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Interview with Bernard Robinson, March 8, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Bernard Robinson, March 8, 2004
Date:
March 8, 2004
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Robinson, Bernard Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview:  3/8/2004 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  60 minutes

 

Johnson: We’re here today to interview Mr. Bernard Robinson, who is an alumnus of Williston Senior High School and we thank you for allowing us to come and interview you today. The purpose of this is to get an oral history on Williston. We’ve had persons that came to Randall Library to get information on Williston and we didn’t have anything, so I thought this was a good project and have been working on it for a little over a year now. First I’d like you to tell me something about your…your family…early family life. Where you attended elementary school and so on.

Robinson: I started school at a little private school on Seventh and Red Cross. It was called…Ms. Perkins…it was a private school. And I went there and after I went to Ms. Perkins, I was sent to Peabody school where I didn’t go to the first grade; I went straight to the second grade. And I went from Peabody…from elementary…from second grade to the fourth grade, then I went to James B. Dudley. All this was on the North side of town.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: And I went to Dudley School and that was on the corner of Sixth and between Bladen and Harnett…which I lived five fifteen Bladen, so I lived on the corner.

Johnson: Oh, okay.

Robinson: So I was never late to school. And after than the big thing was to walk across town, which we had to pass by New Hanover High to get to Williston Junior High School. I went to junior high school from seventh to ninth and then I went to Williston from ten to twelve. And I graduated and I left there and went to New York City.

Johnson: Now did you have any siblings in school with you?

Robinson: No, I was an only child.

Johnson: Okay, okay. Let’s talk about your days at…at Williston. What was a typical day at Williston Senior High School?

Robinson: Okay, a typical day…at Williston Senior High School?

Johnson: Yes.

Robinson: Okay, a typical day…when you first got to school, everybody hung out in the gym and you…when the bell rang you went to you…your homeroom class. That’s where you checked in. From there you went into your first class. You took…well they took roll call in your homeroom class, and then you…you dispersed out into the school where you went to your first hour class. After you did your first three hours of the day, it was lunchtime. And then you would go to either Gregory or…junior high school…or you went to the snack bar in Williston, but Williston didn’t have a cafeteria, so you had to bring something from those other schools to eat…eat a lunch…so they didn’t have a cafeteria.

At lunchtime…you had one hour I think it was…one hour where you could just mingle and do your homework. You didn’t have…you stayed in the gym or you could go outside. You had freedom. You couldn’t leave the campus to go up to Castle Street, so we had to stay…mingle right in within the confines of the high school. And on a rainy day they graciously had music where you could dance and enjoy yourself, so everybody loved…not that you looked forward for it to rain, but you knew you still had something to do when it did rain, and that was nice, and you know, it’s what we did.

And it was really nice, because in junior high school they had the greatest honey buns…rolls that you know, you…you…you couldn’t wait for school to get out so you could go and get the buns…they were the most…they were so delicious everybody like ran out to try to get ‘em and when they gave out that was it. And the bread pudding was real nice. We did that. After that you just go home. You walk across town and that was it.

Johnson: Now several persons that I’ve interviewed talked about social clubs. Were you a part of any of the social clubs?

Robinson: I was with the Junior Aristocrats but they didn’t accept me and then I went to ah…ah…the ah…the Gaylords which I…I was in, but I wasn’t big on clubs, you know.

Johnson: Right. Tell us about…what…what did you do in the Gaylords?

Robinson: Well, it just…it was just a social club, you know, it was a club where they…they dress for the games and it was really…it was very…it looked very nice, you know. You had your little red jackets on, you had the white jackets…the Aristocrats had…you know, it just was a thing…you went to the games and it was very, very nice, you know, it was…it’s just something to do. It was…it looked very nice and…

Johnson: Now, did you just participate…was that club just something you did in school, or did they do anything after school?

Robinson: No, they didn’t…no.

Johnson: Just in school?

Robinson: Yea.

Johnson: Tell me about your favorite subjects.

Robinson: My favorite subject, believe it or not, I wanted to be a school…an elementary school teacher, but at that time with my…I lived with my grandmother…so at that time, having…to go to college was like, you talked about it, but you just talked about it. It wasn’t a thing whereas you knew you were going and scholarships were unheard of and the first…back to question asked…I loved English and…English I loved, and government. Mr. Lowe was a teacher there, and he would give us different things about how government was and how it was formed and who was at the top of the…who…under that…how you…you got goods…how goods were established as far as demand and how they…just how things worked in the…in the real…real world.

Johnson: Right. So was Mr. Lowe one of your favorite teachers, you would say?

Robinson: Yea, he was, he was the favorite one. He was very good and he always…I remember he always used to say about…that…that water thing down there at Market Street and Fifth Street…

Johnson: Right, the water fountain…

Robinson: He said he couldn’t understand why they left it there…he said you’d kill yourself getting around it. He was old, and he…he just started driving; he said you’d kill yourself getting around there in the street. But he was very…he was very good.

Johnson: Right. And you said English. Who was your favorite English teacher?

Robinson: Ms…it was two…it was Ms. Newsome, and Ms. Hankins. She was…she was very strict, Ms. Hankins…Alethia Hankins.

Johnson: Yes, I had her too.

Robinson: Yea, so, she was…she was very strict and you had to get it other wise...

Johnson: Now, did you participate in the band or glee club?

Robinson: I was in the glee club with Ms. O’Dell, yea.

Johnson: Oh, okay. Tell us about that.

Robinson: Well, it was a thing where I just was in the glee club and I liked to sing at that time. You know, it just…was in mass that…I was sitting one day, when I was in junior high school, and I heard when you go there and I said, “I’d like to do that.” And that’s what I did. She would always put me with first tenor because, I don’t know, my voice…I would like to be in the soprano…but anyway…it was real nice, it really was.

