Interview with Crystal Odum on Feb. 28, 2000.
Camas Community History Project
Interviewed by Kathy Tucker
T: Would you mind telling me a little about your background? Where you were born and where you come from?
O: I was born in San Francisco a long time ago. [In my adolescence] we moved to Stockton, California. The valley. San Joaquim Valley. I was going to school there and graduated from Delta College and came here to work at the mill, actually. But I was only going to work there for the summer. I was going to PSU to earn my MSW. And I thought, well I could just do this, you know. But I was used to office work and everything and so, 1976 a girlfriend and I were hired into the Camas mill, August 17, 1976.
T: You were getting your MSW?
O: [My goal was a] MSW, but I was going to work of the summer to get some funds. But actually I made more money at the mill. So I decided to stay and it was easy. I mean you didn’t have to bring it home. Physically it’s demanding, but you didn’t have to bring work home like I did when I worked for social services. So I decided, well, I’ll see. So, I stayed full time. And the years passed really fast.
T: How did you find out about the job.
O: Actually, one of our friends worked there. And at that time Affirmative Action was really gung ho. And he’d worked there for a short period of time and he moved back to Stockton. He told us about it and a pastor friend of ours, her husband worked there. So she said why don’t you come back, you know, at least you can get a job. Come back with me and you can get a job. So, we came in and we talked to a Jim Williams at that time, and had a little conversation with him. And he took our applications and said if we hire, we’ll call you back. So, a couple of weeks after that we were called. We were interviewed by Tricia Dykes, at the time. And she said we were hired. We actually didn’t know we were hired, because at that time there were lines of people that had to come and line up to work. And we walked right past them, you know, went right in and took our physical. We still didn’t know we were hired until she said your hired. Like that, you know. Shouldn’t we stand in line. She said no, you guys were hired. But, we didn’t know what we were into because we came out of college. The environment was different. You know, Stockton is a minority agricultural place, Hispanics, Phillipinos, African Americans, you know. Farm town. And we come here and we couldn’t find a central area where there were, you know, African Americans, Latinos. Everyone is spread out. There’s no central place, you know, unless you go to Northeast Portland. So it was alien to us. At that time equal work for equal pay, just a few years after we got hired. So it was, you know, you had to work like the men because you were working for equal pay. The challenge for us was, not only being African American, and female. But it was, you know, trying to deal with the different personalities at that time. 1976 was pretty rough and you are looking at a predominately white male populace at the Camas mill. So it was little rough there.
T: Can you give me, do you want to talk more about that. What was your reception?
O: Well, of course because Camas mill hired generation after generation after generation after generation, and they would work there, quit, come back, work, quit. So that job was always available for them because they could go and come as they like, always had a job. So now you had these other people, other than themselves coming to work there. And there wasn’t room for them to come and go like they’d like to. So you’d have some hostility, you know: my husband wanted to get hired, how come he wasn’t hired. Maybe it was because he wasn’t a black male. You know, so you had to hear comments like that and everything. But they were trying to make it as even, as diverse as possible. But you are talking about a mill that was nearly, at that time, nearly a hundred years old. It’s over a hundred years old now. So heaps and heaps of tradition and things that they were accustomed to. Now, where they were exposed to a handful of people of color, now they were exposed to hundreds of us, and how do they handle that. Very difficult. Very difficult. But, so we had to listen to the off-color jokes. And so we had to, I had to go in the front office many times because, you know, they wouldn’t know unless you tell them. And everything is hush hush, and they can really turn against you if they get their sights on you as a trouble maker. And so me being female and African American you get labeled as a rabble rouser.
T: Did that happen to you?
O: Oh, especially if you fight against the system. The system of how they ran things. And you’d have foremen that had subtle, but sheer racial, you know, motive things. But they wouldn’t outwardly say it, they couldn’t say it, but they would treat you a little differently.
T: So just in [the napkin] department there were more women? Or more women over all?
