top of page

Freddie Mae Fordham

For My Grandchildren:  An Autobiography




When I think back over the years, I often ponder the question, “What lessons have I learned during my sojourn through life that might be useful to my grandchildren, and their unborn descendants, as they search for purpose and direction for their lives?”  When I try to imagine some of the ups and downs that they will surely have, I ask, “What principles and convictions have the sum total of my trials, exhilarations, successes, and disappointments chiseled into my consciousness?”  This is what I have to say to them.


Hold on to a belief that an all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent God is in control of the universe.  Secondly, always try to think of yourself as part of a family.  If you hang on to those two principles, no matter what your circumstance, you will always be able to see your life and purpose as part of something bigger than yourself.  Those beliefs can keep you humble when you achieve great successes, and they will be a source of solace, encouragement, and will inspire perseverance when you are down.


The belief in God and the spiritual principles are gems that you can find from studying the Scriptures, and by joining, and interacting in, Godly institutions.  I hope that this modest autobiography will begin to inspire your sense of family.  My limited knowledge and experience will only allow me to begin in the late 19th century, in Mississippi , in discussing my family.  However, I know that I, and all of my forbearers, are bit players in a plan that God set in motion thousands of years ago.  You are also part of that plan.  As heirs to that heritage you have duties.  One of your challenges in life will be to discover your unique role or mission in that plan, and then try to fulfill that mission.




        Historically African American families had many traditions that were passed from one generation to the next.  My mother, Alberta Gant Harris grew up in Mississippi during the early 1900’s.  When I was growing up, she often took time from her busy schedule to tell me about her family.  I was always interested in the exciting things she told me about her early life.  Our talks started when I was about four years old.  Our special times were usually when we were preparing dinner, sweeping the floors, canning fruits and vegetables, or doing other such chores that needed attention.  One of the things that I vividly remembered was her talking about her formal education on the plantation and in the area schools.  Many of her recollections were shared with me over the years.  During my research into family history, many other facts about marriages, ages of individual family members, grandparents’ names, places of birth and similar information were taken from public documents.

           My father’s name was Gid Harris.  He married my mother, Alberta Gant in Clarksdale , Mississippi .  They were wed in 1933. My father’s father was named Fred Harris.  Fred Harris married Phyllis Thompson, my paternal grandmother.  My parents and grandparents lived and worked on plantations in Dickinson , Mississippi .  My mother always spoke fondly of her in-laws.  My father was the youngest of nine children.  He had six sisters and two brothers.  They all lived in the Dickenson-Clarksdale area.

           This autobiography will share the experiences of the Harris family as they migrated from Mississippi to Kansas .  In later life, as a college student in Kansas , I married Monroe Fordham and in time the Fordham family migrated to Western New York .




          During the latter part of the 1800’s, my maternal grandparents, John and Emaline Gant, were sharecroppers in Coahoma County .  Dickinson , Mississippi was located in Coahoma County .  Both maternal grandparents could read and write, and that made them valuable assets to the Kane and Anderson plantation.  A number of the Gant’s relatives were sharecroppers in the area.  The work enabled them to always have adequate food and enough animals to do the farm work.  Living was rough in Mississippi , but the Gant’s and their neighbors and relatives always shared their resources.  The Gants were always able to pay for their supplies and charges at the end of the year.

            Emaline Gant had one sister whose name was Sarah.  Sarah’s husband was named Buddy Patterson.  Sarah and Buddy had four children named Buddy Jr., Doll, Sugar, and Flora. The daughters settled down and helped the family with the farming.  Sarah and Emaline were very close, and both sisters were delighted to live on the same plantation.  One evening Emaline told her sister that she was expecting her first child.  This child was named Evelyn.  She was not a healthy baby and died in infancy.  Shortly after the death of their first child, John and Emaline were blessed with a healthy baby son.  They named him John after his father.  Life was wonderful for a short period of time. 

            Emaline was expecting her third child when she suddenly became ill.  She could no longer help with the chores, prepare meals or take care of baby John.  As the termination of her third pregnancy came closer, Emaline’s condition worsened.  Her third child lived, but the mother passed away.  They named the new baby Alberta Johnella Gant.  She was born January 8, 1905 .  Alberta was my mother.  She grew up in an environment full of people who loved and cared for her.  She discovered at an early age that she did not have a mother.  John Gant, her father, and her older brother, John Jr. disappeared after Emaline’s death.  There were rumors that they had gone to the Midwest to find work.



              Tom Brown, owner of a local store, Aunt Cora Gant Savage, and Aunt Sarah Patterson took on the responsibility of raising Alberta .  Alberta was like a sister to Aunt Sarah’s children.   My mother once told me that her natural brother, John Gant, Jr., wrote to Tom Brown from the Midwest to inquire about his sister.

            Alberta grew into a beautiful child.  She had long black hair and smooth brown skin.  She could not pass for a mulatto because of the texture of her hair and the extra brown hue of her skin, but she was very attractive.  Tom Brown took excellent care of Alberta .  He sent her to the local school.  She was a very bright student.  She learned to read and write.  Tom Brown realized that Alberta could continue her education in one of the local colleges.  So he decided to send her to Fisk University for teacher education.  When Alberta completed her training, she started a school for the children living on the Kane and Anderson Plantation.

            Alberta enjoyed her teen years.  She spent most of her time teaching at the plantation school.  Tom Brown was very prosperous.  He bought Alberta a new l925 Ford.  Alberta , her three cousins, and a friend, J.C. Daniels, often took the new car into town.  They had a ball speeding up and down the country roads.  The sheriff stopped them once and sent them back to the plantation before they got into trouble. 



            In l933 Gid Harris came to work at the Kane and Anderson plantation.  He was a good worker, although he was labeled a hot head.  His temper had a short fuse.  Alberta invited him to attend the school she had started.  Although the school was basically for children, many of the adults living on the plantation attended whenever they had spare time.  Alberta taught Gid to read and write his name.  J.C. Daniels, the Patterson girls, and Gid and Alberta became life long friends.  Alberta was especially pleased with Gid’s willingness to work.  Tom Brown was also impressed.  In late August, 1933, Gid and Alberta decided to get married. 

            The couple remained in Dickenson to sharecrop for a couple of years.  Their first child was born in 1935.  They named her Cleopatra Harris.  Everyone called her by her nickname, “Doolum.”  Alberta often communicated with her three cousins about her life with Gid.  The cousins were told that Gid had become restless and wanted to move to Clarksdale , Mississippi where he had numerous relatives.  His sisters Maiety Jackson, Willie Griffin, Rosie Holiman, Janie Robinson, Vesta Coleman, and Ethel Wilkins all lived in and around the Clarksdale area.   His brother Fred, Jr., also lived a few miles from other members of the family.  Gid, his wife, and small daughter moved to Clarksdale .  In 1937, George Harris “Brother,” was born.  Gid and Alberta seemed content raising their family, farming, and picking cotton.  The Harris family’s third child was born in 1939.  They named her Freddie Mae Harris.  I was that third child. 

            The family routine which consisted of farming, watching the children, visiting relatives, and picking cotton continued for several years.  George (“Brother”) would go to the fields with his parents and “Doolum” would watch me.  I was about four years old.  When the fall of the year arrived, the Harris family killed hogs and stored meat, canned vegetables, and fruits for the winter. The family also had a regular routine of attending church during all seasons except during extremely cold winter months.  The family continued to grow larger.  Willie Ethel (“Pudd”) was born in September, 1942.  In 1942 America had entered WWII and the talk of war was everywhere.

Story Link.gif


            Cleopatra was a wonderful child.  She always enjoyed helping and surprising her mother.  On this particular day, the weather was cool.  Mama, Daddy and “Brother” (George) had gone to the fields to chop cotton.  “Doolum” was left at home to baby sit her two younger sisters.  The weather was cool and Cleopatra went outside to gather up some chips to make a fire in the big fireplace.  She enjoyed helping and teasing her mother. 

            After gathering a few pieces of wood, she decided to play a trick on her mother.  She slipped a pillow case over one of the pillows and took it outside on the big porch.  Mama immediately yelled from the field to take the baby in the house.  Cleopatra smiled and obeyed her Mother.  She decided to build the fire.  The flames were jumping around and all three girls were excited and screaming and having fun.  All of a sudden Cleopatra was lying face down in the fire.  She could not get up.  I ran to the edge of the porch and started yelling and screaming for Mama to come quickly because “Doolum” had fallen in the fireplace.  One of the sisters had run by Cleopatra and had given her a playful push.  The heat, smoke and flames made it impossible for their older sister to get up.  When I finished yelling hysterically, everyone in the field was running toward the house.

            Daddy got to the house first.  He ran into the house and pulled “Doolum” from the fireplace.  The front of her body was covered with half burned chips and large pieces of wood.  Daddy grabbed a sheet from one of the beds and gently wrapped it around her body.  The overseer, Mama and all of the other workers had made it to the house.  Mama could barely walk.  She kept calling “Doolum”, “Doolum.”  One of the workers had a truck.  The men helped place “Doolum” in the truck.  Several of them rode to the hospital with Daddy and “Doolum.”  The nearest hospital was located in Greenville about twenty miles away.  Mama and Daddy’s first little angel did not regain consciousness.  The doctors at the hospital told daddy that the smoke in her lungs had killed her.  What a sad, sad, sad, time.

           Mama cried all day and all night.  I tried to cry but as a five year old, I did not fully understand the loss that the family had experienced.  Cleopatra’s funeral was attended by relatives and friends living in the area.  Mama was still crying long after the burial ceremony.  Daddy worked off his grief by working in the cotton fields.  Mama coped with her grief by talking about “Doolum” to her sisters-in-law, other relatives and friends.  She was in no condition to work in the fields.  So she stayed around the house with the three younger children. 

            We often heard Mama crying and calling out to “Doolum.”  As Mama got better she told the children and neighbors how “Doolum” came to the house to tease her.  “Doolum” would make the curtains move around, or rattle a pan in the kitchen.  Mama also reported hearing playful hissing sounds when she was preparing dinner.  Mama would always know when “Doolum” was there.

