Interview with:

Ethel Bolden

Date of Interview: June 9, 1988
Place: Mrs. Bolden's home in Columbia, South Carolina
Interviewer: Robert V. Williams
Transcribers: Sabra Bell, Donna Dedmondt

Begin Side 1

WILLIAMS: You were born...Your birthdate is a thing I never wrote down...You were born in Charleston?

BOLDEN: Charleston, South Carolina, that is correct.

WILLIAMS: In 1918?

BOLDEN: That is correct.

WILLIAMS: Tell us a little bit about your family background...What happened in Charleston and those kinds of things.

BOLDEN: I was only in Charleston about 3 years, more or less. My parents were...mother was a teacher, and my grandmother was a teacher. Sometimes I am amazed that you still have first generation children going to college... Black children going to college nowadays. That was a long time ago, but my parents and grandmother were very well educated, even in those days. My father migrated to Chicago to get a job because in those days Blacks were migrating to various cities in the northern states to find work. He was supposed to send back for his family. He got to Chicago and he met difficulty there getting a job, and finally was in a streetcar accident and was never able to send for us. So my mother moved from Charleston with four children, three boys and a girl, to [Columbia] South Carolina and we would go to and from where my grandmother always lived, Peak, SC, and where they had been before. My father was originally from Fairfield County, and my mother was originally from Charleston. So I can say she had been in South Carolina, but my father had been in this section.

WILLIAMS: And you were third.... You say your mother and your grandmother were teachers?

BOLDEN: Right, my grandmother taught in an Episcopal mission school in a small town called Peak. Do you know where that is? Peak is about twenty-three miles from here, and the mission school was constructed in such a way that the house was joined onto the church, and it was all one operation, the church and the house. At that time Bishop Finley, who was the grandfather of our ex-mayor, was our bishop. And he helped my mother get a job. My grandmother was already working, already teaching, and with the two of them working together, we had a very stable family life. I would stay with my mother or my grandmother. I preferred to stay with my grandmother somehow.

WILLIAMS: And she lived in...?

BOLDEN: She lived in Peak, at the Episcopal mission school.

WILLIAMS: Is this the school that eventually moved to Harbison?

BOLDEN: No, Harbison was the Presbyterian school. Peak...the school just disintegrated there. I don't know that there's...there's nothing there at the mission school now. But the memories live on, linger on, in the minds of all those people up there. Occasionally we go up to visit, and they remember very well.

WILLIAMS: Third generation educators?

BOLDEN: Right. My mother and father met at St. Augustine in Raleigh, North Carolina.

WILLIAMS: So you really were back and forth between Charleston and here?

BOLDEN: No, between Columbia...see, we left Charleston...between Columbia and Peak. I remember our trips on the train. Most of the people who worked on the train in those days knew us because my mother would tag us, put us on the train, and they would take us off at Peak. It was sort of a regular thing. There was a little lady who worked at the train station who was "traveler's aid" and she knew us and she was always the one who would get us on and take us off. It was a wonderful life.

WILLIAMS: Interesting. And your mother did this with four kids?

BOLDEN: My two older brothers were in school here in Columbia, so she...the two small ones were the ones. But unfortunately my mother died when I was about eight or seven, and at that time she was at a School called St. Mary's. Well, I am a little behind on my story. She worked at St. Mary's for a while, but there was a school called Fairwold. A school for delinquent girls, and the Federated Women's Club was the sponsoring organization, and Mr. I. S. Levy, J. S. Levy Johnson's grandfather, was also active in sponsoring this school. My mother got a job there. And the school was out somewhere near Fairwold, I don't know whether you know where Fairwold is located.

WILLIAMS: I know where it is.

BOLDEN: Well, it was out that way and it burned and they moved into a building that was owned by the Episcopalians. It was the old St. Mary's school, and it was down on Park Street, down near where the Williams/Brice stadium is located. The Christmas before my mother died, my older brother took us to the station, and I remember her saying, "Tell Mama I don't feel well." That's the last thing I remember. We got our Santa Claus early, and we went to spend Christmas with my grandmother, and while we were there she died. In January.

WILLIAMS: And you were eight?

BOLDEN: I was about seven.

WILLIAMS: So you stayed with your grandmother?

BOLDEN: I stayed with my grandmother. And the two younger ones of us, there was another boy and myself, and my grandmother never wanted to separate the two of us. When your parents die, and people were saying, "Well, I would like to take such and such a one," well you know, they could never agree to take both, and they would have to agree to take two. So my younger brother and I were never separated, for which I am thankful.

WILLIAMS: Interesting.

BOLDEN: But my grandmother lived only about three years after that, so this is sort of a tragic childhood, but it didn't have that much of an effect on me, except that my grandmother had really had a chance to teach me what love was all about. Even today, when someone says, "Who had the most impact on your life?" I always say, "My grandmother, because she taught me how to love." She taught me what love really was, because she loved us so much. And her son, who was my father, was in Chicago, incapacitated, and she worried so about him that she finally got together for enough money to send my cousin up there to bring him home. So she brought him back. And he had been away from us so long that I was really afraid of him when he first came around. Just having a man around. But those women did a fantastic job of raising us.

WILLIAMS: Then at age eleven your grandmother died...then other relatives...?

BOLDEN: Thereabouts. Then we...we always had an aunt. My grandmother had a sister who was living here in Columbia, who was a seamstress, and she was married to a Presbyterian minister. Her name was Dora Dillard, and she, even though my grandmother and my mother kept us, she was always the person who was the overseer, and she saw to it that we were never left alone. So even though my aunt could not take us with her at that time, she was always the person to make sure that we were well cared for.

WILLIAMS: Are these the roots of your Presbyterian background?

BOLDEN: Right, my Aunt's husband was a Presbyterian minister. And early, early on, I moved with her after her husband died, and I was about to go to college. I was in high school at Booker T. Washington then. I think that's when I joined the Presbyterian Church.

WILLIAMS: You all celebrated your 50th high school graduation anniversary this summer 1988.

BOLDEN: At Barber Scotia we celebrated our 50th graduation from Barber Scotia Junior College. That's in Concord, North Carolina. That was about three weeks ago. And that was enjoyable.

WILLIAMS: You are going to celebrate another golden anniversary.

