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Ophelia DeVore

Pioneering entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore was born on August 12, 1922 in Edgefield, South Carolina. Her father, John Walter DeVore, was of German and French descent and her mother, Mary Emma Strother, was a combination of Native American and African American. During the 1920s, DeVore attended segregated schools until age nine, when she moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to live with her uncle, John Strother, who was co-owner of the African American transportation system, Safeway Bus Company. In 1933, her parents sent her to New York City to live with her great-aunt, Stella Carter, in order to complete her studies. DeVore received her diploma from Hunter College High School and attended New York University where she studied mathematics and languages.

Having attended the Vogue School of Modeling in New York, DeVore became one of the first African American models in the America in 1938 at the age of sixteen. Keenly aware of how African Americans were stereotypically depicted in the printed media, she made it her mission to change these images. In 1946, with the help of four friends, she founded the Grace Del Marco Modeling Agency and in 1948, she opened the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling. Since then, thousands of people have been nurtured by her agency including Diahann Carroll, Barbara McNair, Cicely Tyson, Richard Roundtree and Raymond St. Jacques. DeVore made a name for herself in Europe as well as in America. She is credited for entering Cecelia Cooper, an African American dancer, into the Miss Festival beauty contest at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, which she won. In 1960, LeJeune Hundley also from DeVore’s agency was crowned Miss Festival at the Cannes Film Festival.

In addition to her modeling agency, she owns The Columbus Times, a Georgia-based newspaper begun by her second husband, the late Vernon Mitchell. She has maintained the thirty-two year old paper’s strong journalistic excellence and emphasis on African American life and history. Due to her business acumen, she has served as consultant to many of America’s Fortune 500 corporations. DeVore has received more than 200 awards and honors from corporate, political, educational, governmental and social agencies.

DeVore lives in New York with her family.

Accession Number

A2006.035

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/14/2006

Last Name

Devore

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Hunter College High School

Edgefield Academy

I.S. 164 Edward W. Stitt Junior High School

New York University

First Name

Ophelia

Birth City, State, Country

Edgefield

HM ID

DEV01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Comment allez-vous?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

8/12/1922

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Turkey (Dark Meat)

Death Date

2/28/2014

Short Description

Fashion and talent entrepreneur Ophelia DeVore (1922 - 2014 ) became one of the first African American models in America in 1938. She is a co-founder of the Grace Del Marco Modeling Agency, and founder of the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling.

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106638">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ophelia DeVore's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106639">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore lists her favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106640">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore describes her mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106641">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her parents' interracial marriage and her identity as an American</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106642">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her father, John DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106643">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore describes her parents' personalities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106644">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore recounts her earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106645">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore describes meditating as a child and her early determination to change perceptions of people of color</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106646">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore remembers holiday celebrations as a child</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106647">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about mimicking her mother's poise and attending boarding school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106648">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore remembers living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with her Uncle John Strother, co-owner of Safeway Bus Company</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106649">Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Ophelia DeVore talks about attending the white Stitt Junior High School in New York City, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106650">Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Ophelia DeVore talks about a memorable experience at the Cannes Film Festival</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106651">Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Ophelia DeVore talks about attending the white Stitt Junior High School in New York City, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106923">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ophelia DeVore recalls her early years in the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106924">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore describes the founding of Grace Del Marco and attending the Vogue School of Modeling in New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106925">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the beginning of her charm school in 1948 and the departure of her co-founders from Grace Del Marco</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106926">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore describes her co-founders at the Grace Del Marco Agency</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106927">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her first husband and integrating her children into her business</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106928">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore talks about working as a fashion columnist</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106929">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore recalls the events leading up to her heart attack in her early twenties</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106930">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore talks about training her models for fashion shows</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106931">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore recalls the models of color that broke into the fashion industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106932">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about starting ABC's 'Spotlight in Harlem' with Ralph Cooper</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106933">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore remembers HistoryMaker Diahann Carroll's breakthrough in 'Jazz Train' and 'Chance of a Lifetime'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106663">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Olivette Taylor shares her testimonial about Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106664">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Devette Taylor shares her testimonial about Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106665">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Patricia Myers shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106666">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Eleanor Williams shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106667">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barbara Adamoli, a teacher at the Ophelia DeVore School, shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106668">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Pamela Pryor, co-president of the Ophelia DeVore School alumni association, shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106669">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Catherine Peppers, a teacher at the Ophelia DeVore School, shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106670">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Camille Petty shares her testimonial on Ophelia DeVore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106671">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dell Pinckney, one of the first students at the Ophelia DeVore School, shares her testimony</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106672">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore talks about guiding Cecelia Cooper's historic win as Miss Cannes Festival 1959</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106673">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore describes Helen Williams' historic feature as a model in Johnson & Johnson's "Modess...because" ad campaign</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106674">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore talks about LeJeune Hundley's coronation as Miss Cannes Festival 1960</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106675">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her husband, Vernon Mitchell, publisher of the Columbus Times</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106676">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore recalls her role as a marketing consultant at Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough Corporation in getting black models on TV</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106677">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore talks about HistoryMaker Diahann Carroll's start in television and her marketing strategy that appealed to whites and blacks alike</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106678">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore talks about how she met her second husband, Vernon Mitchell</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106679">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the Nigerian Civil War</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106680">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about working as an investigative journalist in Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106681">Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore details her lawsuit against Life magazine in 1971</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106682">Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the racism she encountered in the modeling industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106683">Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Ophelia DeVore talks about Beverly Johnson, Vogue's first African American model, and her lawsuit against Life magazine</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106684">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ophelia DeVore remembers her students including Cicely Tyson, Bea Richards, HistoryMaker Susan Taylor, Gil Noble, and Richard Roundtree</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106685">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ophelia DeVore recalls how she helped ABC's first black newscaster Melba Tolliver get in the door</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106686">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ophelia DeVore describes her plans to go into the nursing industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106687">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ophelia DeVore talks about Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Emily Post and her training at the Vogue School of Modeling in New York City, New York</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106688">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ophelia DeVore talks about her health issues and her pride in her children</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106689">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ophelia DeVore talks about the Columbus Times</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106690">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ophelia DeVore describes the importance of history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106691">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ophelia DeVore describes her hopes for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106692">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ophelia DeVore reflects upon her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106693">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Ophelia DeVore talks about how she would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106694">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Ophelia DeVore and Camille Petty talk about the Ophelia DeVore School alumni association and the school's nursing initiative, pt.1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/106695">Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Ophelia DeVore and Camille Petty talk about the Ophelia DeVore School alumni association and the school's nursing initiative, pt.2</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

