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Interview with Melvin Thompson, October 31, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Melvin Thompson, October 31, 2002
October 31, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Thompson, Melvin Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Cody, Sue Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  Williston High School Length  55 minutes


Johnson: We’re here today to talk with Mr. Melvin Thompson about the Williston High School and the Williston Alumni Association.

Interviewers: Joyce Johnson, Sue Ann Cody

Johnson: First Mr. Thompson, I would like to ask you about your early life. Were you born in Wilmington?

Thompson: I was born and raised in Wilmington.

Johnson: And would you like to tell us something about your family?

Thompson: I was born in Brooklyn in Love’s Avenue and where the Walnut Temple church is now, I was born at that spot there at 1116 Loves Avenue. That’s where the church is now. I was living with the Robinson family, I was adopted, not adopted, but it took me a place to live and I moved with the lady when I could crawl, Willie Mae Robinson. She died when I was 11 and the daughters sent me back to my mother. I went back to my mother who lived on Fifth Street and I had one sister and one brother at that time.

I stayed with her until I was 13 years old. Then I moved off Fifth Street and moved to Green Street, Hanover and Green Street, Anderson Street. There I met another lady, Miss Annie Turner, Sister Spencer Turner, who had a little shop and a house there and she took me in. Then I moved from there and haven’t looked back since.

Johnson: Did you attend Williston, was it Williston Industrial High School or Williston?

Thompson: Yes, it was Williston Industrial.

Johnson: What did you do after graduation from high school?

Thompson: Well, after graduation from high school, I went to Williston Junior College. It was under Fayetteville State University. We had classes in one place and New Hanover and the college out there in 1952. I went there and I worked downtown in a dress shop and I worked at a camera shop developing film. Then after two years I got married. My wife had one year of college. She went to Williston College too.

After we got married and I had children, I stayed around here and worked until I got fired from there. Then one of my teachers who was a Fayetteville State teacher, Miss Snead, Levinia Snead. She saw me one day and encouraged me to go back to college and taking pictures. At that time Williston, I think they had a Fayetteville State public relations department with Dr. Jones who was the president at that time. Dr. Lafayette Parker, who was the dean, he’s still living, he was Snead’s classmate. Then they saw that I got this scholarship.

Once I got the scholarship I went to work with the Krispy Kreme Donut Company. I used to clean stoves and make donuts. You know that place is still here. The place on Castle Street…. the corner stand, I can’t recall the name now. This man gave me the last job I worked in Wilmington, Mahue, but he had that Goody Goody place on Market Street. I worked for him. The man who owned that place was named Mahue. He wrote me such a good recommendation that I went to Baltimore to try to get a job. He tried to help me.

Then I had one child and one was on the way at that time. I went to Baltimore and my child was born in June. My boy was born in June. In August, I came back home. I left Baltimore and came back home to go to Fayetteville State. The man in Baltimore, he liked me so well he wanted me to stay and told me I could stay there and told me what I could make and everything. But I said no, we decided my wife was going to work and take care of the child – she would stay with her mother, and I was going back to college. I left Baltimore and a good job to come back to Wilmington to go back to college, and I was there at Fayetteville State. I worked for $15 a month too (laughter). School wasn’t but a $100 or so a quarter. It was on the quarter system.

Johnson: Now what years did you attend Williston High?

Thompson: I finished in the class of ’52. I was president of my junior and senior class at Williston. We had a High Y Club, homeroom, I was political. I did everything at that time. At Williston, we had B. B. Lennon, you might have heard of her, that was my daughter’s name, Blanche Beverly, I named her after Miss Lennon. She was an unmarried teacher, but she was a good teacher and she had the High Y Club and I was president of that. That’s where I got all my training in ushering and what not, working my way through school.

Johnson: Now what were your best subjects in school?

Thompson: I don’t think I made under a C since I left the 8th grade. I stayed on honor roll, A-B honor roll all the time. I was number 19, I think, when I finished.

Johnson: Now what other activities did you participate with in school other than the High-Y?

Thompson: Well, I was president of my homeroom class, on the staff of the newspaper. Then I worked with the different auxiliary teams, when they did things for the teams, mascot and that kind of thing. I did those kinds of things and just went to school and had a good time.

