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.
In this interview, James Michael Graves (1915- 1996) begins by discussing his biographical background and his childhood in Charleston, South Carolina. He mentions being unaware of negative race relations while growing up in his neighborhood and mentions that although times were segregated, he was not aware of injustices due to the community ties. He also stresses the positive relationship he had with white children in the neighborhood and discusses gender - including gender-specific school courses, games children played, and expectations of each gender. Graves also examines the opportunities which were available to black men and women and details the rare training provided to black lawyers. He reflects on his time as a student at Avery Normal Institute (circa 1930) and discusses the teachers who influenced him, Avery as an educational program, and his subsequent employment as a teacher at Avery. Graves disagrees with the notion of Avery as a black elite institution for lighter skinned African-Americans and mentions various students and teachers to defend this position. He completes the interview with information pertaining to his role in the Voting Rights Act as well as his experience as a teacher during Civil Rights Movement. He mentions serving as Chairman of the executive committee for the NAACP.