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First Person > Dorothy Pryor

Dorothy Pryor: Full Interview

portrait of Dorothy Pryor

Interview Clip #1:
Dorothy's Early Life and Education in Springfield, Massachusetts

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NM: Today is Thursday, June 18, 2009. This is Nathalie McCormick interviewing Mrs. Dorothy Pryor at number 320 Reed's Landing in Springfield, Massachusetts. Lee Hines is assisting with the further assistance of Thomas Gessing. Mrs. Pryor, would you just start by saying your full name and your date of birth and place of birth.

DP: Well, I'm Dorothy Jordan Pryor. I am eighty-five years old, I was born eighty-five years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and my parents brought me here to Springfield when I was just five months old. So Springfield, really, is my lifelong home.

NM: Now, where did you grow up in Springfield?

DP: I grew up mostly on Walnut Street, which was in the, just outside the Hill - in the Hill area, two blocks, ironically, from the Springfield Armory. But ...when I grew up on Walnut Street, there was a fire station across the street and I used to run, not walk, down High Street hill to get to Classical Junior and Classical Senior, where I went to school, and I, I loved to enter the library. I went down to the main library, and I was always so glad when I got out of the children's division and could go upstairs and could get to the big folk's books. [Nathalie laughs.]

NM: Well..., I guess you've started on my next question which is to talk a little bit about growing up in Springfield, and...if you would talk about your education, and um...you graduated from high school in 1941...

DP: Yes...

NM: Summa cum laude...

DP: Yeah...

NM: And so, I'd like you to talk about that, and...

DP: Well, school was wonderful because, for one thing, my mama and my father had had difficulty getting an education. I don't know how far, how far along my dad went, but my mother was just about to be able to go to secondary school when her aunt, my great aunt Jane, who ...interestingly enough still had kind of a slave mentality - she and her husband, uncle Richard, had been given their freedom as a wedding present. ...

NM: What year was that?

DP: I don't really know what year that was, but uh, she's...so this would have been when my mother ...was what, twelve or thirteen years old? Mother was forty years older than I was. My mother...I wasn't supposed to come along. But she did, but I did. Anyway, she snatched my mother out of school and my mother never got over that, because she loved school. She was going to a very good parochial school in Baltimore, and but, Aunt Jane decided that she had had enough education, so she snatched my mother out of school and put her to work in a laundry. ...

NM: Why do you think she thought she'd had enough education?

DP: Because of her own... experiences, I suppose. I don't know whether...I think I may have met... my Great Aunt once. I'm not sure. But I would have been too young, really to remember it, but you know, she had the slave mentality. She was so grateful to be free, she didn't think that education - higher education - had anything to do with what you did as a black person. You know, sometimes, we do more to ourselves, by assuming some...by making wrong assumptions. My mother never, never limited my dreams. She didn't have her dreams, so she let me do what I wanted to do, and when people would say, well, why are you letting her do all this reading and running around? Because I didn't raise her to wash - bust suds - in somebody's kitchen. So I was the, the product of, among other things, the recipient of my mother's dreams that, that had been dashed. So I was able to fulfill hers. I was blessed, really blessed.

Interview Clip #2:
Dorothy discusses the influences in her life, and supporting herself during college

Audio also available in MP3 format

DP: And then a lot of other influences in my life...my...I went to St. John's Congregational Church, which still exists here in Springfield, and ...The minister there, the senior minister there, was the Reverend [Dr. William Nelson] DeBerry, the Doctor DeBerry, who ...you know, for whom the school is named there now on...on Union Street, and who had been a trustee at Fisk University down in Nashville, Tennessee. So, when...I got a chance...when I graduated from high school, Dr. DeBerry saw to it that I got a small scholarship to go to Fisk. And...I didn't have any money. I was top of my class, but there wasn't any money. But I had...I was blessed in a lot of ways. Encouragement from my parents, particularly from my mama, and help from Dr. DeBerry, and from the - he was the senior minister ? but from, also from the Reverend Roland [T.] Heacock, who eventually, who, whom I knew as my pastor, really, there, and who eventually left the church to, to go back into the service so he could raise his own kids...give them an education. He visited me at Fisk once, oh, when I was a junior and did something that was so ? it?s funny how you remember things ? that was so beautiful. Fisk women were famous as, as...traditionally for being ...upper middle class black, and dressing, and having all kinds...and 'course, I was...I was a poor child.

NM: It was a coeducational school...