            A couple of years passed and Mama and Daddy were still farming in Clarksdale . The whole world seemed to be changing.  Mama’s cousin, Buddy Patterson, had enlisted in the army.  He was just old enough to sign up as a recruit.  The younger men were leaving Clarksdale for Kansas City , Chicago , and St. Louis .  J.C. Daniels had already left for Kansas .  Mama and Daddy were very aware that Clarksdale and the whole world were changing.



            Mama had not fully recovered from the death of Cleopatra.  Daddy’s temper and his ability to get along with the whites in the area had not improved.  One of Daddy’s friends had migrated to Kansas City during WWI.  He wrote and told Daddy that they were hiring at the Sunflower Ordinance War Plant in Kansas City .  Nathaniel Phillips promised to help him get settled if he wanted to come to Kansas .  Daddy was overflowing with joy.  Although he hadn’t harvested his crops for the year, he had friends take him to the train station in Memphis the next night. 

            Mama packed clothes for the three children and herself.  They went to stay with Daddy’s sister who also lived in Clarksdale .  His sister, Willie Griffin was very supportive of Daddy and his family.  Mama often left the three youngsters with their Aunt Willie.  The plan was to spend one night with Daddy’s sister, and have one of his nephew’s drive them to Greenville for the second night.  The next morning they would be taken to Memphis to board the train to Kansas City .  Everything worked out as planned.  Mama and her children boarded the train for Kansas City .  “Brother” (George) and I were so excited about the train and the ride.  We asked Mama a thousand questions.  Mama held the youngest child (“Pudd”) during most of the ride to Kansas .  Mama reminded her three children that they would see their daddy soon. 

            The children finally heard the conductor yell “ KANSAS CITY !!” in his loudest voice.  I couldn’t understand why he kept saying the same two words over and over.  When the train finally came to a complete stop, Mama and her three children began the long walk to Union Station.  After walking what seemed like miles, we came to the end of a tunnel. Standing there waiting for us was our Daddy and Nathaniel Phillips. Daddy said “Hi Bird.”  “Hi yourself,” Mama answered.

            Nathaniel Phillips had rented Daddy a two room house in the back of his house.  A chicken coop was located across the yard from the house we rented. The yard was fenced in with chicken wire so the chickens could not escape.  Daddy had a stable job and Mama got a job working in the egg plant sorting eggs.  “Brother” (George) and I were left to baby sit “Pudd” (Willie Ethel) while our parents worked.  “Brother” was six and one-half, I was five, and “Pudd” was three.  Mama and Daddy knew that two paychecks a week would help them get a nicer place for their family.  Their plans were short lived because Mama was expecting her fourth child. 

            Woodrow Edward Harris (“Bobby”) was born on January 22, 1945 .  On that cold morning, “Brother” and “Pudd” were sound asleep.  Mama called me to run up to the big house and tell Nathaniel that she was having the baby.  Daddy was working the night shift and she needed a doctor.  Nathaniel called Dr. Love and “Bobby” (Woodrow) was born before Daddy returned from work.  Calm settled over the Harris household after about six weeks. An elderly neighbor came to the house to take care of “Bobby”, and “Pudd”, “Brother” and I were enrolled in Grant Elementary School .

            One day when “Brother” and I returned home from school, Mama told us that Daddy was in the hospital.  Daddy had only learned to read and write his name.  His job required him to read the start and stop switch.  He received help during his first few days of orientation.  When left alone Daddy had pulled the start switch instead of the stop switch.  The accident almost severed his entire left arm.  His arm had been caught in a crossfire of sparks.  The company settled with Daddy and he felt that he would be able to buy a nice, comfortable home for “Bird” and the children.  He talked about a house with a big front yard, big cottonwood trees, and a big front and back porch.  He also wanted fruit trees and a garden in the back of the house.



            Daddy had lost his job, but he assumed the money for his settlement would be put in the bank.  He intended to buy a larger and nicer house for his family.  He found the perfect house in a black community called Armstrong.  The money for the house never made it to the bank.  Daddy eventually had to find a smaller place for his family.

            Daddy and Mama relied on Nathaniel Phillips for advice about the proper ways to do things in the city.  Nathaniel was his friend and he trusted him like he would a brother.  When Daddy was told that his check for his injuries would be sent to his bank, he had no idea that he had to open an official bank account.

            Mr. Phillips advised him to have his check sent to the Phillips’ address.  Since Daddy didn’t have a bank account, he thought Nathaniel had given him reasonable advice.  In Mississippi , money was seldom exchanged.  Sharecroppers usually settled their accounts by accepting the supplies they needed to get through the winter months.  They needed flour, corn meal, sugar, lard, chickens, and other miscellaneous items.  If they had a good harvest, Daddy would buy an additional hog to slaughter for winter.

            Daddy’s settlement check finally came, and Nathaniel took Daddy to the bank to have it cashed.  Daddy had very little of the money when he returned home.  He had to pay Nathaniel for the rent on the two room house he had rented.  There were several other bills that had to be paid.  When all of the unexpected claims had been settled, there was very little money left for a down payment on the house that they had selected.  Mama and Daddy were so disappointed about everything.  They told the children to stay on the porch and they walked around in the neighborhood.  The house they had wanted was located on Eighth Street .  They were disappointed but they would have to find something else.

            Mama and Daddy walked up the hill to Cornell Street .  Mama read a For Sale sign on a small house that looked like it had been sawed in half.  The next day my parents invested the little money they had left by buying the sawed off house at 610 Cornell.  Daddy used his farming skills to plant beautiful flowers, fruit trees, and gardens.  He didn’t have enough space for farm animals, but he loved his hunting dogs.  I recall that none of the children were excited about the black and brown hounds howling all night.   His old neighbor, Mrs. Horton, was sorry to see the Harris family move.  Mr. Harris had brought so many of the old ways to Armstrong.  He killed hogs; there were chickens, and a cow close to the hog pens.  A garden had been planted and fruit trees were budding.  Daddy liked the area because it reminded him of Mississippi .  The houses were spread out, and many of the neighbors had animals, gardens and fruit trees.  Daddy’s nephew, Charlie Taylor, came to Kansas from Mississippi and spent a few days with our family.  He helped Daddy move into the small house on Cornell Street .



        Armstrong was home for the Harris family for many years.  Daddy went to work for the Rock Island Railroad.  The position was mostly a maintenance position.  It required flexible hours year round.  Daddy was not afraid to work, and he was dependable.  Three of the children were enrolled in Douglass Elementary School .  “Bobby” (Woodrow), the youngest, began kindergarten in the fall of 1951. 

        The older children were bussed to school each day.  Mama hired a neighbor to watch “Bobby” and she went to work for Central Laundry.  She ran the pressing machine.  It was hot, dangerous, and paid only minimum wage.  The hours were long, but Mama never complained.  She would go to the local farms on Saturdays to pick potatoes.  As “Brother” (George) and I grew older, we would go with Mama to help her fill her potato baskets.  Daddy was also the neighborhood barber.  The living room in our small home was like a neighborhood barber shop.  Daddy was an excellent barber, but the neighbors seldom had money to pay him.

        The family attended St. Peter’s A.M.E. Church .  Mama and the children were active members for a number of years.  The church did not have many families with children.  St. Peters was located on Cornell Street , not far from our house.  St. Peters held fish fries, sold home made ice cream, and chicken dinners to raise funds to support the church.  At the same time, they were providing useful services to the community.  There was also a Baptist church in the neighborhood.  Mrs. Arlene Eskridge owned a small store in the neighborhood.  The only other business in the area was the UP (Union Pacific) Restaurant.  The restaurant was a gathering and eating place for the men who worked for the railroad.  The railroad tracks were located on the other side of the restaurant.  There were no schools in Armstrong.  All of the children were bussed to Douglass Elementary, Northeast Junior High, or Sumner High School .

            In the early 1950s, the four Harris children attended Douglass Elementary School .  George and I were in the 6th grade, “Pudd” was in the 3rd grade, and “Bobby” was in Kindergarten.  One morning after the daily devotions, the principal, Mrs. Robinson announced that all children living in Armstrong would be sent home.  She frightened the children with her announcement.  She later explained that the Missouri River was expected to crest and flood during the morning hours.  The Superintendent, Mr. Saul Thompson wanted all of the children living in Armstrong to be sent home immediately.  The children were instructed to remain in the house with older siblings until parents arrived home with further instructions. 



          On the day of the flood, the bus returned all four Harris children to our neighborhood bus stop.  Mama worked in an area called high ground, and she was able to get home safely. We were delighted and happy to see her. She had not seen Daddy since he had left for work early that morning.  Daddy was still working for the Rock Island Railroad.  He and the other workers had to lay sand bags along the river banks to hold back the rising river. 

After the flood Daddy told us that he almost slipped into the water several times.  The work that he was doing was very dangerous, and the hours were very long.  Whenever Daddy made it home, he brought us something to eat such as canned goods, cases of pop, and other foods that were not perishable or contaminated.  He also brought canned milk, and dried foods such as spaghetti.  He was afraid to bring any meat, because he thought it might not be safe.  One night Daddy allowed all four children to taste wine.  He had been given a carton of wine to take home to his family.

            The water from the rivers flooded up to our doorsteps.  After several days the water receded.  Mama used the back door when going to the bus stop to go to work. The family was happy to see Daddy everyday and to have things back to normal.


            Mama was watching her four children grow up.  Her older son, who was fondly called “Brother”, was a teenager who had started associating with the Armstrong rough necks.  He was interested in going to the Princess theatre, teen dance halls, and other entertainment places located on Kansas City ’s Fifth Street (a typical Black urban community business district).  There were bars and a number of places for adults and older teens.

One night “Brother” came home with two black eyes.  He had been beaten badly by one of the Fifth Street gangs.  I was also a teen, but I was the stay-at-home type.  I loved being at home with Mama and liked nothing better than surprising her with the dinner already prepared for the evening meal, or cleaning our four room house.  I also enjoyed playing with my younger brother “Bobby” (Woodrow) and my younger sister “Pudd” (Willie Ethel).

