StoryCorps recently went to Monterey, California for a special interview to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP. NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous interviewed his mother Ann Todd Jealous and grandmother Mamie Todd.
Mamie remembers her first job teaching beginner’s algebra in 1939 at an all black school in Prince George County, Petersburg , VA:
“The students didn’t have any new books or materials to work with,” says Ms. Todd. “The children would have to sit together in the same seat and use a book that had missing pages, (there was) not enough pencils and papers. We weren’t paid very much at all and I had to share everything with them. ”
Her husband to be, who was also a teacher, brought her pencils and paper from his class to help them get by. Mamie complained to the principal about the lack of materials to no avail. She was forced to do the best she could with what she had.
One day two men stood in the back of her class room with their coats and hats on and didn’t say a word. (“I thought they were building inspectors.”)
The principal later informed Ms. Todd that one of the visitors was the Superintendent of Schools – and she had ignored him. The Superintendent returned to her class the next day and requested that she come to his office.
When she arrived, the secretary informed her, “Colored teachers come around the back. ” But Ms. Todd was determined:
“Well there’s his desk right there and here’s the swinging gate…so I walked on through and went to his desk.
I really leveled with him. He was a human being too. I knew we had that much in common. I always knew that people could change. I had been taught that. I trusted that if he knew like I knew…that he couldn’t sit behind that polished desk and do nothing about it.
By 10:30 the next morning a pick up truck came with everything I could think of that the school needed.
I wasn’t afraid of him. The worst he could do was fire me.”
Later, her daughter Ann wondered if Mamie had ever been afraid of anyone. Mamie paused as if to consider the question for the very first time.
“I don’t know. I’d have to think about it.”