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Shelley Fisher

Singer and pianist Shelley Fisher was born on April 6, 1942 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 1953, he moved to Chicago and grew up on the city’s West Side. Fisher studied music theory, composition and vocal technique in the Chicago Junior College System, and at Roosevelt University’s Chicago Conservatory of Music. He received his A.A. degree in music education and social science from Crane Junior College in 1963.

Upon graduation, Fisher became the featured vocalist with the Morris Ellis Orchestra in Chicago. In 1966 he had a principal role in Oscar Brown, Jr.'s musical production “Summer in the City.” Fisher went on to open for Stevie Wonder at the original Regal Theater in Chicago. He then moved to Los Angeles in 1970, where he played the piano and sang for the “jet set.” In 1972, Fisher co-starred in the comedy motion picture Calliope. He also played the role of the piano player in The Three Wishes of Billy Grier, starring Ralph Macchio, and in Letter to Three Wives, with Loni Anderson. Fisher wrote and performed the original music for the motion picture Drifting Clouds.

In 1977, Fisher returned to Chicago, where he taught in two Chicago public schools. In 1985, Fisher launched Vantown Productions, Inc., a publishing and production company. He has composed and published many musical titles, including Yesterday’s Dreams (Lou Rawls on Capital Records), Plainsville, USA (Jimmy Randolph on Motown Records), King Size Bed (The Valentine Brothers on Sony Records), and Girl, I Love You, which launched the career of Chicago R&B legend, Garland Green.

From 1978 through 1999, Fisher worked abroad, namely in Osaka, Japan, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Oslo, Norway. In 1997, he wrote, arranged and produced CELEBRATION, A Tribute to Nat “King” Cole, a Las Vegas style program produced at NRK TV (Norwegian TV). Fisher toured in Europe and broke two attendance records with performances in Den Hague, Holland and at Puntaldia, the jazz music festival on the island of Sardinia, Italy.

In 2000, Fisher moved to Las Vegas, where he performed at New York, New York, the MGM Grand, the Venetian, and the MGM/Mirage hotels. He has shared billing or recorded with other well-known artists like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Dells, Eartha Kitt and B.B. King. Fisher has also recorded two full-length CDs: 2003’s Driving Home, and 2004’s Stories.

Shelley Fisher was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 23, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.317

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/23/2013

Last Name

Fisher

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Dell

Occupation
Schools

Farragut Career Academy Hs

Theodore Herzl Elementary School

Calvin Coolidge Senior High School

Chicago Conservatory of Music

First Name

Shelley

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

FIS05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Sardinia

Favorite Quote

If You Really Want To See The Daughter, First Look At The Mother.$

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nevada

Birth Date

4/6/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Las Vegas

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Oatmeal

Short Description

Singer, pianist, and Shelley Fisher (1942 - ) toured nationally and internationally for over thirty years. He also acted in various stage productions and films, and authored a autobiography titled 'A Motherless Child.'

Employment

Turner Manufacturing Company

United States Postal Service

Chicago Daily Defender

Johnson Publishing Company

Delete

Invictus/Hotwax Records (Capitol)

Vantown Productions, Inc.

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Shelley Fisher's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher talks about his family's affiliation with the Baptist church

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher talks about his mother's death

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher describes his early years in Crenshaw, Mississippi, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher describes his early years in Crenshaw, Mississippi, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Shelley Fisher talks about his early understanding of gender identity

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Shelley Fisher remembers moving to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Shelley Fisher describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Shelley Fisher talks about his difficult upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher remembers joining his father in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher talks about his behavior as an adolescent in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher recalls his involvement in Chicago gangs

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher talks about early gang activity in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher recalls the gang violence that he experienced

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher remembers his involvement in criminal activity as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher recalls the inspiration behind his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Shelley Fisher talks about his honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher remembers selling magazine subscriptions

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher recalls taking the civil service exam to become a mail carrier

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher remembers enrolling at Crane Junior College in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher talks about his various jobs in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher remembers acquaintances from his youth in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher describes the music scene in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher talks about record companies and radio stations in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Shelley Fisher describes the music scene in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Shelley Fisher remembers the music venues and people in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher describes Oscar Brown, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher talks about his role in Oscar Brown, Jr.'s musical production 'Summer in the City'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher remembers singer Lou Rawls

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher talks writing the song 'Girl I Love You'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher recalls founding Aries Records and moving to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher talks about learning to play piano

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher remembers singing with the Morris Ellis Orchestra in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Shelley Fisher talks about his early career in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Shelley Fisher recalls working with Motown Records in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher talks about his struggle with substance abuse

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher remembers his relationship with Jacqueline Dalya

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher talks about moving back to Chicago, Illinois in the late 1970s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher remembers his job teaching blues music in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher recalls living in Japan, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher recalls living in Japan, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher remembers his experiences in Canada

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Shelley Fisher describes his film and music career in Canada

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher recalls performing in Europe, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher recalls performing in Europe, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher remembers visiting the Auschwitz concentration camps in Oswiecim, Poland

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher talks about the production of 'Drifting Clouds'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher describes how he started performing in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher talks about the car accident that ended his piano career

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher reflects upon his accident

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Shelley Fisher talks about how he revived his singing career after his accident

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Shelley Fisher talks about his portrayal of Conrad Murray

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Shelley Fisher describes the musical legacy of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Shelley Fisher reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Shelley Fisher describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Shelley Fisher describes his decision to leave Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Shelley Fisher reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Shelley Fisher narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

