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Interview with Elizabeth Gray Samuel Weinstein

Weinstein, Elizabeth
Wright, Christina
Date of Interview: 
Segregation; Integration; Community; May Day; Extracurricular Activities; Discipline; Parent Teacher Association; Buses; Scholarship; Teaching; Hamp Hill; Hamp Hill Heights; Little Sally Walker
Ms. Elizabeth Weinstein was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. She discusses her life growing up in Charlotte in the Derita community. Ms. Weinstein admired her teachers when she was growing up and they had a valuable impact on her life. She later became a teacher and principal. She is well known throughout the community and has contributed a great deal to the schools systems in Mecklenburg County.
Derita, Mecklenburg County, NC - 1950s to 1960s
Interview Setting: 
Home of Elizabeth Weinstein 5529 Howard Street, Derita Charlotte, North Carolina
Before Brown Collection
Interview Audio: 
CW (Christina Wright): Today is April the 8th. This is Christina Wright interviewing Elizabeth Gray-Weinstein for the oral history archive at UNC Charlotte. We're in the home of Mrs. Weinstein at 5529 Howard Street, Derita, Charlotte, North Carolina. Mrs. Weinstein is a former pupil of Rockwell Rosenwald School in Derita. She was educated at Barber-Scotia College in North Carolina and Columbia University in New York. She has been an elementary school teacher and principal of Public School Number 156, or the Waverly School, in Brooklyn New York. Mrs. Weinstein, I want you to start by telling us when you were born and where you were born, and who your parents were.
EW (Elizabeth Weinstein): I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. My mother is the late Luetta Perry Gray Johnson. My father, the late Roger Gray. Both of Charlotte, North Carolina or Derita.
CW: Can you tell me a little bit about their background because you know quite a bit in this area; in fact, their ancestors grew up in this area.
EW: Actually my mother grew up right off of what is now Graham St.. My Grandfather, her father, lived really in the Charlotte proper and he had a grocery store.
CW: Where was his grocery store?
EW: Right off of Oakland Ave. on Burton St.. However, my grandfather was an invalid. Very early he had arterial sclerosis, and I think I used to hear my mother said that he was maybe a carpenter or something and fell of the roof of a building. So he became-he couldn't walk. And I remember he always had to have one of his tenants drive him around and I remember very well he had an A Model Ford, which I learned to drive. And-
CW: Did they continue to live in that area?
EW: I think they lived off of Graham St. when my mother was young and my mother's-In fact, my mother's real mother expired when she was six years old. And my father met my wonderful grandmother; the only grandmother I've ever known. And I think they moved from Graham St. then over to--he bought some property on Oakland Ave. and had a grocery store. And he had a big home there and he would rent because he couldn't work any longer, had several tenants there. And he was a prosperous man and my grandmother, I didn't realize until I got older that she was a butcher; she could take-they would buy the meat and she would it and hack it into steaks and things like that. And of course during that time she had chickens and someone would come to the store and they would just come to the backyard and point out what chicken they wanted. And she would take it and ring the neck, put it in a basket and when it would finish its life there she would take some put it in some hot water and my brother and I we would pluck the feathers and she would sell it. And then after that my mother met my father, I think she was about eighteen years old.
CW: Do you know how they met?
EW: No, I-Oh, yes I do. They had-I think there was a camp meeting over at New Hampton Church, which is off of 29. And they met and I guess they, I think they eloped, and they were married. And my father came from up near I guess--, he was born right down Sugar Creek almost to Harris Blvd.. And after my mother married my father they lived in that area, vicinity, and they worked on the farm.
CW: Was your father a farmer? Did he grow up on a farm? Was your grandfather a farmer?
EW: Yes. Grew up on a farm and all I can remember is that they used to call it the "Old Churchy Farm". And my father had very wonderful memories of that. And I never knew my father's father, but after his death my grandmother, whose name was Lucy--my late grandfather was Anderson Gray and my grandmother was Lucy Gray. I don't remember her maiden name. After his death they came and lived with us and my great grandmother, my grandmother's mother whom we called Grandma Tye I don't remember her real name either, but she died in this very house where I was born. And after her death my mother and father helped them build a home next door to us and the baby's daughter, whose name was Lucy at that time, they all moved next door to us and we could keep an eye on them. And of course while my mother and father worked in Charlotte they kind of took care of us. But when I was growing up all of the neighbors took care of all the children. And one in particular was, we called her Aunt Rosetta McCauley who is now deceased, she lived across the street. And everybody was very sharing because if one had, everybody had. And it was really a wonderful childhood life growing up. And we would walk to school together. In fact, Aunt Rosetta's daughter and another one of our neighbors Gaither, his name is James Gaither, even though we started to school in first grade they ended up getting married and still married today with two lovely children. And we just have wonderful fond memories.
CW: What brought your parents here to this community do you think?
EW: I think after they left the farm, my mother was one who always wanted to have her very own and I guess she just didn't want to always live on the farm with my-I don't know. Knowing my mother, she always wanted to have her own and she probably just moved a few blocks away from them. And built, this was what she first called a shotgun house, three rooms; she said you could stand at the front door and look straight through. And she eventually added three more rooms to the right and one more room on the left side. And today it still is a seven room house that, you know, we have now. Even though old, filled with many many fond memories. And I feel very blessed, that who can say at my age that you still live in the house in which you were born. Wonderful memories.
CW: Now what was your father doing when he lived in this house?
EW: My father was a cutter at the Allen Overall Company, which is located on Church St., and the building still stands today. And I remember even during that time that many years ago he and his baby brother, Uncle George, that he got a job at Allen Overalls were the only two blacks who were there. And I remember during Christmas time they used to have a very big party, and we would go and everybody was very friendly. And of course fruit was not as available as it is today, and I remember those big beautiful red apples and the turkeys. And the tangerines, and the oranges, and the nuts, and the candy canes that, his name was Pittinger who owned that company, that he would have for his workers and give everybody gifts and it was just simply marvelous. And my mother was an orthodontist technician, but prior to that she worked for a family that I think lived almost near where she was born off of Graham St.. And she wasn't making enough money so she went to look for other jobs and she became an elevator operator.
CW: Where was that?
EW: At the Professional Building.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Down on Tryon St., but it no longer stands there now. I think they build some duplexes there or co-ops there. And because she was so attractive and so neat she was-this was a doctor's building. And one doctor, whose name was the late Dr. A.S. Baumgartner, asked her would she like to come and work for him and he would pay her more money and she said yes. And she was so bright and so eager to learn that he trained her to become an orthodontist technician. And I suppose she was the first black orthodontist technician in Charlotte. And she worked for him for a while and then she left his office because she found out even though she had trained other workers, white workers, she looked on the books and he was paying them more than he was paying her. So she left and then she left for one doctor, P.C. Hall Jr., who is still living today. And his son's office is off of Randolph Rd.. And she worked with him until her retirement and they were very nice to my mother and have been very nice to us. Even Dr. Baumgartner, I remember when I was in college and would come home; his office was at 1516 Elizabeth Ave. and when I would walk into the office even though he might be seeing a patient, but he would just stop what he was doing and have outstretched arms for me to run into his arms. They were so proud of me and he helped my mother quite a bit with me when I was in college. And it was pleasant memories.
CW: Did she do that when you were growing up or was that later on when you got to college age?
EW: No, she was doing that before I went to college. I was in high school when she was the orthodontist technician. And she also trained some of the students down at Central Piedmont College.
CW: She was giving her all?
EW: Yes. Yes.
CW: So your parents both worked downtown.
EW: Yes, they did.
CW: And it sounds as though you saw a lot of downtown.
EW: Well really not that much. I remember on Saturdays we would go with my father sometimes and my mother because my mother would go and have to fire up the building. They had you know the old stove or whatever they fired the building with, and she would help my daddy make the fire. And on Saturdays we would go with them and when daylight came my brother and I would I guess catch the bus or something going to my grandfather's on Burton St..
CW: And father also ran a store.
EW: Oh yes, yes.
CW: I seem to remember Mr. Gaither talking about that. Where was that?
EW: Well my mother--, When my father worked for Allen Overalls Company, a bale of cloth fell on his leg so he became an amputee very young.
CW: He lost one of his legs?
EW: Yes. And to make a long story short, I lost my father when I was a junior in college. But prior to that when I was five years old my mother, because my father and mother both worked downtown, and she wanted to make sure our time was well spent here in Derita. So she opened up a little store for me, I think I was five years old, and we sold little things like bread and cigarettes and candies and Johnny cookies, potato chips, ice cream, cold drinks.
CW: So you would help when you were five?
