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Interview with Lois Keith, May 5, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Lois Keith, May 5, 2004
May 5, 2004
Lois Keith and interviewer Claudia Stack visit the Canetuck Colored school house, a Rosenwald school that opened in 1921. Mrs. Keith, who is in her late 80s describes her time there and her life following.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Keith, Lois Interviewer:  Stack, Claudia Date of Interview:  1/31/2005 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  28


Keith: (inside, gesturing) The uh... a wall here. This used to be from the primary grade to the fourth, I think it was. And, this part here was from... (asks question to a woman, Pauline, seated at a table in the room) What was it? From the fourth to seventh, right?

Pauline: Yeah, you had first, second and third back in here. Fourth, fifth, sixth, and sometimes seventh. But, the seventh went to Rocky Point.

Keith: ... Went to Rocky Point. So when uh... after I moved from New York and got the chance to open this up as a Community Center... uh... we had this wall torn down. Made one thing good. Now, there used to be a blackboard there for the children to write on. And, this... this... they used to pull this up... (gesturing towards where the wall used to be) Is the old hook still up there, Pauline?

Pauline: The what?

Keith: Is the hook still up there where you used to pull up this... uh...

Pauline: Yeah.

Keith: used to pull...

Pauline: You had a rope where you pulled the partition out...

Keith: ...pulled the partition out, like when they had the Commissioner Day, the last day, you'd pull this (gestures slowly upward with her hands) and you'd go up high to the wall. And, that'd mean everybody would be together. But, still in all, there was a partition on here that you had to climb over if you wanted to go to over. It was open enough for everybody to see from here to there to the stage.

Stack: Was that a wooden partition?

Keith: It was wooden but it was a blackboard, also.

Stack: Oh, ok.

Keith: Blackboard was attached here and lifted up. And, the blackboard to this part (gestures toward other half of room) was up there on the stage.

Stack: Oh, ok.

Keith: Now, remember this wasn't paneling at this time, just old walls... wooden walls, you know. And, we... at the... uh... we had the Community Center here so we had classes and built up... put paneling all around. And, also took down the lights, those little bulbs lights, and we used the... uh... whatcha call'em... what's the name lights?

Student: Fluorescent lights.

Keith: Fluorescent lights.

Stack: Now, where was your heater when you...

Keith: The heater... you see where those wooden... (she walks over to protruding section of paneled wall) ...there's a chimney in here, see, a double chimney.

Stack: Oh, ok.

Keith: And, there was a little heater, here, to keep you warm. (walks to other side of section) And, there was a heater, here, for this room, to keep you warm. And, over here... you want to come over here? (she walks around to a smaller, adjoining room) Over here was a heater, here, for the kitchen part. But, now, this door wasn't there. We had this door cut. See, we had... there was a door over there. Its closed-in. And, this door, here. But, after we used the Community... the Community Center, we cut this door, here, so we wouldn't have to go outside... to come in, you know.

Stack: And, this is one of the original blackboards?

Keith: This is... yeah, this is what was... this is one of the original blackboards, was in the kitchen part. Now, in the kitchen, there wasn't... all this stuff wasn't here. The Senior Citizens put this sink...

Stack: Uh huh...

Keith: ... and the cabinets up. And, the stove was bought and the refrigerator.

Stack: (to students) You guys can come in, if you want.

Student: Is that cabinet down there, is that from the school days?

Keith: This part down here is from the school days, yes.

Stack: Uh huh...

Keith: That part down there.

Stack: Neat.

Keith: Just painted it.

Stack: And so...

Keith: Did you want to ask me (inaudible) (students laugh)

Stack: So you attended school here... you probably told them, when I was still getting the camera out? So, you attended school, here?

Keith: My first day going to school was right here.

Stack: Oh, how neat!

Keith: The school was just build that year, too.

Stack: What... if you don't mind my asking, what year was that?

Keith: Hmm, let's see now... I was six years old. I was born in 1916. So... you started school at five years old or six years old? Five years old.

Stack: Uh huh.

Keith: Anyway...

Stack: About '21. And, um did you attend all your primary school, here?

Keith: All my primary school, here. And, then when I finished here, I went to Rocky Point Training School.

Stack: Oh, how wonderful.

Keith: That's where I graduated.

Stack: Uh huh.

Keith: And, this girl here, this lady out here she can tell you a lot, too. She went to school here.

