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Interview with Anne Batten

Batten, Anne
Greeson, Jennifer
Date of Interview: 
Mecklenburg Historical Association, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools; Historic buildings; Historic sites; Alexander Graham Junior High School; Teaching; School integration.
Anne Batten discusses and contrasts her experiences as a schoolteacher in White Plains, North Carolina and in the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system. Long active in efforts to both preserve and present local history, Miss Batten describes her involvement in the Mecklenburg Historical Association and her efforts on behalf of several historic sites in Mecklenburg County.
Charlotte, 1920s-1990s
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at her home in Charlotte, N.C.
Levine Museum of the New South, Professional Women Series
Interview Audio: 
JG (Jennifer Greeson): Is it going to work? Oh, it might work! Yea! [Laughter] OK, good. Make sure it`s working. [Long pause] Can you hear it going around?
AB (Anne Batten): A little bit, I think.
JG: I wonder if that`s normal. Well, we`ll make sure that if it stops, we`re not going to use it. OK. This isJennifer Greesonfrom theMuseum of the New Southand I`m withMs. Anne Battenin her home, and it`s the26th of July, and it`s about 2:20 in the afternoon. AndMs. Batten, I`m here to talk to you today about your growing up, your career as a teacher, and your work with historical preservation inMecklenburg County, too. So I`ll just start out by asking you where did you grow up and what was your childhood like there?
AB: Well, good start.Jennifer, I was born inCharlotte, although my parents arrived shortly before I was born, at419 North College Street. [Pause] Although I am a native, since the family was a newcomer, that`s somewhat different. My mother was born inMoore County, Carthage, and she was skilled driving a horse and she was accustomed to a life of a small town. And my father was born inWadevilleinMontgomery County, and he went with us toCarthageto--. Because he was interested in trains. On his father`s farm he had worked the train that helped in the sawmill, and had helped when they were cutting down the logs, and so he decided he would go and work withMr. Page`strain that had the name Aberdeen in it. And there they met, and shortly after that he took a job as a conductor on theNorfolk Southern Railroad, which meant they moved toCharlotte, because his, he would leave, go fromCharlottetoRaleighevery, every other day. And, so, I was born, as I said, downtown close toEighth Street, onCollege, in a white brick apartment that had the kind they used to have, not high-rise or anything, but each a separate door. And then we moved toDilworth, and we lived onWinthrop Avenue, which was the last street offEast Boulevardthat had houses on it at that time. TheLatta Placewas onEast Boulevard just a half a block up there. And, but still, we were almost out in the country, because we could look out from our front porch and there wasn`t anything built across the street from us. If you talk about living style, well, we didn`t go out and eat very much. We ate at home. We had fruit trees in the backyard. Having come from the country, I suppose that the country life was still around. Apple trees, peach trees, fig tree, and then a garden back behind that. And the groceries were delivered from Mr Reid`s grocery storeonSouth Boulevard, for the most part, but alsoWatt`s grocery. They had, they delivered, too. And of course they had their horses, and they had their carts, and so, because we had our garden back in the back,Pinky, who was a person who, a black person, who had been brought fromWadevilleto live in our home when we came here,Pinkywould go out with a shovel and get all the manure that was left by the horses, and then they could take it back to the garden back in the back. Now let`s see, we had flowers, of course we had that garden, a lot of flowers.Shoaf`s Floristwas down onEast Boulevard, practically the same place it had, was for years, I think it`s moved now. And we could walk down toShoaf`s Florist. We had a lot of patches or nasturtiums, petunias, along the side, along the front, too. As far as the church is concerned, we went toTrinity Methodist Church, until1927. And in1927, it joined withTryon Street Church. And so, while we stayed there, went on up toTryon Street,Mr. J. A. Jones, who had bought theLatta Place, had decided that he didn`t want--. He had fought againstTrinityandTryon Street`suniting and so he went toDilworth Church. And then he later builtDilworth Methodist Church. He was on the board, and he helped buildDilworth Methodist ChurchonEast Boulevard, where it is now. And theJoneseshad lived onSouth Tryon Street, south ofMorehead, at first. And they had, an--. When we`d listen--. When we`d go to parades, we took in all the parades, and things like that, we`d sometimes sit on their porch because Mother had been in school with,Emma Wren,Mr. Jones`ssecond or third wife and so--. We, then--.Helen Joneswas in my Sunday school class because we all went toTrinitythere. As far as friends are concerned, mostly people at the church and people in the neighborhood. When we moved to town--. I mean, when they moved to town,Grandmother Moffet, Mother`s step-grandmother, wrote to people in town she thought were important and gave them mother`s name for them to call on. She had a house onFederal Streetand she entertained the political people inRaleigh, and Mother had lived there when she was going toSt Mary`s. So they called on Mother duly, but she didn`t return their calls, because she said she didn`t think she could keep up with them financially. But I think she really--. Which was true, no doubt, but I think she really loved the home, too. We had relatives visiting us all the time. And then, we knew all our neighbors very well, and Latta Parkwas just a half block from us. So we`d walk by theLittle`sand theChestnut`sand then go on down toLatta Park. As I said, we always having relatives come and stay with us for a while. Some while they worked and Mother thought that anybody was kin to her ought to be looked after. Friends, later on we had, I had, after we moved from there, Just Around the Comer Club, which was a lot of girls in the neighborhood and also some in the school class. And we would entertain at our houses. Mother was always