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Interview with Damita Wilder

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  • Wilder 1 Interviewee: Damita Wilder Interviewer: Lucy Dillard Date: October 27, 2004 Location: Jackson County, NC Duration: 1:15:54 Lucy Dillard: This is Lucy Dillard interviewing Reverend Damita Wilder at the AME Zion church on October 27th [2004] at about 6:30 [pm]. Do you understand that you are being interviewed for educational purposes? Reverend Damita Wilder: Yes I do. LD: What day were you born? RDW: February the 5th, 1953. LD: Were you born in Jackson County? RDW: No, I was born in Smithfield, North Carolina. LD: Why did you move to Jackson County? RDW: Well, when I became pastor here and everyone had told me about Balsam, Balsam Mountain and I had a couple of bad experiences on Balsam, where I was stuck there [laughs] in the snow. So the commute going back and forth got to be too much so I decided to move closer to the church. LD: Now how long have you been the pastor of the church? RDW: I first arrived here July the 28th, 1998. LD: Now you said that you were from Smithfield, North Carolina. Is that urban or rural? RDW: Very rural. LD: Very rural? RDW: Yeah. LD: So is it similar to Jackson County? RDW: Very much so. LD: Is it? RDW: Um-hmm. LD: And how long have you been a member here? RDW: Um, well I... Here, I've been a member here since 1998. In our denomination once you become a pastor your membership goes to the church you pastor. Prior to that I was a member of Shiloh AME Zion church in Asheville, North Carolina. So I've been here six years. LD: Ok. So before you became a pastor were you a member of other AME Zion churches? Wilder 2 RDW: Yeah, Shiloh. LD: So this has always been your religion? Or. .. ? RDW: Well no, not exactly. I've always been a Methodist. Let me say this. I was born in Smithfield, North Carolina, but when I was five months old my mother moved back to Washington, D.C. My mother was in Washington, D.C. during the war. She worked for the government. She, so she stayed in D.C., met my father. That was his hometown. After I was born, Mama said that place was just too [laughs] was not the place for her even though she had been born in Asheville, but she had gotten accustomed to the big city in D.C. So what happened was that we moved back to D.C. and while we were there we belonged to an AME, and AME and AME Zion are pretty much the same thing. What happened was that when we broke away from the Methodist denomination there was the AME. Uh, we really were AME, but then there was a split between us so from that you got the AME and then the AME Zion. But we're all Methodist. So while in D.C. we attended Ward Memorial AME Church. When we moved back to Asheville, uh, my aunt had gotten very sick and when we had moved back to Asheville we started attending the CME church which was my mother's church when she was growing up. So we just always, just always been within the Methodist church just different, you know just different terminologies and stuff. LD: What's the difference between the AME church and the AME Zion church? RDW: The only difference is the Zion. That's the only thing. The Zion was placed on the AME Zion to distinguish us from the AME church because there was [pause] let's just say it. There were, there was a dispute over who, who was going to be in charge. So, uh, they could not determine who the founders would be pretty much so what is was is that you had another split, ok. So that came. So in order to distinguish us from the other AME church we put Zion at the end of it also. So that's the only difference. Our doctrines are the same, we are all governed by twelve bishops. CME, AME, and AME Zion, it's all the same. LD: So who are your founders? The AME Zion founders? RDW: James Berry. He is one of them? LD: And who are the AME founders? RDW: The AME- Allen. Richard, I believe it's Richard Allen. LD: Richard Allen. Ok. RDW: And don't ask me the CME cause I forgot. [laughs] LD: Ok. [laughs] How long have you been a female pastor? RDW: Ok. I became associate pastor in 1994. And then I started pasturing here in 1998. LD: Did you go through any kind of schooling to be a pastor? RDW: Well the denomination requires that you do their course of study which is a four year program. When you first come into the AME Zion church you come in as what we call a local preacher. What is says is that you can only preach at your local church. If you go anywhere else you must be released from your pastor. Ok, then go ahead with yo' mama. [Where she puts the child she was holding on the floor to go back to its mom]. You must be released from your pastor to go to that. During that time you do Wilder 3 your first year of study and your second year of study then you are admitted to what we call the annual conference or whatever annual conference you are a part of and then you have to continue your studies. From the local preacher, after you complete your studies then you're ordained a deacon. Then after you have completed your last two years of study then you're ordained a presiding, I mean an elder. An elder. So, there is a four year study. The denomination prefers that you have some college. I attended UNC-A [University of North Carolina-Asheville]. I don't yet have my degree, but yes, and it's ongoing. It's kind of like continuing education. But, let me say this- if you do not pass these course of studies you are not elevated. You will stay at whatever level you are until you successfully complete their courses of study. LD: So you're considered an elder? Is that correct? RDW: Yes. LD: Ok. What made you want to be a pastor? RDW: Wow. [laughs] Oh my goodness. To be honest I never wanted to. I never wanted to be a pastor. My husband was minister of music, I'd always been very active in the church, but I never wanted to be a pastor. I drove church vans, Sunday school, did Sunday school, the whole nine yards. I was district director of Christian education for several years but I never wanted to pastor church. I always wanted to help a pastor because through the years I had seen, I had first-hand knowledge of all that a pastor does and that a lot of times it's a thankless job and a lot of times there is no one there to really support the pastor in the manner that he or she should be supported so to be an associate pastor I was fine with that. I had no problem with that. But this position came open, my presiding elder called me, I prayed about it and I knew it was time for me to move up to another level. But I had never, no. No, when I was growing up no, no, no, no. I told people when I was growing up my desire, I planned to dance on Broadway. I was going to dance on Broadway. I was never gon' do anything in the church so it's just divine providence. LD: Did you, uh, now do you find now that you're pastor that you're in the same position? That it's thankless and stuff? RDW: Yeah. LD: You do? RDW: Sometimes. Yes, yes, sometimes. I must admit though there are a lot of good people here at Mount Zion and I