Maserjian: I'm Julia Maserjian, I'm joined here today by Seth Moglen. We're interviewing Esther Lee. It is May 4, 2016. Thank you, Esther,for joining us.
Lee: You're welcome.
Moglen: So Esther, we're so glad to have you here and have the opportunity to conduct this interview. Maybe we could just begin by asking alittle bit, if you could tell us a little bit about your childhood and family life.
Lee: Yeah. You know, and thank both of you, Seth and Julia. This is quite an experience and I'm happy to do it. You know, I can, peoplesometimes as we talk together, I can remember my childhood, and the earliest I can remember when I was a very little girl, you know, housing wasn't very nice for negroes in those days in Bethlehem. I can remember a window that was partly opened where my mom was cooling a 1:00dish of food for me to eat since I was the only one that I could see in the room, between her and I, it was just the two of us, and I remember, and this is so, as I've grown up, one light that hung from the ceiling that was turned on, the imagery of my recounting my early childhood was that. Mom was cooling food for me to eat and that's the scene that I remember. And growing up, we moved-- And that house was down on Columbia Street, what is now the Steel property. I can also remember an outside fountain where we'd get a drink of water. We moved from there-- I'm sure we moved to a couple other places because I was very young, I must've been a baby. We moved then to Shawnee Street where it was just a patch of houses, and I mean that, a patch. There was about six or seven we call them shacks now that we've grown up and 2:00looked back. My daughter says they look like doghouses. But you know, where in humor. But I said, you know, those are the kinds of houses that most negroes lived in in those days. I can remember going to school, when I first entered school, and you know how teachers used to, somehow they'd talk about robins and yards. of which we had none. And so I'd sit and I think within myself I'd shrivel because you don't want people to know you don't have a tree in your yard or a robin that would sit somewhere nearby. And so I just grew up remembering all my life that the things that we were denied because as I grew older, it was because we were colored, negroes. I thought oh my, what a life. 3:00And so you know, those were my early, early remembrances of just how I was treated and how I felt entering school.
Moglen: So Esther, one thing that's very interesting about what you said about growing up on Columbia Street so close to the Steel. Sincethe focus of our interview today is your experience working at the Steel, do you have childhood memories of the steel plant, do you have any recollection of what the steel plant meant to you as a child or when you began to be aware of it as part of your world?
Lee: Well, you know, very early in Bethlehem, you became to understand what you were. You were lesser-than, and you know, just because asyoung children, you know, we didn't enter the conversations of the adults, we were little snippets and we'd stand nearby and listen. And jobs weren't open, you know, for our people in the Steel. I think my father went to work there, and I have a cousin that jokes about it, 4:00that you know, he was an entrepreneur so he went to work at the Steel but then at lunchtime he would make food and sell it. So they got rid of him. (chuckles) But I had a very humorous father. He was from the South and he made his way. But we learned early that there were, jobs were not affluent for negro men, and those that got to work there were down in the coke works. So we grew up knowing about the coke works, we knew about people that lived in the coke works and you know, how they lived. And so that's our early remembrances of coke works. I remember there was a man, his name was Major Williams, he and his brother were early residents of Bethlehem from Georgia. And so they worked there, we knew that they worked there. And there were probably others, but predominantly those two, we remember them, and they were 5:00kind people. And they had cars, you know, in those days so they'd drive my aunt around. That's how I remember their names.
Moglen: I want to follow up in a minute about your experience when you first thought about going to work at the Steel, but I just want tohear a little bit more about your family. Can you tell us when the first members of your extended family came here to Bethlehem? Was it your parents' generation?
Moglen: And when did they come and under what circumstances?
Lee: That was tricky, that was tricky. My mother comes from well, the nearest town is Danville, Virginia. They lived across the line inMilton, North Carolina. And they worked on tobacco farms. And I remember Mom saying they'd get up to go to work like I'd call it mid-morning, you know, it's like 3, 4 o'clock. But they'd get up, have their meal and go to the fields. But that's what they did. And then 6:00as they grew up, just like any family, they want to see a better life, and my mother was one of the younger sisters and so her older sister had come to Bethlehem, lived on Columbia Street, had opened what I consider now the first rooming house because as you know, blacks weren't living wherever they pleased, so she would-- The men would go to her rooming house, which was her house, it was just a big house on Columbia Street, and she rented rooms to men. So then the other sisters came to Bethlehem. There were about, I think there were about eight, my mother had about eight sisters. There were 13 in that family. And they came one by one and they stayed with the older sister who was Molly Walker. So yeah, she was right there. And that was right behind the-- Oh, years ago, Seth, you wouldn't probably remember it, the 7:005 and 10 is gone now. I'm trying to remember what's on that corner now at Third and New.
Moglen: It's an empty building, there was an art gallery there, yeah.
Lee: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But right behind there was Columbia Street and that's where she lived.
Moglen: And did your parents meet here or they came up together from North Carolina?
Lee: No, they met-- Two separate families. The same ways, you know, my father came to his older sister here in Bethlehem. Same circumstanceexcept my father's situation was different. But yeah, Mom came and her sister was here, and she began to make her life. We have a nice picture of her back there in those days. But my father came from a different circumstance because his mother died when he was five. He really didn't have extended time with his mother so his life was different as a male child. And so his aunt, I mean his sister, older 8:00sister raised him, so to speak, and that's how he came to Bethlehem.
Moglen: So let's move on and talk about your own sort of firsthand experience working at the Steel. Tell us how you came to think of theidea of working at Bethlehem Steel and about the beginning.
Lee: Oh, I'd love to. You know, we were educated. I'm a native of Bethlehem; I'm 80-plus years old. And I'll tell you, we went to highschool and it's not that it was openly discussed that you would not ever get a job at the Steel but we knew how it was done. The formula was there right in front of us. So all the female students in my day, you had a course, a college prepared you course or a commercial or the general course. And you know, I took initially the secretarial course and I thought where am I going with that, you know. Because I'd hear them talking and the girls, you know, when they became seniors or we got to be, we knew that someone would come from the Steel to 9:00interview you for jobs that were going to be opened up. The teachers were never openly, they didn't discuss that with us openly, they never shunned us, so I can't say the teachers had any part in that, but it was probably agreement between the school district and Bethlehem Steel that they would never hire, you know, what they called colored girls in those days or colored kids. So you know, we knew that upon graduation we would have to seek employment somewhere but we knew it wasn't gonna be in the Steel, that is the gonna be the last place that will hire you. And not only that, the Bethlehem Area School District wasn't hiring any either. It was clear that we were not going to have any jobs of distinction. I remember this so clear, Seth. I was doing domestic, which is what we all did after school, and stayed there a 10:00little bit after school, and these two senior ladies, one was a cripple and I had great heart for them and I cooked for them. Can you imagine, I cooked for them. And they lived. Then after that I thought $4 a week. I've got a degree and people talk about an education what'll it bring it and I thought it's bringing me 4 bucks a week. Not me. So I left there (chuckles) and my mother had a mother that wasn't gonna let me go to a factory. And in those days it was factory work, domestic work. I thought where am I gonna work? So I opened the newspaper and I looked in there, there was a job for a clerk. So I remember going out to Fifth Avenue and I walked into this place and I said I was here about the job that was listed in the newspaper. And they said, I remember the gentleman said, 'Well that job was filled.' And I looked back there and I saw my classmate and I thought honey, if you're here, I could certainly be here. And so that's where it all 11:00began. And so that man hired me. Now the job wasn't all that fancy; it was like clerking, it was checking in clothes that people-- Because it was a dry cleaner. And I got in there and I'm a self-determined person, even today. And I was determined I was gonna make everything work, and I did that job and more. So that in 11 years time, the manager actually was ready to kind of give up the place and can you imagine he offered me the task of running that place? But I had come through it and learned every job in it. And you know, through it all, I had obstacles because everybody wasn't so in readiness for colored people, as they called us in those days. I never let it bother me, I 12:00just kept prodding through.
Moglen: So Esther, am I right that we're now talking about is that takes you up maybe to the mid-50s, the mid 1950s, you would've been inyour in your 20s when you were, your mid 20s?
Lee: No, I was out of high school when I took that job. It was 1952.
Moglen: So we're into the 60s now.
Lee: Yeah. It was 1963. After they passed the Civil Rights Act [1964 act that prohibited discrimination in public places, enacted theintegration of schools and public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal], is when I left.
Moglen: So tell us about the transition. So you went from working at the drycleaners to the Steel?
Lee: No, I didn't.
Moglen: So tell us about the next step.
Lee: No, because jobs weren't open for colored girls. I'm gonna just keep it female. They were not open for us. So there was a gentleman inAllentown-- We all looked out for one another. You know, negroes looked out for one another, so there was a job that was open at Bell Telephone Company for a receptionist. I went there for the job and they said, 'No, it's filled.' Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I had to take a job 13:00as a telephone operator, which I didn't like. You had to learn it by reading the instructions on how to operate, so I said I'd better do this because the next person, they'll say that negroes can't even read. I did that and after two weeks I resigned. And then I had no job, so I sold Avon products door to door. And after that there was a gentleman that called me for a job. This was 1963. I went over to Willard Battery in Allentown, Lehigh Street. The union said the next person in had to be a negro. The next job open was for a stenographer. I couldn't take shorthand; they hired me. But I could type and I could do secretarial things. Because in this period, you know, I'm pushing myself along with the old clinker at home. So I stayed there from 1963 to 69. And I had two children; they were in Bethlehem going to 14:00school and I wanted to be closer to them. Those six miles between Allentown and Bethlehem were long if something would turn up. But I was always conscious of being near my children. So in 69 after the Civil Rights there was a job that opened at the Steel, it was a young colored guy that was going to the service and they wanted to replace him with another colored, I guess, which happened to me. That's how I got into the Steel.
Moglen: How did you hear about the job, directly from him or--
Lee: No, the line. It was like the underground railroad (chuckles), except we had one going-- That's truly, you know, how we functioned.And it was through NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. These were NAACP people that we kept the line open of what was open for people job-wise.
Moglen: So tell us about the first days on the job at the Steel. So you've been hired to replace this other African-American man.15:00
Lee: Yeah, mm-hm.
Moglen: Tell us what the job was and what that first day or first week was like.