O: Well, napkin and converting would have more women because it was the lightest work. You know if you went to other parts in the mill, it’s heavier. And they started off there because the women wore dresses prior to the equal work equal pay, you know, and it was really easy for them. So, you know, those that had been there for forty years got stuck there. It’s different now. But at that time it was like that. It was so strange because every day was just a struggle just to go in there and get some respect. And because of my background and everything, I was strong enough to withstand some of the jokes and some of the off-colored things that were going on. And all because I was African American. Had nothing else to do with it, you know.
Of course, not all were bad. Because you are going to have some very good people, just good to the core. And they took up for us if it was wrong. So one adjuster said, why are you over there taking up for your nigger friends? So enough of that. Now, not only were we ridiculed, but it was those that were friendly with us that were ridiculed, you know, put under a lot of pressure. It wasn’t right for them because there were just looking at us as people. Anyway, I took that to human resources, because that was enough. So they had meetings. And that was the early ’80s. And they explained to them that they could be responsible, and also help the company pay for any lawsuits that came down.
So, she explained to them the law. Well, they didn’t know, because they had never been told, you know, that they couldn’t do that. So, little by little, and I can tell you though, Kathy, with years of working there, people can look at me and now and not so much look at my color. But I’ve been there almost twenty five years. And I can go to a union meeting and I am the only black female there. And I can walk in and not feel as if I don’t belong. And that is all because I’ve grown to know the people, and have a lot of respect for them.
T: Do very many black women work at the mill?
O: I don’t know what the numbers are now. But I think of the total, we may have eight maybe.
T: Wow, not very many.
O: No, not out of 1400. I’m not for sure, I used to know the percentages, but, it’s a very low percentage of African Americans — both male and female. And at the union meetings, we may have two African American males that show … on a regular basis. That is all. No other males, and of the Hispanic, I don’t think we have any that show up.
T: Going back just a little bit, what did you get your degree in in College?
O: Well, I got it in sociology.
T: And where did you go?
O: Delta. San Joaquim, Delta College in Stockton California. I came, I went to Clark for a season. Met my husband in the year of ’78, and he was working on his master’s. He got his master’s in urban planning. And so we decided, well, when you finish then I’ll go back and finish. Well that didn’t happen, three kids later, a house and a home, a boat, and a car. And so, he worked there five years, Kathy.
T: At the mill?
O: Yes, after he got his master’s degree. Tricia asked me, she said, Tricia Dykes, hr. She said did Iloda graduate? I said yeah. She said why doesn’t he come here and work for a summer? And you know it was a good thing for him, because he had never been exposed to labor. Most of my whines, he’d say, you just want that job. You put up with that because, you know, wasn’t very sympathetic. So he got there, and he’d only planned to stay a year or two. But he got stuck there five years before he got a job with the state. But he walked away with a better appreciation for people of labor. So it was an experience for them. He was amazed. He is from Africa. He’s from Nigeria. But he was amazed, he said I cannot fathom how every other word is a profanity. You know, it just drove him crazy. He said, I don’t understand, why do they have to use those words over and over and over. He said they even refer to people as a bad name. It was just a culture shock for him, you know. And he went through his little episodes also.
O: Yeah, because they didn’t know he had a master’s. Well, whatever. So, there were different jobs that the person in the clock room, she’s the one that used to place us in jobs, she knew he had a master’s, so she wanted to put him in a job that would be more challenging for him. So he walked into a department, Maps. And that is where they keyed in numbers for all the parts, they were updating the mill, you know, making it up close and modern you know. This way they’d track all the parts throughout the mill and everything. And my husband walked up and the foreman said, this is a very hard job. My husband said okay. I don’t know if you can handle it. But, Kathy, he didn’t refer to it as a racial remark. I mean, he didn’t even know him. He didn’t know him, he never. But at any rate, this is a very hard job. He says okay. So they went through the day, and at the end of the day he says do you want your card back? Because they would return your card, you would go back on call for another job. My husband says no. He says …. I can handle it. He said okay. So they put him in there cold turkey. And he said I had done far, far more difficult things than that. And so, he did it, and the guy just was amazed. Now the job was only supposed to be for six months. He kept him for a year. Other people had to file a grievance to get him out of there. He did not want to lose him. But see he was put to the test, you know, but at first they sized him up by his color. But they wouldn’t think like that. They are not conscious of that thought. But that thought is there, you know. But he did well, and he went to Lacey, Olympia, Washington.
