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Interview with Bertha Boykin Todd, June 18, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Bertha Boykin Todd, June 18, 2003
Date:
June 18, 2003
Description:
Mrs. Bertha B. Todd was the first and last librarian at Williston High School. She discusses her career in education and librarianship in Wilmington, as well as her role in community service and race relations. Following integration and the closing of Williston, she transferred to Hoggard High. Mrs. Todd intervened to prevent riots during integration.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Todd, Bertha Boykin Interviewer:  Johnson, Joyce / Cody, Sue Date of Interview:  6/9/2004 Series:  Williston High School Length  58 minutes

 

Johnson: We’re here today to interview Mrs. Bertha Todd and I’m Joyce Johnson. We’re going to talk about Williston Senior High School.

Interviewers: Joyce Johnson, Sue Ann Cody

Johnson: Mrs. Todd, thank you so very much for allowing us to come into you’re your lovely home and talk with you today. First I’d like to ask you about your early child life, where you were born and your parents and siblings and so on.

Todd: Oh, you want all of that?

Johnson: Yes, a multi-biographical sketch.

Todd: Well let’s see if I can go back that far. I really had not planned to. I was born into a family of four. My parents met at Fayetteville State Normal School and he was the principal of the Garland Colored High School. My mother was a third grade teacher. Now we had an older sister, Ida Cooper, and Ida was one of those crying babies so that’s when my mother terminated her teaching career. Approximately two years later she had a set of twins, my sister and me.

By that time, she never entered the classroom again. She taught Sunday school. My father died in 1937. He was the first principal of that school and attempted to get some Rosenwald funds at that time, but was unable to do so. The state finally felt sorry for him I guess and matched the money that he had collected and had gotten pledges for. That was the beginning of the Garland Colored High School in Garland, North Carolina.

That’s the school from which I was graduated. My twin sister was the valedictorian and I was the salutatorian. My brother and sister attended Shaw University, but he entered the Armed Services during World War II and by the time my sister and I graduated in 1945, I think we were 16, we could not attend college simply because my mother had a second husband and she was sort of footing all of the bill for college herself.

So my twin sister and I stayed out of school for two years and we attended North Carolina Central University in 1947, although we had graduated from high school in 1945. Entering we thought we were in a pre-med course of study (laughter). We didn't want to teach. Our mother was a teacher, our father was an educator and we thought we would try a new area because we had some stepbrothers and sisters who were in the school of pharmacy. Some were principals; some were farmers, barbers and what not.

My stepfather had nine children, two girls and seven boys and they were quite competitive. So then we were in one big competitive family (laughter). After my father died, my stepbrother became the principal of Garland Colored High School and by the way, my mother married my father’s brother so really we were first cousins and then we became stepbrothers and sisters. So we were in the family in the first place.

When we entered North Carolina Central, we majored in biology, pre-med of course, we thought so and by the time we became seniors, there was a guidance counselor on Central’s campus, it was North Carolina College for Negroes, North Carolina Central University now. He suggested that we may want to take some education courses and may want to get a Master’s in library science.

Biology teachers at that time believe it or not were a dime a dozen, Biology male teachers, not females. My sister and I were more or less in a class of males most of the time, maybe one other female, but that was okay. We were sort of strong-headed and strong willed in the first place (laughter). And we stayed another year and a half to receive a Master’s in library science.

Johnson: Okay.

Todd: So at that time during that summer we came home…no we didn’t we went to summer school, but Margaret Grady Green was in summer school in Durham. She said, “Oh, I know where both of you can get a job.” We were offered a job, head librarian and vice, I think in Alabama. We chose not to take that simply because I think we were trying to split up from the being identical twins. We needed to find our independence.

When Margaret continued to persuade me, I think she called the principal, Booker Washington, to tell him that she had a possibility of getting the librarian and she bugged me every day (laughter). She was in summer school at the time. Finally, I said, “Okay Margaret, I will apply.” So she got the application and I sat down and filled it out. Before I knew it, I had the job.