Lee: Well I went to work there and that office was then in the Dodson Building over in North Bethlehem. I tried to explain that to someonebut they didn't quite understand. And it was simple, you know, it was really just clerking. And the girls there were all very young. They were like high school kids, and this was a Johnstown group. Now Johnstown [Bethlehem Steel plant located in western Pennsylvania] people were very prejudiced folk, you know, and I was aware of that. And I thought make one slip and you got it. But I didn't have trouble with those girls; they came to love me. But I did have problems indirectly with management because I didn't like the way they talked, you know, the innuendos. I wasn't into that then and I still am not. You know, I'm very matter-of-fact. I don't take slang, I don't dish it, and I 16:00don't like it done to me. But it was just in the management guys that I had the most difficulty. Not all of them, but you know how it is.
Moglen: So you may not want to get further into this, but I'm curious when you say innuendos, does that have to do--
Lee: Yeah, race, race. Yeah.
Moglen: So it was about race; it wasn't about you being woman.
Lee: Oh, no, no, no.
Moglen: It wasn't sort of a kind of sexual harassment but it was about being a black woman in that workplace.
Lee: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know, it wasn't all directly at me but as us as a people. You know, I picked up all that. I was careful, youknow, but I listened to that. And I'm not sure that, you know, the Steel itself would have substantiated that. In fact, there was one incident that I can't quote names because it's a little sensitive, but one of the bosses got out of line and it happened to be the boss, 17:00the guy that I worked for. But one of the other young women was there, you know, was in to work on a Saturday, I'll always remember this as long as I live, and you know, something un- un- un- -- how would you say that? -- unkindly happened to her on a Saturday, you know, with him. And she came to me, she came to my house, you know, screaming. And I just went after him, you know. You know, as far as I was concerned, you know, I worked at the Steel but I wasn't aware, you know, really, the strength that they really had, because I probably could've been terminated. But they didn't. And they kind of just smoothed everything over. But, you know, there were things that were going on that everybody would not have done what I did. I know that now. But that was an incident. He didn't do it to me, no. I probably wasn't 18:00as appealing. (laughs) But those kinds of things, you know. But what bothered me most was the Johnstown attitude from the boss.
Maserjian: When you talk about the people from Johnstown in this particular office, so this was they populated this entire office withJohnstown people from Bethlehem Steel.
Lee: Johnstown. Correct. They were-- Well see, we were a subsidiary. I can't hardly, I always get that twisted. We were a subsidiary ofBethlehem Steel. Bethlehem Mines Corporation is where I worked, so it's indirectly but the Steel owned them. It's coal mines. That's what 19:00they were. But they all came from Johnstown. And then as they moved on, you know, like they hired me, I was from Bethlehem, but the person I replaced was from Johnstown. Just that he was here and he had to go into the service.
Moglen: So Esther, can you give us a little bit of sort of a picture about the development of your work at the Bethlehem Steel. So you wentto work at this subsidiary and you were I take it mainly doing clerical work.
Lee: Yes, yes.
Moglen: So tell us about how long you were at Bethlehem Steel, how did your job evolve, how did your work life evolve over the period thatyou were there?
Lee: They were kindly to me, you know. I wasn't a genius or anything but I had a personality I think carried me through. But I just, youknow, I think that they became conscious maybe after the Civil Rights Act that they had to be a little more kindly to us as a people. And 20:00then also the man that I initially-- I didn't always work for-- I'm not gonna call his name because he's dead but I don't want to do anything to disturb him (chuckles), I didn't always work for him. And so as time progressed-- And then I was moved about, you know, into different areas. And so I then ended up in the safety-- As we moved from New Street to Martin Tower, then I got into the safety department where we took down statistics from the coal mines daily. So that became more of an involved job. Because prior to that, I was just typing forms and you know, that sort of thing. And that was very interesting because I then got a chance to interact with the employees at the various mines. There was one in Cambria County, down in Kentucky. You know, and the Kentucky mines disturbed me the most because I'm 21:00claustrophobic and those guys down there had to go underground and you know, they lay down in their cars and I could always feel that. So that was a very personalized-- I enjoyed that. And I don't know how much they would've enjoyed me because they were southerners. I mean if we'd ever had to come and actually interact. But some of those bosses were southerners too, you know, from those mines. But I didn't have difficulty with them. That part was pleasant and the work was pleasant. And I'll tell you the name of the guy that I did enjoy working for is Tom Kobrick. Yeah, he had a different mindset and I think Tom-- I don't know, I think he came from Johnstown as well, but he was a very nice man. 22:00
Moglen: One thing that interests me very much about the story you tell about coming into the first job and these young white woman being atfirst a little suspicious of you but then this woman choosing you to come to when she had this problem.
Lee: Yeah, absolutely.
Moglen: I wonder if you could tell us a little more about how you would describe relationships among women in the office that you workedwith. Would you say there was a strong sense of community and solidarity or was there competition?
Lee: I was like a mother because I was always older. And they were young and I'd get after them about their dress. I said, 'That dress, Isee your brains.' You know, they'd bend over the table and oh my god. I had a lot of fun with them. You know, I made everything humorous even though I was just trying to bring them to reality. So my job was always bring them around. But they came to respect me, you know, I thought. But we had a lot of fun. But that young woman, yes, mm-hm. 23:00
Moglen: What about your relations with other African Americans working at the Steel in that generation, people who weren't in your officebut you were part of a cohort coming in in the wake of the Civil Rights Act and the wake of the Consent Decree [established goals for the greater representation of minorities and women in the steel industry]. How would you describe that relations among black people working at the Steel in that first decade?
Lee: I think, you know, we communicated and stayed close together on what was going on in various places. At least I was concerned becauseI tended to want to be knowledgeable of what was going on and how we could help correct it. That's always been my mindset, you know. I never thought about the end result of anything. My point in life was to just move forward, and I still do that. I'm cautious but I'm moving forward at all times. 24:00
Moglen: So altogether, how long did you work at Bethlehem Steel?
Lee: Let's see, 69 to 1985; 16 years, wasn't it? Mm-hm.
Moglen: And tell us how you came to leave your job at the Steel? How did that happen?
Lee: I didn't leave; (chuckling) they closed. They closed the place. They came one day and said, you know, they were breaking down. We allknew that it was closing. In fact, my husband went out in 84. So they had two of us in one house. Last ones in, first out. And so we were a part of that. Yeah, no question about it. But you know, I took it-- You have to just take what-- I think people expected me to make a lot of noise about that, but you know, I didn't own the Steel so I couldn't tell them, you know, when I'd go. And you know, I think life 25:00has its mission and I didn't feel like I had to stay any place for the rest of my life. So I just took it. But you know, I can tell you, there was great resentment among management toward me. And to this day I cannot tell you why. You know, I'd sit down and wonder is it because I'm a strong-willed woman? But management had an attitude about me. I think they tried to get me in debt. I had one boss, you know, he lived in Saucon Valley, and he tried to get me to move out next to him. I said, 'When I get your money, I'll move.' I can remember telling him that. But yeah, they had trouble with my attitude. I thought I was rather nice. But I'm looking back and I'm thinking to 26:00myself, you know, what was there about me that caused them to have an attitude? You know, you can feel an attitude. Nobody ever has to write it down. They wrote it down when they did those reviews. I never signed them. You know, why would you sign a lie, you know? But you know, those kinds of things. And that wasn't anything we had control over. But I to this day, various ones and I would question what it was about me. I think the city has an attitude about me. (chuckling) They have an attitude about me too. What do they expect us as negroes to do, become subservient to them? I am a human being and that Constitution refers to me. I'm a citizen of this United States. So I'm always 27:00gonna stand tall. I've got two children and two grandchildren and I give them the same message.
Moglen: Since you've mentioned your children, can you tell us a little bit about being a working woman in your generation. How did thatwork, how did you manage the role of mother and wife in relation to the job you held at the Steel? Tell us a little about how you lived that.
Lee: Balance. Well you know, before I went to the Steel I've always worked. You know, I had two children and I had them when I was atModern Cleaners. And with one I went to work one month after, because in those days you didn't collect any money if you didn't work. So one month I was out with the first one, and the second one I was out one week. And I'm thankful I had a mother that helped me. You know, I 28:00learned to drive so that I could get myself and get the children back and forth, you know. It was difficult. You know, my husband had a job, I had one so you had to get there. So we did all the things that would help us to survive. But I got up each morning-- That's how today I can talk to mothers that are poor and express to the world, you know, what it's about. Getting up every day. I didn't have to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning but I got up early, get those formulas made, bags packed. I kept a bag packed with clothes to take to my mother's for the babies and then I got myself to work. And my husband worked in a different direction so we worked that out. That's a strain on you. And so I did just that. No social life. And I decided early in life you can't have social life and have a family, so I gave 29:00that up, just simply took care of children and went to work. And earned money enough to with them, they took piano lessons. The one went to Bethlehem Conservatory of Music, and then with Jessica, I was gonna have someone come in because she was a female, I was, you know, a little precautious. And then some came-- I was 'Ah, we won't do you.' So she went to the Conservatory as well, and they did well. But the object was that we would culturally develop our children the best we could, which is like all the money we had, the extra money went to the development of the children. And proceeded in life just that way. But I've given 100 percent, 125 if you measure it to develop the 30:00children. So interesting enough, my husband's Episcopal and I'm Baptist but the kids got to go to both places. And you know, people think today you have to both go to the same church. You do not; God's in heaven, he's not a body in the church. So it's what you grow up with.
Moglen: So you told us about the start of the day. What happened at the end of the day? So you got out of your shift at work and then what?
Lee: Then after work, went back, picked up the kids, went home, cooked supper. Washed the diapers; no paper like we have now, wasting moneywith paper. I joke with young women now, I say, 'Why don't you get some diapers and wash them, (chuckling) save yourself some money?' But I bought diapers and washed them every evening and put them on the line to dry before you, you know-- lickety-split. And if it rained, you dried them in the house. But that's exactly what I did. Cooked supper. And then the cycle goes on again. Go to bed. Bath and back to bed. 31:00So that's how we functioned, that's how I functioned as a mother. And Bill was right there, my husband was right beside me and he helped all along the way. And then as the children grew up, I taught them to start supper, you know. You didn't have to be out running around. In the house until I come home. But they would start the supper. I'd get everything out, tell them when to start it and I'd finish it when I got there. We ate, homework, TV. We had one TV; we all watched the same program. And that's how we managed. We enjoyed life.
Moglen: So you've had a long, rich work life.
Lee: Yes, I did.
Moglen: Many, many chapter, many phases. As you look at the whole of that rich work life, what would you say is distinctive about the Steel32:00period? Good job, bad job, so-so job, like your others, totally different?
