Margaret Frances Brake Oral History, February 10, 2019.


Margaret Frances Brake

Alston Cobourn
University Archives, Joyner Library

February 10, 2019
At the home of Margaret Frances Brake
Rocky Mount, North Carolina

AC: Hello. I'm Alston Cobourn. Today is February 10th, 2019, and I'm going to be speaking with Frances Brake about her childhood in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, her time as a student at East Carolina Teachers College, and her career. So Frances, can you please introduce yourself and tell us when and where you were born?

FB: Okay. My name is Frances Brake. I was born in Edgecombe County, out on Highway 43. I was born in my grandmother's house across the road from where I grew up. And what was the next question? (0:46)

AC: When? When were you born?

FB: I was born the 10th of October, 1935.

AC: Okay.

FB: And we moved to across the road from my grandmother's when I was about six months old. We moved to what was my daddy's great grandparents' house, and it was not ours but it was a two-story house, and it was fairly nice. It did have running water, but we didn't have the money to run the water but we did have the pipes and the bathtub and the commodes, and we did have electricity. We had an indoor bathroom, but we did not have a phone. I think there was a phone connection, but we didn't have the money to have a phone, so it was years before we got a phone. But it was a very nice house. It was you know, well kept and all. (01:45)

AC: Right.

FB: And at the time, my daddy's uncle lived upstairs in a room and went uptown to work. He got a business degree somewhere up there and worked as a bookkeeper at Rosenbloom's Department Store. Men's and women's store in Rocky Mount. That was granddaddy's brother, Uncle Arthur. Okay, what next? (02:08)

AC: So can you tell me the names of your parents and your siblings?

FB: All right. My father was Robert Earl Brake. He was born January the 1st, I think it was '13.

AC: Yeah, 1913. (02:22)

FB: '13. And my mother was Margaret Melissa Burgess, and they were married, and she was born June the 9th, I think, in '11 or '12. They were married on the 4th of January in 1935, in Emporia, Virginia. That's where all the people who didn't have any money went and got married, went across the state line and got married. But anyway, they had a farm family. Actually, there were six of us, but my sister was born - I don't know what year she was born but she would be 71 now - and she was born dead. But anyway, I was born on the 10th of October. My brother Bob was born on the 7th of December, three years before Pearl Harbor? Three years after Pearl Harbor. And then Jimmy, James Earl, was born the 17th of November, five years later. And then John Thomas Brake was born on July the 12th. What year? (03:54)

AC: 1952.

FB: '52. And Julian David Brake was born the 4th of January in '54 then, in '54. Yeah, because he was born on Mama and Daddy's 19th wedding anniversary.

AC: And so you've talked to us a little bit, how did your family make a living, and how did you participate in that? (04:19)

FB: Okay. Well, we lived on the farm. It was not our farm, but Daddy always called it "farming on-heirs." We did not, my brother said we were sharecroppers, but we were not sharecroppers because people think about sharecroppers living off in the field somewhere in an old house with nothing. We lived in a modest house, but he called it "farming on-heirs." His Uncle Ralph was the owner of the farm, and we were always treated as part of the family and we were part of the family, but it was hard times because it was back during the Depression and all. We didn't have a car or a truck either one. So I don't know how Daddy did any getting around, but I don't know how many acres of tobacco. He must've had nine acres. He made like $350 that year. So I don't know how he got down the road to my mother's brother's house, Uncle Gid Burgess, but he got a job building barns for a dollar a day, and he worked there I guess several years, in the off season. (05:30)

AC: Right.

FB: Mother had a brother, Uncle Gid and Uncle Jim, and they built barns and all. So we - So how we managed, I don't know. We had some help come from our Uncle Ralph's farm over on Dunbar. He brought some of the people who lived over there to help us out until the family got... You know, we weren't able to, the children weren't. But when we got old enough, then we participated in the farm work. And Mama worked on the farm as well as cooked and cleaned, and canned everything in the world, and preserved everything you can think of. Kept going. One reason is because both of them, they were both intelligent. They were both very organized, and they made do of what they had. They worked very hard, and when we had help come and when we got able to work, when the help came we worked with them. We didn't stand aside and watch them, we all worked together. And Mama worked, as I said too, in the field. She did a lot of helping with the setting tobacco. I didn't do much with the setting tobacco, but she helped pull plants. And in later years, after they had near about retired, she and Daddy set on the setter. And Daddy's cousin, Joe Brake, drove the tractor. That was many years after we had grown up. But we all worked, and I don't remember any of us complaining because that was just way everybody lived. And we all had, back when everybody had Victory Gardens, we had our regular garden. We had a garden, we had a cow, we had hogs. We had chickens. The main thing I remember buying, you bought tea and coffee, and maybe flour, I guess. (07:31)

AC: Right

FB: And sugar. Basically, everything else we had on the farm. We might have wanted something else, but I mean, people talk about making sandwiches. I said, "We didn't make any sandwiches because we didn't have loaves of bread."

