Interviewee: Dianne Jackson
IWY TX 238
Interviewer: Laurel Shackelford
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Dianne Jackson, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, was born in Sumter, South Carolina. She moved to New York in 1960. At the time of the conference, she was 28. She worked as a community organizer for the Cooper Park Tenants Association. Interview includes discussion of how the women’s movement appealed to Jackson, how she felt about the role of black women in the women’s movement, and her experience with domestic abuse and the inadequate police response to her situation. Jackson helped organize the Center for the Elimination of Violence in the Family and served as the vice chair of the board of directors. She also returned to school through a program sponsored by the National Congress of Neighborhood Women.
Laurel Shackleford: Dianne, why don’t we begin with some basic kinds of information, such as you’re Dianne Jackson, and where do you live in Brooklyn, New York?
Dianne Jackson: I’m living in the Williamsburg section of Cooper Park house, which is a predominantly black and Hispanic low income housing development.
LS: Would you kindly give us your address, please?
DJ: 64 Kingsland Avenue.
LS: How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
DJ: I’ve lived in Brooklyn for about sixteen years. I was originally born in Sumter, South Carolina. I came to New York in 1960, and I come from a background where both my mother and father had to work. My father left us in the South as very young children to come to New York looking for work. My mother then left us to come to New York to join my father then later on me and a family of nine. I have four other sisters and four brothers, and now we’re all in New York except one.
LS: How did you all make the transition from having had your parents leave the children in Sumter, South Carolina, and then when did the children come up?
DJ: I have an older sister there. In the absence of my parents, my older sister is the one that we stayed with. Since my mother passed away two years ago, I guess I’ve reverted back to that. My older sister now I look up to as more of a sort of mother image.
LS: How old are you?
DJ: I’m twenty-eight years old.
LS: And how many children do you have?
DJ: I have two children, a son Jeron that’s eight years old, and my daughter Shirondria is three years old.
LS: That’s a beautiful name. Where did you get it?
DJ: My husband; both of my kids are named in honor of my husband, whose name is Ronald, and my son Jeron and Shirondria.
LS: What does Ronald do?
DJ: To tell you the truth, I don’t know right now.
LS: You’ve separated or divorced from him?
DJ: No, we’re not divorced. We’re just separated.
LS: About your interest in the women’s movement, did you have a particular experience that turned you on to it, or is it a whole series of things?
DJ: I just felt that although I’m a product of the civil rights movement, I found the women’s movement to be very, very supportive. And since they were looking for support from women to really pull the whole thing of importance and equality for women, it encompassed women of all different ethnicities and all different races, classes, as well as economic standing, and I felt really comfortable there and I felt that the support of other women that didn’t look at me as a black woman or a young woman or an older women, I really felt comfortable with the women’s movement.
The awesome things in a women’s movement that I really – I can’t say I’m against, I guess, since I’m just new in the women’s movement for the last two years, maybe I just don’t understand quite fully yet, but so far the only exposure that I can really say I appreciated with the women’s movement is that it’s for one thing a movement that has encompassed women as a whole. For a long time I thought that the women’s movement, I used to say, as well as a lot of my black sisters, that the women’s movement is not for black women. We’ve been liberated all our lives, we’ve always had to work, we’ve always had control over our own lives, and I feel basically now that when I look back at some of the things that I wasn’t aware of now that I was always the one in my home that had to do everything, and I was always the one in my home that had to wait on my husband and wait on my family.
And I felt that since this was a shared situation, I mean marriage is supposed to be some sort of an agreement between two people for the rest of their lives, you would share, and honor each other, when I look at the situation through the awareness given to me by the women’s movement that it wasn’t there at all, I found that I was the one that was responsible for things.
Whenever we went out it was always me that had to make sure that had a babysitter, and it was always me that was cooking the dinners, me that was cleaning the house, and me that was doing everything. And I think that the women’s movement really made me aware that this is supposed to be, if you are married, that this is supposed to be a shared situation, that all the responsibility shouldn’t be put on the woman alone. I really appreciate that.
LS: Are you alone now with your two children?
DJ: No, I have two younger brothers still living with me, one twenty-three and one twenty-four. And I guess it all reverts back to the way that since our struggle with moving from the South and living with my sister while my mother moved away, my mother passed two years ago and at that point my marriage was really on the rocks, it was shaking and breaking, and at that point I decided that that’s when I would leave my husband and move in with my brothers.
LS: So you moved in with them, they didn’t move in with you?
