Inez Cannon Jones oral history interview, October 6, 1997

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Inez Cannon Jones
Martha Vaughn
October 6, 1997
Caldwell County, North Carolina

Inez Cannon Jones - IJ
Martha Vaughn - MV

MV: What's your full name?

IJ: Inez Cannon Jones.

MV: What are your parents' names?

IJ: My father's name was Calvin C. Cannon, and my mother was Azalea Kincaid Cannon.

MV: Were you born here?

IJ: No, I was born in Burke County.

MV: Did you grow up here or in Burke County?

IJ: I grew up in both places. I stayed with my grandmother in Burke County until I was about old enough to go to school, but during that time I would. I would stay in the wintertime with my grandmother and come back in the summer over here with my mother. My mother taught school and my father ran a construction business. So, that's the way I grew up, with my grandmother on the farm and then here too. (1:03, Part 1)

MV: Which did you like better?

IJ: During those days it was kind of hard. I would cry when I left my grandmother and I would cry when I would leave my parents. But as I look back now, my best days were those in Burke County on the farm.

MV: I bet so. I bet that was fun. Did you become a teacher because your mom was a teacher?

IJ: No. I became a teacher because of my father. I wanted to be a doctor and my father said, "A doctor is no occupation for a woman. Why don't you be a teacher like your mother?" So that's how that ended up.

MV: So your family played a big part in your childhood, staying with your mom.

IJ: Yes.

MV: Did you have any brothers or sisters?

IJ: I had one brother and one sister. A sister named Harriet died when she was eight of rheumatic heart. It's complications from the measles. My brother died when he was thirty-seven. He went into a diabetic coma. (2:07, Part 1)

MV: I feel weird now. [Laughs] It's hard for me to ask this. So, your dad wanted you to be a teacher so you became a teacher.

IJ: Yes.

MV: You went to Bennett College.

IJ: That's where I went, to Bennett College.

MV: My teacher said that was like the Vassar of the South.

IJ: I think it used to be. For black girls, it was.

MV: That's what she was saying. She was all excited when I told her you went there. What was it like there, at Bennett College?

IJ: I remember, when we first got on the campus, Dr. [David Dallas] Jones, who was the president at that time, said, "I want you to know one thing, girls. You're all little fishes in a big pond," and he meant that no one person was going to be more outstanding. You had to work, you had to earn your honors or whatever you got, and just because you had been a big fish back home didn't mean that you were going to be a big fish at Bennett, that you're all in the pond together and we're all little fishes, working to make Bennett the best we could possibly make it. (3:17, Part 1)

MV: Everybody talked about how good. Like, my teacher is always talking about it. I guess you stayed in a dorm.

IJ: Yes, I stayed in the dorm.

[Break in recording]

MV: Okay, we were talking about Bennett. You stayed in the dorms, I guess.

IJ: Yes. I was there '43 through '47, and I was the youngest girl in my class. I graduated at nineteen.

MV: From college you graduated at nineteen?

IJ: Yes.

MV: Wow. [Laughs]

IJ: I went to a private school for girls for my high school work. During those days, the public schools for blacks were not up to par. They didn't offer courses like chemistry and typing, shorthand. So my father said, "We want you to get the best possible education that we can afford," so they sent me to Allen High School for Girls in Asheville. Of course, it's no longer in existence now. (4:27, Part 1)

I went there and they gave me a test from the state department, and if I made an average of I think they said ninety-which was a B on that test-or better, I wouldn't have to take the tenth grade. I could go to the eleventh grade. So, when they gave me the test, I did, so I skipped tenth grade and went to the eleventh.

Most of our teachers were white but we did have. My French teacher was black and my chemistry teacher was black. My English teacher was white, the principal was white, the secretary, the dietician of the school was white; it was an integrated staff.

MV: Were there white students there too?

IJ: No, only black students.

MV: I guess you came home. Did you come home on the weekends?

IJ: No. I only came home for Christmas and Easter, and then my last year I didn't come home for Easter. I stayed up there. (5:34, Part 1)

MV: Oh, wow.

IJ: You didn't get to come home very often from there. In those days people didn't have cars. My daddy only had a truck. [5:41 They had a contract.] He only had trucks. So, we didn't have much mode of transportation.

MV: I don't think about that now. [Laughs]

IJ: No.

MV: So then you went to Bennett right after that?

