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James Lee

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Information about James Lee

Profile image of James Lee

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
High School Mechanics Teacher

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Ham (Virginia)
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Pacific Islands
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
4/1/1912
Birth Location:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Profession

Category:
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
High School Mechanics Teacher

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Ham (Virginia)
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Pacific Islands
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
4/1/1912
Birth Location:
Philadelphia
See how James Lee is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Retired Chicago public school teacher and veteran World War II Naval aircraft maintenance instructor, James Oscar Lee was born April 1, 1912 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With family roots in rural Gloucester, Virginia, Lee grew up amid the row houses of North Philadelphia. He graduated from Central High School in 1930 with a B.S. in industrial arts. Central High, founded in 1836 and the second oldest high school in America, was at one time authorized to grant baccalaureate degrees. He went on to attend traditionally black, Cheyney State Teachers College in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, graduating with another B.S. degree in industrial arts in 1934. Lee also attended the University of Pennsylvania.

A caterer in 1938, his teaching career began at James Adams Senior High School in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1939 to 1942. At the onset of World War II, Lee served at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Chicago, Illinois. At this facility, which is now Chicago Vocational High School, Lee taught aviation engine mechanics exclusively to white soldiers. Black soldiers were not chosen to learn aviation engine maintenance. Later, in the South, Lee was not allowed to teach whites who needed to know aircraft maintenance because he was black. These restrictions rendered him idle for long periods of time. In order to work and travel, Lee became a chief carpenter’s mate.

In 1948, the Chicago Board of Education’s new Dunbar Trade School employed Lee. Unfortunately for black students, Dunbar’s status as a “trade” school was soon changed to “vocational” school. This change meant a loss of true union apprenticeship programs and the guaranteed jobs that followed. Lee was also a pioneer homeowner in Chicago’s Park Manor neighborhood. Facing threats of violence, Lee and his family endured and lived in the home for over fifty years. After fifty-one years of teaching and numerous citations for superior performance at Dunbar, Lee retired as teacher emeritus in 1997.

James Lee passed away on July 15, 2005.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Lee's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Lee lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Lee talks about his mother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Lee talks about his maternal family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Lee talks about his paternal family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Lee talks about his family's relocation to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Lee describes his mother's occupation and his home life as a child
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Lee talks about his absent father
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James Lee recalls how working in a print shop as a teenager influenced his lessons on cabinet-making later in life
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - James Lee talks about his childhood neighborhood in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a device called a busybody
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - James Lee describes an early form of radio and watching black entertainers perform at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - James Lee talks about attending Episcopal church services as a child
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Lee talks about radio and television appliances from the 1940s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Lee talks about his elementary school experience at John F. Reynolds School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Lee talks about his relationship with parents and students at Dunbar Trade School in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Lee talks about elementary school teachers and making toys as a child
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Lee talks about attending Central High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Lee talks about the racial dynamics at Central High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the early 1930s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Lee talks about cleaning teachers' cars in high school and his career aspirations
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Lee recalls working at the Spray Beach Hotel in Beach Haven, New Jersey during the early 1930s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - James Lee explains how he paid for Cheyney State Teachers College in Cheyney, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - James Lee talks about student life at Cheyney State Teachers College in the 1930s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - James Lee talks remembers Bayard Rustin as a student at Cheyney State Teachers College in the 1930s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Lee recalls interactions with students at Dunbar Trade School in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Lee talks about the strict code of conduct at Cheyney State Teachers College during the 1930s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Lee talks about crafting a block front desk as a student at Cheyney State Teachers College during the 1930s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Lee talks about playing basketball and football for Cheyney State Teachers College during the 1930s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Lee talks about applying for his first teaching position after graduating from Cheyney State Teachers College
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Lee explains how he became an aircraft engine maintenance instructor at Naval Air Technical Training Center during WWII
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Lee explains his desire to work with black soldiers at Great Lakes Naval Training Center during WWII
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Lee talks about civilian jobs he held in Fresno, California while serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - James Lee talks about transitioning from service in the U.S. Navy to obtaining a job at Dunbar Trade School in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Lee talks about the history of Dunbar Trade School in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Lee talks about politics and race relations in Chicago, Illinois unions during the 1940s and 1950s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Lee talks about racial discrimination in Chicago, Illinois unions and the history of black skilled labor
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Lee talks about the transformation of Dunbar Trade School into a vocational high school
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Lee explains how the disappearance of trade schools has led to a decline in black skilled labor
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Lee talks about his teaching philosophy and the lack of parental discipline he witnessed as a teacher
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Lee shares two stories about his relationship with students at Dunbar Trade School in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Lee talks about purchasing a home in the Park Manor neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Lee recalls purchasing house awnings from a neighbor in Chicago, Illinois' Park Manor neighborhood
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Lee talks about his efforts to clean up Chicago, Illinois' Park Manor neighborhood
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Lee reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Lee considers what he would have done differently in life
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Lee describes how he would like to be remembered