My Restless Journey by Bertha Boykin Todd
Bertha Boykin Todd was born and raised in rural Sampson County in North Carolina. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree and a Master of Library Science Degree from North Carolina College (Now North Carolina Central University) in Durham, North Carolina. She was employed as a librarian (media specialist) at Williston Senior High School. Later, upon school desegregation, she became a school administrator at John T. Hoggard High School; then at Central Office for seven years. Register to win a free copy of the book
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Bertha Boykin Todd, a retired New Hanover County Schools educator and administrator born and raised in rural Sampson County in North Carolina, chronicles her perspective of her journey from birth through college on to her career, her family, and the challenges she faced with regards to discrimination, segregation and desegregation. Included in this publication is also her extensive work with the 1898 initiative. Join her on her “restless journey” and learn about the trials and tribulations, the joys and sorrows, the burdens carried and the successes realized.
Bertha later earned two additional degrees from East Carolina University; Master’s in Educational Administration and Supervision and an Ed. S in Education and Supervision. This manuscript chronicles Bertha’s life from birth to 2010 – her involvement in the community as well as the school system during school desegregation.
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“The Early Years” | Chapter 1
Though my mother left the classroom to become a full-time homemaker after Ida was born, she saw that our education was a top priority. Some of my earliest memories were of my mother reading to us – a duty later relegated to Ida who was two years older than Myrtle and me. My father would often bring us candy to be divided evenly among the three girls. Ida would wolf hers down, while Myrtle and I would enjoy ours at a slower pace. One day, just as Ida’s reading of “The Little Match Girl” neared the climax, she stopped before we found out if The Little Match Girl died.
“I’m not going to read another line until you give me a piece of candy,” she said.
Myrtle and I reluctantly forked over our treats. As a result we learned to read at four or five, motivated all the more by Ida’s shenanigans.
“Working Girl – Virginia Beach, Virginia” | Chapter 3
With our parents’ permission, we boarded the bus to Virginia Beach in the summer of 1950. We had already contacted the Virginia Beach Employment Service for help in finding jobs. Although our stepbrother, Joseph, was the principal of Princess Anne County Training School and lived in Norfolk, Virginia, we wanted to be on our own.
Myrtle held two jobs that first summer with both ending just a few weeks before the season ended. Her first job was as a maid at the Sea Horse Hotel, which was owned by two white females. They knew Myrtle had no experience, so they taught her how to make up beds. Myrtle was a quick study and soon realized that she could hold a part-time job as well. The second job was for a family of three: a couple and the disabled sister of the wife. Myrtle told this family that she could cook and was hired to cook breakfast daily and clean the house periodically. Every day she would serve the same fare: eggs, bacon, and pancakes -- so much so that they began referring to her as “Pancake Myrtle.”
My first working summer found me with four jobs, offering the first of many encounters with people of diverse backgrounds.
“Family Matters” | Chapter 4
Our second child, Rita Denise, was quite precocious. She was keenly aware of being the only girl around her brother and two male cousins, and was extremely protective of her younger brother. In the second grade she was named Gregory Elementary School’s “May Queen”, an honor she reveled in for the rest of the year. By her third grade year, she and several other children from our neighborhood wanted to be able to bike to school. Mack and I met with the other parents and decided to request that our children – three girls and one boy – be allowed to attend the school closest to our home – the segregated Forest Hills Elementary School.
Chapter 4 excerpt continued…
Our son, Brian, began kindergarten at Forest Hills, a year after Rita began in the third grade. I was told that the same principal, who stated that she would resign or retire if black children every attended, was sometimes seen holding Brian by the hand as she visited classrooms. Brian may have developed an affinity for her because she so closely resembled his maternal grandmother.
Chapter 4 excerpt continued…
From 1976-1984, Winter Park Presbyterian Church sponsored a special program for foreign students who were attending colleges and universities in the United States. During the Christmas holiday, many of these students did not have the funds or chose not to go to their homelands. Organizers at Winter Park asked local citizens to host Christmas Dinner for these students. I relished the opportunity to participate and encouraged my sister and neighbors to participate as well.
“Williston, Williston, Williston – Go Tigers!” | Chapter 5
Williston students had pride in their school and respect for and confidence in their teachers. A spirit of excellence permeated Williston and most students felt they needed to perform “doubly well” in order to be recognized.
One of my saddest moments at Williston came when a senior class took the Standard Achievement Test (SAT) and made outstanding scores. The students did so well that Superintendent H.M. Roland informed Principal B.T. Washington that these seniors would need to retake the test because their scores were too high. The test was re-administered and the scores remained high, but the incident grieved me greatly.
“The Viking Ship in Stormy Weather" (J.T. Hoggard High) | Chapter 6
The black students were becoming a bit jealous of my growing relationship with the white students. When heated discussions ensued months later, some of the black students exclaimed, “Mrs. Todd, you belong to us!” I replied, “No, I belong to all of the students at Hoggard.”
The “Viking 16”
As the school disturbances continued, I thought about engaging some unofficial student leaders: those who had a “following” but weren’t affiliated with the student council. Since the “Viking” had been selected as the school’s mascot, I selected 16 males: eight whites and eight blacks to comprise the “The Viking 16”. The idea worked. A set of “Viking 16” Commands and Resolutions was developed and adopted by this group.
“The WHAT Mentality” | Chapter 14
Over 100 people in Southeastern North Carolina have been highlighted in this chapter. You may wish to learn who they are.
Bertha Boykin Todd, a retired New Hanover County Schools educator and administrator born and raised in rural Sampson County in North Carolina, chronicles her perspective of her journey from birth through college on to her career, her family, and the challenges she faced with regards to discrimination, segregation and desegregation. Included in this publication is also her extensive work with the 1898 initiative. Join her on her “restless journey” and learn about the trials and tribulations, the joys and sorrows, the burdens carried and the successes realized. Register to win a free copy of the book