Ruby Odom Cotton Interviewed on May 15, 1996

BCRI Oral History Collection
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00:00:00 - Introduction of Interview

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Partial Transcript: This is an interview with Ruby Odom Cotton for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's Oral History Project by Binnie Myles, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on May 15, 1996 at 1:00 p.m.

Segment Synopsis: Beginning of interview.

GPS: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Map Coordinates: 33.516200, -86.813870
00:00:17 - Biographical Background and Farm Life

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Partial Transcript: We want to talk a little bit about your background. Are you from Birmingham or from Alabama?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton describes her childhood in Alabama on her family's farm.

Keywords: African American families; African American farmers; Cotton picking; Rural Alabama

Subjects: African American youth; Agriculture--Southern States

00:05:26 - Segregation in Dallas County

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Partial Transcript: What do you recall about community and people? Was it an all Black community? Did you interface and interact with other cultures or White people when you were down where you lived?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton discusses everyday life on her family's farm in rural Alabama.

Keywords: African Americans--Southern States; Selma (Ala.); Southern States--Rural conditions

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Agriculture--Southern States

00:13:25 - Life in Birmingham vs. Life in Dallas County

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Partial Transcript: So then your family came to Birmingham-- where did you live?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton talked about where she lived in Birmingham and how she was a bit sheltered from the realities of segregation as a child.

Keywords: Carver High School; Evergreen Baptist; Evergreen Bottom; Lewis Elementary School

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Birmingham

00:19:21 - Experiencing Struggle: Older Generation vs. Younger Generation

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Partial Transcript: We want to talk about high school a bit and some of the things that you got involved with. Your family was religious, you went to church like you said, Sunday School was a given and going to church. That was the way it was and that you learned so much from that, how to cope with things.

Segment Synopsis: Cotton discusses the importance of a child attending church when they are growing up and how it helped her cope with things.

Keywords: Church; Non-Violent; Sunday School

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Religion

00:22:46 - Being Inspired by Mother's Experiences

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Partial Transcript: As a student in high school, when you look back, what did you think or what did you say to your mom and dad when maybe some of the work that they did -- did your mom work outside of the home, by the way?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton discusses how seeing her mom clean houses everyday motivated her to get an education so she didn't have to perform such menial tasks for a white person.

Keywords: "Over-the-Mountain"; Cleaning houses; Special bus

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Service for Whites

00:29:39 - Participation in the Civil Rights Movement in High School

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Partial Transcript: So you are a high school student and you attended the meetings because your parents attended. Now, let's talk about when you were a high school student at Carver. You were arrested on two occasions, what happened?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton recalls how she was arrested for protesting in front of Newberry's and how she walked off school grounds and was arrested.

Keywords: 16th Street; Carver High School; Lunch Counter Protest; Newberry's

Subjects: Civil rights movement

00:32:50 - Leading a Class Walkout to the Children's Crusade

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Partial Transcript: And, of course, after she left, and, then of course, everybody was still a little hesitant because with me, I think they kind of looked up to me since I had already gone before, like I was the one who knew what to do.

Segment Synopsis: Cotton tells how she took on a leadership role and led her classmates in a walkout during the Children's Crusade.

Keywords: 16th Street; Children's Crusade; Class Walkout

Subjects: Civil rights movement

00:35:13 - Working and Experiencing Colorism

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Partial Transcript: Back then people paid attention to color and skin complexion. Do you think that you got a good job as a 'salad girl' because of your complexion?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton discusses how she experienced colorism in the workplace and the resentment she felt from other Blacks towards her.

Keywords: Eastwood; Resentment; Treatment by Whites

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Colorism

00:37:05 - Brother's Involvement in the Movement

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Partial Transcript: What about your brother, was he involved in the Movement?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton tells about her brother's involvement in the Movement.

Keywords: Claude Odom; School Walkout

Subjects: Children's Crusade; Civil rights movement

00:38:09 - Two Arrests and Jail Time

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Partial Transcript: How long were you in jail? I was in there five long days. How was it, were you scared?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton recalls her experiences in jail and how she was stuck in there for five days.

Keywords: Juvenile Court; Violation of Females in Jail

Subjects: Arrest--United States; Fair Park

00:42:44 - Visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

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Partial Transcript: When you look back and talking with your youngsters, and I don't know if you've had an opportunity to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute or not, have you had an opportunity to?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton recalls the first time she visited the Institute and how overcome with memories and emotions she was.

Keywords: Birmingham Police Department; Black History Month

Subjects: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, Ala.)

00:46:02 - Thoughts on the Civil Rights Movement

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Partial Transcript: What do you think about the Movement? The Movement then and you growing up and knowing about it and being involved, and "The Movement" today?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton tells her thoughts on the Movement and recalls the moment she was on stage with Dr. King while he was preaching.

Keywords: 16th Street; Chicago; Spiegel

Subjects: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement; Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Ala.)

00:49:04 - Educational Journey After High School

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Partial Transcript: Let's back up a little bit and, then we're going to go back forward. You went to Booker T. Washington Business College?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton recalls the places she went to college ad how she got involved in banking.

Keywords: Banking; Booker T. Washington; Gastons; Jefferson State; Lawson State

Subjects: Education

00:50:12 - Discrimination in the Workplace

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Partial Transcript: It's been okay. I've been in banking now for 20 years. And, at first it was a slow start for me because they didn't particularly promote women, Black women in banking and that was one of the reasons I left the first bank.

Segment Synopsis: Cotton discusses discrimination in the workplace and how several of her white coworkers treated her poorly.

Keywords: Alabama Federal; Banking; Central Bank

Subjects: Race discrimination

00:57:08 - Need for the Movement in Late 1990s; Visiting Dr. Shuttlesworth's Church in Cincinnati

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Partial Transcript: What about the Movement today, do you think there's a need? I mean, some people say "We don't need SCLC, we don't need the NAACP, we have arrived."

Segment Synopsis: Cotton discusses how there is still a need for the Movement in the late 1990's and her visit to Dr. Shuttlesworth's church in Cincinnati.

Keywords: Cincinnati; Ku Klux Klan; NAACP; SCLC

Subjects: Civil rights movement; Shuttlesworth, Fred L., 1922-2011

01:00:58 - Preserving Personal Memories of the Movement

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Partial Transcript: Two things before we close. During your time of incarceration and being in the Movement as a teenager, were there any mementos, if you will, or anything that you kept or had that you still have?

Segment Synopsis: Cotton recalls two items that she had with her in jail but has lost over the years as well as her gratefulness for her experiences during the Movement.

Keywords: Incarceration; Mementos

Subjects: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement

01:04:22 - Conclusion of Interview

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Partial Transcript: And, I've enjoyed the opportunity here for sharing this and it's nice meeting you.

Segment Synopsis: Interview is ended.