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Interview with Thereasea Elder

Elder, Thereasea
Desmarais, Melinda H.
Date of Interview: 
Elder, Thereasea Delerine; Mecklenburg County (N.C.). Health Department; Good Samaritan Hospital (Charlotte, N.C.); Charlotte Memorial Hospital (Charlotte, N.C.); Ku Klux Klan (1915- ); African American nurses; Public health nursing; Health and race; Discrimination in medical care; Household employees; Housing; Race relations; Civil rights movements; Segregation; School integration; North Carolina--Charlotte; North Carolina--Charlotte--Paw Creek; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Thereasea Elder recounts her and her family’s experiences living in Charlotte throughout the twentieth century, as well as her forty-five years as a nurse. Growing up in a segregated Charlotte, she describes life in the close-knit African American community and details the central role of the church and the focus on education within the community. Ms. Elder’s medical career began at the white-only Charlotte Memorial Hospital, and after earning her nursing degree she went to work at Good Samaritan Hospital, Charlotte’s only medical facility for African Americans. She explains the disparities between the two and recounts the difficulties Good Samaritan’s staff faced due to the scarcity of resources. Joining the Mecklenburg County Health Department as a public health nurse in 1962, Ms. Elder was part of the pilot program in the 1960s to integrate Charlotte's community health program. This led to her experiences working in the Paw Creek area, an economically disadvantaged white community. Describing the region as 'Klan country', she recounts the racism she faced from residents and how ultimately she and her fellow nurses were able to make the program a success, leading to the full integration of the health department. Ms. Elder discusses the integration of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system from the perspective of a parent whose two sons were bused to a formerly all-white school. She discusses her views on the limited success of integration and the current state of race relations in Charlotte, with particular attention to the role housing policy could have played in producing a more fully integrated Charlotte with improved health and educational outcomes for disadvantaged Charlotteans of all races.
North Carolina--Charlotte; circa 1930 - 2001
Interview Setting: 
Home of Thereasea C. Elder, North Carolina--Charlotte
Oral History, OH
Interview Audio: 
TE: Thereasea Elder
MD: Melinda Desmarais

Minidisc 1 begins.

MD: This is Melinda Desmarais, the interviewer and today is May 9th 2001, and I’m here with Thereasea Elder at her home in Charlotte in North Carolina. I am conducting this interview for the Digital Sound Archive Initiative for the Special Collections department at UNC Charlotte’s Atkins Library. Please state your name.

TE: My name is Thereasea Clark Elder, spelled T-h-e-r-e-a-s-e-a. Thereasea Elder. Most people say Thereasea so that’s what I’ve always gone with is Theresa or T.D.

MD: And the Clark, it’s a C?

TE: C-L-A-R-K, that’s my maiden name.

MD: Ok. And what is your date of birth?

TE: September the second, 1927.

MD: And where were you born?

TE: Charlotte, North Carolina. Right here.

MD: And, Mrs. Elder, tell me what your parents names were.

TE: My mother was Odessa Clyburn Clark. My father was Booker Thomas Clark.

MD: And were they from Charlotte?

TE: No. They were from South Carolina.

MD: Do you know where in South Carolina?

TE: Lancaster, South Carolina.

MD: And what did they do in Lancaster? Do you know?

TE: Well you know, my father worked in a mill, and my mother did day work, you know, in the home for people. And there was six of us kids that--. Three were born in South Carolina, and three was born here in Charlotte.

MD: So what made your family move to Charlotte?

TE: For better economics, my parents told me, you know. Because there were jobs here and a better opportunity for their children.

MD: And do you know about when they moved here, what date?

TE: I really don’t. I know that my oldest brother was born 1915, and they moved here when I think he was about in the second or third grade. So I’m not, I’m not really sure.

MD: So in the early 1900s?

TE: Right.

MD: Okay. Tell me a little bit about where you grew up here in Charlotte, and what that experience was like.

TE: I had a wonderful childhood experience. I grew up in the Greenville community section, and this located about two-to-three miles from the Square of Tryon and Trade, you know going out in a Northwestern district area. And there was a whole community of African Americans, and most of them were homeowners in the area. And there were, they were very close knit, you know, community. Everybody looked out for everybody else. There in that neighborhood there was thirteen original churches. They had, the church would always prepare or do leadership for children, you know, year round. And there were people in the neighborhood that had special skills that they pass these skills on off to, to kids year around.

MD: What type of skills?

TE: Well sewing, cooking, gardening, cutting wood, you know, helping people, plowing, you know, doing flowers. You know just whatever. But the women taught us how to cook, you know, how to entertain, you know, people, how you prepare things for people if they are coming to visit you. They increased education and reading and studying the Bible. They really put the emphasis on reading and studying the Bible. We had Bible classes in homes, you know, and there were people that made sure that you studied that Bible because you would go to they homes for Bible study.

MD: During the week?

TE: Uh-huh. And on weekends, too. And had to go church every Sunday. Uh-huh.

MD: And what church did you attend?

TE: I attended Second Calvary Baptist Church. It was organized by my father and seven other men, and it started in 1914. So I don’t know when they came to Charlotte, but I know the church was started by him. And that was located in the Greenville area. And that was where we went to church. That church has relocated when they, you know, tore down the Greenville area it was relocated on Nelson Avenue. That’s right off of 16. I still attend that church.

MD: So tell me about what your parents did for a living.

TE: My daddy, my daddy worked for Myers Park Country Club. He was called a porter, and he worked in what they called the locker room, where they men had their clothes, and, you know, their wallets and how they dressed to go play golf or go swimming. And my mother did day work for different families during the week, and that was the kind of work they did. My daddy was, his job was so interesting. He was, you know, was able to see all of the movie stars, if they would come through. The club is still here; it’s Myers Park Country Club. And he would see them, you know, people that played golf. And well he’s just met all of the leaders across the country that would come through here to play golf. And when a golf tournament was on, we didn’t even see him. He stayed out to the club night and day, you know, because, really a (pause) someone that cherished his job and worked. And they didn’t want anyone but Booker in the locker room, so he stayed there. He made a lot of money. A lot of, what we called a lot of money, you know, because of all of his tips and things that he would be getting.

MD: And did he work there his, his whole career?

TE: When he came to Charlotte. He did work at, he worked at the Red Fez Club some, and that was the club that was downtown later, you know. But most of his time and most of what I recall he was out at Myers Park.

MD: And you said that your mother did days work.

TE: Yeah, she worked for a family that was called Mrs. Talley. They ran the Carolina Theatre, her husband did here. And that was the one, and then she worked with that family doing day work and housekeeping. And she also worked for some of the Belk’s, you know, and Efird’s, that was another family, you know, that they were working, you know, with people. And Mrs. Doodle, this was the family that headed up Myers Park Country Club. And she did day work on the people that were, you know, she cleaned their homes and things. And we would go at times to help with that.

MD: Can you describe for me, since we are on the subject, what race relations were like when you were growing up? Your parents worked for, what sounds like wealthy whites.

TE: They were.

MD: But in general, what would think, how could you describe race relations in Charlotte to me, from the time you were born say up until maybe you were graduating from high school?

TE: Race relation was, what I remember and how I recall, was very respectful of each other. Most of the people that I was around were people my parents worked for. And they gave us everything. They was very cordial to us. We were their dependents. They would take care of us, that was the way relationships were here in Charlotte. Whomever a person worked for, them white people would take care of them. We didn’t have the kind of employment that we have now, with business and this. Most of it was a personal relationship. Even if it was working in the docks or in the mills, or, you know, like we had a southern asbestos mill, or the cotton mill, or the flour mill. There was a personal relationship going with the employer with the employee. And they would take care of those families. We always saw families come out to our communities to visit the blacks and bring them things.

MD: And when you say talking about taking care of families, what sort of things specifically do you remember that they were, the white folks would do?

TE: They brought clothes. They brought clothes. They would bring food. They would bring. If you needed anything they would get it there. If a child needed something in school, if it was a dress or my brother had beaucoups of shirts and clothes you know because they would give them you know to my father. And you know if there was a child going off to college, they would come get that child get ready to go off to college. It was a wonderful relationship. It was just, you know, because I have never had any problems until after, you know, we started going out, because my parents were very protective of us.

MD: Um-hum.

TE: You know because we went to school with blacks. We went, all of our recreation and things were with blacks. It was not. You knew that you stayed in your community, and they provided those things. And they saw that you had those things. They saw that we had a swimming pool. They saw that we had playgrounds, and they would make sure that you had what you needed. Now we, stayed segregated, you know. The schools were segregated. Housing was segregated, and the churches. You know the cemeteries, everything was segregated, but the relationship was usually with the family that you worked for. That was the closeness now. If there was a family there right next door to me, they would not help them at all. They would only help, you know, us, and give us stuff. And we would always share it with the people in the neighborhood, because we never kept everything. It was a very sharing and caring neighborhood. You know, no matter what we got we would share it with other people, and that’s what happened. One of the nicest things in the whole community was, everybody had the same flower, you know, it was the lilies, you know. They would put them in different places trying to accent the neighborhood, but I remember ours was all across one whole part of the top around the yard, but the other ones had a eagle, and theirs was around the eagle. This was a great big eagle. That was they statue. Everybody had unique ideas trying to make things. There was a wooded area, you know, near where we studied, and we would go, you know, over in the wooded area and everybody would chip in and bring stuff and it was a great big festival. We had what we still have now, fish fries and dances and music and it was just, you would entertain yourself. But you absolutely stayed in your own community. Wasn’t anywhere else to go.