DP: It was coeducational... sort of. I'll tell you about that in a minute. But ...you know, I didn't...I was used to wearing hand-me-downs and going to second-hand stores and whatnot. I didn't have many fancy clothes, but I wasn't that...I was interested in trying to get my education. My mother, because she was denied one, had drilled it into me that getting your...getting an education was number one. And, I liked school. I liked to read, and I did well, and so, it was, it made me, made me who I was, really. In fact when I went to Fisk, I arrived with a couple of suitcases. All the other folk were arriving with trunks and chauffeurs and whatnot, and they looked at me kind of funny. And I just smiled, as Mama said, I didn't...And then when I came...at the end of the first semester I was at the top of the class, and they said, "Oh!" [laughs] It was funny! And that's how I got to be a member of a sor...I didn't even know what sororities were. But, actually, when I got to Fisk, I had...I had received from a chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, in Boston, two hundred and fifty dollars. Now, two hundred and fifty dollars in 1941was like five thousand now. And, I didn't know anything about sororities or anything. But I, when I made good grades, the sorority...well, all the sororities wanted me to join them, because your grade made...made a difference in what the sorority was able to do on campus. But, you know, I had only known this one, so I, at the moment I'm what they call a golden sor..I've been in that sorority over sixty years. But yeah, it, it was fun. But hey, that wasn't what I was interested in, and I just said, "I have to get the grades." And I got?em.

NM: Now, I would...

DP: I had good teachers.

NM: I would like to ask about. ...I know you came home to Springfield...

DP: Mm hmm...

NM: ...in the summers, and I'll get to that, shortly...

DP: Mm hmm...

NM: ...but I...I want to ask you about traveling, because that was during the war. You graduated from high school in 1941...

DP: Mm hmm...

NM: ...and then you went off to Fisk University and you came home in the summers. Was that a hardship for you?

DP: ...Well... I managed to get enough money, I guess. I did...I was...I guess you'd call it student ... employment on campus, and I just saved my money so I could go back an forth on the train, you know. Um, I had to work. That?s was one of the reasons why it was delightful to work at the Armory. That's what I did. I kept my grades up so I would have my scholarships, and I made the rest of the money working at the Armory...um...on split shifts whatever...wherever they needed me. And, you know, that was...there wasn't any such thing as student aid. [laughing] You, you worked and then you kept your grades up. And that's how I stayed there.

NM: You aided yourself.

DP: Yeah, well really. And, it was good experience. A marvelous experience....,

Interview Clip #3:
Dorothy discusses her work at the Springfield Armory, segregation, being "po'", "angels in unexpected places", and dating

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: Now, what did you do in the...talk about your job at the Armory.

DP: I was a...I was a shop checker. I was a relief checker for the ...production of the people working on the machines there, and uh, I...During the time I was there, you know, I worked whenever they needed me. Sometimes...and since I lived just two blocks away from the Armory, I sometimes had to work the eleven to seven shift. But in the early 40s, like that, there wasn't that much danger on the streets. I couldn't do it now. But I was only two blocks away. I walked, and I suspect my mother and father prayed, too, because they weren't, you know...they weren't fanat...religious fanatics, but they were both very, very strong Christians, and they just...they...they trusted the Lord to protect me. And ...it wasn't a dangerous time. It was, you know...And I didn't mind doing my...hey, I was a child of the Armory. I had lived...I'd grown up there, just two blocks away. I used to tell them...I'd tell the folks at the ...that program, you know...that I used to roller skate down that...that hill, and it made, made me, made my legs...I went so fast that my legs would be humming [chuckle] when I got down to the bottom of the hill. But I loved it. I used to...and, and you know...there were...I couldn't go into the, the skating rinks where they had...'cause those days...They didn't have political...or illegal separation, segregation, but you knew where you weren't welcome, and so you didn't go, you know? So...

NM: How did you know?

DP: Well, you know, you wouldn't be ...they might not even have let you in. But I didn't have the money anyway. Didn't matter. I was, I was po'. P-O-apostrophe. Too poor to have the whole word. [laughter] And it didn't bother, you know. For one thing, growing up in the 30s, almost everybody was poor. The only people who weren't poor were the kids from Longmeadow who... whose parents would take them out of private school when they got into ninth grade, so that they could go to Classical High School, which was like number three in the nation on college prep ones. I had marvelous teachers. I had a marvelous education. So it...I...I've always been so proud of being a product of Springfield in ter...in that terms. I...There was stuff I had I...I was able to take languages and I had...I had all the equipment to...the mental equipment and...and the support from my teachers, so that, you know, I did well. I was, in my class, top...top of my class. And it was interesting. I don't know whether this was...I know it wasn't gossip, but apparently there was one female teacher, whose name I don't really recall, who couldn't believe that this black child, African-American, Negro - whatever they were calling me - could be that smart. She said, wait'll she gets in my class. Well guess what? There were a couple of male, white teachers - well there weren't any black teachers, anyway - ...who used to be sure, at the beginning of the school year, that I was never in any of her classes. So when I graduated top of my class, there it was. It was interesting. You get angels all the most unexpected places. And I...one of the things I know about my life is that I've been blessed by angels in various and sundry places. You know, people who just were lovely to me, for whatever reason. So I...you know, I know that I have been...people say, you were lucky. I said, uh-uh. I wasn't lucky. I was blessed. I had good parents, I had good friends, I had good teachers, and the good Lord gave me a brain and I was able to use it. It was funny though, you know. I also...I wasn't pretty, but apparently I had a nice body and pretty legs. [laughing] And the fellas...(Well that's what my husband told me, too!)...but anyway, [laughing] the fellas over at ...Meharry Medical College there...those were the only fellows around when I was in school at Fisk, because the rest of them were all in the service. If fact, the fellows at Meharry were in the service, too. What was it? The ASTP ...? I don't know what that meant, but the, the medical...medical students, they were all...were, you know, they all had the...the sixty-four dollar question, and I had the sixty-four-fifty answer, "No!" [both laugh] You smiled, but you know...hey! I knew what I was there for...a purpose. And it was a temptation, 'cause some of those guys were handsome. But they had...they had a girlfriend in the city. They had one in the nursing school, there near the med school, and they were looking for somebody? No! But you didn't argue, you didn't get ugly, you didn't complain, you just smiled and said, "No. No thank you!" I had...I knew I was there for a purpose. I couldn't, in...you know...there wasn't anyway for me to screw up and go home. Uh-uh. This was my only chance. And so, I was blessed. The good Lord gave me the common sense. It was difficult sometimes. You liked being popular, 'cause I was a good dancer, too. But hey. Nooo, no thank you! [NM laughs] I have to do what I have to do.