IJ: Yes. Bennett was called a sister school to Allen. Allen was sponsored by the United Methodist Church women, and of course Bennett is a Methodist Church school too.

MV: Are you Methodist?

IJ: Yes, but I was African Methodist, and that was United Methodist, so there's a difference.

MV: I didn't know that. Was Bennett African Methodist? (6:18, Part 1)

IJ: No, Bennett was United Methodist.

MV: So that was a sister school, so that's why you went there.

IJ: Yes. Well, another reason why I went there, there was a lady from here that went to Bennett. Her father was the first and only black doctor we'd ever had in Lenoir. She went to Bennett, and I always admired everything Dorothy did and I wanted to go to Bennett, so my daddy said okay.

MV: Do you think that World War II affected your education at Bennett any?

IJ: How can I put this? I don't think it affected my education as such. I think it affected my attitude about one professor I had, and as I look back now it was my own ignorance that entered into the total picture. Our philosophy instructor was Dr. Berwin and she was from Germany, and of course we were at war with Germany and for the way they did the Jews. I was so upset about that. I never did speak it out in class but I'd say, "Why should she be here teaching philosophy, after what the Germans have done?" and I wouldn't study. I was being rebellious, but in the wrong kind of way. (8:00, Part 1)

So, the first semester I got D in philosophy, and yet I understood Plato and Aristotle and all that stuff quite well. Then I said, well, this is hurting nobody but me, so then the second semester I made C. Then when I went to grad school I had to do a lot of work in philosophy and stuff. I made As. So, as I look back, I let my attitude about Hitler affect how I felt about Dr. Berwin, and she was really a good teacher. My roommate made As under her all the time, and she said, "Inez, why are you doing this?"

MV: [Laughs] Were there white teachers at Bennett too?

IJ: Yes. We had both there. Dr. Jones, who was the president, he was black, but we had integrated faculty there too.

MV: I guess that was hard that she was from Germany.

IJ: Yes, and I don't know if any other students felt that way. They may have but they may not have chosen to express it the way I did, and in the end I hurt nobody but myself. (9:21, Part 1)

MV: What was your major at Bennett?

IJ: Home economics.

MV: What kind of classes-? Did you learn how to cook?

IJ: Well, basically, a lot of the food classes that we took. I only remember taking one food class for a year that we did any major cooking in. The rest of it you did. The food classes were more experimental classes, scientific; proving something about this in the food, that type of thing.

MV: Were most girls home economics majors?

IJ: No. There were girls there majoring in premed, law, library science, English majors, social studies majors.

MV: So it wasn't just a teaching college.

IJ: No. It was a liberal arts college. (10:21, Part 1)

MV: I wasn't sure about that. It's still a college now, isn't it?

IJ: Yes.

MV: I tried to look something up on the internet about it but I couldn't find anything.

IJ: I just celebrated my fiftieth class reunion.

MV: You did? Oh, wow!

IJ: Yes. I've been out fifty years.

MV: I'm just trying to get out. [Laughter] I bet that was neat.

IJ: Yes.

MV: Did a lot of people come back?

IJ: Yes, we had quite a few come back.

MV: How many were in your graduating class?

IJ: I want to say about forty-two, which was small, but I think there's about forty-two, if I remember correctly.

MV: That's neat. You went to graduate school at the University of Minnesota? (11:05, Part 1)

IJ: My first graduate training I did at Howard University in Washington, D.C. I had completed all my course work there, except for doing my dissertation, and I stayed out a couple years and I had to start over. Then I said, well, rather than start over there I'll go to a new place, so then I transferred to the University of Minnesota and that's where I completed my MA.

MV: Was that a lot different from Bennett?

IJ: Yes, and a lot different from Howard, because there I didn't have one professor that was black. All my professors were white. And it was different because, when I first enrolled there, the first summer I went, if I remember correctly, I was about the fiftieth black student on the campus, and I didn't have not one class that had another black in it besides me.

MV: Oh, wow. (12:22, Part 1)

IJ: But by that time, I was only concerned about not what someone else did. I wanted to do my best. That's what I wanted to do.

MV: How old were you when you went to the University of Minnesota?

IJ: How old was I?

MV: Yes.

IJ: I've been out of school a good while.

MV: [Laughs] Do you know what year it was?