MD: And was it unusual? I know you say that sometimes the white family that your mother worked for or that your father worked for would come to your community. Was that unusual, would they do that a lot?

TE: They did that. They would come if there was any need for things. You know if they wanted to, to bring us something, they would come, you know. They would bring clothes. They would bring food, you know, and they would just come to see how we were doing and how we were growing. And we all had to dress up and come out, you know, you know, to meet them.

MD: And when they would bring things like clothing, would it be clothing that they had already worn?

TE: Uh-huh. But sometime they had not had them on, probably just one time or something. And they were always very good things. They weren’t anything that you could not wear.

MD: Now when you talk about, you know, staying in your own community, you mentioned that your parents, sort of tried to protect you in that way, and you didn’t have any trouble until you went out. Tell me about what you mean about going out.

TE: Well this was after I left high school, you know. During high school, I worked at, this was called the Charlotte Hospital, Charlotte Memorial. That was the first time I came in contact, you know with. And they were very good. (laughs)

MD: And was it a white hospital?

TE: Yeah, well. Um-hum. Because we had our black hospital here. They were white. The only thing that they had at Memorial was the iron lungs, and that was people that had polio, and they, you know, would have blacks there, because that was the only place they could go, you know. But it was always a city of friendliness. Charlotte has never been a place where there was a lot of unrest. I don’t remember any, anything about lynching, killings, none of this, you know. And there were things like, I remember W.B.T. you know, was threatened with bombs and things, but I was grown then. But I don’t remember anything coming up about race relations, unrest, until we really started the school integration. And that’s where, you know, that we felt the sting of, you know, of real, you know, pettiness and unrest in the relationships.

MD: And I want to talk about that a little later.


MD: So you say, you know, when you went to Charlotte Memorial, were you doing--. Were you taking classes?

TE: I was in high school. I was in high school.

MD: Just volunteering?

TE: No, we got paid, because we worked at all--. I wanted to go in nursing, and you could sign up for a course to go and, you know, in and work wherever you were, the same sort of thing that they’re doing now, but it’s on a more scale, we just did this on our own. I would go to Carolina, no it wasn’t Carolina, Charlotte Memorial Hospital at that time, and I would fill saltshakers or wash saltshakers and fill them with salt and pepper. And carry them up to the rooms, and sit them up in the diet kitchen. And we learned menus, special menus. We would go out on the floor and the nurses would show us how to read a thermometer and that sort of thing, but we didn’t go into the patients’ room. Now a girlfriend of mine and I were working, and we went up on the maternity ward one night and we put on a floor show for the mothers and the babies. Because we danced up something for them. (laughs) And they just had a ball, you know, with it. But, we weren’t supposed to be up there, but we were up there entertaining, and they wanted us to come back again, because we would sing and just do all this dancing and stuff for them. ( ) loved to dance. And they would have a lot of fun.

MD: Did you ever have patients or anybody to react because you were an African American woman there or?

TE: Uh-uh. No, because see we didn’t really come in contact with patients. You know the only time we were up on that floor, where we were dancing, weren’t supposed to be up there, we was up there one day and had heard the music and started dancing.

MD: Just kind of goofing off having fun? (laughs)

TE: And we were, we were little ‘ole high school students anyway, and that was just, you know, really great you know, and we had a lot of fun. They gave us money, you know. They gave us money for dancing, and that was just really great. And they had a lot of fun and we did, too. (laughs)

MD: Tell me, just so I can have a listing of the schools you went to here in Charlotte, your elementary school, if you had a middle school, a high school.

TE: I went to Fairview Elementary School. And when I was at Fairview I went to West Charlotte. I went to West Charlotte in 1938 in 7th grade, and they had that year just built West Charlotte. It was newly built, and it was not where it’s located now; it's where Northwest [Northwest School of the Arts] is located, and that we had to walk from the Greenville area, you know, to West Charlotte.

MD: No busing available?

TE: No busing. We wished we could have been bused. We had to walk you know. But there was a--. Oaklawn Avenue was full of children walking. There wasn't many automobiles, there were automobiles but there weren't that many where we would have to be dodging or nothing. It was not that dangerous.

MD: I've heard stories that African American boys and girls had to walk past white schools to get to the schools that were segregated. Did you have to do that?

TE: But we didn't, uh-uh. No. This would probably be mostly. I was in the city and you see at that time we had city schools and county schools. And the county kids would have to, you know walk past and go. But the city it was never like that because we went to school and it, it really wasn't community schools, but this was a school that you knew you had to go to. See there was only two black high schools: Second Ward and West Charlotte. So, you know, Second Ward would go on that side of Tryon Street, and West Charlotte went on this side. But when there was only one school, my oldest sisters and brothers and those had to go to Second Ward. They had to walk from Greenville to Brooklyn. If you can imagine, where Adam’s Mark is now, I don't know if you know where Greenville is, but that's how far they had to walk.

MD: It's a long way?

TE: Now, they had it even better because the kids that lived near Johnson C. Smith, they had to walk, because they had to walk to Second Ward, you know. But after they built West Charlotte in '38, I never had to go through that.

MD: Tell me as you were coming up, and you know we were kind of talking about before you went to college, as you were coming up what was Charlotte's leadership record on civil rights. What, I know you said there wasn't a lot of you know unrest, and that personal relationships between blacks and whites in terms of employers-employees kind of helped to knit, knit people together in some way.

TE: It was all, relationships were all passing. There was not any--. There was white water in downtown and colored water. You could not go into a restaurant. You could not, and you knew this. You could not, there wasn't anywhere for you to eat downtown. You know there was not, there was a restroom but you could no go, you know. And you just, you just did these things before you left. And what I remember is just going to pay a bill. You could not try on certain clothes, you know, in the stores, but people knew this and accepted it. And it was not any challenge. Because you didn't have the price to go up to buy these anyway. Most of our things came from Belk’s basement, bargain basement, or J. B. Ivey's basement, because upstairs was, you know, was for higher priced things. There were some African Americans that could go up there and buy those things, and they bought them. They could go buy linen. They bought dishes. They bought, you know, whatever their money could, but as for, you know, it were six of us, and my parents just did everyday work, you know. But they bought their home and you know they was saving, you know, for college, for all of the kids. And this was at, you know, at the request that, you know, of the people that my mom and dad and those were working for. You know because they wanted you to go get an education. And that was the biggest thing. Everybody was saying get an education, and they were pushing that right along, with, you know. They was crazy about my parents, you know. And they would say, “Oh my goodness Odessa's having another baby,” you know, and they would take care of that. It just wasn’t. And when they were in the hospital they visited the black hospital, you know, they really--. We just never had any race relation problems, because, and that's because there was never a challenge. We were taught you know what you was expected to say and do and act, and that's what we obeyed.

MD: And did that come, where did that kind of come from? I know your parents you’re saying would teach you in the community. Do you think that came for the people in the leadership positions in the black community in Charlotte at that time, or?

TE: We, the leaders in the black community were the undertakers and the doctors. Those were the people that were considered you know the leaders in the black, and the ministers. And those people would teach you how to read and they were always, everybody was saying education. Get your education, because they were saying they saw education out of the dilemma that we ran, and that's what they were pushing. But they also taught you to respect. You respect everybody. Your elderlies and you respected other human beings. You know, that was just the way it was.

MD: And did you feel, how did you feel if you weren't getting respect from the white community in terms of?

TE: Well really I felt like I got respect. I didn't ever have a disrespect from them because, you know, as I said our parents protected us. The biggest contact I had was at the grocery store. When we would go to the grocery store, my mama and those ran a grocery bill at the grocery store, and that was K & V [?] , and he would let us have anything we wanted, because my mom and them would go by and pay it, you know. Because we would love, like you know because most of our bread was biscuits, cornbread, it was straight out meals cooked three times a day. And we thought that, you know, that, you know like the white bread, the light bread that was all white bread then. The peanut butter. We'd have parties. We'd go get bananas and peanut butter, and they would put on, you know, they had a bill. Right. And the grocery store was in the neighborhood. And I think he knew just how much, just how much, you know, you could Booker T. or Odessa was allowed to get.

MD: And was he a white grocer?

TE: Oh yeah. Um-hum.

MD: In the Greenville community?

TE: Uh-huh. Yeah. We had one on what we called Seaboard Street [North Carolina Music Factory Blvd], or Eleventh Street, and one was on Oliver Street, and both of them was just the same. You know and that's where--. And then there was that A & P, that where they would go get the bulk of their groceries. Now you could not run a bill there. This was, you know, like a Harris Teeter exchange, but it was an A & P. And you would go up there to get groceries, you know, the bulk of your groceries, you know.

