Ruby Nell Sales oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, 2011-04-25.
And my father joined first the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] camp, and then later joined the Army, and was also ordained as a Baptist minister and functioned as a chaplain in the Army, um, and was very much insightful in terms of the contradiction between being in the Army and having to live in a segregated and racist society.
Not only that, he was a highly intelligent man, who talked with us constantly about the issues of World War II. So, I grew up knowing about Pork Chop Hill. I grew up knowing about the Big Three, Stalin and - and so, my father - what I’m really trying to say is that my father gave to us a world that had some context and meaning, and within that world, race figured largely. And he was very much active in raising the question during the Korean War about black men dying on foreign soil when they could not vote at home.
And my mother, having grown up, a very hard economic reality, having to fend for herself, developed a certain characteristic and a certain strength that prevailed in all that she did, and she was not someone to be passive. She was not someone to submit to oppression very lightly. We didn’t want to go downtown with her ever, because if someone in the store disrespected her, it was going to be a scene. [Laughing] So, we didn’t want to go with her.
JM: And you mean specifically in relation to a white person who might disrespect her?
RS: Yes, a white person who would disrespect her in stores - she would definitely have a lot to tell them about what they had done. And, of course, being, you know, self-conscious as young people, we just were totally embarrassed.
JM: Um, you also would spend occasional summers, I understand, in Jemison, Alabama, with your -
RS: Yes, which is where my grandmother lived.
JM: Tell me a little bit about that experience.
RS: Well, that experience was a very important experience for me on another level that gave my life context. I would say, without exaggerating, thirty percent of that town were Saleses and were my relatives. And, uh, I could go to the cemetery and see generations of Saleses laid out in the cemetery. And in addition to that, uh, I was - I had uncles and aunts and cousins, so I was a part of a large extended family and, uh, I knew the history of that family.
And I also began to see myself in relationship to my aunts. Let me tell you what I mean. [5:00] Somebody would say, “You’re just like your Aunt Nen.” Or somebody would say that you’re just like your Aunt Rae. So, I had some - and so, all of my life I saw myself as a Sales, rather than as a Fletcher, which is what my mother was, a Fletcher. I was always a Sales - in temperament, in looks, and in a love for knowledge. My father was very, very smart.