Johnson: Now some persons have told us that…that the glee club competed with other schools?

Robinson: With other schools, yea, yea!

Johnson: What other schools?

Robinson: Schools in different…like in Fayetteville, and all around…you know, different schools out of…out of the county. Different county schools.

Johnson: And you said after graduation you moved to New York.

Robinson: Yes.

Johnson: Tell us about New York.

Robinson: New York…oh man!…you know, and…New York…I thought New York was my…my coming out. You know what I mean? Believe it or not at one time I was very…when I left I was very bashful. You know, I…I know it doesn’t appear to be that way.

Johnson: That’s hard to believe! (laughing)

Robinson: Yea, I was very…I was very bashful and just getting on the train and…and doing things…but I find that I was intimidated when I went for jobs in New York, because when you sit in a room to take a test, you’ve got all nationalities and this never happened to me before.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: You know, normally it’s all…all black folk.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: Now here it is…I’m competing with everybody and I’m intimidated, instead of me trying to see what I’ve got to do, I’m trying to…you know, I don’t know what’s going on over here and over there. And consequently the first couple jobs I went for, I didn’t get, because I’m so busy looking around trying to see if time is up, you know, and so I didn’t. And I told my uncle about what I was experiencing as far as…he’s a New Yorker, he married my aunt, but he was a New Yorker.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: And he said…he said, when you go in there, everybody’s trying to get it, so just go in and do what you got to do. Nobody’s smarter than nobody. Just go ahead and take the test. So the next test I did, and I worked for a place called Miller Wall and I…that was a test for mail clerk, which they don’t have down here…you gotta make the post office. And I took that test, and after that we’d work and I would meet people and start going…and learning New York City.

So it was…really, you know…I couldn’t go in the bars or anything like that, but we got a chance to do little discos and do a little thing to meet people and learn different dances and you know, talk to people. At that time it was a big thing to go to City College, you know, it was a good thing. All…everybody went to City College, so…we did that…so you know…stuff…doing things. Enjoyed myself.

Johnson: Back to…to Williston, some people that I’ve talked to, talked about senior day at A & T. Now when you were in school, did your senior class go A & T?

Robinson: No…yea, some, but you know, they…see…Williston, they picked and choosed a lot. You know what I mean? And…and at the time…I wouldn’t…even if they had chose me, I couldn’t have come. Monies was a problem at that time. You couldn’t go nowhere if you don’t have money. And so it wouldn’t have been a thing, but, I understand it was a great thing. I did go…get the chance to go to Washington. They had a Washington trip…we always went every…every year, also. So, I called my aunts and them and they made sure that I made that one because that was…they knew that it was a…a tradition that everybody did, so, they thought would’ve been nice…they thought it would have been nice if I gone also. Which I did.

Johnson: And so did you enjoy that?

Robinson: Yea, that was great!

Johnson: Was that the entire senior class, or…?

Robinson: Yea. They had…they had…they had maybe four or five busses to go.

Johnson: So how many students do you feel were in the graduation class?

Robinson: Well we were…we had class meeting last night, so at that time they said it was two hundred and change of us.

Johnson: Oh okay. Okay. Now, did you…and I didn’t ask you…what year did you graduate?

Robinson: In 1964.

Johnson: 1964, okay. Did you have any notable graduates in your class? Some people that I’ve talked to said that they had some persons that had gone on in sports.

Robinson: We had…we have now a lot of…Daisy Rogers…she has a PhD. We have Jojo Johnson, he has his PhD. They…he was alumni of Fayetteville State, which unbeknowing to him, he probably won’t tell you, but, he wanted to go to A & T, and I was the one that wanted to go to Fayetteville State. And I don’t think…the grades didn’t work out. We both were accepted but he went on and I went to New York, but, he came out to do very, very well. Leroy Bellamy, he did quite well. There’s a few of them that really did quite well as far as going out, but, in the long haul I think that looking in…in…in retrospect, we all did well after a certain point.

You know, maybe you might have done, but at…there’s one thing about…a thing about life is, when you go away, you meet certain people and you do certain things. If you go where a person is going to school, and you have that personality you eventually get pushed toward that. And that’s what happened to me, you know. And I just thought that…at the…at the final stage now, that I think that they would say that I did well. You know, but, you…you just go with the flow. And I think that…I think that we all had very good…a very good foundation, that we could go as far as we wanted to go. And…that’s, like I said…

Johnson: Do you feel that Williston gave you that foundation?

Robinson: Williston…Williston did, but Williston gave me a complex too. You see, now, also within Williston, you had to be of certain color to do things. And you had to have…your parents had to have certain things. You know, like, my father…I mean, my mother worked for…in a white folk home back then. A lot of people…they were schoolteachers…and they’d more/less focus on them. Earlier, I told you about the scholarship. The reason why you didn’t hear about a scholarship because you didn’t know you could get scholarships. You know what I mean?

Only the…you hear at the end of the graduation that so-and-so got a scholarship to this place and so-and-so got a scholarship to that place. I thought that is was academic-wise that you got that. But you had got a scholarship because somebody just recommended you. If they had it out there and you were recommended, you were going to that particular school. The organization gave you money for a scholarship, you know, which you didn’t know until later.

And I think…I hope and pray…that that doesn’t go on now, but I think it still exists because that little child that’s very smart because…maybe they on the north side of town, they didn’t get that because they not from…and they discriminate against sides of towns here…if you live on the north side of town you were considered, not less, but they didn’t think that…well, like anything else, we only see what’s around us. You know what I mean. I’m not saying they were prejudice, but they didn’t see…if they didn’t see you, they didn’t do for you. So I don’t…I…at first I might have thought that…I was very angry with Williston when I left because of that, you know, and…

Johnson: So, now, were most of the teachers from the south side of town?

