The 2016 film Hidden Figures highlights the racism and sexism faced by a group of African-American women while they worked for NASA in the 1950s and 1960s.
Closer to home, Dorothy Glinton was herself a “hidden figure” in Chicago’s auto industry. She began working on the assembly line at Ford Motor Company in 1976 and eventually became one of the first black women to serve as a supervisor at the Ford Motor Assembly Plant on Chicago’s South Side.
Her son Sonari Glinton, who is a business reporter for NPR and covers the auto industry, was two years old when his mother started working at Ford. Both Sonari and Dorothy sat down with Morning Shift host Jenn White to talk about how Dorothy’s career influenced her son. Here are some highlights from their conversation.
Jenn White: How did you get your first job at Ford?
Dorothy Glinton: I had just graduated from college and I was working in Hyde Park, next to Valois (Restaurant). There was a little liquor store and I was working there when I was in college. One of the ladies who worked there, her brother worked at Ford, and she left the store to go work for Ford.
About three or four weeks after she was there, she brought her paycheck in — we used to cash paychecks — and I looked at it and I said, “Girl, is this one week or two?” She said one. I said, “You making that kind of money?” She said yeah and I said, “Well bring me an application.” She said, “Now you just graduated. It is hard. You don’t want to go up in that factory.” She was working on the line. I said, “I can work on the line for this kind of money. I’m going to try it. Bring me the application.”
So it took about two or three weeks to get the application, and they didn’t call me, so I decided to drive out and get an application and fill it out. When I drove out, there were two guys, older guys, changing the fluorescent lights in the ceiling, and they looked at me and said, “Baby, you’re not going to get a job in there unless you know somebody.”
Sonari Glinton: We don’t want nobody nobody sent.
Dorothy Glinton: I said, “Wait a minute. What do you mean, know somebody?” He said, “You’ve got to know somebody to get up in there.” I said, “You kidding me? Well, I tell you what, I know you. Can you sign my application?” And these two gentlemen signed my application. And about a week later, I was called.
I worked on the assembly line and it was very, very hard. Women had just started to go into the auto industry. Most of them started in ’74 and I started in ’76.
White: Sonari, how do you think your mother working at Ford changed your perspective of what women can do?
Sonari Glinton: It never occurred to me because I remember my godfather, Bob, would ask my mother about what car to buy. Men would defer to her.
My favorite thing is to watch my mother in a car dealership with either one of her friends or on her own buying a car. Because eventually my mother was a stock foreman and so every single part on the car, she knows. She knows where the car is from, how it’s made, probably who made it, and so that great thing where you see the guy, and he thinks he’s the lion. [Laughter] But no, Dorothy Glinton is the lioness. She don’t play.
Dorothy Glinton: [Laughter] I don’t know about that.
White: Dorothy, when you became a supervisor, you said you received some pushback. Was that pushback predominantly from men or women as well?
Dorothy Glinton: Women didn’t care. They wanted the opportunity just like I did. But I got more pushback from the men supervisors. Black men. They thought I was going to fly up the ladder and I was going to be their boss. But they made sure I was going nowhere.
White: How did they do that?
Dorothy Glinton: By putting their thumb on you. Even though you worked opposite of a guy, you both had the same zone, the same people, and you were performing the same. The guy would get the promotion. You weren’t even considered for a promotion.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click ‘Play’ above to listen to the entire segment.