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Joseph Camp Interview

Camp, Joseph
Perzel, Edward
Date of Interview: 
segregation, WWII, Europe, France, teaching
Mr.Camp describes his desire to get an education and the struggles of finding a satisfactory job in the United States. He spent much of his teaching career working in Europe, primarily France. Mr. Camp gives an interesting perspective of racial relations during the 50s and 60s while he lived in France.
France and North Carolina, 1930-1970
Interview Setting: 
Interview as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
EP(Edward Perzel): All right this is Ed Perzel on May 25th 1979 interviewing Joseph Camp. Mr. Camp what do you want to talk about?
JC (Joseph Camp): Well, I don't know the real object to that talking to this as a senior citizen, I don't, I have much I can tell you about personally, I suppose that's what you want to know.
EP: We want to know your personal memoirs and recollections.
JC: Well, I, to put it briefly I grew up in the county just up here above ( ) in Lawson County, and I have many relatives living here in Charlotte. I visited many times in Charlotte since I've been working overseas for the past like 25 years in Africa and various parts of Europe. I grew up in the on the farm up here in Harris, North Carolina, which is in Lawson County. I lived there 19 years, I guess, I had equivalent to a third grade education when I went away from the farm. Left my daddy against his will to get an education. (Laughs) And after finishing work in four years on a farm to get to high school over in Lincoln Academy which is in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. I went to A and T which is in Greensboro, North . . . A and T College. Where I spent three years before being called to the Army and after two years in the Army, I came back and finished A and T and went from there to New York University where I did two years graduate study in business administration and economics and a number of other subjects. After all this study, I had difficulties getting employed, so I did any job I could do, in the way of waiting tables and janitorial work and but not even after a masters degree to survive. [Laughter]
EP: Was this in New York?
JC: That's right.
EP: What, let me back up. What year did you go in the Army?
JC: 19 and 43.
JC: That's right.
EP: And where did they send you?
JC: I went to Fort Bragg where I did, I mean Ft. Benning, Georgia where I did my graduate, not graduate, basic training and a number of other camps in the U.S.A, but I didn't go abroad while I was in the military service. I had difficulties, physical difficulties, and with my condition as well. And so I got a disabled, disability discharge in 1944 after having spent in an active duty about 14, 15 months. I was in the reserve prior to that, and altogether was something over two years.
EP: Was the Army segregated, at that time?
JC: Very much so. [Laughter] Yes. And so I however, I tried to make the best of it under the circumstances. And as I said, I came out of the Army and decided to go on and finish school and after finishing, I still had difficulties getting employed. But I managed to get a job teaching after going back and studying taking a degree in education, educational psychology. I managed to get a job teaching in Alabama, Birmingham Alabama College. After living seven years in the city of New York, it was a rather difficult problem adjusting to the life in, in that particular town at that particular time.
EP: In what year?
JC: In 1950. And so I stayed part of the year in this college and so we could not have a meeting of the minds, the president and myself, [chuckles] and I left there and went back to New York where I spent another ye-- couple of years after that. And I started working with the United Nations as a, I did personnel worked in the personnel service there for part of a year. And that folded up and the following spring, I took off and went to Europe. Mainly because I lived in the international student center where I got to know many students living abroad. That is how I got interested in learning and studying about going abroad. So I took off and went to Europe in '52. Went to Finland to the Olympic Games in 1952 and spent the rest of the year in the other Scandinavian countries: Norway, Sweden and Denmark. And, and I visited, traveled through Germany and Austria and several other countries and then I went to France in '53. And I registered in the Sorbonne, and I did studies in French and another school there called Alliance Francais, which I didn't particularly appreciate. [Laughs] But I studied there for a while, then I got a job teaching English, and I mean teaching elementary school subjects with the British Embassy. Teach children of the British embassy staff and I worked there two years, and from there, I went into the French Public school as an English assistant. And I stayed, spent one year there, and from there I went to the Ecole Superior, aeronautical school which is a technical branch of the Sorbonne, and I worked there for three years. And then from there, I took off and went to Africa, where I spent another three years in different countries: Zaire, the republic of Guinea, and Kenya and also Uganda.
