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On Demanding Change In Black Segregated Schools

Mamie Todd tells her daughter and grandson about demanding supplies from the White school superintendent while teaching at an all-black school in the 1930s.

Editor’s Note: With this online package and several pieces you may have noticed in recent issues of our magazine, ESSENCE is marking the 50th anniversary of 1963, a watershed year in the civil rights movement. As we reflect on that era and its lessons, ESSENCE.com is partnering with StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to record and preserve the personal histories of diverse Americans — including those Black Americans who were witness to the times and to our struggle for equality. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing snippets of these touching, inspiring, sometimes infuriating stories from StoryCorps’ archives.

As a teacher in an all-Black school in the 1930s, Mamie Todd witnessed the grave discrimination and stark differences between the way students in all-White schools were treated compared to those of her own. Tired of seeing her students lack school supplies and resources, Todd decided to stand up and fix the issue.

“He and I had a conversation and I told him how I really felt about it,” Todd tells her daughter and grandson of her meeting with the White school superintendent. “He was a human being, I knew we had that much in common and I wasn’t afraid of him.”

Growing up in an era where racism was all too normal, Mamie’s daughter, Ann Todd Jealous, remembers her own experiences with discrimination and how she hid them from her parents.

“My parents talked a lot so I was very, very conscious of a great deal that they carried as a consequence of racism,” Jealous recalls. “So I kept as much as I could to myself.”

In the audio clip below, recorded by StoryCorps in Pacific Grove, California, Mamie Todd tells her daughter, as well as her grandson and President of the NAACP, Benjamin Todd Jealous, about her demand for change and equality within the classroom.

Mamie Todd on StoryCorps: