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Interview with Lethia S. Hankins, June 11, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Lethia S. Hankins, June 11, 2003
June 11, 2003
Mrs. Lethia Hankins discusses her long association with education and particulary with Williston. She was a student at Williston Elementary, Williston Industrial High School and Williston High School. After college, she returned to Williston High School as an English Teacher. When Williston was closed for integration, she became a teacher at Hoggard High School and later at Laney High School. Included is a brief brief mention of the Wilmington 10 incident.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Hankins, Lethia S. Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Susan Cody Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  Williston High School Length  70 + minutes


Johnson: I’m Joyce Johnson and today we’re going to interview Mrs. Lethia Hankins who is not only a former educator but a graduate of Williston Industrial High School. The purpose of our interview is so that we can gather oral information on Williston. We realize that we had nothing available here at Randall Library so we thank you in advance for all your valuable information.

Interviewers: Joyce Johnson, Sue Ann Cody

Johnson: First I’d like you to tell me something about your life, your early life Wilmington.

Hankins: I’ll guess I’ll just start as growing up. That was right here in Wilmington. I grew up in what they call Dry Pond, which is the south side of Wilmington and I was fortunate enough to be able to walk to school because I lived on S. 8th Street which was only a couple of blocks away from little Williston as we called it. That was in reality Williston Primary. I went to school there and then I just went right across the field to big Williston, which was Williston Industrial High School. I remember, very fondly, my years at Williston.

Mr. Washington was the principal at the time when I was growing up there. Some of my earlier teachers, Miss Atkins, the Crowleys who lived on S. 7th Street, Miss Randall and several of the others. Then when I graduated from there and went to Williston Industrial High School, F. T. Rogers was principal at the time and many of my earlier teachers, happily I can say that I went back as a teacher and worked with them and was able to put into practice some of the ideals and some of the lessons that they taught me.

I graduated from Williston Industrial High in 1951. We had a pretty large class. I left, went to college, came back and started teacher and the new Williston Senior High School. I started there in 1959 and stayed there until it closed. Well it didn't close, we were integrated in 1968. I had a very, very pleasant childhood running around very casually in the streets because at that time neighborhoods really looked after children.

Everybody on the block knew where I was, every move I am and likewise we kept tab on the others. It was just a fun time, no major problems.

Cody: You talked about Williston Industrial High School and the Williston High, what changed and why?

Hankins: Okay, in 1951, when I graduated, that building was still called Williston Industrial High School. During that interim period, populations shifted, growth in population. It was mandated that a new school be built. That’s where this Williston Senior High School came in and I think the moving dates for that, 1953-54, which meant that there was an interim between the time I left in 1951 and when I returned in 1959. In the meantime, this “new” school had been placed there, which was Williston Senior High School.

We still had Williston Middle School. That originally housed Williston Industrial High School so that’s where the two Williston’s.

Cody: We’re talking about two separate buildings?

Hankins: Tow separate buildings now, the old Williston Industrial High School from which I graduated in 1951 and then the Williston Senior High School where I returned to teach in 1959. That eventually became a middle school as things evolved and came around.

Cody: Now Industrial, did that building burn? Which building burned?

Hankins: The original Williston burned on the corner of 10th and Ann Streets now. The building, which houses Gregory that was formerly the Williston Industrial High School. If you look very closely at the top of that building, you see the word Williston etched under all of the other, but that was the original Williston Industrial High School. The school next to it, which is the newer version, was the Williston Senior High School. We built a ramp from what became the middle school to the senior high school and that’s where I taught until we merged in 1968.

Cody: Okay, that sets it straight. Thank you.

Hankins: For some reason, well there’s always been two buildings because you see Williston Primary, it’s no longer there, not even a brick, but Williston Primary was closest to Castle Street and then Williston Industrial down the street. You had two buildings then, two Willistons. Then as time progressed, you still had two Williston’s, but you had the Williston Industrial High School and then they built the Williston Senior High School. So we’ve always maintained two buildings, two structures, so to speak.

Cody: And Williston was a benefactor. Where did the name Williston come from?

Hankins: Williston came from one of the benefactors, one of the earlier benefactors and this goes way, way back in history, but I will just state…he was one of the benefactors as was D. C. Virgo - because we can get into too much history (laughter). That’s how that came about.

Johnson: I think you also said that Mr. Washington was the principal.

Hankins: B. T. Washington was the principal of what was Williston Primary School at one time.

Johnson: Oh okay, I never knew that.

Hankins: He was principal when I was a student there in the grades. When I went to high school, F. J. Rogers was principal then. Now when I came back as a teacher in 1959, Mr. Washington was then principal of Williston Senior High School. You remember him as being the principal there. Well he had been in the education system for a number of years. At the time I got back, he had moved from that position to the principal of the Williston Senior High School.

Johnson: Were you in any of the social clubs at Williston or did they have social clubs when you went to school?

Hankins: We had social clubs. We had drama, we had the debating society. I was always interested and into the dramatics for some reason, I favored that and stayed with it. I worked with the student government for a while, but my favorite thing was the dramatic part of it. I worked with the yearbook, school newspaper. I did work with that for a while.

