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Interview with Annette Freeman, May 12, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Annette Freeman, May 12, 2004
May 12, 2004
Annette Freeman, a 1938 graduate of Community Hospital School of Nursing in Wilmington, discusses her experience as a nursing student and a professional nurse and anesthetist during segregation.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Freeman, Annette Interviewer:  Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview:  5/14/2004 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length:  63 minutes


Introduction: Today is May 14, 2004. I'm LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina. Today we have the pleasure of talking with Miss Annette Freeman, who was a 1936 graduate of Community Hospital School of Nursing.

Mims: How are you doing this morning?

Freeman: I'm doing fine.

Mims: That's great. If you could take a minute and tell us a little bit about your family background, what they were doing and who your family is and just give us a reference point with you.

Freeman: My mother and daddy, Roland Freeman was my father, Lena Freeman was my mother. She had 10 children, 5 girls and 5 boys, all of which are dead but me.

Mims: Were you the baby?

Freeman: No, I'm the third from the baby. My two youngest sister and brother...everybody's dead but me out of the 10.

Mims: They were running a family business here?

Freeman: My daddy was a fisherman. He was always a fisherman. That was what he did for his livelihood.

Mims: So you grew up in this area here?

Freeman: Yes, of course I haven't lived here all the time. I worked in New York City.

Mims: Did you?

Freeman: Yes, at Harlem Hospital. I worked there for a few years. And I worked in Logan, West Virginia.

Mims: How did you come to get interested in nursing?

Freeman: Well, my mother had to go to the doctor for her eyes and the girls were so pretty in their white. I didn't really want to be a nurse to begin with. I wanted to be a teacher, but at that time we didn't have the money to send me to become a teacher. So I liked the white uniforms so very much that I decided to be a nurse.

Mims: How did you find out about the Community Hospital School of Nursing?

Freeman: Well, there was a man coming around to the homes selling and I had graduated at that time from high school and he suggested that I take up nursing and he would see to it that I go to Community Hospital.

Mims: This was somebody you just met?

Freeman: No, he was a salesman. He was white; a Jew is what he was. So he knew that I had finished high school so he wanted me to take up nursing.

Mims: What high school did you graduate from?

Freeman: New Hanover. (Williston)

Mims: And this was during the Depression too so there weren't a lot of opportunities?

Freeman: No, you didn't have many opportunities because money was sort of scarce.

Mims: Definitely.

Freeman: Yes, and with 10 children of course I couldn't go.

Mims: Do you remember what the name of that salesman was?

Freeman: No, I do not. He had a place there on Castle Street. I'm sure he's not living.

Mims: I wonder if he was doing business with the Community Hospital.

Freeman: Yes, he was, selling things to the community, to homes, any type of furniture they needed, whatever. I don't know what he was selling.

Mims: So with his economic help, you were able to make an application out there?

Freeman: Right.

Mims: Do you remember what that process was like, how you approached the school about wanting to come? Do you remember any of that?

Freeman: I can't remember just how. Miss Taylor was our supervisor.

Mims: Salome Taylor?

Freeman: Yes, Salome Taylor. I don't know, my mother or daddy must have consulted with her. I don't know, but that's where I went to school and finished from there and took the state board.

Mims: I understand that the nurses had to live in a residence facility.

Freeman: Right, we lived in a residence right beside the hospital.

Mims: How did your parents feel about that?

Freeman: Well, they were glad that I decided to go. I enjoyed my studies and work so I finished and I think my first job was in West Virginia, Logan, West Virginia away from home.

Mims: When you were at the nursing school, did they give you a uniform to wear?

Freeman: I guess they did, but I think more or less we had to buy it and your books; you had to buy your books.

Mims: Do you remember what the uniform looked like?

Freeman: No, I really don't. I don't know whether it was white or what.

Mims: Do you remember getting your nursing cap?

Freeman: Yes, yes I certainly do.

Mims: What was that like?

Freeman: Well, it was nice. It was white, of course. We could not go without our cap. We had to wear it all the time on duty.

Mims: Because as students, you were in the hospital working?

Freeman: Yes, we were observing the patients, you know. We had certain patients to take care of.

Mims: Did you have to rotate through the various areas of the hospital?

Freeman: Oh yes, you worked in this place now and then maybe next week you went to another part, but the hospital wasn't big. It was small.

Mims: Describe the hospital for me a little bit. Since it's been torn down, I don't know what it was like inside.

Freeman: Oh well, it was just a building with different rooms where the patients were. I think at that time we had private rooms and other rooms that carried two patients at a time. It was nice. I enjoyed my work there.