understand that there's- I don't want to get into- But I understand that a lot of times people have to adjust that the fact that first of all you're a female and then you're a foreigner. LD: Cause you're not from here. RDW: Exactly. So here you come with all these highfaluting ideas and then you're a female too and then in reference to this church from what I understand they had another female pastor two, and I'll just say from what I understand where maybe they had not been as loving as they should have been. I find that women in this profession sometimes in order to try to let people know that we are in charge, that sometimes we do come off a little wrong. Yeah, yeah, we do. I notice that quite often. Me particular, I mean this is just me, I refuse to belong to any women in ministry type organizations or this that and the other and because of the fact that, I mean let's stop focusing on that, you know? Let's not. You know, Wilder 4 and I'm not going to try to use this to my advantage that I'm a female pastor so I should be regarded different or I should get privileges or this, and I have, I don't argue with my male counterparts on the, you know whether or not it's legitimate for me to be here. I don't have those discussions with them. I believe it's a divine order of God cause I definitely did not choose it. Ok, so that's it right there so. LD: You said that they had had two female pastors before and that you know that they weren't as loving. So did you find your reception here was not as good? RDW: At first it was a little cold, a little distant. Because I came in at a time when I was still a deacon so it's a perception that when you're still an ordained deacon that you're not really a pastor because you have not yet reached eldership. LD: Ok. RDW: So, uh, and because most of them knew that I had only been an associate pastor for years. You know, pretty much trying to educate me on the things of the church. So I mean what things need to be done and how they need to be done. And you get this thing “Well that's not how we done it,” and “we've done it this way” and so forth and so on. So at first, the first year was really rough. [laughs] The first year, almost the first two years. The first year or so was a little rough. There was a, we had to come to some type of common ground, but since that time I think when they found out that they could trust me and when they found out that I wasn't coming in trying to belittle them or speak down to them or any of those type things I think they finally realized that hey, maybe she is ok. And then one thing that solidified it, I don't know if you know, but in our denomination we have connectional obligations that we must meet and the first several years that I was here, we would go to the conference without our connectional obligations and it had always been a standard in the AME Zion Church that if a pastor, well this is Methodism anyway, if a pastor comes to conference without his or her conference claims that that pastor is not sent back to that church. It was the realization, well the understanding that if you could not raise your conference claims then you don't need to go back to that church again. Ok? So, for the first several years we didn't raise ours but I kept getting sent back. LD: So what are the conference claims? What are they? RDW: Those, these are funds that are raised to keep the whole church going as a whole. Every church is assessed a certain amount of money that the pastor is supposed to report at the annual conference to the denomination. Yeah, yeah so those are what our conference claims. So it's always been a myth, I'm goin' say a myth, but anyway one that really thought it carried some clout in Methodism that if you want to get rid of your pastor send he or she to annual conference without their claim because that way the bishop would get rid of him. So anyway, so like I said for the first couple years I would go to conference without my assessment, but I kept getting sent back so I think people kind of realized that this is ordained of God because I'm telling you it does not happen. Ok, it just does not happen. LD: Now, how, now is it weird, you said you've been here since '98. Now is that odd, or do you normally do circuits? It is weird to be at a church for so long? RDW: It is very unusual for someone, for this being my first pastoralship for me to have been here, I am going into the seventh conference year. Yes it is. As a matter of fact, even among my brothers and sisters they would look at me and say “You know, you been there quite a while” and I'd say “yeah.” You Wilder 5 know, because a lot of them, some of them have been moved every year or every two years but I'm still here. Yes. LD: Now if they were to move you would they move you somewhere in, somewhere else in Western North Carolina? RDW: (Same time) Yes. LD: (Same time) Or could they move you somewhere else? RDW: Well, now they could move me anywhere. Let me say they would move me probably somewhere within the Blue Ridge Annual Conference which is inclusive of Hendersonville, let's say from Forest City, North Carolina to Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. This is an area what we call the Blue Ridge Conference so since I am a member of the Blue Ridge Conference the bishop can send me anywhere within the Blue Ridge Conference. LD: Ok. Now in the church do you have any other roles besides being minister or is that kind of like a full time job? RDW: That's a full time job. That's a full time job. LD: So what do you do as minister? RDW: (sighs heavily) What you want to know? How my day starts? LD: Typical? RDW: No, I often tell people I don't counsel and the reason why I say that is because… how can I say this? I find that a lot of people in the ministry, well not a lot, but I find out that some people in the ministry have found themselves in situations that they should not have been in by using that terminology counselor because if you. Let me say, ok if your field of study was not counseling while you were in college or whatever or if you are not a licensed counselor the information that you provide an individual with and they act upon it and if something happens you can be held liable. So I don't use the terminology counselor. I say I minister to. So my duties include I am in charge of the administrative part of the church- which includes making sure all the paperwork is up to date, making sure that the building codes are adhered to, making sure we have insurance, making sure that all checking accounts are where they should be, just the whole administrative aspect of it. Then also I minister to people, we have minister of sessions when people find themselves in need for whatever reason. I prepare sermons, conduct Bible studies, oversee the choirs, you want me to keep on going? Attend all meetings as far as pastoral meetings are concerned, we have district and annual meetings that I have to attend. I could just go on. I do yard work. (laughs) LD: Do you have an associate pastor here? RDW: No. LD: It's just