AC: Right. (07:48)

FB: I remember going to school and he'd give us a quarter, and we wrapped it in Daddy's handkerchief. You tied a knot in one of his handkerchiefs. Somebody put theirs in a shoe. I don't know where I put mine, I must've put it in my pocket, because we didn't have pocketbooks or anything. But we carried our quarter to lunch, so we ate at school, because we didn't have anything to take for sandwiches or anything, so that's what we did. And so as we got a little older, we finally got a truck, and we rode over to my Uncle Ralph's. It's called Dunbar. That was the name of the area over there. And my cousin that was with us, he said, "What is that radio?" And it was Daddy. He was always singing a little tune. Sounded like the radio. But anyway, we kept that truck for a long time. One time we went to Carolina Beach, Daddy's sister going down there, and we drove them to the beach. So Bob and I and Daddy's sister Jean, Emma Jean, who was two and a half years older than me, we rode in the back of the truck and we wrapped up, and I reckon Jimmy was with us. And Daddy stopped along the way to Carolina Beach and saw this big pond, and he said, "Jean, this is the ocean." She said, "Well, I thought you couldn't see across the ocean." So that was something I always remembered. But anyway, that was our first trip to the beach. So anyway, we finally got a car. We finally got a car. But we all worked, we all worked. And when we got older, Daddy never paid us. And sometimes we just sort of thought about that. We didn't get a - what you call it anyway, but we all worked. But when the time came, our clothes were paid for, we never went dirty, we didn't go hungry. We had some money to buy things if we needed it and all, but that's what we did. So that was life. But everybody worked. Everybody worked, and we all sat down at the table together and ate dinner that Mama had cooked. How she cooked, I don't know, and worked at the barn, too. And then you left the food on the table. We put a cloth over it. Somebody said they didn't put a cloth over it. And at night, that's what you had for supper, what was left over. (10:17)

AC: Right.

FB: And back then, you see, food didn't spoil like it does now because there weren't preservatives.

AC: Okay. Thank you.

FB: That makes sense?

AC: Yes. Did you attend the West Edgecombe school?

FB: I did.

AC: Was that a K-12?

FB: It was K-12 for all of us.

AC: Right.

FB: All five of us went. It was not K-12, it was one through 12.

AC: Okay, okay.

FB: It was not a kindergarten.

AC: Kindergarten, okay. (10:46)

FB: We had a bus that stopped right in front of our door. All of us rode the same bus, although we were a lot of difference in ages. And we rode it there and back, and always got along okay. Weren't too much of a problem. I hated to get on the bus to have to go all the way to the back. Sometimes we did. But that's how we got to school and back, yep. I remember one time, it was later years when my two little brothers were older. I don't know whether they were in high school or not, John and Julian, but they started out the steps in the ice and they slid down, slid across the porch and they had to come back in. And the principal called to see if they were okay. He wanted to be sure they were okay because they had fallen down. So Mama got them, helped them get dressed and go on. I do remember that. But as far as the bus, we didn't have any problem with the bus. We didn't have any problem with the bus, you know? (11:50)

AC: Were you involved in any clubs while you were in school?

FB: Not much. I was not much of a club person.

AC: Okay.

FB: I was a very introverted person, I guess you would say. I tried to stay out of everybody's way. But I was in the Beta Club, I was in the Future Homemakers, and a little bit in the 4H. Now, my brothers, when they came along, they were very into 4H, but I was not a person that... I just always drew back. And I wasn't into the 4H much. I think I was an officer in the Science Club one time. That was the only time I ever remember being an officer. I was not any of the class officers. I don't know any other clubs I was in.

AC: Right. Did you sing? (12:46)

FB: Huh?

AC: Did you sing? In the choir?

FB: We sang in the Glee Club.

AC: In the Glee Club. I thought so.