Mims: Where was the nursing station located?

Freeman: Right beside it.

Mims: Inside the ward or out?

Freeman: No, in another building right beside the hospital.

Mims: Oh the residence, I'm talking about the nurses' station. Where you would do your paperwork or watch the patients?

Freeman: Oh yeah, we had a station where you sat and did your work after you completed your work on the ward. Of course I think you had to do it just about like it is now, talking about the patients of course. Our supervisor, Miss Taylor, she was very strict. In the afternoons or in the mornings when you went to take care of our patients, you were assigned to different patients. We had to give that patient a bath, clean linen, rub their back, comb their hair before you finished your patients.

Freeman: Then in the afternoons you had to go back, clean out the bed, crumbs or anything to disturb the patient, rub their backs with alcohol, give them water. I mean we were nurses... I can tell you that.

Mims: A lot of hands on?

Freeman: Yes.

Mims: How about vital signs?

Freeman: Yes, we took all those. The temperature in the morning. I don't know whether it was in the afternoon unless it was a real sick person. Yeah, we took their temperature, blood pressure, and all those things that we could do, yeah.

Mims: Did you have to make the rounds with the doctors?

Freeman: Yes, we made rounds with the doctor. No rounds were ever made without the doctor and the chart.

Mims: Whenever the doctor came into the nurses' area...

Freeman: We stood.

Mims: They don't do that anymore, do they?

Freeman: No, they don't do nothing like we did.

Mims: But that was part of your training?

Freeman: Yes, it was part of your training, you had to stand up when the doctor entered, get that chart and go with him to see the patient.

Mims: As a student, you were recognized as a student?

Freeman: Right.

Mims: Did the doctors treat you any different as students do you think?

Freeman: In what way?

Mims: I mean if they recognized you as a student, did they kind of try to be more descriptive with you in the patient's care?

Freeman: Oh yeah, they would talk some about the patient.

Mims: What doctors do you recall working with?

Freeman: Well, at that time we had Dr. Avant and Dr. Burnett. Those were our doctors that came to the hospital. They taught us different things, yes, biology, ethics and all those things that were required. Of course later on there were other doctors added too, Dr. Roane, Dr. Gray, Dr. Upperman, those were the three doctors, others were added on later.

Mims: That were not only physicians there on staff but were your teachers at the school?

Freeman: I guess they might have helped, I can't remember now. But I know that Dr. Leary, he was a dentist, Dr. Burnett and Dr. Avant, were mostly connected with our teaching.

Mims: So what were they like as people? Did you have a relationship with them where if you had a problem you could go to them and talk or did you go through Miss Taylor?

Freeman: Well, I imagine if we did have a problem, we went to either one. If it was a medical disturbance of some kind, we went to the doctors of course. But Miss Taylor lived in the hospital at that time. She had her own room...very strict.

Mims: In the residence hall?

Freeman: No, in the hospital.

Mims: You girls were pretty much kept tabs on, weren't you?

Freeman: Oh my goodness. She was very strict. You could not leave your shoes or anything down on the floor. If you did, you were campused for a while.

Mims: Which meant you couldn't go off campus?

Freeman: You could not get off campus for a week. So that taught me a lot of keeping things in order.

Mims: Now were you at the old Community Hospital or the one that they built in the 40's?

Freeman: You mean after I graduated?

Mims: Yeah.

Freeman: I worked there a while after I graduated.

Mims: Where was it located?

Freeman: The hospital was at Seventh and Red Cross. I can't tell you the place we built and I was working at later, I can't tell you the street.

Mims: It was near Williston.

Freeman: Yeah, that's exactly right.

Mims: But when you went to school it was at Seventh and Red Cross?

Freeman: Right, when I went to school it was at 7th and Red Cross.

Mims: Not too many people can even remember that there was a hospital there.

Freeman: Yeah, because it's torn down and other buildings are up.

Mims: How many student nurses were there?

Freeman: I was contemplating on that the other day. There wasn't a lot of us. There was about 10 or 15 of us, very small.

Mims: Whenever you graduated do you remember how many nurses graduated with you?

Freeman: I'm pretty sure those who came in at the time I came in graduated with me. Now the girls that graduated when I was there, I know their faces, but I can't remember their names. The only one, I don't know the one that told you about me, the nurse. I can remember her face, but not her name. I don't remember names as of today. It's hard for me to remember names.

Mims: Well I think you're doing good to remember this. Just going back to the physicians, were there any white physicians that came over there that worked with you?