When I went back as a teacher, I did work with some of the student groups, the student government groups. I was class sponsor for juniors and for seniors. For some reason, I was with the junior-senior prom every year. I worked with drama again because we produced the class plays, any of the things that dealt with graduation, that kind of thing with seniors. I was not into the musical part of it, but anything pertaining to dramatic productions, debating, that kind of thing.

Cody: Do you think your interest in that made you a better teacher?

Hankins: I think so. It put me closer to the students. For some reason, outside of the classroom they tend to be a bit more energetic, a bit more outgoing and there was a closer relationship. I’m pretty sure that helped me in my role as a teacher, as a mentor, as a nurturer, that type of thing. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I don’t know how much they enjoyed what I forced them to do (laughter). Much of it came about as a result of listening to them, working around them, gathering what they needed. They didn't realize what they needed, but by talking to them especially outside of the classroom, you surmised and sort of ascertained, “Well I need to work a little harder there,” and consequently it influenced what I did in that classroom. So that was a great opportunity, it truly was. I really enjoyed it, I really truly did.

Johnson: Describe a typical day at Williston.

Hankins: As a teacher at Williston Senior High School?

Johnson: Let’s start as a student.

Hankins: A typical day, obviously you were already “well trained” so to speak. You did not, and I’m speaking from a personal standpoint, I had no intentions of causing any disruptions because I knew the first time I stepped out of line, somebody was going to call my momma. So you went there with the sense of wanting to achieve. For some reason, that just radiated all over the building. Even our little mischievous people really had a sense of wanting to achieve. That’s all we heard from our teachers from day one.

I didn't have to be in your classroom, but you would still give me bits of information, helpful hints so to speak. We started a normal day, we always started with devotions, well I remember that. It was devout kind of time. The worst little heathen over there would take time to take part in that because this is what we did. We began our day with the devotions, then into the regular routine of your classes depending on what your schedule was.

Lunchtime most of us went to the cafeteria. Some few did not, but most of us did. That was the regular class day and after school you went into your little after school activities and routines whatever. Those who were in after school activities took part there. When that was over, you knew that you were headed home. You didn't worry about the hanging here and the hanging there because even in an after school activity, you had a commitment and you did it, whatever it was.

A typical day was generally a very enjoyable day. I look back on it with fond memories, I truly do. Every teacher in that building was a personal friend, a personal teacher so everybody just joined in to educate us so to speak.

Cody: As a teacher, your day was longer I bet.

Hankins: As a teacher, my day was much longer. Many times you stayed after school for work, any extra work you might have to do. If you engaged in any clubs or activities, you stayed for that. It was nothing for you to leave school at 4:30, 5:00, 5:30, 6:00 and if a kid lived on the north side of town and didn't have a way home; you saw to it that that kid got home. So it was nothing…I don’t think we even tried to clock our days as teachers.

Many times I got there early, purposely so I could do work I didn't finish the day before. Nobody seemed to care about that. The fact that you were committed to doing what you said you were going to do and you did it. I don’t know that there were a lot of complaints about going back for PTA’s, going back for this and going back for the other or having to take a child home or even having to go and pick one up.

It just went with the territory. Everybody just joined in. If I needed something done and I didn't have time, you’d pick it up for me. It was just a big family affair.

Cody: And a community affair.

Hankins: Family and community.

Cody: It sounds like the school was really immersed in the community.

Hankins: It definitely was. And I cannot leave out the church, the major role that our faith-based people played in the school. You had ministers over there any time, all the time. Churches sponsored activities for youngsters and they took an active and a hands on role, much more than we’re doing now. But that was a typical, average day for a teacher.

Our bell rang at 8:20, but you were there at 7:00 a lot of times and you thought nothing of it. Six o’clock, oh by God, do we go home. My mother lived with me and that’s how my children got fed lots of times. It was a commitment, that’s all it was and everybody was committed to doing it. We wanted our kids to be the best and in order to do it, you had to put forth the effort and you had to show by example. That’s what we did.

Johnson: So you feel like most of the teachers strived for academic excellence?

Hankins: Most of them just had their whole heart and mind set on academic excellence. Many of the teachers with whom I worked were teachers who were from Wilmington or had some connection here, who had grown up or who had been taught some of the early values and virtues and it was sort of spill over. We were taught at Williston, you must excel, you have no choice. You have got to if you plan to do anything better than what you’re doing now. So we grew up with that, you’ve got to do it.

We sort of evolved with that same philosophy over into the students with whom I worked when I came back here. It was a matter of preparing them for a world out there that’s not going to be very receptive to you unless you’ve got something to offer and I think every teacher on that faculty had that commitment, that philosophy. Our ministers helped us to carry that out. So it wasn’t an easy task, but I think it was easier because the whole community…sort of embraced us.

Johnson: People were united in the same vision.

Hankins: Anytime anything was sponsored, you looked up and you had everybody from all over, north, south, east and west. We were pulling together and it was a committed unified affair.

Cody: And parents were involved?

Hankins: Oh yes, we had a beautiful PTA group. We had the band boosters club. We had clubs that helped with…Miss Leonard’s high wide group. It was really an outgrowth of a religious YMCA, but at that time of course we could not go to the YMCA so we created one right at the school. We used to call them the “High-Y” boys. We had parents who had fundraisers for them.