very careful to use the good silver, the good china, and not as you do today, but she just wanted to use what she had. The--. Once, the last meeting I went, party I went to for Just Around the Corner Club, I`m going, advancing a little bit, was about1927 or eight. It was atDorothy Garabaldi`shouse, and we were entertaining a club atAG, at oldAG, by that time. And they had people from,Ranson Courtand also fromMorehead, and around in there. And so we were having a big, big party there, but I wasn`t allowed to dance. I didn`t play bridge or dance. And so I remember sitting that out with a fellow from my church for a lot of the time. And so I didn`t go back to any of their parties when we had big parties like that. But, as I said, Mother liked all kinds of celebrations, Valentine`s she would make things and slip around the front porch. But as for transportation, I think we always had a car. We had the old hut mobile, and a touring car, and then, of course, when the sedan came out after I got in junior high school, we had the sedan, too. Well, when Dad would take me anywhere, he always preferred the touring car, and it got me so upset. The streetcars were, going every ten minutes, five or ten minutes, and we had great service. I think it didn`t cost but a nickel to begin with. And they lasted in Charlotteuntil1938. When we`d go to town later on, when I`d come home fromCentral, or when I would come home fromQueens, I could still ride the streetcar and it never was very expensive, and excellent service. And of course we walked a lot. It didn`t make any difference. We`d walk from, say,AGto town, and then maybe walk home. And sometimes when I was teaching at oldAG, I`d meet my sister downtown and then we`d decide if it was still light, we`d walk home. But we didn`t worry too much about the light and dark, because there wasn`t the crime then. You could just walk anywhere you wanted to, and I never walked the railroad tracks, but some of the students even walked the railroad tracks to town and made it, would meet you uptown. During this time when we were living on Winthrop Avenue, World War I was going on. The only thing I remember about World War I was the flu. We had--. Everybody had it, except my father. And so he had to sleep where we had an old four square, rectangular piano, you know the kind, that--. So he would sleep in the parlor on the piano, and look after the rest of us. Another thing about the, war, Mother had two brothers in it. And I`m told that she, they were making a movie of people to send overseas. And so she had a sign walking around, "Hello, Sam. Hello, Person." And they presumably sent that movie overseas for people, for them to see while they were over there. And I remember, too, they celebrated something with a fire going, and I think they burned the Kaiser, alive but I couldn`t find anything, an effigy of the Kaiser, but I couldn`t find anything about that. But, it seems that the people from Camp Greene, the officers, could live anywhere in town if they wanted to. And so, a colonel lived next door to us, and one of Mother`s younger sisters came to town after she had had a business course, and was his secretary, rode out with him to Camp Greene, and was his secretary. But in1920, we moved. There was apartment on the, and it`s still there, apartment there on the corner ofWinthropandEast Boulevard, and Mother didn`t know the parents of all the children that we played with. So we moved toFirst Ward. Dad had bought a lot closer toDilworth School. Also, this was onLatta Park, but he had, the house had to be built. And so, we went toFirst Ward. We lived onFifth Street for a while down there. And all the way through school I had excellent teachers. Back then; I do think that you were put in, segregated by ability in school, not segregated by race or anything else, of course. We were all white. Because Miss Noeywas my first grade teacher atFirst Ward, and she was excellent, and the others, too. So in1921we moved back to that new house that had been built over with the back of it going intoLatta Park. And we went toDilworth School. AndMiss Wallens,Watkins--.Dr. Alexander Grahamwould get the, was the superintendent at that time butMr Harding, I think, went down toWinthropto get many of his teachers. But atDilworth School, MissUrsula Blankenshipwas the principal. And she was noted for her good strong discipline. So when Dr.Alexander Grahamwould come around, he`d always get close to us and tell us that this was, that Ursula meant little she-bear. And, well it did but everybody called herMiss SulaI mean the people who knew her called herMiss Sula. But she was a good friend ofMiss Connie Fore, who taught over atCentrala long time, and they`d take trips together and I bet they had a great time outside the class, the school. But we just sawMiss Sulaas a very nice person, but you just didn`t do anything that she didn`t want done. Sometime in there, Dad had bought theWalton Hotel Company. Which is on the corner ofFifthandCollege. Is that where theMerchandise Martis now?
JG: I think so.
AB: Anyway, and so he, he was at home less, probably, because he had to be down there all the time, but he was inCharlottemore. And, of course, that time we could go down there and eat, and we`d go intoTryon Street, and we`d come back there on Sundays and eat, instead of having to, unless we put the Sunday roast on, and then the vegetables that you cooked while you were at church. [Long Pause]Mother--. Well, my brother was born while, while we were onFifth Streetthere, we`d, before we moved back toLyndhurst. And my mother wasn`t as strong as she had been before, so she, we, she didn`t walk as much. She drove, tried to drive the car, but that was not like a horse, and so she never felt comfortable with it. Once turning into our yard just turned straight into the telephone pole instead of into the driveway [laugh] so she didn`t drive much after that. But, then oldAG, I went to school there and also taught there. It was an excellent school. As I said, I think throughout that you had special classes there, and I was lucky enough to be in the best, the highest class, and Mr.Arthur Elliottwas the principal, and--. He, he did run a very good school. And then I went on, toCentral, and that was a good school, too. But you, not as close. You didn`t know everybody as much as you did atAG. [Laughter] That was the wrong place to put that paper, wasn`t it?
