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Interview with Cornelia Campbell, March 20, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Cornelia Campbell, March 20, 2003
March 20, 2003
Mrs. Campbell discusses the Williston Industrial School, which she attended during the World War II era. She is a member of the Williston Alumni Association.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Campbell, Cornelia Interviewer:  Cody, Sue Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  Williston High School Length  40 minutes


Johnson: I’m Joyce Johnson and we have with us today Cornelia Campbell who we are interviewing as a Williston alumni member. Our overall purpose for this is so that we can get an oral history of Williston school because people don’t keep up with the papers and memorabilia and so on. That’s one of the reasons. We didn't have a lot of information; we didn't have any information here at UNCW about Williston.

Interviewer 2: Sue Cody

Johnson: First I’d like to ask about your early life. Were you born in Wilmington?

Campbell: No, I was born in Norfolk, Virginia.

Johnson: Tell us something about your family, where they lived.

Campbell: My family is one of the old Wilmingtonian families, the Quicks. My grandfather was a Quick and my grandmother was a Wright, so they’re one of the older families.

Johnson: And your occupation after you graduated from Williston?

Campbell: Well, I was a stay at home mom. Well, when I graduated, my sister and I, we went north.

Cody: Where did you go?

Campbell: Cambridge, Massachusetts, you know, when the weather’s not changing, they said it was nice weather, but to me it was cold (laughter). So I came back home with my sister. She remained up north. In fact she’s still up there. Well she’s not in Massachusetts; she’s in New York.

Johnson: What years did you attend Williston?

Campbell: Well at that time little Williston went as far 5th grade and then Williston Industrial High went from 6th grade and you went from 6th grade until you graduated.

Johnson: What were your best subjects in school?

Campbell: Well, we had Negro history; I liked that and took Latin from Miss Asey King. I liked science. I think Mr. Howard taught me a science and Miss Edna McNeill taught me.

Johnson: Were you in any activities while in school?

Campbell: I was in what was called…it was sort of like a girls… anytime we monitored the halls when they changed classes. We would go out and stand in the middle of the hall. They have a name for it… but I’m having a senior moment (laughter). We all have those.

Cody: So you were out there while classes were in session?

Campbell: We got out probably about 5 minutes before the bell and then we would go and monitor the hallway to see that they went the right way. I think I should have been cheerleader because my sister was a cheerleader and I followed her. My mother had to make her a… the clothes at that time were Navy blue and white and I think in ’47 it changed to maroon and gold and they also changed the school song because our song was about Williston and there was something they didn’t like.

Cody: So what year did you graduate?


Cody: So that was right when the war was ending?

Campbell: A lot of our male classmates were drafted but they received their diplomas. We were in school when President Roosevelt died.

Cody: What do you remember about that?

Campbell: I was sad because we liked him.

Cody: Didn’t he die in the spring, in April?

Campbell: Also I was out of school when Pearl Harbor happened.

Cody: Right, that was on a Sunday.

Campbell: I was in school, 1942. I remember that too!

Johnson: But it was Sunday, but you were school age, right. So why did they change the colors and the school song?

Campbell: I have no idea (laughter). The school colors and the school song.

Johnson: Did they do it at the same time?

Campbell: Yeah. Well I heard that… but it wasn’t an excuse, but that other teams having the same colors when we had blue and white. Even with maroon and gold, some of the football teams had those colors too.

Cody: They’re only that many colors in the color spectrum (laughter). We’ll keep asking that question until we find the answer.

Johnson: Who were some of your favorite teachers?

Campbell: Miss Asey King, Mrs. Lucille Simon Williams.

Johnson: Miss King taught Latin.

Campbell: She taught senior English and Latin. Mrs. Williams taught English. She didn't teach a foreign language, I don’t think. Miss Kelfield was one of my teachers and Miss Doris Jeffrey and the home economics teacher …can’t think of the name.

Johnson: Was Mr. Washington principal then?

Campbell: Mr. F. G. Rogers was our principal.

Johnson: What about field trips?

Campbell: Lila McKeithan was one of my favorite teachers too. She taught math. Miss Mitchell was my music teacher.

Cody: Did you play an instrument or keep up with it?

Campbell: No.

