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Avery Research Center Oral Histories

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1.
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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 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 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.
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Oral History Interview with Eugene C. Hunt, 1980
Oral History Interview with Eugene C. Hunt, 1980 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.
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Oral History Interview with Eugene C. Hunt, 1985
Oral History Interview with Eugene C. Hunt, 1985 In this third interview conducted in 1985, Eugene C. Hunt (1890 – 1995) talks at first about taking music lessons with Charleston’s most renown music teacher at the time, J. Donovan Moore. He refers in detail to his upbringing in Charleston’s Radcliffeborough neighborhood by mentioning several local families and Avery teachers that lived there, such as the Dashes and the Andersons, Ms. Simms and Ms. Clyde. Regarding religious affiliations, Hunt emphasizes his break with Central Baptist Church and joining of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Talking about long musical traditions in his family, Hunt recalls singing in several church choirs throughout high school. Inquiring about Charleston’s East Side and its bad reputation, Hunt elaborates on the varying ethnicities comprising the mixed neighborhood. Hunt mainly attributes the acquirement of his vast knowledge in African American and Charleston history to the schools he attended, his family, and people he frequently interacted with, such as Dr. John McFall. Referring to his parents’ professions, Hunt describes his family’s economic situation as poor. However, he emphasizes his parents’ desire to provide a good education for their children. Hunt mentions Ms. Jeannette Cox’s influence and guidance on his academic interests in Communication, English and Speech during his years in college. The interview then talks about the importance of storytelling and narratives in the African American community before concluding with insights on race relations in Charleston, especially Hunt’s relationship with the Stoney Family.