Cody: Tell me about the High-Y because I don’t know about that.

Thompson: It was a Christian organization. It came out of the YWCA. We didn't have a black YWCA here in Wilmington and that was the next thing to it. We used to travel statewide. We would go to Greensboro and I remember Morehead. We’d ride up with Mr. Morehead, I know that man. He was an elderly man when I was a child. We went to Salisbury, I first heard about the NAACP man Alexander from Charlotte. I knew him, I heard of him when I was about 16 years old, 15 or 16 years old.

Then I wanted to be like Kelly Alexander and that was the High-Y Convention. It was statewide and we’d go from school to school with Miss Lennon. And the people in the community, we’d go out and go to churches on Sunday. At that time the fraternities and sororities would have speakers come in to Wilmington all the time. We used to put on little dark suits and a bow ties and we would usher. We were taught how to usher, when to bring the people in and how to bring them in and where to sit them and when to march in and whatnot. You will find I’m a real stickler for that at my church. That’s what I do at my church, training children and what not.

That’s what we did. Miss Lennon taught that. We had what was called A-C League, BYPU I think in the Baptist church, a little evening service for children that taught you about the church, the AME church. We don’t have that now; we call it the youth department and that kind of thing. But I was in the A-C League and that had it’s own organization and I used to travel with that. I’d go there when I had lunch instead of going out and playing and messing around with the children, I’d be upstairs in Miss Lennon’s room during lunchtime getting my little stuff ready for Sunday service.

Cody: And which church did you attend?

Thompson: St. Stephens AME Church on Fifth and Red Cross.

Johnson: You mentioned Miss Lennon. Who were some of your other favorite teachers?

Thompson: Everybody loved me and I loved everybody (laughter). Mrs. Robinson, Frank Robinson, Miss Hooper, Miss Forman, Miss Lofton, some of the ones here now, Mrs. Keith, she still lives around here now. And I liked Mr. Booker T. Washington’s wife, Miss Washington, she was very nice to me, she’s gone. And Mr. Washington, he was principal of the year. When I was in the 12th grade in the high school and was president of the class, we had to get a yearbook. That was the first yearbook Williston had that lead up to the last yearbook.

Johnson: So that was in 1952?

Thompson: When I was a senior in 1952, we were determined to have one. Mr. James Harris, that was another teacher, when he died, before he died, the first house I had, I bought his house. He fixed it so me and my wife could get that home on Orange Street. That was the first home I had. Mr. Harris was a real favorite and Mr. Greenwood. Charlie Bryant, I was in his fraternity, a Sigma Phi man.

Cody: And what did he teach?

Thompson: He taught history. And Mr. Lowe, oh, he was a cuss, you knew him? He died young too. Mr. Lowe, I loved him. Mr. Tally too, I loved him, he’s still living. He was one of my favorite teachers. He always dressed nice. I learned how to dress from him. He married the secretary there. His wife was the secretary of the school. She’s still living too, both of them. She worked in Mr. Roger’s and Mr. White’s office when I was a child.

Johnson: So Mr. Washington was a former teacher also other than being the principal?

Thompson: Yes, he was teaching before he became a principal. He came in as a teacher. I learned that from being on the Board of Directors, Community Boys and Girls Club. Mr. S.J. Howard was a great guy, I learned to love him. His brother, Rudolph, was in my wife’s class one year under me. We were High Y fellows together.

Johnson: A lot of celebrities visited Williston. Did any visit while you were there?

Thompson: Dr. Mays, I’ll never forget him, of course I’ve seen him since I was grown too, Dr. Mays. Catherine Yarborough, she came in. The funny thing about that, I always tell everybody, when she came to Williston that day, I was in the 7th grade. That was the year too; we had the Southern Association in Wilmington and Mr. James Thomas who was the Glee Club director, before Mrs. Odell came to Wilmington, Constance Odell. She was a favorite of mine too. A lot of our teachers left and went away to college and I just found out what happened.

A lot of them got scholarships. Mr. Mourbi, he was a foreigner and was an excellent math teacher and he left. A lot of them left and I found out what the reason was. That year we found that we had such a group of highly talented teachers who had B.S.’s that could have gone farther and they got scholarships. Mr. Thomas went to Central and got his Master’s, I think, in music. He was teaching there with out a degree at all. I thought he had a degree, but he didn't have one.