Cody: Just enjoyed it while you had it in school (laughter).

Campbell: My children, they came along with instruments.

Cody: What about singing, did you like singing?

Campbell: No, I would have loved to have been in the Glee Club but I didn't have the voice. My older sister, she was in the Glee Club.

Johnson: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

Campbell: I have two sisters, no brothers.

Johnson: Are you the youngest?

Campbell: No, I have a sister older and a sister younger. I always get the hand-me-downs (laughter). Very seldom something brand new for me. The old one got the new and the young one got the new.

Johnson: Were you in any of the social clubs or did they have social clubs then during that time?

Campbell: They had the Hi-Y. The Hi-Y was for boys.

Johnson: Some of the other persons that we’ve interviewed talked about senior day at A&T. Did you have that? What about your prom?

Campbell: Oh yeah, I went to the prom.

Cody: Do you remember who you went with?

Campbell: Luke Henry took me to one; he was one of my classmates.

Johnson: Where did you meet your husband? Did he go to Williston as well?

Campbell: Well, I didn't know him, but he knew me (laughter). I think I had a secret admirer as far as he was concerned. He could tell me everything, when I passed his house going to church, everything, but I didn't know him at that time. I met him after he came out of the service. I think I wouldn’t have met him. My younger sister Mary, she knew him before I did. She had a birthday coming up and she invited him to her birthday party and he came (laughter).

Cody: He was delighted.

Campbell: That’s when we really met and decided to date. She said she knew when he saw me he’d go with you.

Cody: Were both of you in the same class?

Campbell: No, he went to the service.

Cody: What branch of the service was he in?

Campbell: The Army.

Cody: Did he go overseas during the war then?

Campbell: He was stationed in Germany.

Johnson: I know he was glad to get home.

Campbell: I got married on my 21st birthday. We were married 20 years when he died.

Cody: A lot of the people we’ve talked to also talked about notable graduates such as Jimmy Heath. Were there any that came out during your class or while you were in school?

Campbell: Andrew McKee was my classmate; he played in the same band. Jimmy was a year a head of him here; I think he came on in ’44. Cause his brother, Percy, he was here last year, he came in, but he came out I think in ’41 or ‘42.

Johnson: Are there any others?

Campbell: No, I think they were the only ones that really became prominent, the bigger and famous bands, orchestra.

Johnson: What about football and basketball teams? Were they as popular during that time?

Campbell: Well we followed them (laughter). If there was a game, we would go. As I said, I wasn’t a cheerleader…

Cody: But you were in the fan club anyway. How far away did they go to play?

Campbell: Well we went to New Bern, Little Washington, pretty good distances. In fact one of the fellows had a picture of me and this fellow in service saw my picture so he wrote and said he wanted to write me. So we wrote a whole year as pen pals and one Christmas he had leave. He was from Temple, Pennsylvania and he didn't have enough time to go to Chester so he asked if he could come and visit me. He came and visited.

Johnson: Well, let’s also talk about the Williston Alumni Association. I know that you’re very active in Alumni association. How long have you been participating?

Campbell: Almost from the beginning. I think they organized in ’57 or ’54 and I joined not long after that. I’ve been with them ever since.

Johnson: And have you held any office?

Campbell: I’ve been the secretary and I was the business manager and chairman of the scholarship awards.

Cody: And they give how many, is it one or two scholarships a year? How did that work?

Campbell: We try to give a scholarship to a student at each school. It depends on our finances. We try to give one to each of the high schools.

Cody: Each of the high schools in New Hanover County? Good.

Johnson: Could you tell us about other activities of the Williston Alumni?

Campbell: Well, we have a king and queen contest that usually comes during the Christmas dance. I ran one year, I represented my class. I came in second place.

Johnson: So the Christmas dance is a big event too?

Campbell: Yes, it is. It’s our largest affair, Christmas.

Cody: Where do you usually do that?

Campbell: Well, we’ve had it at different places. We’ve had it at the Hilton, we’ve had it at the Coastline Center, the Wilmington Sportsmen Club, we’ve had it at the Longshore, so we’ve had it at different places.

Cody: And how many people typically come?

