Monday, February 25, 2019

Mildred Barrington Poole (Class of 1921) and the first desegregated schools in the South

In 1951, Mildred Barrington Poole (Class of 1921), made a bold decision.  Mrs. Poole became the first chief administrator and principal of the Fort Bragg school system in 1948. When she arrived, black and white servicemen’s children attended different schools, following the standard of “separate, but equal” established by the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson. White children had attended the post’s eight room school, while black children attended a school off post in Cumberland County. Mrs. Poole decided to end this practice by desegregating Fort Bragg’s schools and for the first time anywhere in the South, black and white children attended school together.
Mildred Barrington in her Senior year, from the 1921 Pine Needles (North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) yearbook)

 Mrs. Poole’s decision was based on a few factors. Executive Order 9981, signed July 26, 1948 by President Harry Truman, mandated that, “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” That Executive Order provided the legal standing to desegregate post schools, but of course, no one had done that yet at any of the other bases in the South, even though non-segregated schools were standard practice in overseas post schools at that time. The conversion to desegregated post schools in the South was slow and mired by political considerations and hurdles. Indeed, as late as April 1953, 21 segregated post schools continued to operate in the southern states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.1
 The second factor for Mrs. Poole’s decision to desegregate may have come from one of the post’s officers. As Mrs. Poole recalled in 1992, an African-American Army lieutenant had asked her why his daughter could not attend Fort Bragg schools. Mrs. Poole said that she had no real answer for that other than to tell him, “it’s because of the color of her skin.” Recognizing the pointlessness of that reasoning, she worked to desegregate the post’s school, by establishing the Fort Bragg school system independent of Cumberland County Schools, which in turn allowed for the Executive Order to cover the change over from segregated to integrated schools.2
The third factor, of course, was Mrs. Poole’s own feelings on the subject. “I just did what my spirit told me was right and what I knew I had to do.” Having grown up in a segregated world, it had taken her a few years to come around to this point of view. As Mrs. Poole said in an article in 1954, “It took me two or three years to prepare myself for this view…There’s nothing to fear about it. There is no trouble among the children – none whatsoever. It becomes a natural thing.”
Photo from June 6th, 1954, Greensboro Daily News article

 There were however, some concerns and threats along the way to desegregation. At the start of that first integrated school year, an officer’s wife told Mrs. Poole that her husband had forbidden her to send their daughter to “school with Negroes,” and that he was going to send her back home with the child. Mrs. Poole told the woman, “I hope the child won’t look back 25 years from now and be ashamed to say that you wouldn’t let her go to school with these children.” The child remained in school.2 There was also a box full of death threats and hate mail that Mrs. Poole received and had kept in her basement. Despite the hate mail and death threats, Mrs. Poole never relented or wavered in her conviction to desegregate Ft. Bragg’s schools.
 In addition to desegregating the Ft. Bragg schools, Mrs. Poole, without fanfare or drama, quietly hired the first African American teacher at the school. Not a single parent was aware of this fact until late in the school year, during parent-teacher conferences. Mrs. Poole’s attitude concerning the race of her teachers matched her attitude concerning the race of the students: “I can’t tell you how many Negro children we have. I don’t know. No one needs to know, and no newspaper needs to know. They are not Negro and white. They are children to us, and we treat them that way.”3 Mrs. Poole also shrewdly understood that there were also advantages to be found in desegregating first. This African American teacher had been hired away from a “one of the big city systems” in South Carolina, mainly because the South Carolina Governor was a very strong proponent of segregated schools. The opportunity to teach at an integrated school was very attractive.4
 Mrs. Poole also had thoughts on how to go about integrating the public schools in North Carolina. “If I were giving advice to the public school people of our own county, I would tell them to announce that the schools would open on a non-segregated basis--that otherwise things would be as before. The buses would run the same routes, and the schools would be manned in the same way. I believe that voluntary segregation would remove most of the problem--but I believe firmly that today we must face our problem. We must, I believe, invite the children of all races to attend the schools of the family choice, and be prepared for the result.” Mrs. Poole believed that, “If we have any trouble (desegregating) it will come from the adults, and not from children,” but in the end, Mrs. Poole believed that “North Carolina is ready for the end of segregation. I think we’ve got plenty of sense to handle it, and not let things remain a reflection on our good sense and our religion.”5

Photo from June 6th, 1954, Greensboro Daily News article

 Unfortunately, Mrs. Poole was eventually pushed out of her Fort Bragg school job in 1956, but not before she had successfully integrated the schools and hired its first African American teacher. Mrs. Poole would go on to teach in North Carolina public schools for the rest of her career. She always maintained that integration was the right choice to make, “Integration was what, in the sight of God, we should have done. I’ve never, ever had the feeling what we did at Fort Bragg was wrong.”6
 In 2016, Mrs. Poole was honored posthumously with an announcement of the opening of a new school at Ft Bragg. The Mildred B. Poole Elementary School opened in 2018, the first school on the base named after someone who was not a soldier.7

