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Norma Watkins -- That Woman from Mississippi


Hello and welcome to women in business where we interview entrepreneurs and senior managers and show you the straits successes, obstacles and roadblocks, women experience in business since I believe every person in business needs to be visible, I'd like to invite you to watch WWW dot SOB. Six. That's the number six tips dot com. Which will give you some valuable information. Should you get the call to be on radio or TV, which I think is extremely important if you'd like to contact me personally, drop me a line at Gail Carson. That's g. a. y. l. e. Gail Carson thirteen at or go to my website WWW dot spunky old brawd dot com and sign up for my weekly newsletter. Hi everyone. This is Gail Carson. And as you probably know this month, I am interviewing people from the Miami book fair the international Miami book fair, and it's really been a delight to talk to these people. And I have someone who is equally delightful as my guests now, and that is normal Watkins. Norma is a professor emeritus at Miami Dade college, and her book opens with her flight from her husband and children in Mississippi and explores the consequences of exile, humorous, and discerning the book shows how excruciating it is for women to do what men take for granted, find a harmony and love work and parenting, and the name of her book is that woman from Mississippi. So welcome, Norma. Thank you. You know, it's, it's interesting. That you say you, it's excruciating for women to do what men take for granted, because I coach a lot of women, especially women fifty plus, and it's interesting even with today's younger women that they are not as assertive as men are. One of the things we talk about is the fact that women always qualify themselves before they look for a job and men just go for it and figure out, they'll say, I'll figure out the rest of it later. And so tell us what you meant by doing what men take for granted finding the harmony and love work and parenting. When I when I tried to get this book published one, one of the editors said, I simply can't get past the fact that she left her children, and I keep reminding people that men leave their families and their children all the time. And nobody says a word, but it was certainly in the sixties, especially the reason people came down on me so hard. And I found a great quote by Hilton als into New Yorker. And he said it is much easier to hate your own kind than to dismantle the system that makes you hate your own kind. And you know, I was looking listening to the hearings on the radio, the Ford cavenaugh hearings today. And I think. How much has changed really for women, find my grandchildren much braver than I was at that age, but. I still think that in every instance beef and people who knew nothing about my circumstances. When I plotted to be a professor at Miami Dade men would say things like you're too cute to be in a job like this. Things that were incredibly demeaning and which I had no power to come back against. And I think if you're raised in the south, you are raised surrounded by this great loving circle of or at least I was parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and you grow up feeling surrounded by love. And in my case, I grew up feeling surrounded by love and surrounded by black servants. And for the longest time I did not realize anything was wrong with that picture. And certainly no one around me informed me of that. But I think when Brown versus board of education came down, it was just as if the sky had opened for me, and I saw exactly what was wrong with our society. And I was astonished that with the exception of five or six people, nobody around be agreed. And my father who was governor Ross Barnett personal attorney. At that time we fought at the dinner table from the time that decision came down until the time I left home and. When I did leave home and and in a terrible way, I have to say I the only way I could find a courage to leave is by completely breaking with social customs. Just tearing a hole in the fabric of my life, and it meant leaving behind four children. And my mother told me you have destroyed my life because in that day, her life, the only life she was allowed was to be successful wife and mother. And so she had given a life to raising this daughter who would grow up Mary, joined the junior league produce more children like myself and by leaving. I destroyed that. And so although I went back regularly to see my children and southerners very polite, everybody acted as if they. Didn't think I was a pariah I was a prior. None of my friends came to my reading when I published the first book. And the reason I was told was they had never forgiven me for the way I had treated my husband a half a century before I got a review of the first book in the Jackson, they paper which called me a coward Aligarh and a whore. And how was as you can imagine the honest. And I looked at the picture of the young man and a paper and found out that he was the son of my ex-husband's, fourth wife. So these feelings of negativity follow you not just through your life but down through generations. So yes, it's hard. It was hard. So did your how old were your children when you left my children? The oldest was eight