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This web site was supported by the Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research, through a grant with South Carolina State University and developed by the University of North Carolina Wilmington, working in close cooperation with the Montford Point Marines Museum at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN

August 17th, 2005


Registered Nurse Fannie Coleman, born in Oriental, North Carolina, attended nursing school at Community Hospital in Wilmington. After a career in nursing, she entered local politics in Jacksonville, North Carolina, where she now resides and serves as a member of the City Council.


INTERVIEWER: Ms. Coleman, what I'd like you to do to begin this interview, you realize it's an interview, a, a documentary, and we're going to have to have a release form for her afterwards, but on the Montford Point Marines, and as I said before, you're going to be our representative civilian female from that era. And so what I'd like you to do is just give me your name and spell it for me.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: My name is Fannie Keyes Coleman, F-A-N-N-I-E K-E-Y-E-S C-O-L-E-M-A-N.

INTERVIEWER: And you're going to look at me during this. Don't, you know, you don't have to look at the camera. Just look at me like we're having a conversation. That's, and that's really what it is, just a conversation. So I, all, I'd also like you, Ms. Coleman, if you would, to just give, give me today's date. Just say, today's date is.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Today is (STAMMERS) August the 17th, '05.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, with that done, we're going to start the interview. And I'd like you to give me just a brief description of where you grew up, what your family was like. You know, did you have brothers and sisters? What did your mom and dad do? Where did you live? And also, a little bit about your educational levels up to the time you were at Montford Point, which would, of course, would take me, take you into nursing school. So if you could just tell me some of those things.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Okay. I was born in Oriental, North Carolina, and that's down east, as we call it, east of New Bern. I was a family of 10, six boys and four girls. Our father was a, he worked at a saw mill, and my mother was a housewife, as well as she worked in the fields to help to support the family. I went to Pamlico County High School. That was in Bayborough, North Carolina. And from there, well, first of (STAMMERS) back up a little bit, I went to Oriental first and then to high school in Pamlico County in Bayborough, North Carolina. And from there, I went to nursing school.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (CONTINUED) Now, my family was about education. We didn't, we were not able to say, I don't want to go to college, or, I don't want a higher education. We had to have a higher education. So with that, there were four of, of them went to college and I went to nursing school.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, I want you to tell me just a little bit about where did you go to the nursing school? Tell me where you went to nursing school, what year you went into nursing school and where the nursing school was located, okay?

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: I went to nursing school in Wilmington, North Carolina, Community Hospital. It was a School Of Nursing for blacks. The way I got there, I was in New Bern visiting. Went to a, an outdoor toilet. And there was ads all over, newspapers all over. Go to school, this, that and the other. So I told my parents, I found the school I want. I want to go to Wilmington. I want to become a nurse. So from that, they sent me to Wilmington. They had to get a bus from Oriental to New Bern and from New Bern to Wilmington in order for me to enter nursing school.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (CONTINUED) Nursing School was from '48 to '51, and it was a three-year program, and you only got one week out of a year for vacation 'cause you get from (STAMMERS) from books to practice right there in the Nursing School. So for that reason, you could not just take off and leave. They would give us a week off each year out of the three years that I was there.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, while you were in nursing school, I want you to tell me just a little bit about the size of your class and where the girls (STAMMERS) came from.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: In my class, there were 38, and they came from various parts of North Carolina. A few from south, as far away as South Carolina. And we had a, there was no guys, there was just nurse, just all girls. And then we had our own dormitory, our own house mother. And from there, we could walk over to the hospital to begin our training. From day one, you start with the book. And then, from the book, you went to practice.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (CONTINUED) And then from there, we, I had to go to Richmonfork, Virginia for affiliation in Pediatrics, had to go to Tuskegee, Alabama for affiliation in Psychiatric Nursing. And then, after that, of course, you had to go to Raleigh to take your State Board to become an RN.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, what I want to do is (STAMMERS) we're going to get into the meat of the interview now, what we really wanted you to tell us about. I'd like you to tell us about how you first came to know about Montford Point and your first trip up to Montford Point. And give me the year if you can. But just tell me how you came to know about it and what your first trip was like, if you came with anybody else. Just anything you can remember.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Oh, I came, I read about Montford Point, (STAMMERS) my (STAMMERS) nursing years was from '48 to '51, so it had to be a timeframe say '50 or '51 because we were not allowed to do things until you become a junior or a senior. The way I really learned about it, I, I guess it was the General or Commanding Officer would allow a bus, one of the buses from, I guess just, just the regular bus that they have out here, they would send them to Wilmington to pick the student nurses up, and the city girls, ladies, were not (STAMMERS), we were not allowed to ride on the same bus as they were.

INTERVIEWER: Now, when you say (STAMMERS) you were not allowed to ride on the same bus as they were, I want you to rephrase that so the audience knows who they are. We were not allowed to, so just pick it up with, we were not allowed to.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (OVERLAPPING) Yeah, we were not allowed to ride with the so-called city girls. We were the student nurses. So the student nurses were not allowed, there were two buses and they would say, this bus is for the nurses and this bus is for the, the other ladies that are going to Montford Point.