DJ: No, I moved in with them.
LS: I wonder if now with the situation where you’re living with two younger brothers and have two children, on a day-to-day basis are you still pretty much in the same position that you were five years ago when you were married; doing the laundry, picking up the socks?
DJ: Not at all, and the interesting thing is that when I talked to my brothers about such things as wages for housework they always tell me if there were wages for housework you wouldn’t get a dime because you don’t do any. One of my brothers is a college student, and one stays at home and takes care of the kids for me, and he cooks and helps clean up.
LS: What do you do during the day?
DJ: I’m a community organizer for the Cooper Park Tenants Association, which is the governing body of the housing development that I live in, and I work with tenants having housing complaints, youth, senior citizens; just about everything.
LS: Why did you attend the battered wives workshop here at the conference?
DJ: Because before the separation of me and my husband, I had undergone a lot of battering, an awful lot of battering, and I felt that there was no way out for me, there was no place else to go. I didn’t want to depend on my family too much more than I had, and I lived under very bad conditions for two years as a battered wife. Since that time, I’ve removed myself from that situation through support from women’s groups, support from other battered women, and I think that really made the turning point in my life.
The fact that now I’m damn near a free woman, and because of my involvement with this group that had connections and introduced me to other groups, that I in a sense feel that I owe a lot and I want to support the whole issue of battered women with anything that I can do. I felt that I had to be supportive, and then also the fact that my friend Rose-Marie is facilitating the workshop.
LS: Could you describe for us some of the conditions that you lived under for those two years?
DJ: Well, I didn’t have a job. I had just had a newborn baby. I couldn’t go out for a job, although I had a skill, typing, that was all that I knew how to do, but it was hard for me to find a babysitter. I had just moved in a new neighborhood that I knew nothing about. I didn’t have my own money, and I felt that there was no other way for me to – I just couldn’t go anywhere.
But through those two years, when I say battering I mean things that – well, my husband had a problem, he drank a lot, and there were times when he’d come in, you know, in the middle of the night and the baby would be crying, he’d say can’t you shut this child up, and if can’t make the baby shut up I’d be pushed around. And if he came home and there wasn’t food cooked, which I didn’t have money to buy food anyway, that resulted in a fight, and sometimes just woken up in the middle of the night being kicked out of bed or pushed out of bed for absolutely no reason at all.
There’s been times when I’ve tried to call for help and my telephone has been ripped out of the wall. And up until this day I say “Thank God for neighbors who heard me screaming and yelling that called the police.”
LS: Were the police helpful, or did they take the side of your husband?
DJ: Well, sometimes they took him out. To give an example of how helpful they are, they took him out and they took him for a walk around the block and he came in and beat the hell out of me even more for even calling the police then. There were times when he came in and I told the police that I wanted him arrested and they told me that they couldn’t arrest him, and he would come out with the lease in his name and told them that this was his house and he wanted them out of there and they would leave me in a screaming situation, “Please don’t leave, please don’t leave.” The first question was always, “What did you do to provoke all of this?” I really had a bad deal with the police, a very bad experience with the police, as well as the courts.
LS: Did you ever have any female policemen come?
DJ: Never, ever. I’ve never had a female policeman come.
LS: Were they all white policemen or were some of them black?
DJ: Hmm, no. Some of them were black. They weren’t all white. And my husband even told me before, “If the police come you know they’re not going to do anything, because this happened so many times when they came and didn’t do anything.” And he would say things like if they come you know they are only going to take me out of here for a few minutes. If the police come you know they’re not going to do anything and you better be prepared for what you’re gonna get when I come back. So that often scared me to even call the police. I wouldn’t even call the police sometimes because I just knew that it was just no sense at all.
LS: What kind of help did you try to get from the courts?
DJ: I went to the court, I wanted what I thought was a peace warrant but then I found out later was an order of protection. One woman, my neighbor, “I just got tired of hearing screaming,” and one day I was at the mailbox and she said to me, when she called me over, and I felt really ashamed because I knew I had a black eye and I was trying to rush upstairs quick. I didn’t want anybody to see me, and she came over and cornered me and she says, “You know, I think that you should go down to the family court and try to get an order of protection.” And she explained to me what an order of protection and everything was; that I could have my husband removed from the house, that I could demand the police to arrest him.
