The Memory Book is a signature NMAAHC initiative launched with the first version of the NMAAHC website in 2007. Memory Book was conceived as a social network dedicated to collecting the memories and histories of our visitors.
From 2007 - 2011, our community shared almost 100 entries with us. This initiative was such a success and the memories so moving that we are sharing them with you here.
"For too long, others have spoken for us."Lonnie G. Bunch Founding Director, NMAAHC
- An Autobiography
- From Rags to Royalty
- Getting Out and Giving Back
- Growing Up in South Africa
- March on Washington
- My Parents and History
- Remembering Nelson Mandela
- Senate Lunchroom Integration
- Storytelling through Quilts
- The Negro Girl
- By: BrendaBoyte
Contributed on July 07, 2011
Charity Hospital - New Orleans, Louisiana - 1950 7:00 A.M. Monday, May 19th While I was being brought, kicking and screaming into this world (an event of great personal importance) there were many other, more important things happening in the world.
This was the year that the U.S. recognized the new state of Vietnam and gave it military aid. U.S. forces were first used in the Korean conflict this year and Senator Joseph McCarthy started the Communist Witch Hunts. This was also, with my help of course, the year that the U.S. population jumped to 151 million.
Between my first and sixth birthdays, nothing very exciting happened in my life. In the world the Korean conflict subsided and Vietnam was becoming more volatile. In the U.S. blacks were starting to protest and boycott segregation but this didn't concern me in my small part of New Orleans.
In late childhood at about the age of seven or eight, summer vacations at my grandparents' home in Garyville, Louisiana were always full of times to remember.
Between eight and twelve years of age, aside from my childhood awareness expanding, there was nothing really spectacular happening in my life.
But1963 was an eventful year for me. As a young adolescent I was more aware of the world outside my immediate family and friends. This was a time that I heard and understood for the first time a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King in which he stated, "We shall overcome." At about the same time we were moving to Chicago, I remember the massive march on Washington in support of equal right for blacks, in which Dr. King gave his most famous speech, "I have a dream."
It was August that year when our family left New Orleans and we moved to Chicago. We were all excited and anxious about the move but at the same time apprehensive and scared. My dad had been lucky enough to get a partnership in a cleanup company. Soon after we settled in Chicago, I saw my first stage performance, "Raisin in the Sun," which happened to be the first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway in 1959. Also within these first three months in Chicago, President Kennedy was assassinated (Nov 63) while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. I remember the feelings that came over me, almost as if it were yesterday, when during my English class an announcement came over the loudspeaker and we were hit with the news of the president's death. My stomach felt like it does when riding a roller coaster over the top, a sort of adrenalin rush.
Chicago during the mid sixties was like a time bomb set to blow at any moment, and it did. In July 1966, there were race riots, mostly in the slum areas. With so much ignorance, corruption and greed, most blacks couldn't see what was being done to them by themselves. Until this time I'd not known what prejudice was and I found myself in for a rude awakening.
While watching the evening news with my family, we heard that the church we attended had been bombed. Luckily this was on a Saturday and no one was in the church at the time. We also heard that in all the rioting in the city, many more blacks were being hurt and killed than whites, Hispanics or Asians and my mom said that it was because people are so afraid of being good to one another. I could sense the uneasiness in her voice and the look on her face as she paced the room, seemingly to check if everyone was there.
This was also my time to grow, to test my wings and experiment with life; finding out who I was and where I was going. At age 16 I felt I had all the answers when I dared to explore with Johnny Smith. On Sept. 23, 1967, at age 17 I gave birth to my daughter, Rosalyn Joyce. I dropped out of high school in my senior year with the thought of returning next year to graduate because I had to take care of my baby first.
By November I had let my mom and Johnny's mom talk me into marrying him. This wasn't what we wanted but at the time thought it was what we had to do to keep the peace and make everyone happy. By March of '68 I signed up to take the G.E.D test since it became clear that I would not be going back to high school.
On the very day I was scheduled to take my G.E.D. test in April 1968, there was news about the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. All hell broke loose in Chicago as it did in many large cities around the nation. As soon as the news broke, store owners started closing and locking everything down. Transportation in some areas was at a standstill. I remember feeling empty and lost for a while with what seemed like a void in the pit of my stomach. I knew that the world had lost someone very important. Needless to say, I didn't take the test that day or for that matter that year.
The late '60s were a turbulent time and besides the racial unrest in the states, the war in Vietnam was going strong. Every day there were reports on the number of casualties of both soldiers and civilians, theirs and ours and there was growing feeling that the U.S. was wrong to be involved in that war. In Chicago 100,000 militants gathered in Grant Park in 1968 to protest the rising death tolls. They called it the "Festival of Life."
