Interviewee: Taunya Lovell Banks
IWY TX 043
Interviewer: Alferdteen Harrison
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Taunya Lovell Banks lived in Houston, Texas and attended the National Women’s Conference as an official observer. Banks earned a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 1965 and completed law school at Howard University in 1968. She was a member of Black Women for Social Change and vice-president of the Black Women Lawyer’s Association of Houston. Interview includes discussion of Banks’ belief that the conference was extremely important; however, she had mixed feelings about the immediate legislative impact of the conference and the long-term impact. She discussed her work with black women’s organizations and the dynamic between African-American, White, and Chicana women’s groups. Banks also reflected on the Equal Rights Amendment, the idealism of Democratic Convention of 1972, and predicted that the women’s movement might be in for the “long haul.”
Alfredteen Harrison: …and I’m interviewing attorney Taunya Banks who has been a participant in attending the IWY Conference. Attorney Banks, I need your full name, and address, and telephone number.
Taunya Lovell Banks: Okay. Taunya Lovell Banks. 3251 Las Palmas, Houston, Texas 77027. The phone number is area code 713-965-0163.
AH: Okay, are you representing any particular organization or group here?
TB: No, I’m not. I was an official observer.
TB: And I was an official observer because I was working with a group of black women from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
AH: Um-hm. Now how did you happen to get involved with these black women?
TB: Well, one of the ladies happened to be the sister of one of my law students. And in fact, the woman who was coordinating the program, which dealt with famous black women through history, which was part of the Seneca Falls South entertainment. And I, basically was her contact person here in Houston, and helped her secure persons to be in the show, and made other kinds of arrangements, incident to the production.
AH: How important do you feel this conference has been?
TB: (Pause) I think the conference was extremely important, in the sense that it provided a vehicle whereby women from diverse backgrounds and cultures within this country, could get together and discuss some of their common problems, and some of the individual problems they have as women. Uh, I feel that the 26 proposals…well, I don’t know if they…
AH: The resolutions…
TB: The resolutions. I don’t know if they’ve done the Women’s Department Resolution or not, they had not done it last night, and I’ve been busy all day; but the resolutions which were proposed, and most of the ones that were enacted, I think reflect the complexity of problems which face women in this country. And I think that it was healthy that these resolutions were adopted and were debated. As for the impact, I have kind of mixed feelings. I was extremely excited in the beginning, basically because I got an opportunity to talk to a lot of black women from different areas, and realized how much we all had in common, no matter where we lived. However, I’m kind of viewing the…as the conference comes to a close, I kind of feel that this conference is somewhat similar to the ’72 Democratic Convention, in the sense that the resolutions, and…well, it was extremely idealistic, but in terms of the practicality of getting any of the resolutions implemented, I that there’s, there’s very little chance that some of the resolutions which were most controversial, and most important to women generally, will get passed. Specifically the ones on…
AH: You mean passed for Congress?
TB: Right. I don’t think it will be legislation enacted…ERA, the Bill of Rights for lesbians, the abortion issue…even to a certain extent, the welfare issue, and probably most of the issue dealing with minority women…and I think because they are somewhat controversial, and because the legislature is still controlled by men, men are not going to take the women here seriously; in fact, there is a cartoon today—in this morning’s paper—which showed, I guess it was Bella Abzug, handing the proposed plan of action to, uh, the Congress, and the Congress saying, “Well, put that on the bottom of the stack, honey.” And I think that that’s the way that the legislature is going to look at the proposed plan…although, the fact that we got together, met, and discussed the issues perhaps is best thing that’ll ever come out of the conference in terms of immediate impact.
AH: Mmm-hmm. You mean in terms of legislation?
TB: Well, I seriously doubt if any really meaningful legislation will immediately come—
AH: You mean be proposed?
TB: Uhh, I think it’ll be proposed, but I don’t think it’s a chance of it being enacted.
I think perhaps some states, some of the more enlightened states, might look at some of the plans and try to adopt state legislation to cover it, but in terms of federal legislation, I don’t see it anytime soon…Even if Carter were behind it, because Carter’s rapport with the legislature has not been the most desirable; and there are other priorities, mainly the economic system— the financial system of the country, which I think will cause him not to be as responsive to these kinds of proposals, all of which require money, and all of which, to a certain extent, will have—will be perceived by bla—I mean, will be perceived by men as jeopardizing their economic well-being.
