Oral History Interview with Dr. Andrew Best December 9, 1998

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH DR. ANDREW BEST December 9, 1998 Interviewer: Ruth Moskop Transcribed by: Sabrina Coburn 30 Total Pages Copyright 1999 by East Carolina University. All rights reserved. No part of this document may Be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from East Carolina University.

RM: Good Morning. My name is Ruth Moskop. I'm here to conduct the second of our recorded interviews with Dr. Best. We're in his office in Greenville, North Carolina. It's December 9, 1998. Dr. Best, when we left off last time you had pretty well finished up the story of the founding of East Carolina School of Medicine, and had told us a good bit about minority contributions to the development of our wonderful medical school here. Let's tie into that a little bit and remember since we met last time, one of our minority physicians here in Eastern North Carolina has passed away, and I know you are a good friend of his. Can you tell us a little about that? (00:52)

AB: Not only a friend, but he was one of my main mentors and supporters after I came into private practice, Dr. Joseph Dudley Weaver of Ahoskie, North Carolina. He was born and raised in Winton, North Carolina, finished medical school, and was accepted to Howard. He was in the Old North State Medical Society when I came out of school and joined the Old North State. From that vantage point, I got to know him, and he was a very good friend and a mentor. He taught me a lot in terms of bridging the gap from institutional training medicine-what we call textbook medicine-to the practicality of medicine out in the Hinter Lands and what you had to do. My associations through the years with Dr. Weaver were very good, and I was very proud when his daughter finished high school and began to do her college work. That's Claudia. She applied and was accepted at the ECU Medical School. I was her godfather over here in medicine and of course, I didn't have any real problems cause Claudia was a bright young lady. She applied herself and she did her work. After she finished ECU Medical School of Medicine, she went to Michigan and did her residency in OB/GYN. Now she is back in North Carolina and in Ahoskie doing obstetrics and gynecology. Of course, it was her attitude toward her family values that lured her back. She had many other good offers-probably offers that were much more lucrative, as well as self-satisfying than that of a little country town-but rural community is where she came at the request and insistence of her father and her mother. So I'm very proud of Claudia, and very proud to say I'm one of her godfathers in the profession of medicine. I attended Dr. Weaver's funeral and it was very well attended. He was very well liked and highly thought of, highly respected and of course, it goes without saying that that community will not be the same without him. He made many significant contributions to the field of medicine and community life. (03:50)

RM: It's wonderful to have his daughter back in the community.

AB: Very wonderful, very wonderful.

RM: ECU graduate that came back, it's another dream fulfilled I think.

AB: Another dream fulfilled, exactly correct.

RM: Is she still a Weaver?

AB: No, she met at young man in Michigan, and she married him. She's Claudia Weaver, it will come to me. The name escapes me right now, but it will come to me, but she's married and does not have any children yet.

RM: So, she's still a young woman?

AB: Oh, yes, still a very young woman.

RM: You wouldn't happen to remember about when she graduated, would you?

AB: Let's see, now she did a three-year, graduated, did a three-year residency and she has been back in practice, roughly maybe about four to five years, so we're looking at eight years since medical school. (05:05)

RM: About 1990, somewhere.

AB: Somewhere.

RM: Somewhere around that time.

AB: Yeah, somewhere in that.

RM: That's wonderful.

AB: About 1990 would be a good guess and...

RM: Hope I get to meet her one of these days.

AB: Yeah. I'm sure you will. Yeah, very delightful person.

RM: Well, Dr. Best, is it all right if we go back and talk about your beginnings in Eastern North Carolina?

AB: Yes. We'll go back now. Now where should I start?

RM: Well tell us where you were born and where?

AB: Uhhuh.

RM: And a little bit about your family.

AB: Yeah, I was born and reared in Eastern North Carolina, in a sister county called Lenoir County, and Kinston is the county seat of Lenoir County. I was born in a family of ten children Mother and father raised ten children. There were four boys and six girls, and I was boy number three of the boys, and actually the eighth child in a family of ten. We grew up in a rural community and I went to elementary school at a segregated two-room school where we had two teachers. One teacher taught from the first through the fourth grades, and the second teacher taught fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. It is interesting in that school experience that just as I was finishing the fourth grade that two-room school was condemned. My father, who was a member of the community church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, was one of the instrumental lobbyists among the neighborhood fathers inquiring the superintendent to grant the permission to use the church as a school because they did not want their children to be out of school. In that segregated society, at the time, there were buses for the white kids who were going to so-called consolidated schools, but the education for minority students still was confined to those one or two-room neighborhood schools. Had it not been for the graciousness of the church members to offer the Jericho church as a place for the neighborhood children to go to school, we would have been left out of it for at least three years. It took the county three years to get the building of a new school into the budget so that the neighborhood school children could have a school house to go to. So in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, my elementary education was carried out in the sanctuary portion of the neighborhood church, the Jericho AME Zion church. It is also very interesting that there was no high school in the county for minorities. There was one high school in Kinston, so-called for colored. The Adkin High School in Kinston served the minority kids who were interested in going on to high school. At that time it was not all in one. There were two school boards in one county, one city. There was no resistance to the minority kids from the country enrolling in Adkin High School, which was geographically in Kinston. Of course, they, the family or the kids, had to find a way to get to school-their own transportation and in many instances, the kids from Jones county and the surrounding counties in the country around Lenoir, the parents would find somewhere for them to stay over. They'd take them to town and stay in a place on Monday and go back and pick them up on Friday. (10:20)

RM: So they could go to school in Kinston?

AB: So they could go to school in Kinston High School.

RM: What was the name of that school again?

AB: Adkin A-D-K-I-N, Adkin High School in Kinston. I lived about four miles from the school out in the country right on HWY 11. My experience was walking to school from four miles in the country or hitching a ride or so called thumbing, as the case may go. There was one gentleman who lived in the country about two miles beyond where I-where we lived who worked in as a hardware a clerk over in Kinston, B. W. Kennedy Hardware. He got to know me and my sister when we'd walk. On the way to school, he would stop and pick us up and take us on. A lot of the time, in the morning we caught a ride with this gentleman and we didn't have to walk, but then we had to walk back. Well, in my last two years in high school, my older brother, who had been out of school for about four years, decided that he would go back to finish high school. So, he went back to school and for the tenth and eleventh grade. At that time, high schools had eleven grades. So, my older brother had a car and the scenario was that we would all get on the car and go to school in the morning around eight, leave home around eight, get to school around 8:30. I arranged my schedule, especially during my senior year, after my dad died. He died in June between my junior and senior years in high school. The year after he died, it was kind of touch and go. Both of us main boys were going to be able to stay in school and run the farm. We were farmers and looking after the family. So, with my older brother having a car, we were riding to school and I made my schedule so I could finish my classes at 12:00. I would walk back home and work until my brother could join me when he could leave school around four and get back home. So, that's the scenario we had my senior year, which was a little bit difficult. We did a lot of things at night, by moonlight, even did some plowing by moonlight, and ...(13:27)

RM: You were active school as well, weren't you?

AB: Very active at school. I was a member of the Dramatic Club, the Glee Club, the Sentinel Club, which was more or less what we call in modern times the School Patrol-to try to maintain the quorum and behavior of the kids in study classes, and auditoriums. So I was very active in extracurricular activities. I was on the school newspaper as one of the writers and editors, co-editor of the school paper. Those were good experiences, I guess, in good days, but yet they were very busy and I was very fortunate to have a cadre of teachers who had a great concern for students who shared the willingness to want to learn. So from that point, those teachers were very cooperative. If I had to be out of school a day because of the pressure of work, my sister would always bring me back the notes from the teachers. When it came time to pass the exams, all of that was crucial. The fact that I was out of school, I missed maybe in the run of that month-maybe I might miss two or three days out of school, but that never cost me because I did my work and thanks to the benevolence of the teachers who cared and who tried to inspire and to encourage, I got out of high school in May of 1936. (15:33)

RM: Hold the phone right there just a second.