By this time I had separated from my husband and had moved back into my parents' home. By the time I was 20 years old I had successfully gone through my first divorce. We parted as friends mainly because we both knew we shouldn't have gotten married in the first place. Also we agreed that there was no reason for us to remain in a marriage that had no future. Rosalyn would always know Johnny as her father and we would always be there for her.
This was also the point in my life when I had to do some real soul searching and decide what to do with my life in order to make a life for my daughter. By age 23 I had gotten my G.E.D. and had started taking practical nursing courses while I kept my fulltime job at the Thorek Medical Center as a ward clerk.
My life went along fine until I became ill and had to drop out of school in order to have surgery. Between 1974 and 1978 my life was at a standstill. My hospital stays were usually anywhere from 30 days to 4 months, depending on the type of procedure or surgery.
Finally, I stayed out of the hospital long enough to get back to work and save enough money to leave Chicago. Not only the city but also the weather had taken its toll on me. By Feb. of '79 I returned to New Orleans, back to my roots so to speak. The hardest part about getting back was leaving all my friends and most of my family in Chicago. I also had to leave Rosalyn there with my mom until I was able to send for her.
Note from Rob Boyte: This autobiography stopped here but it was an unfinished work in progress. In April 1979 Brenda went to work at Hope Haven/Madonna Manor, a home for boys and adolescents in Marrero across the river from New Orleans. There she met Rob Boyte in 1980 and began a life with him. The rest as they say is history.
The picture submitted is of Brenda as a Student Nurse in 1974.
- By: ctvnusa
Contributed on December 26, 2009
Martin Luther King, Jr. dream of racial harmony is in our Swinton Family motto: “Although we started from rags, the richness of family photographic treasures has made this a royal heritage of caring through sharing.” Back in the late 1700’s when my ancestors were slaves from Ghana, West Africa, who would have ever imaged finding the descendents of the people who were the former slave owners. This trilogy of the puzzle from Charleston, South Carolina to Little Rock, Arkansas in 2000 led us to the very doorstep of the Scottish Swinton’s that owned 65 African slaves to grow rice on their five plantations. William Swinton was a Scottish nobleman and the royal surveyor of Charleston, South Carolina in 1740. He needed knowledgeable rice growers and slaves to cultivate his plantations. In honor of our African and Scottish ancestors, we named our African American organization after the Royal Surveyor to the Crown, William Swinton. Fast forward to today, my name is Sonya Swinton and I am a proud African American and the chief executor of the Royal Swinton Society. This family organization was formed ten years ago (2000) and will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2010. We owe our humble gratitude for the tremendous genealogy research of Gary RR. Swinton in Melbourne, Australia (Scottish Heritage) www.swintonfamilysociety.org family and my relatives –Terrence Montgomery(cousin) Los Angeles, CA and Gwendolyn Swinton (aunt) Dallas, Texas (African American Heritage) www.royal-swinton-society.org. Gary Swinton and his Swinton Family Society Newsletters provided the back drop to how the African American Swintons came about (the family newsletters even contained copies of the wills of the slave owners and the names of their African slaves with the items that the slaves inherited from their slave owners, such as pillows, combs and items of furniture, etc.) The Swinton Family Society provided the research with photographs of the Scottish Swinton’s with history spanning from 1100 AD King David of Scotland to the present day. Gary Swinton basically found & researched most of the Scottish Swinton family branches in Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA (with over 77,000 detailed information on Swinton families and their relatives), and I became inspired to find the African American Swinton family branches in the USA. Both of our organizations worked together to form a historical and photographic family newsletter to assist each other with the family research. The Swinton Family Society web site www.swintonfamilysociety.org includes genealogical ancestry charts of our African American Swinton family (chart #39) along with their Scottish family charts of Tilda (Katherine Matilda) Swinton family (chart #2b) the OSCARS® Academy Awarding actress. In 2007, the African American Royal Swinton Society was the first African American family organization selected to perform in the New York Tartan’s Day (Scottish Heritage) parade. Although it has been a tremendous effort and challenge to locate all the African American Swinton branches, it has also been a wonderful and rewarding experience with the help of the Internet. So many different nationalities have contacted our society with genealogical research of African American & European Swinton Heritage. Our Swinton Family motto is: “Although we started from rags, the richness of family photographic treasures has made this a royal heritage of caring through sharing.” In essence, we would like to say, “Thank you to Martin Luther King, Jr. for your dream of racial harmony.”
- By: RodAdkins
Contributed on May 17, 2011
When I was growing up in a tough Miami neighborhood, a career in engineering and technology was the furthest thing from my mind. Many of the kids I knew in that challenged environment were headed for very different futures.