AH: Okay, what are some of the kinds of things that–well in light of your pessimism relative to Congress; what are some of the things that women can do to begin to effectuate change?
TB: Okay, well I could see lobbying on state and local level, I think that is perhaps where women can be most effective in terms of implementing changes. And, uh, the problem is that some of the resolutions deal with plans and strategies that have not been tried before. And the legislature is fairly conservative, at least the federal legislature is, I can see them being reluctant to pass wholesale legislation if, first of all, if we can’t get ERA ratified by all the states, effecting women, without seeing how similar plans have worked on a smaller scale; especially if they require large expenditures of money—say the–some of the childcare provisions that have been proposed…Um, I can see more women running for office: I think that’s a must, especially on a federal level. I see women needing to get together and hold meetings with both men and female to heighten awareness in their community, as to the need for these kinds of proposals, and through these sessions, indicate, to men especially, how beneficial the proposals can be to them, not only to women. Because I think the men are gonna be, well, the men and the small segment of women who have been opposed to the conference, are going to be the biggest obstacles.
AH: Now, um, understanding both of these kinds of opposites: what has been done, and what the hope is for implementing some of the resolutions and all, how would you suggest things should have been done differently?
TB: Well, I don’t know if things should have been done differently…I think basically– even though the ’72 Convention was a disaster for the Democratic party—a lot of the ideas, a lot of the resolutions, a lot of the things that were on the platform in ’72 were adopted; have been adopted either on the state level, or adopted by Carter and his platform when he ran in ’76. So I think that it is essential that we at least got a proposed plan of action. I think we need to realize that it’s going to take us perhaps another decade or two before we can fully implement all of these things. And, I wouldn’t have done things any differently, had I been running it, because I think we needed this kind of session to develop both long and short range goals; I’m just somewhat pessimistic in terms of immediate implementation, I think that some of the people here perhaps are looking for immediate implementation; their expectations are much higher than they should, realistically, be.
AH: How do we respond…immediately…shouldn’t we do anything, or say anything?
TB: Oh yes! I mean, I think we should lobby immediately, and I think we should push all the resolutions, but realize that there are certain resolutions which will be accepted more readily than others; for example, the resolution on statistics: I think the requiring government agencies to keep statistical data on the number of women, and minority women too, who are included, or effected by certain kinds of programs. We still need to collect more data, we need to push for implementation of those kinds of proposals which are not that controversial, for example, some of the proposals mentioned about abused wives, even the section on female offenders, there’s certain kinds of things which I think that we can get passed immediately, and push for more support for the more controversial ones.
I also feel that our main concern right now should be pushing for passage of ERA, because then I think once we get ERA ratified, we’d have a much stronger basis to push for some of the other kinds of proposals, since ERA will only, it will be ineffective without supportive legislation which would implement ERA; and basically, we’re talking about passing ERA, and then passing legislation to implement the very principles of ERA. As far as I’m concerned, ERA is probably the first priority on the federal level. We could also push for some of the other proposals, some of which can be done within existing statutes; especially some of the proposals dealing with credit, some of them dealing with discrimination in employment, even, to a certain extent, some of them dealing with childcare.
AH: Okay, now, you as an individual—I wanna talk about that just for a, a minute—you as a woman; have you ever had any conscious-raising experiences—I’m sure you must have—could you relate one to me? Relative to your awareness… of women’s problems…
TB: The most recent one, was the one—I had five women from New Mexico stay at my house Thursday night, and they ranged from about 30 to about 60, and they were all black, they came from all over the country, some were from the south, some were from the north, a couple from the southwest…and, all of us had children; some of us were divorced, some of us were not divorced, but, uh, and all of us worked…and the most interesting thing about the conversation was that, we were talking about the conference, and what it meant to black women especially, and whether our goals were the same as white women…and…it’s very hard to explain what happened to me. But we talked, until like, from about 11 o’clock at night until about 3 o’clock in the morning, and it was an exhilarating feeling because they reinforced my own feelings about the role of the black woman in the women’s movement and the need for black participation in the women’s movement.
