Today’s guest blog post is written by Kimberley Pierce Cartwright. A longtime friend of the Resource Center, Kimberley has recently taught Zoom classes for RCWMS in which she teaches participants how to make quilted fabric postcards. She’ll teach her fabric postcard class again on July 11, 2021. Cartwright is a quilter, folk art painter, and entrepreneur who grew up in Hallsboro, NC. She is also the News and Public Affairs Director for radio station WNCU.
One of my fondest memories of my childhood has to do with my name. My name is Kimberley Faye. My father’s sister, Sarah Pierce Boone, the official baby namer of the family, gifted it to me in 1958. The modern Civil Rights Movement was taking hold in the United States at that time. Aunt Sarah also named my siblings Thomas, Phillip, Barbara, Sabrina, and Lisa. My father, Thomas Jefferson Pierce, rushed to the colored ward of the Columbus County Hospital in Whiteville, North Carolina, to name my sister Mary Louise before Aunt Sarah could get there. My dad was delighted that he’d named one of his seven children over my mother, Mary Lue Shaw Pierce, and his sister.
In the summer of 1964 I was six. I remember standing in the front yard of one of my mother’s dearest friends, Aunt Titia Boone. She wasn’t my real aunt but my mother loved her like a sister and she taught us to love her too. Her house was a white shotgun with many add on rooms to accommodate her large family. We lived in my grandfather James Livingston Pierce’s old house across the road from three Boone families. We were poor people with little hope of increasing our stature in the world because of the crush of segregation.
Aunt Titia and my mama were sitting on her porch having a conversation about me. They talked while frantically fanning themselves with cardboard cutouts to stir up a breeze in the sultry air. They spoke with a beautiful long southern drawl cognate to African Americans who lived in Southeastern North Carolina. I was jumping around the trunk of a mammoth oak tree in Aunt Titia’s front yard listening just enough to know that they were talking about the start of the new school year coming up in the fall. I was dressed in standard gear for summer, a short sleeved shirt, some cut off shorts, and no shoes. My hair was stretched every which way to God, secured only by three big erratic plaits my mama slapped on my head. My ears perked up every time I heard them say Faye.
The two motioned for me to come to the porch. I ran over with a big smile on my face, happy to be included in grown folks’ talk. The conversation, as much as I can remember, went something like this.
Aunt Titia said, “You know you’re a big girl now and you goin’ to school this year?”
“Yes Ma’am,” I replied.
“Well you gone have to learn yo’ real name,” Mama said.
“I don’t know nothin’ about no real name,” I replied.
“It’s K-i-m-b-e-r-l-e-y. That spells Kimberley,” Mama said. “And you gone have to learn to spell it.”
Kimberley! Until that day I had no connection to this new name. I was flummoxed. I couldn’t figure out why I needed another name when Faye was perfectly good. I couldn’t figure out why anyone who knew this secret thing about me didn’t tell me.
“Okay,” I said.
My mother didn’t mention Kimberley anymore after that day, and I really didn’t think about it. Summer slipped seamlessly into fall, and it was time to go to Artesia High School (which included all grades for African Americans before integration.) Artesia was part of the Rosenwald School project that built more than five thousand schools and other facilities in the United States to educate African Americans in the South during the early part of the twentieth century. It was a glorious segregated school constructed of red brick and serving students in grades one through twelve from around the lower south region of Columbus County. My siblings and I were blessed. We could walk there.
I remember the outfit I wore the first day of first grade. My mother bought me a forest-green, cinched-waist dress. It had a flirty can-can bottom. I remember there was crinoline underneath that made the skirt stand out when I walked. The dress had a beautiful yellow ribbon on the bottom printed like a ruler. My outfit was complete with ruffled, white bobby socks and patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Lovely.
My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bertha Johnson, was so kind. She said me and my classmates’ names with such pride. I remember a lot of them. There was Dwayne, Ray, Paul, Jimmy, Quincy, Faye, Dexter, Melvin, Keith, Delphine, Beaulah, twins Emma and Irma, and the other twins, Larry and Loretta. Mrs. Johnson put us all to work on our first assignment. She told us all to write our names. I started to scribble out Faye with my chubby red pencil. Mrs. Johnson walked over to me and said that she would help me with my name. She went to the board and stroked out in bold letters. K-i-m-b-e-r-l-e-y. There it was again. I wrote it out for her that time but after that I rarely did. I was determined that I was not that name. I was Faye. Kimberley was just too big. I signed all of my papers Faye. The only time I remember seeing Kimberley was on report cards from grades one through five after that.
Kimberley didn’t stick to me until the sixth grade. North Carolina schools were forced to fully integrate that year and for the first time I was in class with Native Americans and White people. It was an interesting mix. The name of the school, like every other Black school in the state, was changed. The magnificent Artesia was reduced to Hallsboro Middle School.
My first White teacher, Miss Pierce, called me Kimberley the first time she took the roll in the 1970-71 school year. Everything changed at that moment. I wasn’t first-grade Faye anymore. I felt then and there that I had grown into Kimberley and a new exciting part of my life. To this day, my oldest and dearest friends from Artesia High School still call me Faye, and I love it. The name Kimberley never really stuck for them, or for that matter, any of the members of my family. I’m always Faye in Hallsboro. I’m Kimberley to the rest of the world.