Vertina Hawkins Umstead Galloway, 84, doesn’t take any mess. She didn’t as a teacher and librarian at the old Whitted Junior High School, and she didn’t as the librarian at C.C. Spaulding Elementary, either. And she sure didn’t at her first job in education in segregated Georgia in 1955.
Fresh out of N.C. Central University with a master’s degree, Galloway got a job in Carrollton, Georgia. She had never been away from home.
“Durham was always a progressive city. In Carrollton, Georgia, segregation was something else. They had us read the preamble to the Constitution before we could vote,” she said.
Galloway was the librarian of an all-African-American school. She noticed they didn’t carry Jet and Ebony magazines, so the principal ordered them with his own money. One day a white man came into the school library. He did not introduce himself, but started off by asking why there were “n” word magazines there.
“I said, ‘Who are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m the damn superintendent.’”
Another time, Galloway was at the downtown pharmacy shopping for a Valentine’s Day card for her then-boyfriend. She gave the cashier $5 and then “went over and drank some ‘white’ water.”
There were two water fountains, one label “Whites” and one labeled “Colored.” Galloway doesn’t remember why she decided to drink from the white-labeled water fountain, just that she wanted to do it so she did.
“I made a scene. She [the cashier] wouldn’t let me get the Valentine card, so I took my $5 back and walked on home, a half mile,” Galloway said.
Her boss, the principal, who also owned the building where she lived, was out smoking a cigar on the porch. The police chief had already called him about what Galloway had done.
Later that year, she married her boyfriend in Durham and moved back to North Carolina. Galloway is a 1950 graduate of Hillside High School. She grew up on unpaved Pine Street, which later became part of South Roxboro Street. Her mom was cafeteria manager at C.C. Spaulding. Her dad’s work included Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, but he refused to ride the segregated bus so he walked to work every day by the railroad tracks. It was a minimum 45-minute walk, she said, and he was a “little fella,” but used to walking. Her dad was also a janitor at then-N.C. College (now NCCU), starting that job when his daughter started as a student there.
“My father was a good provider. By the time I was in fifth grade, he paid for two houses on a black man’s salary without an education,” Galloway said.
After a year at a school in Whiteville, a teaching job opened up at Whitted Jr. High in Durham, the all-African-American junior high during segregation. The librarian position wasn’t open, so she taught English and history for several years before taking over as librarian.
The former Whitted School has been renovated and recently reopened as the Veranda at Whitted School Apartments. Galloway said she’d like to see how it looks inside now.
Galloway divorced, remarried and divorced as she raised her two children while working at Whitted and then after school going to her other job at Stanford L. Warren Library. She also worked at least 15 summers at the Hillside Park Pool as a cashier. Eventually she wanted a summer job out of the sun, so went to work at NCCU’s library.
The Durham school sytem integrated while Galloway was working at Whitted. White teachers were brought in. The policy previously had been that teachers made home visits to students, she said, but the white teachers didn’t have to visit their African-American students.
She spent 18 years total at Whitted, then another 18 years as librarian at C.C. Spaulding Elementary, where she loved to read works of African-American poets to students. Paul Laurence Dunbar and Maya Angelou are her favorites. She likes Dunbar’s “In the Morning.”
Galloway said that she was known for being strict and that she didn’t take any mess. She retired in 1993.
A week ago she went to Outback Steakhouse after church. As she often does, Galloway ran into a former student, sometimes those who know her as Ms. Umstead, some who know her as Ms. Galloway. But they all know, and have reminded her, that she didn’t take any mess from anyone. Not then and not now.