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Avery Research Center Oral Histories

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1.
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Oral history interview with Ruby Cornwell
Oral history interview with Ruby Cornwell Ruby Cornwell (1902 – 2003) recalls her early life in South Carolina, and her experiences with segregation. She talks about her grandmother, Isabella Reeder Chavis, who graduated from Avery Institute in 1873, and her roots in Charleston. She discusses issues of class and colorism and her experience growing up as a light-skinned person coming from a free black family background with mixed white and Native American heritage. She recalls growing up as the child of an American Methodist Episcopal minister, Durant Percival Pendergrass, who was educated at Hampton Institute and worked as a wheelwright and latrine cleaner before entering the ministry. She refers to her first school experiences and what it was like to live in the country-side, where life was still organized around a race-based economic system like share-cropping. She describes attending religious revival meetings and how her father dealt with root medicine and other non-Christian spiritual beliefs. She discusses moving to Charleston to live with her uncle, Rev. P.J. Chavis, the pastor of Mt. Zion AME at the time, to attend Avery for one year and then meeting Mary McLeod Bethune and following her to Daytona, Florida. She mentions teachers at Avery, including the principal Benjamin F. Cox, whom she described as a good teacher but not a particularly good administrator. Cornwell concludes by discussing attending Talladega College, moving to Brooklyn to work at the YWCA, and returning to Charleston to teach English at Avery with Edith McFall.
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Oral History Interview with Julia Craft DeCosta
Oral History Interview with Julia Craft DeCosta Julia Craft DeCosta discusses her experience at the Avery Normal Institute from fourth grade to graduation in 1916 and living in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The interview begins with Julias earliest recollections of school, and a discussion of her parents schooling. Regarding Avery, she discusses when she first attended, who her teachers and classmates were, the caliber of the education, her graduation experience, the switch from white to black teachers and issues of colorism, wealth, and class. She states that what defined ones status was not ones color but ones economic status and that whether one could afford tuition determined whether one attended Avery. She also discusses the limited professional opportunities available to students after graduation, mainly in the tailoring and teaching industries. When probed about her recollections on segregation, she states that her parents and her did not take part as they were people who wouldnt make issues, but that they were involved in St. Marks Episcopal Church. She mentions her mothers family as being descendants from the Kinloch clan in Scotland who arrived in Charleston in the 18th century and the role of religious education and the American Missionary Association. Additionally, she talks at length about individual classmates from a class picture, recalling where they went, whom they married, and who their parents were. People she mentions during the interview include Ellen Saunders, Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin Cox, Sally Cruickshank, Herbert DeCosta, Jr., Frank DeCosta, Connie Morrison, Maude Smith Atkins, Geneva Pinckney Singleton, and Beautine DeCosta.
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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.