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Gwendolyn Tolliver Nickens Oral History Interview


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Gwendolyn Tolliver Nickens Oral History Interview


Nickens, Gwendolyn Tolliver
Central High School (Woodstock Va)


Oral history interview featuring Gwendolyn "Gwen" Tolliver Nickens conducted on February 5, 2016 for the Shenandoah County Library's Black History Month Program. In 1963 Gwen became the first African American student to attend the formally all black Central High School in Woodstock Virginia.


Zachary Hottel


Shenandoah Voices Oral History Collection


Shenandoah County Library


February 5, 2016


Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC)


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Oral History Item Type Metadata


Zachary Hottel


Gwendolyn Tolliver Nickens


Consulate Healthcare, Woodstock Virginia


Oral History Transcript 16-0002
Interviewee: Gwendolyn Tolliver Nickens (GN)
Interviewer: Zachary Hottel (ZH)
Subject: Integration, Segregation, Shenandoah County Public Schools (VA)

ZH: This is Zach Hottel with the Shenandoah County Library Archives interviewing Gwen Nickens about integration in Shenandoah County. I am going to let her giver her name and address if you would.

GN: My name is Gwendolyn, everybody has called me Gwen, Tolliver was my maiden name and of course that was the name I had in school with integration. Now I am married to Nickens, so now I am Gwendolyn Tolliver Nickens. I live in Winchester VA and my husband and I have been there now for about 34-35 years. Woodstock was my home. That is where I was born and raised. My parents were Theodore Tolliver better known as Jim Tolliver, and my mother was Mary Jane better known as Janie Tolliver. I went to school there and I was the first one to integrate schools and attend Central High School. That was several years ago, in fact, it was 1962 and I graduated in 1966. So that is kind of a brief history of my background.

ZH: So I guess maybe we could just start out in your own words about how did it come to be that you were the first to integrate Central High School and how that all began.

GN: My elementary background involves a one room school with one teacher who taught seven grades. She was the backbone of what I am for the simple fact. Her name was Genevieve R. McClain. She was a West Virginia native. That was where she lived. She lived in Woodstock here in a private home of one of the local people. She was our teacher. She was quite a unique, special lady. Very professional. She handled seven grades in one room. People when they think about that now it is unbelievable. The rapport, the discipline, and the control that she had was just unbelievable. We sat in rows of course. It was not a very large attendance even though it involved Woodstock, Mount Jackson, and part of New Market. So the children from Mount Jackson and New Market were bused down the road and those of us who lived here had of course had the opportunity to be right here. But we all went to school there. We were in rows where the younger children, the first graders, were in the front and then as you progressed in your schooling year you were sent further to the back of the school. It was heated by a wood-burning pot-bellied stove. We had of course our desks and one very long table in the very back where we would meet for our classes. Around the back of the school was our library. It was not very large but there books there that we could check out or we could read. But again this lady had such control over us. The classes also progressed in that order. The first ones, the little ones were the first to go to their classes. Then the older ones proceeded. We had not only reading, writing, and arithmetic, but she also covered geography and science. We were, like I said, we were allowed to use the library for our history and of course she would have us come up and do a lot of individualizing with us, different days for different age groups. When our class time came, we met at this long table in the back of our school and we sat down and went through our lessons. When we had tests we would do it from our desks. When I think back on it, it just seemed so routine and normal. You learned from the moment you went to her, what she expected of you and not only did she teach us the basics in our studies she also interjected socialization, being able to get up and do recitations, sing music. In the morning we would the Pledge of Allegiance, some type of Bible verse and we would be able to relate our day before. All of this was done like I said so uniquely. But it was handled and by the end of the day everything that was planned to be done was done. Then kind of as a little extra thing on the side for extra time since she lived and did not have to travel she would have us stay if you were interested in learning the basics of cooking. She was involved. I was a Girl Scout with a local group here in Woodstock, and she got involved with that with us girls. She stressed to the young men about being a man and all of the things that go along with that, how to respect ladies. I mean this woman was just unbelievable. It is due to her and the support of my parents and other people of the community along with the local Black pastor who allowed us to use the church when we had special events. We had spelling bees. We learned how to make spaghetti, basic food dishes. We learned how to make homemade ice cream. We even had an old crank ice cream freezer. She acquainted us with that. So this lady laid the groundwork for who I am today along with the assistance of all the other people. We got along well. If there any disputes she handled them and she knew she had the full support of most of the parents and definitely mine. So whatever she said you tried to do. In fact my father quoted to my brother who was older than I, “If Mrs. McClain tells you to go out and climb that tree then you go out and try, give it your best effort." It wasn't any question. But after I finished that there were only three of us in my graduating class. That is how small most of the classes were. All girls. When we finished school right away, what the normal process was, because my brother who graduated several years before I did, was you were bused from Woodstock to Winchester where the closest Black high school was. That was Douglas High School in Winchester, Virginia. My brother went there, in fact when he got old enough he got his driver's license and he drove the school bus that transported the Black children from Woodstock. He would stop in Strasburg and in Stephens City and get those and took them on to Winchester. That is where he went to high school. Well when it came time for me to go to high school my mother had a relative who lived in Washington D.C. who had had several major back operations and she just needed someone to be in her apartment with her to kind of assist her. She had different nurses and other people but she had got to the point where she felt all she really needed was an extra set of hands. So she approached my mom and said "Now Gwen is finishing elementary school, would you think she would come down and stay with me for a year or so?", and mom said "Well I will ask her", so Mom approached me and I agreed to do that. It was like ok where will she go to school. Well of course I graduated from the 7th grade so that meant I would be going in to the 8th grade. So her looking into the situation and where she lived in Washington, the nearest junior school in the city that I would go to was Francis Junior High School in Georgetown which was right on the edge of D.C. and to Georgetown. So that was where I would go and we went and got it set up. When I moved in with her that summer, when I started school I went to Francis Junior High in Georgetown. I went there for the full year that I lived with her. It was quite an experience for me to come from a little country one-room school and go into a junior high city school. It was overwhelming but I adjusted. I made friends. Of course there were those who made fun of me because of not only the way I talked but the way I walked, the way I dressed, I kind of stood out but after awhile they accepted me and everything worked out. So I went to Francis Junior High for my 8th grade year. Near the middle of that year my mother started really missing me and they would come down and visit and of course vacation days at school I was able to come home. So she set me down and said "I really miss you, I think you should come home". I said, " I have enjoyed being in Washington but I would like to come home". She said,"Well I have got a plan and I have got to ask you how you feel about it". Now my mother was the one that was kind of leading this. My father was in the background, he did not say a whole lot. But at least he gave his support. She said," Rather than go to Douglas I would like to see you stay right here in Woodstock and go to Central. We have a perfectly good high school right here there is not reason for that. There is only one thing, no one else goes there, you would be the first one. Do you have a problem or an issue with that?" I said, "No, none". She said, "Are you sure?" I said, “I am positive if it means that I get to come home." So she very bravely and boldly went and talked to the school superintendent to inform him first that she and my father would be enrolling me to start Central the next school year. It kind of took him back and he said,"You are going to do what?" and she said, "Yes, Jim (my father) and I have lived in this community for years and in fact my father was born here in Woodstock and in fact he worked for several of the well-known families as a young man. He ended up being an auto mechanic and worked for the local Chevrolet dealer. I have been married to him and we have raised our children. I have worked for a lot of people in the community. They all know Jim & I and this our daughter, the last one. and we want her to be at home to go to school." He said, " Do what you think is best but this is kind of going to be difficult." She said," Gwen is ready and we are going to take it for what it is worth". She enrolled me that summer and when the time came for me to start school of course there were some people that were very skeptical even in my own race. They told my parents they were making a mistake. They did not feel it was the time. Again they all approached me and asked me if I was scared. I said no. I got enough in me that I was going to make the best of it and it is going to work out. When the day came for me to start my mother was a nervous wreck. Of course all the mother fears," Have I made a mistake?"
And of course we had a few telephone calls, "Don't send that 'you know what' out here, if you do it is going to be a problem, we are going to hurt her". And of course my mother got more and more nervous. Finally the day I was to go they were going to send a bus to pick me up and then they decided no we are not going to take a chance we are going to send a private car and let the car take her. I was all ready and then my mother said at the last minute, " I don't think she should go and my father who was at work at the garage, he had come home and he looked at her and he said," No, we have come this far. Gwen wants to do it. It is going to be all right." So she reluctantly let me get in that car and when we drove up at Central to go in. Of course the newpaper was there, and a lot of parents and their children, the staff most of them came out. The principal came out and escorted me in to school. They introduced me to all the necessary people. They gave me my schedule. They assigned one of the local students who would be in my class to be kind of my guide to be with me that day like my buddy. I learned my way around school and I knew what classes I had to attend. They put me in with, when I say the children who were like the doctors, the lawyers, the department store owners. They put me in with those children rather than the children who were from the country. What they had done was they had talked with those students and they all said, "Oh yes, my dad knows her dad. They come out to our house or her mom comes in our store. They knew my family. They were glad, oh yeah, they were glad to have Gwen. Excited about it. So they put me in with them and so there was not any issue there at all. Different people ask me what happened in school and it was like no one approached me any more but there were a lot of little comments made in the hallway or on the stairwell or once in a while some of them in the cafeteria. But these children that I was in with, there was always one or two of them with me. They would, especially the boys, they would say, “You touch her you are going to answer to me, she deserves to be here as well as you & I, let her alone". Within a couple of week’s time it was like every day practice. There were a few looks, but that went on for a while, but never any incident, no confrontation, nothing like that. And within time it was like I was one of the group. So that year went very well and I got involved in sports and other activities. I have always liked to sing, so got in Glee singing group. And all of those things were only plusses. I guess you could as a matter of fact I proved myself that I could do what they do. I was willing to learn. All of my teachers were very supportive, and complimentary, how proud they were to have me. When we got to the part in government or in my senior year or in the early years of history when we talked about slavery they would kind of "how is she going to take it?", but hey that is all part of it, I was proud of the fact that I was different from you but we are all in this together. My teacher said that is so great and maybe there are some things that you can tell us that are not in this book. Like what we are doing here. I was blessed to have good grandparents. My mom's parents lived in Mount Jackson. My grandfather was a farmer and I had that experience knowing what that was like. My grandmother would sit down and tell us things so I had that knowledge. My father's parents lived here in Woodstock and they were things that they told me that they had experienced in life. So I did have some things that I could share with them from my history and background. It just went real smooth. So by the next year after the other Black people in the community saw how smooth it was going, it kind of encouraged them and more started coming. Then finally they did away with the need to even go to Winchester and it was just protocol. So it kind of fell right in to place and it has been all right ever since as far as I know.