Lee: Let me tell you about because William, my husband, is a 53 graduate of Lincoln University. And when he came back to Bethlehem,couldn't find a job, went to Bethlehem Business School, got a little paper, got a job at a car manufacturing place. And I can remember when the job opened up for him at the Steel and we discussed that, and I said-- He was leery because it was only gonna be a project as it was explained to him, and I said to him, 'You know, it's gonna be--' We measured the amount of money he was getting, one to the other, but the benefits from the Steel made a difference. And so we sat down and discussed and said we have nothing to lose so he took that job at the Steel. It was the Burns Harbor Project, we'll always remember that. They thought it was gonna be short term, it lasted a long time. Lasted 33:00as long as he was-- He was there 15 years, I guess. He went earlier than I, 64. 64 to 84, so he had I guess 20 years. But yeah, for him, you know. So we've got to struggle, no question about that. But we enjoyed our work. I have to tell you, we enjoyed our work. The Steel provided a more secure, I'll tell you that. It was much more secure so that whatever we planned to do, it was fixed and you knew you had that much money coming. Because every house should have a budget, you know. So this assured us that we thought okay.
Moglen: You haven't talked at all about the union. The period in which you and your husband went to work at the Steel was sort of theperiod in which the union was really fully coming into its own. How would you describe your relationship to the Steelworkers union? 34:00
Lee: We had no involvement. The offices had no involvement with the union. The closest to union involvement I had was when I went to workat the battery place in Allentown and talked and worked with those union folk. But in Bethlehem we had no, you know-- The office people, they got whatever the shop folks got in raises, yeah, so we had no-- That didn't affect us at all. In fact, we benefitted from the union, if anything, you know. I think that's part of what took it down when they gave extended vacation time to people that were there over a certain number of years. Six weeks. That helped destroy the Steel because then people didn't take their vacations but were paid for them. 35:00It started out, you know, contractually, it was gonna work out that six-week vacation, they'd be off and they could probably have gotten somebody, you know, from a different level to come in to work while they were out, but as I understand it, that never came to fruition.
Moglen: You raised the question about the issue of the end of the Steel, how did you and your husband, your family, your neighbors, how didyou understand why the Steel went belly-up and the jobs disappeared?
Lee: Well what we were told, the jobs went overseas. In fact, they had a big rally. I remember a big piece of truck that was outside and wewere all standing out there talking about jobs going overseas, and then you know, maybe some of the managers were driving foreign cars. So you know, how did that measure up? Except nobody said much. (chuckles) But no, we didn't say much about that. But everybody knew what was 36:00happening. But it wasn't really all jobs going overseas, you know. It's probably management and management of the corporation itself. My husband worked for the corporation, you know, he was corporate engineering, and of course I was at the subsidiary, the coal mines so we weren't directly the Steel itself. But I can tell you about the attitudes of people. And that's probably why when I got involved in the community, they worked very diligently to see to it that I was well-received because I think I became-- You know, I use the word ambassador. Somebody was interviewing me and I called myself an ambassador for the Steel and they didn't quite understand it. I said, 'Well, you know, I wasn't the Steel's ambassador. Because I was allowed to go out in the community on their time, I called myself an 37:00ambassador.' Because it wasn't 'cause I wanted to go, it's like when, you know, when I was-- I was a member of most organizations in the community and as you know, most of them met midday and I was an hourly worker. I could not have attended those meetings ordinarily except that the boss came over and said, 'No, you can go. You're representing us.' You know, because if someone would ask me, I'm a Steel employee and I'm allowed to attend the meeting. So that went on a very long time.
Moglen: What kind of organizations are you talking about that the Steel wanted you to, was willing to have you go?
Lee: Well they were community organizations, like Red Cross. Red Cross met at noontime, you know. Everybody it seemed like after I waselected to public office, you know, everybody wanted me to become a member of their board, one by one. You know, Boy Scouts of America, you 38:00know, everybody, you know. And I enjoyed it, but surely every one of them didn't meet evenings. You know, there were things that we did during the day, but they allowed me to go to those meetings. And I appreciated that because it gave me involvement. And it helped my learning experience too. I've probably got a degree. Nobody's bestowed it on but I got one because my experience has been, you know, insurmountable. Personalities that you meet. I can remember in my TV board that I served on, the gentleman that was in charge of Hess's, he recommended me to serve on a tri-state education board in Philadelphia, where it met in Philadelphia. It was Delaware, New Jersey and 39:00Pennsylvania. That was quite an experience where I came to be in the presence of presidents of colleges, teachers. I was always at an upper level, and that was a learning experience. Where I certainly-- I mean I was there because I was a negro to help bring things on par, but in the same time I was learning, and I appreciated that. So those kinds of things. And I think that because of the various individuals that I came in contact with, that they too generated my name about and I got to appear at different meetings.
Moglen: We're about out of time. Are there questions, Julia? Aren't we? Oh, we've got plenty of time. Oh, I'm so relieved, I felt like we40:00were almost out of time.
Maserjian: No, no, we've got plenty of time.
Moglen: Oh, I'm so relieved.
Lee: I have no idea.
Moglen: By the way, do you want a drink.
Lee: No. No, no, I'm good.
Moglen: Oh, I'm so relieved, I was afraid we were almost out of time. So maybe we could talk a little bit more about the interactions thatyou had with other kinds of people at the Steel. You've told us some stories about some of the kinds of difficulties that some young women ran into in that Dodson plant or building.
Lee: It was a building. It was our offices really.
Moglen: Did you feel as if those dynamics felt to you like they were an ongoing part of your experience working at the Steel or did yousort of feel like you left that behind when you--
Lee: No, no. I think that's something that occurred readily. When I was over at the initial meeting. one young woman who was an elevator41:00operator was sharing with me some things, which you know, it was common talk, you know, that there were certain girls that were expected to do certain things. I never meddled. If they did, good, but I'm sure there were goings-on, human nature would lead you to understand that that's a part of life. I didn't get involved with those kinds of things. The only experience I had was that one that that young woman came to me. But you know, people always felt that they could talk to me and I would not betray their confidence and never have. I've never betrayed confidence even about the man who was involved, and I see him periodically. But that's how life was, and for us at the Steel as 42:00colored people, there weren't that many, you know, that were in, at least in Martin Tower. But we'd only see each other in passing and just say hi. You know, you get on the elevator and just see each other then. I mean people were so silly that my husband and I, you know, we'd go down to lunch. We ate in the Tower in the lunchroom. And my husband and I would be in the same elevator and people would come on and they thought we were friends. They never knew we were husband wife. I thought oh, what do husbands and wives do. And then the question arose one day, you know, 'how could you all stand to be in the same building all day?' He doesn't work where I work, and because we have 43:00lunch together, so? If we were home Saturday or Sunday we'd have lunch together. What's so different about this? But I got the impression that people didn't like one another. (chuckles) But that question was posed to us.
Moglen: You're getting into something that's very interesting to me but I'm not sure I fully understand it yet. Why did people find itstrange that you and your husband worked in the same building? Was it because women being in a male workplace was surprising or was it something-- The question surprises me.
Lee: Yeah, I was surprised as well. Now what does it look like? Should we wear a sign that says M, married? Because it was foolish, youknow. So I never understood what does he look like? Maybe I should step over there and look back and see what it was that they were questioning, that they thought we were just friends. But that's good because we talked to each other all the time so that probably 44:00confuddled them because they thought colored people couldn't possibly have conversations. What would they be talking about? That's what I thought because they don't expect us to communicate. I think that's an impression that I have of white people to blacks, that they don't think we're communicators. That we don't have-- With our children, we let them run rampant and you don't talk to them, you don't discipline them, you know. When people are talking in another voice, it's what I hear, and so rather than say any-- I didn't respond, you know. But that's what my thoughts were and that's what they still are. Why do you people talk? Who gave you the right to talk? You're supposed to just do what we tell you. And I suspect that that's why the men in the office I worked in had difficulty with me, because I answered back. 45:00I don't know, the world hasn't changed much. I mean the only reason we got to work at the Steel was the fact of the decree. Other than that, I think we'd still be on the outside.
Moglen: To what degree was the decree something that folk in the community all knew about? In other words, was that sort of an earthquakein the community, oh, this has happened, they're gonna have to start hiring?
Lee: Yeah. Well it was clear, you know. That word passed quickly and it also caught us unprepared. That's why, you know, everybody wasn'tprepared to take a job. If you weren't ready, if you hadn't readied yourself. I was aware of that. That's why I got the opportunity to 46:00shift from here to here to here because I was the only one in my likeness at that time, in my period. Yeah, and I think that that's what we're fighting today, the preparedness for African-American children. And I'm working steadily today with our school district in reference to that, we have to ready our children. President Obama says that; I believe him. I see it because I know like in the 60s, you know, we didn't have the prepared people because everybody was a domestic and in school didn't prepare yourself, weren't encouraged to prepare yourself. I just happened to like the commercial course. I liked doing things clerking. I've always done that. Back in school I can remember when we'd have guidance sessions and they'd ask us to select various fields that you'd like to work in; I always had about four. I wasn't limited. I could've been a nurse. Yeah, different things that you feel comfortable working in. But I don't know that we prepare our 47:00kids for that. I asked today in the district 'why don't we do that?' Let a child determine their own life and their own pathway. We're so busy doing it for them. But I think that those are some of the problems we had.
Moglen: This makes me think of, you know, what we're trying to do is to understand what it meant for women to go to work at the Steel inyour generation. I wonder if you could reflect a little bit about what the African-American women of your mother's generation, the families you knew, the neighbors you had, what did those women do, what did their work lives look like, and how would you describe your experience working at the Steel in relation to those. Did it seem quite similar to other work? Did it seem dramatically different to the expectation 48:00of the women of your mother's generation?
Lee: Oh yeah, it was in fact, you know. Like my husband's mother-- My husband's mother was born in Bethlehem, educated in Bethlehem. Myparents were not. So his mother actually worked during World War II in the plant. I think she was making shelves or something, but she got to work there. My mother didn't work 'cause she had, you know, five kids to take care of. But the differences, you know-- And in those days it was all domestic. It's almost as though they had no future, and when that decree came into place, it even allowed the young women that graduated like in the 40s a path looking forward if they were so prepared. 'Cause in those days, you know, Western Electric opened up and they had the plant there, so it allowed some of the women to go there to work instead of doing domestic work. So there were some pathways 49:00other than the factory that opened up. But my mother determined for me I would never work in one, and I never did. But that was really what happened. But for looking at the Steel, early we learned the Steel you would not work in, not in those offices. So you know, I don't think anybody ventured to go down and put an application in. You see what I'm saying? It was just a no-no. It was a white world and blacks do not enter.
