The Women Behind SCC’s Boykin Family Endowment

Written by Megan Bednar

[Clinton, N.C.] – Every year, the Sampson Community College (SCC) Foundation awards more than $100,000 in scholarships to deserving students pursuing an education at SCC. Almost 100 scholarships are gifted annually, and behind each one is a story—a reason for being established. Recently, Lisa Turlington, Dean of Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation, had the opportunity to visit the home of Dr. Bertha Boykin Todd, and learn about the incredible backstory and amazing women who made The Boykin Family Heritage Endowment at SCC possible.

Established in 2009 by twins Dr. Bertha Boykin Todd and the late Dr. Myrtle Boykin Sampson, with the help of their niece, Mrs. Mary Boykin Brown, The Boykin Family Heritage Endowment was truly a family effort—a scholarship made by family, in honor of family. It was created in memory of the Boykin Brothers of Sampson County: Junious A. Boykin, James C. Boykin, Thomas J. Boykin, and Benjamin J. Boykin. The endowment’s purpose is to generate and provide scholarships that will assist needy and deserving students at Sampson CC who are in pursuit of an Associate Degree in the College Transfer program.

On June 13, 2022, Lisa Turlington, Dean of Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation, paid a visit to Dr. Bertha Boykin Todd at her home in Wilmington. (Photo credit/ Lisa Turlington)

All born and raised in Riley Town, N.C., a small area near Garland, the Boykin women grew up understanding the importance of education because of their relatives’ early teachings. In fact, each of the Boykin’s descendants acquired an education while carrying on the family legacy of farming, with most becoming educators. The close-knit relatives, all living within a few miles of each other, worked to instill and sustain a strong work ethic in each of their children, educationally and vocationally speaking. In one instance, Dr. Todd revealed that because of her mother’s instruction, she and Sampson were able to complete two grades in one year, graduating at just sixteen years old as salutatorian and valedictorian respectively, because they could read so well early on.

Todd recalled via phone interview, “My mother was a third grade teacher. She would always give us books for Christmas. We got some toys, but mostly books, books, books.”

The twins’ father, the late Thomas J. Boykin, was the founder, lead teacher, and principal of Garland Colored High School, which both Sampson and Todd graduated from in 1945 and Brown attended briefly before integration. He sadly passed away in 1936 when the twins were just seven years old. In her memoir, Dr. Sampson wrote that her father, during his lifetime, strove to provide for the black citizens of the Sampson County area by working immensely hard to raise funds and establish his beloved school for local, teenage, colored students in 1936.

“Garland Colored High School was 5 miles from where we were reared,” Dr. Todd explained while remembering her father and sister. “Back then, there was no comprehensive-colored high school in the area. Any 7th grade black child who wanted to finish high school had to move to Clinton and go to Sampson Training School. They had to pay room and board. Well, there were four of us and my father knew he couldn’t afford that.”

After graduating from Garland Colored High in 1945 with her sister, Dr. Todd went on to earn two master’s degrees and her doctorate in Administration and Supervision from both North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and East Carolina University (ECU). She spent 39 years in the New Hanover County Public School System before retiring in 1992. A life-long civil rights activist, Todd is credited as a truly influential woman who helped “shape Wilmington,” because of her work in education and activism during school integration.

The majority of Dr. Todd’s educational career was spent at Williston High School and John T. Hoggard High School in New Hanover County, N.C. She was the first and last librarian of Williston High School, transferring in 1969 to John T. Hoggard High School to work as a librarian and eventually, assistant principal after the New Hanover County Schools were desegregated. During the 1970s, Todd was the first female of any ethnic group to be offered the position of principal at Secondary Summer School in New Hanover County.  Todd also organized the first countywide Book Fair in the New Hanover School System, and while working as a librarian, tried to order as many books for the libraries that touched on integration, desegregation, and U.S. rights as she could.

Besides working in the school system, Dr. Todd authored and contributed to multiple novels, including her memoir entitled “My Restless Journey” and continued to serve as a bridge between the black and white communities of Wilmington. She believes in racial reconciliation, and through convincing local officials to remember the horrid 1898 Wilmington coup and massacre, speaking with members of the Ku Klux Klan, becoming a lifetime member of the NAACP, and co-chairing the 1898 Centennial Foundation, Dr. Todd truly spent her life dedicated to educating both black and white students and communities on the effects, history, and importance of civil and human rights.

She voiced, “One of my philosophies is: ‘The pursuit of goals gives meaning to life.’ It has helped me survive the ups-and-downs and challenges I’ve met living in Wilmington since 1952. I believe in reaching down, helping others, and picking them up if I can– I’ve done it with whites and with blacks.”

