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B. B. De Laine

Educator Brumit Belton De Laine or B.B. De Laine was born on October 1, 1937 in Columbia, South Carolina to Mattie Belton De Laine, a teacher, and Joseph Armstrong De Laine, a minister, teacher, and community activist. De Laine attended segregated elementary schools, and during his childhood, his father spearheaded a civil rights protest against the segregated school and transportation systems in Clarendon County, South Carolina. As a youth, De Laine witnessed the protests and social tensions that led to the Briggs v. Elliott school desegregation case that was eventually bundled with Brown v. Board of Education. Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision, De Laine witnessed widespread vandalism and terror perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. He witnessed the burning of his father’s church and the escape of his family to New York City.

De Laine graduated from Carver Public High School in 1955. He attended Howard University for one half of a year and then transferred to Johnson C. Smith University where he got involved in and was one of three primary organizers of the lunch counter sit-in demonstrations in Charlotte, North Carolina. He earned his B.A. degree in psychology and economics from Johnson C. Smith University in 1960.

De Laine accepted a job as a bus driver in New York City. In 1964, he graduated from New York University with a master’s degree in safety, and in 1965, De Laine began teaching in the Chappaqua, New York schools. The following academic year, De Laine moved back to North Carolina with his wife, Edith Strickland De Laine, and three children where he accepted a teaching position in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System at Garinger High School in 1965. De Laine was the first African American teacher at Garinger High School. In 1969, De Laine became Director of Driver Education for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. In 1977, De Laine completed a sixth year certificate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, earning him advanced certification in school administration. After more than thirty years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System, De Laine retired in 1996. Soon after, he joined the Board of Directors for the Swann Fellowship.

De Laine resides in Charlotte, where he serves on the Board of Directors for the Briggs-DeLaine-Pearson Foundation.

De Laine was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 21, 2007.

B.B. De Laine passed away on June 14, 2012.

Accession Number

A2007.183

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/21/2007

Last Name

De Laine

Maker Category
Schools

Scotts Branch High School

Liberty Hill Elementary School

Carver High School

Allen University

Johnson C. Smith University

New York University

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Howard University

First Name

B.B.

Birth City, State, Country

Columbia

HM ID

DEL08

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Tell A Person To Go To Hell In Such A Way That They'll Enjoy The Trip.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

10/1/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charlotte

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Death Date

6/14/2012

Short Description

High school administrator B. B. De Laine (1937 - 2012 ) spent more than thirty years working for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Employment

New York City Human Resources Administration

Garinger High School

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

New York City Transit Authority

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of B. B. De Laine's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - B. B. De Laine lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - B. B. De Laine describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - B. B. De Laine describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - B. B. De Laine talks about his homes in South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - B. B. De Laine describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - B. B. De Laine lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - B. B. De Laine describes his upbringing in Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - B. B. De Laine remembers traveling with his father

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - B. B. De Laine describes his father's discipline

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - B. B. De Laine describes his childhood pastimes

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - B. B. De Laine remembers the Liberty Hill School in Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - B. B. De Laine remembers his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - B. B. De Laine recalls the Scotts Branch School in Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - B. B. De Laine remembers segregation in Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - B. B. De Laine describes the segregated movie theaters in South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - B. B. De Laine recalls the segregated restaurants in Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - B. B. De Laine remembers the lynchings in Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - B. B. De Laine describes his father's activism

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - B. B. De Laine recalls the transportation available to black students in Clarendon County, South Carolina, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - B. B. De Laine remembers the family of Levi Pearson

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - B. B. De Laine recalls the transportation available to black students in Clarendon County, South Carolina, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - B. B. De Laine describes the white community of Summerton, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - B. B. De Laine describes his father's values

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - B. B. De Laine describes the case of Pearson v. Board of Education

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - B. B. De Laine describes his father's role in the community

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - B. B. De Laine talks about the inequalities of school segregation

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - B. B. De Laine remembers Carver High School in Lake City, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - B. B. De Laine recalls the results of the Briggs v. Elliott case, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - B. B. De Laine describes his father's reaction to Brown v. Board of Education

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - B. B. De Laine describes the results of the Briggs v. Elliott case, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - B. B. De Laine recalls his decision to attend Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - B. B. De Laine recalls his decision not to attend a private high school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - B. B. De Laine describes the white reprisals against his father

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - B. B. De Laine remembers attending Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - B. B. De Laine remembers leaving Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - B. B. De Laine describes segregation in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - B. B. De Laine recalls his start at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - B. B. De Laine describes Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - B. B. De Laine recalls his start as a civil rights leader in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - B. B. De Laine talks about his father's influence