Maserjian: When you talk about factory work, why was that a no-no from your mother?
Lee: From my mother? You know, I cannot tell you why. For me I thought oh, you know it's clean. I couldn't sew, but I mean I didn't knowwhat she had in mind. But you know, she was determined. I can remember saying, 'Well I'll go put an application in,' and she said, 'But you 50:00won't go there. You will not work there.' So I don't know what that meant to Mom, but apparently somewhere in her life there was something that came to mind, something that happened to women in factories. I tried to be an obedient child so, you know, I got the newspaper and looked for something else, not knowing that I'd ever find anything because in those days, you know, there was nothing open for us. I'm talking about-- I graduated from high school in 1951; there was nothing open for us. So I actually worked-- Did cooking and the like for those ladies up to the time that I left there. That's an awful past, isn't it, the pathway, a bleakness. And I can't imagine, 'cause there 51:00were other young women that left Bethlehem, went to Philadelphia, you know, because in Philly they could get a job, but those of us that stayed around, I mean I was the only one that stayed and my husband. Everybody else left, you know. They chased every graduate just about out of town 'cause they went to college and left, they never came back. So we could've had a-- You know, when people talk about social community for African Americans, how could they ever hope for that when they chased a whole generation from here? You know, my husband and I were survivors, that's what we call ourselves, survivors, in spite of. So our parents, you know, we've come a step from where they were 52:00and have had a livelihood, you know, satisfied us.
Moglen: I just want to be sure that I understand. You think the main mechanism by which black folk were chased out of Bethlehem was thelack of jobs. Or were there other dimensions of that in your view? How come so many of your peers left?
Lee: No job. Without work, no money. So you know, how would they have lived? No, no, no, that was clear. You know, you go off to college,you come back, you could hardly even in summer, you couldn't hardly find a job. The boys could find jobs, males, 'cause the Steel would hire them summers. You were aware of that. They hired them in the plant in the summer, but other than that there was no hope. It's like a 53:00place with no hope. So we were directed to get out of town. Even after I was working, you know, I had cousins that tried to br-- I had a cousin tried to get me to go to California. He said, 'You would just fare so beautifully here.' I said, 'No, thank you.' No. But no, this was a terrible place, and it still is. You know, we keep drawing people here, but there's really nothing for them. And they keep everybody kind of separated, apart from one another. How do they communicate? I find people because it's my nature and I want to talk to them because I want to see what they're doing. But that's just me being curious. You know, Seth, there's one other piece that I'd like to share with you. That the house that we live in now is the house that my husband's grandfather had built in 1858, 60, somewhere in there. And we went 54:00over to the City of Bethlehem to get a marker and they said to us it wasn't the first house on the street. Like they said, there was no alley behind the property. Well they're lying because they can shift anything they want to shift. And how do they know it wasn't the first house on the street? We know it was because that's what was generated, but we couldn't get a marker. But anybody can go there and see the old man had it's a half a block of property. But it was just that peculiarity, you know, that drives me, that there's so much that was taken from us as a people in this city of Bethlehem and continues to do so. There's so many aspects of what went on, that continues to go 55:00on. You know, and I think the Steel, they said, controlled everything in Bethlehem. Even to the businesses. I know my father used to say there were places that they couldn't go, inhabit. And even in my time, which sounds so ridiculous, there are restaurants that we weren't welcome in. But they didn't have to tell me twice; I just left. So you know, the Steel's responsible for much of what happened, you know, where they helped us survived, I used them just like they used me. I owe them nothing. The attitudes that I had to entertain while I was 56:00employed I'll never forget. But I utilized them just like they used me. I owe them nothing. Just like I say in life, you know, when the end comes, the world owes me nothing. It's unbelievable.
Moglen: When you say the attitudes you had to entertain at the Steel--
Lee: Attitudes of people. Attitudes of, you know, just daily attitudes. You know, I could sense it. You know, it's a feel. It's likechildren, children can feel when someone has an attitude. And that's what's driving the forces today, the attitudes of how we look, the fact that, you know, just because we have color in our skin-- 'Cause they don't know you so why is it that you feel the way you feel? So all these things are disturbing, and disturb me still.
Moglen: I have so many questions that flow from what you've said already, one question that I want to ask is why did you stay? Given--57:00
Lee: Money. You mean at the Steel?
Moglen: At the Steel and in Bethlehem. Given that most of your black friends and neighbors, that you saw them leaving to look foropportunity elsewhere, what do you think kept you and your husband? Was it the long family history you had or--
Lee: Yes, yes. I didn't need another black face to help sustain my life. I needed to be treated as a human being where I was, where I am.And that's always been what's driven me. I didn't need my neighbor, because everybody on the street didn't welcome us. I can remember that. But I moved in, didn't look left or right. You know, that was always present. So you know, I am who I am, so I don't need someone else to delegate whether I have a right to do one thing or another. I didn't need another black face aside of me. Like there are kids today that 58:00say 'If we had more black teachers, I could learn better.' Well that's a little bit of horse, you know. My teachers were not black and I like to think that I learned, and I like to say that everybody can learn. They don't like when I say this. But you know, everybody can learn as long as the information is generated. So that one never held me. And it has to do with individuals and how strong you feel, in growing up how strong you've been made. Everybody has an attitude. I have three other sisters and we're all different. So you know, I understand that part of life. And so it goes with people. And the one thing that inspires one doesn't inspire another. I met a young man-- 59:00A young man, he's a classmate, he remembers me, he said, from Broughal, and I thought what happened after that, you haven't seen me since? (chuckles) But you know, it's those kind of folk-- But what made him remember me? That was a long time ago. But you see, that's my point, that there's always something in someone that draws you to them in spite of your background, that it helps us to get strength. But apparently I was-- People tell me I've always been strong. But you know, you don't remember yourself clearly as others see you. But I think that I never had those needs; I still don't. I'm happy doing what I'm doing. If I see something that needs chastising, I call it out. Even if it's with our local police department, you know. But that's the way I've always been. And I think that communicating is gonna better our 60:00world. For the Steel and the businesses that controlled Bethlehem way back and through when they closed, whatever disservice they've done, you know, they'll account for it. Each person will account for what they did. We don't know every verbatim, all their language, but I mean for us, for Bill and I, it gave us a way of life with the dollars we earned and the benefits. We don't have any now. We don't have any benefits but we do have pensions, small as they are, but we have them. So you make the best, and you've heard me say before where we decided how much or what job we would seek after the Steel closed, that's exactly how we're living today. We live on what we get and 61:00recognizing that, you know, we can't look to someone else to solve our concerns.
Moglen: In a minute I want to come back to that question about what you did after the Steel, but I want to return to something you did Ithink's really, really important for this generation to understand. When you talk about domestic service as sort of that was the path.
Moglen: And this is in my mind in part because I was this semester teaching students, I had students reading and writing about AfricanAmerican women in the middle of the 19th century, 1840s and '50s here in the North talking about domestic service as the only path for them. Could you help us, could you describe what having a job like your job at the Steel meant in contrast to a life in domestic service, which as you described it, was the path that you could see was somehow being organized for you. How were those different? Why was a job 62:00like the job at the Steel different from a job working in domestic service?
Lee: Well, you know, the difference for me, and maybe for everybody, 'cause when you're a domestic, you know, clear focus: floors, dishes,you know, uniform, which I resented. I didn't tell you I resented a uniform. Drove me out. Going to a job at the Steel, or any office or place other than that, even the factory, I would have been able to dress differently, communicate with co-workers in a different fashion, just kind of describe what you'd like out of life, you know, as women do. But you know, for black folks and negroes in those days, that would have been great differences. We had no opportunity when you did domestic work. You went in there in the morning, it's almost like you 63:00put your head down and didn't come up until you were ready to go home. And I don't know how much communication we had. Even with the elderly ladies that I worked with, you know, I communicated with them. They were nice women, they were twin sisters and one was a cripple and I kind of helped her with the nurses. And the other one was the one that took care of business and you know, she depended on me to tell her things. But see, I was fresh out of high school and I was shy, and they knew that. So I think, you know, through history, you know, people have taken, employers, domestic employers have taken advantage of us as black people, because we weren't stupid. And so I was always mindful of that. So I think those are the differences, but the security of going to a job, being able to dress, you know, look pleasant, 64:00have conversations, you know, sit down to eat across the table from someone. I mean I never had anybody spit at me but I'm just gonna assume you know, in the day when people had difficulties, they'd break plates in front of you or those kinds of things. Like one incident of my husband, when he was on a school trip, they went south, they were in Washington, I believe, and he had to eat in the kitchen while all of his friends ate in the dining room. So things like that. But you know, we've had to endure all kinds of things like that that are hardly indescribable unless you talk to each individual. Each one of us has had some kind of experience. And they're hurtful and you 65:00remember them. And because some of us as negroes are not allowed the privilege of sharing, we'll go to our death with that in us. I don't know that I have so much in me; I'll share mine. I'll be happy to tell the world to make a better life for others. But life of domestics was not pleasurable. You couldn't express yourself. I don't believe-- I mean I don't think many had the experience that I had with the people I worked for, but my cousins all went to work for-- They were either cooking for families right here in Bethlehem while they were in school. So we all had the same experiences.
Moglen: Maybe before I ask you about after the Steel, you've alluded several times, Esther, to the importance of the benefits, that the66:00secure paycheck was a very important thing and you describe how important it is.
Lee: Yes, it was a vehicle.
Moglen: But tell us, because I think a lot of people, especially in this generation, they don't fully understand the meaning of that, theimplication of that. So tell us--
Lee: They don't?
Moglen: Well some people do and some don't, and unfortunately, I think fewer and fewer do. So tell us about what kinds of benefits wereavailable to you and to your husband working at the Steel and what that meant to you, what the significance of that was.
Lee: Oh my Lord, that was the difference in night and day. You know, when you have children that are small children, need to grow up andyou weigh the factors between working on an hourly paid job where you don't have benefits and then something comes in your direction where 67:00you will have health benefits paid for, because otherwise you're paying part benefits yourself, which is what we were doing on our jobs, and you've got a secure salary every week, every two weeks, whichever way it's coming, but it's money you can count on. So the benefits, the extension of having a pension in the future because you've gotta think future as well. So I think those are part of the problems. Even today, the people aren't thinking future with their children, they're thinking day to day. So you know, there's so much of that. But that's what for Bill and I, that's what drove us. And I contend that the Steel and the large company I appreciated what I saw before us and it 68:00helped us to make a solvency in our marriage. Because without money there's not much you can do, and if you have something you can count on, it's just like prescriptions in those days I paid $5 for, today I pay $35 for, or more. So you know, it had its benefits. Yeah, clearly, and I wouldn't change that for anything.