ZH: Now I am curious a little bit about, you said you mother was the real driving force behind you. Was that you think a personal decision on her part or what do think drove her to that?

GN: I think it was more that 'Mother Thing'. I think she wanted me home and having experienced the commute and having to deal with my brother who went to Douglas. She had nothing against Douglas and my mother was the kind of mother like more should be who checked in with the school periodically. She was not the stay at home, hands-off mother; she was very much involved the whole time my brother was there. The best way for her to get there, she made her plans; she would ride the bus there. And of course when my brother drove, she got to see how he did then and how proud she was that he was able to handle that as well as be in school. But she had a personal interest on his progress. My brother was very athletic and he loved football. She supported him at that but she also wanted those academics to come in play. And the best way to find out was she would go to classes with him and then talk with the teachers. When my time came, I think it was the actual having me home, when she had an actual hands-on, more being able to be there. Because when I came to Central, she came there periodically. A good parent does that. She didn't do it out of fear or to make my brother or I embarrassed even though she did embarrass my brother, you can imagine, a young man who is a junior or senior in high school and there is momma but they understood and the teacher really because they knew that parental guidance & support was there. She wanted to know and if he wasn't doing and the same thing with me and then you don't play football for a year because the academic part of it. Back then both my parents not completing school, my father did not go very far at all. He dropped out like most young boys do. But my father had a given intellect that a lot of people, he read a lot. He put himself through a mail communication course. But he loved that kind of stuff. He was always was good with his hands, being a mechanic. He had very high abilities that he unfortunately never got to use but it was there. My mother went I think she told me to 9th grade. She too had to come home, she was in the city living with relatives, because she lived in Mount Jackson in the country but her mother got ill and she was one of the ones who was able to come and take care of Mom so she had to drop out of school. Her education kind of went to a limit and they both wanted my brother and me to have more.