T: For work?
O: For work. He stayed there nine years.
O: Yeah, he did.
O: Commuting back and forth every weekend, and we have three kids. We have three teenagers now. He just got transferred back here two years ago. He’s field director for the department of ecology. So it paid off. You know, there’s nothing without sacrifice.
T: Now, you said earlier too, that your background had sort of prepared you to have a high self-esteem?
T: What did you mean by that?
O: Well, I was very active socially in all kinds of clubs, including 4-H, and you know leadership type of things.
T: In high school and college, you mean?
O: High School and college. So it gave me a literary club. It gave me kind of, you know, I kind of walked in not, you know not so well, not so challenged, but sometimes it was very frustrating because it put you to the test, so I decided to be shop steward. I decided to be a shop steward one, because I was amazed at how much power those twelve people had, making decisions for everybody without everybody. I wanted to be fair, you know. I said I think I better be a shop steward so I’ll find out what’s going on in the union, and company. So I can find out, you know, thank god for union. So I became a shop steward, I think in the early ’80s.
T: In what department?
O: Napkin. I got shop steward of the month. That’s from hard work and dedication. I can tell you Kathy that my wall holds about eight or nine shop steward of the months, one shop steward of the year. And the Maureen Crawford ? award from the union. So I have a whole wall of awards, and that did not come without some stress added on to it. Because I represent everybody, not just people of color, everybody. I try to be fair, because I look a both sides of everything, and you have to be like that. And so, with that I was given an opportunity to go on trips. My name would come up, my name would come up, you know to go on trips and things like that, and yes, I’ll go. Because they knew I’d do a good job, or I would speak equally for, you know, for some. Napkin went out in 1987, they closed the department. We had to merge with converting, 1987. I worked with converting briefly, and then I signed a bid to go to cut-size. Cut-size makes the copy paper. So I started there in ’87 and we had a wonderful boss, superintendent Bill Norville. A very open, very honest, very fair man. Got real acquainted with Bill, and I’d go to Bill and say Bill, I want to be on the interviewing board. You know, where they interview people to work there. He says, okay. They set me up. I got training. I was on the interviewing board. Well, of course your co-workers are going to say how did you get that. I said I asked for it. I asked for it and I got it. Okay, hmm, I see, yeah, that’s what happened. With that, there’s different things that came along, you know I’m on the diversity committee and I’ve been on safety off and on, and I go to the diversity summits that they have at the YWCA.
T: Is that something through work, or is that separate.
O: It’s separate. But they come into Camas, they’ve come into Camas a couple of times. They’ll go to workshops at the YWCA. You know, just trying to find out that with an array, a rainbow of colors, it’s a plus not a minus. You know and until we can get that, then we won’t know what’s going on. Until we can say that it’s a plus to have variety, not a minus. So I’ve been going to those workshops, two or three workshops I’ve been too so far. And I’ve signed up for a new hire orientator. I’m a new hire orientator. I’m a certified sit down counterweight lift-truck driver trainer. So I train people to drive forklift. I don’t know Kathy, it just goes on and on. But it all comes from just trying to, you know, be fair. And like I say, after twenty-five years, yeah your faced with a little color thing, but it’s not, you know you could brush it off your shoulder. Not like people coming in now. And it’s harder to get in than it was.
T: Why is that?
O: Well, they’ve changed their hiring practices. Now you have to have a test, Scott Noland test. And Joe Noland, sorry, test. Which is a little different, which, a lot of folk can’t get hired because they can’t pass that test.
T: Do you think that, um, is it harder for black people or white people or is it just harder for everybody?