AB: Yeah.

RM: Before you grow up any farther, can you tell us a little about the values that your parents instilled in you as a child?

AB: Yes, I can. Now those values are very, very, important. My father was a stickler for what he called honesty, and he always would quote from the Bible saying "do unto others as you would have them to do unto you." He was a no-nonsense person when it came to behavior and respect, not only for him and my mother, but for our neighborhood leaders. My mother had an older sister who was one of the well-known neighborhood leaders, Aunt Sarah. She could take any or all of the neighborhood kids out to a picnic, or to an Easter egg hunt, or whatever the function. Maybe have a total control of fifty, sixty, or seventy-five children, just as if their own mothers and fathers were there, but it was because those parents insisted on certain values. If children were playing in somebody else's yard and found one red copper penny, they'd always take that penny and say Ms. Jones or Ms. Brown, here's a penny I found out here in the yard. It was that kind of thing. It was really-you didn't understand then the real magnitude of the value of that kind of training or that kind of attitudes being developed, behavior patterns being developed, but in later years, you could understand how important they were. (17:40)

RM: What about the relationship between you and your brothers and sisters?

AB: Now the relationship with the brothers and sisters, it was always a going. You know, that's something we didn't harp about. It was understood that if the mother and father were absent, the next person in charge was the oldest child. So, in other words, I was challenged to behave or to respect everybody in the family chain that was older than I. I'm the eighth child out of a family of ten, so there are seven people above me-anyone of which could give me some orders. At that time, we called it directions. We hated to say orders, but we said directions and could expect those directions to be complied with or carried out. (18:48)

RM: And how did your parents teach you to respond to your teachers at school?

AB: At school, the teacher was in charge. The teacher was definitely in charge, and an incident comes to mind that there was a teacher who for reason or another-1 don't know why, never was able to figure out-had a kind of a negative reaction towards a young lady named Luella, Luella Chapman. Luella, in all of my observations and thinking, was not a. mischievous little girl, but the teacher just didn't like her. I don't know why. She'd always exercise at violence school. I called it abuse later, child abuse, but she wouldn't hesitate. She would say, "Well Luella, come here" and she'd start striking her. On this particular day, I was sitting between Luella and the teacher. She carne down that aisle and she hit across me, hitting at Luella, and it hit me on top of the head.(20:07)

RM: What was she using to hit Luella?

AB: She was using, what we called a poker from the stove. It was wood, dried wood, a little bit larger that the thumb. Oh, about two and a half feet long.

RM: Sounds like a switch.

AB: Yeah. And it broke the skin on my head. We lived close enough to school so that for lunch, my sisters and I and my brothers, we went home for lunch. So, I went home at 12:00 and gave my spill to my mother that Ms. Jones was hitting at Luella, hit me, and broke the skin on my head. There was a little blood up there, and that had me excited. So, mother relayed the information on to Dad. Dad went to school to talk with Ms. Jones. And when I had eaten my sandwich, I started back to school. Dad had been to school, had talked to Ms. Jones, and was on his way back home. So, as I approached him, he said "Boy?" I said "Yes, sir." "You go back to that school and you behave yourself." Something just went from my head all the way down to my feet. Now, what did Dad mean? I had behaved myself. I wasn't doing anything. It took me some years, maybe five or ten years to really understand what dad meant-the lesson he was trying to teach me. I finally unraveled it. He wasn't going to give me any reason to think that the teacher was not in charge and that she was not responsible, and that I could stick my little chest out, and say "Now if you do so and so, I'll tell my father and he will get you straight." Now, I don't know what he said to her. Dad never told me. If he told mother, she never told me. But, I do know that Ms. Jones was a different person after then. Now, in that community setup, there was a minority group of neighborhood fathers, who acted as an advisory board to the school superintendent, who was white. I surmised that Ms. Jones was a different person after that, and she taught there another couple of years, but she was a different person all together. After I went through all of my schooling, I came back to Greenville. Ms. Jones had moved and spent years in New York, and she came back to North Carolina on a visit. To my surprise, she made her way to my office, and oh, she was full of compliments-"Congratulations, I'm so proud of you. I remember you as one of my students" and I wanted to tell her that I remember you as one of my teachers... (23:55)

RM: Not with any particular good memories.

AB: Yeah. Not good memories, but I was very kind and very cordial and accepted her compliments. But all the while, I was saying to myself, "Whatever I am, I am in spite of you, not because of you."

RM: Oh, goodness. How many people were in that class? How many students were in the one room?

AB: In the one room, she had roughly twenty-five to thirty students.

RM: About three different grades?

AB: Yes. Three different grades. Actually, she had prima first, first grade, second grade, third grade, and fourth grade. She had all of those and then the teacher for the upper level had fifth, sixth, and seventh grades in the elementary school.(24:52)

RM: Can you remember how that old building looked where you went to school?

AB: Yes. I can remember. It was a two-room building. After it underwent ravages of weather, it was beginning to kind of lean a little bit before the county condemned it.

RM: How was it. ..I'm sorry, go ahead.

AB: I wanted to get this part in about Luella's sister when the incident happened. Luella's older sister was in the other room, and the way the school was made up, those two-room schools had doors for the kids to exit and enter on the south side of the school, but there was a door in the wall between the two-room schools. It was usually locked. Each teacher had a key that they could go use. The teacher would more or less use that door to get from one room to the other. One day, the older daughter, Luella's older sister, Mabel, heard Ms. Jones. The walls were thin. You could hear through there. She heard Ms. Jones over there. So, she just got right up and walked out, and there was baseball bat sitting right next to the doorstep. She took that baseball bat and had gotten over to Ms. Jones's room and was corning in and somebody said, "Ms. McCoy, Ms. McCoy, Mabel is gone with the baseball bat." So, the teacher of the upper part, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade, went through this communicating door. She met her student, Mabel, corning in to jump on Ms. Jones, got her corralled, and took her back. That was the only thing that saved Ms. Jones from... (26:50)

RM: From a baseball bat bashing.

AB: ...from a baseball bat bashing.

RM: From the wrath of Mabel.

AB: Yes. From the wrath of Mabel.

RM: Oh, goodness.

AB: I was just an incident, but things straightened out and level off. Those were little incidents, I guess, to act as the spice of life in those days.

RM: Kept you interested in what was going on.

AB: That's exactly right.

RM: How old were you when you learned to read? Do you remember?

AB: Oh, I was able to when I went to school. I knew my alphabet and could read simple things-taught from my older brothers and sisters. From the time that I was about five years old, I learned my alphabet, and had begun to be able... In fact, it had to be early five, because the first year that I went to school, I would not have been six until November, the twenty-sixth. They didn't have this law where you're cut off if you're not born until the next year. So, they didn't have that then. So, I went to school as a student in the prima and then on to the first grade. Actually, I was five years old, but I could read when I went to school. I knew my alphabet. (28:37)

RM: You got it. That's the foundation. Did you have any particular subjects that you liked better than others in the early years?

AB: I liked math and I loved to read, math and reading, and of course, I was always proud of the fact that when they had those old-fashioned spelling bees, I was never satisfied if I was not the last person standing. On Fridays, when we had the spelling bee, everybody gathered up and stood in line-might be twelve of us and the teacher would go along and call out words, and when you missed a word, you had to sit down. This process of elimination would go on until there would be only two people standing, and I was always very proud of that. There were no words that I couldn't spell. So, those are some good experiences during the elementary school period. (30:00)

RM: Did you miss any days as a child because of sickness?

AB: No, no. I was lucky. I never missed any school days because of sickness.

RM: How were those rooms heated-the schoolrooms?