FB: We had a Glee Club. They just let everybody in. You sort of blended in. Something that always bothered me, I was not the smartest person in my class, but the way we felt like when the 11th grade, they had... What was it you were in the 11th grade? The marshals.

AC: Mm hmm (affirmative).

FB: The marshals were the top ones in the class. Okay, the way it landed, we should have been marshals. But she decided that it should be some boys, so she took two or three boys ahead of some of us, and let them be marshals. I didn't think that was right.

AC: Right. (13:29)

FB: I didn't think that was right. Of course, my Mama and Daddy didn't protest like some of them would. But I do remember the white dress I wore for graduation. Wait a minute, that might've been college. But anyway, I was not a marshal, and that did disappoint me because I was qualified to be a marshal. I was not the top, but I was qualified. And then the next year, you see, when we got ready to graduate, Millie, who was my college roommate, and Merrill Kincaid, they tied. And it put our principal in a real bad situation. It was Mr. Cashwell's first year of being principal. Both of the mamas were very combative-acting. If he hadn't put them tied, we might not have graduated. And that was sort of a shadow, I thought, on the graduation in a way, because it came up for another one of her daughters, and she moved her to another school. But we didn't have anything like that in my family. We didn't have anything. And the fact that I weren't a marshal, that didn't bother them. It did stick to my mind, though, in later years, that I should've been a marshal. Because that's sort of an honor. (14:45)

AC: Right.

FB: But let those two boys, who had lower grades, but they were the highest boys. So anyway. I didn't say anything. Weren't no need of saying anything, but it did hurt my feelings.

AC: Right.

FB: It did hurt my feelings some.

AC: So then you went to East Carolina Teachers College?

FB: It was not ECTC. It had been ECTC when my aunt, who was two years ahead of me, when she was first down there it was ECTC. But I think it was East Carolina College when we got there. And I think it had changed when she, after a year or two she was there. It was East Carolina College, and- (15:31)

AC: So which years were you there for your undergrad degree?

FB: I went in the fall of '53, and I graduated in the spring of '57. And it was still East Carolina College, and it was several years later, I can remember, when I went with East Carolina to Mexico, when we got back that day they said they had made it into a university.

AC: Oh, okay.

FB: But I can't remember the date of that, though.

AC: Right, right. What made you decide to attend school there?

FB: I don't know.

AC: Yeah? (16:12)

FB: I think my Daddy's sister was two years ahead of me, and all those years she said she was going to be a nurse. So I said, "Well, I think I'll be a nurse," in my mind. Then she decided to go to East Carolina, so I decided to go to East Carolina. I had not been to all these colleges like some of them do now, but it was close, and we knew it was a good school. So I went to East Carolina. Well, she went down as a PE major and a math minor. Well, when I got there, I didn't know what I was going to major in, and I have to tell you, I have a lot of stress because between my junior and senior in high school year, I had a little brother born. And I had a lot of thinking. It wasn't so bad, but I mean I thought about all those things more than I did about going to college, what I was going to major in. So when I got down there, I can remember my Daddy took me, which I wasn't happy about that, but Mama was at home. John was a year old, and she was expecting another one in January so she weren't able to go. So I wasn't happy about that. But I remember unpacking and all, and one of the girls from Ahoskie who became a good friend, they said, "Well, you need to go to the registrar's office and pay your money." $84 for the quarter. That's what we had to pay. So I went over there with some of them, and then I don't know whether it was the next day we went to a general meeting, and we broke up and said what you're going to major in, and you went to those things. Well, all of them went to elementary education, so that's where I went. Oh, me. But I have thought about it, and my brother Jimmy was in elementary. He must've been about third grade or something like that. So I had thought about it, actually, but not never thought about majoring in it. (18:11)

AC: Right.

FB: Doesn't sound like I was real interested, but I was. I was, but I had so many things running through my mind, and I was worried about my Mama going to have a baby in January and all, and what was going to happen to her. So that's how I made it.