Robinson: Yea. And the teachers that were from the north side, you know, they…I think they were inferior too. They would always tell us, you know, “Go and do what you have to do.” You know what I mean? I mean as far as basketball, you’d have to do exceptionally well to be from the north side to play and stuff like that…and it’s…this gonna seem real strange here…do you know that all…all dark skin guys play football, light skin boys play basketball.

Johnson: Really?

Robinson: Strange. I mean, look at it, it was just…maybe it’s…it’s the make up, but that’s the way it was, you know. You may have one or two…of the other, one or two, but on the majority of the football team you didn’t find light skin fellows playing. I don’t know whether they thought they couldn’t play or they was…you know…or they wasn’t tough enough, but that’s the way it was.

Johnson: Well, you know, that’s a first. I had not heard that. I had not heard that. I was also told that several celebrities came to the school to…to visit and motivate students. Now, did you have that during the time you were in…at Williston?

Robinson: Celebrities as far as…?

Johnson: Well, I…I know these…Marion Anderson…and that…that was way before your time…Mahalia Jackson, the Harlem Globetrotters.

Robinson: Well, Meadow stayed across the street from me…on Bladen Street.

Johnson: Oh, okay.

Robinson: Yea, he…he stayed at five…518, I stayed at 515.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: So he lived across the street from me. So I…I knew him personally.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: And…I know he didn’t…the Globetrotters came, but I don’t remember ‘em coming and having a day, I mean, we would have things like science program where the guys came and told you about how cars would be in two thousand four, but you thought that was so far fetched back then, but here it is. And those cars still aren’t there, so I don’t…you know, but…

Johnson: Right. I know when I was attending school they had…you were divided into certain groups if you…it was either college preparatory, or business, or shop. Was it the same way when you were in school?

Robinson: They did divide…well…I mean, you…did you…are you saying that you picked the…where you wanted to go?

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: Oh you picked where you wanted to go?

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: No. They told you where you were going. You understand me? It wasn’t a thing where, you know, like, you take auto mechanic, or…we never had a counselor to actually say, well, you know, look at your grade scores, and say, “Well, why don’t you try this, or that, or the other, and so forth.” They didn’t…they didn’t do that.

Johnson: I don’t know if they kinda changed later…later on.

Robinson: Yea…yea…they had to. They had to.

Johnson: Okay. I need to talk to several persons. Who…who else would you suggest? Even from your class maybe.

Robinson: Well, you…you…you know…from my class…who would be…?

Johnson: I mean, not necessarily your class. I mean…I was just saying…

Robinson: Gloria Cross would be good. She was around…you know, I’m…I’m gonna give you an example of how things were.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: Okay. I was the first black arrested in this town for…for sit in demonstrations. I got arrested in Walgreens, and I was thirteen years old at…at that time. Now, they…they said I hit a white woman. Now, when she came up to me…we were sitting on the counter…they poured ammonia on the counter…and she came up behind me at the time with a sign telling me it was closed. So when the ammonia hit me, I jerked back like this…and that’s what everybody do with ammonia…

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: …and she claimed that I struck her. So that time the police came, and got me, and took me. I was the first person to go in the police station down on…Red Cross Street, before they put anybody…at that time the police station was at Third and Princess…and I was the first one in there. Now, I tell you, I…

Johnson: You were in high school then? Thirt…thirteen!

Robinson: Thirteen, I was just in junior high school.

Johnson: Junior high. Okay.

Robinson: At that time, Lisbon Berry, Floyd McKissick…all the people I’ve met…that come down. Now, at that time, being that I wasn’t, quote/unquote, a family that had a good…educated…educational background…or had a job that was, quote/unquote, they think…they thought was a good job at the time…I think that…I could have…or would have been more exposed and they’d have pushed…you know how things happen with people…and they keep on following you right through school? Never.

Johnson: Oh.

Robinson: You understand? It never did, you know, it just was, you know, one of those things. And I thought just how…you know; it wasn’t the white folk that bothered us. It wasn’t.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: It wasn’t. I never had problem with white folk in this town. It was the black folk I had problems with…it was.

Johnson: Really?

Robinson: Yes.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: Prejudice was never a thing. We had a club…I wanna tell you…we had a club, The Teen Democrats, and we used to meet at the…in the superior court down at the courthouse.

Johnson: Uh huh.

Robinson: We all got together. We was all democrats, and we was all…we was all like inte…we was all like integrated…and we all met at that time. And we discussed different ideas about how we could get together and make it better for all. And…it’s…I, I feel bad because I didn’t keep up with those people, but they were really…they opened up…I don’t know who it was that did it, but they had all these…it was young teen democrats. It was a club…we used to meet down there. And it was integrated at that time. And nobody…and I can’t…if I…I…I wonder if that could come up where who else was involved with that…could come up with that…but it was a big thing. We used to meet like once…once a month, teen democrats.

Johnson: And where would you meet?

Robinson: At…at…at…at the superior…at the superior court down there. We had…they gave us a courtroom…they gave us…let us sit at the desk and the whole nine. And we’d go down there once a month.

Johnson: Oh, I hadn’t heard about that.

Robinson: And meet…once a month. And that was very, very good.

Johnson: Where you in senior high school then?

Robinson: Yea, I was in senior high school then. Matter of fact, that was my last year in school…we did that. At that time, Dr. Wheeler was a big…he was instrumental at that time. Dr. Wheeler…I mean, he was more instrumental that Dr. Eaton, or Dr. Upperman, Dr. Rose…all those. He was…he was the man; I mean, if you had a problem, Dr. Wheeler was the person to go see. He was…lived on Fourth Street…north side.