Interview Clip #4:
Dorothy remembers the Great Depression, and recounts the story of her own birth

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: Now can we back up a little bit?

DP: Yes, ma'am.

NM: You mentioned being poor...

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: ...growing up, and... you grew up during the Great Depression...

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: What other memories do you have of that time? Of...specifically, how the, how the Depression affected you and your family, and...

DP: Well, we were living in a...a not very attractive neighborhood. We were on...we were right on... we were right on Walnut Street, right on the...we were right on the street car line ...we lived up over a couple of stores that were...One was a shoe store owned by the guy ...who owned the building. And the other was a...well it was started out to be a confectionary store, but the, the guy who owned it turned it into a, into a...a tavern, a bar after a while. And our door was right in the middle. And my mother used to tell me, you know, you don't...you aren't defined by anything but that...that door. So I had to go through...and I saw a lot of stuff, but hey, you know. I...my mother and father, particularly my mother, kept me focused on what was gonna keep me going. And except for the kids from Longmeadow, everybody was poor, you know.

NM: Did you have brothers and sisters?

DP: No, I was an only child because my mother had me when she was forty, and she wasn't supposed to have me. But ...there wasn't any such thing as birth control and her...my daddy was her second husband. My mother had been married before, had had a husband and a child, both to pass away. You know, at the turn of the century... I think she...she said her first husband was a laborer. I think from the look of the picture of her first daughter, whom I never knew - the sister - that he must have been a handsome man. But he dropped dead. You know, he didn't have...he was a laboring man. He dropped dead. And then when my, the sister that I never knew, when she was eleven or twelve, she died of some kind of illness that they probably would have been able to give her a pill for now. And I remember...I remember during my younger years, when I would...reached teenage years, my mother was so fearful that something was going to happen to me. She didn't keep me from doing things, but I sensed her...her anxiety, and it...it made me...I was much loved, but it...there was that fearful love and I...I kinda knew that...don't disappoint mama. You know, she'd been through enough. But, see...

NM: Now, you said you were born prematurely...

DP: Yeah. I was...

NM: Say again the year?

DP: That was 1923. I was...

NM: 1923...

DP: I wasn't supposed to be born until February of 1924, but I was born, and my mother...my mother and father were living with a friend, um, in a, ...in the...you know, in a tenement, with a friend. And her friend Mrs. Fisher, um, was...I guess my daddy was working, and ...she tried to help mother, and she... they wrapped my up in a blanket and put me over on a table somewhere, and when the doctor got there, Doctor Chauncy Harley, whom I think may have become rather famous in the field. Well he...doctors made house calls then. He came to see what was going on. He, you know, they got a message to him and he asked how my mother was. "Oh, Mrs. Pryor, Mrs. Jordan is poorly, doctor." "Well how's the baby?" "Oh the baby's dead." At which point, I yelped - over there on the table. And they...my mother teased me. She said, you know, you've been running your mouth ever since. [NM laughs] I think about it 'cause eventually... when I got to teach in college, I was teaching speech. And I... [laughing] So I think, you know, things happen! But I've has so many blessings in my life. Folks say, "You were lucky." Uh-uh! I was blessed.

Interview Clip #5:
Dorothy discusses the World War II years, rationing, and her parents

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: Now let's jump ahead again to your time during the war and you were going to college. I have several questions about that time in your life. The first is, did you...what do you remember about rationing during the war?