O: Well, actually I went to the training for the guy who made up the test. And it’s harder for people of color, and he said that. Why, I don’t know. He would know all the statistics on that. But it is harder for people of color to pass his test, well he made up the test. He’s a white male. But when we are taking a test, I had taken that same test to get into cut-size after I left napkin converting. Passed. I took the test when we, you know, when we re-certify ourselves as interviewers. And my scores were higher than some of the engineers. So I guess it depends on where your strong points are, and, you know they had a lot of math in there. And your mechanical ability. You know if you lack mechanical ability you could fall, you know, pretty well. And so with that the population of people of color has shrunk.
T: What about, how come they are not as oriented towards diversity as they were in the mid-70s?
O: Well I think affirmative action had that in the ’70s. Then after affirmative action kind of cooled off, you know. The test spoke to a person’s intellect, but it didn’t speak to their ethics as far as working with them.
T: Yeah, and there are different cultural things that go into test making.
O: Yes, Kathy. It shows that. My husband told hr, you are testing these people but that doesn’t show you how they work. They could get down there and, we have some dillys down there, but they passed the test. They are not team-oriented. They’re not motivated. You know. And you are thinking, you’re not motivated so why are you here. Why do you keep a job and you won’t get off your behind. And, it’s a liberty you have with some people. Where it came from, they must have been born with it. That you have the liberty to come here and do zero and get a paycheck. I don’t understand that.
T: How is the company about weeding those people out?
O: Well, for one thing we lost our supervisors. So if you don’t have a supervisor you just have hourly people and you assign a team leader. That team leader is still a union person. He’s still union. So he’s not going to, you know, really key in on some, because we are all union members. And so you’ve lost some of that. Where as if you had a foreman on shift every shift they could see a lot of things. But they are not, they are only on day shift. So they’re not there so they can’t see them, and so these type of people kind of slip through the cracks. And when people work with people they’re familiar with, they have a tendency to look the other way. Other than, if it was someone not like themselves, they would key on them more. And that’s strange, you can see it. We had a female, she was fifty-three years old, Kathy, worked very hard. White female. I was the team leader, move-up team leader. Something about her didn’t click. Why? Because she was female. Because she was over fifty. And they just felt like she wasn’t going to be able to make it. She was slightly overweight. But she worked, Kathy, she worked. And so they zoned in on her and disqualified her.
T: Can you, have you been able to tell, you know, How is it for women as opposed to black women? What are the differences, or do women have discrimination problems?
O: Gender, yes. There is gender problems. You actually, Kathy, have to go in there working like a guy. Now, some people, strange as it may seem, some females come in there and, docile you know and little … And they get little favors, you know. But that gets old after a while. Because the guys are not going to continuously do their work. Right? So that might work for her for a moment, but after a while those guys are not going to do it. And so, then there’s a rebellion going on. And they quit, normally, when it’s really put back on them to do their work. And we have two-hundred-and-fifty pound buttrolls that we have to take off.
T: You were saying that some of those, um, rolls are two-hundred-and-fifty pounds?
O: Buttrolls. That you have to take off and then you have to lift it up on a table. We refuse to lift them anymore. No we just put them on the floor and pick them up with a forklift. But one of the brakes went bad. So I’m pushing on this roll, I can’t move it. I pinched my back, you know. So I go to the doctor, you know, Well Crystal your age, and okay it’s real easy for your office to tell me about my age. But you don’t work down there. And he said … So okay fine. So I had gone to the mill nurse. And I said, I want you to come over and I want to show you where I got hurt. So we are at setchange? sp? Now the rolls weigh 5,000 pounds. So I staged a roll up. And I said, now push that roll. Staged, that meant I pushed the chucks in (?). And we have to roll it to get the wrap off of it. I said now push it. He commenced trying to push that roll and his face turned beet red. I said you can’t push it? I said okay, pull it. Pull the roll, pull it. So he’s trying to pull it, pull it. And I said, hmm. You must have age problems. And he said okay, Crystal, I got it. I got it. I said do you get it? it’s real easy for you to sit in that office and tell us age, gender. When we have men that avoid this roll. He says okay, go and fill out a minor incident report. See, so you have to really show some people some things in order for them to know things. And I think some people are afraid of the unknown. Yes, they were raised racist. One of our presidents said his parents raised him that way. Even when they would see people of color on TV he would derogatory things. And he admitted that. You know I can look at him and respect him for telling me that. And he said I really need to know more about this. You know I want to be educated to know why my parents thought the way they did, and for what reason.