JG: That`s fine.
AB: Then, after I finished atCentral, I went toQueens. Mother had wanted everybody in the family to go toTrinity. My brother and sister bothDukegraduates, but I came along in1932, and I had a scholarship becauseBishop Peelewas at that time Dr. Peele and our pastor. But I said I didn`t mind going toQueens for two years, and as it happened, after two years I said I was enjoying it, I`d just as soon go the rest of the time. And I think that was a very wise decision in many ways because you knew the teachers. You were friends of the teachers in the various clubs and organizations as well as in class and the sizes were small, too. And I would get a--. Size of the class was small. I`d get ride to Queens, and wouldn`t mind walking home, although it was probably two miles. Sometimes, if the weather was good. And I majored in English and French, becauseMrs. Tanson, I wasn`t anywhere near English untilMrs. Tansontaught the first year and so I kept on, majored in English and in French, and then I took some journalism, but all the psychology courses that I could get. Dr.Ethel Abernathywas teaching that and she, they didn`t have the major in that at that time. And in1936 Mother came to the graduation, and that was the last thing she wrote in her book, because, in her diary, because she had cancer, and she was, she died shortly after that. That first year, I didn`t try to get a job, outside of Charlotte, and I didn`t get one inCharlotte. So Mother, I thought Mother was ill so I`d just stay at home, but she died inSeptember. And after that I went back toQueensand took a course, helped in the lab, psychology lab, withDr Abernathy. And she probably paid my salary, but I didn`t know it at the time. But anyway, the next year,1937, I applied through a, a teachers` agency, and I got an offer of a job up in the mountains. And so, it was a way off, small place, so I just turned it down. Then, few days, the principal and the, and his wife and the chairman of the board came to my house and said that my application was so good, they thought they would just come and see whether I, I wouldn`t reconsider and come and teach there. Of course, I know that Dr. Ab. helped to write that recommendation, so I know it`s according to who you have writing it. But anyway, they talked to me and then they went down to see my father at the hotel and said they would be sure to look after his daughter. So I went to White Plains, and there I got the advantage of a small town. It was--. Went to theQuaker Church downtown, the one store. We knew the people there, knew the gossip. The person I lived with would fill me in on the gossip. Somebody had to walk across the railroad track to get to that but it was a very nice, and to a certain extent, well educated town, because the Quakers prided themselves on their education. I had been, gotten there one day, and then they decided to close the schools, because the tobacco season, and the children had to go and pick the tobacco. So I went back home but they saw that I got part of the way home. And then went back there again in about a week or so. But I was glad to have been up there and seen it and had that week. Of course, in addition to teaching you had to do other things and so I was the girls` basketball coach and the boy, the man did, the boys` basketball coach did the coaching, but I went around with the team, and we`d get in, eleven or twelve o`clock. Then I had a wood stove in my room, so I would rather than make a fire that night, I would get up at five o`clock the next morning and start studying so I didn`t get too much sleep a lot of the time up there because there was so much that you had to do. But the Baptists had a church up on the hill. The Siamese twins were from that area, and I taught the descendents of the Siamese twins and they went to the Baptist church up there. And I went to a funeral once there, just to get a ride to Mount Airy the people I was going with were going to the funeral. And I sat on the back row. Somebody touched me, my shoulder a little bit and said, I didn`t know what he was touching me for, and he said, "If you want to see the body for the last time, go down to the front." And--. [Phone rings]
JG: I`ll just go ahead--.
AB: I was at the Baptist church up on the top of the hill. And I went down and I looked at the body for the last time but it was also the first time. [Laughter] Up the--. The rest of the church waited while the visiting schoolteacher, the only one who was from out of the county, went down and looked at the body, went back and sat down again. But something else happened at that church. We went to a revival service. The fellow was Indian, and he came to town. We had just bought a motion picture machine, and he condemned the school for the motion, showing motion pictures, and then went to the principal`s house and had dinner one night. I was invited, he was to that also. He was very uncomfortable. But I went, we went to the revival one night, and he was preaching hell, fire, and damnation, and the lights went off to show what the darkness of hell looked like, and a little girl came over and got close to me. But then, when the lights came on, somebody came running in and said that he had been listening to his radio, and there were dragons from hell coming up and people were descending everywhere, in the, down in somewhere, I believe he said New Jersey. But they didn`t know, they`d go get a radio. They didn`t know what was going on. But of course that wasOrson Welles` "War of Worlds", or something like that. And so the fellow was telling us about what was, this was the end of the world. And the preacher said, "Since this is the end of the world, everybody repent." So we decided that was time to get up and leave and go to Mount Airy. And, so, anyway, you can see that was a very different time. I went out and picked tobacco also, I planted tobacco in the spring. And did the various things that I had not been able to do before. But I was elected president of the PTA, but thank heavens, I didn`t have to serve, because I got a job here in Sharon, inMecklenburg County. It wasSharon High Schoolat that time. And this is probably more about World War II than anything else, because I went in`39, and I think in1943is when I left. We--. There is a book thatHoward Whiteand his wife wrote about that. That