            Mama wrote to her cousin in Mississippi , Flora Garrett, and explained the trouble she was having with “Brother.”  Flora suggested that Mama should bring “Brother” and me to Mississippi when our school year ended.  After conferencing with Daddy, our parents decided that Mama would take the two older teens to Mississippi to chop cotton during the summer.  They would return to Kansas City in time for the beginning of school.  It was not unusual for northern Black families to send teenaged children to live with southern relatives during the summer months.  That got them off of the northern city streets where they were likely to get into trouble during the non-school summer months.  “Brother” and I prepared for our trip to Clarksdale .  I was excited, but “Brother” was very unhappy.  Flora had written Mama another letter informing her that Flora’s mother, Aunt Sarah, was very ill.  On her return trip to Kansas , Mama planned to stop in Memphis ; that is where her Aunt Sarah was now living with one of her other daughters--Doll.

            Aunt Sarah was over ninety years old and was in poor health.  Doll did not expect her mother to live through the summer.  After leaving “Brother” and me in Clarksdale , Mama was able to stop in Memphis and visit with Aunt Sarah before Aunt Sarah died.  Mama never discussed her visit in Memphis , but she was able to spend time with the relative that had been a substitute mother after her real mother had died in childbirth.  One can only imagine the conversations and memories that the two of them shared during Aunt Sarah’s final days.

            In Clarksdale , my eyes were taking in the rural sights.  I was so amazed at the rows and rows of green cotton.  The barns, farm animals, gardens, miles and miles of green grass, long dirt roads, airplanes spraying the cotton plants, and people observing my curious glances at the many things I had never seen before, left me speechless.  I met cousins that I had not known. 

            The day after our arrival, we began a routine that would last for the next six weeks.  We chopped cotton with a number of other adults who were sharecroppers.  We earned about $2.00 per day.  We worked all day everyday except Saturday and Sunday.  Flora informed us that we could accompany her to town and we could spend some of the $10 that we had earned during the first week. I bought a pretty white skirt to wear back to school.  George bought an airplane kit that he could assemble when we returned home to Kansas . George was still very unhappy.  He was also very uncooperative. 

He wrote all of his friends telling them how much he hated Mississippi .  One of George’s friends told Daddy how much George disliked Mississippi .  Daddy only wanted George to return home safely when the work ended.  I was enjoying the life in the country adventure. I wrote Mama and “Pudd” at least once a week.  I also wrote letters to many of the people in my church and neighborhood.

            Many of the young males in Clarksdale wanted to leave the South.  They asked me to write my Daddy and ask him to help them find a job in Kansas .  Flora did not approve of me talking with the young men.  I was only fourteen years old.  About two months into the summer, we were informed that Aunt Sarah had died.  They were going to bring her body back to Clarksdale for the funeral and burial.  Mama came back to Clarksdale for the funeral.  Her Aunt Sarah had been her mother’s oldest sister.  The relatives gathered in Clarksdale for the services.  Mama arrived and we were so glad to see her.  “Brother” and I both knew that we would soon be on our way back to Kansas .



            By the mid 1950s, Daddy had worked for the Rock Island Railroad for at least ten years.  He had seniority and a traveling pass to any city in the United States .  He had relatives in Chicago .  His brother Fred, Jr., several nieces and nephews, and his sister Janie Robinson and Ethel Mae Bledsoe all lived in Chicago .  Daddy had not seen his relatives since he moved his family to Kansas City .  Mama was always glad to see Daddy happy.  She encouraged him to take a few days of vacation time and go to Chicago .  I was chosen to accompany him on the trip to Chicago .  One of the other children would be allowed to go at another time. 

Daddy and I went to Union Station in Kansas City , Missouri to board the train to Chicago .  I was so excited about the trip.  When we arrived at the train Station in Chicago , Uncle Fred was waiting to greet us.  I noticed immediately that Uncle Fred looked a lot like Daddy.  We walked through the train terminal and got a taxi to take us to Uncle Fred’s apartment.  When we arrived, Aunt Lisa, Uncle Fred’s wife, was standing at the door smiling and happy.

As the adults talked, I sat and watched and listened.  I heard my aunt and uncle comment on my resemblance to Mama.  I smiled to myself because I loved for people to say I had Mama’s features.  As the brothers talked, other relatives began to wander into the small apartment.  Modia Wilkins and Earline Bledsoe were the first to arrive.  Next came Charlie Taylor.  I remembered Charlie when he had come through Kansas City on his way to Chicago.   He had stayed a few days to help Daddy move to the house on Cornell.  Charlie greeted me with a “Hi kid.”

Aunt Liza had prepared a delicious dinner.  Like most southern women, she was an excellent cook.  Cousin Modia suggested that she and the other relatives take “Uncle Gid” to a neighborhood night club. They all agreed and that is how the evening was spent.  I had never been inside a night club in my life.  Mama did not go to clubs.  She preferred to stay home with her younger children.  Daddy and his nephews enjoyed the music, dancing, drinks, and conversations.  Food was served on small party plates.  There were no children present in the club, so I sat quietly and drank a coke.  I was very tired when the evening finally ended. Daddy seemed so happy and relaxed.  I had never seen him in such a happy carefree mood.  He and his male relatives smoked stinky cigars and told a few off color jokes.  I pretended not to hear most of them.  The evening finally ended, and Daddy and I returned to Uncle Fred’s apartment. 

            The following day, we went to China Town .  The subway ride was fun. When we got off the train there were stores everywhere.  A person could buy anything they wanted or needed.  I bought souvenirs for Mama and my brothers and sister.  There was so much for me to see.

            The next day we were taken to one of Chicago ’s beautiful parks.  Flowers were in full bloom.  Daddy enjoyed the beauty around him.  He always grew beautiful flowers in Kansas and Mississippi .  When we returned to the apartment, Daddy asked me to pack my belongings because we would take the train home early the next day.  Uncle Fred and Aunt Lisa promised that they would come to Kansas City to visit them soon.




            Urban renewal affected many families who lived in the “bottoms” of Kansas City , Kansas .  The “bottoms” was an area which was located not too far from the Missouri River .  Armstrong was in the “bottoms.”  Our house was a square box house with no indoor plumbing.  We had land, dogs, fruit trees, four rooms, and a full basement.  The city and federal government decided to buy most of the property in the area.  The houses would be leveled and new highways built that joined the Seventh Street Traffic Way.  Seventh Street was a major business street that connected to all of the important and busy streets.  In addition to individual family property, church property was also bought.  The congregations had to find new places to worship. The older residents were unhappy, but the prospect of getting dollars for their property, took away much of their unhappiness.

          Armstrong became a community of optimists.  People saw the opportunity to sell their property to the government as an opportunity for a new start.  Daddy was not educated, but he found educated people who gave him good advice this time.  Many of the residents were putting their property money into better properties.  That is what Daddy decided to do.  He bought the property at 1115 Garfield .  The year was 1954.  It was a dream come true.  For the first time in my life, we had a house with indoor plumbing.  The house on Garfield also had four bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room, foyer, fireplace, upstairs and downstairs, finished basement, and two beautiful yards in the front and back of the house.  We also had a front and back porch.



          The Garfield community was a community of well kept houses, lots of trees, and close to bus lines.  It was formerly a mostly-white neighborhood that transitioned to all-black.  When the government displaced the Armstrong community, many of the former Armstrong residents bought property in the Garfield neighborhood.  We were in walking distance to elementary thru high schools.  We were close to public parks, we were close to two business districts—a white business district was located on 13th Street , and there was a black business district on 10th Street .  We were also within walking distance to three black churches.

          “Brother” and I attended Sumner High School .  We were both in our sophomore year.  “Pudd” was a seventh grade student at Northwest Junior High, and “Bobby” was a fifth grade student at Hawthorne Elementary.  Everyone in the Harris family worked except “Bobby.”  Daddy was still working for the Rock Island Railroad.  He was also a part time community barber, now he cut hair in the basement.  Mama continued to work at the Central Laundry.  I worked as a babysitter in Prairie Village , Kansas .  “Pudd” worked for Mrs. Wheeler, and “Bobby” just played and enjoyed life.  His older siblings were always buying him something special.  George bought him his first black and chrome bicycle.  The older children paid for our own lunches, bought our own clothes, gave Mama a few dollars to help with the milk bill, and earned our own car fare for bus transportation.

            The Harris teens were well behaved.  We attended Church at Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church .  Many of our Sumner High School classmates--Harry Reynolds, Thurman Reynolds, Roy Jean Johnson, Bernice Hogan, Marlene and Marie Williams, were in the Grant Chapel Youth Choir.  After choir rehearsal on Friday evenings, all of us would go to the skating rink.  Some evenings Richard Goodseal would drive all the way from Bonner Springs to be with the group.

            Many of the adults from Armstrong also joined Grant Chapel.  Mama and her four children, Mr. and Mrs. Murray and their daughter Ida Bell, Mr. and Mrs. Hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Cribbs were all new members from the old neighborhood.  Mama attended regularly.  Daddy joined the Rising Star Baptist Church , which was located around the corner from our new house.  Grant Chapel Church was located on Tremont Street .  The Skating Rink was located down the hill from the church on Quindaro Blvd.

            After choir rehearsal, all of the teens who didn’t have weekend jobs would head for the skating rink.  They would skate around and around the big concrete floor for hours.  On alternate weeks, dances would be held in the big building.  A very dear friend, Mrs. Arlene Eskridge, also a former resident of Armstrong, would drive the Harris teens home after many of their events.

            The Harris teens often attended football and basketball games at Sumner High or other rival schools.  George played football during the fall.  Daddy attended one of his games, but Mama could not walk long distances.  However, she was very proud of her oldest son.

            The fifties were great years.  There was so much to do in school.  The classes were challenging.  Many of the high school students had jobs after classes.  I joined several after school clubs.  I was a member of the P.E.P. Club, Horizon Club, Future Nurses Club, and Spanish Club.   During my sophomore, junior and senior years, I was a class officer.  During my high school years, the proms, sock hops, and house parties were important social events.

