July 28, 2013
In the 1930s Yadkin County was home to scattered remote communities with nine elementary schools.
Then, director of Negro Education NC Newbold and Ashville educator John H. Michael started collecting data on sampling how many black students completed the seventh grade and wished to go on to high school.
Newbold received a letter on June 15, 1938 with a map designating the location of the elementary schools and the Yadkin County roads.
The letter was written by E.L. “Emmet Leroy” Cundiff, a known pioneer to the black community in Yadkin County and Surry County.
Then, schools were segregated.
Cundiff wrote to Newbold: “We colored citizens are deprived of any high schools … in the two counties of Surry and Yadkin, in an interest of the students … I have made a survey and find that over 100 that have finished the seventh grade in the last few years … are anxious to have high school training, but their parents are not able to send them to boarding school.”
Being persistent, Cundiff stressed the importance of education and urged Newbold to send a representative to inspect a building offered for a school.
Cundiff argued that Boonville would serve as the ideal location, central enough at that time, to reach the demographic in need of education.
Cundiff was willing to accept anything, even a junior high school, a bus, or whatever tools necessary to get things started.
Gladys Morrison, a Yadkin County native born in 1926, would eventually sit in a high school classroom spearheaded by her father.
The school had four rooms.
Morrison was recently honored by surviving alumni and its family members of the legendary high school in a ceremony held on July 20 at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Elkin.
The daughter of Leroy and Treva Cundiss, Morrison stated that life was different attending school.
“One thing about it, it was segregated. We didn’t have the equipment and things the other kids had. We barely had the basics, but we had a great education,” said the 86-year-old who carries each day with no regrets of yesterday.
“Today, I have beyond a master’s degree. I was ready to do my PhD until my husband passed away. It goes to show you how much progress we have made with education,” said Morrison.
Morrison pays tribute to her parents who she believes were such strong and good parents making her feel balanced and welcomed in any environment she would participate in.
He father was employed by the Northern Presbyterian Church. Cundiss was trained on how to teach students to read and write.
“In 1943 there were five others in my graduating class. Believe me, we knew how to read and write,” said Morrison.
“I had an extensive college education and an international education, as I would call it. Since many of the teachers were from so many parts of the world, I was able to get a perspective that there was so much out there,” she said.
When asked to what extent Morrison felt racism, she indicated that her father may have known it was out there, but he sheltered his family through it all.
“We went to vote. I was with Kathleen, my sister, and we went early one day to vote.Our daddy took us to vote, and that within itself was important. Well, we waited and waited and waited. It was forever. Scores of people going in and out. We had to wait. It was a very long time waiting,” said Morrison.
At almost the end of the day, Morrison revealed a conversation at the polling site with an election official who made a sarcastic remark about the two black girls taken to the polls by Cundiss.
According to Morrison, Cundiss passionately corrected the poll worker and voiced that he took his “daughters” out to vote and started reciting the Constitution verbatim.
“That’s when I realized something was not right,” said Morrison.
The moment was a trying time to Morrison, who said her father was the kind of man who never believed in violence. He would never join civil rights rallies, at least not that Morrison recalls. Cundiss would instead talk about things diplomatically, showing his daughter’s the best parts of the world, how to think, how to keep a positive attitude.
Cundiss died at 102.
“He drove a car until 101. Longevity runs in my family. It means I’m not going anywhere. I have more than a decade of good work and love to spread,” said Morrison.
“Experiencing how I was raised and when I was raised made me a more tolerant person. I never felt like a stranger in this world,” said Morrison.
Morrison went on to teach at the Yadkin High School.
“Those were the good old days when you could smack a kid with a ruler,” said Morrison, who was known at her time of having lots of love but didn’t put up with misfits.
“We already had obstacles in the way. We had an opportunity to get the best education possible. That’s what needed to get done, and that’s what was done,” she said.
Turning 87 in August, Morrison hopes the next decade will be filled with prosperity.
“When you get older your taste changes, your priorities, how you think and respond,” said Morrison.
Morrison revealed she likes to eat fruit. When asked about what she believed was the best eatery in Boonville, Morrison opted to avoid the question.
“You are not getting me into trouble on what’s the best restaurant in Boonville,” said Morrison with a laugh, then needing a bit to get over her laugh pains.
“I like to read, and that’s all I want to do. I don’t like fiction. Yes, I’m still driving. You’re coming to my reception? I’m going to be pretty that day. You can take a picture of me on that day. I’ll make sure to get all dressed up for the readers,” she said.
A Tribune reporter did in fact attend the reception and took her picture.
Morrison closed with some advice to youth.
“Listen to your parents. My father was very protective, but he had a reason for it. My advice is to a woman attending school. It may be far different compared to a black woman attending a segregated school, but we are all women, period. We vote, we pay taxes, we run businesses. We will not be placed in a box, and the time has come for us to progress,” said Morrison.
“On the other hand, I am a black woman, and I’m beautiful,” she said. “Listen here, that’s another fact.”
Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.