Getting More Help in the Race Against Time!

I know I’ve been silent for almost six weeks, but so much has happened since my last post! For one thing I finally got to interview my aunt and some other interesting characters. But that is another post altogether. What I want to tell you all about now is the week or so leading up to the interviews.

For my project I wanted to create a context in which to present the interviews.  I wanted to provide evidence of South Carolina’s first sales tax, issued in 1951 by former governor James F. Byrnes. This sales tax garnered revenue to fund the “equalization” campaign.  I also wanted to provide evidence for the Millicent F. Brown et al vs. School District No. 20, Charleston, South Carolina case. This 1963 case supplied a precedent for South Carolina schools to integrate.

Unfortunately, the evidence I desired lay in the Special Collections at Clemson University (sales tax) and the Avery Research Center (Brown case). Both places were located pretty far from Horry County and due to time constraints, I knew I would not be able to go and look through the James F. Byrnes papers and the Millicent F. Brown papers to find exactly what I wanted. I tried calling both locations to see how much they would charge to send me scanned copies of papers in folders relevant to my topic. Let’s just say they encouraged me to come in. But that was impossible!

So there I was in a dilemma! I was freaking out, and what was worse, I had to go do my interviews without the detailed context. Fortunately, I called Ms. Millicent Brown (yes the very one the 1963 case was named after!). She is director of the “Somebody Had to Do It” project. This project documents the testimonies of South Carolinians who first integrated in public schools. She will be collecting my interviews at the end of the summer to be used for the project. Ms. Brown was gracious enough to allow me to ask her questions in regards to my project.

I called Ms. Brown and confessed all my troubles. She suggested that I ask Clemson University’s Special Collections and the Avery Research Center for specific items (such as court transcripts/legal papers) pertaining to the information I wanted. This would save me time and money. She also suggested that if this method did not work that I should check out R. Scott Baker’s book Paradoxes of Desegregation: African American Struggles for Educational Equity in Charleston, South Carolina, 1926-1972. She assured me that this book would have detailed information about her case.

Ms. Brown also helped me understand exactly what type of context I wanted to create for my interviews. I believed that the sales tax and the whole “equalization” effort was a reaction to Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. I also thought it was a sincere effort to help the black schools improve their conditions. As a result, I was on my way to creating a context that didn’t corroborate anything my aunt had told me about her experience! However, Ms. Brown informed me that the sales tax and “equalization” was done in anticipation of Brown vs. Board. As a matter of fact, “equalization” was done more as a “tongue and cheek effort”.[1] The “equalization” process was intended to give black schools enough improvements to keep black parents from petitioning for integration. Luckily this didn’t work and Ms. Brown’s parents began their case.

Ms. Brown also gave me some tips about how to approach interviewing (because to be honest, I was soooo unsure!). Earlier on, she had read my interview questions. She said that nothing in particular was wrong with the questions. Yet the wording of the questions would mostly afford me data. Yet, the nature of my project was going after more than data. The project implied that I was trying to get testimonies about how the circumstances of segregation and integration affected the interviewee and their community. For this reason, Ms. Brown suggested that I should take my cues from the interviewee. She suggested that I should not approach the interviewee as if I knew everything about their experience, but at the same time, not expects them to know all the facts surrounding their circumstances. I should allow them to tell their stories, and if the occasion arises, I should ask them if they knew anything about the facts (what I had researched) that shaped their experiences.

She also suggested that the word “integration”, for this project, may not be the right word to use. “Integration” implies that the process of desegregation had long since set in. As a result (since I was mostly interviewing students who first desegregated in the Horry County community), “desegregation” would probably be a better word to use.

After this talk I was much more confident about what type of context I wanted to create for these interviews and how to go about finding the supporting evidence. I was also more confident about how to conduct my interviews in order to receive effective feedback.

Stay tuned for my next post about the interviews!!!

[1] Words of Ms. Millicent Brown.