Some of the older kids were being drafted to serve in Vietnam and were never to be seen again. Meanwhile, many of my peers were also being taken too young, but not by anything as honorable as serving one’s country. They were being taken by the streets – victims of drugs, crime and violence.
Through the support of my parents, excellent educators, my dedication to the martial arts, hard work and some luck, I got out. I went on to study physics and engineering and found my calling in technology. This led to a very rewarding career at IBM, where I still work today.
As I reflect on my neighborhood – and think of countless neighborhoods like it throughout the U.S. – I see a systematic stifling of curiosity in math and science among minority and underprivileged students. I think one of the ways to change an equation like that is to get personally involved.
In 2006 I was fortunate enough to be able to do just that for some students at Georgia Tech, the university where I earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering. I created a President’s Scholarship Endowment to assist minority students from challenged environments who show an aptitude for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In a targeted but meaningful way, the scholarships help bridge the digital divide and counterbalance the repression of STEM education among this group of students.
America’s shifting demographics make it especially important that we encourage minority students to pursue science and engineering education. Today, 43 percent of school-age children are of African American, Latino or Native American descent. If the U.S. is to remain competitive in a globally-integrated economy, we will need more of these kids to study science and engineering. That’s because jobs in those fields are disproportionately important to our economy. Only five percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, but they’re responsible for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion.
I still spend much of my time in Miami. And while I’ve come a long way since my childhood, my neighborhood will always be a fundamental part of who I am. Yes, I got out. But it’s not enough to just get out. I believe it’s how we give back that really counts.
- By: Faried_88778
Contributed on May 07, 2007
I grew up in South Africa during 1961 - 1982 and of course, it was challenging on many levels. One of my greatest needs at the time was to understand what was going on around the world, especially in the US and the struggle of American Africans. We knew a lot about the current African leaders including Moishe Tsombe, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta and the Maui Maui, Julius Neyrere and Gamal Nasser, leaders of the Pan African and Pan Arab movements, but we did not have easy access to information and news of the African American experience.
Growing up I went to Preswich Primary School which was next to Cape Town Harbor and on a clear day you could see Robben Island. I quickly learned as an elementary school student who was imprisoned there and why. One of my earliest political activity was to distribute pamphlets for meetings that was banned by the Government. I was so scared I would hide it in my pants. Looking back I wonder what those people were thinking as they came to answer the door and there is that little standard 5 boy (7th Grade) pulling a pamphlet from inside of his pants. Of course some of them were supportive and some would ask if my parents knew what I was doing?
At the time, South Africa had strict censorship laws under the Apartheid system so any materials that might be perceived as inspiring and motivating to South Africans were banned. To this degree, all writings and publications by African Americans and their struggle for civil rights in the US were banned. I remember every Friday afternoon having to hitchhike from the suburbs where I lived into town to get to the US Information Agency in Plein Street, Cape Town. They had all these banned books and I could read them there because the SA Government did not have jurisdiction there. They would also show the US evening news broadcast and I could keep up to date with what was going on in the US.
I found great inspiration in the lessons from Booker T Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. There were numerous others but growing up these were the people that helped to shape my thoughts. Washington and Du Bois were the inspiration to continue with my education until I received my Doctorate and in all things it was in the field of Education.
Other than the academic and intellectual activities, I also enjoyed listening to American Jazz, especially artists like Charlie Parker, and Junior Cook among others but my favorite was always Blue Mitchell.
- By: nsimmo_51432
Contributed on May 24, 2007
As an Afro American child I remember my father, who was a church pastor on the south side Chicago, organizing neighborhood citizens to attend the 1963 March on Washington. I understood that something big was underway; I really wanted to go with my dad to this event. I was just a 4th grader and couldn't make the bus trip, only adults were going. Little did I know the historic importance of the trip and the "I Have a Dream" speech of Dr King. My dad was excited on his return, motivated by the sprit of the times to make things better for his family. I could sense a change underway, but I really didn't understand integration, segregation, and why I couldn't do whatever I wanted. Thanks to their presence in our nation's capital that day and subsequent marches and demonstrations I was able to benefit a few years later as I pursued my "Dream."
The integration initiative was sweeping the Chicago public school system in the late sixties. The dream of equality motivated my family to involve me in the "volunteer integration plan" for Chicago schools. I would leave home early in the morning and take trains and buses across Chicago to integrate a school many miles from my home. This school at the time presented better opportunities for education and learning. I know attending this integrated school changed my life, enabled me to attend a great university and study engineering. The integrated school also introduced me to many cultures and people different from myself. We would learn to exist and study together while our city and nation was in the midst of a volatile era of race relations. We had our share of walkouts, debates, and fights but we survived to become better adults. Hopefully my fellow students learned just as much from me. Thank you Dr. King, dad, and the many other Afro Americans who paved the way for the pursuit of my "Dream."