BOLDEN: Oh yes. I have another one. Now my college 50th anniversary will be in two more years.

WILLIAMS: Interesting.

BOLDEN: VERY interesting.

WILLIAMS: Who came up with the money for college?

BOLDEN: Well, my older brother was teaching at Voorhees, and he was helping while I did some work in the library at Barber Scotia, on a scholarship sponsored and paid for...the scholarship was paid for by the NYA [National Youth Administration] ...Franklin Roosevelt was the president at that time and if you remember, he had the NYA and college students could do work and get paid for it. We did whatever jobs we were assigned to, and at the end of the month, the pay period was, all we had to do was go in the office and endorse that check, and it went to the school. It didn't go to you, and I always thank God for such a program ...I appreciate that...It was a government program, but I'm sure that I have more than repaid it in service to the community and that kind of thing. So those programs do have their advantage, if you don't take advantage of them. Through that help I became a productive citizen.

WILLIAMS: You were assigned to the library?

BOLDEN: That was my job. Everybody worked, but my job was in the library. And strangely, you know, when we celebrated our 50th anniversary this year, we invited the person who was the librarian at Barber Scotia, because she was a mentor for six girls in that class. Six of us went into a library career. Her name was Robbie Goodlow Wright, and she is in Beaufort, South Carolina at this time.

WILLIAMS: She was there at Barber Scotia?

BOLDEN: She was at Barber Scotia at that time. And she is quite a lady, if you ever want to interview someone else from South Carolina who was a librarian, she would be a good prospect. But it is strange, the six girls went into a library career.

WILLIAMS: From South Carolina or from all over?

BOLDEN: Well, two of us were from South Carolina, but students at Barber Scotia came from all over. One was from Georgia, some other places.

WILLIAMS: So this was the beginning of a long library career?

BOLDEN: Right. At the time that I left college I was not in library work. I, when I first got out of school, I taught fourth grade, but I was determined that if I ever got a chance, I would go to library school, because I wanted to be a librarian. Like Miss Goodlow. She was Miss Goodlow then. Now she is Mrs. Wright.

WILLIAMS: A powerful influence then?

BOLDEN: A powerful influence.

WILLIAMS: And then you went on to Johnson C. Smith?

BOLDEN: Right.

WILLIAMS: And majored in English and Social Studies?

BOLDEN: Right. That's correct.

WILLIAMS: And then back to Columbia?

BOLDEN: Back to Columbia, to elementary school, for which I was...well, I can't say I wasn't prepared, because I had done practice teaching at West Charlotte High School. I did my practice teaching in the high school, but you know, working with children is working with children, so I did ... and in those days you had an awful lot of help from the teachers who were around you, and your principal, so you couldn't fail if you tried. The support was there.

WILLIAMS: Now you were working in the library at Johnson C. Smith.

BOLDEN: I did not work in the library at Johnson C. Smith. It was only at Barber Scotia. But I frequented the library at Johnson C. Smith. So...after I worked in Columbia for about a year, I got married. My husband was in the army, and he stayed in the army four years. He went to stay for one year, he was drafted, and in those days you had to stay one year. And he was supposed to come out, but while he was in the army, the war broke out. So he had to stay.

WILLIAMS: Now he's from Columbia?

BOLDEN: He's from Columbia. Right.

WILLIAMS: So you were married also in 1940 then, the same year you graduated.

BOLDEN: 1941. We were married in 1941.

WILLIAMS: During the time he was in the army?

BOLDEN: Right. He was going into the army. He taught one year too. We were classmates. In fact, we began going together when we were at Booker T. Washington when we were in the eleventh grade. From then on, we weren't ever too far from each other. Of course, when I was at Barber Scotia he would come to Barber Scotia to visit. And when I was at Smith, that was right there where he was. We just kept up a relationship.

WILLIAMS: I've heard about these high school romances.

BOLDEN: They never end.

WILLIAMS: Well, what about teaching at that time. What was it like then?

BOLDEN: Well, when I applied for a job here, I was told that there was nothing available, even though I was a Columbia person and had the credentials. So I tried long and hard and finally I gave up and accepted a position in Beaufort. Not's not Beaufort but it's down that way. I can't think...Barnwell.

WILLIAMS: Barnwell?

BOLDEN: Barnwell. And the morning I was packing to go to Barnwell, the telephone rang and I was told that there was substitute work; that they needed a substitute at Waverly Elementary School to take a 4th grade class. Waverly School. So I hastened to get ready to go and when I walked into the school, I was escorted to this class by a principal. And there were 46 children already seated...46 4th graders in the class. You know, that's a roomful of children for someone who has never taught elementary school. But the blessing was that there were 46 children who could read. I don't believe you could get that now. I believe every child in that classroom could read, so I can say they had some good teachers first through fourth grade. And that's why I know now that by the time a child gets to fourth grade he should be a pretty good reader...if he's had the background in the first four grades.

WILLIAMS: Then you taught four years....

BOLDEN: I taught four years. They wanted to start a library at Waverly about 4 years after I went there and so I had taken some courses. I think I took a few at Allen and Benedict, wherever I could get them, and I knew a little more about the setting of a library than most people...most teachers. So I became a teacher-librarian at Waverly and set up the first elementary library in the all-Black public schools in Columbia. And from then on I was asked to come in and to help, by just telling other teachers how to set up libraries. And that was the beginning.

WILLIAMS: Why was this taking place at Waverly? Any ideas? Was it the largest elementary school in Columbia?

BOLDEN: At that time Waverly had a reputation of being the best elementary school in Columbia. And the reason for that was when W. A. Perry, for whom Perry school is named, was principal. That was the laboratory school for Allen University and people used to have their children on a waiting list to get into Waverly because Waverly was supposed to be the school and that tradition held on for some time. So Waverly, I should think, was one of the really advanced schools in the all-Black community.

WILLIAMS: So you did part-time teaching and part-time in the library?

BOLDEN: Right. This was teacher-librarian. Then I had a principal who was very supportive at that time because he wanted a library too. His name was John Whiteman. He encouraged me and he provided the leadership for beginning that library.

WILLIAMS: Now at that time did the white elementary schools have libraries in Columbia?

BOLDEN: I should think most of them did...I'm pretty sure. I have no way of knowing.