EW: It was my little store. And we had a jukebox and we would dance. And I had my own little business when I was five years old. Yes.
CW: You must have been mature.
EW: I was.
CW: Yeah.
EW: Yes. In fact I was so short my head wouldn't go over the counter, but I would take about four or five drink crates and turn them upside down and then I could step up and reach over the counter. And we also had the wonderful coconut rainbow candies. Some of the things I remember: Baby Ruth's, chewing tobacco things like that little snacks, uh-huh.
CW: And you had a brother and a sister.
EW: Yes I have.
CW: What birth order are you in as siblings?
EW: I'm the middle child. My brother's three years my senior and my sister is 15 years my junior. And my sister lives right down the street. Today is her reverend, Reverend Hill, Jackie Hill. And my brother lives off of Independence Blvd. and he frequents us quite often. We're a very close family; brothers-sisters.
CW: And your brother would have attended the Rockwell Rosenwald School.
EW: Yes, he did my brother and I--
CW: And you sister or was that a little late?
EW: No, my sister went to elementary school at Fairview. And then she went to junior high, I forgot the name of this school, up by Huntersville; I forgot the name of it. Because I was in New York then, I don't remember exactly the name of that school.
CW: So the community sounds as though it was very close and supportive.
EW: Very.
CW: What kind of things did you see? Ways in which people were neighborly and supportive? You were saying if one person had something, everybody shared. Can you think of any instances when?
EW: Oh Yes. You know if there was a needy family, they didn't have clothing everybody would pitch in hand help. Or if they didn't have food. In fact, we had a cow and we had some pigs and during milking time we would share or when we would kill our pigs, everybody in the neighborhood got a little bit of the sausage mother made or the ham that, we used to call him Uncle Willie who is a Spears, used to cure. And everybody just pitched in and helped everybody.
CW: Did you have vegetable gardens back here?
EW: Yes, we had a garden out front. We had some corn, some tomatoes, and some okra. And right across the street here when my grandmother was with us she had a peanut patch and grew potatoes. Those two things I remember. And whatever we had everybody shared. Yes. And then [dog barking] my mother's friend had--Uncle Willie Spears, he would come through peddling. And we would buy, but if you didn't have money to buy he would give. We just looked out-we were just like one big family.
CW: Very wonderful experience.
EW: Yes.
CW: For a child.
EW: Very.
CW: At the center of this community was this wonderful school. And did all the children in Hamp Hill go to that school when you were growing up?
EW: Yes. All of us went to Hamp Hill Heights, I mean to Rockwell. Yes.
CW: To Rockwell.
EW: Uh-huh.
CW: And you would all walk to school together?
EW: Yes, we would walk to school together.
CW: And how far is it from here to the school?
EW: I should say.
CW: Half mile?
EW: I should say it's about maybe three quarters of a mile. I think so.
CW: What are your memories of that journey?
EW: Oh it was fun. We would take the short cut through here off where what is now the Renaissance and we would have a little creek to go through. And there were beautiful honeysuckle vines and we would love to smell the honeysuckle vines. And there were flowers growing wild in the woods and we would pick flowers and take to our teachers. Oh we would just get together and play and talk, and it was just a marvelous experience.
CW: So what are your earliest memories of school? Of Rockwell school?
EW: Wonderful memories. I remember my first, in fact I remember all of my teachers. First grade I had Mrs. Rebb, she taught us first and second grade. And in that room there was a sandbox, I remember, and how the alphabets were arranged over the blackboards. Our big, pot-belly stove and where we hung our wraps. Our devotional times, our play periods. And then in the third and the fourth grade we had Mrs. Hunt, who is still living today. And I remember so vividly how she would tell us how beautiful and how lucky we were to live in North Carolina, the piedmont Country, because it had everything you could ask of. It had the beaches, and the mountains, and the plains. And she just made everything sound so wonderful, she was our fourth grade teacher. Miss Ledbetter was my third grade teacher. Miss Ledbetter and my first grade teacher were very close. They had--their houses were adjacent to each other and they lived off of Oakland Ave. very close to Beatties Ford Rd.. Mrs. Rebb's house is no longer there, but Miss Ledbetter's house it is still standing today. And Mrs. Rebb was our first grade teacher, she used to grow turkeys. And she was also my piano teacher and on Saturdays I'd go there for lessons. And we'd watch the turkeys, they were just so colorful gobbling and-'Cause I hadn't seen turkeys before that was the first time I had seen turkeys at her house. And my fifth, sixth, and seventh grade teacher was Mrs. Adelaide Maxwell. She's still alive today, and I saw her last year and never realizing that one day I too would have finished a college from which she graduated. Barber-Scotia College?
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: So she was back at Barber-Scotia two years ago for her fiftieth anniversary and we saw each other, hadn't seen each other in I don't know how many years, but it was such an experience. And oh she was just so busy telling everybody about the wonderful student I was and how she had wanted me to skip the seventh grade and go on to Huntersville at that time to the eighth grade, but my mother would not permit it. My mother made me do all of the grades fifth, sixth, and seventh right there at Rockwell. And we used to have plays and we had a rhythm band that I remember so vividly. And when we would go outside we would play volleyball-some did. I never played volleyball 'cause I thought it was a rough game and I always watched the other girls play. And we had a merry-go-round, which I didn't like to play on 'cause it made me dizzy. But I did like to play racing games and "Little Sally Walker", those little song-singing games and things like that. And we just had a marvelous, marvelous time.
CW: So you were saying in the classroom, your first grade classroom, that you had a sandbox.
EW: Yes.
CW: What else do you remember about that classroom? You were saying about the alphabet on the walls, but what were the lessons like--?
EW: I remember we had this book, I don't remember the name of it, but we read about Dick and Jane. And I can remember saying, "This is see Dick. See Dick run. See Mack. See Mack run. See Muff. See Muff run. See Puff, was the cat. See Puff run." I remember those verbatim, I don't remember the other things. And I remember how we used to--our teacher, Mrs. Rebb, would drill us on the sounds, the consonants, and the vowels, and how we would blend these and mix these into words. And we would have, even in the first grade, we would have spelling bees. I remember when Red Cross Day would come and we would wear our little buttons. And when we would get foods like-they would give us dried fig newtons. Figs, and raisins, and concentrated juice, and I guess we'd put water in it and have it. Most of the times we would bring our lunch from home and I think we would buy milk at school, I believe we would. Those things like that I remember first grade.
CW: Would you eat lunch in the classroom then?
EW: Yeah, we would bring our lunches from home and have our lunches in the classroom and then we would go outside and play.
CW: And the sentimental foods you were just describing: the fruit, the dried fruit. Was that-who was providing that? Was that the school?
EW: I guess it must have been the county because the schools, they provide that. Uh-huh.
CW: So it was extra vitamins-
EW: Yes.
CW: For the children.
EW: Yes.
CW: Yeah. Right. Now you said at recess everybody would go outside and play volleyball often.
EW: They'd play volleyball or softball, the girls, baseball for the boys. And we did a lot of singing games. Like "Little Sally Walker", "Miss Mary Jane"-
CW: Would this be a skip game?
EW: Huh?
CW: Skipping?
EW: And we would be skipping and we would be jumping and hop scotch. Those were some of the activities, yes, that we played outside.
CW: Did you ever have any organized sports that, you know little sports days kind of thing. Where you'd race and--?
EW: Yes, we did. And we used to have like "sac hops" I remember that you mention it. And I think this was during May Day. We'd rap the may pole and I think we would dress in white. It was a big day during May Day. And we'd have visitors and our parents would come. And we were so proud when May Day would come. Yes!
CW: Did you have a May queen?
EW: We probably did, but I don't recall. But I'm almost sure we did.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: But I don't remember that too vividly.
CW: And was that the whole day you would celebrate?
EW: Yes. The whole day, uh-huh.
CW: Were there any other times of the year when you had special celebrations, breaking away from the usual routines?
EW: Well during Christmas time I remember vividly that our sixth grade teacher-my brother was in this play. I probably was-'cause he was three years my senior, so he was probably in the seventh grade and I was probably in the fourth grade. They did the play A Christmas Carol Scrooge. And my brother had a big part in it and my mother was so proud of him. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Scrooge.
CW: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
EW: We also had a rhythm band and we made our instruments because, well we made some, I guess we made all of them because I used to play the cymbals. And seemed like I used two lid, tin lids, to bang-cling together. And we had, would take the oatmeal boxes and paint them, and make drums from them. And we would take bottle caps and make the rattles from the bottle caps. But we had some bells, they evidently had to buy some bells because I remember we had bells in the rhythm band. And it was very, very nice.
CW: Now did you perform for your parents?
EW: Oh yes.