Well, I held out because I was really interested in junior college and college and there was a professor, president of Barber-Scotia College, Cozart, who was in New York working on his doctorate, completing his doctoral dissertation. So he didn't have time to call me and here I am, wanting to sign this contract, but not really wanting to sign this contract. After five and a half years in school, in college, we knew we better get out of there and work. No more money (laughter).

I waited and waited. I finally signed the contract. Then Dr. Cozart calls me to let me know that he would like to have me as a librarian at Barber-Scotia Junior College. I was tempted then to break the contract. Well, it so happened that the superintendent, I understand that was the trend then, although this particular superintendent was sort of a white supremacist in his philosophies, he thought the school should stay separate. He sent a message by the principal, Booker Washington, for him to tell me if I broke that contract, he would see that I would not get a job anywhere in North Carolina.

Johnson: Oh my goodness, what a disappointment.

Todd: So then I called Dr. Cozart. I was really angry with him. He attempted to call Mr. Roland, the superintendent at that time. Finally Mr. Roland, which I thought was wise, he said,

“Well now, if all these other applicants you have are so good, you just keep your applicants and we’ll keep the one that we have.” That was the end of that (laughter).

Johnson: Never mind what you wanted.

Todd: I wasn’t considered in that. So I came to Wilmington kicking and screaming because my goal was to work in a college library, university.

When I came, there was one book that impressed me and made me get off my crying. My sister was in the Charlotte area, so she was in the west and I was in the east. I read Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery and there is a very profound statement in there, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Believe it or not, that was the answer to my staying in Wilmington. I said okay, “I’ll stay here, but I will be bloody but unbound.” I will stay here, but I will do just what I think is fair and just for all people.

And so I stayed. And in the library, there were tow high schools…no, I went to Williston Industrial School working with Fanny P. the first year. Fanny P. was a good mentor for me. You know how when you get out of college and you think, “I have a Master’s degree,” and during that time there were very few black or white who had Master’s degrees in 1952. Well, I thought I knew everything, which I really did not. [Door bell rings]. And Fanny P. was the best mentor I could ever have had.

We worked together at Williston Industrial School for one year. I guess I need to answer that door. [Tape stops and restarts]

Johnson: That’s fine.

Todd: Fanny P. and I bonded. She worked with me and I shared with her some things that she may not have known, but she had been in the library field for years. Of course once you finish, you update your information. So we worked very well together.

The Williston Industrial School had the largest student population enough to have warranted two librarians. Then they were building Williston Senior High School. Well at the end of that year, Williston Senior High School was supposed to open and everyone was wondering which librarian was going to remain and which one was going to leave. Mr. Roland or his staff members, I cannot remember who, came to ask us how we would separate the books.

And I gave them my plan maybe before or after then. They made the decision, we did not. On the day the made the decision, I think they came in and told us or they sent me a letter. I’m not sure which one, but I was selected to leave and set up the library at Williston Senior High School. And of course Fanny was depressed for a few days and we continued to talk. Then I was asked, “What process are you planning to use to set the library up?”

Well I worked through a procedure and it seemingly was acceptable to them. So when I went to … I was transferred the next year to Williston Senior High School. There I remained for 14 years until it was dissolved. It was quite a challenge to set the library up, but my goal was to have the best library and the most effective library in New Hanover County. Well, there were only two schools, New Hanover High School and Williston Senior High School.

But I simply wanted to surpass New Hanover High School. I probed and ordered the books and I checked the books and finally the furniture came. My first obstacle or challenge, there was a workroom that was built. It was beautiful, but the glass of the windows were far up and if I worked back there, I could not see what was happening in the library proper. So when the Boney’s came and oh, they’re my favorite people, that was the senior Boney, when they came to see what concerns I had and how well I liked the library, I said, “Well it’s beautiful, but there’s one concern that I have. This is supposed to be the workroom. How can I work back here in this area and be able to supervise the students in the main part of the library?”

