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Interview with Mary H. Greene, March 27, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Mary H. Greene, March 27, 2003
March 27, 2003
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Interviewee:  Greene, Mary H. Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Sue Cody Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  Williston High School Length  27 minutes


Johnson: I’m Joyce Johnson and we’re here today to interview Mrs. Mary Greene who is an alumnus of Williston Senior High School. Thank you for being here.

Interviewer – Joyce Johnson

Interviewer 2 – Sue Cody

Johnson: What year did you graduate from Williston?

Greene: I graduated in the class of 1962.

Johnson: Could you tell us a little bit about your family and your early childhood?

Greene: Well, I’m originally from the north side of town- Brooklyn- and that’s from Market Street to Nixon Street that was considered the north side of town. I stayed in Bladen Street. I’m the fourth child out of nine, six sisters and two brothers, my baby brother and the knee-baby, the youngest. I went to Peabody; I went to Dudley and then went over to Williston Junior High and then Williston Senior High.

Johnson: What did you do after graduating?

Greene: After graduating, everybody was wanting to go on to New York so that was my dream to go to New York. At that time you went to New York, you went there on a ‘sleep-in’ job. So I went in on a ‘sleep-in’ job, I went to New York for a ‘sleep-in’ job. I thought I was going to like it, but I was homesick so I only stayed from July to Christmas.

When December came, that was my dream, to get back home. So I stayed up there about six months and came back to Wilmington and I’m still here. Everybody can go and come, and I’m here.

Johnson: Tell us about your parents.

Greene: Well I was raised with my mother and my grandmother. My mom worked and she put everybody through school. That was their home at the time, my grandmamma; she was the backbone of the family so I was raised by two ladies, my mom and my grandma.

Johnson: You said you graduated in ’62, tell us about Williston.

Greene: Williston, well getting over to Williston was an exciting thing. We went to Williston Junior High and the dream was when you left junior high, walk across the ramp to the senior high there, it was called the ramp. And that was everybody’s dream, to walk across that ramp to get over to Williston. So when I got over there, that was my dream.

I had a wonderful time. The teachers were wonderful. They made sure you got your education. They were strict but they meant business so you got what you needed to get.

Johnson: What were your best subjects in school?

Greene: Math was my best subject, and my girls; they had a time with math. One of them followed in my footsteps in math. Math was my best subject. I took typing, didn't do too good at it but I took typing. I liked biology to a degree until we had to dissect those frogs (laughter).

Cody: That did it for you (laughter).

Greene: I think it was math and biology.

Johnson: Who was the biology teacher then?

Greene: The biology teacher was Mr. Moore, tall Mr. Moore. We used to call him cut-face (laughter). Mr. Moore was the biology teacher and I took math under Miss…and Miss Howard, she was a biology teacher too…I’m trying to remember who I took math under… I can’t remember, must have been under Mrs. Keith. I’ll have to come back to that. Math, biology, liked home economics too. Miss McLaurin, I took sewing under her. That was in the junior high. When we got to the senior high, we took it under Miss Greene. That was a dream to make my own little skirt (laughter). So we sewed and that was fun.

Cody: Do you still sew?

Greene: I do to some degree. I did it when my kids were small, I had three girls, so I sewed for them. And I went back to sewing after I got married. Mr. Mc Groom at New Hanover High School, they had an adult sewing class at night. I stayed over there about five years, sewing with him, so I got back into sewing and made my little pants and skirts. Mr. Mc Groom was the sewing instructor at night.

Johnson: Who were your favorite teachers?

Greene: My favorite teacher was Miss Barnes, that was my 7th grade teacher at the junior high. My favorite one at senior high was L.S. She was one of our favorites. She was really strict.

Johnson: L. S. Williams?

Greene: Yes, she was one of my favorites.

Johnson: And what did she teach you?

Greene: English, English teacher. You got that MacBeth down.

Cody: Now how about you said Miss Barnes in junior high? What about her made her a favorite of yours?

Greene: She seemed like she just took up more time, and maybe I was looking for somebody I could depend on, somebody I could really talk to at the time. You were lost in the shuffle when you left Dudley and to junior high. It just seemed like she took more time and had a little bit more patience.

Johnson: Gave you the attention you needed.

Greene: Attention, yeah. On Saturday she would tell us to come over to her house and we’d have cookies and just do little fun things with her. She was my favorite, I really loved her.

Johnson: Were you in any of the social clubs at school?

Greene: No, no social clubs. That called for money and at that time money was tight so I didn't do the social clubs.

Johnson: Were there a lot of people in social clubs when you were in school?

Greene: Yeah, over at the senior high they had quite a few of the social clubs, the Aristocrats, Uniques, there was another, I can’t think of it now.

