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Interview with Louise Fulton Outler (with Crummy and Pearce), March 27, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Louise Fulton Outler (with Crummy and Pearce), March 27, 2003
March 27, 2003
Louise Fulton Outler reflects on her life experiences and her education. She was a member of the class of 1956 of Williston High School. She then attended Williston College for 1 1/2 years and Cape Fear Community College. She lived and worked in New Jersey for 20 years and now lives in Wilmington, where she works as a program aide for Elderhaus, Inc.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Outler, Louise Fulton (with Crummy; Pearce) Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Cody, Sue Date of Interview:  3/27/2003 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  27 minutes


Johnson: I’m Joyce Johnson and I’m here today to interview some Williston alumni. We have Louise Fulton Outler, Linda Pearce and William Crumy. The purpose of this interview is to capture oral history on Williston’s school as well as the Williston Alumni Association.

Interviewers: Joyce Johnson, Sue Ann Cody

Johnson: First I’d like to ask Mrs. Outler to tell me about your family. Did you grow up in Wilmington?

Outler: Yes, this is my home. I was born and raised here in Wilmington over at 6th and Grace. I went to Williston. As a matter of fact practically my whole life was spent running public schools here in Wilmington. I went from one to the other. I graduated from Williston. They had some wonderful teachers.

Cody: What year did you graduate?

Outler: I graduated in ’56.

Johnson: And Linda?

Pearce: I was born in New York and moved here as a baby and entered the public schools at the age of 5 at Peabody across town. That was the school for the north side. I lived on the south side, but one of the teachers in that school thought that I was causing my grandmother too much trouble, who was old, so she took me with her each day to Peabody. I finished Williston in 1963.

Johnson: And Mr. Crumy?

Crumy: I came from South Carolina in 1946, moved down to Thirteenth and Orange. Went to Gregory, went to Williston. I graduate from Williston in 1960. Played tennis back in the 50’s and 60’s. I was raised at a place called the Bottom down by Dr. Eaton’s residence.

Cody: So did you know Althea?

Crumy: Yes.

Cody: Did you play tennis with her?

Crumy: No, she was done in 1947 and after that I think it was Billy Wynn, Matt Jackson, Dr. Hubert Eaton, all the guys at that time.

Johnson: What did you do after graduation, Mrs. Outler?

Outler: I mostly was around here but then I moved to New Jersey. I stayed up there until 1980. We owned a dry cleaners, but we moved back here in ’80 and I’ve been back home ever since. Nothing like being at home. You can go away, but you can always come back home. I’ve done little jobs here but my best job so far has been here at Elderhouse.

Cody: And what do you do there?

Outler: I’m a program aid, but whatever needs to be done.

Johnson: Linda, after high school?

Pearce: I went to school in Durham, what was the North Carolina College in Durham; it’s now North Carolina Central University. Left there, did about a nine month stint in New York, a couple of jobs, didn't like it and ended up in D.C. where I worked at the Library of Congress for 13 years. I moved back here in ’80 and opened Elderhouse in ’81.

Cody: What did you do that the Library of Congress?

Pearce: I was more or less a proofreader, that’s a technical name. I was an English major so I was a proofreader.

Cody: And you came back here to open Elderhouse in what year?

Pearce: I came back in ’80 and opened it in ’81.

Johnson: And Mr. Crumy?

Crumy: I went to a teaching college after I graduated. I stayed a year and then I went to New York, got frustrated, went to New York and I came back here. I worked for A&P in the early 60’s.

Cody: That was the one that was at…?

Crumy: Fourth Street down there. In 1968 or 1969 I went to DuPont and I retired from DuPont in 1991.

Johnson: What were your best subjects in school?

Outler: Well, English, math, home ec…physical education. I enjoyed that.

Johnson: What about you?

Pearce: Mine were English and Spanish.

Johnson: Did you have Miss Williams?

Pearce: Yes, I did.

Outler: I think we all had Miss L. S. Williams (laughter). The “Big Wheel.”

Cody: She was the English teacher, right?

Johnson: We’ve heard a lot about her. And Mr. Crumy?

Crumy: I liked history and geography. Loved the traveling part. It was the most important part…traveling. I liked my geography.

Johnson: What about your favorite teacher or teachers?

