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Shirley James

Shirley James was born in Georgetown, South Carolina on September 5, 1946. Her mother, Camille Barber, was a schoolteacher and her father, Eli Baxter Barber, was a mail porter. In 1964, James graduated from Howard High School. She continued her education at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she received her B.A. degree in psychology in 1968. She went on to receive her M.A. degree in education from Harvard University in 1970.

In 1971, James became a counselor and administrator for Savannah State University. She also held positions as Director of Testing, Vice President of Student Affairs and Counselor Orientation Director. During her tenure, James developed Peer Counselors, a committee to support the students of Savannah State University.

James also became a publisher and editor for The Tribune, a weekly newspaper founded by James’ husband, Robert Earl James, that focuses on the issues of African Americans.

In 2002, James left her position at Savannah State University to become the Coordinator of the Savannah Black Heritage Festival. Between 2004 and 2005, she served on the Board of Directors of the Savannah Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and in 2005, she was appointed to a five year term for Savannah’s Airport Commission. James is a member of several professional organizations as well as owner of the Education Testing Services in Savannah.

James and her husband Robert live in Savannah, Georgia. They have three adult children.

James was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 17, 2007.

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Howard High School

Howard Adult Center & Optional School

Spelman College

Harvard Graduate School of Education

J.B. Beck Middle School

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South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

You Live, You Learn, And You Pass It On.

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Short Description

Academic administrator and newspaper publishing chief executive Shirley James (1946 - ) was the owner and former publisher and editor of the Savannah Tribune. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, James held positions as Director of Testing, Vice President of Student Affairs and Counselor-Orientation Director at Savannah State University.


Savannah State University

The Savannah Tribune

Favorite Color

Winter White

Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Shirley James' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Shirley James lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Shirley James describes her maternal grandmother, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Shirley James describes her maternal grandmother, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Shirley James describes the history of her family's home

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Shirley James remembers her maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Shirley James describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Shirley James describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Shirley James remembers her father

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Shirley James describes her older brother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Shirley James talks about her brother's U.S. Army career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Shirley James remembers her younger brother

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Shirley James describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Shirley James remembers her community in Georgetown, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Shirley James describes her grade school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Shirley James describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Shirley James recalls her activities during high school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Shirley James remembers President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Shirley James describes her early work experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Shirley James remembers applying to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Shirley James describes her experiences at Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Shirley James recalls her influences at Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Shirley James remembers the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Shirley James recalls participating in a student exchange program

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Shirley James describes her experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Shirley James describes her social activities at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Shirley James recalls her activities after graduation from Spelman College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Shirley James recalls becoming a counselor at Savannah State College in Savannah, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Shirley James describes the peer counseling program at Savannah State College

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Shirley James remembers retiring from Savannah State College

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Shirley James describes the history of The Savannah Tribune

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Shirley James talks about her presidency of The Savannah Tribune

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Shirley James talks about Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Shirley James describes her organizational involvement

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Shirley James talks about her activities during retirement

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Shirley James shares a message to future generations

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Shirley James describes her children and their professions

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Shirley James talks about her husband and grandchildren







