I am in the final stages of a manuscript on the connection between desegregation, social injustice and the case of the Wilmington 10. Following are a few totally unedited excerpts from my manuscript in the form of a time line. Please excuse my mistakes.
Aug. 1968 THE CLOSING OF WILLISTON SENIOR HIGH
………. I remember sitting in the New Hanover High School gymnasium in the summer of 1968, an unfamiliar place for me to be sitting since I was among a gathering of black students , black parents, black teachers, black activist ,black civic leaders …..blacks in general … in the gymnasium of a predominately white school, venting our displeasure, anger and grief at the school board’s abrupt decision to close the only predominately black high school in Wilmington NC., Williston Senior High School. For years Williston had insulated young black students in Wilmington from the harsh realities of life in land of Jim Crow. Within the boundaries of Williston, young black men and women found caring teachers and administrators, eager to nurture and mentor them, knowing full well that as black Americans, we would have to be “doubly” prepared to succeed in the the white mans world………… Williston Senior High School had been the Alma Mater of many of our parents and grandparents .Williston was black pride, black identity, black history and a cradle for black values. Now Williston was dead. So we mourned in anger at its untimely demise.
Williston was one of only few black institutions to survive the terrorist attacks of 1898. Despite being separate and unequal, though love , nurturing and commitment to excellence, Willistons teachers and administrators continued to provide those who had studied within its walls, a quality education, including sense of understanding, a sense of purpose, a sense of direction,as well as a sense of dignity, pride and overall sense of accomplishment. It had been the home of the Marching Tigers and the Tigers Inn. Even the school colors, maroon and gold were a source of sacred pride. Maroon and Gold you look so good to me! Maroon and Gold….. “I would not be no Viking, I’ll tell you the reason why, I’ve been a Tiger all my life I’ll be a Tiger till I die”!
There were a lot of bewildered looks on the face of those riding Jimmy Davis’s bus #90 on this first day of school. What would John T. Hoggard School be like. Up until this day, the first day of school had always created a joyful noise, but now everything seemed to be quiet and subdued. There was no one boasting about his or her summer vacation. There was no one playing the dozens. No one was laughing, cracking jokes or putting someone down because of their appearance or the size of their mother. That’s what you did when you played the dozens……….
All most everyone on bus that morning was dressed to impress. Clothes have been important in the black community for as long as anyone can remember. At that period in Wilmington,N.C., most neighborhoods consisted of the have nots and the have less. Outside of the pride the whole community took in its institutions like Williston, self-esteem was derived mainly from the way a brother or sister was able to present themselves in public. If you wanted to be somebody, if you wanted to be accepted, you had to dress for success. That meant most of us had to work all summer long to earn enough money to buy colorful knit shirts called Blys. …. Hats called Big Apples, silk and wool pants and Chuck Taylor Converse Sneakers. Some guys had even made special trips to New York to buy their rags, where they could find Chuck Taylors in colors other than black and white. One of greatest comments that could be bestowed on a brother was “ that nigger is the cleanest muthafucka in town”. Dressing clean meant more than just wearing clean clothes. It meant you dressed with style, sporting all the latest fashions. That morning aboard Jimmie Davis’ bus, Rudy Waddell was as clean as the board of health, dressed in an expensive mohair Bly. with grey silk & wool pants, Stacy Adams on his feet sporting a big apple on his head. All through school, Rudy had always been talkative , always cracking jokes, always breaking the ice. Surely at any moment he would crack a joke and have the whole bus laughing . Instead Rudy sat in his seat, motionless, staring straight ahead all the way to suburbs, all the way to John T. Hoggard High School. It is that moment that I began to realize how serious a culture shock this whole integration thing would be. A guy who would have otherwise been one of the most animated guys on the bus, looked as if he were headed for the gallows.
Like most of us on the bus that morning Rudy never said a word. He may have been thinking the same thing I was thinking…….We were like fish out of water being tossed into a world we knew absolutely nothing about, a world in which we were clearly not wanted and would certainly not be appreciated . I listened intently to some of the low keyed conversations all around me … “I wonder what those white teachers will be like”, one brother placed the whole situation in proper prospective when he so correctly suggested;” Man how we going to get along with those white people if they don ’t want us around.”
It had only been a couple of weeks since we had been officially informed that Williston would be closing for good. For me It was devastating news. For most black people in Wilmington, Williston had not only served as a cultural center for the black community, but its teachers had served as surrogate mothers and fathers to many of its students…………….
NOV.1968 JOHN T. HOGGARD HIGH SCHOOL
……………….We took everything out on white boys at school. We were blaming them for all the terror white people had unleased on black people ever since we had first arrived here in the bowels of those slaveships. An although the cans of ass whipping we unleased on those whiteboys paled in comparison to the mistreatment blacks Blacks had experienced in America. In a strange way they left me feeling somewhat vindicated. Those cans of ass whipping had been seasoned with the horrors of slavery, of Jim Crow, the many times white people had called us niggers………….. Don’t you ever call me nigger again ……..whitey! I was out of my mind. Stop Mo! MO! Stop man . You gonna kill that white mutherfuha. I had been the last to jump in. Me and the fellas had been hanging out in the hallway between classes when a white boy came through and said, get out my way nigger, and pushed my skinny ass aside. Before I had time to respond my boys were all over his ass, stomping him into the ground. I jumped in kicking him until my shoes were bloody. I had never before been so angry. Words sprung up in my head that had never been there before I’ll kill you, you white muthafuka, I said.
My mother would have killed me if she known what I did that day. She had always taught me that fighting was wrong. “It’s not the way civilized people solve their problems”, she said. But here I was , in the bathroom at school, cleaning off my bloody shoes and not feeling bad about what I had just did. After all, I had just gotten revenge…….not only for a white boy pushing me and calling me a nigger, but for all the terror white people had unleased on black people though out the ages…………for the tears I had shed at the public library in Wilmington as I looked at pictures of white men standing around, laughing and drinking beer as three black men hung from a tree……..pictures I had seen of prominent black men being killed or run out of town in the Wilmington massacre of1898 ………..And in crazy way I wanted to go home and tell my mother how I had just gotten revenge for Mrs. Whedbee calling her “my niggra girl” or” Deelorees”, when she very well knew that her name was Dolores. But my mother didn’t believe in violence…… besides, my mother loved Mrs. Whedbee,……… and Mrs. Whedbee, she loved herself some Delorees…..Damn! my mother hated it when Mrs. Whedbee called her that……..But my mother loved Mrs. Whedbee……….She could never hurt Mrs. Whedbees’ feelings…….”Besides Wayne”, she once said to me,” If Mrs. Whedbee knew better, she would do better. As I slipped out of the bathroom and headed toward the gym for class I thought to myself “Maybe, when I know better, I’ll do better. Right now it’s a powerful feeling to kick a white muthafuckas’ ass.”………..
Amazingly, I was not among those who got suspended that day. No one had ratted me out. Three of my boys had been late for class after the beat down and their teachers had sent them to the office where they were later suspended after being identified by the victim. I had gym that hour. Since everyone was allowed time to change into their gym cloths before class no one gave it a second thought when I showed up a couple of minutes late………I felt good about doing something bad and not having to apologize to anyone for what I had done or the way I felt afterwards, especially to my mother. After all, she had taught me better……….