*Callie Coward of the Cataloging Department first found and directed the author toward Mrs. Poole and her accomplishments. Thanks Callie!
1- Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1965, Morris J. MacGregor, Jr., Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 2001
2- "Unsegregated Grade School is Operated at Fort Bragg" The News & Courier, 10/13/1951 
3- "Non-Segregated School Ends 3rd Year" Greensboro Daily News, 6/6/1954
4- Ibid.
5- Ibid.
6- "School named after a woman 'ahead of her time'" Paraglide, 10/6/2016
7- "Fort Bragg to dedicate school to Mildred Poole" Fayetteville Observer  4/15/2018

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hidden History: African American Employees at State Normal

While African American students were banned from enrolling at the school now known as UNC Greensboro prior to 1956, the campus during its earlier years operated primarily on the labor of African American men and women who served as cooks, janitors, handymen, and others who worked behind the scenes.

Ezekiel "Zeke" Robinson
Little is known about these early African American employees, but the 1913 edition of the student yearbook (known at the time as the Carolinian) carried a short article about them as part of its section celebrating the school's twentieth anniversary. This section, titled "Some Old Servants of the College," highlights the contributions of many of the workers "who have served our Alma Mater long, faithfully and honestly." The language used and viewpoints presented are indicative of how the white female student body viewed the African American service workers.

The largest portion of the article is dedicated to Ezekiel "Zeke" Robinson, who the author notes "is now the acknowledged 'power behind the throne.'" After being hired by president Charles Duncan McIver at the school's opening in 1892, Robinson managed the school’s large support staff, nearly all of whom were African American. He is praised in the article for his faithfulness to the school, nothing that "no member of the faculty has ever felt more responsible for the College than Zeke has."

Amanda "Aunt Mandy" Rhodes
Amanda "Aunt Mandy" Rhodes, who also worked at the school at its opening, is also singled out for praise. Rhodes served as a dormitory housekeeper, and the article notes that "there isn't a girl who has lived on Aunt Mandy's hall whose love she hasn't won by her irrepressible enthusiasm and her interest in the girls and in everything they do."

William "Uncle William" Peoples is described in the article as "our most talented servant," as he "can pack, wrap, and dispatch packages, deliver and open boxes, fix electric lights, force the most difficult trunk locks, and a hundred other necessary things." Peoples, who arrived at the college around 1901, is also praised for his sense of humor.

William "Uncle William" Peoples
The article concludes with brief mentions of "a few more of the many servants who have proved indispensible [sic] to the College." These include "Uncle Henderson, and old cook of the College, and an interesting character, who died in service here" as well as "Johnson, janitor at the Training School for many years, [who] has always won the love and respect of both teachers and children by his integrity, his faithfulness, and his polite and willing service" and his wife Nannie, "maid in Senior Dormitory, and the sworn friend of every Senior."

Needless to say, the State Normal would not have succeeded without the contributions of these and the many other African American employees who ensured that the lights operated, the buildings and grounds were clean, the students and staff were fed, and the general operations proceeded smoothly and did not disrupt the school's educational mission.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Professor Ivy and His New Experiment: Beaufort Art Colony

"Woman's College Trying New Experiment On Coast," reported the Greensboro Daily News in June of 1938. Beginning in the early 1930s, the North Carolina College for Women (now UNC Greensboro) offered a course in marine science for a select group of students. Each summer, students applied to attend the course in Beaufort, North Carolina. Students were tasked with arranging their own room and board for the duration of the course and were able to get practical experience in the field of marine biology. The program developed into an annual opportunity for students desiring a hands-on approach to their education in a course that would now be described as experiential learning. (To read more about the Marine Biology Summer Session, please click here.)

Woman's College student drawing at Beaufort Art Colony, ca. 1938
The 'new experiment' in the summer of 1938 entailed the creation of a similar summer program available for students wishing to study art. Young women were offered the opportunity to study advanced landscape painting at the coast.

Professor Gregory Ivy, head of the Art Department of Woman's College, had searched for an ideal site to establish this summer 'colony' of art students. Beaufort had been recommended to him as a suitable location and easily won him over upon his first visit to the town. Aside from the scenic landscapes all around, he also found an optimal indoor space to serve as shelter on a rainy day or as a lecture hall. Beaufort was home to one of the largest structures built of logs in the country, its community center. The local Chamber of Commerce allowed Ivy to use a large room in the community center that, with its beautiful light, served as an excellent art studio and lecture hall for the summer program.

Ivy conducting a class critique at Beaufort
Community Center, ca. 1938
The first course in the summer of 1938, attended by around 30 students, provided the chance to earn four hours of college credit and incorporated the concepts and techniques used by the Post-Impressionists, Cubists, and Surrealists, all modern art movements of the late 19th and early 20th century, and no doubt a draw for the young artists of Woman's College. The program was open to students of other southern schools and colleges as well as to teachers interested in the experience.