            I met Leon Belcher during my junior year in high school.  Leon was a senior and he invited me to go as his date to the prom.  Leon was from a nice family.  Mr. and Mrs. Belcher liked me but they didn’t want Leon and me to get too serious in our relationship.  We had fun going to parties, movies, picnics and other activities.  Mrs. Belcher invited me to dinner on several occasions. 

When Leon ’s senior year ended, he joined the navy and he looked quite handsome in his navy uniform.  I was heart broken because I was hoping he would go to Junior College.  I hoped that when I graduated, we could go to the same college.  There were a lot of love letters written that year.  But both Leon and I seemed to be focused only on our own futures.  Leon came back to Kansas City during the summer of my senior year.  He had signed up for the maximum four years in the Navy.  He was on his way to Chicago for one of the Naval Camps.  We spent time reminiscing about that great year together.  There was no talk of an engagement or class ring.  We parted as friends; both of us were excited about our own future.

          One of my closest friends during my high school years was Marva Hooks.  Marva and I did all of the fun and memorable things that teen aged girls do.  The year 1957 was a milestone in my life.  That was the year that I graduated from Sumner High School .  Marva and I spent the first few months after high school talking about all of the fun, people, teachers, and activities we would miss when our first post-high school summer ended.

            Marva was dating Craig Hall, also a member of the graduating class of 1957, who had been a Sumner High School basketball star.  Craig had been offered a basketball scholarship to Bradley University .  How exciting it was to hear all of the plans for the coming year. 

Marva and I talked a lot about my high school graduation ceremonies.  I had been chosen to be one of the speakers.  There were eight speakers.  Four sat on the stage and four spoke from the floor.  All of the speakers were excellent.  I think that my family was especially proud of the fact that both George (“Brother”) and I both graduated.  We had come a long way from the cotton fields of Mississippi .  Before the graduation ceremonies ended, there was a violent thunderstorm.  Tornado warnings were announced over the radio.  The program continued.  The lights did not go out in Memorial Auditorium, and diplomas were given to the graduates.  It was a happy time.

          The graduates accepted congratulations from parents, friends, and many of their teachers.  It seemed as though all the teachers George and I had had during our elementary, junior high and high school classes were present:  Kindergarten - Mrs. Green; fourth grade - Mrs. Davis; fifth grade - Mr. Lindsay; sixth grade - Mrs. Robinson; seventh and eighth - Mr. Van Treece; Home Ec - Mrs. Frye; Music - Mr, Tate; English - Miss Penn and Miss Bloodworth; Solid Geomery - Mr. Turpin; Social Studies - Mr. Thatcher; Typing - Miss Stewart; Speech - Miss Moffit; and Biology - Mr, Taylor.  The people we loved, feared, looked up to as our role models, laughed with, coached us through difficult exams, always gave encouraging remarks, came to wish us a happy future.  They were all there—SMILING WITH PRIDE.



            After high school graduation, George and I seemed to have few career options.  There were two important things missing.  One was how to get to college, and the other was how to find a job. There were several things that we had to decide.  George and I both decided to enroll in K.C.K. Junior College .  However, George’s first semester tuition went for Daddy’s l956 Oldsmobile car payment.  Mrs. Arlene Eskridge’s social club had sent a $50 scholarship for college to me, but Daddy had cashed it by mistake.  Our plans for the future were uncertain to say the least. 

          George talked to Mr. Woodard about enlisting in the army.  Mr. Woodard had recently retired from the service.  He told George where the nearest recruitment office was located. George was anxious to leave Kansas City .  He was almost twenty years old and he felt that he wanted to see the world.  He enlisted the week following graduation.  Daddy was devastated.  When “Brother” told him his plans, Daddy stayed in bed for two days.

I enrolled in Junior College.  I was all set for the first semester.  However, I did not have second semester tuition.  Moreover, I had not located a job to save up for the fee.  In addition, I did not have a new wardrobe.  I had to be content with my high school clothes. Our parents provided us with a nice home, if we wanted more we had to acquire those things on our own.

            I had always wanted to go to college.  Mama had talked to me about her school days.  I could hardly wait for the classes to start at Kansas City Junior College (JuCo).  I knew I needed a job for all the little things such as bus fare, lunches, and hosiery.  I would also have to buy books for my classes.

            One day I decided to go job hunting.  The first place I thought about was Central Laundry where Mama had worked for the past eighteen years.  The manager was courteous.  He took all of my information, and said he would contact me if there was an opening.  If he hired me, I would have about six weeks to work before classes started. 

            That evening I told Mama about the job interview.  I thought Mama would be proud and happy.  Instead, she began crying.  Mama said that the laundry was the worst possible job.  I had not seen Mama so upset since my sister “Doolum” had died in Mississippi more than fifteen years ago.  I quickly dismissed the idea about working in the laundry.

          I started looking in the “Help Wanted Ads” of the local newspaper, talking to neighbors, and trying very hard to find work.  My next door neighbor, Lillie Thomas, had a sister-in-law who worked at Bruce Smith’s Drugstore in Prairie Village , Kansas .  The sister-in-law passed the word on to Mama that the drugstore was looking for a fountain girl.  She agreed to drive me to the store for an interview.  The manager hired me the same day that I applied.  I could see Kansas City Junior College (JuCo) becoming a reality.  I worked at the drugstore, saved as much as possible, bought small items of clothing when I could, helped Mama when she needed monetary help, and looked forward to the start of classes.

            The summer passed quickly.  I saw my friend Marva occasionally.  She was very busy working and trying to help her Mother when she was not working.  When fall classes started, many of my high school classmates were also enrolled at Junior College.  The freshmen had to take social studies, Math, and English.  A very good friend, Sonja Thierry and I were in the same three classes.  Sonja had two older sisters who were in the nursing program at Kansas University .  They always gave Sonja and me good advice about the classes to take.  Milicent Bledsoe also attended JuCo.  All three of us had been honor roll students at Sumner High School .  Now we were buzzing about graduating from JuCo and going to a four year school.



            One day, convocation was held at JuCo for Dr. Laurence Boylan, who was a recruitment administrator at Emporia .  He told the students about campus life, tuition costs, living costs, classes, transportation, available jobs, teachers, programs, churches, the town population, recreation, sports, and many other available resources.  Milicent Bledson and I were in attendance and we knew we had found our school.  We wanted to sing and shout.  When I got on the bus for home, I ran into a high school classmate and neighbor, Coretta Jones.  We began talking and I told her about the recruitment convocation at JuCo.  As we talked, I discovered that Mrs. Jones, Coretta’s mother, was a graduate of Emporia State . Coretta invited me to tell her Mother about my plans to go to Emporia .  When Mrs. Jones found out that the only thing keeping me from Emporia was a job, she assured me that she could help me find a job that would pay my tuition costs.  Mrs. Jones came to my home that very same evening to talk to my parents and me about a conversation that she had had with a potential employer in Emporia .

          Mrs. Jones also commended me on my outstanding scholastic record in high school.  Mrs. Jones explained that Mr. and Mrs. Stewart owned a black business in Emporia .  They hired college students to work as waitresses, cooks, and bus boys in his supper club.  Most of his customers were prosperous cattle men who came to Emporia to sell their beef.  My parents thought the job sounded safe.  Mrs. Jones also added that Mr. Stewart would pick up his help and drop them off at their homes.  Mrs. Jones called Mr. Stewart long distance to set up the arrangements for my job at Emporia .  What joy and thankfulness I felt in my heart.  I knew I was going to a four year college in the fall.  God did have a plan for me outside of Kansas City .

            I rode the bus to Emporia ’s new student orientation when I received my enrollment packet.  I spent the night in the guest dorm with other students who were new enrollees.  I met Barbara Morris when we were taking the entrance test.  Barbara was from Hutchinson Kansas .  She had attended Hutchinson Junior College .  Barbara and I spent a lot of time together during the enrollment session.

           The next morning we had to enroll for our fall classes.  We had to pay for one semester to secure a space for the fall.  The trip was uneventful.  After all of the school business had been completed, I took the bus back to Kansas City .  I did not see anyone that I knew.  Later in the summer I found out that several of my friends and former classmates would be attending Emporia .

            Geraldine Love, Milicent Bledsoe, Eldora Chandler, Harry Reynolds, and Timothy Wills had all enrolled for fall classes at Emporia .  I was happy and excited about attending classes at Emporia .  Fall came quickly.  Daddy and J.C. Daniels drove me to Mrs. Faye Mack’s rooming house, on the corner of Cottonwood and 12th Streets.  I would live off-campus with two other girls. 

Mr. Stewart called me and set up a work schedule.  I would work on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings from five o’clock until the club was clean and ready for the next business night, usually about midnight .  The pay was five dollars per night plus tips. Mr. and Mrs. Stewart were very nice people.  They both worked in the club.  On weekends his daughter, Norma Jean also helped in the club.  During the week, she was a typing teacher at Sumner High in Kansas City .  I did not have Miss Stewart for a teacher, but she was a very popular young teacher at Sumner.  Mr. Stewart had a booming business on Saturday nights.  He had a reputation for excellent service and good food.

            Emporia was beautiful in the fall.  The campus was full of beautiful trees.  There was a bridge that led from the girl’s dorm to the Student Union.  A stream of water flowed over rocks beneath the bridge.  I felt that I was where I was supposed to be.

            The college was very competitive, but I was a good student.  Some of the courses were very challenging. The most difficult course for me that semester was science.  I muddled through with a passing grade.  The English and math were easy courses.  The music, speech and social studies were also easy to manage.  There was so much to do. 

On Sundays some of the African American students attended the Baptist Church .  Another group attended the Methodist Church .  After church, most of the students went to Blaylocks’ Restaurant for Sunday dinner.  Some of the students who had cooking facilities would prepare dinner in their rooms.  My two roommates and I usually prepared our own dinner.  Many of the students went to the Strand Theatre after Sunday dinner.  Very few of the black students had cars.  Most students walked everywhere they had to go.

