On Sept. 28, 1928, I was born in Society of Lying-In Hospital in New York City. It was located in lower Manhattan and was the hospital patronized primarily by middle-class white families. The black families had their babies for $10 in Harlem Hospital located in the black community of Harlem. My parents preferred to take me to Lying-In to be born, and it cost them $30.
When Lying-In prepared my birth certificate, they listed my race as Black even though 91 years ago we were called “colored” or “Negro.” Being called “black” was an insult. HOW RIGHT THEY WERE! Even though I was not born black in color, they could not see or know that my brain, heart, soul and spirit were created by God and inside, I am solid black. They attempted to demean me at birth because my parents were not white, but they only energized me to fight over 90 years for my rights as a black female born as an American Citizen in “One Nation Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for All.”
I attended PS 90, a neighborhood school in Harlem where all the students lived in the surrounding area and were black. All the teachers, with one exception, were white. In the 13 years I attended schools in New York City, I had only two black teachers, one in elementary school, and a Latin teacher in high school. They were my role models and were instrumental in my decision to become an educator.
We moved to Brooklyn when I was in the seventh grade, and I attended PS 93. The community was mixed with different races and religions. It was the first time I attended an integrated school. All the teachers were white.
The NYC schools practiced homogeneous grouping of students. The top group was predominantly white, with only a couple of non-white students. The bottom group was composed of predominantly black, brown and foreign students and no white students. This policy existed throughout the NYC school system. The lower groups were assigned the less experienced and least qualified teachers, resulting in inferior educational opportunities for these students.
At the end of the eighth grade, when the students selected the high school they wanted to attend in the ninth grade, I chose Girls High School in Brooklyn. It was one of the most prestigious schools in New York. My teacher debated on sending me there. I was black, and a good student. I begged her to allow me the opportunity to attend, and she relented and sent me to Girls High School, the school of middle and upper class girls from throughout the city of New York and Long Island. There were only a few black students and one black teacher in the entire school.
I passed all my classes and all the New York State’s Regent Exams. In January 1946, I graduated. All my life I had been determined to attend college, but I was rejected by every college in New York. World War II ended in 1945, and the service-men and -women were rewarded by the Federal government with the opportunity to attend college.
I received letters from each college informing me that I would not be accepted because they were enrolling service- men and -women as first choice. Male students at the top of their class were second choice, top female students were third choice, and the I, along with all the other students, had to wait until 1947 to apply.
I knew that if I waited an extra year, I probably would not ever attend college. I was encouraged to apply to Fisk University in Nashville. (Where on earth was Nashville?) I did so and was accepted.
At the age of 17, I boarded a train all alone with a trunk and suitcase in Pennsylvania Station, in the heart of New York City. I traveled 24 hours into the deep south to attend a black university, in a state where I entered a world of deep degradation, degeneration and discrimination. I did not know a soul.
That was the day I became an independent woman, totally responsible for my well-being for the rest of my life — so far, for 74 years in Tennessee. Yet, now at the age of 91, I’m still going strong after facing deep prejudices, and unbelievable hardships, as a BLACK, FEMALE YANKEE.
In my next column, I will continue the story of the many acts of discrimination and segregation that I have faced and witnessed, even very recently in my old age, living as a black woman in Pulaski and in Tennessee.