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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Family

Clips from the David Byre-Tyre Interview


DBT: My family's originally from New Bern, North Carolina. And one of the great things about being from New Bern is there's a great record of our history. Actually, my family's Gullah, and we are slaves that were brought - well, we wouldn't say slaves, we're Africans - that were captured from the area now described as Sierra Leone and brought to North Carolina to grow rice. 

So it's kind of nice to know where you're really from.

RJ: Tell me more about Gullah. I've always heard about it.

DBT: They're basically, again, a people that's from West Africa. They have a tradition in America as far as growing rice. They have a distinct language. And Gullah actually represents the
language. And there's sea islands in North Carolina in which they were kind of allowed to cultivate their culture, in part because they were immune to a lot of the diseases which most
enslaved Native Americans and Europeans would be not immune to. Therefore they were allowed to develop their own culture, and to this day continue to speak their language in areas of - the
most popular area is South Carolina. There's actually an area described as Gullah Island. But most historians would know at one point there was no South Carolina. It was an English colony in
which Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina was just one. And it was run by the English governor, which the Triumph Palace is in my home town. So the governor of the Lowcountry was
stationed in New Bern, North Carolina. And that's why we were able to keep such good records of my family. My family name actually derives from a county in North Carolina called Tyrrell County.
When I got married I actually took my wife's name, and my name became hyphenated. So my name used to be David Tyre; now it's David Byer-Tyre. My wife is Ernestine Byer.

RJ: That's interesting. My mom always talks about Gullah Gullah Island, and we were going to go there. But I never believed [unintelligble].

DBT: There's more sea islands in North Carolina than there is in South. We have a whole Outer Banks.

RJ: You were born in North Carolina?

DBT: Yeah.

RJ: And that's where you grew up?

DBT: Pretty much, yeah.

RJ: Describe your childhood.

DBT: It was rough. Unfortunately, I think it's just somewhat an oddity, and in some ways a stereotype of what you would perceive a poor African-American dysfunctional family resembling.
Because my mother had me when she was 14 years old. And during that time it was unacceptable to have kids that young, but it was common. Normally that's when they send you to your aunt's house.
You have the baby, then you come back, and the baby stays with the aunt. My family didn't even have the privilege because eveybody lived in New Bern. So my grandmother got really upset when my
mother actually asked her to leave. And she moved in with my great-grandmother. And it was just rough. My real father, I never met. But my stepfather was really influential in what I kind of
wanted to do or aspired towards. It was nice to have a male role model. My mom was married three times, so I always laughed that they were really greater father, just really bad husbands. And as
a result of those three marriages I had four siblings. That's two stepbrothers and one biological sister. Actually, one biological sister, a biological brother - we shared the same mothers - and
two stepbrothers.

DBT: Actually, during the 80s was the time in which most - there was a huge population of unemployed African-Americans that had degrees. We were going through a really bad recession under
Reaganomics. This is when this fool told use told us that ketchup was a vegetable so that he can take one thing off of the free lunch. And my mom was a teacher's aide during that time. And
basically, free lunch and free breakfast was when you ate lunch and breakfast. And dinner would be a mystery. Because it was just tough. Big blocks of cheese. You don't remember-

RJ: (unintelligble)

DBT: Or boloney and all that stuff. And you made cheese sandwiches. During Saturdays it was definitely cheese, everything consisted of cheese, a lot of macaroni and cheese. And rice.

RJ: Which was all nutritional.

DBT: You think?

RJ: No.

DBT: You can only eat so much cheese and rice.

RJ: (unintelligble)

DBT: So what's the next question here?

RJ: You said you were the president of (unintelligble) in high school? How did you get that role?

DBT: Truly, people elected me class president and SUA president because I worked hard. Had absolutely nothing to do with me being the smartest. I was extremely creative, but I learned to
read in the seventh grade. I had a learning disability. I'm an associative learner. So where most people sound out words, I never learned phonics. I didn't learn phonics until seventh grade. I
would memorize all the words. That's like little symbols. In fact, I came up with my own rationale for the alphabet. Like where people would sound out "cat", "kuh"-"ah"-"tuh", I'd look
at it solely as a symbol. It would be broken circle/triangle with legs/tabletop. But it becomes difficult to read after you - people say, "Spell 'caution'". You wouldn't sound it out, you'd
say, "Show it to me." Because most of the time we're taught to spell through memorization, to necessarily sounding. Sounding out became a function of being able to memorize the word and
remembering the symbols. I did it the total opposite way. I just memorized all of the symbols. So having a great memory but poor phonics made it extremely difficult when it came time to read
complete sentences. And you would run into words that you'd never seen before. Or you'd forget what those symbols meant once they were lined up. Because every little symbol had meaning. It
wasn't like every word had meaning when you sounded it out. So it was very difficult. But I think my peers recognized that I did have amazing abilities as far as memorizing things, being able to
create things. I played seven sports in high school. I guess, extremely articulate.