the people out there, and many of the people have been inMecklenburg Countya long time, and they were theWhites,Melvin Grahamwas in my class, he`sBilly Graham`sbrother, and many oldMecklenburg Countynames. But, in1941, the boys were getting ready to go off to volunteer in the services. A few who didn`t like school anyway left early, but the people fromCentral High School, who had twelve grades, where asSharon had eleven grades, decided to come out and finish. Some of them wanted to go early, and some finished in the eleventh grade instead of staying another year through the twelfth grade. So we had that year, oh, about six people, seven people from Central that, who had come just for that purpose. I went to a fifty-year reunion just before I went to the hospital, and so I met some of them there and it was interesting to hear, what had happened. One boy was a gunner, and he was shot down, but he came home and recovered. Some others who, one died later in a fire, but he was active throughout the war. And another one had died on a plane. He had become, he had passed the pilots` test, he had become a lieutenant and the whole plane went down, and including him. But actually, in the fighting, not many of them were--, died in that. Of course, we did the usualthings you did during a war. We sold war bonds, we collected scraps. I collected scrap metal. [Laughter]And it was busy and sad. It was also interesting to see how different they were when you saw them because they had become cosmopolitan and had gone all over the world. One boy had gone toWashington and been in that experiment, with the gas that was given. He wouldn`t stay. He said he wasn`t going to stay in that thing, so he went, went out but people were denying it for a long time and recently, they said that really did happen. But he said he was getting a little bit of his, what do you get from the army? But he was getting a little bit of his money, so he wasn`t going to bother to go there again. In 1943, I went to oldAG. And that was seventh, eighth and ninth grade, of course junior high school. And probably the best students I ever had were there. At that day, at that time,Charlottedidn`t have a high school.Charlotte didn`t have a private school. That, I thought probably mistakenly, that if you went to a private school, you went there to get special help, get caught up. But not many people went to private school around here. Then a good many, after the ninth grade, would go off to school. I didn`t teach Dicky Spangler, Dick Spanglerhe is now, but he was there and he was, I believe, president of the honor society and also student council president. Of course,Sally Dalton Robinsonwas there, and she was president of my homeroom. AndAlec McMillanwas there. I didn`t teach him either, but he was there and a friends are some of those I taught. So I did teach journalism there from the first, and that`s the class that you get to meet people and, you, youwork together and you get to know everybody very well.Matt Joneswas the first editor, the broadcaster,Bill White, who`s still around here, helped buildNations Bank, was the sports editor. But everybody worked on everything. And thenCharles Kuraltwas editor his second year. AndMary Kratt--. You usually took journalism in the eighth and ninth grade, lots of people did. AndMary Kratt was also editor at her, when she was in the class. There were lots of people who`re still not around here, who were very interesting. And some of them I still keep in touch with. At that time, I also became student council advisor, because sometimes to get out a newspaper, you had to make news. And Charliewas the one who was always wanting things to happen, thought we ought to have a dance. And finally we did, and then--. Other things, so,Sammy Williams, probably, was one of the first student council presidents. He isSam Williamson. He`s a lawyer in town, now. And we attended all the student council workshops and the meetings and there`s some workshops in the summer. And then spring and fall, and fall meetings, and so on. So, we had to make our news and then get it, but I really liked teaching English, and that`s what I taught. In 1954,Sedgefieldwas, a junior high was formed. But before, I`ll tell you later about a change in curriculum there.AGfed intoMyers Park, well all of this happened because oldAGcollapsed. The auditorium fell down and so we were operating with not the full capacity of the school. And so whenMyers Park Highwas started, they had grades seven through nine in withMyers Park High, and sometime in the early1950s, the people, not in theDilworthsection, there were still a lot of good people. In fact, you find out how many good there were when the ones who had been leaders left. But--. [Pause] Anyway, I`ll tell more aboutSedgefieldlater on when I talk about the, where, what we did for historic preservation. You can make or break a school with a, a student body.Myers Park was the best, but when they started changing people, they sent the, not only from the poorer section of town, but also from the handicapped were put there. Certain ones like that were put there. Well, now let`s see, let`s talk, I`m going, talking about me in 1970, my father died. And my stepmother and I lived briefly onLyndhurst, so you can see I was atLyndhurst a long time. Dad had thought that they would move, but the Depression came along, and then after that he didn`t want to move, because he was down at the hotel a lot, and so. But anyway, my stepmother and I moved out here. I bought this condominium, as I told you, it was the first townhouse/condominium in Mecklenburg County. And I had to have open house for a year, because people were coming to see what the townhouse/condominium looked like. And then I went toNew York, and all along the railroad tracks you saw many of them, looked just exactly like this. If you look around you see I have a lot of hobbies. I collect pottery; at least I collect things now. I--. My only sports probably, was tennis, of years and years ago. And things that remind me of something I collect, and different, so it just makes--. It keeps you alive by keeping an interest in finding something else that you want to collect. But my interest in preservation, I don`t know whether we will have time to get into all this or not. I cut some of it short. But--.
JG: That`s OK.