CW: With the rhythm band?
EW: Yes.
CW: So they would come in, in the evening or during the daytime?
EW: We would perform for our Parents' Association night. Uh-huh. Yes. And I remember doing the rhythm band, I think I was in the first grade at this particular time. Our first grade teacher, I believe May Brothers pitched in, they made us costumes out of crepe paper. Red, seemed like it was red costume paper or crepe paper, but if you would flip it over I think the other side was white. And it was so pretty. And our teachers, they loved us so much. And they were so very interested in us and they always taught us, "You have to study. You have to know twice as much to get to succeed in this world because it's a prejudice world," they would tell us. And if you really wanted to get ahead you had to study and you had to know-you had to be sure and you had to keep yourself upright and be moral, tell the truth. Good ethic habits they taught us and it's still within us.
CW: What other things did you admire about your teachers would you say? Thinking about what was it that made them successful?
EW: Because they loved us and they knew their, well I felt, they knew their subject matter well and they taught us very well. And if anyone left any wraps or anything at school they always made sure they were returned to home. They would visit us. And of course your parents would come anyway, you know; parents were very interested in us. You had to come early to get a seat for Parent Teacher Association.
CW: Now how often did parent-teachers meet?
EW: I'm almost sure that they met once a month. Monthly, Uh-huh.
CW: You as children would come along to that meeting?
EW: Oh, yes. We would come.
CW: And sometimes there would be a performance.
EW: Unless you were old enough to sit home with your oldest sibling. But if you were younger you would come, but the seats were so, the space was so limited because so many parents attended. Maybe we sat in the car and waited for them, I don't remember, but maybe we played outside too, you know?
CW: Do you remember any of the things that the PTA accomplished? I mean I know you were just a child, but do you remember anything they were working on particularly?
EW: I don't remember anything particularly, but I know they did fund raising when I was in high school at Torrence-Lytle because the students were from various districts and areas there was like competition to see which district could raise the most money. And that worked very well because everybody was vying for the top spot. And I know they raised lot of monies. And during that time Mr. I.T., the late Mr. I.T. Graham, was our principal. I don't want to get too far in that because we're really trying to focus on I guess.
CW: That's another really interesting story.
EW: Yes. Uh-huh.
CW: It would be good to get that, you know, to have it at some point.
EW: OK. Another time, Uh-huh.
CW: So, and your parents were obviously very involved with the PTA.
EW: Oh, yes, very involved.
CW: Yeah.
EW: Especially my mother.
CW: Uh-huh. Now did your teachers visit your house?
EW: Oh yes.
CW: You said that teachers visited houses, but so they would visit students whether they were doing well or whether they, you know, they didn't only visit the students who need a little extra help or anything.
EW: In fact most of the parents and the teachers that were friendly because, all of my teachers always admired my mother and we would also visit them. I don't think there was a teacher, maybe except our principal, Mr. Mooreland. I don't remember having gone to his house. But I'm sure my mother did because they were close friends. But I think along with my mother, I know I visited my first grade teacher because she was my music teacher--first and second grade teacher. And then the third grade teacher lived next door.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And the fourth grade teacher lived on the same street that my aunt lived on. And then my fifth, sixth, and seventh grade teacher, Ms. Maxwell, I would go to her house and visit her all of the time. [chuckles] She lived right off of 7th St. in that area near Little Rock AME Zion Church. In fact those houses, they became historical homes.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Uh-huh.
CW: Right.
EW: Yes.
CW: This point in your education do you think you were already focusing on wanting to become a teacher yourself?
EW: Well, I know I must have because all of my life my mother always said she wanted me to be her little teacher. And so I became her little teacher. But when I finished I said, "Mother dear, why didn't you say you wanted me to be your little doctor or your little lawyer?"
CW: [laughter]
EW: Maybe I would have become your little doctor or your little lawyer, so I didn't tell my daughter to become a little teacher. I told her I wanted her to become a lawyer or doctor, so she ended up becoming a dentist. Which I'm proud of, yeah. Presently she is the Dentist at the Polkton County Jail, Correction Center in Polkton, North Carolina.
CW: Right. Do you think you were drawn to teaching though?
EW: Probably.
CW: Personally besides this emphasis that your mom had placed on it.
EW: I'm not sure. I am really not sure because I'm a people person; I love people. And I don't, I think it's because of mother. And I believed had she said her little doctor or little lawyer, I probably would have been one of those. But I am very happy that I did become a teacher because I felt that I've touched a lot of lives and made a difference in many of the children's lives.
CW: Do you think you drew on the inspiration of the teachers you had a Rockwell?
EW: I'm almost sure I had to. Especially when I was teaching phonics I would always think about my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rebb, and whatever history I was teaching or social studies I'd think about my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hunt. And my sixth grade, fifth, fourth-Fifth, sixth, and seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Lexler, I just thought she was-She was the youngest of all the teachers I ever had. And she was just so beautiful and so dynamic and so filled with effervescence. She was just great and, you know, we just loved her dearly.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Uh-huh [laughter].
CW: What kind of things do you remember from her class? What did she like to do with you?
EW: I just remember her just teaching us. You know I don't remember anything specifically like what she did except with the play of "A Christmas Carol" "Scrooge. But she was just an excellent teacher. Just gave us a lot of work and the math. And Gaither is for James Gaither; he was a wiz in math. And I would tease her about it. I'd say, you know, all of us we were so smart because we heard it twice. And I believe that's true. 'Cause you know while they were teaching one grade, the other grade was studying. And when they came to teach sixth grade the other grade was studying. [doorbell chimes] [dog barks] [interruption in recording]
CW: This is April the 9th, 2004. This is Christina Wright interviewing Elizabeth Gray-Samuel-Weinstein for the Oral History Project at UNC Charlotte. We're in the home of Mrs. Weinstein at 5529 Howard St., Derita, Charlotte, North Carolina. Mrs. Weinstein, yesterday you were telling us about your school and your community and the wonderful impact that your teachers had upon you. And I wondered if we could pick it up today by discussing discipline in the school. It's an issue that's often--you discuss, you know, in schools today. And I just wondered what was discipline like in the school? What kind of incidents did the teachers have to discipline?
EW: Well I really don't remember too many incidents because there was so much love that was generated. We loved our teachers so that we tried to please and appease them in every way. And they loved us dearly. I really don't recall of too many incidences where there was discipline. I certainly don't remember ever having to have been disciplined, but I do know that my first grade teacher had a strap. Mrs. Rebb had a strap, which was in the back closet. And I think there was a switch also. And I guess if anyone really strayed away from the rules they probably got a lick or two with the strap, but I don't recall that happening many times at all. We loved them so much. I can remember when the car that they were driving would come to school. They came together, Mrs. Hunt, Mrs. Rebb, and Mrs. Maxwell when she finally came to us and Mrs. Hunt our Principal at the time. When the car was coming to our school and it would make the right turn off Sugar Creek onto Rockwell Church Road, we would leave the playground and start chasing, running after the car 'cause here comes our great teachers! And I remember they had to drive so slowly because they were afraid one of us might dart in front of the car. And we just couldn't wait for that car to stop. And when they would open the door we would be there trying to get one's, you know their pocket book to carry for them, their papers, their book satchels. And whoever didn't get something to carry we were busy trying to get close to them to hug them or just to walk to school embracing them, hugging them. We just loved those teachers so. And I think one of the reason we didn't have too much problems with the discipline, even though we didn't have telephones at that time, is because our parents would always stop by and they would visit the homes. And it was just a wonderful time and of course children, we didn't have television then and I think a lot of times today's children see so much violence on television it probably causes them to act out, but we didn't have that in those days. And we were just interested in learning all we could learn and reading as many books as we could read because our teachers instilled within us that being a people of color that we have to be twice as smart and know twice as much to get a job in the white man's world. And we believed that.
CW: And that was a message you heard quite often from your teachers?
EW: Yes. Yes. From our teachers and from our parents. And they would always dwell within us to be truthful and to be honest. And not to behave to others as they had behaved to us because that was a not a Christian way in which to live. And they embedded in us that we must be Christ-like and do the things and behave in a way that would be pleasing unto God.
CW: Now this was obviously a time of segregation in schools. How aware were you of that as a child and when you became aware what did you feel about it?
