The Honorable Eva M. Clayton
“And, I must say, serving on the Agriculture Committee and the resistance of my male colleagues strengthened me. Now, should they have done that? Of course not. But, hey. But because of that, I think more because of my response to it, [I grew]. Now everybody will not have that same peace, but that certainly was the end result for me, that I was stronger. And I think, too, I came from the South, so I had come from a segregated community, grew up in a segregated community, knew what segregation was, went to segregated schools, and had to overcome that. So overcoming that helped me also to overcome the male resistance that I had. Should segregation have been in? No, absolutely not. Should male resistance be to their equal colleagues who happen to be female? Absolutely not. Were they trying to help Eva be stronger? Absolutely not. But, hey, the result is what the [result is].”
—The Honorable Eva M. Clayton, May 15, 2015
U.S. Representative from North Carolina (November 3, 1992-January 3, 2003)
Elected to the House in 1992—dubbed the “Year of the Woman” because of the record number of female candidates who won seats in the House and Senate—Eva M. Clayton made history as the first African-American woman to represent North Carolina in Congress. Recognized as a leader by her colleagues, Clayton was elected freshman class president. Clayton used her position and access to the White House and congressional leaders to seek assistance for African-American farmers in her district. Throughout her tenure in Congress, Clayton, who represented a rural constituency, served on the Agriculture Committee. In her oral history, she recalls the opposition she faced from her mostly male colleagues on the committee, how she overcame the resistance, and how she learned to thrive in a system grounded in “regular order.”
During her interview, Clayton shares memories of her involvement in the civil rights movement which led to her volunteering for what she describes as a symbolic campaign for Congress in 1968. The experience sparked an interest in politics and public service that helped her secure a House seat more than two decades later. Clayton speaks about the role of race, gender, and age in her congressional career, touching upon memories of the Congressional Black Caucus, the bond she formed with many of her women colleagues and how she, as an African-American grandmother, brought a unique perspective to Congress. Clayton also describes her mother’s influence in defining a major legislative focus: nutrition and combating hunger.
CLAYTON, Eva M., a Representative from North Carolina; born in Savannah, Chatham County, Ga., September 16, 1934; B.S., Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, N.C., 1955; M.S., North Carolina Central University, Durham, N.C., 1962; director, University of North Carolina Health Manpower Development Programs; assistant secretary for community development, North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, 1977–1981; unsuccessful candidate for nomination to the Ninety–first Congress in 1968; chair of the Warren County, N.C., board of commissioners, 1982–1992; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Second Congress, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of United States Representative Walter B. Jones, and reelected to the four succeeding Congresses (November 3, 1992–January 3, 2003); not a candidate for reelection to the One Hundred Eighth Congress in 2002.
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Answering the Call to Run for Congress
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton describes her reasons for running for Congress in 1968.
Only Woman in the Campaign
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton discusses the role of gender when running for elective office.
"The Best for the First"
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton recalls how she created a slogan for her 1992 special election.
Women Members Offering Advice
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton discusses the important advice women Members provided to their new women colleagues in 1992.
"Reality Set In"
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton remembers the relationships that helped her adjust to life in Congress.
Freshman Class President
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton describes how being freshman class president made her a more effective legislator in Congress.
Challenging "Regular Order"
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton describes how women Members wanted her to become freshmen class president.
A Woman Representative on the Agriculture Committee
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton describes the obstacles she faced on the Agriculture Committee.
Reflecting on the Past
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton explains the connection between her mother and her legislative interest in food and hunger.
Scrutinizing Women Members
The Honorable Eva M. Clayton compares the behavior and attire of Congresswomen in 1993 and 1917.
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