Moglen: So this leads me, tell us about what it meant to see your jobs coming to an end at the Steel and I don't know whether you'd like toshare this but I don't know whether either or both of you were vested in pensions at the time, but you lost your jobs at the Steel, how the whole pension, health plan thing worked out for you in terms of-- So tell us about that and what did it mean for the jobs to come to an end 69:00and what could you count on after that?
Lee: Well afterwards we could count on the fact that we were alive. (chuckles) But we both had vested pensions, but we were office workersso people shouldn't get confused. Vested office pensions are different than a pension for a plant worker. And so we were blessed in that sense even. See I'm continuing to tell you not only were we blessed in finding a job with securities, but even afterward, that we had pensions. And so we had some money. Here again, based on what we got, we had to then determine how we would live because you can't live on the mountain with valley money. And so, you know, you have to sit-- But you've gotta keep thinking and you have to figure things out and 70:00base it on what you get, and we were thankful, and we still are, because when the Steel went down and after a period of time we had no life insurance, we had to go buy life insurance, and that's another factor, that working for large companies, I would suggest that people always buy a small policy that you can rely on because as you get older, it costs more to buy insurance. But both of us had to buy life insurance, unless be put in Potter's Field. So there are a lot of things to look toward in life without thinking that everything's a given. See Bill and I didn't think that life was a given. And maybe we're different in that fact. We never owned a new car until 2005. Prior to that we just bought secondhand cars and rode them until they rode out. That kind of thing. But it was life for us and we could get us back and 71:00forth. So we never tried to live beyond what we earned, you know, outside of bought the house in Saucon Valley.
Moglen: So tell us about the transition. What was the first job you held after working at the Steel and how did they compare?
Lee: Oh. I can remember this, that the Lord again kept blessing me, because I was going out of town with someone that day and I had appliedthrough an agency. I signed up with an agency for a job and apparently the young woman there remembered me so she held the job for me till the next day. I was away, so the next day when I got home that night I had a phone message to call her the next day. So I got this job over at what's Cerona Bakery, I don't know what it was called before that. But I went to work there, that very next day. So you know, life, I 72:00have no complaints. I tell you, life owes me nothing because somehow I've been provided for because I was half prepared. So I went there and I stayed there from 1969, almost like a couple weeks, that I got that job, and stayed there until, I guess I was there 11 years too. A long time. I've got it marked. And I served as an administrative person. I enjoyed it. It was a health place. I enjoyed that very much. All of them were learning experiences. And then from there I think I went to MCI, which housed the 911 center for Northampton County. And 73:00stayed there until one of the executives for the county thought he could do the job better. (chuckles) Our dear Glen Reibman. But it became political and I always remember that because I'm half political so I understand. We'd done better if we had stayed with MCI. And then from MCI I came to Bethlehem and worked for the Bethlehem Council of Churches where I retired in 2005. So I had a nice long history, working life history.
Moglen: One thing that interests me about this, you know, and you know lots and lots of retired steelworkers, particularly a lot of themale shop [?] steelworkers that I know, if you say 'So what was life like after the closing of the Steel,' often the story they tell is 74:00'Look, those years I worked at the Steel were the best years of my life, equally, you know, solidarity, teamwork, collegiality. They think of it as this sort of golden moment for many of them in their work lives.
Lee: Yeah. It's because they were white.
Moglen: Well and I don't want to put your words in your mouth--
Lee: No, no, no, I said it first.
Moglen: --but that's not the story you're telling. The story you're telling me is that-- What I want to ask you about now is when you thinkabout the long arc of that career, was the Steel-- We've heard you say that the benefits, the security that was important.
Moglen: But it sounds to me -- and this is where I won't put words in your mouth -- was the Steel for you it was one job in a long worklife, better in some ways, not sort of?
Lee: It was a job. It was a job, and I was very aware of the race issue. I was born in Bethlehem and many of the people that lived inBethlehem are bigoted, and they still are. They're not gonna come out and tell you they are; you can tell by the way they act. You know, 75:00when people come along and say, 'Well, you know, the others think this way, you know, and they have all these jokes,' let's not do that. No, life for negroes, African Americans was not good in Bethlehem. No, it was not. And even for me, I mean I made the best-- You heard me say I made the best of life, always remembering, you know, I foresaw their attitudes and I still do, and they still have them. I think that even if I ran another term in Bethlehem, maybe they'll be dead by the time I'd run again, but that's just the way it is. I've got a theory. They would put a cat in office before they'd have me hold a seat in Bethlehem. But you know, that is the way they felt about us as a 76:00people, and I believe it's just the way they are, it's just as a people. If you would ask them, they'd say, 'No, I'm not-- I don't feel that way. My best neighbor is a colored man.' But what interaction would you have with that colored man? So they have to really rethink what they're saying. I see the differences and I've seen them all my life.
Moglen: Just to be clear, do you think there was more prejudice at the Steel, less, pretty much the same as in the rest of your experiences?
Lee; It's the same, the same. It's the same everywhere. Yeah. Every place and every job I've worked there was prejudice. Even at the77:00cleaners. There were two sisters that came from Hellertown (chuckling) and thought that they were the top of the cream of the crop. They had an attitude toward me, you know. It wasn't so much about me taking their job, you know, but they had to be on their toes and they resented that because I kept everybody-- I think I have that way about me. 'Cause they could see that I could find differences and make things move faster, you know. And they felt protective in their little world, you know. No, but bigotry is alive and well here in Bethlehem, yeah. I mean Bethlehem Steel had its problems but it's got, you know, this stuff is seeded right here. And we can try to help young people through it, and I say this, you know, you're not born with it, it's taught. So somebody's doing a good job undercover. 78:00
Maserjian: You mentioned about not getting elected into public office, but weren't you the first African American woman to serve on theBethlehem Area School District?
Maserjian: That was an elected position.
Lee: Yeah, but City Hall. The reference is City Hall. If I said not elected, I was elected to school board but I was not elected to citycouncil. And the same way that the other school board members came off of school board, running for city council were elected the same year, I was not. And so I had to run six times to try to show me they're saying to me 'Can't you see? We're not gonna elect you.' But I ran 79:00six times and got the same notice. I even ran for state house, same story. That got uglier because Bill Ryback, I ran against him and he didn't like that. And that's what it was, he didn't like me running against him, and that was another bigoted, very open bigoted-- But you know, I found a lawyer in Allentown, we went to the supreme court. Yeah, I won.
Moglen: Tell us that story.
Lee: You want to hear that story? (chuckles)
Lee: Do you really?
Lee: Nobody knows it. Yes, the lawyer was over in Allentown and I went over and told my story. Well Ryback was questioning my petitions andall fair. And then he just got ugly about it. And you know, I didn't like him anyway because-- You know why? He lived down in Northampton 80:00Heights, you know, and my cousins live next door to them and he'd profess that he and his family, that they loved colored people. And I thought liar, liar. So I found this lawyer and I'm younger, you know, and I'd take anything on. So I went to him and told him my story and he said-- And he was young and so I think he wanted to try a case, so he took it to the supreme court. And I can remember sitting there and I thought oh my, where am I? (chuckles) But I won. Whatever was wrong, you know, I'll never know, but it didn't hold.
Maserjian: And this was a petition for you--
Lee To run for state house.
Maserjian: He was contesting.
Lee: Right. He said my petitions, there was something wrong with my petitions. You know how the names-- I don't even know specifically whatname, you know, what it was specifically except that he questioned my petition. 81:00
Maserjian: And what year was this?
Lee: Oh God only knows. I'm trying to-- It had to be in the 80s.
Maserjian: After Bethlehem Steel?
Lee: Yeah, I wasn't at the Steel at that time. No, no.
Maserjian: And this was the Pennsylvania--
Lee: Pennsylvania State House. But this was the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, yes, yes. Oh I wouldn't dare go to the-- No, but I thoughtthat was interesting in my life, you know. But you know, it just means that you don't have to take the word of someone or let them frighten you out of what you want to do. It took a lot of guts.
Moglen: So this might be taking it a little bit away from the Steel but the thing I've been wanting to ask since the early part of ourconversation back in the beginning when you talked about where, the places your family lived. One of the things that I've wondered about is whether there were restrictive covenants that kept black folk out of some neighborhoods in Bethlehem. I wonder if you could just say a 82:00little bit about your experiences both growing up and as an adult. I know you and your husband have been in your a very long time, so you haven't moved a lot, but you know a lot of people. How would you describe where black folk in Bethlehem felt they could live and what the mechanisms were that seemed to be keeping people out.
Lee: Oh, it's realtors, and the realtors are still doing it. They're creating ghettos. They created the South Side. I clearly see it. Icalled the realtors hands on this I don't know what year it was. But black folks have always been restricted as to where they could live. I followed this, you know, that there are pockets. I always said there were pockets of places where black people lived, negroes. And the city would come in and condemn a house or a group of houses and create an opening, and the house next door to it continues to stand. Now you 83:00can't tell me that that wasn't an act of bigotry. But they could do it. And so yeah, I always mindful of that. And then as I grew up and I was working with human relations. You know, I have a varied background here. I served as the chair for Human Relations in Northampton County and I could see clearly that housing, you know, what was going on, and called the realtor's hands on that. And they indeed redlined. I was on the school board and we hired the first African-American principal and he went to buy a house and the bank said-- I thought he said the bank said to him that the house he wanted to purchase, he didn't want to buy that house because they were going to be tearing down 84:00homes in that area. He called me; he had the fortitude to call me, and I said, 'They are not. He's just trying to scare you. They don't want you to live on that block, hear me.' So he stuck with his guns; he's still in it. But if I would tell you where it is, you'd understand because they only want certain people on certain blocks, you know. They determine, real estate determines where they want you. Now they didn't have much effect on where I live because it was-- And you're familiar with this, there are white men and women that buy homes and rent them to blacks, and I lived in-- After we were married I lived in one of those. So this one lady would rent to black folks. I didn't like the little old house anyway. (chuckles) So we got enough money, and that's when we moved down to Pawnee Street where we lived 85:00for many years. But I was aware that realtors would then decide where we lived based on what you earned. And I've had people more recently tell me that they're still doing that same steering, putting people where they think they want them to be. So if you don't have a lot of money and knowledge, you know, you kind of move with that. But that's still going on. But I'll always remember, there was an article in the newspaper on a Sunday morning where the realtors said, 'I think that Esther Lee owes us an apology.' This was a realtor. Yeah, can you believe it? And I called them up and I talked to Harrisburg in Human Relations, and I said, 'And Esther Lee doesn't apologize for what she 86:00believes is right. So you can pass that on to them.' So I've heard no more from the realtors since. But can you imagine publicly asking me to apologize to them? But those are the things that they think that will scare-- Scare tactics. And we have to find somebody else 'cause I'm really not a part of that. There's been so much. My life has been so enriched with what's going on to us as a people. You know, in the old Baptist Church, they say, 'I just can't tell it all.' Because there's so much richness for me as to how we've been treated as a people. It's sad.