EW: Well as a child I was always, I shouldn't say always, but we were quite aware that we had our own black community, our own black schools. But as a child I never could understand why I had to-couldn't go to a nice school like the one in Derita, a brick school and a larger school, and I always kind of thought that was unfair. And my mother explained to me that that was just the way life was and it was unfortunate, but some people didn't think of us as being equal even though we were all God's children and made in his image. And she said those were things that we would have to pray for-Actually, she told me it was a sign of their ignorance and she always made me feel that we were better because we didn't feel like that. And you see in a black family, in my own family we have hues of colors and we have in our family as white as any white could ever be and as black as any black could ever be. So with that range of color in your family, you really couldn't dislike a person because of color. So we knew it had to be something else, and my mother just told it was ignorance, and that we should pity them and pray for them that one day this would change. And then I remember when Dr. Martin Luther King came into Charlotte, I think I was in high school. And my mother took us to visit him, to see him, to hear him. And I never shall forget--she hugged him and said that, 'cause he was the same age that my brother was at this time I think he must have been about twenty-one or twenty two years old. And she said, "This is the way God wants all people to think and behave like our Reverend King" at that time. I never shall forget that.
CW: What were your feelings hearing that lecture that he gave?
EW: Well, I felt that this is what my mother's been telling me all of the time, and I heard it from another person. And I just knew this was the right way to go, and he was so very young and so very eloquent. And he had scripture to back up what he was saying. And I was very much impressed and just hoped that one day life would be as he described it, and as my mother always said this is they way Christ would want it to be.
CW: What were race relations like here in Derita on a day to day basis?
EW: Well not too far from us when I was a very young child, my grandmother, we had relatives that lived, I can't remember the name of the street, but if you would take Sugar Creek and continue straight rather than take the curve around to your right we would go in that area, which was white. And my grandmother would take us to visit our cousins there who were white. It was kind of frightening to me at that time of course I never shall forget it, even though I must have been very young. And the elderly people were talking and they put me in the crib with the little white child, and I don't know I just felt strange even though I was very young. It's amazing, I had to be no more than maybe three or four years old, but it was something I hadn't been accustomed to. And then when my mother worked for Dr. A. S. Baumgartner. Oh I'm older now, I'm in college or I'm in high school. And this was at 1516 Elizabeth Ave.. I don't care what I was doing, what he was doing, he could be with a patient, but whenever I walked into the building he always had outstretched arms for me to come into. And then we had a little store, I had a little store since I was five years old. And then when my father's health became that he couldn't work, my father took over the little store. And there was a highway patrolman named Mr. Rogers and he would always come by, stop at the store. And I remember if I was sitting on the front porch or the steps he would pull up his car and always talk. And he always kept in touch with us, even when I went to college he would always stop by. And when I returned home from New York I went to the highway patrolman on Tryon 21-29 and I was asking if Mr. Rogers was still around, but unfortunately they said he had expired maybe about two or three years ago 'cause I certainly would have liked to have seen him, you know since, Say "Look, I'm a grown lady now," and share him some of my successes. And then there was Dwyer; he has a service station across the railroad track, and my mother always took her car, I can't think of his first name, but she always took her car there to him. He lived over off of Gibbons Road. And my mother had a dear friend, Mrs. Flora Spears, who is Janice aunt. And they were just like Janice's people; they were the only blacks who lived in that white settlement. Then Aunt Flora was the only blacks who lived in the white settlement off of Gibbons Road. And when we would go to visit Aunt Flora, we always played with the children there because she had one granddaughter, Dorothy Jean, and her playmates were always white. And when we went to visit Dorothy Jean, well her playmates became our playmates.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: I remember one name was Donald. I can't remember his last name. About three or four years ago I went over into the neighborhood and I went down the street where Donald used to live and I spoke with I think his grandmother; she was still living. And she remembered my mother, but I guess in what I'm saying in other words, a little strange but there was some type of interrelationship still as a child. Uh-huh.
CW: Did you ever feel any negative effects of the segregation of the community, I know you're saying that there was a little integration, but was there ever any ugly incidents that you still?
EW: Yes, I remember [chuckle]. There was a man named Mr. Ted Locke and he's, I don't know whether he still owns the home down West Sugar Creek. But it seems like every time he would come through our community, and the roads were not paved then, he would just speed and just dust up and dust would just fly everywhere. And we just thought that was so rude. And then sometimes, like if we were walking home from school, and if the white school bus pass us they would sometimes spit out the window and call us "niggers" and say, "I know it's gonna rain because two black clouds or a dark cloud is passing by." And I just thought that was so ugly. And then my mother had told us, you know, just kind of forgive them because they're ignorant. And she told us not to ever call names or behave like that because it just wasn't the way Christ would want us to behave, or God would want us to behave. So I guess I really grew up with a certain amount of empathy toward white people who behaved like that. And my mother also taught us that there was good in every race and there was bad in every race, and I believe that and it's true. And so that was very helpful, it helped me to be a better person.
CW: Do you think that's the message that your teachers at school had as well?
EW: Oh definitely. Definitely. Uh-huh.
CW: What was the role of the principal at school? Did the children realize that the principal was different from the other teachers?
EW: Well we just knew that was the principal, and usually the principal taught the highest grade at one point in the school. And we just knew that was the principal, but they didn't, he didn't behave any differently. He just had his own classroom, or she, and she was a teacher, but we knew that was the principal teacher. Uh-huh.
CW: Now getting back to the building because we've talked a little bit about, but I wondered if you could describe it physically the way you remember it when you were a child attending?
EW: Yes. The way I remember it exactly how it looks now except it's old and dilapidated. It had the red tin roof, steps in the front. And we'd have I think it was two or single doors, I can't remember that, but it had the very very tall windows. And the windows had a top shade and a bottom shade. There was a coat/cloak room on the inside for us to hang our clothing. On the outside there were two privies; one for the boys one for the girls. And one is still standing I understand, that was the boys. I understand that is the only privy still standing of all the Rosenwald Schools today. And there was a coal shed, which is very much leaning and I'm hoping that I can do something to preserve those two if it's God's will. And I could never understand, the whole side of the room was just windows in each classroom.
CW: So the light was really good in the rooms?
EW: Yes, and in my readings now I understand exactly what happened. In some of my readings on the Rosenwald Schools, they said it was so designed that it should always be facing east and west for sunlight. And that the desk inside were arranged that the sunlight would fall over your left shoulder because most children do write right-handed, and the design of the school was that the desk should be facing the left side so the sun would come over the left shoulder and not foster a cast over the writing arm. So they took everything into considerations and even the color scheme was like creme color, the ceilings I think was like a beige or something like that. And they took all of this into consideration to give us better lighting because I don't think we had electricity. We could have, but I don't recall.
CW: You don't remember lights in the wintertime?
EW: I don't, but we could have. But I just remember, if we did we never used it because of.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: The way the building was erected and we had all the good light coming in. But we had to have had lights because when we would have plays, you know Christmas plays or PTA meetings.
CW: But maybe it was that you didn't need them very often.
EW: Just at nighttime I suppose. Uh-huh.
CW: And the heating in the building: you described the pot-bellied stove how did you all feel about that? Did it make it cozy or did you all feel that it wasn't really adequate?
EW: Well you know what they say; you never miss what you never had, so that's all we ever had. And James Gaither, who was my classmate used to come very early and.
EW: The fires when I was in school. And when we got there the building was warm, you know as far as we knew because we had the same thing in our homes: stoves, heaters. And we didn't have any type of air conditioner. You know even automobiles at that time, but like I said we were accustomed to that. And I guess you now people are afraid to keep their doors opened and their windows opened, but during that time doors and windows were open and you had the cross-ventilation. And even at school the windows were opened and the doors were opened and we had that cross-ventilation, so we were comfortable.
CW: Was the stove useful for other things too, do you remember?
EW: On top of the stove there was always some water, I don't know whether it was in a container or whether it was in a kettle, but in the winter-but I think they did that for humidity purposes or maybe some of the steam would also assist in keeping the room warm. But that's all that I can recall we used it for. For heating.
CW: Now those privies in the back, how did you all feel about those? I mean again it's you don't miss what you haven't got, but did you all was it just one toilet for the girls and one toilet for the boys?
EW: Seemingly there were two seats.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Seemingly there were two seats per privy.
CW: It must have taken awhile to get through in recess when you all-did you all line up and take turns?
EW: I think you more or less went when you had to go because it was just during recess and I guess we were trained, you know. And if you were playing and you had to go, you just went.
CW: Uh-huh, right.
EW: Uh-huh.
CW: So it wasn't something that you really sort of thought, "Oh those privies?"
EW: No, no, no.
CW: And the cold.
EW: 'Cause we had them at home.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: We had them at home.
CW: Same thing.
EW: Yeah, same thing. Uh-huh.
CW: Alright. Was there anything else about the physical building that was interesting to you as a child?