So they took that into consideration, not that they changed that. They did not, but the next school they built, they never again put the windows in the workroom so high that the librarian sitting down working could not see out. So we often talk about that even now, the Boney’s will listen. They’re my favorite people.

Johnson: That’s right.

Todd: When I began to work with the senior high school teachers, the special ones that really came to prominence in my mind at this time, L.S. King, oh she was a diamond, an English teacher. She used the library and she knew exactly what she was doing about her assignments. Catherine Robinson, I loved her for the drama and the rapport she had with the teachers as well as the students. Alice Lofton, many times, Alice Lofton taught chemistry and many times she brought her students to the library and they behaved beautifully. They had their assignments and they knew what they were supposed to do and of course they didn't cross her (laughter).

She and I became great friends and I was so honored with a statement she made once. She talked very slowly. She said, “Mrs. Todd, I want to ask you a question. You seem to have pretty good sense.” That was a compliment (laughter). She was a smart lady. She asked a question and I gave her the answer I had, but this was the kind of bonding I had with those teachers. William Lowe was a dynamic personality and I’ll tell you a little more about Lowe a little later on.

Lucille Williams, now let me tell you about L.S. Lucille Williams attended Shaw University and when I was growing up and in high school, my English teacher also attended Shaw University. The two of them had the same professors. They attended at the same time. So when I would hear the Canterbury Tales and all of the others, I had already learned those and knew them when the students at Williston Senior High School were reciting them. [Recites a few lines] All of that old English. I was fascinated because each student in her room would have to stand up there, same as my teacher, and recite this old English on the Canterbury Tales and some of the others.

I enjoyed that. It sort of made me think a bit about my own high school. Then I began to get assigned on many committees. I was on the Senior Class Night Committee with Connie O’Dell and Sadie B. Cooper. I was placed there not so much for what I could contribute, but to serve as a mediator between the two of them (laughter). Both were brilliant teachers. They were creative teachers, but if one said it was dark, the other said no, there’s some light out there.

So as a result of that, this is the way Class Night was developed. See you all didn’t know all of that.

Johnson: No, no (laughter).

Todd: It was developed with Bertha Todd listening to one and Bertha Todd listening to the other. As a result of that, it was always a beautiful, enjoyable class night. I was on that committee as long as I remained at Williston Senior High School. That was until it dissolved.

One of my most gratifying experiences at Williston Senior High School was the development and the coordination of the first countywide book fair that New Hanover County had ever, ever had. Now the schools were segregated so we did not have the white schools to participate. My supervisor at the time wanted the white schools to have the same type of countywide book fair.

And so she said, “I wonder if you will talk with the librarian at New Hanover High School and see if they can do the same thing.” Well I said, “If you will ask her to come to me, I will be happy to help her.” I said when I first came here, I called, I called, I called and the librarian made no attempt to return my calls. So I did let the supervisor know that if she made the contacts, then I would be happy to at least share with her my coordinating the first countywide book fair.

We had Mr. Spencer who was the main speaker that night and we had a night affair and each department in the high school and the elementary schools had exhibits up. I can assure you it was most gratifying on that night activity to see the students attend, the main program and to see almost 200 or 300 parents wanting to know more about reading, learning to read and books and how books can be enjoyable and how we can travel vicariously with books.

This was gratifying to me. We only had three full time librarians. That was Martha Boone, Ruth Waddell and Bertha Todd. So after I chaired it the first year, Ruth Waddell who was the first African-American elementary school librarian, chaired it the second year and then Martha Boone, Williston Industrial then was Williston Junior High School, Martha Boone, she chaired it. So when it was time for me to chair it again, I said oh no (laughter). This is the end of the book fair.

Cody: Did the librarian at New Hanover High School ever call you back about it?

Todd: No and then my supervisor said, “Well will you call her and invite her?” I said, “No, I will not.”

Johnson: You’d already called her?

Todd: Yes. I said, “If you choose to call her and invite her, that’s fine with me.” So I don’t know if she invited her or not. But we made television, we made the Star newspapers and I have those clippings right now, of the Star News. So that was gratifying.

