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Interview with Inez Richardson, April 3, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Inez Richardson, April 3, 2003
April 3, 2003
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Interviewee:  Richardson, Inez Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Sue Cody Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  Williston High School Length  40 minutes


Johnson: Good afternoon. My name is Joyce Johnson and I’m here to interview with Inez Richardson who graduated from Williston and not only did she graduate, she became assistant principal at Williston Junior High and went on to become a principal.

Interviewer – Joyce Johnson

Interviewer 2 – Sue Cody

Johnson: We’re glad to have you here Ms. Richardson.

Richardson: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Johnson: The overall purpose of this interview is to capture the oral history of Williston. We realized several months ago that we really did not have a lot or any information on Williston and we wanted to rectify that. My first question is to ask you to tell me something about your early life in Wilmington. Were you born in Wilmington?

Richardson: Yes, I’m a native Wilmingtonian and I had the pleasure of going to Gregory, which at that time was an elementary school. From there we moved over to Williston and at that time Williston began with the sixth grade and ran from six to 12 all in one building; however, the sixth graders were on the ground floor and the high school was upstairs. A main floor and an upper floor.

Johnson: And what did you do after graduation?

Richardson: Upon graduation from Williston, I went to Winston-Salem State University. I did get a scholarship however to Bennett College upon graduation, but the cost of going to Bennett exceeded my parents’ financial situation so I was able to get another scholarship to Winston-Salem which was much more in their range.

After having taught, completing my work at Winston-Salem under Mr. Rogers who was the principal at Williston, I was rehired to come back to Williston to work under him as a principal and that made me also work along beside another person who taught me when I was a student there so it was quite an interesting experience time and quite a challenge also.

Johnson: Tell me about your years at Williston.

Richardson: Williston carries with many exciting years for me. I enjoyed all of my years at Williston. I enjoyed the teachers there and I think the thing that makes you most enjoy the teachers is the fact that they were so concerned about your getting what was called a good education. They produced students with that kind of an education. We were able to do lots of extra things, things that our families couldn’t do for us, the teachers at school provided for us.

Johnson: Such as?

Richardson: We had field trips and then we had all kinds of clubs at school that provided social skills and educational clubs, High-Y Club, which was one especially for boys. We had a Crown and Scepter club which was for students who were academically, had done well and that was a statewide club.

Johnson: What were your best subjects in school?

Richardson: I guess my best subjects were the language arts. Those were the ones that I loved the most and that’s where I started my teaching experience, in teaching language arts in the 7th grade, the reading, the writing and spelling (laughter).

Johnson: Now you said you also became a principal. How long did you teach before that?

Richardson: I taught for about 18 years in the 7th, 8th or 9th grades because in the 9th grade, they had discovered that there were children who weren’t able to move as fast as others so I had the pleasure of helping them. It was really a pleasure to work with those students because they really wanted to learn. That I think is a problem today with students and teachers in school. The students are not motivated to want to learn and when a student wants to learn, you’ve got to give them your best.

Well after about 18 years in the classroom, I continued to go back to school in the summers in between. I did work leading to counseling and I became a counselor at Williston. At that time S. J. Howey was the principal. That was before counseling was really there. He called it Dean of Boys and Dean of Girls. I was the Dean of Girls and Buddy Hatcher, Edward Hatcher was the Dean of Boys.

We met with all of the students in small groups, not just students who were problem students. We met with all of the students. They had an opportunity to meet with the counselor. We discussed all kinds of things of interest to them. So every child got the benefit of having a counselor.

Johnson: What about your favorite teachers or a special teacher or teachers?

Richardson: Well, Joyce I think you knew one of my special teachers, Ivey McKeever. She was my 5th grade teacher and I think really she was the person who motivated or made me want to become a teacher. She was an ideal person as you probably remember. She was a member of our church so that’s how we had the contact with her. When you saw a teacher in the classroom and then saw them out of the classroom as a real person, it made it real meaningful for you.

Johnson: Were there any others?

Richardson: Well, you enjoyed your high school teachers because you thought you were kind of grown up then when you got to high school. They extended to you lots of privileges and courtesies because of your rating in school. Then by being a member of the Crown and Scepter Club, you got to be involved in a lot of extracurricular activities.

Johnson: Now many of the persons that we interviewed talked about the band, the Glee Club. Were you …?

Richardson: I was not fortunate enough to be in the band, but I did enjoy being in the Glee Club. The first person that I remember as a director of the Glee Club was Mr. Rudolph Weber. He had a Glee Club. Following Mr. Weber as a director, we had James Thompson and then after James Thompson came Mrs. Odell. James Thompson organized a very outstanding Glee Club.