W. G. Lowe used to work with them, would take them on trips to governmental functions to Washington, Atlanta, all over. But parents and community people were responsible for getting our kids to these places because we had a very, strong, strong community support base. We really truly did.

Johnson: Let’s go back to when you were in school. Who were some of your favorite teachers?

Hankins: When I was a student at Williston Industrial High School, Mrs. Catherine H. Robinson who was an English teacher whom I tried my best to emulate. Mrs. L. S. Williams, another English teacher that influenced me strongly. Miss Vicky Leonard, also an English teacher, I don’t know why I continued to favor English teachers so much.

Cody: Well let’s see, you’re an English teacher (laughter).

Hankins: But there were many, many others who were very, very outstanding. I remember Mr. Wall was the band teacher at the time. James Thompson taught music and he had the Glee Club as they were called at that time.

We were required to take home economics because girls had to learn how to cook and sew and all of that. Mrs. Margaret Green, I remember her very well because I didn't like the idea of having to go and do all this cooking. I liked to keep my nails pretty and all of that and she didn't believe in that. You just had to do like my mother used to make me do it at home, from scratch. I remember many, many classes in her home economics room.

Mrs. Ann Harris who now lives out at Plantation Village was one of the home economics teachers. She was very, very petite, particular, that kind of thing. Fannie B. White was the librarian at that time. She was a very strict disciplinarian. She was a good person, but many of us didn't like her disciplinary actions. Some of the other teachers that I remember, Mr. Greenwood taught in the science field and I never was a science person, didn't like it.

Mrs. Green, of course she later remarried, she’s a Mrs. Elizabeth Green Holmes Salter. She recently passed. She taught me algebra and I loved that lady dearly, but I just could not stand that math. She made me understand that you’re not going to like everything you are going to have to do, but this is something that you will do. In so many words, she let me know. She made it fun after I got over the fact I was not going to convince her to let me out of that room. But she was so petite, very meticulous and that kind of thing.

A strong influence on many of the young women in the classes because we wanted to look like them, we wanted to dress like them, sound like them. Many of the things that I picked up from my teachers at Williston simply were ingrained in me and I simply passed it on to the others, but those were some of the teachers that I remember right off the bat. Miss Moultrie was there. The man who taught, Mr. King, was the one who was in the cafeteria and many others.

I think the ones I remember most, Miss Hooper, that’s another one. She was a government teacher. She used to live right across from St. Mark’s Church, St. Marks Presbyterian Church, Episcopal. There were three of those sisters I believe, the Hooper’s. But she a staunch government teacher and I remember her very vividly, very, very well. The Bryant’s used to live on Dawson Street about two blocks from me, C. L. Bryant and his wife and they used to walk to school. When I saw them going by my house, momma said, “Okay, it’s time to leave.” They were just like clocks; they walked for a number of years.

Mrs. Bryant was so very pleasant. Both of them were very pleasant people. Mr. Charlie, that’s what we’d call him behind his back, his name was C. L. Bryant and we used to call him Mr. Charlie. He had a way of scolding you if you didn't do what you were supposed to do, but they taught us some of the principles of living, how to deal with it, how to get along with people. Many of the lessons I learned, I didn't really get them in the classroom, but from those teachers around me. I appreciate some of those even today.

Johnson: Do you feel that students that attended Williston were protected from discrimination?

Hankins: I do.

Johnson: In what way?

Hankins: Many of the times teachers who knew what went on outside, in the outside world we called it, tended to downplay what actually was going on. To me that was a sense of protecting us from what could have been. They talked very strongly about preparing yourself so that you could be equal with anybody. The key to that was getting something up here. I think they saw way down the road, that we didn't see this, that we had to compete in a world for which we were not prepared.

The only way to be able to be successful in that world is to get yourself a playing field. It might not be level, but you’re on a playing field. I think many of my teachers did an outstanding job of warding what they knew was out there. Now we knew about desegregation. My mother did domestic work. I used to help her. My dad worked for the city. I used to have to go and pay bills for my family, for my parents and so I had to go downtown. I knew what it was like to go down to the Bailey and have to go up in the balcony.

I knew what it was like to get on an old time bus right in front of my house and go to the back. I knew better than to sit in the front. We knew what was going on, but Williston was a place that prepared us to deal with whatever was out there. Many of our young men especially were flighty or something, I could see Mr. Rogers and some of the other men taking them aside and talking with them. You reason with the people.

When school was out, kids from New Hanover coming on the south side, Williston people going north side, many was the time that some of our male teachers would just walk out or go along just to be sure that nothing unnecessary happened. Although we knew what was there and many of the students were poised and ready, we learned early that that was not the way to do it. You would quell whatever was in you and sometimes it was very, very difficult, but there was another way of dealing with what you know was wrong. But there was another way of dealing with it and I think this is what they tried to instill in all of us.

There is a legal way to do this. There is an intelligent approach to any of this. Our teachers really tried to protect us from what they knew was out there. Most of us appreciated that. I’m saying most of us because you’re always going to find a few who would try the elements, but most of us appreciated the fact that they were trying to shield us from what was out there while preparing us to actually face that.

Cody: Right, and to aspire to a broader access.

Hankins: Aspire to anything that’s broader than this.

Cody: Right, to expand the boundaries.