2$6

DATitle
Ophelia DeVore describes the founding of Grace Del Marco and attending the Vogue School of Modeling in New York
Ophelia DeVore recalls her role as a marketing consultant at Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough Corporation in getting black models on TV
Transcript
Well, what year did you or what provoked you to attend the New York Vogue School of Modeling?$$Okay, well, what happened, we opened--I, I was convinced to start the business by five, four of my friends. So there were four or five of us that started the business in 1946.$$Can you name the five people?$$Yeah, let's start with Marie Mell [ph.] was one--and I'm starting with her because I'll tell you why again. Albert--what was Al's--Murphy was the other one, Al Murphy, M-A-R-C--Charlie Mell [ph.], Rupert Calendar [ph.] and Ophelia DeVore. Okay, that was the five of us. And the reason why I put them in that order because in order to get the name of an agency, we had "Grace" by these five people. "M", was Marie's first name, "A" is Albert's first, you know, letter, first letter in his name, and so it goes down. That's how we got the name. Often people say, who is "Grace"? There's no such person as Grace, Grace Del Marco. It's "Grace" by these five people. But we were in the business only about a couple of years. But there was no money. There was no market for it. We weren't making any money. But before that happened, before they left, now, we started an agency, and then, in our naive minds, to think that they had people ready to go into the modeling business, knew the modeling--and who had the knowledge and be experienced, even if they didn't have experience, they have the knowledge. They didn't have the knowledge. They didn't have the experience. They didn't have the awareness most of the time, of a, of a modeling business. So if you're going to have it and make sure the business is successful, you've got to have people who are totally prepared. So to do that, then I went to the modeling school to get a complete background, to get a finished background. In other words, when I was modeling before I was using my ballet background because, actually, the modeling profession is based on ballet, the poses and the movement and what not. And so I had to go and get a background. And I went to Vogue School of Modeling. And that was on 57th Street and 5th Avenue. Now, I went through the whole class and, and had a great time, wonderful. They just loved me. They, you know, thought I was just something. I guess they thought I had a suntan. I don't know what it was, but anyway, I, I--and I say that because, yes, at the end of my class program, a young lady came in who wanted to join the school. And she was cafe au lait, and my goodness, you'd think we were, the whole place was on fire. Everybody was going crazy in the school. And I was wondering, and I was, you know, I was young. I didn't know what was happening, what was going on. So finally, someone said, oh, we have someone who is not white out here, and, you know, and they want to join the school. So I was so naive, I didn't know they didn't know I was African--or black or whatever, African American or people of color. I--in my mind, this is the way I thought. I was a teenager. I said, if they didn't know what I was, they were pretty dumb because they were adults. See, that's the way (laughter) I figured it out. And, but that's how bad it was. That's why I went to the Vogue School of Modeling, to get that thorough background 'cause I don't like to do something and get up there and guess because, as it was, you know, people get up there, and they'll take a pose and the pose might look good to someone who doesn't know, but it looks ridiculous to someone who is professional. And then, if you're going to tell your clients to use certain type models and what not, you want to make sure they are showing the clothes in the acceptable fashion.$Matter of fact, at one time, three of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, three of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, two of them were my clients, you know. And well, Schering had, Schering was the other, one of my other pharmaceutical firms. And they wanted a larger share, and they had products too. They felt that they could, we could have people of color to carry--as the, as the message carriers. And so I told 'em, so we--that's when, I said, okay, well, we'll do that. So I showed them how to do television, how to bring blacks into television in a modeling way and as a communicator. Now, you remember I told you I had to get experience with Ralph Cooper a long time ago? You know, see, all that stuff you learn and get experience, comes in handy. So when I was their marketing consultant, I told, okay, let's go on TV. Bring the models in TV, the people of color. And they did, and they made a fortune. They made a fortune, and they loved me, and, and that's how we got in TV. They made TV commercials, and some of the commercials were across the board. They didn't just go into white--black publications. They went into white publication and other publications too. But if you made it in a way that it was acceptable by the majority population, they weren't offended. They weren't offended. So you had to present your company's message so it doesn't offend anybody, you know. And you communicate with them, and they wanted to, you know, buy into it. And that's what I did.

