Monday, February 27, 2017

Ezekiel "Zeke" Robinson

Robinson with the college's horse and buggy
When the doors opened at the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) on October 5, 1892, school president Charles Duncan McIver had 15 well-qualified faculty members and nearly 200 young female students. While cooks, janitors, handymen, and others worked behind the scenes to keep the school running, McIver felt that he needed a single individual to manage the facilities and the support staff on the growing campus. He called upon Ezekiel “Zeke” Robinson, a young African American man who had worked as a servant for McIver during his time teaching at Peace Institute in Raleigh. Robinson arrived mere weeks after the campus’s opening, and took up the duties of “General Factotum.”

In this role, Robinson managed the school’s large support staff – as many as forty-two individuals in the 1894-95 academic year. Nearly all of these workers were African Americans, and many (including Robinson) lived in a small segregated neighborhood several blocks west of campus. There, Robinson and his wife raised their four children – three boys. One son, named Charles Duncan McIver, died at a young age. The other two sons, Ed and Milton, moved to New York City where one became a prominent orchestra leader. Robinson’s only daughter Annie, named after McIver’s daughter, graduated from Bennett College in 1932 and became an educator in Greensboro.

Robinson (front center) with other members
of the maintenance team
In addition to supervision of other support staff, Robinson performed numerous tasks that were critical to the function of the school. He rang the school bell, assisted with campus landscaping, lit fires to keep offices and rooms warm, waited table at state dinners, and delivered the campus mail. He also served as a porter to the college presidents, seeing that they kept appointments and helping with their coats and umbrellas. In his role as the campus chauffeur, he drove the college presidents to meet visiting dignitaries such as Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, and Anna Howard Shaw. In the earliest days of the campus, he manned the college horse-and-buggy, providing students with their primary means of transportation into the city.

Robinson just prior to retirement, 1944
 During his time at the school, he saw the transition from horses to automobiles, from oil lamps to electricity, from fireplaces to central heating, and from wells and pumps to running water. He served three college presidents (McIver, Julius Foust, and W.C. Jackson). He saw the acreage of campus increase tenfold, and saw the student body grow from 200 to over 2,200.

Ill health forced Robinson to retire in 1944 after a 52-year career, although he noted that he planned to “come to work on his good days, and that the college will have to get along as best it can when he can’t make the grade.” At his retirement, faculty and alumnae presented Robinson with a $300 gift to symbolize their “appreciation of his long and faithful service to the college.” He returned to campus numerous times after his official retirement, typically at the annual Founder's Day celebration in October.

On December 1, 1960, Ezekiel Robinson died at a local nursing home at the age of 93. Robinson was the last surviving member of the faculty and staff from the first year of the State Normal. He was interred at Maplewood Cemetery near the North Carolina A&T campus.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dr. Joseph Himes "It is the mind that sees"

Dr. Joseph Himes taught at UNCG from 1969-1977 as Excellence Foundation Professor in the Department of Sociology.

"It is the mind that sees." It was a personal motto that Dr. Joseph Himes carried with him and guided him throughout his life, from the time he lost his sight in a chemistry experiment in his early high school days.
Himes' parents (his mother was a public school teacher and his father, a college teacher) were committed to his education even before the accident, home schooling him in his elementary school years. After he lost his sight, they increased their efforts even further, and moved a number of times to be nearer to schools that offered the very best education for the blind. With much effort, they enrolled him in the all-white Missouri School for the Blind, where he was able to attend only in a subordinate position. It was there he learned to read braille. Later, Himes' parents moved to Cleveland so that he could attend East High, which had an outstanding program for blind students. Himes' mother read his assignments to him, and he excelled to such an extent that he received one of 15 scholarships awarded nationally by the American Foundation for the Blind. He attended Oberlin College and excelled there as well, and was very involved in organizations, and extracurricular and social functions at the school.

Himes developed a near photographic memory during this time, since almost no course materials were printed in braille and Joseph had to memorize his assignments which were read to him. Unsure of what major to undertake, one of his sociology professors signed him up as a sociology major and he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1931 Magna cum laude and a member of Phi Betta Kappa. he quickly earned a master's degree in sociology and economics in the following year.
Himes next taught at Houston College for two years before attending Ohio State University where he completed his Ph.D. in sociology and economics in 1938. He worked as a research director, writer, and aircraft assembly worker (during WWII) from 1936-1946, but he made a name for himself as a Professor of Sociology at North Carolina Central University from 1946-1969. In 1969, he was offered a job at his alma mater, Ohio State University, but he chose to come to UNCG.

