On February 7, 2014, we conducted an interview with Derrick D. Creech and Mildred Hall Creech at their home in Wilson, North Carolina, as part of the East Wilson Oral History Project. We asked them questions that related to their experiences growing up in East Wilson, including their years attending schools in the community, their experiences with racial prejudices in the final years of Jim Crow, and how East Wilson has changed over the past forty years.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Creech were born in the early 1950s and raised in East Wilson. Mrs. Creech grew up in the house next door to the one they currently live in, which is behind the Samuel Vick Elementary School, the site of the former Charles H. Darden High School. Mr. Creech attended Darden, and was part of the final graduating class in 1970. Mrs. Creech was educated in local Catholic schools, spending most of her youth at St. Alphonsus. After attending a Catholic boarding school in Virginia, she returned to Wilson for her senior year, where she attended the newly integrated Fike High School.
After high school, Mr. and Mrs. Creech both attended college. Mr. Creech returned to Wilson after attending Winston-Salem State University and later worked for Firestone, Wilson Community Improvement Association, and Wilson Community College. He also attended Barton College in Wilson. After retiring from teaching at Wilson Community College, Mr. Creech was elected to the Wilson City Council from District 7, where he currently serves as a city councilman. Before retirement, Mrs. Creech spent her career in the social services field.
Mr. and Mrs. Creech spoke at length about how the East Wilson community has changed over the years. They noted how this generation’s youth do not have the same respect for their teachers and peers in their community as the youth of their generation did when they were growing up. The East Wilson community has clearly not weathered the years since integration took hold. Without the support from teachers and churches that were there during segregation, the community does not have the glue that it once held it together. It is so bad that one of their grandchildren said they would not want to live in Wilson.
Mr. and Mrs. Creech both offered up different experiences of Jim Crow and relations with white people in Wilson while growing up. Mr. Creech told us that he experienced racism at a very young age while trying to purchase doughnuts at a local doughnut shop. After being told that they could not be served at the shop through the use of a racial slur, his father told Creech and his siblings that they would never go there again, although Mr. Creech would fight to get his doughnuts! As a teenager, however, Mr. Creech saw the good side of the white community. He told the story of when he was cutting grass for white homeowners, one family would cut the grass themselves with his lawnmower and still paid him for his services. That small act of kindness went a long way for him.
Mr. Creech never attended integrated schools until college. Mrs. Creech, on the other hand, went to the integrated Fike High School during her senior year, and while in Catholic schools she was taught by white nuns. They both differed on how it has been hard for many African-Americans to move up in the workplace. Mrs. Creech said she never had any problems, but Mr. Creech said he had to work hard to achieve success in the workplace.
The hour spent with Mr. and Mrs. Creech was a very well-rounded view of how living in the East Wilson community has affected their views on race and the role that integration has played in their lives. Unlike most of our other interviewees, the Creech’s have spent most of their entire lives in East Wilson. They have witnessed the unforeseen consequences of integration, with the community losing much of its moral glue. They both agreed that the only way for the community to improve is for the people living there to desire change. Until that happens, East Wilson will continue down a negative path. As stated by Mrs. Creech, she is afraid to even walk down the street in her neighborhood. This is the reality in much of East Wilson, and it will continue until other citizens of the community desire the positive change that is so desperately needed for it to survive.