One of the other events at Williston Senior High School was in 1963 when the Willistonians dedicated their yearbook to me. [Looking at and showing yearbook] I cannot tell you how humbling that was. I never knew that I was making any kind of impact really. I just was happy to serve as a librarian and think that I was doing a good job.

That was my highest goal and to have this book fair. When we were in graduate school that was one of the things that we always talked about. How would you go about planning a book fair, would you like to have a book fair, what is the purpose of a book fair. So by that time, I think it was around ’59, ’60, ’61-’62, or something like that. I’m not sure, anyway it was gratifying and we had a good time.

I want to tell you some things that are not so pleasant about my work at Williston. During the later years in the 60’s, we all know about the Supreme Court decision in 1954, May 17th. Well, I wanted to get good book orders. I wanted to make them out according to the recommendation of the catalog, appraisals or what have you and this particular year I had any number of books on justice, desegregation of schools, integration, is it going to occur and all of this. This happened during the sixties, we know about the ‘54.

I usually put the book order in or send it down to the supervisor in the fall. By spring, we would had the book order and we would catalog those books for the next year or maybe for the summer. I kept waiting and waiting for this book order so I could put these books on the shelves or read half of them myself (laughter). The book order never came.

Well, I was concerned about my supervisor and her thinking anyway and this was the same time as we had a superintendent who believed in segregation of schools and of course I think she did too, so much so that she would always refer to the white librarians as Mrs. or Miss and all of the African American librarians by their first name. She would say Mrs. so and tow of them had the same name, Martha. I’ll say that it was Mrs. Harmanthy and so and Martha Boone.

Well, I knew where she was coming from. So one day I said, “Mrs. Bennett, may I speak with you in the conference room?” The library was full of people. And I noticed she had put Bertha Todd, Librarian. I said, “We have difficulties sometimes with our students at Williston respecting their teachers and placing a title by their names. When you send the books in this way, this does not help what we’re trying to teach?

“So I would like for you from now on to just say Williston Senior High School library. They’ll know who the librarian is since I’m the librarian and the books will get here.” Well, I tried to be very diplomatic.

Cody: Right, you weren’t asking her to call you Mrs. Todd?

Todd: No.

Cody: You were trying to find some compromise.

Todd: Yes, usually I have two sides. I have an administrative side and working in the library is administration and I can be hard nosed. So she continued to call me Bertha and the white librarian Mrs. So and So. The second time I called and asked her if we might … I wasn’t concerned about anybody else hearing me. The second time I said, “Mrs. Bennett, since you want to call me Bertha, I’m sure you want me to call you Martha.”

“So if you would like for our relationship to be on a more informal basis, then I shall be happy to accommodate you. From now on just feel free to call me Bertha and I’ll call you Martha.” And to the day she died and the day she retired, she was always Martha to me. I could have cared less then if she called me Bertha or what have you. That’s my philosophy. There is one entity whom I fear, that is God and I don’t care what hue or what position anyone else has, I don’t fear them. We’re all God’s children. He made us all and we don’t know why He made us the way He made us, but we’re supposed to think well about ourselves and that’s my philosophy and that was philosophy when I came here.

Another one was when my principal Booker T. Washington came up to me and this was the same time I think Dr. Eaton Sr. was really working on the public libraries, the golf clubs and the hospitals and asked me or gave me some slips from the public library. Our students were not to attend the public library unless I did not have the books in the library at Williston Senior High School or the books could not be found in the African-American library on Red Cross Street. I had to get them to research all of that before they could go to the public library.

So I proceeded to do as I was asked. If they couldn’t find it, I’d make certain they went through the procedures, but I could not hesitate to sign, give my signature on those slips indicating that they had a right to the public library and I was sending them. My signature stood behind what I believed.