He would author six books in his lifetime, and well over 100 articles (the first published in 1936). He also served his discipline at the local, national, and international levels. He was the founder and first president of the North Carolina Sociological Society and he held, at times, visiting professorships at Duke, Chapel Hill, and Syracuse University, as well as serving as a Fullbright Lecturer at Helsinki University, Finland, and Madras University, India. Indeed, he was a worldwide traveler, having also served as Project Director and Chief Investigator on a NSF Grant-funded study of "the Recruitment and Socialization of Social Movement Leaders" in Rhodesia in 1976. Dr. Himes was also the recipient of many awards including the DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award (from the American Sociological Association), the Irwin V. Sperry Award (N.C. Family Life Council), and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award (UNCG). Dr. Himes' accomplishments would be considerable for anyone and are all the more impressive considering he was both blind and, being African-American, a minority.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Buddy Gist, the Man Behind the Miles Davis Trumpet

The Miles Davis Trumpet is listed on the
UNCG Bucket List
Passing through the atrium of the Music Building, it is easy to overlook the modest exhibit featuring a trumpet. It is in a small case, dwarfed by its surroundings. Even upon reading the plaque, it is difficult to believe that the trumpet belonging to Miles Davis is housed on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Although the name of Miles Davis attracts immediate attention to the instrument, the man responsible for its donation is not as commonly remembered by the visitors making pilgrimages to be close to a noted artifact of music history. The Miles Davis Trumpet was donated to UNCG on September 27th, 2001 by “Buddy” Gist.  

Arthur Taswell “Buddy” Gist, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in 1925, but was raised in Greensboro, NC. His father and mother, Arthur and Louise Gist, were the proprietors of the Magnolia House Motel on Gorrell Street. The Gist family hosted an impressive array of entertainers in their establishment, including Ray Charles, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Tina Turner. Magnolia House, which is preserved as a historical landmark, accumulated such a remarkable list of patrons because it served as one of the few motels providing quality accommodations for African American travelers prior to desegregation.

In August of 1942, Gist was enlisted in the military, serving in the Navy for the duration of World War II. Into adulthood, Buddy Gist attended North Carolina State A & T University, where he was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Upon graduating in 1947, Gist continued the entrepreneurial family tradition, but relocated from Greensboro to Harlem, which provided far greater opportunity than the South during the Jim Crow Era.

Upon taking up residence in Upper Manhattan, Buddy Gist submerged himself in the thriving African American cultural community. During one evening in 1949 at the Birdland Jazz Club, billed as the “Jazz Corner of the World,” Gist was introduced to Miles Davis by US heavyweight boxing champion, Ezzard Charles. This began Buddy Gist’s friendship Miles Davis and his family. Gist met many of Davis’ recording friends and even helped look after his children while Davis was on tour.

Miles Davis performed in concert at UNCG in 1973
Unlike many of his New York circle of friends, Buddy Gist was not a musician or sports hero. In keeping with his family tradition, Gist was a successful business owner through the 1960s and 1970s. He owned several car dealerships in the New York area, and he began two African import coffee companies, after which (Mt. Kilimanjaro Coffee Company), Miles Davis named his album, Filles de Kilimanjaro. For several decades, Gist lived a life of glamour and success, but by the 1980s, he fell upon hard times and returned to Greensboro.

A few years after taking up residence in Greensboro, Buddy Gist allowed the Miles Davis Trumpet to be exhibited on loan to UNCG, beginning in 1996. The trumpet was not officially donated to UNCG until September 27th, 2001. At this time, the value of the trumpet, modestly estimated in the annual report of the School of Music, was $70,000. The jazz program became the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program, a memorial to Gist’s friendship with the jazz legend. Soon after the donation became public and the instrument was on display, the Missouri Historical Society requested it be loaned for an exhibit on Miles Davis. A more professional appraisal was conducted, and it was discovered that the serial number on the UNCG trumpet matched that of the trumpet featured on the cover of Davis’ Kind of Blue album. This meant the instrument Gist donated was not just any trumpet, but that is was the trumpet used during the recording of a masterwork of 20th century Jazz. This cultural treasure was revalued by appraisers at $1.6 million. In honor of Buddy Gist’s donation, Steve Haines, director of the UNCG Jazz Program, funded the construction of a custom display case in which the trumpet is featured today.
Not a historically accurate photo, but we like to think Dr.
McIver would approve.