you? RDW: Just me. Wilder 6 LD: Ok. Does the church participate in any other community programs like I know some churches will help out with maybe REACH or something like that? Does this church do anything like that? RDW: Well I'm a part of United Campus Ministries so Mount Zion is a part of United Campus Ministry. We don't participate per say in those type things but we do so seize into those ministries whenever we hear that there's need. American Red Cross, REACH of Jackson County we just do that, but we're not per say on the board or whatever for these things but we always make sure that home is taken care of. When I speak of home I'm speaking of Jackson County. LD: So do you feel like, do you participate in them a lot or is kind of like every once in a while? RDW: Well, I'm not gon' to say… every time we hear there's a need. We have helped with Habitat for Humanity, supplying meals or monetary funds or whatever. Jackson County Arts Council. We try to remain active. Missus Ella Mae is on a lot of boards. Ella Mae Rogers does a lot of things and Miss Sybil Blakely and they represent the church in those areas. So what they do usually, so they'll come back to me and say “Well Reverend Wilder this organization is going to do such and such a thing. Would you like to help? We think maybe Mount Zion could do this or do that and the other.” So, they are kind of like a liaison to these different various organizations since they grew up in this area and they know what's going on. LD: Now do you know a lot about the history of the church? As pastor, have you heard? RDW: I did research when I first got here. I went to the library and I sat down and I talked with some of the members so, I wanted to know something about the church that I pastor and it's a ongoing process. I understand that the information in the library, a lot of it is not accurate, it's kind of sporadic, you know bits and pieces and so forth and so on so other than the information that has been provided from the library and word of mouth through the members here, that's my historical knowledge of Mount Zion. LD: So you heard obviously that the church was moved by Western in the late 1920s. Is there any…have the members expressed any kind of negative feelings toward Western? Any kind of feelings about that? RDW: I can't say negative feelings. I think even to this day, even by the members, current members and those who have moved on or whatever I think they still they can't understand why. They know what they've been told, they know what their ancestors told them or whatever, but still to this day, I think there's still a question, but why? I think we have learned to deal with the situation and say “Ok, well this is the way it is.” You play the hand that you're dealt, that type of situation. But I think still it's that question why, what was the real reason, you know? What was the real reason for it, for moving us. If you notice of all the churches here we're the only one that's not you know, the Central, they call it Central Drive. All the other churches, large or small they're right there on Central Drive somewhere and here we are down here in the boonies. (laughs) But anyway I think that's it, a more or less why. What's the real reason? LD: Do you think that you'll ever find out? RDW: No. No, I really don't. The reason for that is that I don't think any of us want to really, Lord help me. The truth is a hard thing to deal with and so I don't think that the truth will ever be told so no. I will say this. I tell the members at Mount Zion and I'm believing this in the name of Jesus, I told I said, “We Wilder 7 not movin again.”' I don't care how much they build around us, I don't care how much land they buy around us or whatever, this is it. LD: Cause they had to move the graves and everything. RDW: Yes. All the graves. If you walk through the cemetery there are a lot of, and it's one place we really gonna try to do better, it's lookin' a lot better but if you walk out there through the cemetery there are still graves that have only been marked with a brick. No name or anything on it. LD: Is that what they did when they moved it? They just put like a brick? RDW: Some of them. Some of them, yes. And I took time and also went down to the Register of Deeds. There's a gentleman in Jackson County who has gone around to all the cemeteries in Jackson County and tried to organize it and categorize it and so forth and so on and when I was just reading down through it there a lot of areas in Mount Zion where it just says unmarked, unnamed, unmarked, unnamed. LD: Is there any way, do you think that there's any way that you can find out who's in there? RDW: I don't think we ever will because the fact that a lot of their family members have died off so because of the lack of jobs in this area a lot of people have moved away and I'm so happy that this is taking place because when people pass on with the history then there's now a way to find out what's going on. So there are a lot of gravesites up there and just have a little cinderblock on them and we'll never know. We'll never know so. LD: Now Somebody had mentioned before that they thought maybe there was a grave up there that hadn't been moved. Do you think that there's a chance of that? RDW: Very much so. Yes, very much so. Probably. There were members of this church who were supposed to have, you know, been hired to do the digging up, but you know you talking about the whole relocation of graves. And we're talking about the time in which it took place so yeah. Yeah. Yeah. LD: Do you, have you guys added to that cemetery since? RDW: No. No, we haven't added to. Which that's one reason why if you notice we are cutting down, cutting down a lot of trees and things because we are running out of space. One thing that since I got here, and I, I've told Mount Zion this and they have graciously worked with me on this I'm just a believer that if anyone in this area cannot afford a gravesite that they can be buried here. So that's what we've done. So we're trying to clear the spaces for members who pass on to guarantee that they'll have a place to be buried. LD: Do you know anything about the process? Like they just hired people from the church to move the graves over here and then, was it like a whole church event or just kind of ... ? RDW: No, they just hired some of the men from the church to do this and… LD: So did Western oversee it? RDW: Western did not oversee it. I want to say, I'm trying to make sure I'm right about this, I believe he was a Rogers that was in charge of the moving of the graves I believe it was. But I believe they brought someone in from the outside as well to assist in this. Well, you can read it. It's up in the library, they have how that whole thing took place and the boxes, and there's some question on whether or not they Wilder 8 were really burying them as deep as they should be buried and so forth and so on. This is just my opinion, there is no documentation of it. From what I read there's a possibility there could be some graves