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Celebrating Williston School Luminaries: Dorothy DeShields

Cape Fear Museum
Williston Senior High School, Class of 1946

The Williston School is celebrating its centennial.  The graduates of the former Williston Senior High have gone on to become leaders in the local community, state, and nation.  WHQR spoke with Dorothy DeShields, who was inspired by her teachers at Williston to pursue a career in education.

Isabelle Shepherd: What was the educational experience like at Williston?

Dorothy DeShields: Let me preface it with, during the 1940s, 50s, and part of the 60s, that whole block at 10th and Anne Street was the educational center for our community. I graduated from Williston Senior High School in 1961. It was a wonderful experience. We can certainly say that those of us who graduated from Williston Senior High School went out into the world, all over the world, and made our mark because of the strong education that we received there. It wasn’t until later years that I realized that all of the teachers that we had at Williston Senior High School, or most of them, had Masters degrees, which was something that we didn’t think about at the time, but as adults, we can look at the strong educational background that they gave us and understand why. There was a sense, a strong sense of belonging. We knew that our teachers cared about us. Some of them were very strict, but we loved them just the same. My mother had probably about 4 or 5 of the teachers when she was in high school that I had, so we already knew about them, we knew what they expected, and we knew how to work and meet those expectations.

IS: Would you say that the expectations were high at Williston?

DD: Extremely high. They expected us to master the King’s English and to master math and science and social studies, and whatever it was they were teaching. We excelled in sports. We had strong courses in shop, automechanics, as well as the academics.  When I graduated, I received a college preparatory diploma, which meant that I had taken the courses that would help me to get into a four-year institution, and many of us did the same thing, but we still had students who left Williston and went straight to the job market in New York. They’d taken courses in shop and other areas where they could excel in the work that they were doing.

IS: So, it was a very well-rounded education, it sounds like.

DD: It was, it was. Definitely so. I was not a sports person, but I participated in the student council, the drama club. As a matter of fact, my junior year, I had to campaign to run for secretary of the student council. Many years later, I ran for the New Hanover County Board of Education here in Wilmington, and so I looked back on that experience, which certainly was very positive and let me know that I could campaign and I could tell people what I could do for boys and girls and win the election, and I served two terms on the New Hanover County Board of Education.

IS: After you graduated from Williston, it desegregated and the schools were merged. Do you think that went smoothly, that desegregation?

DD: No, it didn’t, to be honest. As a matter of fact, when the schools integrated here in North Carolina, I was teaching at Rocky Point Elementary in Pender County, and there were problems. There were, there were serious problems in the beginning. Students didn’t feel comfortable. Neither race of kids felt comfortable. It was just something so new and so different. And I think kids still are not really there. They still aren’t there because there’s something that’s standing in the way, and certainly we haven’t been able to find out what it is yet.

IS: Thank you so much for coming in and speaking with me, Dorothy.

DD: Sure.

This is part of our series on Williston Luminaries – Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Williston in Wilmington.    


It’s the centennial anniversary of the former Williston Senior High, now Williston Middle in Wilmington.  WHQR spoke with an alumnus who was inspired to become an educator by the teachers at Williston.

Listen to the audio version here.

Dorothy DeShields graduated from Williston Senior High School in 1961. She went on to a career in education, first teaching elementary school, then becoming a principal, and finally serving on New Hanover County’s Board of Education. While there, she attempted to close the achievement gap by opposing redistricting and neighborhood schools:

"When you do neighborhood schools, then kids in a certain neighborhood go to a school. Like Williston and DC Virgo, all of these kids come from a certain community. I think that when you mix kids up, it helps the other kids. They need somebody there to model for them, other kids who can model for them. But if you put kids from the same community and they see the same things over and over again, then you’re not going to get any change."

Ultimately, New Hanover County went ahead with neighborhood schools. DeShields says this is part of the reason for low scores in high-poverty schools.