He took that choir all over the United States. Every year they would travel, New York and all the rest of the United States. He was considered one of the best. He later went to Savannah State. I was in Savannah this year with the Fayetteville State National Alumni meeting and I met some of his students. They have a monument down there dedicated to him because of his work there. They buried him down there. He lived up here, he came from Wilmington, but he was an outstanding musician. Everybody knows Miss Odell; I remember when Miss Odell came here. My brother used to sing too. They called him Willie Thompson and he used to win talent contests. Dr. Thomas was a wonderful person who did that. Everybody remembers Mrs. Odell, but I can remember when she came here

During that time, Miss Yarborough came that day, I’m going to tell you about her. She came that day and has been back since I’ve been grown. I think Thomas Wright; we would bring people back to Wilmington and dedicating the old homes where they lived. I was a part of that project bringing them home to Wilmington. I was on that committee. Me and my wife were on that committee.

But when she came back then, Mr. Rogers put us all in the auditorium. We had one auditorium in the gym. Its there now at the Gregory School. Everybody was there and she was supposed to be singing for us. She was supposed to sing for us but she was high, high opera, we could not understand her. We were just laughing. We carried on. Anyway she had to stop us and she told us off (laughter). She said she was going to sing a song for us that she thought we would like. I’ll never forget it. It was called Hold Me and when she got through singing, you could hear a pin drop. I’ll never forget that as long as I live. And when she came back, I tried to remind her about that. She’s passed now, dead- Catherine Yarborough. She was a product of St. Mary’s Church I think.

Cody: Her father was a barber?

Thompson: She lived at Fourth and Nun Streets, a little house there on the corner. It’s got a plaque up there now. The historical society put a plaque on it.

Cody: And then she lived in New York?

Thompson: Yes, I think so, New York for a while.

Johnson: Now were you a part of the Glee Club?

Thompson: No, I never did join the Glee Club. My brother was part of it. I never was.

Johnson: Were you in the band?

Thompson: No, I was doing other things.

Johnson: But you do that now, don’t you sing?

Thompson: My wife and I, my wife is president of the Will Richardson Players. We were into that. That’s what I do now, Thalian, we are doing that. It takes up most of our time, Thalian.

Johnson: We’re trying to talk to as many persons as we can to get the oral history. Who else would you suggest that we talk to?

Cody: You mentioned a couple of the teachers that are still around. We want to get as many of those teachers as we can.

Thompson: All of them, but most of the people is dead. The both of them, Florence, they were the class of ’32. Larry talked to them, the one that’s there now doesn’t know, they were here when I organized it, but I don’t think they were probably in school in the 60’s. I finished in 1960 and went to Virginia and taught ’61-’62. ’62 – ’63 and came back here ’63- ’64.

Cody: What did you teach?

Thompson: Fourth grade right at Peabody, I went back to where I went to grammar school. Went back there and I got a job there. Mrs. Boone used to like me. Before I left I tried to take pictures on the side and I worked with a man downtown, John Browning Camera Shop. Down on Front Street. Browning is dead now. Browning was the owner. The man on Front, we took the business from him. We were on Market and I started out on Market Street. He owned the place near the post office. What happened was he joined in with a company from Charlotte I think and now they are run by that company.

He became the vice-president, but that was before my time. He fired me before that, but I’m glad he did now. I saw his son yesterday. Browning loved money, but his son wasn’t the money type. When he died, and the wife, the son got only what they had to give him and the rest went to the state, which is bad for Johnny. But he’s a Christian hearted young man. He lives moderately, but his mom and dad had everything. They joined the country club and everything. I worked at the country club too, Cape Fear.

Cody: What did you do out there?

Thompson: I used to wait tables, bartend and different things. By being from Wilmington, I knew how to get around (laughter).

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

Thompson: We all didn't want it to close. But like I said, I wasn’t political; I’ve never been political. That’s why I didn't take over the presidency because I knew if it came to that I’d have to speak out one way or the other and working for the Board of Education, I didn't want to be in that place. I felt bad about it being closed. I don’t know if more have been help or hurt by it, I don’t know.

Johnson: Now do you think it would have been better though if Williston had been kept open?