there because from what I'm reading it appeared to me that they were under pressure to hurry up and get them out from up there. So if you're under pressure, you can miss something so that's the thing I guess. LD: Now you said you know some about the history of the church. Do you know if the church was involved in any of the Civil Rights movements or anything like that? RDW: No, and that's… we question that. Well, not we per say. Some of the students and I, one young lady Deanna Matthews did a documentary on Mount Zion. And speaking of some of the older members she kept asking me “Pastor what happened? It appeared that something happened between 1940 and say 1960s where there was a massive migration of people from this area.” And she said “Pastor there's some things people, the older members they just won't talk about it.” And they never talked about Civil Rights Movement, there's no NAACP in this area, there's never been an NAACP in this area. I've spoken to some of the older members like in Macon County and they said shared with me the fact that you know that we're talking about people in their seventies and plus, they talk about the fact that the weekend sport was to run black folk up and down the streets and so forth and so on. So there's something that happened here that has been so frightening, that was so frightening that even the older people won't even talk about it, won’t even talk about it. And a lot of the men left so what happened? And you know we'll probably never know until Jesus come. But I think it's left a lasting impression on the people here so a lot of people you know you see them here say I went to school with so and so and I went to school with so and so, we're talking about black white relationships, and so and so used to work for this that and the other but still there's something there. And it would be so much better if people would just really talk about it. Let the healing begin and go one with it so the land could heal. I really believe that there is no real healing to this land. LD: So they used to have on the weekends, they used to chase black people? RDW: Yes, this is information I received from some of the older people from Macon County. Yeah, that used to be the weekend sport. So if this was going on in Macon County now would this not have taken place in Jackson County? You see? So that type thing. And I know I've been told by older members because this summer I did some housecleaning up in Cashiers, Cashiers however you want to pronounce it. But anyway they told me they said be careful up there because there're areas up there that they don't like black folk, you know. And I said really. Ok, and so yeah they said there was a place up there they used to call Nigger Rock or something like that. Yeah, there's an area up there they called Nigger Rock and they told me when they found out I was going up there you know cleaning some of them rich folks homes that they kept telling me “Be awful careful there are areas up there you don't need to be”' I said “Shoot I'm from the city. No, I don't go down like that.” They would laugh with me too, but I understood that they were really concerned about me going different places because I don't know the area. I don't know the area. LD: So do you think that relations have been a lot better? RDW: I, I don't know if you, I wouldn't know how to express that because they've never been challenged. No one in this area has ever been challenged. And I must admit that I'm a little radical and so and maybe that was one of the concerns with Mount Zion was that I would make too many waves Wilder 9 because they saw me as being very radical and very outspoken. So maybe that was one of the concerns that I would come up here you know and create some chaos that they didn't want to deal with so that type thing. LD: So have you done that? Have you tried to kind of challenge? RDW: No, I haven't. It's kind of like choose your battles and that's not been one of my battles. I must say that being a female pastor when I first got here Mount Zion, this area back here, the kitchen area where they, they had built that. That had been added on by the Tuckaseigee Baptist Association. A lot of the white pastors would come here and the gentleman that was here before I was here, they invited him to joint in their situations and stuff and when I got here I didn’t get that warm reception and so the members really thought it was because of my controversial ways that this was being done and so forth and so on. And I began to say well God what am I doing. I began to look deep into myself maybe I am you know, I don't know. And that is so good because it was several years later when Jeff and what's the name over here at the Baptist church, Cullowhee Baptist Church, Tonya. The pastor and his wife. It was some years later that after they got here and then I found out it had nothing to do with me personally, but it did have something to do with me as a female pastor. The mindset in this area is that if you are a woman you have no business pasturing a church. But I thought it was just because I believe I laying on hands, that healing is the divine will of God. I believe that when you pray you can pray in a prayer language that the spirit of the Lord p lays through you. I do believe in these things so I thought maybe it was just because you know it was just like foreign to a lot of people and they was like oh here she come with all this hocus pocus and because so many people have abused the gifts of God, not abused, perverted the gifts of God when someone comes moving in a manner where they operate in the gifts of God they are kind of perceived as whatnot and phony. I thought maybe it was because of that that people were shying away from us, but I understand that it had nothing to do with that it had something to do with the mindset in this area that says females are not supposed to pastor a church. We can do everything else but we're not supposed to pastor a church. So that right there really helped me in understanding that I was doing the right thing by choosing my battles. The only thing I cared about, and I'll be honest with you, the only thing I want to do is make sure that the people here walk in all God has to do for them. To give them. To see their homes in peace, to see their children walking in the Lord, that they may have some joy about living. And to serve folk who come through here and need a helping hand. You know, that's all I want to do. The rest of that stuff, all that political I'm not thinking about. I'm not thinking about that stuff, you know. I do encourage the people to vote. I do encourage them to. As a matter of fact we still have the registration forms over there. I encourage them to vote. I don't tell them how to vote. But I am mainly trying to focus on restoration because they're a lot of hurt people in this area. I mean they smile, and I'm not just talking about in Mount Zion I mean with the African American churches period. I mean everybody smiles and this and the other, but there are a lot of