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - B. B. De Laine describes the student sit-ins in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - B. B. De Laine describes the results of the student protest movement in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - B. B. De Laine shares his protest philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - B. B. De Laine recalls working for the welfare department in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - B. B. De Laine remembers meeting and marrying his wife

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - B. B. De Laine remembers his graduate studies at New York University

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - B. B. De Laine describes race relations at New York University

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - B. B. De Laine talks about his civil rights activities

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - B. B. De Laine describes his children

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - B. B. De Laine describes how he became an educator

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - B. B. De Laine describes his position at Garinger High School in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - B. B. De Laine remembers Principal Ed Sanders

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - B. B. De Laine recalls a white parent's reaction to school integration

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - B. B. De Laine recalls a prejudiced coworker at Garinger High School

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - B. B. De Laine describes the changes in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - B. B. De Laine describes his religious involvement

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - B. B. De Laine describes his role at the Education Center in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - B. B. De Laine remembers the leadership of Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - B. B. De Laine recalls the white protests against busing

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - B. B. De Laine describes the school busing process in Charlotte, North Carolina

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - B. B. De Laine remembers the death of his father

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - B. B. De Laine reflects upon his father's accomplishments

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - B. B. De Laine recalls earning a certification in school administration

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - B. B. De Laine remembers the busing crisis in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - B. B. De Laine describes the resegregation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - B. B. De Laine describes his retirement

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - B. B. De Laine remembers the death of his mother

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - B. B. De Laine reflects upon his father's legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - B. B. De Laine reflects upon his family's legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - B. B. De Laine narrates his photographs with his brother, Joseph A. De Laine, Jr.

