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Henry Ponder

Henry Ponder was born on March 28, 1928 in Wewoka, Oklahoma. He was the eleventh of fourteen children born to Frank and Lillie Mae Ponder. Ponder excelled in academics and participated in his high school student council as the class president. After hearing a speech by Mary McCloud Bethune, Ponder was inspired to become a university president. He graduated from Douglas High School in 1946 and attended Langston University, where he pledged the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and received his B.S. degree in agriculture in 1951.

Ponder served two years in the United States Army during the Korean War. When he returned to civilian life, he worked as a research assistant at Oklahoma State University. He then earned his M.A. degree from Oklahoma State University and his Ph.D. from Ohio State University.

Ponder served as both Chair and Assistant Professor for the Department of Agriculture and Business at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia. He also served as the Chairman of the Department of Business and Economics of Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia. Additionally, Ponder was the Vice President of Alabama A&M University in Normal, Alabama. In 1973, he fulfilled his dream by becoming President of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. After an eleven year tenure, he became the President of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee for twelve years. While at Fisk, Ponder was honored as one of the “100 Most Effective College Presidents in the United States.”

In 1996, Ponder left Fisk University to serve as the CEO and president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. In early 2002, he became President of Talladega College in Alabama. While in his presidency, Ponder helped retain the 160-year-old institution’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Ponder currently lives on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina with his wife of fifty-five years, Eunice. They have two adult daughters.

Ponder was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 29, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.033

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/29/2007

Last Name

Ponder

Maker Category
Schools

Oklahoma State University

Johnson Grove School

Langston University

Douglas High School

The Oklahoma State University for Agriculture and the Applied Science

The Ohio State University

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Henry

Birth City, State, Country

Wewoka

HM ID

PON02

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

All

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

No

Favorite Season

Birthday

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: All

State

Oklahoma

Favorite Vacation Destination

Senegal, West Africa

Favorite Quote

Take Your Time, Not Your Life.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

South Carolina

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/28/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Hilton Head Island

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Oysters on the Half Shell

Short Description

University president Henry Ponder (1928 - ) served as Vice President of Alabama A&M University, President of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, President of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and President of Talladega College in Alabama.

Employment

The State Training School for Incorrigible Negro Boys

Tinker Air Force Base

Virginia State University

Fort Valley State College (Ga.)

Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College

Benedict College

Fisk University

National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Henry Ponder's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder describes his maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder recalls his childhood in a large family

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder remembers lessons from his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Henry Ponder describes his siblings, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder describes his brother, Tinch Ponder

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder describes his sister, Katheryn Ponder Brown

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder describes his brother, Paul Harding Ponder

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder describes his sisters, Mayme Ponder Jackson

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder describes his remaining siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder describes his chores on the farm

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder describes his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder recalls being responsible for the farm from an early age

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Henry Ponder remembers growing up during the Great Depression

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Henry Ponder describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder recalls the Johnson Grove School in Wewoka, Oklahoma

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder remembers Douglas High School in Wewoka, Oklahoma

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder recalls hearing Mary McLeod Bethune speak

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder describes his extracurricular activities in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder describes his childhood entertainment

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder recalls how his family avoided the effects of the Dust Bowl

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder describes his decision to attend college, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder describes his decision to attend college, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Henry Ponder describes his first year at Oklahoma's Langston University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder recalls meeting his wife at Langston University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder remembers his academic success at Langston University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder describes his professors at Langston University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder talks about the role of college fraternities and sororities

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder talks about how fraternities changed in his lifetime

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder describes fraternities' community involvement

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder remembers his graduation from Langston University

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder recalls being drafted to serve in the Korean War, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder recalls being drafted to serve in the Korean War, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder remembers his promotion to sergeant in the U.S. Army

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder describes his experiences in Korea and Japan

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder recalls his graduate studies at The Oklahoma State University for Agriculture and Applied Science

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder remembers joining the faculty of Virginia State University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder recalls earning a Ph.D. degree at The Ohio State University for Agriculture and Applied Science

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder talks about voting rights and segregation in Oklahoma

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder remembers segregation in Virginia and Oklahoma

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder remembers the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder recalls the reaction of Virginians to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's death

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder describes his daughters' births

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder remembers moving to Fort Valley, Georgia, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder remembers moving to Fort Valley, Georgia, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder describes his civil rights activism in Fort Valley, Georgia, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder describes his civil rights activism in Fort Valley, Georgia, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder describes his experience at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Huntsville

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder recalls the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder recalls the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Henry Ponder describes how he became the president of Saint Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Virginia

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder recalls his decision to reject the presidency of Saint Paul's College

