tv [untitled] February 11, 2012 9:30pm-10:00pm EST
i know we didn't have anything passed today. so i will -- watch blackboard and you'll have more. so thank you all. thank for giving us the wonderful notes. thank you for taking each other on. that was good. that was great. you're watching american history tv. 48 hours of people and events that helped document the american story. all weekend, every weekend, on c-span 3. >> yvonne brathwaite burke served as a representative from california in the 1970s. in this oral history recorded, she recalls among other things the work of the caucus, her own
efforts on behalf of displaced homemakers and the unlikely political battle to save the capitol beauty shop for working women. this is about 25 minutes. >> maiden name is yvonne watson. i grew up in los angeles. i was born here, born on what's the east side of los angeles. went to elementary school, near usc. my mother came and my mother and father came here from texas in 1921. and she had been a teacher in texas, but when she came here she became a real estate broker and a seam stress. he dad had been a farmer in texas, but when he came here, he came here and he worked in the studios. he was a janitor in the studios and he worked there for 28 years. but while he was there, he organized the service employees union within the studios. so i grew up really in the center of the labor movement. i drew up with parents -- i grew
up with parents who were very, very ambitious and aggressive. when i say ambitious, ambitious for me. i was very fortunate they made sure that even though we had very little money, we had opportunities and i had a chance to take piano lessons from the time i was 5. violin lessons. every kind of lesson that you can imagine. i had that opportunity and my parents were very concerned that i would have the best schooling possible. i just got into politics by chance. i'm a lawyer. and that had been my ambition. i had been practicing law and in fact doing civil rights law and involved in the civil rights movement. when the 1965 riots broke out. and when those riots broke out, it just changed everyone's
lives. i was a hearing office for the los angeles police commission. i was down in the police building when i saw all of the police in the agitated state. i realized there was something really serious going on. so during that time, i organized a defense fund for some of the people who were arrested. and i was involved in a number of things but after it was over the governor, governor brown, appointed a commission to investigate the causes of the 1965 watts riots. and i was hired as an attorney for that commission. while working for that commission, a number of the attorneys there, we did our own analysis. separate from what the record said. we decided we needed more young people in office. it happened that the assembly person in the district where i
lived retired and he had someone he had selected who was his administrative assistant to take his position. but all of us decided and they decided someone needed to run and they decided it was me. i ran and it was a very interesting race because just the real power in california and he was supporting this person who was the administrative assistant to the assembly man, the white assembly man and he was white, and no one thought there was any possibility of an african-american being elected. it wasn't even on their vision until election day when the election results came in. i had overwhelmingly won. i had grown up in los angeles, i had friends. i had the ability to raise money because i had raised moe fney f the civil rights movement. so i won the primary. i was suddenly involved.
i had not been involved in politics. nor in the democratic party. but i was there. and the interesting thing was that there was only one woman in the california legislature at that time. there were two african-american men, but of course african-american women -- they had never been in the state legislature. when i was elected a chinese woman was also elected. there were three women then in the legislature. actually, i had been active at that point in national democratic politics. i had served on the platform committee. but what happened really in 1972 was that there was a big debate going on of whether or not there should be a vice claire of the convention who was a woman or should it be a black?
an african-american. and this debate was going on in the democratic party, in the rules committee and the higher echelons. what happened is that the compromise was made that they would find a black woman. i had just been elected to congress as barbara johnson had just been elected to congress. somehow, they selected me and they agreed -- no one had called me or told me, they selected me. and when i walked out the front door and nbc was there, and that's how i heard about it. then someone called and explained to me what had happened. that there was a compromise and i didn't have any choice. i had to do it because they had all gone out on a limb. to say that this would be the compromise. now, i had just gotten married a month before. so this was really -- i wasn't even planning to get involved in any of this kind of activity,
but i found myself chairing the democratic convention in the longest session that ever took place. there were so many contentious issues. there were issues of seating, the alabama delegation. there were issues of vietnam. that were going on there. i had always been someone opposed to the vietnam war since i generally had been identified as a liberal and a peace person over the years. and it was tough. there was such contention going on and difficult times and it went on and on and on. and it was not easy and then the chairman since it was going on so long and it was so difficult, he disappeared. so i ended up having to chair it for all of those 14 hours at one time. it was really exciting to me to go to washington. my dad fortunately was still
alive. he came to washington to watch me be sworn in. i had just been married. that's 38 years ago. and it was really beyond belief that all of a sudden i could find myself in the capital, in washington, d.c., in this position and no one really knew just as they didn't know how to treat me in the assembly because they weren't aware so much of women. but there was one african-american woman there who was shirley chisolm and barbara jordan and i were elected at the same time. and we came in and we were really should i say unusual. but somehow, i had to tell you i was treated very well in washington. i had great opportunities. i had a chance to serve on appropriations. i had opportunities to get my legislation passed.