7$5

DATitle
Shelley Fisher talks about learning to play piano
Shelley Fisher remembers his job teaching blues music in Chicago, Illinois
Transcript
I got there it was raining. Got--never go to L.A. [Los Angeles, California] hungry in December. It's the rainy season. And I went, I got there, and I figured if you're gonna jump in the water, get in the deep water, 'cause that's where the, you know, don't be--you know. So I checked in at the Continental hotel [Continental Hyatt House; Andaz West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California] there on Sunset [Boulevard]. Now I, remember I got $350 in my pocket. I think that lasted about three days, and I was out on the street. And I had some jewelry that I pawned, and I checked into the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association]. I went from the five star to the Y (laughter). And I, one day I was so, I didn't even have money to make the phone call to call the agent. I had to walk from Wilcox [Avenue] and Sunset, which is--I don't know if you know L.A.--to 8100 Sunset, which is almost Beverly Hills [California], walked just to see if I, if anybody had a job for me. And about two weeks went by and nobody, they said, "Sorry, we're working on it." And then one day I got a call. I mean I got a yes. And I said, "Well, where, where is it?" 'Cause I'd, I'd, when I went to California, I took music. I'd had charts, all the charts I used in Morris Ellis' band, and you know, I had music up the ying yang, no--I said, "How much music should I take?" He said, "Well, what do you mean?" (Laughter) I said, "Well, how many people in the band?" He said, "Well, you got on the, on your resume that you play piano." I said, "Oh, no problem," (laughter). I knew about ten tunes well enough to be played in public. And I was booked up at San Luis Obispo [California] at this--his brother [Jimmy Ellis] was used to be on 'Laugh-In' ['Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In']. He was--yeah, they was a fantastic restaurant. And so after I would play my ten song repertoire, I would get up and start getting the peop- doing 'Signifying Monkey,' [HistoryMaker] Oscar Brown, Jr.'s (singing), "Said the signifying monkey to the lion one day, there's a great big elephant down the way." And I would go around table to table, and I'd make the people clap. They were my band. They were (laughter)--and in the daytime, I had my music books. I would get down--I was, I would build my repertoire.$$And that's how you learned how to play the piano?$$That's how I learned to earn a living playing the piano.$$Playing the piano (laughter). But when, when had you learned the piano before that, that you've never (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Well, and now we studied in, in, in, in Crane [Crane Junior College; Malcolm X College, Chicago, Illinois] with sort of theory and harmony, theory, harmony, and compositions. I can look at the music and tell you what it sounds like. But elocution on the, on, on the--you know, when you play to be a piano viturso [sic. virtuoso], you got to go through years of da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. I didn't have the patience for that. So, I learned to play, to, to play the--I could do a solo with my right hand, but I'm playing block chords, as I hear an orchestra playing. That way I had a more full sound, and it wasn't like no one else's, because it's very different. [HistoryMaker] B. B. King does not sing and play at the same time. Did you know that?$$He plays and then he sings.$$Then he sings.$$I think I--'cause, yeah--$$Somebody pull your coat to that? But anyway, singing and--$$No, they didn't put--we worked with them. And I was just thinking, he does play and then he sings.$$He play (makes sounds); then he sings. But playing and hearing all of those notes and executing those notes and singing, not very many people do that well. Nat Cole [Nat King Cole] was the one. Mr. Cole could do it. But so you--and, and in my case, I was, I'm playing, I'm playing the piano. Can't nobody say they can't, can't play piano. They say, "He's not Oscar Peterson." 'Cause I didn't have that ring. But I didn't back down from no gigs. I was good enough to go up and play with Ike [Ike Turner] and Tina Turner. So, to me I, and I still, I still, even though no matter how good you can play, I still allocate learning theory so you can communicate the language. You're, you're dealing with a language. And if you can go to Japan and say I want it in B flat, they can understand you. You go Switzerland: I want it in C sharp played from whatever. They can understand. So, but today's music, but the--all you gotta do is turn your boot up. And you know, nobody understands the language that they supposed to be speaking.$So when you came back to Cabrini-Green [Cabrini-Green Homes, Chicago, Illinois] and you were--how did you get that job?$$With the, with--I had assisted Jimmy [Jimmy Tillman] the year before, in '76 [1976]. And he recommended me to--I forget her name, who was head of--I got a letter. I brought a copy of the letter from that, yeah, from the, from the (unclear). But he recommended me to do the blues program. So we wrote, we wrote the grant, we wrote the--for the Illinois Arts Council [Chicago, Illinois], and they were the liaison to NEA [National Endowment for the Arts]. That was a fan- that was a great experience.$$So talk about that. How long did you do that for?$$It was a three month program. And we used--we had kids from age ten to sixteen, over at the Schiller [Schiller Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois], from the Schiller and the Newberry Schools [Newberry School; Walter L. Newberry Math and Science Academy, Chicago, Illinois] there in Cabrini-Green. And it was diverse racially. And what we did, these kids would--we, we, we projected that we could raise their reading scores and have self-esteem if they were able to communicate their feelings through the blues. So, we taught them how to write their blues with an AAB format. (Singing), "They call it stormy Monday. Tuesday is just as bad. They call it stormy Monday. Tuesday is just as bad. Wednesday is worse. Thursday is--," AAB. And the kids started writing their blues songs. And we found out, Jimmy and I, that the problem with many in education is not the students; it's the teachers half the time. One young lady wrote about her boyfriend--her mother's boyfriend, who was a pimp. He was pimping her mother. And he walked with a limp. And I, I--forgive me for not remembering it 'cause it was such--using those, those rhymes, this girl--I got a picture of her--she wrote, and sang it; she wrote the song, so we would work with the teachers on grading on, on evaluation and so forth. And Will, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, some of the other artists would come in and would do performances, so, to inspire the kids. And this one English teacher gave this girl a failing grade. And the girl came, "Mr. Fisher [HistoryMaker Shelley Fisher], Ms. So and So blah, blah, blah," and it was 'cause the women did not, the teacher did not understand limp, knew very little about pimp and the other lyrics that the young lady was using that were rhyming and making sense in, in terms of the jargon of the hood. I had to explain that. Then they began to respect the program a bit. So we taught the kids guitar, because, let's face it, blues, after three chords it starts to become jazz. So they learned three, three chords and played tambourine and harmonica, and they learned to play their blues. And as a result, the finale was the, they wrote their own--I can't say--what's a--not a graduation but their, their ceremony, their success ceremony, and it was wonderful. It was wonderful what those kids did, how they--you know, it's--and we're talking about all kinds of kids, not just, not just black kids. Some of the white kids had better worse--had problems of abuse than, than, than Dora [ph.] did.$$Right.$$So everybody can be helped from music, when we understand it. But in order to understand it you gotta be able to communicate it. And if I'm just feeding you something, I'm not communicating to you. I'm, I'm marketing you. You're part of my demograph. And why nobody'll write something that anybody else can sing, our Mistys ['Misty'], our Stormy Weathers ['Stormy Weather'], our (singing), "Go down Moses," ['Go Down Moses']. Ain't nobody writing nothing that nobody else can sing. Jay-Z, bless his heart, and him and Beyonce [Beyonce Knowles], ain't nobody can sing that stuff but them (laughter).$$Now, that, that's in '77 [1977], right? Seventy se-(simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Seventy-seven [1977], the blues program.

Josie Childs

Civic leader and government employee Josie Childs was born on October 13, 1926, in Clarksdale, Mississippi to Julia Brown and Charles Washington, a dentist. Although born in Clarksdale, Childs grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Her grandfather was a successful landowner and professor, and Childs’ grandmother was a school teacher. She attended elementary school and high school in both Memphis and Vicksburg. Childs went on to attend LeMoyne–Owen College in Memphis, and then took classes at the Cortez W. Peters Business College. She also studied at Northwestern University in Chicago, where she took business courses in the late 1940s.

Childs was employed with the City of Chicago, first under sponsorship from Bob Miller in the Sixth Ward, and then under Colonel Jack Riley as an events coordinator in the 1950s. She also served as an administrator at the Metropolitan School of Tailoring. Childs went on to work with former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington on his 1977 and 1983 mayoral campaigns. She was also Mayor Washington’s aide for many years. Childs then worked at City Hall as an administrator in the City of Chicago’s Special Events and Cultural Affairs departments from 1983 until 1990. Following her work with the City of Chicago, she went on to create and promote various events, including an acknowledgement event for Great Lakes African American naval musicians.

Childs was the founder of the 2013 Harold Washington Tribute Committee, and has worked to ensure the continued legacy of Chicago’s first African American Mayor, Harold Washington. She has been a member of many organizations, including the Duke Ellington Society, Joint Negro Appeal, Know Your Chicago, Executive Service Corps., and Friends of the Chicago Public Library. She sat on the boards of the National Council for Lay Life and Work and the Christ Hospital Nursing School. Childs received the Georgia Palmer Award from Congressman Danny K. Davis in 2013. She has also donated the “Josie Brown Childs Papers,” a collection of documents consisting of family history, her political work, and her efforts to promote African American cultural and historical awareness, to the Chicago Public Library.

Josie Childs was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 24, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.248

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/24/2013

Last Name

Childs

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Magnolia Avenue High School

Cherry Street School

Booker T. Washington High School

LeMoyne-Owen College

Cortez Peters Business College

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Business

First Name

Josie

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

CHI02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

I Could, But I Won’t Complain.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/13/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Blueberries

Short Description

Civic leader Josie Childs (1926 - ) worked for Chicago City Hall for a number of years. She also aided former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington during his 1977 and 1983 mayoral campaigns, and later co-founded the Harold Washington Tribute Committee.

Employment

City of Chicago

Metropolitan School of Tailoring

Favorite Color

Peach

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Josie Childs' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Josie Childs lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Josie Childs describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Josie Childs talks about her maternal grandparents' occupations

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Josie Childs talks about her mother's upbringing and educational background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Josie Childs describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Josie Childs describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Josie Childs remembers her stepfather

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Josie Childs recalls her early schooling

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Josie Childs remembers her influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Josie Childs describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Josie Childs talks about her religious experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Josie Childs talks about her childhood interests

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Josie Childs describes her high school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Josie Childs recalls attending LeMoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Josie Childs remembers the social scene in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1940s

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Josie Childs talks about her move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Josie Childs recalls her early experiences in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Josie Childs remembers joining a hunting and fishing club in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Josie Childs describes her first jobs in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Josie Childs remembers Chicago, Illinois in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Josie Childs recalls her early introduction to Chicago politics

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Josie Childs describes forming the Mayor's Office of Special Events with Jack Riley

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Josie Childs talks about being the first African American hired in the Chicago mayor's office

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Josie Childs describes her experience in the Chicago Mayor's Office of Special Events

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Josie Childs recalls her decision to resign from the City of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Josie Childs remembers meeting her husband James Childs, Sr.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Josie Childs remembers helping her stepson James Childs, Jr. with his mother's funeral

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Josie Childs talks about attorney Jake Arvey's influence in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Josie Childs remembers the Silent Six on the Chicago City Council

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Josie Childs recalls talking with Harold Washington about his aspirations

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Josie Childs remembers meeting U.S. House Representative William L. Dawson

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Josie Childs recalls the changes in Chicago politics following the 1977 death of Richard J. Daley

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Josie Childs talks about Harold Washington's 1977 mayoral campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Josie Childs remembers Harold Washington's campaign strategy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Josie Childs talks about the relationship between Harold Washington and Gus Savage

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Josie Childs remembers Harold Washington's election to the U.S. House of Representatives