DP: Uh, I nnn...I don't remember that much about it because I had...we had been so poor that we almost rationed ourselves. But I remem...among other things, you know, I never got to eat a piece of steak until I was taken out to dinner during my junior year in college by a guy who was a serviceman who, who had met me and, you know, taken me out to a restaurant. And I saw that big piece of meat, and I pushed my plate in the middle of the table, 'cause I thought it was for both of us, and he [laughing] he giggled, he teased me about it. Oh you know, I think of that many times now, but...Hey! I never had steak. I didn't, you know...we had smoked shoulder ? we didn't have ham. My mother knew how to...how to make marvelous soups. She could take...take a bone and make all kinds of things. She was a marvelous cook. And it made it...You know, you don't miss what you haven't had. And moth...and mother made good rolls, and she...she was...she was a good cook. And could have made... actually could have made a good living for herself cooking for somebody out in, say out in Longmeadow. But she was insistent on staying home with...for two reasons. To, to see that I was well cared for, and she knew if she worked, that my daddy who was kinda handsome, and had, you know, had a lot of interesting ladies before he married her...he... [both chuckle] ...if she didn't keep him busy working, his nose to the grindstone, he would find other things to do! So [laughs] my mama...mama refused. She was...she was an expert laundress. She refused to do any kind of work outside, so that he'd have to take care of us. And he did. And ...eventually, my daddy was influenced by the people at St. John's church, particularly Reverend Heacock, and when my daddy passed away, he was the senior deacon at St. John's. And my husband was the senior deacon there when he passed away. It's...it's amazing the people who make a change in your life. And it did...he...he calmed down, but he...he was handsome, and the ladies had chased him and he thought was, you know...but he also knew that I was watching him, too. And daddy...my...my daddy loved me. And, I remember one time...I saw my father cry twice. I saw him cry when I was about, mmm, oh I guess was in my early teens. He was...his... job...he was...he worked for an electrotype company on Worthington Street ...

NM: Did you say...what kind of company?

DP: Electro, it was electrotype. I don't know what it, but it...

NM: Electrotype, okay.

DP: Yeah, But it was...And he was really very smart at stuff, you know. He didn't have a lot of formal education. But he was very, very...When he...when his company became...became unionized, they didn't want, they'd have to, they would have had to triple his salary. He didn't realize it, but he was working for much less than the other workers were making. And 'course, once they became unionized, they would have had to...he would find out what he wasn't making and...so they made him angry - and daddy had a temper - and he used some curse words and they fired him on the spot. That was the first time I heard...I saw my dad cry, when he cam home. But he went out the very next morning, and found a job working for what was then the Third National Bank for eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents a week. And my mother made that eighteen seventy-five support us.

NM: What year was that? Do you remember?

DP: Oh, I don't remember exactly. I think I might...might have been oh, what, twelve, thirteen? I don't know. I don't remember the year, but I remember mama made...so we knew all...I had all kinds of soups and stews and things, and we...you know, you didn't have roast beef, you didn't have... Mother...and my mother knew how to make, she made all kinds of goodies out of nothing, almost. So we had...Hey, so when I...that's why when I got to college and I got that steak dinner, I didn't know what to do with that steak. I hadn't seen that much meat [laughing] on a plate ever! And you, you know what? We laughed a lot. I learned from my mama that a good joke, you know, will cure...laughter will cure a lot of stuff. And I tried...I tried that in class, too. I had...I had...Teaching my students, I didn't take them seriously, that seriously. I didn't take myself that seriously - you can't. You, you know. I was also blessed to be a teacher. I loved what I did. And my kids know it.

NM: I'm going to ask you about your teaching toward the end of this interview...

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: ...'cause you said some interesting things to me on the telephone yesterday. DP: Uh huh.

Interview Clip #6:
Dorothy talks her experience of discrimination

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: So, I wanted to ask you also, during the war, you were going to Fisk University, in Nashville...

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: ...and, that was quite a time, and I wonder if you experienced discrimination or racism, and if so, what that looked like, and maybe how it might have been different from any kind of discrimination you might have experienced in the north.