hurt people and I think that has to do with a lot of things have happened in the past that no one has ever been healed of, ok? So we kind of smile and try to exist. But we not supposed to exist, we're supposed to live and so that's the thing right there. LD: Now do you have, so you guys have a lot of relationships with the other churches in the area? RDW: Yes, we do. There's a working relationship with the churches. A couple of years ago we had about seven people to baptize, you see we didn't have a baptismal pool. I don't believe in sprinkling even though that used to be a Methodist thing you know but actually our doctrine says you can be sprinkled, Wilder 10 it can be poured on you, or you can be submerged it's just I think most Methodist just use the sprinkling but I do believe in baptism by the emerging in the water so we had several people who wanted to be baptized and the Cullowhee Baptist Church opened their doors so that we could baptize them. And we've had joint services with the Cullowhee United Methodist Church, they haven't actually been over here, but we've gone over there several times and had joint services with them. Several of the young people who were actually members of the Cullowhee United Church, well actually United Methodist let me say that, but they would come here for a while sat and listen to the teachings and they stayed here about a year they have since gone back to the United Methodist Church walking in the things that God is calling them to do like you know teaching and so forth and so on. That's been really good and Sam Hill and I, we have a good relationship. LD: So I was told that the church had tried to record its history previously. What do you know about that process? Was it just people, family members writing it down? RDW: Right, right. Hazel Whiteside, she has always been in charge of that but then also Miss Sibyl Blakely, she has some information there too. So I think what needs to be done is they need to bring their information together and make… And then Victoria McDonald for our last church anniversary she was saying that some things on there were inaccurate. But from what I understand this is the church history was adopted by the church before I got here as being the official church history. Now since that time, from what I'm hearing now is that other people are trying to interject some other things and I can understand that there are probably some things that have been forgotten because this is Ms. Whiteside who gathered this information from what I understand from her father so I can understand that that might be the history from the Rogers aspect of it, but then you have other families in here who also received oral history from their forefathers. So what I believe needs to be done now is that all of these different families who made up the older church, they need to come together and review notes or whatever and do a combined church history where it be inclusive to everything that's been told to different families. LD: And how many members do you have? RDW: Ok, let me say this when I first got here I had, there were twelve members. Twelve members. LD: Families and all? RDW: Yeah, pretty much, yeah. But twelve members. We now have thirty-seven. Yeah, had twelve members. I'm telling ya, twelve members. Nobody ever sat in this part right here. When I first got here the women would sit over there [Right set of pews as you walk in] and the men would sit over here [Left set of pews as you walk in] and nobody sat in this middle section. So after while you know every now and then a student would come in and they would sit in the middle section but still. And I asked them about it one time and they said it's because that's the way it's always been from days of old. Anita, what is her name now, Anita Samuel, she was attending church, now she works in the Register's Office I believe at Western, but Anita was the one who was explaining it to me. She said that from the time she was a child that was the way it's always been that all the women sat on one side and all the men sat on the other side. LD: So did the children sit with the mothers or did they sit boy children with their dads? Wilder 11 RDW: The children, if they were smaller, they sat with their moms. But once they got to a certain age, like preteen or whatever, they would sit on whatever side was supposed to be sat on. LD: Is it still like that today? RDW: Oh no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. LD: Ok. Where do they sit? RDW: The older members still do that. The older members, when they come in, they still do that. So you see you know that type thing where that old mentality where you know we can worship together but women got to be over here an men gotta be away from them you see all that kind of craziness. You know, no. But the older members still will not sit in this section right here [middle section]. It's like this section is off limits or something. LD: Do you know why? RDW: I have no earthly idea why. It could be packed in here. Sometimes the area over there becomes… a lot of time the students will come in so they don't know about this thing, you know this unspoken rule so that area will be packed they will still try to find them a seat over there or the men will still try to find them a seat over there. They will not sit in this area over here. LD: Do you have people sitting in here now? RDW: Oh definitely, definitely. But once, when I first started preaching here, it would be nothing right here. Nothing. It was so weird. LD: How did you get them to move? RDW: I didn't. Really, I never have. But what God started doing he started sending in people to fill in this up. Yeah. He started sending new people to fill the section. Yeah, that's right. LD: Now I heard that the women of the church had opened a private school in the 1880's called the Allen School? Do you know anything about that? RDW: Very little. All I know is that it was opened to try to teach the kids because they couldn't go to public school to try to just educate them in elementary things- the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. LD: There was no school here at the time? RDW: No, no. LD: Cause it was the 1880s? RDW: Yeah, and Ms. Allen all those, you weren't allowed to go to the other schools, the schools that were for the white kids. If they went to school, like Ms. Allen and those, they went to school down the east coast they went to other schools. Or they went to over in Asheville there was a school and they closed it down, but there was a school called the Allen School for girls in Asheville so a lot of them went to that school over there or they were sent somewhere down on the east coast I can't remember the place. It doesn't come to mind but I know the school that's closed down also, but a lot of them went down on the east coast cause there was no school here. Wilder 12 LD: So when did they start getting schools here for African Americans? RDW: Oh wow. I think the first one was opened in Sylva, so there's never been one in Cullowhee. Once the