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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Early work with the civil rights movement and conditions of discrimination

Woods describes her initial involvement in the civil rights movement, which she argues was "multiracial." In addition, Woods elaborates more about the kinds of segregation that African Americans and Indians faced in the South, focusing specifically on her experiences in North Carolina where three-way segregation was common.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ruth Dial Woods, June 12, 1992. Interview L-0078. 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

ANNE MITCHELL COE:
Were these civil rights activities mostly involving Indians?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
No, we were multiracial. I remember when the custodial and service workers in Durham were marching for higher wages, I was six months pregnant wanting to march and they wouldn't let me march and I cried.
ANNE MITCHELL COE:
Were you involved in leadership roles in these things?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
No, not really. It was just that wherever you were needed you got up and went. It was a time of hope. It was a time of hope, I think. Blacks, whites, poor whites, Indians, anyone who really had a mutual mission of equality, what it provided to us was hope. I regret to say that I don't sense that hope out there now at all.
LAURA MOORE:
Were there specific deprivations or discriminations regarding Indians that you noticed more when you came back from Michigan that you were particularly concerned about when you were involved in the civil rights movement?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
I didn't have to go to Michigan to notice them. As I told you, I came up in all Indian schools. I came through the era when we had the separate restrooms for whites, blacks, and Indians in all the stores in Lumberton, when you had separate seating arrangements in the movie theaters for whites, blacks, and Indians, when you had the separate water fountains.
LAURA MOORE:
How would that work?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
Oh you just had three of everything with a sign to it.
ANNE MITCHELL COE:
How would a theater be arranged? What would it look like?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
Downstairs you would seat all the white customers. Upstairs you would have one section for blacks and one section for Indians. I guess I came back having seen that you can walk around freely and that there are other opportunities and advantages and when I came back and saw that people were still subjected to this kind of humiliation and indignity, I became more radical about trying to encourage and challenge the system and to become more vocal. I guess it was just a natural that the civil rights became my way to really put those things into motion and into action. As I said, when that started leveling off and we realized we hadn't saved the world, then it was time to move to something else and then there was the women's movement and, of course, after the women's movement we had the Decade of the Indian which was the 70's to the 80's and then the 80's to the 90's has been the Decade of the Hispanic and I've reached the point now that when I write that book I'll be able to do a lot of talking about political appeasement and about the level of commitment - that there is no commitment. It's only response to whatever is politically feasible at the moment in order to govern, to control, and to subject.
ANNE MITCHELL COE:
Does that relate to you saying that you don't see the same hope that you did in the sixties now?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
Definitely. There was no intent ever to empower all people in this country or to work toward shared power or to even try to support shared power. It's real interesting how this country looks to Japan and talks about what happens in Japan, but the reason Japan has now surpassed the United States is because Japan builds upon its culture into all of its decisions whether it be education, whether it be the family, whether it be the work place, and that has been researched and written by a fellow by the name of Oucci who writes about how you consider the culture of the family and that work is related to family and folks bring their values of family into the work place and because it's that mutual culture and collaboration and that sharing which transcends from the regular culture. You see, this country is not interested in looking at any culture except the supreme closed culture that's not even a western civilization culture. It is a culture of control and power and greed, the same kind of greed that brought European immigrants here to seek their freedom and now it's a greed and a power that we will control and we will do anything that we have to in order to begin to control.
ANNE MITCHELL COE:
So then, when you look back on the civil rights movement and on the women's movement and all of these things, do you feel that it was a wasted effort? How do you view those now that you're the other side of them?
RUTH DIAL WOODS:
Certainly not a wasted effort because it made me who I am today and it gave me the opportunity and the experiences to make the statements with conviction that I just made because I've been there and I've been around long enough to go through these different movements and to be in different places at different times and at different levels. I do not think that I speak with bias, with some of the same pangs intact of the discrimination from the child into an adult and some of the same discrimination that exist now, but exposed enough to structures and policy-making, and government to know how government functions and why it functions as it does which is certainly not for the good of the people.