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Josie Childs talks about the rivalry between Harold Washington and Edward Vrdolyak

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Josie Childs describes Harold Washington's decision to run for mayor

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Josie Childs recalls voter registration efforts prior to Harold Washington's mayoral campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Josie Childs describes working on campaigns with John Conyers, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Josie Childs remembers Harold Washington's contributions to the City of Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Josie Childs recalls Harold Washington's grassroots support

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Josie Childs talks about Clarence McClain

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Josie Childs remembers Harold Washington's 1987 campaign for reelection

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Josie Childs recalls the aftermath of Harold Washington's death

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Josie Childs recalls her tenure in the Mayor's Office of Special Events

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Josie Childs describes her first firing by Lois Weisberg

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Josie Childs recalls being firing by Lois Weisberg for a second time

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Josie Childs remembers organizing the Great Lakes Experience concert

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Josie Childs recalls working with Samuel Floyd of the Columbia College Center for Black Music Research

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Josie Childs talks about exhibits commemorating Harold Washington

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Josie Childs describes the Harold Washington Tribute Committee

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Josie Childs talks about the Mikva Challenge program

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Josie Childs talks about her interest in hosting events

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Josie Childs describes her involvement with the Harold Washington Tribute Committee

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Josie Childs recalls receiving the Jorja Palmer Award

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Josie Childs describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Josie Childs reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Josie Childs reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Josie Childs talks about her health

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Josie Childs describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

6$4

DATitle
Josie Childs recalls her decision to resign from the City of Chicago
Josie Childs recalls voter registration efforts prior to Harold Washington's mayoral campaign
Transcript
Okay now tell us about now--so you were working at city hall, but there were activists protesting the lack of African Americans in city hall, right? And a lot of other things in the city?$$Well what were they march--'cause they would march from Buckingham Fountain [Chicago Illinois] to Daley's [Richard J. Daley] house, Buckingham Fountain to Daley's house. But see when I--while I was still with--Kennedy [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy] was elected while I was still with Colonel Riley 'cause we put on the parade, which was a Democratic parade, but we put on the parade for--we did all that stuff. And when the inauguration wa- the colonel got us--they--the colonel was so well versed in doing special events that when they were getting ready to do the Kennedy inauguration, and I think it was First National Bank [First National Bank of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois], I may be wrong, but they were one of the major sponsors as far as they--inauguration in Washington [D.C.] was concerned. And Washington called--no, Washington--no. First National wanted Washington to send somebody to help them put together the pieces for the inauguration and everything. And they said to First National, whomever, "You got the best person right there in the City of Chicago [Illinois]," meaning Jack Riley. So that's who you need to touch. So we did some of the stuff, I don't even remember what, for the inauguration, but then colonel went to Washington to, to, to work with the inauguration. And even got us some tickets to some stuff and we went and they had the worst blizzard you'd ever had, so we didn't do any of it.$$Was it 1961 I guess for the inauguration of John Kennedy, January '61 [1961]?$$Prob- probably it was uh-huh.$$So when were the demonstrations, were they in the?$$Oh when I said that's why I quit city hall. They pulled me and put me in--bear in mind I was on corporation counsel payroll. They put me on some division, Dick Elrod [Richard Elrod] was the head of it. And I was on--I would be on the phone, they would be calling me from the demonstration to tell me what was going on and all that kind of stuff. And then, I don't know if I should put this on record, but it's a fact, there was a restaurant in--one block down from city hall in the basement and we would go there every evening, 'cause they had night court for all the people they'd arrested all day. And we would go there in the evening and there'd be the judge, the corporation counsel, me, Dick Elrod, and we would go and they would sit there and they would determine, at dinner, what kind of sentences they were going to pass out that night. And I remember I went to work the next day, and I wasn't married to Jack [James Childs, Sr.]. But I went to work the next day and I said, "I cannot do this. I cannot be a part of this." And I called Jack and I called Bill Berry [Edwin C. Berry]. And Bill Berry wanted me to stay, he said, "You be my--you be my person inside," and I said, "I can't do it." And I called Jack and told him I was cleaning out my desk drawer, "Come get me." And he did (laughter). He told me how proud he was of me. He said, "I promise you, you will never, you'll never be out of doors and you'll never go hungry." So we got married and I started asking for things, and he said, "I didn't promise you all of that," (laughter). "I just told you you'd never be outdoors, you'd never," yeah. And I remember the--the thing that really got to me, was [HistoryMaker] Lerone Bennett, he was marching. He was a part of the marches and they were standing in front of the judge and I remember, I don't know whether they were jeans or what, but I just know they had two back pockets and he was standing with--before the judge with his hands, you know, in these back pockets and he was just shaking his head as if to say I don't believe this. And the sentences were the fines or whatever it was, I don't know, but I said, "I can't do this, I can't be a part of this." And I went to work the next day, but that's when I called, said, "Come get me," and cleaned out my desk drawer.$$Oh, I was going to ask you--$$And [HistoryMaker] Dick Gregory was a part of those marches. 'Cause I remember the first time they arrested Dick Gregory, I can't think of his name now, but one of the lawyers called me--called the office and naturally I was answering the phone; and he was scared to death 'cause he had Dick Gregory and he didn't know what to do.$What role did the voter registration campaign that Ed Gardner [HistoryMaker Edward Gardner] funded play?$$Interesting story, and I have nothing to show for it. And I raised sand with them at the time. Actually, the voter registration campaign that ultimately came together was started in Jack Childs' [Childs' husband, James Childs, Sr.] office. [HistoryMaker] Dorothy Tillman had been picketing--what did they call it, parent equalizer [Parent Equalizers of Chicago], the Mollison School [Irvin C. Mollison Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois], I think that's--$$The Mollison School, that's right.$$Okay, and she went across the street to the Alpha house [Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity] and asked them to tutor some of these kids, you know, who were out of school, the kids they were keeping out of school. And they did. And when it was over, the Alpha, one of their slogans is, "A Voteless People is Hopeless People." Donne Trotter, James Hill [ph.]--Donne Trotter, James Hill, Auggie Battiste [Auggeretto Battiste] and a fellow by the na- I think his name was Ernest Green [sic. Elliot Green], met in Jack's office. 'Cause what they were doing with Dorothy was over. And they decided that they wanted to continue on in the political whatever, whatever. And they realized registration was important. And I remember the day that they took the 3rd Ward as a pilot project, going knocking on doors, you know, getting people registered and what have you. And it was--it was going very well and it brought about a--I'm going to say reorganization 'cause was I told there must be one before, what do you call it when all the Greek organizations come together--Pan Hellenic [Chicago Pan Hellenic Council] and they were meeting at the Alpha house. This has nothing to do with Harold [Harold Washington] running, nothing to do with the plebiscite, it's just that this is what they were doing and it had grown. They'd even gotten representatives from PUSH [Operation PUSH; Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Chicago, Illinois] and everywhere. And then when--fast forward, when Harold decides to run and says, "I want however many hundred thousand votes you have to get for me," or whatever that was, they had people in place. Now Tim Black [HistoryMaker Timuel Black], you know, became the chairman of the voter registration drive or whatever, but they had people to feed into--into that. Now I used to tell Jack, now when they were doing that, I said, "You all ought to keep a record of what you're doing." Well they didn't. And the only thing that I know that happened, Lu Palmer [HistoryMaker Lutrelle "Lu" F. Palmer, II], Jack talked to Lu Palmer on the radio about what they were doing on a Sunday morning, from home it's by telephone, and there was one picture in somebody's paper of them. But other than that, there's absolutely to my knowledge no record of it. And but, they had a whole--all these Greek organizations, you know, were together. They had that together when that registration when that started. And when they did it, they had no knowledge, no thought, no idea that Harold was going to run, but they did. And he said, he wanted, was it a hundred thousand votes and fifty thousand dollars or vice versa?

Mary Mitchell

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary A. Mitchell was born Mary A. Duncan on May 23, 1949, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Mitchell’s mother, Carrie Williams Duncan, and father, Joseph Duncan, struggled to raise ten children in Chicago Public Housing’s Dearborn Homes and Clarence Darrow Homes. Mitchell, the eldest and a twin loved to read as she helped raise her siblings. Mitchell attended Einstein Elementary School and Wendell Phillips Upper Grade Center. At Dunbar Vocational High School, Mitchell joined a girls group called the Exquisite Ladies Club, which put emphasis on good grades, not having babies and service. Graduating from Dunbar in 1967, Mitchell was hired by Peoples Gas as a mailroom clerk. Starting at Wilson Junior College in 1968, Mitchell transferred to Chicago Teacher’s College (Chicago State University) that same year.

