A Voice from the Eastern Shore, (5 November 1945) Hyattsville, Maryland

Speech Text

[1] My people are the negroes of the Eastern Shore. They live, some in small towns, but most of them on widely scattered farms and in lonely country places. Their houses are very poor, not worth talking about. They have some schools, not very good ones, and many of them cannot read. Those who can read don’t have any books. In all the Eastern Shore I have heard of only one library, and that is not for negroes. Morality is very bad. There are bad goings-on that sometimes end up in fights. I saw a boy was in a fight once. He was all cut up. Had to have sixty stiches taken in his head and arms. But what can you expect? There really isn’t much for negroes to do except stay home and work. Most of them have never even seen a railroad, and there are no street cars in any of the towns except Salisbury. Buses run between the towns, but they are not for negroes. If you don’t have a car, you mostly don’t go. They aren’t bad folks; there just isn’t much for them to do with.

[2] People do what they can about eating. Sometimes it’s good; sometimes not so good. Doctors are hard to get for most folks. Not many negroes can go to hospitals, and the ones we can go to are not very good. The one that I have seen has a place in the basement for negroes. When it rains the nurses have to lay boards down so that they can get to the beds without wading in the water. There aren’t many doctors for white folks, either, but the death rate for negro babies is about three times more than for white babies.

[3] Somehow I never thought there was anything special I could do to help make life better for my people – and then, I heard about Planned Parenthood. The way it came to me seemed just like it was my call. One evening last June my telephone rang and a voice said, “This is Mrs. Powell, State Director of the League for Planned Parenthood. You have been chosen to represent our League on the Eastern Shore, and to come to Baltimore for a week’s training with all expenses paid.”

[4] “Planned Parenthood! What does it mean?” I asked, for I had never heard of it. Then at my husband’s suggestion, “You don’t mean that birth control business?”

[5] The voice at the other end of the line replied so kindly, and so tactfully, “Planned Parenthood means just what it says. Will you come?”

[6] “I don’t know anything about it, but it sure sounds pretty. Yes, I’ll come.”

[7] The week in Baltimore was gone before I knew all about Planned Parenthood; I am still learning what it means. Perhaps I had more enthusiasm than knowledge, but I returned home with two objects: I must tell everyone on the Eastern Shore about it, and I must get clinics, lots of them, going right away.

[8] I am lucky to have a car. But even so, it’s not all smooth going! Especially when I get stuck in the sand on some country roads and have to walk a mile or two to get a shovel to dig my car out. When the rains were so bad this summer I would come to a place in the road where the bridge was out. Then I would turn back and go around for miles where it was hard to tell the road from the washed out ditches. In trying to cross sometimes through the water I would get stuck in the mud, or the water would get into my engine, and then I would have to find somebody to pull me out.

[9] There is no place for the negro to stay over night, and it’s a long way to always get back home from where I am going. I am lucky to have many minister friends, for my husband is a preacher; and sometimes I impose on them for the night. It is also hard to find food on the road. Sometimes when the State Director is with me she goes into an eating place and brings me a sandwich and an ice-cream cone. But how often I have been riding alone on a hot summer day wishing for a nice cool drink!

[10] Where do I go and who do I talk to? I go to churches where I know the minister. After the sermon he introduces me, and I tell the people all about planned parenthood. I am a member of the Women’s Society for Christian Service, and that gives me an opening. I go to their meetings all over the Eastern Shore and tell the women about planning their families. I stop at houses as I pass by on the road.

[11] When I first started out I was so enthusiastic! I wanted to get lots of clinics going right away. But it will take time, for all of this is new to the people. Most of the women have midwives instead of doctors when they have their babies, and it seems queer to go to a doctor when they aren’t even sick. It takes courage to try anything so new and strange, and to forget old wives’ tales, and all such.

[12] On July 17th we had our first clinic in Federalsburg. A dozen women came, but only five could be taken as patients at that time. A little later the clinic in Denton was opened, with four patients the first day. It is so hard to get nurses to help the doctors that we could not keep the clinic in Federalsburg going, but the one in Denton is going regular because the doctor has taught me to help him. I know how to care for the patient, sterilize the instruments and powder the gloves.

[13] In the four months since I started I have made 322 separate contacts, and spoken to 30 groups in churches and women’s organizations. It has been hard, yes . . . when the gas coupons were almost gone, and my husband was not too enthusiastic about my work. My friends said I was a disgrace to my church taking up with this crazy new-fangled business. But then more coupons always came from somewhere, and I know how to fix a flat tire on a lonely road. The driving has been long and hot and tiresome, and I must work harder at home to make up for being away so much. But then I stop at some little shack to take a mother to a clinic and she says, “God bless you, Mrs. Watson. The Good Lord surely sent you to me,” I have a feeling inside me that pays for everything.

[14] Planned Parenthood is a new way of life for my people. It gives the women a chance to be intelligent human beings, to be better mothers to the children that they can care for. In some cases it saves their lives for a few years longer. To the husbands it gives hope. They are better fathers when family burdens are not more than they can hope to bear. It means happier homes, not so many quarrels and fights, not so much running away and leaving the family. So often just a little help or advice will save a home from being broken up. Planned Parenthood means happier homes, and healthier, better people on the Eastern Shore. I must tell them all about it until they all understand. I must keep on until there is a clinic to give them help in every county.

[15] Thanks should not go to me, but to the fine women of the state who are making it possible for me to be the bearer of this message, to be their voice crying to the negro people of the Eastern Shore.