and it was a marvelous experience. i have to say as i look back on it, i had no regrets. it was tremendous. i came to congress in a very unique time. i came to congress at the first time when it was not totally seniority. so i got on appropriations by election in my caucus. in the california caucus. i did not get there by seniority, obviously. and i did not get there by anyone selecting me. i ran for appropriations and i won within any caucus. there is no question the fact that i was on that committee, had real implications for the district that i represented. you know, i represented a district that had a lot of air force contracts that had a lot of defense. and i was able to help them
tremendously. even though i wasn't on that subcommittee. i was able to help them. but also the very fact that i was on that committee made it possible for me to do so many things, because i was involved in space and with housing and i established relationships with people and in the areas of housing, the areas of obviously satellites and all of those things that carried forward for me over the years. the experience that i had on the appropriation committee was really excellent. only one thing that was kind of unusual was that my time was up and they were selecting subcommittees to go on defense subcommittee. i was the next person up, so i would have been appointed to defense subcommittee. at that moment, the chair of the appropriation committee adjourned and put the meeting over to the next week because the person ahead of me had said he didn't want to be on there. well, they talked him into it so
he would go on defense subcommittee so i didn't go on the defense subcommittee. but other than that, everything was quite -- it was really excellent. the beauty shop was really an interesting thing. they always said in my district they were going to close the beauty shop. it wasn't just the women in congress, because there weren't enough of us to take care of it. but it was all the women who worked for congress who said if they close that down, it means we have to go somewhere else. we have to leave the hill to be able to get our hair done. they never talked about closing the barbershop down. so everyone said we have to find someone who would be willing to fight the battle to get the money. that's the first thing. to be able to maintain it, maintain the space. because you know they wanted to take the space. so i said, okay, i will do it. you know? i'm not embarrassed. it doesn't bother me at all if
anybody says i chair the beauty shop committee, even at home my supporters said you don't want anyone to know, because they'll think you'll be a feminine back there. i said, i don't care. i took the chair of the committee so i could maintain the beauty shop and maintain the money for it. honestly, i didn't know there had never been -- not having a baby as a member of congress. it just never occurred to me. it's not really one of those things you think about. i knew how old i was. i know that -- i knew that i wanted to have a child. i had just gotten married. and i knew that i intended to have a child and it never occurred to me it would be impossible or difficult to do this as a member of congress. so i find out later that no one has done this before. and it wasn't the easiest thing in the world because i was commuting from california to washington every other week.