Campbell: Oh well it depends upon how many people we feel like are going to attend, how we book. If we feel like we will have a large amount of people coming, then we will go to a larger place. We honored the teachers. That was our greatest affair ever.

Cody: And you did that after Christmas?

Campbell: No, it was a one-time thing we did, we honored the teachers. The teachers enjoyed it.

Cody: What year was that, do you remember?

Campbell: It was honoring all the teachers that taught prior to integration. We had our first, ‘Miss Williston,’ Mary McCrae; she was a Green and married a McCrae. She was our first – ‘Miss Williston’ and she was able to attend.

Johnson: And you had several teachers, right? Do you remember how many teachers?

Campbell: Almost 100 teachers, a lot of teachers.

Johnson: Was there a video of that?

Campbell: Yes, we have a tape of it.

Johnson: Who has that?

Campbell: I have one.

Cody: That would be interesting to have a copy of.

Campbell: I have a copy of that affair.

Johnson: I’d like to see that.

Campbell: We performed, we had the majorettes, they came here. We had Mr. Floyd had his band and the band played and the majorettes, they came in. At that time during graduation, the juniors, we would be in white and they would take the shades and wrap them in blue and white. We would stand on each side and the seniors would march through. So we did that that night.

Johnson: How do you feel about the closing of Williston?

Campbell: That I did not like. Frankly, the black children lost a whole lot when they closed Williston. They lost everything. Grooming….I look at the kids now and I say they would never walk in the door of Williston looking like they do, never, no way. We had one teacher, Charlie Bryant, if you had a button off your clothes, he kept a needle and thread and buttons. If you had a pin, that pin came off and a button went there.

At graduation with the sandals, I look at that now… We had to have our white dresses, our black patent leather shoes under those robes. The fellows had shirts; bow ties and today they just look like nothing to be graduating.

Cody: Right, it’s supposed to be an important event.

Johnson: So they really took pride in what they were doing?

Campbell: They did.

Johnson: And what about the teachers?

Campbell: The teachers knew your family because they would have taught somebody in your family before you got to them. There was no acting up with them, let you know right from the start because they’d say, “I know your mother, I know your father” or somebody connected to you in your family. We didn't have any problems with them.

Cody: They stayed in touch with the family too.

Johnson: Do you think it would have been better if Williston had remained open as an integrated school or do you think it was possible?

Campbell: Well frankly I think, well what we wanted was equality. If we had gotten the same things as the kids at New Hanover High School, it could have stayed like it was, but we got the hand-me-down books with the answers in them and pages torn out. We could always tell whenever they got new books because we’d get the old ones. We just wanted the same things they had.

I think if they had done that, I believe we could have remained just like we were. We couldn’t excel after the integration like we did as a segregated school because there were so many…we were lost. The kids that would excel in Williston, there were so many others that they just couldn’t make it.

Cody: They lost that sense of community, I guess.

Campbell: We lost our band, our majorettes and the things we looked forward to. The majorettes, you know, just a few could be majorettes.

Cody: And graduated with To War March of the Priests. That’s what they always played at graduation.

Campbell: But I mean there was no competition.

Johnson: Now your son was in school the last year that Williston closed?

Campbell: His class would have been the next class to graduate from Williston.

Johnson: Did he talk about that?

Campbell: He only went to Hoggard one year and all his other years were at Williston. I think he was in the band and the Glee Club.

Cody: But then when he went to Hoggard,

Campbell: No, he remained; he was in the band and the Glee Club.

Cody: He just wasn’t playing the same songs or wearing the same colors.

Campbell: He went to UNCW, which is no way near like it is now. He’s still into music. But when he came out here, they didn't have the type of music that he liked so he lost interest.

Cody: Does he live in Wilmington too?

Campbell: No, he lives in California. He’s into karaoke now (laughter). He works at the post office; he’s been at the post office since ’82. He couldn’t find a job here, a decent job here so he went out there and the VA got him a job at the post office and he’s been there ever since.

Johnson: So he was in the service too?

Campbell: Yes, he was in the Vietnam War. He lost his foot. He went right from high school into…

Cody: The Army?

Campbell: No, he didn't want to go into the Army. His daddy was in the Army. They drafted him, but he volunteered for the Marines. He and his close friend, Ed Bellamy, they went in under the buddy system. They were just like brothers in school.

