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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Cora P. Roberson
Interviewer: Joel Buchanan
February 19, 1986
CORA P. ROBERSON
FIFTH AVENUE BLACKS, ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: JOEL BUCHANAN
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA
DATE OF INTERVIEW: FEBRUARY 19, 1986
Mrs. Cora (Peterson) Robinson was born in Edgar, Florida, on April 29,
1924. She was reared in Gainesville and attended Lincoln High School, where
she graduated in 1943. She received her bachelor's degree from Florida
Memorial College in 1950, and she completed her master's program at Tuskeegee
Institute in Alabama. She was a teacher and administrator in Alachua County
for thirty-three years.
This interview discusses Mrs. Roberson's life growing up in Gainesville
and her days at old Lincoln High School. She also relates stories about her
experiences as a classroom teacher and administrator in the Alachua County
School system from the time of her initial entry until her retirement. She is
active in many community service organizations, and she describes these
B: Mrs. Roberson was a teacher and administrator for thirty-three years in
the school system. It is 11:15 in the morning and this interview is
being conducted in her living room. This interview is for the University
of Florida Oral History Project. Good morning Mrs. Roberson.
R: Good morning.
B: How are you this morning?
R: Oh, I am fine. How about yourself?
B: Fine, thank you. Please tell me what the "P" stands for in your name.
R: "P" is for Peterson.
B: And is Peterson a family name?
R: Yes, it is.
B: I said that you were a teacher and administrator for thirty-three years.
How many years were you a teacher?
R: I was a teacher for eighteen years.
B: And the other years you were an administrator?
R: Yes, I believe that is about fifteen.
B: Now were all these years spent in Alachua County?
R: All except one year, when I worked in Worthington Springs as a teaching
B: Teaching principal? What do you mean by that?
R: Although, I had the responsibility of operating the school, I also taught
B: So, you were both in charge of the school and a teacher?
R: Yes, that was quite common during that time, especially in rural areas.
B: Now, was this an all-black school?
R: Yes, this was an all-black school.
B: Let's digress for a moment and go back and find out something about Cora
Peterson. Where were you born?
R: I was born in Edgar, Florida, which is in Putnam County, and believe it
or not there is no Edgar, Florida now. It is called Johnson, and is just
a few miles on the other side of Hawthorne in Putnam County.
B: And are you an only child?
R: No, I am the oldest.
B: The oldest of how many?
B: Now you said that you were born in Edgar, Florida which is now Johnson.
Is there a reason why you were born there and your family was from Alachua
R: Yes, my great-grandmother was a midwife and my mother left Gainesville
and went there for me to be born so my great-grandmother could take care
of her and me until she was able to be on her own.
B: You used the term midwife, tell me what a midwife is please.
R: A midwife delivers babies. I have never personally used a midwife, but I
was brought into the world by a midwife. It is a type of nurse that
B: Tell me something about growing up here in Alachua County. When you say
Alachua County, I assume you are saying you were raised in Gainesville.
R: Yes, I was reared right here in Gainesville.
B: Where in Gainesville?
R: At 1227 Northeast 3rd Avenue, which was East Court Street at that
time. And our house number was 1644 and we did not really get it from
the courthouse. The house across the street was 1633, and I do not know
how they came up with that number, but I decided that we were going to be
1644. So, I put numbers on our house. The postman did not come,
but we did get our special delivery mail delivered so I wanted them to
know where to come. I did it on my own. I have always been a little
B: So you actually gave yourselves a number? Back in this time you were not
having mail delivered to your homes?
R: Oh, no, we had to go to the post office. There was a general delivery
window and that is how we got our mail. The postman did not come across
the railroad to deliver mail to us.
B: That is interesting, I have never heard that before.
R: Well, that is true, we never had a box until many years later.
B: Tell me something about growing up in Gainesville. What was it like at
your home? What was special about the Peterson's?
R: We grew up in a very small shack--nine children, mother and father, and it
was a four room house so it was quite crowded. I guess where there was
lots of love, you do not realize just how crowded conditions are. I
remember distinctly that we used to grow a garden. In that garden we
would have carrots, beets, strawberries, string beans, different kinds of
greens, we even had chickens because this is the kind of thing my mother
did back in Putnam County with her mother and grandmother. So, this is
what we did. So, we always had plenty to eat because we grew a good
portion of it right there. And I remember my mother used to say, "If
there is enough ground to walk on, it is enough to plant." And she just
did not believe in taking handouts and that kind of thing. She made us
work, and in fact she really did not have to force us to do it because we
were brought up that way, and we thought this was something that we were
supposed to do. So, we did it. We would work in the garden sometimes,
like water plants in the morning before we went to school, come back in
the afternoon and water plants or set out or hoe a little bit in the
garden or what have you. I am not really talking about a large plot of
land either. I am talking about fifty by one-hundred or maybe one-hundred
B: I can tell that growing part has definitely influenced your life
because your living room is filled with plants. So, you still enjoy
R: Yes, I really do enjoy plants.
B: Did you go to the Lincoln High School?
R: Yes, it is now called A. Quinn Jones Learning Resource Center, I believe.
That is where I went to elementary school. I went to high school there
and during that time we had no transportation. When I started elementary
school, we did not even have city buses. We had to walk from Third Avenue,
which was Court Street, all the way over, that was Columbia Street then.
B: Now Columbia Street is where Lincoln is located?
R: Yes, Seventh Avenue.
B: Wasn't it a difficult thing for a little girl to have to walk that
far to school?
R: Well, really I was not the only one. All the children from the northeast
area had to walk and we either walked down University Avenue or we walked
the back streets, down Third Avenue, down Court Street, and just kind of
wound our way over to Lincoln.
B: Tell me about some of the teachers you had at Lincoln.
R: Mrs. Melissa Rises, I remember she was our third grade teacher. Mrs.
Williams, and I believe, I am not sure of Mrs. Williams' name because we
always called the teachers Mrs., so sometimes we really did not actually
know the first name and some of them would just give initials. And then
later on I had Mrs. Talbott. Mrs. Bessie Brown, Mrs. Melissa Rivers, Mrs.
Emma Williams, Mrs. Daphne Duval Williams, Mr. T.B. McPherson, Mr. J.
Franklin Jones, Mrs. Lillian Talbot. Mrs. Talbott was from Jacksonville
but these other people that I have named, they were just local people.
They probably went to the old Union Academy School. And Prof. A. Quinn
Jones was a principal at that time.
B: Professor A. Quinn Jones? He was your principal?
R: He was the principal of the school.
B: Now you mentioned that you went there in elementary and high school, were
there separate facilities for the elementary and high.
R: All of it was housed in one building, in that two-story portion the
elementary department was housed downstairs and the high school was
housed upstairs and that was the only school for blacks in this county at
that particular time.
B: Now did your other students from the outlying areas come to this
R: They came to this school also.
B: Were they bused?
R: Those people either moved into Gainesville or they would rent rooms with
responsible people and have their children live here to finish school.
People like Mrs. Turnipseed. Do you remember? Mrs. Eleanor Turnipseed?
B: Yes. Actually children came here as boarders in order to get their
R: Right. The only people that came from the rural area that I can recall
that had an automobile were the Duncans. You know the Duncan brothers?
They came in an old Ford and they brought other children in with them
from out in the rural areas. They commuted.
B: Now was there any time during the school day that the elementary children
downstairs got together with the high school students? Did you ever do
R: The only thing that we really did together was we were seated in a
auditorium together and I do not know why it was like that but the high
school children usually sat down front and the elementary children in the
back. It was later, maybe I was in sixth grade before they started
seating the little children in the front of the auditorium and the older
ones in the back. I guess they just sort of let us come into their
B: And so you were able to go from first grade through twelfth grade at
Lincoln High School?
