Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History & Culture Enduring Connections: Exploring Delmarva's Black History


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Interview with Charlene Boston (Part 2 & 3), 1 May 2006

Audio Recording

About This Recording

Charlene Boston was an educator in Baltimore City beginning in the late 1960's, later becoming the Superintendent of schools for the Wicomico County Public School system in Salisbury, MD, until her retirement in June 2006. In this interview, she describes how she attained the position of Superintendent of Schools as well as some of the challenges she faced in the position. She also speaks about racial issues in the 1960's and during her time as an educator. The second recording (part 3) is the final minutes of the interview. The interviewers and Dr. Boston chat about her family name, Goldsboro, and the origins of the name.

This interview is part of the Teaching American History Program. For more information, see the Edward H. Nabb Center Finding Aid.


Interviewers: Richard Wilson and Donna Messick

Narrator: Charlene Boston

Date: May 1st, 2006

This recording was posted in multiple parts. To listen to and read the transcript of the first part, click here.

[First audio recording begins, part 2 of interview with Charlene Boston]

Charlene Boston: When I was in the elementary school, after leaving that, I became a preschool teacher and I was a coordinator, what we called a program assistant.

Richard Wilson: There was a lot of programs—this was a time of great change in the city, right?

Charlene Boston: Right, yes, yes. So after that, just continued on and took various positions within the school district. I loved being a principal. I think the best jobs, though, were being a principal, probably, being a teacher, with the most satisfaction in some ways. I was an assistant superintendent for special projects, and there I worked with new schools which were charter-like schools, which was interesting. I also worked in public relations, legislative affairs, grant management, [pauses] parent involvement, that sort of thing. I was associate superintendent for external relations, and that's how I got to work with all of that. Then I went back to working with schools when I was what they called an area executive officer, and that's a person who supervises principals and I supervised, at one point, fifty schools—imagine what you can get done—and then 20 schools, 23 schools.

Richard Wilson: Did you ever supervise Boyse Mosley?

Charlene Boston: No, by the time I came on board I was a coordinator and Boyse was a regional superintendent, but I never supervised him, he was a little bit before my time.

Richard Wilson: I don't think anybody ever supervised him.

Charlene Boston: [Laughs] I had some good ones, though, I mean I had some—I had Poly[technic Institute], Western [High School], those were some of my schools that I worked with when Ian Cohen was principal there, at Poly, for example, and I supervised Roland Park when Mariale Hardiman was a principal, that became a Blue Ribbon school during then.

Richard Wilson: Mike (inaudible) still teachers there.

Charlene Boston: Oh, yes. Yes, I know.

Richard Wilson: He was one of my first-year teachers when I was at (Green Street?)

Charlene Boston: Say my name to him, he'll remember me.

Richard Wilson: Even though he's Jewish, we exchange Christmas cards every year.

Charlene Boston: [laughs] Yes, I know.

Richard Wilson: Thirty years.

Charlene Boston: Oh, isn't that splendid.

Richard Wilson: How about Leroy (inaudible)?

Charlene Boston: I know that name though no, I did not.

Richard Wilson: Okay, we can go back, we're gonna move it forward. Sort of an oddball question but who has had the most positive influence on your life, as an educator? Could you think of somebody?

Charlene Boston: Well, just one or two people. My late aunt, her name is-her name was, we called her Leesee Jones(?). I lived with my great aunt and uncle when I was in junior high for three years.

Richard Wilson: In Pennsylvania?

