Interview with Clyde Williams


Today is March 10. I am in the home of Mr. Clyde Williams, retired administrator from the Martinsville City School System.

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Q: Good morning, Mr. Williams.

A: Good morning, Mrs. Simington. I hope you are feeling well this morning.

Q: I am doing fine, thank you. First I want to express my gratitude for you taking time out to do this for me. I do appreciate it, and I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I will.

A: You can rest assured that I will enjoy it and that I am so gratified and honored that somebody would think of me to ask questions of me.

Q: Well, we'll get started with our first question, then. The first thing I do want to ask is, would you begin by talking about your family background, your childhood interests and development? Just include whatever you would like to say.

williams audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Thank you very much. This has been some time ago, but I shall begin. I was born in Danville, Virginia, May 28, 1915. My parents were Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton Williams. My mother taught in Pittsylvania County School System in Camp Grove, Virginia, for approximately 50 years. My father never went as far as junior high school. He worked for Mr. Harry Fitzgerald~ who at that time was president of Danville Cotton Mill. He was a handyman and chauffeur for about 30 years. In the early years of my youth I was interested in shooting marbles, skating, playing baseball, riding with my uncles, who were physicians, Dr. Jerry and Dr. Clyde, during the summer months as they made their house calls, and that's something unusual today. I attended Westmoreland School through the tenth grade, after which I moved to Washington, D.C., stayed with an aunt, and was graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., in 1933. I was a four-letter athlete in high school, lettering in baseball, tennis, track, and football.From 1933 to 1937 I knew so much that no one could tell me anything, so I lost five good years, but I think the experiences after that were good for me. In 1937 I attended West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia. I was there until 1941, at which time I was drafted into the armed services of the United States, serving in the European Theater Operation as a Master Sergeant. I was discharged in November 1945 withan honorable discharge. During my college years my thoughts were of medicine as a vocation. I returned to West Virginia State College in 1946, then graduated in June of 1948 with a B. S. Degree in Education. During my post-war college days I was informed that Meherrin and Howard Universities were taking no more applications because they had more than they could fulfill at that particular time, and unless you were in the top 5% of your class, chances of being selected were nil. At that time my college major was changed to Health and Physical Education. My teaching career began in August of 1948 at Albert Harris High School in the City of Martinsville teaching Health and Physical Education to both boys and girls, believe it or not, during that first year. Also, I headed teams in coaching football, basketball for boys and girls for two years, baseball during the entire period, and teaching driver education to students and adults. In 1959 I received a Master's Degree in Administration from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. From 1964 to 1968 I was the assistant principal at Albert Harris High School. 1968 to 1974 I was assistant principal at Martinsville Junior High School. 1974 through 1980 I was principal at Martinsville High School, retired with 16 years in the classroom and 16 years in high school administration. The teaching experience was the most pleasant and productive years of my life, for I enjoyed each year that I worked, particularly with the young people of this community. I feel, or maybe, I hope that I have made a positive impact on the lives of most of them, as I had the privilege of teaching, and I had the privilege of "ticking." I had the same frame of mind that I had while teaching and coaching. All persons are important, and it's just a matter of letting them know just how important they are. I felt extremely good about my entry to the principalship, because I felt certified, qualified, and knowledgeable not only about my subject matter, but people in general. Education is the greatest of experiences that one can have. It has always been a must in my family, beginning with my maternal grandparents, who had six children--three boys and three girls. The girls were not allowed to work outside of the family while growing up. They worked on the farm and in the tobacco fields with their parents until they were grown. The three girls became teachers. Two of the males became doctors, graduating from Howard University, and the third son finishing Hampton Institute. In my immediate family of eight children, the first was stillborn; the second, a girl, died at about age twelve at Howard University Hospital. Of the remaining six, all attended Howard University except yours truly. The oldest was H. P. Williams, a doctor in Martinsville for about 50 years. The next in line left Howard University to work in the postal service until his death. The next became a real estate broker in Danville and made a move to Washington, D.C. The next in line was one just three years older than I who was a lawyer and practiced in Danville until his death in 1988. I attended West Virginia State College and Springfield College and taught for 32 years in the Martinsville School System. Next was my sister who taught English in the Martinsville School System for several years then later moved to New York, worked in the Y.M.C.A. for several years, married, moved to Philadelphia, and taught in the school system until she retired in 1980. Our three children, all graduates--the oldest was graduated from Chaney State Teachers' College, and taught in the Springfield-Pittsylvania School System for 25 years, and is still teaching; the next daughter was graduated from Mary Baldwin College, and is now director of the tuition program at Patrick Henry Community College; the last one, being a male, graduated from A & T State University, and he now works at Piedmont Trust Bank here in the City of Martinsville.

