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Camilla Thompson

Camilla Bolton Perkins Thompson has distinguished herself as both a science educator and as an authority on the African American history of Jacksonville, Florida. As an African American teacher of chemistry and physics, she was a pioneer for her generation. As a local lay historian, her historical research, writings, interpretation, presentations and organizational activities on Jacksonville’s African American history were motivated by the need to preserve the history for younger generations.

Thompson was born on March 6, 1922 in Jacksonville, Florida. Her mother, Camilla (Bolton) Perkins, was a Jacksonville elementary school teacher and her father, Daniel W. Perkins, was a prominent lawyer. Thompson grew up in the LaVilla neighborhood of Jacksonville which was a segregated town of its own, where she attended a wooden two-story school house. She graduated from Stanton Senior High School in 1939. In 1943, Thompson received her B.S. degree in chemistry from Florida A&M University. In 1974, she received her M.S. degree with a focus on the teaching of chemistry and physics from the University of North Florida.

From 1944 to 1976, Thompson taught chemistry, physics and math at four Jacksonville junior and senior high schools - Abraham Lincoln Lewis Jr. High, Northwestern Jr. High, William Raines High and Andrew Jackson High School. From 1976 to 1981, she was an instructor of chemistry at Florida Community College. During her teaching career, Thompson was married to Capers M. Thompson and they had three children—Muriel, Michael, and Reginald, born between 1947 and 1953. When Thompson retired from teaching, she was serving on the board of the Clara White Mission. The White family had accumulated a large collection of news articles and artifacts on Jacksonville’s African life and history. Thompson volunteered to organize and preserve a large collection of historical materials accumulated by the White family.

Over a ten year period, between 1985 and 1995, Thompson wrote a weekly column called “Reflections on Black Jacksonville” for the Jacksonville Free Press. Her more than 500 articles covered people, places and events in Jacksonville’s black history and culture. She is widely known for her illustrated talks on “Remembering the African American History of Jacksonville from 1925 to 1960.

As chairperson of the Black Historical Tour Committee and as a Tour Coordinator, Thompson served as a principle figure in the Tour of Black Historical Sites (30 in all) in Metropolitan Jacksonville, sponsored by the Gamma Rho Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Thompson’s work as a lay historian, researching, preserving, interpreting and disseminating the African American history of Jacksonville, has been a major contribution to historical memory and cultural and educational programs for the City of Jacksonville.

Thompson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 19, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.125

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/19/2006

Last Name

Thompson

Maker Category
Schools

New Stanton High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Camilla

Birth City, State, Country

Jacksonville

HM ID

THO12

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

New York, New York

Favorite Quote

Take One Day At A Time.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Florida

Birth Date

3/6/1922

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Jacksonville

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Tomatoes

Short Description

High school math teacher, newspaper columnist, and historian Camilla Thompson (1922 - ) wrote for the Jacksonville Free Press.

Employment

A.L. Lewis Junior High School

Northwestern Junior High School

William M. Raines High School

Andrew Jackson High School

Favorite Color

Pink

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Camilla Thompson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Camilla Thompson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Camilla Thompson describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Camilla Thompson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Camilla Thompson describes her father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Camilla Thompson describes her father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Camilla Thompson describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Camilla Thompson describes her sisters

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Camilla Thompson describes the history of Florida's African American beaches

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Camilla Thompson remembers visiting New York City as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Camilla Thompson describes Jacksonville's LaVilla neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Camilla Thompson describes her neighbors' occupations

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Camilla Thompson recalls her childhood pastimes

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Camilla Thompson describes segregation in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Camilla Thompson recalls attending Jacksonville's LaVilla School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Camilla Thompson describes the Boylan-Haven School and Stanton High School

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Camilla Thompson recalls her interest in math and science

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Camilla Thompson recalls her summer pastimes as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Camilla Thompson remembers Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Camilla Thompson recalls her post-graduate education

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Camilla Thompson recalls teaching at A.L. Lewis Junior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Camilla Thompson describes her marriage to Capers M. Thompson, Sr.