IJ: The first year I went, I believe, was in 1965, and I think what made me decide to go. I would go everywhere to summer school about every summer. I'd go somewhere and study something. Mr. [Unclear 13:04] said to me one day, he said, "Inez, you do master's work in your teaching but you'll never get master's pay because you don't have a degree," and I said, "Oh, Mr. [Unclear 13:14], the degree's not important as long as I know my materials," and he says, "All right." (13:20, Part 1)

So one day I was thinking, and I said, Mr. [Unclear 13:24]'s right, so then that's when I made the transfer to the University of Minnesota. When I got out there, Dr. Ford, who was head of the home economics department, looked at my transcript and she said. She called me "Ee-nez." She said, "Inez, you have enough credits for two masters. How come they're not all at one place?" She said, "It's about time you settled down and get through with these studies." I think that was another thing that struck a chord, that I had a lot of credits but they weren't [Pause] in no one place where I could even be given credit for them. I just had been exposed and studied this particular material. So then I decided to stay at Minnesota.

MV: Then you came back to Lenoir to teach? (14:18, Part 1)

IJ: Yes. I'd go there in the summertime and come back home, and then, I believe it was '74-75, I was given a fellowship from the university to complete my master's program but I had to go stay out there a year. So I took a leave of absence from my job at Lenoir High and went to the University of Minnesota and stayed a year to complete my master's program, because I had to stay on campus for a year.

MV: Did you teach-? Were you-?

IJ: I was a teacher's assistant, Dr. Ford's assistant, and my main job there was to observe student teachers, and that's what I did, and reported on their materials and helped them plan lesson plans and that type of thing. That's what I did outside taking my graduate classwork.

MV: So you got your first job out of Bennett at Kinston? (15:18, Part 1)

IJ: That's right.

MV: Did you like the eastern part of the state?

IJ: Yes, I did.

MV: You did?

IJ: Yes, and only because of my father. I came back here. My father died while I was a sophomore at Bennett, and my mother was here, and the superintendent called me one day and said. I guess he'd gotten my telephone number from my mother. [He] said, "Would you like to come back home and work?" and I said, "Well, yes I would." So that's how I came back home, because the lady who had the home economics job here at Freedman High School-which was during segregation days-she decided that she was going to go back to Baltimore, her home in Baltimore, so she went back to Baltimore and I came back here. (16:05, Part 1)

MV: Was there a lot of difference between the eastern part of the state teaching and up here?

IJ: I'd say [Pause] there was a difference in. I don't know how to say this. Students down there, at a certain time they would be taken out of school to go pick tobacco, or stuff like that, and up here we didn't have that type of stuff so the kids were never taken out of school for anything, and I found that strange. Nothing should have been more important than a student staying in school.

MV: Yes, I guess it's a lot different down there.

IJ: Yes. I think that was the main thing that I had problems with.

MV: Then you came here and you taught at Freedman High School?

IJ: Freedman High School.

MV: Is that where William Lenoir is? (17:12, Part 1)

IJ: Well now, the old Freedman High School used to be where all those apartment buildings are now, up on the hill there, and then. What year did they-? If I go back in my notes I could probably find it. But that building was built in. I can't even remember.

MV: What was your first classroom like?

IJ: Oh! That was unreal. It was in the basement of the old Freedman building. They had oil stoves to cook on, old cement floor; the dingiest place I've ever seen, because at Allen High School we had nice labs, and then at Bennett we had nice labs. The home ec building rooms where I first taught in Kinston were nice rooms, nice labs. But the one here was terrible, and the students didn't have new books. They had to use the books that Lenoir High had gotten through with. Then they would bring those home economics books up to Freedman. I didn't like those books, so I would order two or three of the new textbooks that would be out in home economics and I would write out my notes every night from those books and make my students take notes every day so they would have what I wanted, because I would refuse to use those books. I don't remember. I might have been here two years before we got new textbooks and they started to send them directly to us from the state department. But when I first came here, those first couple of years, we used leftover books from Lenoir High. That's what they sent us. But I ordered my textbooks and then I'd make my students take notes. Probably they didn't like me for that, but I refused to use those old, outdated books. (19:43, Part 1)

MV: So you didn't have very good stoves or anything?

IJ: No, no.

MV: What would a typical day be like? Did you teach in periods then?

IJ: Yes, we had periods, but my first job here I taught North Carolina history and a general science class. As a home economics major you're supposed to. I had a science minor because you take so much science, in those days. I don't know whether it would be that same way now or not. But I taught North Carolina history and my home economics classes and a general science class. That was my first year.