I went down. She gave me information of where to go and everything. When I went down for it, it was a complete runaround. At that time I didn’t know that it was my right to get that order of protection that very same day that I was there, and I had a big runaround before I got it. But I did get it. By that time I was – this woman, I don’t remember her name, she was a foreign woman, and we became friends so to speak. She even kept my small kids while I went down to try to find out the order of protection and things like that.
LS: How were you able to eventually seek this separation? What helped you get over the fear of your husband?
DJ: The biggest thing is that I guess for a long time I lived through it, but it wasn’t a thing where it happened every day or every night. There were sometimes when things went on just beautifully for four or five months, and then there was a time, whenever he had problems on his job or laid off or just wasn’t feeling right, that’s when most of the time it occurred. But during those times when things were going okay I thought that, well, I can forgive him. He won’t do it again. I always felt that once it went over two months that it wasn’t going to happen again, that was it. I forgot what you asked me now.
LS: About how you were able to lose the fear of leaving him and getting out of the house. What led to the separation?
DJ: That was a time that I had moved. I didn’t confront him about anything, about my going to live with my brothers. I thought about it for a long time, I talked to friends about it that told me, you know, you really have to make this decision on your own, and it’s a big step. I can’t tell a woman that she should leave her husband to go live with her brothers. That’s not what I wanted to hear from them, because most of my friends did know the situation that I was going through. A lot of them were even afraid to visit me in my apartment because of my husband.
But finally, after I moved in my mother’s apartment, which is now my apartment with my brothers, the relationship between him and my family was not a great one because they knew what I was going through. But yet, I wouldn’t let my family interfere. There was times when my brothers wanted to just beat him up and I protected him. I wouldn’t let my brothers beat him up. So, I knew that he wasn’t going to come to live in the apartment with my brothers.
And at that point it was when I became aware the National Congress of Neighborhood Women was starting at that time a college program and I wanted, you know, I always wanted to go back to school and I got involved in the college program. And one day I was just sitting in the classroom and a woman by the name of Donna Harkavy, she came in and asked if anybody wanted to do a show or work with a group that was trying to get a battered women’s shelter and right away – I was kind of reluctant. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to expose myself as a battered wife in the classroom. And then during the break we went into the hallway and I heard another woman talking about that and then went over and I learned that she was also a battered woman. Her name was Diane Solowski, an Irish woman from New York, and now we’re very good friends from that incident.
We signed up to be a part of this little committee to work with battered women, which is now the Center for the Elimination of Violence in the Family. We became board members in planning to open the shelter, and I started being interviewed by press, I did TV shows, everything through that.
LS: And the center is called what?
DJ: The Center for the Elimination of Violence in the Family.
LS: And you’re still on the board of directors of that?
DJ: Yes, I’m the vice chair of the board directors, and I also volunteer.
LS: What do you feel the center has accomplished?
DJ: The center has accomplished a great deal in the fact that there is a place where women can go, that they don’t have to remain in those situations. It also provides counseling, legal counseling, help with Medicaid and welfare, with everything, so the woman feels that she has another alternative, that she doesn’t have to live in the situation that I did. I just wish that a center of that nature was around while I was going through my crisis.
LS: Have you learned anything here at the conference that you think you’ll be able to take back with you, anything new about operating such centers that you’ll implement?
DJ: Well, I guess – well, it’s not been about two and half years that I’ve been working on the level of planning how to run shelters and open shelters and things like that. I guess the only thing that I can learn here is that – that I did learn that I didn’t already know before – is that there is a strong interest in the issue of battered women now and there are a lot of groups that are planning to open shelters. And I think that shelters are only bandaids to the real problem of battering. I think that a shelter only provides the space, but it’s really just like a bandaid.
What we’re trying to do, we are the Center for the Elimination of Violence in the Family, I’d just like to see the whole bit of violence in families eliminated. However, we don’t have any control over that, but I hope through our work and through publicity of our work that battered that are living in situations could come out, even give us a call on our hotline or something like that.
LS: I have one very dear friend who is a battered woman, and one of the problems that she has, and I wonder if you’ve run across this in connection with the center, is a tremendous amount of personal guilt she feels –
DJ: She a failure as a wife. That was one of my feelings.
LS: Well perhaps that’s part of it, but one of the reasons that he beats her is because she promotes it. She somehow eggs him on and she said that – she’s very good with her tongue, very articulate when she argues. She’s a much better arguer than he is. He’s a much better fighter, though, physically than she is.
