On January 8, 2014, we conducted an interview with Gloria Freeman at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum of African American History as part of the East Wilson Oral History Project. The questions that were asked involved how the East Wilson neighborhood has changed over the past forty years. Mrs. Freeman was born and raised in the neighborhood, eventually leaving Wilson after graduating from Fike High School in 1968 to attend college and pursue a career. She moved back to the area a couple of years ago.
As a descendant of the Freeman family, Mrs. Freeman spent her childhood surrounded by other members of the Freeman family. Originally residing on the south side of East Nash Street, Mrs. Freeman later moved in with her grandparents on the north side of East Nash Street after the death of her parents. We asked her how the community near the present location of the Roundhouse Museum changed after the construction of Hines Street in the 1960s. She told us that it devastated the neighborhood, taking away some of the Freeman property, while uprooting entire families where the new street would be located.
We also asked Mrs. Freeman about her experiences in high school during integration. At the time she attended high school, students were given the option of “freedom of choice” in North Carolina. Students, black and white, could choose where they would prefer to attend school. Mrs. Freeman attended Darden High School in East Wilson, but in her 10th grade year she chose to go to the all-white Fike High School. She told us that there were just a handful of black students at Fike during her first school year there, 1965-1966.
As part of post-interview research conducted at the Wilson County Public Library, the Fike High School yearbook, “The Accolade,” was reviewed for the school years of 1966-1967 and 1967-1968 to see how integration evolved at Fike. Upon reviewing the yearbooks, it is apparent that not many black students were using their “freedom of choice” to attend white schools. In the 1966-1967 school year, there was one black senior, six juniors, and six sophomores attending Fike. Two of the male students were on the junior varsity basketball team and four other males were on the junior varsity football team. Only two black students were in school clubs that year, including Mrs. Freeman. She was in the debate club, while another student, Ernestine Fitch, joined her in the French and Boosters clubs. In addition, there were two black faculty members, while the janitorial staff was all black.
The following school year at Fike saw an increase in black enrollment, and more participation in sports and school clubs. In the 1967-1968 school year, there were still just two black faculty members, but the senior class included thirteen black students, while there were eight black juniors and twelve black sophomores.
The interview with Mrs. Freeman was very insightful. Not only did it give us a view of what the East Wilson neighborhood was like in the late 1950s and 1960s, it also gave us a first-hand account of integration in Wilson from a student who lived through it. Mrs. Freeman’s thoughts and memories are an invaluable contribution to this project.