Mable McNealey was the speaker of the Black History program titled “Exploring Black History.” This year’s observance of Black History Month celebrates 50 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. This year’s theme is Civil Rights in America, McNealey said, and she asked former educators to volunteer and share their experiences before or during the integration period.
“We know the story. We know how the achievements and contributions of people of color were not always recognized in the history books,” McNealey said. “Black history is American history because it’s the achievement that American people have made. As you taught during your careers, I know you touched on it somewhat, but a lot of things were still omitted. These programs are a way of letting people know what achievements and what contributions we have made.”
Charlene Stephenson spoke about her career as a teacher at T.R. Simmons Elementary and how Russell Lee, an elementary student at that time, was always willing to help her any way he could. Lee received a degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He now teaches at the YMCA and works at the Birmingham Public Library. At one point, Lee was the organist for the 16th Street Baptist Church in North Birmingham, which was the location of a tragic bombing during the Civil Rights movement.
Another woman mentioned the accomplishment of C. J. Harris, a current contestant on “American Idol.” Others commented on Dr. King and Rosa Parks, while three other women briefly mentioned about their teaching experiences during that era.
“Not as a teacher, but as a student during that time, my dad was stationed in California. California schools were integrated, and I went to school with all kinds of students,” said the association’s parliamentarian Pat Spears. “When I came back to the South in Virginia, boy was that a culture shock! But, it prepared me for coming back. I didn’t see a problem with it as a student, but maybe the adults did.”
McNealey shared a story about visiting an institute for English teachers in Dickinson, N. D., during the time she was a young teacher at Oakman High School. Out of 21 teachers at the institute, there were only three African Americans — two men and herself, the only black female.
McNealey became friends with two white females from out of state, one was a nun and the other was from Minnesota. The ladies received some awkward glances, McNealey said, when the three of them would frequent different fast food restaurants.
“There were no black people in the town, Dickinson, N.D. ... It was quite a learning experience,” McNealey laughed. “My husband and I went out in a restaurant one night, and this boy came in with his family. He said, ‘Look Mama! Some negroes,’ and she looked; we smiled. But, some people had never seen a black person up close because there aren’t any in Dickinson.”
The group was then introduced to what McNealey calls African American Bingo. Trivia questions were asked about famous black celebrities, inventors, athletes, singers, etc.
The educators joked, laughed and carried on like the kids they once taught years ago.
In closing, McNealey said, “When we were teachers, we were teachers, and that’s what we did. We taught who they sent in there for us to teach, regardless of their color ... People are people, you know that.”
In other business, the association:
•gained two new members bringing the total to 149 in membership.
•will have its annual meeting in Birmingham April 1, 2014.
•nominated and elected new officers to be installed in April. Officers will be Gail Alexander serving as president; Jane Roberts, vice president; Charlene Stephenson, secretary; Charlotte Elkins, treasurer; and Pat Spears, parliamentarian.