school closed down, the school for girls, once that closed down there was never another school in Cullowhee for African Americans. LD: So the Allen School was in Cullowhee? RDW: Yes. But then after that, everyone had to go to Sylva to go to school there was a schoolhouse over there. They had to ride the river to get to Sylva to go to school. LD: So did the boys have a school? RDW: From my understanding, boys were not even required to go to school because they needed them to work. Take care of the farmland and this that and the other. That's why, excuse me I'm sorry, that's why see that whole transition of the whole, well I'm not going to even call it a transition because it was a transaction. But I question the legality of it because none of those men could read. They were told what was on those documents by attorneys that were hired by Western. None of them could read. None of them. None of them could read. None of them. Cause you know it wasn't a big thing for a man to learn how to read because he had to, there was the tannery, there was they used to have mines over here in Webster, a lot of the African American men worked in those mines over there in Webster or in the fields or whatever so what was the purpose of reading? LD: So they worked at the mines or the tannery area or other places? RDW: Yeah. LD: So when they opened the school, do you know when they opened the school? RDW: I really don't know. LD: Did the men go there then or did they just come later? RDW: I think after while they did begin to go there but I think this had to be probably about 60s. LD: Not until… RDW: Oh no, I'm playing. [laugh] But it had to be later on in years. It was later on in years that they were allowed. I think a lot of them men… from what I've heard in this area men were educated through the military because of the wars and so forth so a lot of the men and the women too went into the military and I think that's where they received their education. LD: Did a lot of them serve in the military from this area? RDW: Yes. And some of them, a lot of them didn't come back this way after the military also. LD: So they just moved away? RDW: Yes, but a lot of them stayed. And this area was a very vibrant area as far as African Americans are concerned. This land over here where the treatment facility and all that is, a lot of it was a community. It was a whole community around here. Wilder 13 LD: And then they just left in the 40s and 60s? RDW: Well that part, it was up until oh my goodness, the Streeters… they lived in Sylva, I think they sold a lot of their land right there. But when you hear them talking, even the people like Dennis, and Stanley, and all them. Oh, and Victoria and all those, Lorenda, they tell me about how all this around here, it was just a vibrant community where you worked and you played, came over here for church, and so forth and so on. LD: So what happened? RDW: Well I think people just began to sell their land and move away. It's like I said, I believe something happened around the 40s and it just continued until the 60s, early 70s, yeah late 60s. It's just, I really don't know. And it could be the whole… well we've gone other places and we can travel and we realize that life can be better type situation. I don't know. LD: Do you know, was life really segregated in this area? RDW: Oh, definitely. Definitely, you can still see that sometimes, oh definitely. I do substitute teaching and I remember the first time I walked into Cullowhee Valley and they was like “ok.” Definitely, definitely, definitely. I see that when I go on the reservation and understand that all this at one time was the reservation, but I see that when I go on the reservation. Definitely, definitely, definitely. And I think that probably the area still has never gotten accustomed to it. You know, try to act like its ok, but it's not. So, yeah a lot of that. LD: Now do you have any interaction, like a lot of interaction with Western? RDW: Pretty much so. Several of the students attend here and I am a part of United Campus Ministries. Dr. Caruso have had some, you know, interaction. So pretty much, I try to support the young people because they always support us in whatever we do and so on and so forth so I'll probably be a student there come January. But we'll see. LD: Are you going back to finish your degree? RDW: Yeah. LD: What's your degree in? RDW: Well it was education but I've been informed that it's gonna have to change to psychology so we'll see what happens. Once again this is not something I decided upon. But its gonna be changed to psychology and try and help people understand. LD: Now you said that this area used to be vibrant. Now for the church did they have a lot of members here or was there another African American church in this area? RDW: No, there were a lot of members here. What it was is that there's a church in Sylva called Maize Chapel AME Zion church. The pastor that was the pastor of Mount Zion was also the pastor of Maize [Charles] so what happened is they would have services at Mount Zion two Sundays out of the month, services at Maize chapel two Sundays out of the month and if there was a fifth Sunday fellowship, this is back in the day, if there was a fifth Sunday fellowship then they would come together and they would meet. So yeah, the membership was very large. Wilder 14 LD: Is Maize still here? RDW: Yes, but it is now called God's, well we closed that church down. What the denomination did was say ok you know older people started dying off, people started moving away, let's just make one church so the pastor don't have to go back and forth. So what they did they encouraged all the members of Maize chapel to come and be a part of Cullowhee because Cullowhee was supposed to be the sound of the structure. I don't know but anyway the members of Maize chapel were here at one time and then two years before I got here they decided that they wanted to go back to Maize chapel, but they did not want to go as AME Zionists, they wanted to go by themselves. So Maize chapel is now called God's Holy Tabernacle. Ms. Ella Mae's son-in-law, Bishop West is the pastor there and her daughter Cyritha, which we call Rea, she has been ordained a pastor there too, but they went back in and reopened the church, but not as an AME Zion church. LD: As just AME? RDW: No, it's none denominational. Yeah, it's called God's Holy Tabernacle. LD: So that congregation is predominantly African American as well correct? RDW: Yes. And most of them came out of this church. But this happened about two years before I got here. LD: Do you know how many members they have over here? RDW: No, but if anyone is interviewing Cyritha West she would probably be able to answer that. LD: How do you think that the church has… like how many members did it have in the late 1970s and 80s. RDW: Well from what I've been told in the late 70s, from what I’ve been told the congregation in was fifthy-ish or so. Because a lot of the older members their children were still here ok. They had not yet gone off to college