AB: They were heated by wood heaters; space heaters, they called them. They would stand up, just about as tall as a person, and you would have a door where you would fuel it by wood. On a contract with the Superintendent of Schools, there was a gentleman who would bring us ash and oak wood, and he would always deliver and pile it up, and it would be cut in such ways that it would go right into the heater-large space heater. And in those days, I guess we all survived, as far as the weather was concerned. It was fairly comfortable because usually some older student would be designated to be at the school a half an hour early to be sure to make a fire and have the schoolroom warmed up before the students come in. (31:22)

RM: And what about your supplies, your books and pencils, paper? How did that work?

AB: Books, papers, and pencils were a little bit scanty. In many instances, we got hand-me-down books from the white kids-books that they had abandoned or thrown away. We got them, and of course, some of them were so-called newer books that were prescribed and the parents had to buy those books. When we first went to school, they'd have a list of books that we needed as a child and it would be up to our parents to go ahead and purchase those books. (32:12)

RM: And, did you write in notebooks?

AB: Yeah. We had notebooks, and we had to keep notebooks on various classes. Those notebooks were marked based on the correctness and the legibility, and how they looked, and that entire sort of thing.

RM: Well, tell me, you had mentioned that you had some healthcare, some contact with healthcare professionals as you were growing up. Who would those people have been?

AB: Now, those people really were school nurses that were recommended and supplied by the health department. They would come out and they'd give vaccinations and those basic immunizations. I got my smallpox vaccine. It was one that we got. It would be a little sore that would take some time to heal, and it would always leave a permanent scar. Our school nurse was a lady who was the wife of a lawyer, the first one in Kinston, named Ms. Georgia Battle. She was a school nurse, and she'd make her rounds, roughly about every month to see if there were any problems. Of course, every spring, she was always the person to come out to give the immunizations. Now, some of the kids were afraid of a needle or afraid of the immunizations, they would want to stay home. Whenever the news went out that the health nurse was coming, most of the parents insisted that there was no need for you to complain of anything today because you're going to school. (34:25)

RM: Take care of it.

AB: Take care of the immunizations, yes indeed.

RM: Can you remember others besides the smallpox that you would have gotten?

AB: Well, the routines. We weren't given measles at that time. I remember we were given whooping cough. The whooping cough and the smallpox were two of the main ones and later on, we got the measles and the mumps. Then the school system got into the required immunizations. Of course, we got the lockjaw, tetanus.

RM: That would be an important one on the farm.

AB: Oh, yes, yes. Very, very important on the farm.

RM: What happened on your farm? Did you grow crops primarily, raise animals? (35:25)

AB: Yes. Well, we did some of all of it. We basically started off with our basic products of tobacco, cotton, corn, and of course... Are you still recording?

RM: Still running.

AB: Basics like tobacco, cotton, and corn, and of course, we grew peanuts, and what we called truck farming. That would take up your vegetables-your rutabagas, turnips, beans, green beans, and sweet corn. Well, we did a lot of it, because in later years, my older brother had a line of customers that he would supply twice a week with vegetables. That was one of the things we did to survive and get money to operate on-what we called truck, the vegetable part of our farm, even though the basis of it was cotton, corn, and tobacco. Then, later on, we had some animals. We always raised hogs and chickens, and later on, started raising some cows. Of course, in the wintertime, in December and January, we would always have some hogs to kill and dress, where we would make the pork and the pork sausages. By large, our father tried to raise enough food that about the only thing we had to purchase in the line of food was what we didn't have, maybe flour to make the biscuits, or to make the loaf bread, and a few other things like that we couldn't raise. We used to grow sugar cane, which would make molasses syrup, and have a whole barrel full of that so we could eat. We could have molasses and then the fruit; peaches and apples. Mother did a lot of canning. So, we always had a full supply of canned food that we could fall back on. (38:04)

RM: Did you all have milk?

AB: Yes. We milked two cows, so we had our own milk. And of course, the cream on top of the milk, we'd make our own butter.

RM: Were the children responsible for that energy, to make the butter?

AB: Oh, yeah. You put that cream in ajar and shake it, shake it, shake it until all the milk would come out of it. Now, after many years, we grew up from the shaking of a jar to having a churn. You know, the old-fashioned churn where you would have to turn that handle, and have those blades inside to turn the thing that would whip up the milk to separate that milk from the cream. Of course, if you let milk set long enough, it would sour and turned into what we called clabber. Ever heard about clabber? (39:16)

RM: Yes, but I don't know what it is.

AB: See, clabber is milk which has undergone enzymatic actions from certain bacteria that are in the milk, and it will become curried and gelled. Now, if you let that clabber stay out several days, it will within itself tum back to that gel formation, andre-liquefy under the enzymatic action. That's whey.

RM: Oh my.

AB: Yeah.

RM: Well, thank you for that explanation.

AB: Yeah. That's all it is.

RM: Tell me a little more about the ribbon cane that you grew. (40:04)

AB: The sugar cane that we grew would grow about as tall as from the floor up to the joyce. September would be about the main month that it would get ripe. It had a head of seed up in the top. You'd strip off those leaves, which is called the fedic, and it would leave you just a stalk. A stalk would be maybe eight to ten feet long. There would be a man called the molasses cooker. It was a portable mill where when we got ready, we'd contact him and say "Well, I'll have my cane stalk in such in a week." He'd come in, move in, settle in, and we'd run those stalks through a mill, and it would crush them and get all of the juice out. Then that juice was poured into a pan [rocker] where he'd cook it. The pan had different compartments that you'd start down to the front end and it would rotate long. The pan ran about twelve feet long, somewhere about that, and you'd have to fix it up so you would have some fire under there and it would cook. You'd rotate it until the temperature would evaporate all the water from the juice. It would make that molasses and it was cooked or done, it would be a very beautiful kind of an auburn color syrup. You've seen molasses. (42:01)

RM: I enjoy eating molasses very much.

AB: All right, all right. But that country-made cane molasses, you can't duplicate it. It's Grandma's. Not that stuff you buy from the food markets. There's no substitute for that good old homemade molasses.

RM: Did you all produce enough to can and sell to other people?

AB: Well, we would always would have some, enough for ourselves, and to let the neighbors have some, some by selling, some by giving. My mother was always a very, very liberal person when it came to giving of her neighbors, whatever it was she had.

RM: I'm going to tum the tape over now.

AB: Okay. (42:55) END OF TAPE I

RM: So, your mother was good about sharing what she had with other people.

AB: Yeah. She was very good about sharing with other people. I've never known her yet to get a request from a neighbor for some potatoes or some meal, and have her tum down a request. She just didn't do that.

RM: Did she have chickens, too?

AB: Oh, yes. We raised chicken poultry. So, we had eggs. All of that's farm produce.

RM: Sounds like you had a very healthy, wholesome environment.

AB: It was good and with the family values that my dad insisted upon, there was no basic friction between us children growing up. We loved and respected each other. It doesn't mean that one brother or one sister wouldn't get angry sometimes, once in a while, but nothing major.(01:15)

RM: Did your mother also have certain herbs that she could share with neighbors or did the neighbors share?

AB: Yes. Now, she grew herbs in the garden, and the herb that was used most often for all ailments, was called rue. I guess its spelled r-u-e. Rue was used for any kind of fever or headache. There's another herb called tansy, which was good for headaches and catnip, and then we had rabbit tobacco, which we called. It grew out in the straw fields in the ground that had been farmed and had been lying fallow for a year. It grew up a lot of rabbit tobacco. You gathered that about this time, after the frost would hit it, and it was very good to make tea, for colds and chest congestion. It worked. It really worked. There were a whole lot of herbs which we used. Now the sassafras, the roots from the sassafras were used to make tea. We would use that just like people drink iced tea. It wasn't used only as a medicine. It was used as a condiment, also. Just like coffee. You make coffee to drink, or sassafras tea to drink. Epsom salt was another good one. If a child seemed to be a little constipated, you'd give a dose of Epsom salt. Don't let me forget castor oiL Ever heard of castor oil? (03:26)

RM: I've heard of it.

