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Black woman, pioneer talks about overcoming obstacles

By JR Ortega
Feb. 24, 2014 at 5 p.m.
Updated Feb. 23, 2014 at 8:24 p.m.

Elinor Gaskin, of Victoria, was the first black woman to work for the Victoria Police Department. She was forced to resign in 1969 when she became pregnant with her third child because the city didnot have maternity leave. She then worked for DuPont for 32 years.

Did You Know?

In October 1955, Thurgood Marshall, with the NAACP, came to Victoria as part of the state conference. Marshall worked as the constitutional lawyer and general counsel of the NAACP at the time. The year's conference theme was "Complete Desegregation in Public Schools by 1956."

SOURCE: Advocate Archives

It was summer 1966, and Elinor Gaskin wanted nothing more than to land the job she wanted.

Being black, it was more difficult then to get a job, but she kept on going.

Through persistence, Gaskin, now 67, became the first black secretary for the Victoria Police Department.

In 1969, she left the department and went to work at DuPont for 32 and a half years. She retired from the plant in 2001.

She now works as a secretary for Cornerstone Properties.

Though she was only with the police department for about three years, the experience opened doors for someone who was not only black in the '60s, but also a woman trying to be all she could be.

What was the job hunt like in the 1960s?

"At that time, it was hard getting a job in an office, and that's what I wanted to do. I would call; I would read the paper and anything I could think of. I would make telephone calls. A lot of times, if the interviews would go well, and I'd pass the test, I would be the only black interviewing, but I'd never be picked. They'd say, 'You were so close; we almost hired you,' this type of thing."

Tell me about your position at the police department.

"I was hired as a clerk in the records division. I typed up the reports. I would type those, and at one point, I worked all three shifts, 2-10, 10-6 and then 8-5. And then after passing a very rigorous test, I was hired permanently, and that was in 1967. I just did my best, and I was just so happy to have a job that was interesting. Everybody was nice to me."

Why are you so persistent?

"I am just a very persistent person. As a matter of fact, I had a lot of doors slammed in my face, but I kept calling and putting in my applications. I am the type of person who doesn't give up. I've worked all my life. That's the way I was raised."

Did you ever experience racism - what was it like in Victoria?

"I always knew it wasn't right, but it didn't make me bitter, because the way I was brought up was to not judge people by the color of their skin, but what's in their hearts and in their character. That's the way I taught my children, and that's the way I feel today. There were times, of course, when I was disappointed and had my feelings hurt.

"I was treated very well at the Victoria Police Department. There was one incident I'll always remember. This was from someone who in his position knew better, but he told a joke. He came into the office, and he started telling this joke with the N-word. He started, and he finished. Well, I thought, he was just ignorant. I let him know that I did not appreciate it. But I was not in his face, not at that time."

Why did you work so hard?

"That's just the way I've always felt in my heart. If you want something in life, you have to work for it. At the time I worked for the police department, the pay was not very much at all, but to me, it's not how much money you make, but what you do with what you make. I just feel like I've been blessed. That's all I do is work."

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