Thompson: What happened, I had the opportunity to go to Fayetteville and E. E. Smith was there. When I was at Fayetteville State, I used to take pictures and ran around with the president and everyone and I found out that E. E. school was still in existence from the 2nd war and the school there in Durham, they were still in existence, but they still didn't carry any weight. They were the black schools that were there. The schools that have survived were those in those college towns, like Charlotte, and Greensboro had Dudley, those types of things. But it is not like Dudley was when we were there. So I don’t know if it would have made a difference or not, but I know it made a difference to me, but I couldn’t say about the children today.

Johnson: Well, tell us something about the Alumni Association?

Thompson: Where we got started, one day Mr. Jervay called me over to his office at the Wilmington Journal and he said… when I was younger, they thought that I could do anything; I would try to do anything (laughter). Mrs. Chestnut, Ezell Johnson and himself were in the same class, 1932. They were organized to keep that class together. They said they were hoping that we could get something like an alumni started and he needed a younger person to get it started and he thought I would be the person who could do it and he asked if I would do it.

He started talking about how much I had done around there in the city, working on it. He promised me that he would stand behind me with getting the news in the paper and getting out in the public. They would work and come to the meetings. They would be the backbones for me to get something like that started. I didn't take it right that day, but after a few weeks I decided I would do it.

I told him I would take over and do that. Then after that, after I told him I would do it, I started thinking about how was I going about doing this. What I did, I first said we needed to find a place to have a meeting that everybody wouldn’t mind coming to. See we had so many different types of people in our community. Some wanted this place or that place. I found one place that I thought most of the people, the age of the group, who would make a strong organization wouldn’t mind going and that was what we called the Blue Ribbon Club which is on Seventh and Red Cross.

At that time Adolph Richards and Eugene Davis and a lot of those other fellows…they weren’t old and they were here during that time… William Boyd, Chester Green and his brother, they were running that club upstairs. It was supposed to be a real nice place. It was one of the nicer places to go. It wasn’t all rowdy and everything. You could go up there on the weekends, we had jazz nights and stuff like that. Everybody would meet up there and I talked to Odell about a meeting and they suggested that I could hold a meeting up there in the evening.

When they told me I could do that, I went back and talked to Jervay and told him what they said and he said, “Okay.” He started giving publicity in the paper and writing that up in the paper. I started a meeting on a Sunday evening. I would be the one that would be in charge.

Cody: Now what year was this?

Thompson: I don’t know exactly, but I have the papers at home. I could look for them. They ought to have it in the history of Williston Alumni Office when we got started. The first part of the meeting, the first five or six months, I held the meeting. I was in charge at all the meetings. Then we were just talking, formulating, seeing what we wanted to do and what type of organization we wanted to have and how we were going to do it and what kind of offices we were going to have and where we could help the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and Williston school children. I think they were getting ready to close the school down anyway.

Cody: So this was before the school closed?

Thompson: I think it was before the school closed. We thought we needed an organization. We talked about we could be the voice of the black community and school. Another thing, I couldn’t be part of, I didn't want to be a part of that because I was busy working and doing the things I had to do, so I didn't want to get into the politics of that. I didn’t want to stand-up for anybody except myself.

Johnson: Now the Williston Alumni, what functions do they have?

Thompson: Well, every year, what they do, every year they have homecoming near the July 4th weekend mostly. They have different things where they have retreats right there around Williston School. They sell things and have little dinners and a banquet and different things to raise money, funds. Now I’m not a part of that, not because I don’t want to be a part of it, I send my money and always pay my dues. I just got involved with other things.

My time…also I’m older now and I think the younger people will take it over and they are taking it over. Like Florence, they take it over. They’re doing a good job with it. When I came along, Miss Lennon, Professor Rogers, S.J. Rogers and such, they let me do a lot of things. I did a lot. In my church as a youth I did a lot of things. I used to travel all the time with my spouse, with the church and that kind of thing. I’ve been in charge of the Boy Scouts in my church.

I’ve been in charge of Sunday school. I’ve taught Sunday school even when I was 18 years old. I got married when I was 21. When I was 18 years old, and after I had children I was involved with children in my church. So I’ve always been involved. I think the Alumni needs that type of involvement.

