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, Marcellus Forrest emphasizes his attendance of the Mission School on Nassau Street, conducted by the Reformed Church and attended by African Americans, as well as his fathers life as a former slave and subsequently as a freedman. He talks at length about his education and upbringing, his fathers job as a teacher, and focuses on several Charleston area schools and teachers, including the influence of the Episcopal Church headed by Bishop Stevens. Forrest mentions Avery, where he attended one year, and his apprenticeship and subsequent career as a tailor in Charleston, including the difficulties of the job. He also mentions his immediate family, including his sisters attempts to be a schoolteacher in Charleston and the difficulties that black teachers faced. Of special note is the discussion of Forrests father (who died 1904), a former slave originally from Culpepper, Virgina, who was sold to John Blake White of Charleston, South Carolina. His father constantly referred to his owner as his master and benefactor, stating that White was a kind master with two sons who taught the former slave to read and write. He talks of his fathers duties as a slave, his experiences during the Civil War, and his attempts to contact his family after the end of slavery. Once free, Forrest's father, with the benefit of his slight education, held several jobs and became involved with the establishment of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston in 1870. Also of note is his discussion about black politicians during Reconstruction, including Robert Smalls escape from Charleston on the Confederate steamer, The Planter, and the operation and popularity of black newspapers. NOTE: The quality of the sound recording is very difficult to understand, especially the interviewee.
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.
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.