MD: Right.

TE: But these were neighborhood stores that, that you know, know people served and they stayed there. K & V [?] was there even after I married, and when they moved, after they tore the area down it moved over on West Boulevard. And that family still’s around here. And they were called Mr. Knox and you know, and the other one was the dry cleaning place. And that was like Harris Hart. Harris Hart ran the dry cleaning, and we would take clothes up there, and they would run you, run a bill. You go by and pay them, parents would. That was just--. It was just a wonderful relationship, and they would report you just as much as, you know, African American people, you know, the grocery stores that were there. They would tell you in a minute, you know, boys get in scuffles or girls get in an argument, they would make you stop just as quick as you would start. Just as quick as some of the other African Americans.

MD: Now I know that you went on to college. Where did you go to college?

TE: I went to Johnson C. Smith first, and I left there and then went to Durham into nursing. I was, I was at Smith from about--. I graduated in '44, and I went in at nursing at '45.

MD: Now when you were at Johnson C. Smith, were there organizations there in the 40's that were pushing for civil rights at all?

TE: No. Uh-uh.

MD: So was--.

TE: That was 1944. Now the WWII was going on, the war was still going on. You know and you see most of this, the enlightenment came after WWII. You know, when the fellas came back, you know, from the war. But everything was just, you know, we were so busy fighting, you know, the war, you know, and every body's things was rationed. And you know, and everybody that was worried about, you know, the boys, 'cause every family was affected, and people got killed, you know and that was during WWII.

MD: So the relationships in Charlotte between the races and race relations were about constant, about the same as you had described before?

TE: Right. Uh-uh.

MD: So you went to Durham, and you?

TE: And Durham was an eye-opener. Because there was, in Durham it was even more a cohesive African American group. You know 'cause see Johnson C. Smith here never reached out into the community the way that North Carolina Central in Durham. In Durham, North Carolina Central was in the elementary schools, they were there encouraging children to go to college you know, and be there. They was, they had an effect on all around. Now Johnson C. Smith was there but it was like an oasis. You know, they were not in, you know, coming in to the school system and saying this is a higher learning. And it may have been because parents were doing that. Parents were so forceful because the whole African American scene was education, education, education. And this was pushed on all children, no matter who they were. And we in turn pushed it on others, you know and developing. There was never, you know, in a classroom where there was a very smart, bright or alert child, that child was just, you know, pushed to go on. You know, it was never you know like a, what do you call them? What do you call them kids when they think they smart? The urks or, or what do they call kids? The nerd? The nerd, they called kids. There never was. Kids didn’t tease kids about being smart. They was always trying to help or trying to help someone else, you know.

MD: So when you finished up in nursing in Durham when did you come back to Charlotte?

TE: I came back to Charlotte, I got a job in--. I came right back after I graduated, I got a job in Washington, and I went to Washington, you know, because, you know, my husband was trying to get to school in Greensboro, but he did not get there. So I left the job in Washington, because I went up there when I first got out. I think I was up there about six months, and then I came--. Because he was not here. He was trying to get in school in Greensboro, so I came back to Charlotte and got a job, at L. Richardson. And I was at the L. Richardson about six months.

MD: And what was L. Richardson?

TE: That was a hospital. See, I was working at the//( ) L. Richardson is the people that run Greensboro, and they had the black hospital there, the still black hospital. And I came to, came back home and got a job at Good Samaritan Hospital here, because my husband couldn’t get in school at A & T, so he got into school here. That was called Carver College, you know, Central Piedmont now. And he, and then that’s when we married, and he finished over there, and then he went into business. Yeah. ( ).

MD: Tell me a little about Good Samaritan. I know it was an African American hospital, tell me a little about, maybe describe what it was like there, and how was it different from your experience at Charlotte Memorial? You know, I know that health care wasn’t integrated. Was it separate but equal? What was that like?

TE: The Good Samaritan Hospital was started by the Episcopalian Church. I don't know whether you know that. It was a lady by the name of Miss Wilkes, you know, and I came from Durham. And I was affiliated with Duke and Wake, you know, there was a kind of relationship in Durham but not here. Because we had instructors, and I had, would go and help out at Duke, and because that relationship with the nursing, with the hospital in Durham was very close to Duke, you know, the Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing. And we had instructors from there. There was the public health department in Durham. It was so unique, you know and we had--.

MD: And did it give you experiences as an African American woman that you might not have gotten otherwise?

TE: I did not get, you know, here. And that was one advantage that I felt I brought back from Durham to Good Samaritan Hospital, you know, because they did not have that of relationship with Carolina, with Charlotte Memorial. And they had, we had affiliation with North Carolina Central, you know. It was a, and there was a religious community. Everything was centered. Durham was so much more progressive, you know, than Charlotte, you know, the African Americans there, and I attributed it to the university itself reaching out into the community. The university had long arms that they put around the community, along with the ministers and religion. And they just, you know, progressed more. I have not seen Smith doing that today. You know, you know, where they would have people going into the elementary school and talking to kids and encouraging kids, you know to, to for better education. And that's one thing that I think you know, that we like here is a pushing of a higher education coming in and encouraging. I've seen it on a very limited basis where some of the students would come and work in the community, you know, from Smith. I would love to see, you know, a whole program, you know, would be in elementary schools, you know, with kids and motivating, talking to them. Even, you know, planting that seed very early in that child's life. I think that would be, be wonderful.

MD: Tell me a little about, about Good Samaritan in terms of day to day, what health care was like for African Americans versus what you saw what health care in Charlotte was like for whites at Charlotte Memorial. Since you've kind of had an experience, in a different way, but at both places.

TE: Good Samaritan was a wonderful hospital, to say to give you care, you know, to people. They were loving, caring, but they did not have the resources, you know, that we had at Carolina. They were not there. When I went to work, I was making $88 a month. I was working on a maternity ward. I did deliveries. I painted rooms. I washed linen. I took my money bought curtains for the private rooms. You wouldn't have heard of that at Charlotte.

MD: Because they had all that?

TE: Right. And I did not have to do that at Lincoln. Now at Lincoln School of Nursing we washed windows, and we washed walls, but they were in the operating room. They were not patients’ room. There was a very limited supply of linen. We never had enough linen at Good Samaritan. There were never even enough beds, you know beds were in the hall, had problems getting medicine, you know, and you would have to make your own I.V. fluid. Now, I did that at Lincoln to, but it was more in a closed session than we had there. We had to sterilize your own needles. You had to sharpen your own needles, and you know, you just throw away a needle now, but you know you, everything was, you had to sterilize everything.

MD: Like recycled everything.

TE: And you had to reuse. Right. And we had to autoclave, you know steril//--autoclave, that means sterilizing things to be used, for deliveries and half the time the autoclave didn't work, you know, but you had to go on with, you know, with what you had. And it was only through the grace of God that we survived, you know, major infections, and we never did. We never had any of that. You know we had to shut down an area because of infection or something. We never had that. We had problems getting special menus, if you were. You know because it might have been a nutritionist but she was not a dietitian. Those kind of things that you see now, but, you know, they were not that great of a problem, you know, at the time that we were doing that, because we were so used to having, not having what you really needed to work with, you know, at the hospital. And you even, at Lincoln it was during the war, everybody was, you know, short. But we never had, I never had to wash linen or, you know, those kind of things, you know, that we did here.

MD: But the white hospitals would have that?

TE: Because in Lincoln. See, Lincoln School of Nursing was supported by Duke, and see a lot of things came over from Duke to Lincoln. But see Good Samaritan was a private institution, mostly run just on patient finances, you know. And that was a, you know, another and insurances, you know. And most of them did not have good insurances, and times where just, where there was not a high finance, you know. So that's why the hospital, you know. They provided good care, and it was mostly loving care. You know one of the, one of the most wonderful things that happened in my first, you know, years of nursing was penicillin, you know, to fight infection. And that was, that was just one, because the only thing they had was sulfur, you know, to fight pneumonia and these sort of infectious diseases. But when we got penicillin, it was just wonderful.

MD: Now, I know that you went on to, get a master’s in nursing, is that right and public health or?

TE: I got a certification in public health.

MD: From Chapel Hill?

TE: Uh-huh.

MD: And I know that you were instrumental in the community health program, community nursing here in Charlotte, and especially in integrating the community nursing program in Charlotte. So can we start of just kind off, just kind of move on to talk about that? And can I ask you first, just to kind of explain what the community nursing program was in Charlotte. And what it was like when you started? What year did you start?

TE: I started, I left Good Samaritan and went in public health nursing in 1962. And in 1962 that was a what they called a program where you took care of the schools and the families in whatever area that you were assigned. And it was like a slice of pie, you know. And when I went to work for the health department, they had consolidated city/county government. And that made a total difference. They had not been long, you know, consolidated and city nurse, director of nurses, absorbed the county, you know, and that was not really kosher, you know, going on, but they survived. So what you were assigned, a co-worker, and you were assigned a district which usually was about three people, you know, in an area and that was your co-worker. When I got ready to screen the kids at my school//:

MD: And what was your school?