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

2$4

DATitle
B. B. De Laine recalls the results of the Briggs v. Elliott case, pt. 1
B. B. De Laine describes the student sit-ins in Charlotte, North Carolina
Transcript
What year did you graduate from high school?$$Nineteen fifty-five [1955].$$And how were race relations at that time?$$Still very much segregated. The 1954 [U.S.] Supreme Court decision in Brown [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954] was--came down at the end of my junior year. The second decision in Brown, the one that required the schools to desegregate with all deliberate speed, came down either the day before I graduated or the day after, I don't remember which it was, but it was one day separation there. So, it were still segregated. There were no whites in South Carolina, to speak of, that even would entertain the thought of integrated schools at that time. But, because of the Briggs case, we did have the new high school. That was a part of the equalization effort that the State of South Carolina went into to try to stave off the integration issue.$$So this was one of the concessions in the Briggs v. Elliott case and your father [Joseph A. De Laine, Sr.] was instrumental in that case, and Thurgood Marshall argued the case?$$Right.$$One of the concessions to avoid seg- desegregation was to build the high school you attended, Carver public high school [Carver High School] in Lake City [South Carolina]?$$Right. In--in the district court hearings, the state conceded that the schools were not equal and that the governor had proposed, and it was rushed through to get a $75 million bond to equalize schools. The bulk of that money went to equalizing black schools. But there were some white schools that were brought up to standards also. And in 1952, I think it is--was, a new school was built in Summerton [South Carolina] and transportation provided for black students. Lake City, they were not as far behind so it took a little longer to get a school there. When we went to Lake City, they had--the elementary building was a cinderblock building. I think it had central heat in it also and then they had another brick building, that was the high school wing. Those--both of those buildings were not too old as schools went during that time because it had not been too very long that the high school--that the school, a black school had burned in Lake City and that's when the cinderblock building was built.$$Tell me about the burning of that school, when did that happen?$$I--I'm not sure what happen--what year that was. But, I don't think it had been fifteen years. In fact, it probably wasn't that long because some of the people I know that said they were in school at that time would not have been in school fifteen years back. But--$$You were alive when this happened?$$Yeah, I didn't know anything about that because it was before we moved to Lake City. But when we got there, they did have a building that had indoor restrooms, and they had central heat. Did not have a cafeteria. But it--it was--it was a pretty nice building as far as black folk were concerned. And--$$This was the 1952--$$This was 19--$$--construction?$$No, this was 1950 and in Lake City, the new school did not come until 1953. So it was about a year after--ni- yeah, the end of 1953, '54 [1954] school year we moved into the new building.$$Was there a sense that your father was part of this movement, a big part of this movement?$$Yeah. People knew where or why the schools were being built. Now in other parts of the state I'm not sure that they were as aware of why they were getting new buildings, as they were in the Clarendon County [South Carolina] area.$$How many buildings? How many new schools, colored schools?$$All over the state. Yeah, I don't know how many, but I know all over the state they were built.$$And this all began in Clarendon County?$$Right. In fact, I spoke at a school in Aiken County [South Carolina] about three years go and one--they--the school where I was speaking had been a black school and it was one that came from the bond issue. And the staff there, the principal and the teachers didn't know until I told them that that was a part of the state's program to equalize the schools.$So what were race relations like in Charlotte [North Carolina] at the time, at the time of the sit-ins?$$Things were still segregated, but Charlotte was much more moderate than most southern towns. I think that's good and bad because Charlotte has always tried to keep the lid on problems and resolve them before they get the negative press that some other places have gotten. But then after they get the initial problem resolved, I don't think Charlotte has stuck with it to get the root causes corrected. And because of that, I think some of the issues that we are still struggling with now are still here and they could've been resolved in my opinion. But during the lunch counter demonstrations, the City of Charlotte, the official policy was, that if we did not val- if we as the demonstrators did not violate any city ordinances they would not hassle us. Now if some individual policeman did underhanded things, but that was not the official policy of the city. And we did not have the violence that other towns experienced during the sit-ins.$$Now which restaurants, stores did you target as activists?$$All of them downtown.$$Name a few?$$Kress [S.H. Kress and Co.]--Kress, Woolworth [F.W. Woolworth Company], Grants [W.T. Grant Co.], Ivy's [J.B. Ivey and Company], Belk's. Ivy's is a department store, you would probably have called that the most upstale- upscale store we had. Belk's is still in existence, Ivy's is--that was a family owned store that's not in existence now. But we--you could not eat anywhere downtown except one place, and that was a little stand known as Tanner's [Tanner's Snack Bar]. And if you remember Harry Golden's vertical integration theory, that's why he came up with that because Tanner's had no seats. You could go in and buy--they specialized in orange juice but you could get a hotdog and some delicious orange juice. And they were not segregated, because they didn't have any seats. You just stand up and eat it.$$It was white owned?$$It was white owned. But all of the other downtown eateries we targeted and they closed for the duration of the sit-in.$$And what, what did you do exactly as activists?$$Initially, when Charles Jones and the other student, Heyward Davenport, he lives in New York now. Charles Jones is here in Charlotte. When they came and asked me about joining that was a Sunday night. We had a mass meeting Monday night and we started the demonstrations Tuesday morning.$$Was this SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] or SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference]?$$SNCC was organized--during that year Charles was active in the organization of SNCC. But basically that was a student movement. We--once we got started there were some adults who, you know, provided guidance. There were some who would come by and assist with transportation. There were people sending donations to cover bail if--should we need it.$$And you would, boycott? What did you do?$$We--we went into the restaurants and once we took a seat generally they closed. Because it had already started in Greensboro [North Carolina] so they had a little idea of what they were gonna do. And they would close and we would keep them closed.$$They wouldn't throw you out?$$No, there were always policeman around. We picketed, we would get students get the counters full and we had pickets outside. Initially, we started off with the largest number, I believe, at that time. The Levine Museum [Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, North Carolina] here said we started with over two hundred students. And that's probably right. Because without the school's permission I took the bus and transported students and I made about three trips initially with fifty to sixty kids on the bus. And then there were the students who walked. Some caught rides. Some rode the city bus downtown. But we started with Kress, Woolworth and Grants. Those were five and ten cent stores. And once we closed those, then we moved onto Ivy's and Belk's, and the other stores downtown.

James Roberson

James Earnest Roberson was born on June 14, 1943 to Aressa and Mack E. Roberson in Birmingham, Alabama. Roberson’s parents were activists and involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Roberson lived across the street from Bethel Baptist Church, home to Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, that was twice-bombed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Roberson attended A.H. Parker High School where he graduated with an advance academic honors diploma in 1960. He received his B.A. degree in secondary education from Alabama A&M University in 1964; his M.A. degree in educational leadership in 1986 from University of Alabama; and his J.D. degree from Faith College in Alabama.

Roberson led demonstrations and was a political broker on the Alabama A&M University campus. He spearheaded sit-ins to desegregate Shoney’s and Big Boy restaurants.

For nearly thirty years, Roberson worked as an educator and administrator for the Alabama Board of Education. He taught earth science at A.G. Gaston and Leeds Junior High Schools before becoming assistant principal.

Roberson joined the Ford Motor Company’s Minority Dealer Development Program, and in 1993, he was named a dealer candidate, making him the first African American with a Pontiac dealership. Roberson then became owner of USA Auto and Budget Truck Rental Store in 2000 until his retirement in 2003.

Roberson holds memberships and leadership positions in various organizations including 100 Black Men of Birmingham, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the March of Dimes and Grace House Ministries. He has received multiple awards and recognitions for his contributions to the community.

Roberson and his wife, Linda, currently reside in Birmingham, Alabama.