Cody: So what did you do after school? Household chores?

Greene: Household chores. We walked from Williston to Bladen Street; we were on 11th and Fanning at the time when I went to Senior High. We walked home from school, we had to walk. They used to have a bus that would take us, called the Special, and you got on the special for 10 cents and it took you to Nixon Street. But after we moved on 11th and Fanning, we walked. So we just walked from 11th Street straight down.

You got home, took off your school clothes and you did chores. You had to clean up our room, wash dishes, do your homework. That was it.

Cody: That filled the day, right?

Johnson: Now did you participate in the band or Glee Club?

Greene: No, no singing voice (laughter). No, I wasn’t in the band. I did physical things, I exercised at the gym. There were some things to do in the gym after school if you were permitted to stay. So I got into that. I think it was called tumbling and calisthenics.

Johnson: So your parents had to sign up for it?

Greene: No, you didn't have to sign up for it. It was just something they offered in the afternoons if you wanted to go in the gym and do some of that. It wasn’t an organized activity.

Johnson: Some of the people we talked with spoke about some of the notables that attended school with them or during the time that they were in high school. Can you think of any that were in school during your time?

Greene: Not right off.

Johnson: Okay. Tell us how you feel about the closing of Williston.

Greene: Well, that was a sad day when they closed Williston. They started talking about it; there was a rumor it was going to close. They kept saying they were going to close, they were going to close. Finally the day came and not my baby sister, but the sister before her, she was in the class of ’68, she was in that class. And she came in and she told us. I was married then. “You know they are going to close Williston?” And I said “What?” She said yes, she thought her class was going to be the last class.

That was a sad day when she came home and said it’s going to happen and they were changing schools with integration. It was just turmoil, but it was sad. It hurt my heart because that was what we were used to. At that time it was the black school and the white school. It was just a thing, that we had our school that was so much in our heart.

They said they were going to split; we had to go to Hanover. I wanted my kids to graduate from Williston, but I should have known they wouldn’t because it was so far behind. But it was a sad day and it seemed like it took something away from us.

Johnson: Do you feel like Williston could have survived as an integrated school?

Greene: I think it could have because why close ours and push us over there and they could have come over there, just split it up some, you know, some there and some here instead of closing down the school completely. You know, put some whites over in our school and put some blacks in their school, not just close it down and all of us pushed that way.

Johnson: You said that you had children that graduated from …?

Greene: No, my kids graduated from New Hanover High School.

Johnson: Okay. Do you see a difference in the education you received at Williston and the education they received at New Hanover?

Greene: Yes, to me we got the attention and they made sure that we got what we needed to graduate. When my kids come out, if you didn't get it on your own, you got lost in the shuffle, that was it. There just wasn’t that bondage that the black teachers gave me. Some of the teachers went to Hanover, a couple of them and then they put some at Hoggard, and some went to Hoggard. But I still don’t think that they got what I got had they been at Williston. I’m not knocking Hanover for their education because that was THEIR school. They got it, but not what we got I would say.

Cody: Not with the kind of support you had and encouragement.

Greene: Right.

Johnson: Are you a member of Williston Alumni Association?

Greene: Yes.

Johnson: Okay, tell us about that.

Greene: The Williston Alumni Association is that organization where anybody that graduated from Williston or even just attended, you are invited to come to the meetings and we have a meeting once a month and we try to do fundraising so we can have what we call the Williston Alumni Scholarship. We raise money for graduating seniors from the different schools, like four or five high schools now, and we given scholarships to help them in their education. You know everybody needs to keep going as high as you can.

Membership is kind of down. We keep encouraging people to come but they’re coming back slowly. Hopefully they’ll come back because we need all the help we can get to keep it alive anyway.

Johnson: Do you feel like attending Williston kept the students protected from discrimination?

Greene: By us attending Williston? No. It was just that Williston was an all black school and I don’t think it had anything to do with keeping you shielded from it.

Johnson: You said you had a sister who graduated in ’68. Is she still in Wilmington?

Greene: Yes, she is.

Johnson: Is she also a member of the alumni association?

Greene: No. My sister, she works. She has a husband and four kids, three grands and I try to encourage them to come to the association. In fact, I have two other sisters that graduated from Williston. I try to encourage them to come, but you know, it’s like all organizations. They think that one or two people run it and you say something, they’ll not let you say what you say is not worth it. They’ll put it in the input, but they won’t join the organization. They come to some of the functions that we do.

Johnson: We’ve had several people talk about the Williston mix that’s held the 4th of July. Could you tell us something about that?

Greene: The Williston mix is what we have on Saturday. It’s always held on a Saturday at 11:00 at Williston on the school grounds. We kind of changed it a couple of years to our building, the alumni Tiger Inn, but it’s usually held at the senior high on the steps outside up front. It’s where everybody comes in town for the 4th of July. They know they’re going to see some Willistonians.

