Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

“The guy who was over the department…said that I might have some problems because they had never had anybody black in the office.”

Transcript for Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

When I graduated from high school, I got a job working for a realtor in Gary on 19th and Broadway. And while I was working there, the NAACP had an office in his office. And they were attempting to get African Americans as clerical workers at U.S. Steel. And they were told—they kept being told that they could not hire any, they would not hire any because they could not find anyone who could pass the test. Well, we knew that wasn’t so. Jeanette Strong, and her husband, Curtis Strong, they were very active in the NAACP and very active with the United Steelworkers. And so they asked me to go to U.S. Steel and take the test and see how it came out. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. They’re not going to hire me, in my mind. I’ll go. And because I knew that the salary was good and—I’ll try it. And I went and I did well, you know? And they hired me.

We talked about it in our neighborhood. U.S. Steel won’t hire any African Americans in their office and I know that there are some of us who are capable of doing whatever it is they’re doing. That was why the NAACP got involved, because they felt the same way. So I thought it was really a big deal at the time. Yeah, I did.

When I worked—first started working on my first day of work, the guy—I went to work for what they called at the time the Production Planning Department. The guy who was over the department called me in to talk to me because he said that I might have some problems because they had never had anybody black in the office. No African Americans. “And if you have any problems, you need to come in and see me.” And my response to that was, “I don’t expect to have any problems.” And as it turned out, I did have an incident with one young lady who really just—it was just a problem for her. My being there was just a problem for her. But by and large, he says, “I don’t, you know, they may even have some problems in terms of the restrooms, your using the restrooms.”

And it just so happened that when I started to work, there were two ladies who worked there who had gone to Emerson with me. And so, you know, that helped. There were a lot of white folks who worked in the department that I went to. But that helped. And the blessing—the other blessing was when I went to Emerson, I made good grades. And so that, you know, it just kind of gave me another level of respect because I did make good grades, you know? “All of them aren’t dumb,” you know? That kind of thing. Really. So. Yeah.

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.