Hankins: They kept preaching to us, you could make a difference. I didn't see it at the time, heaven know, I didn’t. All I saw was either becoming a teacher or a nurse. I was scared to death of needles so I knew I wasn’t going to be a nurse. Teaching seemed natural to me. I just liked the idea of helping. I liked to read. I decided early on if I was going to make a difference, it’s going to be in a classroom. It’s not going to be in a hospital. Early on I learned that maybe I can help and make a difference by going into something like this.

And it has paid off. Those early lessons that we learned a long, long time ago, I didn't see it at the time because when I first came back here, I was ready to throw my hands up. I didn't see a lot of differences. Things were about the same. I thought, “My God, when I left here, it was this way.” But gradually I became to notice little things and then pretty soon doors started opening and other people started helping us so to speak.

I’ve seen some changes, many, many changes. I thank those older teachers for instilling in me the idea, the possibility, changes can come, but you must be a part of it, not a part of the problem. You don’t come back with that same attitude that you’re just going to kick everybody aside and make it go away. That’s not the way it’s going to be. So I credit them with giving us that kind of foundation. It helped me quite a bit in the classroom. It truly did because see, I experienced those things and you know what you’re talking about, so you can better get someone else to understand.

Cody: And they’re more willing to listen.

Hankins: They’re more willing to listen, I lived it. I was a part of it. I’m into this mode now so I can look back, give you that experience and try to help you move on. I think that’s an important part of living, it really truly is. I do that with my own children.

Johnson: You were talking about Miss Holmes Salter. She was Miss Holmes when I was in school. She also taught me algebra. One of the things I liked about her and like you said, she made sure that you knew that you were going to pass algebra and she would stay after school with you. Did you find that most of the teachers were willing to stay after school?

Hankins: That’s exactly what happened. Many of them, I think most of the teachers that I had at Williston evidently were called or they had some sort of something, because every last one of them seemed to have a willingness to do, if you were having difficulty, you didn't fail because they didn't give you an opportunity. They thought nothing of staying after school, coming early or staying in for lunch, whatever.

Mrs. Holmes did that many, many times and then after I came back to work here, I noticed she was still doing the same thing. Many of those teachers had that attitude. If you couldn’t get it in the classroom or if you needed a little extra help, you come see me at 3:30. That was their favorite, come see me at 3:30. They did not seem to mind that.

Even in the literature classes, we were taught as a 10th grader, Miss Leonard was my English teacher and she believed in us memorizing or reciting the oral expression. For some reason if you didn't get it quite right, you could feel free to go back after school and this was how a lot of the students did that. Miss King was good for that.

I found that when I went back as a teacher, I believed in oral expression. I still do. I’ll let you say it your way for a while, but after a while, you’re going to say it my way (laughter). If it means coming back, letting me help you or letting you help yourself because many times students don’t realize, they’ve got what it takes. It’s just a matter of projecting it. It was a habit that I learned as a student at Williston Industrial High School and it was something that I carried on as a teacher because I knew the value of it.

Many kids are timid in class. Many of them are unsure. Some just didn't know because they hadn’t done it. You give them an opportunity and that paid off in many, many ways. Mrs. Holmes, she was Miss Green and then Mrs. Holmes when she taught us. She was famous for that, “See me at 3:30.” You knew that she was going to welcome you. I don’t care what kind of problem it was; she was going to find a way to help you solve that problem.

Most of the teachers were just that way regardless of what it was except for those who just willfully did not want to do it, just wanted to cut out that kind of thing. We drew lines there. If you needed the help, the teachers were there. That was a carryover even after I went back there to work.

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

Hankins: Frankly I was, somebody asked me that before and the first words that came out of my mouth, I was just angry, hurt, disappointed, a lot of emotions wrapped up there together. I think the hardest pill for me to swallow was the fact that we did not know, and I say we I mean the Williston community; we did not know for a fact that this was going to happen. We had heard rumors, but as far as getting a factual letter, you have been reassigned to John T. Hoggard High School, I had not gotten that.

It was really at the end of the school year, we had gone through commencement, that kind of thing, well to be honest, I was just furious at the way it was done. I saw the handwriting on the wall and I knew that changes were coming, but the method used infuriated me. It truly did. I had to rush home and stay there until I got all of that out of me because you didn't just project that kind of feeling.

Cody: It sounds like it showed a lack of respect for the Williston community.

Hankins: That was a part of it, a total lack of respect and a total disregard of what we, and when I say we I mean the Williston community, of what we meant to this community, what we had done in this community, what we had accomplished and what we were trying to accomplish. As I said, I saw the handwriting on the wall. I knew it was going to come, but I believe to this day it could have been done in a better manner.

I think that’s the part that hurt me the most because we had done so many good things. We were projecting so many good students and we were working together with so many of the other organizations and facilities in the city. We were making progress. I still feel that it could have been in a better manner. More respect could have been shown to us. Here we are, Williston Senior High School, home of the Tigers.

You send these kids to another, and I’m speaking of Hoggard because that’s where I was sent and one of the kids wanted to know, what’s a Viking. We left the Tigers. I’ve stated it before; one of the hardest things to deal with was trying to acclimate our students to that vast change, that explosive change. I left Williston in May. During that time school would close in May and reopen in September, it was just a habit. Left the room 11 in May and in September go back to room 11.