Now one time, the principal was not quite as bold as I, he came up and said, “Well Mrs. So and So said that you’re sending too many students down to the public library.” I said, “Well you tell her I said we’re following the procedure.” We can’t find them here; we don’t have them on Red Cross Street. I would talk with each one I said, “Now say you go down there, you know what you’re going for, you get your lesson, you behave yourself, you don’t talk back and see if you can get what you need” because they knew I would get them on the other end (laughter).

That was one of the not so pleasant activities. Another one, since I didn't get my book order back, I never received it and she told me that Mr. Roland said. I said, “Mrs. Bennett, where’s my book order?” She said, “Well Mr. Roland said you had too many books on there about integration and desegregation.” So I fired back once again. I said, “Well will you tell Mr. Roland for me that I usually when I order books or develop them, I make a very special effort to read the blurbs about each book and try to order accordingly.”

I said, “I took a lot of time, I spend a lot of time with my book orders so you tell him that if he has any catalogs in which he would like for me to use to make book orders, then please give those to me. I shall be happy to order from his.” I must say I was sort of bold, yes bold (laughter), assertive. Certainly no fear.

Johnson: I was going to say brave.

Todd: So I never got the book order. Then when he came out with the staff once, Mr. Roland, with visitors from the State Department I guess and I can see him right now coming to the library. So I went out to meet him with a smile and he said, “Bertha, don’t you think this is the best library in the state, high school library?” So I just looked up at him and smiled and said, “Mr. Roland, I can’t agree with you on that simply because I have not visited that many new libraries in the state of North Carolina so I’m unable to compare as I need to.” I know he could have kicked me. I said, “but this is a nice library.” So I was very candid. I wasn’t afraid of anybody, which I wasn’t.

So I don’t remember what he said, but I tried him to get him by saying that this was a very nice library and we happen to have it. Another thing was since Lowe was teaching government and doing his very best job to teach government as it was written in those government books. He had to teach fairness and justice for all. And he taught it. He also had his students write many senior class requirement research papers on desegregation, on fairness and justice, on anything that was current at the time.

So Bertha Todd was using the reader’s guide to help him with his project. Well, by that time my reputation was at Central Office, I knew that. That’s okay and I hate to say it but I came here and I was a good librarian. I knew that. They knew that. [Phone rings] I worked my tail off and I worked 24/7. [Tape stops while phone is answered] So they were complaining, the central office staff, Mr. Roland and his staff members were complaining about the fact that Lowe was teaching government as it should be taught and it was rumored that they were going to come out and sit in on his classes.

Well, I think they really came that day when Lowe brought his classes to the library and we were working on the research papers. That’s when some of the central office members came. They went to his classroom. They didn't find him. So they made a beeline to the library and there they found the two of us working very closely with the students on these required senior research papers with the various titles.

So, I had to tell them what I was finding for the students and some of the topics. So I did. They got what they were looking for. Lowe was a good teacher and when the Greensboro 4 had the sit-in, it was one of his students, Joseph McNeal, who knew his government so well that he could tell the other three what their rights were. So don’t you think I was happy (laughter).

These are the kinds of teachers that Williston had. They were concerned about the students. They were bold, they were courageous and sometimes some would teach and hide their hands. But they were practiced in local parentise. They were really and truly the epitome of the statement in local parentise. They took those children under their wings. They visited their homes. They counseled them. Each teacher was a counselor even though we had counselors and they worked with them. They motivated them. They inspired them to attend Ivy League schools and some of these students did.

One year when they took their SAT, their scores were so high that Mr. Roland didn't believe it. So he made them retake the test and they scored high again. They had gotten nurturing. They had gotten a little push. They had counseling. They were made to feel, God made you, you are somebody and you work like you know that. And that was Williston.

When these things happened and Martin Luther King was assassinated, that was really the last year of Williston. I will never forget Clemons, I’ve forgotten the other young lady’s name, tow Fishers, two young teachers, one male, one female, that the students were beginning to look up to while the rest of us were old fogies. They figured they listened to us long enough. So this was about the 14th year, 13th or 14th year.

