Ethel Hunter was born in 1930 on the William A. Graham farm in Iron Station, Lincoln County, North Carolina, to Ulysses and Bessie Hunter. Her grandfather, Ezekiel Smith, worked on the Graham farm and lived in a small tenant house on the property until Ethel’s two brothers were drafted into service during World War II. Ethel and her siblings attended Tucker’s Grove school until they moved to Lincolnton, where a few of them enrolled at Oaklawn School. Three of her sisters and one brother traveled to nearby Catawba County to receive a high school education at Ridgeview, located near Hickory. Ethel graduated from Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, N.C., with a degree in elementary education. After graduation, she moved to and worked in Rocky Point, Pender County, N.C., and in later years worked in Wilson, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C.
The audio recording and printable transcript of the interview are available below:
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What follows is the transcript of Ethel Goodwin’s interview:
Interviewee: Ethel Hunter Goodwin
Interviewer: Robert Hamilton
Format: Audio Cassette (? Minutes)
Transcriber: Tape Transcription Center
Coverage: Lincoln County, North Carolina, early 1900s -2005
Subjects: Cotton farming, education, race, segregation, Oaklawn School, Tucker’s Grove School, African-American educators, Winston-Salem State University (Winston-Salem, NC), Hunter Family, Smith Family, William Graham farm in eastern Lincoln County, and the Great Depression.
EG (Ethel Goodwin): I am the daughter of Ulysses and Bessie Hunter and my grandfather was Ezekiel Smith and I was born in Lincoln County in a shack off and farm and lived there until World War II when my brothers were drafted into service and we moved into Lincoln.
RH (Robert Hamilton): Okay, now what year were you born if you mind saying?
EG: I was born in 1930 so I’m a Depression child. (laughter) I’m a Depression child and my days were walking to school 1 in bitter cold.
RH: Where did you attend school?
EG: I attended Tucker’s school, right here. It was a two-room school.
RH: Okay and who were your teachers?
EG: I had Pauline Lander was there and Mr. Holland was the principal at that time.
RH: Mr. Goldie Holland was the principal? Is that right?
EG: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And there were Mrs. Alexander who drove up here from Charlotte, worked there for a while too I remember her? There were no lunches, no lunchroom.
RH: You had to take your lunch.
RH: What did you carry to school with you?
EG: Usually you had a lard bucket with fatback or something that had been on the table. That’s what you had. Once in a while the teachers would get together and cook cabbage or cook beans or something and you had some hot food but that was very seldom; there was no food provided.
RH: How far were you from the school?
EG: Well, I was down at the Graham Estate and we walked to Tucker’s Grove, what is that about? Three or four miles one way.
RH: What time did you have to leave home coming?
EG: We didn’t have to leave home that early coming because they realized we were rural children. The white children had buses so we’d line up our little apples and rocks and whatever we could get because we knew we were going to be belted by them the time they got back. So we’d have our little fortress too. You know so it was a hard feeling to see that you weren’t felt — that they felt that you weren’t worthy of having a school. So if you finished seventh grade — my father had to board his children out in order for them to get a high schooled education.
Q: So you couldn’t go to Oaklawn, you were living so far away?
EG: Yes. We didn’t have any bus that would go into Oaklawn and then my two older sisters and my sister and brother graduated from Ridgeview; when people see that on their funeral programs when they heard they died, “what you mean Ridgeview?”
Q: That was up in Catawba County.
EG: In Hickory.
Q: They had to go to Hickory.
EG: Yeah, he boarded them out and he took food every week from them for my grandmother to feed us. Then when my grandmother died, it was time for my two brothers — Horace and Rob — to go to school. Well the group of men got together and got an old bus and tried to transport them up to Lincolnton and they’d be up for all times of night because the bus would break down.
Q: Now who got that bus? Do you remember?
EG: It was just a group of the farmers who lived there in the neighborhood — I remember my daddy and Mr. Whitener was helping them get the bus. Local people they tried to get a old bus to take the children up there to school. Well there was an old bus and it would break down and they’d be up all night trying to wonder where their children were.
Q: But you don’t remember any of the ones that worked to try to get that bus going?
EG: I remember Mr. Whitener and I remember my daddy and there was somebody else —
Q: Your daddy was (inaudible) –
EG: Yeah. Yeah.
F1: Wasn’t there a Lomax —
EG: Yes. Yes, Reverend Lomax.
EG: They tried to have a little bus but that didn’t work so consequently those were my two sisters, brothers who didn’t finish high school.
Q: Who was superintendent during that time?
EG: You know, I don’t really know. I don’t ever remember the superintendent coming out to the schools for an visitation.
Q: Joe Nixon.
Q: Joe Nixon, I’ve heard that name before.