EW: Not that I can recall because in the first grade room it was-the first, second, third, and fourth grade rooms were about the same size. And when we were in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade that was the largest rooms. So it was larger. And that's where we had most of our gathering activities when we would-even when would-Yeah we had our activities there because we would, all of the schools, all of the students would come and watch us perform you know even if we did something special during the day. So we had it in the large room and we had the hallway and through the back or the front. And if you came through the front, on the right side wall was always a picture of Mr. Julius Rosenwald. And our teachers would explain to us that this was a very nice Jewish man who was very rich, known as a philanthropist. And if it weren't for Mr. Rosenwald we wouldn't have this little school today. And we were so grateful and I just thought that was just wonderful. And I reflected on what my mother said: all whites are not bad, they're good. All blacks are not good, some can be bad. And I said well here's living proof of this. And then three years ago I had the honor of meeting Mr. Rosenwald's grandson. He came out and brought his daughter because-and we opened up the old building and let them inside to see and that was really a thrilling experience for me. And it made me feel very very close, especially to-Maybe I shouldn't say this now, but you know to Jewish people because seems like they too with the holocaust has suffered as the blacks have done during slavery. Well let's make a long story short through all of this my husband today is Jewish. So it's been a wonderful experience and I'm grateful. Uh-huh.
CW: So you were very much aware of the lineage of the school and [clears throat] and about its roots.
EW: Oh yes.
CW: Because some of the other pupils haven't been aware of that. And maybe by the 50s they had stopped talking about it as much.
EW: Well, when we were in the first grade our teachers always told us. So maybe they just forgot.
CW: Right.
EW: Because they would always take us to his picture.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And explain who he was. Uh-huh.
CW: Was there anything else? There used to be a Rosenwald Day that was celebrated. And it could be that May Day had taken over that role in the school. But back when Dr. Davis would be visiting the schools, he would-there would be a day in March, I think, when he would come and there would be a celebration. But you didn't have that anymore.
EW: I guess I wasn't born then.
CW: Yeah.
EW: And I don't guess they carried it on.
CW: They didn't carry on that tradition, yeah. From among the friendships that you made at that school, and I think I know the answer to this [laughter], were there any really lasting friendships that are still true to this day?
EW: Absolutely. Francis and Israel, we were in first grade together, they are now married. I have a cousin who lives on the next street, Annette Hunter-Moore, Janet Spears, there is a young lady named Sadie Pfeiffer. I guess she had a very long trip to walk because she lived up near Harris Boulevard and right off of Sugar Creek Road. She--
CW: How far do you think that is?
EW: I'll clock it.
CW: Four miles or--?
EW: It's probably a good three miles. A good three miles, I'm sure, or longer. And she was an only child and she had that distance to walk alone, but then during those days it was safe. We went to sleep at night, nobody locked doors. And I remember if strangers were coming by and had no place to stay, you could spend the night. I mean such a marvelous time compared to now, you know. And Sadie ended up, we ended up going to same college, Barber-Scotia. She graduated form Barber-Scotia and she lives now, I think, down east somewhere. She's a teacher, but has retired by now. Those are the four that I-one, two, three, four that I remember-five that I remember vividly that we're still very close today and stay in touch. And of course my brother went to school there. Oh and Thelma Hunter who is Francis's sister. And we were, you know, she was a couple of years older. But these are the lasting friends that I can recall and I hope I'm not forgetting anyone right now. Uh-huh.
CW: And has that continuity continued in the neighborhood as well?
EW: Oh, yes.
CW: You've seen a lot of continuity.
EW: Yes.
CW: Has the neighborhood changed as well?
EW: Well, it's about the same except that the elderly people are deceased and grandchildren and children are still in the community. I just have chosen not to ever move away.
CW: But there's still the same feeling of community here?
EW: Oh, yes.
CW: And support.
EW: Yes. And you know one thing that I really like about having grown up in this community--and I heard Mr. McKoy, he was the president of the bank, what's his first name?
CW: Oh, Hugh McColl.
EW: Hugh McColl. [phone rings] Hugh McColl spoke at Spirit Square and he introduced one of his childhood friends, whom they had never met. They are both from Bennettsville, South Carolina. Marian Edelman Wright. And he made a comment that is very true I said, "How true this is." He said, "When you go back, return to your little town where you grew up it doesn't matter how much money you have, it doesn't matter how much education you have, you are just that person as you were when you grew up in that small town." Now even though he and Marian Edelman never met in Bennettsville, but they probably lived two blocks apart. And today he is building a library in their home town in her name, in here honor in the area where they both grew up. And that will be the Marian Edelman Wright Library there.
CW: That's wonderful. Uh-huh.
EW: Yes. I thought that was interesting because when he made that statement I said, "How true that is." I don't care, even though I had been away for a long time, of whatever the little degrees I have, I am still the same in the neighborhood. And you really can appreciate that.
CW: We talked a little bit earlier about this, but we're talking again about the community and it was a very nurturing community and there were some people who were really in great need. Can you think of some of those stories? Of families the way that they were helped out through difficult times?
EW: Many of the families in those days had you know many children. In our family there were just the two of us growing up because I am fifteen years my sister's senior. And if there were large families and you know our people didn't make much money during that time, you just more or less chipped in and helped. My mother did sewing a lot; she would make a lot of our clothing. My mother would clean our clothes even when I was in college and come home she'd say, "Bring all your clothes sugar." And she would put up the ironing board and have this cleaning fluid and clean all of my clothes. Put them on the line you know outside to get that smell. And we had a little garden. Whatever we had in our garden we would share and my grandmother had a peanut patch and potato patch right across the street, and whatever we gathered from there we would share. We had a cow and pigs, and whenever we had our milk and I knew how to make butter and all that kind of thing we would share. And then the Spears' I was sharing with Uncle Willie, they had a big farm. And Janet's father Mr. Keesler, and they would come through the community and they would peddle and we would buy from them if we could afford it. But if you couldn't they gave it to you. And that's the kind of thing. And then my mother and father always worked in town, but they didn't have to worry about us because the members here they were our shared parents. So it just took a lot of stress, you didn't have to worry. If one had everybody had. And we never realized that we were poor [laughter]. We thought we were all, you know, we didn't know rich or poorer. And I didn't realize what we did not have until I met other people, you know, blacks I guess from more elite families.
CW: When you got to college.
EW: When I in high school. It made a difference there because I was a Y-teen downtown in Charlotte. And one Mrs. Belton, she was our Y-teen teacher, and I met a lot of people there. And then that's when I could see the difference if you'd go to their homes, you would see a big difference in what your home here. But it really didn't because there was so much love that generated here, you know?
CW: Now when you went to high school you went to Huntersville.
EW: Yes.
CW: Which became Torrence Lytle. Tell me a little bit about that. What was it like at that school? It seems as if it was a wonderful follow-up from Rockwell.
EW: It was just a follow up 'cause all of the teachers loved us, our principals loved us, his name was Mr. I.T. Graham. The only difference is that people came to our high school from different communities. And of course in fund raising we tried to out do each other, who could raise the most money for your school. So what happened, it made you a closer knitted community. You know like everybody from Derita, we kind of like stuck together.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And from Caldwell or Little Grove. Even though there was some, you know, people dated differently. It didn't matter whom you dated whether from Mooresville, Cornelius, Huntersville, or wherever that was a different thing, but we were still very friendly. It was just like going to a big sister, leaving a little sister and going to a big sister. And with the same type of caring from the teachers, instilling with us you gotta know twice as much, you gotta do this you gotta do that. And they were very excellent teachers. I can't ever remember having what you would call a very poor teacher who lacked knowledge and couldn't teach well, and I think we were very blessed. Uh-huh.
CW: Uh-huh. Now you would have got there on the bus obviously.
EW: Oh, definitely. In fact I used to drive a school bus.
CW: Uh-huh. What was that like? Did you enjoy it?
EW: I did because I was one of the few girls, so maybe we had about two girl drivers.
CW: How old did you have to be to do that?
EW: I was seventeen when I started, I think it was as long as you had you drivers license, you got those at sixteen. But I think when I finished high school I probably didn't weight a hundred. And of course because I was so tiny, a lot of the parents were a little hesitant or concerned about their children riding my bus [laughter].
CW: [laughter].
EW: And then my principal realized that I ended up having the longest bus route of all of the drivers.
CW: Because you were further away or there were more communities--?
EW: It just-it was just mapped out that way. And when he was aware of that he made some changes that my route wasn't so long. But it was fun, I loved it.
CW: And they gave you some recompense for that?
EW: I think we got something like about twenty-two dollars a month. I believe it was about twenty-two dollars a month, but that was good money for us at that time. And I loved it-and I needed it because my father had been an invalid since I was twelve years old so any monies, any pennies I got was a big help to my mother. Uh-huh.