So when Martin Luther King was assassinated, you know, we had riots at Williston. We had riots all over the United States. We’re not just talking about New Hanover County. They wanted John Scott and his staff to lower the flag. Well, by this time the students were out.

Cody: Now John Scott was?

Todd: The principal at New Hanover High School. See there were only two schools at the time, New Hanover High and Williston Senior High School. These two teachers were the motivation behind the scene. The rest of us as I said had lost our influence.

Johnson: It’s Marva and Matthew Fisher.

Todd: Yes, well thank you.

Johnson: That was my junior year (laughter).

Todd: What I did then, that was my first learning in riot control. But became an old pro at Hoggard High School. What I did then, being the librarian and having talked with Marva Fisher and Matthew Clemmons, both of them, they were both good teachers, I persuaded them to take and encourage the students to go to the gym and they went finally. I think Clemmons got on the PA; I’m not even sure about that. Anyway it was I who persuaded Clemmons to talk with the student body and I wish now that I could have recorded that.

It was one of the most beautiful speeches that I have heard. He was in social studies too, I believe. He made his speech and he encouraged those students to remain in school and get an education, that’s what Martin Luther King would have wanted. That was the essence of it. But his oratory was very good.

After then they went back to the classrooms and the principal was busy calling central staff to say that we could leave around 1:00 and march down to the courthouse. Well we marched down to the courthouse singing We Shall Overcome and the busses took the others home who didn't want to march. That was the beginning of the end of Williston Senior High School. On graduation night, by this time, William Wagoner I think had been hired by UNCW and Hayward Bellamy was the budding superintendent that was his first graduation.

We didn't know whether we were going to have the graduation that night because of the tension. Lowe had not seen his students’ speeches. He had not edited those speeches and on that night at graduation, those were some fiery speeches given by some of those students.

Cody: Wish we had those on tape too.

Todd: That would have been beautiful. But it concerned the budding superintendent, Hayward Bellamy. So he came to the library and he said, “Bertha, can you tell me the names of those students who made those speeches?” I said, “Dr. Bellamy if you don’t mind, could you got to Mr. Lowe he can tell you.” Of course he found the names, whether he talked with the students or not, I don’t know. I had surgery that summer and that was the beginning of ’67-’68.

Johnson:

Todd: Yeah, of course that was ’67-’68 and this was ’68 now. I kept waiting to find out where I was going to be assigned because Williston was going to be dissolved. Before then we had had some, Wallace West came to me and asked me if I would be willing, that was a couple of years earlier, to become a librarian in a predominantly white high school. I said, “Yes, I don't mind,” but told Mr. West since I had set this one up and it was like my baby and I’d rather stay there. Well, I had no choice then because it was going to be dissolved. I needed to know where I was going.

Martha Boone, an African American female was at New Hanover High and of course Hoggard was the only other school then, high school. They sent half the teachers, African American, to New Hanover High School, half the students African-American to New Hanover High School and the other half came to Hoggard. Well, it was only one week before the school was supposed to open that I finally got a letter or call I think from C.D. Gurganus, as to where they were going to assign Bertha Todd.

It was two years later that I found out why. I knew I had the reputation of being fiery. They never knew, when I say they, I mean central office staff, never knew if I was just going to just file a law suit or what (laughter). They had already hired a white librarian, a second one, to go to Hoggard to work with Dr. Norris. They pulled her up from Samson County. I had worked on a high school level all of my life. So they were mighty afraid to put Bertha Todd in a junior high school or an elementary school lest I be dissatisfied that I might do something else.

So they had to work with this other librarian and try to get her to understand before I could be officially assigned to Hoggard High School.

Cody: So they found another spot for her.

Todd: They found another spot; I didn't learn that until two or three, maybe a couple of years later. That’s the reason why it was only one week before school opened that I became co-librarian at Hoggard High School. I spent my first year going through all of the Williston’s books that had been assigned to Hoggard recataloging those books. I also spent my first and second year spending thousands of dollars that had been in Williston’s treasury, or fund, budget, to order books on African-American heritage for Hoggard’s library.