Freeman: Later on at graduation, of course, I had graduated working at the new hospital that was later built.

Mims: The new Community Hospital?

Freeman: Yes, there were two or three white doctors that came over. I can't remember their names.

Mims: You remember faces, but probably not names.

Freeman: Yeah, I remember faces...I just can't remember names. They came over and did surgery. They sure did. I was an anesthetist at that time.

Mims: You were?!

Freeman: Yes.

Mims: How did you get in that position, more training?

Freeman: Yes, I went to New Orleans by the help of...

Mims: Did you do that right after graduation?

Freeman: Not really, I worked a while before I went, I don't know how many years I did. But this white anesthetist would come over and do the cases and I was in charge of the operating room. She suggested that I would go to this school. I didn't want to go really, but she looked for me, followed me (laughter), I'd hide in the bathroom. She told me to apply there. Dr. Adrienne Ennat (?) was the head of the Anesthesia Department.

So she said, "Have you written the letter yet," I told her, "No," but I was going to. So finally she said, "Bring me some paper. I'm going to write the letter." She did and I got accepted and went there. At that time you went to school for one year and I did and I finished and came back to Community Hospital and worked there.

Mims: As a nurse anesthetist?

Freeman: Yes. Then of course there was the new hospital, New Hanover. I went over there and worked as an anesthetist.

Mims: So that's where you would know Mrs. Newton from.

Freeman: That's where I met Mrs. Newton.

Mims: She's really interesting. I had a long conversation with her. How did you get interested in anesthesiology?

Freeman: Well, at that time I was not, but the lady, the anesthetist that came over, I don't know, she must have seen something in me that I would like it so she's the one that got me in there. She's dead now.

Mims: When you rotated through all the different areas, was surgery one of your big interests or were you interested in going in another direction?

Freeman: Say that again.

Mims: Well, like whenever you had to go through like the emergency department, the surgery department, the various ones when you were a student, where was your interest, which one did you like the best in other words?

Freeman: Well, I never thought about going away to school at that time. This anesthetist brought the idea to me later on. But from my point I would have never gone because I was tired of taking tests (laughter).

Mims: It's a very heavy responsibility.

Freeman: It is, it certainly is. But I went away to school to help my hospital. They didn't have an anesthetist. I went away to take the instructions to help them in surgery and whatever.

Mims: At Community?

Freeman: Yes.

Mims: After you graduated and was working at Community Hospital, did you have any contact with the new students coming in? Did you work with any of those girls?

Freeman: I'm pretty sure I did but I can't really tell you.

Mims: I know that people are identified, they attended a certain school, by their pin, your nurse's pin.

Freeman: Right.

Mims: Did you wear your pin?

Freeman: Oh, you had to wear it. That was one thing you had to do and you had to wear your cap and your pin. Nurses don't have to wear caps now I don't think, and white shoes, not black, kept those shoes white and that cap and your pin. No jewelry was worn at work in the hospital.

Mims: Was there ever a time when you did wear the dark shoes?

Freeman: No, because we polished them at night or whenever you went on duty. You kept those shoes white because Miss Taylor was strict on that.

Mims: This is when you were in training?

Freeman: Yes. We had to wear our cap until, I don't know how long... but now they don't have to I don't think.

Mims: But the new nurses coming in would see you wearing that cap and your pin, so they would see you as a graduate of that school. Did they ever ask you questions about your training?

Freeman: You mean the students?

Mims: Yes.

Freeman: I'm pretty sure they did, but I guess I told them whatever I knew to tell them, whatever the questions were.

Mims: Do you recall any of the other nurses that you worked with?

Freeman: She's dead now but Aletha Farrow; she went in about the same time I went in to take it up.

Mims: What department was she in?

Freeman: Along with me, she was in my class.

Mims: Whenever she graduated, did she stay and work here?

Freeman: Yes she did, she worked there, yeah.

Mims: Now after you graduated, did you continue to live at the residence or did you move back home?

Freeman: No, they had a special building for the nurses to live after I had graduated. It was near the hospital, near Williston you know. We had a special two-story building there at Community where the nurses lived.

Mims: What was that building like?

Freeman: It was nice, two-story, nice. We had a lady over us there. I can't remember her name, but she was there too monitoring everything (laughter).

Mims: I understand that once they built the new facility, they had a recreation building. They called it the Soda Shop, do you remember anything about that, where you could go over and get a bite to eat or a drink or something? This would have been in like the '60s or the late '50s.

Freeman: You mean near the hospital?