Johnson: Right. Right.

Robinson: He was a great guy, man. You know what I mean? He was really good. He was way ahead of his time, but he was a great guy!

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

Robinson: No, they…they…they did quite well on they own doing it. They didn’t need nobody protecting us.

Johnson: Oh, okay. Are you a part of the Williston Alumni Association?

Robinson: Yes I am!

Johnson: Are you?

Robinson: I am. I am. Matter of fact, they’re having a meeting here tonight. I’m…they coming here tonight to have a meeting.

Johnson: Okay. Okay.

Robinson: You know, it’s one thing about life that I’ve learned…that if you go around being angry all the time and…and people did things because that’s the way they had to be done…you can’t continue to be angry at people, then you are just as…you are worse than they are…if you continue to be angry.

Johnson: That is true. That is true.

Robinson: You’ve got to let them know and then let them realize that “I made a mistake.” And once they do that, then you’ll see the change. And I’m not gonna waist my time getting angry for things that they didn’t…that they perceived to be…and believe it or not, they probably thought they were right in what they were doing. I’m…they…they were… “I’m gonna look out for my child…I’ve got to look out for my child.” “I want my child to exceed” and…and that’s what they want, you know, and I can understand it, but…you don’t step on somebody for somebody to get taller.

Johnson: That’s true.

Robinson: And so…

Johnson: Do you feel that more opportunities were provided for persons living on the south side, at school?

Robinson: Well, when you say opportunities, what…what do you mean…as far as…?

Johnson: Well, do you feel like students on…on the south side were tutored more, or helped with their studies, or…

Robinson: Okay. I think that the…the students on the south side of town…they were told that we were bad people on the north side of town. Because you got people right now that live on the south side of town, can’t tell you where a street is on the north side of town. And it was a small place then. But we knew people over here, and knew streets over here. Now, I’ll tell you something else about that, now they did make you feel…they…they did let you know when you’s a nice looking fellow on the north side…on the north side of town. You know that? You know how they did that?

Johnson: What?

Robinson: Because you were able to take a debutant to the debutante’s ball.

Johnson: Oh, okay.

Robinson: You understand what I mean? Now, I was a nice looking guy, so I had the opportunity to take the girl to the debutante’s ball. And anything happened that they had the…that needed an escort, I did get that. You understand what I’m saying?

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: So, if you were nice looking, you did get a chance to escort their ladies to the debutante’s ball. But as far as…they don’t want you to date them. You understand what I mean? When you date them, it was a different ballgame. It was like black and white, you had to sneak. Could you believe that?

Johnson: I know that! I know that! (laughing)

Robinson: You actually had to…it couldn’t be known in the household that you dated…

Johnson: …someone from…

Robinson: …the north side of town. Unless you played football, like Teddy Cobbs…he was allowed to go with so-and-so. I don’t want to call nobody’s name, you know, but, you know.

Johnson: Right. Right. Okay. I am aware of that part.

Robinson: Okay! All right now, all right now!

Johnson: And I’m from the south side!

Robinson: Okay! All right now! And I betcha before you started, you didn’t…you were told not to come over there.

Johnson: No, I wasn’t ever told not to…to come to the north side, but…

Robinson: You knew.

Johnson: I could not date anyone.

Robinson: There you go! Okay.

Johnson: Um hum. Even though I did.

Robinson: There it is.

Mims: This is on tape!

Johnson: Well, that’s okay! My mother knew! (laughing) Yea. That is funny, though. I mean, I…I never…I hadn’t thought about that in years, but, you know, that is true. It did happen. And it was sad that it happened within our own race, you know.

Robinson: And I…I’m telling you it happened, because this school teacher’s daughter who liked me, called me every afternoon, but I wouldn’t dare…you know, it was known that I wouldn’t…I couldn’t come by their house.

Johnson: Um hum.

Robinson: You understand what I mean?

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: And I thought that was terrible.

Johnson: You…you mentioned about the glee club, now, later…I think it was in the nineties…early nineties, Ms. O’Dell got a group of the persons that were in the glee club and they went to Washington…did you do that?

Robinson: No, I didn’t.

Johnson: You didn’t do that? Yes. I think it’s the…Williston Choral Ensemble, I think that’s what their called.

Robinson: Never heard of it.

Johnson: Okay. I don’t…you probably weren’t here then.

Robinson: No I…I wasn’t.

Johnson: Now, how long have you been back to Wilmington?

Robinson: Four years.

Johnson: Oh, that’s why. You weren’t here. And you said you’re part of the Williston Alumni Association…do you participate in what they call the mix that they usually have a Williston?

Robinson: Yes. Yes.

Johnson: Tell me about that. Tell us about…

Robinson: Well the mix is where everybody comes. Well, we had it at…it used to be around the school…we would meet over there...around the school. And that’s where all classes…they come out and, you know, and with Williston…Williston is…is…it was a very unique place as it was so…you like and you saw things, and you wanted to do things, and the people, how they did it…was professional.

How Williston actually…I don’t know whether they planned it or they knew they were doing…but with Williston it was a thing where you go out to the mix and you see people that…that graduated before you, and you wanted to just to be around to hear what they had to say and they had qualities about themselves…and you tried to meet those qualities within you and with your class…and you boast about your class…that’s what the mix is.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: Each class sells T-shirts, caps, or whatever, but you boast your class and you want them to have the…and that what the mix is all about…where you just get together and you just…you just boast about “You are from Williston.” And that was…it’s a thing unbelievable and…it’s just unbelievable how you act…did you graduate…and I’ve been to Vietnam and met guys that graduated from Williston that I didn’t know.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: And it’s a well represented…all…every place I’ve been…and…it’s well represented and the mix make you come back and you say who you saw and have the books and the signing…and everybody just come back…and everybody’s together…it’s really…it’s something that…and small town’s have that. You see, in New York, we don’t have that. Because you could live in Manhattan and nobody never see you for five or six years.