Moglen: This seems like a good moment to ask you this: How would you say things have changed both for girls and for African American girls87:00or women, but both for girls generally and for African American girls coming up through the Bethlehem schools? Like when you think to who you were at 16 and what seemed possible for you, the story you've told us today, what's your perception about how much has changed between then and now? Whole different world, similar world?
Lee: Different world. Different world. Because I work with the school district openly, partially because I was a former school director andpartially because as a parent I see what's going on and I think, you know, it's all backwards. Why do we have to try to educate people in the way that we do. There's no openness. You know, I feel everything's closed. Kids don't have control of their life. You know, in going 88:00through, making selections, being who they want to be. We were open and enjoyed life, and I think our kids today in school are so regulated. We base that partly because of Harrisburg, and I say that openly. I like to think that our governor and all of his assistants, Secretary of Education, the people that are representing us in Harrisburg don't have a clue as to what education's about, and yet they make our laws. So you know, I'm not please with what I see, and I continue to argue about that daily.
Moglen: So if I understand you rightly, you're saying that you think for kids attending the Bethlehem public schools now, you actuallythink that they're in a more closed system--
Lee: Narrower, yeah, narrow path.
Moglen: --than the one you came up in.
Lee: Yeah, I do. You know, I've complained because when I ran for school board, our thrust then as parents, because I ran based from PTA89:00groups, and all of us parents, we felt that guidance people weren't actually doing what they could do, and I still say that. But I get a backlash from folks that say, you know, 'They don't know how to regulate their time.' Well of course they don't if you give them 99 things to do. When you talk about guidance, that's a humungous job. You've got the life of children in your hands and how many-- And I think somebody told me they have 250. Impossible. Impossible. You know, when we talk about a life directing, be a parent, it's difficult. So it's unrealistic. So there's part of the downfall of what's going on in our city, the country. Imagine. Oh, it's hard to believe. And you know, 90:00I think to myself I'm the age that I am and I can see it. Where's everybody else? Why don't they revolt? We did as parents. You know, our PTA groups, we revolted. That's how I got elected. I was a very outspoken young mother. I took on any principal that ever tried anything and it was all on behalf of children. And it wasn't a black and white issue either. It was education.
Moglen: So I just want to follow up on what I just asked you. I think if most of my students were here, they would say 'But Ms. Lee, isn'tit the case there are so many more opportunities for girls, isn't it the case that things are better for black folk now than it was in your generation, don't we have more opportunities?' That's what they-- They have a very strong sense that things are getting better, and what I 91:00really want to ask you to respond from the standpoint when you think about who you were, that 16-year-old girl in what'd you say, you graduated high school in '51?
Lee: '51, uh-huh.
Moglen: What would you say to those young people?
Lee: I would say their course is misdirected. I would tell them that. They wouldn't like to hear it because we were open, you know, inthose days, and teaching was open and there was nothing held back. So this black to white business, I don't think that's the answer for not that being intelligent or learning. They've gotta direct that in another way. I mean we're always gonna have to watch, and I say this when we meet with our comrades in education, we've always got to watch for the person that has the off personality, and we'll always have that, 92:00because we're looking for those folks now that are misdirecting our kids from K to 3. So you know, get those out of the system. But I think everybody has an equal chance, is what I'm saying. And I think we do. I think there's some areas that I'm talking about our representatives in Harrisburg are making laws that affect our kids. They need to be turned around. Call in somebody else to help. So there are some other-- And it's not color. People don't like to hear me say that. This black and white thing is not all based on the fact that kids are black. It's personality. The teacher doesn't like a black kid because of the way he looks, the way he talks. It's some other things other than just the fact that he's the black kid.
Moglen: The question I'd open out onto is this: you've had such a rich and active life here in the City of Bethlehem. There are very few93:00people, in fact I can't think of a single person who has seen more, experienced more, worked harder to try to make this city a better place. What do you think of as the biggest challenges that we face as a community now? On the basis of all you've experienced and learned over these years, all you've seen, what do you think we most need to--
Lee: Who's we?
Moglen: The City of Bethlehem.
Lee: We need to open up. You know, I had a few forums -- I don't know if you're aware of them -- with our city leaders and I don't know howopen they were. But it's that direction we need and do them regularly. With results. I've got one more that I plan to do on family. But I 94:00think it's only in communication are we going to have any roads open. And even with our leadership-- You know when I talked to you about the 275th anniversary, the fact that the mayor, they appoint people to be in charge of something who he thinks is fair and they come along and they're not inclusive. How could you not include negroes in 275 years of life in Bethlehem. And I don't mean to put people on the spot but that wasn't the first occurrence. You know, I do a lot of tracking. I don't want to spend the rest of my life on earth tracking people. When are you gonna get it? But it's those kinds of things that lead me to believe that even our council, they're so far off, I don't even 95:00want to go to a meeting. I have no time to waste. You know, 'when do I get my garbage picked up?' Who cares? Why don't you try to do something about the lives of people. I don't know how long they spend on garbage, that kind of thing.
Moglen: So what do you most hope they would be working on?
Lee: They should be working on things that affect us as citizens of this city. You know, look at what's gonna affect our lives. Is itconducive to safety and lifestyle of people to put a building that's, you know, x number of stories high at a particular corner with a garage that's gonna increase traffic, that's already increased. When are they gonna sit down and look at things logically? Not just to them but to the community? We have to get around here. I see so many things that are logical to me but they'd probably say I wouldn't know what 96:00I'm talking about. That's how they'd throw things off, I believe. But it's difficult. You know, there's so many things that affect our lives here, you know, our daily lives. The fact that they have-- And I watched here as I was coming here today, that people are allowed to walk into the street with traffic approaching, because they gave them the right to walk. They'll give me a ticket for parking illegally but you got a right to walk in front of me and if I hit you, then I have to pay. You know, those kinds of ignorant things; that's ignorant. Restrict people. Go to the corner like we were taught when we were kids. Go to the corners and cross. They cross anywhere any time, they'll step out. But there's so many human factors for the citizens of Bethlehem I don't see being tended to. Like somebody on my property can 97:00come along and throw garbage down and not account for it. Like I called a policeman one day because somebody threw garbage into my cans and he told me I should build a bigger fence. Ignorance personified. Granted, if the fence was higher, he wouldn't get over it. The logic of it is, you know, arrest him, but don't tell me I need to build a bigger, higher fence. These are all things that affect us as citizens of Bethlehem. Or when snow comes. I told them last winter that you need to have some equipment, a large piece of equipment, you need to adjust your budget that you have money in there. Even in a year that we don't have snow, but keep it in the budget so if something comes up like 98:00we've had, you've got a piece of equipment that you have on hand to accommodate what's going on. That doesn't seem to be-- We've got a planning commission but I don't know what they do. But, you know, those-- You know what I mean?
Moglen: I do.
Lee: So don't elect me to council. (chuckles) For God's sake. I make sense, you know. But they'll call me a screaming old lady. (chuckles)I can tell you I love Bethlehem and I'm very objective in what goes on here and I'm very conscious that they've put all of us minorities on one side of town, and it's almost like 'go to sleep over there because we don't have time for you, just be good kids.' So I'm mindful what's going on and I don't like it. We pay taxes still but I don't like what's going on. And we don't get an opportunity to talk about that, you know. 99:00
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Partial Transcript: I'm Julia Maserjian, I'm joined here today by Seth Moglen. We're interviewing Esther Lee. It is May 4, 2016. Thank you, Esther, for joining us.
Segment Synopsis: Interviewer Julia Maserjian introduces co-interviewer Seth Moglen and interviewee Esther Lee. Lee begins by speaking about her earliest childhood memories, including a memory of her mother cooling a plate of food for her to eat. She also discusses the poor quality housing and other forms of discrimination experienced by the black community in Bethlehem when she was growing up.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; childhood; children; education; family; food and drink; race; residences
GPS: View Map: Shawnee Street, Bethlehem, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.611096, -75.382697
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Partial Transcript: So Esther, one thing that's very interesting about what you said about growing up on Columbia Street so close to the Steel. Since the focus of our interview today is your experience working at the Steel, do you have childhood memories of the steel plant, do you have any recollection of what the steel plant meant to you as a child or when you began to be aware of it as part of your world?
Segment Synopsis: Asked about her first recollections of Bethlehem Steel, Lee states that "Well, you know, very early in Bethlehem, you became to understand what you were.You were lesser-than. . . . jobs weren't open, you know, for our people [Black people] in the Steel." She explains that Blacks were hired to work in the coke works but that her family did not know many Black people who worked in the steel plant.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; coke works; family; food and drink; laborers; race; residences; transportation
Hyperlink: Image of: Effie Edwards, an African-American woman at Bethlehem Steel, 1978/9 (Source: Library of Congress).
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Partial Transcript: I want to follow up in a minute about your experience when you first thought about going to work at the Steel, but I just want to hear a little bit more about your family. Can you tell us when the first members of your extended family came here to Bethlehem? Was it your parents' generation?
Segment Synopsis: Lee explains that her mother and her mother's sister moved to Bethlehem, PA from North Carolina, where they had worked on tobacco farms. She describes this move in terms of a search for improved quality of life. Her father also moved from elsewhere to join other family in Bethlehem. Lee explains that his mother died and he moved to Bethlehem where he was raised by his older sister.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); business; child care; children; family; farming; race; social classes
GPS: View Map: 3rd and New Street, Bethlehem, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.611885, -75.378451
Hyperlink: Website: Black tobacco workers in North Carolina in the 1940s. (Source: Learn NC Digital Archive)
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Partial Transcript: So let's move on and talk about your own sort of firsthand experience working at the Steel. Tell us how you came to think of the idea of working at Bethlehem Steel and about the beginning.