B: And did you graduate from kindergarten to first grade or from sixth to
R: No special graduations until twelfth grade.
B: Now what year did you graduate?
R: April 19, 1943.
B: Did you have a class prom, play, or commencement?
R: Yes, we had a class play and we had the junior-senior prom and some of
the same kinds of things that you have now.
B: Now were all those activities held at Lincoln High School?
R: They were held at Lincoln. That was the only school. In fact, other
public programs were also held there.
B: Now, was this a full school, did you all have a glee club, chorus
department, music department, P.E., was that all a part of the
curriculum at Lincoln?
R: Yes, that was all a part of the curriculum. Even a debating team, I was
on the debating team and Mr. T.B. McPherson was the sponsor of that
debating team. We even had mock trials.
B: I talked to many other people that were saying in the early days of going
to school that many times they were not able to go to school the full day
because they had to work. Was that the same thing for Cora or was Cora
able just to go right straight through the full day?
R: I was able to go straight through the full day. When I came along
you had to go to school the whole day, except if you had a period of
study hall in the afternoons and you were connected with the Diversified
Cooperative Training Program which was called the DCT.
B: Now what does that mean?
R: Diversified Cooperative Training Program. That was a program where you got
on the job training, whatever you wanted to be. If you wanted to be a
cook you would go to one of the restaurants and work, if you wanted to be
a receptionist you would go someplace that participated in the program; or
if you wanted to be a good housekeeper you could do domestic work and you
got course credit for it.
B: So you were able to leave school, do this training, and get credit for it
at school? And were you paid for it?
R: Yes, they had to pay you.
B: Now, who was in charge of the D.C.T. program at Lincoln?
R: The late Mr. Thornton Roberts was in charge of that.
B: Can you tell me when you were born please?
R: I was born April 29, 1924. I have been here quite a long time.
B: I do not think it is that long.
R: It seems like a long time. In April I will be sixty-two.
B: And you have lived right here in Gainesville?
B: When you finished high school, did Cora go on to college then?
R: No, I worked in the University of Florida's cafeteria for one year
and then I went to college. I needed to work so that I could earn
some money to go to college. Then, the University of Florida
was not just a regular university, co-ed school like it is now. It was
just for men and at the particular time when I was working out there in
the university cafeteria it was for the officers. It was an O.C.S
training school, where officers were trained.
B: Now you say officers. Are you talking about military men?
R: Military men, yes. They were trained there. This was during the war and
they were trained there. There was no regular school going on at the
University of Florida during that time. And believe it or not your
mother and I worked in the lunchroom together, Mrs. Gussie Buchanan.
B: Yes, she shared with me that you all worked together.
R: We did.
B: Then after the year you finished you left and went on to school?
B: And where did you go?
R: I went to Florida Memorial. It was then located in St. Augustine. But
now, it is not in St. Augustine anymore, it moved to Miami.
B: Now, you went there as a freshman. Did you go as a boarding student?
R: Yes, I was a boarding student.
B: And did you have to wear uniforms? Did you live on campus?
R: I lived right on campus and at that time we did not have to wear uniforms
but some of the students that had gone there prior to the time that I
went did wear blue and white uniforms, but we were not required to wear
B: How long were you at Florida Memorial College?
R: I received my B.S. at Florida Memorial.
B: Did you go straight through the four years or did you stop in between
to work or what?
R: I did stop in between to work and I worked at May Cohens in Jacksonville
for two years. At that time it was Cohens Brothers Department Store and
I had such good experience working the cafeteria until I was hired as
soon as I applied and they found out that I had been working here at the
University of Florida at the university cafeteria they hired me to work
at the Cohens Brothers cafeteria there. And I worked there until I saved
enough money to go back to Florida Memorial and get my B.S.
B: And you got your B.S. degree in what area?
R: Elementary education.
B: And what year did you graduate from Florida Memorial?
R: In 1950.
B: And what did you do then?
R: In January 1950, I came back to Gainesville. Since I graduated in
January I came back to Gainesville and I applied for a job. There were
no jobs in the regular school system available at that time so I was
hired in the night school program where I taught veterans. I was hired
by Mr. Bohanan. He was over the night school, and Mr. Julius Harper was
B: Now you said the night school. Explain that to me because I have not
heard of the night school here in Alachua County.
R: Well, over at Lincoln they had a program where veterans could go to
school and they were taught there and they were given credit and some of
them finished high school. In fact, my husband, Charlie Roberson finished
the adult school over there at A. Quinn Jones which was then Lincoln.
They called it Lincoln.
B: Now this night school, was it being run every evening?
R: Four evenings per week. Monday through Thursday.
B: And you were teaching the same thing you were teaching in day school but
it was for those men who had been in the service and who were out?
R: Yes, right.
B: How many years were you in this program?
R: I taught in that program about seven years.
B: Right there at Lincoln?
R: Right there. But the next year, in fact in August, I was hired as a
regular classroom teacher but I still went back at night and taught the
B: So, were you actually teaching day and night?
R: I was teaching day and night.
B: Was Professor Jones still the principal of Lincoln then?
R: Yes, he still was the principal.
B: What was the reaction from your part to have been a student who had been
raised here, went to school here, gone to college, and came back to work?
Did you feel very honored to be doing this?
R: I really felt very honored to do that and I had good grade points when I
was in elementary school and when I was in high school and I think they
really respected me a lot and liked me a lot, and so it was easy for me to
come back and start working.
B: What caused you to go into early childhood education?
R: Well, when I was coming along, when I was growing up, I taught Sunday
School classes and my mother would tell me, 'Well she is just a born
teacher, you know having these younger sisters and brothers growing up
under me.' And then there would be other people who would tell me that
'Well you know she is just a teacher, she knows how to teach.' You know
and they built this confidence up in me and I said well now if I can do
this thing so well, this is what I should pursue.
B: That is why you went into it?
B: Have you enjoyed it?
R: Yes, very much.
B: After the nine years of teaching in night school and then teaching the day
school, share with me some of those experiences. Did you have one subject
that you taught? Did you teach different grade levels in the class? What
was it like being a teacher in the night school for your veterans and then
the day school?
R: Well, I taught beginners and in teaching beginners I had the math,
reading, spelling, writing, and science, and so what I did and I think it
worked pretty well was to divide the subject areas up. The first part
of the night I would teach just the handwriting and the reading and the
spelling and then the math and science. Those last two hours each because
we worked four hours. And we used workbooks too, which made it easier to
work with adults. We used the Steck Workbook.
B: And did you have all the supplies that you needed to be able to be the
proficient teacher that you should have been and was able to be?
R: Well no, I really did not have all the supplies that I needed. There were
some things that I had been taught in college that you needed. For
instance, primary paper to teach children how to write and how to use the
lines and what have you because primary paper does not have the small
lines that we have here. The lines are spaced so far apart and then there
is a center broken line through there, and I found out I could use that
same kind of paper with these young men. They were all young men in the
adult education program. And I could use that and it made it simpler for
them and also used the primary pencils with them and those things I bought
B: You bought yourself?
R: I had to buy myself. And when I was teaching in the elementary schools
it was quite a long time before we got supply money. I had a running
account at Chestnut's Office Supply and so did the other teachers most of
B: So, this is after you took your own salary that you received from being
teacher to buy the supplies to be the teacher?
B: Why did you not get supplies?