But here, you come here, and the mix is such a thing that everybody get together and everybody meet up that next…that night. And they have it planned where you…you go, you know, and like when you hear that record stepping you know that had to sit back and watch people dance and do things, you know, just nice the way they do it, you know, I mean, it’s…it’s unbelievable and how they just…things materialized.

Camaraderie that everybody have there, you know, and then…and believe me nothing was happening with…if people got together…it’s all about Williston. You know, the old people were out of it because you know, we done left there. But your mom did and your dad did…to come between what we were doing. And it think that we took it upon ourself to…to do our own thing. You know, I mean, I did it…you don’t want it…but I did it and I did it gracefully, whereas, I didn’t embarrass nobody and we did it, and to let you know that everybody is not like you say it was.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: Yea.

Johnson: Ah, you were telling me you just had a class meeting last night, so your class is organized and…

Robinson: Yea, for the fortieth ann…fortieth reunion.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: The fortieth, yea.

Johnson: And when are you going to have that?

Robinson: In November.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: November we’re going to have it. And you…I’d like for you to attend. Yea, I mean, we’re having here…we’re having a few things…we’re having a couple of things here, and we gonna have it at the lodge out by Hugh McRae park.

Johnson: Oh, okay.

Robinson: The big dance, and sit down dinner. It’s going to be really great.

Johnson: Yea, we’re getting ready for our thirty fifth.

Robinson: Okay, you…you moving!

Johnson: Yea. Tell me what…what do you do with…when your class meets?

Robinson: Well I…well, being I manage it, they don’t pay anything to…I don’t charge them anything to come here…and like, now, I’m on a…I’m on a committee where we’re having a brunch, and I’m to cook…I like to cook…I’m a…I’m…I’m making chicken parmesan and pasta, and somebody else is making meatballs and somebody’s making seafood gumbo…so it’s gonna be a real…real great…

Johnson: So that’s what you’re gonna do during the…

Robinson: Yea, we have three days of it.

Johnson: Oh, okay.

Robinson: Friday…Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We go to church. We…we have…plan a church where we go to…we take up money and give a donation to the church before, you know, we leave, and that says, “its goodbye again.”

Johnson: Now do you, with your class, do you find that most people have remained in Wilmington or have they, most of them have left Wilmington?

Robinson: Most of them have…had left. We have a few here. But you know with…with that, you still…it’s like pulling teeth trying to get ‘em to come to a meeting.

Johnson: I know.

Robinson: You know, and I think…I don’t understand that one. You know what I mean? You know, and I know that a lot of us…I…when I left school I was weighing a 190 pounds, you know, and I know I’m…I’m up now to…

Johnson: You’re larger.

Robinson: Yea, yea, so, you know, you know, and I don’t understand what…what the purpose is…why they don’t come. But we plan too, because we said that people don’t recognize who we are, so we have gotten…we gonna scan the pictures and put a picture of you…so when you…so when you do meet somebody, say, “Oh,” and it’s, “Oh yea,” you know, I mean, and let ‘em know that this is what you looked…I used to look like, but this is me now, but, you know, so…so it’s more or less of an important things that you have those put on you.

And we ordered T shirts and we have some here that some smart person got…two X’s and three X’s…I don’t know how they thought that they were gonna work that over, but anyway they got these big shirts. I don’t know who they think would get into them, so…somebody. But it’s…it’s really nice to see people come by. And each time whenever we…somebody shows up that we haven’t seen in a while.

And what’s…what’s really devastating is when you ask about somebody and they say they passed on, you know. I…you just can’t imagine that anyone is gonna pass on from that time, but…it’s…it’s just nice to see different faces and tell people about how you liked ‘em in school and didn’t know how to tell ‘em. And they liked you and they gonna tell you and all those kind of things…now, you so old, now what difference does it make. So…

Johnson: If someone asked you, what does Williston mean to you, what would you tell them?

Robinson: It means a place that gave you a good foundation, prepared you for life, and I mean prepared you for life. I mean for everything…it prepared you. And if you ever…I really think if you ever really need it…and Williston is a thing where…that people really cared, you know, what I saying…your…your…your classmates. And they actually cared about your condition and how you were doing, not about what you have or what you accomplish. It’s about you the person. And Williston…I got that from Williston.

You care about the person because money isn’t all that…means nothing…the person is it. In the final analysis, we all got to say goodbye…it’s not about the money, it’s about you individually. And they taught you to be an individual that cared and not just thinking all about you, because Williston as a whole…they let you know that. You…you’re not bigger than Williston. You’ll never be as big as Williston. You understand me?

You’ll always be a part of it, but you’ll never be as big as…and that’s what I got from that. So regardless of how it is, or what people say, you’ll never be as big…and they taught you that there is something always above you, so, try to reach the top, there’s always something up there.

Johnson: And do you still…do you still talk to…you know, several members of your…

Robinson: I talk to them all the time. I talk to ‘em all the time. I try to talk to ‘em all the time. It’s just a thing where if you like to talk, they like to talk. You know, it’s just great thing.

Johnson: Right. Right. How much time to we have?

Mims: Plenty. Forty, yea. Oh, I have a question. I know that what you’re saying about the camaraderie among…among the students, had to have been fostered by the faculty that was there…and the faculty is generally selected by the principal. Williston’s has had a long legacy of strong leadership. Who was the principal while you were attending?

