Ms. Dorothy Squires taught social studies, world history and civics in the county from 1958 to 1997. She started at Pamlico County Training School for Black students (which became Pamlico Central School) and then moved to Pamlico County High School when Black students and teachers were permitted to join the previously all-white institution. Almost everyone who grew up in the county during that time passed through her classroom, including me.
Ms. Squires was a no-nonsense teacher, sometimes stern, always kind. Accuracy was very important to her. When she spoke, her voice was fast-paced and gentle, like women’s voices on radio programs of the 1920s. I met with her last week to thank her for introducing me to journalism and to learn about her personal history in this county—something she never taught us in high school.
Ms. Squires is 86 now. She wakes up without an alarm, before 6 a.m., and walks down her front walk to Swan Point Road in Maribel to pick up her copy of the New Bern Sun Journal. It is the nearest daily paper; sometimes it covers Pamlico County. She wishes there were more local news options that were non-political and that only focused on the community. She gets her news from newspapers and television; she doesn’t have a social media account, a smart phone or an email address.
The news has always been an anchoring element in Ms. Squires’s life and a focus of her career. She tried to teach students to identify media outlets that are fair and accurate, to be skeptical of reports that don’t include multiple sources. Her classes often started with a discussion about the news. “Having been brought up in a segregated society, I’ve learned to try to see things from different viewpoints,” she says. Facing racism and discrimination throughout her life has shown her time and again that just because many people hold a particular belief doesn’t make it true. Only after carefully considering many viewpoints, she says, should one form an opinion.
Ms. Squires was born down the street, in a beautiful house built by her grandparents, Simon Jackson and Louis Gaskill Squires, 104 years ago. When she was about 2 years old, her parents built her current house. Her father was a farmer, a day laborer and a food preparer. Her mother also worked on a farm but primarily served as a nanny and health-care provider. Her great-grandparents were enslaved on plantations in Lenoir, Hyde and Beaufort counties—Beaufort County contained part of Pamlico County at the time.
“It was very different then,” she says, speaking of her early childhood. “We had a wood-cook stove, a potbelly coal-burning heater, oil lamps, an outdoor toilet, a pump for water, a tub and washboard to wash clothes. There was no electricity on the street,” she says. “We had to keep the oil lamps clean in order to see at night.”
When Ms. Squires was a student in the 1940s and early 50s, all Black students in the county, grades 1 through 12, attended the overcrowded and underfunded Pamlico County Training School. According to the book Greater than Equal, written by Sarah Carline Thuesen, the old school building was so weak that on windy days it swayed, and students and teachers were forced to take shelter in a school bus. Ms. Squires adds that when someone went up the steps, everyone in the school could feel it.
A year after she graduated, in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. But the county didn’t integrate its schools until the late 1960s. By then, Ms. Squires had graduated from Livingstone College and returned to teach at her alma mater. When she looks back at the conditions she and other Black residents endured during segregation, she wonders what she and other Black residents in the county would have been able to achieve if things had been different.
“Segregation was a way of life. There were restrictions in housing, job-hiring, promotions, schools and churches. Where one could eat, where one could sit on buses or in theaters,” she says. “Progress is being made, but there is much to still be done,” Ms. Squires says. “Attitudes change slowly.”
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