R: The money just was not available. I was so glad to have a job, that I did
not question why. When I learned that each class was supposed to be given
so much money to buy supplies from Chestnut's in the afternoon. Some of
the white teachers told me to give my school number so that I could get
tax credit, that I did not have to pay the full amount, I could get a
discount. And you know how teachers will get together and they will talk
although we were in a segregated system, they could not keep us from
talking down at Chestnut's, and some of the teachers would tell us "You
should not be spending your money." Sometimes I would be down there to
pay on my account. 'You should not be spending your money for supplies.'
So, during that time when you were coming up the materials that you used
were purchased by the teachers. We had limited funds when they started
giving us funds to buy supplies.
B: So, actually the negro teachers that were teaching had to be somewhat more
committed because a lot of your income that you were earning went for
R: It really did. And we got a joy out of seeing the children develop. I
was the person who introduced the primary pencils and the primary paper
to the primary department at Lincoln High School in the elementary
department. And the older children would laugh at it. Because the paper
was sort of yellow they called it cornbread paper. 'Those children are
using that cornbread paper down there in Mrs. Roberson's room.'
B: And so you introduced the primary paper and pencils?
R: Which are the larger, fat pencils.
B: In order for dexterity in the fingers?
B: When you were teaching the night school, were teaching the veterans?
B: Do you recall if they had a self-complex about learning things that they
should have learned earlier, or were they eager to learn?
R: They were eager to learn, but some of them still felt insecure to be doing
this and you had to put them at ease. During that time we did not have
the kind of desks that they use now, in some schools they even use chairs.
They had the old-fashioned seats that two people could really sit on them
because sometimes in an overcrowded classroom two people had to sit on a
seat. The desk was a different piece of equipment attached to the floor
and the seat was attached to the floor behind the desk. The two pieces of
furniture were not connected. The men would sit at those desks and when
I would work with them, I was very small at that particular time, I would
slide in on the edge of the seat and sit there with them and work with
them to make them feel comfortable just like I did when I got in the
elementary school. When I would teach, I would try to sit with the
children to help them feel comfortable and move on to the next person so
each person could have that one-to-one contact. Well, that is how I did
the veterans and I remember Mr. Bohanan said, "I have never seen anything
like it." That is right, you could come by the door and you could look in
through the glass opening in the door although the doors were closed. He
said he has passed by, he told me this later, that he would pass by in the
hallway and come back and I would be way around the room somewhere moving
around from place to place so that I did not stay with one person too long
and that I did get around to each person. And I would have ten to twelve
people in class.
B: Was that a lot?
R: Yes, that was a lot when you think in terms of how much they needed to
learn and how much instruction was required per person. And they were
all on different pages in that workbook and whichever workbook they were
working on because they worked at different rates. They would be at
different places so you had to know your Steck Workbook.
B: Now were these men being paid to be in school?
R: Yes, they were being paid to be in school.
B: So they were getting G.I. Bills?
R: Right. Most of them worked, they had jobs but they were paid to go to
school at night.
B: So, after the nine years in that program, what did you do?
R: I believe it was more like seven years.
B: Now when did you get into doing the regular teaching?
R: In 1950, in August.
B: Were all those years spent at Lincoln High School here in Gainesville?
R: Except for the one year that I was away. I think I spoke of that earlier.
B: How did that year come into your life? How did you get that position?
R: Well, I was pregnant and when they learned in the black school system
that you were pregnant, they treated you like it was a malady or
something. You had to get a leave and after obtaining that leave you
were out until after you had the baby and continued to be out for the
next year, according to when the baby came. So, some people were out
of work for almost two years.
B: So, you are saying to me when you became pregnant that you had to take a
leave and after the child was born they wanted you to be out of class for
almost another year?
R: Another year, yes. And I do not know the reasoning behind it, but that
was true in Alachua County. I had a friend, Mrs. Ruth Kendall, she was
working in Worthington Springs and she was teaching principal there at
Consolidated Elementary School, and she wanted to move into Gainesville.
She lived here in Gainesville so she wanted to move into Gainesville to
one of the schools. And the superintendent, Mr. Thomas told her if she
could find someone that would be as good with the children and the parents
as she was, then he would relieve her so that she could come back to
Gainesville and get a job at Williams Elementary. So, since I was on
leave and I needed to work and my baby was born June 1, so what I did was
just accept this job, she told me about it. So, I accepted it and I
worked that year and then I came back to A. Quinn Jones and took up my old
B: Let's talk about that teaching principal school. Were you the principal
in the morning time and then went into your classroom to be a teacher?
Tell me about it.
R: I was a principal all day long. Whenever they wanted something, when
there were visitors or what have you I had to receive the visitors, the
officials or what have you and I had to teach also.
B: So, now what did you teach?
R: I taught the math, I taught science. Basically, that is what I taught.
To sixth and seventh graders.
B: Did you enjoy being the principal teacher that year?
R: Yes, and I was very grateful for the job.
B: And then you came back to Gainesville?
R: And went back to Lincoln and Mrs. Thelma Jordan was my principal.
B: Now explain that to me. When you left here you left under Professor
R: Yes, well also Mrs. Jordan. See Mrs. Jordan was the principal of the
elementary department and Professor was the principal over the whole school.
And somewhere during that time they built the new Lincoln school and that
was in about 1957 I believe, that they built the new school. And they
named the old school A. Quinn Jones for Mr. Jones and that is when the
B: Thelma Jordan was the principal?
R: She was the principal of that elementary school and Professor came over and
was the principal of what we call the new Lincoln, which is now Lincoln
Middle School. And he worked there I believe one year.
B: Then he retired. When you were at Lincoln teaching the night program,
they had the elementary school, the high school, and the night program at
R: I believe they did but that changed during that time.
B: And when you came back after being the teacher-principal at this school,
you came back into what is now the A. Quinn Jones Elementary School under
Thelma Jordan. And what did you teach then?
R: Third grade.
B: And how many years did you teach third grade?
R: I taught third grade about six years.
B: Tell me something about teaching. Let's start from the third grade going
back, digressing. Which were your better years, that you felt the
children were willing to receive what you had to give and the years that
you enjoyed teaching from third grade back?
R: Back to first grade?
R: I enjoyed teaching third grade because there was more of a challenge at
the third grade level. I was young and vivacious and had a lot of child
in me as I still have, and I like to play with the children. Children at
that age they like to play a lot. They like to play at other stages too,
but they are more responsive and you can get into games that are a little
more complicated for first graders, and I just really loved the third
B: What was it like teaching at an all black school? I guess at this point
you were not aware of the other school. Did you deal with your
counterparts in the white society?
R: Yes, because I worked in the afternoons, after school. I worked with
families that had children in the school. And would you believe it or
not, one time I was working for this Johnson family after school and I was
using books that her son used over at Gainesville High School. We did not
get new books. Our books were used books, when they got a new series or
what at Gainesville High, we got the old books. And I was excited about
it because here I have the book of the Johnson boy.
B: So, you were a little ahead of what was happening right? By being a part
of the home, you were able to find out what was happening at the other
R: That is right. You know it did not bother me until I got a little
older, this was maybe fourth or fifth grade, and when I got a little
older I realized what was happening, that we were getting books that were
handed down and I resented it.
B: Did you? But prior to that time it did not worry you?
B: You know, right now you hear so much about black children not being able
to read and write and that they do not have the background. As a
beginning teacher, teaching those first few years, do you feel that you
gave the basic neccessities for boys and girls?