Mims: Yes.

Freeman: Well, there were places built near the hospital where you could go and get drinks and things, yeah, not too far away.

Mims: Do you remember the names of them or anything?

Freeman: No.

Mims: Do you think any of them are still standing?

Freeman: I'm sure not.

Mims: Yeah, they tore that whole thing down. It's just all gone. Well, there's a lot that of course is talked about with the opening of New Hanover Hospital and closing down Community. How did you feel about that?

Freeman: Well, I hated that Community had to close up and move into the new hospital, but I accepted it and went. A lot of girls didn't go over there. At that time you know there was a lot of segregation, but I went over and worked there until my retirement.

Mims: I know the talk was that to put in a new hospital, it would have to be integrated.

Freeman: Right, later on, right at the beginning it was still segregated.

Mims: Did you ever go to James Walker Hospital?

Freeman: Yes I did. I went over to James Walker and went into the operating room and looked at the things that they did. Yeah, I surely did.

Mims: Comparing James Walker with Community, how did you think they were like structurally? I know Community was smaller, but did you think they were about the same or were they different?

Freeman: In nursing?

Mims: Just in the way the nurses were treated...

Freeman: Well, I'll tell you one thing, at that time it was highly segregated and blacks could not be in the ward with the whites at that time.

Mims: Not even as nurses?

Freeman: Well, I don't think there were many black nurses over there working. I don't believe so, I'm not sure but I don't think so. But I remember this that they did not allow white and black to be in the same room. They had a little department there where if you were black and had to go to surgery, you were in that department.

Mims: I know one of the controversies that came up was that James Walker had that annex that was separate from the hospital and if a patient had to have surgery they had to go outside.

Freeman: Outside to go to the main operating room of the main hospital.

Mims: So if it was raining...

Freeman: You had to go. I don't know what they did, put covers over them I guess. I'm sure that was the truth.

Mims: I didn't know whether you ever saw any situation like that.

Freeman: Yes I did. I saw it and I know what segregation was.

Mims: Well, see I have no idea.

Freeman: I know because you weren't born then. Well, it was there honey and you can't imagine how it was during that time. You couldn't eat in the same place they ate. It was horrible.

Mims: I know that was one of Dr. Eaton's complaints.

Freeman: Yes, I think he was the main doctor talking about that. We could not...James Walker would not accept any blood from Community. We had blood and they needed it, they wouldn't take it, but we could get blood from them. But we couldn't give them any of our blood that we had.

Mims: I understand Community had a fairly well established blood bank. Do you remember anything about that? Later on I think the Cameron's gave some money to have know it was very well thought out and an established blood bank.

Freeman: I guess so, I don't know. After segregation was done away with?

Mims: Yeah, but this was when Community was still functioning because James Walker had a blood area too.

Freeman: I'm pretty sure they did. We did at Community. If they did, I'm pretty sure they were separated, I'll tell you that.

Mims: It's incredible too, isn't? Did you ever like visit any patients over at James Walker?

Freeman: Yes, colored patients, my family.

Mims: I'm just trying to get an idea of why would an African American go to that situation when they could go to Community instead?

Freeman: Well I don't know. The reason I guess is it depends on the doctor you pick for surgery.

Mims: Like a mom having a baby, they had an option too of going to Walker or Community, why would they pick one over the other? Would it be the doctor?

Freeman: Yes, it was I'm sure because you could pick a white doctor if you were black. Some of the white doctors would come over and do surgery over at the hospital. They were nice. But so far as communicating with each other, no.

Mims: Did you ever have any contact with James Walker student nurses?

Freeman: No, not that I remember. Even when I went to anesthesia school, there was still segregation honey.

Mims: What year was that, do you remember?

Freeman: That was 1953. When I went down to New Orleans, Flint-Goodrich Hospital, it was a black hospital. That's the hospital...

Mims: And that was still segregated?

Freeman: Oh yes.

Mims: It was a black hospital?

Freeman: A black hospital. When I went through anesthesia, you could not go into those operating rooms, they wouldn't allow blacks. No black students taking up anesthesia could go in and see the surgery. They didn't allow it. But I thank God almighty, I finished.

Mims: I was going to say how did that work with your training that you would need to have like a lot of hands on experience?

Freeman: Yeah, but they would not allow the blacks to do it.

Mims: So how did you learn?

Freeman: Oh, we did surgery over in New Orleans, Flint-Goodrich. We would do the anesthesia. But we couldn't go over there and do anything...even look. But in our classes, white and black, the blacks would sit on one side and the whites would sit on the other side. Dr. Adriana would teach us both at the same time, but we were separated.