            Harry Reynolds introduced me to Monroe Fordham, a sophomore member of the varsity basketball team.  He had come to Emporia from Orlando Florida .  Monroe had been at Emporia since his freshman year.  His high school basketball coach in Florida had helped him apply and enroll at Emporia .  Both of us were more interested in working, making good grades, and keeping up with our busy schedules.  We had a courteous and friendly relationship from the beginning of our acquaintance.  Another friend Richard Goodseal was also a member of the basketball team.  He told Monroe that he had known me for a long time, and that I was a nice girl.  Now there were two matchmakers.  Monroe invited me to go with him to the Strand Theatre to see the movie “A Summer Place.”

            I worked for Mr. Stewart on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.  I worked in a nice environment.  Mr. Stewart took the help home each night after work.  The restaurant had to be cleaned and set up for the next business night.  Another classmate, Mack McConnell had been hired to be the fry cook.  I was surrounded by many people that I knew.  However, I did miss and think about my family in Kansas City .

            I thought about the tall six foot five inch basketball ball stranger from Orlando , Florida .  We had only gone to the movie one time.  I was so busy with homework, job, chores in my apartment, and the occasional miscellaneous things that I was not preoccupied with my social life.  Monroe and I would often see each other walking across the campus, or walking up Cottonwood street to attend classes, or in the student union where many of the students gathered after classes.  One day I had to walk across the big gym floor after leaving my gym class.  I was startled to see Monroe standing in the center of the floor in his fencing gear.  He pretended not to see me.  At the same time I kept my eyes on the ropes hanging from the gigantic ceiling.

          I later saw Monroe on his way home to get ready for work at Glen Pennington’s Ranch House Motel.  It just happened that I was on my way to Mrs. Mack’s House, which was located on Cottonwood .  We exchanged small talk about our English classes and the incident in the gym with the fencing class.  We were having a nice conversation and decided to walk over to a big oak tree to get out of the sun.  We sat down on the ground. The weather was beautiful.  It was warm and almost felt like summer although it was late October.  We casually began to talk about our families.  We found that we had a lot in common.  Both of us wanted to complete college, help our parents and maybe someday do some traveling.  Both felt fortunate to have jobs. 

Monroe was on a basketball scholarship, and I was paying my own way to college.  I enjoyed our conversation.  Monroe seemed to be a nice young man.  He was also a very serious student.  We parted on a friendly note.  Monroe promised to look for me at the Baptist Church on Sunday.  Rev. Chambers was the pastor.  After church, Monroe invited me to attend the movie “South Pacific” which was playing at the Strand Theatre.  The movie was quite entertaining, and we stopped at a popular donut shop on the way home.

            The first semester at Emporia was almost over.  I had a very busy schedule.  I worked, took sixteen hours of classes, attended church, kept my room tidy, washed my clothes once a week, wrote Mama often, and talked to Monroe on the phone.  I also received encouragement from Mama when I called her on Saturdays at the restaurant.  Mama always ended our conversations with “Be Sweet now.”  Mr. and Mrs. Stewart were pleased with my work at the supper club.  Everything was going well.

            Thanksgiving was just a few weeks away.  I had grown homesick for Mama and my family.  I could hardly wait for the brief Thanksgiving break.  I frequently saw Monroe walking across campus, but we had not had another date since the last movie we attended.  The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I took the bus home to Kansas City .  Before leaving I told Mr. Stewart that I would be back in time for the Saturday 5:00 o’clock pickup.  Going home was wonderful.  My family was happy to see me.  Thanksgiving dinner was delicious.  My younger brother, “Bobby” had removed my pink curtains from my room and claimed it as his room.  The return to Emporia came too soon.

          Once again it was Saturday night and Mr. Stewart’s employees were preparing for a big crowd.  Soon everyone was into the Saturday night routine.  The waitresses were serving salads, beverages, rolls, and dinners, and making extra trips for whatever the customers needed.  The night finally ended and I felt very good about my week’s pay and the tips I had received.

            The remainder of my first semester went by quickly.  Students talked about final exams, shopping for Christmas, going home for a three week break, and enrolling for the spring semester.  I saw Monroe one day in the Union .  He mentioned casually that Richard Goodseal had invited him to visit him in Kansas City before going to a basketball tournament in Quincy Illinois .  Monroe said he would give me a call when he and Richard came to Kansas City .

            When Monroe arrived in Kansas City , he called me and asked if my parents would mind if he came to see me.  My parents said it would be fine.  My parents were shy of college students and they decided to remain upstairs rather than come down and meet Monroe .  In addition, Richard had difficulty getting transportation to our house and it was very late when they arrived.  It was an awkward visit and only lasted a few minutes.  However, I think that both Monroe and I were glad to see each other.

          They left for the basketball tourney in Quincy the next day. The basketball team earned a second place trophy in the tourney.  Monroe ’s picture was on the front page of the Quincy paper.  Monroe told me that he would be in Emporia working at the Ranch House Motel during the Christmas break.  I returned to Emporia to work at Mr. Stewart’s after Christmas.  Emporia was almost deserted because most of the students were gone.  Monroe and I dated a lot during the winter semester break.  I think that we really got to know each other.

Mr. Stewart usually invited all of the black residents to the restaurant on the day after New Year’s.  It was an annual event that all of Emporia ’s African Americans looked forward to.  People of all ages would come and wear their “Sunday best.”  Monroe and I went to the party together.  We rode with Mack McConnell and his wife because Monroe didn’t have a car.  Mr. Stewart had hired a local D.J. to play all of the latest records.  Most of the black college students had returned for the party.  All ages were dancing and having a great time.  They did the most popular dances of the day.  The “birdland” was the most popular dance. Almost everyone present had learned to do the “birdland” before the evening ended. After the dance, Mack gave Monroe and me a ride back to town.  He noticed that Monroe gave me a tiny kiss on my cheek and Mack commented aloud that he won’t be the only black married man on campus much longer!!!

            The second semester started and Monroe and I went to church, parties, some athletic events, plays, for walks, the ice cream parlor, the student union, and the library.  We also had some of the same classes.  Mrs. Mack’s two young sons began to call me Mrs. Fordham because Monroe and I were seen together so frequently.  Monroe was very serious and intense about his studies and about basketball, and I could sense that he was beginning to think the same way about our relationship.

          Although neither of us had any money, Monroe asked me if I would like to get married during the summer.  He reasoned that if both of us kept our jobs, two could live cheaper than one.  We decided to get married and set the date for August 28th, (1960) at our house on Garfield in Kansas City , Kansas .  Mama was not unhappy, but she thought that I would come back home after college.  I was also marrying a stranger to the family, and not someone from Kansas City .  However, Mama rationalized that the important thing in this decision was for me to be happy.  She also wanted both of us to finish our education at Emporia State .

            When I told my landlord, Mrs. Mack, that I was getting married, Mrs. Mack was delighted.  She immediately planned an engagement shower.  Many of the ladies from the church came and brought beautiful gifts.  My sister, “Pudd” and Mrs. Maxwell came to Emporia to help me take my gifts back to Kansas City .

            I had grown up on Garfield , and I knew and invited everyone on the street to our wedding.  My pastor for years, Rev. B.J. Martin printed the invitations, helped us get a license, and put the information in the newspaper.  I cleaned Mama’s house, ordered the food and cake, bought myself and “Pudd” dresses for the wedding, and planned a practice for the occasion.

            Several of our Emporia classmates and friends came to Kansas City for our wedding.  Monroe came by bus from Emporia the day before the wedding and spent the night with Harry Reynolds.  My great-great aunt Cora Ward was present.  She was about ninety five years old.  Monroe ’s best man was a classmate and track star from Washington D.C, named Landis Franklin.  My sister, “Pudd”, was my maid of honor, and Daddy gave me away.  Other friends present were Geraldine Love, Marva Hooks, Ron and Shirley Slaymaker, Eddie Washington, Caston Terrell and his wife, and almost everyone who lived on Garfield .  My pastor’s wife, Mrs. Martin, sat with my Aunt Cora.  After everyone in the wedding was assembled in their places, Daddy and I walked down the two flights of stairs.  I wore a short white dress and a matching veil.  Everyone was listening and watching while Rev. Martin read a traditional ceremony.  When it was time for Monroe to repeat his vows, he said “I do” three times.  The guests gave smiles and chuckles.

            Kisses, hugs, and congratulations were passed around to the bride and groom, parents, relatives and everyone present inside the house.  There was a lot of food that I had bought especially for the occasion.  Family, guests, and neighbors gathered on the large front porch and also in the yard after the ceremony.

            When all of the guests left, Monroe and I packed up our gifts and my belongings.  Daddy and “Bobby” drove us back to Emporia to the small house that we had rented.  The small four room house at 210 E. 14th Street was across the street from the Emporia State campus.  It was formerly a house where students lived, but it had been unoccupied for years.  The roof leaked in several places, part of the wooden kitchen was rotted out so badly that the ground was visible.  Monroe, a close friend--“Little” Callaway, and I had spent the summer making repairs, putting on a new roof, and doing other maintenance to make the place livable.  The owner agreed that if we donated the labor to fix the house up, he would rent it to us for $35 per month.  That was our first home.  My family was happy and sad.  Daddy did not talk much on the trip back to Emporia , but I felt in my heart that he approved of the man I had married.

            When the fall semester (1960) started, Monroe and I continued the same routine that we basically had followed before we were married.  I took classes and worked for Mr. Stewart three nights a week, Monroe took classes also, and went to work at the Ranch House Motel at 5:30 A.M. three days per week, and during the day on weekends.  He also had basketball practice.  We usually had dinner together on the days when I did not have to work evenings. 

Once basketball season started we seldom had any time together.  We would leave notes on the bed and kitchen table expressing our feelings for each other as we went our different ways.  That year (1960-61) the basketball team had an excellent season.  I was able to attend games on the nights when I didn’t work. The team won the playoffs and qualified for the National NAIA tourney in Kansas City , Missouri .  Monroe was excited about being exposed to some of the scouts for professional teams, and I was happy about getting to Kansas City to see my parents.  (I began to call Monroe by the nickname “Monte” that his teammates had given him).

