A SHORT RESUME OF MY LIFE
By Edward M. Barnes
I hasten to state that the use of this statement should be in the third person. To me, it is not important enough to be presented on my own.
I was born in Wilson, N.C. what seems to me now a short time ago – to poor, humble and devoted parents: Elizabeth and Lemon Barnes. Their educational background was minimal but they worked hard and were determined that their children would receive the best of life that was available to them at the time.
Times were difficult, to say the least, because it was the beginning of the “Great Depression.” For those parents born since the inauguration of President Roosevelt, it is hard to understand the meaning of “difficult times.”
The experience I had during my growing years were many. If time and space permitted my telling about them, I am sure you would get a good laugh out of some of them and you would feel sorry for me in many others. I am, however, so happy to have come this far and I have so much for which to thank God, my parents and a multitude of teachers and friends.
The Act That Mobilized a Community!
Much of my early education took place in the midst of turmoil that developed when the “white” superintendent of schools slapped a black teacher in the presence of our “black” principal. To say that all hell broke loose would be putting it mildly.
An Independent School Is Born
Our only public school was emptied of all the students and a private one was formed and operated for many years on the few pennies that parents were able to find to pay for teachers and others in the school’s operation. Standards of good education were necessarily diminished but, in spite of that, many of those students became leaders in activities of national importance.
The Independent School was housed in one of Mr. Sam Vick‘s houses on E. Vance St.
Miss Georgia Burke
Miss Georgia Burke was one of the teachers at the Graded School when the slapping incident happened. With her outstanding musical abilities, she became one of the chief fund raisers to keep the school operating.
She put on lavish concerts in the old Vick Globe Theater. She held two-day commencement exercises in warehouses in order to raise funds to keep the school operating for about 8 or 10 years. The school operated until well after the Wilson Colored High School was built in 1923.
Miss Burke went on to became a famous musical star on New York’s Broadway stage.
A “Poor Soul” Goes To College And Becomes A Principal
This poor soul, at the insistence of Rev. A.H. George, went to Livingstone College without ever having been accepted as a student nor even having made application.
Through sheer determination and with very little money, I was able to stay there eight years, graduating from both its high school and college. Upon graduation, in 1931, I came directly to the Wilson Colored High School which later became C.H. Darden High School.
At that time, the principal was having some difficulty with the people of the community. It seemed to stem from his refusal to hire high school teachers from Wilson. I came as the first high school teacher from Wilson. I taught classes in French and English for one year and part of the second year. During my second year, the principal died in his office on the day we were to close for the Christmas holidays. After his death, the superintendent asked me to take over the supervision of the school until he could find a replacement. I waited 38 years until John W. Jones became the replacement in 1969 — upon my retirement!
During the first five years of my retirement, I served part-time in the office of the superintendent. Time will not permit me to tell of the many pleasant experiences that I had during my tenure as principal. There are many teachers, staff members and other workers who helped me; without them, I would have had no measure of success. Perhaps my greatest pleasure and indeed success — if I had any — came from the many students who were under my supervision. I see so many every day who tell me of the help that I gave them and of the role model that I represented to them. Believe me, those kinds of comments mean more to me than any other things that they could do or say. I must say, however, that pleasures and good times were not all of my experiences. My share of headaches and heartaches cannot be over-looked for there were many of them.
In addition to my school work, I also have a degree of pride in the community service that I undertook during my working years and after retirement.
It was my pleasure to work for 10 years on the Wilson County Library Board, serving during the time of the renovation of the public library. I value the appearance of my name on the corner stone of the new addition to that building.
Before becoming a member of the Wilson County Housing Authority, I served on a city appointed Commission that began the improvements of the blighted areas of our city. The Commission had the responsibility of cleaning up those areas. It took ten years and many legal and other problems to clear before the work on that project could be completed. After that time, I — along with some of the others who had worked on the Commission — were merged with the Wilson Housing Authority. During the ten years that I worked with this group, (serving two terms as chairman) many projects were completed, including Tasman Towers. I shall always be grateful to the Authority and to the City of Wilson for naming a project after me — The E.M. Barnes Manor. I hope that such action is not a prelude to my death.
I am very proud of the part that I played in the organization of our local unit of the Retired Teachers Association. Its history is more complete in its file. However, at the time we had no association in Wilson that was connected with the State organization. I was asked to head a group with a responsibility to organize one. I took that responsibility. I visited personally many persons, pleading for their membership. Some accepted; many refused. We were very fortunate to get Mrs Sallie Lanier to serve as the first president. Many of our first contacts ware still with us. It is delightful to know that our local association is nor one of the largest and most active in the state.
Over the years, I had the honor of serving on many committees and working with many groups. We worked with the group that organized a Community Human Relations Commission. For many years it made a Commendable contribution to our community. For some reasons, it has now lost its effectiveness.
I am proud, also, to have had a part in organizing our Men’s Civic Club, composed of a group of Black men with similar interests. It was never intended to be a representative of the City; we wanted a social group but with equal community interests. We may now be the only continuously operated organization in the city of Wilson. We have met at least once a month for 50 years.
There are many other community organizations with which I have served, but my promised brief statement does not permit me to mention them by name. I tried to perform well in them all.
I cannot close without mentioning at least two more, however, that are second to none. I joined and attended the Presbyterian church when I was a child — too young to go alone. I have always thought of myself as a Christian, but it was not until after my retirement that being a Christian means more than just words. It includes action and lots of it. I learned my church after my retirement. Before that, Darden High School was my only real interest. Since retirement I have learned much and done much to promote a viable church. For many years I have been closely connected with my church on the local, regional and national levels. Our national church was split over one hundred years ago over the existence of slavery.
We are now in the process of coming together again. I have had the honor of serving on the local and regional levels of two very important committees. We had the responsibility of doing the “leg work” on both. I am happy to state the configuration that was recommended by the committee that I chaired has been accepted by the total group and we are now in the process of operating as a new national church beginning January 1, 1989.
The second and final statement concerns my family. Odelle [Whitehead Barnes] and I have been married for 51 years. We are now trying to determine which of us should have the medal, but we will never agree on that question. I can only say that they have been for me, 51 happy years. Odelle, Carolyn [Barnes Kent] (our daughter) and the boys (grandchildren): Howard (Howie) and Edward (Eddie) — are my life.
I refuse to say more. Wilson, N.C. 1988
This memoir by Edward Morrison Barnes (1905-2002) appears to have been published by the C.H. Darden High School Alumni Association circa 1992. Photograph courtesy of 1950 edition of The Trojan, the yearbook of C.H. Darden High School.