DP: Well, you know, I wasn't aware as much of...of that much discrimination in the north, because, you know, we could go to...to the Arcade Theater that was on State Street for, for fifteen cents and you know...But one of the things about being at Fisk, was that it was a private school founded by the American Missionary Association people. It had an integrated faculty, and those people, by the way, had to live as if they were black because they, they were scorned by other people in, in the white community. But anyway. But it was respected. And...as a Fisk woman, if you went downtown, you put on shoes, stockings, hat, gloves, and, and...and what...you were a lady. And people kind of left us alone, because we were sort of different, special. And you know, it was interesting, I have a girl friend, I...we're still in touch. We went downtown one day, in our hats and gloves and whatnot, and we were...we wanted to go in, I think in the ...in Woolworth's, in the...and there were...it was interesting. There were two fountains, ...water fountains. One was...one said "White only" and the other said "Colored" and it was off to the side somewhere. And my...remember my girlfriend carefully peeled off her gloves, and took a drink from the "white" fountain, and when someone looked at her, she said, "I don't like colored water." [laughing] And then we left, of course, 'cause we... [laughing] you know, you...The other thing was, you were supposed to ride in the back of the bus if you got on one of the buses or street car. There were white students from Vanderbilt University and whatnot, who didn't believe in the segregation, either. And they would get on with cans of white, black paint and paint off the sign, paint over the sign that said for colored only, and they would get off before the dri... [laughing] before the trolley car driver understood what was going on. Oh, you know, it's uh...there were always... little signs that people, decent human beings, didn't really like what was going on, and things were going to change. Among other things, they changed because of the veterans, because of the guys in the service, you know. How can you have people go overseas and die for your country, and come back and not be respected? And, young folk were asking that question. You know? So. It was an interesting time. And I learned...something I'd always known...that there were...there were always good people, and that segregation and bias was stuff that was learned. It wasn't anything that anybody was born with. And I...that stood me in good stead when I was teaching, when I began teaching ? not when I began teaching, 'cause I began teaching it was an all-black college in...in Kentucky. But when I came up here and taught, you know, I'd have...there'd be parent's night. I remember when I was teaching at...at Technical High School... when they'd have parent's night, you know. ...The teachers always dressed up, you know. I had...I remember this night I had on a pretty grey suit, and navy blue accessories, and so forth, and I was standing in my door with my record book in my hand. And this family, this couple came up to me and they looked kind of past me, and, "Could you tell us where we could find Mrs. Pryor?" And I said quietly, "I'm Mrs. Pryor." And ...they looked at me, and kind of, in, well, you know, annoyance, and said, "We would like to speak to Mrs. Pryor." And I raised my voice a couple of..." I'm Mrs. Pryor." And they said, "Oh, but he didn't tell me..." I said, Look, let me tell you something. When students get in my classroom, the only color they're concerned about is my red pen. [NM laughs] They want to avoid it at all costs! And then I said, now, your son...or daugh...whoever it was...I said, you know, I took out the record book and told them what they were doing. But it was...it was interesting, because for a lot, a long time, I...you have to teach not only what you know, but who you are. And I...and I loved teaching, and I loved my students, and you know, hey, it was such a blessing.

Interview Clip #7:
Dorothy remembers her life as a teacher, and her husband's life as a teacher

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: Now what do you mean when you say you have to teach not only what you know, but who you are?

DP: You do the...you ha...it's your demeanor, your...your attitude about other people. About...about life's circumstances, problems, whatever, you know. I remember when I was teaching at Tech ...

NM: You're referring to Springfield Technical High School?

DP: No, I?m teaching at Technical High School now. I'm talking about Technical High School. There were a couple of kids in the class who, uh...we would now call them "gay" - they were homosexual. And ...the kids were...you know, kids can be real mean. And these...these two young fellows came into the class and the kids start...I said...I stopped class. I said, you know what? You don't treat anybody in my class with disrespect. Or you'll be in trouble. And they calmed down...'cause they knew I meant it. And those...later on, one of those kids, you know, got in touch with me, to thank me. Hey! You know, give me a break! Human beings are human beings. And, and you know, give'em a chance! Do what you have to do. It's like...it's like having somebody think you...you aren't smart because your face is brown. And you look at the...Who's that guy on the...who does the weather? The atmospheric stuff, and then I have to tell'em, you know...I used to tell my students, you know...the first doctor to operate on a heart was a...was a black man. And I'm trying to remember his name right now. I'm, I'm suffering from, you know, eighty-five year old...uh... [both laughing] memory uh...impairment...but, whatever. But um, I'm trying to think who he was. I'll get...the name will come to me when I don't need it. You know. [Dr. Daniel Hale Williams - July 9, 1893]

NM: Three A.M.

DP: Mm?

NM: Three A.M.

DP: Three A.M., yeah. Oh! That's who it was! You know, but...

NM: Now, your husband...Albert?

DP: Albert...

NM: Pryor...

DP: Albert Pryor.

NM: Junior...

DP: No. Yes, he was junior. My...my son was the third. Yeah.

NM: Uh...was...you told me, the first African-American person to be hired to teach in high school?

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: Would you like to talk about that?

DP: Oh, yeah. Umm...

NM: In Springfield.

DP: In Springfield. Well the pastor's council here in Springfield, which was a group of black pastors, had been trying to encourage the Springfield school system to hire more African-American, more black, more Negro - whatever - teachers. And um, but it...it you know, they weren't giving...there were two...there were few. But...but there were none in high school, and ...we had...I remember the name of the, the...the superintendent was ...William Sonders, and Esther Skelly was his...his assistant.

NM: Can you say that name again?

DP: Esther Skelly. I think I'm right.