Q: Don't let me keep you from saying anything you want to say, now.

A: Well, from here on, I'll probably be doing more rambling than anything else.

Q: That's just fine, just fine.

A: I'm not sure that my thoughts about people in general or about education are going to coincide with other people's.

Q: Well, what we want is what you think and what you feel. That's what makes you a unique individual, and we just want you to share with us your personal feelings about various things.

A: Well, then I'll come down to the question you asked me about styles of management.

Q: Okay, that's fine.

A: If I have missed some prior to that then of course...

Q: Well, let me ask the question so we can get it on tape, and then anything else we can just come back to and jump around if we need to. The question that you were talking about is: Describe to me your style of management for leadership during your administrative term, and what experiences influenced your management or leadership philosophy.

A: That's a good question, and I wish that I could answer the last part. It would be extremely amazing, because quite frankly I don't know, but I'll attempt to make some comments. In my readings, one of the things that I remember about Teddy Roosevelt is that it was said or that it read something like this: "He walked softly, but carried a big stick." I tried to emulate that. I believe that one's friendliness is extremely important. As far as I am concerned, I felt that I always had an open door policy. I'm doing more talking now than I have done in the 32 years that I have taught, but I consider myself a very good listener, for I feel that I can learn while listening, but learn very little while talking or speaking. I try to make everyone feel important, good about himself or herself. My parents taught us early that everyone is important, and that if you respect yourself, you automatically must respect others, and if you understand what was asked of you, it would not be necessary to repeat every question. I tried to have a democratic style of management. I was also interested in the team effort, and of course as I said, the open door policy. For me I think it worked fine, and if have had any success at all, I have attributed it to the fact that I tried to make everybody feel at home wherever they were, I was never too busy to talk with a young person or an adult regardless of where I was, and I shall repeat, if have had any success at all it was because of those factors.

Q: Great! Can you describe for me the procedure that you used for evaluating your staff?

A: Now I will do a lot of rambling because all the years that I have been in the teaching field I have never found a system of evaluation that I was satisfied with. My feelings are that in order to evaluate you must be in the presence of the person you are evaluating often and at different times. I always attempted to let persons who were working with me or under my supervision know that my role was to help wherever possible, and as a result, if I were to come around and evaluate or attempt to evaluate you, formally or informally, it was for the purpose of trying to help. Once you get persons comfortable in your presence, then I think you can do a much better job, and I think it's the attitude that one has when he or she works with or works for that makes all the difference in the world. I have seen a number of evaluating tools, and as I said, I don't think any of them give you the information that you need because they are for the most part subjective. When you have a subjective evaluation, of course it depends on, or it will change according to who the evaluator is.

Q: What procedure did you follow for teacher dismissal if you had to let one go?

A: Well, we had a prescribed procedure. I don't have a copy of it with me here at this particular time, but during the times that persons were teaching, I would make a record of our conferences, and I would give them a copy and ask that they sign the copy that I kept and I would sign theirs. The fact that they signed it did not indicate that they agreed with me, the evaluator. As of today the only way that I think that one can be relieved of his or her duties is to have documentation on an ongoing basis, and without that documentation I think that you are on soft ground. Now, insofar as tenure is concerned, prior to the three years of tenure, of course--I assume it's the same now--you do not necessarily have to give a reason, but if I did do it, and I had to do it on an occasion or two, not that I wanted to, but for the betterment of the youngsters I thought that it was necessary, I would let them know as time went along how well I thought they were doing or if I didn't think they were doing well I would tell them in no uncertain terms so that when the time came that I had to make the final decision of course they were not really surprised.

Q: Now you mentioned tenure in your answer to that previous question. You know that's a controversial issue right now, and it wasn't on the sheet of questions that I sent you, but I would like to know what your feelings are about tenure at this stage of the game.

A: Thank you very much. Again I will possibly be on the opposite side of the fence. As a teacher in my early stages of my career I disagreed with it then, I disagree with it now; I think that an individual should earn his keeps on a day-to-day basis. Being realistic, there are days when you are not going to do as well as others, but for the most part, I think we as teachers or educators should earn our keep on a daily basis just as any other employee does.

Q: Sounds good. That's great! Can you share with me some of your feelings regarding special programs for special groups of students in our schools. You know in recent years more and more programs for the gifted and talented or the learning disabled or students who are non-English speaking have developed, and I just want to know what experience you have had with any group of special students and your view on today's trends regarding them. That was number sixteen.

