Meet North Carolina's First Congresswoman

Aug 25, 2014

Former congresswoman Eva Clayton chats with other speakers during the North Carolina Campuses Against Hunger conference at Elon.

 Note: Today's program is a rebroadcast of a program originally aired on March 25, 2013.

When Eva Clayton was sworn into the U.S. Congress in 1992, she became the first Congresswoman from the state of North Carolina. But before that election, Clayton had a long history of community organizing and politicking. During her extensive career, she has always maintained a devotion to the rights and struggles of working class people.

Her civic involvement really got rolling in 1968, when she first decided to run for Congress. During her conversation with Host Frank Stasio on The State of Things, Clayton recalled a Voter Education Project meeting she attended. It was there she suddenly decided she wanted to campaign.

“My husband was invited, and I went along," she said. Out of our second Congressional district, leaders were encouraged to run. Out of 20, 17 of them were men. None of them raised their hand. I raised my hand and said if no one else will do it, I’ll do it.”

Although Clayton said she lost “royally” in that 1968 election, the campaign of a Black candidate spiked voter turnout and enthusiasm, as well as Eva’s political drive. After her campaign, she worked with North Carolina Manpower, trying to encourage minority youth to pursue jobs in education. And she was also the executive director of the Soul City Foundation in Warren County, which was the planned community envisioned by Floyd McKissick Sr., at the time.

After an eight year run as a county commissioner of Warren County, she decided to try her hand at Congress again in 1992.
During her five terms in Congress, Eva still maintained a strong focus on rural communities and working class, by joining the Agriculture committee.

"At first I was more interested in health and housing, but I reflected on the district I was representing. It was a very rural district," Eva remarks.  "And agriculture was one of the staples of that district. So I served and I'm delighted I did."

Eva Clayton still believes that building around agriculture and working class people is a significant way to build community, as she continues her legacy working towards change.