WILLIAMS: I was wondering what was cooperation like between you and the white librarians or any school librarian?

BOLDEN: None what so ever. Miss Day was my only...Nancy Jane Day...was my only mainstay.

WILLIAMS: No cooperation at all...?

BOLDEN: Didn't know anything about what was happening...and didn't know what they had or anything like that.

WILLIAMS: There was no library supervisor for the Black schools ?

BOLDEN: No. No. We had one state supervisor who was Miss Day. Miss Day was supervisor. And of course, we could get help from her.

WILLIAMS: Do you recall anything about budgets in those early years? Now this is 45, isn't that right, that you started part-time ?

BOLDEN: Right. Right. I know that there was very little money in the budget for libraries. There were other sources for getting money. For example, our first big order for library books was paid for by the PTA of Waverly school. There were more affluent parents who lived in that area at that time and that could have been a factor, too.

WILLIAMS: Waverly was the main middle class Black neighborhood ?

BOLDEN: Right. It was one of the that time it was the best area for Black people...the Waverly area.

WILLIAMS: So the PTA helped support the library ?

BOLDEN: Yes. With some money... but not anything like they have nowadays. I was telling this to a church last sunday: I was asking how many of them knew Julius Rosenwald and I don't think anybody raised a hand. None of them were familiar with Julius Rosenwald and I told them that in those days Julius Rosenwald provided funds for Blacks, the education of Black people. They built schools and they were named Rosenwald Schools... you may have had some dealing with that.

WILLIAMS: For libraries.

BOLDEN: For libraries. And R.L. Bryan Co. was down on main street at that time...R.L. Bryan Book Company. And R.L. Bryan had some books that were. I can see them now... there were three boxes of books called Negro History Libraries. See, each box was called a library. That was just a name they gave it. And they would sell these libraries... the first box would be the very simple books and the second box would be more advanced and the third would be, say, 5th-6th-7th grades... like that. They advanced in difficulty and if your school could match the Rosenwald Fund, you could get that R.L. Bryan library through a matching grant.

WILLIAMS: I didn't know they did that.

BOLDEN: Yeah, they did that and we got those...that's how we got our Black history books. And this was long before people started... before the youngsters started... talking about Black history. We had it at Waverly School, these books, I've forgotten the titles... I know one was called "A Booker T. Washington School", I remember that title. I can't remember the others.

WILLIAMS: R.L. Bryan sold them to the school districts?

BOLDEN: Sold them to school districts. In fact, you know, when I was at Booker Washington we had to buy our books, and we got our books, our textbooks, from R.L. Bryan. And your parents had to buy your books. So R.L. Bryan was really the big dealer in textbooks and library books.

WILLIAMS: Well they're still...they still handle the main South Carolina School contract. I didn't realize they had these as a special library.

BOLDEN: This was just a special; I don't know how many schools came in on this either, but I just remember that. And that it was a matching fund from Julius Rosenwald.

WILLIAMS: Interesting. So Waverly was able to match...

BOLDEN: Waverly was able to match the funds and come up with and get the 3 libraries. And we did.

WILLIAMS: Speaking of the Rosenwald fund, they were the ones to support the establishment of the Black branch here in town, also.

BOLDEN: No... the Rosenwald Fund was supposed to last a certain number of years. And I think Julius Rosenwald said after that time Blacks should be able to take care of themselves. If he didn't say it, he implied it.

WILLIAMS: That very well may be.

BOLDEN: He implied that. So at the end of that time those funds were terminated and that was that.

WILLIAMS: We were debating, in fact, Barbara Jenkins and I, we all have different addresses for the Black public library branch that was on Gervais. Does the address stick in your head as to what it was, or where it was?

BOLDEN: Yeah. It was where the Masonic temple is now.

WILLIAMS: Okay. That's what we've.. that`s the conclusion we've pretty much came to, but they...

BOLDEN: It was a church; I remember it was an old church and I remember my husband`s niece came down to visit from New York and she said, "Take me to the public library," and I told her I would. She lived near the 135th Street Library in NY, which is a fine library, always has been. Mrs. Baker once worked there, Augusta Baker. In fact, it's right next door to the Schomberg Collection. That's a beautiful building. And when I took her and walked up the steps she pulled back and said, "I don't want to go in there, that's a church, not a library." And I said, "Yes, it is a library." Well, once I got her inside, she was convinced it was a library, that it wasn't a church.

WILLIAMS: Was it an operating church?

BOLDEN: No. It was at one time, but it had been given over to the library.

WILLIAMS: Totally converted...

BOLDEN: Totally converted to a library, but it still had an appearance of a church. And that's why she didn't want to...she said, "I don't want to go in...I want to go to the library."

WILLIAMS: How good was the collection in that library? Do you remember? You were using it as an adult or as a child's...?

BOLDEN: As an adult. I have a library card my son used when he went down there and it's in the public library now with one of the cards he took into space. Both cards are in a display case.

WILLIAMS: They told me about that.

BOLDEN: That card was from Waverly.

WILLIAMS: I don't remember the dates of when they established that branch... do you remember as to when it got started? Seems like it was in the late 30's...

BOLDEN: It had to be. I tell you who could tell you: Katherine Wheeler could tell you, but she's at Myrtle Beach now. She lives down there for health reasons, but she could tell you.

WILLIAMS: She is one of the one we want to I'll have to go to Myrtle Beach...

BOLDEN: Have to go to Myrtle Beach...

WILLIAMS: You remember using it as an adult...

BOLDEN: I remember using it as an adult, yes. And I remember, going back to the Roosevelt administration, I remember they paid people to work in that library and some of the best book binding was done by people who learned how to bind books on a program that was sponsored by the WPA. Also, the best books on state histories were written during that time. The one written on South Carolina and North Carolina.

(answered phone)

WILLIAMS: All right, we were talking about the Black branch in town... You remember using it as an adult, your children were using it and you were able to send the kids from your school to use it ..the two supplemented each other very well.

BOLDEN: Yes. yes. I would say so.

WILLIAMS: How would you describe the quality of both of those collections compared with what the white kids had available to them at that time?

BOLDEN: I would say that the school library was much needed because it was kind of motivational in that it helped children to learn to love books and in order to get a child to love books you need a bright, colorful, clean place, a good collection and all that, something that's inviting. I never found, and I guess I shouldn't say this, but I did not like the appearance of the Waverly Branch Library. It just didn't...