A: Number one, let's get on the gifted and talented, and I have to laugh every time I hear the terms. Number one, in some things they are used interchangeably. Gifted in my estimation, and this is my personal feeling, one is thinking about intellectual capacity. Talented, and I think most people are talented in one way or the other, and when you put the two together, you would have most everybody, but somehow the school system seems to put them together in one thing and yet and still it's no way in the world in my estimation that they can tell me that each one is gifted and talented. And again I will be possibly controversial in during the time that I was in the school system, the blacks were concerned having their youngsters get their education. The whites were concerned about status symbols, and I think that there is still some of that going on. So, when it comes to gifted and talented, for when I started in 1948, everybody was equal--we didn't have these special programs, and of course we know that people are different, they have individual differences, but I don't think that any one person is smart enough to know those differences. We go to school, we spend four years, or we spend eight years, and then we can tell where a person belongs. I didn't agree with it then, I don't agree with it now. Of course, the more we attempt to do this, the more we are categorizing young people, and in so doing, this is going to stay with them their entire lives, and for the so-called gifted and talented, if they believe in that the chances are that they will think of themselves as that and try to do the best they can. For those who are put in the various phases of special education, that's going to stay with them, and I think that's doing them an injustice. I would hope that we, the educators, would use lots more sordid consideration with this thing they call special education. All youngsters are special. They all should be treated as special, but not in a negative sense.

Q: On the issue of gifted and talented and special ed., and you mentioned that everybody started out the same in 1948, we know that this is not the issue in this day and time. We have a lot of what we call "tracking." Can you share with me some of your thoughts and feelings about grouping students according to ability and then having them to move on in certain academic paths? That wasn't on your sheet either, but it just came to mind as you answered the other question.

A: I'll again put my foot in my mouth as I usually do when I talk too long, and as I said I look at people as individuals. There is a degree of tracking that can be done, I feel, but I don't think that we as educators know enough about the brain capacity of individuals to know just to what extent they are to track. I think that I can learn from anybody, old or young, and I feel that youngsters can do the same thing, and I feel that they need to be in a setting where they can learn from each other. You leave school, you are put out here in the world where you work with, play with everybody, and I think the school atmosphere needs to prevail in such a manner that a person will get a well-rounded experience in all phases of living.

Q: Great. This is number seventeen on my sheet. Cultural diversity is a topic of great interest and concern at this point in time. Would you discuss the nature of your student body or student bodies and comment on the problems, challenges, and triumphs in which you participated while serving as principal?

A: Let me go back to the years 1948-63 at which time we were so-called desegregated. I wish I had a picture of the building that we called the school. An eight- or nine-room building, no facilities for showering, toilet facilities were extremely poor, equipment for athletes was poor, no storage areas--but we had good teachers. And from that, last year I went to a reunion of students from Albert Harris High School who graduated before the so-called integration days. There were doctors, there were lawyers, there were managers of plants, and when I look back at from whence they came, the building from which they matriculated, I can only conclude that the building was not important. It was the people in the building and how much they cared for those youngsters. That's my feeling today. I think that we are so much concerned about a beautiful building, and I'm not knocking it, I think that's fine, but the most important person in the educational program as far as I'm concerned is the teacher, and if we get good teachers, we pay them well, and they are interested in the individuals with whom they are working, then of course, the love is going to be there. If we fail to do this, then we're going to be also-rans.

Q: Now you mentioned the issue of segregation. Would you discuss your participation and any handling of situations during the Civil Rights Movement and your involvement in integrating the schools here in the city of Martinsville?

A: Yes, well in 1960 when we desegregated--I use the words desegregation and integration interchangeably, but they are definitely different, because I don't think that we will ever be integrated as long as there are different ethnic groups, but I am certainly hoping that as time goes by we are able to work one with the other much better than we are doing at the present time. So, as long as there are different ethnic groups, we are going to have some problems. You know, it's ironical to think that when you see a bunch of youngsters, wherever they are, they will migrate one to the other and think nothing about color, where you come from, or anything; but as we get older we seem to separate, we go our own ways. Now, the youngsters learned that from some place, and the only thing I can conclude is that the parents are the culprits. We tell them early what the difference is instead of us telling them that we are all human beings all made in the image of God with one purpose in life, and that is to love one another, then we wouldn't have the confusion that we have had in the past. Going into the junior high school there were whites who wanted to go back to their own school and there were blacks who wanted to go back to their own school, and it took us a little time to let them understand that this is a school, this is your school, and it will be your school as long as you wish to attend and follow the rules and regulations. Of all the areas that I know of, Martinsville had one of the slowest so-called integration periods that I have known because there were adults in this city prior to so-called integration who paved the way and they let the people know that this is what's coming and we are not going to tolerate any differences because of race or color. And because of that there are a number of persons in this community that I'd have to say "amen" to because they took the time to pave the way. Once we got over the first two or three months and the youngsters felt like we, the adults, were interested in them and that we were not treating them any different because of the color of their skin, they finally felt that they were in a pretty good school system, and I think that we were quite successful.