R: I know I did. Because at Florida Memorial, those teachers, you had to
get that word. When you were an intern, the advisor was right on your
case all the time and then your supervising teacher, they would go to see
that you did it right. They did not just turn the class over to you and
go out to the lounge somewhere. They wanted you to be the best, and I
wanted to be one of the best teachers, and it all resulted in later I was
the first black teacher to be sent to an all white school. I was sent
over to Kirby Smith Elementary School, and I taught in the classroom for
two years when I was made a home/school counselor. I kind of worked
myself into that job because when I was over at A. Quinn Jones we had no
choice, and I thought it was what we were supposed to do, because we
were always taught about home visiting. You should make these home visits
and then when I was at Florida Memorial I had to make home visits. Go and
talk with parents, not just when there was a problem but go and see where
the children came from and learn something about the families. So, we
used to do that at A. Quinn Jones, we used to go out in Rutledge,
Arredondo and what have you in the afternoon. Mrs. Josie Mitchell, Mrs.
Eunice Carter, Mrs. Ann McGee, Mrs. Marie Allen, Mrs. Catherine Taylor,
all of us used to go out in the afternoons and make those home visits. I
remember one time in particular we were way back out in the woods in the
Arredondo section and our car got stuck in the mud and a fellow out in the
cornfield had to come and pull us out with his tractor. So, these were
fun times and these were things that we were right on top of. We knew why
children acted so weird because we went to the homes and visited, we were
not afraid to go anyplace.
B: So, you are saying to me that you as a teacher actually made home
visitations to your children's homes?
B: And that was expected of you?
R: It was expected and we did it. Because I had been taught in school and I
am sure they had been taught that. That is when you learn why children
do some of the things they do at school or why they do not do certain
things. You learn a lot about them. Go and see them in the home
setting and I am a strict believer now in home visits.
B: Are you?
R: Yes, I am.
B: You mentioned that you were the first black teacher sent to a white
school. Now what year was this in?
R: This was in 1968.
B: Now what school did you go to?
R: Kirby Smith.
B: Did you go into the classroom as a teacher?
R: Yes, a classroom teacher. I remember when I was up there I had one white
woman in particular, she seemed like she was a pretty poor lady from the
way she was dressed, but I never looked down on anyone because I was
taught not to do that. And I saw her and the principal, my principal was
Mr. Dwight Hunter. I worked teaching in the regular classroom, I got out
of the regular classroom and I went in the afternoons I rode with Mrs.
Flossy McClendon, she was a fourth grade teacher and she would take me
over to Duval and I would teach a recreation there in the afternoon. I
would work with the children, supervise their recreation and teach them
arts and crafts and she would come over to Williams and do the same kind
of thing. And then we also worked in the summer program. And then I
would go back at night, I did not have an automobile that year, I would go
back at night to night school so I was like hiring two or three different
people to transport me.
B: You were working on three jobs?
R: I was working on three jobs.
B: You were a very busy person weren't you?
R: I was a very busy person and I had a sick mother at home. I was helping,
in fact, I was supporting my mother and the younger children. I now have
two sisters teaching, both of them in Miami teaching.
B: Really, so they actually took it from their older sister?
R: Yes, I helped to send them to school.
B: Let's go to that first year, the school you went into as a black
teacher. How were you received?
R: I was really received very well. But I want to go back to this particular
person that was standing at the door. I saw the principal and this lady
standing at the door and unless someone called me, I did not go to the
door. Because I knew people came and observed I kept on teaching my
class and that afternoon after school was out and I went down to the
office, probably to sign out, because we used to sign in and out of the
schools. Mr. Hunter called me into his office and he told me she was
concerned about you, she wanted to know if you had finished high school.
And I had, and he assured her that I had finished high school, and that
summer I had worked at the University of Florida. I was on the staff in a
summer program for disadvantaged children and I worked teaching teachers
at the University of Florida. I was qualified and I had a master's degree.
My classification was a visiting teacher at the University of Florida.
B: Why was she concerned with your credibility?
R: She wanted to know if I had finished high school because she did
not want me teaching her child if I had not finished high school.
B: Well at this point were teachers teaching school without high school
R: Not that I know of in Alachua County, but in some of those smaller
counties they were. They may have been at that particular time.
B: When did you go back to get this master's degree?
R: I went and got my master's degree in 1962. That is when I received it.
And that was at Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama. Some people say 'Well
you received your degree at Tuskeegee Institute in Tuskeegee, Alabama,'
but Tuskeegee, Alabama and Tuskeegee Institute, Alabama are separate
places. Both of them are incorporated.
B: There is a Tuskeegee Institute, Alabama?
R: Yes, that is where the school is.
B: I see. Now I just learned that. That was in early childhood
R: Yes. That is right. Mrs. McGee and I were roommates at that time at
B: Mrs. Ann McGee?
R: Mrs. Ann McGee and we had a husband-wife team, Commissioner Thomas Coward
received his master's degree, he was my classmate and also his wife,
B: So, you all were at Tuskeegee Institute at the same time?
R: Right, and Mrs. Melissa Rivers that I mentioned, who taught me way back in
third grade, she was Mrs. Donna Coward's aunt.
B: I see. What interesting correlation there. Now when you came out with
this master's degree, did you not want to go to college and teach?
R: Not really, I was enjoying what I was doing so much until I really did
not want to go to college and teach.
B: So, you wanted to stay at the elementary school?
B: Now, after you got your master's and you were the first black at the
white school in early childhood and you were doing your visiting teaching
at the University of Florida, did you remain in the classroom or did you
do something different?
R: Well, after the two years teaching at Kirby Smith, I worked my way into
another job. I was home/school counselor. This was where the home
visiting part came to play. In the afternoons when I would get off from
work a lot of times I would go and visit the parents, see why the children
were not coming to school. Sometimes when I would go to find out why the
child in my fourth grade class was not coming to school, I would find
other children in that family were not coming to school either.
B: Now wait, you were doing that when you were in an all black school and
you were a black teacher, now you were in a white school?
R: I needed to do it even more so because some of them would not come to the
school and they were a little bit apprehensive, they did not really know
what was going on, "My child had to get that black teacher," that kind of
thing. I felt this and I felt that I needed to go out and visit those
homes and do you know what, I got a warm reception. I am the type of
person who can ease right in and sit on the front porch, because that was
prevalent during that time. There was a front porch that you could go in,
most of them high off the ground, you could sit on that porch and what
have you, and I am talking about working with a lot of poor children then.
A lot of poor children came to Kirby Smith because the children that used
to live around the duckpond and all of those and a lot of them I knew as
adults and what have you. The Taylor children and what have you, they had
grown up, they were my age and older and they were not there anymore. The
Tistle girl, she was gone, and just lots of them that I actually knew,
they were gone and there were not that many children in the neighborhood,
the children came from over here by the old county jail, over in the
southeast section and down the lake road. And down the lake road was not
as built up as it is now, the children a lot of them did not even wear
shoes to school.
B: And the parents would actually receive you into the homes?
R: Yes, they did. I would go in just like I did at A. Quinn Jones. In the
cold weather they would ask me in, I would go in. You know what, some of
the white teachers told me that was unsafe to do, too dangerous to do.
B: I can imagine it was.
R: But, it did not seem dangerous to me. I did it because that is what I
was used to doing and whatever they were eating, they offered me some of
it. Some said that I have never had a teacher to come to my house in
all the days of my life and some of them would send for me to come
because some of them did not have appropriate clothes. They thought they
did not have appropriate clothes to go out there with those dressed up
teachers. And during that time, most teachers kind of dressed up
because that is the way we did. In the black schools, teaching school
was something special and we treated it that way by really dressing up
and looking real nice. I learned right there at Florida Memorial, this
all black Baptist college, that when you go to make a home visit, wear
something that you do not mind sitting in a chair that has crumbs in it
or jelly or syrup or what have you, or sitting on a porch where the
chickens have been and you just miss that spot and that kind of thing.
And I carried my low heel shoes in my car and I would slip those on so
that I would be comfortable and look, not exactly like they looked, but at
least I would not looked all spruced up and make them feel uncomfortable.