Pearce: My favorite teacher, I had two, Mr. Floyd because I was in the band. That’s what really kept me motivated to go to school. I didn't care much about any of the rest of it, but I enjoyed the band. In order to be in the band, I had to be in school, so that kept me in school. I always admired Mrs. Howard. We’re still good friends, forever friends. She was such a classy lady and fairly strict and I needed additional help. She taught biology and was able to get it from her. She put things in place so I could see to pick them up more or less. That was her way to teach me. Those are my two favorite teachers. I loved them all.

Cody: What instrument did you play in the band?

Pearce: I ended up playing clarinet most of the time, first chair.

Crumy: I heard that…favorite teacher was Mr. Millette who taught biology and Miss Keith, Jane Keith, she was a history teacher. I had one more, Mr. Lowe. He kind of gave us the cohesion to keep us together. A lot of times we were frustrated and wanted to leave and he always said there was a purpose and you are somebody. He always was trying to keep us in school because at the time, sometimes you’d get frustrated and leave and he made sure that you stayed focused.

Outler: Miss O’Dell, I really liked her not only because of the Glee Club, but she would keep us in line. You had to be in music, signing right. I enjoyed her. And Miss Williams because English, we had to have that English and she made sure that you had your English or you didn't pass and it made me study that much harder…that English.

Johnson: Now were any of you a member of the social clubs there? People we’ve interviewed talked about social clubs at Williston.

Crumy: Was it YPD by Miss B.B. Leonard? I think she was one of the oldest teachers at that time. It was a social club. It would bring us together. That was what it was about, always trying to bring the kids together. I think if I’m not mistaken she was the oldest teacher at that time. She retired after fifty years.

Johnson: Field trips? Did you have field trips?

Outler: We had field trips. I didn't go to many of them. They would have field trips to Washington and different places. I didn't get the opportunity to go on those trips. I wish I had because I would have learned a lot. I was one of the ones that couldn’t afford it, as many of us in my family, my parents couldn’t afford it.

Johnson: Several people have talked about going to A&T day.

Crumy: We did that, went to A& T. I can remember A&T, that’s where I went. You’d spend the whole day and make a decision about where you’re going to school. We had a chance to take that trip. A lot of kids went to A&T.

Pearce: I went on band trips across the state. They were always fun. I think we went to the planetarium in Chapel Hill. It’s very vague but I can remember going. The A&T trip was the big trip, everybody went. It must have been a senior trip.

Crumy: I was a senior trip.

Pearce: I think at some point they stopped it because one of them got out of hand, and I think they stopped that.

Crumy: I think they stopped in about ’63.

Johnson: What about newspapers, were any of you part of the school newspaper?

INTERVIEWER 2: The yearbook?

Pearce: I couldn’t do anything else other than make it through school. I was not smart, so I didn’t do anything extra.

Cody: Had to work hard to make the grades.

Pearce: Oh yeah.

Crumy: I played four sports and I HAD to work. By playing four sports, that was in my neighborhood on 2nd street. When we got through playing sports we had to go to work at our job. Like I said I wasn’t an A or B student I was just a mediocre student so you had to work and study hard.

Cody: Where did you work?

Crumy: At the Mayflower.

Cody: What was that?

Crumy: That was a restaurant down on Front Street. I’d play sports and after, I think about 5:30, 6:00 and everybody worked until 12 or 1 o’clock at night so it was pretty rough. But I was determined to get the job done and I was determined I was going to play sports. My father said I couldn’t do it and I proved to him that I could do it. So that was why I was mediocre trying to get out of school and do all those things you wanted to do.

Cody: Didn’t sleep much either, did you (laughter)?

Crumy: Well, that was what I wanted to do so I was determined to do it.

Johnson: What sports did you play?

Crumy: Baseball, basketball, football and tennis.

Cody: A sport for every season.

Crumy: That’s right. (Laughter)

Johnson: Do you feel like attending Williston kept the students safe from discrimination? Any one…

Pearce: Well, we were going to Williston because of discrimination. You know the schools were segregated so it didn't keep us from it. But I don’t think we were all acutely aware of the fact that we were in a segregated society when we were in school because we were in a highly approved academic setting. I really wasn’t aware of it until I went downtown and saw the separate water fountains or traveled somewhere and saw the separate waiting rooms at the bus station. So we were there because of discrimination.