Charlene Boston: Mm-hmm, in Pennsylvania and I say that because she was the kind of person that pushed me to do things like lead a Sunday school group or speak out at church. She was a good role model. She was always very—she was the kind of person who would have little social activities in her home, and I'd have to place the silver and china in a certain way. She had all kinds of little plates for salad, and you had to have a bread plate, and you had to have a fork for your salad, and all of that. So, that was her take on things. She had become a superintendent of schools in North Carolina, rural area, colored superintendent, if you will. And she said that I should, I would be a superintendent one day, never thought I would, but that's what she—her take on the situation was. So, she was a person who continued to push for me to be in school, go to college, be a schoolteacher, but she said I would be a superintendent. Now, that was probably coming from her background, where she was a superintendent. And, you know, that had to be in the '30s, or a long time ago, 1930s probably. Now, the second one was my cooperating teacher, Betty Showell. Remember, I had her for a year. So, it was a love-hate relationship. And Betty was an interesting person, she later became my project director, remember when I went to the Early Childhood Program. So again, she was my boss, so to speak, in this setting when I was a teacher, I was a teacher of four-year-olds at that time and she would come in to see what we were doing. She was the kind of project director in and out of the classrooms, interacting with us, interacting with the children, and we had a very basic design that we had to administer to be in this program where you would do—kids would be in play centers, but we couldn't just let them play, you had to interact with them, give them feedback, ask questions because you're moving them through cognitive levels of development through your questioning. So, she came in one day, she said, "You don't seem to be getting the most out of these children." So, I said, "Hey, here it is." So she went over to the center, children were playing with pots and pans and so forth. So she said, "Oh, children, what are you doing?" So the little children, from very depressed neighborhoods said, "I don't know" she said, "No, you're making the soup, aren't you?" They said, "okay, okay, we can" so she said, "What are you putting into the soup?--Remember, we're trying to develop language here." She turned to me and said, and I said, [stutters], she said, "What are you putting in the soup?" It was a little carrot, you know carrot, pretend piece of carrot. So she said, "What is this?" He said, "I don't know," "Carrots," she said, "say it again, carrots." The little boy says carrots, she put it in the pot. She said, "What kind of soup you have now?" "I don't know" "Carrot soup. What is it? Carrot soup." So she did this again, "Potato, what is this?" He didn't know, "Say potato." "Potato." "Put it in the pot, what kind of soup are we going to have?" "I don't know." "Potato soup," so finally, she picks up some of the peas. She put them in the pot, "What kind of soup would this be?" He said, "Doodoo soup," [laughs] you might want to erase that. [both laugh]

Richard Wilson: I can see.

Charlene Boston: It was so funny, but she was good.

Richard Wilson: He was trying!

Charlene Boston: He was trying, but when you work with three-year-olds, you can have so many and so many encounters with them and so many stories that of what they would say to us. But she was a kind of teacher who could pull a lot from students, and here I was again, her student, so to speak, as she was trying to make sure that I was doing a good job as a teacher and pulling, you know, the most from those kids.

Richard Wilson: Let me wrap up this sort of segment by asking you, what was the most amazing things that happened to you before coming to Wicomico County?

Charlene Boston: [pause] Amazing?

Richard Wilson: I know there are several, but it's just a matter of-.

Charlene Boston: No, you can say wonderful, what I got wonderful was when I got married

Richard Wilson: Change my question to wonderful, then, instead of amazing.

Charlene Boston: I don't know about amazing.

Richard Wilson: We haven't talked about your marriage yet; I didn't know that.

Charlene Boston: When I got married, I thought that was wonderful. I don't know if amazing.

Richard Wilson: Well, if you're still married after?

Charlene Boston: After 29, oh let's see, I would say about 29, 26 years.

Richard Wilson: See I've got you, I'm at 40

Charlene Boston: I didn't marry until late in life. But [pauses] so I guess that's amazing then, that I finally got married [laughs]

Richard Wilson: Amazing that you're still married.

Charlene Boston: And he's such a nice guy. I was teaching at elementary school, and my pastor introduced us, and we started dating, he would come over for Sunday dinner. He's a nice guy, and we had a wonderful, wonderful wedding. It was very nice, open to the entire community, almost. And I think that's so special. And he's very nice, a very understanding man, especially since I've been superintendent.

Richard Wilson: I was thinking the same thing.

Charlene Boston: So, other than that, I don't know, [both speaking]

Richard Wilson: Oh, no, that's fine, that's fine. Now, let's switch. What circumstances led to your selection as superintendent here in Wicomico County? How come you came to be where you are?

Charlene Boston: I was approached to apply for the superintendency in Wicomico County, they said they would like a nice pool of candidates to have diversity in the group of those who are applying. I was by this time an assistant superintendent level called an Area Executive Officer in Baltimore City. I had a district of schools; my schools were doing very well. Many of the schools were recognized by the state for academic improvement, particularly if you think about Baltimore City with many challenges that the schools faced at that time. So, I still do. So, I had been successful with working with principals. I had a professional development plan that involved key people from the State Department who would come and do training for my principals. I used my monthly meetings for training and so it was so satisfying, I was doing well. I had people and staff help me with special ed, and so I was feeling fine, although I was at an age that I could retire from Baltimore City. So, I said, "Well, I'll apply. Why not? If I don't get it, fine. If I do, well it would be good too, but I have a home here in Baltimore City and if I want to retire, I can, if I want to stay, I can. So, once I did do that, I put my hat and my head in the ring and applied. Then I found it became a public process by which the community had input by asking me questions at a session. I had a session with a group of teachers. I had students for lunch. I didn't do much eating, but they were there eating and asking me questions. Of course, the Board had its formal interview process, and during that time I submitted my résumé and submitted some of my accomplishments. By this time, I had been a consultant to two other school districts in early childhood education. When summertime or vacation time, I would take in work for other counties and other places, particularly in the seventies and then in the eighties I did some of that too. So, after the interviews, I, they—Oh! By the way, they also had me to complete a video interview. The four finalists had to answer some questions on a videotape, and so I later found that they thought that was, I had done a good job with that.