Well, that particular time, no, that did not happen. I didn't even have time to pack up my things. None of the teachers did really. I was really, when it all boiled down, I was truly, truly hurt is the best way I can explain it. Naturally anger came in there. All of the other emotions, but deep down I was tremendously hurt over the way it was done. We truly lost a lot in that transition. Many of our students lost respect for the system.

What else can you say? You just disregarded me, you didn't ask me what I wanted to do, didn't even ask my opinion. You just told me I was to leave here and go there. Accept it, like it or not, you’re just going. That did a lot to the ego. It did a lot to the beliefs that we had tried to instill in our students. It took quite a time to sort of ease that particular pain.

The first two or three years I wouldn’t hesitate to say, I spent more time to try to acclimate students than I did teaching English because sometimes you’d see little friction points and you’d take them out in the hall. You’d spend half your class period trying to nurture to okay, you’re going to go back in there and we’re going to conduct our class, you are not going to act up. If someone was ready to fight or something, you had to give them perspective, a sense of belonging, a sense of being in the right place. So the first two or three years, I spent a lot of time doing that kind of thing as did most of the other teachers, trying to acclimate our students to a new environment.

I definitely did not like the way it was done. We were stripped of things that we had worked so hard to build. To this day, I don’t have harsh feelings about it, but certainly I do think about it.

Johnson: Do you feel that Williston would have survived as an integrated school? Do you think it could have been done?

Hankins: I think it could have been done. There would have been tremendous problems. Many of the members of our white community would have balked at the idea of sending their children to Williston because it was labeled a black school. I look at some of the other areas and I noticed how some of them coped with it. They had severe problems, but they didn't take away the total identity of what was there.

I firmly believe that somehow it could have been worked out had plans been put into motion, the community brought in. You get your input and then you plan the best way to do this. I really believe it could have been done just looking back. Not just closing and send me a letter saying, hey, you’re going to send your children to Williston, no, no, no. It would not have worked that way as they did us. If it had been done in the opposite manner, it would not have worked. But if proper plans were drawn up, proper timing, I think it definitely would have worked.

Cody: What about as a teacher? How were you acclimated to Hoggard coming in as a teacher or were you?

Hankins: We weren’t. We were assigned a room. Now they had little workshops they called, I forgot the name, something about…it wasn’t even diversity. It was another word they used, teacher training. The idea was to acclimate us to an integrated kind of thing. There were workshops at the beginning of the school year for about four or five years where we were given tools with which to work so to speak.

I don’t think, At least I know that we were not properly acclimated to do that. Now after we got into the integrated situation, there were some attempts at getting us to understand each other, that kind of thing. I can’t recall the name of those workshops, but they did go on for a number of years at the beginning of the school year where we were being given information on how to deal with this.

Frankly it was a little late for me and for many, many others because you see, we had already assumed an attitude about the whole thing. Most of the accomplishments, we did it on an individual basis. I knew that I could not get in front of a classroom and project what I felt. That’s when my acting training really came in handy. I thank Catherine House Robinson today for the drama that she taught me because many was the time, and I’ll be very frank, many was the time I was really putting on an act because I’m happy that this is happening. I’m overjoyed that I’m here and in reality…

Cody: That was not the truth, was it?

Hankins: But I couldn’t afford to let the kids know anything but the best. We had to do that and I have to give most of the other teachers credit for doing that kind of thing. Put those kids first regardless of what you felt in here, you felt like, I have a job to do, I am committed to them regardless of what was in here. I venture to say maybe the first two, maybe even three years, we went through periods just like that because we had to remember the kids were first. You had to do whatever you had to do to get that point across and to teach that particular subject.

Cody: I know that the Wilmington Ten era must have been very disruptive even though that was focused on New Hanover High School I guess.

Hankins: It was a terrible impact all over. It was not focused that much on New Hanover, although much of the activity came from that particular section and segment. It impacted the whole community, very disruptive, in a sense very destructive because it tended to downplay some of the things that we had tried to build up. We were trying to preach unity and they were meeting over there in Gregory Church.

There was a faction outside that just was not going to stand for that so the two met head on. You had the fire, the grocery store, the man murdered - all of that impacted in a very negative way on some of the things we’d been trying to downplay. So over the years, we’ve had quite a bit of disruptions. We had to overcome quite a bit in order to get where we are today.

Not only that, in the Wilmington Ten incident, you had factions right here in your own community who tended not to want to cooperate in helping us achieve what we could achieve. Our kids were in school. They were not given level playing fields in all areas. Our athletic programs suffered. Academically our children truly suffered unless we had somebody just watching over all of them all the time. We had factions trying to straighten out a playing field for us and teachers in the classroom dealing with all manners of things.

You had parents that didn't particularly care for black teachers teaching white kids and vice versa. You had kids who didn't particularly want to be there. So you had so many things fighting all at the same time. In spite of it all or because of it all, we made progress. It was a struggle and it still is.

Cody: Do you recall any of the white teachers at Hoggard that sort of helped you?

Hankins: The first white teacher that I came in contact with that helped me tremendously was Jean Taylor. She was one of five white teachers who went to Williston before…do you remember her?

Johnson: Yes.