Cody: What happened to his buddy?

Campbell: Both of them went in at the same time and when they got overseas, they got separated. One got on one plane and one on another.

Cody: So much for the buddy system.

Johnson: Who else do you think would be interested in talking to us about Williston?

Campbell: Have you talked to Virginia Heath?

Johnson: Is she a member of the Alumni Association? No?

Johnson: But she is a graduate though. They can be alumni without being in the association.

Campbell: Virginia probably could give you information about activities because she was in some of the clubs. She could probably do a little more because I wasn’t in any activities.

Johnson: So what did you do after school then? Did you have chores at home you had to go home to? What did you do after school each day when you were in high school?

Campbell: Nothing (laughter).

Cody: You were a lady of leisure were you?

Johnson: I don’t think your mother would appreciate you (laughter).

Campbell: Well, we lived about two blocks from the school and we always walked. Whenever we would go with the football team and mom would always tell me when the school bus passed the house, by the time we get to the school and they unload, they look down the street and see her porch light on and they’d say, “Oh, Miss Inell is up.” She’d have the porch light on waiting for us (laughter). My grandmother lived a block from the school and then we lived a block from her.

Cody: So they kept pretty close tabs on you?

Campbell: Well, momma worked and my grandmother was home so we were around her more than momma because she worked all day.

Johnson: Where did your momma work?

Campbell: She did domestic work and then she cooked. She worked down at the Kitty Cottage at Wrightsville Beach. It was sort of like; I guess one of these bed and breakfast things. She would cook down there in the summer.

Cody: So she cooked good meals for you?

Campbell: Oh yes.

Cody: Did she teach you how to cook?

Campbell: Yes, oh I’ll take that back (laughter). Momma, she liked to cook. She said we would waste her food. So when I learned how to cook is when I got married. My husband loved to cook so I learned from him. He liked to cook and so I was one of those kind, you like to cook, you can cook (laughter). My children would always brag about daddy’s cooking. I’d tell them they weren’t going to hurt my feelings at all (laughter). If you like your daddy’s food the he could cook.

Cody: Did you have a lot of homework after school?

Campbell: Well, we had some, but not a whole lot.

Cody: Nothing you couldn’t cope with.

Johnson: Now you’ve had children that graduated from Williston as well as other schools. Did you see a difference in the education that they received?

Campbell: Elaine and Tina, they went to school looking like little girls (laughter). Then Inez came along, she came home one day and she said, “My teacher said I could wear shorts to school.” I said, “What?” She said, “So and so wore pants and shorts.” So she didn't wear those pretty little dresses. I couldn’t wash and iron, she went to school with shorts on and pants on. I just loved them looking like little girls and she wouldn’t.

Johnson: Did you sew any of their clothes?

Campbell: Yes, I sewed, I made draperies and slip covers. In fact when I was home I did a lot of that too. I earned my own money that way since I couldn’t go out to work. Then my grandmother taught me how to stretch curtains and washing because I liked to have my own money (laughter). I don’t like to ask anybody for anything.

Cody: That’s right, good to be independent.

Campbell: If you go ask your husband for money, then they want to know what you’re going to do with it. So if I can my own money, I didn't have to answer to anybody.

Cody: Good advice.

Campbell: I tried to teach my children that too but haven’t learned it yet.

Johnson: What did Williston represent to you?

Campbell: What do you mean? I don’t know.

Cody: When you think about Williston…?

Campbell: It was just a…it was like a family. Everybody knew everybody and you couldn’t do anything that it didn't get back to your parents. It was just had a homey atmosphere, the teachers and all and they took interest in you.

Johnson: Sort of a safe, comfortable place, but they also had high expectations.

Campbell: Oh yes, I know my music teacher told me one time, she said, “What is music?” It is combining tones to please the ear. She said, “I don’t care where I see you, if I ask you, I want you to be able to tell me.” So one day I went visiting her church and she said, “What is music?” I said, “Using combining tones to please the ear.” And I know that today (laughter).

Johnson: And who was your music teacher?