Richard Wilson: How you carry yourself and answered questions, that's interesting.

Charlene Boston: Probably, and I guess they didn't get any great militates from the community, I would suspect that the board would have weighed—taken that input. And I'm sure the other candidates, there were four of us who went through the process, so I'm sure there were positives and negatives about all of us and they weighed all of that and decided to give me a chance to be a superintendent here and for that I'm very grateful.

Richard Wilson: What was the most difficult thing about assuming the superintendency?

Charlene Boston: Coming to what I've known, I knew Baltimore City and that I used to my advantage, being that I had moved from district to district in Baltimore City. I could always rely on something of the past, you know, prior knowledge helps you as you assume your task. So, coming to a new district where people did not know me—so I had nothing, no past good deeds in order to rely on, and to buffer. I had to come in [pauses] totally—I knew no one in the system, so I had no allies within the system. I really didn't know anybody in the community. I know some people thought that I had people within this community, but people knew of me because they had made it their business to find out about me. So, they knew me, but I didn't know anybody. And so that was, I guess the most difficult about it was the newness of it. Not knowing what to expect. But I thought if I could be given half a chance, I would be able to be successful. So that's what helped me.

Richard Wilson: How did the public react to your appointment and early decisions?

Charlene Boston: The public, who is the public. There were some people who said, "you've made a wonderful choice," because they had done their homework. By this I mean, people who had connections with people in Baltimore, at the State Department, "What kind of person is she? Is she really a person who works hard? Has she, can she accomplish anything? So those people felt pretty comfortable with me. There were other people who said and, I later learned this, that they said, "Why do we have to get someone from the Western shore? A woman and an African American at that." I mean, so, this was definitely said. I think it might have been even said in the paper by somebody, but I'm not sure about that. I do know that people did tell me that individuals said that. There were other African Americans who said, "Thank goodness we see somebody like us who's in a position of leadership," and they said that in this county there are very few African Americans of leadership positions in the county. And so, they said "great," they were all for it, and supported it. There were other individuals within the school district who said, "Oh, I know somebody who could have been a superintendent, why did they get her?" I don't think it was a racial thing, I think they had loyalties to other individuals that they felt could have gotten the job, and could have done a fine job, and why was I selected above those. So, I understood that there would be people who had those kinds of sentiments. I'll say still, a little bit, when I became principal of a school, there was a favored assistant principal there, everybody: the parents, the PTA, all said, "Let Mr. X became a principal, he's wonderful." I had all kind of letters that I later saw in the file where these people had asked for the- and here I come, I was the principal. I had never been the assistant principal there, but I became the principal. So, I had to overcome that, and I found that I could. So, I see that I can do the same thing here, at least to get the job done. I know that there will never be complete agreement by the entire community that I should be the superintendent. But I figured that if I could get enough support to do what I needed to do, that was all that I was—that was important.

Richard Wilson: What have been some of the most difficult decisions you've had to make as superintendent?

Charlene Boston: Well, all along, I was confronted with a class rank controversy, I didn't make it, but it was here when I came, and I had to make a decision as to what my recommendation was going to be. And I knew that I couldn't, that people wouldn't like what I would say. So, I made the decision based on my assessment, doing a survey around the country, and people were moving away from class rank designation in high schools. So, I Just-that's the recommendation I made. I remember the Daily Times, for example, criticized me in a nice little editorial and, you know, said I should've stuck, but what was wrong with the old way, and I devalue education, and kids won't be able to feel any sense of accomplishment because they won't have this designation. So that's what they said. But I was vindicated because later, there became lawsuits in the paper and all that, about class rank designations. I think in Delaware and some other places, and so forth. Then the editorial said, "Well the Board of Ed"—didn't give me any credit—"The Board of Ed made a great decision when it decided to-" which was a flip-flop of the earlier position. And ever since that point, though, I find that the Daily Times has usually supported my positions, by the way, after realizing that my initial run was probably the best one at the time. So that was one of the more difficult decisions that I had to make. The other had to do with changing the curriculum, and that's kind of quiet, probably doesn't go noticed, but changing the focus of mathematics for this county was a very difficult decision because that involved my teachers, principals, supervisors and people like that internally, and changing the way we do business. It was very difficult, but that has proven to be a very successful approach. The way we're doing the mathematics, beginning in the elementary schools and working my way through the middle and high school, in terms of those changes.