AB: Castor oil was one of the-well quinine and castor oil were two of the stabilizers. If you came in with a headache, you got some castor oil. If you came in with a stomachache, you got some castor oil and quinine. A many a day, I can remember when dad wanted you to drink castor oil. You wanted kind of halfway to resist. He'd hold your nostrils and put the spoon of castor oil in your mouth, and you'd have to swallow it to get so you could breathe. (4:13)

RM: He had his ways.

AB: Oh, yes.

RM: Taking care of your colds.

AB: Taking care of the kids.

RM: Yeah.

AB: Quinine and castor oil.

RM: What about tallow and molasses?

AB: Tallow is beef fat. Mix tallow and molasses, that's another syrup. Well, we made it spiked with a little bit of vinegar. That's very, very good for congestion. I can swear by that, because I've used it. Yes, indeed, tallow and molasses syrup. A lot of the times, you'd take some of that tallow and put it on a cloth, like a flannel cloth, and hold it close to the fire, to the heater, get it nice and warm. Put some tallow on there, and put that to the chest, and just put on your sweatshirt and leave it there overnight. The next day, you're just coughing all of that stuff up. (05:16)

RM: Loosens up the phlegm.

AB: Loosens up the phlegm. That's true.

RM: You mentioned a physician named Joseph Harrison.

AB: Dr. Joseph P. Harrison was my old family doctor and he was a very kind, gentle man, and my role model. A man who I'm sure is responsible for many of my philosophical stances of medicine. He never said no to anybody and was always willing to give service, and he made many, many house calls. One of his pet statements when he'd treat a person, "Well, if anything goes wrong, call up." He was very instrumental. In fact, his oldest daughter was a high school classmate of mine. She was a very, very smart girl. She finished as the Salutatorian of our class and Dr. Harrison would always come out to see about his daughter and for many of us country boys and girls. At that time, a dime would buy you a can of pork and beans and one of those small loaves of bread. We called it a "five cent" loaf bread, and then later it went up to a six cents loaf bread. Well you'd take the large knife and with that one loaf of bread, you'd cut it in half and open your can of pork and beans. Then you'd mash down the soft part of the bread and make a little hole in there and pour half of the pork beans in one half and half in the other, and you'd get a meal for two kids, you know. That's eleven cents. Well, Dr. Harrison, when he would come by and stop to bring his daughter, Madeline some money, he'd usually, see all his patients. My family members were all his patients. There were some of other families, too. He'd usually leave fifty cents or a dollar to be spread around among us country kids. He was always an inspiration. And after appreciating what he worked, I know that's what got me interested in the medical profession. It was seeing Dr. Harrison's work and seeing his attitude toward life and living and people. (08:00)

RM: Did he help people in your family with difficult illnesses?

AB: Did he what now?

RM: Did he help your family with any prolonged illnesses?

AB: He was our family doctor. Now, my baby brother, who had a bout with the most serious illnesses in my family, other than my father. He doctored my father until he died. He died of renal failure, had kidney failure and not long after my father died, my baby brother had a case of typhoid. For whatever it was in my family, Dr. Harrison took care of it, if he was available. Once in a long while, he was out of town or something, there was another minority physician, Dr. Charles Bynum. Dr. Bynum would see the family member in the absence of Dr. Harrison, but Dr. Harrison was our main doctor. (09:00)

RM: What could he do to treat typhoid and renal failure in those days?

AB: Well, in those days, your treatment was supportive; supportive in terms of nutrition and he'd try to control the fever with various types of aspirin. In those days for typhoid, we didn't have the antibiotic that we developed later in the days of chloropicrin and some of the others. I'm sure a lot of people died of the complications of typhoid, which usually the disease itself caused some kind of mini ulcers of the GI tract. Some of them were bleeding and some of them were infected and causing a lot of pus. The clinical characteristics of typhoid were diarrhea and inability to maintain enough for nutrition. So, the idea was to give the person a kind of salve or soups or gruel-like foods to try to do the best you can to keep up the nutrition and try to control the diarrhea. Now, when it comes to renal failure, there's not much you could do with that, except to hope that nature would step in and kind of correct the problem. Now, you can put them on dialysis and they live on another ten years or better, but in those days, we didn't have much to offer, really. (11:11)

RM: Did it happen quickly with your dad, suddenly he was having troubles and then...

AB: Dad lasted about nine months. It was about nine months that he lasted. When he got really sick enough for him to complain, we'd start having the doctor to come and see him. He took him in to the hospital in March. Of course, at that time, no minority was on staff at the hospital, Lenoir Memorial Hospital. He had to refer him to another doctor. When he ran the tests on him and found out that he really had kidney failure, we accepted it as being terminal. That was a long is March and I think he lasted until June 22nd of that year, and finally succumbed. (12:15)

RM: That was a big loss to your family.

AB: Oh, yes. Big loss. As a child growing up, as I mentioned before, my dad was a no-nonsense disciplinarian. I would wonder why I couldn't go to the neighborhood baseball game on Saturday afternoon or what not. Dad would say no, I want you to go down in the field and do this or that or another. He would always find something that just needed to be done before Monday, or Saturday afternoon. As a child, I said "Well I'll be glad when I get grown, so I can do like I please." But suddenly, when dad left me as an eighteen year old, I found out very, very quickly that the question of do as I please was far more possible under his administration than it was for my facing the world out there. You know the people with whom you had to do business, see the realities of life. As an eighteen-year-old, I never realized the realities of life or what he had to deal with to provide for me, his child. I knew when it came time to eat, I always sat down. And there was going to be some kind of food on the table, enough to satisfy your hunger. How it came and how it got there, that was another problem, but I didn't know it and I didn't see it then. But I had to do a whole lot of growing up in a very short time to begin to cope with the realities. I'm not ashamed to say this. Many a day, when I got where there was nobody out there to face the world but me, I wished for my dad to be back in all of his restrictions and demands, to be the brother between me and a hostile world. (14:52)

RM: I'm sure you did.

AB: Yeah. I wished for it a many a day, but that's a fact of life.

RM: How was religion incorporated into your life as a child?

AB: From an early age, I grew up in Sunday school. When it came Sunday morning, dad did not ask, "Are you going to Sunday school?" If you were a little slow, he'd say, "All right, get ready. Get your clothes on. You're going to Sunday school." Being brought up in that kind of religious environment, Sunday morning always-we would have two things in the home, which really underscored religion. That was when it came to everybody gathering for breakfast, there would always be a family prayer around the table. That's something you don't miss, no matter what you were doing, even if you were getting a bath and had to put on your bathrobe when everybody else got ready to eat, you showed up to the table for the family prayer. Then after that was when you could go ahead and eat or go back and finish doing what you were going to do. In that kind of an atmosphere, in that kind of a setting, I placed a great value on religious beliefs and religion as a control mechanism to keep behavior within certain reasonable and human limits where I didn't tread on your territory, and hopefully, by my behavior, you would not tread on my territory. So, under that kind of an atmosphere, from very early on, my religious beliefs were very strong and involved. Through all out my life, I was involved in the church and the church administration. Many of my contributions have come because of my beliefs in religion and the church ethic. For that, I make no apologies. I think I mentioned in some part of the story, in March of '97, when we came to recognize the contributions of four minority physicians in eastern North Carolina. When it came my weekend or my Saturday to be in the by Dr. Dennard and, for the program. I wanted-there's a very accomplished lady who's a soprano, and I wanted her to start it off by saying, "There's a deep, deep spirit in this house, in this place and I know it is the spirit of the Lord." So, then I wanted it closed out by a friend of mine, who is a very talented baritone, to do "If I Can Help Somebody." Well, the committee was wondering if this kind of a setting would have any rejections from people who were not as much a religious fanatic as I. (18:56)

RM: They were concerned about the appropriateness.