and the youngest. Too. So they were really little and they did. They stay with your ex husband for their entire period of growing up or did they come to live with you at all? The the oldest, the older son. I have two boys and two girls. The oldest son came to live with us in when he was fourteen the way we arranged it. My husband got custody and got custody, and the way we arranged it is I could component to see them in Jackson. Anytime I wanted, I could write and telephone as much as I wanted. They would come to see me twice a year in Florida month in the summer in two weeks at Christmas. And so I would travel there twice a year. They would travel to me twice a year and Klay. The older son lived with us from fourteen until he went away to college. So tell us about because people have not yet read your book, tell us about what it was like. I mean, did you did how? How was your relationship with your children today? Let's ask that I. I think we have a good relationship. My my husband, their father has died, and he died before I publish the first book. And I think they're very glad of that. They love their father very much, but I think they also love me. And I think for the girls, especially I showed them another path. My younger daughter tells me what a relief it was when she was about in the fifth grade. When I told her she did not have to get married and have children. That was not the only thing she had to do, and she said that just made her feel so much better. And today she's a veterinary pass allergist at the university of Tennessee. So. I think we all have regrets. I think they missed me. It changed their lives. I missed huge chunks of their lives, which I can never get back. But in some way it saved my life. And in some way, I think it showed them. You don't have to follow the custom. You don't have to stay and do exactly what everyone around. You tells you. You have to do. So did is the reason you left abuse. Oh, no, no, no. Fred did not abuse me. You know, unless because of of of definitely because of racial abuse of these were the mid sixties emit till had been killed. The three civil rights workers had been dug out of that landfill. It was a horrible time in Mississippi. And if you described yourself even as a moderate. You were vilified you were shunned. My husband was a architect and builder. He depended on wealthy clients to make our living. If I did anything out of line like one night, I went to hear Joan Baez seeing at our local black college. And by the next morning, my parents knew. So you were watched. You were certainly castigated. My father was one of the founders of the white citizens council and a charter member of the sovereignty commission, which until recently was the biggest spy agency in this country and. Part of the reason I left is because I could not bear being stifled anymore. And quite frankly, part of the reason I left is because I fell in love with a civil rights lawyer. So had that civil rights or you're not been a part of the life, you might have stayed. He claims not. He claims a that that I was on my way out and that he happened to be the ride out of town. But I certainly think meeting somebody with the kind of courage I lacked to speak up no matter who you were speaking to gave me guess. Yeah, having somebody to leave with and somebody who. Was is precisely my opposite. You know, could never be squelched was head no question that he was in the right and didn't care how many mississippians told him he was wrong. That really that really helped. And it gave me an opportunity to go to graduate school. My husband had had let me as he said, go to undergraduate school and finishing getting my BA at a local college. But when I got fellowships to graduate school, he told me I could not accept them because was a mother married, and I had Trump made that choice and leaving with Bruce. One of the things I was able to do is go on and go to graduate school. We, you know, it's interesting because a lot of the beliefs that people have right or wrong are because of of their environment because of how they were raised and because of. How things always were. And that's difficult for some people to break away from is just like you were saying the gentleman who said you were too cute, you know to be a teacher. I mean he in his own mind, absolutely. Would not think of that as something that's derogatory or shouldn't be said because to him, he's paying you a compliment. He's telling you how pretty you are and you're hearing it as what are you talking about. So it's interesting that without the right education and the right acknowledgement of circumstances that people find it hard to change how they are, and I think it's getting better. We have a long way to go, but it's getting better because people are on notice now that everything they say, and they do first of all is on record because of our cell phones and our digital cameras and. Our computers and everything else are I everything that we walk around with. And so I think that's changing a little bit, but there is still a lot of people who have views that are really shaped by their environment and where they came from, and that is not an easy thing to change. So don't. Yeah. Yeah, I agree. So agree. I, I teach right now teach creative writing and and my message not just a women to