They traveled. They went to New York for concerts and I happened to be lucky enough to be one of the chaperones (laughter). Then when Mrs. Odell came, she continued, but the travel with the Glee Club actually started with Mr. Thompson.

Johnson: Going back to clubs, you said you were a member of Crown and Scepter. Was that a social club or an academic club?

Richardson: It was based on academics, but we did have some social activities.

Johnson: Were you a member of any of the other clubs?

Richardson: No, that and the Glee Club were the only two that I was a member of. I always enjoyed singing.

Cody: Do you still sing in the church choir or anything?

Richardson: I don’t sing in the choir at this time, but I do enjoy singing. Quite often the choir sings selections that I know, so I help them (laughter).

Johnson: Were there any notable graduates in school with you? Some of the people talked about Jimmy Heath as a jazz musician or some that have gone on in athletics.

Richardson: Most of the persons that have become outstanding in that way came out of school after I did. Many of the persons that I graduated with or were in school did well, but they did not achieve in sports or drama or anything of that kind.

Cody: I don’t think we asked you what year you graduated if you care to tell.

Richardson: Oh, I don’t mind, 1937. That’s my year. In fact, I’m still wearing my class ring and I wear it every day. It’s almost worn out, but that’s it (laughter).

Johnson: That’s great, that’s a first. I don’t think anyone was wearing their class ring (laughter). We are trying to talk to as many persons as we possibly can. Do you have any suggestions on persons that we should talk to?

Richardson: Maybe talk with Harry Williams.

Johnson: He’s coming in.

Richardson: Lydia Howey is not a graduate, but she taught at Williston.

Cody: What did she teach, do you recall?

Richardson: She was a science teacher.

Cody: Great! And she lives here in Wilmington still?

Richardson: Yes. Now Claude Blair taught at Williston in fact he came to Williston as a teacher when he first came to Wilmington.

Johnson: He taught me biology.

Cody: We’ve mostly talked with graduates and we’re getting ready to focus on teachers. So you fit that too, you wear two hats.

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

Richardson: The closing of Williston, you have mixed feelings because it helped in a way, but we feel that we have lost some things that we haven’t been able to regain yet. See Williston was a community school. Many of the people in the community looked forward to going to activities held at the school. It was a cultural center in the community.

I remember so well graduation, persons dressed to go to graduation, to baccalaureate Sunday and to graduation exercises. Many of these people were not graduates themselves, but they valued education and they supported persons who were in school by being present at their activities. The idea of not having what we called baccalaureate Sunday has changed. Now that was more or less a religious service.

It was always held on a Sunday before graduation. A minister was the speaker. It was a short service, but you wore your robe and you got a chance to march so that gave you two opportunities to march because your second time would be on commencement or graduation when you received your diploma.

Johnson: Now was that also held at school – the baccalaureates?

Richardson: The baccalaureates were held at the school auditorium. So was graduation. Unfortunately the school burned in 1936, as you probably know. So our graduation was not at Williston. Our baccalaureate was at St. Stephen’s Church because it was the larger church in the area. Our commencement was at Thalian Hall that year. Now by ’38, the school had been rebuilt so they were back to having their activities there.

Johnson: Now was that a disappointment for you?

Richardson: Well yes because we had sort of looked forward to it, but having it at Thalian Hall made up for that.

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

Richardson: I think it probably would have. It would have taken a lot to have kept it together and to have provided for the children the same kind of education that was being given to students in other schools. Part of the problem is at that time it was separate, but not equal. Because of that, I think that a lot would have had to gone into getting it to be equal.

But in spite of the fact that many of the opportunities were not available, Williston produced outstanding students. Whenever they went to a college, you could always tell a Williston student. Whenever you said you were a graduate of Williston, they expected something out of you.

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

Richardson: I don’t know that I think it protected them. It did not expose them to a lot that is needed to make the world complete today. You see many of the opportunities that were not available for the students at Williston were available at other institutions in the city. But having a chance to merge the two schools sort of brought that together; however, we did lose some of the closeness than went along because Williston was like a family school. Everybody knew everybody.

Cody: And cared about everybody.

Richardson: And cared about everybody. I think the caring part was the most important part because students really knew that the teachers cared about them and wanted them to do well and insisted that they do well. For the most part, parents were very, very cooperate.

You did not have the problems you have with students now because once parents knew that things were a little bit out of line, they helped to get them straight. That made a world of difference. I think that’s one of the things that kept me in the profession as long as I did is because you didn't run into problems.

Johnson: Now the Williston Alumni Association, are you a member?