WILLIAMS: It was depressing...

BOLDEN: It was sort of depressing, let's say that. And those people who worked down there did all they could because Miss Ella Foster, who still lives not too far from here, was... she was kind of handicapped, but she did oh so much to keep those books in good shape and that kind of thing.

WILLIAMS: But as far as you know....

BOLDEN: But as far as I was concerned, it was not the kind of library that I had been exposed to when I was in Barber Scotia and that kind of...I just look upon a library as being a most attractive place, if you want it to be inviting to children.

WILLIAMS: Yeah...and that one was not.

BOLDEN: Not inviting.

WILLIAMS: Were their collections pretty good?

BOLDEN: Collections were pretty good, old, but good. And I imagine children had more books in their homes then than they do now too. Because they, if you bought your text books you kept them...

WILLIAMS: Were you aware of, say, in terms of... you said before that you were'nt really aware of what the white elementary schools had in terms of libraries.

BOLDEN: I do know there was a practice of giving to the Black schools something that was no longer needed in the white schools, which was a kind of degrading practice. And I remember once, the last time that happened at Waverly. The principal, we were sent some kind of furniture, and the principal stopped it right in the yard and said take it back. And I think that was the end of that. But until that time...

(answer phone)

WILLIAMS: Your knowledge of the ability to compare with the white schools really was very limited?

BOLDEN: Very limited.

WILLIAMS: You worked on there as the librarian until 1956 at Waverly... ?

BOLDEN: '53..'54...the year '53-'54 I worked at Waverly. Let's see, I think I worked... I had leave of absence because the children were born. And my oldest son was born in '46, I think. And I had from... in fact he was born in August, and I had that particular year out. So around Christmas time you get so you want to go back to work, so I substituted at Carver, I believe that year, and then my... the next term, when my next son was born was in '50 and C. A. Johnson did not have a librarian, the librarian left in the middle of the year or something like that, so I substituted there. While I was at C.A. Johnson doing substitute work I had only a few hours, about 15 hours, which I had gotten at Allen, Benedict and South Carolina State... no real work toward a degree. And the principal, who was Dr. Johnson, would allude to the fact that there were some people on the faculty who were not qualified and the Southern Association would be breathing down his back. Some people would have gotten upset. I just felt there might have been more people there than I who were not qualified, but I just seemed to feel that every time he was talking right at me. And I said, I'm not going to do this. If I'm going to be a librarian, I'm going to be a librarian and I'm going to get myself a degree. And sometimes people can do things like that and really steer you on. You know you feel they are hitting at you, but it's good for you because it's a challenge. So I talked it over with my husband and he said that he could not bear the thought of having me go away every summer for 5 summers because the children were small then. That's what it would have meant, you would go away and you would stay about 6-8 weeks every summer for 5 summers; it would take that long. He said, "Why don't you just go and take an academic year and I'll keep the children?" Now they were very small; they were 3 year and 7... something like that. And he said, we already had a lady keeping the youngest one, so he said she would help. His sister would help and he thought he could manage. And I said the nearest library school is Atlanta University, the nearest accredited library school, because they had courses at Clemson, I mean at Winthrop, but we couldn't go there in those days. If I had gone to South Carolina State it would not be leading toward a degree.

WILLIAMS: None were accredited.

BOLDEN: Accredited, right. So I said if I go to Atlanta University I can come back home on weekends and that kind of thing. Well, we decided on Atlanta University and I went there during the academic year '53-'54. And they worked me so hard at Atlanta University, I never got a chance to come home on the weekend, so they had to come down there, my husband and the children. And whenever they could, they would spend the weekend down there with me. But I never had time to come back home. The work was just terrific. But good training... excellent... superb. I feel I could have gotten a Ph.D. just like that if I had gone on, you know, after I got that.

WILLIAMS: Now Dr. Jones was there...

BOLDEN: Dr. Virginia Lacey Jones, it was tops, Atlanta University.

WILLIAMS: What other faculty do you remember in particular...??

BOLDEN: I remember a Miss Brooks, Hallie Beecham Brooks was very good, I remember her very well. And Annette Phinnesse. Annette was my... she taught me cataloging and she was a wonderful teacher, and cataloging wasn't my favorite subject and she would say, "Your cards look like they've had a transfusion," so many red marks you know. But we enjoyed it, we studied.

WILLIAMS: That must have been difficult on you though to leave 3 young children?



BOLDEN: Two young children and my husband.

WILLIAMS: But Atlanta University was one of the few places where Blacks could go in the south at that time.

BOLDEN: That's right. And it was an accredited library school.

WILLIAMS: You specialized there in children's services...

BOLDEN: School librarianship. But I.... Once, I had to take a class on Saturday, and Dr. Jones said, take Public Libraries. And I said, "Dr. Jones, there's no way I'm going to need anything in public librarianship, " and she said, you take it, and she made me take the course. And I've been a trustee with the public library, I said I thought I'd never need to use anything dealing with public libraries.. But that was the one thing in the training; they didn't train you for any particular library, they said you may never know where you may end up.

WILLIAMS: Now I have here that you didn't get your degree until '59..

BOLDEN: I did not. I came home, and that was against my better judgement, and my husband's too, because he said you should stay and finish writing while you are down there. But I had had it at the end of the academic year. So I was writing my thesis on Susan Dart Butler, who was a pioneer librarian. At that time, Dr. Jones was trying to get persons to do a thesis on a pioneer librarian that she could combine them into a collection of Black pioneer librarians. She had done several others, I can't remember right off hand, but she had several other theses that had been done and she was going to combine them. I don't think she ever got to do that..

WILLIAMS: Well now, was Mrs. Butler...

BOLDEN: Eliza Atkins Gleason was another and she had that one. So there are several that are already done.

WILLIAMS: Was Mrs. Butler living at the time?