CW: When did you know that you were going to go to college? Back in Rockwell do you think?
EW: Well I knew I always had the desire to go, but I didn't know about the funds. And I thank God for my principal because fortunately I was a good student, I did finish top of my class valedictorian. And he knew our family's condition and he wanted to make sure that I got in college. And he had a first cousin who lived in New York. Her name was Alberta Pfeiffer. And she was a Barber-Scotia graduate. And he called me into his office one day and he said, "I want you to write the Barber-Scotia alumni in New York and share with them your circumstances, and I am too going to write to them to let them know that you are a very bright student and I would like for you to be their scholarship girl." Previously they had sent the young lady to college and paid all of the tuition, their books and everything, but unfortunately the last person they did that for was very unappreciative; they never even wrote them a thank you letter. So they figured they wouldn't invest, pay the whole thing; they would pay half of the tuition. So when I became their scholarship girl they paid half of my tuition, for which I was very grateful. And it was a big help. And it is so sad that my friends didn't have the same help that I had because they were bright. I'm talking like James Gaither, Francis McCauley-Gaither; bright. And I'm sure had they had the opportunity to go to college they would have and they would have-Well they're still successful, very successful today. It's odd sometimes how much money you make is what you do with what you have. And I'm just so proud of them, so very proud of them. And.
CW: How did you make up the rest of it?
EW: My mother worked and she gave-Oh yes, and when in college everybody had work duty. I used to sweep some steps. Sweep, I think I was in Faith Hall, and my duty was steps from the fourth floor down to the ground floor. And then one semester I worked in the library, but I really didn't like working in the library [laughter]. And I didn't like filing the books and all that kind of thing, but I did because we needed the money. And then my brother just told me recently, and I wasn't aware of this, that when he was in service that my mother said she needed help with me in school and he would send an allotment. He said he got very little because he sent the rest to mother to help me in school. And then Dr. Baumgartner, if I really needed something or mother really needed something, he would pitch in and help. So I was blessed there. Uh-huh.
CW: How many years were you at Barber-Scotia?
EW: Four years. Uh-huh.
CW: Uh-huh. And you would, what were your majors? What was your major?
EW: My major was early childhood education.
CW: So you knew you were heading for elementary school at that point, which you mom had always told you to do [laughter].
EW: I had to 'cause she said she wanted me her little teacher [laughter] I had to.
CW: And then you went on to do your master's, but that was in New York.
EW: Yes at.
CW: Did you teach in between?
EW: Yes, I taught here in Charlotte. My first job was at Lincoln Heights Elementary School. And then I taught there I think about four years, four or five years.
CW: Now what years were those? When did you graduate?
EW: I finished in '58, so I got a job here in '58 for '61, I think '62 I was at Lincoln Heights. And then the last year I was here I taught at Double Oaks under Mrs. Gwen Cunningham, who was I think was also finished from Barber-Scotia College. Yes. Very wonderful lady.
CW: Now as you were graduating college, the Brown decision came down and it didn't really effect education too much in Charlottebecause it took a long time. But how did you feel about that? Do you remember as a student what you thought?
EW: Was that in '54, I forgot.
CW: '54.
EW: Then I was just finishing high school.
CW: High school, yeah. Did you have any thoughts about it, was there any interest in it?
EW: Well we felt happy that you know as my mother said, "These things should be." So finally it was about to happen and then in Charlotte Dorothy Counts, she was the one to try it I think and others, but I remember Dorothy Counts. And I knew of that family 'cause her father I think was a reverend.
CW: Uh-huh. And of course we were fearful for them because we knew how ruthless some people could be. And I kind of like asked my mother, I said, "Mother would you let us go down to the Derita school," you know if, you know, but I had already finished. My mother said, "No, I would never let you do that." She said, "'Cause I love my children too much." You know if it could have happened 'cause I was finished at that time. She was so protective of us. She would never want us to go through that trauma.
CW: Was it disappointing for you all to see what happened?
EW: What do you mean?
CW: In those early stages?
EW: How they behaved, how the white.
CW: Uh-huh. And it must have been shocking to.
EW: No because we knew how some white people-I mean after you've been through the Ku Klux Klans--
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And you hear of how white people used to hang people, trees, you weren't surprised.
CW: But you were still hopeful that this was gonna come about one day, that there would be integrated schools?
EW: Yes, but we knew it wouldn't be a smooth road because we knew with whom we were dealing, you know?
CW: What about as a teacher? Because the schools were still segregated at that point in the 60s--beginning to get integrated, but it wasn't until the late '60s that you know Judge Mcmillan made the decision that they should be deliberately integrated. How did-what was your school like at Lincoln Heights?
EW: It was still segregated.
CW: Yeah.
EW: In fact I never was involved with any integration of schools until I went to New York.
CW: Really?
EW: Uh-huh. And when I became a teacher there in New York I was assigned a second grade class and.
CW: What year was this approximately [laughter]?
EW: Let me see, '58-maybe '66?
CW: Uh-huh. Right.
EW: '65 or something like that.
CW: Right.
EW: I think I started teaching in New York at like maybe about '66 maybe.
CW: And let me ask you, why did you go to New York?
EW: Why did I go--.Because at this time I married a young man, Adebao Samuel, and he was in medical school at Howard University and.
CW: How did you meet him?
EW: I met him at Barber-Scotia. He was a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And he had come up to one of our affairs because see when I first went to Barber-Scotia it was an all girl's school, and my second year there it became co-educational. And we were just like in the midst of Johnson C. Smith University, Livingston College, and the guys used to come to see the girls from Livingston and Johnson C. Smith University. And he came up and during that time I was the president of the student council and we were having our Valentine's dance. And he was kind of like just standing by the wall like a wallflower with his arms crossed, and I felt it was my duty to go up and introduce myself and try to make him welcome. And then he had this accent and I realized he was of Nigeria.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And during that time you know everybody was "black and proud" and we were happy to kind of know our African brothers and sisters-so when we started dated it was a big thing on campus. I never shall forget the president of the college, Dr. Cozart, called me into the office and said, "Miss Gray I hear that you're dating a young man from Nigeria, is that true?" And I told him, "Yes, sir." And he thought that was very good and he, of course I don't know how he got all this information, "And I hear that he wants to become a physician." I told him, "Yes, sir." But in the interim I guess I broke his heart because we dated a while and when he went to med school I married someone else. His name was John Ross Macula, we were married for three years and he died as a result of an automobile accident. And then after his death I got back in touch with Adebao, who was a senior at Howard University and we ended up getting married. And he was trying to decide where to do his internship and I remember as a child when my mother would be washing clothes and hanging out the clothes we'd be listening to Kay Smith and she would always say something about New York City. And I always wanted to go to New York City, so I encouraged him to go to New York for his internship and that's how I ended up in New York. And we went to Brooklyn; he did his internship at Brookdale Hospital. Yes.
CW: And then did you decide to do your master's degree at that point? Or you taught for a while?
EW: I started on my first Master's when I was married to John Ross. I taught, I was teaching at Lincoln Heights and I would teach you know during the school year and I would work on my Master's during the summer. I went to New York during the summer, worked on my Masters.
CW: So you'd already started in New York?
EW: Yes.
CW: Was New York everything you thought it was going to be and what did you think it was going to be?
EW: That and more. Let me tell you how I ended up going to Columbia University when I was at Barber-Scotia. Dr. Mordicai Johnson, who was the president of Howard University, and our president Dr. Cozart were friends. And Dr. Cozart would always invite great speakers to the campus and opera singers. He made sure that we were exposed to the arts. During that time the movies were segregated, but we could go down to the Concord movie, but we'd have to sit upstairs. And he forbade that. He said we would not go to the movie there. He would have movies to come on campus. I mean he was really someone to be admired and he made sure that we had that exposure to the arts, and I suppose that's why I love the arts today. We are members of opera and we're members of Museum of the New South. And I just love art, the artists, dancing, and all of this.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And I attribute that to President Cozart 'cause we had that exposure there.
CW: But is this where you got the connection with Columbia? You were saying you were going to tell me the story, Uh-huh.
EW: Back to Mordicai Johnson. Yes he came to, and he spoke one day.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And he challenged each of us, "I dare you!" he said, "To go to a big northern school. I dare you!"
CW: Now how did that make you feel?