TE: I had Biddleville Elementary School, and I had Bethune.

MD: Both African American schools?

TE: Right. No, they were, they were integrated.

MD: Oh, ok, by then.

TE: Yeah, the schools were. You know when we, when I got there, they were, they were not. We had some whites in Bethune. We had none in Biddle.

MD: So kind of a token integration?

TE: Right, because see Bethune was up there in Fourth Ward, and there were some poor whites left in the area. But the other ones had moved out, and they didn’t have anywhere else to go but, but see total integration was not.

MD: Right.

TE: You know, and those kids were, you know, kids that were still in that community there. But there was very limited, you know.

MD: The number of whites?

TE: Uh-huh.

MD: So, so you said when, you know, you had partners when you had the schools that you worked in, did you also work in the out in the community in other ways?

TE: Oh yeah. All of our work was in the community. I would have what they would call, you know, child health, mobility, school health, clinic. You had everything in that area that you were assigned, that slice of pie that you were assigned. I had to plan all of the immunizations for the children in that area. I examined all of the kids’ teeth//

MD: Right.

TE: You know, bone structures and that sort of thing, ear washings, we wiped. I had at Bethune school, every kid there had ear infection, bad ear infection, nasal congestion. So I got one of the doctors to come in, and we washed ears for a whole year, with her coffee pot, and her name was Dr. Waterhouse. And she got roaches, cotton ball, aluminum foil, hairpins out of kids’ ears. She washed those ears. Every child in Bethune ears were washed, and we, you know, lowered the absentee records, you know, after that and they. It was just really something, how we heated water and washed the kids’ ear. Because they were always out sick, you know, with ear infection, repeated ear infection.

MD: Now the women that you worked with in your team, were they African American women?

TE: Uh-huh. Oh yeah, because see that's the only thing we visited. When I went, see the kids were in a token with the end of school, because of the way some of the, you know, up in the Bethune area, they had moved out. The wealthy white families had moved out. And it just left the low income whites in there so they had to go to Bethune school to go to school.

MD: But you didn't visit their houses then?

TE: No, I didn't, but there were some nurses, 'cause see now, white nurses visited black families, and I would get a white nurse, you know, if there had to be to go, you know, to visit that child, if that was a need for that.

MD: But tell me about the integration and how all that started. (laughs)

TE: (laughs And we had, I was called in by my director of nurses and supervisor and told that we had to do a pilot study, you know, because black nurses were, they wanted black nurses to visit white homes, you know. And what we did, they put Minnie Grimm and myself to do this study for the year. And they assigned us Paw Creek and back in that area to do, around the airport and on further on out at Paw Creek. And that was Klan country, you know. So this is where they started us out, and they told us this would be the best. They also told us if integration was going to work, it was left up to us. Whatever come up, we had to handle it. They felt that we could handle it and that we would want to, if black nurses was going to visit in white homes, it was up to us to do it.

MD: And how did that make you feel at first?

TE: Well I felt privileged, and I felt like I could do it. Because I had been around, welded to whites, you know and also had encountered by this time some other whites that were not as friendly, you know, and they would you know, use the “n” word or whatever and it never. Our parents told us to go on and ignore that, you don't bother that. They told us how ignorant they were. They was, 'cause now, we would look at them, and they said don't argue with them, you just move on, because you don't want to lower yourself to that standard that they were. And we always associated checkered shirts, big checkered shirts with ignorance, you know, because that was what we were taught, by wearing these big shirts, you don't bother them because they are totally ignorant people. We were taught to look down on trailer parks. We said that they had mentality, trailer park mentality. And you just didn't fool with them, you would get out of their way or would not even come in contact with them.

MD: So did those lessons? They must have hit home with you when you found out that was where you were going to work.

TE: Oh yeah. (laughs)

MD: Were you afraid?

TE: No, uh-uh. Because I always had on. You were taught to wear your uniform and cap, and everybody respects the public health nurse uniform and her cap. And I knew better than not to wear it. I always went fully dressed and had my bag, my public health bag, my bag. Everybody knew the nurse and the bag. There was nobody not knowing. Now there were homes and things where I was assigned to go that didn't have a house address. You know, they were just living on, road something, road 51 and so and so. And you would have to stop and ask some of the businesses, you know, about the family and the name. And you would get some slack from some of them. They would see your uniform and see, and they would still say, “Well that's a white family,” and “What a nigger want with a white family?” You had to take that kind, and they prepared us, you know, that you're going to get this abuse. But you, we think that you can take this and you can accept this, you know, because you want public health to work. You want to do this integration. You want to visit. And we all want this to happen, you know. This is what they told me, you know, that they wanted to do. We, the area that I took, we were introduced by the white nurses that were working in the area. And when I went to meet, they were cordial, because she had prepared some of them for, you know

MD: Ahead of time?

TE: Uh-huh. After we had, you know, been working there a while, you know, and got to know the people. People are people wherever you are. They just need to know and have that relationship. Once you can get// I never had a really bad relationship. They said a lot, but when they got to know you, they, they were just regular people.

MD: Now when the white nurse was sort of training you and introducing you, and you know, trying to help you make that transition, did she ever tell you how, what those people’s reactions were when she told them?

TE: They were in her, they were in her records. They were in the records that I had read, how they talked about “nigger” this, and how they had, some of the families had money that was given. It's all in, it's all in the record. They had African American women working for them, that was mentally retarded. And they were paying them out of welfare money that she was supposed to be getting, but they were handling that. But she was working for them, but that was her money, you know. And a lot of that went on, you know, from Social Services. And some of them never could get the idea that you were a nurse. You know, because they would say I want you to take the garbage out, or you know, you can clean up the kitchen, you know because see, they just, it just didn't focus or hit them.

MD: How did you react to those sort of things?

TE: It, it's just, you know, funny, you know. And I say well you know someone will be in here to do it later. We had to learn how to cope with everything that those people threw at us. Because we knew. I would come home a lot and cry, you know, and sad, but I could not give up, because I had been told that if black nurses were going to visit in white homes, you're going to have to be. You’re going to have to do it. You know, so we took this, you know.

MD: You felt the responsibility?

TE: I did. You know, if I had. And I could have backed out, because they offered me the challenge, you know, and I accepted it. They had told me that I would be the onliest one that could do this, you know, because of my personality and because of this. Because it was with, we were in the staff room with, with. I mean our room was a big room, you know. And the white was here and I was here and, you know, here. I mean these were nurses, you know and we had staff meetings together. Oh and there was sometimes, there would be some of the biggest arguments in that room, you know, between black and white, you know. And it was just that, some of them were just like the people out at Paw Creek. They just would not, you know, could not accept the fact, you know, that you were a nurse and you had degree just like they did. And you passed the same state board, you know. But//

MD: So it was kind of systemic? It wasn't just in the poor community?

TE: Right, right.

MD: Did you see a big difference in your personal experiences in the way that whites treated African American community members between say the Myers Park, the more wealthy whites versus the poor whites in Paw Creek. Was there a difference?

TE: Ooo. Oh, yeah. (laughs) Oh, yes!

MD: Tell me about that.

TE: Well see, rich whites were always around blacks. I mean its just everyday, you know, because Miss Tally, and, you know, those, I was around them all the time, you know. And they had that relationship with blacks. In public health, the doors were open freely for you to come in. There was never anything//

MD: In the wealthy white community?

TE: Right. Now, the biggest problem I had in the white community, rich white community, first starting off, I had a flasher, you know. They do things differently from the other side of town, you know. (laughs) But that was, that was funny you know. We’d just look, you know, that doesn’t excite anybody, you know. When he would get a charge out of that, you know, but that was (laughs), you know but that was just funny. (laughs)

MD: So how was it different in the Paw Creek area, because they weren't around African Americans as much?

TE: They were. I think so. African-Americans didn’t work for poor white people. You know, poor whites couldn’t afford to have them work. But there was always that relationship with rich whites, because rich whites always had blacks in their homes. They had them on their jobs, in whatever. They would have them in the stores, to clean up, you know they were in, they weren't in the office complex, but they were in the stores downtown, janitors. And they took those people personal. You know, whatever problems they had, they had those things that they would help with. And when I, that was a breeze. You never had to, they never would say to you, you know, like, take out the garbage or nothing. They would welcome you, “How are you doing? You look so pretty. Your uniform looks so good.” You know, they would. These were the people interested in the health aspects of what we were doing. Because we had a lot of people that were sick in their homes, that we took care of: catheters, injections, diets. Just whatever they needed, whatever you need. And the chronically ill, and we had a lot of them, what we called mobilities. Checking blood pressures, medications and setting it up, teaching people how to give themselves injections, or ( ).

MD: So at the Paw Creek community, you had people asking you to take out the garbage. Are there other kinds of incidences that you remember when you first started?

