Charlotte Decker, Margaret Connell


As interviewed by Olivia Alejandre, March 26, 2017

Charlotte Decker and Margaret Connell: In Their Own Words

Introduction - Olivia Alejandre: Charlotte Decker was an activist for civil rights. She fought for the rights of black women in an issue during the mid-1950s. She grew up in Rhode Island and soon moved to Ann Arbor.

Charlotte: This is Charlotte Decker. Well, I lived in east Providence, Rhode Island. I did what kids do.
Margaret: Your mom and dad, you lived with. When you were a very little child, you lived on, almost like a farm.
Charlotte: Yeah.
Margaret: Big, big property.
Charlotte: Yeah.
Margaret: It was because why? What did your dad do?
Charlotte: Well, he worked on the… with the animals and all that sort of stuff.
Margaret: He took care of a very wealthy lady’s house, basically, remember?
Charlotte: Yep. My father, I remember one time, there was a man that worked with him. And the man would get all upset about where to sit in your house, what to do in the house. You know, he’d come in, and he’d be sort of standing there in the doorway. Yeah, and my father would say to him, “For God’s sakes, sit down!” You know, like. And the man was like blubbering because he was trying to do what he was doing for the other white people. And my father was very accepting.
Margaret: So, your father knew why he was nervous, probably?
Charlotte: Oh yeah.
Margaret: But your father said, “Don’t worry about it. We want you here. You’re staying for dinner.”
Charlotte: “You sit here and eat.” or you know. I remember one time the man came and he went to the basement, and my father…. This is funny because my father was a swearer, if you want to know. He wasn’t a straight…. He went down to where this man went to sit down and he said, “For God’s sakes, what are you doing down here? Get upstairs. We’ve got dinner up there for you.” You know, so the poor black man was very nervous. But I remember it. I was not very old at that point but I remember that happening.
Margaret: You said, there were about 4 or 5 black women and what did they try to do? They wanted to do? They wanted to join what team?
Charlotte: I can’t remember.
Margaret: Golf. Golf.
Charlotte: Oh the golf. Yeah.
Margaret: Yeah. And what happened at the YWCA golf team?
Charlotte: Oh they got all, the white women got all upset.
Margaret: And they said what to them? No, right?
Charlotte: Yeah. And they said, “What are they coming in here for?” You know. And then, uh.
Margaret: And then you found out about it, and what did you say?
Charlotte: I went out there and said, “If you don’t take them, then I’m leaving.” And so they took them in.
Margaret: Well no, it took a little fighting.
Charlotte: Yeah. It took a little time and all that. And I had to, you know, I had to really work with the women on their own with me to say, “It’s perfectly OK and nobody’s going to get hurt.” And, you know, I had to go through all of that kind of stuff because you know, the women were frightened.
Margaret: Which ones were frightened - the black women or the white women?
Charlotte: The black women. They didn’t know what to do. And I told them what to do. I said, “You just walk in there and..”
Margaret: But you also had to get certain other people, you talked to the Board of Directors because you weren’t on the Board. You had a job at the Y but there’s a Board of Directors, and you had to go to them on the women’s behalf. And the black women kept saying, “Charlotte, don’t worry. We’ll just forget about it.”
Charlotte: Yep, but I said, “No, you’re not going to just forget about it.”
Margaret: And you got a little bit snubbed, like in the neighborhood or in town. Like people would walk, a woman would see you, or a man for that matter, and walk, would see you coming and walk on the other side of the street.
Charlotte: Oh yeah. Didn’t bother me.