Stack: And, it was a two-teacher school when you were attending... is that right... two teacher school?

Keith: Two teachers school? Yeah. Just two teachers, one in each side. One teacher had to take care of all the children in that room and all the children in the other room.

Stack: And, about how many students, would you say?

Keith: Oh, uh... quite a bit because uh there is from fourth... fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade was in this side.

Stack: Right.

Keith: And then the primer... we called it "primary", at that time, kindergarten.

Stack: Right.

Keith: Up into third grade, on the other side. And, the one on this side was supposed to be the Principal.

Stack: Uh huh.

Keith: And, the one on the other side was...

Stack: The higher grade was supposed to be the Principal? The one who taught the higher grades was the Principal?

Keith: The Principal, uh huh.

Stack: And so about how many students would that have been? Was it dozens? Or...

Keith: Dozens... what?

Stack: I mean how many students for the whole school? About how many students were in the whole school?

Keith: Oh, I guess about fifty... I guess... or something like that.

Stack: Fifty?

Keith: A lot.

Stack: Uh hmm.

Keith: Uh hmm. A lot of people. And, what we would do when our lunch hour come, we would go out to the grass or we would go out and play "church". Take brooms and sweep around... put the grass... put little bushes around. My friends (?) called it "down the church" (?). It was good times in those days, you know.

Stack: Uh hmm.

Keith: Good times. (looking up at UNCW students) You all don't know anything about that because you all don't have the time to pick... make a toy (students laugh)... make nothing. You buy everything.

Students: Yeah.

Keith: We would go pick about... there's a certain grass that you pull up out of the ground and it had a lot of roots. And, you take that grass and shake all get all the sand off of it and wash all the dirt out of it. And, tie a string around it and for doll hair. And, take part of it the... grass and tie a string around it so it would have hands and the other part for the body. (laughs) (laughter from students) Now, you all don't do nothing like that. (laughter) You can buy everything you want.

Stack: That's neat. So, did you have a long way to walk when you came to school, here? Did you have to walk home?

Keith: Um... from... its a good ways to walk, yeah, but it didn't seem like nothing to us because we used to it, you know. That's all we thought... we know about... is walking. A few houses down... you came... did you come from Highway 11, or which way?

Stack: Uh... 210 and then we... yeah, on 210. And, then we came over on... just by...

Keith: Canetuck (sp?)?

Stack: Yeah, Black... by the Black River.

Keith: Oh, ok then. All right, so I'm down that way (gestures).

Stack: Uh. huh. Do you still have your same family house? Are you still in that same...

Keith: I'm still in that same... Uh huh.

Stack: How neat.

Keith: Not in the same house. We moved back from New York, I built a house.

Stack: Oh. I don't want to hog all the questions. I'm sure you all can think of a lot of things that...

Keith: I wish I could demonstrate how to pull the grass and let you all make your dolls (laughter) and wash the dirt out of the grass, out of the roots. And, comb their hair and make braids out of the little roots. That was a lot of fun, then. (to the students) Are you all in the same grade, then?

Student: Yeah. we're all just Freshmen...

Keith: Freshmen.

Student: ... in college, yeah.

Keith: Yeah, I uh... when we used to have the dairy farm, up there... I got cream... they would give me cream... and I had a real churn, an old-time churn... milking... I would take that churn and go to the school and demonstrate to the children how they churned that thing until it come to butter. When it come to butter, they'd see how butter was being made.

Stack: So, do you recall, in your community, who were the people who helped build this school? You must have known a lot of them.

Keith: Well, Julius Rosewall (sp?) is the one who, you know, furnished the money, I guess, you know. But, who built it... I don't know... you know, carpenter, or whoever built it.

Stack: Right. Do you remember the grown-ups in your community talking about planning to build the School or anything like that? Do you remember, like was it an agent from the Rosenwald Foundation who came to talk about it or did someone in the community want to start?

Keith: No, it wasn't the community. T.T. Murphy was the... I guess, the Pender County Superintendent of the whole schools, I guess...

Stack: Right.

Keith: ...the whole schools... and it came down to him... through Julian Rosewall.

Stack: Uh huh.

Student: Was the school used for anything else, other than a school?

Keith: What?

Student: Was the building used for anything, other than a school?