And, that was something that had been troubling me, because I felt that there were a lot of things in the women’s movement which would benefit black people, generally, male and female, and as a black woman, there were a lot of things that the women were pushing for that I felt were new that would help me, but I couldn’t quite come to grips with how I dealt with both being a female and being black too. And since then, I want to do as much as I can to foster the growth and development, and the equality of women, but I also want to make sure that this thrust for equality doesn’t have an adverse effect on the attempt by black people, as a people, to achieve equality; and, you know, the big complaint by black men is that the women’s movement has pitted white women against black men.
And it seemed to me that there had to be some way to balance this, so that they really wouldn’t be competing, that what we would, in fact do, would be to open up more slots as opposed to limiting the slots, and having the competition be solely between white women and black men. And, the group talked about this, and basically, we felt that this was, that we needed to be in the movement to give voice to this concern that we had, to make sure that any legislation that was proposed, any strategies that were proposed, would not have an adverse effect upon black men.
But we sort of narrowed it down to the main concern being much more a concern of this happening in the area of employment than any place else; that basically, the other kinds of things were sort of things that applied to women across the board, no matter what their cultural or ethnic background was. And this session really sort of helped me to sort out what I should do, in my own mind. Because I had, for the past year, sort of, not been as interested in or as active in, the Feminist Movement as a whole, sort of limiting myself to involvement with black female groups, who, all of who were struggling, as I am, to sort of find out where we’re supposed to be.
AH: Now, as an individual, what were your contributions to this particular conference? You referred to working with this group…
TB: Well, I did several things; one, as a member of Black Women for Social Change, we were one of the sponsors for the ERA rally that was held on Friday; and we secured a couple of speakers for the rally, publicized the rally, and I helped draw up one of the resolutions our group had, in support of ERA. Aside from that, I was responsible, as I said, for securing, making sure that local arrangements for the show that was put on by the ladies from New Mexico went off well, and I was a participant in that show, along with my children, as a matter of fact. But aside from—that was basically it. I did go to some of the sessions: I went to some of the exhibits, and I tried to encourage both men and females at the law school, to do the same thing.
AH: Now, you’ve expressed a lot of concern about the black woman. What is the reaction of your student women at—where is it you teach?
TB: At Texas Southern. Law School, right. Um, there’s a very, very low level of interest among the women there about the Women’s movement, and I think that is due to a low level of awareness as to what the goals are, and also a lack of understanding as to how women can benefit—black women—can benefit, from these goals. I mean, part of the problem is that I’m training professional women, or women who will be professional, who, basically because they are in law school, and are black, have already entered into the middle class, if they weren’t already in the middle class. And the conflict they see is that many black women in the middle class have the same kinds of problems as white women, as the white women have, in terms of credit, and in terms of childcare, and in terms of securing jobs.
And yet, they are consciously aware, in terms of recruitment, even for summer employment, that the recruiters are looking for a black female, so that they’ll have both a black, and a female in their office; that many times they’re given preference over the males, and they don’t know how to deal with that. And so they choose to take advantage of it, and yet not be involved with the women’s movement, so that they don’t incur the wrath of their male counterparts, since by-and-large most of the students at the law school are male.
But, because they don’t know how to deal with it, they just stray away from the movement altogether, and they—it’s almost as though they don’t want to know anything about it; although, you’ll hear them make the same kinds of complaints that most women are making, or working women are making.
AH: Do you feel, since you’ve had this conscious-raising experience last Thursday night, do you feel that they would be better-off to be involved?
TB: Yes. One of the ladies there was saying someone asked her why she belonged to NOW because of a stigma that had attached NOW in terms of the thrust and some of the members; she said, “Well, I belong to NOW for the same reason I belong to the American Legion.” That they need some, they need black input, they need input from black women who’s experiences are different, in order to develop a comprehensive program that will really help all women, and that will help black people too. And, this is perhaps the hardest thing to sell to young black women right now, and part of it’s due, of course, as I said, to the pressure being exerted upon them by black males.
It seems to me that, perhaps the best thing that those black women who are aware of what’s going on, and who are concerned can do is educate, not only black women, but to educate black men; to educate them both together as to the benefits of involvement in the movement, with understanding that that doesn’t mean that we’re going to be led blindly. But we’re there for input, and we’re there, to a certain extent, to make sure that the goals don’t get out of control in the sense that they would adversely affect us.
AH: What would you suggest, as professionals, we do in relationship to the grassroots?