I rode to Kansas City with a group of friends from Emporia .  Mama had prepared dinner, but my friends did not stay.  Daddy, “Pudd”, our neighbor (Helen Owens) and “Bobby” attended the game together.  The Hornets were leading in the early periods but the game was close.  “Monte” ( Monroe ) twisted his ankle around the middle part of the game.  The injury led to his removal from the game and Emporia ’s team was eventually eliminated.  The students, team members, town people, relatives of players and well wishers talked about the game in Kansas City for the remainder of the semester.  The games were over and everyone had to continue with their routines.

            I was completing my first semester of student teaching.  It was difficult trying to balance all of my responsibilities.  However I received moral support from several of my advisors.  When I went for my elementary education degree check, I was informed that I would be able to graduate in May, l961 with a B.S. degree in Education.  I was so excited that I was unable to eat that evening.  My food refused to go down.  The next morning I had the same problem.  “Monte” ( Monroe ) suggested that maybe I should see a doctor.  We went to a gynecologist named Dr. Traylor.  He informed us that I was expecting and that the child would be born in December (1961) around the middle of the month.  We were happy, and a little bit afraid.  Both of us realized that a child was a big responsibility.  We began to make plans for the new arrival.  “Monte” suggested that I quit my job at the restaurant, and we should take out a student loan.  I graduated in the spring of 1961, but “Monte” had another year of basketball eligibility. 

          As we waited for our first child, during the fall semester of 1961, “Monte” continued to work, attend classes and play basketball.  I helped “Monte” with some of his class papers.  When basketball season started “Monte” began to feel concerned about my being alone in Emporia without a telephone.  It was almost time for the baby to be born.  I knew that Mama would come if I needed her, but Mama was still working and Daddy was not well. 

I started having labor pains on the morning that “Monte” was scheduled to leave for a game in Missouri .  “Monte” suggested that we call the doctor and tell him of our situation.  The doctor decided to have me check into the hospital before “Monte” left for the game. 

I missed Mama and “Monte”, but I did not complain.  I listened to the game on the radio until the labor pains became unbearable.  The last thing I remember hearing on the radio was the announcer reporting that Monroe Fordham’s wife was expecting their first child at Newman Hospital in Emporia that night.  The night nurse had given me a sedative and told me that Dr. Traylor was on the way to the hospital.  I remember the doctor telling me that I had a healthy little gal. 

          It had snowed that day, and when the team returned to Emporia late that night, “Monte” walked the two miles from our house to the hospital to see me and our first born child.  The hospital was closed, but a nurse allowed him to see me for several minutes.  We named the baby Cynthia Ann Fordham.  Mama came to spend one weekend with us after I was released from the hospital.

            After Christmas break, we began the spring semester, 1962.  The recruiters were on campus interviewing graduates and potential graduates for positions in the nearby Kansas towns and other areas in neighboring states and cities.  It was a tense and exciting time for us.  We would both be college graduates in the fall and we had scheduled our first job interviews with the Wichita , Kansas Public Schools.  “Monte” and I were interviewed together by Al Morris and Fred Colvin.  Both men were directors of personnel for the Wichita Kansas Public Schools.  The two officials hired both of us for teaching positions beginning in September, 1962. 

When the interviews were officially over, we just hugged each other.  We could hardly believe that we were both hired.  I was hired for an elementary position at Ingalls Elementary School and “Monte” was assigned to East High School .  We rushed home to our baby daughter and told her the news, although she didn’t understand a word that we were saying.  We couldn’t call our parents until later because we didn’t have a phone.  We did tell our neighbors who were very happy for us.

            The interviews, positions in Wichita and opportunities for a new life were so very exciting.  After dinner “Monte” and I discussed bringing his mother to Emporia for his graduation in May (1962) and later going to Florida to spend some time with his family.  During all of the excitement of the move to Wichita , my Aunt Cora Ward passed.  She was almost 100 years old.  I felt especially sad for Mama who had lost one of the last members of her core family.

            In June (1962), “Monte” resigned from his job at the Ranch House Motel.  We rented a u-haul trailer to take our meager belongings to our new home in Wichita , Kansas .  It was time to get situated for our first professional positions.  The apartment we rented in Wichita was located at 2810 East Ninth Street , apartment three.  Our apartment was several blocks from Ingalls Elementary School —my first teaching assignment.  It was about a mile from East High—“Monte’s” school.  Our apartment was in a nice neighborhood.  There was a mix of brick apartments and small one-family homes.  There were also a lot of children.  After moving in and getting acquainted with the neighborhood, we prepared to drive to Florida in our `57 Chevrolet.


            This was our first visit to the South.  We had to plan our trip carefully because segregation was still the “law of the land” in the South.  We were only aware of two motels that would accommodate us between Kansas and Florida .  We decided to drive to Birmingham , Alabama and sleep the night at the Gadsden Hotel in that city.  It was a long hot drive, and sometimes uncomfortable with a seven month old baby.  In addition, the motel in Birmingham was not air-conditioned and there was no hot water in our room.  We were unable to sterilize the baby’s bottles.  In addition, it was difficult to keep a ready supply of fresh milk. 

          Consequently, when we reached Florida , baby Cynthia had the thrash.  Cynthia had to be rushed to the doctor.  Dr. Smith, “Monte’s” childhood doctor, had seen baby Cynthia’s symptoms many times.  “Monte’s” Mother, Arie , was very pleased when Dr. Smith prescribed medicine that would cure Cynthia’s problem.  I met “Monte’s” brothers and sisters—Vera, Lawrence, Evelyn, and Mancefield.  “Monte’s” Uncle Otis and his wife Rose, and their children Rosemary, Lester, Ernest, and Lorenzo, also came over to visit.  Mother Arie planned a big meal at which many of “Monte’s” Florida relatives attended.

            I enjoyed the visit with my in-laws.  The family had an outing to the ocean, picnics, a night out at Club Eaton, and a special concert in the Project’s club room featuring the famous and very young James Brown.  The vacation ended much too soon, and everyone felt very sad as we packed our car and prepared to head back to Kansas .  Johnny Jackson, “Monte’s” step-father, suggested that “Monte” should drive to Memphis , spend the night at the Lorraine Motel and drive on to Wichita .

            Road weary, we returned to Wichita safely to our new home at 2810 East Ninth Street .  School would be starting in about two weeks.  The first pay checks would not come for a month.  We had to budget our meager resources until the first of October.  We had to plan for and identify a baby sitter, and plan meals and other expenses to insure that we would have enough money to tide us over until we got paid.  As it turned out, we found a baby sitter that lived in the neighborhood, my school was only a few blocks from the apartment, and I would be able to walk home for lunch and after school.  “Monte” would keep the car and give me a ride to school in the mornings. If we could make it to October, by the standards of what we were accustomed to, we would be rich.



          I was a first grade teacher at Ingalls Elementary School ,  and “Monte” was teaching at Wichita East High School .  Other teachers in my building were Ruth Autry, Helen Pryor, Mrs. Guest, Charles Rankin, Mrs. Parks, Mrs.Haney, Brenda Woods, Mr. Phillips, and Mr. Taylor (the principal).  Our first month in Wichita went well.  Noel Certain, a college friend, stopped by our apartment for a visit.  It was good seeing someone that we were close to during our college days.  It helped us to appreciate how far we had come.  We went through several baby sitters that year, but Cynthia was the center of our lives and we felt fortunate to have a babysitter problem.

            When Cynthia was three years old, we enrolled her in the Phyllis Wheatly Day Care Center.  Mrs. Anderson was in charge of the center.  Cynthia enjoyed going each day.  There were children to play with each day and she boasted about their delicious food.

In addition to teaching full time, “Monte” and I were both taking Saturday or evening classes at Emporia for our Master’s degrees, working in the church and doing extra things in our schools.  We also spent our summers in Emporia in summer school.  I completed the requirements for my Masters Degree and graduated in 1964.  Mama and my niece, Harla (“Pudd’s”daughter) came to Emporia for my graduation.  They took the train back to Kansas City after the ceremonies.  Karl Malden was the commencement speaker.

            When the school year ended in 1965, I was pregnant with our second child.  Barry Fordham was born in St. Frances Hospital on September 1, 1965 .  I was able to return to school shortly after the new school year began.  We found a baby sitter that was almost like a family member.  Mrs. Miles would take care of Barry in our apartment for several years.

            The first six years out of college went by fast.  Cynthia was ready for kindergarten. Barry was born in 1965, and was now ready for Nursery school. Most of our time was consumed with raising the two children.  We went to K.C. and Florida to see our parents.  My older brother, George had lived in Chicago , Thailand , and Alaska .  He had been in the army about ten years and enjoyed the travel and army routines.  His family was growing also.  He now had five children Christopher, Sherida, Ricky, Tyrone, and DeWayne.



            The greatest change that occurred in our lives between 1962 and 1968 was the deterioration of our parents’ health.  Daddy retired from the Rock Island Railroad in 1966.  At that time he had become very ill and was diagnosed with cancer.  My mother was very supportive and had given up her job in Central Laundry.  She was also helpful to my sister and her four children who were all under seven years old.  The doctor had started the chemo treatments to treat Daddy’s cancer.  Mama spent most of her time at the hospital.  The doctor tried to encourage my mother to stay home, but she refused his advice, and continued to spend each day with Daddy as he received blood transfusions and continual chemo treatments.  Mama kept my older brother George, who was stationed in Thailand , informed about Daddy’s condition.  She called me almost every night or as soon as she returned home.  My parent’s four children were not aware that our father’s condition was terminal. 

          One Saturday, in March, 1968, “Monte” and I drove to Kansas City to see my parents.  When we arrived, no one was there.  Just as we started to go to “Pudds” house, Mama returned home from the Laundromat.  She told “Monte” and me that Daddy only had a few days to live.  She told me to expect a call when the doctor discontinued the treatment.  We spent several hours at the hospital.  “Monte” kept Cynthia and Barry, our two children in a special waiting room at the hospital. 

          I was too stunned and heart broken to cry.  I just sat in the hospital and rubbed Daddy’s arms where the tubes were connected to the special machine.  Daddy told me that they had told him that he had cancer.  We left the hospital and returned to Mama’s house on Garfield .  I had forgotten to tell Daddy that I was expecting my third child in August.  Daddy would be put to eternal rest by then. We visited with Mama for a while longer before starting the five hour drive back to Wichita .  We stopped by to see “Pudd” and her fifth child whom she named Michael Dyer.

