Who was Josephine Dobbs Clement?

  • Josephine Dobbs Clement Josephine Dobbs Clement (1918-1998) was one of six daughters born to Irene Ophelia Thompson Dobbs and John Wesley Dobbs. Her father was a prominent businessman in Atlanta, Georgia. Clement received her bachelor's degree from Spelman College in 1937 and her master's from Columbia University the following year. In the late 1940s, she moved with her husband, William A. Clement, to Durham, North Carolina, where she was active in local politics and social justice movements. 

    Her father instilled within her a sense of justice and the tools to protest inequality. In keeping with this heritage, when she arrived in Durham, she quickly became active in the YWCA and the League of Women's Voters, helping to desegregate both of them. She maintained that her identities as a woman and an African American could not and should not be fractured. Rather, she argued, true freedom will only come when both racial and gender hierarchies are destroyed. Though her husband became politically active during the 1960s, she did not do so to the same extent. Instead, she participated in activities that concerned her children, and became involved in her community through those outlets.

    Eventually, these activities led to an appointment to the Durham City-County Charter Commission. After that, she ran for a seat on the city's board of education. During her time on the board, the courts ordered the city schools to desegregate, a change which prompted white flight and drastically altered the racial composition of the city. For a time, she chaired the board, and under her leadership, the city selected its first African American superintendent of schools. After a decade of working with the board of education, Clement decided to resign, and she became a county commissioner.

    (This information adapted from UNC's 'Documenting the American South' website. Please visit the site for an oral history from Josephine Dobbs Clement.)