TE: Well they had, they had the Confederate flags. And they had you know like, if you were giving the injection, they would say “You’d better not hurt me.” You know, like you can give a needle and not hurt. And you'd say I'm going to do what I can. Or it was much harder, (excuse me) to teach them nutrition. It was much harder trying to teach them to stay off of the things that was causing them the high blood pressure. Or the things that you would do to get the kids to the dentist. Or if they had any kyphosis because we did bone structure. If there was a overlapping of feet, to get them to understand that the child needed to go to orthopedic. These were the things that you would hamper and still, like the disparities today, and it was a lack of knowledge and education. Everybody wants everything good for their child. But a lot of them don't understand, you know, how to get there. We understand nutrition much more now than we understood back then. We understood the necessity for the children to have, you know, breakfast or whole food, whether they were building relationships and you know whatever with children or other people. But it was a harder job because of the lack of knowledge and exposure. But when you come to this side of town, these children, they take long vacations in the Riviera, and they've been around people that was colored all over the world. Because I had kids in Eastover School, you know, they travel more than the principal and things. Those kids were, had long vacations. And you know, and I had Myers Park School. The first contact that I knew of was a little boy in elementary school, that had it. His daddy was an eye doctor, and you know he had contacts. And you know it was just that fast.

MD: So do you think aside from just the lack of experience and education that there was a color barrier between you, being an African American and the Paw Creek?

TE: Yeah, because it has always been that way. There has always been, what I called an undercurrent, you know, sort of thing that, it’s usually, and I hate to say it, but it's usually a like a political thing, where they will try to keep African Americans from advancing because they want to keep you. And they tell, they tell poor whites to do, you know that you, because most of the problems come from that area. But it's the reverse now. It's coming from the more affluent area now. Because you are impinging on their affordable housing. They want their children to stay in their communities, community school, but they don't want to give up their land for to have a mixed neighborhood. And it is just, it's still sort of subtle, you know, thing. You would have what we had back then was I don't want to mix with you. Then when the neighborhoods, when the federal government said you must, you know, if you're going to have a house that is built by federal money, you must integrate this. Well, they had a flight, and they were gone. But, that was back then where they were saying you don’t want to mix and you were telling them that you were better than them no matter what you were, you know, you were better than blacks. And that you had a mentality that was above them, and you always had to be above them. And that was the undercurrent that was fed to them and that was the reason they would keep the race relation going. But now, you have more African Americans mingling with poor blacks because they find themselves in the same boat that we’re in. You know, because their schools are, you know, a predominant white school over on this side of town is just as much out of resources and needs as a predominant black school up here. You know, they realize that their children are not getting, because all the funds and things is in the high rent area.

Minidisc 1 ends; Minidisc 2 begins.

MD: This is Melinda Desmarais, the interviewer. Today is May 9th, 2001 and I am here with Teresa Elder at her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and this is the second mini disc, part two of our interview. Mrs. Elder, the last disc we had wrapped up talking about your integration of the community nursing program, community health. And I failed to ask you about what date did that integration start?

TE: It was in the, the public health nursing?

MD: Yes, ma’am.

TE: It was in the late 60's or early 70's.

MD: And how would you overall evaluate that? Was it a success, was it a failure was it slow, was it easier than you thought. How would you evaluate that?

TE: Oh it was not as easy as I thought. But it was a success. We did the pilot study for a year. And this was out in the Paw Creek area which was mostly Klan area or low-income whites. And we left there with jubilees. You know, high ratings, and didn't want me to leave or, you know, they accepted us well. So after the success of that program we started integrating all of them, the health department. I mean all of Mecklenburg, it just went. You know, they did the write -ups and they did their studies and they moved me from that area to southeast Charlotte, so. And it was a great success, you know, because the people. People are people wherever to go. And if they know and understand, you are well accepted.

MD: Did you have any instances that you can remember where the people in the Paw Creek community who you served, did they ever come back and say, “Oh when you first came I wasn't so sure.” Did you have anybody?

TE: Oh yeah. Oh, yeah. They told me that. I got hugs and gifts you know, when I got ready to leave. Yeah they said that. One lady told me that she was just waiting on me to hurt her, and she had her gun and she was going to kill me. And she also had a knife too, but she was a bed patient and a wonderful patient, you know.

MD: So you were able to develop those relationships?

TE: Right.

MD: Where there any people you just couldn't crack, you just couldn't break through on?

TE: You know, not if I had to come in contact with them. You know, there were people in the area that resented the area resented the car, resented me, you know being there in the area, but they never said anything out of the way to me. You know, when you would, when I first I first went there, they would say, “Well, that's a white family. What do you want with them?” You know, and they could readily see that I had on my public health nursing. And I said well the family is sick and they are in need of care, you know, and so they would give me the directions to go.

MD: When you told them that?

TE: Yeah, but they knew, but they had to have some kind of control, you know so we allowed them to have that control. But it was a loving relationship, and it was a wonderful success. You know, and readily the administration at the health department said, if they accept black nurses in this area where we are sending you all, they will accept black nurses anywhere in Mecklenburg County.

MD: So is that why they, you think started with that particular area?

TE: Uh-hum. That's what they said. (laughs) I didn't have. I learned later that, it was said that they did not want it to work, so they put it there. They said that if it failed, you know, could delay it. But it was not going to be delayed. And I learned later, that the federal government had told them integrate or you don't get money. I didn't know that, you know, when they were telling us that it had to work.

MD: Did you get support from them?

TE: Oh yeah. It was a lot of support.

MD: I mean early on, did you feel like they were helping?

TE: From my?

MD: From like the supervisors and the people at the health department?

TE: I got it mostly from other nurses, you know. Not the supervisors. You know because see by this time we were working together. You know, the black nurses, the white nurses and we were having lunch, and we were doing picnics and we were doing. And when I would run into a problem, they could help me more than my supervisors could, so I relied on them.

MD: In terms of you would?

TE: You know, learning how to work, or if I would run into a problem, you know, with a family. Well, there's one thing about public health nurses, they knew every family, they knew every household, there wasn't anyone in Charlotte-Mecklenburg that the public health nurse, black or white, could not tell you something about that family. That was the most amazing thing. Even the police department used to use the knowledge of the public health nurse, because they were so, they knew all of the families in the areas where they worked. They knew everybody in that area and what they needed and what, whatever. And everybody knew the nurse. It was a highly respected, you know, position, in the community, you know, and they always looked forward to them. Because the nurse came after every baby, you know, the baby was born. You know the and the school children and the old age. They were there from the pregnancy all the way to death. And they, you know, would be there for families too. You know it was just, it was a wealth of knowledge. But I kind of got a lot of support from them.

MD: Well, let's switch gears now, if we can and kind of talk a little bit, we've talked about you know integration in terms of public accommodations, relationships between African Americans and whites. And we've talked a little about just general race relations in Charlotte. I'd like to talk to with you know about your experiences with school desegregation, personally what you remember about and what your impressions are about Charlotte during that time. And I'd like to start of first, Mrs. Elder, by asking you about the Brown [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka] decision in 1954. Were you here in Charlotte during that time?

TE: Um-hum. I certainly was. Um-hum.

MD: Can you tell me a little bit about how Charlotte reacted to the Brown decision?

TE: Well, it was, it was. We knew about it but they did not enact it, you know, at that time. Because it went on a while before school integration. It was like, you know, this was a cover-up, and you see the public health, you know, that brought on integration into, you know, public health.

MD: The Brown decision?

TE: Right. You see that was in '54, but you see when I integrated public health nursing that was in the middle 60s. I went to the health department in '62. And you see, we were not, that's when the federal government had said, I found out later but not at the time that we were, you know, being told that we needed to integrate. I had found out that the federal government had said to Mecklenburg County, if you don't integrate public health nursing you will not get federal funds. So we had to integrate, you know, but see then, see our public schools did not really start integrating, you know, the public school until later, you know, later, and when I just cannot remember.

MD: The Swann [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] case? In the 60s?

TE: In the late 60s. You know because when my oldest son went to North Mecklenburg, and he was in the first, you know, class to go up to North Mecklenburg, and he graduated from North Mecklenburg in 1968. And when he went, he had studied physics in junior high. He was in Irwin's Avenue school in junior high, and he was put in what they called a college preparatory class, you know and he was// Marnie Shoop [?] was there, and she's an attorney here now. And I think they were the only two blacks that were in that class.

MD: Now, tell me what your son’s name, that you’re talking about, was?

TE: His name is Ronald Carl Elder, and he was the Daughters of the Revolutionary-something. He was in processed to go to Kent, you know, when he was in high school, but he, you know. It was a white boy that won out over him. But he had that distinguished thing, from the Daughters of the American Revolution, you know, badge that he got, you know, from them.

MD: But before we start to talk a little bit more about your experiences in the late 60s, I just want to kind of ask you a couple more questions about the early period before, with the Brown decision. Did it have any impact on Charlotte in the early, say in the late 50s or early 60s at all? Did the black community feel differently because of it or?

TE: No, not until it really was full blown in the late 60s. You know it was not, you know. It was almost like it was too quiet for you to even know what was going on. There was, there was programs and things going on with people pushing for, more funds, for more resources, for better jobs, you know. And you know saying this, but not really in the school.

MD: Well, who were these people?