BOLDEN: She was living at the time. She was in Charleston and I went down to interview her and I would come back.... You couldn't get very much from her and Mrs. Jones told me this before I started: she said you're not going to be able to get very much from her because at her age she has a tendency to repeat and some of the things she's going to tell you over and over again and I found that to be true. But I interviewed her and a Mrs. Murray and other people who were around the Charleston community. Then I read what little I could. I wrote her sister who gave me some information, she was living in NY state, I think, at the time. The only reason I finished that thesis when I did was because Dr. Jones kept telling me: you know, Mrs. Butler isn't getting any need to finish, and I did. I finished it and got my degree.

WILLIAMS: We've seen the thesis. It's interesting. I think that's the only thing that's ever... that's really well documented of Mrs. Butler and about the establishment of that library down there. You didn't happen to keep your research materials did you...doing the thesis?

BOLDEN: Like the original... ?

WILLIAMS: Or whatever notes that you took and didn't use...

BOLDEN: If I have them, I may have them somewhere. I have the thesis.

End side 1 Begin side 2:

BOLDEN: I have a copy of it. But Dr. Jones has a copy of it on...

WILLIAMS: Yeah, we obtained a copy through them. In fact, I think Caroliniana Library already had a copy. They try to get all the ones that relate to South Carolina. We're doing an exhibit on library services to Blacks in South Carolina. We're trying to get photographs, those kinds of things. We're just having a difficult time coming up with photographic material to use in the exhibit.

BOLDEN: I think I may have one or two... just small photographs of her.

WILLIAMS: That would be great.... Then you went back to Waverly, but to Perry Middle School...

BOLDEN: After I came back, I came back to Waverly and Mr. Fields was Principal, Perry was being built, and Mr. Fields, C.W. Fields who was a principal said to me one day, "Mrs. Bolden, if you will go with me to Perry there are two places I won't have to worry about, the Library and the cafeteria because I'm going to take Mrs. Shelton," (she was the cafeteria director). And those two places I won't have to worry about if you will consent to go with me. And I did.

WILLIAMS: Did it bother you going from a elementary school to a junior high school?

BOLDEN: Not at all. Not at all. In fact I enjoyed it. I hated to leave the faculty at Waverly because they had always been so supportive of me. But that's about the only regret that I had.

WILLIAMS: Now you worked there until retirement right?

BOLDEN: At Perry?


BOLDEN: No I worked at Perry for 11 years and I left there and went to Dreher in '68.

WILLIAMS: '68...I don't have that. Dreher...

BOLDEN: And I stayed at Dreher until 1982.

WILLIAMS: 1968 'til 1982. That's where you retired ?

BOLDEN: That's right.

WILLIAMS: The biographical sources are incomplete.

BOLDEN: That's true.

WILLIAMS: What was life like... we talked a little bit about trying to compare what it was like in the elementary school, high school of a segregated school system being the librarian. Is it more difficult than what you found later, say at Dreher ? Where things really better at Dreher? Considerably?

BOLDEN: Well, my greatest concern has always been and probably always will be that there's not... there are not courses in graduate schools for teachers which teach the value of and how to effectively use a library in classroom teaching. I came on board with that kind of concern and when I left I still had that. That you can have a good library, a good librarian, but the teacher must know how to use it effectively in order for you to get your money's worth. And that I haven't seen come to fruition.

WILLIAMS: And this was true in all...

BOLDEN: This has been true in all of the schools and it was particularly true of Dreher. You see, in the elementary and junior high we schedule classes to come, so the teacher would have to come and bring them. And my idea was that you would do this only for a certain number of years and then after teachers and children had gotten accustomed to having a library, it should be open at all times and everybody would be free to use it on their own. But while I was in the elementary school, and while I was in the middle school, we never did work up to that. You understand? And it was always my desire to bring them to that point. Now I think they are to that point now. That they can, at least most of them they were when I was working there.

WILLIAMS: I think it's still a struggle from what I hear Dan Barron...

BOLDEN: I think so too, because I think that in some schools they will, when the teacher brings the class to the library, that's her free period and that is not as it should be. It takes all the teacher and the librarian can do to work with those kids to give them the benefit of that experience. And until that is done, we just... it's not's just...the library`s a babysitter. And I wish, I wish so much, and I haven't just said that, I'm not just saying it to you, I've said it all the time, all the way through. When I went to Dreher I was told that, admiringly, by many of the teachers that, gosh this place was a museum before you came. You could come, but you couldn't touch you know. And that was never my idea of what a library was. And so I opened it up freely and gave everybody access and even let children check out reference books and things that were unheard of because I felt that there's no need in having them locked up here at night if nobody is using them and you could be using them at home. Free access is what I always believed in. But I don't believe that a librarian should feel that this is my property, I own this. There's no ownership of yours, they both, Miss Foran, I worked under Betty Foran for a while, and she had a philosophy, she was the supervisor in the Columbia city schools, the library supervisor. And she used to say that the budget this year is a good one for the children who are here, and if you buy books you buy them for the children that are here, this is their library. If you lose some books, hopefully you won't lose too many, but if you lose some, hopefully they are out there doing some good. And I always thought that was a beautiful philosophy because you're going to lose some... I haven't, even with a security system, I haven't seen a library yet that didn't lose some. But hopefully we lost the minimum.

WILLIAMS: Was financial support good at all three of these terms of getting the things you wanted?

BOLDEN: Yes. I found that when people complain about not having the financial support that is a cop out... most of the time I got what I asked for. I also used it, however.

WILLIAMS: You were talking about Mrs. Nancy Jane Day and your work with her. Was there early co-operation from Mrs. Day at the State Department?


WILLIAMS: In terms of helping out?

BOLDEN: Mrs. Day has always been very co-operative. In fact, I worked...she happened to be the only person I worked under for a number of years, and when we were at the library at Perry, she had worked with them even before I got there. I will never forget...there was a matter of the shelving, which was not as we wanted it to be at Perry. It was a beautiful place, but the shelving in the center of the floor was not adjustable shelving, and Mrs. Day came in one day and she was not very happy with that. And I said, "Well, Miss Day, you worked with them before I did. You could have done something about this." Which was true. I don't know, Miss Day might have assigned somebody else to approve the furnishings...

WILLIAMS: But she was advising Perry and other schools...?

BOLDEN: Yes, on the facilities and the furnishings...

WILLIAMS: So, across the board, she was helping Black librarians and Black libraries.

BOLDEN: All over. All over South Carolina.

WILLIAMS: Well, I know she...