Segment Synopsis: Lee discusses the implicit knowledge that she and her fellow classmates had that Black people, "what they called Colored girls in those days or Colored kids," would not be hired by Bethlehem Steel. Despite her teachers never openly telling students that this was the situation, Lee states, "we knew that upon graduation we would have to seek employment somewhere but we knew it wasn't gonna be in the Steel, that is the gonna be the last place that will hire you. And not only that, the Bethlehem Area School District wasn't hiring any either. It was clear that we were not going to have any jobs of distinction."
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; education; gender; race; secretaries
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Partial Transcript: I was doing domestic, which is what we all did after school, and stayed there a little bit after school, and these two senior ladies, one was a cripple and I had great heart for them and I cooked for them.
Segment Synopsis: After graduating high school, Lee continued to do domestic labor, which had been her after school job, but wanted to seek better employment. Aware of her limited options and despite knowing that many local businesses discriminated against black people, Lee applied for a job as a clerk at a dry cleaners. Lee was determined to gain better wages and was hired. She worked there for eleven years and the manager offered her the business.
Keywords: business; factories; family; food and drink; housework; race; wages
GPS: View Map: 5th avenue, Bethlehem, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.622758, -75.390973
Hyperlink: Image of: African American Domestic Worker (Source: Unknown)
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Partial Transcript: So Esther, am I right that we're now talking about is that takes you up maybe to the mid-50s, the mid 1950s, you would've been in your in your 20s when you were, your mid 20s?
Segment Synopsis: Lee outlines her work history in the 1960s up to 1969 when the departure of a Black worker opened up a position at Bethlehem Steel and Lee was hired. This segment continues to show the ways in which both racial and gender discrimination impacted Lee's life and work.
Keywords: Allentown (Pa.); Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; children; communities; gender; race; secretaries; stenography; telephone operators; travel; unions
GPS: View Map: Willard Battery, 2001 Lehigh Street, Allentown, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.574530, -75.480864
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Partial Transcript: How did you hear about the job, directly from him or--
Segment Synopsis: In this brief segment, Lee notes one of the ways that the Black community in Bethlehem and Allentown supported each other was by keeping each other aware of job opportunities. She also notes this in the previous segment. Here, she states that "It was like the underground railroad" and clarifies that she heard about the opening at Bethlehem Steel from the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
Keywords: communities; race
Hyperlink: Website: NAACP official website.
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Partial Transcript: So tell us about the first days on the job at the Steel. So you've been hired to replace this other African-American man.
Segment Synopsis: Lee recounts facing racial discrimination when she began working at Bethlehem Steel in an office in North Bethlehem. She notes that her female co-workers were mostly young women from Johnstown, an area known for its racism. While Lee felt wary of these women, she states that "But I didn't have trouble with those girls; they came to love me. But I did have problems indirectly with management because I didn't like the way they talked, you know, the innuendos." She explains that management made comments about her race and about Black people in general.
Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; gender; harassment; Johnstown Plant (Bethlehem Steel Corporation); North Bethlehem (Bethlehem, Pa.); office workers; professional relationships; race; working conditions
GPS: View Map: Dodson Building, 528 New Street, Bethlehem, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.621418, -75.378410
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Partial Transcript: In fact, there was one incident that I can't quote names because it's a little sensitive, but one of the bosses got out of line and it happened to be the boss, the guy that I worked for.
Segment Synopsis: Lee says she did not experience sexual harassment, but she recounts her response to "an incident" that happened to another woman she worked with.
About her own experience, she notes, "But what bothered me most was the Johnstown attitude from the boss," a reference to her earlier statement about Johnstown being known for its prejudice toward Black people.
Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; harassment
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Partial Transcript: When you talk about the people from Johnstown in this particular office, so this was they populated this entire office with Johnstown people from Bethlehem Steel.
Segment Synopsis: Lee clarifies that she worked for the Bethlehem Mines Corporation, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel. The office in which she worked was located in North Bethlehem and was run entirely by people from Johnstown before Lee was hired. The man she replaced was from Johnstown.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Mines Corporation; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; coal
GPS: View Map: Johnstown, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.327251, -78.921711
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Partial Transcript: So tell us about how long you were at Bethlehem Steel, how did your job evolve, how did your work life evolve over the period that you were there?
Segment Synopsis: Lee comments on her experiences of discrimination at work as her career at Bethlehem Steel continued. She notes, "I think that they [Bethlehem Steel] became conscious maybe after the Civil Rights Act that they had to be a little more kindly to us as a people." She also speaks about her work in the safety department, where she was eventually transferred, including visiting laborers in coal mines.
Keywords: Bethlehem Mines Corporation; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; coal; laborers; professional relationships; race; safety; travel; working conditions
GPS: View Map: Martin Tower, Bethlehem, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.631965, -75.394508
Hyperlink: Website/Document: Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Source: U.S. National Archives).
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Partial Transcript: One thing that interests me very much about the story you tell about coming into the first job and these young White woman being at first a little suspicious of you but then this woman choosing you to come to when she had this problem.
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares more about her relationships to the young White women she worked with, describing herself as a "mother." She states, "I was like a mother because I was always older. And they were young and I'd get after them about their dress. . . . But they came to respect me, you know, I thought. But we had a lot of fun."
Lee also talks about the relationships among Black workers at Bethlehem Steel, a generation of workers hired following the Civil Rights Act and the Consent Decree, the latter of which established goals for the greater representation of minorities and women in the steel industry.
Keywords: Affirmative Action; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; children; fashion; gender; office workers; professional relationships; race
Hyperlink: Website/Document: Have Angels Done More? The Steel Industry Consent Decree, 1974 (Source: National Bureau of Economic Research).
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Partial Transcript: So altogether, how long did you work at Bethlehem Steel?
Segment Synopsis: Lee worked at Bethlehem Steel from 1969 to 1985. On the end of her sixteen year career, she remarks, "I didn't leave; they closed. They closed the place. They came one day and said, you know, they were breaking down. We all knew that it was closing." She notes that her husband was laid off before her in 1984, and she also notes that Black workers were the "Last ones in, first out."
Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; careers; marriage; race; unemployment
Hyperlink: Article: "Bethlehem Steel Considering End to Local Steelmaking," July 9, 1985 (Source: Morning Call Collections).
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Partial Transcript: But you know, I can tell you, there was great resentment among management toward me.
Segment Synopsis: Lee comments on the resentment she felt from management during her entire career at Bethlehem Steel. "And to this day I cannot tell you why. You know, I'd sit down and wonder is it because I'm a strong-willed woman," she asks. She also states that she feels the city has "an attitude about me. They have an attitude about me too. What do they expect us as Negroes to do, become subservient to them? I am a human being and that Constitution refers to me. I'm a citizen of this United States."
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; gender; professional relationships; social classes
Hyperlink: Image of: Women at Desks in Bethlehem Steel, 1969 (Source: Beyond Steel Archive, Lehigh University).
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Partial Transcript: Since you've mentioned your children, can you tell us a little bit about being a working woman in your generation. How did that work, how did you manage the role of mother and wife in relation to the job you held at the Steel? Tell us a little about how you lived that.
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares about balancing work and family life as a working wife and mother. She notes that her mother was there to help her and that "No social life. And I decided early in life you can't have social life and have a family, so I gave that up, just simply took care of children and went to work." She adds that her "objective" was to "culturally develop our children the best we could."
Keywords: children; churches; culture; education; family; gender; gender roles; home life; marriage; religion; social classes; social life; transportation; wages
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Partial Transcript: So you told us about the start of the day. What happened at the end of the day? So you got out of your shift at work and then what?
Segment Synopsis: Lee describes working what is referred to as a second shift, the work in the home done primarily by women in addition to their paid job, including preparing meals and caring for the family. She explains that her husband helped and that as her children grew she taught them to help with cooking dinner. She depicts a hardworking family but adds that they watched tv together and that "We enjoyed life."
Keywords: child care; children; family; gender roles; home life; housework; marriage; meals; motherhood; shifts
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Partial Transcript: As you look at the whole of that rich work life, what would you say is distinctive about the Steel period? Good job, bad job, so-so job, like your others, totally different?
Segment Synopsis: Lee outlines her husband's career at Bethlehem Steel and comments that in comparison to other jobs the Steel provided additional security for their family.
Keywords: benefits; Bethlehem Business College; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; Burns Harbor; business; careers; education; race; wages
GPS: View Map: Burns Harbor, PA
Map Coordinates: 41.623943, -87.132407
Hyperlink: Image of Black Steel Worker, Bethlehem, PA (Source: Library of Congress)
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Partial Transcript: You haven't talked at all about the union. The period in which you and your husband went to work at the Steel was sort of the period in which the union was really fully coming into its own. How would you describe your relationship to the Steelworkers union?
Segment Synopsis: Lee notes that as an office worker she was benefitted by the union but did not have interaction with the union. She also comments on the work of the union, including negotiating vacation benefits.
Keywords: Allentown (Pa.); office workers; unions; United Steelworkers of America; vacation; wages
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Partial Transcript: You raised the question about the issue of the end of the Steel, how did you and your husband, your family, your neighbors, how did you understand why the Steel went belly-up and the jobs disappeared?
Segment Synopsis: Lee gives her opinion on the bankruptcy of Bethlehem Steel. She states that rank and file workers were told that "jobs went overseas" but thinks that "it wasn't really all jobs going overseas, you know. It's probably management and management of the corporation itself."
Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; laborers; office workers; race
Hyperlink: Article: "Bethlehem Steel Files for Bankruptcy," October 16, 2001 (Source: Washington Post Archives).
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Partial Transcript: But I can tell you about the attitudes of people. And that's probably why when I got involved in the community, they worked very diligently to see to it that I was well-received because I think I became-- You know, I use the word ambassador.
Segment Synopsis: Lee notes that she was active in community organizations and that her bosses at Bethlehem Steel allowed her to attend day time meetings. She feels this was because she served as an unofficial community "ambassador" for the company.
Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; communities; volunteer work; wages
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Partial Transcript: What kind of organizations are you talking about that the Steel wanted you to, was willing to have you go?
Segment Synopsis: Lee names some of the organizations she worked with and relates that this work was very educational for her.
At the end of this segment, the interviewers check in about the time remaining for the interview.
Keywords: communities; education; politics; race; Red Cross; volunteer work
Hyperlink: Article: Esther Lee now Running for City Council, Feb. 13, 1993 (Source: Morning Call Archives).