EG: And so therefore you know you think about it and then at that time when we moved to town then we could go to Oaklawn because we moved to town.
Q: You moved from the farm to Lincolnton?
Q: What year was that?
EG: Must have been about 40-something.
F1: About ‘41 or ‘42.
Q: So we had a movement from the farm to Lincolnton?
EG: Yes. Yes.
Q: Okay. How old were you when you got to Lincolnton?
EG: I don’t remember how old I was. I graduated —
F1: About the seventh grade you were —
Q: And you were at Oaklawn, too?
Q: Who were some of your instructors there?
F1: Mr. James.
EG: (laughter) Mr. James, who’s the lady who taught French, Ms. Loretz? Massey’s sister, you remember it was there?
EG: Juanita. Yeah, Juanita was there in elementary school and then her sister was there because we it was more than just high school and then Mr. Massey was still principal.
Q: Okay now did you have — I hear of an instructor Mr. Fagget; was he there then?
EG: No, not during my time. He was there earlier.
EG: Yeah, he was there earlier — Fagget, yeah. Now I don’t remember him being there at that time.
Q: Who were some of your classmates at Oaklawn?
EG: Gosh, it’s very few of them living, isn’t it.
EG: Is he living? Uh-huh and what’s the girl?
F1: Helen Ramseur.
EG: Yeah, and Helen Ramseur, she’s deceased. Herndon. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Q: What was their first whole name?
EG: What was her first whole name?
F1: Was it Benjamin?
EG: No, Charles. Charles Finger.
F1: Charles Taylor.
EG: Charles Taylor’s in my class.
F1: And Benjamin Herndon.
EG: Benjamin Herndon was in my class too, yes.
F1: You need to be on this tape.
EG: C’mon yes you do. Let her get in and help me out.
Q: No we’ll go ahead. I’m going to try to get around to as many folk as I can but I want — after Oaklawn, did you go on further to school?
EG: Yeah, I went to Winston-Salem State University.
Q: Okay so you graduated from Winston-Salem?
Q: And what area did you go —
EG: Elementary education.
Q: Okay and now after that you worked for —
EG: I first went down to the coast of North Carolina. Right out of Wilmington, a place called Rocky Point.
Q: Is that in Brunswick County?
EG: Yeah, yeah. Pender County.
Q: Oh up in Pender. Okay it’s up in Burgaw and that area.
EG: Yeah. Yes, you’re right.
Q: Who was that different from Lincoln County?
EG: Poorer than Lincoln County.
Q: But as far as race relations?
EG: Worse than Lincoln County.
Q: It really was worse?
EG: It was worse than Lincoln County, yes. When we went to school there was just like a training school, a big old — you know a lot of little buildings around there. To me it was worse.
Q: Okay that’s what –.
EG: The thing that was — there wasn’t much opportunity for other skilled jobs. Like we moved to Wilson, North Carolina; that to me was the worst poverty I had seen.
Q: In Wilson?
Q: Worse than Lincoln County?
EG: Yes. To me.
Q: Now in that area the black population was greater, is that right?
EG: I don’t think it was that much greater but it was just that area where job opportunities, opportunities for business and industry was not a biggie.
EG: Wilson’s only was tobacco.
Q: Only to blacks.
EG: After tobacco season, there was nothing else to do.
Q: Okay so you worked in that area.
Q: Did you continue to work in that area?
EG: No, we left and we came to Charlotte. I worked here 32 years.
Q: So you spent the balance of your career was in Mecklenburg County?
EG: Yes. Yes. I went to Wilson because my husband was a football coach and he got tired of $5 and a roll of taking the football team so he went with — came with park and recreation.
EG: And then he went back to teaching but he taught physical ed, not coaching.
Q: What I was wondering about — you went to Winston-Salem State and that was probably back in the late forties or early fifties.
Q: So that was a pretty big step for (inaudible) so your folks — what kind of work were your dad and mother in? EG: My dad worked with Seth Lumber Company.
Q: Seth Lumber Company. Okay. But they were education-minded folk; they wanted you to have more, I would think.
EG: I think parents were so busy raising children — they didn’t discourage it but I think you sort of got the little (inaudible) the sort of stuff that you wanted to do. My dad was all for it because I’m still holding onto a suitcase that he gave me. A piece of Samsonite and I don’t know where he got the money for it. But when you went to school, your opportunity was to work. You did work study. Somebody took pity on me and Ms. Colbert took pity on me and I worked for her on Saturdays.
Q: But you made it. I mean being able to go have a better life. Move on from — your parents grew up on sharecropping and you had to go on and get a degree and become a professional and that sort of thing but just what do you recall — I know after you graduated from Oaklawn — did you go from there to Winston-Salem State?