TE: These were people like Berry, there is a place named after him, he was on the first, he was the first African American on the school board. We were doing things like that. And it was mostly ministers that was pushing, you know, for more equal rights. And they were the ministers, was the one that was leading people and telling people about, you know, going to register, you know. Go and vote and get people in, you know, that is going to support you and you help you to better standards of living. These were the ministers. They were undertakers. They were black doctors. And they were telling people these things.

MD: So were these leaders in the black community?

TE: Yes. The ministers and the doctors were the major leaders in the black community. Dr. Eugene Alexander, Kelly Alexander, and those, but it was still the ministers because people will listen. Black people today will listen to ministers.

MD: Did he, did the NAACP here utilize ministers to work with them or?

TE: Yeah. They worked with ministers and they were, Kelly Alexander and those where, you know that was the senior Kelly Alexander that was doing it, but they had to do it through the churches. That's how they educated blacks to register and vote. And this is what happened, and they did it through the ministers, and the ministers had to tell you how. And this was the thing that they were saying: “Go register,” you know, “ register to vote.” Because see, prior to that they would not let you register unless you could read. You know.

MD: And you would have to pass these kind of tests?

TE: Tests. But then after the laws were passed, you know, and people were registering and then they were teaching them how to vote. Uh-huh.

MD: Let me ask you about this. I know that there was a volun--Charlotte had what they called a voluntary desegregation of the school system, with a number, just a few African American students. Can you tell me a little about that?

TE: There was (pause) not really, because I have my feelings about it. When I knew about, it was one girl that was bused, that would come all the way. The height of integration came because of some professors and things at J. C. Smith. In fact the young lady's father, the Counts.

MD: Dorothy Counts?

TE: Dorothy Counts. That was really the height and pushing. Now there were people that was pushing for these resources and working, you know, to get this, and they felt that the children should be the one. There was a negotiation going on with blacks and whites just like it is today. In fact I am a member of a crisis committee. If anything start going wrong in this city we gather, you know, and sit down and you would probably never hear of a riot or things here in Charlotte, because of the relationship that was built back in the 60s, you know, when Martin Luther King was killed and these sort of things. There were, they brought all of these black and whites together, and one of the main person was Kat Crosby, working. And they stayed up all night, I was not a part of that. But they stayed up all night, you know, working and hashing, you know, out problems and things, you know with white and blacks. And that's how you know the neighborhoods and things were not destroyed here.

MD: You mean like on the night Dr. King was killed?

TE: Yeah, uh-hum. Like when he, you know, when he was killed, they were, you know, they gathered together and stopped any kind of riot or anything like that, you know, from happening here in Charlotte, but. And then after the school integration, you know with, with Counts there was almost a riot, you know there.

MD: What do you remember about that?

TE: I remember the news covering it, and Counts and those trying to school, because that's what the news had. Because we weren't there. It was mostly Dr. Hawkins and some of the others. I was, I don't know where. I can remember one time they said that someone was going to, there was some white people that was going to invade Johnson C. Smith University campus, you know, and go over, and my husband and I got up and got guns and things and went over, but nobody never came, you know. Because you know they were saying these people were coming to kill all the kids on Johnson C. Smith campus.

MD: Oh so members of the black community rallied and went there to?

TE: To protect them.

MD: When was that?

TE: I'm trying to think, we had children. I had my children, and we were

MD: So maybe in the 50s?

TE: Because we got up and went over there, but nobody. That was just a rumor, you know, or something. But it was something about some of the black kids you know, going with white girls or, because now when I went to Smith there was a white girl on campus there, you know, and that was in the 40s, you know. And but nobody ever said anything, you know, about it, you know but she was one campus there.

MD: So talking about the whole Dorothy Counts issue, I know you've mentioned to me that, that kind of reaction didn't necessarily surprise you from whites.

TE: Well no, because that was the--because that was the undercurrent. They tried to stop integration, but there was a force here in Charlotte that was saying, that knew you had to integrate to get federal funds, you know. Because the, the federal people had spoken and, you had to integrate. So they knew that they had to sit down and work, but see there was already a relationship going on between blacks and whites in Charlotte. And it’s always been that way.

MD: You mean at the upper level, like the Charlotte leaders?

TE: Right, right, uh-huh. They will call on the black leaders to come. They will call on the ministers to come, and they will work out whatever the problem is. That's the way it's always been.

MD: Now I know that you mentioned that with Dorothy Counts, you know, there were other students who--.

TE: Right, that went to Central High, but there was never that kind of publicity. And, and Counts got the publicity because her father was on Johnson C. Smith campus, and yet, the boy that was on Central High and the principal at Central High did a much more dramatic. Because, they, this principal set in the classroom, he went out to meet those kids, and he brought them in and sit them down. And he explained to all of the children and the parents that they were going to integrate that school system, and they had to do it, and he wasn't going to have this problem on his campus. And he sat in the classroom with this fellow and through classes and things. And really that is to be commendable because that fellow finished. He graduated, and he had just as much opposition, you know, as Miss Counts did. But he did not get the historical coverage I feel like that he should have had.

MD: Because there wasn't the rioting, or the?

TE: Right. They were jeering, and, you know, crowded around him to prevent him from going. But the principal of Central High was the key figure that stepped out there and quiet the crowd and caught that child's hand and carried him into the school. Went to his room and sat in the room with him.

MD: Do you remember the principal’s name?

TE: I cannot recall his name, and I cannot even recall the fellow’s name. It's a--. But it is well documented in the Charlotte Mecklenburg History, school history who that child was and who that principal, you know, was at Central High. And the wonderful part, he suffered from the time that he went there, with jeers, because that's the way kids are, you know, and all through, you know, he would go and talk to the principal about it. And then it came time for graduation and the prom. And they said that they were not going to have a prom with no black kids. So the white parents had a prom for the kids at Myers Park Country Club, where my daddy worked. And these kids did not have a prom, but they did graduate. You know, he graduated, and when he graduated he enrolled in the United States Army and worked there in the army until he came back. I don't know how long he was in the army.

MD: Which one of those stories, and this maybe neither of them, you tell me. Do those say the Counts’ account for, this others guy’s account—and I'm sorry I don't remember his name either—do either of those sort of typify what race relations were like, really represent that in Charlotte or was it both of them?

TE: Well on, I would say at Central High, that's where the affluent kids went to school. Over at the—of the Harding, where Harding was, that was where the lower white went to school, and that's where they was expecting most of the trouble to come from: the low income white. Because they had to feel that they had to be above, you know, someone. So they were always taught that they were above African Americans. You cannot stoop to this. And that’s where they were saying my son would never go, because they were saying that, “My daughter. They’re going to marry my daughter. They going to marry my son. They going to be sitting next to my daughter” and you cannot--. But there was at--it was an upper level of breeding on these people to say, that you have to keep, you have to keep them down, and I have to keep you down. But if they would ever learn that relationship, you know, between poor whites and blacks. Because they suffer the same problems, you know, and that is doing without the main resources, you know, for simple things like affordable housing, you know, and all city services. You cannot get city or county services in a low-income area. You know, you don't have the same sewage lines. You don't have the same electricity. You don't even have the same amount of electricity that's coming, you know, into your community. You couldn’t even have--everybody could not even have air conditions, you know, because of the electricity not being in the area.

MD: So do I hear you saying, and tell me if I'm wrong. Tell me if-- that you think that the sort of leadership of the white community here in Charlotte was sort of imposing those kind of ideas on the poor whites.

TE: They still do.

MD: But you think even then, even though they had a different relationship with you that they were--.

TE: Right. But you see, you remember, I told you that the people that my people worked for, they was for us but they were not for, they were not for the other ones, you know. And that’s the way it was. They could not--. They could deal with you as an individual family, but when you became a mass, you became a threat. And they didn't want that, you see. And after this you start--. You don't have nearly as many African Americans in homes, you know. And they became more independent working government, and you wanted the same rules and regulations as anyone else. So it kind of melted that type of relationship away from the way it used to be, you know. But still there is still those, the people, you know, up here, that is still feeding people, you know, bad ideas about African Americans and wanting to keep you away. And say for instance the city had beaucoups of money, you know. And we had, you know, the consolida--. You see I went to a city school, and the county schools were very poor.

MD: White and black?

TE: Right, I mean blacks were pathetic, you know, because there were no black high schools in Pineville, Mint Hill, and Matthews. The black kids had to leave and come and stay with black families in the city during the week and go home on weekends, you know. And they would let them stay for nothing to get an education. And that's just how critical it was to that blacks were pushing education. Ministers was pushing education, education, you know, because the ministers were, still is, the leaders in the black community, you know.

MD: So when we talk about, the whole sort of Dorothy Counts and I just used that just to identify it, that whole kind of voluntary, what Charlotte officials called voluntary integration, and I know you know, you'd say it was sort of a token integration. It was much later in the late 60s when the Swann case came along. What did you think about the Swann case? I know you said you had kids who were about high school age at that time.