ZH: So you think it was more of a practical reason for you to go to school than it was for some other reason.

GN: Practical as well as I was going to get what I needed. Douglas was perfectly all right. It was different. I used to go. It was quite interesting for me to go to my brother's class. There was a lot given but there was a lot that was missed. My brother got the basics but there wasn't anything really for him to excel in. The teachers were qualified but my mother knew there was more. It had been done and it was the normal practice for everybody to go there. She wanted to break that mold and provide for me. She looked and saw in me, thanks to Mrs. McClain again, her and other people in my community that it was there that I could do more and the possibility of even college. It was more practical, supportive, wanting me home type of thing.

ZH: And you definitely think Central gave you more than you would have gotten if you had gone to Douglas.

GN: Absolutely.

ZH: Now I guess backing up a little bit I had a couple questions. First you said you were in Girl Scouts. I had not thought about this until you said this. Were the Girl Scout troops segregated?

GH: Yes, by the time I got there. The leader of the Girl Scouts when I was in it was the wife of the Administrator of the High School. She was the one who had the time. She picked it up. She had been one for years when he moved here to take that job. She encouraged young girls which most of those people that were involved in those scout organizations did. She even reached out to my school in my community. She made personal visits and extended the invitation for us little girls to get involved. It was due to her that over half of my school the girls joined. It was another from someone caring coming from an area where it was not as common to have segregation where there was more integration. She knew the capability was there and she extended the invitation. I just loved it. I fell right into it. The handwork, the volunteer work, being able to earn the badges and to do all that. She was very supportive. She reached out. It wasn't that we had to hunt her out. She actually came out to us through the school superintendent and my teacher. She approached her and talked to her one on one first, "Mrs. McClain, I like to come to your school if you allow me and talk to your girls about the Girl Scouts". And of course my teacher was very --"Yes indeed, let's give these young ladies everything we possibly can". So that is kind of how that went.

ZH: Now do you think there were other people in the white community like her that were supportive of integration?

GN: Oh yes! Like I said most of the people that were doctors, lawyers, store owners, organization leaders, ministers, most of them knew my father and knew where he came from. Knew what he was.
They were very supportive. It was like FINALLY when it came out. You are doing this. It should have been done a long time ago Jim, I mean you have three children. Two of them, me and my brother. My sister died way before she was able to. She died at eleven years old. She had been sick most of her life. It was my brother, my sister Shirley, and I was the baby. So my brother and I were the two when she passed. I was only five years old when she passed. They encouraged my father and mother and they were really glad when this happened. They were very supportive. Yes, do this. That is where they belong. You are part of this community. You have lived here all your life. I can' say that I know of anyone that didn't. They never told me of the ones that didn't. Because most of the people that knew my father and grew to know my mother after years of being in the area were very supportive.

ZH: So you think that personal connection had a part to play.

GN: Oh yes. How can you support someone when you don't really know them? I mean that gives the foundation of being able to say I know what this person can do; I know what this person is. I have lived with this person, I have seen their work. I have worked with them. Yes, I really do. There was a lot. Just like I said there was not any problem at all. A few but they were soon put down or told "Hey leave it alone". Then after a while it was like I said just like every day.