and i was just very fortunate that i was a very strong person and physically very able to carry on all my duties, all my responsibilities. one thing was very interesting, i had a bill on the floor that no one wanted to see passed because it was -- they said it was protectionalist legislation, saying you had to have steel purchased within the united states on certain projects. they didn't know who was going to debate against me. they finally got wright who was then -- not the speaker, but he was speaker pro tem to debate me. he was the only one who agreed to debate a pregnant woman on the floor of the house. but i have to say that it was like having 434 godparents. everyone was just wonderful and i was fortunate. you know, i was fortunate that i could go through that whole
thing and i stayed until just before the baby was born. and the most conservative republican was the one who made the motion to grant me maternity leave. and it was -- i got through it. i traveled with the baby back and forth from california, just like before every two weeks. fortunately, she was not a lot of difficulty or trouble or sickly or anything like that and i was able to do it. my husband was very cooperative and helpful. an i did it for six years. but it did become a problem for me in terms of how she was going to go to school. i thought i was going to be able to work it out so that shy could bo to school and then every other friday we'd come back. but i just was unable to work that out. so i decided i would come back to california and run for office. but it's incredible that it took
all those years before there was a woman -- and then -- but the attitude among my peers was excellent. and among amy district. i only had one letter from one constituent who said you shouldn't be back there having babies, you should be working for us. but also i had a pediatrician and so i talked to the pediatrician about the fact that i was going to be traveling back and forth and he said to me, you know, i think what you really should do is find some older woman to take care of your child. if you're going to continue doing this, going back and forth and rather than dragging her like that, you should find someone to take care of her so that you can go back and forth. i said, okay. i'll just get another pediatrician. the cbc was 19 members when i joined. or rather during the time that i served there. and it was really a very close knit organization.
we had goals and they were very easily defined. i even though we came from different parts of the country, we all had primarily the same goals and we had most -- most of us had come out of the civil rights movement. so that it was a very unified organization. well, we'll always have it, similar interests. and our interests has to be primarily the african-american community. and when i say that primarily, i don't really mean that each one of us should have that as our top priority. but that has to be part of our goals. and today, it's probably much more complex because you have so many members and they come from different backgrounds and different states and they come from many different interest groups. they're not necessarily as
similar as they were when there were 19 members. but one of the things is the congressional black caucus has received the kind of status that it has in this country, because the caucus has always been very, very dedicated to its purpose and its interests. the women of the caucus really represented women with very different interests, very different backgrounds. because you had shirley chisolm who was interested in education and had come through that kind of a background. you had barbara jordan who was very heavily interested in the legal issues, but also was very -- i had a very close alliance with her state caucus. and it was very important and for her to be part of her state caucus, they admired her, she admired them, and it was that kind of a relationship.
kordiscollins came from a state where you had strong, democratic alliances and strong relationships with your caucus. in my case, the california caucus didn't demand much of anybody because we were very different. north and south of california are not the same. but it was not the same kind of approach. so each one of us was quite different in terms of our issues, but we all came together on those issues that affected women and affected african-americans. and there was an issue that came up as far as women in the south and some of the states that were having sterilization rules so we decided to have our own press conference on that. and boy, the caucus said now we've got a black women's caucus. so, you know, that was the only
thing where there was ever any kind of contention that there was a little sensitivity that we would come forward and have our own issues. but the women's caucus grew out of the black caucus. they formed and many of us were involved in the formation of the women's caucus. and also the foundation concept for the women's caucus came about as a result of some of us being involved on women's issues. well, it was a very interesting experience i had when i was -- at the time i was not on appropriations. i was on the interior committee, which is the first -- first year that i was in congress i was on the interior. the transalaskan pipeline was a major, major project. tremendous amount of money. and i saw in this an opportunity
to put in not just the idea of equal employment, but affirmative related to businesses, not businesses that are contracted directly by the federal government but are boy those who contract with the government. so i introduced this in the committee. no one said anything. it was never really debated. it passed the house without anyone realizing what it was. but when it was ready to go for regulations, all of a sudden people realized that here you had to have on a whole new body of regulation for all of those people who contracted with that project. i was fortunate that in alaska the representatives in the senate thought it was a great idea because they thought of course we want to have more
indians or alaskans of native-born alaskans who have contracts and women who have contracts with this project. so when it got into the regulations it was then that everyone realized what had happened. but that language went on to be part of first the economic bill that peron mitchell had. then it went on with ron dellum through the defense bills. and it was language that no one even realized was going into federal law but made a tremendous amount of difference. obviously the role that nixon played during the time he was there, i was there during his impeachment era. but the role that he played, which was one that was very divisive. it was divisive in the sense that he wanted to remove many of
those equal opportunity statutes and organizations. at the same time he was able to cater to small business interests with some of those things he put forward. so that there was an attempt to really divide african-americans in terms of their interests, those who had small business interests which we all had, from those who also believed that you had to have affirmative action, you had to have economic opportunity on a much broader face than just the financial ability to have small business programs. and we were able to work that out. because i believe there were some people who felt very strongly that they could identify with the small business as all of us did. but we had to maintain that you had to have affirmative action. you had to have the war on poverty.