Mims: And the whole, like the bathrooms were separated?

Freeman: Everything, water fountains, and all that. I don't think in Wilmington you could be served if you were hungry and wanted a sandwich. You had to buy it and go out. You couldn't sit and eat.

Mims: Like you were talking about like around the hospital there were places to eat.

Freeman: It was somebody who had their own little place where they sold drinks and things. It was up the street, not right at the hospital.

Mims: I know down near Williston now, there's that little corner store like at 10th and Castle or something. Well, in that situation, was that segregated too?

Freeman: They were blacks running those little places like that.

Mims: What if a white went into that kind of store?

Freeman: I guess you couldn't be served. If you got served, you had to get out of there (laughter). That was terrible.

Mims: Yes, it was terrible.

Freeman: What was the reason do you think?

Mims: I guess the society.

Freeman: Ignorance?

Mims: Yes, exactly. You know cause we still do it somewhat today, but necessarily with black and white, but with foreigners coming in that don't speak our language.

Freeman: We segregate from them. It's a bad thing to have, I can tell you, segregation.

Mims: What kind of activities would you do for fun? I mean here you were a hardworking nurse, what kind of fun did you have?

Freeman: We had our ball.

Mims: Like baseball or something?

Freeman: We had... jukebox they called it, that records went on. We had one of those in the nursing home and we could play records and dance and have parties there. The soldiers from Camp Davis came down and visited at some of the parties and things. Yeah, we had a lot of fun.

Mims: This was during the war years then?

Freeman: Yeah.

Mims: I understand Wilmington was quite the busy place. Do you remember wartime Wilmington? I mean like the influx of the soldiers coming in?

Freeman: Oh yeah, they would come in whenever we told them or they heard talk, then we invited them when we were having affairs.

Mims: Did some of the nurses marry soldiers?

Freeman: I'm pretty sure they did. I do know one did, can't recall the name. I liked one of the soldiers and I went to New York to work at Harlem Hospital...I told you that, at one time.

Mims: What year was that?

Freeman: It must have been in the 50's or 60's, 60s I guess.

Mims: Harlem was huge, huge for the black community.

Freeman: That's where I worked, Harlem.

Mims: Very prestigious area. What made you want to go up there to work?

Freeman: Well, I wanted to go because you got paid more money. So I went. I can't tell you how many years I worked there...worked there awhile. I left only because of my mother. Came back here to be with her and I was supposed to go back, but I never did. After I got here, I just stayed here with my mother. Of course then I went back to Community Hospital to work. That is the time when I went to New Orleans to take up anesthesia.

Mims: And then return to the Community Hospital to fill that position, which obviously was a necessary position. So your time in New York, did you recall segregation up there?

Freeman: I really did not because there were white and black in the same room. I nursed sick people in the same room, white and black babies. There wasn't to my knowledge a whole lot of that. White patients and black patients in Harlem.

Mims: How was that for you culturally? I mean how did you feel about being in that environment after coming from this situation in the south?

Freeman: Well I thought it was a better thing within myself that white wasn't any better than black. See our people were never slaves. The Freeman's were never slaves, but I heard talking about how they did the black people coming from Africa. Terrible.

Mims: And enslaved them.

Freeman: Right, but we were never slaves.

Mims: What is the origin of your family?

Freeman: Indians. My daddy was an Indian. My mother was an Indian. My mother was a Mohawk and my daddy was... I can't recall. Anyway we were Indians.

Mims: What brought them here to southeastern...?

Freeman: I can't tell you granddaddy I understand bought this land, Carolina Beach. For some reason property at that time was very low in price. So he bought this land in here and Carolina Beach and over the bridge and all that kind of stuff. Later on somehow, I don't know how it happened, but the family did not keep up with it and so they missed it. I guess the white man took it.

Mims: When they started developing Carolina Beach because for a long time there was nothing out here.

Freeman: That's right.

Mims: But you guys, your family was instrumental in getting the African American beach opened up out here, right? The Seabreeze?

Freeman: That's right.

Mims: What do you remember about that?

Freeman: I don't remember a thing but going there and bathing in the ocean (laughter).

Mims: How would you get over there?

Freeman: Well, see this was later on. After my granddaddy and all of them died, we'd get in a car and go over there.

Mims: You wouldn't go by water?

Freeman: Well, at that time the Seabreeze I guess was open and Margaret Green, she would drive the boats over so if you wanted to go by boat, go by boat. She knew how to take those boats and handle them. She was a very robust person, yeah.