Tragically, Buddy Gist’s life took a turn for the worse. After returning from sabbatical in 2008, Steve Haines followed up on rumors that Buddy Gist, 83 years old, was homeless, living in Center City Park. By August of 2008, Haines organized assistance for Gist, moving him into Partnership Village, a program operated by Greensboro Urban Ministries. Essentially, Buddy Gist was adopted into the family of the UNCG music faculty. Chad Eby, jazz professor, invited him to Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and Gist continued to receive a steady stream of visitors who were recipients of the amazing stories Gist would tell about his life. In July 2009, Buddy Gist suffered an incapacitating stroke. John Salmon of the School of Music became Gist’s legal guardian, and he was moved into the Golden Living Nursing Center in Greensboro.         
On April 18th, 2010, Arthur “Buddy” Gist, Jr. died, requesting that all memorial donations be made to UNCG’s Miles Davis Jazz Festival. The UNCG School of Music held a memorial service in the Organ Hall on April 25th, 2010. Gist’s name will be forever connected to Miles Davis through the generosity of his two greatest treasures, the trumpet and his relationship with the faculty of UNCG.    

Monday, February 6, 2017

Empowerment Through Song: The Neo-Black Society Gospel Choir

 The Neo-Black Society has several committees which focus on individual opportunities related to the promotion of African American culture, academic success, and community engagement. One of these committees formed the NBS Gospel Choir, which is considered the oldest continuing subgroup of the Neo-Black Society.

The NBS Gospel Choir was created in 1968 by three members of the Neo-Black Society in order to promote community outreach through song. The Neo-Black society records state that, in the 1980s, the group had over 100 active members. The choir continues to be an active part of the larger NBS organization.

NBS Gospel Choir Members from 1985, seen in 1985-86 Pine Needles yearbook.

The choir is one of several performance committees within the Neo-Black Society. Other performance committees include the Drama Troupe and Dance Troupe. These committees have worked together on numerous occasions and were required, by NBS rules, to perform at least once per semester. The NBS Choir has numerous engagements throughout the school year including performances at campus, community events, and church functions. Many of the events incorporate themes relating to political awareness and community outreach. The choir also incorporated sub-committees for political awareness in their everyday activities. They also travel to other universities around North Carolina for performances.

The NBS Choir President acts as a representative for the overall NBS organization. In the past, the Choir President was also required to review all proposed performance engagements. According to NBS records, the President was also listed as being responsible for the actions of the choir members in order to ensure that activities reflected well on the Neo-Black Society and UNC Greensboro as a whole.
NBSChoir 1.png
Photo of the NBS Gospel Choir, from 1989.

In 1988, the NBS Choir sought to record an album with producer David Allen and Joyful Music Productions. For the album, the choir chose previously recorded music as well as new works by composers from the Triad and Charlotte. Proceeds from the sale were set to be used for a scholarship fund, the purchase of new robes, and continuing projects. Unfortunately, it took quite a while for the group to receive the finished album which affected how the funds could be used.

Photo of the NBS Gospel Choir from 2002.

In 2001, NBS Gospel Choir lost SGA funding due to the religious nature of their performances. In order to continue to fund their activities, the choir increased their fundraising efforts and seem to have lessened their performance commitments. Their main concern for the funding at the time were travel costs as the group had several engagements outside of the Carolinas.

The NBS Gospel Choir continues to be active and serve the UNCG and Triad community in many ways. The majority of their performances encourage collaboration between other universities and NBS performance groups. The Neo-Black Society has several events throughout the year, including NBS Week in November, and activities during Black history Month in February.

This article was written by Sara Maeve Whisnant, a graduate student in the LIS program and student worker in SCUA.