AB: When I was growing up I liked dramas, and I liked, I didn`t take much history, because it seems that many of the history teachers were old and set in their ways when I came along and read from notes. So I had learned my history through experience. Legette Blythewrote some dramas.Kenneth Whitsett--.Whitsetthelped with the settings and so on. And then, they had, wellLegette Blythewrote "Shout Freedom!" And thePresbyterian Churchhad its bicentennial and then in1975and1976for those bicentennials, Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and also the National Declaration Celebration I think was downtown. But, I went to those. But then the core program, in the1950s, after some of the students went toMyers Park, but anyway, someone came to town with a new idea. Eighth grade English was to be included in with history so I had two classes, three periods each. Language Arts andNorth CarolinaHistory. At first I thought that would be bad. History was not my field. But I found out I liked it very much, because you learned your history by research and by visiting. We took a lot of tours. The first year I got there, I`m a little bit stymied.Mrs. CrimesandMrs. Galltook us on a tour of northernMecklenburg. Their children went along with us and we took pictures and they went back and showed their slides and also told about what they had seen in northMecklenburg. That`s probably the first tour I`d taken with a class like that. Then,Rosedale,Miss Craighead Davidson just said I could bring my class there. By that time I had just one class and then a journalism class and student council, so it wasn`t as if I had to get the two classes there. And so she let us go all the way from the basement up to the attic and the, the children were thrilled to see--. Well, I didn`t go to the attic but they were thrilled, they said there`s a ballroom, but I don`t know whether it was or not. And then we went to Kings Mountain,Cherokee,Chapel Hill,Raleigh,Old Salem; we always went toOld Salembecause that taught a lot about that. And then we`d go to theHezekiah Alexander House. That was both atAGand after I went toSedgefield. We got in touch with theD.A.R.ladies who had renovated the house. And there was always somebody who`d go out there and meet us and we`d go through the house. And one of our assistant principals who took us in a school bus got so he was, he wanted to go every year himself and look for the fish that were supposedly on the rocks, but by the time they renovated it, the fish disappeared from the rocks. We had a Tarheel Junior Historiangroups. Later on I had two classes, of three each, when I got toSedgefieldand didn`t have journalism anymore. I did have student council, and I don`t know how it got all in there, got in, the schedule got in there. But anyway, we, one of them was, I think, Mecklenburg, maybe justMecklenburg Tarheel Junior Historians, maybe it was Mecklenburg. The other was theHornets` Nest. And we would have programs in the school. We would teach history to everybody else. And we hosted theMecklenburg Historical Associationtwice. There was a picture atSedgefieldthat had been at oldAG. One of the parents had had it put, painted and put in a sort of a clubroom that we had there, that wasCharlotte, in1775. And that picture is still atSedgefield Junior High School. It was moved toSedgefield, they didn`t have anywhere for it atAGso they brought it back toSedgefield. And, that was, we had a tape thatMr. Whitsettmade to go along with that, and so we`d, I showed that at one time to theMHAwhen they came, and all, every year we`d have it for all the students and sometimes other eighth grade students would use it, too. SoMr. Whitsett would come out and talk to us, and about different subjects, and I took some of the tapes and I don`t know where they are. Then another time, we just had a program on some other things that we had gotten together and, for the MHAat that time of the history ofMecklenburg County. We also visitedNCNB, and their mural, "Banking in Charlotte."Mr. Whitsettdid that, too, it`s theNCNB, which was no longer there but was onNorth Tryon Street, I think beyondFirst Methodist Church. But, anyway, that picture is now atHarding High School.David--? Oh, I can`t remember his name, but he was very good at writing, keeping up with history, and he saved many things, including theDowd House, there. Do you know whatDavid`sname is? Anyway, he--.
JG: Goldfield?
AB: No. He got that forHardingafter they tore the building down or they changed the decor, he got that. And then we, before they closed the house, we had, at theHezekiah Alexander house; we did something that I did later after I retired. The girls became docents. We studied the history, talked to the people. And there was a docent in each room. They worecostumes, and we invited another teacher`s classes to come, too. And so they just, were quite delighted to show off for the other class. And then we went toSugar Creek Church, and the boys got up a program for that. And so they gave that in the church and we went to the schoolhouse there. And we`ve had guest speakers.Legette Blythecame and gave me any of the materials that he had. He had retired by that time. "Shout Freedom", the copy of that, and other things that he would be willing to autograph for me and give them.