Mims: 'Cause I've heard about people just walking over the marsh here.

Freeman: Through the water, well I've done that, yeah.

Mims: Was it dredged yet?

Freeman: I don't think it was because you could walk over until you get to shoal they called it, dry land. Then go on over to the beach. A lot of people did that, I've done it.

Mims: It's a whole different thing now 'cause you could not do that today.

Freeman: Now its dredged, dig it out for the boats to go through. It was history but I don't remember...

Mims: Did anybody else in your family go into nursing or medicine?

Freeman: Yes, I had two nieces that went into nursing, one is dead and one is still living.

Mims: Where did they do their training?

Freeman: Annette did her training at the hospital up here, the white hospital, nursing there.

Mims: New Hanover? When they went to UNCW?

Freeman: Yeah, she did her training there. My other niece did hers in Baltimore, I think.

Mims: I know later on the Community Hospital nurses traveled like to Tuskegee for part of their training and Bellevue for part of their training. Didn't know if you knew why there were those connections with those various other institutions.

Freeman: I just knew there was something they couldn't learn at the hospital.

Mims: I think it was mainly for mental health rotation.

Freeman: Right, mental.

Mims: Which to me is interesting because at that time you weren't doing too much for the mental patients.

Freeman: No, I'm sure we weren't. I remember visiting those mental institutions. We had to visit. I don't know how long we had to go but I remember going.

Mims: Well, can you think of any stories from your nursing school days that you'd like to share? Can you remember any incidents, you know, something to let us know what it was kind of like there, something fun you did or something you learned from.

Freeman: Well, we had plenty of fun I can tell you that, in nursing. I mustn't tell you this...but the main thing when Miss Taylor would go to sleep, she was in our dormitory, we would go out and one of the doctors called us, "Come down Seabreeze." It was in play at that time. We'd come down to Seabreeze. Dr. Burnett caught us down there and that was very funny. He said he was going to tell Miss Taylor, but he didn't 'cause we knew we would be campused forever. So that's the only one I can really remember.

Mims: Did you do it again?

Freeman: No, we didn't do that anymore.

Mims: Well, you know, a bunch of young girls together...

Freeman: Oh a bunch of girls, I don't know how many we were, but we went out just to go out and have a little fun, you know, dance some, whatever we did.

Mims: Did you guys ever get together and study together?

Freeman: I'm pretty sure we did, we studied together, whatever young girls did at that time. I must tell you this. That's where I learned to smoke. I never smoked in my life until I went in nurse training and the girls were smoking and they made such a thing because I did not smoke, "Oh! You don't smoke." So I decided I would try it and I learned. At that time you know, we didn't know anything about cancer.

Mims: That's funny because now you think about nurses being very healthy.

Freeman: But they would smoke when they got off duty, of course, I did not. "Better learn to smoke!" They thought it was such a shame for me not to smoke. Well, young people are young people; I don't care where you find them.

Mims: The uniforms must have required a lot of care. Were you guys responsible for that or did somebody...

Freeman: Oh no, I think, well as I remember, we had to be responsible to take care of the uniforms.

Mims: So you were working, going to school and all this other stuff going on, it just seems like the daily routine, you maybe would have gotten some help with.

Freeman: Well, I guess we did get some help, I'm not sure that we didn't, but the only thing I can remember precisely is that cap. You kept it clean and those shoes until...

Mims: And it had to be starched too, right?

Freeman: Yes ma'am! You had to have nice white shoes and a starched cap and you better not come on duty without it.

Mims: And no jewelry.

Freeman: No jewelry.

Mims: Makeup?

Freeman: Oh no, no such thing as makeup. You didn't come on duty looking like you were gong to a parade or something. You came on as nurses.

Mims: Did they serve you meals?

Freeman: Oh yeah, you ate there.

Mims: So somebody was in charge of doing that.

Freeman: Yeah, the cook. We had a cook, she did all the cooking.

Mims: Was it as good as home cooking?

Freeman: Home cooking... we always like the home cooking the best you know cause my mother would do all the cooking. Her daughters, my two sisters would help her with the cooking.

Mims: Well, in your whole career you saw lot of changes.

Freeman: Oh Jesus yes!

Mims: What do you think was the most significant change you saw?

Freeman: People could get food anywhere if they were hungry, if you went to buy it, you could get it. You didn't have to slip and slide, get it and go out in the woods somewhere and eat it on the street. But you could get it and eat and sit at the table where they had it.