Cody: So who was the first president?

Thompson: The first fellow was Lawrence Williams, he’s dead now, Lawrence Williams. He used to work for Jacobi Hardware, that’s who he worked for. We formed a nominating committee and I was asked to be president, but I figured with some of the things they had in mind to do, some were new to Wilmington. If you know Wilmington, seemed to be like being a man working at the country club, I knew how Wilmington ran. I used to work at the country club and now I worked downtown at the Cape Fear Club. I have a lot of people I know.

I know the families here, I know the Sprunts, the Wright family, the few running Wilmington. They are still running Wilmington, and I know that. They know the things that I know. When I was in the school system, being a person who was born and raised in Wilmington, I’ve been an assistant principal; I’ve been a teacher. Anything I wanted to be, I got to be. And I was a head teacher when I was there. All during the time I was at the elementary school, I was the only man and was always the assistant to whoever was there when ever they would go. I was in charge even at a young age when I just started back. I had a plumb job.

In 1960, I went to Luray, Virginia and they liked me so well up there and that was my first year teaching until the principal, they wanted me to stay and the principal went to work at Bowie, Maryland, Bowie State College school. He wanted me to take over. He liked me so well and the work I had done. I wouldn’t do that. He left his wife there to do a year, for me to take over. Then that year Miss Boone took sick down here in Wilmington and she called and asked me would I come back to Wilmington and teach and be her assistant. That’s how I got back to Wilmington as a classroom teacher. The lady came in one day; I was in the classroom and said you’ve got you a job home, so go home. And my wife wanted to come home.

My wife wanted to come back; she didn’t like it up there. We were up in Luray, Virginia, where the Luray Caverns is and it was a beautiful city and they were good to the teachers. That’s where I used to teach. They had big hotels and we all worked extra because of what the teachers made. I could go up to the hotel in the cavern and work and do little extra things. I had a Boy Scout troop up there and worked with the children up there.

The children loved me, but they knew more about Scouting than I did because they had been living there. They loved me to death and they hated to see me go. The day I got ready to leave, I had the whole city, the whole little town of Luray had a parade. I will never forget that, I remember that 30 or 40 years ago. I will never forget them, they were my first children.

Johnson: So now tell us, what has Williston meant to you? What did Williston represent?

Thompson: Well, it meant everything to me because I got the best of what Williston had to offer, the best teachers we had were there during my time. There’s not one that I can say anything bad about. All of them encouraged me, I mean ALL of them. Like I said, then I came up in the church with the teachers, you take the Hoopers and all those people there, the Greens and the Harris’s. I don’t know if you know it or not, Mr. Harris, his daddy was Miss Lennon’s husband. That’s history that I’ve been taught. Miss Lennon told me that.

Williston had meant so much to me because I did everything I wanted to do. When I was there, I was on the newpaper’s staff. We traveled with the High-Y Club. I did all I could. I could go represent the school. I went to East River… the first time I stayed in a hotel in my life I went to Durham. I didn't know there was such a thing as a hotel for black people. There was a hotel here, the Payne, but I lived in Brooklyn and didn't know. I didn't know the Payne Hotel until I moved on Hamilton Street and almost 14 years old and went to St. Stephens Church, the Payne Hotel.

Miss Payne was a teacher. Her parents owned the hotel. She was my 7th grade teacher. She taught English. She was a tall woman, Miss Payne. She never married but she was a nice looking lady. She lived on Red Cross by Charles Funeral Home. During the time I was in school, I could go to any of the teachers and talk to them. We could say most anything we had to say. If you had a problem you could go to them and they would all try to help you. That was from the principal all the way down.

Frank Robinson and his brother, he and I were good friends. He left here, in fact, I got him his first job, not his first job but when he got fired from Williston. When I went to Fayetteville State, it was Snead. But when I went to FSU I was a student, a married student. I had a wife and two children. I told you I worked for the school. I was head of the department, like I said and took all the pictures, put the pictures in journals, guides to send everywhere. And I was sort of the dean over the girls who went out to the Fort Bragg Officers Club on Saturday nights and I got paid for that, any little thing.

Johnson: You were busy, weren’t you (laughter).

