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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.
2.
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Oral history interview with Marcellus Forrest
Oral history interview with Marcellus Forrest 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.
3.
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Oral history interview with Dr. Joseph Hoffman
Oral history interview with Dr. Joseph Hoffman 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.
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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.
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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.