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Hellen O'Neal-McCray

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Information about Hellen O'Neal-McCray

Profile image of Hellen O'Neal-McCray

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Activist
High School Teacher

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Ice Cream
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Beaches
Favorite Quote:
It Is Not The Size Of The Dog In The Fight. It Is The Size Of The Fight In The Dog.

Birthplace

Born:
3/4/1941
Birth Location:
Clarksdale, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Activist
High School Teacher

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Ice Cream
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Beaches
Favorite Quote:
It Is Not The Size Of The Dog In The Fight. It Is The Size Of The Fight In The Dog.

Birthplace

Born:
3/4/1941
Birth Location:
Clarksdale
See how Hellen O'Neal-McCray is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Civil rights volunteer, Hellen Jean O’Neal-McCray was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on March 4, 1941 to Willie Long Anderson and Lester Calvin O’Neal. She attended Immaculate Conception School, Myrtle Hall Colored School and Holy Rosary School in Lafayette, Louisiana. Keeping up with current events, O’Neal-McCray knew activist druggist “Doc” Aaron Henry and read the Chicago Defender. A member of the school band, she graduated from W.A. Higgins High School in Clarksdale in 1959.

In 1961, O’Neal-McCray met Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) organizers, James Bevel and Bernard Lafayette and they encouraged her to get involved in the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. As a student, O’Neal-McCray helped Diane Nash when the Freedom Rides came to Jackson. She and Charles Cox became co-chairs of the Jackson Non-Violent Movement, working with Paul Brooks, Thomas Gaither, Marion Barry, Levaughn Brown, Richard Haley and Jesse Harris. They organized a demonstration at the Southern Governor’s Conference at the Heidelberg Hotel, enraging segregationist Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. O’Neal-McCray was arrested (the first of many times) for “disturbing the peace and tranquility of the State of Mississippi.” Defended by William Kuntsler, O’Neal-McCray was sentenced to six months, but only served ten days. Soon, her civil rights activity found its home with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She served as a SNCC staff member before graduating from Jackson State in 1963. O’Neal-McCray, knew and worked with SNCC’s Ella Baker, Bob Moses, Casey Hayden, Annelle Ponder and Fannie Lou Hamer. She taught in a SNCC Freedom School in Mccomb, Mississippi.

In 1965, O’Neal-McCray helped staff the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee in Shreveport, Louisiana. She worked for the Southern Regional Council and National Sharecroppers Fund in Atlanta before retiring from intense movement activity. Moving to Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1966, O’Neal-McCray quietly worked at Fels Research Institute and attended Wright State University. She taught school in Springfield, Ohio for twenty-nine years and taught African American literature and composition at Wilberforce University. She attended the 30th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the 40th Anniversary Freedom Riders Reunion in Jackson, and O’Neal-McCray wrote about her experiences in the Movement.

O’Neal-McCray was married to fellow SNCC activist, Willie McCray and has two grown sons, a grandson and a granddaughter.

Hellen O'Neal-McCray passed away on February 24, 2010.

See how Hellen O'Neal-McCray is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Hellen O'Neal-McCray's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls family discussions of lynchings in Mississippi
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her mother's education
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray talks about her siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her father's family background, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her father's family background, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her paternal grandmother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray talks about her father
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her parents' divorce and who she takes after
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes the role of religion in her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes the schools she attended
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her experiences in school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers Holy Rosary Institute
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers her favorite teacher
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls Clarksdale's W.A. Higgins High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her awareness of civil rights as a youth
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers her decision to attend Jackson State College
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls attending Mississippi's Jackson State College
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls meeting civil rights organizers in Jackson, Mississippi
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls her arrest in Jackson, Mississippi
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls her decision to become a civil rights activist
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls her activity after being released from jail
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls being arrested for sitting at the front of a bus
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls testifying for Constance Baker Motley in 1961
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls working for SNCC upon graduating from college
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls an experience of police brutality while in custody
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls being questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers registering voters with SNCC
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls working on SNCC's Literacy Project, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes white activists' involvement in SNCC
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls working on SNCC's Literacy Project, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls the Council of Federated Organizations' founding
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls recruiting college students to SNCC
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner murders
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls moving to New York
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray reflects upon the tensions within SNCC
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls the 1964 Democratic National Convention, pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls the 1964 Democratic National Convention, pt. 2
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers Ella Baker
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray remembers Marion Barry
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls hearing Malcolm X speak
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes living in Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls meeting her husband, Willie McCray
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her work in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls working for Samuel S. Fels Research Institute
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls obtaining a master's degree and teaching in Ohio
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray reflects upon her civil rights activism
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray talks about unrecognized civil rights activists
  • Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray talks about teaching at Wilberforce University
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her favorite authors
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray talks about her students
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray reflects upon her life and legacy
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray talks about her family
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Hellen O'Neal-McCray reflects upon the legacy of SNCC