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Avery Research Center Oral Histories

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Oral History Interview with J. Michael Graves, 1985
Oral History Interview with J. Michael Graves, 1985 J. Michael Graves (1915-1996), a native of Charleston, graduated from the Avery Normal Institute in 1932. In this interview conducted by Edmund L. Drago, Graves discusses in detail his family history and genealogy. He recounts his upbringing in Charleston, his father’s position as a Pullman porter, and his parents’ focus on family pride, self-worth, and appreciation of culture. This uplift philosophy was evident in Graves’ academic as well as musical pursuits. The interview focuses on Graves attending Avery Normal Institute from 1926 to 1932, talking in detail about various Averyites, teachers, classes, and rhetorical and musical programs. Graves also refers to issues of exclusivity and skin color within Avery. The second part of the interview elaborates on Graves attending Fisk University, where he graduated in 1939 with a degree in Physics. Graves was a lifelong educator; after serving as a substitute teacher at various schools in the Lowcountry area, Graves then taught at Laing High School from 1939-1945, ultimately becoming Laing’s principal. The interview also covers Graves’ time in the military at the end of World War II. Further, Graves mentions inter- and intra-race relations in Charleston. He also recalls activities of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the formation of a Junior NAACP at Avery, as well as involvement in sit-ins, equalizing teacher salaries, and the Hospital Workers’ Strike of 1969. The last part of the interview focuses on Graves returning to Avery as a teacher, particularly recounting the transition of Avery’s student body to Burke High School in 1954.
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Oral History Interview with Louise Mouzon
Oral History Interview with Louise Mouzon H. Louise Mouzon speaks of her family history, including her fathers numerous professions as a shoemaker, a carpenter, and a Methodist minister at several Charleston, South Carolina area churches. She also mentions her mothers career as a teacher and her mothers family background, including their history with Avery. Mouzon describes at length her time at Avery, class of 1914, a period of transition when Avery faculty were changing from all white to all back. She includes several reminisces of white and black faculty, particularly under Principal Stevens, and mentions several faculty by name. Mouzon was a graduate of the normal school, and discusses efforts by Congressman Thomas E. Miller to include black teachers in the public school system. After discussing Avery graduation, she includes her own experiences as a school teacher, moving between Latte, Marion, and later Charleston. During the interview, Mouzon makes note of several social conditions within Charleston, speaking of streetcar segregation, the presence of colorism among teachers and students at Avery, the participation of Gullah island students within schools, jealousy from the black community against Avery, and the differences between Burke Public School and Avery.
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Oral History Interview with Felder Hutchinson
Oral History Interview with Felder Hutchinson Felder C. Hutchinson (1921 - circa 2009), a native Charlestonian, provides a detailed overview of the history of St. Marks Episcopal Church, referring to its founding on Easter Day in 1865; the composition of its congregation, mainly consisting of free persons of color; and influential leaders such as Anthony Toomer Porter and J. H. M. Pollard. He further mentions the difficulties of St. Marks being accepted in South Carolinas predominantly white Episcopalian convention, as well as St. Marks refusal to join the Reformed Episcopalian movement. Hutchinson refers to controversy surrounding St. Marks supposedly very fair-skinned members, as well as rumors regarding miscegenation. He mentions St. Marks flourishing days from 1890 on with its famous Sunday School until the years of the Great Depression. He hereby also points to the historical development of several other Charleston churches, such as St. Philips, St. Michaels, Calvary and Grace Episcopal Church. Hutchinson later elaborates in depth on race relations in Charleston between whites and blacks, the issue of varying color complexions within the same family generation, and personal discrimination he faced in several instances from both sides being very light-skinned. The interview also discusses the changing terminology and meaning of words such mulatto and black, as well as Congressman Thomas E. Millers efforts to improve the lives of his brethren. Further, the issue of inter-marriage by free persons of color committing race suicide is addressed. The second part of the interview inquires about the founding of the Owls Whist Club in 1914, original membership consisting mainly of barbers, as well as the importance of their annual social ball. Hutchinson further provides a detailed chronology of his grandfather Rufus E. Felders barbershop, which was very successful from its inception on Wentworth Street in 1892 to its closing on King Street in 1941. He also refers to experiences and the relationships with predominantly white customers. The final part of the interview focuses on Mr. Hutchinsons family history and his educational career. Hutchinson, for example, recalls his paternal grandmother being a former slave who came to Charleston unmarried with three mulatto children. After attending Mrs. Susie Dart Butlers kindergarten, Hutchinson went to Avery in 1928 until graduating in 1939. He recalls the head of the teacher training program, Mrs. Birdie Clyde, as a controversial figure and remembers Averys rhetoricals and musical traditions, as well as the chapel meetings. He also mentions being on the staff of Averys only annual publication in 1939. The interview abruptly concludes with a discussion of the state of South Carolina supporting African Americans with scholarships to attend colleges outside the segregated South during the 1940s.