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Partial Transcript: So maybe we could talk a little bit more about the interactions that you had with other kinds of people at the Steel. You've told us some stories about some of the kinds of difficulties that some young women ran into in that Dodson plant or building.
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares more about her relationships and interactions with coworkers as well as about her experiences as a Black woman working at Bethlehem Steel. She shares some interesting information about working in the same building as her husband and the way they were treated and perceived by others.
Keywords: family; gender; harassment; meals; professional relationships; race
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Partial Transcript: You're getting into something that's very interesting to me but I'm not sure I fully understand it yet. Why did people find it strange that you and your husband worked in the same building? Was it because women being in a male workplace was surprising or was it something-- The question surprises me.
Segment Synopsis: On her coworkers inability to recognize her and her husband as a married couple, Lee remarks that she thought it was a sign of racism. She states, "So I never understood what does he look like? Maybe I should step over there and look back and see what it was that they were questioning, that they thought we were just friends. But that's good because we talked to each other all the time so that probably confuddled them because they thought Colored people couldn't possibly have conversations. What would they be talking about? That's what I thought because they don't expect us to communicate."
Keywords: Bethlehem Steel Corporation; family; friends; gender; marriage; professional relationships; race
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Partial Transcript: Why do you people talk? Who gave you the right to talk?
Segment Synopsis: Lee continues to share her thoughts about white racism, indicating that she thinks her mistreatment by managers was based on their racist assumption that she would (and should) obey them. She adds that "I don't know, the world hasn't changed much. I mean the only reason we got to work at the Steel was the fact of the decree. Other than that, I think we'd still be on the outside."
Keywords: Affirmative Action; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; professional relationships; race; working conditions
Hyperlink: Article: 2008 worker lawsuit over racial intolerance in Bethlehem on former Bethlehem Steel land (Source: Morning Call Archives).
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Partial Transcript: To what degree was the decree something that folk in the community all knew about? In other words, was that sort of an earthquake in the community, oh, this has happened, they're gonna have to start hiring?
Segment Synopsis: Lee remarks on the impact of the consent decree and relates its impact to the level of education and preparedness for work of the African-American community. She also indicates that education and job preparedness are issues that African-Americans still face.
Keywords: Affirmative Action; Bethlehem (Pa.); communities; education; politics; race
Hyperlink: Article: They Acted like Men and were Treated Like Men, the 1974 Consent decree and race at Bethlehem Steel, 1992 (Source: Baltimore Sun Archives).
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Partial Transcript: This makes me think of, you know, what we're trying to do is to understand what it meant for women to go to work at the Steel in your generation.
Segment Synopsis: Lee comments on the changing lives and work opportunities for African-American women of her generation compared to previous generations. She reiterates the importance of the consent decree.
Keywords: Affirmative Action; Bethlehem plant; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; child care; children; factories; family; gender; home life; housework; office workers; race; World War II
49:45 - Mother's Stance Against Factory Work and Lack of Jobs Drives African-Americans from Bethlehem
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Partial Transcript: When you talk about factory work, why was that a no-no from your mother?
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares more about her mothers determination that she not work in a factory. She speculates that "somewhere in her life there was something that came to mind, something that happened to women in factories" that made her reject it for her daughter.
In the remainder of the segment, Lee expands upon the lack of opportunities for African-Americans in Bethlehem. She notes that many in the African-American community left Bethlehem because of the lack of jobs. She describes herself and her husband as "survivors" and describes Bethlehem as continuing to be a segregated place and a "place of no hope" for African-Americans.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); communities; education; factories; gender; mills; race
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Partial Transcript: You know, Seth, there's one other piece that I'd like to share with you. That the house that we live in now is the house that my husband's grandfather had built in 1858, 60, somewhere in there.
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares about the city's lack of acknowledgement of her husband's family's long history in Bethlehem. For her, this personal slight marks the city's continued mistreatment of African-Americans more broadly.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); family; race
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Partial Transcript: When you say the attitudes you had to entertain at the Steel--
Segment Synopsis: Lee remarks that she dealt with racism at Bethlehem Steel on a daily basis. She also discusses why she and her husband decided to stay in Bethlehem despite dealing with racism in and out of the workplace and despite the fact that many in the African-American community chose to leave.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; communities; family; neighborhoods; race; working conditions
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Partial Transcript: Like there are kids today that say `If we had more Black teachers, I could learn better.' Well that's a little bit of horse, you know.
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares her thoughts on race, racism, individual personalities and individual experience. She reflects on her personal strength and motivation to "call out" what "needs chastising." She also states that "communicating is gonna better our world," suggesting she thinks that sharing stories across communities can create change.
Keywords: Broughal School; education; race
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Partial Transcript: In a minute I want to come back to that question about what you did after the Steel, but I want to return to something you did I think's really, really important for this generation to understand. When you talk about domestic service as sort of that was the path.
Segment Synopsis: Lee comments on the historical relegation of African-American women to work as domestic servants and the history of oppression of African-American women in these jobs. She also discusses the importance of the opening up of new work opportunities, which allowed vastly different experiences and improved working conditions.
Keywords: gender; housework; race; servants; uniforms; working conditions
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Partial Transcript: Like one incident of my husband, when he was on a school trip, they went south, they were in Washington, I believe, and he had to eat in the kitchen while all of his friends ate in the dining room.
Segment Synopsis: Lee shares one story of her husband enduring racism and notes that all African-American's of her generation have similar stories. Whereas not everyone can tell their story, Lee states, "I'll be happy to tell the world to make a better life for others," again indicating the importance she places upon sharing stories or "communicating."
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); education; family; meals; race; travel
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Partial Transcript: Maybe before I ask you about after the Steel, you've alluded several times, Esther, to the importance of the benefits, that the secure paycheck was a very important thing and you describe how important it is.
Segment Synopsis: Lee describes the importance of stable wages and benefits to her family and says that she "appreciated" that Bethlehem Steel provided that.
Keywords: benefits; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; children; family; health insurance; pensions; wages
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Partial Transcript: So this leads me, tell us about what it meant to see your jobs coming to an end at the Steel and I don't know whether you'd like to share this but I don't know whether either or both of you were vested in pensions at the time, but you lost your jobs at the Steel, how the whole pension, health plan thing worked out for you in terms of-- So tell us about that and what did it mean for the jobs to come to an end and what could you count on after that?
Segment Synopsis: Lee speaks to what her job at Bethlehem Steel "coming to an end," as the interviewer puts it, meant to her and her husband. She explains that as office workers she and her husband did not do as poorly as they could have in terms of pension and health insurance. They did loose their life insurance.
Keywords: benefits; Bethlehem plant; Bethlehem Steel Corporation; family; office workers; pensions
Hyperlink: Article: Bethlehem Retirees get the Lowdown on Pensions, Nov. 18, 2003 (Source: Morning Call Archives).
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Partial Transcript: So tell us about the transition. What was the first job you held after working at the Steel and how did they compare?
Segment Synopsis: Lee recounts finding work right away at Cerona Bakery after her job at the Steel, and she traces her work history following this job as well. She sees herself as lucky and as provided for and states that "I tell you, life owes me nothing because somehow I've been provided for because I was half prepared."
Keywords: churches; health; religion
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Partial Transcript: But it sounds to me -- and this is where I won't put words in your mouth -- was the Steel for you it was one job in a long work life, better in some ways, not sort of?
Segment Synopsis: Comparing Bethlehem Steel to her other work experiences, Lee states, "It was a job. It was a job, and I was very aware of the race issue. I was born in Bethlehem and many of the people that lived in Bethlehem are bigoted, and they still are." She continues, "life for Negroes, African Americans was not good in Bethlehem. No, it was not. And even for me, I mean I made the best-- You heard me say I made the best of life, always remembering, you know, I foresaw their attitudes and I still do, and they still have them." She adds that she experienced racism in every job she has worked.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); Bethlehem Steel Corporation; culture; politics; race
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Partial Transcript: You mentioned about not getting elected into public office, but weren't you the first African American woman to serve on the Bethlehem Area School District?
Segment Synopsis: Lee recounts being discriminated against during elections for public office, despite being elected the first African American woman to serve on the Bethlehem Area School District. She also tells the story of winning a case involving the contestation of her petition to run for the Pennsylvania State House. This was in the 1980s.
Keywords: Allentown (Pa.); education; politics; race; schools
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Partial Transcript: So this might be taking it a little bit away from the Steel but the thing I've been wanting to ask since the early part of our conversation back in the beginning when you talked about where, the places your family lived.
Segment Synopsis: Lee describes the ways in which realtors and the city of Bethlehem have restricted where Black people could live in Bethlehem. She clearly sees systematic housing discrimination.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); churches; education; marriage; neighborhoods; politics; race; religion; residences; schools; social classes
GPS: View Map: Pawnee Street, Bethlehem, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.608258, -75.387293
Hyperlink: Article/News Report: Study Exposes Racism Among Lehigh Valley Realtors, 2013 (Source: NBC Philadelphia).
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Partial Transcript: This seems like a good moment to ask you this: How would you say things have changed both for girls and for African American girls or women, but both for girls generally and for African American girls coming up through the Bethlehem schools?
Segment Synopsis: Lee comments on the state of education and opportunities for both Black and White girls in Bethlehem today in comparison to her own experience. She thinks education is too restricted or controlled today and actually compares negatively to her own experience. She states, "You know, I feel everything's closed. Kids don't have control of their life. You know, in going through, making selections, being who they want to be. We were open and enjoyed life, and I think our kids today in school are so regulated."
Keywords: children; education; gender; motherhood; politics; race; schools
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Partial Transcript: So I just want to follow up on what I just asked you. I think if most of my students were here, they would say `But Ms. Lee, isn't it the case there are so many more opportunities for girls, isn't it the case that things are better for Black folk now than it was in your generation, don't we have more opportunities?'
Segment Synopsis: Lee responds to the notion that things are better today than they were in the past for women and minorities.
Keywords: culture; education; gender; politics; race
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Partial Transcript: The question I'd open out onto is this: you've had such a rich and active life here in the City of Bethlehem. There are very few people, in fact I can't think of a single person who has seen more, experienced more, worked harder to try to make this city a better place. What do you think of as the biggest challenges that we face as a community now? On the basis of all you've experienced and learned over these years, all you've seen, what do you think we most need to--
Segment Synopsis: Lee responds to the question of what challenges the city of Bethlehem faces today. She reiterates the need for communication and brings up the community forums she has held on different topics. She continues, speaking about her frustrations with the city council and city government.
Keywords: Bethlehem (Pa.); communities; education; family; politics; race; safety; transportation