Thompson: I’ve been real busy. I had to go to school too, you know. I’ve been real busy. And when Frank Robinson lost his job, I called Dr. Jones and he said, “We’ll get another coach.” and I should tell Frank, “ I know him. He was at Shaw when he was there.” And that’s how he got that job.

Cody: How come they fired him from the other?

Thompson: Girls, girls and girls. They say girls, but I don’t know. In fact, like I say, I was so busy doing my own thing in sales. But I did get him a job.

Johnson: He went on to where?

Thompson: He went to Fayetteville State, my college.

Johnson: And he became the coach there?

Thompson: He became the coach there and he stayed there. He got married while he was up there. He married the Saunders girl. She wasn’t in school there. She wasn’t the one to get him fired. She was a teacher though.

Cody: So I assume your wife went to Williston too?

Thompson: My wife went to Williston. She was one year behind me. I was the class of ’52 and she’s ’53.

Cody: You met her in school?

Thompson: I met my wife when I was in 11th grade. On the corner of…she was leaving a school function at the corner of 11th and Orange there used to be the Wilmington Funeral Home, Marsh.

Johnson: Mr. Helicutt?

Thompson: Yes, he owned a store there. Children would leave school and stop by and get something. She was getting something from the store on the corner of 13th Street, her and her girl friend and I walked her home at 11:00 at night (laughter). I’ll never forget that. She was in the 11th grade and I was in the 12th grade.

Cody: So now you mentioned that the Williston Alumni Association had plans to do other things. Like what?

Thompson: They were talking about curriculum planning and that kind of thing. They talked about things they wanted for the students and different kinds of courses they thought were needed, the course of study and working along with the Board. At that time they were talking about things to go in the school and wanted to make it better for the students. The black students in particular. At that time they had no voice and that would be their voice. That’s why I said I couldn’t get in it because I was a teacher. They would be lobbying the school board.

What it was all about was to help the students and improve the school too. Being a teacher, I thought I could be a part of it, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t be the president.

Cody: That was probably wise (laughter).

Thompson: Well anyway that’s what I did.

Johnson: Now when you were at Williston did they have the auto mechanics?

Thompson: I’m going to tell you, at that time they didn't insist that you do that unless…the concept was you were supposed to be a smart student. If you were an A or B student, you didn't have to worry about shop. They gave shop to the students that couldn’t make it and going out on the streets. Now we see that shop could have been for anybody because during the time when I was in school, I couldn’t hammer a nail.

So what happened was, somebody told me I was making good grades and I didn't need shop. I took D. O., Dress for Occupation which got me a job down at the dress shop. In the mornings I’d go and wash the windows and go back in the afternoons. What they call marketing now, that’s what I did. I’d mark those dresses, send them out. I worked at Diana’s Dress Shop. It was a big company during that time. If it was selling here, I would put it up. I knew how to ship, how to pack, dress mannequins, I knew how to do all that stuff. I could take the women mannequins apart and put them together (laughter).

There was a technique – I could gift wrap boxes, Christmas time. I did everything and made $16 a week, no $8 a week. Mr. William Bright, that’s the man, he’s dead now, Mr. Bryant. He was another person who taught me how to work and how to be appreciative of a job and how to get along. That’s the one that taught me. He taught you how to work. Not only did you go out and work and you’d come back and he would talk to you about your job, how to treat your boss, how your boss should treat you and if you’re not getting along, how to get along. If you didn't know how to get along, then try to walk out a good way so you can always look at that person…

Cody: Right, if you’d meet them on the street…

Thompson: One thing that helped me, I had a man fire me, but I walked up and went right to Krispy. A man called me one day and asked if I needed a job and he knew Mr. Mahue at the Krispy on 16th and Market at that time. He knew him and got me a job there, $35 a week.

Johnson: So you moved up (laughter).

Thompson: I sure did but they taught me, Bryant taught me. And that’s how they did it at that time. But shop at that time, the people that finished shop, went through the shops and really put the effort in it, and did masonry good. Those men left high school and went out and started their own jobs and went out and started working. Now you have to go to Cape Fear Tech to do the things to learn that you learned in high school to do when I was in school. They had good mechanics.