EP: This is in the mid-50s?
JC: This was, this was in the 60s.
EP: In the 60s?
JC: That's right.
EP: So after coming back to Paris, after I went back to this school, still in the 60s. This Ecole Superior, and I had a serious attack of Glaucoma, which put me in the hospital. I had, I spent several years getting operations, and I thought I was loosing my vision for a while. And after that I took a job working in a film company where I did general surveillance work, which didn't require me to use my eyes. And I worked there until 1977 where I retired, December 1977. In addition to that, I did private tutoring giving, helping students in the French University learning, studied with the English and those who had to pass certain kinds of examinations. I did that privately in addition to the other job I had. After '77 after retiring, I lived in France for, up until the present which has been a little more than a year, and I'm trying to decide now what to myself. What I'd like to do is come back and speak, work on a project which I have been concentrating on for some times, which is up in Wilson County. My the family estates is something over 200 acres of land and some of which is I have title to. And my object is to organize a community project, and if possible, work it up on the international basis. And aid foreign students who wish to come abroad and work and help themselves study and learn about foreign countries and also Americans who wish to go abroad. The life I've spent in overseas, it's made me understand the necessity of more efforts to have a better international understanding between countries, and I feel that the idea which I hope to put over will aid in that respect. Also, a student travel service is something that I have had a little bit of contact with. But I feel that more students and teachers in this part of the country should take a greater interest in traveling and studying abroad because America, America's image abroad has not quite lived up to what we would like for it to. I feel that America is the one country that is capable of showing the rest of the world the way if there is one. But we have to have the personnel and the proper people to do the job. We have the facilities, but I, but I feel we can still improve when it comes to the capacities and the abilities to do the job.
EP: Let me, let me back up a little and ask you, you spent 25 years a little more in Europe?
JC: Yes.
EP: Of those 25, how many of those years were spent in Africa?
JC: About, something over three years. I worked two--three years. I was working three years there. Two years in the Republic of Guinea and 1 year in the University of Novenient which is in Zaire. The rest of the time I spent traveling in some of these other countries. Now I didn't do it all together. I did one year a part of the, the first two years in Guinea. That was in '62 to '64. Then I came back to Paris. I traveled. I came back and forth to U.S.A. I visited other countries and in between. I worked at this university there in Paris. The first job I had was with the British embassy, now that was in '59, 1959. It was not a, it was not a type of thing where I worked straight through on one job straight through I, it was sporadic I didn't, there was no way. There were times when I was unemployed. [Chuckle] However, I had my own personal activities which I managed to maintain myself, and these jobs were not, with the state department or any organization of any sort that sent teachers abroad. However, after getting into this first job of English, as an English teacher, that was the student teacher exchange service. But I managed to get employed from that point. I wasn't employed from over here.
EP: Let me ask how you, left Birmingham, Alabama.
JC: Yes.
EP: Where you obviously were in a very segregated society and you basically went to Europe, I know you went to New York.
JC: Yeah.
EP: How, how was, how were you treated in terms of segregation in Europe? Or did you sense any of that?
JC: Well, I had sensed it long before going over, long before I had gone to Europe and come back. But when I, I had lived in New York almost 7 years at the time I, about 6 years at the time when I left to go to Birmingham, Alabama. I had heard about it, and I knew what, what I was likely to have to face up to, but I decided I wanted to, the experience of finding out for myself. And I went there in the capacity of a teacher, professor in the college. However, I didn't feel that that would make any real big difference, but I never really felt adjusted to the situation in which I worked. Even though I did what I could do to adjust to the situation. But, it's kind of like going against the grain. [Chuckles]
EP: What was the school?
JC: It was Myers College. In the town of Birmingham, in outside of Birmingham, Alabama.
EP: And what I'm asking I guess is that in France where you spent most of your time, did you have any feeling of segregation? Was there any?