Ivy and his painting students at Beaufort
Community Center, ca. 1938
In its second year, the summer art program offered the same landscape painting class as well as a general advanced painting class. Participants, some studying to become professional artists and others considered themselves hobbyists, began using an old mansion house in town as their dormitory. Though plans were made to eventually build a dormitory for the summer program, it never came to fruition.

Aside from the additional course offered the second year, the first annual Beaufort art exhibition took place, jointly sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Professor Ivy. Local artists as well as out-of-state artists were invited to participate, and it was billed as the first exhibition of its kind in a southern coastal town.

One can only imagine the idyllic setting of Beaufort in the late thirties and early forties for the Woman's College art students. Hilda Brady, a junior at Woman's College during the summer of 1939 described it as "the land of the jasmine because of the great abundance of these fragrant flowers, a spray of which was placed beside the plate of guests each morning." In all likelihood, such treats for the senses were available in abundance for the young women who spent the majority of the year in land-locked Greensboro.
Professor Gregory Ivy sketching a student on the coast, ca. 1940

The effects of World War II unfortunately put a damper on the Beaufort Art Colony, which was shuttered for the last three summers of the war, 1943-1945. The art colony reopened in 1946 and art courses were expanded to include design, figure drawing, and art education in addition to the watercolor class taught by Dr. Ivy. The Colony also began to include music in the course offerings. By the mid-fifties, the "Fine Arts" summer session of Woman's College included dance, theater, and creative writing.

In the late forties and early fifties, the Fine Arts summer program, focused mostly on theater, was held in western North Carolina in the mountains near Burnsville (for more information about the Burnsville School of Fine Arts, please click here). It returned to Beaufort by 1954, sixteen years after it began. Aside from a broad selection of fine arts courses available to college students that year, classes for school-aged children were introduced, and the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce began providing two scholarships, one for adults and one for children to attend the program. The Woman's College Library provided library facilities and a trained librarian during the summer session as well.

Modern dance class at Beaufort, ca. 1940
Professor Gregory Ivy, founder of the Beaufort Art Colony, left the Woman's College in 1961. It is clear the Beaufort Art Colony continued into the mid-fifties, but there is no specific mention of it in University Bulletins after 1954. Since the Colony was the brainchild of Ivy, it is likely that it ended with his tenure at the University. In his resignation letter, he expressed his frustration at the college's lack of funding for the Art Department. His legacy at the Woman's College extends well beyond the Beaufort Art Colony. To read more about Ivy, please visit "Gregory Ivy: The Legacy of a Non-Conformist". Professor Ivy was the driving force behind developing the Woman's College art program. His idea to start the Beaufort Art Colony was just one of many contributions to art education at what is now UNC Greensboro.

Ivy's legacy lives on in the thriving UNC Greensboro School of Art, which boasts both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, a nationally and internationally renowned faculty of practicing artists, and an incredibly motivated, talented student body.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Food Service Workers Strike of 1969

Cafeteria food service on campus was first introduced in the 1950s, but dissatisfaction soon mounted as growing enrollments brought longer lines and complaints about the choices and quality of the food offered. In 1964, the Carolinian student newspaper ran a comparative analysis of the food services offered at UNCG, Chapel Hill, and N.C. State, finding the other two institutions’ services superior to those on the Greensboro campus. In response to this criticism, the university gave up its own food service that summer and, for the first time, contracted with a national campus food service, ARA-Slater (now Aramark).

This relationship between UNCG and ARA-Slater would last for forty-five years (until 2009), but not without controversy. The first strike against ARA-Slater occurred in December 1964, when black full-time employees objected to a proposed pay cut, even though they were already being paid only ten cents an hour more than primarily white part-time student employees.

Scene from the picket lines of the ARA Strike, 1969
By 1969, tensions had increased. Following strikes at UNC-Chapel Hill and at North Carolina A&T, ARA-Slater employees at UNCG - including some who were students at A&T - went out on strike on March 26. The issues included the hourly wage, lack of overtime pay, sick and holiday pay, performance reviews, and dismissal procedures. A flyer noted that the "demands must be met as soon as possible but no later than immediately." While not overtly related to race, the workers' grievances underscored the differences in opportunities and expectation afforded to the university's primarily white students and the primarily black staff that served them. As Chancellor Ferguson would later recall, "Initially, the strike was not a black and white issue, but in time an element of race conflict was involved because most of the workers were black."

Following the walkout, the SGA voted to support the striking workers and to call for a boycott of the cafeteria. In a controversial move, SGA also voted to use student funds to hire an attorney to represent the striking workers. On the night of March 31, a crowd of approximately 1200 students, including activists from A&T, demanded that Chancellor Ferguson answer their demands. Ferguson agreed to address the campus the next day, at which time he stated that he must remain neutral. Behind the scenes, however, Ferguson was involved in the negotiations between ARA-Slater and well-respected black attorney Henry Frye. In the end, ARA-Slater offered the striking workers even more than they had requested, and the strike ended April 2. Despite calls for competitive bidding, ARA-Slater's contract was renewed for the following year.