            Late in March Mama called with the news that Daddy had passed.  I left the next day for Kansas City to help and comfort Mama.  I went by bus and “Monte” would drive to the funeral with the children after the arrangements were confirmed.  What a sad hurting time.  My body was numb with grief.  I cried for Daddy who was uneducated, but had enough courage to move his wife and family from a violent and segregated South, to an unfamiliar city and use his meager resources to make a life for his family.  I cried for the grandchildren he would never see.  I cried for the many times I didn’t understand Daddy.  His hot temper which produced fits of anger, were really outbursts of pride.  I was sitting in my bus seat thinking to myself that I wished I could share my thoughts with my father.  The bus driver told me that we had arrived at the Kansas City bus station and asked if I needed assistance.  I thanked him as I gathered up my belongings and waited for my small suitcase to be removed from beneath the bus in the luggage carrier.

            I took a taxi to Mama’s house.  Although Mama was not getting around well, she came all the way down the steps to the taxi to hug me. What a comforting feeling Mama’s arms were at that moment. She told me that the Red Cross would make arrangements with the army to send George home for the funeral.  The following days were spent visiting funeral homes, choosing a casket, preparing the religious service, contacting the minister, choosing funeral apparel, and other incidental arrangement details.

            Toward the end of the week relatives began to arrive.  I stayed with “Pudd”, who lived across the street.  Cousin Earline Bledsoe stayed with my younger brother “Bobby”, who lived in an apartment on Garfield .  My older brother George stayed with his family in Kansas City , Missouri .  Cousins James Harris, Modia Wilkins, Aunt Vesta Coleman and other relatives stayed with Mama on Garfield .  Neighbors prepared food and they all had comforting words for the family.  I stayed at the house on the evening of the wake.  I just didn’t feel like visiting with old friends or relatives that evening.  The morning of the funeral my grief was unbearable.  I just couldn’t believe my father was gone.  All I could think about was what would Mama do without him.  There were so many uncertainties surrounding our lives. 

            I wanted Mama to return to Wichita with me.  However, I was the only family member who thought that was a good idea.  My Mother didn’t want to leave her home or her two younger children.  She also felt good about the neighborhood and friends she had known for the last twenty years.  I felt frustrated and discouraged, so I dropped the idea.  After the funeral and all the good-byes were said, I returned to Wichita with “Monte” and my two children.

            When my father Gid Harris died in 1968, “Monte” and I were teaching in Wichita .  My parents were still living in Kansas City on Garfield in the family home.  My sister, “Pudd” had married Elmer Dyer.  My younger brother, “Bobby,” was still living on Garfield .  My family would drive to Kansas City for thanksgiving, Christmas, summer breaks, and unexpected visits.  My oldest brother, George had married Derline Woods and they had four children.  My sister “Pudd” (Willie Ethel) had one son and one daughter, named Tony and Harla.  “Bobby” had one son named Warren .  Occasionally the family would get together on Garfield for a family dinner, picnic or informal visit.  Now Daddy would be missing from those gatherings.

            My third child, Pamela, was born in 1968 (August 6).  We had moved into a new home at 2314 Gentry.  The house was a tri-level structure located in a suburban neighborhood several blocks from Wichita State University .  The neighborhood was changing from an all-white community to a community that was home to an increasing number of black professionals.



            Our routines continued as usual when we returned home.  There was a lot happening in our lives and the political climate of the country was changing.  Even in a city like Wichita , I was aware that there were changes ahead.  “Monte” taught in high school and the black students were becoming very militant and outspoken.  “Monte’s” class was on the first floor of the school.  One day, when he had his window open, a group of students who were running from the police climbed into his classroom.  Some of the students just calmly took seats as though they were members of the class.  The other students ran to exits that led them away from the police.  When I heard about the incident, I felt very nervous.

            I called Mama to tell her what had happened at East High School .  She told me to be careful because I was expecting our third child in August.  The school year ended in May, and the political atmosphere in the city of Wichita continue to escalate.  On college campuses all over the country there was rioting and unrest among the students.  The Black Panther’s name was in the papers almost every day. The city of Wichita was not immune to the racial problems.  College and school administrators were frantically putting plans in place to curtail violence and ease racial tension.

            I was involved in one of the plans that affected Ingalls Elementary School .  Mr. Phillips asked me if I would transfer to one of the all white schools.  I decided to move to McLean Elementary School for a First Grade position.  The school system was trying to integrate the teaching staffs.  The drive to the new school was a little further than my short drive to Ingalls.

            “Monte” was happy about my new school, although he was disappointed about the loss of freedom I had at Ingalls to drive home to check on Barry and make sure Cynthia arrived home safely from her school.  The changes that were occurring around us affected everyone in some way.  I had no idea how much our lives would be completely changed within the next year.  The sixties were an exciting time.  Young blacks and whites were talking about equal opportunities for blacks.  There was literature everywhere written about the inequality in the job market.  “Monte” had started to become active with the local civil rights groups.  Wichita had demonstrations for “fair housing” and better inner city schools.  “Monte” worked with a new local organization called “The Committee for Black Unity.”  Their aim was to get all local black civil rights groups to work under one umbrella.

“Monte” had received his Master’s degree from Emporia ’s History department.  He taught a course in                 African American History at East High.  He graduated with strong credentials and Wichita State hired him to be the Coordinator of African American Studies.  “Monte” met Norm Weaver at a summer Conference at Morgan State University in Baltimore , Maryland .  The two men talked and during the conversation Norm offered him a position at Buffalo State College and the opportunity to enter the University of Buffalo ’s Ph.D. Program in History.  “Monte” came home from Maryland more excited than I had seen him in a long time.

            Now our family was discussing relocating to Buffalo , New York .  We were concerned about schools for Cynthia and Barry, and a nursery school for Pamela who would turn three in the fall, 1970.  We also had to decide what to do about the house we had begun to buy on Gentry.  Our parents were disappointed that we would want to leave a nice area like Wichita to take our young children all the way to New York .  The decisions were made, and I officially resigned from the Wichita Public Schools and “Monte” resigned from Wichita State University . 

A realtor was chosen to handle the sale of the house.  “Monte” drove to Buffalo to finalize the position and enroll in the degree program at the University of Buffalo .  I also made a trip to Buffalo to apply for a position, but I had not taken the Buffalo exam.  My application for a position had to be made after the testing.  When “Monte” was in Buffalo , he signed a lease for a duplex located at 352 Carmen Road , in Eggertsville, a suburb of Buffalo .

            Our youngest child was two years old when we moved to Buffalo .  My not having a position for that fall was the least of my worries.  I had to enroll Pamela in Nursery School and Barry and Cynthia in Elementary School.  Since I did not have a position, Pamela would stay home with me until I completed the Buffalo test.

            We told our neighbors, the Jacksons, that we would be leaving the area.  They could not understand why we would want to leave such a beautiful city that offered so many opportunities for us and our children.  Norm Weaver, a faculty member at Buffalo State College had helped “Monte” secure a position in the History Department at Buffalo State College.  “Monte” was also enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in the History Department at the University of Buffalo .  We realized that we were leaving some great opportunities behind in Wichita .  However, we felt that there were even greater challenges and opportunities in Buffalo .  We were grateful for all of the blessings that we had received in Wichita , but it was time to move on.

            We decided to drive through Kansas City on our way to Buffalo .  I wanted to see Mama and spend time with her before we left Kansas .  That visit made me realize that Mama should not be left alone.  Just seeing her so fragile made me realize that she needed twenty-four hour care.  My sister, “Pudd”, and younger brother, “Bobby”, reluctantly agreed with me.  However, there was nothing I could do before getting my own family settled in Buffalo .  “Pudd” was busy raising her five children but she also looked after Mama.

          Once we got settled in Buffalo , I began looking for a position outside of Buffalo because I couldn’t take the teacher’s exam until October.  I taught one semester at Buffalo State ’s Campus School .  The job at the Campus was only for one semester.  I stayed at home during the spring semester, 1971.  In October, 1970, I was able to pass the teacher’s exam and I got a teaching position at one of Buffalo ’s first Magnet Schools.  My employment would begin in the fall, 1971.  The pay and benefits in the Buffalo Public Schools would be excellent.  I knew I would be able to subsidize the cost of keeping Mama in a Nursing Home in Kansas .  The following fall, l971, I began my teaching career with BUILD Academy of the Buffalo Public Schools.  BUILD Academy was operated by the BUILD Organization, which was a black community group that had a partnership with the Buffalo Board of Education.  I felt that I had found my career job.

            My application to teach at BUILD, in retrospect, seems like a stroke of fate.  I was teaching Sunday School at Bethel A.M.E. Church and one of the other Sunday School teachers, a Mrs. Robinson, informed me that the BUILD Academy was looking for teachers who were certified.  Mrs. Robinson was a member of the BUILD Community Advisory Board.  BUILD Academy was an experiment in “community control.”  Mrs. Robinson thought that I was ideal for a position in such a school.  Mrs. Robinson encouraged me to apply.  My interview with BUILD was very inspiring and the interview team hired me for a position that was available in September of 1971. I had passed the Buffalo test and my career in Buffalo began officially that fall.

            On August 30, 1971 , I began the orientation for my teaching position at BUILD Academy .  I felt that my public school career as a Buffalo teacher was about to begin. As I walked through the wide green doors I felt myself losing some of the euphoria I had previously felt.  As I looked around at the much publicized community school, I thought that it didn’t look much different from my old Wichita schools where I had been teaching the past eight years.  The distinct difference was there were almost ninety-nine percent African Americans on staff.  That percentage included the secretaries, teacher aides, janitors, nurses, lunch ladies, and volunteer parents, and community volunteers.  I saw a sea of beautiful faces of all skin tones.  At that moment, I knew I was in the right place. The principal, Mrs. Johnnie Mayo, had been given the title of Chief Officer.  She offered us coffee and began the agenda.