Mims: Do you remember your first experience with that, where you could enter into a restaurant maybe that you previously could not?

Freeman: Right, you could go in and get what you wanted and sit. But at that time, that was something you couldn't do.

Mims: Well I was asking you what was your first experience with that like walking into a restaurant and being seated where before maybe you couldn't, do you remember that?

Freeman: Do you mean did I like it or what?

Mims: No, I'm just trying to think of where it was, what your feeling was whenever you did this?

Freeman: Well I'm pretty sure it was a happy feeling because it affected you when you were hungry, it dropped traveling out. You couldn't buy anything and sit down. If you bought it, you got out and go out in the woods, your car, wherever and eat. I thought it was terrible and that was a very good thing to do. You couldn't spend nights anywhere at some hotel or motel run by whites if you were tired driving.

Mims: So your travels like to New Orleans or to New York was that by train or by car?

Freeman: It was by train when I left Wilmington and ended in New Orleans. But when I got to New Orleans, segregation was there mighty. My niece was working in New Orleans and she got a taxi to come meet me at the station and of course she was brown with beautiful black hair and they took her, but they weren't supposed to take her. You didn't ride in no taxis, white taxis.

Mims: How were you supposed to get around then?

Freeman: The driver, whoever it was, that's what she told me, let her sit in the back and he asked her what nationality - she said, "Black." That's what she went by, black. He says, "Oh...," because they weren't supposed to drive black people. He said, "Lay down then because I'll lose my job." So she had to lay down to come to the station to pick me up. I don't know how we did it... must have hired a taxi. I know one day in the buses, you couldn't sit up front. They had a thing that you took up that had 'Colored' on it, move it wherever you sat in front of you to let them know you were black.

Mims: But there was a sign?

Freeman: A sign.

Mims: And when you took your seat, you had to put it wherever you sat.

Freeman: You had to put it wherever you sat on the seat. If you sat up near the front, then you had to take that thing wherever it was at and put it in front of you so I guess the white man wouldn't sit near you.

Mims: Was that in Wilmington too?

Freeman: No, I don't remember it here, but you had to sit in the back.

Mims: That was in New Orleans?

Freeman: Yeah. In Wilmington, you had to sit in the back; you couldn't sit in the front. I guess you heard about it, the lady that wouldn't do it.

Mims: Yes, Rosa Parks.

Freeman: Rosa Parks, had to do it. Paid the same money, but yet said we had to sit in the back.

Mims: I'm just wondering how Wilmington fit in. It doesn't seem like it was as bad as it was in New Orleans.

Freeman: It wasn't as bad as in New Orleans.

Mims: But Wilmington was worse than New York as far as segregation?

Freeman: Wilmington was worse than New York. Yeah, because that's where all the black people wanted to go if they could find jobs there and be treated like a human. All of these southern places know about segregation.

Mims: How about respect for your profession? I know that I've heard other nurses talk about wearing their cap and cape out in public and the respect that was given to the job, did you find that to be true or never noticed it?

Freeman: I never noticed it. I knew there was segregation so I didn't look to go in there and sit down. I never noticed it. It was on your brain that you could not sit down in a restaurant that was run by whites.

Mims: I've heard about like the lunch counters down at Woolworth's down here in Wilmington and an incidence that happened down there. Do you remember any of that?

Freeman: I know this, that if a white person came in after you, she would be waited on before you even though you were first. Anybody white came in, they were waited on and not you, but they're getting paid for it.

Mims: Was there an area of Wilmington that blacks could not have this addressed in a daily situation? I'm trying to find out where was your respite. Where would you know to go where you wouldn't have to contend with this animosity?

Freeman: Oh there were some black places where you could go and get a sandwich or whatever they offered, yeah. You could sit down.

Mims: Do you remember where any of these were located?

Freeman: Well, Castle Street, they were on Castle Street, Seventh Street and Red Cross.

Mims: I don't think I would be able to put myself through all of that.

Freeman: Well you had to. That was the law. The law was there and you had to abide by it.

Mims: As a medical professional, you're not supposed to look at the color of people's skin. Was that any part of your training at all?

Freeman: Well that's what they looked at; they looked at skin color apparently. I told you at James Walker they didn't associate with the whites and the blacks together, but yet you could get a white doctor.

Mims: What about those nationalities that are darker skinned like Asian or Hispanics. Do you recall any of them coming in to Community?