AB: But, we decided in 1775 or six to makeThomas Polk Squarein the library. We had that mural, "Charlotte in 1775", and one of the pictures there was possiblyThomas Polk. And we had a picture thatMr. Whitsettthought was ofThomas Polk, but I worried about that, because it a little early to have a picture. But it wasThomas Polkbut it wasThomas G. Polk, the grandson who also lived inCharlottea long time. But anyway, we had the grandson`s picture. And, so we went downtown to theSquareone Sunday, in groups of two. It happened to be two black boys and two white boys. We, they did a rubbing of the circle in the middle of theSquare. The police department parked their car to protect the boys on early Sunday morning. And I heard somebody said, "Look at the policeman sitting in that car, and those boys down there on the street." But anyway, [laughter]they, both sets did that, and then we went down to the cemetery and made rubbings of the gravestone. And so that was part of theThomas Polk Square, too. And the person who rode to carry the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, the day we celebratedThomas Polk Square opening, the person who portrayed that, at that time, was there with his horse. We had open house in there with the, the parents that came, the adults who came, we served refreshments and so on. So, we, you see the interest came because of; it was forced on me, to a certain extent while I was teaching. I joined MHAabout somewhere in the60s, I think. I saw, they were having a May the twentieth celebration so I wanted to go. And, and I went to most of the meetings after that and was interested, of course, in what they said. When I was president ofMHA, one aim was, as everybody had said, was to unite the history groups inMecklenburg County. And I wasn`t sure how you were going to do it. So, the first meeting, we had all the former presidents there and we also had the groups thatMHAhad started:Latta PlaceandTorrance, andHistoric Landmarks Commission, and also thePolk Place. ThePolk Placewas started by our first president, who had a hard time getting it through the legislature to have anything up before, have something to honorJames K Polk. And finally, after he,Jim Stenhousewas our first president. He was the one inRaleightrying to get thePolk Placehere, the memorial here. And finally, they turned it down, so he went toTom White, whom I read the other day, in the newspaper could get anything he wanted through the legislature. And soTom Whitesaid, "They turned it down, did they? Just wait." So he went and the next day they accepted it.Sanford, I think, was president, was governor. And soJim Stenhousedid a lot forMecklenburg Countyhistory and also for getting thatPolk Placebuilt.Ladybird Johnsoncame there for the opening, but the opening was done by the mayor and some other people, not byJim Stenhouseso he didn`t call that the official opening.Ladybird Johnsonwas in town, so they just went by to see that before they went by next to see theHezekiah Alexander house, and then going on out toUNCC. But anyway, they had exhibits, those various groups had exhibits, and I wanted them to come and be active in the association if they would. And later on, anybody who was president of an organization or a board of directors, we invited, such as the Doctors` Museumand also theAfro-American Cultural Center, and places like that. We invited the presidents to come and get that. Then the other way to get them together was a newsletter, printing news from the various organizations. Most of the organizations were glad to have their news put in, and were most cooperative in doing it. So, on May the twentieth, we--. Mike Myerstalked aboutThomas Polk.Thomas Polkhad been my hero, sort of, for a while. And, as the person who had helped startCharlotte. So afterMikemade his talk, he recommended that the park there on theSquarebe named theThomas Polk Park. AndPhil Gurley seconded it. And so after a while trying to get it before the city council, I don`t know how it got lost along the way; they finally got below, before the city council. We had been there to a meeting earlier, and was passed so, now president Jo Forestberryis having to work with everybody else to get the materials for the park and working hard at it. And it`s going, I`m glad that she`s doing it because she is having a lot of, is doing a lot of work on it. And then,Patsy Kinsey--. I wanted a museum downtown, andPatsy Kinseyhad had a symposium on forming a museum. AndTom Lanehad said, "As soon as the museum was over, let`s get to work and get one." So it, they hadn`t gotten one, so I appointedTom Laneas chairman of the committee to get a museum. And soTom Lane--.Hugh Harkeywas wanting to work on it too, andClarence Kuester. And so they investigated lots of museums around here and how they were formed. And they were going to have a meeting, a dinner meeting, at theCity Club.Parks Helmswas going to sponsor it; he andTom Lanehad been law partners. And then, we were talking about people together and I said, "I used to teachSally." So a day or so later, Tom called and said, "Can you make an appointment for us to go seeSally Robinson?" And so I did, and after that--.Sally is marvelous. I knew she was good, but I didn`t know how marvelous she was, until things got to rolling on that museum and I am very proud every time I read anything about it. And then--. I love, probably learned it from my mother, but having a party for bicentennials or birthdays or something. George Washingtoncame toCharlotte, his bicentennial came in there, in1991, I think. And so, the docents had been accustomed to putting on, theMHAdocents, I`d better explain that. I worked at theHezekiah Alexander housefrom1976, whenMiss Lula Faye Cleggsaw me visiting there one day and said, "Don`t you want to be a docent?" Until1990, which is about fourteen years and I had worked on the various things that went with it as president, docent and president of the auxiliary, and then the Dollhouse Show and all the rest, raising money and buying money and the furniture, and all of that. So when the docents wanted to get away from the Mint, I mean when the Foundation wanted to get away from theMint, and get into an independent foundation away from the city, eventually they got away from the city. I think that they did a very good job, and I think they`re doing a very good job out there, but I, the, many of the docents had been on another side, so they withdrew to form their own organization. And when they formed their own organization, I said, if they wanted to--. They were wondering who they could affiliate with. I said that I could appoint a committee, and they could be the education committee for the MHA. Well, I found out it wasn`t quite that simple. But nevertheless, they did write their own charter and they did become the education committee forMHA, and that also united the various historic groups, because they were docents atLattaandPolkandTorrance, and other places, and they`ve done other things. But to get back to, we then had, by this time; we hadMecklenburg Historical Associationof Docents. AndKaren McConnellhad written some of the Christmas scenes that we had had at the Christmas celebrations. And so, there and also out at thePolk place. So I asked her if she`d write the bicentennial celebration.NCNBsaid they`d cooperate. And, we put it on down at theSquare, the people in costumes because we had the costumes from the appropriate time, and the coach came up withGeorge Washington,Jim WilliamswasGeorge Washington, andThomas Polkwas also in the carriage, and then we had--. They made a few speeches on the outside then we wereNCNB`sguests at lunch that day.Hugh McColl came by to speak to us on the way walking through. But, we had the bicentennial, the celebration, there. Then, too, I think when you do a research; you get to know the libraries, and the various historic groups there. And so this has been disjointed, but nevertheless, I am through. [Laughter]
JG: [laughter] OK.