TE: I was concerned about my, about my boys, you know, because I had African American boys that was going to go to, you know, predominant schools, you know, I mean not predominant, just a mixed school. And we had to tell them about the warnings, you know, about, you know, about your relationships with, with, with white girls on campus or, you know, you cannot do certain things, you know, because it was still a high incident, you know, in the community. Because kids will go home and say--. It could have been something perfectly innocent, you know, that a child was playing or something and it would cause an uproar at school because they were dressed for gym or whatever, you know. But there were problems, you know, in the community, where, you know, like if a boy was to say something to a girl, the parents would get totally upset. And it would, you know, cause a riot at school, or almost start a riot. But I had told my, my children, you know, I don't care. I'm not sending you to school, you know, to fight, I'm not sending to you to school, you know, to start anything. Everybody's a human being and you can walk away from anything, you know. And you do that and find an adult, you know, or you can go to a phone and call me, and I will be there, you know. So anyway they would--. I was happy to know that my sons, and both—and they’re five years apart— would never--. Say, “No, I'm not fighting,” you know. “I’m not. No.” So they stopped a many a riot, you know. Well the kids, just really, they would have upsets at all the schools. But it was just soon--. It would not go from campus to campus, and the administration handled it so well until we didn't have those. There was scurries and little things, but nothing major.

MD: So did people actually approach your sons at schools about fighting?

TE: Yeah, about//Oh yeah, um-hum.

MD: And this would have been other African-American students?

TE: Yeah, right. And they would say no. Because somebody did something in the cafeteria or somebody did something there. And they would say, “Oh no. We're not going to,” because my son drove a school bus, and he would not allow those things. Somebody burned his bus because, right out here in front of my door, because he would not participate in some of the things, you know. And he’s the one that is an engineer now, you know, here.

TE: They said that they crawled under the bus, and blew something, and they came by and torched it. You know, that these were--. They said it was African Americans that did it, you know. But I don't--. You know, because that was something awful, for that, that school bus burned up.

MD: Yeah. And this was during night, night time?//

TE: //Right out here in front.// Uh-huh. Yeah, it was about one or two o’clock in the morning. And I, I always felt like, that we should have integrated, you know, sort of differently, and I think we would not be having the same problems that we have today. Do you want me to go into this?

MD: Um-hum. How do you feel like it should have been carried out differently here in Charlotte?

TE: I felt like it should have been--. Integration should have started at the pulpit, and the pulpit to me is what I refer to as the Moses. Should have been the leaders in preparing people. And they should have prepared themselves as ministers to meet and discuss the problems in every community. And they should have been the ones that was talking to the business people, you know, telling business men that you will have to, you know, come and be more resourceful. You're going to have to let the people with the education, you know black or white--. You're going to have to open these doors. The time has come where so save our country and our community, we have to do these things. Because people will no longer accept, you know, these limitations that we have placed on them. And I think that if the ministers had done that, and prepared themselves, along with other black ministers, white ministers, the Jews, the rabbis. I think they all should have come together, and they should have bridged the community. And they should have taken the leadership. And I think with the business--. If the ministers had done that and talking to their own congregations and the business people, leading the business people into accepting you, you know, on an equal basis. And then families by families in that church holding seminars in their own church, and then switching from one church or pairing with a black church and meeting, and exchanging pulpits the white minister in the black pulpit, or--. We should have done that first. And then we should have done communities. We should have, you know, brought people from one area to our area to help us as adults. And then I think the child should have been the last thing for integration. And I think if we had done that, we would be much further along than the problems that we are having today. To me we put the burdens of integration on the back of the children. And I think that was the thing that we did, the one thing that we did totally wrong. You know because you put a group of children in a classroom with a teacher and maybe one aid, and you are having around 30 something children from thirty different homes that is being taught thirty different things, and you expect that teacher to educate the children. She's got to first deal with all of the discipline and all of the rationales, and all of the things that these kids have. Some of those kids were told you better not sit next to a nigger. Some of the kids were told you better not sit next to a white. You better not do this and you better not let nobody hit you, you better not--. I mean it was a whole lot of things that went on from family to family, and then there were those families that was teaching children, you know, that we lived in a world that where we all would be, you know, building relationships with each other. There were families that were doing that, and these are the things that I feel if we had done all of the preparation for the Moses leading us through the valleys, and the Red Seas, and all of this that we would not be where we are today. I think by then we would have had affordable houses everywhere. It would have been accepted for, you know, affordable houses to be in Ballantyne, or whatever you have the most exclusive. Because I think the community would have said to developers, you know, you develop because I want my children to be in my own community. I want my neighborhood schools. And I know that I cannot have them because my leader has told me we have to, you know, be acceptable. And we in a--. We in a—all this pot together.

MD: And what were the leaders telling people, white and black? What were they, what kind of leadership were they? I am asking you where they?//

TE: //Yeah. Right. See, see.//You know the affluent were saying, you know, I mean there was a strong, you know, force from the, you know, affluent whites in this to mix and to do it. They were determined, and they were done by ministers like from Covenant Presbyterian and working with people at like Kat Crosby, who can really give you that history. I was told that they stayed up all night long, you know, hassling problems and things and how they got over. Because when the affluent whites say something, you know, low income white listen. And they were not going to tolerate it, so they had to mix, you know.

MD: And why do you think the affluent whites wanted to do that?

TE: Because they had the message that had to be done.

MD: And you think that was because of politics and money or do you think?

TE: It was because of, you know, the government saying you going to integrate, you know. We can no longer do this. You cannot have--. Because that's what Brown--. That's what they were saying, nothing, you know, if equal. We had second-hand books. We did not have showers, you know, for basketball practice. We didn’t have--. We had lockers, but not like where you could go and shower and do. We didn't have the things that the white kids had. We was getting a--. And it's, it’s still, it's still the same thing today, you know, because they don't have the same resources you know in inner city schools as you have at some of the suburban schools, you know. And still they are getting a second-hand--. They are not getting you know a full education, because of the resources and things that's not available to them. And that's why were pushing so now, and the key, the key to everything is housing. If we have housing, we can have, you know, better relationship with each other. And I'm not saying that, you know, $80,000 needs to be next to a million dollar home or half a million. But they need to be in the same zone. They need to be in a zoned area where that will, you know, this child will come to school and get an education.

MD: So when you look back now, at the Swann decision, about busing, and the whole process of busing, I know you kind of think that that integration of schools was backwards.

TE: I did. I mean even today, I felt like it then I feel like it today. I feel like if we had, if we had integrated from the adults down, we wouldn't be in this dilemma.

MD: But do you think that Swann had any positive impacts or, on Charlotte?

TE: I think it was--. I think they brought a level of awareness, you know. But we are suffering today because of Swann.

MD: And what do you think are the major pitfalls that Swann brought on Charlotte?

TE: Because we’re still not acceptable, and it’s still lacking leadership, you know, for, you know, the race relations to come together. It is still--. We are still totally separated. We have people, you know, sitting on city council or county commissioners that do not see, or like Jesse Helms, you know, that do not see that total, you know, picture of African Americans, you know, and the plight or what you have built on. It is still not acceptable. It is still that they want you to be a second-class citizen, you know, because they still carry a viewpoint that, that you are not acceptable in certain areas. But it’s because of that one thing, and that one, and that's housing. If we had hou--. You see when you have a community where you put too many poor people together, and this is what they are still trying to do, they cannot help each other, you know. And it is by sheer grit and grind that you pull and move up from where you are. But it is not, you know, say for instance, here in my community, we don't have underground wires. We don't have trees. We don't have houses that meet codes here. We don't have the environment that is clear of debris or clear of shade tree mechanics. We don't have those kind of environment. When the kids come home from schools, you know here, they don't have that freedom of expression. There's no parks; there's nowhere for them to go. They might be living across the street with somebody that is totally unable to reason. We have a lot of homelessness. We have a lot of people that are mentally unstable, you know. That's the reason we have these programs done, Stop the Killing, you know, because of --. And these children see all of this. But if did not have all these people clumped up right here together and have poor people scattered over different areas, we would come to more of a consensus of somebody helping somebody else and seeing. And I think they will never build a place like what we’ve had, like Earle Village and Fairview Homes. We will never build those because they know that that was a big mistake, you know. And that is what they even need to even separate it even more, you know. We even are having a battle right now, where we are saying cap should be 50, but the developers saying well we can't make no money, because they cap they wanting 100, you know, units. But if they're going to put the 100 units there, there needs to be somebody that's going to really be there to care of the whole units and make sure that individuals--. I was visiting Canada and you have in Canada, you know, you may have a $80,000 house next to--. But it is well kept, and the people are well versed, and they are well educated and they, too, you know, progressed. We have one of the programs up in Huntersville. They even have a place with Habitats for housing. But they are not the majority, you know, in there. And they are still people that is thriving and learning, because we live in a world full with knowledge and information. And that's the reason we have the disparities that we have. And I always feel that we will never have equity in our school system until we get equity in housing. And we will have health disparities as long as we have, you know, sub-standards in housing.

MD: If I could move you back just a little bit to talk about education again and sort of about Charlotte's community, because I think you've articulated well the pitfalls of Swann and how you see that as going out throughout the whole community in areas other than education. I know you mentioned that in terms of you know of violence in Charlotte, there wasn't a lot of violence, even around Swann it was--. I know you mentioned that there were individual problems in high schools and that sort of thing. I know there was a bombing in the community of civil rights leaders’ houses.