Q: You finished and was able to go right in?
EG: Uh-huh. I didn’t go in the first time, I had to go in the second semester. I worked in the library and I just got tired of seeing all other people going over there teaching at Oaklawn(laughter). I really did. I just couldn’t do that much longer; I couldn’t do that, no. And I didn’t have money to go the first semester.
Q: Oh you graduated but you didn’t go the first semester?
EG: No, I went the second semester.
Q: Okay but how — saved your money to go or did somebody give you a scholarship?
EG: No, they didn’t give anybody no scholarships then. Not even valedictorian and salutatorians of classes, no.
Q: What do you recall as far as first semester — was it —
EG: First quarter.
Q: Quarter system. What was the tuition? Do you remember?
EG: (pause) I think it was about 35 dollars.
Q: Thirty-five dollars?
Q: And for how long was that there, one quarter?
Q: Thirty-five dollars a quarter.
F1: No, a month.
EG: A month. So you were on work-study so you worked every morning and every afternoon and that went towards your tuition.
F1: You didn’t get any money from the (inaudible).
EG: No, they didn’t give you any money.
Q: Okay it was granting aid, I guess, or whatever. What I was wondering is how did you get over there? Did you dad drive you or did you have to ride the bus?
EG: No, my dad took me. Sure did.
Q: Did they come see you often or once you got there you had to stay?
EG: I stayed. They didn’t come that often but they did come because Uncle Frank and Aunt Nora were living in Winston- Salem. They would come once in a while but I could come home and I was glad —
F1: Sit at the back of the bus.
EG: Yeah but I had a job when I got home. Every Christmas —
Q: What did you do when you came home?
EG: With recreation and on the playground. (laughter)
Q: Okay let’s go back and talk about your family. How many brothers and sisters did you have?
EG: There are five girls and five boys. There were ten of us.
Q: Now growing up in Lincolnton, what stands out in your mind? You started out on a sharecropping farm and then you went to town. Tell me a little bit about what you recall. How was that?
EG: It was still the same segregation. We couldn’t go to the movies and we used to slip in and go up in the back, you know, and slip in and try to see a movie. It was the same. It wasn’t anything any different as far as opportunity; you still went to the back door when you went to a white person’s house. It was still the same thing.
Q: Okay just a little bit more about just anything particular stand out in your mind — I heard from Mr. Nixon about going downtown and you couldn’t walk on certain streets and also what do you remember? You might have been a little bit younger.
EG: That was a little later, yeah. But it was — you take for instance on our street. One part is still white. We lived on Pine Street and the other end — lawyer, what’s the name — Jonas lived up there. But we didn’t venture that way. No, it was still segregated. Restaurants still segregated. Hotels, we didn’t go there. Everything was still — bus stations, you sat on the back of the bus. Nothing had changed even though we had gone to war and how many brothers —
F1: We had four brothers in there at one time. My mama did a lot of praying.
EG: Yes sir.
Q: And they all came back.
EG: Mm-hmm. A brother-in-law in there and then Ed was in the Korean War. So it didn’t change.
F1: See I don’t why(inaudible) Aunt Bessie had what, six sons and two grandsons in that war.
Q: Let me go on just a bit further and then I’m going to let you go about anything you recall further that you want to share just like about Lincolnton. I know you went away and you come back and you come back over the years. What do you see? Is it changed significantly?
EG: I don’t know that it’s changed. Some things have had to change because laws were changed but I don’t know. I don’t see that much representation in city government. I don’t see that many on the police force. I really don’t. I don’t see — not visibly — you know, maybe it is somewhere.
F1: Catawba County doesn’t have any black (inaudible) on the sheriff’s department.
EG: What has changed? Not very much.
Q: Not very much in your assessment?
EG: No. No, no, no. I don’t see any leadership. In administration we have some principals but that’s as far as it goes in education, isn’t it? Any blacks on the school board? Not that I know of. So very little has changed.
Q: Very little has changed.
Q: Okay. One quick question — growing up in the thirties do you recall anything about the theaters and the theater and the hotel and the stores along Main Street? You remember anything about that?
EG: The thirties? Well you know even after the thirties we still had (inaudible). We didn’t go to a store unless we walked. We were a long ways from a store. Carried chicken and eggs may a day trying to walk. We walked from the Graham Place; you had to go down to the creek, all the way up to that McCorkle’s store in order to buy something like sugar.
Q: How far was that, roughly?
EG: I don’t know how many miles. It was there terrible. So growing up in the thirties I remember, it was just a lot of poverty. Of course and being black, you had to be selfsufficient. You had to raise your potatoes, your popcorn, your everything.
F1: And it hadn’t even changed in the fifties.