AC: Okay. Where did you live while you were in school there? (18:28)

FB: Okay. Our first year, all of us were in Cotton. And I had started off with a roommate from Snow Hill, and we had corresponded that summer. But after the first quarter, she really wanted to room with somebody who was more prominent than me, and so she met this girl from La Grange, Ann Ruth Thompson. And both of them... Well, no, Polly was a home economics major. But anyway, they decided that's what they were going to do. And there were three of us went from my class, and we decided to room with different people to meet more people. So my friend Millie, her roommate, was going back to Ahoskie to get married, so we decided we would get together. So that was in Cotton Hall, and so we did. The next year we went to Wilson. That was an old dorm, but it turned out real well. The first quarter, that was the year they were doubling up because they were building a new dorm and didn't have room for everybody. And so we were in a room for three girls, or maybe that was the third year. Anyway, Christine, who graduated, was a home economics major, and she needed to have a room for one quarter, so she roomed with us. We might've been in Wilson two years. And then Jarvis opened, that was the new dorm. That was the closest. It's on Fifth Street. And we moved to Jarvis. And she was there, Millie, she was on the campus. I'm trying to think whether she was on campus. Two years? Two quarters. The second quarter she did her student teaching up at the high school, which is on Fifth Street. And the last quarter she went and taught at Belhaven. She had secretly got married on the 4th of January, but if it had been known she'd a been kicked out of school. So it was secret. But anyway, she went to Belhaven and taught down there. So I had one quarter by myself, that last quarter. (20:38)

AC: Okay. Were you involved in any student groups while you were on campus?

FB: Not much. Doesn't sound like I did much. I was in something, I don't remember.

AC: Okay.

FB: We didn't have all the student groups they have now.

AC: Yeah, I believe that.

FB: And they had some scholastic stuff, and I wasn't qualified for that. I was sort of in between. I belonged to something, but right offhand I can't remember what it was, so it must not have been important. But we didn't have all the groups that they have now.

AC: What all did you like to do for fun while you were on campus? Obviously, you studied. What else did you like to do? (21:25)

FB: Well, there wasn't a lot of things.

AC: What are places that you met people?

FB: Well, I don't know. One of our fun things was to walk uptown on Evans Street and eat at Bissette's Drugstore. Everybody went to Bissette's Drugstore. We had a number one platter. We had a hamburger and not waffle fries, but French fries that were cut. Oh my word, that was something. I liked to go downtown and look - I didn't do a lot of shopping, but that was fun. But I'd come home, you see, when I was able to come. I'd come home every weekend because Mama had two babies at home, and I didn't have a lot of time otherwise. But we had to stay nine weeks without coming home. I think it was about nine weeks. And we used to go to football games. We liked the football games. We went to basketball games. Went to a few baseball games. We had a lot of girls that were freshmen when we were, that were cheerleaders. There were two or three from Roanoke Rapids, and my friend there was from Weldon. And then there were two from down here in Tarboro. So some of them had close, some people that we knew, so that was interesting. We liked to go to the soda shop and get us some, what did I say? Cream puffs. (22:57)

AC: Right.

FB: But it don't sound like I did much. I did take, I took tennis my first quarter. Okay, there's that Build A Bear and they're going to do scouts. Build A Bear. But I got my cousin, he had a tennis court. I said, "Send me a few tennis balls." I think he sent me 100. But when you went to tennis, or any PE class, you had to wear your raincoats. You couldn't go across campus with your shorts on.

AC: Right. (23:31)

FB: But I didn't consider myself to be a good tennis player until I went to East Carolina. Those poor girls, they couldn't hit the tennis ball across the court, across the net. And that man liked to went crazy. So I'm trying to think whether that year or whether my second course, he had four of us, Barbara Heckstall was from Windsor, and these two guys, I think, were graduate students. The four of us played tennis together. So I was good enough I could do that, because I could get the ball across the court. But I enjoyed tennis a great deal, and we used to play tennis when we were in high school and all. That was something we could do. But I did that, but as I said, (24:18)

AC: Sounds good.

FB: I had to get my classwork done, and I came home most of the time after I was able to, to come home and help out here. Because Bob was here, my brother, and he helped during the weekdays and all. So I did that. But we always were doing something, because we got together in the dorm and visited and all, and met a lot of people. We went to the school cafeteria and ate, and met a lot of people like that. And then our education major, you had a lot of people, you had the same classes with a lot of the same people and you got to know people like that and all. I hate that word bored, I despise that word bored. We were never bored. And we didn't have TV or anything like that. Wherever you went you had to walk, because I didn't have a car until after I started teaching school. So anyway, I thought I had a pretty good turn at school. And we met some people that we had a ride with sometimes, some girls that were older than us in school and all. (25:33)

AC: Yeah. Is there anything else about your schoolwork or your studies?

FB: Pardon?

AC: Is there anything else about your schoolwork or your studies that sticks out?