you had to have those things that were very basic in terms of all lower income communities, not just african-american communities. this was a concept that i had pushed because there are so many women who work all their lives in the home. and they do need an opportunity to move forward. and they do need the kind of programs that are going to allow them. today we accept that, that a woman who's on welfare, when she has been there now for five years the agreement is that she's going to have training during those five years she's on welfare. she's going to have help in terms of childcare. she's going to have transportation. all of those things today we accept. but at that time there was never really any concept of how a woman moves away from welfare, how a woman moves out of the home into the workforce.
and that was -- displaced home maker was just simply putting into law some of those things that are necessary in order for a person to transfer in their vocation from being a homemaker into a person in the workforce. the hyde amendment is just like it is today. it's always with us. this idea that federal money should never be spent on abortion. and i don't know if we'll ever move to a time that it's not an issue. to me it was very tragic that this was an issue in the health reform. it's there. and until we get to a point of where we move from religion and government having separate approaches, and we have a total separation of law and religion and government and religion, we're always going to be
debating whether or not government money can assist women in choice. and none of us are promoting abortion. i definitely don't promote abortion. but i recognize that there are many women who have no choices. there are women who are victims of arena, of incest. there are women who are just victims of their own lives. and they need to have a choice. at some point i hope we'll stop debating it. well, the legacy of the cbc is it's an institution of the united states house of representatives. and it is a legacy that shows that you can have ability to represent more than one constituency. you can represent the people that elected you. but you can also represent a constituency of your ethnic
background. today everyone accepts that. they accept that there can be a latino caucus, there can be an asian caucus, there can be a blue-collar caucus. the idea being that you represent many different things. you represent those people that elect you primarily because you had to get elected again. but you also represent the people that are part of your ethnicity or of your whole identification in terms of interests. and the black caucus established that. before the black caucus nothing like that existed. >> you're watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span 3. for more information follow us on twitter @c-span history. a generation before president john f. kennedy, acting on behalf of a grateful nation, designated him an
honorary american citizen. winston churchill paid his own heart-felt tribute to his trant atlantic origins. appearing before a joint session of congress on the day after christmas 1941, he puckishly observed "i cannot help reflecting that if my father had been american and my mother british, instead of the other way around, i might have got here on my own. today outside the british embassy on massachusetts avenue, churchill literally two nations in one bronze footprinted on british soil and the other on american. this pleased the old man himself no end. of the statue announced on his 89th birthday, thesaid, "i feel rest happily on both feet." controversy arose over sculptor william mcvay's depiction of the war time prime minister, not because of his characteristically defiant stance with right hand raised in a trademark v for victory
salute. no, it was another churchill icon. the cigar in his left hand. that offended some members of the english-speaking union, the organization responsible for the sculpture. in the end, authenticity and the cigar won out. unveiled a year after churchill's death in 1965, the figure seems even larger than its nine-foot dimensions would indicate. almost half a century on, went ston churchill still imagines to dominate his surroundings. >> by the way, i cannot help reflecting that if my father had been american and my mother british instead of the other way around, i might have got here on my own. [ laughter ] >> throughout the weekend here on american history tv on c-span 3, watch personal interviews about historic events on oral
histories. our history book shelf features some of the best-known history writers. revisit key figures, battles and events during the 150th anniversary of the civil war. visit college classrooms across the country during lectures in history. go behind the scenes at museums and historic sites on american artifacts. and the presidency looks at the policies and legacies of past american presidents. view our complete schedule at c-span.org/history and sign up to have it e-mailed to you by pressing the c-span alert button. this week on the civil war, a panel discussion on the career of historian and author james mcpherson. speakers include friend, colleagues and former students of the noted civil war historian. this two-hour event took place in chicago at the american historical association's annual meeting. >> well, i'm honor today chair this american his t