TE: Um-hum.

MD: But other than that was there a lot of violence here?

TE: No, not like it was in some of the major cities, you know, in the United States.

MD: Over integration and civil rights?

TE: Right.

MD: Why do you think that was?

TE: That' s because of the dialogue that went along with blacks and whites in this community. And as I told you before, there is a group that’s called community relation. I don't know if you have heard of that. And I don’t know how many is on there now, but it used to be around 100 and some people on that committee. And that dialogue goes along all the time between blacks and white. And this is the dialogue and the consensus of this community, and these are the leaders in this community that, you know, and that was what's going on in the civil right. And these were when that was made, community relations. There were ministers and things that were talking about it, you know, and putting together plans. And now they even have, and I'm member of that. If there's any crisis that's going to come in this community, they can put their pulse on these people now. We've already filled those forms out. We’re prepared to deal with it.

MD: And so this started sort of in the late, what would you say late, late 60s or something?

TE: Yeah, Jack Bullock. Jack Bullock was head of community relations committee, and this is made up of individual. A very dynamic, you know--. And I cannot think of the minister’s name that was at Covenant Presbyterian, you know, that--. But I think Kat Crosby will know those names.

MD: So were there, were there any kinds of tensions within the black community in terms of what should be done? Were there more militant factions at all?

TE: In, in the black community the black ministers met, and they decided that where we needed to make the impact was at the ballot box. And this is why they said, register and vote, and put people in that is going to be supportive of your needs and your issues.

MD: So there were, were there a Black Panther party here, or were they SNCC or CORE or any groups like that, you know, more militant?

TE: No. It was mostly the NAACP that was affluent, you know, here, and discussing, but most of the work was done in the churches. And in the churches they did not preach violence and this sort of thing. They felt like doing it at the ballot box, and cannot, you know, with the people that we was working with, they were, they wouldn’t, didn’t want--. Nobody wanted to see Charlotte torn up. We didn't want to see it either. You know, because you don't, you don’t serve tearing up your own community, you know, because what most of what I saw around United States, you know, they didn't tear up downtown. They tore up, you know, the black communities where you could not go out of. Now they were trying to do that here, but at one time when somebody, I think a policeman killed a black man, but they tried to get it going, but community relation, you know, called people together and (pause)

MD: Headed it off?

TE: Right. Um-hum. And they deal with these things. Now we--. Ministers will call people together in they community, to the churches. You go in the churches, and the minister says we’re going to sit down here and talk today. And the elected officials are there; the police are there. And you discuss this no matter what. You still discuss it, no matter what comes out of what is said, you sit down, and you discuss this. And the community, when you leave, you are satisfied with what you have come up with. //And what you see.//

MD: //Even if it is not// immediate action or?

TE: Right. You are there to hassle this out, and it was some strong language and strong words and things were said, but you also had a group that is going to be very calming. And those are the ministers that say you don't get anything accomplished this way. You get it accomplished, you know, by negotiating and talking.

MD: I want to ask you two more questions.

TE: Okay.

MD: The first one is, I know you've been involved in all kinds of civil rights activities here in Charlotte, from, you know, integrating the community nursing/public health and to working in housing and the community relations board and in your personal experience as a parent, you know, (laughs) and that whole issue with the Swann case and your children going to integrated schools. But what do you think has been the most pivotal event that you were involved in that had impact on Charlotte’s history, or Charlotte's progress in civil rights?

TE: You know I cannot pinpoint one thing. I think it had been a mixture. And I think the school system and where we are today. I think the faith community reaching out, you know, to each other, and I think that the relationships that have been built over the years with whites and blacks in this community in all setting. And I think that with being able to speak freely and meet with the leaders, and these are political or whatever, the ministers, the faith community. They will all come together, and they will meet and have a dialogue. And they bring the black ministers and the white ministers bring their congregations in, and they talk to them. I personally would love to see the faith community have much greater impact on each other, you know, because like Sunday mornings, you know, I think I have about two whites that go to my church. You know, and that is the essence, and you can go to most of them and there won’t be that many. And I enjoy the services, you know, of others. I would love to be paired with a church, you know, and do something. Because now I have a host of friends, you know, whites friends, you know that I crisscross with at all times. But you know, in the faith community, you know we don’t. And I think it should be stronger there, you know, with building, you know, these kind of relationships. And, because I think the faith community has been the biggest impact to make us to be as stable as we are. And I think that they have done it in a long distance-type thing, but we've still been able to come together to build, you know, these relationships. And they are highly respected of people whomever you are, when you are a part of trying to make, you know, democracy work.

MD: And let me ask you one final question if I can. I know you've kind of laid out that there has been a dialogue and, you know, that sense of dialogue from say the leadership, white leadership especially of Charlotte, you know, they've been open to have that kind of dialogue. And that you have said that you thought that they were, with that aspect of the community, good relationships between whites and blacks. A personal kind of relationship that continued even after Brown, you know even though there were more civil rights challenges. And yet I also hear you saying that that kind of white establishment if you will, the leadership, has also been kind of--. All though they've been open, they've also in some ways been an oppressor.

TE: Right.

MD: How do you reconcile those two things?

TE: Well, it's because of the leadership changing hands.

MD: //How have you seen it change over--?//

TE: //Well, you see--. You have--.// Okay. You have, you have the caliber of people, whomever in leadership. There are people that I can go to any day, any time and they would listen to whatever I have to say. But I cannot go to Bill James, you know, I cannot go to Jesse Helms. But see those, they still have they fingers wide open on some of the people, you know, that is still militant and have not been acceptable, but there is still a strong, you know, administrative level, you know, level here, you know. Some people like Parks Helms, Becky Carney, you know, these people, Susan Burgess, they don't want to see anything happen here, you know, and that is the reason, one of the most controversial issue that this community has ever dealt with is school integration.

MD: And do you think in the 60s and the 70s that the, there were members of the white leadership, I guess that's what I'm asking historically speaking, who--. Do you think that there were progressives on there, or do you think they will still part of that kind of old- style establishment that just wanted to have African Americans working for them in service communities or--?

TE: Within--. You know, well I--. They still looked at you as to be there, but that it no long--. And some still do today, but they are very close to that family, too. Very close, to these families. But they are mostly agencies now that handles what African Americans used to handle, you know, you know like HMO's or whatever. There are agencies out there that do it, and they’re working for agencies and there are certain guidelines that you go about. And you don't have that kind of relationship with family on family like we used to have. You know, in the days gone by. But there is still a relationship like the League of Women Voters, you know; the university women, insurance women, nurses, you know, doctors, you know, like they used to have the Old State, you know. They would have, you know, like Charlotte Medical Society and Mecklenburg which was black and white, but now, you know, they still have this but there's a, an opening where they meet and they face the medical problem. There are the people that is in the school, you know, programs, that the school board itself is of mixture, you know.

MD: And if integration kind of failed in your mind, the way it was carried out. What do you think made that opening possible?

TE: I think it was people, the people listening. And I think its people that had the spirit, you know, the spirit within them that was wanting to work and make things work. I think it was, you know, I think it was the Holy Spirit and the respect of mankind. And I think that is the spirit that we are talking about, is the spirit within man. And I think that all of us on a mission, and we are on a journey. And we have to answer to our master. And I think the Jesus in you and the Jesus in me can meet, and I think that is the spirit that I see that have you know brought us together. You know, and we can still sit down here and we can talk about different things, and we can come to a happy medium, you know and, I can talk about you know what is bothering me, and you know, what is bothering you and how we can relate, and I, that's what I feel.

MD: That's what you think brought people together in Charlotte?

TE: Right, um-hum. You know we are--. We have more churches here and trees than anything else. And I really think the spirit, you know, prevails, I really do. And I really think people have a heart of love, and, you know, and they are concerned about, you know, the relationships with each other. And I think also that there is no longer that barrier, where in--. I have Joe Martin say, from NationsBank, he said “Have lunch with someone that you don't know and you can get to know them.” And I think that is where we are today, is learning each other. And I think the world will go, continue to go on. And in fact I think we're right where God want us to be. Because I believe in him and believe in prayer, and I do believe that I am on a journey and where I am supposed to feel—and that's my everyday. I'm doing his will not mine. That's my prayer and that's my journey. No matter who, you know, and I love people, period, you know. And it does not matter, and I don't like to see nobody hurt. Nobody. You know so, and not if I can do something about the pain, you know, and that is, just the way I am. I don't like to see anyone hurt. And not take advantage of anyone in those situation.

MD: We have just a couple of minutes left on the MiniDisc, is there anything you want to end up with, //talk about Charlotte's history or--?//

TE: //Well, I think you were wonderful//and I do not want this to be our last time, would love to invite you back

MD: Thank you

TE: When we do this thing in the park, I would love for you to be there, you know, on that, and I want to wish you all of the wonderful blessings in your career, and the things that you're doing. And you are making a difference you know. That's great.

MD: Thank you.

End of Interview