Lenny Springs

Business executive and former member of the NAACP's national board, Lenny Fitzgerald Springs, was born on April 25, 1947, in Edgefield, South Carolina to Leonard Springs and Mildred Morgan. Graduating with a B.S. degree from Voorhees College in 1968, he began his career as project director of the Greenville, South Carolina Urban League from 1976 to 1979, and went on to serve as its deputy director from 1979 to 1982 and executive director from 1982 to 1983.

In 1983, he moved into a role as communication relations officer at Southern Bank, and in 1985, he joined First Union Corporation as senior vice president of the Corporate Relations Division. In April of 2002, after the merger of First Union and Wachovia Corporation the previous year, Wachovia named Springs as director of supplier diversity. In that role, he promotes public awareness and institutes progress programs for community advancement and community reinvestment. Springs has also worked on small and minority business and education advancement programs.

Involved in many other organizations, Springs serves on the board of directors of Boy Scouts Southern Region. He is vice chairman of the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission. Still active in the NAACP, he is chairman of its Special Contribution Fund Board of Trustees. He is past president, founder, and board member of the Charlotte, North Carolina Chapter of 100 Black Men of America. He has served on the boards of Central Carolina Urban League, the Southeast Regional National Alliance of Business, the Business Policy Review Council, Carolinas Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc., Florida Memorial College, Elizabeth City State University, South Carolina State University Foundation and Spirit Square. He is past president of the Voorhees College National Alumni Association and the National Urban Bankers Association, and has served on the board of visitors at Barber-Scotia College and Johnson C. Smith University.

Springs was named one of the Outstanding Young Men of America in 1973 and 1979 and received the NAACP’s Legal Award for South Carolina in 1980. The Greenville Branch of the NAACP honored him with an award in 1984. He also served as a sergeant in the United States Army for two years and received two Bronze Stars and an Air Medal for his acts of heroism in the line of duty.

Accession Number

A2005.159

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/11/2005

Last Name

Springs

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Evenings, Weekends

First Name

Lenny

Birth City, State, Country

Edgefield

HM ID

SPR01

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth and Adults, Civil Rights and Business

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $500 - $1,000

Favorite Season

Fall

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Youth and Adults, Civil Rights and Business

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hilton Head, South Carolina

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/25/1947

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charlotte

Country

USA

Short Description

Bank executive Lenny Springs (1947 - ) was the Director of Supplier Diversity for Wachovia Bank and Trust Company. In that role, he promoted public awareness and instituted progress programs for community advancement and community reinvestment. Springs has also worked on small and minority business and education advancement programs.

