Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Slade, February 23, 1997. Interview R-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racism leads to poor health and an ailing community

Slade describes some of the black community's health problems. Unemployment and poverty lead to a high rate of infant mortality and teen pregnancy, and rob the community of confidence. Desegregation eroded the status of the black community's leaders, giving young African Americans few role models; it also offered opportunities to individuals who leave their communities to take advantage of them. Slade is hopeful that community institutions can push back against this host of enemies to success, solidarity, and health.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Slade, February 23, 1997. Interview R-0019. 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

KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Despite these tremendous changes with the civil rights movement, and Medicare and Medicaid, and a lot of the things we've been talking about, there are still, at least statistically, racial differences in things such as infant mortality.
JAMES SLADE:
There is still a difference. One thing that contributes to infant mortality is teen pregnancy and nutritional status. That's a problem that probably won't be solved with the present generation. Hopefully, down the line, if we can't solve the problem of teen pregnancy, at least we'll diminish it, and that's going to take a lot of help from a lot of different areas. The schools, the churches, and society in general. I think part of the problem there is employment. They see a lot of blacks unemployed, and a lot of times they say, "What's the use of going to college if I'm not going to be able to get a job?" A lot of times when you get frustrated, you do things that don't make a lot of sense. They have low self-esteem, and perhaps getting pregnant gives them a certain status. It's not a very wise way of looking at it. So until we solve some of these wider social problems such as employment, and giving people more hope when they're young. It's going to take a lot of networking together to get this generation straightened out. Hopefully there are some bright spots on the horizon, but it's going to be a while before the health status of black is on par with whites. It's going to have to come from within the black race itself. It takes a while when you've been pressed down to rise back up, even when the pressure's no longer there. Things like sports have a great impact, but sometimes it gets overplayed. There's nothing wrong with basketball and football stars, but the average student can't be that. We need to learn to aim at something that's just as important, but maybe not as visible. I think that falls back on the parents.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
Do you think that the institutions that used to encourage blacks to solve these problems, like the black churches and schools and hospitals, even thought they were the results of segregation, they were resources and sources of strength. Do you think that has changed now?
JAMES SLADE:
One of the sad things that's happened in integrated schools is that a lot of black leaders fell by the wayside and got pushed out of the system. It's just a fact of life that to some degree, you tend to relate to people who look more like you. When you go to a convention, you find the ladies go where the other ladies are, and the men bunch together. The same thing with race, maybe not quite as much. If the black students only see white leaders in positions of importance, they won't aspire to that type of position, because they don't have a role model. Overall, integration was good and gave us a lot of advantages, but somewhere along the line, we lost some of the things that segregation did offer, and how to implement them into the system. Historically black colleges are still needed, because it's hard to take a predominantly white institution, and get enough black role models in important places to make a real difference. The white professor of English doesn't want to give up his job, if he's been there 15 or 20 years, so that the black students can have a role model in the English department. In the predominantly black school, he has that. But if you had enough role models, at least percentage wise, that would inspire the students.
KAREN KRUSE THOMAS:
I just couldn't understand, at first, how there could be three black doctors in Wilson in the '50s, and none left by the late '70s.
CATHERINE SLADE:
I think they're interested in going someplace else, particularly the younger ones. They find out what the rest of the world is like, and they can go.
JAMES SLADE:
That's what integration has made it possible for them to do.
CATHERINE SLADE:
After they've gotten educated, they find out that it's not as much race as whether you can afford it. So they're freer to go places.