Mitchell became the first African American legal secretary at a major Chicago law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP; she eventually quit her job as a secretary after twenty years of service. Taking writing courses at Columbia College and encouraged by Carol Holtz and P.J. Bednarski, Mitchell landed a successful internship with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1990. Graduating with her B.A. degree in journalism from Columbia College in 1991, Mitchell was hired full time by the Chicago Sun-Times. Covering educational issues, Mitchell’s five part series on Chicago Vocational High School earned her an award from the National Association of Black Journalists. From 1993 to 1995, Mitchell covered City Hall reporting on Operation Silver Shovel. Since the start of her column in 1996, Mitchell, like Carl Rowan and Vernon Jarrett before her, has attracted a large and diverse readership. Mitchell also cultivated a substantial national following via the Internet, receiving an average of 900 e-mails per week from readers.

Mitchell was the recipient of numerous journalism awards, including the Award of Excellence from the National Association of Black Journalists, the Studs Terkel Award from the Chicago Media Workshop, and the Peter Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headliner Club. Mitchell was a frequent guest panelist on television and radio programs; a president of the Chicago Association of Black Journalists; and a member of the Association of Women Journalists.

Accession Number

A2007.023

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/21/2007

Last Name

Mitchell

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School

Albert Einstein Elementary School

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

Wilson Junior College

Chicago State University

Columbia College Chicago

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

First Name

Mary

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

MIT09

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

What Does It Profit A Man To Gain The Whole World And Lose His Soul?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/23/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

Newspaper columnist Mary Mitchell (1949 - ) was an award-winning writer for the Chicago Sun Times.

Employment

Seyfarth Shaw, LLP

Chicago Sun-Times

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mary Mitchell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mary Mitchell list her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mary Mitchell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mary Mitchell describes her mother's childhood in Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mary Mitchell describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mary Mitchell describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mary Mitchell describes the reason her father moved to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mary Mitchell describes her father's occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mary Mitchell lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Mary Mitchell describes her earliest childhood memory and the parent she takes after most

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Mary Mitchell describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Mary Mitchell remembers growing up with a twin sister

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Mary Mitchell describes her childhood love of reading

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Mary Mitchell remembers the Young Men's Christian Association

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Mary Mitchell describes her elementary school in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mary Mitchell recalls the living conditions in Chicago's housing projects

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mary Mitchell recalls taking care of her young siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mary Mitchell recalls her favorite subjects and watching television with her family

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mary Mitchell describes herself as a student

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mary Mitchell recalls President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s deaths

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mary Mitchell talks about her understanding of Chicago politics as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mary Mitchell recalls the lack of leadership in her childhood community

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mary Mitchell explains why she chose to attend Dunbar Vocational High School

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mary Mitchell describes her high school experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mary Mitchell recalls her experience with gangs in Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Mary Mitchell describes her high school social group

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Mary Mitchell recalls foregoing her college plans to care for her family

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Mary Mitchell recalls being unaware of Chicago's community programs as a child

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mary Mitchell describes her parents' divorce

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mary Mitchell describes her personality and physical appearance as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mary Mitchell describes her first work experience

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mary Mitchell describes her college experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mary Mitchell recalls Primus Mootry and the Black Power movement in college

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mary Mitchell talks about the murder of Fred Hampton

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mary Mitchell talks about being a young single mother

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mary Mitchell recalls working as a legal secretary

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mary Mitchell talks about her favorite Chicago newspapers

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Mary Mitchell recalls Chicago's WVON Radio and African American columnists

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Mary Mitchell recalls quitting her job after being denied a promotion

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Mary Mitchell recalls struggling at Columbia College Chicago

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mary Mitchell recalls applying for an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mary Mitchell explains why she chose to pursue a journalism career

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mary Mitchell describes her first experience as a journalist

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mary Mitchell recalls the stories she covered as a Chicago Sun-Times intern

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mary Mitchell describes her experience as a Chicago Sun-Times intern

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mary Mitchell explains how her legal secretarial skills helped in journalism

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mary Mitchell shares what she learned from covering Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Mary Mitchell recalls her five part series on Cregier Vocational High School

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Mary Mitchell shares a lesson she learned about journalism

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Mary Mitchell recalls reporting on Chicago's City Hall

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Mary Mitchell talks about reporting on Operation Silver Shovel, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mary Mitchell talks about reporting on Operation Silver Shovel, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mary Mitchell talks about Larry Hoover and the issues with Chicago gangs

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mary Mitchell recalls receiving her first column at the Chicago Sun-Times

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mary Mitchell recalls her column's initial reception by the black community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mary Mitchell recalls her disagreements with Reverend Jesse L. Jackson

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mary Mitchell talks about her unbiased reporting of African American leaders, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mary Mitchell talks about her unbiased reporting of African American leaders, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mary Mitchell talks about why she covers the everyday problems in Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Mary Mitchell recounts her experience at a Cubs game

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Mary Mitchell talks about the Chicago Bears player Tank Johnson

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mary Mitchell recalls criticism she faced as an African American journalist

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mary Mitchell describes how she writes about racism

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mary Mitchell talks about preserving her racial identity as a journalist

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mary Mitchell reflects upon being a public figure

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mary Mitchell reflects upon her life and career

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mary Mitchell describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Mary Mitchell reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Mary Mitchell talks about President Barack Obama

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Mary Mitchell describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$9

DATitle
Mary Mitchell recalls Primus Mootry and the Black Power movement in college
Mary Mitchell shares a lesson she learned about journalism
Transcript
Who were the student leaders then? Do you remember the names of any of the students that were--?$$I think there was one guy named Primus Mootry. I remember him because he was in my, one of my lab classes, and he was also the leader of the student rebellion that took over the campus and shut down everything for about two or three days. That's the one that I remember.$$Okay. And so the campus [Chicago State College; Chicago State University, Chicago, Illinois] was actually shut down for three days (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, it was. No exams, no tests, no anything. It was pretty cool, too, because people didn't want to take their tests anyway (laughter). But, you know, and it was wonderful in a way. Because for me it was--we knew what was going on, but we didn't know. There was no leadership. You hear what's going on; you hear about the Vietnam War; you know about what's going on at other college campuses. You have an inkling of what's going on, but you don't really know what that means for the school that you're attending. And so, Primus and his group of agitators were able to pull it--pull all these people together and take over the cafeteria and sit us down and explain to us, "This is what you don't have. This is what you're missing. You don't have black studies, you don't have--you don't know anything about your culture. You don't have, you do not have what you need as, as black students to really come back to your community and teach in your own community." Because this was basically a school for teachers. And so, if you don't know your own history, and you don't know your own culture, how are you going to go back and teach kids, you know, black history or anything like that? So, it was really a good thing that he was able to bring us all together. And we began to see the beauty of being who we were, black students, you know, black--yes, we were poor, many of us, but you know, we had potential. I think that's the first time that I realized that, you know, the Black Power movement was something more than just what was going on in the South.$$Okay, okay. So, did you get involved? I know you were like working and going to school. Did you have time to be involved?$$Not really. I mean fringe-wise, I was involved. I mean, I did not really have time to be involved. And then unfortunately during that time, I had my first boyfriend. I met the first guy that I fell in love with and started dating, and immediately got pregnant. So, besides going to school and working, I was pregnant. So I didn't have much time, I was back in survival mode. I mean, I didn't have time to get involved in all these other things.$$Okay, all right. So, did you and the fellow stay together? I mean--$$We did not stay together. He was, he went to Vietnam. He came back from Vietnam a little bit different, a drug addict, basically, and never was able to--he was never himself. And so I was a single mom at nineteen, and had my son, that interrupted college and all of that. Then I was working.$And when I left education in '93 [1993] I think, I was sent to cover city hall. And again, I was paired up with a woman who is the premier city hall reporter who'd been there, who's been there for decades to cover Mayor Daley and the city council.$$Okay, okay. Well, how did you--what was the biggest story during that period? From '93 [1993]--you did that from '93 [1993] until when?$$From '93 [1993] and probably '95 [1995].$$Okay.$$Yeah, '93 [1993] to '95 [1995].$$Okay.$$Biggest story was Operation Silver Shovel. And that's when I learned the hard facts of journalism, that you can be scooped on your own story. (Laughter) It was a tough lesson but, you know, you have to learn it. I, again I was paired with someone who was covering the politics of city hall. And I never liked to get on the bus; didn't like covering Daley [Richard M. Daley]; didn't like quoting, having to quote everything the man had to say. I just thought it was just crazy that people would follow him around everywhere, and basically not really looking at--underneath what he was saying; they were just quoting what he was saying. So I never got, I didn't like being on the bus. And that was, that's the way city hall reporters were being treated at the time. They had a van, and every day you found out the mayor's schedule and you got on the van and you followed him from place to place to report what was going on. I hated the van. So, often I tried to find a way not to get on the van. I would stay behind and I would look at stories. And I started looking at, I started looking at committee records, what was going on in the committees. I also started, you know, paying attention to just how people were living in Chicago [Illinois]. And I was driving down Roosevelt Road area and saw in front of me this huge pile, mountain of garbage rising out of nowhere. It just seemed like it, to me at the time it looked like it was seven stories high. And I just couldn't figure out, how did this get here? And I started looking into it, and I ended up talking to aldermen, and reporting on a story about this weird figure, a Christopher [John Christopher] something. I can't remember his name now, who was a mole. He turned out to be a mole for the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], who was running around setting up aldermen who were allowing him to set up illegal dumps in the area. And I kept reporting on the story, reporting the story, until the city made a commitment to remove the dump. Now where I fell short, and where I learned a lesson of being scooped on your own story, was that I still did not know that the FBI was involved, and this was a mole and this was a set-up. But I was getting closer and closer to that fact. Well, my paper [Chicago Sun-Times] lost interest, and, "Oh, you got to go do this, and you got to go do that." And so the moment I stopped reporting that, two days later Carol Marin broke the story of the mole, the FBI, and the dump. And that's how I learned that you can get scooped on your own story.