Freeman: No, I don't. But I remember this, there was a Jew doctor working at New Hanover as an anesthesiologist and from what I understand he couldn't get a permanent job there. They didn't let the Jews. They didn't like the Jews. He could get a job if a patient wanted him to do the anesthesia, wanting him to put them to sleep. From what I heard, they wouldn't give him a permanent job.

Mims: And that wasn't based on skin color that was based on religion.

Freeman: Whatever they based on it. No, they probably didn't like Jews because you can't tell them from other whites. There are some brown ones.

Mims: Because sometimes whenever I ask people about integration, they bring up the idea other races were involved, as well and I didn't know whether you had seen --

Freeman: I know the Jew was. He had more opportunities probably than the blacks had. We considered ourselves as blacks, but we were Indians. So I guess we had more privileges than the black man about doing things and eating and whatnot.

Mims: At New Hanover you said that it was slow to integrate. You were over in the surgical area, right?

Freeman: Right. Well anyway you know how integration, you never was in it, so you couldn't really understand it, but there were some there that worked there that didn't like me. And they showed it.

Mims: I've read a lot about how they closed James Walker Hospital down and transported the patients to New Hanover. What was it like at Community? Did they do the same thing?

Freeman: Yes, the black hospital had to close down and go over. Some of the nurses wouldn't go over to New Hanover. They didn't want to go.

Mims: Did they go to Cape Fear?

Freeman: I don't know where they went, they left town I guess, but they wouldn't transfer over there.

Mims: Do you remember Bullock Hospital?

Freeman: Yes I do.

Mims: What was that place like?

Freeman: Dr. Mebane is one of the doctors who would come over to Community to do surgery. He invited me to come over to Bullucks to watch them do some surgeries. Yes, he was nice. There was another doctor...what was...?

Mims: Dr. Mebane, Dr. Pace and Dr. Sinclair.

Freeman: Sinclair is the man. Those were two nice doctors, very nice.

Mims: So was there integration at Bullock Hospital?

Freeman: Must have been, but it was their hospital so they could invite whoever they wanted to. He invited me to come over and watch some surgery.

Mims: And that was a good experience?

Freeman: Oh yes, you got experience watching the anesthetist, the circulating nurse, what she did, and all that, but yeah...

Mims: I understand at one time they had a school of nursing there, but it was a long, long time ago.

Freeman: I guess so. Dr. Mebane died kind of suddenly too I think.

Mims: Yes, electrocuted. Dr. Sinclair is still living.

Freeman: They tell me, somebody told me that. I was over to Cape Fear a couple of months ago. I have osteoporosis, terrible disease, and I fell right there and broke my hip. Not here recently, it's been some years back and of course, I had to be operated on. Of course segregation was abandoned at that time. Everybody was generous and loving out there.

Mims: Did you identify yourself as a former nurse?

Freeman: Yes. When I had my hip surgery, my niece said they did what she told them to do. I was an anesthetist and you knew he wouldn't do me. He called in the head nurse anesthetist.

Mims: Well there's some respect there.

Freeman: Yeah, he called in the head anesthesiologist to do my case.

Mims: Did you feel comfortable with that?

Freeman: Oh yeah, I felt very comfortable because I knew he knew what he was doing. I had to go to physical therapy. Recently, I went over to the hospital because I couldn't walk, I guess it was due to this osteo which affects the bones you know, little openings in the bones which takes away your power from walking good and all these things. Well, I did walk. The doctor took me to walk and see how I was walking and I was walking good.

He said, "Yes, you can walk, you can go home." I had to stay there four days. But I don't know whether you ever get rid of that. My knees sometime now begin to hurt you know. It's been four years since I've had it.

Mims: Well, the medical care that you were trained with bedside, total patient care, your experience as being a patient, did you notice that the nurses were a little bit different? Or about the same?

Freeman: Oh yeah, everybody was different. They were very nice, all the nurses very nice and kind and all that kind of stuff. You could ask them questions.

Mims: But did you know who your nurse was?

Freeman: I knew the name of them.

Mims: I mean could you look at them and say that one's my nurse?

Freeman: Oh yeah.

Mims: Because without having that hat on, it gets kind of confusing.

Freeman: Well, I knew the nurse that always came in and took my temperature and IV's and all that. I would hate when they came with an IV cause I hate the sticking.

Mims: Did you have to learn how to give IV's?

Freeman: Oh yes, we surely did. We had to learn.

Mims: From what I understand earlier on the nurse's didn't do it, the doctors did it.

Freeman: The doctors always did it, but had to learn. I think at Harlem Hospital when I was working in New York, you didn't have to do that. The doctors did...

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