or gotten married or whatever they did so a lot of them were here. So, oh, Ms. Ella Mae has five children, Ms. Whiteside has I think about seven, I believe Ms. Allen has two. Then you had all the Caseys, and Ms. Barbara Rogers, she married into the family. Her son also works at Western. All of them were here. We have Ms. Barbara Rogers then you have Ms. Anne Rogers. Now Ms. Anne Rogers had moved down here from Detroit so I think she brought back about seven children with her so you see all of them were in it. Ms. Blakely and all her children you see, so the membership was, and then it just kind of dwindled out. LD: So there were several big like the Rogers, the Blakelys? ROW: The Caseys. LD: And those are older families correct? ROW: Right, right. Howells, the Howells, some of the Streeters, yeah. So then it just kind of dwindled out. LD: So has membership kind of remained steady or do you believe it has gone down? Wilder 15 ROW: It has gone up drastically from when I first got here. There was a period when it was kind of stable and then people left. Like I said there was like twelve members, and all them didn't come every Sunday. It's progressively gone up a lot. LD: Has the community involvement gone up since you've been here? ROW: I think we have because I encourage it. I do encourage it. I do encourage us to become an active part of the community. I encourage it a lot. So anytime there is something going on and we need to be a part of it and I encourage them to become a part of it. And I think we all can do better especially after we are renovate. Another thing that I have encourage the members to try to help people to understand is that even though it is African Methodist Episcopal Zion that it's not just a church for black people. At lot of people ask, no, it's not just a church of black people it's a church of the risen God. We have to rise above that also. I try to encourage them to help them understand that we have to rise above that. LD: Now where do you see the church going in the future? I know that you had mentioned that you had wanted to rebuild the church. Do you want it in the structure or did you want to change the structure? Where do you see the church going? RDW: Well I want to keep the historical value of this church. Just renovate the inside then to add additions. I see Mount Zion as being a very important part of the whole Western experience. I don't think that we have been included as much as we should have been in the past but I believe, I do see Mount Zion as being an important part of what goes on here at Western Carolina University. I do see us as a place where a lot of programs will be offered, and that's one of the reasons for the building. We have a children's church now, which was not heard of before and not only for the Western Carolina University experience but also to help serve the people. There are a lot of Hispanics and other people in the area of Mexican decent that I want to provide a place for. I believe that a church should be alive and the doors of the church should be open every night. I believe that we should also provide a safe haven for abused women and so on and so forth. All these things in the vision that God has given me for the whole renovation process. I like to see, I'm not going to say a structured after school program but I'd like to see where our fellowship hall will be open so if the kids don't have anything to do they can come and play some pool or foosball or table tennis and I'm not just talking about the Western students because you all have that on campus, but I'm talking about other young people in the area where they might just come out not to try to force religion on them or force Christianity on them, never. I don't think that you need to indoctrinate anyone. I think if you're doing the work of the Lord, God will do the work for you so, but just to have a place where young people and old people can say I can go there and get away and find some peace and I enjoy what’s going on there. So yes, I see God doing great things I really do. And I feel so strongly. And the reason why I know that is we have received so much ridicule and one thing I found out and life has taught me when you receive so much ridicule and you're talked so badly of when you're not really doing anything bad then it must be because you are greater than you see yourself. LD: Now who has ridiculed you? Just the community? RDW: Oh, yes, yes. Well some of the people in administration at Western, and you know it's so… let me say that I have not heard anything that has come from any European American. Everything I've heard has come from African Americans who are a part of the administration at Western will tell students not to come here. Wilder 16 LD: Why do you think that is? RDW: I have no earthly idea. I don't. I've been told that the police department in Sylva and Cherokee call us a cult. The highway patrol used to come up and down the road just watching, watching. We've been called a cult. LE: Has this been since you've been here. RDW: Oh yes, for the last two years. Last three years. It has hurt, you know when I hear, especially people in authority who have such an impact on young people and then to have them tell them “You know, you don't need to be going there.” You know, why? What have I been doing? Because I say sex before marriage is wrong, now if you do it that's your choice, but I'm just going to tell you what God says. The choice is yours. Because I said that you can have a good time without drinking and smoking marijuana? Because I tell the young people if they are living together look here, find your own place. See if you can make it on your own don't be so dependent on people. You see, because I do these things you know it does hurt, but then I laugh because I say well hey, have I offered anyone some Kool-Aid. Do I require that everyone wear the same clothes? You know people here apparently have no concept of what a cult is, so you know to hear these things it hurts and I must say it does hurt. I already got to deal with the fact that I'm a female and you know I got to deal with this stuff also. And because God allows me, and I take no credit for myself, because God allows me to speak a word in someone's life and folk talk about “Oh, she reads minds.” I'm not reading minds I can just look at someone and see when they are hurting and that's a gift from God. And it's not to call anybody out it's that because God has anointed me to heal the broken hearted. Now I'm not going to know your heart broken if God does not show me your heart is broken. When I speak words of healing into people and there have been people who have come here with some type of pain and this that and the other and God will say Damita lay hands on here. Tell me where to lay hands. I lay them. They walk out of here and they healed. So people call that a cult. I call it walking in the things of God. Jesus said you shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover. I call it walking in the things of God. But it’s called a cult. So