MV: Did you like that better or did you want to teach home economics?

IJ: It didn't bother me. I just had to study harder with North Carolina history. Science wasn't a problem but I had to study harder for North Carolina history because I had not had that before. (20:41, Part 1)

MV: Did you teach all grades?

IJ: No. I had. Let's see, that was. I had ninth general science and ninth grade North Carolina history.

MV: When you taught home economics, was it just all mixed grades?

IJ: I had ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade. We had ninth grade home ec, and in those days home economics was a required course, when I first came here.

MV: How did you see home economics change during your career?

IJ: Oh, let's see. It changed from being a required course to becoming an elective, and then the more elective courses that were offered the fewer students took home economics and the harder you had to work to keep your enrollment up like you wanted it so you could have good classes, and you had to. I never wanted home economics to be considered a crip course, and when I first came here, even when I first went to Lenoir High, students thought home economics was a crip course. Well, I figured I didn't study as hard as I did for a course to be a crip course, and I think that was one thing that I worked to overcome. Home economics is an important course. It's just what you want to put in it and what you expect to get out of it. (22:34, Part 1)

A lot of students, when I first came here to teach at Freedman High, they looked at it as a course preparing them to go do domestic work, and I told them, "That's the least of my problems, is teaching home economics so that you can go out and do more domestic work." I said, "My job in teaching home economics is to teach you to be a good homemaker and how to use the right kind of facilities and plan and prepare good balanced meals for your family, to use good training strategies for teaching your children, and that type of thing." I said, "If you should learn something in my home economics classes that will help you on a job, so be it, but that's not my ultimate goal."

MV: How did you handle discipline in the schools? (23:40, Part 1)

IJ: When I first started, all you had to say to the child was, "If you aren't going to do any better than this I'm going to tell your mother," or your daddy, and that would take care of it because no child wanted to have their parents chastise them for being disobedient in school. But other things that we could do, we could keep the student in after school, and I would keep students in. I said, "You didn't do your work so come back here. When the bell rings, you come back."

When I first came here we didn't have buses so the kids walked to school, and I said, "When you get home you can tell your mother I kept you in, or I'll call her when I get home and tell her I kept you in because you didn't do so-and-so," whatever the child failed to do. Then after the students started being bused to school-and that was after District Nine was built and they consolidated all the elementary schools in the county in one school out at District Nine, and then all the kids were bused to Freedman-the child would say, "Oh, I'm going to miss my bus." I said, "Well, if you miss your bus I'll take you home and tell your mother why I'm bringing you home late." (25:25, Part 1)

I remember a young girl who eventually went to Bennett and majored in home economics and got a job teaching down east and did quite well in home economics. She was supposed to have done something one day and she didn't do it correctly, so I made her take it out and take it out. I said, "Gracie, you can sew better than that, and you're going to stay here this afternoon and do it." I said, "You may end up teaching home economics and I'm not going to have it said that I didn't teach you correctly." Sure enough, I kept her in and I had to take her home [Unclear 26:04] and when she got there I said to her mother, "Miss Jones, I had to bring Grace Anne home because she didn't do her work correctly today and I kept her in," and her mother said, "Well, that's all right, Miss Cannon. I'm glad you did." Sure enough, Grace Anne went on to Bennett, majored in home economics, and did quite well. (26:30, Part 1)

Sometimes students don't realize their potential, and if you do I think a teacher fails if he or she does not help that student measure up to that. I think that's part of a teacher's job to realize students aren't doing the best, and you have to. A lot of things that we may have done in those days to help students realize their potential you might not have the full privilege of doing now, because I'm not too sure a parent would appreciate you keeping the child in. So, nowadays, you do it quite differently, because I know I did it quite differently when I went to Lenoir High.

I had a young lady in my class-I won't tell you her name but I'll tell you after this tape goes off.