BOLDEN: And by the time she left, they had them in pretty near all of the schools too.

WILLIAMS: Yes, a tremendous...

BOLDEN: Tremendous. And you know, people haven't even thought enough of her to name something for her. I don't know what they expect. I just think her name should be in stone somewhere. I really do.

WILLIAMS: Well, she is self-effacing. I suspect that thing about the interview, which she kept saying...I kept her..she said, "It sounds like I did all of these things, it was 'we' did all these things."

BOLDEN: Well, that was...well, I mean, after all, she did... nobody would have any thing to a monument to them if they thought like that. You have to have a little something. I take my hat off to her.

WILLIAMS: Well recently we asked.. in fact we asked Miss Day first, to come and give the Dean's Lecture at the school, and she finally turned us down. And then Margaret Earhardt came and told about the early history and the establishment of that position, at the State Department, and so at least that was some recognition of her.

WILLIAMS: Well, were you attending any of the workshops at South Carolina State that she did ? I think there were some also at Allen and Benedict. You said you attended some along the way.

BOLDEN: Yes, I did. I think the best workshop that was given at South Carolina State was one that was sponsored we go...Federal Government again...when they had those Library Institutes in the summer... beautiful...really...they were fantastic.

WILLIAMS: Yes, the folks at South Carolina State were talking about the fact that those were...

BOLDEN: Very, very effective. They got their best instructors. I have taught at South fact, I've taught at every school around here, so I am real proud of the librarians I have helped to train. I feel like maybe they are still out there doing some good.

WILLIAMS: You taught at State?

BOLDEN: I taught...I really started at Allen and Benedict... South Carolina State, I taught at Columbia College for two summers, these were all evening classes...

WILLIAMS: Yes, and undergraduate...

BOLDEN: And undergraduate classes. And when I taught at the University when Mrs. Burge was there two semesters in the afternoon.

WILLIAMS: I didn't realize that...

BOLDEN: Yes. Mrs. Burge was down there.

WILLIAMS: Now, you became active in the Palmetto Education Association, and I heard that you were chair of the librarian section.

BOLDEN: I was, and that's all the Black librarians from over the state. It was a very active group.

WILLIAMS: Was it a large group?

BOLDEN: Oh, yes. A very large group.

WILLIAMS: What kinds of things were you all involved in, do you know?

BOLDEN: We would bring in consultants, and get, the meeting was like a 2-day duration, or something like that, and we would have hands-on workshops,and we would share with each other some of the things that have worked for us and some things that didn't...that kind of thing, and brought well-known personalities...

WILLIAMS: This is when you brought in Mrs. Baker? To your workshops? That was under the Palmetto Education Association?

BOLDEN: Right. Right. I remember how Mrs. Wheeler used to tell stories to children, and she was a librarian in the public library, and how she would change her voice, and what-not, and I used to think that I would have to...She was a story-teller, so I thought that maybe this was what I should be doing. And when I heard Mrs. Baker speak, and she was telling us some of the things that you don't have to do, and it really put me more at ease. And she said, "Don't stop in the middle of the story and define anything for the children, for you break the continuity of the story." If you tell the story as if you wrote it and repeat the word long enough, they will know what it means, and it's true. But things like that just don't register on you unless somebody tells you.

WILLIAMS: I've watched her work out those things and tell them and they are just amazing.

BOLDEN: Right.

WILLIAMS: Other kinds of things that the Librarian section did within the Palmetto Education Association... that you were talking about in particular?

BOLDEN: Well, we served as a liason between what was going on in the other departments of the Palmetto Education Association. Keeping them abreast of what was going on with the entire association.

WILLIAMS: Was there any co-operation with the South Carolina Education Association?




WILLIAMS: Do you remember when Blacks were first allowed to join SCLA? And remember when you joined?

BOLDEN: Well, I don't recall when it was, but I know it was as soon as it became membership became available to us. So whenever that was, I was there. I remember once being in my first integrated meeting and making a comment...this is something that has always stuck with me...I said something, as I usually do, and when I said it, a white librarian looked at another white librarian and said, "Did you hear what she said !?" And that struck me as being something that ...well, am I not supposed to have an idea? Am I not supposed to say anything? And it really hurt. But after that I became verbal. I got over that. But it hurt at I am and I'm supposed to just sit here. I'm not supposed to have an idea, and if I have one it's supposed to be something unique or something different. A Black person with a thought? That's the way it struck me. Now it might not have been intended to be that...but you know how all of us have our things.

WILLIAMS: But you don't remember when this was?

BOLDEN: I remember it was my first integrated meeting. I remember that.

WILLIAMS: As a school librarian?

BOLDEN: Right. And after that, as we met in the our librarian's group in the city schools, Kitty Daniels... Do you know her? She is a librarian... but Kitty would always say, when I would say something, Kitty would always say, "Ethel, you're the voice in the wilderness." (laughs) I remember her for that. She would always say that, "the voice crying in the wilderness."

WILLIAMS: We were talking when I was down at South Carolina State interviewing Dr. Jenkins and some folks down there, they were talking about the first integrated meeting of SCLA in Greenville. Now, you weren't at that meeting were you?

BOLDEN: I don't think so.

WILLIAMS: In which apparently someone cancelled all of the luncheon and dinner meetings and they weren't quite sure who did that. Whether the hotel did it or the SCLA did it ... and those kinds of things.

BOLDEN: Well, we...that would not have been an unusual occurrence, because I worked with the YWCA, and they used to have what they called the May Morning Breakfast, and when they first integrated, that May Morning Breakfast was... some of the white ladies cried, I mean actual tears. So, you know, that has been the story of my life. And I think they were sincere in the... here you come. What is this going to do to us? But it doesn't take long for you to dispel all those that's been the story of our life.

WILLIAMS: There must have been fears on your part, too... of acceptance?

BOLDEN: Rejection mostly. But as I spoke to a Sunday School class Sunday, and I told them that there is one thing, we know more about you than you know about us. And when I left that class, I really felt that there was the desire to know more about us. Because that is a fact...we do know more about you than you know about us.

WILLIAMS: Do you think this is almost always true of a minority to the majority? And particularly in the case of repression.

BOLDEN: Right.

WILLIAMS: That's why I kept saying, asking about what did you know in comparison about the other school libraries.