Richard Wilson: What is one thing that you were not prepared for?

Charlene Boston: I wasn't prepared for as much discussion about funding the school district as in terms of not giving me as much money as I think I—well, people told me before I became that there was a revenue cap, I don't want to act like on hiring I didn't understand that, except that I didn't, I don't think people really understood that they were limiting how much revenue comes into the county for operational things that people want to have done. And so, the discussion about this money, I guess I never had to discuss that much of that when I was in Baltimore. We had a budget, we got money from the state. So, from the local point of view, I found the state is now giving us, it's considered, fair share and we were asking the county to do the same.So,So, I wasn't prepared for as much to do about spending and so many people wanting to micro-manage what you spend. I had a letter in the editorial on the paper, letter to the editor, where someone objected to the fact that I was spending money on poms for children, you know, hand-held calculators and keyboards; so, kids in elementary school can begin the process of using it. That was a big thing in that there was too much money spent on people having cell phones. Administrators and administrative people, like myself, I guess, he was talking about, and technology. And they didn't have, this person said they didn't have computers when they were in school, why was I spending all this money? So, for the public to be that much into the spending, and yet wanting to limit the spending. I guess what the thesis was, if you weren't spending money on things you shouldn't be spending money, you'd have enough money.

Richard Wilson: Well, they should have read the Times this morning because it's on the editorial.

Charlene Boston: I hadn't seen that.

Richard Wilson: They're able to fund the budget, basically.

Charlene Boston: Oh, yeah, yeah. Daily Times, editorial. Yes, it was, it was. Give me adequate funding, adequate funding. So, I support that editorial, of course.

Richard Wilson: Okay, three or four more. These are a little bit more personal. Please feel free to tell me to take my hat off and go down to the hall. Have there been incidents of racial and/or gender discrimination in your professional life?

Charlene Boston: Well, you had added professional life. I was going to say it's been all my life, first. From the early days, when my great uncle, when I was with the Joneses, they would, when I was even a five-year-old, they would take me on trips and so forth. They took me to Florida, where, Del Ray Beach in Florida, and I don't know what city I was in, but I went to the counter, and I couldn't sit on the counter to have a soda pop. And that was from a very early age. I've said to groups, I was looking cute, I had a pretty pink purse, pennifold on, so I had bows and little plaits, and I thought I looked very nice. So, I just couldn't understand why I couldn't have a soda pop, like all the other little kids who were sitting on the counter, at the counter. So, I mean, you have that I grew up in a time of marches and sit-ins, so you know that you're talking to a person in the sixties. Robert Bell, who was the Chief Justice for the state of Maryland. He was a little older, but he led us as we marched Northwood shopping center in the sixties, to integrate the shopping center and the movie theater that were there, obviously there, and he was there leading us along with others. Of course, they had the March on Washington during my time in the sixties, where we were protesting discrimination and asking for equality. Martin Luther King was there and that sort of thing in the summer. Of course, there were times when I went to a restaurant on Edmonson Avenue, which was not that far from my house, and could not get a sandwich. And by this time I was a teenager, and I didn't understand, there were people in there, that he was only serving in the businesspeople who go to my area during the lunch.

Richard Wilson: Was this the shopping center, Edmonson Shopping Center?

Charlene Boston: No, not Edmonson Shopping Center. I'm talking about near Monroe Street, down in the other part of Edmonson Avenue was a movie theater there. By the time we went, when I went to Edmonson High School, in the community itself, I recall being not allowed to go into any of the stores or anything like that. It is the sort of thing that I remember riding the bus home, and this is not discrimination, but I remember there was an older woman who had bags, and she looked like a person who was doing what we called day's work. She would work in the homes out in the Edmonson, far Catonsville area, that sort of place, and Tin Hills, another area where single family homes, very big houses, and so forth things like that. So, she would ride the bus, when I got on the bus, I remember with my books, this woman saying to me, "You should sit down." Now we were always taught that I give deference to her. She said, "No, I'm just so glad to see you having an education so that you won't have to do what I'm doing." This is what this woman said to me, she said, "Clean people's kitchens and toilets," and she got up, she got out of her seat to give me the seat because I was carrying so many books. Said to myself, hmm. she said, I want you—the woman didn't know me from any place—she said she had, she told her story of discrimination and so forth. So, I mean, in my life as a teacher, I can't say that I saw it, if it happened, I don't know about it. Because remember, I was always moving into projects and programs and that sort of thing. I would think in the field of education in this county, it may be, remember, I'm the superintendent, so, I try to root out if I would see any vestiges of that, in terms of discrimination. But I think within the county itself, there may be, but no one has ever come up to me to say anything of a negative tone. I've heard that people have made remarks about me on a website or something like that, that I don't read because I don't believe in giving that person that much credit by reading negative comments. But no one has ever said anything to my face, or not allowed me to participate in something because I'm African American, or a woman, since I've been in this county. I haven't seen it occur to me personally. There may be what you might call a subtle racism that people aren't aware of in terms of their approach to groups of African Americans. For example, they may listen to a person talk and assume certain things about them because they have a dialect or because their English may not be as perfect as it should be. And I find that I have to help people look past some of that, sometimes, when you're working with kids, in order to make some recommendations for students to be involved in some programs that they may not otherwise be a party to, because they're taking the first blush to think that that student might not fit into a program. So, I've tried to push for that, to ward off any of that.