And one of your bishops…now you know Mr. Anderson was the auto mechanic teacher, from the A.M.E. Zion church. You didn't know that? Nobody mentioned that to you? He used to work at Williston and was the auto mechanic teacher and then he became a bishop. He’s dead now. One thing when they got out of that class, they went to MacMillan, Cameron, these Buick places, different places to work.

Cody: They were ready to go.

Thompson: They were ready to go. But now you finish that stuff, you have to go to technical college. That was one thing I liked about school during that time was that they prepared you for the world of work too along with the other.

Cody: What year did you retire from teaching?


Cody: And you were at what school when you retired?

Thompson: I was a school social worker in charge of attendance, at this time. When we first started down at Central Office there were just two of us and now with the changeover to social work, I went back to night school and got my Master’s in social work because it was easier. I knew the work; all I had to do was go to school (laughter). I went back and got my master’s in Social Work.

Cody: Good for you.

Thompson: You’d have officers in different schools; you’d service the whole county, social work.

Cody: You’d travel around.

Thompson: Now they’ve got a social worker in every school today. Another thing about Wilmington that I didn't like, most of our people are not organization minded. I am. When I was working at the school social worker, we were connected with the state, the national and the local social work. I worked social work with the whole state of North Carolina because I was involved. Since I left, they are not caring…when I was there, I bought a van just to carry them places, just to bring them with me.

Nowadays I don’t know in the school system…we had a meeting at Shell Island Resort here in Wilmington…my retirement just before the superintendent Morris, just died. Bilzic wasn’t here when I retired. Bobby Greer I think was the county commissioner chairman. I had them down there. I know all those fellows and their daddies. That’s another thing about me, I am very well known. See I know Cameron, Bruce and Dan and all those people and their families. I know all those families. In fact, where I live on Cameron Street, Barclay Hills. It’s named after Bruce Barclay Cameron.

The Cameron education building over there, that’s who founded that … and the hospital and whatnot. I knew them personally. I’ve always been there; parties on Fourth of July, Figure Eight Island, I always been there, I knew them all through the 60’s. The Cameron Museum, I knew his wife before she died and his other wife too.

Cody: What have we forgotten to ask you that you thought we’d ask?

Thompson: I don’t know. Just how we got started at Williston Alumni and our calling to do it. A lot of people are dead now who wanted to do it, but the class is still organized. We’d organize the classes too. The class of ’32, Williston Class of ’32 was the first class, and I think my class was second or third, the class of ’52. In fact we had our 50th anniversary last year. I was president of my high school class then and I was president of my alumni class at the 50th anniversary.

Cody: How did you celebrate?

Thompson: We had it at the Holiday Inn for three days, three big days. I got a video and everything. I’ve got relatives…people came here from Baltimore and videoed the whole thing. I’ve got two tapes on it.

Johnson: You did have a big time.

Thompson: For three days. It wasn’t the Holiday Inn then, it was the Wilmington Inn. We got some good prices. I used to run the Hilton, when the Hilton was first down there. See I worked two jobs all my life. Of course school didn't know or cared what I did. I worked, I had children and I had to make what I needed. You had to work. It wasn’t like working, it was more like play.

Cody: You managed to enjoy it, whatever it was.

Thompson: I enjoyed it. I really did.

Cody: You have two children?

Thompson: Five and four have been to college.

Johnson: And you have two granddaughters out here now.

Thompson: I’ve got two granddaughters out here and one is going to finish in December and one is finishing in 3 years. She is getting ready to go down there to the district attorney’s office and do some work down there. She wrote to Central try to be a lawyer so she’s doing real good. That’s what we taught and I was a great educator when it comes to education. When I was at Fayetteville State… last year I got the highest award Fayetteville State ever awarded an alumni, the Wayman Williams Award. I got the highest award from the Alumni Association.

Cody: Great! Congratulations.

Thompson: I go to Fayetteville for the scholarship fund thing. My wife will get mad at me, but I can’t talk about it, I’ve made plans for what I’ll give the school right now. I’m getting ready for the foundation meeting now. Our president is thinking about leaving us. He’s a FSU man but he is thinking about leaving. They want to change the name to FSU at Fayetteville, but I don’t see the difference, but they see the difference. I won’t argue with the thing just so as its Fayetteville State. It will still be my school. I’ve got Fayetteville State alumni, Lower Cape Fear, I started that. All the same people, we’ve got two alumnis here. They didn't want to do anything and I wanted to bring Fayetteville to Wilmington. When I say bring it to Wilmington I want the band, the football tea. We’ve had several already, the Port City Classics; I am the one that cause that to be here. We do it in Rocky Mount now; we don’t do it in Wilmington. If you know Wilmington, we don’t do anything long. That’s a set thing for this whole town.

