Interviewee: Grace Ware
Interviewer: Sister Marie Heyda
Date: November 20, 1977
Grace Ware was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was working on her doctorate at the time of the interview. Ware was African-American and held three master’s degrees. Ware worked as a social work consultant with the State Health Department of Pennsylvania. Interview includes discussion of: Ware’s childhood and her family’s emphasis on education; Ware’s experience with discrimination in the workplace and tokenism in promotions; Ware’s belief that the health and income inequities between black and white has led to a “genocide” in the black community; and her children’s experiences in Pittsburgh schools.
Marie Heyda: Now this is a continuation of…
Grace Ware: Grace Ware.
MH: Grace Ware’s talk.
GW: As I was saying, I was taught very early by my grandmother. As a matter of fact, so early I can’t recall when it was, but I was taught very early that, to be blunt, it’s not necessarily a handicap unless you allowed it to become one, and that you held your head up high. As a matter of fact, I can remember serious beatings, and they were beatings, not spankings, beatings that I got was because I did something which indicated to her that I had fallen by the basic concept and that concept was “good black don’t cry” in her words. That there were certain things that you did not do, that you held your head up high.
Now, unfortunately too, I was born in that era where we were also taught that you had to be ten times better than the best white in order to qualify. So, while I was being told I had an inferiority complex, I knew that I suffered more with a superiority complex because I know I’m good. Education had a high value in our family.
MH: Were you born in Pittsburgh?
GW: Yes, I was born in Pittsburgh. But my father placed a very high value on education. Now, I was the only surviving child of two born to my parents, so it became easier for me to be able to go through high school and get a college education and go on. I have three masters, I’m completing my doctorate’s degree, et cetera, but I find that it is not necessarily the degrees that become a handicap but the fact that I’m a black woman and that I’m thought on both ends both as a black and as a woman, and that I have to get over those two hurdles, which doesn’t bother me, because I will fight to the death on principle.
As I said, I know that I’m better than what I do, and in terms of jobs, as I said, I’ve been told you can’t think, you’re not allowed to think; don’t do anything. You don’t want a promotion. You don’t want that money. You don’t need that money. Well heck, when I go to the store to buy a loaf of bread it costs the same thing it costs you. When I buy a house it costs me twice as much for my home as it does you. So, you know, the attitude that I don’t need the money; I don’t need a promotion.
Now, I’ve been on the job for eight years and I cannot get promoted. I went to EEOC and I was told the bottom line was, well, the same thing happens here.
MH: What is your position?
GW: I’m a social work consultant with the State Health Department of Pennsylvania.
MH: And you have trouble getting a promotion.
GW: Trouble? No, I don’t have any trouble. It’s just an impossible task, that in spite of the fact that I am more qualified and more competent, and that there is verbal recognition to this because I am asked to tell my superiors how to handle their positions, I cannot get a promotion.
MH: Is it all whites at the top, men?
GW: No, they cover themselves very easily by putting tokens. But what I was going to say is that in terms of employees and in terms of promotions, they will promote one and say, see, we did.
MH: Then they can say, have you got a woman, they say yes, have you got a black, yes, and so it’s one person.
GW: Right, but I think part of what I have found is that – in our location particularly – what has happened has been that they will promote or hire white women, but the black women, except in token situations – and I think that’s a very realistic opinion. I’m biased, and I think that it –
MH: I think most people agree that’s the case. The black woman is really at the bottom of the totem pole. Well, I hope that this will rectify it. And this meeting of all women I think shows that white women are going to fight for all women, not just for the whites.
GW: I was particularly elated with the camaraderie, the oneness of this minority plank. I think that women have got to show that it was more than just a demonstration, that there was real commitment to it.
MH: I think the values of women are deep and strong and I think they would prove that when it comes to minorities.
[Break in taping: 05:07 – 05:09]
GW: – the passage of the ERA. It was absolutely beautiful.
MH: Which number?
GW: The minority plank. It was beautiful. They entered the substitute motion and every minority group got up and spoke to the section that they wanted, everybody except four men from Mississippi and a couple of women. The question was raised, how much will this cost? I had hoped that the answer would be how much would it cost if it is not done? What will it cost in terms of human minds, in terms of –
GW: And those are the same people who will usually give black as an excuse but do not ask how much does it cost not to do God’s will? (Recording cuts out briefly at 06:28) I think that one of the scare tactics, again, are one of the issues that people use to keep from doing that which is right or ask about all the time; the genocide thing.
GW: Genocide. It is genocide to me when my children are exposed to drugs and nobody cares, when my sons are going to jail at the age of fourteen, or being shot down in the street by a policeman at fifteen because they got scared and they ran. This is genocide, okay? The fact that people are still – hypertension is up epidemic proportions because you don’t have decent housing, you don’t have decent food; sometimes some of the people don’t have any food, and all of these other things. Until something is done about that, that’s genocide.
MH: Don’t you think the girls suffer more almost? Although I can see what you’re saying about the boys, too, suffering from being put in jail and then what can happen in jail. Jails are hardly safe places to be.
GW: When our girls become so forlorn by the time they’re twelve years old that they’re suicidal and everything, this is genocide. And until you address those things which kill people – you’ve got dead people walking around. Don’t talk to me about other non-substantive things until you make some effort to correct this. And this is a situation – it’s not only in Pittsburgh. I have seen it everywhere that I go, kids unable to read or write.
MH: Are your schools pretty well desegregated in Pittsburgh? I don’t think desegregation is the whole thing. I think the blacks have a good school, and they’re in a majority sometimes; gives them a certain self confidence that they need.
GW: Yeah, but a school is more than just walls and carpets on the floor. The quality of education I think all over this country stinks, and I’m including the private schools, too, because I’ve had my son at a private school. And it was certainly getter at the time than the public schools, but I think that there are so many issues that we know we need to address, the type, the quality of education in this country; the availability, the accessibility of health care, because contrary to popular opinion, it’s not there. It is not there.
MH: But do you try to have books in your home so that your children get the book –
GW: The adults in my family have a three-room library. I kid you not. There is nothing else in those rooms but books. My husband is an avid reader, one of the people who read a book a day. My children have their own libraries in each one of their own rooms, and they have done so since the time they were small. One of the problems I’m having now is that my oldest daughter, thirteen years old, is going to be baptized and I’m looking for a present to give her. People keep suggesting I give her a bible, but she owns sixteen. What do I give her? What do I give her, another bible?
End of Interview