Q: Let's talk for a minute about the issue of salary and compensation both then and now. Discuss salaries in terms of compensation for teachers and administrators during the time of segregation and after the time of segregation. Was the compensation for educators fair, and also, what is his view of salaries in this day and time?

A: Thank you, Mrs. Simington. Prior to 1948, I happened to be a member of an organization known as the Roundtable Club, who was concerned about this particular thing, and we did send a superintendent of the county school system. At that time there was no such city and county high school. And the question was posed to the superintendent of the county school system at that time, and to make a long story short, his final statement was, "You just tend to your own business, and we will do as we have been doing." Fortunately, during the time that I came into the teaching situation, I saw or know of no differences between salaries of teachers from the black and white communities. I had no way of knowing, and being as busy as I was, I didn't take time to be concerned. I was actually concerned about what I was doing with six classes per day on a six-day schedule, a homeroom, coaching of sports each season, teaching adult driver education in the evening, I had no time to think about anything but what I was doing at the particular time. Today, I think that the salaries are better, but they will never be where I feel they should be because education is the greatest thing that could happen to an individual. Our problem now is getting it across to the young people with whom we are working. I happen to be on the City Council, and I do know that that will be one of the first things that will be asked of us from the school board is to increase the moneys to the school board, and I'm all for it, but at the same time we will find it, and there is only one source from which it comes, and that is people in general. Now, I have digressed a little bit, so maybe I can get back to the question at hand. Today we are asking the teachers--and this has been going on for some years -now to do more than teach the subject matter. We've got to feed them, we've got to bus them, you've got to teach tolerance, you've got to teach...well you name it. And because of such, that which the school was supposed to do originally--that is to teach youngsters the basics--too many things are included now, and as a result I think that the pay should be increased, but we all must face the fact that money is the problem, and as long as that problem is there, we aren't going to be able to justice to them.

Q: What is your view of merit pay?

A: When I saw that, and please don't take this personally, I just laughed at it. I don't know what merit pay is. Number one, I assume that it is if a person does something extraordinary then he is supposed to be paid for it. Well, if you take a job and you agree to do something you should do it the best that you possibly can and not at intervals, but on a day-to-day basis. This is just a routine part of the job, and as a result when you say "merit pay" I just laugh and go on my merry way.

Q: Okay. What advice would you give an individual considering an administrative job in this day and time?

A: Number one, I'd say walk softly, but carry a big stick. But seriously, the only thing that I would have to say to that individual be it male or female is that knowing that you were once a student, you have been where the student and teacher now are, that we so soon forget that if we have love in our hearts for individuals, the only thing that I can say is that you can cause that to be transferred from the teacher to the pupil, then the teaching profession will again be a profession that it was years ago. As I said, we so soon forget we've got to treat people for what they are, not because of the color of their skin or because of their pocketbooks that the families have or do not have. You've got to show some love and some genuine interest, and if you have those two, you can't help but be successful. Everybody is important as far as I am concerned, and because we move a step up the ladder does not give us any more...we are not as important as we once were. If we can remember that then I think we will be successful in whatever we do. Keep love in our hearts and let it flow out to each person you come in contact with, and I think that your problems will be less. Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it's going to be all peaches and cream because you've got to be a manager, you've got to be concerned with sports, you've got to be concerned with the children's meals, their welfare coming and it's a little bit more than meets the eye at this stage of the ball game. I applaud anyone who wishes to go there--I did, and I would do it again because I enjoyed every moment that I was a part of it

Q: Despite my best efforts to be comprehensive in questioning, there is probably something that I left out. Please add any comments that you feel are necessary at this time.

A: Number one, Mrs. Simington, I really and truly thank you for even thinking of me in this particular venture. I know of persons who I feel possibly are more qualified to answer the questions that you want, but the mere fact that you thought to ask me makes me feel extremely happy at this particular stage of the ball game. We have watched you over the last several years--in fact, I know when you were brought into the system because I was in the school system at this time, and the superintendent who came and got you was my superintendent at that time, and we were so elated over the fact that you and I think two other young ladies came into the system. Unfortunately the other two left for one reason or the other, but we are just so happy that you decided to stay with us, and we've watched you and I think that we were speaking the other day, someone was saying that as they were in the hallway the other day of the Albert Harris School and as the youngsters passed and the way in which you accosted and the way in which you called the names of those students and put your arms around them and hugged them, you couldn't help but make a youngster feel good. This is the type of individual that we need in the school system today. He or she must realize that these youngsters are human beings; they need to be nurtured, they need to be loved, and you seem to have all of these qualifications and we are just so happy that you have decided to stay with us in this field of endeavor.

Q: Thank you. I appreciate it. This ends the interview with Mr. Clyde Williams, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you again for taking the time to help me.

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