B: This was actually a positive thing for you?
R: This was a positive thing for me and it worked. And some of those
parents now I have contact with.
B: Do you? Now you said you worked yourself into this job, so now what was
this job you worked yourself into?
R: The home/school counselor. These children would need shoes, they would
need clothing and what have you. I learned of a lady named Mrs. Kite and
she was right there for United Methodist Church over from the Sun Bank.
They had a clothes closet, and Mrs. Kite would let me come from way out
in the country somewhere and come there and let me get whatever I needed
for those children, and I would take it back to their homes so they could
come to school. And they said, "Well such and such is sure coming to
school better now. They say you have been to the house and this boy had
got around and Cora is getting these children back in school. She is
getting them back in school where they can learn something because they
were staying out because they did not have clothes and shoes." The
Methodist Church also had a fund where I could take the child with me and
Mrs. Kite would buy the shoes from their fund. That is right, we used to
go buy shoes mostly from Kinney Shoe Store.
B: Now were called the home counselor for the entire county?
R: No, just for Kirby Smith School. I did this before I got up there at
fourth grade classroom and so I do not know how Mr. Hunter worked it but
I became the home/school counselor and I was a little bit insulted too.
R: Because I was suspicious. So many things were happening to me during
that time and I started thinking 'Now am I not good enough to be in the
classroom?' I know I have been doing a whale of a good job and then I got
more confidence, I found out 'You needed to do this kind of work.' There
was a great need. So, I worked at that for a couple of years and then I
was made the assistant principal of the school.
B: Oh, you were the assistant principal?
R: Assistant principal of Kirby Smith.
B: For how many years?
R: I think a couple of years.
B: Now did you enjoy being assistant principal?
R: Not was much as a classroom teacher and home/school counselor because then
you started dealing with different personalities. They started looking on
me as the outsider that came in. Some of them started looking on me as a
threat more or less to them, when I had to do evaluations and that kind of
thing. And you know people kind of like to see one of their group move
up. Now this is whether it is black or white, I am not just talking
because of race. Sometimes when someone from the outside of a group comes
and moves up, they resent that because they figure that someone in that
group should have moved up into that position.
B: Was Cora an outsider?
R: I was an outsider to them. At that point I think I became an outsider
because they had been pretty nice to me up until then. And I really did
not need a lot of direction, I knew how to teach so I did not need anyone
to show me how to do that. I knew how to do a register and some of them
did not so I was able to show them how to do a register. I do not think
they even do registers anymore, I think they send them up to the office
and the secretary does the register.
B: What is a register?
R: A register is a monthly report, it is kind of like a roll book and you
get average daily attendance and attendance for the month, that kind
of thing on the child. How many days he was in school, and you have
to total it up at the end of the year, and it was complicated for some
people. Some people just did not understand how to do that register.
B: You know, all teachers have a name that is referred to, that children
call them. They are mean, strict, or she is hard-nosed. Were you ever
referred to as being a strict person or a mean teacher?
R: No, not that I know of. Some of the children will see me now and they
are glad to see me and they will ask me about certain other teachers that
were referred to in a negative manner. 'And I was sure glad I did not
get in her classroom.' I was a positive person but I realized the
children had feelings the same as we had feelings.
B: Was there a big change going from the black school, A. Quinn Jones, to
Lincoln, going into Kirby Smith? Was there a difference in the quality
of teaching, the supplies?
R: The difference in supplies. Now the quality of teaching, I could not
tell much about that until I became assistant principal and then I found
out it looked like some people were not putting forth as much effort as
they should have. They were not giving it all they could give. But
really I was proud of A. Quinn Jones because the teachers really dug in
and they cared about children. They did at Kirby Smith too, most of them
cared about children, but we just gave it all we had because we tried to
be the best school in the county and turn out the children that scored the
highest on the tests.
B: Did you all do that?
R: We did it. You are a product of that school.
B: Yes, and I testified the other day that the foundation that we got
there was such a solid foundation that you learned the basic concepts and
I do not understand why boys and girls now days cannot read.
R: Right, we brought a lot of appreciation, I used to spend a good bit of
time, especially after lunch putting up my pictures, Blue Boy and Pinky,
and the different pictures and we would just talk about them. Mona Lisa,
I remember I did the same thing over at Kirby. I had this little boy
in my classroom and he had a learning disability and he could not
remember very well but he did remember to tell Miss Chris Compton when
she came into the classroom, then she was the curriculum specialist,
maybe she was not called the curriculum specialist at that time but I
think she was. She came to the classroom, there was something she wanted
to get from me and this boy said, 'Oh Miss Compton, Miss Compton, Miss
Compton!' He had his hand up just shaking it. 'That picture over there,
I can tell you who it is.' He said, 'Mama Lisa.' (Laughter) We had a
fit, falling over! He remembered it, he thought he remembered rather, he
said, 'That is Mama Lisa.'
B: After you were assistant principal for the years that you were, did you
leave the system then or did you go back to teaching?
R: Well, when I left Kirby, I went into the Teacher Corp program. That is a
joint endeavor, always had that little hand doing something here and there
with the University of Florida. It was sponsored by the University of
Florida but it was using the public school teachers to help implement the
program. And what Teacher Corp did was, there was a teacher shortage
during that time, to train people from other fields how to become
classroom teachers. And we would go to a school here in the county with a
little group of five or six and you would stay there in that school and
supervise those students while they learned how to teach by working with a
teacher in that particular school.
B: And you were a part of that program?
R: I was a part of that first Teacher Corp program.
B: How long did this Teacher Corp program last?
R: It lasted for two years. It ran in two year cycles. We had to work with
it two years and then the students would graduate or whatever and they
would be ready to go into the teaching profession.
B: And after you did that, what did you do?
R: After that I became the Head Start director for the county and I worked
at that for ten years.
B: Now what was Head Start?
R: Head Start is a preschool program for preschoolers. In fact, in this
county we dealt with four-year-old children, just before the year
before time to go to kindergarten. We trained them for kindergarten
and that operated right out of the schools. Then I became a part of the
B: You said Head Start, that means you were actually taking fourth graders
with some training, were they learning learning skills? I mean were they
learning to read or write or were they learning to be...?
R: This was for the county and that is where I worked until I retired. I
was the director for the first full-year Head Start program. Meaning the
length of the regular school year because previously they had just been
having the summer program for Head Start, but I was the person who
implemented the first full-year program. Although I worked the whole
year, the teachers and the aides would work ten months.
B: And you worked the whole year.
R: I worked the whole year because there was proposal writing and that kind
of thing and the studying of federal guidelines, keeping up with changes
and keeping on top of the program so that we would minimize conflicts
with the federal government.
B: Is there still a Head Start program going on now?
R: Yes, B.B. Fernside is the director of the Head Start now.
B: Now let's reflect, you have been elementary teacher, early childhood,
then you were a visiting teacher at the University of Florida, then you
became a home/school counselor, assistant principal, director of Head
R: And in Union County I was a teaching principal.
B: Of all these different professions you have had in the education system,
which one was the most challenging one for Cora Roberson?
R: I believe my last job, the Head Start program, because then I was still
working with these disadvantaged families and after coming up with not
having very much it is kind of a rewarding feeling when you can make good
things happen for poor people. And so I believe that was the most
B: I see.
R: Not that the others were not rewarding. The experience at Kirby Smith,
that was a very rewarding experience.
B: Weren't you pretty aggressive to be a black female to do all these
things? Wasn't that aggressive on your part? How did people respond to
R: Well, I guess maybe you could call me aggressive but I never went out so
much saying 'I need that job, I need to be doing this or I need to be
doing that.' I more or less worked my way into jobs. Sort of got in
demand when people needed a certain kind of person for a job, I was
recommended for the job, I did not seek all of this.