everybody is tell you stories. You know if the one thing you can do to answer any questions you have about how you lived in the mistakes you made. The regrets you have is to tell you stories and exactly held them. Truthfully, tell them truthfully and it'll help you understand it'll help you to forgive the people. You feel like in your life were villains and it'll help you to forgive yourself. So what do you think if you hadn't left? What do you think the life for you would have been as well as your children? Would it? How did it affect your children? Did it change them in any way? Well, none of them living Mississippi now, and they're all Democrats. And in Mississippi, only three percent of white people are Democrats. So I would say yes, it changed. It definitely changed their lives. It gave them permission to leave. It gave them permission to not follow custom. I think from my family who stayed if I had stayed the way my sister's did. I feel my mother became an alcoholic because in those days in the fifties and sixties, my mother was brilliant woman. She actually could run our entire family hotel. But yet after she married my father, she was allowed to be on committees. Volunteer, make good dinners for the judges. My father brought home raise his daughters and never never. Express her own talents in any meaningful way or nor to make an income from it because in the south and those days, if a woman went out and got a job, it was a message that your husband was not able to support you. So if I had stayed, I don't know. I have one fantasy that I was in. Excuse me. Taking courses at the college when I was doing undergraduate degree with your door wealthy. So I have one fantasy that if I had stayed because my husband made good money, I would have become a writer sooner been a better writer and may be found more success. I have another fantasy that I would have become an alcoholic, like my mother or I might have drunk myself to death. Like my youngest sister did, or I might have died in the state mental hospital, like my middle sister did. So I feel blessed to have left. I feel like I got out, I was able to get my masters. I was able to get my PHD. I was able to have a great great career teaching. I was able to. Rather late in life go on and get master of fine arts in creative writing and begin to actually write these books where told my story, I look at life for women in the south, and it's not just the south and feel like the real poison is that there were all these talented people who were never allowed to use their talents and given, you know, could be on committees could volunteer, but could have been running banks and corporations and could've added so much to to our culture. And it simply wasn't allowed. Well, even in societies where it's allowed, Norma. I think that they're still that issue of women a not living up to their potential, be not being given the opportunity to live up to their potential and think about how many people today. Women who are serving on corporate boards, not a lot a how many people are running a large corporations, not a lot. So it's still there. I mean, because and a lot of it does have to do with family. It has to do with a woman wanting to be home with her kids. And I know I talked to my granddaughter this morning and she's got a job where she, she's working in a college not teaching, although she does have a degree to teach, but doing registrar work, and she leaves her home at, I don't know seven, seven thirty in the morning and then gets home about seven at night because of the commute. And she has. She says about v. Eighteen minutes with her youngest child who's three and has some more time with her older child who will be ten because you know, she takes the bus stop at seven thirty and she has some time because he stays up later, but it's still, it's still there. You know, it's still a problem for women and a lot of women don't want to put in the time, the effort, the hours, the estrangement from their family that a job like that requires. On the other hand, you hear some CEO's women CEO's who say, look, I am home for dinner as many nights as I can unless I'm out of town travelling for something, but that's the way it is. My job is I get up. I go in and I finished at five o'clock and I'm home for dinner with the family. So a lot of it is, you know, what is the company liked that you're working for? What do they allow number two, how you set up your own schedule. But I guess the question that everybody had, especially back at the time was when when you left, why you didn't take the kids with you. Yes. Well, I had four children. I was leaving with. I had no money. I think I had about one hundred eighty dollars that I got for being the most talented senior when I graduated from college, and I have a little bit of traveler's checks left from a trip, and I actually had the guts to ask my husband for five hundred dollars before I left, but I had no money. I was leaving with a man who is going to work for legal services at a very working with poor people down in the growing area of Miami, and he had very little money, and I knew if I took for children, I couldn't go to school. I mean, I knew it, but you know, a large part of the reason I left was wanting to go to graduate school because I wanted to become a professor and I couldn't