ZH: You think definitely the economic standing of people affected the way they viewed integration.

GN: Absolutely. Absolutely. If you are exposed, if you are told that it is all part of life, and people even in my own race, some in the people in my own community were not real happy or receptive. They would say "What are you doing? You are going to mess up things; you are going to cause problems". But that comes from not truly understanding or being given the fact that, Hey, you deserve it too. If you come up in a status where I need to stay where I am, I can't cross that line than that is the way you are going to be in my opinion. If you are a better, I won't use the word class, but if you come up with a different understanding and in those homes they were told we are all equal. Jim and Janie's kids are just like you kids. They deserve it just as well as you do. Let them prove themselves. You don't judge someone simply because of the color of their skin. That doesn't make them any different. They are just like us. You cut them they bleed just like we do. It was the people that were the better and most of them like I said it was what they were given from their experiences in life. They had traveled or they had even had the experiences of going to schools where there was integration or being around or associated, or even the fact that some of them had Black ladies or men working for them. Because my father worked for a well-known family when he was a young man. The gentleman was a judge and his wife was a well-to-do aristocratic lady. But they brought their children up with my dad and they loved my dad just like he was a brother to the kids or an extended son. They treated him the same even though he worked for them. The kids growing up loved Dad. "Oh Jim, I mean what will we do without you if you are not here. Come on be a part". That was the kind of relationship they had, so when they grew up and went out they were better prepared when other Blacks approached them. It was like "Oh yeah our Jim you know. We don't even see him that way. So that I think the advantage of that comes from. They never put you down, they never belittled you. They never said they are only good for this or they are only good for that. It was like "yes they are equal".

ZH: You are in the African-American community in Woodstock. The leadership, I kind of got the impression from the research, that there was never any, I guess apart from some isolated incidents where they were pushing for integration.

GN: No

ZH: That some of that even came from the outside. I found evidence of the NAACP pushing for some integration in Shenandoah County from Winchester from the chapter there. Do you think you find that to be true?

GN: Yes. It was status quo for the older Black people in the community. You stay over here. That is what you do. You don't cross that line. But my mother being an independent, strong Black woman, she said “You’re not talking to me. This is my child. This is my decision. You are not my leader. I have been given my own mind. I respect you for who you are but if that is where you want to stay, then God Bless you. But me and my mine will not. It did not go over real well. First of all, my mother was an outsider in the community anyhow. My father married her from Mount Jackson so it was already touch and go with the relationship with bringing someone from outside. A lot of people have that narrow-minded concept, you stay within. After she got here, like I said, she became independent, she went to work, she kept her house, and she raised us. She didn't associate on the side, she went to church. It was like, golly this woman is different. But that was just her and a lot of them had a hard time, especially the older ones. Now the younger ones they saw how it went and they were able to experience it little by little. It was like 'Oh, this is how it is". You had that where as far as leaders, my mom told several of the older people, “Maybe you think you are a leader or maybe you are theirs, but you are not mine. I don't answer to no one but God".

ZH: There is more to integration in Shenandoah County than the school. I have done the research as to when the pools integrated and the theaters integrated. Do you have any experiences related to those things?

GN: Those are not things that I really pushed. Kind of went along with the program to a certain degree. I didn't do sit-ins or demonstrations. I didn't do a lot of swimming because I am not a swimmer, unfortunately I regret that now. But the movie theater it was just common practice when we went in we went to the balcony the upper lever. To be very honest I preferred being on the upper level anyway. So that was not a big deal. I didn't personally put a whole lot into that. That was things that came along later. Magestic once it was done. Even the local pharmacy couldn't go in and get a soda or whatever. Didn't push that a lot. It happened. Once it happened it was fine. But mine basically was just school.

ZH: I am sure you experienced a lot of the segregation of society like the restaurants. Could you maybe talk a little bit about that? What things were segregated in Woodstock and a little bit of your experience?