AB: Yeah, of having that...yeah, that song at the beginning and at the end. The committee members had no objections within themselves as they communicated to me, but there was some concern as to whether some of the other people who were supporting the effort who were not as religiously inclined as I would object. I listened to them a while, maybe four or five minutes, letting everybody have their say. So, then, my statement was, "Well, this is for me and as far as my religious beliefs are concerned, I make no apologies. It will be as far as those two selections are concerned, they will have to be included, or there will be no program or if the program goes on, I won't be there." I suggested just as simple as that with no rancor or offense to anybody, but, all the committee members sat back and started shaking their heads. (20:42)

RM: They can't fuss about that.

AB: Yeah. It went off very, very well, I thought.

RM: The lady who sang "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," what is her name?

AB: Her name is Lucille Price. She's remarried. Her first husband died. She's a Battle now, Lucille Price Battle.

RM: And the gentleman who sang, "If I Can Help Somebody," what is his name?

AB: His name is Woolard. He's a bishop, Woolard's brother. There is a picture up there with Bishop...I can't read it, my pictures up there. As his...Bishop Leroy Woolard.

RM: That's right.

AB: Yeah. That's his brother and I can't think of his brother's first name.

RM: But he has a beautiful voice.

AB: Oh yes, yes. A beautiful voice. You heard the voice on the tape?

RM: I did.

AB: Okay. Good.

RM: Both of the songs are beautifully presented there and they're very meaningful. (21:55)

AB: Yeah. Very meaningful to me because the people who had gathered there for this more or less testimonial. I was insisted in Ms. Price doing that number to kind of set the tone, you know that this is a meeting if it's a testimony to me, I don't want any negatives. I don't want those people who may come just to see what somebody else is wearing or just to see somebody else's apparent attitude is. I just want a whole blanket of atmosphere, because of the sweetness and the togetherness. I don't want any negatives. Don't want any controversy. This is not a controversial thing. That was my reason for wanting that particular selection and then, as we come to the end, I live and perform based on my feeling that if I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain. If it gets to the point that I can't help somebody, then there's no need for me to exist, no need for me to be. (23:39)

RM: Well, you're still helping.

AB: Yeah. Those two selections really put a capsule on Andrew Best; the beginning, and the end. So...

RM: It makes a frame for the whole presentation.

AB: For the whole presentation or the whole exercise.

RM: Well, that's wonderful and we have that on tape.

RM: We've, I think I've got you grown up through your senior year in high school. You graduated from high school in Kinston.

AB: In Kinston.

RM: And what happened after that? (24:19)

AB: For four years after I graduated, I was involved in working with and for the family, to try to pay up those debts that were incurred by my father's illness and death, and trying to support my mother, and the other parts of the family. I worked in a lumber, various jobs. I had a job in public works; saw mills, the tobacco factories, and this sort of public works in order to try to get some money. I had an idea to try to save some money, but when my baby brother came down with typhoid, what little money I had saved up went for doctor bills. See, he couldn't work and he had to have those soft foods and all of those things that he could tolerate, nutritionally. So, whatever little we had, my family had the whole attitude that as long as I have, you have. When it gets to the point that I don't have, you don't have. We just don't have. But as long as one had, we can say that we have. So, after four years, I was beginning to get a little bit anxious about getting back in school. Now time is passing on and it seemed that every time I would think I would have a little bit saved up to get back in school, something would demand it. So, I told my mother, I said, "I am going to go and see if I can get in college." Mother said "Now, you know what we have and I would love to see you go, but I don't have anything that I can help you with". I said "Well, I don't know how long I'm going to stay, but I'm going to see if I can go. Maybe I can work my way through." She said "Well, that's up to you." So, I got whatever little, few pennies I could get together to get a few clothing and what was going for me was the fact that I had been involved in the 4H Club and I had been going to Greensboro every year to the 4H Club short course, which was a minority thing. Then the agricultural, the extension services were totally segregated, where there was a black extension service and then the white extension service. I, as a 4H club boy, had met and was acquainted with Dr. Bluford, who was the President of A&T. One of my history professors in my high school, Mr. Elijah Baker was a very close friend of President Bluford. So, I talked to with him and a couple other of my teachers, and told them what I wanted to do. They said, well, you deserve to go and try. They encouraged me and inspired me, motivated me. So from there, Mr. Baker wrote me a letter, a very strong letter to President Bluford, and I went on up there to A&T. I walked in Dr. Bluford's office, and he walked in. He had these glasses that were square across here and he'd wear them down on the end of his nose. So, he looked over the end of his glasses, and said, "Young man, how are you doing?" So, I said, "I'm here," passing him the letter from Mr. Baker and he read it. He said, "I declare. We closed registration two days ago," and he read the letter again. He said, "Well, Mr. Baker thinks a lot of you and your ability." I said, "I'm glad about that. He gave me the letter back. He said, "Tell Dean Gibbs to go ahead and see if he can find you some classes to get in." Then he said, "No, on second thought, I'll go myself." I'm reflecting now, because President Bluford realized what they'd already done. Administration had closed the registration by not accepting anybody else. For him to reverse, he thought he'd better go talk to Dean Gibbs himself. So, he and I walked side by side from one end of the hall all the way down to the other end of the hall. Dean Gibbs said, "Okay Mr. President, if you say so. We'll see what we can do to find him some classes." So, he signed me up and he sent me to an English class where Dr. Arnette was the teacher. Dr. Arnette had just gotten his Ph.D. in English from one of the universities on the Eastern shore, University of Penn, or somewhere up there. Anyway, when I knocked on the door and went in and showed him the letter, he said, "No, no, no, you wouldn't do nothing. You wouldn't do nothing." He just handed it right on back to me, and kept on lecturing. I was crestfallen. My feelings were really hurt, but when I went back up to Dean Gibbs and I said, "Well, Mr. Arnette said his class is full and I wouldn't do anything." He said, "Let me see what I can do." There was a lady, Ms. Carrie Hill, teaching English and Ms. Hill reminded you-if you've ever seen pictures of Mary McCloud-she was a very stately lady and everything. She was very kind and said "Yes, I'll take you in." So, we got into her class. (30:51)

RM: You got your freshman English class.

AB: Freshman English. I had been out of school now, totally out of the school community for four solid years. The quarter was half gone. It was a twelve-week quarter, and six weeks were already gone, and so I went and got into her class. Then, when I went to Chemistry class that afternoon at 2:00, Professor Green, Harry Green said, "Mr. Best, I liked to see you when the class is over." So, when I approached his desk, he said, "I know it's kind of late and the class has kind of gone on, so I'm going to teach this class next quarter." I said "No, give me a chance." He said, "Okay." So, I, on my own, went back and reviewed those books of high school chemistry and memorized all of Mosley, and those atomic numbers and valences and all that kind of stuff. About a week after I was in there, he gave a test, and I made next to the highest mark on that. I made a 98. (32:15)

RM: Good for you.

AB: There was one young man named Joe Masey who made 99, and there was one young lady from Oriental, North Carolina enrolled who made 100. We were the three. So, Professor Green shook his head and when he passed out the papers, he said, "Well, you did all right. You're in for the haul." I said, "Okay, thank you." That experience went on, and at the end of the quarter, when the honor roll came out, alphabetically, see there was a fellow there named, Alexander, whose name was on Honor Roll. My name was the second name on the list, Best, and I am on A Honor Roll and so, everybody from then on started, "Who is this guy, Best? Where did he come from?" But, from then on, until the Army interrupted my career, I had no problems and so far as... (33:29)

RM: Academics.

AB: ...academics were concerned, none.

RM: How did you pay your way, that first, when you came in halfway through the semester?