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Camilla Thompson recalls balancing motherhood with her teaching career

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Camilla Thompson remembers teaching chemistry in Jacksonville's schools

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Camilla Thompson recalls being selected as a federal desegregation teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Camilla Thompson talks about her teaching career and master's degree

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Camilla Thompson explains how she became interested in history

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Camilla Thompson talks about philanthropist Eartha M. M. White

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Camilla Thompson remembers writing for the Jacksonville Free Press

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Camilla Thompson describes her work in historical education and research

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Camilla Thompson describes the history of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Camilla Thompson describes the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church museum

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Camilla Thompson talks about Zora Neale Hurston's connection to Jacksonville

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Camilla Thompson describes her book on the history of Jacksonville

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Camilla Thompson talks about the importance of African American history

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Camilla Thompson reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Camilla Thompson describes her plans for the future

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Camilla Thompson describes her hopes for the African American community and how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Camilla Thompson narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Camilla Thompson recalls her childhood pastimes
Camilla Thompson describes the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church museum
Transcript
(Laughter).$$I want to talk about your early schooling and elementary, junior and senior high, but before we move to the schooling, to kind of finish up on the neighborhood and growing up, what sights, sounds, and smells remind you of growing up on Beaver Street in LaVilla [Jacksonville, Florida]?$$Okay. Well, one of the sites was LaVilla playground [LaVilla Park; Florida C. Dwight Memorial Playground, Jacksonville, Florida], and that was the playground that one of my mother's [Camilla Bolton Perkins] friends, Miss Florida Cutton Dwight, was the director. She was the first playground director there. In fact, she was the first playground--African American playground director in Jacksonville [Florida], and she started out at another park, Oakland park, but she was at LaVilla more. And so I could go there, and she had games to suit, you know, children of all ages, and then they had--they played baseball or softball, basketball, and she had arts and crafts where some of us learned how to knit and crochet, and we played games like jack stones and shoot marbles, and we had the maypole plaiting during May, and all of these kinds of things. So she made quite a difference in the lives of many of the young people, and some of them fondly recall Miss Florida Dwight as being their person who helped them. And then there were movies in the neighborhood, and there were several movies around the corner a few blocks, the Strand Theater [Jacksonville, Florida] and the Frolic Theater [Jacksonville, Florida]. And later--I was out of college by then when they did the Roosevelt [Roosevelt Theatre, Jacksonville, Florida], but the Ritz Theatre [Ritz Theatre and Museum, Jacksonville, Florida] was in 1929, and many times our parents--we would walk around there, and when we would leave there, there was Dr. Othewald Smith [ph.] who had a pharmacy and his medical practice in a building across from the Ritz, and he had a little ice cream set-up, the little wrought iron table and chairs, and we just loved to go there after we had been to the movies.$Well, we are here surrounded by all the artifacts and the history of Bethel [Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Jacksonville, Florida]. Did you help to put this together, this museum that we're--church history museum (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I led the group in trying to get it together, because as we were writing histories, we asked people to look in their attics and garages and find old programs and old books and artifacts, and we got so much until when we finished, we were saying, well, what are we gonna do with them? And so we said, we can't throw it out. And so in the process, the pastor was moving from this room, which used to be the pastor's study, into an office in the administration building, so we asked for this room. And so this is what we have, and we got this set up and had the grand opening in 1995.$$I see. As I sit here talking with you, in the display case to my right, your left, there's a very large book, and it says, membership book. That has the names of members during what period?$$Okay. That's an interesting book. It has the names of members from 1870 to 1924, and there are some others, but the sad thing is that the book that comes from '25 [1925] to the '50s [1950s] is missing. But then we have one that takes up in the '50s [1950s] and moves on. But we were happy to have that one. Someone who had a beautiful handwriting entered the names of each one of those members. They gave the name, the address, the church that they came from, the location of that church, and how much that person pledged to give each week, each month, or each year, and all of that is listed in that membership book.$$What are the--some of your other favorite items and artifacts in this church museum? Which ones do you have special feeling about, any others besides that?$$Well, one of the things, some photos that we have on either side behind you have the photos of some of our early organizations like deaconess boards, deacon boards, trustee boards, early choirs, and that kind of thing. And in the center there, there's a large list of people who made contributions to the reduction of the mortgage in--between 1918 and 1919, and we found that on the stairwell, and it was where we found this rolled up, and it was real dusty, and we said, oh, how in the world can we clean it up. But when we looked again, there were two pages, and all we had to do was peel off the top page, and we have a clear document, and so we were able to go and have it framed so that people can look. And people gave anywhere from maybe fifty cents up to--I think the highest amount was like five hundred, which was given--left as a part of the estate of Mr. A.W. Price, who was a member here and also one of the seven founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company [Jacksonville, Florida].