Robinson: Mr. Washington.

Mims: Can you tell us a little bit about him?

Robinson: Now, Mr. Washington, he was…I thought that he was a really…a jazzy…a nice dressing guy. You know, I remember him walking, and he always…he never would have a tie clip. His tie would fly over his shoulder all the time, you know. And he would always…he would always speak to me…he was always like he was in a…in like a rush, you know, I mean, to go some place. And he was always…and he was just a nice guy. I don’t think that he actually cared about Williston but he…I mean, I mean, when I say he actually cared…not about…I mean, cared about different things, he was so busy in making you do what you had to do.

And he would…if you had a problem or something, he would always…and I got suspended from school a couple times, but he would always tell me why he had to suspend me. You know, not just, “Okay you gone,” you know, and he would always call my grandmother, and I hated that, because I said, “Man you can let me sit in the lobby?” And that was another thing he did.

It was embarrassing, when everybody saw you sitting in the lobby, they know you did something. You had to sit in the lobby on that red couch all day, and people would come by and they would know you did something. That was so embarrassing that you didn’t want to do that. And he was…he was very, very good. Very good.

Johnson: But then you didn’t do it again.

Robinson: Oh no! You don’t want to sit out there and get…everybody passing by and looking at you, you know, they couldn’t talk to you. And you had to ask if you had to go to bathroom and all this kind of thing. And you never had nobody talk back. I don’t understand where you get your talk back now, but you never talked back to a teacher or anything like that. That was a no-no. I don’t think they would’ve hurt you or nothing but you just…it’s something that you just…well at that time, I know what it was. Your parents disciplined you in front of, so you know that you didn’t want to get disciplined in front of.

Mims: Well I’ve heard others from Williston speak about, that the teachers had a very open line of communication with parents.

Robinson: Oh yea. Well, they did. They did.

Mims: Because they would see them in church. They were part of the community and it was sort of that neighborhood scenario where…

Robinson: Right. If you had a problem, they would call. I mean, that night.

Mims: Or they would see…catch ‘em and…catch you on the street somewhere.

Robinson: Yea. They would see ‘em. They would see ‘em somewhere and they would tell ‘em, you know, so-and-so did this, he did that…and they would…they would get on you. They would get on you. The ones that knew you from…I went to St. Stephens. At that time, that church was supposed to have been the church of churches. It was the oldest black…it’s still now, the oldest black church in Wilmington and a lot of people went there, teachers and everything, so…my grandmother knew everybody, so, before I got home, she would tell me everything I did the whole week. So it was real nice.

Mims: Well, off camera, we had talked a little bit about the equality among the high schools and what was your take on what was going on at New Hanover High School when you were at Williston.

Robinson: Okay, at New Hanover, they practiced…it was…they built a cinderblock wall…took some of our field, and took a cinderblock wall and put down…where they practiced on one side, but they had another place where they played their football. We had to practice and play on our same field. But they called that separate, but it was no such thing. I can look in a book and I see…we very rarely got new books.

The books had names in ‘em like…you know, we don’t have names like Marybeth, now…you know what I mean? I don’t know nobody named Marybeth. That was a minority I know, but we said, like “Who was Marybeth?” and nobody would know. And they would also say, like…like when we went to…busses were different. When they went…when their football team traveled, they traveled on busses. We traveled on school busses. You had to go on a long trip, you get a school bus, I mean a, like a nice bus, a regular bus, you know, but…the equipment was different.

We…but, at the time, you really didn’t notice that. Like, you don’t notice you’re poor, because everybody around you poor, so you don’t realize you’re poor until you go and you see things and you come back. It was really something. And…but they never stressed that. And I guess the older folk knew it, but nobody never told us that, “You shouldn’t do this because they not this.” In other words, we didn’t have activists at that time. You know, we just did what we were told and we thought it was right and we did it. So…

Mims: So no real negative experiences with the…the kids from New Hanover where they would like, do stupid things, like, I don’t know, you know, like mess up your field, or something like that.

Robinson: No, they didn’t…

Mims: Nothing negative?

Robinson: They weren’t crazy, they just…no they wouldn’t…no they…no, no, that would never…we never had that. No, no, that…that never occurred. Well, matter of fact, we used that field over there, to go through their field, to jump the wall and come in our game, you know, and stuff like that, you know…if you didn’t have money. It was…I…I can’t recall a racial incident that happened. You know, when I was…when I was in school some fellows had…had killed a white guy, that was going to school with, and it wasn’t even a racial…I mean it wasn’t a billup about that, you know what I mean?

It wasn’t that where they would come round and hurt you or…you know…somebody. You know, I would…I would be walking home at night and I know they threw eggs at me one time, but you can’t, you know, they…they just…you know, we did the same thing, you know. We…we threw at…I know it was…it was segregated so we had to sit upstairs in the Bailey…we’d throw popcorn down and ice down there, you know. So it’s…it’s about…it ends up about the same thing. You know, nobody tried to hurt nobody and those kind of things, but it happened, you know. Kids! It’s like we were kids, that’s what it was.

Mims: Well, I want to hear more about your…your ‘sit in’ experience.

Robinson: Oh!

Mims: Why were you there?

Robinson: Okay, what happened was, it…it came a time that we wanted…we got tired of going into the bus station, and going in the back and getting popcorn, going into…at that time, I don’t know whether you remember…but there used to be a place down there called Dixie Café. You had to go in the back, I mean, they had cats out there and everything, but you had to go in the back to get the food in a plate, and come back out. And it just came a time where as…where as…no more. We gonna go through the front and get what we want.