NM: Esther Skelly. Okay.

DP: I think I'm right. Better check it.

NM: When I transcribe later it helps if we repeat it clearly.

DP: Yeah. Um...they...when, ...they were saying that they were going to have to lower the...lower the standards for hiring teachers, (excuse me), in Springfield, because they didn't have enough qualified applicants. And the pastors...the black pastors council said, Oh, I beg your pardon! There are people here who have all kinds of degrees, you know. Well, that made them think they had to hire...they didn't hire anybody who was...who was already here. That's when my pastor, Pastor ...Charles Cobb, who was pastor of St. John's, and who had known us when we were down in Kentucky, um...called us and asked...said Al should apply to teach here in Springfield. And, my husband sent in an application. We were both teach...on the faculty at what was then the Kentucky State College for Negros, is now Kentucky State University in Frankfort. But we were perfectly happy there, but...He said, you know, you could do this. And so, Albert applied, and 'cause with the...he was already admitted to candidacy for his doctorate at the University of Chicago, so they couldn't really say he didn't have his...didn't have the education.

Interview Clip #8:
Dorothy continues her discussion of her husbands and her own life as educators

Audio also available in MP3 format

DP: Um...so he applied, and they interviewed him for a job at Classical, and then sent him out to what was then Trade High School. And if you know about the movie, you know, Blackboard Jungle, where the...the high school where the kids were so terrible the teachers couldn't teach...Well, they senthim out to Trade. However, as it happened, the principal of Trade High School at that point was a man of principle. He had been in the Nav...he had been a Navy commander; he knew human beings when he saw them - he knew men, he knew good people - and that was Edmund P. Garvey. And ...he, when Al got there...my husband was real...older than the usual...He, he liked people, and he would...when the kids would act up in class, he'd grab'em by the ear and take them down to the principal's office and say, you can't come back until you bring your parents with you. But he...they...they knew that he liked people, and that he liked them, and that he was a good teacher. He was...he was a sociology professor, but he knew psychol...he knew...he was...he was good, good at what he did. And, Mr. Garvey would not sign the negative evaluation papers that, um...William Sonders and Esther Skelly would bring to him. He said, Oh, that's not true. I'm not gonna... And if he didn't sign it, it didn't become official.

NM: So those were negative evaluations of your husband.

DP: Negative evaluations of my husband, which had nothing to do with fact, and um, Mr. Garvey wouldn't sign'em. And when Albert had been there three years, of course, the rule was, he was...he became tenured. At which point, Mr. Garvey gave my husband all his classes in the morning, and said, now go on down to UConn and get your...and finish getting your doctorate. Which he did. And 'course, when Al got his doctorate, ...all of a sudden people said, Oh! And they hired...they changed him, and he became a counselor at...at Duggan, and he was...then he worked for special student services, and eventually...'cause he'd been teaching around other...other places, anyway. He'd been teaching night courses at Western New England, teaching night courses at, ...Westfield State. So he was...he loved what he did, and he loved students. And they knew he was good. And he knew life as well as, you know. He was excellent. So he...you know, he was great! So...

NM: Um. Now you have a Master's degree in English?

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: And where did you get your Master's degree?

DP: At the University of Chicago. Yeah. And that's why I got hired. That's really why he got hired. We had our Master's degrees in our discipline. That's why we got hired at, at...at STCC [Springfield Technical Community College]. You couldn't teach at a state...you can't even...I think, even now, you can't teach ...a subject matter at a state institution, state school, unless you have your advanced degree in your discipline. Didn't help to have a...a Master's in education. Uh-uh. I had my Master's in English, and another guy who was hired...we were both hired in the 70s, in '72 or 3, from Technical - we were teaching at Technical High - was a guy named Jim Curran, who ironically, also had his Master's degree from the University of Chicago. He was a biology teacher, and I was a...I was an English teacher. They were opening...expanding STCC, and everybody in the public schools wanted to be there, and nobody...he onl...they only hired two of us from the area because we were the ones...everybody else had gotten degrees in...in education. That was...wasn't what they were looking for if you wanted to teach in the high...in, on the higher level in...Massachusetts, I 'spose, and...you have your advanced degree in your discipline.

NM: So when you say STCC, you're referring to Springfield Technical...

DP: Technical Community College. Mm hmm. And he...I was teaching at Tech - Tech High School, and for a number of years, two or three years, I was voted the most popular teacher until somebody complained.

NM: Why did they complain? Who complained? DP: Well, some of the teachers. I don't know what they thought, but, you know. The interesting thing is, you know, I was invited back to the 40th reunion of the class of 1964, and I am...I was told I might get invited again, but we had...they honored me as a special teacher. Oh, I loved it. I...I liked kids and they knew it. And I taught the children. I didn't teach the subject. I taught them, and tried to encourage them to use the subject, because language is important. English is so important. Your ability to express yourself in many ways. You can get over a whole lot of things, if you know how to express yourself. We know about it now, because of, you know, the media...But, hey...