AB: OK. [Recording paused. Recording Resumed]
JG: OK. You mentioned at one point that it was kind of different having parents who were from out of town instead of local Charlotteans. How is that different?
AB: The--.Charlotte was a place of old families. You know, they`d lived here for generations. And so it really didn`t affect me because I was naive. And I found out about it only later. You know, I wanted everybody happy, and it, you know, didn`t make that much difference. But, if you had an old Charlotte name, that would make a difference, in, I suppose, prestige. But it didn`t worry Mother either `cause she didn`t want to, join them. She, if she could probably, but I mean, she didn`t want to. And so, I found, I mean I concluded later there was a difference.
JG: Um-hum.
AB: Does that answer your question?
JG: Um-hum. Do you think, do, do you think there were any specific instances you can think of where it became clear to you that that`s how things were, or--?
AB: No, except, it could be money plus family, when I`ve talked about the, theMorehead Street. Some people in my class I liked very much, and also theRanson Courtup there which, let me see--. They had a club, and they seemed to have more assurance, I suppose. You see,Nancy NowleandPhoebe Jean Bobbitwas around in that court up there, but, had some lovely houses up there and thenKerry Marshall Gilcrestand,Nancy Crowell and people who lived along there had more assurance, I suppose. But again, if you don`t participate in the things, we went to football games out of town. I had a, a friend who was an only child when I was in high school, and you know they would take that only child around different places, spend the night, maybe, when the teams were out of town, and so on. So I enjoyed that, too.
JG: Did--. Whenever you taught out inWhite Plainswere you teaching high school then too?
AB: Yes, it was grades eight through eleven. English and French. Can you imagine teaching French to people who worked more in the tobacco field? Of course, there were also some who, several who went off to college, and in fact the principal`s daughter taught here for a while, at old AG, I meanAG, the newAG.
JG: Um-hum. Well, what was that like, teaching them French?
AB: It was a little bit hard. You didn`t feel you accomplished anything. They--. I don`t remember much about it except I was talking to someone from Sharon recently and she was talking about how she didn`t think she would ever learn it. You know, there was nothing to relate to particularly, no reason for it.
JG: How did you decide to become a teacher?
AB: Probably it was the only thing people did. Many of the teachers inCharlotte Mecklenburg, when I went to school, were local people. Lots of them were unmarried. And so, it just was about the only thing you could do. I tried--. I was offered a job at the telephone company, but I decided I`d rather teach. That`s what I`d planned for. Some people, when jobs were scarce, went to the telephone company and then went into business.
JG: Um-hum. [Pause] How were the schools inCharlottedifferent from--? How was it different to teach inCharlottethan it was to teach out atWhite Plains, or evenSharon?
AB:Sharon. The students were better motivated, in many cases. They had gone more places, gotten more experience, and their parents expected more. But as I say, always there`re exceptions. And, too, if you have a good group, see there were more of them, if you have a good group they inspire the others, if you have a majority.
JG: What were your experiences of segregation in the schools, desegregation that period?
AB: I had that written down. I don`t know how I overlooked it. The first was atSedgefield, and people came from theNew Hope community, which is about where theYWCAis onPark Road. And they were accepted and they accepted the whites, so there wasn`t any problem there. They were elected to offices and cheerleading and played basketball. And then some people fromSouth Boulevard, a small group of black homes around there, came shortly after that, and if they`d come to my house and I was going to school, they would ride with me and they`d ride home partly with me if they were, some other people, too. I mean, it didn`t make any difference. But then, I don`t know why people became more aggressive. I know that once one of the teachers was driving the school bus when the bus driver wasn`t there, and he asked one of the black boys to get off the bus and walk the tracks they called it, to see that no train was coming. They had to always stop and somebody get out and look both ways. And so he refused to do it. So the teacher just put him off the bus, and then came on without him. Well, the NAACP got in on that, and you know, how unfair, so I think to begin with that made a difference, but then too, the standards had been different in some of the schools. The principal, one of the teachers told us that in the black schools, if a student would sit quietly and hand in a pretty sheet of work, copy the work down, you`d make an A or a B. And so the first time our grades went out and there were F`s, they would say, "Well, I was good. I handed in every paper I was supposed to." And that was supposed to be a good grade. That was what one of the black teachers told us when we were having all that problem about people objecting to their grade. And then in class once, a little girl was in a, presumably, journalism class, the year that I scheduled a class, all kinds of classes that I didn`t, separate classes for English and history and journalism. And she brought something up to me to read, and I said, "I can`t read it." She said--. I said, "You read it to me." She said, "I can`t either." She couldn`t even read what she had written down. I mean, she had just written down words. I don`t know where the words had come from. And the same thing, you had people who just more that who couldn`t read than you had white children who couldn`t read. I don`t know whether it was that particular neighborhood or what, but that was true. About the riots. Some of--. I was usually friends with the black children in my class. [Coughs] But when a riot was coming, they would walk through the halls and not look at you, one way or another. They`d just walk through and ignore you. But you knew they saw you, and you knew to a certain extent you`d be safe as far as was possible, with their friends. I mean, you know, you can`t always guarantee. And one boy who was big, a big basketball, football player, said his parents told him the minute a riot started, to go running home, because they knew that they had, they`d pick on the big ones first. And so that`s what he did. It was, interesting. [Laughter] I was just, trying to think of something else I had thought about. They would usually have them, you know, in the cafeteria or something like that. But I don`t remember if they had worse ones after I left or not. But I was never afraid, if that`s, answers your question. [Laugh] But I had some very good black students, too. One of them is, taught out at--.Wanda? I knew her name, but I can`t remember anybody`s name now. But she had, got her PhD and is teaching out at theUniversity of North Carolina at Charlotte. She`s recently moved. So, there were some good ones. Oh, I know what I was going to say. Then, you see, you got to the place they couldn`t ride home with you. Black children couldn`t associate, they couldn`t be too closely associated with whites, because of their--. But what other blacks would say.