And we…at that time, we couldn’t find a church large enough to get people to come together. We had to stand outside on the hill, that’s how everybody was entrenched in doing something about this segregated situation that we were in. So we formed…and we…we formed a meeting and we were meeting like…cars would come…cars would pick us up from the churches and drive us downtown. They would put us out on Market Street. Put us out on Front Street. At that time, Front Street was two-way traffic.

Put us out around a restaurant that we were going to quote/unquote attack. And we’d go in there and we would sit…take all the seats…take every seat, and wait for somebody…a waitress or waiter to come ask us what we wanted. They never came to ask us. And they would get all panicky and everything and they would close and everybody would come pass by us and act like…but nobody ever called us the ‘N’ word. They just didn’t…wouldn’t serve us. We never got called.

You know, you would get something maybe in another restaurant. We had Woolworth down there, was on the other side of the street, of…of…of Walgreen and all these things. But we would sit there, and we would sit and wait to eat and the sad thing about it is this…if they would’ve served us, we didn’t have money to buy anyway!

Mims: Now, you’re thirteen years old doing this?

Robinson: Yes.

Mims: How did you get involved?

Robinson: Well I was…you just wanted to get involved. That’s they way this town was, you wanted to get involved. My mother worked…my grandmother worked…my grandmother raised me, as I said before…my grandmother worked for Pickert Sporting Goods, they were on the corner of Third and Market. So, my grandmother came home and she said, “Come here.” I said, “What is it mama?” She said, “Mr. Pickert told me if I didn’t stop you from going on them sit in demonstrations that I was going to lose my job.” I said, “What’s you gonna do mama?” She said, “Well, he’ll just have to fire me.

And she went back to work and that’s what it was. She was just…she was just as strong and she wanted to be in that. After I was arrested and they…they sent me home. Well, they came and picked me up…at that time it was Reverend Dickinson from…and Reverend Miller from St. Stephens…Reverend Dickinson was at First Baptist. They came and got me from downtown and took…brought me home. Reverend Dickinson was a fair complexion fellow and he had a…I remember he had a white Cadillac or something. Three days later he picked me up, and I got in the car with him.

And the lady across the street name was Queenie Daniel, she called my grandmother and said, “Viola”…said, “come home,” said “a white man just picked Bernard up and I don’t know where he’s taking him,” you know what I mean? So I…I was missing about a couple hours because I went and I told mamma, I said, “I was with Reverend Dickinson”. And then they had to get me civil right lawyers. That’s when I met Floyd McKissick, Lisbon Berry…that’s when Lisbon Berry came here…first time. And a few other lawyers…they were my lawyers.

And got down to court and they said that…very smart guys…and said they hadn’t pass the bar to practice in North Carolina, so they gave ‘em a test that day, and they passed the bar, and they represented me. My uncle went up there to ask a question and to solicit a walker, which was…and they slapped my Uncle David in the courtroom…and that’s another raucous came off. So it was one thing into another and…you don’t remember…

Mims: What year was this?

Robinson: This was in…ooh…I was thirteen…this was maybe ‘60…maybe…maybe ‘59, ‘60. Yea, and they had to subdue him and then my uncle…they arrested my uncle and they drug him out of the courtroom and then they brought me up and…and it was bound over to superior court. It was…it was really something.

Mims: What was the outcome?

Robinson: They told me that I was to never go in Walgreen’s again as long as I lived. And so I don’t know whether that’s still on the books or what, but…

Mims: Have you been recently?

Robinson: Yea, I go there all the…every time I go there I tell the people, I’m not supposed to be in here because…so I don’t know if it’s still on the books, I guess I could be arrested, I don’t know.

Johnson: I doubt it!

Mims: This didn’t create a stigma for you when you got to high school, did it? As you were a rebel rouser?

Robinson: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, never. The only thing that it happened was, it would’ve prevented me from going into the military, but then they changed the laws and stated they were not criminal cases. They were the civil right cases and they were not criminal, so they didn’t hold that against you. But it was…it was different. And now, all the people we had…like I said before, they couldn’t find a large enough church for us to get in…now, with everything the way it is, you can’t find a church small enough for all of us to get in.

That’s how it…it shift. Like it’s…. like everybody thinks is because you couldn’t date, because it’s all right to walk around with a white woman nowadays, it was always like that. It wasn’t always like that. So, that’s how that went down. All this was sweat and bleeding, and ammonia coming in your nose. Have you ever had ammonia…they would pour ammonia on the counter and let it run on your clothes…

Mims: Um.

Johnson: You talked about sitting upstairs in the theater. Was that the only theater that you…

Robinson: No, every one, you had to sit in…they had the…they had the…what am I trying to say…they had the Bijou…they had the Bijou, had the Bailey, and you had to sit upstairs. The only…the only…the only movie that we had was the Ritz. That was over on the north side of town and that paid five…that was five cent to get in. And we had to get a badge with the Ritz on it, and you had your badge and show it and when you finish you threw it out the windows to your friend ‘cause he had a nickel too, so that’s how that happened.

And then they had…oh man, they had this…this one white guy who was in the movie, his name was Mr. Rogers, and he would walk down the movie, he kept law and order in the movie, you know. But they had the best franks than anybody. You know, they steamed the franks, and it was really nice. Yea. But…had popcorn, the best popcorn, it was nice. And they had bingo there at night…if you didn’t have nothing to do, you stayed until the lights come on and then they run the bingo…you see ‘em…not bingo…you had to…some kind of number they had they’d be playing.

Johnson: And that was after the movie?

Robinson: Yea, after the movie on Tuesday nights, and you won a jackpot. I’m giving you history right?