EG: No, it hadn’t.
F1: I remember Uncle Matt driving me through these woods to go to that store up there and he was from Denver.
F1: With the horse and buggy.
EG: That’s right. My daddy had a car. I don’t know how he was able to have a car, which was a T-model Ford.
F1: Your daddy was thrifty.
EG: And he could tell you every dollar he ever spent. He wrote it down. He kept a record of his money. He never ran a bill. (laughter) (break in audio)
EG: I’m Ethel Goodwin — Ethel Hunter Goodwin. My father was Ulysses Hunter. My mother was Bessie Smith Hunter. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, was Ezekiel Smith. My 17 grandfather, on my father’s side, was always referred to as Fed Hunter. My father, which is, whose birth was because my father was from a rape. My grandmother was raped. So there was no recourse he had so the story goes that he just stood on the side of the road with his gun; he didn’t bother him but finally the family moved to Virginia. They were white and they thought he would get hurt. So my nephew, Ronald, found out what the family name and everything was traced through some things recently. So my grandmother was a single mother, living with her father, according to the census. I am number nine, one sister dead. Before I am really living, I am the ninth child, yes. So then you ask me how many people finish college. How many?
F1: On the G.I. bill.
EG: On the G.I. Bill. Nellie, myself, but my sister Mary left town — caught her a bus one day and just left town, went to Washington, D.C. and ended up working for the atomic energy commission.
F1: She was determined it wasn’t going to fall.
EG: (laughter) Yeah.
Q: What kind of crops did you all grow?
EG: We did cotton and corn. If you never pull a fodder, you’re missing a treat down with a day like today. Cotton, corn but then we raised crops to feed families like potatoes and all of that stuff. Not so much to sell but corn and cotton were the major crops to be sold.
Q: Any regrets?
EG: No. I don’t have any regrets. I have a lot of pride to see that these two people survived raising 10 children and doing as well by them as they did.
Q: Just a quick question. Were you born at home?
EG: Yes. Midwife (laughter).
Q: Do you recall anything in particular about how death was handled in your community as far as how —
EG: The unfortunate thing in my family was my grandfather was found dead. They said he committed suicide. That was always a question because they said they found him with his head between the trunks of a tree. Nobody knew he ever got there. Then I remember that burial and I remember the colors of the little blue ambulances and things and the funeral.
Q: What was your grandfather’s name?
EG: Ezekiel Smith. Whether somebody did this to him or he inflicted this himself. Nobody really ever knew. He just turned up missing, you know.
Q: So that’s still unresolved?
EG: Unresolved and my mother and father died what, within so many hours of each other.
F1: Seventeen hours.
EG: Seventeen hours of each other.
Q: What ages were they?
EG: Sixty-eight and —
F1: Sixty-seven and sixty-four.
EG: Sixty-seven and sixty-four. So then I had two brothers who had (inaudible)
F1: Four. EG: Four? Four. Four brothers who are deceased.
Q: What I was looking for is — what I remember from childhood is usually when someone dies, there was a long wake, maybe three days, of sitting up with the body. Did you all do that kind of thing?
EG: I remember my grandfather — I don’t think it was three 20 days because I don’t think his body was in condition to do that but I remember a lot of sitting around and I remember the casket and everything being at home. I remember that. And I also remember on the Graham Farm when someone died, there was a little alcove which they said was for caskets and things and their families would sit up with the person and people would come by and pay their respects.
Q: Is this the Graham Farm down here on the Plank Road?
EG: Down this road right here.
Q: Down this road right here? Near the creek down there?
EG: Yeah, you’re right. We lived right above the creek.
Q: Oh, okay.
EG: We moved in one house way above on the hill and got little (inaudible) (laughter)
Q: And you could see what now?
EG: The stars.
Q: Through the roof?
EG: Yeah and the chickens underneath. Underneath the house.
Q: Now that was the conditions that you lived in on that farm?
EG: Yes, sharecropping wasn’t fun.
F1: And they finally built a house.
Q: Now on that farm, your dad built a house —
EG: No, the owner built us the house.
Q: Was that a much better situation?
EG: A much better house, yeah. Yeah, it was. It was an improvement over what we had.
Q: Again, who owned the farm that you —
EG: William Graham.
Q: William Graham?
Q: How many families was on that farm with y’all?
EG: Good lord. The Smiths, us, the Wingates – I believe there were some more. I know of three black families that were right there close]. Sharecropping.
Q: I wonder how many acres was in that farm at that time, roughly?
EG: I don’t know but it was big because they raised sheep and all kinds of stuff. We just felt that was the prettiest house this side of heaven. It was beautiful. And they had that round barn and had all these pretty horses and things. Took a lot to keep it up. Now you come to her time.
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