Keith: Well, we used to have community meetings, here. And, then when I moved... after I moved back from New York... then I opened it up as a Community Center. That's how I got it in the shape it is, you know, because it was... you know, dilapidated...

Stack: Right.

Keith: ... on the inside. But, I got... had a class through Cape Fear Tech and got this paneling put up all around and on the ceiling and all that.

Stack: You mean the students came from Cape Fear?

Keith: We... I had Cape Fear Tech to pay for... uh... a teacher...

Stack: Uh huh.

Keith: ... to teach... to teach "putting up the paneling". But, we had to furnish the... we had to furnish the material. But he paid the teachers to teach and the members in the community would come and work at it... put it up at night, you know.

Stack: Uh. hmm. Wow.

Keith: They'd have class at night.

Student: How long has it been a Community Center?

Keith: Um.... it's been... it opened-up as a Community Center in 1975.

Stack: Wow.

Student: And, it still is today?

Keith: It still is today. But, we're not having any classes in now because when I was here with Sinkline (sp?) Community Action, Sinkline was paying me to keep things going. But, Sinkline Community Action went out of business.

Student: Uh hmm.

Keith: And, then we got funds donated from the Government to still have classes here. You see the dolls out there? The dolls out there... right behind you there on that... right on that little table, there. (the students move around to look for the dolls) You don't see the dolls on the table there? I know you got to see it. (she moves to a table with dolls on it) See, they had classes doing things like this (she twirls the dolls around) and making quilts. Pauline, maybe you have something to add to what I've been saying...

Pauline: We talking about cemetery... (laughter)... cemeteries.

Keith: No, but I'm saying... I told her you know a lot, too, about it 'cause you were here longer than I was. I was away for a while and then came back.

Woman: How many years did you attend school here? The whole time.

Keith: The whole time we was here... my first day of ever being in school was here.

Woman: Ok, and so you went through the seventh grade?

Keith: Uh hmm... to the seventh grade and then to Rocky Point Training School.

Student: Is that where we went...

Stack: That's... yeah, we... I live in Rocky Point and we all went to the Training School site. There's two of the buildings are left. So we went to see them.

Woman: And, she can probably tell you something about the Training site. This is Pauline and she can... she went to school here, too. Uh hmm... (Camera pans around to elderly woman sitting at a table.)

Pauline: Well, all the family and my mother went to school, here.

Stack: Uh hmm.

Pauline: ...and, when I got old enough, at six years old, I went to school here. My husband went to school here and my son went to school here (laughs).

Stack: That's wonderful. And uh...

Woman: Well, what kind of school was here before this building was built in the 20's?

Pauline: Called Canetuck (sp?) Community or... Canetuck.

Keith: No, no, no. The old Lodge building you was going to school in...

Pauline: Oh, the Hall.

Keith: The Hall.

Stack: What kind of building was that?

Pauline: That was uh...

Keith: It's not there anymore.

Pauline: That was a two-story building that they had secret meetings... like organizations and things...

Stack: Uh huh. And, when you were attending school, here, did you remember if anyone in the community, parents or grown-ups, were talking about, you know, how the school was organized or what it was like in the beginning, when it was funded? I know that the Rosenwald Fund gave some money, right?

Pauline: I think... didn't the Rosenwald uh... Fund... that gave the school to this community.

Stack: Right. But, the communities usually also contributed a lot of things too, like labor...

Pauline: Uh hmm.

Stack: And, sometimes money and materials, too, right, or land. Do you remember?

Pauline: Well, I never heard of it.

Stack: Really? Um, I just didn't know if maybe you heard someone talking that...

Keith: ... What's that?

Stack: ...That the community, a lot of times, with the Rosenwald Schools, would... um... contribute labor, or materials, or land. Do you know if that was the case with this school... would you help to build it?

Keith: It was completely funded by Julian Rosewall.

Stack: Uh huh.

Keith: And, he built a few schools, you know...

Stack: Right, right.

Pauline: They were two-teacher schools.

Keith: And um...

Stack: Did someone donate the land for it, too. Or, do you know if they purchased the land for the school?

Keith: I don't know where they purchased... they probably purchased the land.

Stack: Uh hmm.

Keith: They probably purchased the land. I don't remember.

Stack: Was it connected to the church, next door?

Pauline: No.

Stack: No... ok. That's interesting. (To Pauline) And, did you also go to the Rocky Point Training School?