Richardson: I am not an active member of the Alumni Association.

Johnson: But I know that you did participate…

Richardson: Oh yes, when they have their homecomings or alumni day or whatever they have down at the Coastline Convention Center and when they have various activities, I either attend or support, but not an active member of the association. Until very recently, the members of my class have gotten together and we don’t do much other than fellowship and socialize, but it’s just good to get together and reminisce about what did happen when we were at Williston and to encourage those who are not as well as others of us.

Some of us have a little bit more health than others, but we go around and pick them up and they call come together and we enjoy each other.

Johnson: Now as a teacher, educator at Williston and then as a principal at another school after the integration, did you see a difference in the way things were taught – you know, when you were at Williston, was the teaching different than it was?

Richardson: I don’t know that I’d say that the teaching was different. I think that maybe the attitudes of teachers and students may have been different. The subject matter presented was the same. I had the experience of going to Noble School as an assistant principal. That was my first job away from Williston. When Noble opened the superintendent asked if I would go to Noble as the assistant principal.

At that time Robert Moore, who’s also retired, was a principal. I had not met him and he had not met me, but we enjoyed two wonderful years there together. From there I went to William H. Blount School on Princess Place Drive. I was there 19 years and from there, my last five years were at Wrightsville Beach Elementary School. That’s where I retired. I was at Wrightsville during the time that hurricane Fran came and we had to close the school and they moved up to St. Mark Catholic Church. That’s where we had school for about six months while they were getting the building back in shape for us to go into it.

Johnson: Now did you do some work with the Williston room that the museum has? Didn't you do something there?

Richardson: Well not really. I made a financial contribution and the person got the chairs for the room. Then in recent…about a year ago, the museum did a program from “Williston to the World” and I did some research in getting some history about Williston together from its very beginning in 1865 and how it was named for a Mr. Williston who was a philanthropist who gave the land on which the first building was constructed. It was really interesting to do that research.

Cody: How did you go about doing that research? I mean what was your main source of information?

Richardson: I just kept reading old articles in the newspaper and books, pamphlets and things of that kind that were available. You pieced it together. You got something in this and something in that and it all came together and made a complete story.

Cody: Was that published as a booklet?

Richardson: No, it’s on a tape at the museum. It’s run several times on the local station as part of that program. They also had some persons who worked there; Bert Todd is on that tape. Carla Brown, Linda Smith, Linda Upperman Smith are on the tape.

Johnson: Could you tell us more about the Williston room? What’s in the room?

Richardson: It’s a room that it is very attractively set up that has pictures of persons who are graduates of Williston. Now I’m not sure I can tell you how they got the persons that were there, whether they were willing to give their pictures and some information, but one of the walls is named from “Williston to the World” and it goes back to the 30’s. It has pictures of persons who graduated in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and on up. Very interesting.

I remember well that Linda Pierce spearheaded the group to buy the chairs to furnish that room. People all over the community contributed. Just recently I was there for a program that was held in the Williston Room.

Cody: That’s a great monument to the school. A lot of people will come there that normally wouldn’t know about Williston.

Richardson: Right and then people who have been here for a while like to go by just to view the pictures and it was a program that they had for Mr. Herbert Howard honoring him where they had the photos and they were trying to identify some of them so they flashed them on the screen to see if anybody recognized any of the persons. Fortunately, I knew a few of them.

Johnson: And who was Mr. Howard?

Richardson: He was a photographer who just as a hobby did pictures and when he died, he had thousands of pictures. His sister gave the pictures to the museum. They were not aware of who the people were or what the activities were in many instances because there was no labeling, but the museum is trying to get that together so they gave the community an opportunity to come in and view some of them.

Cody: I think he was also an educator too, wasn’t he?

Richardson: No, he was a mail carrier.

Johnson: While you were in school at Williston because a lot of people talk about the teams and the bands, but was there competition there with bands and the athletic teams with other schools?

Richardson: Yes, they did play. The scope was not as broad as it is now, but they did have a good football team, good basketball team and they traveled. Homecoming was a big event. It was the crowning of the queen. Interestingly enough Williston has changed colors. I guess you have heard that also. The colors were at one time blue and white.

Because so many schools in the area had blue and white, they voted to change the school colors. The school colors were then maroon and gold because at the athletic activities everybody looked the same and they wanted them to look different. I don’t remember who was coaching at that time; I guess it was Frank Robinson. That was why the color changes were made. So I have some blue and white and I have some maroon and gold.

Johnson: Yes, I think we asked someone that question.

Cody: Right, they didn't know the reason.

Johnson: What about the school song, do you know why that was changed?