Interview Clip #9:
Dorothy remembers working at the Springfield Armory

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: Okay, now, I wanted to get back to...

DP: The Armory...

NM: ...your job at the Armory, and I had some questions about that. Uh, one is if...you did talk a little bit about what you did there...

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: What I would like to know is, what it was like, first being a woman working in a place where I presume they had mostly, probably before that time, had had all men.

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: And also what it was like to be...

DP: ...black, there...

NM: ...an African-American woman, and what that was like, and were you the only woman? Were you the only black person?

DP: Oh no, no. Actually, one thing that the war period did, was to make sure that everybody who could work and wanted to work, could. Uh and...it...color and gender became...race and gender became much less important than what you could do for the...for the war effort? And I, I know that our black veterans discovered that...our black soldiers discovered that. ?Cause you know, bullet has...a bullet has no...no racial connotation. And so, when you were working for the...working for the good of the country, you worked, you know. And there were more women, of course, than men. . The only black man that I knew then - he's still a friend of mine; he still lives in the area - was Miles Hatchet, Senior, who, I think had...had physical disability that kept him from...from being ...drafted. So he worked at the Armory, too. That's where I met him, actually. But ...you know, it was mostly women, 'cause men were...men were off to war. And your...I guess I was blessed, because having been at Classical Junior and Senior where I was very often the only black student in my class, and having learned as my...even...even from my mother, learned how to be appreciative of people, not worry about race, particularly, because my grades took me out of the racial situation and put me in top classes with top teachers who, you know, were just amazed at what I could do, and...and encouraged me. So you know, hey, whatever. So, ...when I was at the Armory, I...I knew how to take care of my job. For one thing, it was how I was going to college. And for another thing, I liked people and I wasn't...wasn't uncomfortable about people of different races. And 'course, I rem...and I had learned also, that you do...you do your job and do it well. So you don't have to worry about it. I learned to be truthful. I used to tell my students, I don't lie. And they said, You don't lie? And I said, No, because you have to remember...if you lie, you have to remember what you looked like, exactly how you said it, and how you held your mouth, the whole... I said, I am too lazy to lie. [laughing] I just simply tell the truth and... What is it? Tell the truth and shame the devil? Well, I loved what I did. I was...I knew it was getting me back and forth to school, so I just went. And it was mostly women, 'cause if a fellow was able-bodied, he was in the service. So I...I, you know...I checked people's ...production, you know, and I tried...I was bright enough to count and to be honest, and whatnot. And one of the loveliest experiences with...came the year, ...the summer of forty...four, I guess, yeah, the summer, the summer when I was going back for my senior year. This Armenian lady, Ida Garib, I...I still remember her name, who was a fantastic worker - I mean she had a...she could put out gun parts - I've forgotten what...what the little part was she was making - but she...she set the standard for everybody else in the foundry. She could really go great guns, sitting at that, you know...and I was accurate and...She had been watching me and whatnot, and when I got ready to go to school, she had taken up quiet...unbeknownst to me, a collection - and was...I remember it was 67 dollars, but in 1944, 67 dollars was like 670, you know, or more ? to help with my books. And I'll never forget it. She just...she wished me well, and got that for me. I...I think I'd...might of...I think she let go of the machine long enough to hug me. And I never forg...I never forgot that. She was so concerned, so impressed with my energy and my efficiency, and my concentration on the work. But, you know, most of the people were...were... women. There were a few ...fellows working there, but ...they were...they were there because they...their physical disabilities kept them out of the service. So, it was...it was great. It was a lovely experience. And, and I, you know, I just...I like people. And it has...it's always stood me in good stead in my classes, you know. The...the kids, you know, ...as I told you, Well, he never told me! I said, In my class, my kids are not concerned about what color I am. They, they want to get rid of that pen. [both laughing] You know. And it...it was great.

Interview Clip #10:
Dorothy shares more memories of teaching, and talks of being a "different product of the Armory"

Audio also available in MP3 format

DP: And I had a marvelous experience when I was teaching at Technical High School. Um...the one thing Don Gifford, ...understood that I was doing a good job in the class. But there was one...I remember he had...

NM: Now, who was Don Gifford?