- By: PercyWhiteIII
Contributed on June 19, 2011
My sisters and I were fortunate to have parents who talked to us about living in segregated Virginia, specificallyRichmond, Petersburg and Emporia during the 20's 30's, 40's and 50's.
One of the first African American history stories I remember my father, Percy White Jr, telling me was about Emmett Till, a 14 year old black boy who was killed in Money, Mississippi for allegedly disrespecting a white woman.
For those who may not be familiar with the story I will retell it here. Emmett Till grew up in Chicago and was sent by his mother to spend the summer of 1955 with his great uncle, Mose Wright.
On August 24, 1955, Emmett and his cousin walked into Bryant Store to buy some candy and soda. Accounts of what happened next differ. Some people say that Emmett whistled at Carolyn Bryant, co-owner of the store. Others said that he touched her hand. Still others reported that Emmett told Carolyn Bryant "Bye Baby". Regardless of what was said or what sounds may have made, four days later Carolyn's husband, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Emmett from his great uncle's home in the middle of the night, drove him to a secluded area and brutally beat him to death.
When Emmett's partially submerged body was found in the Tallahatchie River on August 31, he had been beaten, shot in the head and a 75 pound cotton gin fan was tied around his neck with barbed wire. On September 22, 1955, Jet Magazine published an article which included horrific pictures of Emmett's beaten and disfigured body. The story was seen by thousands of people and is believed to be the catalyst for the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's.
Bryant and Milam were charged with murder. The trial was held at Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. The case lasted from September 19 to September 23. Both men were found not guilty by an all-white, male jury. In an article published in January of 1956, in Look Magazine Bryant and Milam admitted to killing Emmett Till.
In 2006, I drove to Money, Mississippi to see Bryant's store. As I stood in front of what was left of the building, I thought about the grotesque way Emmett Till was treated. My heart filled with sorrow over the pain experienced by his family and those who loved him. Yet while standing there, I was also consumed with memories of my father and how he sought to keep my sisters and I safe by giving us knowledgeable about the world he grew up in.
- By: Lonnie_12320
Contributed on May 11, 2007
In 1997, I was lecturing in South Africa. One day I found myself in the small city of Pietermaritzburg, which is located in Durban in Kwa Zulu Natal. This city has a significant Indian population and it was the site of Mahatma Gandhi's first brush with the racism of South Africa in 1903. While I was there, Nelson Mandela came to this city that was the ancestral homeland of his political and tribal rivals, the Zulus. He was to receive "the freedom of the city." I was privileged to sit on the podium as Mandela gave his speech. As is his custom, he spoke in several languages—from Xhosa to Zulu to N'debele—about his struggles against apartheid. And then in English he spoke about his 27 years in the prison on Robben Island. He said one of the things that gave him strength and substance was the history of the struggle for racial equality in America. He spoke passionately and eloquently of how American abolitionists such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass inspired him and helped him to believe that freedom and racial transformation were possible in South Africa.
Mandela's words helped me to remember the power of African American culture.
- By: JanetFMS
Contributed on November 25, 2011
Thomas N. Thornton Jr. served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. After his time in the service he went to Washington D.C. where he worked for Senator Wayland Brooks of Illinois. While in the employment of Brooks, Thornton was denied permission to eat in the U.S. Senate restaurant. The controversy began when Thornton was told that negroes could not eat in the Senate lunchroom. Thornton refused to leave until he had finished his lunch. During this time period an African American news correspondent, Louis Lautier of the Atlanta Daily World, was denied admittance to the Senate press gallery. Adam Clayton Powell, Democrat from New York, took up their fight and introduced a resolution directing the House Committee on Education and Labor to investigate discrimination in the Senate restaurants and in the Senate press gallery. Senator Wayland Brooks of Illinois picked up the controversy and voted unanimously to admit Lautier to the press gallery and stop discrimination in all Senate restaurants. Thomas N. Thornton Jr. was born in Elberton, Georgia in 1920 to Millie and Thomas Thornton Sr. He also had two sisters, Louise and Nancy Thornton. The Thornton family migrated to Chicago during the 1920s and settled on the far south side in Morgan Park. Thomas attended John D. Shoop School and DuSable High School. He received a football scholarship to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO.
