Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Martha Cooley, April 25, 1995. Interview Q-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering the privations of a rural school

In a passage that offers a view into a rural schoolhouse, Cooley remembers her school, Blackground School, so called because of the color of the earth there. The one-room schoolhouse was heated by a wood stove. When the wood ran out, the bigger boys headed into the woods to chop more. The same woods that provided heat also served as a bathroom, and a stream that ran through it, a drinking fountain. Cooley remembers skimming seeds off the surface of the water before she drank.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Martha Cooley, April 25, 1995. Interview Q-0019. 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

EDDIE McCOY:
Now, about how far did you have to walk to school, to blackburn?
MARTHA COOLEY:
No where hardly. You know where Greenwood store on that road down there going to Wilton, you know when you leave Oxford and you go on down there, well, you turn this side, go right up side that field there, on the right hand side, on the path, go right on down there in them bushes, and there we were. It was a little one room school.
EDDIE McCOY:
And what was the name of the...?
MARTHA COOLEY:
Blackground school.
EDDIE McCOY:
Well, why did they call it blackground?
MARTHA COOLEY:
‘Cause the ground is black, I mean it, it’s black, it’s just like black mud, you’ve seen black mud, and I mean that blackground is something too, when it get wet in there.
EDDIE McCOY:
It, what, it was muddy when it was going in, it would rain, or what was....
MARTHA COOLEY:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
EDDIE McCOY:
How did y’all heat it?
MARTHA COOLEY:
We had a, one of these here, ol long stoves, you know like, like from, from me to this couch here, a stove like that, an ol long stove, you’ve seen them. And with wood, and stuff, I reckon’ they brought a little wood there, but they didn’t do like they do now, ‘cause if our wood would give out, our boys would go out there in the woods, them big boys, would go out there in the woods and uh, and Alec Allen and all of them would go out there in the woods and cut down, knock knots on them old dead trees, them old dead trees that wouldn’t no good. And we’d have fire.
EDDIE McCOY:
Had to cut the wood?
MARTHA COOLEY:
Yeah, had an ax ,they sure did, break it up and.......
EDDIE McCOY:
Did any parents bring wood that [unclear] ?
MARTHA COOLEY:
I don’t remember them ever bringing no wood, we’d get a little wood every now and then, when the school opened they’d be a little stack of wood that was sitting up, and all like that, but I don’t remember them bringing wood, I don’t know how we got.....
EDDIE McCOY:
Didn’t Robert Amis? used to bring y’all some wood?
MARTHA COOLEY:
I don’t know, he might have, but I don’t remember that.
EDDIE McCOY:
Had to go out there and cut it, you said?
MARTHA COOLEY:
Yeah, the boys cut the wood.
EDDIE McCOY:
Y’all didn’t have bathrooms then did you?
MARTHA COOLEY:
Of course, why yeah, out there in them bushes. That was the bathroom.
EDDIE McCOY:
That’s right. The children don’t know do they? What y’all went through.
MARTHA COOLEY:
No, they have a good time. And then walk from that school, blackground school over to the Clay’s. Do you know where the Clay’s lived? Lived on this, on the right hand side of the road, over there.
EDDIE McCOY:
Uh huh.
MARTHA COOLEY:
Well, we had to walk over there to that spring and get water, and one, ten, one water buddy, one water buddy......
EDDIE McCOY:
About a half a mile?
MARTHA COOLEY:
That’s the truth, it was about a half mile, that’s right.
EDDIE McCOY:
Did all y’all drink out of the same dipper, or each......
MARTHA COOLEY:
No, we had to have cups, we had cups. We drank out of our own cups.
EDDIE McCOY:
Had to put names on them, you knew....?
MARTHA COOLEY:
No, you had your cup, you keep your cup with you. In your bookbag. You know, they had book sacks then, put your books in, hang the bookbag right across your shoulder.
EDDIE McCOY:
And they had to walk all the way to get the water?
MARTHA COOLEY:
Yes sir. And when you get back there, sometime the water is so full of weeds, in the fall, when they are, and the weeds, the seed is coming out of the weeds you know. Had a little [unclear] about like that, and you carry that water, and [unclear] we be glad to get out of that little school house. Annabele Chavis, she was glad to get out of that school house, and we’d get back to that house, and we’d have a bucket full, ‘cause we was both grown, and then weeds would be all in them seeds, out the, had to skim the seed off the water, to drink the water.