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.
In this interview, Anna D. Kelly (1913-2007) relates her life experiences as she grew up in Charleston, discussing her teaching career and involvement with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Kelly's father originally ran a magazine shop, but began to work with the Presbyterian Church at the advent of the Great Depression. She recalls her early schooling, including her attendance at the Immaculate Conception school as well as her transition to Avery Normal Institute in 1928. While at Avery, Kelly attended the teacher training program and recalls the courses as well as teachers, including Dr. Benjamin Cox, which influenced her later years. She speaks fondly of her extra-curricular activities, and of the expectations that were placed on Avery students. Upon graduation in 1932, Kelly discusses her years of teaching in rural Colleton County and St. George Parish, and the difficulties she faced while teaching in impoverished and illiterate areas. She also describes the years of schooling at Fisk and Atlanta Universities, focusing on social work, and the teachers with whom she worked. To prepare for her Masters thesis from Atlanta University, Kelly performed field studies in Chicago. Upon graduation, she became heavily involved with the Charleston YWCA, first at the YWCA as Teenage Program Director then becoming Branch Executive until 1955. She recalls a specific instance with the Highlander Folk School, where she attended several workshops on race relations and community development (1952), and encouraged Septima Clark and Esau Jenkins to attend workshops and become involved with the Highlander Folk School. After moving several times, Kelly returned to Charleston to work with the YWCA building campaigns, leaving in 1966. Kelly became director of a foster grandparents program (1966 until 1978) and remained heavily involved in community development and social work during this time period.
In this sequence of interviews, Eugene C. Hunt details his family history, including his father's profession as a ship steward as well as his mother's occupation as a nurse and seamstress. He also elaborates on his parents' efforts and expectations to send all their children to college, despite the monetary challenges they faced. He focuses on his early education, speaking about Avery, its teachers and administration, as well as the offered curriculum. He specifically analyzes his interest in music, drama, and elocution. He refers to the expectations of African American students concerning "the advancement of the race," schooling, college, and the pride associated with Black History. He recalls the lasting impact of Benjamin F. Cox and his wife, Jeanette, on Avery's student body with their emphasis on striving for academic excellence and counseling. He further remembers the American Missionary Association's involvement as well as the dismay of the white community towards Avery, and its degradation into a public institution. Hunt lastly emphasizes the impact of Avery graduates, such as Septima Poinsette-Clark, not only on Charleston's black leadership, but on a national level throughout the Civil Rights Movement. He also recalls Burke High School under Principal William Henry Grayson and its rivalry with Avery. During the second part of the interview, Hunt elaborates on numerous social conditions and discrimination faced at the time, especially racial inequality concerning teacher salaries, the implementation of the national teacher certification examination, as well as an ordinance prohibiting public school teachers from being a member of the NAACP. During the November interview, Hunt focuses extensively on the equalization of teacher salaries, detailing the lawsuit filed on behalf of the NAACP with litigants Malissa Burkhalter and, subsequently, Viola Duvall. The interview concludes with a description of Hunt's participation in the Harvey Gantt case, in which Gantt became the first African American student to be admitted at Clemson University and, through his attendance, desegregated the South Carolina university system.
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.
In this interview, Dr. Joseph Irvin Hoffman discusses his life in Charleston, South Carolina: first as a boy educated at various Charleston schools, then as a professional doctor on Johns Island. He recalls his fathers career as a butcher, his family origins, and details the trade by including his own experiences. Hoffman describes other trades held by prominent blacks of Charleston, as well as the prevalence of white and black doctors. He discusses his education at great length, first at a private school run by Miss Winslow, then St. Peters Catholic School, including his experiences with the nuns and religious influences, and then with his attendance at Burke school, where he mentions the activities of several teachers including Miss Grimke of the infamous Grimke family. Hoffman also details his school days at Avery Institute, including his social and academic experiences and the various black and white teachers he encountered. Of note are several recollections of various speakers, including Thomas E. Miller, a Republican congressman during Reconstruction. Dr. Cox, principal of Avery at the time, is also mentioned with fondness; Hoffman gives descriptions of the programs Cox initiated that caused Avery to become more like a college than a high school. Also of note are the numerous political activities that Hoffman witnessed, noting that blacks were often discouraged from voting. He mentions his presence at Dr. Kings speech in 1963, the hospital strike in Charleston in 1969, and his participation in several sit-ins." Throughout the interview, Hoffman shares his general feelings regarding his awareness of segregation and prejudices from the white community, as well as the effects of having light skin vs. darker skin. NOTE: The sound recording is hard to understand due to extremely low volume.
In this interview, Peter Poinsette discusses his family background including his fathers birth as a slave on Poinsette Plantation near Pinopolis and his position as a messenger during the Civil War. He was traded or sold to Colonel Gabriel Maingault and then traded to Mayor Charles MacBeth after Maingaults wounding. Also, includes information about Peter fathers first marriage to Emmaline Douri and their child Alice Poinsette. He continues at length about his father work for the Womens Exchange catering service and his father serving at the St. Cecelia Ball and the Cotillion Ball, including Peters assistance at the catering service, in which he served the Metz Band. He continues with information regarding Mr. Metz as a director of several bands. Peter mentions his fathers working on the Isle of Palms, and explains the process involved with making the trip. Mothers background is included. She is from Haiti and was brought to Florida by her uncle, William Duburst, a cigar maker. Peter talks about his siblings, including Septima Poinsette Clark. Education is discussed, including Peters time spent at Shaw school and Burke Normal and Industrial School. He mentions his teachers were all white and his decision to transfer to Avery was made after watching his sister Septimas commencement exercise in 1916. His profession is discussed as well. Beginning in 1911 when he went to work for German grocers until his time at the Post Office (1936-1970). Lucille played the piano, Peter played the violin. He took music lessons from Saxon Wilson, James Logan, and Miss Highsmith. Played in the Utopian Orchestra-band members include Merton Gillard, Percival Green, Miss Gibson, Frank Hat, Fred Hay, a Cook, Jullian Bryant, Lucy Poinsette, Lydia Anderson and Mr. Blake a member of the street band for Jenkins Orphanage. Peter discusses Avery as an exceptional institution including Mr. Cox as principal, drama at Avery, Shakespeare plays, rhetoricals, Mr. Moore and the chorus, Mrs. Dumont, the director of choir. Also includes information about visitors to Avery, such as Dr. W. E. B. DuBois. When asked about the attitude of white people towards Avery students, Peter says, they were not antagonistic because Avery got the better type of kids. Kids that wanted to advance themselves higher in education.