stay in a place and you make contact with people, you keep those contacts alive. I knew labor people; I preferred to have an organized situation. And I kept my contacts with labor people on a friendship sort of basis, and with what I had learned from my labor experiences got involved in civil rights situations. And so I contributed a good deal of time to that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was your involvement in civil rights?
MARY ROBERTSON:
My direct involvement was rather puny, to tell you the truth. We organized a little group here in Ashville called the Buncombe County Committee for Jobs for Negroes. And it was not attached to any national organization, although there were a lot of such organizations going on all over the country at that time. I can't even remember the name of the early civil rights legislation that everybody was working for, and job rights, but in any case …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Interracial committee?
MARY ROBERTSON:
As long as I was in it, it was, if you mean were there blacks and whites. Most of the people were black, because obviously it was a group to try to get blacks hired as something other than maids and janitors at that time. At that time there were no jobs in Asheville for blacks except janitors and maids; that was it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
When would this have been?
MARY ROBERTSON:
It would have been in the fifties.
JACQUELYN HALL:
After the Supreme Court decision.
MARY ROBERTSON:
No, before, well before. It was during the McCarthy period, as a matter of fact. And since getting blacks hired in capacities other than as maids and janitors was absolutely hopeless from the outset [Laughter] , we busied ourselves meanwhile working on other projects. I know we spent a lot of time working on a project here in the city of Asheville to persuade merchants to provide rest room facilities for black women. We didn't even bother to talk about the same rest room facilities. Just to have even a separate rest room, because at that time the black women who came shopping to the center of Asheville had to go way out to the little black business community to find a place to use a rest room, so that was one of our big projects. But you learn from all those things.