Hellen O'Neal-McCray

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.

Accession Number

A2006.046

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/21/2006

Last Name

O'Neal-McCray

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

W.A. Higgins High School

Immaculate Conception School

Myrtle Hall Colored School

Holy Rosary School

Holy Rosary Headstart School

W.A. Higgins Middle School

First Name

Hellen

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

ONE01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beaches

Favorite Quote

It Is Not The Size Of The Dog In The Fight. It Is The Size Of The Fight In The Dog.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

3/4/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Wilberforce

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Death Date

2/24/2010

Short Description

Civil rights activist and high school teacher Hellen O'Neal-McCray (1941 - 2010 ) taught African American literature and composition at Wilberforce University. She was a staff member with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, taught in a Freedom School in Mccomb, Mississippi and worked for the National Sharecroppers Fund in Atlanta, Georgia.

Employment

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Lawyer's Constitutional Defense Committee

Charles Morgan Law Firm

Wilberforce University

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:1316,37:7332,173:9494,214:24402,426:24786,432:38700,527:39145,534:42349,579:42705,584:43862,600:44396,607:45019,615:48579,668:49914,687:50448,694:57660,767:59280,791:60450,806:61350,819:61710,824:62340,832:64860,866:65310,872:66480,886:67380,903:71540,916:75450,928:75900,935:76200,940:76650,947:79275,996:79800,1005:81750,1044:82200,1051:84375,1098:84825,1105:85275,1112:85575,1117:85950,1123:89770,1132:91746,1172:92354,1182:93646,1209:100576,1310:101478,1323:105792,1355:108158,1386:108886,1395:115040,1452:115742,1464:116132,1470:117458,1495:117926,1502:121140,1531$0,0:803,10:1387,19:1752,26:2263,35:4088,69:6716,138:7227,147:10700,177:11260,186:11740,193:12380,204:19420,332:39042,638:40606,681:41894,744:51805,893:52153,900:52849,910:53197,915:53545,920:53893,925:65567,1077:65915,1082:67307,1106:76971,1242:78299,1267:80208,1310:80623,1316:81370,1326:82283,1351:98769,1640:112655,1872:122077,1992:122789,2001:127150,2096:130354,2161:141714,2298:142351,2311:143079,2325:146719,2397:147265,2404:152634,2440:181666,2831:182036,2837:185366,2898:187660,2974:187956,2979:188252,2984:188844,3032:198439,3112:207335,3169:209520,3179
DAStories

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

4$9

DATitle
Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls her decision to become a civil rights activist
Hellen O'Neal-McCray recalls an experience of police brutality while in custody
Transcript
Let me ask you this though, let's go back a little bit, but--but--how did you--what compelled you to get involved in the movement in the first place 'cause you hadn't had a history? Now you had a history of being resistant to that--that social order down there as a child, but you hadn't had a--an organizational history of being involved in anything. So, well very few people down there had a history of that I guess. But what, what was it that pushed you over the edge to be involved in the first place?$$I always thought that I should do something, the something I did not know what it was. I always admired people who were integrating schools or who were--the people who were in Little Rock [Arkansas]. Because we read about that and we actually saw that on television. So I had a admiration for people and I just figured that since I was a person who was being discriminated against I should certainly do something. People were coming from up north and everywhere and that I couldn't just sit around and have somebody--but as I had always been taught in my family, you know, to--not to accept things from other people. That the only thing that you should owe people is respect. You don't borrow money, you take care of yourself, you look out for yourself so you aren't in debt. So that might've actually had something to do with it. To go through life not owing anybody anything except respect. So I--that could've really--I felt like people were doing something for me, that I should probably be doing for myself.$And I was arrested with a group of students on demonstration. I was arrested that summer [1963] twice. I was arrested first time with a group of people on demonstration. And then the second time I was arrested, that's the only time I suffered any kind of physical something, I was arrested by myself. I was out canvasing, voter registration, going door to door. And a policeman stopped and he picked me up, he said I was li- I think littering. And I was taken to the city jail. I was sick. It was one of the few times in my life I've been sick. But I was feeling--I was really sick. So the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] came and interviewed me. I don't know how people in the SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] office in Jackson [Mississippi] knew that I was in there, 'cause I hadn't did--I don't remember calling anybody. But the FBI came to see me. I was sick. They told them that they should take me to the doctor. So the guy came--$$Well, wait a minute. What was wrong?$$I had like a probably a flu or pneumonia or something, I'm not sure what it was. But I was just really sick. And so they came at night and wanted, and I told 'em no I wanted to go not anywhere with them at night. So the next morning there had been a fight in the cell, two women were fighting about something that had happened on the street between 'em. And so there had been a fight. One lady had an arm broken. I don't know if the other lady broke it or the police bro- I don't know what happened. So they took us both to the hospital--took us to the hospital. And so as we riding--first when they were going to the police car I had my hair in braids, I'd twist in 'em, and I had a pencil stuck in 'em and the police yanked my hair and took the pencil and said, "Niggers, they ain't got no business, niggers ain't got no business with no pencil in there." They yanked my hair and they yanked it hard enough they pulled the pencil out. But they actually pulled out a shank of hair (laughter). And so we got in his police car and we're sitting in the back of the car and they started to say things like to each other, say, "We ought to push her out of this car and shoot her and say she tried to escape." I was looking at this other lady and I was thinking if they try to push me out, what is there that I can hold on to. 'Cause, you know, I'm thinking these people may really push me out and shoot me. And they kept and finally we got to the hospital. They walked around and checked all the windows and act like I was going escape from the hospital. Like I was a real--and I had borrowed--I was arrested in a dress and I had borrowed from one of the trustees a pair of pants and a shirt and so that's what I had on. The pants were kind of ripped and so they went all around and they were--they were doing that. Then the doctors--I saw the doctor. They gave me two shots, probably penicillin or something. I don't know what they were. But they were hard shots, I mean I bruised so much on my hips from those--those shots. And then they took me back. Now that's the only time that I've been, you know, physically touched or anything like that.

Najwa I

Dancer and choreographer Najwa I was born Arnell Pugh in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Her parents, Ruby and Timothy Pugh, soon moved to Chicago where Najwa attended Medill, Smith and Howland elementary schools. As a young woman, she took dance classes at the Marcy Newberry Association in the Maxwell Street area. Under the instruction of the late Panamanian performer, Jimmy Payne, Najwa studied Afro-Cuban and Calypso dance while still in high school. She started at Farragut High School, but graduated from Harrison High School in 1954.

Soon after graduation, Najwa was approached by impresario Larry Steele’s Smart Affair tour. Taking her first airplane ride, Najwa was flown to Australia, where she joined Steele’s group on the road. Najwa performed in Australia and New Zealand and continued on extended international tour with Larry Steele through the mid-fifties. In her travels she learned the dance styles of different nations and peoples. Najwa performed in swing productions with icons like Duke Ellington and Count Basie. In New York City, her study of African dance was enriched by Asadata Dafora, Baba Dinizulu, Babatunde Olatunji, and Carmencita Romero. At the Cat and Fiddle Club in the Bahamas, Najwa learned to dance with fire. Performing with Julian Swain, she also taught ethnic dance at the Julian Swain Dance Theatre and at Chicago’s Better Boys Foundation.