Campbell: Miss Jane Bailey. She taught me 5th grade music. In fact, I was in second grade when Williston burned down. Anyway, Tenora Williams was my second grade teacher at that time. They called her outside the room and when she came back in and said, “The school was on fire.” So they let us out and we had to pass Williston to go home and I think they realized after they let us out that she shouldn’t have let us out. She was ringing the bell for us to come back in school but we were gone (laughter).

So I went home and said, “Momma”, she was washing clothes, I said, “Momma, the school’s on fire.” She said, “Girl, shut up. The school’s not on fire” (laughter). I said, “The school’s on fire, momma.” She said, that time, “Oh look at all that smoke.” She saw all that black smoke billowing up in the sky because we were just a block from the school. You could hear the boiler burst and all. Those children walked out of that school, they thought it was just a regular fire drill. They left their coats and everything in there.

Cody: So what happened after?

Campbell: After the school burned, we went half day. We went to school up until 12 and then the high school students came to school from 12. Some went to churches, St. Luke’s where they had classes, at different places.

Cody: And it probably took them a couple years to rebuild?

Campbell: No, they built it back almost exactly like it was.

Johnson: So that’s where Gregory is now?

Campbell: Yes.

Johnson: When did they build the new Williston, do you remember that?

Campbell: I think that was in the 50’s that they built a new school.

Cody: The school that’s now the middle school.

Campbell: The one that Elaine and Tina went to Williston. First it was a junior high after they had closed it down. When they opened it back up, it was a junior high.

Johnson: So they went to it when it was a junior high. Did they go to Hoggard High School as well?

Campbell: Yes, they went to Hoggard. Inez went to Sunset for elementary school and then to Hoggard.

Johnson: Do your children still talk about Williston?

Campbell: Yes, well they look at Hoggard now as we looked at Williston because Elmer graduated from Hoggard and Tina graduated from there and Inez graduated from Hoggard and Inez has a son that’s getting ready to graduate this year. So Tina wanted her boy to go to Hoggard. He didn't want to go there. He wants to go to Hanover. So I think he’s going to Hanover next year.

Johnson: My son did that to me too (laughter). He didn’t want to go to Hoggard, he went to Hanover. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Williston?

Campbell: I liked the prom, the prom was nice. We had it decorated with a pond in the center and they had this big crystal ball right at the center of it. The decorations were really nice.

Cody: They had a live band then?

Campbell: Yes. We had socials in school like on Friday nights.

Johnson: What were those like? Those were a coed thing, right?

Campbell: Oh yes, you’d look forward to it (laughter). After the prom, you’d all go the little places that you go. But it was nice.

Cody: With the socials at school, was there live music for that also?

Campbell: We had some with live bands. Some were with the school band. But mostly it was record players. We would also have the good old oldies, the jitterbug.

Johnson: Do you have close friends that you went around with mostly?

Campbell: Well, we had the neighborhood; there were three of Virginia Sneed, my sister and me.

Johnson: Your older sister?

Campbell: My older sister, we hung out together the three of us.

Johnson: Where did you go?

Campbell: Well, the USO was open at that time. We would go over there. They had dances. We couldn’t go to a lot of them. My mother would chaperone.

Johnson: The dances were segregated then too?

Campbell: Yes. We would go to Camp David and lot of the dances were formal and we’d like to go to them because we could put on formal dresses. Momma would go to the dances with us. We would go there on the weekends; we’d slip over there (laughter). We were supposed to go out walking. It would be wintertime and right across the street, a lot of kids hung out or we’d go get ice cream all the way across town. Well we didn't have cars so we were walking. You could go anywhere, walk anywhere. You felt safe, but you can’t do that now.

Cody: Now was the library across town then?

Campbell: Well we had, during our time, the library was right there at 8th and Princess at the Giblem Lodge, I think. The hall was downstairs and upstairs was a black library. Mrs. Shober was the librarian. And they moved from there. During our school days, it was 8th and Princess.

Cody: Was she any relation to Dr. Shober the medical doctor?

Campbell: I think her husband was a doctor.

Cody: We have his diploma upstairs.

Campbell: Either her husband or her father one of the two.

Cody: I hadn’t heard that either. We learned something new again like we always do.

Campbell: That’s all I can think of right now.

Cody: Well okay, we appreciate your sharing your memories with us.

Johnson: Thank you for coming.

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