BOLDEN: Totally...totally ignorant.

WILLIAMS: And the answer is that you really weren't allowed to know...

BOLDEN: That's right.

WILLIAMS: In terms of comparison...

BOLDEN: Right.

WILLIAMS: Well, what about the merger between the Palmetto Education Association and the South Carolina Education Association. Were you there then?

BOLDEN: I was there...and not there. Because I think most of this was worked out with the executive committees, and I understood that from the time that what they worked out, they passed specific agreements as to, I shouldn't say quotas, but that in reality, I guess that's what it was. You would alternate your leadership and you would have...they had very definite plans, and I have heard, I have heard Mrs. Rachel Griffin is one person, who said, "Don't let this happen as it happened with the Education Association." We forgot most of the things that we agreed to do. But things seem to be working out very well now. I don't hear of anything. But you do have another organization, however, that has completely separated itself.

WILLIAMS: The Palmetto Teachers Association?

BOLDEN: Right. Right. I guess if you're not satisfied with being integrated or operating under these certain guidelines, then you move out into the other organization.

WILLIAMS: I don't know much about that organization.

BOLDEN: I don't either.

WILLIAMS: I gather it's not a Black teacher's group.

BOLDEN: No. I don't think there are too many Blacks in it.

WILLIAMS: And I don't remember. It seems like it is mostly a union centered organiztion, more than the SCEA.

BOLDEN: Right.

WILLIAMS: My graduate assistant this past year, who is Black, belonged to that, but she wasn't quite sure why she belonged to it. She also belonged to the SCEA, too. Well, in your view, was SCLA helpful? Was your involvement in SCLA, I don't have much in the way of committee chairs...and those kinds of things within the SCLA?

BOLDEN: Well, it was helpful in that it gave you a forum for leadership. It gave you a place where you could be recognized as a person, as a librarian, and a history. It was really a part of a heritage of Black librarians in South Carolina. Ownership. The PEA gave it to us.

WILLIAMS: We have been wanting to get the records of the Palmetto Education Association, and some of those things...

BOLDEN: I have the book that was written on the history of the Palmetto Education Association, and to my amazement, there is very little in there about Black librarians.

WILLIAMS: About the librarian's group. We noticed that too. I'm hoping the records of, like your work as chair, in the librarian's group, and that sort of thing, are still there. We have asked them to let us look at the records, but they are stored in a warehouse. They are trying to decide what to do with them. I hope they take care of them.

BOLDEN: I hope so.

WILLIAMS: So we can get it later. What other kinds of comments, ideas, observations, occur to you about your life as a librarian over these thirty or forty years. Any things you wish you had done differently or that kind of general comments about being a successful librarian during this time?

BOLDEN: Oh....the only thing that I...I used to have...misgivings about was the fact that when I left Perry and went to Dreher some of my co-workers kind of considered that left your people, you know, and you went over there, and took to the white school. Well, somebody had it to do. And my feeling was that ... I knew I was good. In fact, I have always said, "I know I'm a good librarian." I have no doubt about that, and if they wanted the best, they got the best. But there were Black children over there that I worked with. And I feel that the fact that I worked with Black children over there... I worked with white children over there, and I meet them on the street daily, Black and white, and they respect me as a librarian, and as a good librarian, and I made contacts that I never would have, had I stayed at Perry. And I did something for the people with whom I came in contact, because I showed them that Black people can do something if they give them a chance. And they kept saying that you don't have to prove anything, but somebody did have to prove...

WILLIAMS: How did the switch some about?

BOLDEN: The switch came about when Mr. know when they were integrating, I don't know how people thought that if you get a librarian, that's a person who will have less influence, when that person in reality could be the person with the most influence upon children.

WILLIAMS: Do you think someone...

BOLDEN: Someone had the idea that that would be the least influence, because librarians were really...they were really looking around for Black librarians to go into white schools, and I thought that was ...that was my idea, that they were thinking, "here is a person who can exert the least influence, " but in reality, you know yourself that that's wrong.

WILLIAMS: Did they have the idea that this would be less objectionable to parents?

BOLDEN: Well, it might have been. Than a teacher? But a librarian is a teacher!

WILLIAMS: Yeah, right.

BOLDEN: And she teaches all the children. And the librarian sees everything, she gets an overall view. That's the one thing that I... that I want to get this straight. That some of my people considered it being a traitor to leave a Black school and go to a white one, if you're good. And I felt that within my heart, that this is not an example of what a traitor is. It is a person who is trying to prove to another group of people that they do have people who have ability, who have talent, who can do, and children need to see that. They need role models who are different also.

WILLIAMS: Particularly the white kids.

BOLDEN: Right. Right.

WILLIAMS: At that school, which was the best school in Columbia...

BOLDEN: Right. You are very right. It was thought to be the best school in Columbia.

WILLIAMS: Were you approached by someone to take the job?

BOLDEN: Mr. Whittinghill called me. He was principal of Dreher and he said, "If you would consent to come to Dreher, would you come over for an interview?" And I said to my principal, Mr. Fields, "Mr. Whittinghill wants me to come for an interview for the librarian's position at Dreher High School," and he said, "Well, you already have a job. I don't know why you have to go interview somebody for a job, when you already have a job." Which is true, you know, but I went on nevertheless. And evidently he was impressed, because I did get the job, and I told Mr. Fields that I would not be coming back to Perry.

WILLIAMS: And your motivation, it was in your head, that you would go and show them that Blacks were capable?

BOLDEN: That was my motivation. That I knew that somebody was going to have to show them, there was that doubt: here, if we integrate, we get inferior teachers, we get this and that, and get inferior students and that kind of thing. And in my head was the idea that, "I know I'm good, and I'm going to show you that I'm good. And there are others like me, many others like me." But somebody has to do it, and I'm not afraid to do it. I took that job.

WILLIAMS: How many Black teachers were at Dreher High School?

BOLDEN: Two. Two of us went. Francena Robinson and I. And we were the first to integrate.

WILLIAMS: There were two librarians?

BOLDEN: I was the librarian and she was the counselor. And that was the first integration of Dreher.

WILLIAMS: Interesting. Kind of mild...the librarian, to break the barrier.