FB: Well, I loved geography. And of course I loved Dr. Martin, he was the geography teacher most of the time. That was one of my favorite subjects. And he was one of the ones that used to go to the soda shop and play bridge with all the cute girls. He was married, and nice, you know. It always was rumored he only got a dollar a year because they had money. I don't know whether it was his money or his wife's money, but that's what they said. But I liked him, I liked his way of teaching. And when I got my master's, as I was coming out that day I saw him, and he stopped and congratulated me. Which I appreciated. He might not have known my name, but I had enough courses under him, but I really loved that. I really did love geography. Math, when you were in elementary, you only had maybe a math course, elementary math, and I was not good at math. But Ms. Williamson, she was old, but she was very nice. But she was an older lady. And she said, "I don't know how you figure problems out. It's not the way that I figure them out but you do it right, in other words." I remember that. (27:08)

AC: Most important part.

FB: Yes. I do remember, I know my English class I must've scored pretty well because I had smart people in that English class. I wasn't that smart. There was some smart people, and that's how they grouped you on those tests that you had taken and all, and I had some very smart people in my English class. So I must've done well on the tests.

AC: Right.

FB: Sometimes I did pretty well on the tests, but we had this language arts course that you got six quarter hours for. Well, the first test I took, I didn't do very well at all. And I think he took my paper as an example of things that were not right. I made an A on that course.

AC: That's good. (28:00)

FB: But I had, this was sort of strange. We had to take these tests like you were going to give in school, like a C.A.T. But tests and all. Well, I took them. I could run right through and read right through, and I got through. He looked at me. I got everything right. I could do that. I could do that. And so I made an A on the course. So you got - It was a lot of quality points for making an A on a six-hour course or four or whatever it was. So that was pretty interesting. I liked being able for him to know that I did have some sense, although to start with I don't think he thought I did. And then another course that was interesting was children's lit. Lord have mercy. And she was an older lady, and they were good teachers. I can't remember her name. But the first test I misspelled a word, and if you misspelled a word even though you were a senior in college, you had to write it off. You bet I didn't misspell any more words, I was very careful. But that's something she would do. And we had to do a reading list and read all these books. Well, I was by myself that quarter, and I could read and listen to the radio at the same time. I read all the Newbery books and all the Caldecott books, and all that stuff. And then when the time for the test come, you had to report on one of those, and she'd choose one from your book list and all to be sure you read it. Well, I read it because I enjoyed them. And some of them I'd never had access to before. So that was a lot of fun to me, and I think I made an A on that course. But I didn't always make As. But I made a history course, I made an A on one time. I think it was history. But I could memorize. I took notes. I memorized 14 pages of notes, I made an A on the course. I don't know. But I did learn something, I learned something. But I remember all those guys standing up there looking at it. They posted them up on the board. They said, "That's you, isn't it?" I said, "Yeah." They were aware of the Bs and As and alphabetical, because they were probably history majors. They were history majors. And I don't remember what history, but I never had that much American history. I regret that. And not that much American geography. It was all European. And I don't have that much. And I love the European because I went to Europe that summer. I knew a lot of European history and all that geography. So, anyway. (30:52)

AC: Then what did you do when you graduated?

FB: What did I do when I graduated? I came home from graduation. Okay, you could only have three people at graduation, because I think we graduated in Wilson. No, not Wilson, but what's the name of that... Wright.

AC: Wright Auditorium?

FB: No, Wright Circle. And you only could have three, so my Daddy and Mama, and my Daddy's sister Emma Jean who had graduated two years before, she went. And that's when I wore her white. She was a... What? Like you were in the junior year.

AC: Marshal? (31:35)

FB: She was a marshal in her junior year at college, and she weren't that much smarter than me. But anyway, she had her white pique dress, and so I wore that under my black robe. I do remember that. And we came home, and the next morning my Daddy had me up before day because we had to drop poison on tobacco. I think to the day my Mama died she was mad with Daddy because he made me get up and drop poison on the tobacco. You had a piece of tobacco stick, and you had a tin can, Knot said she remembered doing that, and you put the poison in the can and you went up and down the row dropping poison. She was so mad. Well, I spent that summer at home working on the farm, because I'd say John was a year old that summer, and she was expecting Julian. So anyway, I stayed home. And then I left and went to college. That's what I did my first summer. Well, that's what I did, yeah. (32:44)

AC: Wait, when you graduated from undergrad?

FB: Huh?