AB: Well, I didn't stay on campus. There was a lady who was the wife of a former professor at A&T, Dr. Spaulding. He was formerly at A&T, and had taken a job out at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. His wife was still living in Greensboro and she had some rooms, so I got a room through some friends of the president, Mr. Hooker. I got a room with Mrs. Spaulding. Well, her husband, being in the agricultural field, was raising some animals; some hogs, and farm animals and stuff. I got a job going out to feed the hogs and also, Mrs. Spaulding had central heating installed in the house, and at that time, the furnace was fed by a coal stoker. So, you had to put the coal in that stoker about everyday or every two days, or whatever time it was. Anyway, my room rent was paid by my services to her as a house handyman, and hog feeder. Then, I took some other odd jobs out in town like raking leaves this time of the year, mowing the lawn when spring came in-to survive to make some money to pay my bills. That's the way I did, of course, in that same time, I worked in the dining room at, then the King Cotton Hotel, which was the biggest hotel in Greensboro, and they had a dining room. They made a practice of hiring some of the A&T students to wait tables, and dishwashers, and all this kind of stuff. So, wherever there was a job to be found, I found it. (35:55)

RM: You were there.

AB: And I worked and picked up my little change to stay in school.

RM: And made your Honor Roll, as well.

AB: And made Honor Roll, as well. Yes, indeed. My second year there, I got a job on the A&T's farm with the poultry man and the swine raiser. So, I was working for the school and I moved off campus, and stayed in a hut on the farm. So, that way, I didn't have to pay any room rent. I got paid so much for that and then as I began to go along in my education and field of dairy, I got a job doing the bacteria logical studies, and the fat studies for the dairy farms.

RM: So, when you went to college, you had intentions of coming back to the farm. (36:52)

AB: Yes. I had enrolled, and my major was agriculture. See, as a 4H Club boy, I had some agricultural background and my thoughts were, at that time, that I would get my degree in Vocational Agriculture, and maybe work two or three years, save a little money, and get back in med school. That was my original thought, more or less-my blueprint for my advance toward medical school, because I had in the back of my mind, med school.

RM: From what time do you think you had in the back of your mind, med school?

AB: From day one, from my observation as a child. Before I left high school and after looking at Dr. Harrison.

RM: I see. (37:40)

AB: So, that was it. But then I got short stopped and went away to the service. See, I joined Advanced ROTC. The Army had promised that all of Advanced ROTC will be left to graduate with their classes, and then they'd induct them into the Army. The Battle of the Bulge in Germany and France had already been overrun, and Britain was standing in shaky shoes, all of those night bombings and everything. They began to call us up and they sent down an order that inducted us. They called all Advanced ROTC into active duty, and I got caught up in that. So, at the end of the second quarter of my junior year, I went away to service. I got that interruption.(38:48)

RM: That interrupted not only your academic progress and your school work and your career, but I understand it interrupted your social life, as well, a bit.

AB: That's right. That's exactly right. Because at that time, I had been thinking about hopefully getting married, if my education had flowed on through. The Army had never gained that.

RM: If it hadn't been for World War II?

AB: If it hadn't been for World War II. Right, and of course, we fellows had always been expecting. I was on the campus of A&T when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and from December 7th of '41 on, we were wondering how long this thing was going to go on. Then in April of '43, the long arm of the law finally reached us, and I'll always remember that poster where they had that bearded man, Uncle Sam saying, "I need you." So, we went from there into the service, in Officers Training School, and through Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, after we got out of the OCS, then down in Fort Benning, Georgia. On November 26, my birthday in 1944, I landed in Italy, one among the first contingent of replacement minority soldiers going over to the European Theater. So, there we soldiered until the war ended in June, I believe it was June the 8th of'45, and we stayed over there until I came back to stateside in '46. Tape 1 ends here (40:40) and Tape 2 begins. I was saying that when I came back after the war ended, June gth of '45, I stayed over there doing cleanup operations until the middle of '46. I came back to the States, was redeployed in July of '46, and then I went back to A&T in September of '46, with three, actually four quarters of work to do. I was determined that I was going to try to finish the work in three quarters, which I was successful in doing. In the spring quarter of '47, I was carrying twenty-eight quarter hours with a head-on conflict in two five-hour courses. I had to have Rural Sociology to finish up for my degree in Agriculture, and I needed French to qualify to get into Medical School. Those two classes were offered at identically the same hours for five days a week, and I went to my professor in French, Dr. Rice, and asked him, "Now, what can I do?" He said, "Well, whatever Dean McLoftin says." That was my teacher/instructor in Rural Sociology. I went to the Dean and said,"Whatever Dr. Rice says." I said, "Okay." So, I went to one and said, "Well, the other one said that I could come to class every other day, and maybe if you give me some book reports or something to do." So, that's how I started out, I would go to French today and Rural Sociology tomorrow and right straight on through. Now the one week, I would be going to French three days and Rural Sociology two, but the next week I'd be going to Rural Sociology three days and French two. (02:05)

RM: What a schedule to keep up with.

AB: So, as I got to the first exams in each class, I made the highest score on the exam. Each professor told me to forget about the extra book reports, do your work, pass your tests, and I can live with that. I said, "Okay." So, I went on through that quarter and when I successfully got through the quarter in both cases with an A, Dr. Rice called me in, I guess for his own satisfaction, and said, "Look, what am I going to tell all of these other people in my class when I give you an A when you've only been half of the time, and I have to give them Bs and Cs because they haven't done the work?" I asked him in French, "Qui parle mieux en fran ais dans la clase, who speaks the best French in this class?" He said, "You do." Then I asked him, "Who writes the best French in this class?" He said, "You do." I said, "Vous n'avez aucun probleme, you have no problem, you are the professor." I walked out the door and of course, he did put a minus in front of my A, just to have something to say to those kids. At that time, we had kids who would come up and question the professor, "Now Best wasn't here such and such a time." So, I could understand where he was coming from. (03:51)

RM: It is difficult for a teacher to make special arrangements.

AB: So, we got through that and of course, Dean McLoftin and I-see in the field of agriculture, he was the Dean of the School of Agriculture... I had decided when I came back from the service; I made what I called an irrevocable decision. I was going to give up my dream of going to Medical School. I said that the Army has taken too much of my time, taken three and half of the best years of my life, so I was going to compromise and do something different. I very much liked the field of Landscape Architecture. I had done some of that with a good friend of mine, who was a professor and we had done some work out in the city. It was good pay and I had decided that I was going to quit. Dean McLoftin heard about it from some kids who were just talking. He walked into the classroom, his office was like right there, and this is the classroom, he walked in the classroom and he heard my name, so he just stopped. He said, "What's this I hear you saying about Andrew?" So the guy told him, said, "Well, I understand he's not going to Medical School." He dispatched one of the boys to find me and tell me to report to him right now. So, the young man came over to the room and said, "Dean McLoftin wants to see you." I said, "Okay." He said, "He wants to see you right now." So, I didn't think anything. I was thinking that very often if Dean was going to be out of school, he would get me to stand in and do his lectures to his freshman and sophomore classes and I thought it was something like that. He called me into his office and he sat me down. He said, "Have a seat." He said, "I want to hear it from you. What is this about you not going to Medical School?" I said, "Well, Dean, I'm going to tell you." I went on and told him the sob story about I had lost so much time and I thought I would just compromise. He said, " I will not hear it." He told me the story, which I had heard two dozen other times, how in his growing up, he was the oldest of a number of children. I think his mother had about 12 children, but he was the oldest. He stayed out of school to help stabilize the financial situation for his mother and children, other brothers and sisters. When he went back to school, he was 25 years old in the sixth grade and he went on finished that, then finished high school, and went on to A&T, and finished A&T, and went on to Cornell and got his Master's, and carne back to teach at A&T. At the time that I went there, he was back at A&T as a member of the faculty, and had been promoted Dean of Agriculture. (07:05)

RM: What an inspiration.