Cody: What do you mean by that?

Thompson: I mean we’ll do something for a while. They don’t care how good it’s been, they let it go. They don’t keep it going. We don’t know what Classics means. Classics to a real college person means something you do yearly and it grows as it progresses. I tried to tell the Sportsman’s Club that. They didn’t want to see FSU, they wanted to see UNCW. You can’t do everything for everybody. It could have been a strong thing. We had people coming in from everywhere, but it didn’t last long. The first five or six years, they were giving beaucoup scholarships and the money wasn’t just going to Fayetteville State. It went anywhere the student wanted to go.

The school here has been really great. My wife was in the first four-year class out here. I was one of the ones that was a product of Dean Crews and Wilmington College, and went to Williston College when Fayetteville State ran it. Then during the time Dean Crews took over, my wife went back to school during that time. So I was in the middle of all that.

Cody: Early administrators, right, that’s great. Well, we appreciate your coming and talking to us today. This is the first of many that we will be talking to.

Thompson: I hope I helped you with something.

Johnson: You’ve been great. I’ve learned a lot today (laughter).

Thompson: Like I keep telling people, I’m prejudiced about Wilmington. If you noticed the paper the other week when Laura Padgett and Mr. Conlon, I know him very well…in fact I was on his team when he got re-elected. What he was saying about the Civic Center, that’s been going on for a long time. That idea was laid by the people who have been living here for years. It did happen that way, that’s how the Hilton got down there, through the Rothschild family up there in New York that owned the Timme. I know those people. I happened to know them because when they built the Hilton, they used to come down every so often and look at their plan and I would be their special waiter.

Cody: All right, they asked for you.

Thompson: Yea, they ask for you when you’re older and think you know it.

Johnson: That was what it was named at one time, Timme Plaza?

Thompson: That’s what it was first. I’ve got the papers on that. They were talking about what they wanted, they wanted like the Marriott to come in and build something for them. But we’re going to have to do like the man in Greensboro. You know what happened there at the Four Seasons in Greensboro. The man who owned the Four Seasons built that complex out there to help Greensboro and it did help Greensboro. It’s beautiful, we met up there. It’s fabulous.

He did that because he wanted to do that. That’s what needs to happen here. If Mr. Cameron were to say he wanted a center there, it would have been there. And I meet with him every so often. I wish I had my letter, when I won my award, he always keeps up with me and I keep up with him too. He’s good. When this town calls him, he is there in a second. The one idea he has, nobody wants to step out because he said if a hotel is going to come, a Civic Center to come, they’ll have to come through private money. If a civic center is going to come, it’s like Fayetteville, I’ve been there because I have a lot to do with the schools.

Fayetteville is progressing. Anytime they want, they have that big center there and it’s really bringing everything in. And Wilmington… they are in a hole but the city will stay in a hole. If this mayor gets a change it will probably come into fruition. The city isn’t going to really meet its potential until we get a nice civic center. If we wanted to bring a national meeting here, we can’t bring it here. I’m a Black Shriner, we want to bring it here but we’re going to Charlotte next year and I wanted to bring it to Wilmington, but Wilmington isn’t big enough. There’s a number of hotels, but we’re the second or third largest convention in the world, the Black Shriners. When we come to town we take over. We take over when we go somewhere in May, the 4th weekend in May. The Shriners were in Washington, D.C. a few months ago and they’re going to Charlotte the next time. That’s the only thing…

Cody: Right, it would be really nice to have that.

Thompson: And we went to Myrtle Beach and that was 33 Degrees down there. We had something like 4000 or 5000 people and you ought to see them feeding those people at one time, all had steak, they were all tender. They were cooked good, I couldn’t believe it. You all have been a great help by doing this, by bringing in this to Wilmington.

Cody: We sure appreciate it.

Johnson: Thank you.

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