Favorite Color

Black

DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13353">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of the Lenny Springs interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13354">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lenny Springs lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13355">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lenny Springs talks about his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13356">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lenny Springs talks about his father's family and their involvement in the NAACP in the 1950s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13357">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lenny Springs describes his parents' personalities and occupations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13358">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lenny Springs recalls the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood in rural South Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13359">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lenny Springs describes his work ethic and his competitive personality in his teen years</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13360">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lenny Springs talks about his formal education through high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13361">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lenny Springs talks about Strom Thurmond and other South Carolina politicians</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13362">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lenny Springs discusses South Carolina's demographics</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13363">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lenny Springs relates his high school experience during segregation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13364">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lenny Springs discusses his activities and the teachers that influenced him in high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13365">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lenny Springs talks about race relations in Edgefield, South Carolina in the early 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13366">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lenny Springs the national political climate of the early 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13367">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lenny Springs talks about his move to Atlantic City after high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13368">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lenny Springs recalls his experiences at Voorhees College</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13369">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lenny Springs recounts his stint in the U.S. military</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13370">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lenny Springs discusses his involvement with the NAACP and the Urban League</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13371">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lenny Springs talks about his decision to pursue a career in banking</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13372">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lenny Springs details his role in the banking industry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13373">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lenny Springs details his involvement with Vernon Jarrett and ACT-SO</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13374">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lenny Springs expresses his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13375">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lenny Springs reflects on possible changes in his life's path</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13376">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lenny Springs considers his legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13377">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lenny Springs discusses his family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/13378">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lenny Springs describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

Serena Strother Wilson

African American griot, master-quilter, educator and entrepreneur Serena Strother Wilson was born in Edgefield, South Carolina, in March 18, 1934. Wilson grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Williamson, West Virginia. Wilson attended West Virginia State College from 1952 to 1955 and earned her B.S. degree in elementary education from Bluefield State College in 1968. She went on to earn her M.A. degree in psychology and guidance in 1973. Wilson taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in Columbus, Ohio, and in Heidelberg and Berlin, Germany. Wilson also tutored special education students in Oklahoma, Virginia, and in Germany. She retired from the Columbus Board of Education as a consultant and teacher supervisor with the Department of Special Education in 2000.

As a child, Wilson learned the basics of quilting, a family specialty. She also learned about the “code” hidden in the patterns of the quilt blocks that had been handed down to five generations of her family from Wilson’s great grandmother, Eliza Farrrow, to her grandmother, Nora Bell McDaniel, to her mother, Mary Eva McDaniel and her aunts Ozella and Katherine, and then to her. She passed the knowledge on to her daughters Teresa Wilson Kemp and Maria Denese Wilson and to her grandchildren. After mastering the art of quilting, she made these works of fiber art available to people in South Carolina, Ohio and communities across the country. Wilson and her daughter, Teresa Kemp, founded and run the McDaniel Secret Quilt Code Museum Exhibit, a program designed to increase public awareness of quilting and its place in African American history. The history of the family’s quilting traditions is the subject of Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, a book by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Dr. Raymond G. Dobard.

Serena Strother Wilson is married to Colonel Howard Wilson, a retired army veteran. The couple resides in Columbus, Ohio.

Serena Strother Wilson passed away on February 9, 2012.

Accession Number

A2005.066

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/16/2005

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Strother

Organizations
Search Occupation Category
First Name

Serena

Birth City, State, Country

Edgefield

HM ID

WIL24

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii, Africa

Favorite Quote

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/18/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Columbus

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Meat, Fish, Vegetables, Fruits