B: So, actually your work made way for you?
R: Yes, that is what I believe.
B: And what year did you retire from the school system?
R: In 1984.
B: Now we have not gotten to one part of your life that is very important.
In reading past information in the Gainesville Sun, I came across a note
that you ran for city commission here. Is that correct?
R: Yes, I did. I did all of that while I was at Kirby. That was
interesting, it was a lot of fun. I did not win, that was during the time
I think I was running against Mr. Perry McGriff, and I had known his
family through the years and his wife's family also, the Mills family.
So, that was interesting and those were people that I respected. I was
trying to get something done for our community and after I did not win, I
lost by a small margin, less than a thousand votes, I still felt good that
I had the opportunity to do what I had done. I think I called the
attention to some of the problems that we had in our black community. I
think Perry tried to work on some of the things that I was calling
attention to, like the Fifth Avenue area and what have you. Just so many
doors were closed to us and they needed to open up and receive us and give
us an equal opportunity as human beings.
B: At this time it had never happened?
R: It was happening so slowly and I also worked with the women for the NAACP
and the women for equal rights, every place I could work to try to open
doors so that the black people in the community could actually become a
functioning part of the community. I was aggressive in trying to do that
kind of thing.
B: Now back to the election. You were the first female, not black female,
you were the first female to run for an elected officer in the city.
R: That is what I was told.
B: What year was it that you ran?
R: This was 1968. And I have a scrapbook if you want to look through it and
what have you. During that time Tiny Talbot was the superintendent and
I have here in this scrapbook a letter that he wrote me complementing me
for doing that. Because it was during a time where you really did not
feel safe going places. I guess I felt safer than my husband felt with
me because sometimes I would have to go to these morning breakfasts and
he would get up and go with me early in thee mornings before going to
work. He would get up and go with me because he did not think it was
safe for me to do this.
B: Did you take a leave from your profession to run?
R: No, I did it on weekends and after work. I did not take a leave. I was
this person, I guess I was hyperactive somewhat and I just did a lot of
things all at one time.
B: And it did not take away from the job?
R: No, it did not take away from the job whatsoever.
B: Do you recall any unpleasantness during the time that you were running
for city commission?
R: No, not at all. Most of the places where I was invited someone had
already, they were planned teas, and planned coffees, and planned this,
that and the other, and the women of equal rights were supporting me and
they saw that I got to certain places and certain homes and they invited
certain people to hear me and what have you. I really think that they
did a lot of the leg work in order to be sure that I was safe and
comfortable. So, I was treated with lots of respect. I must tell you
this, that Dr. William Watson Purkey, Sr., a professor at the University
of Florida, was my campaign treasurer.
B: Was he?
R: Yes, he is not there anymore.
B: So, you had an integrated campaign?
R: Right and I have a whole long list of people, most of them university
professors, that were my supporters. I have that in my scrapbook also.
B: Have you thought about running again for the office?
R: I have thought about it, but I would not like to do it now. It requires
so much of you and I would rather just be supported. Like with Jean, Jean
Chalmers worked with me in my campaign and later she became a commissioner
and mayor of the city and she is one of my friends.
B: Now although you did not win the election that year do you feel that your
efforts were important to the community?
R: I think they were very important and the next election Neil Butler won.
B: So, Neil Butler, was our first black commissioner?
R: He was the first, yes.
B: What encouraged Cora to run for city commission when she did?
R: As I told you for jobs and what have you, I never had to go out, people
would find me, "Why don't you do this, Why don't you do that." So the
women of equal rights wanted someone to run and one afternoon when I came
home from work, a few of them were at my house including Altamese Cook and
some of the white members and said, "Look," I have forgotten whether Jean
was with them or not but, "Look, we want you to run." I said, "Charlie
is not here, I cannot do that. He is not here, I have to talk it over
with him." They said, "Will he be here before five o'clock? Because five
o'clock is the deadline and we do not have anybody running. We could not
get anybody to run and we want you to do it." And I did it, and I did not
regret it at all because I think it opened doors and it taught the other
part of the community, that we are here and we just want our rightful
place in society.
B: Has it changed very much from the year that you ran, today have things
changed that much for blacks?
R: Well, I think things have really changed because when you go in various
stores and what have you, you have black clerks. That was not just going
to happen, maybe this did not have any direct bearing on that, but once
you let a group of people know that you are in the community and you need
to be recognized as a viable part of that community, you kind of shake
things up a little bit then these things just automatically start
happening after you put forth some effort. The women of equal rights were
working on various problems and what have you so I think things did
change, well some things were legislated, but I know one thing that cannot
be legislated, love and that deep caring for people. That cannot be
legislated and there are some people, it is not that they do not like
black people so much, sometimes, I found out when I was up at Kirby it was
poor people more than anything else that people did not like very much.
B: So, it was not the color it was just level.
R: A lot of times it is just the level that you are on that people have
resentment for. Sometimes they think that this is just a parasite
because they are on welfare and this kind of thing, not realizing that
there are some people that are on welfare that if they are given a chance
they will get off of welfare and they will do well.
B: That is very true.
R: That is just a stepping stone, if you help me a little bit then I
will help myself and go on to a different level. But they kind of look
at poor people as this is where you are and it is going to be a vicious
cycle, that you are going to grow up and you are going to be on welfare
and you are going to have children that are going to be on welfare. This
happens sometimes, but in lots of instances it does not happen.
And I never was a lounge type person when I was working. A. Quinn Jones,
I was not the lounge person, I always when I finished with my class, I
went to my classroom. If I wanted a Coke, I had my Coke in my classroom
while I worked on my lesson plan or did something, corrected papers or
did something in my room. When I got to Kirby, I was not a lounge
person, I always ate with my children. I do not care what they say, you
do not have to eat with your children, they hired somebody to watch over
your children, but if I ate with my children, helped them with their
table manners and what have you, I carried a quiet class back up to my
room, I did not carry a disruptive class. Come down out of the lounge, I
say down because at Kirby we had that basement lunchroom and come down to
a noisy group and you have to yell for them and then you come back up and
you have to yell all the way up to the room and then you lose a lot of
time like that. But I stayed with my children on the playground, I do
not care how many P.E. teachers they had, I always would go and eat with
B: You ate with your children?
R: I ate with my children and when we got back up in the classroom, we were
ready for whatever.
B: That is unheard of today. Teachers do not eat with their children. They
separate, they need to be free from them.
R: They need to be free but I did not want that added pressure of trying to
get them simmered down because it is almost impossible for one person in
a lunchroom or even two to keep those children quiet and take care of
their need. Sometimes that is when they learned the most, how to eat
properly and that kind of thing. That is very important.
B: Now after you ran for city commission you were back into the school
system. You had become known in the city, in the county, you were the
first. Did you think there was resentment from the part of the people
that worked around you or did they feel that well she is so big now that
we cannot deal with her? How was that perceived, or how did you see it?
R: If people felt that way they did not treat me that way and I was not a
recluse by any means but I do my work when I am on the job, I do my work
and when I leave work, sometimes a lot of the people that may have
negative feelings, maybe I did not even come in contact with them that
day and so I do not if they had negative feelings about me or not.
B: You were the person who was at the task that you had to do?
B: You did not waste your time.
R: I stayed on the task. And in the community I got invited more places and
when I say invited, I mean to participate on boards and what have you.
B: I guess from that point you did get invited a lot.
R: Yes, because people knew, the officials and all, knew what I was
interested in. I got invited to be on the beautification program, I was
on the Citizen's Advisory Committeee for the Workable Program for the city
of Gainesville, and this was from September 1967 to September in 1972.