MV: [Laughs] (27:33, Part 1)

IJ: She was doing a project in interior design, and all my interior design students had to do what I called plates-plan the full color scheme of a room with draperies, floor covering, wall treatment, upholstery, and accessories. So this young lady passed her work in and I looked at it, and I said to her, "This is not very good work." [She said,] "Yes it is." I said, "No, it's not, and I'm going to give this back to you for you to do over." I said, "Elsie, if you're satisfied with a C, that's fine with me, because otherwise I'm going to give it back to you for you to do over and make the corrections that I have written on your plate and then I will regrade it." (28:26, Part 1)

That young lady was so mad at me she didn't know what in the world to do, and I said to her then, "You may decide to major in interior design, and I'm not going to let your instructor in college say I didn't teach you correctly." But you know that that young lady went to UNCG, majored in interior design, and her instructor said to her, when they had to pass in projects, she said, "You've done this better than my other students," and she said, "Miss Jones, I just laughed." When she came back to the school she said, "Do the work like Miss Jones tells you because you'll be right."

I had one student to go to UNCG and she majored in-I think it was general economics. Anyway, whatever part of home economics she majored, she skipped the whole first section of some part that they had to study because they had tested them on it and they told her [she] tested out.

MV: Oh, wow. (29:37, Part 1)

IJ: So, sometimes kids have called me "mean" or "hard" or "rough" but I hope that they didn't see it as my being vicious. I hope that it was that I was trying to get them to do their very best, which I think is important. Once you do your very best then there's nothing else for you to worry about. You've given it your best shot. That's the way I tried to do my teaching, and I wasn't above, in teaching. At the end of the day I would try to recycle everything that I had done during that day in my mind, and if I thought at any one time I had said something to a student that might have been misunderstood or might have not been interpreted the right way, I wasn't above going back to that student the next day and saying, "I said such and such a thing yesterday. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings or [that you misunderstood.]" I said, "It was intended to be this. I hope I didn't do otherwise." I wasn't above apologizing because I think, as a human being, you're going to make mistakes, but I think the important thing is be able to admit, yes, I made a mistake, and this is what I need to do to correct it, and I didn't mind doing that for a class of twenty, thirty. It didn't matter how many students were in there. I didn't mind correcting.

MV: When you were telling about the schools consolidating, did they consolidate all the schools out in the county?

IJ: Okay. When I first came here to teach-. (31:34, Part 1)

[End tape one, side one]

MV: We were talking about consolidation in Caldwell County.

IJ: When I first came here to work there were county elementary schools in various sections of the county. Each black community had its own elementary school but all the kids would come to Freedman High School. So they consolidated all the black elementary schools in the county because they were just one- and two-room schools. Some of them maybe had three rooms. They built District Nine School out in Dulatown and that became the elementary school for black students, and then the black students were bused all over the county to District Nine, because my mother taught out there.

MV: I know. (1:16, Part 2)

IJ: So during that time. And then. I was trying to think. When did they consolidate? Then after that. I should. I don't remember the number of years they taught there, but... Then when integration came District Nine was closed and some of the black teachers were placed in schools in different parts of the county, other elementary schools, and then a lot of the black teachers left. I think that happened. That might have been about '65 or '66, somewhere along in there.

MV: When they integrated the schools?

IJ: When they integrated the school system, yes.

MV: So they hired all teachers to teach in the schools, or did they-? (2:17, Part 2)

IJ: No.

MV: They weren't [2:18 very good about it.]

IJ: A lot of the black teachers left this area, because I was the first black teacher at Lenoir High and that year they still operated Freedman High School as a black school, the first year that I moved to Lenoir High. That was either about '65 or '66. Freedman operated for one year then, after I was at Lenoir High. Then it was closed at the end of that year and all the students from Freedman High School were moved to Lenoir High, and some of the teachers. Miss Carter went to Gamewell. [Unclear 3:14] Pearson went to Hudson. More of the elementary teachers in the city system were hired. Most of the high school teachers were not. They left.

MV: I wonder why they hired more elementary school teachers.

IJ: It might have been easier to place them because they had more elementary schools.

MV: Yes, that's true.

IJ: That might be the reason why. (3:50, Part 2)

MV: Was that the only high school in Caldwell County then?

IJ: For black kids, Freedman High School.

MV: And then they just went to Lenoir High? Was there any in the county?

IJ: Yes, they had. Now, after integration, some of the kids who were. They had a few in Granite Falls in high school [that] went to Hudson High. That was before you had South High.

MV: Oh, yes. That's right.

IJ: There weren't very many kids, and you had a few out on the upper end of Dulatown who went to Hudson, maybe that first year. Kings Creek, the black kids out in that area went to the high school in Kings Creek. Or was it Hibriten? Then the other kids here in the city went to Lenoir High. So now we have. Then when the county and city merged, then we had William Lenoir, and then there used to be. They had high school a couple of years down at Lenoir High, junior high. Then it was moved to William Lenoir. Right? (5:19, Part 2)

MV: Yes.