In 1977 she founded the Najwa Dance Corps in Chicago. The group presents a repertoire that spans the rituals of traditional Africa to the glamorous chorus girls of the swing era. As artistic director, Najwa is also a gifted choreographer and dance historian. The group offers classes in Dances of West Africa, Dances of the Caribbean and Dances of Contemporary African American Culture and holds public workshops, master classes, concerts, two-week residencies, and ensemble performances. The recipient of the Woman in Dance Award, the Woman of the Year Award and the African American Arts Alliance’s Paul Robeson Award. The name Najwa means “one who is spiritually in tune” and because others have named daughters after her, she is now known as Najwa I.

Accession Number

A2004.268

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/21/2004

Last Name

I

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Joseph Medill Elementary School

Wendell Smith Elementary School

Howland School

Maria Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy

Chicago State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Najwa

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

NAJ01

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Puerto Rico

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Gumbo (Okra)

Short Description

Artistic director and dancer Najwa I ( - ) founded the Najwa Dance Corps in Chicago. Najwa performed in Australia and New Zealand with Larry Steele through the mid-fifties, and also taught ethnic dance at the Julian Swain Dance Theatre and at Chicago’s Better Boys Foundation.

Employment

Larry Steele's Smart Affair tour, Australia

Cat and Fiddle Club, Bahamas

Julian Swain Inner City Dance Theatre, Chicago

Najwa Dance Corps, Chicago

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
0,0:1539,39:5874,91:6734,103:7508,117:7938,123:8884,178:9572,188:10260,197:13786,270:14302,278:15334,291:15678,296:16452,308:18602,346:32438,472:33148,492:33432,497:33716,502:34071,509:34781,551:38402,607:41313,702:41668,708:42520,727:42804,732:43159,738:49460,800:49835,806:51860,849:52160,854:52985,868:53735,879:54710,924:63110,1105:64085,1123:71810,1269:72710,1298:80607,1333:81223,1342:83225,1379:83841,1388:87075,1434:88692,1466:92340,1490:92690,1499:93320,1511:94650,1560:95070,1568:95700,1578:96050,1584:96540,1593:96960,1604:97800,1625:98850,1648:100040,1682:109602,1780:110498,1789:112775,1801:113798,1816:116930,1850:117770,1868:120010,1908:120290,1913:122250,1974:123440,1995:123720,2000:126240,2055:127360,2082:131680,2106:132082,2113:132350,2134:133824,2157:134360,2167:136973,2214:137442,2222:139251,2267:139787,2278:140457,2289:142601,2325:143472,2336:143740,2341:144343,2352:144946,2362:151330,2415:153010,2461:158781,2550:159418,2557:165760,2623:169500,2705:171455,2736:182642,2877:185898,2948:188784,2997:190486,3030:191004,3039:191522,3048:194630,3117:195370,3149:208804,3319:210094,3344:210696,3352:211546,3363:218118,3538:226692,3650:227161,3660:227563,3667:228635,3690:228903,3695:230310,3727:231449,3752:232253,3799:233459,3824:242512,3959:246593,4058:250366,4134:251290,4160:255525,4253:255910,4259:258143,4302:266470,4377:267914,4404:271053,4435:271455,4444:271790,4450:291903,4786:293268,4816:293814,4824:294269,4830:302795,4909:303470,4922:303770,4927:304070,4932:312932,5105:313968,5123:317890,5217:318556,5229:318926,5235:327875,5351:328220,5360:331884,5414:332940,5425:333402,5479:343578,5637:348198,5772:348506,5777:348814,5782:360523,5997:361467,6020:361821,6028:365184,6104:367662,6200:369255,6230:369609,6241:379436,6323:380156,6339:382316,6478:385052,6518:385340,6535:388076,6584:396788,6746:403220,6784:406058,6853:409820,6938:413017,6958$0,0:492,8:820,13:2624,32:4264,57:4756,64:8894,103:10012,118:10614,128:10958,140:12248,180:12764,188:15946,238:17064,253:17408,259:23120,343:26270,406:32838,485:33658,502:43060,612:45730,658:47777,687:61152,830:61992,842:64680,889:66276,908:66864,916:68796,956:69300,964:70224,980:81610,1056:85588,1109:94356,1149:94950,1162:95544,1172:95808,1177:101484,1326:103464,1366:112707,1495:113015,1500:119190,1586:122070,1640:123430,1666:123990,1676:126150,1714:127750,1743:131590,1807:131910,1812:132390,1819:132790,1825:142040,1868:145592,1910:145944,1915:146296,1920:152176,1979:152864,1990:153552,2011:156476,2095:157250,2106:158024,2119:160690,2162:161292,2171:167594,2234:168182,2243:168770,2252:169190,2258:170366,2276:173726,2330:174230,2337:174734,2344:175322,2353:178727,2361:179283,2366:181240,2376:183312,2418:196114,2677:196706,2686:197002,2691:197890,2707:198334,2714:198630,2719:199000,2724:199666,2763:204032,2844:204550,2853:209878,2965:210840,2980:212912,3033:215798,3089:216242,3096:216612,3102:221530,3108:224595,3148:224967,3153:235785,3262:236110,3268:236760,3294:238515,3326:242935,3393:245470,3491:246120,3506:249630,3599:250020,3606:255036,3630:263776,3788:265904,3839:268760,3849:269282,3857:269717,3863:271979,3904:282506,4128:292890,4250:295770,4293:299370,4340:299760,4346:301398,4369:301866,4376:309006,4450:310128,4463:318700,4575:319239,4584:321164,4610:321472,4625:324966,4655:328376,4688:330387,4711:330940,4719:331335,4725:332046,4735:332599,4743:334179,4766:334574,4772:339326,4817:340014,4827:341648,4850:343034,4864
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Najwa I interview: explanation of name

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of Najwa I interview continued

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Najwa I's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Najwa I describes her mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Najwa I recalls her father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Najwa remembers her father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Najwa I remembers her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Najwa I shares memories from her family life

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Najwa I shares a memory of her father

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Najwa I describes her childhood environs, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Najwa I remembers Chicago's Maxwell Street Market from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Najwa I describes her childhood interests

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Najwa I describes her upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Najwa I recalls her early school life

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Najwa I details her childhood avocations

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Najwa I recalls diversity in her neighborhood as a youth

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Najwa I describes her college prospects

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Najwa I recalls her early dance performances with Jimmy Payne

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Najwa I recalls travels to New York during her youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Najwa I recalls her dance engagements in Australia, late 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Najwa I describes the Australian locales she visited

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Najwa I discusses her early dance engagements in the U.S.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Najwa I describes memorable dance instructors

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Najwa I describes her studies in African dance

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Najwa I discusses her studies in Caribbean dance

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Najwa I considers the popularization of African dance in the U.S.

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Najwa I discusses her dance troupe, the Najwa Dance Corps, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Najwa I describes the Najwa Dance Corps's signature dance

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Najwa I shares the philosophy behind the Najwa Dance Corps, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Najwa I details the Najwa Dance Corps's schedule

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Najwa I describes the relationship between the Najwa Dance Corps and Malcolm X College, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Najwa I discusses the travels of Najwa Dance Corps dancers

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Najwa I reflects on the practice of African dance

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Najwa I expresses her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Najwa I reflects on her life's course

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Najwa I considers her legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