INTERVIEWER: Now, now, let me stop you there. I want you to also tell the audience that both groups, both the city girls and the nurses, were all-black groups. Is that correct?

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Then, then say that.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Yes. Yes, there were parts of, first of all, parts of Wilmington that we were not allowed in. We were not allowed, we were on south side. We were not allowed on the north side because there were ladies over there, I guess, that, that part of, of Wilmington, I would say, was not what we, what they wanted us exposed to. So (STAMMERS) as a result, when we got ready to get on our buses, the black girl, the black city ladies, girls, got on one bus and we were allowed to get on our bus. They call your name off like a roll call, you got on your bus, you were seated, and then they would drive us over here.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, we've got you on the buses with two groups of girls. Now, I want you to tell me, you just think about it, you, maybe your first or second trip up here, where did you go and what did you do? Just whatever you can remember.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Well, when we got here, of course, you...

INTERVIEWER: When we got to Montford Point.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: When we got to Montford Point, we were (STAMMERS), we parked at the building that we were going, which is still standing. I think it's their gym, now. We were allowed to go in, be seated, and then they had bands from, big name band here at Montford Point...

INTERVIEWER: Tell me some of the names.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: I think Louie Armstrong was one of them. Cannot (STAMMERS) cannot remember the others at this point, but I think Louie Armstrong was one. Maybe Count Basie, I'm not sure. But they were name bands that we hear records of today. Then, we would go in as there (STAMMERS) as the music began to play, of course, the young Marines would come and pick the lady that they wanted to dance with. We could dance with any Marine.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (CONTINUED) We could get in a group with the city girls, but once we finished, then we were called off, got back on our bus, and we were taken back to Wilmington to the nursing home.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me what you remember about the Marines that you danced with...

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (OVERLAPPING) Oh, my.

INTERVIEWER: What do you, what, just tell me something about that dancing and (STAMMERS) how, what, did they talk with you? I mean, what were they like?

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (OVERLAPPING) They talked with us.

INTERVIEWER: (OVERLAPPING) Well, wait a minute, (LAUGH) you, you started talking after me. That's a, before I got finished with my question. Just tell me what it was like to be on that dance floor. What did the Marines do? You know, what did you do? Just...

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (OVERLAPPING) As a young female, first exposure to a whole building of young men, and they were willing and ready to dance with you. You, (STAMMERS) once you got one and he decided you were his partner for the night, every dance that came on, either slow or fast, that was your date for the night. And with that, of course, give me your name, give me your address. They could write to us. Could not visit except a certain time at our dormitory. But that is how, it just, like I said, group of young girls, I guess first time away from home, being exposed to a whole building of young men. It was exciting.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I, I started to, (STAMMERS) I talked over you. I want you to tell me again that it was exciting and I want you to tell me if you can remember any kind of things that they would talk about. You said they talked, so I want you to talk about that.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: Well, a lot of the, a lot of the conversation was, where you from? (STAMMERS) The things that you enjoy doing. Why were you there? Where did you come from at this particular time to be over here for, for the evening? Usually, it was on Friday evenings that, that there, we were allowed to be brought over here.

INTERVIEWER: Now, what was it like when you left? Describe, the music is stopped and you're getting ready to leave. Just describe that.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: When you're getting ready to leave, you're holding hands, you're laughing, you're throwing kisses 'cause there was no contact, throwing kisses and saying, I'll see you again. (STAMMERS) This type thing. It was just a, such a good feeling. And on the way back to Wilmington, everybody was laughing and talking and singing and until we got back to the nursing home, then you, we had to be quiet, had to be counted for, to go in for the night.

INTERVIEWER: Okay. Now, I might ask you one other question. We're going to ramp it up with this. This is a marvelous interview, by the way. Do you know of any relationships that developed as a result of these young nurses meeting these young Marines? And if so, can you just talk about that in general terms.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: (LAUGH) As, as a result, I ended up dating one of the Marines for a while, and for somewhere along the way, we went our separate ways. But I, I did have, they could come and visit us to the dormitory, so he came to visit me several times.

INTERVIEWER: Now, the wrap-up question that I ask everybody, and (STAMMERS) I'll ask Mr. McNair this, obviously, I don't, I did not have a script for you, but what I'd like you to do is just tell me anything you want me to know, or not me, but this television audience to know about your experience here at Montford Point. Just anything that I haven't asked that you might want to say. The camera is yours.

FANNIE KEYES COLEMAN: All right. Well, to me, coming from a small town, from a very sheltered family, this was like a whole new world. And being on a Marine Corps base and dealing with predominantly black, that opened up a whole new world, a whole new look on life to me as to whether it should remain this way or what was happening that you only had the black Marines to deal with.


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