Roberson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 21, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.104

Sex

Male

Interview Date

3/21/2007

Last Name

Roberson

Schools

A.H. Parker High School

Hudson Elementary School

Alabama A&M University

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Samuel Ach Junior High School

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

ROB13

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make Nor Iron Bars A Cage.$Jesus Is The Center Of My Joy And I Don't Allow Anyone To Steal My Joy.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Alabama

Birth Date

6/14/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Birmingham

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Auto sales entrepreneur and high school administrator James Roberson (1943 - ) served as an educator and administrator for the Alabama Board of Education. He then became the first African American with a Pontiac car dealership. Roberson then became owner of USA Auto and Budget Truck Rental Store in 2000 until his retirement in 2003.

Employment

Roosevelt Elementary School

A.G. Gaston Junior High School

Brownell Pontiac

Leeds Junior High School

Jefferson County Board of Education

Ford Motor Company

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Roberson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Roberson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Roberson describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Roberson talks about the influences upon his Christian faith

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Roberson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Roberson describes his maternal ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Roberson describes his father, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Roberson describes his father, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Roberson recalls his relationship with his father

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Roberson describes his father's influence

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Roberson recalls his paternal grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Roberson describes his paternal ancestry

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Roberson recalls visiting his paternal grandfather's grave

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Roberson describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Roberson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Roberson recalls his kindergarten in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Roberson describes his education in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Roberson describes the racial violence in Birmingham, Alabama, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Roberson describes the racial violence in Birmingham, Alabama, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Roberson describes his activities at A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Roberson recalls organizing sit-ins in Huntsville, Alabama, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Roberson recalls organizing sit-ins in Huntsville, Alabama, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Roberson remembers pledging Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Roberson recalls his family's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Roberson remembers working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Roberson recalls organizing a strike at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, Alabama

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Roberson talks about his teaching career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Roberson describes his early positions in educational administration

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Roberson describes his career in the auto sales industry

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Roberson reflects upon his retirement

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James Roberson talks about his honorary doctorate in law

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Roberson reflects upon growing up in the Jim Crow South

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Roberson recalls working at the Brownell Pontiac dealership in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Roberson reflects upon his career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Roberson describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Roberson talks about mentorship in the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Roberson talks about his parenting style

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James Roberson describes his wife, Linda Thompson Roberson

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James Roberson narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