GN: Pretty much the movie theater like you said. And once they did build the swimming pool. Like I said the local Walton & Smoot pharmacy, going in and sitting at the fountain. But you know I don't remember it being a big problem anywhere. I really don't. Again most of the local Black people were well enough known that most would go. Those who wanted to would go and those who stayed away, stayed sway. I personally, like I said, my father now the only one thing I can remember we would go up to Mac's Truck Center, I don't even know if it is still up there on Route 11, we would go in there. The Blacks had to go around to the back and go in a side door that was right there at the kitchen. They had a booth there and that is where the Blacks went. They didn't go in the front door into the dining area. I can remember going there with my parents. But that was just normal practice. My father didn't push the issue of gong in the front door. I grew up not knowing any different. But once it did change, I had gotten older, and I heard people talk about, "guess what we aren't going around to that back door any more we are going right in the front". But other than that, like I said, it wasn’t big issue to me, I was perfectly satisfied where I was. It was just the ability to go to school freely and that opened me up then to me more association with the white children to maybe not do so much in the community but to go in their homes, to go on trips together and do that kind of thing. That was more exciting to me than actually pushing the issue.

ZH: The junior high school you talked about you went to Francis Junior High School--was that an integrated school?

GN: Oh yes. In Georgetown.

ZH: Do you think that made you more prepared to go to an integrated school?

GN: Certainly helped. If nothing else it built my self-confidence. Because that was a unique experience for a little country girl, like I said earlier, from a one-room school with seven grades to go to a city school and be exposed to all of the different cultures, different races, different styles of teaching, more fast-paced. I mean the whole thing, it truly helped prepare me.

ZH: I am interested in the difference between what would have been the typical white student experience here and the typical African-American student. So coming from the African-American school in Woodstock, do you think if you had gone straight in to Central would you have had a different experience than the white students who had gone to a different school?

GN: I don't think so.

ZH: So you don't think the education that you had gotten in elementary school was that much different than the others?

GN: No. It laid the basics. Reading, writing, and arithmetic as the old folks say, they are the three ground players. She interjected that and along with it things that I really liked, history, science, geography that was just injected in. But laying the basics so I was able to go in and pick up a textbook and start from scratch. As long as I knew I had the help with that teacher. And like I said, all of them were very encouraging and helpful. But no I don't think, it maybe would have been a little bit as far as my self-confidence, but I never denied myself. I was never afraid. When they asked me if I was ok. I said yes, I don't have any problem with that. I don't have anything to be ashamed of. I am willing to learn and that is what school is for. If I get behind, or I feel that I am not meeting expectations, hopefully I will have someone to go to wherever I am. That has always has been my thought. No you are not going to get everything right off the bat, I tell my grandchildren that. The last one is graduating from high school this year. But you can do it. There is no such thing as "I can't". Yes you can. It might take you a little bit longer or you might need a little help. But I have always, my dad, like I said, did not have much schooling but was self-taught in so many things. He was one of those kind who could sit you down and reason with you thru intellect and talking with you and raising his voice and being very disciplinary. In my household my mother was the disciplinarian and believe me you did not want to mess with Miss Janie. But my father was always the one that could reason with you. My father explained to me about death when my sister died. And you know you don't forget those kinds of things. It has been a part of me and I appreciate that. He made me understand. There were a lot of little habits and things that I had that were not right. He would sit me down and explain to me why what I was doing was not good for me or anyone else or dangerous or what I could do. And those are things that are like WOW! He instilled in me there is nothing that you can't do. But if by chance there is something then don't worry about it because maybe it isn't your thing. You try something else. Try something else.

ZH: Find your thing.

GN: Yes. And along with that as I said earlier, there was the faith issue. You go to Sunday School and Church and you learn about Jesus. You don't leave him out. So I credit my community, my parents, and Mrs. McClain. Our morning ritual, Bible study of some sort, a Bible verse, the Pledge of Allegiance and then what you got out of the day before.

ZH: So you think your faith and maybe the church really helped you when it came to integrating the school.