take them. And my husband told me. Which I firmly believed at the time. If you leave me, you will never see these children. Again, I can't believe he said that because that would be symptomatic of the time. Absolutely. Well, and I think if I had run away with my children, there was certainly a judge in Mississippi would have made me, you know, let him come after me and bring right back because. He did everything he could from that day to the time. He died to show me how much he despised me to every person he married had despise me. He punished the children before and after they visited the outta me physically punishment, but punish them by behaving coldly toward them and not letting them ever talk about what happened when they were with me, I'm looking, you know, I live in California now. So I look at what the tech industry is doing. And a friend of mine is about temper first grandchild. The mother gets four months. Maternity leave at her company. The father gets two months at his company, and so they're gonna take it one at a time. So one of them is home with the newborn for six months. I think it's a measure of how much we care about women and. Children in this country that we don't have some sort of government support for childcare. Because until we have that, there's never going to be a fair chance for women to move and act on their talents. You can tell men. Yeah. Oh, yeah, you should. You should spend half your time at home, but unless their companies supported and in my opinion, less the government supports it. It's, you know, it falls back in the man's court. He gets to go to business. I told my husband told my husband about this six months leave. This couple was getting for their first child, and he was astonished. He said it my company, you got nothing people said, where's my cigar? That was your time off. So I do think things are moving in the right direction just so painfully slowly. Yeah, it is. Definitely it is. Will you talk about the consequences of exile? What are some of the things that we haven't talked about that happen to you? I think there's a huge psychological price you pay for doing what I did at the time. I did it. I, I would sit in graduate school and feel is if I were in some sort of out of body experience, that part of me was in this classroom taking notes, but there was a part of me still back with much older than that. Surely I had not done this thing. I definitely contemplated suicide. I miss them so badly a thought seriously about killing myself. I went to counseling. I, I went to the university counselor and who is a very nice man. And he ran a group sorta like you'd start as an individual, but then you got to move into the group. And I thought the group sounded like fun. And so I said to him after I've been going awhile enough felt so much better said, maybe I could join the group. It's he said, do you really wanna tell a group what you did? And I thought, boy, you know what I did was so bad. I can't even be in a group. So I would say hats, strange thing for a counselor to say, well, it certainly got the message across a, but I think what I did was lived through it. I think what I came out of that experience with is that you're stronger than you think you are. You only have to go through things one at a time and. If you have a goal and if you keep looking at the goal and my goal was to stay in contact, love my kids and get a graduate degree, but come professor. So I could support myself while never breaking contact with my kids and that things would get better. And they did. You know, by the time I kids were were like often college, you know, I, I think they felt. Maybe they felt I should never been with their father. But they did understand why we weren't together. Well, this is certainly, you know, a powerful powerful book. And are you going to be at the book fair enormou-. I will. I will to haven't given me a time and in day yet, but I will be I'm sure on a panel on the weekend of the book fair on, look forward to it. Well, I mean, I think that I think this is really an incredible story. And you were certainly ahead of your time for what you did. I mean, there's no question in that, and I think it's very brave of you to tell your story and to tell it well, so again, folks, if you're going to the book fair, look for normal Watkins. She is a professor emeritus at Miami Dade college. Her book is that woman from Mississippi. I think that's a horrendous title though. That when you're going, you set out right there, you know that woman. So that's what my ex- mother-in-law call me. I've got stole art. Our only son. I'm sure that woman. So I wanna thank you for telling your story to us because it was really revealing. It was very authentic and it's it's just amazing where you came from and what you're doing now, and I congratulate you and wish you only the best in the future. Oh, thank you so much, Gail. It was a pleasure. Thanks for listening to women in business. I hope you enjoy today's show and if you have any suggestions as to who you'd like to have as a guest, just Email me at Gail Carson thirteen at g mail dot com. Be sure to check out. WWW dot s. o. p. six tips dot com. And in the meantime, go to WWW dot spunky old, broad dot com to see the resources I have for you.

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