Death Date

2/9/2012

Short Description

Quilter and elementary school teacher Serena Strother Wilson (1934 - 2012 ) is an African American griot and has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in Columbus, Ohio, and in Heidelberg and Berlin, Germany. Wilson and her daughter founded and run the McDaniel Secret Quilt Code Museum Exhibit, a program designed to increase public awareness of quilting and its place in African American history.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15603">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Serena Wilson interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15604">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Serena Wilson shows a Nigerian sankofa bird carving and explains its meaning</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15605">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Serena Wilson's favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15606">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Serena Wilson describes her mother's background and ancestors</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15607">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Serena Wilson describes her father, a white man who married across the color line and supported black rights</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15608">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Serena Wilson discusses Reconstruction in Edgefield County, South Carolina and her interracial ancestry</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15609">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Serena Wilson talks about her father's lessons and the importance of children having pride</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15610">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Serena Wilson discusses Strom Thurmond's interracial relationship</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15611">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Serena Wilson shares memories of childhood in a biracial family in Edgefield, South Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15612">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Serena Williams recalls her maternal grandparents and farm life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15613">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Serena Wilson remembers her grandmother's quilts and superstitions</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15614">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Serena Wilson discusses her siblings and cousins</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15615">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Serena Wilson recalls helping her grandmother with textile crafts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15616">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Serena Wilson describes her childhood environs, South Carolina</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15617">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Serena Wilson recalls her family's quilting and other customs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15618">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Serena Wilson gives an overview of her school life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15619">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Serena Wilson talks about her children and their families</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15620">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Serena Wilson discusses gender roles throughout her family's history</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15621">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Serena Wilson recalls trying to avoid taking French in high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15622">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Serena Wilson recalls her courtship and marriage at West Virginia State</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15623">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Serena Wilson remembers visiting family who moved to Ohio for work</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15624">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Serena Wilson recalls moving to Columbus when her husband went to Vietnam</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15625">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Serena Wilson details her first teaching work in Columbus, Ohio, 1968</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15626">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Serena Wilson recalls trips to Paris while her husband was stationed in Germany</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15627">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Serena Wilson describes her renewed interest in quilting</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15628">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Serena Wilson discusses her quilt shops and making quilts for family</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15629">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Serena Wilson recalls her family's superstitions and psychic powers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15630">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Serena Wilson discusses African symbols in quilt patterns, the "quilt code" and the popularity of black culture</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15631">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Serena Wilson shares final reflections</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15632">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Serena Wilson considers her legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/15633">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Serena Wilson discusses the recording of African American history</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Serena Wilson shows a Nigerian sankofa bird carving and explains its meaning
Serena Wilson recalls her family's quilting and other customs
Transcript
Before we go any further would you like to explain the, the meaning of the carving that you're holding?$$Yes. This is a carving from Nigeria, West Africa. It's called a sankofa bird. I was in Nigeria and the family that we were there visiting had a lot of children, in fact twelve was in the family. And I said to one of them, "What a silly thing. Look at that bird with its head turned backwards." And they said "Oh this is not a silly bird. This is the sankofa bird [from Akan mythology]. It's saying look back at your history and learn all you can about your family and then you'll know who you are and you can move forward." So I decided that I would always keep a sankofa bird handy, I would tell my children about it, school children, university students, anyone that I met or talked to would learn about the sankofa bird. So I think it's so important for people to know who they are and then they can appreciate what their ancestors did to get them thus far.$My grandmother [Nora Bell Farrow McDaniel] in the evening or even when it was raining would not work out in the garden or in the field. This is a time when the women could get together to quilt or in the winter. Neighbors would come. They could bring a covered dish, pie or a cake or pot of stew or something and they would share that while making quilts. This was when my grandmother would go over Bible verses. We had to know our Bible verse for Sunday school. Also she would have us repeat our numbers, the alphabet and spelling of the different names in the family. We would sometimes be on the front porch but generally in the house in the evenings unless they would burn old rags in a bucket or a barrel to keep the mosquitoes away. Then you could be outside doing whatever on your porch or under the tree. But if you didn't have that say mosquito repellent I'll call the burning of the stinky rags, then you would have to be inside with the screen door to keep the mosquitoes away. But that would be a time when the women could quilt. In the winter when they couldn't work in the fields they could exchange patterns and visit and quilt. My grandmother taught us the secret messages in the quilts on such an occasion as in the evenings or in the winter when they would be quilting. She had a frame in her house that would be suspended from the ceiling. It was -- there were hooks in the ceiling and the rope that would pull the frame up at night. The, the frame would not be down where we would be walking or talking, eating or whatever. Maybe it would say take two or three weeks, two or three months you know however long it took her to finish it. I would say at least a month or more. But she maybe would have two or three quilts going, some on her lap. Maybe she would have some in a box that hadn't been finished and then the one that would be suspended from the ceiling. So we always had something to do on the farm. It might be shelling peas, it might be peeling fruit to put in a large pot to boil it, parboil it and can it. She would also do sausage in jars to preserve that as well as hang it in cloth bags in the smoke house with the hams and sides of bacon which would really be pork, the pork meat. They usually killed hogs say in the fall maybe around Thanksgiving when it was the coolest period and then this is a time when you would be needing quilts in the evening. So if some needed repairing that's a time that you would do that. But in teaching us the secret messages she told us, "Don't tell anyone. Never talk about the secret quilt code." And so even in the 70s [1970s], 80s [1980s] 90s [1990s] and now sometimes my friend will say, "Serena we didn't know you could do that." or "You never talked about quilting." or "You never mentioned it." and they'll say Howard, to my husband, "Can Serena really do that kind of work?" And of course they you know will be able to see that I do quilt a little bit.$$Okay, well that's an interesting point because I understand now from what you told me about your grandmother that you learned to quilt early on. But did that stay with you throughout your teen years and college and your career as an educator or did you come back to it at some later point in time?$$Well I did not quilt in my teen years.