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Everything Avis Carnegie Seabrook is came from the very core of her foundation–her parents.
One of seven children born and reared in Williston, Seabrook learned at her mother’s knee the importance of kindness, loving and sharing.
By example the five girls and two boys were taught how to love, how to give and how to care.
They were traits Seabrook took to heart and ones that got her through both the turbulent times of segregation and integration.
Because of the firm, but gentle, guidance at home, Seabrook was able to look past the times when black people and white people did not share the drinking fountain, let alone any other civil liberties.
She remembers well how things were in the Williston of her youth–beginning with the early years of her education.
Back in those days, the churches in the black community doubled as schools.
“Rock Hill and New Hope,” she said from the plushness of her living room sofa, “were schools. I went to where White Rose Nursery is. I can close my eyes and still see it–the entire layout where everything was.
“We had good teachers,” Seabrook said, “who wanted us to be better, have better.
“Our hope was built in these black churches,” she said. “And we were so excited when the barn [a larger school not contained in a church] was built. We were taught well. They did a good job preparing us for life.”
Routinely motivational speakers were brought to the schools, she remembered. These were people who had overcome and achieved life’s goals. They came to Williston to share their message of hope and instill a desire in students to constantly seek and keep learning.
Because of those times, Seabrook knew in third grade–thanks to the teaching of Mrs. Greer–that she one day would also be a teacher–someone who would pass on the torch of learning, enrichment and hope.
Some fifty years later, there is no hint of resentment or bitterness in her voice as she talks about growing up in a time when black people were treated with caution and as something less than citizens.
“The railroad tracks separated us,” she said.
And an invisible line were ever-present even in town.
“If you were in a store and a clerk was waiting on you and a white person came in, you just stepped back and let them go first,” she said. “Everybody knew his place.” There were no questions, no anger. It was accepted: you were who you were and nothing more.
One service station in town had drinking fountains marked “White” and “Colored” and no one dared drink from the taboo one.
The barrier was even more clear at the bus station where white people came in, purchased their tickets openly and waited for a ride to their destination.
Not so for the black people, she said. Instead a barrier was erected and a peep hole cut out for black passengers to pass their money through to the ticket agent who was protected from being near them.
She shrugged it off. “I’ve always wanted to be a good person,” she said, “and when someone did me wrong, I just smiled and went about my day.”
After college at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College (FAMU) and a brief stint in Bartow, she return home.
“I wanted to let Williston shine,” she said. “I wanted to make a difference.”
She was hired on the spot in 1971 to teach at the newly integrated Williston Middle School and while turmoil was raging around the state and the South, things were calm on the homefront as she taught students to be as she was–color blind.
“What I knew, I taught,” she said. “I could connect with people and children and I had a good rapport with them.
“I am a good listener and they knew I would listen to them.”
Today, in the throes of retirement, Seabrook said among the greatest rewards she receives are those students who went on from Williston to do bigger and better things and return or write to let her know of their success and the role she played in it.
She stays busy these days being a voice for her community and staying involved in city matters.
It’s important, she believes, to be engaged in where you live in order to make it a better place for those who will come after.