 (From left) The Boykin twins of Sampson County, the late Dr. Myrtle Boykin Sampson and Dr. Bertha Boykin Todd— creators of The Boykin Family Heritage Endowment at SCC. (Courtesy Photo)

Like Todd, Dr. Sampson went on to attend North Carolina Central University at just seventeen years old after graduation from Garland Colored High. She became a licensed clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, university professor, nationally certified counselor, civic volunteer, and philanthropist who made a tremendous impact in the Greensboro area, like her sister did in Wilmington. Through various colleges, including NCCU, Sampson obtained three master’s degrees and two doctorates, completed a significant amount of post-doctoral study, and made many outstanding achievements in the field of clinical psychology.

Early in her educational career, Sampson taught at various junior and senior high schools, before transitioning to higher education training at Bennett College, the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Dr. Sampson remained teaching at the university level for 23 years, all while co-partnering a therapeutic and consulting firm in Greensboro. She too wrote an autobiography on her life entitled “Crazy Lady: Achievement Against the Odds,” dedicating a portion of the proceeds to student scholarships through the Friends of the A&T School of Education, of which she helped found.

In May 2016, Dr. Sampson presented a monetary gift of $200,000 to NCCU to help fund future scholarships at her and her sister’s alma mater. Passing away in October 2016, Sampson’s legacy and lifelong dedication to her work in psychology and education is still felt today, with NCCU naming a building on campus in honor of her: The Dr. Myrtle Boykin Sampson Teaching Hall.

Like her sister at NCCU, years earlier, Dr. Todd had previously sponsored five high school students as they made their way through college, with all being the first in their family to attend a higher institution. Because of the education they were able to obtain through the years, both Todd and Sampson continued to be passionate about providing financial support to high school and college students, so other kids could have the same opportunities they had growing up.

In 2009, after completing the last of their degrees, the twins decided to create a local Sampson County endowment that would aid the adolescents of their hometown in obtaining a higher education, while also honoring the hard work and legacy of their family: The Boykins. Dr. Todd voiced that she and Dr. Sampson were both happy and blessed to be able to financially assist students through SCC, and while she could’ve created one in Wilmington, Todd voiced that she wanted to go back to where she got her beginnings and establish a local endowment in Sampson County instead.

She elaborated, “My sister and I wanted to make an endowment of scholarships for needy students regardless of color and gender in Sampson County– for anyone based on the need. I discovered that there were others not as well off as we. Since most of the Boykins were educators, we wanted to go back to where our roots were. Most of the Boykins contributed to it.”

Pictured in 2012, Mrs. Mary Boykin Brown poses with a Boykin Family Scholarship recipient at SCC’s annual Scholar-Donor celebration.

Niece to Todd and Sampson, Mrs. Mary Boykin Brown, Former Director of Nursing at SCC and longtime Foundation Board member, shares a love and dedication towards students just like her aunts. She too attended Garland Colored High School until it merged with Bland High in 1957 to form Clear Run High School. After integration in 1969, Clear Run High School was converted into a middle school and the 9-12 grade students were then transferred to Union High School. Clear Run continued to operate as an integrated middle school until it was permanently closed in the 1980s.

Via phone interview, Brown explained that the twins originally wanted to create a scholarship for Garland Colored High School, so they could assist the students of their father’s beloved establishment, their former school, and hometown. However, since Clear Run, the new, integrated middle school had closed in the 1980s, Brown stated that Todd and Sampson decided to direct their financial assistance to students at SCC instead, because of her connection to the College.

Brown stated, “Myrtle wanted a way to remember the family, especially her mother. All of our family members were educators in a sense. My association to the College made them choose Sampson, since Garland Colored High School was closed. We really just want to help young students who need financial support and also help motivate them to pursue a higher education.”

After graduating from Clear Run High, Brown worked as a registered nurse (RN) at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. before moving to New York to work as an RN in several hospitals there. She returned to Sampson County in 1975 and spent a year working at Mary Gran Nursing Center before interviewing at SCC for the Director of Nursing position, which she got. Like her family, Brown remained highly involved in the realm of education and made strides towards racial equality, becoming one of the first to integrate Sampson County Schools’ (SCS) Board of Education in the 1980s and the first female African American Division Chair of Health Programs at SCC in 1988.

Brown dedicated almost 30 years of her life to a career at Sampson CC, teaching and assisting students through both her instructor position and eventual Foundation role. She, like her aunts, has been a part of The Boykin Family Heritage Endowment since it’s beginning in 2009, retiring from the College in May of that same year.

Speaking on behalf of all the Boykins, Brown expressed about helping students through the endowment, “It’s really an honor to be able to do so. It’s a blessing to know that we’re doing something to help others, a lot of the family believes that as well.”

Sampson CC is incredibly blessed to have the support of The Boykin Family. Their incredible legacies continue to impact the College today because of their vast love of education and dedication to student need. SCC truly thanks them for their financial gift and knows The Boykin Family Heritage Endowment will continue to aid and inspire for years to come.

About Sampson Community College:  Sampson Community College is a member of the North Carolina Community College System, located in Clinton, N.C. in Sampson County. The college offers many programs to include two-year degrees, college transfer, continuing education and workforce development options and early college education.