AB: And he told me that story, and he said, "I won't hear it." And he asked me for a list of the schools that I had applied to or intended to apply to and I gave it to him. And he sent them all letters and recommendations; Howard, Meharry, University of Penn, Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn, and University of Illinois. Meharry responded first and accepted me in their class to begin in '47: So, I notified them that I would take it and Howard wrote me the next day and they had accepted me, but I had to tum that one down. So, that's the story of my having been turned around 180 degrees from what I had called an irrevocable decision that I was not going to Medical School. Had it not been for Dean McLoftin, who died a couple of years ago at the age of 102, I would not be here right now as a doctor. I give him full credit. Not only did he cooperate with my old schedule in my senior year, but he was my inspiration and my motivation, and he turned me around from that decision. I had already made it in the midst of my being depressed from all the time lost in the service from my educational pursuits. I admit I was depressed, I was distressed, I was frustrated, and it just so happened that Dean was at the right place at the right time. (08:53)

RM: He put you back on a different track, on your original path.

AB: He sent me back on my original path. He said, "You have too much potential. You have too many things to offer to other people. I will see you in no other position except as a physician." And those words really motivated me in a lot of instances when things weren't going right and sometimes when I would get a little discouraged, I would remember those words and would gather some new strength. Now, it's important for me to relate the financial situation, which was basically solved by the GI Bill. Now that was a blessing in disguise for me to go to service, to get the benefits of the GI Bill to help me in the last year in college, and my whole four years of medical school. By my staying in the Reserves, I got a chance to do my internship in the Army, which meant the difference now as with my grade and my rank and longevity, my take-horne pay was around $675 a month. Now that's a lot of money then. As compared with the internships across the country, the best offering that I could get was $75-$100 a month plus subsistence, that means your uniforms and your meals. At Michael Reese in Chicago, they had such a highly taught program. They didn't give you any money, they just gave you subsistence only. Still, they had more interns applying than they could use. So, from that standpoint, I was really blessed and was able to accomplish some things that otherwise I would have had a problem trying to accomplish. (11:24)

RM: How did your mother manage then with you gone to school?

AB: My mother?

RM: Umhum.

AB: See my mother lived at the home place and two of my sisters, who were unmarried, lived there with Mother.

RM: I see.

AB: And of course, now the brother, brother number two had married, but was living nearby in the neighborhood. And so, he was more less the father figure of my mother and the two sisters in the old home place. Of course, that brother was what I called the neighborhood's handyman. When any neighbor wanted something done and couldn't find anybody else to do it, they would call on cousin George. (12:12)

RM: Cousin George.

AB: Cousin George. They seemed to be quite all right.

RM: You mentioned a story about taking the bus back home, at some point, in your college career?

AB: In my college career. That was the days when I was at A&T and in Advance ROTC and I had risen to the rank of Colonel in the ROTC training program on campus. I took the bus from A&T coming home to Kinston and that bus out of...I don't know if it was out of Raleigh or Goldsboro. It went around through Snow Hill on its way to Kinston. We got into Snow Hill, the bus stop was at a drug store in Snow Hill. Well, when the driver said, "This is a rest stop and we'll be here about ten minutes. So, we got off, anybody that wanted to stretch their legs could. So, I got off and as I went into the drug store, I was hot and thirsty. The bus driver went over and he took one of those cups and he got a fountain. The other guy had some water and then had a... (13:42)

RM: Cool water fountain.

AB: Cool water and a Coke. So... And had these cups that were cone-shaped, where you just pull one out. So, I pulled one out and I went to go get some water, and I asked the clerk, I said, "Give me a pack of chewing gum please." So, he went...and when he got the chewing gum and reached around, I was drawing the water, because it was there right at the counter, right there where you could access it. So, he slapped it. I said, "Whatcha doing?" And he hit the cup, and I was only holding it by the very top and it fell down in the trash bin receptacle. And I said, "I was just trying to get some water." The clerk said, "I got no water for no niggers." I just left the chewing gum right there and I walked on out and got back on the bus. But that was all the way from that twelve miles from Snow Hill to Kinston, and days beyond that, that incident just broaden my mind that here it is...l am a person and I hadn't gone into the service then but from my uniform, I was preparing to go in the service and knowing that I was liable to have to go to combat and fight for America and then to get treated like that.

RM: He couldn't even give you a glass of water. (15:23)

AB: No. That's right.

RM: A cup of water.

AB: A cup of water. That was one of the first really rank episodes of discrimination that I suffered along the way...

RM: Personally, felt personally.

AB: Personally, yeah.

RM: I think that we forgot to mention that...you didn't mention the times when you'd be walking to school and the white kids would be on the school bus.

AB: Yeah. That's in those early days. When you walking from my school home to Kinston, and the white kids were on buses and in the Spring of the year, especially when they would be packed and the glass would be down, white kids would be hanging outside, saying, "There goes a nigger, a nigger, a nigger!" I said, "Oh, Lord." That was in those early days. This was one of the second, probably at that time, the most serious episodes. (16:18)

RM: How did your parents teach you to respond? What did they say? Did you tell them how the white kids yell at you? Did they give you any advice?

AB: Well, my parents, having grown up on the whole pattern of segregation and discrimination. My father knew that it was not every white person with whom he came in contact that didn't show him all the respect of anybody else. His thoughts along that line were that discrimination against somebody is an individual type of thing. It depends on who the person is. Dad used to say that he had some white friends that he trusted further than some of his minority friends. His message as I perceived was, don't make generalizations. Always look at the source. Look at the individual person and just because you may be unkind to me is not to say that the next white person would be unkind to me. In other words, I can look at you and shrug you off, "Oh well, she doesn't know any better. She has some inborn prejudices that have been taught." That was the way that my parents usually responded and that was the way I have handled myself, knowing that discrimination and looking at a person because of the color of their skin, I have always considered that to be totally wrong. At the same time, I don't want somebody to judge me by some half hoodlum with baggy pants, who won't work if you put him on pie factory, who is always looking to take advantage of somebody else. Don't consider me or judge me because we happen to be the same color, the same complexion. And so, that's the way that I have always looked, and a part of that philosophy goes back to the attitudes of my father and my mother on that same question. (19:16)

RM: Well, you mentioned being demoralized and depressed when you got back from the service and I think there were some episodes of discrimination there, too, that may have contributed to that feeling when you...

AB: I suppose in the service that my most flagrant attitude was the case when my commander, Captain White came up on my position and he wanted me to move my troops up. We had a discussion and debate as to what my training was, what combat training in the Officer's Candidate School and where we were taking advantage of the mountain...that terrain where we're dug in behind the crest of a hill.. .if we did what he was talking about doing to straighten the line out on the map, we would be on the forward crest where those people sitting up there on the mountain were. All they would have to do is pick us off like shooting ducks in a bowling ally. And at my insistence, I said, "Well" And when he said to me, "That's the problem, that's the trouble with you all. You all are yellow." He was talking about us minority soldiers were cowards. That was an expression in the service, they'd say you're yellow, it means you are a coward. You don't have any bravery or nothing. So, in my reaction to try to get him to see what I was talking about from a technical and a military standpoint, then I said, "Well, you come on and go up here with me and I'll show you what I'm talking about." I said, "I've been over this hill" As we went there, we got across this wall, erosion type wall... (21:13)

RM: Terrace?