JC: Well, there were individual situations where I knew that there were problems of this nature, but not to, to, not to the same extent as we know it here. The French people themselves are the kind of people that they like themselves and no one else matters. I mean they go for the people that liberated them from the heat of the Gestapo and, and the storm trooper. As soon as they were free then they were ready to tell you to go. This is what Charles De Gaulle told did to the whole U.S. government when they, when they felt they had the liberty to, were able to make it on their own. But I didn't feel that it was anything due to me personally, and, and --. I really didn't have any serious difficulties, but there were some incidents, which people would let you know how they felt about situations. It was only true with me. It was true with foreigners or people from any other parts of the world.
EP: So in terms of your ability to go to a restaurant or a theater >you didn't have any of that kind of problem?
JC: No, I never had that problem.
EP: You were free to go where you wanted?
JC: That's right.
EP: Just in individual context?
JC: That's right. Sometimes there may be in some particular cases there may be personality problems. I don't feel that I had any personality problems, but maybe someone just decided they don't like the looks of a person or that person might, might have reminded them of someone that they had difficulties with in the past, and, and they have a way of taking it out on you. That can happen anywhere. [Laughs]
EP: Why did you decide to live in France all that time?
JC: Well, I didn't really decide to live there. I, I went there mainly for the experience of traveling abroad, and I'd heard so much about it. And I got there and found something to do. And found it was a place that you could relax and be free from a lot of strain and stress. And I had no real attachments, let's say, back in my own hometown other than my mother. And my father was not living at the time. Sisters and brothers, now I left them, I left home when I was rather young against the will of everybody, because of my interest was not, didn't come, was not compatible with theirs. So I didn't really feel the urge to associate myself with any one in any particular situation in my, in my own hometown or village or nowhere else in the state for that matter. Now I didn't feel no real urge to rush back. If it had been something like an engagement of somebody deeply troubly, well, if I had been in love with somebody probably back home, it would have made a difference but I wasn't, not in the real sense. Not the romantic type of thing. () So I didn't, there wasn't anything that made me feel like I was loosing something by being away from home. So I was just out searching, and you might say freelancing. And I felt the need for increasing my knowledge about the world of past and events, and I felt this was the way to do it. In other words, I wasn't rushed to do like many friends that I knew to get married and just start raising big families. I didn't feel the urge to do that. I felt there's a little something more interesting in life to do. However, there is nothing wrong with raising families if they are raised properly. [Laughs]
EP: You weren't really trying to escape anything?
JC: No. I didn't have anything to escape. I hadn't never been in jail. I never committed any crimes.
EP: You weren't, weren't concerned about the racial situation in America?
JC: Well, not to the point of disturbance. I know I felt I always knew that. I mean since we are on the subject I try to, at least normally, I don't bring up the question of race until, unless others want to discuss it. I like to think in terms of my own capabilities or capacities to perform in whatever situation I might be in. And I would like to feel that if people are going to pass judgement of me, let that be the basis. But since it's the way it is, and since it seems like that's not the case, then I guess the, I can't expect it to be like that.
EP: But you weren't, weren't disenchanted with life in America in terms of going to France?
JC: No. I always felt that, I thought more in terms of what I could offer in terms, than rather what I could receive. But I didn't feel like, at the time I left, I didn't feel like there was a lot of what I could do to make U.S.A any bigger and greater than what it is. [Laughs] So in, in, in as far as that point is concerned, I just had a feeling that whatever contribution I might make would only be a drop in the budget and many people were saying why don't you think of what you can do or contribute to your people. Well, I feel that when it comes to if I'm talking about my mother and father and people in that immediate category, yes, there is something I can do for them. But as far as the other people concerning the race, I feel the country has the biggest debt to pay to them. And I don't know how, why anyone would expect me or any other one black man to do, do anything exceptional in that respect, unless it's done in the name of the whole U.S.A. Because any group of people that can dominate, two or three centuries of forced labor in the building up of a strong, powerful country like the U.S.A. I feel they have a big debt to pay, and I don't think they will ever pay it. I feel that, as I always credit, I would like that they admit that they are over debt just to recognize this fact that the debt is old and whether it's paid for is not the question. [Chuckle]
EP: Well you've had a very interesting life and I think what you've said thus far is, you've had a good record.
JC: Yes.
EP: We'll compare you with everybody else we got.
JC: And I'm happy to speak with what I said-.