As I reflect on Williston and its teachers, I never experienced a more dedicated set of teachers and a more energetic group of students striving to become people of the mainstream, striving to say to themselves, “I can do as well as you can do. I can attend the Ivy League colleges and do well. I can perform just as well as anyone.” That was my perspective of Williston, the teachers dedicated, the students energized and doing their very best. As I reflect and think of Williston, surely it was the greatest school under the sun.

Cody: We’ve heard that many times (laughter).

Todd: And those are my experiences. Of course I spent 15 years at Williston, Williston Industrial School one year, Williston Senior High School 14 years, before I was transferred to Hoggard and Williston was dissolved.

Johnson: Now after Hoggard, you went into administration.

Todd: Well, I was in administration at Hoggard. I went there as a librarian. I only remained a year and I was made assistant principal. no…administrative assistant in human relations, whatever that was. I think it was keeping the peace. Now my superintendent, Hayward Bellamy, didn’t much like my saying that. When I went to Hoggard, I spent half my time, but my co-librarian didn't like that either, but there were many white students who had not seen an educated African American. So when I’m sitting at the table in the library, working with books, the table would be surrounded with white students and I sparred with them just like this so they were fascinated.

Cody: You were a curiosity (laughter).

Todd: That’s right because they were curious. Because the only individuals they knew were the cook, the maid, or the chauffeur. So desegregation brought that about. I was outspoken of course.

Cody: And you helped a lot of African American students try to assimilate into the Hoggard environment.

Todd: Oh yes, so much so that I’ll never forget. I got along well with the African American and got along well with the white students, but they were a little jealous of that. I’ll never forget when I was mediating another riot or fight, they said, “Mrs. Todd, you belong to us” (laughter).

Johnson: That’s a telling comment.

Todd: I said, “No, I belong to the students, all of you.” On that basis, that is the way I worked with that administrative assistant position at Hoggard High School.

And I remained at Hoggard for 17 years working around the clock, summer and in the winter or the regular school system, with or without pay, working in order to make certain that we had fewer riots. I had given 39 years to New Hanover County, but you can multiply some of those years by two. There were many times that I didn't get home until 12 o’clock at night when I was at Hoggard. I wouldn’t do that now because I would be afraid.

But Carol Ellis and I, Nancy Thompson and I stayed at school so late working with student counsel trying to do our very best to prove to all of the students we were all creations of God. We are all on the same planet. We have one race, the human race. We had different hues of people and that is the makeup of this world. It was my goal then to try to reach as many students and adults and parents as I could to show them we are one in the spirit. We are all God’s children and that’s been my motto.

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

Todd: Not then, not then. I think the board made the best decision. The only thing about that was we were not informed and prepared for the desegregation because of the riots and the uprising of the Martin Luther King assassination and a lot of that happened at Williston. First they could not find a white male who would serve as principal. And they couldn’t find a black male who would serve as principal. So if you can’t find …

Cody: Right, somebody has to be willing to take on the challenge.

Todd: Right, no one, neither group, was able to make that decision or take that challenge. So I think Williston, then again I don’t know, the community had to be educated and made more aware, and I think it may have been. Now Hoggard had as many riots as anybody could have. New Hanover High had its share too. But I really think that as I reflect on that now, that was the best route to take although it was a terrible one at the time.

But Hayward Bellamy stood tall and was courageous to take us on through that period of desegregation. We needed a flexible individual, but yet one who was firm enough and courageous enough to take us through. It was difficult. It was very difficult.

Cody: How did they have room for everybody? I guess Hoggard was a new school so it was….

Todd: Hoggard was new, they had 9th grade centers until they could build additional rooms. In fact, Roland-Grise became a 9th grade center. We had 2,300 students at times. It was something. When they would riot, they would break windows. And for years when they had those piñatas in the Spanish classes, for years my body would react because it made me think it was a riot again. You see I didn't stay in the office during the riots, I sent white and black students in my office to stay there, but I was out there in the middle of those things.