They all gather there Saturday and reminisce and they open the school for us and let us go through. You know, you walk through the halls, this was my class or I remember this or I remember that. So that’s what they do at the Williston mix. Everybody comes to together and conjugates and reminisce, talk about your family, your friends, who passed, who was here and whatcha doing. That’s what the mix is all about.

Johnson: And what else do you do during that celebration?

Greene: Well on that Saturday we have a mix and then that night, we’ll have a dance at one of the functions downtown, maybe the Hilton, the Convention Center. We do a boat ride, we did a boat ride a couple of times and it was nice. Everybody got to put on their finery and see who’s there, the couples, everybody’s shining. So they do the mix and the dance Saturday night.

Sometimes we’ll do a church service that Sunday, go to a local church and everybody will gather. I remember one year we went to the Seventh Day Adventist Church right there at 10th and Castle and we had a big crowd there. It was nice. The Williston alumni Choir the same of chorus and it was nice, it was a nice service. They’ll try to go to a local church, a different church, and all the Willistonians that want to partake, they’ll come and we’ll worship together. It is nice.

Johnson: You talked about the scholarship that you give to students. How do you raise that money?

Greene: Our biggest fundraiser is the 4th of July weekend when we have the dance and then we have one Christmas. So Christmas we usually have a big Williston dance for the people that are coming from out of town. They look forward to coming to something that the Williston alumni are going to have. So we have to try to put on a dance or something to draw them in. That party also raises scholarship money.

We were saying we’re getting up in age and everybody’s getting laid back and don’t want to be dancing (laughter). We’re going to have to find another fundraiser (laughter). We’re kind of dropping off. We had a couple at the Sport’s Man Club, you know, on Castle Street, we didn't do too good. We just broke even. Maybe we’ve got to find another fundraiser to draw their attention. But yeah, that’s where all that money goes, to the scholarship.

Johnson: Now do you have many people from your class that participate?

Greene: At one time, we had a good number from the class of ’62, we did, and then like I say, everybody’s getting older and laid back and just work-home, work-home. It’s kind of dropped off. I’m the president of my class of ’62 and if I don’t get the ball rolling, it just drops. I’ve been kind of lax and laid back ‘cause I got burned out. We had 5, 10, 20, 30, 35, I kind of got burned out so I was laid back and relaxing. Everybody kept coming to me, “What are we going to do? What our class going to do? We’ve got to have a reunion.”

Johnson: It takes a lot of energy, doesn’t it?

Greene: Yeah and we just had our 40th this summer and I was just too burned out. I told them if somebody would start it, I’d be glad to jump on the bandwagon. Nobody started anything so I think I’m just going to have go back and get it started again. I told them for 40 years I was going to do something, but I haven’t yet. And the year is slipping up on us, it’s 2003 and we graduated in ’62 and last year was our class reunion.

Cody: Well I’m sure whenever you decide to throw a party, they’ll come (laughter).

Greene: Oh yeah, I’ve got to get my letters out and notes and email and get the ball rolling.

Johnson: Do you have a lot of participation?

Greene: We did, but our biggest participation came from out of town. I know over half of our class is right here in Wilmington, but our biggest participation comes from out of town.

Johnson: In one statement or several, when you think of Williston, what does that mean to you?

Greene: The greatest school under the sun, I miss it. It was fun. When they say you’ll miss your water 'til your well runs dry. I think you know, I wish my kids could have gone there and what would have happened if they had gone there and what it would be like now.

Johnson: Can you think of any other people that we need to talk with?

INTERVIEWER 2: Your sister definitely because she was in the last class.

Greene: My sister? Oh my God she would be the hardest thing to get up with. You want someone from the Class of ’68…?

INTERVIEWER 2: If you think of anybody later, just give us a call.

Greene: Okay, I know Beverly Colson, she worked at GE, she was in that class of ’68. Stephanie Moore, do you remember here? She was in the class of ’68. I’ll have to call my sister and see what she thinks.

Cody: Who was your sister?

Greene: Betty Pierson. Are you a Willistonian?

Johnson: No, they closed my junior year, unfortunately, so I didn’t get to walk. If you think of others, give us a call.

Greene: Are these books or something, videos?

Cody: A collection of videos and we’re just trying to document it because so little of that history is around. Joyce mentioned that we had a student that was trying to write the history of Williston and we didn't have anything in the collection to share with her so we want to make sure we don’t have that happen again.

Greene: Well, I’m sure Linda told you a bunch of people, right?

Cody: We’ve got a list. We sure appreciate your talking to us. Thank you very much.

Greene: All right, thank you.

Johnson: Thank you!

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