6$2

DATitle
James Roberson recalls organizing sit-ins in Huntsville, Alabama, pt. 2
James Roberson recalls working at the Brownell Pontiac dealership in Birmingham, Alabama
Transcript
So when we walked in [to Shoney's Big Boy Drive In Restaurant, Huntsville, Alabama], you could hear the chattering and the silverware ticking and clacking, and all of a sudden it got dead silent. And everybody turned around and said, "The audacity of these colored boys to walk into this restaurant." And it was just quiet, totally quiet. And then somebody said, "You get the tar, I'll get the feathers, and we'll get these niggers out of here." And we turned around and looked at him like he was crazy. Everybody was--it was--it was just, it's quiet. So a manager came up to us. He said, "Hey guys, I know what you're doing, and I understand that. I'm from New York. I understand, but you just can't do it here." I said, "Sir, we want to be served. We have money. We're dressed appropriately. We're not causing any problem. We just want to be seated to eat." He said, "You can't do this. Guys, I'm gonna have to call the police." Said, "Well, do what you have to do. We want to be served." And so he went and dialed the police. We knew that they had about--we had about a two to three minute window to escape. We, we were not planning to be arrested. So as soon as he dialed the number, and we let him dial the number--we had to let him dial the number, 'cause they had to get a call out for them to come, and the TV people and the radio people gonna have the same radio. We knew that. And we waited and said, "Sir, we'll be back. This is not our first trip. We'll be back." So we left out immediately and drove over to White Castle and did the same thing. So now we had two places that had been invaded. It hit the newspaper. It hit the TV. And then the kids on campus wanted to know what was going on. So then we started the sit-ins at the, think it was Kresge's [S.S. Kresge Company] in Huntsville [Alabama]. We went in. And how we did the sit-ins were, the whites would be sitting across there. As soon as one got up, a black would sit down. And it was offensive for a black man to sit next to a white person, and he would jump up. When he jumped up, we would sit down. All of a sudden we got the whole area with black people. Now nobody's eating. We can't be served. They're not making a dime, and we're getting there. And Huntsville police were very reserved. Nobody got arrested to my knowledge. And I got taken away, but I was not ever booked or anything. But it brought attention to this. On the college campus, I had professors saying, "Stick to it. You're doing what's right." I had other people, "You, you're a troublemaker; you're a rabble-rouser. You're creating problems for the university [Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College; Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Normal, Alabama]. We're here to get an education. We don't need this." But we stuck it out, and then changes took place. And I credit Dr. Hereford [Sonnie Hereford III], who was my cytology and histology teacher, to making a giant step in Huntsville 'cause he took his son [Sonnie Hereford IV] to integrate the schools during that same time. And then Huntsville, as a whole, immediately cleared their problems up, and it's still a very liberal city.$So then I looked around in Birmingham [Alabama], and there were no black salesmen, any (unclear) so I took it on my own to do a resume. And I walked into these dealerships and said, "You're taking black people's money, but you don't have any of them working for you. I want to work for you. I'm a college graduate." And nobody would hire me. And then I bought a 1969 Grand Prix [Pontiac Grand Prix] from a white guy named Merlin Allan. And I told Merlin, I said, "Merlin, only reason I'm buying this car from you is because I like you. Y'all don't have a black face anywhere on this dealership floor, but you're taking my money." He said--and I said, "I came here to talk about getting hired here, and they wouldn't hire me." He said, "Who'd you talk to?" And I told him the name Pillar [ph.]. Mr. Pillar was a redneck, face, drinks a lot so he had a red face. He said, oh. So, about a month later my mother [Aressa Craig Roberson] called me and said, "A white guy keeps calling here, wants to talk to you. You need to call. His name is Blaine Brownell." So I said, "That's the owner of this dealership," so I called him. He said, "Mr. Roberson [HistoryMaker James Roberson], Merlin Allan talked to me about you. He indicated that you said that nobody wanted to hire a black person. Would you come have dinner with me? I want to talk to you." So I said sure. And we met and went to a private club on Morris Avenue where you had to get a membership to get in. And black folks didn't go there 'cause you were not a member there. But he took me right in, and I sat down with him. And he had another gentleman with him, and we ate. I had good manners 'cause my mama had told me how to use my knives and my fork, and I knew what to do. And he said, "What happens if somebody calls you a nigger?" I said, "Well, that has no influence on me 'cause I'm not what they call me." And so the other guy asked a series of questions. He said look--after the dinner he said to me, "You know, I got one black friend. I'm gonna call him, and I'll let you know something." So he called a Reverend Ed Blankenship [Edward Blankenship]. Ed Blankenship was a Methodist minister, and he was on the city council of Birmingham. And Ed said, "Now whoa." He said, "I got a young black guy that's been working doing some promotion with Ms. Black Alabama and some other things. James Roberson's a man you need to hire." He said, "That's who I'm talking to." He said, "You need to hire him." So Blaine Brownell called me and said, "Come in. I want to talk to you. I'm gonna get some slack out of the automobile dealers in Birmingham, but I'm hiring you as the first black. And anything I can help you to do to be a success, I'll do it." So I went to work. And now I'm teaching school during the day, and I'm coming to the dealership in the evening time. First (unclear) didn't like that, 'cause now he's teaching school, and he's gonna come and work here and make the money that we make. And so I knew Tall Paul [Paul Dudley White] on one of the local radio stations. We announced a promotion together. I knew Shelley the Playboy [Shelley Stewart]. I knew a lot of the guys, so they got on the air and gave me some free time. "I got a buddy friend of mine selling cars at Brownell Pontiac [Birmingham, Alabama]. Y'all need to go over there and check him. Tell him I said hello. He's black too. He's a colored boy too (laughter)." And so all of a sudden my business increased tremendously, and I became one of the top salesmen. But I was gonna--had a lot of difficulty. The white salesmen would hide the keys on my cars. They would take cars I had sold and put them on the street a block away. They would change the numbers of them so I'd write down the wrong serial number. And, but I didn't, I didn't complain. So one day in a meeting, Blaine Brownell got up, the owner, and said, "I want to say one thing: I want to commend James Roberson for his leadership and what he's done for this dealership. He has sold more cars than some of you guys here all day long. And he has done a good job, and I have not heard him complain about anything." An Italian guy named Louis Pecane [ph.] said, "Mr. Brownell, I want to say something." He said, "James has been here, and he has gone through so many hardships." And Blaine said, "Hardships?" He said, "Yes sir, and I've been a part of some of them. They've thrown keys away. They've hid cars from him. They have misnumbered cars for him. And I want to apologize." He said, "James, I want to apologize to you. You're a better man than I am, and I want you to forgive me." And it was like a church service (laughter). Mr. Kelso [ph.] got up, and he said, "I want to say you're the best I've ever seen, and I love you to death." And from that day forward, I had a good relationship at that dealership.

Benjamin Whitten

Benjamin Carr Whitten was born on July 25, 1923, in Wilmington, Delaware. Both of his parents were teachers. His father died when he was just six years old, forcing his mother to teach school at night while working as a receptionist for a doctor during the day. In 1939, Whitten earned his diploma at the age of fifteen from Howard High School. While attending Howard he enjoyed playing tennis, roller-skating, reading and listening to the radio.