Johnson: Does anyone else have any thoughts on that? How do you feel about the closing of Williston?

Outler: Well, when I heard about it, it hurt me because Williston was a good school. If you went to Williston, you learned. Those teachers taught you, you learned. You didn't get by without having your grade average that you were supposed to have. When you left Williston, you knew what you were going out there in the world, you knew about what you wanted to do because they instilled it in you. We had teachers that instilled that attitude in you. Some of them might come in with an attitude but when those teachers were done, you had the right attitude and you did something with yourself, made something out of yourself.

But when I heard they were closing the school and all this change came about, it upset me. But I said, “Well, maybe some good will come out of it.” I’ve gone back several times just to visit to see. But it’s all changed; it’s not the same Williston.

Crumy: I think Williston should have never closed personally. I think we’ve had the vehicles behind us to keep it open, but personally I think Williston should have never closed.

Pearce: The closing of Williston was devastating in our community. We had a three-point life, church, home and school. When that school which was concentrated became deluded, we lost a good deal of our culture and we were sent to, as I often say, a foreign land where we didn't speak the language. Our culture was different and they did not want us there.

So it was a terrible thing that happened. I remember it was done quickly. I was in D.C. and it was done quickly. I don’t think, at least the general public, wasn’t aware it was going to happen the night they had the school board meeting. It was a terrible blow to us, it was a shock. I’ve often said it was like losing a member of the family.

Johnson: Do you feel that Williston would have survived as an integrated school?

Pearce: If white students had been sent to our school, they would have gotten some discipline they’d never had before. They

would have gotten methods of teaching they had never gotten before I’m sure and the support. The abstract things that our teachers did to support you and to make you want to do something, if they couldn’t have handled that then it wouldn’t have worked.

I think before long they would have all fallen in step and we would have a wonderful, the same academic qualities at an integrated school. Simple as that.

Johnson: Any other comments on that?

Pearce: If I can just say, I think it’s a moot point because I don’t think the white people would have ever let that happen.

Crumy: And that’s what bothered me at the time. I think the teacher’s hands were tied when this decision was made. They didn’t make that decision. Someone on the board made that decision. It was a thing that we didn't want to happen, but it happened so quickly. Overnight it happened and in reality, we had to deal with it. “The greatest school under the sun.”

Pearce: Yes…it was.

Johnson: If you could make a statement on Williston, just tell me what Williston meant to you? Any one…

Outler: Williston meant a lot to me. It really did. I went through Peabody, I went through Dudley and I went to Williston Junior High before I got to Williston senior high school. But Williston meant a lot. I got to do more things, I got to see more things, participate in more activities. The teachers see you trying to do and they help you do. They went out of their way to make things better for you. If you wanted to do things, they would help you. It just meant a great deal. I enjoyed going to that school. I graduated with pride. I was very proud to walk down that aisle. I’ll never forget Williston.

Crumy: I think Williston prepared me for what I have to deal with today. When I left Williston, I was prepared to go into the world. Everything they taught me I met head on. There weren’t any surprises and I could deal with it. Williston gave me something that I could take with me and today I still take it with me because I can deal with adversity. The discipline that was given to me, I can stand tall today. Thank you Williston.

Pearce: I think Williston was like a cocoon and we were all in a protected cocoon filled with warm fluid. Somebody on the Board of Education clipped that womb we were in and we all spewed forth. I think what went with us was what we had learned. I feel sorry for those who never made it to Williston.

But it made us know that we could be anything that we wanted to be. We may be second-class citizens to the government, but we were first class citizens in our minds. That’s why nothing, anything we go to do, and it’s been 35 years, this year we’ll be celebrating our 35th anniversary of the closing of Williston, anything we go to do, we do it with all of our teachers behind us. They were really the wind beneath our wings. They really were. A gale, a hurricane.

Crumy: That’s a good word.

Johnson: Are all of you members of the Williston Alumni Association?

Cody: We put you on the spot a little bit, don’t we?

Outler: No…Williston was “The greatest school under the sun,” always will be.

Pearce: What is interesting to me and I am a member, is that we have about 10 people out of all these people and all these wonderful stories. We don’t get people to come and join the organization and work with us. For whatever reason, because we’re able to do so many things now. We’re doing so many things. And people have all other things in our lives.