TB: Okay. I’m vice-president of the Black Women Lawyer’s Association of Houston, and what we’ve decided to do, we’ve been having seminars basically designed for law students and practitioners, but we’ve realized that black women have a lot of problems with the law, especially in the area of welfare fraud; most of the welfare fraud cases have been prosecuted in Harris County, have involved black women. Black women also have problems in terms of securing jobs, and credit, perhaps much more so than their white counterparts, and yet they have fewer places to go for assistance.
So, we are in the process of developing a series of seminars designed for welfare mothers and for low-income, working mothers to talk about the kinds of things that they can do to prevent the kind of discrimination that’s being—legal discrimination—that’s being practiced against them. We’ve also, reluctantly, become involved with the rape crisis center here, in terms of serving as advisers and also volunteer counsel when necessary. There was a great deal of reluctance to do so, and that’s basically because of the traditional stigma concerning rape and black men.
But, unfortunately we realized that many of the women who are raped and who are abused are black, and because of the way we, as people, feel about rape we have not been as willing to stand up for our rights; and that black people just relate better to black people, and that if we’re there to counsel and to help, that we can help women who, perhaps not in the position to seek help anyplace else. So this is what we’ve been doing. I don’t think it’s enough, but at least it’s a start, and an attempt to try and bridge the gap that exists between black professional women, and grass-roots women.
AH: Do you feel you have some problems in common with the grassroots; I mean, as a woman?
TB: Oh, yes. Yes. Well, the basic problems, as I see it, deal with income and child care. Especially—I’m the head of the household in my family, I have two children—and it’s very difficult to really do a job, or find a job, when you’re trying to worry about who’s taking care of your children, and whether your children are being properly cared for. Basically, there are not as many adequate childcare facilities available for black women, be they middle class or lower class, as there are for white working women.
Unfortunately, our churches for example, have not been as good in terms of setting up good childcare facilities as have some of the white churches. The women’s groups that have set up childcare facilities have basically designed for white women, and not for black women. At least there’s a reluctance, on the part of black women, to enter into them. Also, there’s no question that, in terms of credit, we’re discriminated against more because we are not only females, but we are blacks, and it makes it doubly difficult. I’ve had some problem here, first, with one store, because of a policy they have—well, one, that they don’t like to extend credit to black people; they also have a policy against extending credit to divorced women.
And I had to threaten to sue them before I could secure credit from them. And it just so happened that I knew enough to do that, but a lot of black women would not know how to do that. And, yet the supportive services available for women in this city, and in most places I’ve been, are not designed for black women. They do not encourage black women to come, and there’s just, there’s no liaison to even inform black women that they are welcome and can receive help.
AH: What would be some of these agencies you’re talking about?
TB: Well, we have, we just…Houston just established what is called The Women’s Center. And The Women’s Center is sort of like an umbrella organization. Rape crisis center is there. We have a counselling center for battered wives. We have The Feminist Credit Union, which is just started, which is under that umbrella. The center is set up in a place that serves as a meeting place for women’s organizations, and plans to expand, and have even a women’s advocate there, on the premises, to give legal advice.
And yet, when the board was being set up, there was no attempt whatsoever to include black women on the board, but for the fact that we found out, sort of second-hand, that they were doing this, and sort of invaded the meeting, and were received with a great deal of hostility by the women. There would have been no input whatsoever, and as it was I think, with a board of only about 50, I think maybe three or four of the women are black, and maybe one or two are Chicano, and yet blacks are comprised of about 30% of the population here in Harris County, and Chicanos are about 20%.
And black women, and to a certain extent, Chicano women, are just not made to feel welcome in the women’s organizations that are really doing things here. The Feminist Credit Union is a little better, but basically the black women they put on the credit union, are people who have no rapport with grassroots women, who really need the services more than middle class black women.
AH: Now, we’ve talked a lot about various kinds of problems that women have. Do you really feel now– having explored these issues– that this conference is going to help these kinds of situations? Black women…credit…etc.? Black women’s and white women’s problems?…
TB: Well perhaps, the conference has heightened awareness, and sometimes, I really wonder, I won’t know, I think, for a couple of months yet, the extent and degree to which it’s heightened awareness because I don’t know if you felt it, but I felt a great deal of hostility in the city…toward the conference.