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder remembers his presidency of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder talks about expanding the academic programs at Benedict College

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder recalls his decision to become president of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder talks about achieving his goal of becoming a college president

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder recalls his presidency of the National Association for Equal Opportunity and Higher Education

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Henry Ponder describes organizational involvement

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Henry Ponder describes his work as a consultant in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Henry Ponder describes his presidency of Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Henry Ponder describes his involvement in the church

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Henry Ponder remembers receiving his first honorary degree

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Henry Ponder talks about his retirement in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Tape: 7 Story: 13 - Henry Ponder talks about his older daughter, Cheryl Ponder

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Henry Ponder talks about his daughters' educations and careers

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Henry Ponder describes his marriage to Eunice Ponder

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Henry Ponder reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Henry Ponder describes his message to future generations

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Henry Ponder describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Henry Ponder narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$7

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Henry Ponder recalls hearing Mary McLeod Bethune speak
Henry Ponder remembers his presidency of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina
Transcript
Had you thought about what you would like to become?$$Yes, I did. And this is another anecdotal story that I'll tell. When I was in the seventh grade [at Johnson Grove School, Wewoka, Oklahoma], I heard, and I don't know how I heard this, because I didn't read it in the newspaper, that's my point. And we didn't have television, and I know it wasn't on the radio. So, I heard it, that Mary McLeod Bethune was speaking in Wewoka [Oklahoma] at a Methodist church one night. And I said, "I'm going to go hear her." Now during this time--let me back up a little and say that during this time, the greatest person in the African American community, when I was in the seventh grade, was a college president. I mean that was something that nobody thought you could ever become. It was like you're flying to the moon now. But this was a college president, and I'm four miles in the country, and I walked four miles into town to hear her speak. And my mother [Lillie Mae Edwards Ponder] let me go, she thought--and again, I think about all these things and say that my mother even knew how important it was for me to hear this person speak, because it might do something for me. I mean she never told me this, but now as adult, that's all I can make of it. And I walked in and listened to Miss Bethune speak. She had on a mink coat, I remember that. And apparently, it was fall, or chilly, and the church wasn't heated apparently, because she didn't take her coat off. All of this is in retrospect now, I'm guessing. And I listened to her speak, and goodness, I was so impressed with this woman. She was just outstanding, she was a dynamo. And then I walked four miles back home from that. And in that trip from that church to home, as a seventh grader, I said "I'm going to be a college president." So, Miss Bethune was my role model. And now let me just hasten to say, when I made that decision, I had enough realization to know what it took. If you're going to be a college president, first of all you've got to finish the eighth grade. I mean, these are things that just fell into place. Then you've got to go to high school. You got to graduate from high school, then you got to go college. You got to graduate from college, and then you've got to go to graduate school, you know, all these things. As I progressed, I realized that all these things had to be done. And that thought is the thing that drove me to do the education that I have been fortunate enough to get.$Then a few years later in '73 [1973], I was offered a job as president of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, and we took that. And that was a good experience, a very good experience. We had all the things that we wanted, and we were able to do some things to make sure that the college grew. We increased the endowment, added some new programs, increased the enrollment, and increased the number of Ph.D.'s on the faculty. We did all the things that we should do. We raised money; we were able to raise quite a bit of money, and we left the place with about $13 million in the endowment. So--$$The endowment was very--well, let's talk about Benedict College. Because historically it was a college that was established for recently emancipated African Americans. Is that right?$$That's correct.$$So, how did you feel about that part of the history of the school?$$Well, I took pride in that part of the history. It was, it was started by the, the first president was Henry Tisdale [sic. Timothy L. Dodge]. And a lady from Boston [Massachusetts] gave the money to buy the land to set up the first school, to set up the first building for the recently emancipated African Americans. And I felt very good about this, and felt that the school needed to stay true to that heritage, rather than trying to hang out its shingle as educating the elite. Rather than that, we ought to make sure that we try to educate those youngsters that have difficulty getting into colleges and universities on a general basis. So in other words, I took the position that if I had a choice--if I didn't have but five positions left in my freshman class, and had a choice between five students who had the highest GPA [grade point average] possible, or students who just barely had a GPA for admission--I would take the five on the lower end, because those on the upper end could always go someplace else if they wanted to, and those on the lower end couldn't. So, I took that position. I also took the position that we hang our shingle out as an open admissions college. And an open admissions college means that you accept students where they are, and proceed to move them to where they ought to be at graduation, so let's stay true to that image rather than trying to compete for the high scoring students. And I also reasoned that if we tried to compete with Harvard [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts], we can't do that. Harvard knows how to educate smart people, they know how to do that. If we tried to compete with them on that, we'd lose every time. But Harvard does not know how to educate youngsters who need to be motivated. We know how to do that. Let us continue to do that, and let Harvard continue to do what they're doing. If we do that, then there will always be a place for a Benedict College.

Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams

Reverend Dr. Ruth “Teena” Williams was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on October 4, 1927. Williams attended public schools in New Orleans, and after graduating from high school, she enrolled in Xavier University, earning her A.B. degree in 1947. She then attended St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, earning her master’s of science in medical social work in 1950.

After earning her master’s degree, Williams moved to Chicago and was hired by Cook County Hospital as a social worker in 1950. In 1955, she was hired by the city of Chicago to work as a social worker with welfare recipients, and in 1957 she went to work for the Veterans Administration. In 1959, Williams joined in the family business, Unity Funeral Parlors, and went back to school to become a licensed funeral director and in 1964 she became an embalmer. Williams served as president and chairman of the board of Unity Funeral Parlors, as well as serving as president of Unity Limousine Services.

Wanting to help people, Williams enrolled in the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1977, and she earned her master’s of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees in 1980. Since then, she also earned a certificate in Anglican studies from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and her Ph.D. from the Chicago Theological Seminary at the age of eighty. She served as a part-time priest at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in Chicago.

Williams was involved with numerous civic organizations, including The Links, Inc., the women’s board of the Field Museum and the Chicago Network. She had numerous awards bestowed upon her over the years, including the Spirit of Love award from the Little City Foundation and special recognition from the Links.

Williams was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 26, 2004.

Williams passed away on June 6, 2011.

Accession Number

A2004.147

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/26/2004

9/15/2004

Last Name

Williams

Middle Name

Teena

Schools

Valena C. Jones Elementary School

McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School

Xavier University of Louisiana

Saint Louis University

Worsham College of Mortuary Science

Chicago Theological Seminary

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary

Institute for Spiritual Leadership

First Name

Ruth

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

WIL17

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Quote

Thank You, God.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

10/4/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Catfish (Fried), Beans (Red), Rice

Death Date

6/6/2011

Short Description

Funeral director and priest Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams (1927 - 2011 ) was president and chairman of the board of Unity Funeral Parlors and president of Unity Limousine Services. She also served as a priest at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in Chicago. Williams passed away on June 6, 2011.

Employment

Cook County Hospital

City of Chicago

United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Unity Funeral Parlors

Unity Limousine Services

St. Edmund's Episcopal Church

Unity Mutual Life Insurance

St. James Episcopal Cathedral

St. Margaret of Scotland

Favorite Color

Blue, White

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers stories about her mother's childhood in Pass Christian, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about her father's family in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams explains how her parents' relationship began

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams lists her siblings, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams lists her siblings, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers Creole culture in early twentieth- century New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 in New Orleans, Lousiana

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the economic situation of Creole families during her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls Creole Mardi Gras traditions

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about the evolution of Creole identity, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about the evolution of Creole identity, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams explains how voodoo was incorporated into Creole Roman Catholic religious practice

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers Catholic kindergarten at Corpus Christi Church in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls Valena C. Jones Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her family and school life during childhood

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers extracurricular activities at McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls her time at McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers graduating at age nineteen from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls experiencing class discrimination at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her ambivalence upon graduating from college in 1947

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls initial challenges at St. Louis University School of Social Work in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls her final year at St. Louis University School of Social Work in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her social work career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her social work career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her transition to a funerary service career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her late husband's work with Constant C. Dejoie, Sr. at Unity Mutual Life Insurance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls convincing her husband that women can lead, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls convincing her husband that women can lead, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about experiencing gender discrimination when applying to Chicago Theological Seminary

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls studying for master's and doctoral degrees at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers experiences at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about her conversion to the Episcopal Church

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about founding a widows' support group, LARUTH

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams explains widows' experience of isolation

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes the necessity of ministers trained in funerary service

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams talks about her current doctoral studies at Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her call to ordination at her mothers' deathbed in 1987

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls her husbands' death during her journey to ordination

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams remembers her ordination as an Episcopal priest in 1987

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls experiencing gender, age, and racial discrimination early in her career as an Episcopal priest

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams reflects upon discrimination in the Episcopal Church