Whitten earned his bachelor’s of science degree from Pennsylvania State University where he was active in the Industrial Arts Club and became the first African American member of the honor fraternity Iota Lambda Sigma. He was also a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, made the Dean’s list for six semesters and graduated with honors. After graduation he was drafted into the military and served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. He furthered his education at Penn State, earning his master’s degree in 1948 and his Ed.D in 1960.

In 1948, he joined the staff of the Baltimore City Schools as an industrial arts teacher. He would spend the next thirty years moving up the ranks of the school system serving as a vice principal, principal and assistant superintendent for vocational education. In 1976, he was a candidate for superintendent of Baltimore City Schools. He retired from the school system in 1979.

After his retirement, Whitten served as director of the Minority Contractors Technical and Assistance Program. In this position he operated a program designed to assist minority contractors to enter and succeed in the construction industry. He served in this post until 1983, when he accepted the position of Baltimore City Urban League President, a job he held until 1988.

In 1987, Whitten received the Parren J. Mitchell Unity Award from the Baltimore NAACP. In 1989, the wing of a Baltimore vocational facility, the Westside Skill Center was dedicated in Dr. Whitten’s honor.

Benjamin Whitten passed away on September 21, 2012.

Accession Number

A2004.061

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/2/2004

Last Name

Whitten

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Howard High School of Technology

Pennsylvania State University

First Name

Benjamin

Birth City, State, Country

Wilmington

HM ID

WHI02

Favorite Season

Football Season

State

Delaware

Favorite Vacation Destination

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Favorite Quote

If not when? What now?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

7/25/1923

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken, Pork Chops, Hamburger, Oatmeal

Death Date

9/21/2012

Short Description

Nonprofit chief executive and high school administrator Benjamin Whitten (1923 - 2012 ) was the first African American member of Iota Lambda Sigma honor fraternity, and has been a teacher and administrator in Baltimore City Schools for over thirty years. White is also a former president of the Baltimore Urban League.

Employment

United States Army Transportation Corps.

Carver Vocational-Technical School (Baltimore, MD)

Edmondson High School

Granville T. Woods Vocational School

Cherry Hill Junior High School

Baltimore City Public School System

Baltimore Urban League

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Benjamin Whitten interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Benjamin Whitten's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Benjamin Whitten remembers his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Benjamin Whitten describes his family history

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Benjamin Whitten recalls his childhood personality and his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Benjamin Whitten discusses growing up without his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Benjamin Whitten recalls his childhood environs

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Benjamin Whitten remembers his early school years

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Benjamin Whitten briefly talks about his childhood church

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Benjamin Whitten remembers his high school years

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Benjamin Whitten recalls his years in the Army

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Benjamin Whitten recalls his college years

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Benjamin Whitten recounts instances of race discrimination in education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Benjamin Whitten discusses his doctoral pursuits

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Benjamin Whitten discusses his encounter with race discrimination within Baltimore's school system

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Benjamin Whitten ponders a lost opportunity to be superintendent of Baltimore's schools

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Benjamin Whitten discusses trends in education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Benjamin Whitten discusses his appointments and honors following retirement

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Benjamin Whitten details his work with the Baltimore City Public School System in the 1980s

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Benjamin Whitten discusses his tenure as president of the Baltimore Urban League

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Benjamin Whitten shares his personal philosophy

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Benjamin Whitten recalls suffering a stroke

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Benjamin Whitten describes his daily activities

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Benjamin Whitten shares advice for prospective educators

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Benjamin Whitten reflects on changes in Baltimore city schools

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Benjamin Whitten describes how he'd like to be remembered

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Benjamin Whitten expresses his concerns for the black community

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Benjamin Whitten considers his legacy

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and son, Benjamin Whitten, Jr., before church, 1968

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and wife Lu on a cruise, 1980

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and wife Lu participate in cruise activities, 1985

Tape: 3 Story: 14 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and wife Lu being greeted by the ship's staff at a cruise event, 1990

Tape: 3 Story: 15 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and wife Lu escort their son Benjamin to a debutante ball, 1985

Tape: 3 Story: 16 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten with executives from the Baltimore Urban League, Baltimore, Maryland, 1987

Tape: 3 Story: 17 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's family, including his mother, wife and siblings, 1969

Tape: 3 Story: 18 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and wife Lu, ca. 1995

Tape: 3 Story: 19 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's mother and his siblings, 1929

Tape: 3 Story: 20 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's mother, wife and son, 1967