AH: I wasn’t as aware of it because I’ve just been at the conference.
TB: In terms of talking to people on the street, the reaction of the hotel toward some of the delegates, even the incident, last night, with one of the camera men who was covering the conference and one of the delegates. Houston is basically a very friendly and open city, it’s a good convention city, and yet, I didn’t see that kind of openness and friendliness toward this conference.
And I don’t know what kind of publicity has been generated nation-wide; here, since ETV has been covering it, they’ve had gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conference on the TV so the people here can see, but I don’t know how much information is being filtered to the nation at large. And also, I don’t know the slant of the information.
It seems to me that much too much emphasis has been placed upon the lesbian issue. I’m worried, to some extent, that this will in some way effect the legitimacy of the conference. But I think, for those people who were here, either as observers or as participants, I think that undoubtedly their awareness must have been heightened and hopefully, if nothing else, they will serve as vehicles to heighten awareness of people back in their communities.
AH: Okay. Taunya, now I’ve been, sorta posing all of the questions. (Laughs) Are there some areas that you would like to explore that I have not explored, and have not given you a chance because I haven’t asked the questions that would permit you to answer them?
TB: Not really. One… the only thing that I have, and it’s a concern I have, and I don’t know, really, how valid it is, I do believe that the allegations at the conference was not truly representative of women in this country, is correct, okay? But I don’t necessarily feel that that was bad. I think that the women who came, who participated in the conference, were much more liberal than the majority, the vast majority of American women in this country. But, the only way you can get really beneficial legislation is to have people with this kind of slant work. This is the way we’ve gotten informed traditionally in this country.
So I don’t…even though it’s a valid criticism, I think that perhaps this is the only way the conference could have been structured, if they were trying to achieve the goal of full equality, and full participation for women. But I think also that, the fact that even, and I feel that I’m biased in favor of women, can see the fact that the conference was not representative, will also effect the legitimacy of the conference. I know that there were a lot of people here, who were very committed to the conference, who were very disappointed because they felt it was not as well organized as it should have been; and that an insufficient amount of time was spent in workshops, discussing pressing, daily kinds of problems that women have.
And yet, I really don’t know what else could have been done, when you look at the enabling legislation which created IWY…I feel good that government financed this, and that women were given the opportunity to meet, and to think through goals and strategies; but I have a very unpleasant feeling about what’s gonna happen, and I think that it’s quite possible, if the slant and the publicity is wrong, that the conference, although well-intended, could do a lot to short-circuit any meaningful attempt to achieve equality for women in the country. It could cause a backlash; I could see it causing a backlash.
AH: Were you aware of an opposition group on the other side of town, some place?
TB: Oh yes. We had been, well, because we were the center here, we’d been getting a lot of information. The media has, for the past couple of months, been highlighting the fact that there were a lot of groups opposed, and a lot of groups were gonna come down here. And talking to some of the women from across the country, especially in Illinois, and the Midwest, and even my mother, who was supposed to come down here as a delegate; several women just decided not to come because they were so afraid that it was going to be very disruptive, and that it was just going to just dissolve into nothingness… and I was very happy that it didn’t. That the ladies, the women appeared to be as unified as they were, and yet not to the point of just pushing everything through; there was, I think, good debate on all the issues. But, um…I don’t know…I sometimes wonder whether the legislation wasn’t passed for the very purpose of discrediting the women’s movement.
AH: Do you think that it will be successf—I mean, if that is the case, that it will be successful?
TB: In discrediting the women’s movement? (Pause) If nothing else, it will be successful in eliminating, once and for all, any attempt to pass ERA.
AH: You think it will be successful in…
TB: I think that it’s quite possible it might, because if ERA’s not expanded, if the time limit is not expanded, then that’s it, and if the legislators get too many negative responses to what went on here in Houston, I can see them voting against expanding the time, and as it is there’s not that much support in the legislature, as I understand it right now, for expanding the time limit. And if ERA passes—I mean fails—with the present composition of the Supreme Court, I can see us having a really long haul, in terms of trying to deal with sexism, a suspect category, under The Constitution. I think it’ll be much more difficult for us to pass laws, and have them withstand Constitutional scrutiny, absent ERA.
AH: Okay, Taunya, I appreciate you giving me your time and your personal assessment of these issues.
TB: Any time. Thank you.
End of Interview