IJ: I think that's the way. I kind of remember. All these transitions, sometimes you have to stop and think. Then Lenoir High School was merged with Gamewell High School, and then they came up with the name West Caldwell.

MV: You taught at West Caldwell, didn't you?

IJ: Yes, I taught at West Caldwell. I went from Freedman to Lenoir High to West Caldwell.

MV: Was it real hard to integrate the schools?

IJ: Let me tell you a little about that. When I first went to Lenoir High, it wasn't anything for me to walk in my classroom and on the blackboard would be written "Go home nigger." It wasn't strange for me to see that at all. The only thing I could do, I'd just erase it and ignore it. The boys' bathroom was next to my room where my major classroom was, and they would holler back through the wall, "Go home nigger." I worked right on like I never heard it. Then one teacher told me one day down there, she said, "I want you to know there's not but about two of us want you down here," and I said, "Well, that's all right. I didn't come down here looking for red carpet treatment." I said, "I came because I want to prove that, regardless of the color of my skin, I can be a good teacher," and that was the end of that conversation. (7:11, Part 2)

One day-this happened three times in a row-I was standing at my desk, and in those days you wore something we called a sheath dress and it had a zipper down the back. Once in a while you see them coming back now. A group of three white girls-and I won't call their names-they walked in and zipped my dress down the back, and zipped it back up, and walked out of the room, and I never said a word. I told my mother about it when I got home. She said, "Don't get mad." I said, "I'm not." The next day I said I'm going to see if the same thing happens again. That was on a Friday. They zipped my dress down again and zipped it back up. So when I came home that afternoon from school I told my mother what happened and I said, "Well, I'll just pray over this." I said, "I'm going to do the same thing again Monday and I'll have my answer." (8:17, Part 2)

Monday, I made it a point to be standing at my desk, because this happened on a lunch break. The same three girls walk in again and did it a third time, unzipped my dress down the back and zipped it back up. I turned around and said to them, "Now, if you're trying to see if I'm wearing the same underclothes I had on the day before, or yesterday, I don't." I said, "I change my underclothes every day." I said, "Now, if you're trying to judge me by your maids and your cooks, if you paid them better salaries they could buy Shadowline just like you or I buy." And those girls said, "Oh, Miss Jones. We're so sorry." I said, "Well, that's all right." I said, "If you had to learn that all blacks don't wear dirty underclothes I'm glad I was here for you to learn it." But that was why they did it. (9:26, Part 2)

MV: I was wondering why. [Laughs]

IJ: They wanted to see if I wore the same underclothes every day.

MV: I was thinking about that. I didn't know why.

IJ: They wanted to see if I changed my underclothes.

MV: Like a slip, or like a bra and stuff?

IJ: Yes. So I would make it a point sometimes, if I had to try something on, so they could see that my underclothes were clean, that they weren't dingy and dirty.

MV: I don't even think about slips these days. My mom gets mad at me. [Laughs]

IJ: [Unclear 9:51]

MV: Oh, gosh.

IJ: My mother said, "Just don't get angry." I made a point-and I never once told my principal. I figured that was a learning process for them and I was a teacher. (10:09, Part 2)

A lot of other little things happened, like one day I cut my finger. I was teaching something and I was bad to cut myself, even though as much as I handled knives. I never will forget the little girl that said. One girl said, "Gosh! Her blood is red," and the other little girl said, "Well, what color did you expect it to be? Black?" Well, that took care of itself. What's the point of me getting alarmed about that?

It wasn't easy, but I think what helped me through it was I was there because. Since I was there, I wanted to prove that the color of my skin had nothing to do with my being a good teacher. I could be just as good a teacher as anybody else, and not because I was black I would be a good black teacher but I could be a good teacher. I had one student say that to me. She said, "Miss Jones, you're as good a teacher as I've ever had. But when will the public stop referring to you as a good black teacher and just as a good teacher?" I said, "They may never be able to do that." I said, "But that doesn't bother me." (11:30, Part 2)

MV: Were there-? There were black students at Lenoir High when you taught there.

IJ: My first year there I might have had one black student in my classes. Most all my students were white most of the time. Then when they integrated, closed up the old Freedman High School a year later, I may have had. Most of my students were still predominantly white because home economics, by that time, it was a full-fledged elective on its own, you know. But I taught all the advanced courses at Lenoir High.