- By: 23jayhawk
Contributed on June 24, 2008
I have been quilting for about 20 years and have been interested in historical quilts for even longer. During a recent visit to my home town, a friend told me about a local well known quilter, Marla Jackson, who uses her craft to document history. Each of Marla Jackson's quilts tells a story. Most of these stories are personal, such as the birth of her first son. Others were born from stories shared by her great-grandmother, Lucille Crum, a former slave.
From Marla Jackson's bio: "Marla remembers the hand-tied quilt, made from old clothes and scraps, that her great-grandmother kept on her bed. Marla asked Grandma Lucy why she didn't buy a pretty, new bedspread. Lucille told Marla that she made the quilt herself, using pieces from clothing that belonged to family members and reminded her of special events and relationships.
Marla's artistic direction was influenced by these stories. Marla's quilts depict scenes and themes that capture the pride, spirit, pain, and joy of the African American experience.
Marla's desire is to echo the untold stories of heroes that history has overlooked, forgotten or hidden. Stories that enrich the already rich heritage legitimately bestowed on Kansas, since Kansas' vital role in our nation's history regarding the issue of slavery is nationally recognized and renowned.
Marla depicts this history in her story quilts, a unique niche she has discovered to tell the stories of these heroes. She thereby helps shed light and restore to them honor for the great sacrifices they made for us all."
- By: Rick_28373
Contributed on May 07, 2007
I was four years old. The youngest of seven children. I could not read. But I could watch TV. Seeing my big sister on TV made me know she was either a movie star or she was in BIG trouble. Years later, I learned it was a little of both.
It was October 1962 in rural southwestern Virginia (Cascade 24069). The headlines in the local papers and AP read "Negro Girl Enrolled at Virginia College", Negro Girl Integrates Area College". The articles went on to say "... the first of her race to break the classroom color barrier in the staunchly segregationist Southside Virginia". Another article accused her of "... breaching the color of the classrooms of Virginia".
The Negro girl was the daughter of the late Richard and Rebecca Adams. The Negro girl was seventeen (17) years old, weighing just 90 pounds and about to take on the age-old giant of racism. The Negro girl was, and is, my oldest sister, the second of seven children, Hazel Ruth Adams Hairston.
All she wanted to do was go to college—the one she passed by several times each week on her way to church, to work, or to just visit her friends in Martinsville, VA (24112). She applied for admission to Patrick Henry Community College, the local branch of the prestigious University of Virginia at Charlottesville. Her application was to become a student. Her application was the first of its "kind." She was a Negro. She was denied.
There were letters of support, letters of hate and even threatening telephone calls referring to her as, as the old folks used to say, "every name under the sun, except a child of God". Many of those terms have now unfortunately become adjectives commonly used by some musical entertainers and well known, recently fired, media personalities.
Letters of support came from as far as Africa, and letters of hate came from as near as our same zip code. One letter arrived from a Mr. J.A.A. Ahomaning, Mounted Squadron Office, Ghana Police, and read, in part "...I was very pleased when I read in local papers here that you have been admitted. I hope your admission will open ways of which we in Ghana also wish...."
The denied application was unacceptable to my parents and my sister. They were peaceful, but persistent. And, it was not until they and their lawyer, the late Lawyer Jerry L. Williams, Sr. and his constituents of Danville, Virginia 24541, filed a Federal Law suit against the University (Adams v. State of Virginia), did the University accept her application (having previously cited some technical deadlines being missed). The newspaper acknowledges "... Shermon Dutton, director, kept his office open in order to register Miss Adams, who won admission to the all-white college in a federal court suit ...."
My sister, now a retired executive from the Fieldcrest and Karastan Textile Mills, Inc. of Eden, North Carolina 27288, drove alone in my fathers 1959 Ford Galaxy 500 to her first day of class. She walked alone through the front door as local police and news media overtly monitored the situation. They were unaware that my father and his supporters covertly monitored the situation from nearby the campus, appropriately "prepared" to maintain her safety. Our father was a lawful citizen, a building contractor, a preacher and a patient man, but protecting his daughter against the racist threats superceded all other priorities on this day.
In October 1962, weeks after classes had officially started, Hazel sat alone in an all-white classroom, in an all-white college. Today, although "covert entry technicalities" still exist, people of color, women of color, sit freely in colleges and universities as students, faculty, and staff, surrounded by diverse classmates. There were a few "firsts" in the civil rights movement. I am proud that my sister was among those few who fought to become a first, opening the doors for others to follow.
Indeed, she was not a movie star, but she was in BIG trouble. Trouble started by segregated admissions policies, and trouble ended through patient, persistent, and peaceful civil rights activism. She was not a movie star. She was my BIG sister.