I will never forget single handedly until Spike Corbin, Denny Baxter and some of the others came to my rescue. I had heard, this was at Hoggard, that if there was no black cheerleader selected that there was going to be a riot. Well I went on home. I don’t know who the judges were. I was doing the majorettes since I was a majorette in school. And When I arrived at school that next morning, there were no black cheerleaders selected.

The students were getting ready to riot. The reason I would always know about those is because being in the library, you would hear the informal talk. In the classroom teachers would keep you quiet. So I heard this and I told Spike Corbin and I told Denny Baxter and I told C.D. Gurganus, I said “Jim, I want you when I give you the signal, I want you to clear the gym of all of your classes because I think we may have to go there.”

When I was standing outside the library at Hoggard the time, here come all of these black students marching down the hall in front of the library. I said, “Where are you going?” Well, by this time, my reputation had got out; I’m right down the middle. I’m not over here with the blacks; I’m not over here with the whites. I am for what is right. And if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Somebody made some joke and they laughed.

I said, “Okay, I have enough riot control now that I’m going to outsmart you.” They went on upstairs. By this time teachers, if they could hear them before they came, they would lock their doors and they couldn’t get in so they could teach. Well these others were not going to class at all. They went up on the second floor.

Well, I do know that if you want riot control and I learned this through trial and error, that you speak the loudest and the strongest as if you know where you’re going and what you’re doing. So that same group had added some more because teachers closed doors and they persuaded blacks to come out and came back by the library. They didn't know where they were going. They didn't know what to do with themselves. They had no leader.

So I yelled out, I said, “I know where you can go.” Somebody said she knows where we can go. I said, “We are going to the gym.” So I told Hebbe to clean out the gym and they filed, here we go, I’m leading the way to the gym. They pulled out the bleachers and they filed up on one side in Hoggard’s gym on the bleachers. I said, “Lord, what am I going to do with them now” (laughter).

You think I knew what I was going to do? No but at least I was getting them out of the halls. I didn't want them to riot. I didn't want them to fight. I wanted the teachers to try to keep on teaching. Now you asked me what was an administrative assistant, that’s what it was (laughter). So I said, okay let me ask those questions and I really said, “Okay, you’re in here; you’re not in class. You’re concerned about something. I want to know what you’re concerned about, raise your hand and let me know.”

Then I got somebody to record. That’s what they did. Meanwhile Denny Baxter came and said, “Bertha, don’t let them ask about the Azalea Festival.” Before I could ask Denny I said, “What is it they were going to ask me, somebody had already asked me.” So I really had to mobilize. I think I put it on Denny, I said, “Okay Denny, you answer that.” And I talked and I talked. Then Spike came in and he talked. We kept those kids in there and then I talked again, for four hours until lunch period.

Meanwhile the principal was calling the superintendent to see what we could do with them. And the superintendent said well you could take them home, get the buses and we could take them home if they want to go. “Oh no, we want to stay in school and get our lessons” (laughter). They didn't want to go home. So I said to myself well you’re certainly not getting it right here in the gym, but I didn't say that.

So I told the principal that was vetoed. Then I said okay, we’ll get representatives from each group to serve as a core. Well we just kept talking. Then a bright one brought the bullhorn in and we were really doing things right then until the bell rang for the fourth period lunch. And they filed out to go to lunch. Then they went to their classes that afternoon. But you’re talking about expending energy.

Johnson: They needed someone to listen to them though.

Todd: I know but we were listening but we didn't have enough people for them to be listened to or we weren’t moving fast enough to satisfy their concerns. You talk about becoming hysterical after that because we averted a riot.

Cody: Yes, right, I bet you were drained after that (laughter).

Todd: I cried, I got into hysterics almost. I calmed down. I will never forget that. [Phone rings] But you really don’t want to hear about Hoggard, that’s old news (laughter).

Johnson: It’s an interesting story.

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