Pauline: Called it Pender County Training School. And, they finally changed it to South Pender High.

Stack: Right. Wasn't that such a long ride for you, though?

Pauline: Yeah, we'd meet the bus before day, in the morning.

Stack: Wow.

Pauline: Yeah. And, that was a long ways to go, but that was... we had no choice if we were going to continue in school.

Stack: Right. Right. What was...

Keith: ... (inaudible) ...when I was going to school, I had to go from here, through the swamp all the way over to 210... that's the way I had to catch the bus.

Stack: That's a hard walk before you even got on the bus!

Keith: In the dark. In the dark.

Stack: Wow. That must have been frightening, as a young girl, to be walking through the swamp in the middle of the night?

Keith: You know, you wouldn't be frightened of nothing... but, one morning I saw something... I thought sure it was a bear... 'cause it was, you know, still dark.

Stack: Yeah

Keith: But, I was... I was like my father, I wasn't afraid of nothing. (laughter) I didn't walk fast, no more. I walked slowly, slowly, slowly. And, the closer I got... I see that it wasn't nothing but a big old stump!

Pauline: There was snakes in there, though. (laughter)

Woman: That was about... what... three miles?

Pauline: Well...

Keith: Three miles? Well, I imagine so... from my house...

Woman: ... your house...

Keith: ...all the way through that lion swamp... through that...

Pauline: Or, some of us had to walk farther because we lived... way like over Burgaw Berko.

Woman: Yeah.

Pauline: They walked from over there and that was probably a couple miles, wasn't it?

Woman: It was, yeah.

Pauline: Uh hmm.

Keith: But, when she started going on the bus, the bus was coming on this road... right?

Pauline: Yeah.

Keith: Yeah. The bus was coming around on this road.

Pauline: But, I had to walk up here everyday to go to school.

Student: Was this a school, up until it opened as a Community Center in '75? It operated as a school, until then?

Keith: It was operated... from the day it was built, it was operated as a school continuously until... uh... until the school emerged to Long Creek, right?

Pauline: West Pender.

Keith: West Pender.

Stack: West Pender. And, that was... um... I've been looking through records...

Woman: Late Sixties. '54. Fifty...? Fifties or Sixties? Fifties.

Stack: Ok.

Woman: I can't remember. I've got it down. I know you do, too.

Stack: Right. So, the building kind of sat for a good while? Twenty years or so... until you all did the Community Center? It was empty until the Community Center from...

Pauline: I don't think it stayed empty very long, before the Community Center got it.

Keith: What did you say about it?

Stack: Was it empty for twenty years, from the time the School closed to '75 when you said the Community Center opened?

Keith: Not really, because the uh... community bought this building from the uh... Board of Education.

Stack: Uh. huh.

Pauline: Somebody said the Board of Education wasn't supposed to charge...

Keith: Hmm?

Pauline: ...the Board of Education wasn't supposed to charge for, but they did. Say you was suppose to gotten it for a dollar.

Stack: Oh.

Pauline: ...just a little gratuity.

Stack: Yeah.

Pauline: But, uh...

Keith: The community paid $500, right?

Pauline: Yeah. Well, that... that wasn't very much to pay for a building like this.

Woman: But, you all have done so much work in here...

Stack: Yeah.

Woman:'ve really done a good job.

Pauline: Mmm hmm. It's because...

Keith: The families had to pay so much because my mother wrote me about it. And uh.... I think we sent... we sent $25... the way every family sent... gave $25 in order... to make up the $500. Every family had to send some money... pay some money... (inaudible) pay for...

Pauline: And, in my time... in the school here, we didn't have electricity.

Stack: Right.

Pauline: We had... like um... if we were going to have some function here, at night, we'd borrow the kerosene lamp from the church.

Stack: Oh...

Pauline: Mmm hmm.

Stack: And, was it out-door plumbing as well? Like...

Pauline: No. Yeah, you ran out...

Woman: It was an outhouse.

Stack: Right, right.

Woman: There was no plumbing (laughter).

Stack: Right.

Pauline: It's one of them still out there. It probably fell over.

Keith: See that... look right over here.

Stack: Yep.

Keith: That's the outhouse for the boys.

Stack: Oh.

Pauline: And, the ladies outhouse was over here... but, its gone. (She walks back across the room.) And, uh... let me show you the cloak room. When we'd come into the school, they pull off our coat and hat.