JG: When, when did the first--? About when did the first students start come in atSedgefield, and then, when did you see the changes?
AB: You mean--.Sedgefieldwas formed in1954, it was built then.
JG: Um-hum.
AB: And the black students probably--. I don`t, I don`t really know. I was there until`70. They probably came in`60--. I really don`t know.
JG: Um-hum.
AB: But for a long time,Sedgefieldwas very much the same wayAGhad been.
JG: Um-hum.
AB: And, as I said, the black, children didn`t, at first, didn`t make that much difference but it was, the building up of a mentality, I don`t know, I think it could have been--. [Laughter]Quote-unquote, "I don`t know." The adults could have caused it. But I don`t know. You know, their talk, being pushed, put down.
JG: Um-hum. What gave you all these great ideas about history projects and everything that you did with your classes? That sounds out of the ordinary.
AB: It was fun. [Laugh] You see, journalism is creative and student council is creative, if you do anything. And theHistory Clubwas, creative too and that`s what makes teaching fun. And that`s what madeMHAfun, again after I retired from being a docent [laughter] at theHezekiah Alexander House, you know, to have something that you could use your creative thoughts on for that, too. [Pause] And that keeps you young. I`m getting old now, because all I do is complain about bones.
JG: What do you think about the schools now?
AB: I don`t know much about them. [Pause] I really don`t know; don`t know enough to give an opinion. I know that when I was at Sedgefield that last year, I wasn`t going into it, but I was given a class by--. My schedule was the worst I ever had. Nobody would want to live through that and some of the people I had, people wanted to go back to teaching only, one person teaching history and one teaching English. So after they got those who wanted that, I was left with both English and History. And that teacher said--. And I had over fifty percent blacks. That didn`t bother me particularly except I knew if I was going to be compared with somebody else, the scores would be different. But, she kept saying, "I know that it`s not an even load." And then she came and changed, said, "Why didn`t you tell me? You ought to have told me that?" After all that and that was about a quarter had about gone, so she started changing my schedule. And the blacks of course, then said, "She doesn`t like us." So, that was my last year. I decided that was enough. But, she was promoted to Administration downtown. And then from that she was promoted to Superintendent of county schools. And so what I`m getting around to saying is, many times the, I never wanted to be an administrator, but many times the administrators were more or less kicked up or got their position not because of their ability, but because they were, played up to somebody. Now, that may not be true now. They, they, what you hear is that you`re getting better principals. You`re getting better this-that-and-the-other. And so I really don`t know. I, I like neighborhood schools, but yet I don`t know how you can get segre--, desegregation with that. There`s been a terrible upheaval, and I don`t know what the answer is. Sorry.
JG: Do you think desegregation is important?
AB: Not to certain percentages, there. I think, I think it`s necessary. I think that all this turmoil has been definitely necessary for the progress of the city and the country, because people should live together, forgetting race if you can. It started and it`s now gotten to the place that racism is more from the blacks, in my estimation, than it is from the whites. From my point of view, I don`t feel racist towards them as much as I think they feel racist towards me. Does that make sense? [Pause] Because I`m white and no other reason. [Pause] But since I quit teaching I`ve been having fun doing other things, and there hasn`t been, we have some black docents, not many, but definitely we`ve had black children come when we were taking them through and there hasn`t been any question of racism since then. As far as I`m concerned, I don`t--. I think everybody is equal as far as his beginning is concerned. [Long Pause]
JG: Do you have anything else you want to tell me about?
AB: I can`t think of anything else. I may have overlooked something that I had written down. I hope it hasn`t been a waste of your time. [Laughter]
JG: No! [Recording paused. Recording resumed]
JG: You do just fine, to just think. [Laughter]
AB: In World War II, we were more concerned with the war than, of course, I was in World War I. We worked at making the books for the coupons, you had to for food. You went to parties for the soldiers, and for the most part, you just taught. When you`d hear about someone you had taught dying, or someone who was a friend having been killed, of course, you`re very sad for days. My brother was at, most, for the most part, at Treasure Islandout inCaliforniain the radar school, that he had studied atMITand helped set up out there. But his best friend, inNorth Africa, his best friend had finished atVirginia Military Academy, was inNorth Africa, and commanding a tank troop, and he told the others to leave, and he stayed behind and was killed. So it was a sad time. I can`t remember any more.
JG: Um-hum.