On February 5, 2014, we conducted an interview with William E. “Bill” Myers 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 pertained to Myers’s experiences with integration while he was a teacher and school administrator in the Elm City school system, how he became involved with music, and how his group “The Monitors” evolved over the years and the band’s experiences with discrimination in its early days.
Myers grew up in Greenville, North Carolina during the 1930s and 1940s. After graduating from college at Virginia State in Petersburg, Virginia, and a brief stint in the U.S. Army in Korea in the 1950s, he eventually settled in Wilson to take a job as a music teacher in Elm City at Frederick Douglass High School, which was an all-black school. In his early years as a music teacher, Myers was confronted with the reality that many of his students had no sense of self-worth. He noted how many of his students had never traveled outside of the Elm City area, and that they thought they would never amount to much more than to be a janitor. Initially teaching at a school that went from first through twelfth grade, Myers had the opportunity to mold these children into productive students, and he accomplished much of this through music.
When the Elm City school system integrated its schools in the early 1970s, Myers and many of his students transferred to the formerly all-white Elm City High School. Asked to be the band leader at the school, Myers was faced with the reality that many of the white students did not want to have a black band leader, and they left the band program. Working with the students that were left, Myers molded them into a proud group. He later took on the position of Assistant Principal at the school, and spent his later years as Principal at the high school and in its later incarnation as Elm City Middle School.
Myers’s true passion is music. Starting as a young child playing the piano, he moved to the drums while in school, later transitioning to the saxophone, which led to him attending Virginia State, where he received a B.A. in Music. During his teenage years he played in bands that performed at schools, bars, clubs, and just about any place they could play. In 1957, he helped to found his band, “The Monitors,” with Cleveland Flowe. Over the years the band has been known across the region for its ability to play music for any occasion, though their main concentration has been R&B, jazz, classical, and even some country & western. Myers related how there were some places that they would never perform at again because of racial discrimination, but for the most part the band has been very well received over the years, performing with such notable artists as Ray Charles and Robert Flack, who was their first vocalist.
The interview with Bill Myers was a very interesting hour. No matter the situation, Myers told stories that emphasized doing the right thing no matter what the outcome might be. As a coda to his long career in music and education, Myers has recently received numerous state and local awards for his contributions to the arts and teaching. And from time to time, he is still recognized by many of his former students as the man who helped to transform their lives.