O: And so, with that, you know we started our diversity thing which was a lot of fun.
T: When did that start?
O: Kathy, I think it was, might have been about four years now. Almost four years. I think. We had another group prior to that, but it didn’t get off as well. But we don’t meet regularly like we wanted to. But we wanted to have it so we’d have it so we’d have different foods and we’d have potlucks. And all it is is trying get people to know each other, rather than to judge each other. And my home is more diverse, my church is more diverse. My pastor is a Jew. So I’ll go to work and I’ll say, okay, I have an example for you guys. What if you stepped outside of work and the gas attendant was a person of color. Stopped in Safeway and everybody there was a person of color. You walked down the street there at the AM/PM and everybody was a person of color. What would you think? One of them said, well I would try to wonder where I was. I said would you feel different? Would you feel out of place? Well, would you? I guess I would. I said I guess I would. Now I wonder, how do you think these handful of people of color feel when they come into a work force, where we find one person per shift, if that, a person of color. How do you think they feel everyday? He says, well. I said think about it, you don’t have to answer me just think about it.
T: Both you and Richard are outspoken people, people who aren’t going to take a certain type of behavior. What about people who don’t have so much … African Americans who are not so self assured, how is it for them.
O: They suffer. Especially a female. Some of them have the tendency to just do their job and go home. They are not involved with anything. They just do their job and go home. To me that’s unfulfilling, Kathy, to me. Because one day, you are going to have a problem and you are going to look for help. Who is going to help you. When you don’t help anybody how do you expect somebody to help you. Fair exchange is not robbery. So if you are fair, it will return to you. But if you look the other way when you know someone is abused, and not take up for them, what’s going to happen when it’s your turn. Who is going to be there for you, you know. So I try to get that across to them. And sometimes it’s heavy on Richard and I because they’ll do things that are wrong. Absolutely wrong.
T: Has there ever been any organization, subgroup of African American union members?
O: No, not enough of us to even attempt to have a subgroup. In fact, Kathy, when they looked at our diversity team, which is now widdled down to Richard and I, they call that the minority committee. And it’s not. Why? Why would they call us a minority committee?
T: Because you are the only minorities on the committee?
O: Well I told them, we have a conflict resolution committee — all white males. I said well are you saying that’s the majority committee. I said why are we the minority committee. I said do you see what you just said? Well, I said we are the diversity committee, which represents each and every one of you. Not just people of color.
T: How come it is only you and Richard now?
O: Well, we had white females, we had white males — they couldn’t take it. They just couldn’t take it. Because they have to go back and work with these people, and, you know, well why are you … You know, they couldn’t take the pressure that was coming down on them. … we had a white male, which he was very good. Very good. But he said no one came to him. No one came to him. So he said, I just don’t want to do it anymore. So now it’s just Richard and I, still looking for members. We’re looking for some strong members. It’s kind of hard to do because we are living in a society where everything is go, go, get ’em, get ’em. It’s all about me, myself, and I. And so we are still there, trying to drag it out, I guess.
T: Over the years, has there been a difference between the union has treated African Americans and women, or the management. Has there been a difference in that?