DP: He was the presi...He was the principal of Technical High School when we had almost three thousand students. It was the biggest high school in...in the city. And I was down there and...some child who - one young woman - who couldn't do her work, or didn't do her homework, or whatever, had told her...her parents that I was prejudiced against her. So, they came to class...came to school to complain about this Negro teacher, black teacher, whatever, who wasn't doing right by their daughter. And ...Mr. Gifford sent the assistant principal up to the room, up to my classroom, and told me to come and bring my record book. And I wondered what was going on. I got down there, and...they wanted to know, um...she said you gave her bad grades 'cause you didn't like her. I said, Huh? And I said, Well now she...she missed...she flunked this test, she missed...she was absent from class, and so on and so on. And then, what was terrible, the parents turned on the child. I said, Look. Don't do that. She's maybe got other reasons why she didn't do well, but she was never disrespectful to me. She didn't do some of her work, but there may other reasons why. But don't get mad with her. You got mad with me. See what the trouble is. And Mr. Gifford winked at me, gave me my...and said, I knew you were the one - she had other teachers ? but I knew you were the one who could tell them what was going on. Uh, it was...it was lovely. And ...you know. I got a chance to teach at...at Tech, at STCC, because Mr. Garvey had remembered my husband, and remembered, you know. And, I didn't want to leave my kids at Tech. I liked them. I enjoyed them. I had the honors English class.

NM: You were there for thirteen years?

DP: Yes, I was there for thirteen years. I loved it. And they...they used to...they used to vote me my, their...their most popular teacher. [NM chuckles] You know that, I remember that...and, and you know, fifty cents will get you, maybe, an ice cream cone, whatever. [NM laughs] Don't get cute. [laughs] My...I remember my mother, "Don't get cute. Everybody puts his britches on one leg at a time." But, you know, it was nice. And they repeated that honor about four or five years ago, 'cause I was honored at their reunion. Got a standing ovation. I said, Oh Lord, you know. You have to...you have to keep yourself...I keep remembering what my mama used to tell me, 'cause she...Keep yourself, you know, grounded. But I...but I grew up near the Armory. It was just ironic that, 'cause I have...I've got a little pamphlet I'm try...trying to finish writing, when I talk about being a different project...product of the Armory. 'Cause I used to have...we used to...when I was ...growing up when we were...when I was in junior and senior high school, ...in the spring and the early fall, the public school kids at Classical Junior - see I went to Classical Junior - we used to have our gym classes on the parade ground. And I learned to hate field hockey, because in those days, they didn't have any equipment, and I got hit in the shins - Oh, that hurts! - [both laugh] with a hockey stick. Oy! I can still remember that. And then...but I learned to love soccer, 'cause I liked to kick the ball. And... you know. And I used to skate. I told you I used to roller skate as a kid down that hill. I loved it. So I...I'm a different product of the Armory. But I enjoy...

NM: A different product of the Armory.

DP: Yeah, yeah. Actually the Armory was important in my life for another reason, too, because when I was there, ...My daddy got a job there as a...as a janitor. And it was the first job where he was paid equal pay for, you know. That other place, he wasn't, you know?

NM: Equal pay for...

DP: For...for equal work, you know. I mean, he...his status wasn't determined by a prejudiced... foreman or whatever, as it happened to him when he was at...at the electrotype company. He was...he was good. Daddy was...daddy had a lot of mach...machine smarts. He was, you know, he was practically smart. He...he hadn't...growing up in Virginia he had been denied the kind of education he could have had, but he was...he was really quite smart.

NM: So equal pay meaning that he got the same pay as if a white person had the job.

DP: He got the same pay...Yeah, yeah!

NM: Okay, just to make sure I'm clear.

DP: Yeah. So you know, hey. But I...I had the lovely...I loved teaching. I loved my kids. I had a good time.

Interview Clip #11:
Dorothy offers a few final words

Audio also available in MP3 format

NM: Now we're coming up to the end of the tape...

DP: Mm hmm.

NM: ...so I want to give you the chance to make sure you've said everything you would like to say. If there's anything... You're sit... you're sitting there thinking, why didn't she ask me about this? I wanted to talk about that.

DP: I'm just really humbled by the opportunity, because you don't teach anybody what you know. You teach people who you are and where you've been. And I'm...I'm just delighted and honored at the opportunity to talk. I...I loved what I did. And if I can inspire somebody else to do it, fine. And, maybe now I'll get busy and finish up that little... [chuckle] that little booklet I was trying to re... write. [laughs] You know. My kids have given me a new computer, so once I get...and I'm not, I'm...I'm computer handicapped, a little bit. So I've got to learn how to use this one. But anyway. It's...I'm...I feel that I've been blessed. And, I hope I've been a blessing to other folk, 'cause I like people. Al, my husband and I got this place started. So, y'know...I have been blessed, you know. I don't have anything else in life that I want except to keep on doing what I'm doing, if I can. Keep moving. I'm slower, but you know, I'm not...I tell people, I don't do rush. I don't tell them I can't do rush, I tell them I don't do rush. [both laugh] But it's, you know. And it's...I enjoy being here because, you know, we all become family. We become family here, because we're all facing the same stuff. If it is...if it doesn't come today, it'll be there next week, or next month, or whatever. So. Thank you for the opportunity.

NM: Well, thank you for taking the time. It's been a real pleasure.

DP: God bless.

NM: Thank you.

 

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