Hankins: That’s where I first met her and to this day we have remained very, very good friends. When Jean went to Williston, the shoe was on the other foot and many of the teachers and some of the students didn't want it, there were five all together. Denny, I forget his name, he went on to be a principal, it’ll come to me. But anyway many of the teachers resented those white teachers and many of the students resented them.

For some reason Jean and I got to be pretty good friends and we kid each other. I’d talk with her and she’d talk with me. Out of that grew a very, very good relationship. When I went to Hoggard, the librarian, Dot Norris was very nice. Nancy Faye Craig was teaching there at the time. Nancy Marks was one of the guidance counselors. Do you remember her?

I had several of the white teachers who were very receptive, very understanding and very helpful. Mr. Greganous was principal when this all first happened. He was a perfect gentleman, did all he could to try and make things work. Then Mike Saus, they put him there and he was another that I had great admiration for because he brought that military disciplinary action there. “This is the rule and you are going to abide.”

I did not get a sense from Mike Saus that there was any difference. I think I admired that about him quite a bit because I think I went into the whole situation believing that you’re still going to have the separation here.

Cody: Right, that black students would be treated differently than white students.

Hankins: Right, that’s the way I went in, the way I grew up and it was a part of me. It was best to see to it that everything was level and I often admired him for that. Dr. Bellamy was one of our greatest assets and he still is. But in the school, those few teachers that I just mentioned and there were a couple of others, Joyce Bachner, I saw her the other day. Her husband (Saul) at the time was teaching at UNCW. She taught English with me and has always been quite the lady in my eyes.

So I did get some help from some of the white teachers. I imagine many of them had some of the same feelings that we had going into a situation like that, just being thrust into something. Some of them were as ill-prepared as we were, had no idea, no concept of how they were going to walk into a classroom and all of a sudden you see not just a totally white class or a totally black class, but you’ve got a mixed class.

Cody: And all the dynamics that go with it.

Hankins: You said it! Because of it all, in spite of it all, I don’t regret a day. It’s been a pretty tough struggle at times from parents, students, community. When you get all of that rolled up into one, you got something. My salvation was in my classroom dealing with my students and knowing that I was making a difference in somebody, maybe not all of them, but somebody and that gave me a good deal of satisfaction, which let me deal with those other things out there.

Johnson: I know as a student leaving Williston because it was my senior year that they closed, going to Hoggard, I always felt like I didn't belong at Hoggard. Did you as a teacher feel that you did not belong?

Hankins: I had that feeling. As I said growing up the way that I did, these things were imparted into me, implanted into me, ingrained if you will.

Cody: Yeah, you just don’t turn that off.

Hankins: No, you cannot turn it off. And I’ll be very frank with you, I felt the same way. I felt I knew I was a teacher, I knew I wanted to do that, but I felt out of place in that it wasn’t a comfort zone for me. I felt like an intruder, that I had been forced into something that I wasn’t really ready for. I still believe if we had been given ample opportunity to know what was going to happen, to give us some tools with which to work, it would have been a smoother transition.

That first year I really felt I had no business even in that building. It was just a feeling. People didn't have to tell me this, it was something in here.

Johnson: Well they told the students. I don’t know whether they told the teachers that, but they told the students.

Hankins: In some cases that happened at the teaching level also. We just didn't talk about those things. Some things you swept it under the rug or you would talk about it among yourselves. I really felt like I was an intruder going into somebody’s home that really didn't want me there and you’re never comfortable in a home where you feel like you’re not wanted.

It took me a while to acclimate myself to Hoggard, the building. After a period of time, I did get a sense of belonging. Now where I really felt that I was supposed to be here is when I went to Laney. See they built Laney and populated it using teachers from other schools; I didn't volunteer to go there. McLauren was principal of Hoggard.

Cody: That’s Ken McLauren?

Hankins: Ken McLauren and when the population shift and all, we needed a school in that section of the county and that’s when they built Laney. When I went there, I felt like I’d come home. I think the rationale behind it, all of us were new to that.

Cody: Right, it wasn’t anybody’s territory.

Hankins: Nobody’s territory. You made your own turf there and it was just like coming home. All of us had to work together to build. We had a new set of parents. We were in a new location and it was just so different and wonderful. And to this day, we built relationships, the parents from the Castle Hayne area, and I still have connections even to this day with parents and students as we managed to build Laney.

To show you the difference, when I went to Hoggard I really felt like I didn't belong there. After a period of time and you have to let bygones be bygones and then you make your own place and that’s what I had to do. After I made my place, then, “Hey, this is my turf and I will take care of this.” As soon as I started feeling very comfortable there, then this business about Laney came up. I thought I already moved from Williston, I don’t want to move anymore.

But after things happened the way they did. After I ended up at Laney, it was a wonderful move. It truly was and I stayed there until I retired.

Cody: And that was in what year?

Hankins: We moved to Laney in ’76 and I retired in 1994. Now Ken McLauren left before that. He didn't stay, I forget how many years, but we opened Laney with Ken McLauren.

Cody: Where is he now?

Hankins: The last time I talked with him, he was in South Carolina and still working. He has retired I don’t know how many times (laughter). There was a sense of belonging there and a sense of recreating your own. It makes a difference when you feel like I’m here. I’m supposed to be here. After a period of time, our students who went to Hoggard got that feeling, but it took a while. I’m sure you felt very out of place.