GN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Very much so.

ZH: I am curious; you talked a little bit about the superintendent of the school. I know you were not the one talking to them but overall do you think they were opposed to integration and if they were do you think they would have eventually integrated the schools themselves if they had not been pushed.

GN: It really was such a shock. I mean this is not something that well I am getting a little bit that maybe they are thinking about it or someone talked to them about it and come and prepared me. I mean Mom just approached him "cold turkey", right out of the blue," I am doing it". "What?" I think it was more the shock of it. The timing of it I don't think had a whole lot to do with it. Because eventually you know it was going to happen. Eventually all things come to an end. But I just didn't think, Well I got thru with Skip with Jim & Janie, now all they have is Gwen. I don't think they expected necessarily from my mom and dad. I mean they gave no inclination of it even though they were independent people, going about their business. They did their jobs and all that. But it was just the "Now, under my?". But once it happened they were very supportive. Another thing about him was when Mom did go, she called his home to talk to him. She said "I want to do this one on one. I am not going to do this publicly yet". He was in bed sick. His wife said the day she was to go,"Do you think we better call and tell her not to come?" He said, “No let her come. I feel better". I don't think it was anything big but he was sick. He had been at home sick for a few days. So when Mom went she said maybe I should come back but his wife said no he said he would talk with you. So I don't know what he expected. But he was receptive to her when she went in. She told him I hope you feel better but I just wanted to come and tell you first. He said, "What is that Mrs. Tolliver?". She told him what. He said, "You are going to do what?” Because looking back on it now, little stories that Mom told me, after I finished elementary school, they kept the process of the segregated schools for awhile. It lasted a little longer at the school where I was because they had to expand to a larger place. The Black children ended up going to one of the old white schools while they built the new one. When the teacher was not feeling well they had to find a substitute. Several times they approached my mom. "Mrs. Tolliver, would you be willing to go out and just sit with the children for a day or so until the teacher gets back? And just be there and maybe go over a few things with them or listen to them read? And she said she would do that. Well Mom got involved in the school as someone that they knew they could count on to call to go and just sit there. She ended getting more involved with the children because she came away knowing some of them were not where they should be in their education and she commented. But that is just the way she was. And I think maybe he thought that maybe she was coming to talk to him about a student at school. And then she told him," No, I am coming to tell you we are going to enroll Gwen at Central for the coming year."

ZH: The research I have found is right until you went to Central; they were planning on building new Black schools in Woodstock and Strasburg.

GN: Yes. Yes. Leave status quo, the way status quo. No ones doing anything about. We will leave sleeping dogs lie. It is working out so far. Nobody in the white community was really pushing for it. In fact a lot of times you think, well they are happy so leave them them alone if you don't really sit down and talk to someone. Most of the Black community was satisfied and happy.

ZH: Well really that is pretty much all I had. Is there anything else you would like to add?

GN: I have talked to several that followed after me and none of them had any issues. Everybody got along. Right to today. Friendships were made. I still did up until a few years ago we had our annual class reunions. It was always so good to see all of them. A lot of them grew up in the community close, their parents and my parents. Of course, a lot of them are gone now. I got to know them one on one. We shared with one another. I started a little bit earlier in my life than a lot of them. A lot of them had an opportunity to go right from high school to college. I got married. So I had a completely different lifestyle. I had a daughter. Then after I had my daughter I went back to school. So I started a lot earlier than a lot of them. So at the class reunions I would talk about my daughter and getting older and her school experiences and they were just starting to have their children. I have been blessed and in the last couple I would talk about my first grandchild. It was like, "What? Mine is just barely getting in to high school and you already have a grandchild?". Yes, but I started earlier. So it has always been good. No issues or problems.

ZH: And that is pretty much what I have gotten from everybody else, they said there were no issues or problems.

GN: Yes.




Zachary Hottel, “Gwendolyn Tolliver Nickens Oral History Interview,” Shenandoah County Library Archives, accessed October 26, 2020,



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