DJ: (Laughs briefly) That sounds like my own situation, the same thing. I feel that women have always been known as – women talk so much, and I think because we do talk so much we are much better talkers than men, and I think that a lot of men can’t accept defeat from a woman, even if it is in the form of words. And I found that in my own situation with my husband. When we were arguing over little things and he saw that there was no chance for him to win, that’s when I’d get smacked or pushed or something like that.
LS: Did that make you feel guilty, as though you had really egged him on and you caused him to hit you, or do you run into that with women who come to the center?
DJ: Sometimes I felt that, you asked for this, in a way. Had you shut up and not said anything he would have never hit you. Just that feeling inside of me that said you must stand up and fight for yourself sometimes. If I feel that I’m right, then, I’ll be damned if won’t take an ass kicking to stand up for my right. I’m sure that it must have dawned on him in some way that, well, she was right, and I’ve often felt that he felt sorry later that he did hit me. But I used to think, after looking at my face in the mirror and having to hide in the house for two or three days, there were times when I used say I wish I hadn’t said that, now I would have been able to go out. But it’s just something, I guess it’s just a part of me as a Libra woman, I just couldn’t sit there and just take that. I got to say, well even if he is going to hit me I’m going to say what I feel is right, and I said it.
LS: Getting back to the broader issue of the women’s movement, do you feel the women’s movement is undermining rights for blacks as a whole?
DJ: When you look at the percentage, I mean when I even look at the population of the women delegates here at this conference, I notice that the majority of the women are white women, and I know that amongst the black women a lot of them feel that the women’s movement cannot influence their lives in any way because they look at it as an issue of unemployment, around education, that these are class white women that are just bored with their lives and want to do something.
What I’d like women to realize is that the women’s movement has a lot much more to offer than just equal opportunities – not equal opportunities – equal pay for equal work. I mean, that’s not the whole thing that it’s all about and I think that a lot of women, that black women are beginning to realize that.
LS: That there’s something really in it for them, too.
DJ: That there is something in it for them, definitely.
LS: Do you think black men are particularly threatened by the women’s movement, more so than, say, white men, or just about equally?
DJ: I don’t think so. I know, well, the black men on my job often call me a female chauvinist pig. For instance, there was a suggestion box up on the wall in my office for any suggestions of how to improve programming. And one day, it was my turn to take out the suggestions and write up a report on the suggestions, and I found four suggestions that we get rid of all female chauvinist pigs on the staff. And when I found out that they all came from the four men that are on our staff, I don’t think that they’re threatened by it at all.
LS: Was it just a joke?
DJ: It’s a joke. I don’t they’re threatened by it at all, because if you look at the standards, even the employment standards for the women and male populations, it’s white male, black male, white woman, black woman.
LS: Among the issues that the delegates are voting on, and you are one of New York’s delegates, is that right?
LS: Are there any issues that you are particularly interested in and others that you just sort of don’t care too much about?
DJ: The one major issue that I came here to hopefully see pass was the Equal Rights Amendment, and that passed yesterday. The battered women’s issue, although I would have liked to see an amendment to that resolution that, through these hopefully government funded programs, there would be some kind of follow up as to the resolutions.
Another issue that I’m really concerned about is the minority women, and I speak on behalf of black women as well as Asian American, Indian American, Latinos, Chicanos, as all women, rural women that are living in areas that are completely isolated from the actions. And the sexual preference, I think it’s the individuals’ rights to choose their own preferences as to what they want to be, and I’d like to see that pass also.
LS: Thank you very much.
DJ: You’re welcome.
(Interview breaks at 23:54. Conversation with passerby begins.)
DJ: Minority? What happened? Hello, can you tell me what happened in minority?
(Response unintelligible at 24:10)
DJ: All right. Was there any amendment? The substitute is passed. (Claps) the substitute amendment.. It was really kind of vague, the resolution that had hoped passed for this, but only I don’t know which substitute they went for. We thought that we – well, I work with the black caucus and we thought that because of the splits among the black caucus that we couldn’t push our issue over as just a pro-black issue, so we decided, one of our strategies were that we meet with other delegations, with other caucuses with other minority women and try to come up with our own resolutions and then incorporate them all together and pass a resolution of minority women.
The one problem that I had with that was that although I am concerned about other minority women, the black women’s need is not the same as the American Indian women’s; it’s not the same as the Asian-American woman, and that if this resolution did not pass (unintelligible at 25:18). But I’m happy that it did pass. I’d like to get to see what it is now. (Conversation in the background 25:33-25:56)
End of Interview