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams reflects upon her life

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

10$2

DATitle
Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams recalls Creole Mardi Gras traditions
Reverend Dr. Ruth Teena Williams describes her social work career in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2
Transcript
Now, do you remember Mardi Gras and that sort of thing when you were (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, yes. Mardi Gras was the big thing (laughter). So important that when I first left home, and I only knew predominantly Roman Catholics, you know. When I first left home, I--it just never occurred to me that there were people who did not know about Mardi Gras. As far as I knew Mardi Gras was celebrated all over the world. Now, mind you, I'm an adult now. And I just never thought about it that way. And so I did not go to work for Mardi Gras, nor did I report in, 'cause I didn't think I had to. I thought everybody took off for Mardi Gras (laughter). And I had the rude awakening that everybody did not know about Mardi Gras, and so--but it was a big day for us, very big day because we had lived through Lent and--I mean we're about to go through Lent. So it starts really, you start celebrating at Christmastime. Everything is very holy, getting ready for the birth of Christ, and then for the New Year, and then right after that, you know Lent is going to come soon. And so you have dances and you have cotillions and you have--so when we would call ourselves poor, but that didn't stop you from being in the cotillion and having a beautiful evening gown and all of the trappings that go with it. So you, you participated in all of these things, and, and that was a big event. And the day of Mardi Gras, everybody got up early. My mother [Louise Cassimere Prudeaux] made a huge, huge, maybe two pots of red beans and rice, and potato salad. These are foods that you can put in the refrigerator and take out. And even before the refrigerator, I can remember the icebox, where you had things in the icebox. And then you can take 'em out and put 'em on the stove. But everything was freshly cooked, but to preserve it so you would not have any spoilage, and you'd have food all day long and not run out. Now, I can't imagine that today. But I can remember as late as my leaving, you know, to go away to graduate school [St. Louis University School of Social Work, St. Louis, Missouri], that my mother never ran out of food, and she would have food--and people could stop in all day long during Mardi Gras. And, but it was mostly like red beans and rice, and sturdy food. And people enjoyed that and looked forward to it, you know. And everybody had a costume of some form or fashion. We didn't buy costumes at the store. You made 'em at home. And you tried to be imaginative. Now, I don't remember us ever being Indians [Native Americans]. There was a group in other areas that were [Mardi Gras] Indians. That was in the area--not the Creole area. The Creoles, to my knowledge, were not Indians. Now, that's another story.$$The black folks would (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Right, they would dress like Indians.$$The Wild Tchoupitoulas and--$$Right, right.$$Okay.$$And then they had the [Krewe of] Zulu--I don't know when the Zulu parade started, but the Creoles never participated in that either until late years when they started participating.$I didn't know much about narcotic addiction during that period. Before I left there, I learned about it, and I learned about it more from the maternity section where the women, the--that was--and I didn't work on that ward, and I was glad that I didn't have that assignment, 'cause I was staunchly Roman Catholic still, and the discussions of abortion, which was illegal, but all of that was coming up, you know. So I was glad that I didn't have to have that, but as our coworkers, as we talked and shared stories, in the casework meetings, drug addiction came up. And so I learned more about drug addiction through that, not through users, but through babies who got it from their mothers, you know. So that was a very wonderful experience in both the inpatient--that was one of my first efforts, first time being recognized. A story was done in the [Chicago] Sun-Times, I believe it was. I believe that was the paper, and--showing me in one of the wards as--me and my supervisor talking with a patient at the bedside and showing medical workers not just in what people usually think of as a social worker, but in the professional part of social work. That was a nice story. And then another time, I was invited to participate in a radio panel discussing social work and what it meant and the involvement of it. And I was very proud of my, my field then. And I left Cook County Hospital [John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, Chicago, Illinois] and went, I worked for one year as a consultant for the City [of Chicago, Illinois] during the time when they had the city welfare department separate from the state welfare [department]. Then they merged, and I left the system and went to the Veterans Administration. And I worked in the V.A. West Side [Medical Center; Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois] in the outpatient department. But my assignment was to work with the quadriplegics and paraplegics of World War II [WWII]. And I had inherited that caseload of about four hundred. And I had only two African Americans in that caseload. All the rest were Caucasians. Many of them incurred their injury not in battle, but rather in--it might have been swimming in London [England] or somewhere and injured their head or something that sort, accidents, but while in service. And they were given everything that they needed, special housing, special automobiles, special everything, you know. That was an interesting experience, but it never measured with County Hospital experience. That was the most wonderful experience in my professional life, most wonderful experience. I really had a sense of helping people, although sometimes it was discouraging 'cause you'd have repeat situations and you--because you were not ongoing. It was while you were in the hospital--while the person was in the hospital or being transferred. Your ongoing relationship was when it was in the clinic, where you had an ongoing relationship.