MV: When did you go to West Caldwell?

IJ: The fall of 1977. That's the one date I can remember.

MV: Wow!

IJ: We merged, and we didn't move into West Caldwell building. We moved in Gamewell High School.

MV: I remember that.

IJ: You remember that? (12:45, Part 2)

MV: Yes.

IJ: Well, we moved in there, and we stayed there from the fall of '77 until about March of '78. Sometime early that spring of '78 we moved into our new building.

MV: I remember walking around in it on my dad's shoulders before it was built. That was a long time ago. [Laughs] Well by then, when you went there, integration was pretty much full-swing.

IJ: Integration was full-swing. The hardest thing I think we had was getting our students at Gamewell, Collettsville, and Lenoir High to say, okay, we are West Caldwell. I was responsible for student council, Gary Knight and myself, and our main goal at that point was take the best from Lenoir High, take the best from Gamewell High, and incorporate those ideas into a mission for West Caldwell High School student council. We can no longer think of ourselves as Lenoir High people and West Caldwell people. We are the Warrior family. (13:58, Part 2)

I think that was the thing that we had to overcome in those days because those schools had been bitter rivals and at one time. Well, Lenoir High School was the leading high school in Caldwell County. It was the best high school there was and I would say, because of Lenoir High's status, some of the county schools felt somewhat inferior. Not all; I'm just saying some. You had to help each school realize that each one had good qualities, each one had qualities not so good, so let's take the good from each school and put it together to make us one good school. That's what we had to overcome. I think in some areas it might have been more difficult. I don't know. Your father could tell you about how they had to overcome that in athletics, I'm sure.

MV: Yes. (15:16, Part 2)

IJ: The other thing that I had to overcome at West Caldwell was. I did our teacher evaluation. So when I first started evaluating teachers-when Mr. [Unclear 15:33] had me evaluating teachers-I had to make it perfectly clear that I did not have to teach science, or English, or math, or whatever course it might be to know how to be a good evaluator. Basic good teaching strategies and principles can be the same throughout all classes. There are some basic principles that we all should meet, and I had to get that point across and prove that I could do it and not be biased and not be prejudiced; do it with an open mind.

MV: Was that hard to do?

IJ: No, because I was determined to do it. I didn't find it hard to do.

MV: Were you the assistant principal? (16:26, Part 2)

IJ: Yes. We had three assistant principals. Mr. Burns was the fulltime assistant principal. Howard Holman and myself were halftime. We each taught two classes a day and then we spent the other part of our time in administration. My first year I had ninth grade. Was it ninth grade discipline, or tenth grade? One of the two; I can't remember. It stayed that way for a good while, and then finally I did not do any discipline. I did mostly teacher evaluation except for new teachers. Then-I can't remember what principal started that. Was it Mr. Morrison or the last year Mr. Deane was there? [He] did the new teachers and I did the tenured teachers. Then Mr. Burns didn't do any and I don't think-unless he just had one person he wanted to observe so he would not forget how it's done. Then when Mr. Holman left I became the next fulltime person. (17:36, Part 2)

MV: Did you find your relationship changed with the other teachers when you became their administrator?

IJ: No.

MV: It didn't?

IJ: I don't think that was ever a problem with me.

MV: Did you like it better, not teaching all the time?

IJ: Well, I did. Because, as I look back, I had had enough years in the classroom, you know. Some of the procedures were changing very, very fast and I'm not too sure if I was ready to turn loose some of the old techniques that I had been accustomed to and had found success with. So I was relieved. It didn't bother me to come out of the classroom and be more in administration and work with public relations and curriculum. I enjoyed that because that was part of the work that I did at Minnesota.

MV: Was it?

IJ: Yes. (18:41, Part 2)

MV: What was your master's degree in?

IJ: I had a master's. How can I say this, because I was the first person to do that at Minnesota. In Minnesota, when you worked for your master's degree, you could do a thesis or what they called three starred papers, so I chose three starred papers. You did research but it wasn't what they call authentic research, because when you do a dissertation you have to do research on a problem that has not been done before. I was the first person to do three starred papers, and when I got through with the three starred papers I would have been better off had I done a thesis.

MV: Really?