AB: Terrace. Yeah. That stone wall is at the edge of a terrace to keep away erosion. We got across at a kind of a low spot and he walked on about, oh maybe sixteen or eighteen feet from me, and a great explosion went off. I paused. I don't know why I paused. We were passing an old foxhole, partially covered over with some log and timber. I stopped to inspect it and he kept walking, and that was all the difference between me and him being side by side when that explosion went off. He tripped a wire that was set to some mines and some other explosives and it blew him straight up. He never knew what hit him. I was caught up in the force of this explosion and some how or another, I was lying horizontal and was going right back through space, and I hit this stone wall, fell down in a little drainage ditch, and it seemed to me that I just fell down in the ditch and got right up. My sergeant who was behind us and a bodyguard told me that I was motionless for about thirty to forty-five seconds and he thought that I was dead, too. As I crawled out of the ditch and started out to where the wounded man was, he grabbed me by the foot, and said, "Hey, hey, hey. Don't go out there." That's the first thing I remembered, really. He said, "Don't go out there." I said, "Well, there's a man out here. There's somebody hurt." He said, "But there may be some more mines out there." And that kind of got me back to my senses, I guess. I stopped and he had his two-way telephone, so he called down to headquarters for some help and to bring up the minesweepers. And so he did that. Then, I realized that I had been wounded and had some shrapnel in this arm. You can see that scar right there. (23:22)

RM: Oh, yes.

AB: And I really didn't know at that time that I had some shrapnel in the chest, until later on, but. ..

RM: Finish that story. What happened with the chest shrapnel?

AB: Well, the shrapnel was in the chest and when I got down to the...and evidently the doctors who first checked me into the infirmary, they got involved with the just won't here. The next day or two when I kind of got back to my senses, after all of that sedation from the sodium penathol, I felt some up here in the chest, and looked in the mirror and checked it out. It was a piece of shrapnel, and it was embedded in the bone. I got me some tweezers and yanked it and pulled it out. It was like pulling teeth. The episode that really makes me tremble when I stop and think about it, was the use of sodium penathol. Sodium penathol had just came out and it had been hailed as the ideal anesthetic agent for what we call fieldwork or field service, in the Army. Any dosage, it could be given in and when ... (24:50)

RM: What did it replace? What drug did it replace as an anesthetic? I mean as a...yeah, as an anesthetic?

AB: Well, it had not come into its own then. Before then, we were using inhalation anesthesia, ether, and ether contact compounds. Of course, they might give a little some, but they said it could be used as an anesthetic, depending on how much you give would be responsible for the depth of anesthesia that was necessary. They targeted it to be used in like in service in the fieldwork and the field infirmary. What I did wrong was I told the surgeon, I said, "Well, go ahead and operate. It's mind over matter. I'm a big boy. I can take. Go ahead. It's mind over matter." He gave me the prescribed amount and I was lying up there. I'm fighting the drug. I was just telling myself, going over and over in my mind that I'm not going to sleep. I'm not going to sleep. My eyes wide open. I'm not going to sleep. He had the nurse to give me the second amount of booster, and ten minutes later, I'm not going to sleep. He looked at her and told her, "Give him a few more ccs." They eased that into my veins and I'm still saying, "I'm not going to sleep." Then he started waving his hand back and forth, hypnosis. "You are getting sleepy. You are getting sleepy." The last thing I remember, "You are getting very, very sleepy." I hit the deck. That was on a Sunday night about midnight. (26:44)

RM: This was right there on the front at the...

AB: Yeah. Just back a few miles where they set up an infirmary. See they pulled me out of the front and went back and took me back by ambulance. So, now one of the aids on the ward, one of the orderlies told me that it was Monday evening late, about 5:00. He called me and shook me and asked me, "Do you want anything to eat?" I said, "Urn." I frowned my face and went right back to sleep until that Tuesday morning. I didn't wake up to have anything, but they were still giving me an IV, glucose and stuff, so I was in no real nutritional trouble. It was Tuesday afternoon, late, before I kind of riled up so I knew what my surroundings were and Wednesday morning, really, before I came to my full senses. I thought about it. Now, what we know about sodium penathal and the way that it acts and reacts, and we found out so much more about it since then. What valimine does is to suddenly put the patient in respiratory failure, where you stop breathing. That was the risk and that was the danger. All of sudden your patient just stops breathing on you. I laugh about it now, because that kind of represents a brush with eternity. (28:39)

RM: Your guardian angel was close by.

AB: Guardian angel. Yeah. Guardian angel was right there.

RM: "All right Andy, you're going to have a good sleep."

AB: That's right. That's right. That's exactly right.

RM: Dr. Best, would this be a good time for you to share with us the poem that...I don't know how to say it, a poem that came to you as an inspiration. (29:00)

AB: Well, this poem, A Prayer for the Departed, was the result of thoughts that came from losing comrades in combat. Where here is a guy that's close friend, close as you and I, when all of a sudden, he is struck by a missile and he's no more. Just evaporates. Just gone. Having been the observer of falling comrades here and there, following an inspiration for trying to make or portrait in words, descriptive of a particular situation. It inspired...the words from the poem, which I call, A Prayer for the Departed. Based on those thoughts associated with those tragedies, then I came up with: Dear Lord of Life and Light and Love Who ruleth all, below, above Have tender mercy on those souls Who flew before we reach this goal (And that this goal was at any point in life Where I can pause to reflect on what has just happened Or what happened last week) So we pray thee God Grant this request To give them peace and let them rest Then in thou judgment Let them stand A noble, pure, and spotless clan That's even for Reverend Price The guy who called me a coward And who suddenly left Oh Lord, they fought for things to be Which they could never live to see With courage great, there's ways to fight Against the wrong and for the right And that's what we were there, what we were supposed to be about. There were instances of discrimination. There were instances where somebody was not following that trend, but basically our mission was to try to right some wrongs that Hitler had started against the world. Then, it went on: They ough blood and sweat and tears That we might have some better years They labored long and served so well Dear God please spare them further Hell And as we reflect their noble deeds Inspire us Lord to meet the need. To work in earnest through thou name That they who died, died not in vain Amen (32:21)

RM: Amen.

AB: So, where are we now? I was saying that I think that when one listens to this poem that they ought to be able to understand the feelings that went with the composition or my emotional state. My attempt to put into words what I was feeling and there was a total mixture of feelings there. One of the mixture was a true feeling of sympathy for those who had gone, had left. The other part of it goes back to my deep religious conviction that there is a God above-that there is a supreme being somewhere. Since they are gone, they have departed this Earth and this life and gone wherever it is in eternity; I commend them to the spirit of God. I identify them when I say, "Dear Lord of life and light and love." All of that in that first verse and, "Grant this request to give them peace and let them rest, when in thou judgment, let them stand." (34:00)

RM: It's a beautiful poem.

AB: Noble, pure, spotless...So, it's necessary to understand the background. Now, what I have done beyond all of this, I talked with my Bishop in the church the other week when... and even since then, Thanksgiving week, that same Bishop was here in Greenville. I requested that he take this work and introduce it to the general church as something as a piece that could be used at all necrology services, where we have that big annual service throughout the church. It would be kind of like the offertory. Now, in the Methodist church, when we take up an offering, we customarily have the choir to sing or somebody to cite, "All things come of thee, oh Lord and of thine own have I given thee." That's the standard offertory. So, I have suggested that this become the standard throughout the church for all necrology services and by it's design, depending on the time that is available, if you use nothing but that last verse, you are in good shape. If you decide to use the first two verses to introduce the atmosphere and then come down to the last verse, you're still all right, but if you have got a lot of time, you can say it all.

RM: The whole poem.

AB: The whole poem.

RM: Well, it's a beautiful poem.

AB: And you're still all right.

RM: Thank you for sharing it with us, as well as your thoughts. (36:00)

Oral History Interview with Dr. Andrew Best December 9, 1998
Oral history interview with Dr. Andrew Best, a longtime health care provider of Greenville, North Carolina. In this interview, Dr. Best discusses the experiences of his childhood, segregation, his life on the farm where he grew up, and his educational experiences. He mentions several physicians who inspired him to enter into the medical field. He also describes joining the advanced ROTC while he was in school at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State College. In closing, Dr. Best shares a poem that he wrote based on thoughts that came to him after losing comrades in combat during World War II. The information covered in this interview is relevant to the years 1916 to 1998. contained on 2 cassette tapes.
December 09, 1998
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oral histories
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Laupus Library History Collections
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