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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cornelia Spencer Love, January 26, 1975. Interview G-0032. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Charlotte Hawkins Brown provided excellent education to blacks

Cornelia Spencer Love recalls Charlotte Hawkins Brown, co-founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute at Sedalia, an all-black private school in Guilford County, North Carolina. Ms. Love served on the institute's Board of Trustees and helped Wilhelmina Crossin's efforts to write a biography of Charlotte Hawkins Brown.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cornelia Spencer Love, January 26, 1975. Interview G-0032. 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

LEE KESSLER:
When did you meet Charlotte Hawkins Brown?
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
Well, my father knew her and my brother knew her and they helped, you know, she was a remarkably dynamic woman. She made friends and in that way was able to start that school. She would go up to New England, around Boston, every year and come back these gifts for the school. I don't know what you know about the school.
LEE KESSLER:
Very little, just that . . . .
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
It has gone out of business, to my great, great sorrow. But she started it with Alice . . . do you know who Alice Freeman Palmer was?
LEE KESSLER:
No, you'll have to tell me more.
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
Well, she later became the president of Wellesley, a brilliant dynamic, outgoing, sweet woman. Herbert Palmer later married her, this professor of English and an outstanding, wonderful person at Harvard. Alice Freeman Palmer. She used to say that one time she had to cross the Common, that of course, would be in Boston, she had to cross it everyday and she would notice this black woman who was pushing a baby carriage, a white baby carriage and also studying in a book. And one day, she stopped her and it was a Latin book and it was Charlotte Hawkins Brown.
LEE KESSLER:
That's how they met, then.
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
That's how they met.
LEE KESSLER:
Well, you met Mrs. Brown then, because your father knew her?
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
I guess that I just went over to the school.3 There isn't any one dynamic meeting of any sort, I just got to know her and then they asked me to be a trustee. And Mr. Wharton, who was the head of the trustees, the father of the Charles Wharton who is now a lawyer in Greensboro. His father was a much more . . . I hate to keep using the word, "dynamic", but by that, I mean people who get things done. They have got their inspiration and they know how to go about doing it. And I think that because the son was not dynamic, they came along there in those early sixties with the school failing, because it never had anything like enough endowment. They lived Palmer Institute at Sedalia. largely on the fees of the scholars. Of course, they owned their buildings, and so forth and so on. But at that time, there was such a sympathy for the blacks that if they had known where to go and how to go about it, they could have gotten a good endowment for that school. That had this black principal at that time, Harold Brag. He was smart and intelligent, but he didn't have the get up and go. He came from Ohio, he didn't have the background to know where to go And so, the school just didn't have enough money to carry on. It's partly that and also that they had a fire in one of the dormotories and it was not insured. Now, that shows you how lax they had become.
LEE KESSLER:
They must have been really short on funds.
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
They still own, so far as I know, this very valuable land at Sedalia, just right before you get to Greensboro, but in Charlotte Hawkins Brown's day, when I came to know her. . . I guess that it was in the 50's, and I would go over there and visit and it was the only private school for blacks in the United States. And it was a very good one. She believed in teaching those children manners as well as intellectual subjects. I would get my car, park and one or two of the young folks, they were high school age, would come up and help me up the steps and speak to me sweetly and I would have dinner with them. Good food, simple and plain but good. I would meet some of the teachers. I was especially interested in the library and tried to help them in that, because they didn't have nearly enough books.
LEE KESSLER:
Did you try to get books for them?
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
Yes, I did. They didn't know how to advertise, how to promote themselves. There would be people living in Greensboro or Chapel Hill who never heard of the school. Well, of course, they didn't have the staff. It takes people with know-how to promote. Charlotte Hawkins Brown's niece married Duke Ellington . . . no, not Duke Ellington, that singer, a black singer with a beautiful voice, I can't think of his name.4 Anyway, he came down one time and gave them a concert, but that wasn't advertised. They just didn't know how to promote themselves. But they did have for awhile, a good school. The teacher of French was from Martinique, a courtly black man and he spoke, I guess, excellent French. They had a good staff. The singer was Nat King Cole.
LEE KESSLER:
Now, you were associated with the Palmer Institute for . . . .
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
I was a trustee.
LEE KESSLER:
For how long?
CORNELIA SPENCER LOVE:
Well, I couldn't tell you. At least ten years, maybe longer. After Charlotte Hawkins Brown's death, Wilhelmina Crossin, whom she had selected, she was a black woman from the North, she came down at Charlotte Hawkins Brown's invitation and took over the school and really ran it very well for four or five years. And then she gave it up. I guess that she felt that she was a little too old. She was given the job of writing a life of Charlotte Hawkins Brown after she had retired. She was living in Greensboro, and she appealed to me for some help. She didn't know how to start a thing like that. Well, I said, "You come over and have lunch with me and I'll get Phillips Russell, my cousin." So, I had the two of them to lunch. You know, I could smile at myself, because how some of those southerners could be shocked at my getting the luncheon for this black woman. Well, you know, I thought nothing of it. And Phillips Russell did talk to her and tried to help her, but she never really got off to a start with that. But she did administer the school well. Then they got this Harold Brag, as I said, from Ohio. He was good in some ways. He was a nice person. He was quite a young man. He's now at Bennett College, I believe. But it just collapsed.