Shirley James recalls becoming a counselor at Savannah State College in Savannah, Georgia
Shirley James describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
Both you and your husband [HistoryMaker Robert James] graduate in 1970 from Harvard [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts] and you moved to Atlanta [Georgia], is that right?$$Yes.$$Okay. And how long did you stay in Atlanta?$$We were in Atlanta approximately a year. Right after graduation in June we moved here and he worked for a year at Citizens and Southern Bank [The Citizens and Southern National Bank of Georgia]. I got to be a housewife and a mom, and then we moved to Savannah [Georgia] in August of '71 [1971].$$Okay. And you took a position, administrative counseling position at Savannah State University [Savannah State College; Savannah State University, Savannah, Georgia] (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I did.$$So, tell me about that position.$$Well, something that I loved, because that counseling, you know, was my area, my field, and Dr. Prince A. Jackson [HistoryMaker Prince Jackson, Jr.] was president at Savannah State University at the time, and he actually hired me. During that period I was probably the first trained counselor that they had on the campus, and as a result of that, he kind of challenged me within about a year or, within the first year, and it was twofold. One was to look at establishing or getting a grant together to establish a counseling center, because that was not anything that we had had. I worked initially out of what you call a student affairs office with the dean. His name was Nelson Freeman, so student affairs you know, encompasses everything that's outside of the academic area, and, but we didn't have anything specifically to address, like a center for counselors, so that was one of the challenges, and he paired me with Hinton Thomas [ph.], a person who was working in one of the, a federal funded program that had been housed at Savannah State University at the time, and the two of us got together and wrote the grant through Title III, so by 1972, we were able to get the counseling center started, and the second challenge that he had given me was to start an organization where students could be almost like paraprofessional peer counselors, because there was Dr. Lucy Cutlive [ph.]. I'm not sure what her married name is, her name now, but at the time it was Lucy Cutlive, and she was at Tennessee State University [Nashville, Tennessee].$$Cutlive? How do you spell that (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Cutlive. I think it's C-U-T-L-I-V-E.$$Okay.$$But I'll have to check that to be sure.$$Okay.$$But she did an address at Savannah State and talked about the students helping students at Tennessee State, and Dr. Jackson heard and he said, "Oh, this is something I'd like to have happen at Savannah State," so as a result of that, I was able to put together what we call a peer counseling program, which they served as student leaders during orientation, but they also served as peers and student-to-student counselors like throughout the year, so you selected upper classmen and we paired them, well not paired them, they would work with groups of new students coming in, so they may have two or twenty-five students that they were kind of responsible for, assisting through that first year of college to help them become acclimated to what college was about, so they would help him academically from a social side just all the way around. So, to this day and it is now 19--2007, the peer counseling program is still thriving at Savannah State University.$When you think about growing up, what sounds, sights, and smells come to your mind?$$(Laughter) The smells would be the smell of the International Paper Company; (laughter) the odor from that. I don't know if you've grown around, grown up in a town where you get this odor from pulp and from paper being made, so that is a pungent kind of sound, smell, and even to this day if you're driving into Georgetown [South Carolina], you know, even with all the new things with the environment and trying to control the atmosphere and all that, there's still that little thing that's there, so that's one of them. The other is like Christmastime; the kind of smells, you know, from making fruitcake and hog head cheese, turkey and dressing, you know, those kinds of smells, just from the kitchen, are things that I still can relate to or reminisce about and seemingly can still, you know, kind of smell chitlins (laughter), which I do love. Okay. You talk about sights. One of them is the beach, because we went to Pawleys Island [South Carolina] and to Atlantic Beach [South Carolina], but on Pawleys there was a beach called Frank's beach [McKenzie Beach], which was specifically for African Americans, and so it was kind of very well developed for that period of time and in the summers we would go to Frank's Beach for swimming. After we got older my Uncle Freddie [Fredrick Bessellieu], who grew up on Pawleys Island and from that area, would take us crabbing and clam hunting, and whatever we caught, you know, a lot of times we would eat it at the creek, eat a certain amount of it at the creek and then the rest of it we had to take back to the block to the neighborhood, because then we had this crab boil at night. Whatever, you know, we got we shared it with the neighbors, and so just the sight of the beach was one thing, and just the neighborhood, really. You know, just the sight of my neighborhood, really, was a good thing. Sound? That's kind of difficult, but what comes to mind right now that I'm thinking of is high school with the band and the orchestra, because I was able to participate in both; in the marching band, and we also had an orchestra. I played clarinet and I was able to ascend to first clarinet, so I'm listening to some of the things that we played as an orchestra, and going, like to state band competitions and actually winning. You know, a little school in Georgetown, South Carolina, Howard High School, but the band instructor that we had there, Mr. Ephraim [ph.], really just did so much for us and carried us so far and helped us to appreciate a lot of classical music. I still remember some of the symphonies and some of the parts that the clarinet would play in the symphonies and when I hear them now, I said, oh, you know, it's a good thing (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) And remember.$$Um-hm.