Last Sunday, on September 2nd, my wife Laura and I attended a wonderful celebration of the Hyde County school boycott’s 50th anniversary. We gathered in the old Davis School’s gymnasium in Engelhard, a fishing village on Far Creek and it was an unforgettable day: full of storytelling and memories, good food and much fellowship.
There were lectures and panel discussions, music and a new exhibit on the school boycott’s history.
The event’s organizers also honored the community’s elders, including Ms. Pencie Adams, age 94, who sat in the front row with her son Mike. Mrs. Adams was one of the school boycott’s leaders back in 1968-69.
I’m not much of a videographer—these are my first iPhone video clips—and I’m still learning how to edit and post videos on YouTube.
Nonetheless, I did my best and I’d like to share a few video clips from the celebration in Engelhard with you. They describe at least a bit of the history of one of the landmark moments in the civil rights movement here in North Carolina, told by the people who made history 50 years ago.
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The first clip features Ms. Azalea Mackey. She is from the Ridge community, a few miles from Engelhard, a locale that is situated on what was the Mattamuskeet Indian reservation in the 18thcentury.
Azalea was only 8 years old at the time of the school boycott, but her family was deeply involved in the yearlong protest. Despite her tender age, she found ways to contribute to the movement herself.
She and Sandy Fentress spearheaded the school boycott’s anniversary celebration, though many friends and family played vital roles in its success.
Sandy, by the way, was only 6 years old in 1968-69, but her grandmother, Etta Mae Greene, was one of the school boycott’s adult leaders and carried her everywhere, including the March to Raleigh.
This clip features the first few minutes of Azalea’s opening remarks at the anniversary celebration.
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Dr. Goldie Frinks Wells also spoke at the celebration. Her father, Golden Frinks, was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s field secretary in eastern North Carolina in the 1960s. He played a central role in the Hyde County school boycott.
In this clip, Dr. Wells recalls how her father first became involved in the civil rights movement in eastern North Carolina. That was in 1959 or ’60. At the time, a group of black children had approached the NAACP in Frinks’ hometown, Edenton.
The children told the NAACP leaders that they were tired of being forced to sit in the balcony at the local movie theater. They sought the NAACP’s help in desegregating the Taylor Theater. However, the other NAACP leaders were not encouraging. Frinks, on the other hand, was impressed by their seriousness and their desire for change.
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My old friend, Dr. Henry Johnson, Jr. also moderated a wonderful discussion with several veterans of the Hyde County school boycott.
As a teenager, he was one of the most militant activists during the school boycott. He later became a much-revered teacher and administrator in the Hyde County schools, and he’s now a professor and dean at Bennett College in Greensboro.
In this video clip, Dr. Johnson asked one of his heroes and mentors, Mr. Erskine Mackey, to describe the day that he and his friends integrated the Engelhard Cafe. Up to that time, black people were not permitted in the restaurant and had only been allowed to buy take-out out of the back door.
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During the panel discussion, another of the Hyde County activists, Ms. Debra Ann Collins, related the story of a Ku Klux Klansmen shooting her during a gun battle between the Klan and local blacks on July 4, 1969.
Ms. Collins was one of the school boycott activists, and she was a teenager at the time.
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Later that night, Azalea Mackey, Dr. Wells and I were sitting in Azalea’s living room and Azalea told a story about that shoot-out between the Klan and the local black men.
During the shoot-out, she was at home in the Ridge community, but she and her family were close enough to the little crossroads of Middletown—where the conflagration occurred—that they could see and hear the gunfire. She was 8 years old at the time.
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To our friends in Hyde County, thank you so much for your hospitality last weekend. My wife Laura and I had a wonderful time. In addition to the anniversary event at the Davis School, we also enjoyed the fellowship, the incredible home-cooked meals, the Sunday morning worship and the storytelling.
It was good to see old friends again, and once again I was reminded how deeply attached I have felt to Hyde County and its people ever since that winter I lived there more than 30 years ago.
I was honored to be a small part of your wonderful celebration. May we break bread together again soon.