Ernastine Cobb stands in front of a portrait of a river baptism in her home in Norwalk.
Focus of the Interview:
Growing up in North Carolina, Civil Rights , moving to Norwalk and her involvement in Peace by Piece.
Thank you Ernastine for being so generous with your time and sharing your life story with me and anyone else who reads and listens.
Date of Interview: April 29th 2011
PURPOSE of Interview:
The purpose of the Ernastine Cobb interview is to learn more about her childhood, how civil rights impacted her life, her move to Norwalk and how she became involved in Peace by Piece, the intergenerational quilting project based in Norwalk.
I spent 28.5 hours at the quilting house and chatting with Ernastine. I also read a time line of civil rights events that happened in her lifetime and learned about what life was like for a black woman born in 1934.
SHAPE of the Interview:
The Interview is topical and chronological. It moves from her childhood in Fountain, North Carolina to her current life here in Norwalk and her experiences in between.
Questions for Ernastine Cobb
1. Where were you born and what year?
2. What type of work did your parents do?
3. I understand you were baptized in a river? Have you yourself been to river
4. Can you describe what happens at a river baptism?
5. Do you have memories of school segregation?
6. Where were you when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus
in Montgomery Ala. in 1955?
7. What did that mean to you then, a 20+ year old African American woman?
8. When Martin Luther King Junior was shot, how did that make you feel?
9. When did you move to Norwalk?
10. How did you get involved with Peace by Piece?
Background Research on US Civil Rights Movement
1954 May 17
The Supreme Court rules on the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans., unanimously agreeing that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The ruling paves the way for large-scale desegregation.
1955 Dec. 1
(Montgomery, Ala.) NAACP member Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the “colored section” of a bus to a white passenger, defying a southern custom of the time. In response to her arrest the Montgomery black community launches a bus boycott, which will last for more than a year, until the buses are desegregated Dec. 21, 1956. As newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is instrumental in leading the boycott.
Martin Luther King, Charles K. Steele, and Fred L. Shuttlesworth establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, of which King is made the first president. The SCLC becomes a major force in organizing the civil rights movement and bases its principles on nonviolence and civil disobedience. According to King, it is essential that the civil rights movement not sink to the level of the racists and hatemongers who oppose them: “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline,” he urges.
1963 April 16
Martin Luther King is arrested and jailed during anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Ala.; he writes his seminal “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” arguing that individuals have the moral duty to disobey unjust laws.
During civil rights protests in Birmingham, Ala., Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor uses fire hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators. These images of brutality, which are televised and published widely, are instrumental in gaining sympathy for the civil rights movement around the world.
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The law also provides the federal government with the powers to enforce desegregation.
1964 Aug. 4
(Neshoba Country, Miss.) The bodies of three civil-rights workers—two white, one black—are found in an earthen dam, six weeks into a federal investigation backed by President Johnson. James E. Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 21; and Michael Schwerner, 24, had been working to register black voters in Mississippi, and, on June 21, had gone to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on speeding charges, incarcerated for several hours, and then released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, who murdered them.
1965 Feb. 21
(Harlem, N.Y.) Malcolm X, black nationalist and founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, is shot to death. It is believed the assailants are members of the Black Muslim faith, which Malcolm had recently abandoned in favor of orthodox Islam.
(Selma, Ala.) Blacks begin a march to Montgomery in support of voting rights but are stopped at the Pettus Bridge by a police blockade. Fifty marchers are hospitalized after police use tear gas, whips, and clubs against them. The incident is dubbed “Bloody Sunday” by the media. The march is considered the catalyst for pushing through the voting rights act five months later.
Congress passes the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for Southern blacks to register to vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and other such requirements that were used to restrict black voting are made illegal.
Aug. 11–17, 1965
(Watts, Calif.) Race riots erupt in a black section of Los Angeles.
Sept. 24, 1965
Asserting that civil rights laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination, President Johnson issues Executive Order 11246, which enforces affirmative action for the first time. It requires government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment.
1968 April 4
1971 April 20
The Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upholds busing as a legitimate means for achieving integration of public schools. Although largely unwelcome (and sometimes violently opposed) in local school districts, court-ordered busing plans in cities such as Charlotte, Boston, and Denver continue until the late 1990s.