AC: When you finished undergrad, you came home for summer?

FB: Yes. Right.

AC: But then you went back to get your master's, or you started teaching?

FB: Well, I went to teaching.

AC: Yeah. (32:56)

FB: I taught in Burlington that year, and Mama wanted me to go to summer school that summer. But I said, "No, I've got to come home and get my driver's license." Learn to drive and get my driver's license, because I did not have my driver's license. I got to do that, and lose some weight. And that's what I did. And she was a little put out, but I said, "I've got to." That was after my first year of teaching. Actually, I had got a job with the Recreation Department, and then I got to thinking about how was I going to do it when I couldn't even drive? So I didn't. And so Emma Jean was expecting Walker, so she would let me ride, she'd ride with me. I had driven before, but they all scared me. So she rode with me that summer, says, "Wonder if Walker had something wrong with him." But we rode around, and I lost ten pounds, and I got my car before I got my driver's license. The first time I went, the only thing I could do was parallel park. Everything else, I was on Daddy's car and it was gearshift, and I was so nervous, that man was so ugly, I couldn't do anything. So I got my car, which was regular straight shift and all, he said, "Much improved, much improved." I wanted to kick him. But I got my car. That's what I did. I had to drive back to Burlington by myself. Well, I'd been there all that time but I hadn't driven, so anyway, that's what we did. So the next summer I came home and went to summer school. And then the next summer I went half a summer, so that worked out. She wanted me to go on and get my master's, though. I wanted to, too. Everybody wasn't lucky enough to get their master's, but this friend of mine who'll be 90 next year in August, she went on after school and she went a year and got to graduate school. And some people do that, but they don't do that now, I don't think, because it costs too much money. It costs too much money. That's why some of them will get that board certification that they get, it don't cost. But I would care, the master's is more important to me than that board certification. And I think if you were going to go someplace else, it would be more. Of course, now they're sort of ugly about the master's and won't even pay and all that mess, but anyway, I got mine and I was glad. I was glad. And I think that's the reason we went to Newport News and stayed four years. We were going to leave Burlington and that's where we got hired. Okay, we did make more money, but I got my master's and Kay was working on hers. We put in an application to Greensboro and he sent us a contract without us ever seeing him or anything, and I think then having your master's was what did it.(36:09)

AC: Right.

FB: And she was working on hers and she was going to finish. I think that's what got us the job in Greensboro, because she said that was the only place that had our national teacher's course. Oh, me.

AC: Well that's good.

FB: Anyway.

AC: Well, is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you want to say anything about before we wrap up? (36:37)

FB: Well, I taught two years in Burlington. Mama and Daddy came up there that summer, and he said, "Well, I hear your daughter's going to be leaving." They didn't say nothing. They had John and Julian along. He looked at them. They weren't even in school when I started school. And so anyway, we were up there four years. And if you stayed five, you lose your time in North Carolina. It won't but two years, but when we got ready to retire, them two years were important. Very important. So we went to Greensboro, and in later years we were able to buy our time from Virginia. And a lot of people didn't do it, but four years cost us $2,000. That was $500 a year. Okay, when we got ready to retire, those four years were so important. A year might've been, then it would cost you $20,000 to get one year, and we got four years for $2,000. When I got ready to retire, those four years were important. (37:45)

AC: Right.

FB: Very important. And it was like a drop in the bucket. But if you had a family, it was different. But we had that, and we were able to buy it back and retire when we got ready to retire. But that was important. School in Virginia, our school was different, so we had one through seven at our school. It was a big school. And our principal was nice. She was very smart. She was working on her doctorate, but she didn't know nothing about discipline. It was just a time, and it was a very transient school, because the teachers moved because their husbands were in the service at Newport News. The children, I had children in the sixth grade that had been in six schools because they worked in shipyards, pipe fitters, Navy, whatever. And so it was a different situation. All white, very little busing, but some very bad problems. Very bad problems. (38:59)

AC: What grade did you teach?

FB: Sixth. Sixth grade.

AC: Sixth?

FB: Mm hmm (affirmative). I had the sixth. She would've put me in the seventh. Thank the Lord I didn't have the Virginia history. Whoa, I did not want that seventh grade. If I'd had Virginia history, she'd have put me in seventh grade. Of course, I could've taught Virginia history, but that was her reasoning and that was good enough for me. Good enough for me. But it was tough. Our first year in Virginia was bad because I taught two years, but I had 36 children. And at least 20 of them hated everybody. They hated each other, they hated me, they hated the world. I had six students, it's tough. And next year was like heaven. So the last three years were good. So anyway, but it was a tough time. That was like my first year in Newport News, I said, "I'm going to work at the dime store. I'm never going back to teaching school." (39:58)

AC: But then you did.