But to me it is really a disgrace that we don’t have a strong, and we pull together, and folks from out of town come because they missed Williston more. We can ride by it at any time. They still love it and cry and everything, but the people here we found do not for whatever reason actively support the Williston Alumni Association and it desperately needs help.

Johnson: You’re an officer?

Pearce: Yes.

Johnson: What office do you hold?

Pearce: Business manager.

Cody: That’s a tough job. (Laughter)

Johnson: Several people that we talked with talked about notables that attended while they were in school such as Althea Gibson, Jimmy Heath, I know that was before your times, but were there any notables that you can think of other than yourselves?

Cody: Or people that came back to visit the school while you were there.

Outler: I met Will Inmans...somebody else, Sam Bowens.

Pearce: I had a general, a brigadier general in my class, Reginald Clemmons so he is one we’re proud of. Herman Hudson was still a baseball player during my day and part of the 8th Street Center is named after Herman. We’ve had lots of people do lots of things …I don’t know how noteworthy they would be. There are elected officials all over the country and they come back. We all come back the 4th of July and we get to see who everybody is and what they’re doing because we don’t always know. One is on the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina who was in the class of ’66, Linda Upperman Smith.

Crumy: We had guys like Ernest Ford who came through Williston.

Pearce: He’s a judge in the Superior Court, class of ’62. A lot of attorneys who came back, Terry Richards and P.A Greer. They were in the Class of ’62.

Crumy: We had a lot of great athletes. We had Billy Wynn, he didn't get much publicity but he was one of the greatest athletes that ever came to Williston. I think he died last year. He was in the category with Althea Gibson. He was a great guy.

Cody: I’m sorry we missed talking to him. We appreciate your coming in.

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

Pearce: It would be good to talk to somebody from the last class, to get a feel for it. There are a couple of people around because they were literally graduated one day and not long after that it was over. Winston Price, I know him because he’s my cousin. A good person to talk to…you mean a student… I always send people to George Jones because George had a big picture with the school and the part that the teachers all played in the demonstrations that we had. So I always send people to George and Anthony because they did that. Linda Upperman Smith would be an excellent person; Carl Brown is a good one who is at Cape Fear Community College.

Cody: Those are all good names.

Johnson: Now were you part of the Glee Club?

Outler: No, just in the band.

Cody: But you (Pearce) were in the Glee Club?

Pearce: Yes.

Cody: And you (Outler) toured the state.

Outler: We went to different places. We were one of the best groups around. We won prizes, awards, trophies; it was a lot of fun. I can’t remember everywhere we went. Miss Odell was a wonderful teacher and I still see her once in a while. She still tries to get me to join the choir, the alumni choir, but I don’t have transportation or I would be right there.

Johnson: So both the Glee Club and the band participated in competitions. Black schools?

Pearce: Blacks schools, we were a 4A school so we competed against other 4A schools, Hillside in Durham, Ligon in Raleigh.

Johnson: So now when you were in the band, did you participate in the (Azalea) festival?

Outler: Yes, we were always in the Azalea Festival. Our buffs had to be polished clean and white. Buffs with oranges soles, you couldn’t leave any white paint. He never let us shake our butts, if you will. We would do the little “cutting up” that he let us do down in front of the post office at the Azalea Festival. Then the people would follow us. We’d have half of the community following us.

Pearce: I’m in the Rotary now with guys that were at New Hanover that would talk about how they were always jealous of Williston’s fame especially at the Azalea Festival. It was a good experience. We sold candy all year and Christmas trees to get money for uniforms.

Johnson: Is there anything else anyone would like to talk about?

Pearce: Not especially, we just appreciate the opportunity to…we’re very aware of the fact that the youngest Willistonian now is about 53 and we are aware of the fact that in 50 years none of us will be here so we’re aware of that and always glad to get anything down on tape that can be used as a historical document.

The Wilmington Foundation, they did a box that they buried at Bellamy Mansion and we’ve got information in there about Williston. It will be opened in 2050. So I’ll be there to read the information (laughter).

Cody: We hope you are. And you have the room dedicated at the Cape Fear Museum as well. We’re trying to help keep that memory alive too.

Pearce: We appreciate that!

Johnson: Thank you all very much.

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