Unforgettable Oral Histories

Some stories reach right out, grab you, and won’t let you go. Stories like the one Geraldine Hall-Taylor told about going up the fire escape behind the theater as a child, so she could watch movies from the balcony reserved for “colored” audiences. She was afraid of heights and climbed the stairs with her hands on each step. Descending when the show was over, she sat carefully and plopped down the stairs on her bottom.

The Wake Forest Historical Museum is very fortunate to have received a generous grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council to record the oral histories of three local women who grew up in town many years ago and can describe what life was like. Noted scholar and author Emily Herring Wilson (WFC ’62) conducted the interviews, posing questions that were both insightful and sensitive. Together with our subjects, Emily created a vibrant historical record that will deepen our understanding of the reality women and girls experienced in the Town of Wake Forest dating back nearly a century.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these histories is the role played by mothers and grandmothers in imparting strength and wisdom– and a strong urge to succeed– in the young girls growing up in their care. A perfect example comes from Evelyn Jones, who recalled a memorable saying from her mother. It came in the form of marching orders, a demand to be something more than humble, quiet and demure. It was an expectation that

Evelyn would hold her head high, show her intelligence, and never back away from a fight: “I don’t take back. I don’t get back. No further than I will knock back. And ain’t nobody going to knock me back.”

A similar fighting spirit was found in Joyce Davis, who was born in 1917 in the Mill Village and also recalled a mother who made education, strength, morality and intelligence the most important aspects of her children’s upbringing. As the daughter of a working class couple, Joyce took competitive pride in outperforming the sons of Wake Forest College professors in the classroom at her public school. And to underscore her dedication to education, she still has her grade school primer, a book issued by the state of North Carolina and filled with words and information young children in the 1920s were expected to read, repeat and memorize.

The chance to learn from these women is an amazing opportunity for the museum and broader Wake Forest community. It is our honor to help preserve their stories for posterity. Thanks to the NCHC, we will be able to add their interviews to our full documentary film collection held in the Susan Powell Brinkley Library. Edited versions will be screened at a public forum on March 23, 2013 and will be utilized in a storytelling display associated with the new Women’s History exhibit.

NCHC for Web

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