10$1

DATitle
Najwa I recalls her early dance performances with Jimmy Payne
Najwa I describes her studies in African dance
Transcript
How did you get involved in your first show as a dancer?$$Okay, like I said, we used to go downtown to Jimmy Payne's dance studio [Jimmy Payne School of Dance] when we were like thirteen, fourteen years old--me, when I was like thirteen, fourteen years old. But it was also my buddies. We knew that he was teaching African--we knew that he was teaching Afro-Cuban dance and calypso dance. And, of course, all of us wanted to be like Katherine Dunham or be in her dance group. You know, I just knew when I grew up I was gonna be one of Kath--I was gonna join her troupe. You know, you read it in, we're reading in JET and Ebony, I mean not JET, Ebony and, you know, or what--I don't remember what other magazines. It was some other magazines. And you'd see her in Europe, and I used buy--keep those books in my drawer and look at 'em all the time because I was definitely going to, you know--that was it for me. You know, I was aspiring to do that--when I decided I wanted to be a dancer, it was Katherine Dunham. But Jimmy Payne did the kind of dance styles she did, so naturally, that's what I wanted to do, you know. So we went, I used to go down to Jimmy Payne's for his classes. I think they were on Saturdays. I'm not sure. So Jimmy Payne had--I was kind of--.$$And where did he teach?$$Four, at--in the Fine Arts Building downtown, and he also taught in that building where the Oriental Theater used to be, is and always downtown. It was always downtown, but he was in three or four places downtown, and wherever he was, we followed him.$$Tell us something about what you know about Jimmy Payne that you think the people would want to know cause he's no longer with us, and he's a important figure in the dance in Chicago. So.$$Okay, well, what I know about Jimmy is that he was from, I think, Panama. And he lived a lot of--I think he lived in Cuba, and I think Barbados, and I'm not sure which one of those places he was from, but I know he was all around like in areas like that. And he lived in New--he moved from there to New York. And this is just me remembering, so I'm not saying that this is it, but this is what I kind of remember, just listening to him talk. And that's how he started doing all the different kind of dances. But what I was fascinated with Jimmy about was, was him being able to a, some languages, different languages. And he used to every--you know, speak in Spanish, you know, all the time, and I'd, you know, listen to him. But that's, that's how we found out that he was from, one of those Latino countries. But he, he, he taught Lena Horne. He taught Nichelle Nichols, I mean, and he used to fascinate us with all those stories about all the people that he danced with and taught dance to. So, you know, he could play--he played, he could play his drums; he could dance, he could sing, he could tap. He could do everything in dance (chuckle), for, you know, to us, you know, he knew everything. And I learned how, I learned all my basics with Jimmy.$$Now, how old were you when you first started dancing with Jimmy Payne?$$I think, I think maybe like thirteen, fourteen--thirteen or fourteen. But we didn't--he used to let us do gigs. We weren't that good. I don't know if we were that good. We just had a lot of energy. And he used to do a lot of shows at country--at the country clubs, you know. So, all we had to do was like go in and do our little show, and then they'd pack us up and take us out. So one time Jimmy had asked us--well, I guess I must have been about seventeen at the time, I was cause I--and, you know, this is what we'd been doing over the years, country clubs and places like that with Jimmy. Some people used to come through the neighborhood, and at the time, you could do that. You know, it's a man that used to come in the neighborhood and gather up everybody, all the kids who thought they could dance and sing or what, and he'd take us to go do a show and give us three dollars, five dollars each. You know, we did all that in the neighborhood. So, but Jimmy, well, I, we used to do little shows with him. But when we got to be seventeen and we could do other places--when I got seventeen and was old enough to look like, you know, we could dance other places. So he used to go to this place in Wisconsin called the White Pub. And it was a Latino club. And he took us there, and one night I was there and this impresario, his name was Larry Steele, he came in and he watched our show. And we were introduced to him cause one of the girls that danced with us also used to dance with him--did dance with him. And she introduced all of us. And then they said they were going off to Australia, and, you know, I was excited. She was going to Australia, and, but I never thought about it, you know. And then about a month later, well, it might have been a month or so, a month or two later, some time later, I got this call from his wife, and she said, you know, she said, how would you like to go to Australia? I said, Australia? She said, yes, she said, Larry Steele called, and he remembered seeing you at the White Pub in Wisconsin dancing, and he wanted to know, he needed another girl, and he want to know if you would like to go to Australia. So, of course, I said, yes, but I was still scared, you know, cause I had never been on a plane or anything at that time. And she said, well, okay, she said, I'll call you back, you know. So she, you know, called me back. She said, you got to go down and get your fingerprints, and--I mean go down and get your--.$$Passport.$$--passport and that whole bit and all. And my mother [Ruby Tom DeMeyers], she was having a fit, you know, (laughter), oh, no, no, no, no, you can't go that far away. And my aunts, they came over, and "What would your father [Timothy Pugh] think?" And oh, they went through the whole bit, you know. But I did go. And I remember my cousin, Opal, she got me all fixed up, you know, in her clothes. I was skin and bones, little skinny, skinny girl, and she, she fixed me up in her clothes. My coat was big, and everything, you know, to get me ready to go to Australia. So I went, and I went by myself, and that was the first time I was ever on an airplane. I went all the way over there by myself.$$Okay, so the troupe traveled together on the same plane.$$No.$$You went by--.$$No, I went by myself. They were there already.$$They were there already, oh.$$They were there already. That was my first time--I mean I hadn't been very far at that time at all. I don't know where else I had been. And I don't--oh, New York. I went to live--went to New York a lot growing up cause my aunt [Mamie DeMeyers] lived in New York, my mother's sister. So we stayed there a lot, you know. And my mother took us there a lot thinking she was getting away, out of the neighborhood in the summer and all of that. But, and I stayed with her a lot in New York, which I loved.$Give me your impression of when African dance started to become popular in--and you were talking about classes in New York, and some of the teachers there in New York, and--?$$But here in Chicago, I think in the--we, like I said, we took classes in New York, from, you know, all the time. I mean when I'd go to New York, I'd take any kind of classes. It didn't matter what. I took all kind. I took the Spanish dance classes, I took, you know, Egyptian dance. I took Indian dance, everything. You just take classes, but I like, we'd always like to take the African dance classes to, but I had--and we did. Whenever I'd go, whenever I did shows, it was never African dance. It was always jazz, Afro-Cuban, calypso, Caribbean, tap, just some other styles cause I came out of the chorus line. And in the chorus line, you did everything, every style of dancing. So, but what I really remembered for me, African dance and me really thinking, um, yeah, this is good to do, you know, other than what you did as a kid, dancing around. I think, to me, in Chicago, for me in the '60s [1960s], I think Darlene Blackburn made African dance popular, I mean made it something that everybody said, oh, wait, we want to do, we could do, we want to do this. Or let's do that. Why can't we do or why can't--better still, it was why can't we do that kind of dancing on the stage? Or why can't we do this kind of dancing? Why can't we teach it, you know, teach this kind of dancing? And why can't we make people want to learn it? The kids learn it, they'll, you know, like it. And she was working with Phil Cohran a lot, you know, and she had studied in Ghana, I think Nigeria. Anyway, I think, for me, I think that she's the one that for me in Chicago, and I think for us in Chicago, I really think so, that made people think about why can't we do this kind of dancing also. We like it, you know, you know, we feel good doing it. Why can't we put this on stage, you know. So I think, you know, that's, that's kind of what happened because then people, you know, I remember in the '60s [1960s] people all over started doing African dance routines. And we went from the Caribbean, the calypso to Afro-Cuban, you know. I, I or, some ideas of what you think African dance is, into learning some authentic African dance, you know, people coming into the country from different countries. And like I said, a lot of, at first a lot of, I think, the Ghanaians, Nigerians came in, and you learned some Nigerian dance. And maybe a lot of Ghanaians or vice versa, and we learned a lot of Ghanaian dances, oh, just tons of it. Then we throw--the problem with it is, you, as soon as somebody else comes, the more people come from different countries, you know, African countries, you want to learn it all cause you don't know what your country is or what you need to be learning, you know, so you got to learn it all because if you skip one, you might be--and you had an opportunity to learn it, that might be the place you're from. So I know a lot of dancers that do dance, African dance. We always think about what, what's our dance? You hear some, some people, they'll say, you know, Samba is my dance, you know, or Lamban, is my dance. And that says, I'm from these people. And I must--they must be my people. You know, I feel this. And some girls, some dancers like Ghanaian dance cause they feel it, you know. And so they'll think about it like that too. But we learned it all, you know, a lot of different dance, African dance styles, a lot of different African dance techniques, not just styles from, like not thinking that, you know, Ghanaian dance is--okay, you learn the Ghanaian dance, and that Ghanaian dance. Well, they got a lot of styles and techniques and tribes and groups and, you know, that you, that's, that's got different ways of doing some dance, and so, it's, it's a lot to study. But you need to--you know, you got the Asante people, you got, you know, all kind, in Ghana, I'm saying, a lot of different groups in Ghana, a lot of different groups in Senegal, you know. So you got a lot a dance. Today, people are doing a lot of Senegalese dancing and a lot of Guinea dance.$$The Guinea coast is--$$Um-hum, but I like knowing a lot of all, all of it because we always have to use it, you know. Right now, I never thought I--you know, I wasn't thinking that come Kwanzaa and Malcolm X College on the twenty-sixth, the president is being installed and they're using, and they're doing the Asante ritual for it. And we have to, and I'm able to pull, go back and get that dancing that goes with that ritual, you know. So it gave us a lot, you know, to pull from.$$Okay.$$And then another thing about the African dance is, and we're so happy about, is that we learned to learn, to learn about the culture that the dance came from too.