Cody: And then you graduated the next year, right?

Johnson: Yes.

Cody: So you really didn't have time to get acclimated.

Johnson: No! I realized I only needed English and government to graduate and I talked my parents into letting me get a job so I would only have to stay there a half-day. I went in at 8:30 and by 12:15, I was out. I was at class meeting not too long ago with some students that had gone to New Hanover High School and they were talking about their experience and that’s exactly what they said. They realized all they needed was a few subjects to graduate.

Hankins: So they just wanted to take those few subjects and leave.

Johnson: Right.

Hankins: Well, we had that experience and that went on for four or five years. That was the trend. I’ll come here to get just what I need and I’m out the door.

Cody: Right, this is not part of my life like Williston.

Hankins: No, and they couldn’t get the kids to take part in extra activities. They felt left out and just couldn’t do it. The music, the chorus, the band, a few did go into athletics and I think it was because of the people. Coach Corbin was there. He just passed. He helped to pull some in and we had a couple of other teachers from Williston who had been in the athletic arena and they helped to pull some in, but by in large our kids went there for the first few years, tow or three years, they took what they needed for graduation and I don’t think I ever saw such a group of kids wanting to go to work (laughter), but that was the way to get out. It’s like Joyce said, she only needed two.

Johnson: And I think I had to take two others, two electives. One happened to be typing that I think the first six weeks I failed the typing class. I had been typing at my church for years so that’s how I met Mrs. Marks ‘cause I went to a guidance counselor and I told her, I could see me flunking anything else but typing. I typed for years and so she went in and talked to the teacher. I had no more problems after that.

Hankins: We had quite a few problems like that. (New tape – starts here) Many bent over to help us. As I said many of them felt the same way. We had not been acclimated for that. Several of those teachers really went out of their way to help us or make us feel more comfortable; I’ll put it that way. It was a definitely a strain going every morning realizing…what’s today going to hold and really we had some doosies for days. You never really knew what to expect.

If a parent was going to come and bang at your door and maybe a student got a little out of hand. Sometimes you had to take a second thought before you chastised or attempted to discipline because let’s face it, I had my own methods when I was at Williston. I knew my limits. I knew what I could do, but when I got over there, I knew absolutely nothing. You have a kid come up to you and tell you that, “My daddy is going to blah blah blah.”

Or if a parent would call you at night. Boy! We had some doosies I kid you not, and you have to be professional. You want to scream as loud as you can, but you cannot do that. It was a pressure, it was a kind of pressure that I really can’t even explain it to you, but you had to do it. You did it with a smile, you didn't want to, but you did it with a smile. You disciplined in the fairest manner you knew not really knowing what you could do and what you couldn’t do.

Cody: Right, you were pushing boundaries whether you liked it or not.

Hankins: You were walking on eggshells the whole time, very careful of what you say and how you say it because I might say one thing and might offend my little black student over here while you’re talking…you know, it really wasn’t the most pleasant experience.

Cody: No, I bet not.

Hankins: But you know I’ve taken a lot away from those experiences. They have taught me quite a bit, things that I never would have gotten in any professor’s classroom, that’s true. I’m sure the students went through that, got lifelong learning experiences that have become very beneficial. I taught me that I could really be a tolerant person. I didn't think I could do that. I could really, really hold my temper, didn’t think I could do that.

Cody: Right, that was a challenge.

Hankins: I could really bite my tongue before I yelled at somebody and I learned how to choose words very carefully to let you know you had hurt me, but I am going to be professional about it. I had to learn how to choose those words and how to say them. They taught me that. To this day, it’s been a most beneficial experience (laughter). Would not go through it again, but it was definitely a learning experience.

Cody: You talked early on about the values and really, yeah, the values that Williston taught the students. Did any of that, how did that carry over into the integrated experience?

Hankins: We tried to carry that over into an integrated experience, but I learned very quickly that values differed. I learned certain values at home. Those were reiterated at church. By the time I got to school, that meant that teacher didn’t have to do a lot because I was already there. You’re not going to lie in my house, you’re not going to swear, you are not going to steal anything. If you wanted something I’ve got, you ask me, those kinds of things.

And you’re going to respect that lady next to you. They are your elders and you will address them as such. This is where we got into the habit of Miss this, Mrs. that, whatever. It was sort of a carryover. I learned when I got into I call it the ‘other world’ that many of the values that we tried to instill into our students were not necessarily the same values that other students were taught.

Maybe not a clash as such, but they did look at it as that’s not important. It was nothing for a student to call the teacher by their first name and that kind of thing and I was appalled.

Cody: Without the Miss or Mrs. in front of it.

Hankins: Right, not the proper title or you would address an older person by name. Those are the kinds of things I didn't learn, I didn't teach my students. I expected the students to absorb what they had learned and pass it on. I found that many of the religious values that we had and we were taught were not necessarily as important to other people. Then you soon learned to sort of curtail or sort of step back on certain things.

That was a lesson that I had to learn. I had to acclimate myself to that because that didn't happen in my little world. You were Miss Johnson every time I saw you regardless to how well…I was just taught that. You addressed people in a certain way.