Tape: 3 Story: 21 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's mother, father, uncle and an unidentified sibling, ca. 1922

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten, vice principal of Carver Vocational Technical High School, Baltimore, Maryland, ca. 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's father, Tobias Emanuel Whitten, ca. 1920s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's aunt and uncle and a nephew, early 1930s

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten and his brother, ca. 1924

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Photo - Benjamin Whitten's mother, ca. 1915

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

5$7

DATitle
Benjamin Whitten discusses his encounter with race discrimination within Baltimore's school system
Benjamin Whitten discusses trends in education
Transcript
During your teaching career in Baltimore [Maryland] City [Public School System], what were some of the biggest changes that you saw taking place in the school system during the time that you taught?$$Well, you got the degration [sic, desegregation] now. That was, that was one thing right there. And number two, then we made inroads saying,"Well, white--black people take care of white schools too. You can be a principal at other places, yeah." And that's a tough, tough battle with that too. And a lot of people had, didn't care about that. I didn't like it, and I did some things and I played for--paid for it too because they were not--.$$(Simultaneously) How so?$$They would not honor my, my skill and my, my degree and the fact that I'm better than some of the others. And so it was tough, until they had, had a, if you wanted to be a--if you wanted to move up, then you have a, a test. And I had highest mark in, in the damn state--that's the truth. And they go to my school, my shop teacher and looked around, "Who is this man here? Who's this? You know, who is this person?" And after that, I became (laughs), as a vice principal, but it was tough to make it there. And a lot of the people didn't care because that's the way they had lived that way, always. It didn't make any difference, but I didn't like it. And I was in the [U.S.] Army, the same thing. I said, "Oh, no, we're gonna have to do something." But we couldn't, we couldn't, people wouldn't, wouldn't get together in saying, "Let's, let's do something." We had a meeting in my house. People who were educated and that sort of thing, well, we're gonna do something. The next meeting, they didn't come. I was by myself.$$Why do you think that was? Why do you think people weren't as active as they could have been?$$(Simultaneously) Because they were comfortable, they were comfortable, and they, they had--it was a big city, and they had, they lived that way before. And it didn't make any difference, I don't believe. But I was a rabble rouser, that's right. And I, I didn't like this stuff. And somebody told me, says, "Well, if you don't like it, Ben, why don't you go back where you came from?" It's the truth (laughs).$During your nearly twenty years of teaching, what were some of the biggest changes that you saw taking place in [Baltimore, Maryland] city schools in, you know, the late '60s [1960s] and throughout the '70s [1970s]?$$It's, it's more than just the school. It was the, the city and the job situation. So that some of the kids want to do some things and good doing that, they didn't have an outlet for that. So that was the city situation. A lot of the good kids from the vocational schools, they can't find a job. And that was, that's ridiculous, but that's what happened. I think it's happening right now, still. It happened with me. A lot of people who, who were good didn't get promoted. And that, and now, a lot of the black people don't take--don't go too, as, as a teacher, they want to be--got a lot of money from other kinds of situations. That's what happened to us.$$You think we need to have more black teachers in schools today?$$(Simultaneously) Oh, no question about that. We need good people too, not just, they're--only black but because they are good. They're smart rather than the, all the, the smart people go to MBAs [Master of Business Administration], and that's--we need, we need good teachers taking the kids.$$What do you think we need to do to encourage more good people and African Americans to become teachers?$$I wish I knew. It's not just money. It's more than that. But a lot of it is making sure that the people who have other careers decide, let's--two years or four years taking care of a, of a teacher, as a teacher, rather than, okay, and you go back to your other job again. I, I think you have to do that.

Robert Wooten, Sr.

Gospel conductor and lifelong resident of Chicago, Robert E. "Gene" Wooten, Sr., was the fourth of five sons born to Flora and John Henry Wooten on February 17, 1930.

While a student at Morgan Park High School, Wooten organized a gospel choral group, the Morgan Park Crusaders, in 1945. After graduation, Wooten was stricken by a serious illness and hospitalized for a year. After recovering from his illness, Wooten devoted his life and musical talent to serving his faith; in July 1949 he founded the Wooten Choral Ensemble, based at Beth Eden Baptist Church. Wooten received his B.S. degree in music education from the Chicago Musical Conservatory in 1956, and earned his M.S. degree in the same field from Roosevelt University in 1968.

The Wooten Choral Ensemble boasted more than sixty members, and traveled extensively to perform and preach the gospel. Its hallmark through the years was expressing a spiritual message through anthems, hymns, black spirituals, and gospel sounds. Wooten's group recorded several albums and appeared on many local radio and television programs.

