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22 chapter two Our Day Will Come Throughout my school years, the association between speech and power—and punishment—was strong. I was a reader at home and I can remember being called on to stand in front of the class to read in grade school. Sometimes, a teacher would select a member of the class to take a ruler and hit the hands of other students for punishment. At least once, I was selected for that role. I distinctly recall the feeling of power it gave me and that I recoiled from that feeling. Other measurements and punishments were meted out during my grade school years. I remember being self-conscious about my short hair; my sister’s hair was longer. I remember being teased at school for having short hair. A beauty standard, or being considered “cute,” was tied to whether the girl’s hair was straight or kinky, short or long. I knew I was not in the category of “cute” and in grade school I started to think of myself as unattractive. But I found safety in books and reading and in disappearing that way. I felt acceptance with my close girlfriends like Anna Cruz and Beverly Griffin from the neighborhood. And I knew my mother thought that my sister and I were very special. I knew it from the way she talked with us and the way in which she shared her affection and hugs. She loved to dress me and my sister up in little dresses and she always had a camera and took our pictures. But that affirmation all but disappeared once I went outside our door. In fact, there was a little girl across the street who was bigger than me, Jeanette, who beat me up regularly on the way to school. Perhaps had my older brother Tyrone been around, I might have had protection, but he left home to join the Air Force just before I ended elementary school, when he was seventeen. My sister and I attended Girls Polytechnic High School, which no longer exists. My mother was insistent that we both attend Girls Poly even though Jefferson High School was the neighborhood school, 23 within just a few blocks’ walking distance from our home. She wanted us to get a good education. There was a rigorous admission process and grade point average requirement at Girls Poly. The school was divided into a college track and a vocational track. My mom wanted us to have access to the college track. I don’t think it was ever spoken but I believe she also wanted to keep us away from boys. She was focused on getting her daughters a good education even if it took us out of the neighborhood, so we applied and were accepted. A few other girls in our neighborhood also went to Girls Poly, like Anna Cruz and Charlotte Rivers, and we had a ritual of getting together and walking to school in the mornings. We walked all the way from our home on North Williams Avenue to N.E. 24th and Everett Street. There was fun and adventure in our walks, and time for talking and socializing. The student body at Girls Poly was around five hundred total; my graduating class of 1965 numbered fewer than one hundred. My neighborhood classmates and I talked regularly about our feeling of alienation, and the sense that we were in a hostile environment at school. I wanted to take the “Business Machines” course—which at the time meant typing, primarily—and the teacher of that course let me know that it was a waste of time since there wouldn’t be any job opportunities for the colored girls with those skills after graduation. My mother advocated for me to be able to take that course. When I started at Girls Poly I wanted to be a nurse. The nursing school I had my eye on was at Emanuel Hospital and they did not allow Black students until the 1970s. So Business Machines was already my second choice in a school environment that pushed Jim Crow on Black students in our training and employment. My guidance counselor also insisted that Business Machines was a waste of my time and pushed me towards Commercial Foods. That track included courses in cooking and job placement in that field. With my mom’s support I avoided Commercial Foods and was able to enroll in Business Machines. Jim Crow at school made Girls Poly...


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MARC Record
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