Cody: That’s sort of the conventions of respectful behavior.

Hankins: This is true and that was one of the things, I still have not accepted a whole lot of it (laughter). I walk into a doctor’s office and his receptionist, “What is your name”, well she’s about 17 and I’m old enough to be her grandmother. I have not really gotten that far into it. I’ve had to deal with it and learn how to accept that. Yeah, you’re right, we were taught certain values. Those things were instilled in us and we attempted to pass those things on to our students because it was just a way of life. It wasn’t the same way in the ‘other world’ as I discovered and I had to learn how to deal with it.

Johnson: Were you ever questioned by a student about any coursework that you had given?

Hankins: Oh yes, questioned by students, by parents and even challenged. I’d go as far as to say that as if to imply that perhaps I was not qualified to teach certain things or to say certain things. I most certainly had been challenged. At first it upset me naturally being there. After I put it all in proper perspective, they are doing what they were taught. They’re living what they have learned.

When I say they, I mean the ‘other world,’ whites were taught that blacks were automatically inferior. They grew up that way so if you grew up with that in your mind, then you are going to question whether or not I am qualified to do what I’m doing so you have to leap over that part of it also while still maintaining, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve always loved to teach grammar. That’s been my favorite.

I deal with the literature, but my favorite is teaching grammar. I think I know 99 and a half percent. Many times I’ve had parents and students to challenge that particular thinking. It can be very tricky, very tricky. Quite often if I quote something or whatever, how did you know that, this kind of thing. And again I had to look at the total picture. Many times parents questioning or even students questioning really didn't mean it in a derogatory manner, but it was the way that they grew up. It was instilled in them.

Cody: Right, you were a challenge to their expectations.

Hankins: They had to readjust.

Cody: Yeah, Williston had Latin and languages and algebra.

Hankins: I took two years of Latin that was a requirement. I thank God for that Latin because when I went to school and majored in English, that was my salvation. Of course we had the languages, strict, strict courses in that. I was laughing about home economics classes, but we were actually taught etiquette and you did it.

The young men, you should see those big old rumbling football players come in and Mrs. Green standing there with her yardstick. “Young man, pick up your feet.” So we were actually taught those things, the finer things, to learn how to do certain things and how to act in certain situations. So we were actually taught those things. Many people on the outside didn't see it that way because you’re not supposed to know what fork to use, you’re not supposed to know how to go in and sit down like a lady. But we were actually taught those things.

Johnson: Charm and poise.

Cody: They don’t teach that in school anymore.

Hankins: No kidding, don’t even touch it. My granddaughter was laughing, “Grandma, you taught us to say yes ma-am.” We were taught how to enter a room properly and how to sit. I would show her. I would say, did anybody ever teach you that? She’d say nobody cared how I sit down (laughter). That’s why I say, I’ll teach you how to do that.

Johnson: I do that now too and I have one granddaughter that says, “I know, sit like a lady.”

Cody: But if you’re uncomfortable situation and you know at least how to hold yourself, at least you’ve got that.

Hankins: She’ll say, “Oh, I know grandma, sound like you’re intelligent” (laughter). My grandson loves to call me up and say, “Hey grandma, what’s up?” (Laughter). They laugh at me. They know there is a time to use that kind of thing, but you need to know how to talk properly and when to use whatever. Now that what’s up stuff is okay out there with your friends, but not around intelligent adults, you don’t do that. No, no, no.

Cody: They’ll thank you one day.

Hankins: My granddaughter especially, “Alright grandma, now wait a minute. We’re not in class now. Just let me tell it like it is” (laughter). Okay, as long as you’re proper. “Oh! Grandmother!” I’ve told her we actually had classes in charm and etiquette, you did, yes, we most certainly did. They don’t have time to teach that now. They don’t even teach them to use complete sentences anymore for heaven sake. We were actually given lessons in those kinds of things.

You’re right, I guess we presented challenges because we were not supposed to know these kinds of things. But it’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience over the years. It really has.

Johnson: Who else do you feel like we should talk to?

Hankins: Okay, you’ve all ready got Bert? Of the people that worked with me at Williston, I’m trying to remember who’s left. Ellen Draine taught at Williston and at Hoggard. She might do it; she’s a little shy. Let me think on this… Mrs. Harris did, but she’s not well, Ann Harris. She lives up at here Plantation Village, she taught home economics. Her husband was assistant principal, James Harris. She was at Liz’s funeral and said she wasn’t doing well. Let me check on her.

Cody: We can go out there, she doesn’t have to come here. If she’s willing to, we can go there.

Hankins: She would be a very good source and I think she’d be very willing. The first thing she’ll say is, “you know, I don’t drive anymore, they’ve taken my car.” (laughter).

Cody: We’ll take our show on the road. We’d be happy to.

Hankins: Oh call her; she would really be a very good source. I need to think.

Cody: Well if you think of anyone later, let us know.

Hankins: I’ll list a few names for you and call you. I hope this has been some help to you.

Cody: Oh, this has been great, just wonderful. This is exactly what we wanted and we appreciate your spending the time with us and coming out here.

Hankins: My pleasure.

Johnson: Thank you very much, very much.

Hankins: I love talking about Williston, the greatest school under the sun. Roaring Tigers.

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