Outside of the church, Wooten enjoyed a distinguished career as an educator. At Parker High School, Wooten led the school's choir to citywide fame and rose to the rank of assistant principal before becoming a district administrator. Wooten worked with the Chicago Board of Education until his retirement in 1994.

For his contributions to gospel music, Wooten received many awards and recognitions. Wooten accepted an honorary doctorate from Virginia Seminary College in 1983, and was recognized at the Chicago Gospel Festival in 1994 for his contributions to religious music. Wooten and his wife, Frances, were married in 1956; the couple raised three children.

Robert E. "Gene" Wooten, Sr., passed away on March 27, 2008.

Accession Number

A2003.196

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/19/2003

Last Name

Wooten

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

E.

Schools

John D. Shoop Math-Science Technical Academy

Morgan Park High School

Chicago Conservatory of Music

Roosevelt University

Virginia University of Lynchburg

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WOO04

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Las Vegas, Nevada

Favorite Quote

I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/17/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon Croquettes, Chicken, Greens

Death Date

3/27/2008

Short Description

High school administrator and choral director Robert Wooten, Sr. (1930 - 2008 ) is the founder and director of the Wooten Choral Ensemble gospel choir.

Employment

Goldstein Millinery

Chicago Board of Education

Favorite Color

Black

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Wooten interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten discusses his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Wooten remembers his stepmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Wooten discusses his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Wooten shares his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Wooten describes his childhood home, Morgan Park, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Wooten recalls his childhood pastimes

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Wooten remembers his school days

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Wooten recalls the role of music in his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten discusses his pull towards music performance

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten describes influences from his school years

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Wooten recalls his tenure at the Chicago Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Wooten remembers his struggles to pay for the Chicago Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Wooten shares life lessons from the Chicago Conservatory of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Wooten discusses his decision to pursue music education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Wooten discusses the creation of the Wooten Choral Ensemble, part 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Wooten describes the origins of the Wooten Choral Ensemble

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten discusses his career in the Chicago Public Schools system

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten details the highlights of his musical career

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Wooten describes his family's musical pursuits

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Wooten considers his favorite compositions and arrangements

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Wooten discusses black musical legacies

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Wooten describes the Wooten Choral Ensemble's musical choices

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Wooten discusses the Wooten Choral Ensemble's collaborations

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Wooten considers his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Wooten considers how he'd like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Photo - Robert Wooten in his teenage years, 1940s

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Photo - Robert Wooten's second oldest brother, Dr. John C. Wooten

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Photo - Robert Wooten's two sons and two nephews, Morgan Park, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Photo - Robert Wooten and wife, Frances, on their wedding day, Chicago, Illinois, August 1956

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Photo - Robert Wooten makes an address at the 20th anniversary of the Wooten Choral Ensemble, Chicago, Illinois, July 1969

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his assistant director and Donald Bexley

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Photo - Robert Wooten with Mrs. Sid Ordower, producer of the 'Jubilee Showcase'

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his son, daughter-in-law and a pastor of Memorial Baptist Church, ca. 1998

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Photo - Robert Wooten with leaders from the Wooten Choral Ensemble, ca. 1998

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his wife and son, ca. 1958

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Photo - Robert Wooten makes a church service address, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 15 - Photo - Robert Wooten receives an honorary doctorate at West Virginia Seminary and College, West Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 16 - Photo - Robert Wooten before a concert, not dated

Tape: 4 Story: 17 - Photo - Robert Wooten at his high school graduation, Chicago, Illinois, 1948

Tape: 4 Story: 18 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his wife on a cruise to the Bahamas, ca. 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 19 - Photo - Robert Wooten during his tenure at the Chicago Board of Education

Tape: 4 Story: 20 - Photo - Robert Wooten prepares the Englewood High School choir for competition, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 21 - Photo - Robert Wooten at the Area A Student Recognition Luncheon, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 22 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his wife serve as Parker High School senior prom chaperones, Chicago, Illinois, 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Photo - Robert Wooten, ca. 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his eldest brother, ca. 2000

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his last living brother

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Photo - Robert Wooten with friends from his Tuesday morning breakfast club, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Photo - Robert Wooten with family members

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Photo - Reverend Henry Bracken of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Photo - Robert Wooten's father

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Photo - Robert Wooten with boss James Moore at an event at the Harambee House, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his daughter

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his two grandsons

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Photo - Robert Wooten with his brother, sister-in-law and wife

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Photo - Robert Wooten's youngest brother in his policeman's uniform

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Photo - Robert Wooten and his wife in the early 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Photo - Robert Wooten with family members at the renaming of a Chicago, Illinois street

Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Photo - Robert Wooten, ca. 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 16 - Photo - Robert Wooten with the Wooten Choral Ensemble, Chicago, Illinois, 1991