Richardson: I believe they said that the setting for the original song was not one that was appropriate for schools. I guess it was sort of off key, the music for the first one. But Mrs. Catherine Howe Robinson did the words for the new song.

Cody: And was she a teacher?

Richardson: Yes and James Thompson wrote the music.

Johnson: He was also a teacher?

Richardson: He was the music teacher. At the time he was at Williston, was not a graduate, but very competent in music and because he was not a college graduate, he was not able to remain on the staff; however, he went to school and ended up his career as a musician in Georgia. He was as competent a musician as you would need, but did not have the training.

Cody: That credential, yeah.

Richardson: He didn't have the credentials, but it was he that started the school to traveling with the Glee Club.

Johnson: Did they have senior day? Some people talked about senior day and they went to visit A&T?

Richardson: I don’t recall that we did that kind of visiting at that time. The privilege the seniors had was to use the front steps of the building.

Johnson: (Laughter) I remember that.

Cody: Tell me more about that, what steps did the other students use?

Johnson: The side.

Cody: So you had to be a senior, something to work for. So why did you choose Winston-Salem State University over any other colleges?

Richardson: I guess the long and short of it were financial reasons at that time. But I thoroughly enjoyed my four years there and am still active in the Winston-Salem Alumni Association.

Cody: One of our coworkers has a daughter there now, Debbie Price.

Richardson: It so happened that the president of Winston-Salem at that time and Mr. Rogers who was the principal at Williston at that time were close and that’s how I got to go to Winston-Salem. When he found out that I was not going to be able to accept the scholarship to Bennett, he interceded to make arrangements for me to be able to go Winston-Salem.

Johnson: Is there anything else that you would like to talk to us about concerning Williston?

Richardson: Well it was the ‘Greatest school under the sun” (laughter).

Cody: Now who coined that term?

Richardson: It’s part of the words of the school song.

Cody: Right, everybody says that (laughter). Well, it’s certainly something everybody has remembered and believes.

Johnson: We were talking earlier about students that have gone to Governor’s School.

Richardson: There was a school in Winston-Salem not connected with the college at all that was called the North Carolina Advancement School. At that time it was just at the very beginning of integration and they were beginning to pull together boys from all over the state from both races and have them in a school setting, a boarding school setting. The counselors were asked to recommend students and fortunately I was able to convince some parents to let their sons go.

One of the young men that attended, I’m most proud of because he is at this point assistant superintendent of schools in Arlington, Virginia.

Cody: Great, well that was unusual for them to have integration.

Richardson: Yes, at that time, it was the very beginning and quite a number of parents were reluctant to allow their children to go of both groups because it was a new experience. I remember having talked to very hard with the parents to get them to say yes, that their son could go.

After that experience with those two, the second year we were able to get a larger number to be able to go. That group did very well. One of the things that they rewarded each student with by points was a jacket. If they earned points for academic reasons or for any other activity, upon graduation they were given a jacket.

I had eight boys then, when I say I, they were eight boys from Williston there at one time and all of them earned jackets. I have a picture that was taken of the eight of them when they came back to Williston Junior High. We had them in an assembly to tell the students about their experiences there and the kinds of things that they did.

Johnson: So you’ve kept a lot of the information concerning Williston.

Richardson: Yes, I’m a pack rat (laughter). So I hold on to things. You know I just like to review them now and then and I do the same thing with church things, Joyce.

Johnson: Very good, someone has to do it (laughter). In a closing statement, what does Williston mean to you? When you hear that word Williston, what does it mean?

Richardson: Williston, just the word Williston stirs a person because Williston meant so much to the persons who were there. Everybody was somebody. Even now when you hear the word Williston, it just moves you in a way that another word would not. Quite often, I remember an experience I had at a bus station in New York City.

I saw a young man, I did not know his name, but I knew he was from Williston. I just walked up to him and said, “Williston” and we started a conversation right there. He was actually the person that I thought he was. You can just spot a Williston graduate (laughter). They stand out.

Johnson: Now was he a former student of yours?

Richardson: Yes, he WAS a former student.

Johnson: Do you see many of your former students?

Richardson: Yes I do. Quite often they say, “Aren’t you Miss Richardson?” Because I think they think that everybody that came along then is long gone (laughter).

Many of them have unfortunately. Well, I’m still around and proud of it.

Johnson: And very active (laughter). Well I’d like to thank you for coming today and sharing your wonderful stories on Williston.

Richardson: Well I’m sure there’s something that we haven’t thought about, but if you think of anything else that you want to know, feel free to give me a call. You can catch me at home sometimes (laughter). It’s been an enjoyable experience.

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