Interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton
QUESTION 6
JACKIE SHEARER:

Now, you had a very interesting, to me, analysis of the way that, ah, economic change happens over change happens over generations, um, and you attributed the growth of the Black middle class, in part, to affirmative action. Could you speak to that?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON:

You want me to speak to the Black middle class now?

JACKIE SHEARER:

Yes.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON:

We have had, only since the late '60s, finally, the tardy emergence of a Black middle class. Part of the reason, of course, is that people got access to education. But all the studies show that affirmative action has been critical to the formation of a Black middle class. A Black man with a college education in, in the generation of, for example, my husband's father, did what my husband's father did, worked in the proto--post office, with White men who had eighth grade educations. That, by the way, had the effect of discouraging Black men from going to get a college education. Um, Black women, of course, could teach once they got a college education. Black men were as likely to work as laborers, even when they had a great amount of education. Today, today, beginning in the late '60s, after the Civil Rights Act was passed, it became possible for Blacks to penetrate business, albeit at the lower rungs, it is business which is the business of this country. And when it became possible to be hired in business and in federal, local, and state governments, we began to see, finally, the emergence of a Black middle class. It is fragile, it is still too, too small, but Black people today, the majority, are at least in the working class or the middle class, while a third of Blacks remain poor.

JACKIE SHEARER:

Great. Cut. That's wonderful. Now, my sense is that that interruption didn't kill us.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON:

I hope not, because I never forget, I never say what--