the young people are encouraged by the administration, not all of them, let me say that where young people are encouraged “Don't go over there” or “Don't go there” maybe you need go to one of these other churches this that and the other to I deal with all these type things. I deal with it. I say to God be the glory. And yes we do we have 5:30 AM prayer, maybe that’s unusual for some people. And you know I guess it is strange that you got young people, college people, getting up that time in the morning to come to prayer. I guess it is strange that you have them coming back at 5:30 PM for prayer. I guess it is strange to some people, but if you get outside of this little world you find young people all over the United States doing these things, you see, living this way, enjoying life you see. Enjoying life, but enjoying life where they don't have to deal with the consequences of what they've done in a negative way, you see? Yes we do. We've had all night prayers, and I guess that is unusual. All night long we have been in this church praying, not just for Mount Zion but Jackson County, Western, for everybody. So you know I guess that is strange, I guess that does sound kind of sound kind of cultish, but it's only believing God for the best for everyone. So those type things but I count it all joy. I just grin and keep going. I smile and keep going. After I get done crying. (laughs) After I say “God why they keep messing with me, I ain't done nothing” then I get up and count it all joy and keep going. It's gonna work out for all good I believe it. So yeah, so I do see Mount Zion playing a very important part for this end time. And I do believe that we're living in the end time. So I believe it will become very important. Wilder 17 LD: Well thank you. RDW: Well thank you for listening. [Afterward, we got into a conversation about Civil Rights. Before this part she had mentioned that her brother and sister still lived in Springfield, NC. There was a billboard going into town that said "Klan Country. Love it or leave it." And she couldn't understand why they put up with the sign] RDW: The summers we spent in Asheville to stay with family or friends or whatever. Sears and Roebuck I will never forget in Asheville, North Carolina, had a fountain that said colored and white and my sisters and I would drink out of the white fountain every time just to make somebody mad. The Pack Memorial Library had a library downtown Asheville, but they also had one down on the block of Market Street. The one, we could only go to the library at the one down on the block, the Market Street Branch of the library. In Kress, there are renovating that building there used to be a five and dime, Kress and Woolworth we could not go in the upstairs part of Kress. You could only go in the downstairs part of Kress and that was a culture shock for us because in D.C. we went where we wanted, did what we wanted you know. So we used to do things just to tick people off. We would get on the bus and my cousins and those would say “Come on, we gotta go back there” and we were like “uh-uh.” you know “come on back there” I guess they figured, those dumb little black children they don't know any better. No one ever did anything to us, and I know that was the grace of God right there. No one ever spat on us, no one ever said anything to us, and we would get in and we would sit down in the front. Because we were like “Uh-un, we paid our 25 cents just like everybody else, we’re not sitting back in the back.” So I know it had to be here if it was in Asheville and if it was in Smithfield, North Carolina all those areas. Because we just did not see it in D.C. I am not saying that it didn't happen ok, I'm just saying that where we lived we didn't have to deal with that. We didn't have to deal with that. So it was kind of unusual for us. Kind of unusual. I had to be healed over because I understood that in order to be a child of God, most of all a pastor I can't be walking around with this black white thing. So I [tells a girl to go in the back of the church for something] you know. So I understood that I had to change because I was a very militant person. I was very militant. I really was. I mean my last year, well junior year South French Broad and D. H. Edwards integrated so they became Asheville High School. I hated it. I could not stand the teachers, did not like being there, I wanted to know why we couldn’t stay where we were, we were fine where we were. LD: That's what my dad said. RDW: So I didn't do very well. But over the years I realize you have to heal, you have to let it go. And I'm glad I did, because I don’t get into all that…. let me say I know racism is alive and well, but now it doesn't matter. It used to matter. But now it doesn't matter because I know it now I know who's the culprit and it's not the individual. I don't look at racism as a personal thing. I just say “God forgive and they know not what they do” and keep going. Cause if nothing I become bitter and I become of no effect and I can't help anyone if l'm dealing with bitter. When I go to Wal-Mart white people in front of me, and I know I'm supposed to do this, I'm partly to blame. There can be three white people in front of me and the cashier will not ask for not one of their ID in writing a check, then I come up and they need to see ID as much as I'm in Wal-Mart, you know? And I look at her and I say, “You know, I'm in here all the time and you didn't ask any of the people in front of me.” One time a lady said, “If l know them I don't ask them.” And I say “Well the lady right in front of me she wasn't from this area.” I say, “She and I were both back there in the linen department and she's from Georgia, we talked” But she's white. She was asking me Wilder 18 things because as a matter of fact she was asking me for Chenille linen and I told her you’re at Wal-Mart, you’re not going to find that at Wal-Mart. And she said but that's what I need and I said you're going to have to go a little bit further than Wal-Mart. So I told her, “I know you don't know her.” “Well I, I….” And I understand. Ok I understand. “Just be fair, that's all I'm asking. Just be fair.” You know and I walked away from there and her face was all red and she probably expected me to be like [acting like an angry person]. No no, I talked to her. Just watch what you’re doing because you know I could be from the corporate office you know? So those type things. But you learn to understand that it is just not that person. We are going to have to teach our children, we're going to have to teach our children that everyone's the same. We're going to have to teach them. And that's what troubles me about Cullowhee Valley. I don't see that going on at Cullowhee Valley. Cullowhee Valley is not only a school of racism it's a school of classism and so on and so forth. But we are going to have to teach our children. So that's it.
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Object’s are ‘parent’ level descriptions to ‘children’ items, (e.g. a book with pages).