BOLDEN: And when I went to Dreher, we had a library clerk who was white, and of course, I had...there were times when, you know...people showed their preference for going to her, which I didn't mind, for she was very co-operative, and a lovely person. And she seemed to have understood, but I had instances of salesmen coming in to the library, and she was here and I was there and they would go to her and was a natural thing that people do, and there is no way you can be the head librarian, and that's not the head librarian, and so they go to her. And of course, she would talk with them for a while, but she would eventually say, "I'm not the person to make the decisions in here, you have to see her." And you could see them say "No way," you know, "This can't be." But you ... I could write a book on all the little incidents like that.

WILLIAMS: What about the students?

BOLDEN: The students...I never had a problem with name-calling and that kind of thing... except one student, and he didn't know who he was. Because he was writing on his paper and he said, "What am I?" and he asked a student, and she said, "Put 'white'." But he called me a nigger. That's the only incident. He was in my homeroom. As long as I was there that was the only incident. And then after I told another white teacher, "Do you have a child you can exchange with me for this child, I cannot tolerate him any longer." And she said, "Yes, I have one I cannot tolerate too." So we switched. We were on the same grade level. This was homeroom. And we did switch, and about a week later he came back to me and told me that he wanted me to take him back and I told him, "No way. No way. You stay right where you are." But it was interesting.

WILLIAMS: And the resentment from the teachers?

BOLDEN: And the teachers...I can say that most of the teachers were very receptive. I think that I had a feeling that teachers who had accelerated classes were a little selfish about bringing, or sharing, those children with the library and the librarian. They seemed to have felt that they could do it on their own, with no outside help. I don't know what it was that I didn't have... Now, some of the students would come on their own. They didn't wait for the teacher to bring them. The teachers would bring classes on schedule and then, but we still had time, had space, and time for children to come on their own. But we got in some... some years we got more of the Black children who had nowhere else to go, and that might have been a barrier to bringing the better classes in. There were different administrators and they handled things in different ways and some of them would schedule study hall, and that kind of thing, and then the study hall teacher would send the was nothing that couldn't have been worked out with the teachers. But we had some very good teachers who would work with me...I will never forget Miss Hewlitt, who was an English teacher, and Miss Hewlitt would have me go down to the University and get advanced work for children in her class. She was a real good teacher and very supportive. But then there were some others who, I said, sometimes that they didn't want me to know how they had such a mix of children in that class, because I knew that some of the children who were supposed to be accelerated were no better than some of those in some of the other classes who were supposed to be just ordinary children. And I guess that was a secret that was supposed to be kept, but...and they certainly did not let anybody in on it.


BOLDEN: Yes. And that will always be...

WILLIAMS: The thing that surprised me in looking at your resume was all of your community work. You seem to have been involved in community work from the 1940's on.



BOLDEN: Well, my husband was a football coach, and if you know anything about wives of coaches, they have to make a life of their own. He was very, very supportive of all...I don't play cards... I don't do idle things. If I had time, I'd read or be involved. But I don't do things that I don't...I don't condemn other people for doing it if that's what you want to do, but there is so much to be done in this world, that I don't see how in the world you have time to just sit down and play cards all the time. And so I don't spend...and some of them say, "Oohh, you never stay at home!" "Oohh, you're always involved!" These are the card players. And I want to say so badly, but that's something they like and I don't want to do to them what they just did to me. There is so much to be done and I enjoy doing that, so why not just leave me alone.

WILLIAMS: Well, your husband was a very successful coach.

BOLDEN: He was a very successful coach, and my husband was the kind of person who did things that I'm still learning about, that I didn't know he was doing, and working with people in the community. I have, if I go out of here right now, hardly a day passes that I don't meet somebody who says, "You know, your husband made me. Your husband was responsible..." He was in counseling and he would go to the homes and look kids up and all kinds of things. Very, very interested in the kids.

WILLIAMS: He was at C.A. Johnson?

BOLDEN: He was, and then he was at Keenan?

WILLIAMS: And Bolden stadium was named after him?

BOLDEN: Right, he was a wonderful person.

WILLIAMS: Well, I have seen your son's comments about growing up in this city.

BOLDEN: Right. Yes.

WILLIAMS: It's interesting, because he went through the system when it was partly segregated...

BOLDEN: He never went to school more than six blocks from where he lived, because he went to Carver, Perry, and then Johnson. But now he had the advantage of going away in the summer. The same thing...Federal programs, summer institutes, science institutes and what-not. He attended Manchester, Indiana school, sponsored by the Friends, one summer, and there were just two Blacks in the whole town of Manchester, and he was one and there was a girl from Mississippi, and he adjusted very well. He was tenth grade then. And the next year he went to Carnegie. It's out from Philadelphia, isn't it? I can't remember.

WILLIAMS: I can't remember...

BOLDEN: I can't remember.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that's about to conclude my questions, unless you have other comments or observations that you want to make.

BOLDEN: I...I have...observations about the, the almost, Black librarians becoming almost extinct. That gives me grave concern. We talk about it down at the public library, Mr. Warren and I. And they're...they're just not getting Black librarians anymore. And people need role models. I know what mine have meant to me. And I have a great concern.

WILLIAMS: I think there are more than you are maybe aware of, because the predominant ones in this state go into school libraries, with very few, for some reason, choosing to go into public libraries.

BOLDEN: Well, it's the hours and the pay.

WILLIAMS: Most libraries pay more poorly than school libraries, and academic libraries don't pay very well either. I don't really know what our percentage is at the college now, but for sure, I think it's somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty percent of Black students who are in the program. [Note: more like 10%] R.V.W.

BOLDEN: Which is not bad.

WILLIAMS: In terms of the population of about 33 percent, something like that. I guess one of the things that has affected it is that South Carolina State has not yet worked out what they want to do with an undergraduate program, since the one they have has stopped. And ...

BOLDEN: Well, one thing I did tell you about, my scholarship help when I went to AAU was a scholarship from the Carnegie Corporation. I like to mention these because I'm hoping that somewhere along the line that they will see that what they did was not in vain. The Carnegie Corporation, and then I got an out-of-state grant from Winthrop, because they did have courses at Winthrop, but I could not attend, so I got a scholarship.

WILLIAMS: Well, the Carnegie and Ford scholarships have all been supportive?

BOLDEN: Right. Right.