EW: I sat there and I said I'm gonna challenge that dare. But I was frightened. I was intimidated. So I went to some of my teachers that I was very close to there. I said, "Do you think if I went to Columbia University I could fair well?" And they said, "Oh Elizabeth, you don't realize such a suit in you. I don't care where you go you would do well wherever you went." But I was crushed because I had applied for, I forget the name of this school in Nashville, Tennessee, I was so hurt, but I just kind of liked blocked it out of my mind. I wanted to go there because it was a little bit closer to home, but they turned me down even though I graduated summa cum laude of my class. Almost like straight A student, they turned me down. But when I applied to Columbia Teachers College-Columbia University they accepted me, and I guess that was for the best 'cause I really enjoyed New York. [laughter] Enjoyed going there.
CW: What were you hoping to find there do you think?
EW: What in New York?
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: I just wanted to go 'cause growing up in the country all of your life I just wanted to see the bright lights and see what it was about. And when I went to Teachers College I became very friendly. Even the president of the time was Dr. Lawrence Cremmins, he was the president of the college, we became very close. His birthday was Halloween. I found that out and we used to carve-I probably have some letters around still that he used to write to me and I would write to him. And then the Dean of Administration, I can't even think of his name I should never forget his name, we became close. And when I became principal in New York he was so interested in me. He took the subway and came to my school to visit my school. Dr. Schafer that was him, Dr. Robert Schafer. He was so interested in me. He said he had never met a student like me before. He said, "Everybody in the class loves you, rich or poor, black or white." Because I had to travel about two hours because I lived in Brooklyn at this time when I was getting my second degree. And when I would get to class people would save seats for me, they wanted to make sure I sat next to them [laughter]. And he said, "Elizabeth, I want to come and visit you." And I said, "Dr. Schafer why? Are you writing a book on blacks?" He said, "No. You're just so different and so unique I want to come and visit your home and your daughter to meet her." And he did. He came once and he took us out to dinner. I'll never forget it. He is now retired-oh he used to live in Saddlefield, New Jersey, and he would explain to us what it was living there. I think there was like one house per two acres. And when he left Saddlefield, New Jersey he moved to, I can't remember the place in Florida, but I was in touch with him once and I'll see can get in touch with again. I hope he is still alive, but he was such a dear man, Robert Schafer. Uh-huh.
CW: Did you find-was society more integrated there do you think?
EW: What in New York?
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Well at the college it was.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: I think the neighborhoods you know unless you have a lot of money, a lot of money. 'Cause there's still the Harlem-Harlem today though is very much integrated again. Bedforsty in Brooklyn, they have beautiful brownstones homes. And we lived in the brownstone section of Brooklyn. When we first went there it was mostly Jewish, but when they built Starwort City there was a big flight. And then when they moved out blacks moved in so it's mostly black now in Brownsville where we live. But it was interesting you know? You just come to Time Square and everything is integrated and didn't too many people at that time, whites, come up to Harlem, but they are back there again I understand 'cause I haven't been up there myself in quite some time. But it's interesting. And of course my husband is from Brooklyn, he says it's no place like New York. [laughter] No place like New York! So we do frequent New York maybe five or six, four times a year. It will be more often now since I don't have my mother now because I was here to take care of her. She lived with us, she never liked New York. I had to take early retirement and come back home.
CW: So [clears throat] You taught for awhile in Brooklyn before you became principal?
EW: Yes, I taught in Brooklyn I think about ten years. Ten years. I think about ten years and then I was principal and then I was principal there ten years.
CW: Now during your career as a principal how do you think your background here at Rockwell, and then at Torrence Lytle, and Barber--How did that affect your teaching?
EW: Let me share with you this: When I first started teaching in New York I had to question myself because I had an integrated class. And I didn't know whether prejudices would come through or not. And I hoped it wouldn't and fortunately it did not because really when you get to know people, people are just people. And I guess the first year I taught there, the child that I guess I loved the most was a little white girl name Rose, I can't think of her last name. And something very ugly had happened to Rose 'cause when I walked into the classroom the first day Rose went to the corner of the room and there was a big tall stool, and she sat on the stool in the corner. And I said, "Why is Rose on that stool?" She didn't answer. And the class said, "Because she's the dunce of the class." And I couldn't understand how anybody could, and it was a white teacher before I came, how anyone could ever do that to a child. So I got rid of that stool and I went to her and I hugged her and I kissed her. I say, "You are not a dunce." I said, "Your name is Rose," and I said, "Have you ever seen a picture of the flower rose?" And she didn't answer, just shook her head. I said, "To me you are just as beautiful as a rose." I said, "You will never sit in a corner like that again." And I made sure that I had her sitting very close to me up front at my desk. I found out, someone had told me I don't know the veracity of it or not, is that at the subway that she had pushed someone on the tracks. I can't understand how a child that age could have done that. And I think they said the person died, I don't know whether it's true or not, but she was the child of that class that I loved the most. And then when I left that school and taught at another school because this was an old school and there was a school that--brand new school opening and the principal came by looking for wonderful teachers to come to her new school. And I was one of the chosen teachers to go into the new school, which was PS 41. And then I think I had like a junior class and I had acting out students. And there was this little boy named Danny, can't remember his last name. He was from integrated parents. He lived with his grandfather because his mother was white, the father was black-he lived with the parents of the father. And both father and mother were in jail because of drugs. At seven years old, and the grandparents are elderly, they couldn't get around. Danny went to the grocery store; he did all the shopping for them. And he was another little soul that was so dear to me. And I was in walking distance from where I taught, so all the children would come to my house and on the weekends we'd have like hot dog parties. And I never shall forget I went to school once and Danny wasn't there. And I went by the home to find out what was wrong and he had the mumps or the measles, one. And then that weekend my doorbell rang and I looked through, there was Danny at my door.
CW: [laughter].
EW: I said, "Danny what are you doing out here in this weather with the mumps or the measles you should be inside in good weather". So he said he had to go to the store. But I said, "You get home and stay in this weather until the doctor says it's okay to come out." But I guess-you see the color didn't matter. When you understand people and understand the circumstances and evidently my heart goes out to what they call the underprivileged--
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: In whatever circumstances. It didn't matter. And then I had wonderful teachers. We became very close, very friendly, we'd visit each others homes, and I'm still in touch-She's Jewish. Her name is Faith, Faith Levine. We taught at 41 and when I became principal I tried to-she came to my school as one of my teachers. And she now lives in Florida and we're still in touch today; in fact, about two months ago she sent me a beautiful card updating me on everything that's happening with her family and her children. Very nice [laughter] OK.
CW: So when you were principal, what were the important things did you think in education of elementary school children?
EW: What I've always felt: show children concern, that you care, love, be honest, be fair, and just treat them like you'd want someone to treat your own child. And I've believe in this: I believe in doing the right thing all of the time without anyone peeping over my shoulders. I do not even speed, when I'm driving. If it says fifty-five miles an hour, I'm going to do fifty-five. Some people say you can go five miles over, I choose not to because I can read and it says "maximum speed fifty-five miles and hour". See, I would never get a ticket for speeding. I would never get a ticket for anything that I'm aware of. And I just believe in including that in your lifestyle period. Do what you're supposed to do, you don't have to worry; don't have to look over your shoulders. I don't care who comes into my classroom, I didn't care who came to my school when I was principal because I'm going to be on target doing what I'm supposed to do at all times. And that's what I tried to instill in my teachers. I thought it was so unfair that teachers had to spend so much time making lesson plans because when I had to make lesson plans when I was with my student teacher. We had to do what, how, and when. All of the who's, what, why, and when for every subject and I though that was so much time spent unnecessarily so. So I made a model for my teachers that you just fill this out and do you lesson plan and they were so grateful. I never tried to slip in on them unexpectedly. I always let them know when I was coming and I want them to always feel comfortable. And that's how it worked and-
CW: A lot of trust.
EW: Yes. And when I became principal all of my teachers were just about Jewish, I had two blacks even though the school was predominantly Black and Hispanic. And I kind of wondered how that would work out and it worked out beautifully. And I just had a great faculty, a very talented faculty. And we were very grateful and that's how I met Myessi, my husband. He was principal at another school down the block and my building was very large. And both of our buildings were under utilized and they-since Mike's school was at the edge of the district they chose to close his school and keep my school because they didn't want t to lose any children to the adjacent school district. So we had to bring all of his children and students into my building and since I was already principal they made him my assistant principal, and the rest is history [laughter].
CW: [laughter] What are your reflections on education today? I know it's been a while since you were actually in the classroom, but-in Charlotte, for example, with some current political situation that schools are going more to a neighborhood model again. Do you foresee any problems in the future or what would you wish for education here?