IJ: Because I had worked harder, done more work, and it cost me more to do the three starred papers than it would have cost me had I done a dissertation. But I enjoyed it, and I came out with a major in home economics and a double minor in vocational education and child development. That's what I came out with. That was my double minor and major. (20:14, Part 2)

MV: That's a lot.

IJ: But I enjoyed it. It was worth it.

MV: Is there any advice that you would give to the people starting to teach now?

IJ: Don't go into teaching unless you are willing to give of yourself. I think a young teacher today, he or she has to be willing to say, "I can forget part of me. I'm willing to give up that part of me to the profession," because it takes it in order for you to deal with the kind of problems that you have in school today. When I started you didn't have the problems that we have today, and as I progressed through the years I was able to adapt, and adapt, and adapt, and adapt, and adapt. But I think nowadays you've got to go in ready to handle problems that maybe some of them have never had any idea that such problems existed. (21:37, Part 2)

I think if you go into teaching you ought to be willing to make a sacrifice, and I think that's what it is. It's a sacrifice; first, because you're not paid properly. Second, you don't have the support of the community, and because of that you have to give so much of yourself and you have to be willing to give and not look for a whole lot in return. If somebody comes by and says, "Thank you. You did a good job," say, "Thank you," and accept it and move along. Of course I did that all my life because you may work for years and not get any thanks. So you can't go around looking for people to praise you and give you thanks for a job because you may not get it. (22:41, Part 2)

But as long as you know within yourself that you have done your very best, and you've given it that hundred percent plus, okay. I worry about people who do not know when they've given a hundred percent. If they give that much, to them that's. And that's going to be something that's. Where you're located and where you are, a hundred percent plus may be at this level here. You could be over here on another job and a hundred percent plus may be down here. So you cannot judge yourself or measure yourself by somebody else. Only measure yourself by you. (23:33, Part 2)

Now, I learned that when I went to Chicago to school to study ice carving and cake decorating. I was in class and I was the only black person in class and Jan, next to me, made the prettiest roses I thought I had ever seen. One day I said to Jan. We were practicing and working and I said, "Jan, your roses are so much prettier than mine." She turned around and said to me, "Inez, if you'd quit trying to judge your roses by mine you could make better roses. I was making roses before I came here." I got so mad at Jan I didn't know what in the world to do. She and I had been good buddies, you know. I got mad, but I didn't say anything else to her. I got home that night and I got to thinking about it. I said, "Jan's right. I shouldn't." (24:22, Part 2)

From that day I never judged what I was doing by somebody else. If I made this, is that the best that can be made? Is that the best I can do it? Then I would try again to see what I need to do to improve. Now, that's the lesson I try to pass on to young people now. Don't judge yourself by what somebody else is doing. Judge yourself by what you are doing. Is that your very, very best? I preached that to my daughter. You do your best. Don't worry about somebody else's grade. If you got a B and that person got an A, don't worry about that person's A. What do you need to do to bring this up? To me that's important.

The other thing that's important to me-and I hope that I got that across during my years in school-where you come from is not important. It's where you're going. I came off a farm in Burke County. My being raised on a farm didn't have. It's not important. It's where I'm going that's important. What am I going to do with my life? That's important. Some people can't get beyond where they're from and not look at: Where can I go? To me, that's the most important thing. (25:54, Part 2)

MV: I wish I'd had you as a teacher. [Laughs]

IJ: One other thing that I liked to pass on to my students was: Small minds talk about people, average minds talk about things, and great minds talk about ideas. Now, what kind of mind are you going to have? I would do that often during the course of all of my classes because, as I look at what we do as people, we spend too much time talking about other people, too much time talking about what things we have or what things someone else might have, instead of bringing up ideas that will improve us as a group, or as a community, or as a school, or as teachers, or whatever; or even just improve myself. To me that's what's important.

MV: Thanks. That's all the questions I have, but that was good. I'm going to tell my mom what you said about talking about people. I like that. (27:12, Part 2)

[End tape one, side two]

Inez Cannon Jones oral history interview, October 6, 1997
Oral history interview with Inez Cannon Jones, an African American teacher from Burke County, N.C. Jones describes her childhood, her education at Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, N.C., Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., Howard University, and the University of Minnesota, her career as a teacher in the towns of Kinston and Lenoir, N.C., and her students. Interviewer: Martha Vaughn.
October 06, 1997
Original Format
oral histories
10cm x 6cm
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East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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