O: I think upper-management, because of legal, have always, always been kind of even. You know there’s not … But the supervisors, those that work the floor, there was a little ruffling, ruffle, ruffle. On that level. but upper management has always been pretty fair. So if ever you could get to upper management, you could be treated pretty fair. And that’s also with the union. Usually the union presidents are pretty fair, mind you. And the vice-president on down, they’re pretty, pretty fair. But as you get down, sub-committees then you’ll have a little tiff, with people with their personal, personal, you know, stereotypes about different groups. But two, that has changed. You know, that has changed too.
T: How has it changed?
O: It’s changed because of the changing of the times. The very, very low tolerance that the companies have, and also the unions. Because we are supposed to be brothers and sisters. And so that is coming out more and more. And I think the more you are involved, the more that fear of the unknown about you becomes, you know I know you now. Before I didn’t, but now I know you. So, that makes a difference. And I’ve had friends that I’ve had ever since I’ve started there. And we, we go out to lunch, and you know. So, it’s something that has to build and grow, it’s not something that happens overnight. But the company has a low, low tolerance for any mistreatment, race, creed, sexual-orientation. They have a very, very low tolerance for that.
T: That’s good.
O: In fact we had an African American, Eric Haggard, did Richard tell you about him? He’s in [Human Resources]. He started with us, ten years worked. And he got a degree in marketing I think. And he was ready to quit the mill. And they hired him in HR. …
T: And that’s management?
T: So that’s a big step up?
O: Big step for him. I don’t know how challenging it is, but he came from labor and he moved up to salary.
T: That’s great.
O: That’s great. Because we haven’t had a man in his position since I was hired in the ’70s, and that was Jim Williams. And Jim Williams left while we were on strike and went to work for United.
T: So in all the time you have worked there, there have been only two African American men in management?
O: Well, in the hiring process. There are other. There’s engineers and, you know, but they don’t have anything to do with the labor, but you know as far as … There’s others there, African Americans. I thinking female, there are lower level management females. Receptionists, secretaries, but none with big titles.
T: Have you been happy with your own ability to move up the ladder?
O: Yeah, pretty much so. I thank God for unions, because unions kind of protect our jobs, not like salary jobs where they just say, you don’t have a job, you know. So with the union I feel protected. I felt a flexibility. Being able to do things outside of that. Because, you know, sometimes when you are involved with some jobs they take up so much of your time you don’t have time to do things outside. But I’ve been able to go and pick up a little business certificate, you know, while I work there. Fifteen month course. And so I’ve been able to do little things that maybe I may not have been able to do. You know being flexible, you know, working rotating shifts. And it gave me that flexibility to do that, and I’ve been able to take on as much as I like, and take off as much as I’d like. So, that part has helped me. It’s always good to know that you can expose yourself to different things. I’ve done the employer booth for Fort James, urban league has it every year. … You know where they hire one, they have an hourly and then they have a salary person. For the urban league I’ve done that. And then for James River, we had a booth at the Clark County fair, kind of share our products and kind of educate the community about the mill, and put down some of the things about the smell, and if you have any questions, you know and stuff like that. It’s been good. They also hired a full-time person that works with the schools, to educate the kids.
O: Oh, the smell, have you heard about the smell?
T: I’ve heard about it, and people still talk about it, although I read in the newspaper that it is getting less and less.
O: Getting less and less, less and less. Kathy, it was so bad in those early years, you would come home and your whole house would smell like that. Ewww, like the sewer. All those chemicals and things. But anyway. I could take you through, we could go walk through.
T: That would be …
O: Yeah, and I could show you how they wet that paper, and they mix it like you mix cake mix. You know, put it in there, put the bead chips in there, and bead it up and then they dry it. Put it all through dryers. It’s an amazing process. It was really amazing when we had our wood mill, because you could see the beginning to the end.
T: And this is before the wood part got sold off?
O: Yeah. And you would actually see the logs come in, the debarking, you know. And how they are chipped up and the different specs of chips. And then sent out to the mill, and the different products that we produce from those chips. It’s changes. Because when I first got hired it was 2,500 people. Hourly. It’s changed, Kathy, it’s changes. Things are changing, all over the county in fact.
T: So there was downsizing?