B: Now what was the purpose of this board?
R: It was sort of the type of federal programs and all that were coming into
Gainesville, check the force of funding and checking to see if this would
be a viable program for the community.
B: And were you all able to bring in some programs that were worthy of being
here in the city?
R: We really did not have that responsibility, but we sort of audited the
programs, or checked them out and found out what they were all about and
then advised the commission as to what we felt was a good program for the
community. I was invited to become a member Phi Delta Kappa at the
University of Florida and I am still active with Phi Delta Kappa.
B: Are you?
B: What year was that you became a member of that?
R: 1974, and it looked like things just began to happen. I was honored by
the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, of which I am a member, the Camelia Club, the
Head Start Parents of Alachua County and what have you.
B: So, really the efforts you put forth in your election, really got a chance
for people to see that blacks had something to say and were concerned about
it and were able to say something. Then all these things that you became a
member of later had something to say to you, we appreciated what Cora was
B: Now we have talked about the academic part of your life, you have got to
have a personal life. You mentioned your husband's name once, what is his
R: My husband's name is Charlie Roberson and he teaches at Westwood Middle
School, he has not retired yet.
B: He has not. You told me that today is a very important day in your life.
R: Yes, this is our thirty-second wedding anniversary.
R: Yes, and we are going out tonight to celebrate.
B: Well, excellent.
R: We are going to celebrate with the McGee's because this is also their
wedding anniversary. I think this is about their thirty-seventh.
B: And this is Ann and Ray Phil McGee?
R: Ann and Ray Phil McGee, they have been friends of ours for quite a
B: I see.
R: I have one daughter. Her name is Sharon Gay Roberson and then I have one
adopted daughter, which is a niece of mine, Adele Roberson. I enjoy them
and their children, and I like to fish, that is my hobby. I like to fish
and I have my own little boat that I go fishing in. It is a little bigger
than a john boat, it is not quite that type of boat, but I have my own
dinghy and I go fishing in that during the week sometimes. On weekends I
fish in a larger boat with my husband that has the canopy and that kind of
B: Are you very successful in your fishing?
R: Oh, yes.
R: I seem to know where they are; a fish finder.
B: Now what social clubs are you a member of?
R: I am a member of the Camelia Social Club and I am a member of Zeta Phi
Beta sorority, which is not a social club, it is based on education,
final womanhood and that kind of thing. And sometimes, people do not
get the meaning of sororities, they kind of think it is just some kind of
little organization you get into when you are in college and after
college you are kind of through with it but we go a little further than
that. We are active in the community in helping poor families, we give
scholarships and what have you, we would do tutoring, charm schools
especially for disadvantaged children because we know that these kinds of
things are important so instead of organizing another organization, we
just became active in our sorority and we did those kinds of things. And
I am a charter member of the graduate chapter and the first president,
which is called a basileus.
B: When was that organization chartered?
R: I think it was chartered in 1950, around 1950. I know it was a very
early part of the 1950s.
B: Do you have very many members?
R: Yes, we have about twenty-five members now.
R: Are you very active?
R: Yes, we are active.
B: Tell me something about the Camelliettes.
R: The Camelliettes is a social club and we are kind of fun loving
group. We have things usually for, we are not selfish, but we have
things for self-gratification like the picnics and Christmas parties and
that kind of thing. At one time we sponsored a client out at the Sunland
Training Center, bought her personal needs and what have you, we did that
for quite awhile, we kind of lost track of that young lady. She may have
moved away from Sunland to a halfway house or something but somehow we
lost track after Mrs. Renelda Davis moved to Tallahassee. She used to
work out there so we lost track of that person. And we would give baskets
to the needy on Thanksgiving, mostly special occasions, maybe a Christmas.
We worked with voter registration, the cancer drive, and things like that.
B: Approximately how many members do you have?
R: I believe we have about thirty members.
B: Are you at this point one of the officers?
R: Yes, I am vice-president and Mrs. Edna Hart is the president.
B: Now was this club organized many, many years ago?
R: Yes, the Camelliettes Club was organized maybe in the 1940s or maybe in
the early 1950s but I was not a part of the Camelliettes Club until much
later, until after I graduated.
B: Were these clubs organized in order for people to have social events?
R: Right, because we just did not have anything else to do. There were no
places to go for entertainment. Not even as much as eating out in
restaurants, we did not have much of a choice. We just had to do our
entertaining in homes so we just got kind of used to doing that kind of
thing. So most of our parties and social functions are in the homes.
B: I want to digress for a moment. Being a former student at Lincoln High
School, then coming back and being a teacher there, the Fifth Avenue area,
is referred to as being the ghetto, the problem section of town. Was that
once upon a time a pleasant place to be?
R: Yes, in fact, when I was growing up, that was the only place you
could go. I remember there was a restaurant down there, there was a
trailer at first, that was operated by Mrs. Sarah McKnight. Then
there was a little drugstore that was operated by Reverend Cato, and if
you wanted to go anyplace you went on one side of the street to Reverend
Cato's little drugstore and you ate there or bought a sandwich or what
have you or either go across on the other side to Mrs. Sarah McKnight's
and eat and that was just about the extent of it. And Fred Grill was
further on up the street.
B: So, was the living area around Lincoln High School a very pleasant place
R: Yes, it really was. It was not threatening at all. The people were
nice, a lot of the children were from that area and I did not think it
was a ghetto during that time and the houses were well kept. Even the
B: Did Cora Roberson, being a school teacher, well dressed, having your
account at Chestnut's Office Equipment, did you ever have any problem
dealing with the merchants downtown as a black young lady then?
R: I remember one particular store, I did not like to go in. It was one of
the better stores and considered one of the better stores in town and I
think maybe I bought a couple of garments from there. One of them was a
nice suit and I have it right on, not that I can wear it but I still have
that suit. Every time I would go in there they would rush to me to the
door like they thought you were going to pick up something, that is the
feeling I got and then they wanted to show you certain clothes and I
remember, I do not like red at all and inevitably they would show me a
red dress and that is not even what I would be looking for. It was just
a kind of unusual feeling and yet there were plenty of black people that
shopped in there. You have to have the cash to shop but every so often I
would go in there but I walked out of there several times and I just
decided that was not the store for me so I did a lot of my purchasing for
dresses from Personality Shop and Rudy's Dress Shop.
B: Were you allowed to come in and shop there?
R: Yes, you could go in these others too. You could go in them, it is just
that particular store, they did not seem nice or they seemed overly
concerned when you walked in the door.
B: Now at Chestnut's, you mentioned that most of the teachers had their
accounts there. Were you allowed to walk into the front and shop just
like anyone else?
R: Chestnut's had an art department and you could walk in the side door, you
could go in any door, in those stores I did not have any problem about
which door you went in or anything like that. Just the restaurants where
this happened, they wanted you to go around to the back window or
B: Were you at A. Quinn Jones, when A. Quinn Jones was closed?
R: No, it was closed after I was moved to Kirby.
B: So, you were already from there prior to that time? So you were not
R: My husband was there though, he was teaching there.
B: He was? Now when they sent you to Kirby Smith, did they explain to you
why they were moving you to Kirby Smith, as a black teacher to a white
R: No, I was just sent.
B: You did not ask questions?