Johnson: Yes, yes.

Robinson: And then, we had, what else…?

Johnson: Now do you remember…some people I’ve talked to say about riding the bus…you had to ride in…ride in the back of the bus?

Robinson: We never…I never…I never…I never did that. I never did that. Well, basically…basically because…reason I never did it because I didn’t have money to ride the bus. We walked across town. And we had a special bus when I rained used to come to the north side of town and bring us to school. Had a special bus…it had…called a special, and it picked you up at the same place the bus did on…we…I used to catch it at Fourth and Bladen. It would take us right in front of the school.

Johnson: Now, did you have to pay?

Robinson: Yea, we had to pay. I think it was ten cent, I think…ten cent…something like that, but you had to pay. And they would come get you and take you to school.

Johnson: But you didn’t have regular school buses.

Robinson: No. You had to walk. We walked. You didn’t have a school bus…but I understand now, there’s a certain radius that you have to be…the school bus have to be there. But no, we walked every…every morning, every, every morning.

Johnson: Now do you know if the students at New Hanover High, if they had to walk, if they were in a certain range, or…?

Robinson: Well, we passed by there…no one was coming but we passed by there, but we could pass by the students going…they walking this way. I don’t think so. I think they had busses too. I think the same thing happened to them.

Johnson: Okay.

Robinson: Because we could pass by them…we’re coming straight down…they’re going this way. We never had a problem, I mean, never nobody does anything? I think it was the old folk that did all that stuff…you know, all that kind of thing. You know, what I mean when is say old folk, like I told you my grandmother worked at Pickert Sporting Goods and they had a daughter named Betsy, Betsy Pickert. And one day we were out on the back…I would go there and cut the yard with my uncle and everything, and one day we were out there talking, she gave me her number and I gave her my phone number, we were gonna call one another and I remember my phone number, 22466…I remember my number.

And we had to call, and when we got home, my grandmother said, “Don’t call that number.” I guess everybody thought we never exchanged. But my grandmother died, which was a few years back, Betsy did come and…and she did remember that…us exchanging numbers, and so, that…that was good. You know, I can tell you incident, and it’s funny, and I want you to take it, but it never bothered me anyway.

Me and this guy, Sneeden, we were doing yards up on Walnut Street, and we knocked on the door and ask the lady if she wanted me to do the yard, and she said yes, and she said yes…I said, “We’ll be done in about an hour and a half…about an hour and a half…and…about an hour and a half.” And she called us in and said, “Little boys”… I said, “yes ma’am” … “ya’ll…ya’ll won’t something to eat?”…I said, “Yes ma’am.” So she gave us some peanut butter and…peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some milk. So I told my man, I said, “This is a good white lady, we’re gonna take care of this yard real good.” We took the yard and edged it up and did all the shrubs, and everything man, so when we finished…this is the funny part…when we finished, I said to her, “Miss we finished”.

She said, “Okay thank you.” I said, “You didn’t pay us?” She said, “Nigger I gave you some milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” (laughing) I said, “My gracious,” and that’s when I knew then that I was mad. I took all the things out of the garbage can, I took all the leaves out, I put them back on the grass. My man said, “You gonna go to jail.” I said, “I don’t care abpout it.” We took all the stuff and just did everything. You know what I mean? He said, “We going to jail.” I said, “Oh man…” I just did it. But that was…that…that was the first time that I ever…I ever did anything like that, you know. And that was a funny…that…that was a very…you know, after years it was very funny to tell people that. I tell people that a lot, man, it’s funny, you know. And she gave me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and she said, “I gave that to you, what more do you want?”

Johnson: Well, is there anything else you feel like you would like to tell us?

Robinson: No… and I was…I went to Vietnam, you know, and I met some people over there. As a matter of fact, I went to Vietnam; I met Theodore DeBose from Wilmington. Now, you way across seas and met guys from Wilmington. I met Theodore DeBose, I met Bobby Johnson, Joyce Chadwick…these are fellows I met in the military…way across the water. And we weren’t in the same company.

Johnson: Right.

Robinson: But what happened…how we met one another…we were talking…this guy was talking one day about North Carolina, said, “I went to Williston.” He says, “A guy in my…in…in my group…in my command from Williston.” I said, “Get outta here.” And another guy says, “This guy…”…and that’s how we met. Just by talking about Williston. And I thought that was wonderful. So it’s talked about…we talk about it all the time.

Johnson: Well, I’d like to thank you again for allowing us to talk with you.

Robinson: Well, I appreciate you…

Johnson: And all this information. You’ve told me a lot of things that…that I had not heard from other persons that I’ve interviewed.

Robinson: I didn’t tell you that we would go swimming down at the long pond. We used to go swimming, but you had to swim naked.

Johnson: Now where is that?

Robinson: This is on north side of town, it called…a placed called long pond.

Johnson: Oh, okay. Long pond. Okay.

Robinson: It’s on a railroad track and the railroad detectives used to tell us “you don’t go in there and swim because if you drown you…you…your parents will be upset with you”. So, know what the guy did? We swimming and he done told us…he come take all our clothes. So now we got to go…so we got to walk home…we had to wait till night comes because we got to walk through the street all the way home.

Johnson: Oh my goodness.

Robinson: With a lot of palm…palm trees and all that. So palm trees got thorns on them you go through those trees. And, you know, and that did…was trying to stop you from doing things to hurt yourself. We thought they were being angry…they were being real mean, but the whole thing…it was trying to tell you, this is not safe. You know, so, I think everybody looked out for one another.

Johnson: So you’re lucky to be here.

Robinson: Yea, I did a lot, I did a lot, but thank…thank God everything turned out to be all right.

Johnson: Thank you.

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