FB: Yeah, but you said next year, I had seven or eight children whose - their brothers and sisters I had had that first year that was so horrible. And their brothers and sisters were like little angels. Can you imagine being in a family?

AC: Right.

FB: I had two white girls, they were a lot taller and bigger than me, nice looking children. They'd just as soon spit on me as looked at me, because they had to go to a different - they put them in a different school, and they didn't want to move from Park. That wasn't my fault, but they took it out on us. (40:35)

AC: Right.

FB: And those seventh-grade teachers, they [mocking noise] to us, next year they got them, they couldn't do a thing. We had to smile then. We had to smile then, but I tell you, I tell you. I guess that was about it. I had a time, but I wasn't an involved person. But I did have responsibilities here.

AC: Yeah.

FB: And I felt like that came first. That was all there was to it. It wouldn't have been to everybody, but it was for me. It was the first thing I had to do. (41:09)

AC: Right.

FB: And my Mama would have her hands full. I don't know how she made it. I do not know how she made it, because she did everything. She did everything. We would put in over here, she'd stop on the way home and pull corn, cook lunch and have that and everything else. She fed all the black people that came from over there. When they came over here, they wanted to stop here and eat because they knew Mama had good food, and they eat the same thing we did. Fed them on the back porch out there and all, so anyway. I'm not putting Daddy down. He worked hard, too. His thing was different. (41:49)

AC: Right. It was just a different set of stuff to do.

FB: But she... The only thing, when I got through with college, started teaching school, I said, "I'm going to help, but I am not going to sucker tobacco." That was one thing I said. And suckering tobacco, you had the little suckers grew between the leaves. You had to get down under them and break them off. They wouldn't let me top because they didn't think I had sense or nothing. I didn't disobey them. They didn't think I had sense enough, that's fine with me, but I did sucker. But when I got through college and started teaching school, I said, "I will not sucker anymore tobacco." But I did get up in the barn, because Bob thought he had polio that summer. But his legs were shorter than mine, but we had that polio outbreak, and we stayed out of school until after October before we ever started school. (42:47)

AC: What year was that? What year in school were you?

FB: I'm thinking I was going into the sixth or seventh grade.

AC: Oh, okay.

FB: And there was a polio outbreak. And Sandra Brake up here had a light case of it. And you know, a lot of those people who had light cases have come back, it's come back to them. (43:07)

AC: Right, right.

FB: And I think she's had some problems. But you could not go to movie theaters or swimming pools or anywhere. And so we were here, and we were sort of self-sufficient, as I say. Go into town to get the groceries, but we didn't go. So we didn't go back to school on in October, so we went to school every Saturday. And we went to school. We didn't play at going to school, we went to school, because we had to. There was only nine months of school then. (43:39)

AC: Right.

FB: When I started teaching it was nine months. When we went to Virginia, it was ten months. When we started teaching we got $200 a month at nine months. So you had to figure that out. I don't see how a family lived. Very hard to live on that kind of money. That's why, well, half of the men teachers were coaches and all, but it was tough. We had a girl from Siler City. She'd go to Kroger's when we got our check and cash it. $200 and she sent $60 to her brother at Wake Forest, so she lived on $140 a month. So, anyway. Okay, you through? (44:24)

AC: Well, yes, thank you very much.

FB: Okay. I've told you too much, haven't I?

AC: No. You've been just right.

FB: You cut it off. Well, anyway- (44:31)

Margaret Frances Brake Oral History, February 10, 2019.
In this oral history interview alumnus Margaret Frances Brake discusses her childhood home and circumstances, primary schooling, helping her family farm tobacco in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, other occupations of her family members, academic and leisure activities at East Carolina College, and her teaching career in North Carolina and Virginia. Interviewer: Alston Cobourn.
February 10, 2019
Original Format
oral histories
Local Identifier
Location of Original
University Archives
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at

Contact Digital Collections

If you know something about this item or would like to request additional information, click here.

Comment on This Item

Complete the fields below to post a public comment about the material featured on this page. The email address you submit will not be displayed and would only be used to contact you with additional questions or comments.

Comment Policy