R: That summer I asked questions but I did not get the right kinds of
answers. That summer, my principal and Mr. Talbott, the superintendent,
decided that I would be the person to go over there. And I had been busy
working at the university all that summer with this class, working with
teachers that were going to teach disadvantaged children, so when I heard
that all of the teachers had received their letters as to when school was
opening and their new assignment to classrooms and what have you, I had
not received one from my principal, Mrs. Jordan, and I was really
concerned. So I called her and asked her, what happened to my letter,
how come I did not get my letter stating when school was going to open
and everything. She said, "Oh, no one has told you?" I said, "Told me
what?" She said, "You are going to be at Kirby." I said, "When you
first mentioned that in a meeting, asking who wanted to go, who was going
to volunteer and go I said I certainly did not volunteer to go over
there. Who decided that I was going to go over to Kirby?" And she said
the superintendent decided. So anyway, I had to go over there and Mr.
Dwight Hunter had just been moved out of recreation, I had worked with
him in the recreation program, he was supervising that and he was made
principal of Kirby Smith. So, I was back with someone I knew again, that
I had worked with previously. So, it was not my decision to go, to be a
B: So this is how you found out, she just brought it to your attention that
R: Right, if I had not called I would not have known to go to Kirby.
B: Were you apprehensive about going?
R: Yes, very much so. I thought that was sort of unethical to do it that
way but I found out a lot of things were done during that time, sometimes
you were handled like you were a product instead of a person.
B: If Cora had decided that she did not want to go or she wanted to discuss
it, could you have had that recourse?
R: I think so, it did not seem like it, and I needed a job. I needed a
job. But see, things have changed since then, now someone could not do
that to me, and they could not do that to my daughter even.
B: Correct, but that is they way it was then?
R: They could not do it to you.
R: But then, you were so happy to have a job that you just did it.
B: Well, they did not tell you that you were going because you were one of
the most qualified person to be there, they thought you would be the best
R: When I called her she told me that the superintendent had asked her who
would fit into that position better and she said I would. But only when
B: If you had not called you would not have known. If you lived during this
time, any position that you would like to have been that you did not have
a chance to be, what would you have been?
R: I always wanted to be a lawyer, so that is probably what I would have
B: You do not want to do it now?
R: No, I really do not want to work now. I just want to work with my plants
and take care of my family which I did not have a chance to do when I was
working. I did not have a chance to do for my family all the things that
I would like to do or should have done and so I guess I am just doing
those kinds of things for my grandchildren now. And helping my daughters
out with the children.
R: But I do not let them tie me down however.
B: You do not?
B: If a group came to you today, let's say that same group of ladies that
came to you and said Cora we need you to run for this office, if they
came to you today and said the same thing to you again, would Cora
R: No, I would say, "Look Jean Chalmers did a fantastic job. Let Jean do
it, let anyone do it. I am not interested now." I am not interested in
doing it personally, but I was then.
B: Of course, being the black person that you have been and involved in the
system, you had to be a part of a church. And your church affiliation is
R: Emanuel Missionary Baptist Church. That is on Northeast Eighth Avenue
right by the Armory.
B: Are you active there?
R: Very active. I went to prayer meeting last night and Bible study
and I am the financial secretary for the church.
B: Is the church playing the part it can play in the community today?
R: No, you mean my particular church?
B: Just church in general.
R: Well, I will tell you what, the church still seemingly has a burden of
trying to take care of the needy, the very needy, trying to help educate
and train children, that kind of thing. So, it is playing an important
part, sometimes I think it is doing even more than some of the homes
especially of the young people. Sometimes they send their children to
church and to Sunday School and they do not come themselves. They are
kind of leaving that responsibility some of them, on the church.
B: It should not be there?
R: Not totally.
B: In the early years of teaching and in your latter years of teaching, did
you seem to see that there was more of a need or children more wanting
education than they did in the last years?
R: Yes, in the earlier years it seemed like children were eager to learn but
later it seems as if though it was just kind of a struggle. Some of the
children were there because they had to be there. I do not know whether
there were other things on their minds or seemingly other things were on
their minds and some of them were not as interested in school as they
used to be. And I do not know whether it had something to do with the
teaching or a breakdown in the family or what have you. During the time
I was going to school, I went because I liked to go to school and I had
to go to school, I had no choice, and so I liked it.
B: What do you mean you had no choice?
R: I could not quit and go to work like some of the children did. Some
would quit and go to work.
B: So, it was part of the home training as well as the school.
R: Right. I think that is the way it should be right now. I think that the
home should play the same type of role. They should stress that education
is important and when children are little then they do not have any
choice, they should be going to school and usually they will learn to like
B: What is your impression of how integration has affected education?
R: Well, I may not think about it the same way a lot of people think, some
people think that it has really helped a whole lot. But I have seen
smarter students and more of them come out of an all segregated school
than I have out of the integrated system.
B: You have?
R: I have, because now if you do not get your lesson you may be sent to run
errands, you may be put outside the door, you may be sent out to help the
custodian pick up paper or what have you, but during the time I was
going, you kept that child in the classroom and you taught him, whether
he wanted to learn or not. He had to produce some kind of work or else
the teacher would be willing to stay with him after school until a mother
came looking for him or you could call or send someone to tell their
parents Johnny is here with me because Johnny is going to do his work
before he goes home. Now that is unheard of now.
B: It sure is. And so you feel that you had better students coming out when
you had that class rule, that teacher knew that parent and made sure that
B: What has happened to our children? What is going to happen to the black
R: I would hate to predict that because you are always going to have some
black children that are going to do well in an integrated situation.
They will do well anywhere you put them because they want to, they have
that drive to do well and you cannot keep them down. We do not have
enough because I truly believe during the time that I was teaching we
have had some children to change their minds from not wanting to be
something, to I am going to be something to keep my bottom from being
B: Do you believe in that part of the culture?
R: I did not really believe in it and I did not really do much of that but I
would make you stay in after school and do that work. You had to do
something. Sometimes I would find out that maybe I was requiring a
little too much but at least you have got to do something to show me that
you are trying to do your work. But mothers when I said bottom would be
sore sometimes parents would get on them. I would have to beg the
parents not to get on their children for not doing their work. And
sometimes the parents would expect more out of a child than he could do
and I could usually pick that up. Either with a battery of tests or
sometimes from observation, but I always liked to have a battery of tests
to maybe back up what I thought so it would not be mere speculation.
B: Do you think you would go back to the neighborhood schools?
R: It may not work now because you do not have the same caliber of young
people, black or white, teaching. They unionized in most cases and what
have you and they did not get the same type of upbringing that we have,
and it may not work.
B: Would you go back into the classroom today?
R: I would go back in a neighborhood school, like in the Fifth Avenue area.
If someone would finance a school like that I would go back and give it
everything I have.
B: You would?
R: I certainly would. That is the only kind of school I would go back into.
B: Do you do any substituting or enrichment teaching now?
R: No, I do not. I just work with my children at home.
B: We have talked about Cora Roberson this morning and I have enjoyed
talking with you about you. If you had to tell me and the person coming
behind me something that you think is important that you would like to
impart with them, what would that be?
R: I would probably say to always have in mind a goal and just continue
working toward that goal. Do not let obstacles keep you from getting to
that goal if you possibly can but set your stakes high and just keep
working at it. My grandmother used to say, "Just hoe your row out to the
B: Now you have talked about your grandmother several times, now what was
R: My grandmother's name, she is my great grandmother, her name was Rosa
Hall Jenkins. And she always used that whole name. She lived to be
105 years old.
B: Did she live in this area?
R: She lived in Putnam County, down in Johnson.
B: Has Cora Roberson been a fulfilled person?
R: Yes, very much so.
B: And have you been very pleased?
B: I have enjoyed talking to you this morning.
R: Well, it was very delightful having you here and I enjoyed talking with
B: Thank you.
R: I did not know that there was that much to say about Cora Roberson.
B: I am quite sure that there are some areas that we have not gotten into,
but thank you very kindly.