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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 13, 1979. Interview C-0013-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A successful student becomes a successful teacher

Spaulding remembers leaving his rural community to attend high school in Durham, North Carolina, having been persuaded by the influential educator Charles R. Moore. Spaulding was successful enough to earn an invitation from Columbus County to return as principal of the black school there. Spaulding remembers asserting discipline there by switching one physically imposing student.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Asa T. Spaulding, April 13, 1979. Interview C-0013-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

WALTER WEARE:
You worked, then, in the general store, went to school, and worked on the farm until you were sixteen, and then came directly to Durham?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Came to Durham. Dr. Moore came down there during the summer, after I'd been finished with seventh grade. He asked my father, "What're you going to do with that boy? Where's he going to school?" At that time I was considering going to—it was called Biddle University; now it's called Johnson C. Smith University. The name was changed because the Smith family made a large donation; but it was Biddle University. Some of the people from down there would go there. This professor Lloyd Spaulding who taught me in the early years, and was teaching at Biddle University then. And he had discussed my going to Biddle. See, the universities at that time, that were named universities, were not necessarily universities. They not only offered college training, but also secondary education. Finishing seventh grade, I could have entered Biddle University, at that time.
WALTER WEARE:
Was that true of Shaw, as well?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
I'm not sure.
WALTER WEARE:
That was true of Dr. Shepard's training school.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
In 1910 he founded it as the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua. And the next change was the National Religious Training School. The Chautauqua was dropped. And then for religious scruples, because he had to seek funds from private sources. This woman, I think it was, this family, she had great wealth. She agreed to make a substantial contribution if he would drop the word Religious. Well, he had to keep the doors of the school open. And it became the National Training School. That's what it was when I came here in 1918. So from 1910 to 1918, it had changed its name three times.
WALTER WEARE:
When did it become North Carolina College?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
After the National Training School, the next step was the Durham State Normal School. I think that was for either two years or four years. I don't know which. But then the legislature agreed to establish it as the first liberal arts college for Negroes in the state. He had persuaded the legislature to make it a liberal arts college. Then it was the North Carolina College for Negroes. Well, times were changing. They dropped the Negroes and it became North Carolina College at Durham. Because, you see, they had North Carolina State College in Raleigh. To distinguish between the two, this was North Carolina College at Durham. After North Carolina College at Durham—I don't know whether there was another step in there before it became North Carolina Central University or not.
WALTER WEARE:
What persuaded you to come to Dr. Shepard's rather than Biddle?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Oh. Dr. Moore. Professor Lloyd Spaulding had told my father that the University would accept farm produce instead of payments for tuition, board and lodging. He could send a hog, or beef, corn, other produce, because they'd use it in the dining room.
WALTER WEARE:
Did that, in fact, happen?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. Dr. Moore came in there. That was what the first plan was, where I would go. And in the meantime Dr. Moore came down on one of his usual visits. I happened to be in the room. He said, "What are you going to do with that boy? Where's he going to school now?" "Well, he's thinking about going to Biddle." "Why don't you let him come on to Durham? I'll take charge of him." And so forth. Well, naturally, because he was to me, a hero, who came from Columbus County. He was one of the seven organizers. John Merrick, and Dr. Moore, and other five. You have that; I don't need to repeat that. You know the story of what happened there. Five dropped out in the first year. John Merrick and Dr. Moore remained. And that's when they brought C.C. Spaulding into the picture. So by that time—that was 1900 to about 1918—the company had quite a reputation. And Dr. Moore and C.C. Spaulding had taken a trip to Cuba. And they had the storm on the ocean, and they were afraid the boat was going to sink. I was familiar with that. So, naturally, it was a great motivation. I grabbed this opportunity.
WALTER WEARE:
Was the whole community familiar with the Durham story at that time?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
Yes. Because, as I said, they would make their annual visits there, both Dr. Moore and C.C. Spaulding. C.C. Spaulding would leave members of his family down there to visit with their grandparents. For a week, or something like that. So the communication between Columbus County and Durham was pretty well established.
WALTER WEARE:
Dr. Moore was seen then by the whole community as a prominent figure.
ASA T. SPAULDING:
And not only that. Well, you know the story of the establishment of the Rosenwald Schools in this state? Are you familiar with that? He was a leader in that. He took the money out of his own pocket to finance the effort. Charles R. Moore and George W. Davis, both of whom could pass for white. To provide better Negro education. He had much to do, working through others, to get the State Supervisor of Negro Education office established as part of the Department of Public Instruction in North Carolina.
WALTER WEARE:
When Dr. Moore persuaded you to come to Durham….
ASA T. SPAULDING:
He didn't need to persuade me [Laughter]
WALTER WEARE:
Was his motive just to get you to come to Dr. Shepard's school?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
No. It was to come here and I would go to the high school. See, they had a public high school here, which was known as Whitted School then. W.G. Pearson, one of the old citizens of Durham, was the principal of the school. So, I went on over there and registered. And was to repeat the seventh grade, because they figured that coming here with the limited school terms that I had had, and I was a seventh-grade student from a rural area, that I wasn't ready to take on the eighth grade in the city. So, at the end of three weeks—I was probably a week late entering the school, getting here the first of October, and public school is already open. So I entered a week or two late. But at the end of three weeks, I think it was, they had the first test. And I remember it was in mathematics and the teacher was a Miss Coleman. I think she was a graduate of Oberlin College. She was good in math. And when the papers were graded, she found that I had the highest grade in the class. She said that I was ready to do eighth-grade work. I had to be able to do eighth-grade work in order to go to National Training School then. So I changed, and entered there, probably a month late—or at least two or three weeks late. But that was no problem. I caught up. For the five years there, I maintained the highest average in the entire school, and won the trustees' tuition scholarship each year.
WALTER WEARE:
When you left, you were given a diploma that was equivalent to what?
ASA T. SPAULDING:
A high school diploma. And by that time, they had a black, or colored, school committee in Columbus County in the school that I attended. And they knew me and they knew of my record there. And they wanted me to come back and be the principal of the school. They took it up to the superintendent. And of course, the superintendent usually followed the recommendation of the school committee at that time. And he approved their recommendation. They contacted me. I had already registered at National Training School in the business department when I got this call. And of course, at that time, Dr. Moore had passed. That was 1923 and he died April 29, 1923. This was September. Frankly, I don't know what persuaded me to go, except here's an opportunity to get some money. It may have been to go back down there. I can't recall, you know, whether it was to go back home, and be a principal of a school. And of course, they were anxious; they really put pressure on me to come back there. And I went. Interesting thing there, some of my eighth-grade students were bigger than I was. These big country boys. I remember one there, he was six feet two and probably weighed a hundred-and-ninety pounds. Another was at least six feet two, but was not as heavy. And one of the first students that I whipped—at that time we could use corporal punishment. I'd go out in the woods there and select my switches and had them in the corner. They had to have study hour as well as class. You were in the same room at the same time. You had to be quiet. And he kept the conversation going, and I spoke to him and asked him to cut it out. And not to let me catch him again. And he did continue. I was on a raised platform. And I called him up there before the whole class and selected my switch. And I reared back, as far back as I could go and came down there across his shoulders. I don't know how many licks I gave him. But I had no more trouble that year from those students. Because I imagine they said, "If he'll take him on [Laughter] , we'd better listen." So I had good discipline.