Pauline: And, your lunch box, don't forget...

Keith: And, your lunch box. This was a closet for that... for this room. (She walks to another door - a bathroom, now.) And, over here... and over here was a closet for putting your lunch, your coat, your hat, and your lunch in there... until it was time for lunch. That was a closet. And, I had the thing changed to... let me lean up against something... to a Community Center. Then I had this part... this is the new part... I had that built so I could I could have two bathrooms.

Keith: And, that's the bathroom for the men...

Stack: Right.

Keith: ...and this is the bathroom for the ladies. See, it was just... only thing that was in here was a window and shelves... because that... this part here wasn't there at all. Just this one here. So, we did that to have two bathrooms.

Stack: Right.

Keith: Used the closet for the cloak closet... we called it the cloak closet.

Stack: Was there a separate cloak closet for boys and girls or did they all go in...

Keith: No, everyone... whoever was in this room, boys and girls had to use the same... but they know where they put... they had shelves... they know where they put their lunch and their coat and come back to get it.

Stack: Did the students stay pretty orderly and listen in school.

Keith: Oh yeah, its not like (laughter) they do today!

Stack: Not like they do today (laughs).

Keith: They were pretty...

Stack: What was... what was it... what was the class like? Did the students recite or was the teacher talking most of the time?

Keith: Oh, the teacher... the children had to recite and uh... different... you know she had three classes in this room so she had to do one class first. She put them up to the front and worked with them...

Stack: Uh hmm.

Keith: And, after she was finished with them then the others come up to the front and she'd work with them. And, had them go to the blackboard and do writing that, you know, were supposed to do. So... they'd come up and read and then she'd ask questions. If they wanted to know something they'd put their hands up. It was quite... at that time, it was real... that's all we knew. Real good.

Student: Why did you move to New York?

Keith: I went to New York, after I graduated. I was supposed to be uh... working to get money to go to college. And, I find out I couldn't go to college because my eldest sister... there was a lot of us in our family... so I (inaudible) a job and I sent money home for them so they could buy some clothes and, you know, decent.... But, then I went to night school, two nights a week, for uh... nursing. And, uh... I didn't even finish that but the people I was working with they knew I did such a good job and their doctors put me on doing nursing work.... training me how to give injections. They start me off with a orange. Showing me how to give injections because I was working for their family. The mother. And, then from that on, I was a baby nurse.

Stack: Oh.

Keith: I don't know how many... I must have brought about... oh... 200 babies from the hospital and teach the mother how to do the formula and how to take care of the baby, how to bathe the baby, how to dress the baby. And, I did that until... excuse me, I had a soda, I'm belching (laughter)... until I moved here. And, then even after I moved here, I had to go back. They sent for me. You know, when you do a good job and everybody... when you honor and you do a good job, they give you like more work to do. You're recommended to this one and this one and this one, "Yeah, my nurse was this... my nurse was Lois Smith. So get her and you'll be... doing good." All right, then so after I moved here, I had to go back. They sent my fare and everything to go back to take care of babies. Until, my daughter-in-law died and she had four kids and I had to stop working and take care of them. So, that's my history.

Stack: You must have been working really hard, that whole time.

Keith: Yeah, but I enjoyed it... I enjoyed it, you know, raising the children. And, then after, with that... that's how I got, you know, the job here opening up the Center here, you know, I had something to do. And, when the kids get off from school, then I would, the bus come by, you know, when they come home. My husband was home. He'd be there until I'd get there. It'd be very nice.

Student: How different was it... was it like really different when you went up to New York? How'd you handle that?

Keith: How'd I handle from here?

Student: Yeah, from going from like really little...

Stack: Town.

Keith: It didn't bother me at all, I just fit right in. One thing about it, nothing ever excites me, you know, I just fit right in whatever way... I fit right in. I was doing... you know, working in the house... home... domestic work and going to school at night, two nights a week. That's how I did my... got my nurse's training. And, the lady I was with had a baby and she had a nurse and I learned a lot from her. So when the nurse finished her two weeks off. She finished then I took over. And, the mother laying in there asleep and I go in the room and get the baby and give the... I make the formula and give the baby the bottle and everything. So, that's how she started to send me out, "Lois did a good job! She took care of the baby. She did just like the other nurse. She... "

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