O: Yeah, the downsizing. Because they eliminated all of our first-line supervisors. Where we used to have supervisors on every shift. You know we worked the rotation. There’s no supervisors now. And about the only salary people you’ll find on sight, after five o’clock, is the clock room. That’s the person that calls people up. Other than that we have no salary people on the weekend or after five. That was different. That’s different. Self-managed workforce. I don’t know how well it’s working, but that’s what that is.
T: I’ve heard that shift work is really hard for some people. Very hard for a lot of people, and some people find it worth it and some people don’t. …
O: Yeah, that shift work. It was harder on me in the earlier years. Graveyard swinging days, you know, we switch it every week. I don’t think it’s good on you, healthwise, because the body never has a chance to find out what its working. It’s off clock, you know, every week. The worst shift, by far, for me is graveyard. Especially my day, what my day consisted, and then have to stay up all night. And around machinery and fork lifts, very dangerous piece of equipment. Yeah, it could be hard, sometimes. And sometimes, you know, I’m free during the week. So I can go on appointments without taking off from work early. So it has its plusses and its minuses. It’s hard on the family, though. Yeah, but my husband is here, so it’s a plus because there’s always somebody here with them.
T: Did you ever live in Camas?
O: No, no desire.
T: Is it because it’s not diverse?
O: Well, maybe. I don’t like the smell, continuously. And it’s not diverse, collectively. And to me it’s not a convenient place. You have to go so far to find a Fred Meyer. So far to find a hospital. You know it’s just, everything just seems so far away from Camas. You know Camas doesn’t have a hospital, you have to drive all the way to Vancouver to go the hospital. So it’s just things like that that kept me here. I like things that I can get to really fast, I don’t… well, Portland too, you just zip across the bridge. So, to me it was more useful for me to be here so I could just be more versatile. But I never considered living in Camas. I never really considered living in Camas.
T: Do you think Camas has also changed over the years? In relationship to how they perceive a diverse population?
O: Yes. You know I can walk downtown Camas without a stare. I don’t know. I don’t know if you can find it out, but someone told me in the mill that it was still in, still in the law – I don’t know if they changed it or – that African Americans could not walk past night in Camas. That they remember that.
T: You know I did look up the law, in the Camas records, and I couldn’t find anything. But it could have been like some kind of vagrancy law that they applied to …
O: Okay, I see.
T: I don’t know.
O: I don’t know. But someone told me that. Yeah, but I could go in a restaurant, store. I walk downtown and they know me by name, you know. So, I don’t feel like that like I did twenty years ago. You can go out to Washougal and everything and no one is staring at you. So I believe it’s changed. It’s a growing county. And there’s some places though, I wouldn’t go. …
T: Why is that?
O: Said you might come across some radicals, to say the least. And you might not. But there are some people that live up in those hills that are still kind of backwards. So, for a co-worker who I consider a friend to tell me that. I said don’t worry. But the only thing I really think about going up there, it’s such wilderness, some of it is big foot, and they think that’s so funny. So that’s what I use for an excuse not to go. I said they say Big Foot, ah Crystal that’s not true. I say oh, I have to use some kind of excuse not to come up here
T: There’s another question that came to mind, which is, what kind of things has the diversity committee been able to accomplish.