EW: It's alright if it's a more neighborhood school, but my fear is, and it might sound prejudice, but when we were growing up we were in a neighborhood school, but our principals were black and our teachers were white. And they understood. And it sounds bad to say, but if the teachers really understood and they really cared I guess it doesn't matter if it's black or white because I can truly reflect on New York. We had some teachers who really, really cared. But all of the black teachers really, really cared. I don't know, maybe still that little racial thing is there, but it shouldn't be. But I think people-you know, and another thing, people make too big of a fuss over things to me that just don't have to be. And I really feel that in the elementary grades they should really stress reading, writing, arithmetic, and some form of the arts. That's important for children to have an outlet. And I think maybe in the junior high and upper grades, they could concentrate on other things, other areas of interest. But to me that reading, writing, the arithmetic, and the arts is so important. And I think that's where they do their concentration. And I really think our children shouldn't watch television so much because you become adept in those things that you spend time on. Good time well spent helps a student. The more you read, read the stories, the children hear stories read from parents. James Gaither was a great story teller. He used to tell us good stories and he would read to us even, you know, even as peers and we loved it. Parents read to your children, don't be so much in front of the tube yourself. Expose your children to those things that you can. Be there for them. And you see another thing that is-things are so expensive now that both parents are working and you don't have that relationship that we had in neighborhoods growing up when your neighborhood parents were your parents also. And then I fear a lot of children, especially wealthy children, when parents can give them everything that they have nothing to look forward to when they get older. And a lot times they give the material things, but they are so busy I guess themselves keeping up whatever they do that they don't have their time to spend with their children. And that's important. I do remember when I was principal in Brooklyn there was a mother, I think she had about nine children. Beautiful children, very well dressed, and I was curious. And I said to her, "How in the world do you do this?" And she just said, "Well, you know we love each other and we love our children and we wanted them." And she said, "We don't have a whole a lot, but we keep them looking well and we pass down clothes from one to the other." And they always looked well and such love, you never would have known. They were so well-mannered and so well-grounded, it was just uplifting. And this is one of my concerns for our children today: In New York the children had nowhere to play and they'd play in streets. And that always bothered me. I found mostly New York people are rude, I thought, they didn't take time for each other. They knew what it was about 'cause that's how they grew up. And then I see Charlotte changing with so many new people coming in, it's about to lose its southern flavor. I wish instead of losing the flavor that the southern flavor could rub off on the new comers, do you understand?
CW: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
EW: Because that's one thing we said about being in the south even though it was segregated, it's okay. Because if a white person truly admired you, you knew it. And if they didn't like you, you knew it. But you see with some of these other people coming in they can act one way and behave another. I forget which one you call it, de facto or de jure segregation.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Do you recall the difference between the two? De facto de jure. Well anyway that was one of my concerns, you know. And today even though I am told they're-they say usually the children who are acting out in schools, I don't know if it's true or not, that most of them are the black children. And they say that in some of the classes they're not really integrated the way they are. I don't know whether that's true or not 'cause I really haven't been to the schools. But there's a lot to do here. And when I get myself straight I wish I could go into the schools sometimes and just volunteer, or sit with some of the students who need assistance in reading.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And when I first started teaching, see, I didn't know that you had to go by a manual and you had to do this at a certain level because when my children learned-when I left here in the second grade I had children reading on the sixth grade level. And I didn't know you weren't supposed to teach cursive writing until first grade, I didn't know. [laughter] So-
CW: So you went ahead.
EW: So when they learned how to do manuscript writing and do it very well, I just went on and taught them cursive writing and they learned it you know? I just-children are like sponges, especially young ones, they'll learn whatever you teach them. And I believe in teaching a lot of poetry to children and things of that sort, and having experiences for them to be in plays and things like that-the arts, you know?
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And I think it's wonderful. And we never had a lot of money, but I never shall forget when Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey would come to Charlotte. My mother would just take us to the circus site and we'd walk around trying to look through the tents, but I'd be frightened. But she just wanted us to say that we were on the circus ground, you know? And at the fair. The fair used to be-I was telling my husband the other day we used to walk, a group of us, from this house, from up here on Hippel Heights, over to Tryon St. because the fair ground used to be there. Where that little shopping area is, Park-N-Shop.
CW: About eight miles maybe [laughter].
EW: I don't think it's that far.
CW: Not quite, Uh-huh.
EW: But it's a long walk.
CW: On North Tryon?
EW: Uh-huh.
CW: Uh-huh. Yeah, that's really close, yeah.
EW: I believe it's-Uh-huh. Maybe about four miles.
CW: Four miles, yes.
EW: But we have walked it, yes, to go-and then when my dad would get off from work he would come over and pick us up. You know?
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: Uh-huh.
CW: And it was fun?
EW: Yes. And then now with the theatre complex--the neighborhoods had their, excuse me, their own movie houses. I thought that was wonderful. But everybody now has to go to the complex. I don't know whether that's good and bad. And everything is so expensive now. My heart just goes out, and is that not getting better?
CW: Well is there anything [clears throat] that you feel that we haven't covered or anything that you wanted to say?
EW: I really can't think of anything except to say that-Oh when we starting talking about people just make, to me, they make education more than what it should be.
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And the teachers are too stressed, I feel. Too embedded in paperwork. And when you're so stressed like that and embedded in paperwork you can't do the best you should do in the classrooms. And I would love to see some of this paperwork removed. Lesson plans and all of this. And I guess that's what I have to say for the teacher's parts.
CW: Well maybe you'll make a comeback.
EW: Maybe I will, you know?
CW: Uh-huh, yeah.
EW: Uh-huh.
CW: Oh, many a principal has come out of retirement in Charlotte.
EW: Oh and you know another thing: I could not teach. When I was teaching I had activity centers in my classroom, especially when I was with first grade. I had, let's see, a reading center, a music center, a block center, a math center, an art center, a writing center, a science center. It would take me a while to train my students, and I would have four children in a group. Sometimes, I don't think-at one point I had about twenty-six children, but sometimes maybe two would be in a group or sometimes every center was not occupied because four times six or seven would give you twenty-eight. But I knew children can get tired sitting in a seat, so I devised this method. I trained them; they would be at a center for twenty minutes. Of course you had to train them to work independently also and at twenty minutes I would [tapping] tap my little bell or I had this time clock and it would go off. And so they would know to pick up all of their things and they would rotate all day from one center to the next. And the day would pass so quickly I wouldn't realize that it was time for them to go home, and everybody would be going home and the parents would be waiting [laughter].
CW: They'd have a lot of fun.
EW: We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun. And they could do this 'cause I can't take a lot of noise and I told my children I said, "You can talk all you want to," I taught them how to whisper, "As long as I don't hear you." And I would have people from the board of education to come in, they'd just say, oh they'd never seen anything like it before. And this is really a model that I would wish I had put into practice in care, but it's not too late yet. But it takes a lot of training, a lot of training to do that. And of course before we started the rotation we would go over the phonics, the sounds, you know the skills?
CW: Uh-huh.
EW: And of course this is one thing I remember from my first grade teacher, but it's important. And we would do our counting, numbers one to a hundred, and we would count by two's and three's. And they would learn their times tables even in the first grade and we would do some poetry. And after that we would go into our rotation and the time just went so quickly. And I loved every moment of it. And when I became principal in New York, I got this job I think in October-November, but I didn't tell my mother until May-until Mother's Day. Because she would have thought it would have been too much for me, you know 'cause people said that is a big job, but it was an easy task. The only thing I did miss being in the classroom with the children, but helping to help train the teachers I felt was OK too. But she didn't know I wouldn't let her know [laughter]. But it was just worthwhile and you see that we have the union in New York, and when I first got there at there at three o'clock the teachers would be clocking out. And I couldn't understand how they could clock out at three o'clock when the child's day was supposed to end at three. And I started staying late doing work and before I knew it they were staying late to do the work. And they so much wanted to please me as we wanted to please our teachers when I was younger and in high school. I would get to school some mornings, they would be already there working. And the building itself looked like a museum 'cause each floor tried to outdo the other. And they would call me boss, "Come on Boss, let's do this." But I never liked that. I said, "Don't call me boss. Don't do that, I don't want to feel like that. I'm just a part of you. And I'm here to help you and direct you in any way that I can." I guess I spoke softly, but never carried a big stick. But the big stick was my willingness to help and my concern for my teachers and my caring for the children and the parents. And it was very successful for me.
CW: That's wonderful.
EW: Thank you.
CW: Well I've really enjoyed hearing your story. [clears throat] And if that, I mean that's a wonderful way to end so unless you have something else to say-
EW: That's all and it's been so wonderful meeting a lovely person like you and we'll be in touch always.
CW: Oh yeah.
EW: OK. And thank you for all of your help and I have learned to love you.
CW: And good luck with the school.
EW: Thank you so much.
CW: It is a great mission.
EW: Thank you so very much.