In 1965, at 17 years of age, Jacqueline Craig - a coal miner's daughter from Fairfield, Alabama, the product of a close, strongly religious family and a self-described "poor person" - arrived in Washington, D.C.
Craig was not just any Southern Kid riding north to the big city to make her fortune - she was a former honor student at a church-related preparatory school, a veteran of the civil rights movements who had marched under the banner of Martin Luther King. She had seen the inside of not a few Alabama jails because of her commitment to the movement.
But Craig had some problems in commmon with thousands of other young people, then and now. She didn't have money, she didn't have marketable skills and she didn't know the steps to take to get from where she was to where she wanted to be.
"I know what it feels like to be thrown out here with nothing to look forward to and no idea of what you're going to do," she said.
That is one reason Craig is pleased with her fellowship from the Joint Center for Political Studies, a foundation funded organization that provides research and technical assistance for minority elected officials. One of four fellows selected nationally, she will spend a year working with Ernest G. Green, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, concentrating on youth employment and manpower.
A great deal has happened to Craig since she arrived in Washington, most of it good.According to Craig, much of it goes back to her parents and the values she learned growing up in Alabama.
She came to Washington, a high school graduate, in part because she could not afford the higher education she was interested in at that time. "My parents were way into retirement. I came to Washington basically to work, to learn how to do something," she said.
She started out modestly, with a job as a waitress, located three days after she got to town. "It was a means to an end, but I learned how to deal with people," she said. After waitressing, working as a cashier and working in the Neighborhood Youth Corps, she landed a job at American University as an assistant to a counselor in graduate admissions. That, in turn, led to Craig's becoming a student at the university in 1969.
As a student, she took courses supported by a schlorship, worked part time for Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), worked on campus as a course assistant and got involved in student activities. She was part of a group that set up supportive services for minority students and worked with the Black Student Union, the cultural committee and the university's student court system.
In 1972, she graduated magna cum laude with a major in political economics. She entered Harvard University Law School in 1973, and graduated from there in June, 1976. In the interim she worked for the city's youth oppotunities office.
Her favorite job, she said, was while she was at Harvard, working for the Cambridgeport Problem Center, where law students and others help low-income clients.
"We not only dealt with the legal problems.We would go to the welfare office with them and make sure the phones weren't turned off. You got to know people and could really help them," she said.
Beyond that, her Harvard experience didn't impress her particularly. "Harvard gave me the necessary union card."
She would rather tell you about her family and her past which, she said, have more to do with what she is today.
"My daddy is a coal miner. That's why I'm interested in Union," she said. "All my life I've heard about unions." She currently works for United Labor Agency, a United Way funded service agency related to the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The agency provides referral to social services. The fellowship begins later this month.
"We had a good life. We were poor, but we didn't know we were poor," said Craig. The church in her community provided for those who were in need, she said. "Most of all, I am a Christian."
Her mother didn't work outside the home. "She made us clothes and took care of us and taught us values. "Those are my images and my heroes - my parents," she said.
She went to Alabama Lutheran Academy and College in Selma, a college preparatory school. She cooked in the kitchen there to help pay her way. It was in Selma where she got involved with the civil rights movement. "People were organizing meetings. I went, and I was very impressed. I had read about Rosa Park in the papers," she said.
She was about 14 when she first got involved. Initially, she was not very active. "At 14, your parents can restrain you from doing lots of things. Plus, the school I was at was pretty conservative."
Her interest in the movement grew, and she returned to public school for her last year of high school to help organize more students. Through the students, civil rights workers hoped to get older Alamaba residents, the parents of the high school students, active.
Her goal now is to become an administrative law judge, working in the field of labor. "I'm into human beings, not into the prestige of being a lawyer," she said. More immediately, she hopes to move into the field of labor mediation and arbitration when she finishes the fellowship.
"I was a poor person, but I had a dream," she said.