Richard Wilson: Okay. You might've mentioned this a couple minutes ago, but I'm going to ask it again anyway: does your family hold reunions? Where, when, who attends.

Charlene Boston: Yes, yes. My father's side of the family, remember, he's Cooper and his grandmother's, okay, his grandmother's people [pauses] My father's Cooper, his grandmother's [pauses] I'm trying to get it right. Okay, my father Cooper, okay. [pauses] Okay, my father's mother was Georgianna(?) Cooper and her mother was Mrs. Lucy Goldsboro(?) Cooper. Okay, now go back to the Goldsboro side, we have just learned that they've been having family reunions without us, because Lucy was the only girl in the Goldsboro group, they were all boys. And there were six boys and Lucy. She married Cooper. They didn't want her to marry Cooper, evidently. And so, they became disconnected. But now the Cooper side of the family, we are now going to the Goldsboro's picnic in Virginia, which my father was there at the last one, and he was the senior Goldsboro there in terms of the direct descendants of the Goldsboro, my father was the oldest living person at the reunion, and my father is 91 years old. And so last year—he had, you know, he had a close call, and then he presented a picture of his grandmother, Lucy Goldsboro, and they all were just, you know, just they blew it up and they're going to probably have it on display again this coming year. So, yes. Very big. And then I haven't got-one of my cousins, who's a Cooper, is trying to figure out end a little bit further into the Goldsboro.

[Audio ends]

[Audio begins, second recording, part three of interview with Charlene Boston].

Charlene Boston: So, my mother's side doesn't have as many family reunions, which is interesting. But they have big events like weddings, or funerals, and that becomes a family reunion on my mom's side, everyone comes back for the funeral or the wedding.

Richard Wilson: Well, the next time you go to a reunion, you need to take a laptop computer, access somehow this website here and let them see you on the web.

Charlene Boston: Oh, is that right?

Richard Wilson: You'll be able to access it as long as you can get on the Internet.

Charlene Boston: Oh okay, that's good, that's good. My father's side, the Coopers do, they really like those reunions, a lot, so.

Richard Wilson: Well, those are the end of my questions, you've been the most patient. I appreciate it very much. It's nice that we know some people in common. I'm still trying to figure out who the football player is that [both speaking] —Clark.

Charlene Boston: —Leroy Kelly.

Richard Wilson: Leroy Kelly was a running back.

Charlene Boston: That's the one I remember.

Donna Messick: I was curious, you mentioning Goldsboro(?), and you know that that's a big name on the Eastern Shore, like in Talbot County.

Charlene Boston: Is that right? I don't know

Donna Messick: So, some of the original Goldsboro names which were found in the early settlers and I'm just curious as to whether [both speaking, Charlene laughs] I mean, that kind of, the area was settled before Baltimore, you know.

Charlene Boston: Right. I don't know. I know some girl; I know Leah Hasty Gol-Leah Goldsboro Hasty. Goldsboro is a street in Talbert [Talbot]. No, I don't know what county it is up there, Easton. But she's not, I don't think related. She's an African American and I her mother's street was named after her mother up there, when you cross 50, I see that. But we don't spell ours that way, but black people I noticed, they spell names kind of different ways based on pronunciation, because long ago, they weren't able to write, read and write, or either that their writing was not as good, so. It may not be-it's a different spelling, I know, but it may not be that it's a different family.

Donna Messick: Do you have any sense how long your family had been in Baltimore?

Charlene Boston: Well, see my mother and father moved up here from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Donna Messick: North Carolina.

Charlene Boston: Yeah, from North Carolina, to get better work. Well!

Richard Wilson: That was very interesting, very interesting.

[Recording ends]