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, 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.
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.
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.