O: Actually we haven’t had a mill-wide training session yet, but we have had little, like… Okay, the vice-president called me and wanted me to go to shop steward training and speak on diversity. So, it’s little bits like that that we get in and speak about what is diversity. And we ask the group, what is diversity. As new shop stewards, the importance of making sure we work in a friendly environment and it not be judged by race, creed, sexual orientation, gender. Try to speak to them in that. And as you being a union representative, you want to make sure that that isn’t, you know. We are not, we’re not going to come in and wear halos, but yes, there will be a time when you will not match up, personality. It doesn’t have anything to do with your race, your gender, your sexual orientation. So we speak on little parts like that. Richard too. Richard talks to the new shop stewards. Little meetings like that. So we’ve reached small groups like that. And then the web master at the mill does a cute little page for black history month. And she puts a little history in there, it’s kind of cute. Little inserts about black history month. She did that last year and I thought she did a really good job. Just to educate people about different things, and things they may not have know. You know, who invented the couple cuplink (?). You know, who invented the signal light. Just different little things, kind of, what.. It’s an educational thing. Sometimes, you will get, one guy will say why don’t they an Indian month. I said, well I don’t know maybe you should ask and Indian. What does that have to do with what I’m talking about, you know. So, you know, you get those little. That’s all just stereotyping too, you know. I almost told him, we didn’t migrate here you know, we refugeed here. You know, I didn’t want to get into it, I didn’t feel like it. Because with some people it’s not worth going through all that. Because people have to know where they came from, you know, because it’s important. So, that was the end of that. I could tell he didn’t appreciate African Americans. But I thought it was neat that she put that in the internal web site in the mill, so you could click on it and find out about different things. I don’t know what kind of response she got out of it, but I told her it was good.
T: It sounds you are fairly happy with the progress at the mill?
O: Yeah, I am. It’s slow, but it’s coming along. Kathy, when you get to the point where you could step up and get a result, that is what makes it rewarding. Other than if we had no recourse, then it would be more frustrating for me at that mill. But, if it’s just outright wrong, I have a resource that I could go to, Cindy Castro. She is HR director, she is very good. …. Actually she’s a resource person for the diversity. Well, Castro. You know, she’s really good. A great resource person that I could call and talk to, and kind of wear her ear out a little bit. So, when you have those people, and I still keep in contact with Bill Norville, who was our superintendent of cut size. He retired, and I hear from him. At Christmas I get a card from him. You see that’s what it is. It’s about building relationships for a lifetime. He retired. And Tricia, it was Tricia Dykes who hired me and married Bill, Bill Norville. She died of cancer, and I got a chance to see her before she died. And I’m talking about meeting people that are different than myself and making friendships that have just lasted over the years. When I think about that, that’s just amazing. And there is another HR person, Gretchen. …. And I am talking about making friends for a lifetime. I mean that’s why we are here. And that is a person unlike myself. So when I think about stuff like that Kathy, I think that’s rewarding within itself. Not to mention the other resources that I’ve used since I’ve been in the Northwest and I’ve been here almost twenty-five years. So I’ve been here longer than I’ve been anywhere in my life.
T: Well is there anything else that I may have neglected to ask you about that you want to comment on.
O: Kathy I think you covered it pretty well, you had a pretty good guide there. It’s just the importance of people knowing that we are not different, people of color, than anyone else. And it depends, if you were to go back east, in the chocolate city, you would be different. You would be a minority, to the majority. Because Washington D.C. has a lot of African Americans. You too would be in a different. … You know so it goes both ways, it’s not just people of color against whites. It’s also your local, geographically, where you are, where you live. And then the people that you have to work and live in the community with. And that’s what you want to drive forth. It’ just happens to be that this location the populous equals out this way, but there’s, this country is a huge country. It’s amazing what you can be exposed to in just a very little time. But we traveled Africa in 1992, and Kathy never in my life have I ever seen so many black people. It was, I was just happy. Because I never in my life traveled for miles and miles and miles and I could just see me, everywhere. And I had never been exposed to that. And the freedom of that.
T: Where did you go?
O: Nigeria. Yeah, we were there a month. A feeling that was just overwhelming. To go somewhere and see for miles. And every store, every location, every gas station, you know, Africans, Africans, Africans everywhere. And it is just amazing. We have stereotypes too about Africa, safari and you know. I didn’t see safari, I didn’t see elephants or nothing like that. It was just like going to the U.S. They had computer games, color TV, CNN news, satellite dish.
O: Yes, and my husband’s home village is Asaba. We went there for a few days. We went to seventeen different places. I tell you when you look at the other side of the world, you think Gee … Most of them have house maids, house care. They may not have much, but they are happy whatever they have ….