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Willis N. Hackney Library

Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson, North Carolina

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin

Alice F. Eakins

On June 30, 2014, we conducted an interview with Alice F. Eakins at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse of African American History in Wilson, North Carolina, as part of the East Wilson Oral History Project.  Eakins grew up in the Lucama area of Wilson County from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s.  Her family has been in Wilson County since the mid-19th century, and she is related to the Woodard and Ward families in the county.  Her mother and father met at the Primitive Baptist Church in Black Creek, which was built in 1885.  Eakins was part of a large family, one of ten children.  Her father was a sharecropper, and the large family helped to run the large farm.  Eakins told us that us they grew cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane, while they also raised chickens and cows, and even had an apple orchard.  They were very self-sufficient, and the family was very close to each other.  The girls helped to plow the crops, and their mother sewed many of the clothes that they wore.  The family picked a bale of cotton a day, while also helping to pick their neighbor’s cotton crop.  Many of the crops that they grew were sold to P. L. Woodard in Black Creek.  Eakins looked back on her years on the farm with complete joy, and you could tell that those years on the farm greatly influenced her life.

One of Eakins’s sisters begged her father for years to leave the farm.  They eventually left while Eakins was in high school, moving to Reid Street in Wilson.  Eakins graduated from Springfield High School in 1956.  Along with seven of her sisters, they all attended St. Augustine College in Raleigh during the period of the mid-1950s until the early 1970s.  While at St. Augustine, Eakins took part in civil rights marches, along with her sisters.  Eakins was reluctant to talk about the civil rights movement, while also not telling us much about the integration of schools that she taught at in the 1970s.

After she graduated from St. Augustine in 1960, Eakins went into teaching.  She taught at various middle and high schools in Pender, Wilson, and Edgecombe counties, teaching mathematics and science.  She retired from Pinetops in 1995 after 33 years of teaching.  Since that time she has collected many items relating to her family history.  One item to note is the influence that her family had at St. Augustine.  Her parents could not pay for their schooling at St. Augustine, but because of the determination her mother had to have her girls go to college, a scholarship was created in their mother’s name at St. Augustine.  The city of Wilson also honored their parents with the declaration of the Mr. and Mrs. James Henry Ford Day in the mid-1980s.