Lerone Bennett

Historian Lerone Bennett served as the executive editor of Ebony for almost forty years. His written work deftly explored the history of race relations in the United States as well as the current environment in which African Americans strive for equality. Bennett was born on October 17, 1928, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to Lerone and Alma Reed Bennett. When Bennett was young, his family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, and it was here, while attending Jackson's public schools, that Bennett's interest in journalism was initiated.

Bennett attended Morehouse College, earning a B.A. in 1949. He always considered Morehouse as the center of his academic development. After graduating, Bennett formally entered the world of journalism as a reporter for the now defunct Atlanta Daily World. He became the city editor for the magazine and worked there until 1953, when he began his work as an associate editor at Jet magazine in Chicago, Illinois. In 1954, Bennett became an associate editor at Ebony and he was promoted to senior editor of the magazine in 1958. Since then, his comprehensive articles became one of the magazine's literary hallmarks.

A series of articles originally published in Ebony resulted in Bennett's first book, a seminal piece of work, Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619-1962. The book, with its comprehensive examination of the history of African Americans in the United States, gave Bennett the reputation of a first-class popular historian. In his eight subsequent books, Bennett continued to document the historical forces shaping the Black experience in the United States. His other works included: What Manner of Man?, Pioneers In Protest and The Shaping of Black America.

Bennett received numerous awards such as the Literature Award of the Academy of Arts and Letters, Book of the Year Award from Capital Press Club and the Patron Saints Award from the Society of Midland Authors. He served as advisor and consultant to several national organizations and commissions, including the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Bennett's articles, short stories and poems have been translated into five languages.

Bennett passed away on February 14, 2018 at age 89.

Accession Number

A2002.167

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/29/2002

Last Name

Bennett

Maker Category
Organizations
Search Occupation Category
First Name

Lerone

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

BEN01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Chicago, Illinois

Favorite Quote

Never give up.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/17/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Greens (Collard)

Death Date

2/14/2018

Short Description

Historian Lerone Bennett (1928 - 2018 ) served as the executive editor of Ebony magazine for almost forty years. His written work, including a seminal piece of literature, "Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619-1962," explored the history of race relations in the United States, as well as the current environment in which African Americans strive for equality.

Employment

Atlanta Daily World

Jet Magazine

Ebony Magazine

Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lerone Bennett interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett talks briefly about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett remembers his earliest memories and the sensorial aspects from his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett describes his passion for reading as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lerone Bennett shares stories about his mother's influence on his education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lerone Bennett comments on his education in the segregated South

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lerone Bennett recalls the oppressive, violent racism in Mississippi during his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett remembers racist incidents he saw while playing in a band as a teenager in Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett describes his the neighborhood of his youth in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett talks about his family's musical talent

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett discusses his study of Abraham Lincoln

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett recalls his favorite teachers and his decision to go to Morehouse College

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett recalls his first impressions of Atlanta and Morehouse College in 1945

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett remembers Morehouse College president, Benjamin E. Mays

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett discusses his career aspirations and his foray into journalism

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett talks about the journalistic issues covered by the 'Atlanta Daily World' in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett talks about John H. Johnson's recruitment of black journalistic talent for his magazines

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett analyzes John H. Johnson's visionary creation of a publishing empire

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lerone Bennett talks about his exciting early years at 'Ebony' magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett discusses his history series, 'Before the Mayflower'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett talks about how 'Before the Mayflower' was received by the general public

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett explains the choice of subject matter in his book 'Before the Mayflower'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett talks about how his books have been received by historical scholars

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett discusses 'What Manner of Man' and comments on the 'Negro Digest'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett compares public response to his 1968 article and 2000 book on Abraham Lincoln's racism

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lerone Bennett talks about his writings in relation to his work at 'Ebony' magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett talks about the difficulty in writing his book, 'Forced Into Glory'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett confronts his detractors regarding Abraham Lincoln

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett criticizes American scholarship for supporting the status quo

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett contrasts Lincoln's wish to deport blacks with Garvey and Theodor Herzl's calls for immigration of their people

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett discusses authors Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and racism in America today

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett comments on reparations for slavery, Part 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett comments on reparations for slavery, Part 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett discusses his hopes and concerns for African Americans

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett talks about changes in the African American community and its youth

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett details his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett discusses lessons he would like to pass on to youth

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett talks about what he hopes his legacy might be

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Lerone Bennett talks about John H. Johnson's recruitment of black journalistic talent for his magazines
Lerone Bennett discusses his history series, 'Before the Mayflower'
Transcript
Now who came to 'Ebony' fir--did Bob [Robert Edward] Johnson come--?$$(Simultaneously) Bob came first.$$He came first. Okay, and do you remember how that even happened?$$Well at the time--Mr. [John H.] Johnson started 'Ebony' in '45 [1945], and in '51 [1951] started 'Jet', and he was in the process in '51 [1951] or so, I guess, he planned a number of other magazines, all sorts of things he's planning. He was in the process to my understanding of trying to find and bring to Chicago [Illinois] all of the best black journalistic talent in the country. He was offering what was considered outrageous salaries to come to, come to Chicago. He brought a whole number of--Vincent Tubbs and [Art] Carter and people from the 'Afro [American'] in Baltimore [Maryland]. He brought Simeon Booker from the Nieman Fellowship, so he brought Bob [Robert E. Johnson] from Atlanta [Georgia], so he was in the process of bringing as many of what he considered good writers and photo-, photographers to Chicago, and he offered Bob a job and Bob came. And it's my understanding, I know it's true, that when Bob got here he told them that "There's another young man down there that you really ought to take a look at." and he did and he offered me a (unclear) job and I came here.$$And do you remember--So you came here with great anticipations. This is the 'Ebony', very very new in its beginning.$$Oh it was about eight years old but it was still a new thing.$$It was still new.$$It was still a new thing and the, the possibilities for journalism we thought were unbelievable, especially because we did a number of things, that--we traveled everywhere, money was not an issue. We traveled to the islands, to Africa. If there was a story in Los Angeles [California], we traveled everywhere. We traveled--if not first class, the same way other journalists traveled, so it was a very exciting era for blacks and journalists never seen before, so it was, it was a good time.$How did 'Before the Mayflower [A History of Black America]' fit within the context of this? Was it encouraged? Because it almost seems like, in many ways, it was an incubator, you know. I mean it's not how you describe but, you know, it could have been that you weren't encouraged to write so I'm just try--I mean when I say "write," write your-- a book. So I'm just wondering, you know, here you're saying, you know, people are learning how to sell advertising. You know, there's this whole push to do something of quality. You know, you're almost inventing things, doing something different than your typical black newspaper. But I'm just wondering, how did 'Before the Mayflower' come out of this thing, and it's--really comes nine years--it's published nine years after your coming to Johnson Publishing [Company].$$Well, it was a part of our--all explosion. I had been studying black history all my life, virtually. And as soon as I got to 'Ebony', we got, we began to get more letters saying, "You know, why don't you do something on this or why don't you do something on that?" And Mr. [John H.] Johnson said, "You know--you--we've talked about stories of what you could do." Said, "It would be a good idea to do a history series." Then the question was, who could do it? I said, "Well, I've been studying history all these years. I can do it." So he said, "Try it," and so I started the history series, and it was received, you know, very, very well. One of the things we tried to do in that and one of the things we were forced to do because we started out in a popular medium, one of the things we were forced to do is to try to make it dramatic, exciting, human, readable; the same sort of thing, same kind of feeling I got from M.B. Manning [at Lanier High School] in Jackson, Mississippi. So we tried to make it dramatic and human and readable, and people have been kind enough to say that we succeeded on some levels. So it was published in a book and, oh, that's been forty years ago, forty years ago this August. It's still August. Forty years ago and it's been selling well for forty years. And it was voted at the end of the century--a number of people and a number of lists--most of the lists said that it was one of the most important book, black books, of the 20th century. And we'd been doing that since and 'Ebony' was one of the leaders in the whole black history movement, the whole popular black history movement. Of course, Carter G. Woodson and John Hope Franklin and Benjamin Quarles and the great teachers in Chicago [Illinois] led that movement, but we had a chance to do something on a popular level, and we're still involved in it.