           The introduction of new teachers was followed by a welcome.  All of the new teachers were called to stand except one.  I was that one.  I had a momentary feeling of not belonging to this group.  I had that feeling many times at the Campus School .  My name was finally called and I felt a temporary sigh of relief.  I still do no not know why my name was not on the first list.  The Chief Officer read a letter from the State Certification Office, and then asked the teachers who had taken the test to please stand.  I stood with a few other teachers. I thought to myself, “I am not on the bottom this time, but I am on the top of this list.” 

           As the assignments were read, I found out that I would be teaching fourth grade.  I was glad because I had already started to order some of the materials I would need.  The remainder of the day went well.  I felt at home with most of the people I had met on this very important day.

            September 1, 1971 was my son’s birthday.  He would be starting second grade at Sweet Home Elementary School .  My first day with my new fourth grade students would also begin.  The family followed our regular routine.  I prepared breakfast and lunches.  I did not anticipate any problems.  Then chattered as they finished their breakfast and gathered up their books and hurried to the bus stop. 

          When I arrived at my school, several teachers were talking about the “situation” at BUILD.  Several white teachers had been assigned to our building.  The conversation centered around the inadequacy of white teachers to teach black students.  I decided that I wouldn’t get involved in the politics of race.  I decided to try to make friends.  I had just left McLean School in Wichita and I was the outsider.  There were only two black teachers in that school.  Betty Wesley and I were accepted by the parents and teachers.  Our goal was to just do our job well.  I had this same philosophy as I prepared for my BUILD students.  Because I was so young at Ingalls and McLean, at that moment I felt that I had matured and had a lot more experiences to offer my BUILD students.

            September 23, l971 was the third week of my teaching in Buffalo .  The children were quite noisy, disrespectful at times, and did not always work up to their potential.  Sometimes they seemed very hard to motivate. The people in the building were friendly, but they wanted to know who were friends and who were foes.  It was all human dynamics.  There were frustrating moments.  At times I felt very challenged trying to work in that environment.  There was very little time for socializing because there was so much to do. I felt blessed to have a position in a school like BUILD, but I sure missed my friends from Kansas .

After receiving my first two paychecks, I called my sister and told her that I would be coming to Kansas City to move our Mother into a nursing home.  We first decided on Primrose Villa.  It was not far from the Garfield home or my sister’s house.  “Bobby” and “Pudd” would both be able to visit Mama.  At least she would be in a clean and comfortable environment.  Mama had a little dementia.  The attendants were not aware of her condition and would just leave her food on the table.  No aide was assigned to help or supervise her meals.  Mama was starving because she just ignored her food and would not eat.  “Pudd” and “Bobby” wanted to change her to a different home before I returned to New York. 

          We made application and within a couple of days we transferred her to Bryant, Butler, and Kitchen Nursing Home.  We felt comfortable because it was run by the A.M.E. Church.  My euphoria was short lived when I observed that so many of the patients seemed to be suffering from mental problems.  They gave my mother a nice bright room.  They insured us that she would be carefully supervised and her medicine would be given by a nurse.

          After getting my mother settled, I reluctantly and tearfully returned to MCI Airport for my return flight to Buffalo.  I had to change flights in Chicago.  It was a long depressing ride home.  I told “Monte” about my experience and the need to change nursing homes.  “Monte” suggested that we could drive to Florida to see his family, and go back through Kansas to see my mother and other members of my family when the school year ended.  That suggestion helped me through the remainder of the school year.

            We made our plans and left Buffalo on July 1st.  The children were excited because they would see their Kansas cousins and their Florida cousins.  When we arrived in Florida, the children had a wonderful time.  Our first outing was the trip to the ocean.  We bought tubes, umbrellas, and water toys for the children.  We also had all kinds of food and treats for the children.  All of the children and adults had a wonderful time.  The older girls went to a house party.  The adults talked and shared experiences they had when they were growing up in Orlando.

            “Monte” and I discussed our route from Orlando to Kansas City and decided to stop in Atlanta to see Aunt Nan, who was Mother Arie D. Jackson’s oldest sister.  Aunt Nan’s granddaughter, Angela, and “Monte’s” cousins Rhea, Curtis, and Josie were also in Atlanta.  When the plans were in place, we started our drive to Atlanta.  By the time we reached Atlanta, we realized that our Chevy needed new tires.  I called Aunt Nan and told her that we were on the outskirts of Atlanta, and we would be there as soon as we got our car serviced.

          When we finally arrived at 74 Stafford all of us were exhausted.  Aunt Nan had prepared a delicious meal with fresh fried corn, greens from her garden, corn bread, chicken, peach cobbler and a salad made from fresh lettuce.  Aunt Nan insisted that the three Children remain at her house, and “Monte” and I stayed at cousin, Josie’s house.  The next day we were taken on a tour of all of the talked about places in Atlanta.  Everything we did was enjoyable.

          That night we packed and prepared for our trip to Kansas City.  The trip to Kansas was uneventful.  When we arrived at my sister’s house, everyone was glad to see us. The next day we went to the nursing home to see Mama.  She had lost a lot of weight since I had seen her during my Easter break.  Barry and Pamela were afraid of my mother and the other older people in the home.  Cynthia remembered her grandmother and went right up to her with a big kiss on her cheek.  Mama’s condition startled all of us.  We spent the next day at Wyandotte Lake with my sister’s children.  They had fun tossing rocks, wood, and bottles into the gigantic lake.  We bought lunch for the children and returned to my sister’s house.  We visited with my sister and her husband Dexter before returning to the Nursing home for one last visit before returning to New York.

            My sister and younger brother were having problems with Mama’s decline.  None of us knew what she was thinking.  She asked several times when her older son, George was coming home. “Brother,” as she called him, was her first born son.  She and my father loved George and wanted him out of the army.  I knew when we left Kansas that day that my mother was dying quietly.  I told “Monte” that I had to save up enough money for funeral cost, and our airfare back to Kansas .  “Monte” knew that my instincts were correct.

            One day in March, 1978, I received a call informing me that I should come to Kansas City as soon as possible.  This was the call I dreaded.  I packed my clothing and flew out to Kansas.  I rented a car and drove to my sister’s house from the airport.  My sister and I went directly to the nursing home.  When we arrived at the home, the nurses had dressed Mama in a beautiful white hospital gown.  They arranged her silvery gray hair in a neat bun on top of her head.  Ironically, they had also prepared food and left it on her tray.  My sister and I tried to get Mama to eat.  We had no knowledge of the death rattle in a person’s throat.  When Mama didn’t respond to the food, we just sat in the hospital room sharing small talk and glancing at Mama to see if she was awake. 

          Since my sister had children in elementary school, we decided to return to her house.  Our plan was to check on the children and return to the nursing home when her husband arrived from work.  Before we could take off our coats, the nursing home called to inform us that Mama had passed.  We were both in shock and we just did things automatically. 

We called Thatcher’s Funeral Home to come and pick up her body.  My sister, my younger brother, and I were aware that Mama had been sick about ten years. However, we were not ready to say good-bye.  Neighbors and relatives were notified.  The funeral day was set.  Our older brother George was notified.  Mama had few other living relatives but we notified the cousins, and several nieces and nephews.  We also notified the relatives from my father’s family.  The neighbors from the old Armstrong neighborhood came to the wake, funeral services, and visited us at my sister’s house.  They were all very kind bringing food and kind words about my mother.

          I was so happy when my husband, “Monte” and our three children arrived from Buffalo.  I had missed them during my week in Kansas.  I guess I had hidden my emotions during the past week, because when I started crying I just couldn’t seem to stop.  Most people remarked that I looked so much like my mother.  I finally pulled my emotions together long enough to greet old friends, comfort my children, and prepare for our trip back to Buffalo.

            Alberta Johnella Harris was buried next to her husband Gid Harris.  It was a rainy day and we had to walk up a steep roadway that was muddy and slippery.  The cemetery caretakers volunteered to bury my mother after the burial services, when the roadway was dry.  My younger brother, “Bobby” insisted that the burial should be completed, regardless of the slippery conditions on the hill.  No one wanted to argue with “Bobby”.  So we all went up the dangerous hill to the burial plot and completed my mother’s final services.  We felt that my mother was in heaven watching her youngest son put on a show in her behalf.  We were sure that she was smiling and telling those around her, “That’s Bobby.”

            The young Fordham family packed our belongings and headed for MCI Airport for the trip back to our home in Buffalo.  We were all exhausted from the tension and activity of the past few days.  When we were checked in at the airport, we sat and napped until our flight was called.  The entire trip was filled with short naps and long naps.  When the flight landed in Buffalo everyone in the family was relieved and happy to be back home.


Blizzard of 1977

            By 1977, our family was busy with all kinds of activities. Cynthia and Pamela were busy taking dance lessons at the Black Dance Workshop.  Carol Welsh organized the dance group for girls who were six years to eighteen years.  Barry went to the YMCA three days a week to sharpen up his basketball skills.  On Saturdays, I took the three children to Bethel Church for choir rehearsal.  After practicing we would stop at Freddie’s doughnuts and Henry’s for our favorite fast foods.  It was usually late Saturday afternoon when we returned home. During the week I took a class at the University of Buffalo.  I was pursuing a second Masters Degree, this one in Reading.  “Monte” had finished his doctoral degree and was still teaching History at Buffalo State College.

            Buffalonians are accustomed to snow.  The snowfall in early January, 1977 did not seem especially threatening.  On this particular morning it was snowing but we went through our normal routine in getting ready for school.  We ate breakfast and left for school as per normal.  Sometime during the morning the snowfall became heavier and the winds began to increase in velocity.  By mid-day it was clear that this was not a normal snowstorm.  Fortunately, “Monte”, the children and I were able to get home safely before the brunt of the storm hit.  We were all at home when the wind began blowing. 

We decided to go to the store and stock up on basic food items in case we got snowed in.  “Monte” decided to take the three children and go to Tops Super Market, about two blocks from our apartment.  They made it to the store.  On the way home, each one of the children was carrying a bag of groceries.  Before they reached home the blizzard winds made walking in the blinding snow almost impossible.  Pam, our youngest, had to drop her grocery bag and hang on to “Monte’s” coat tail to avoid getting disoriented and lost in the massive whiteout.

          They were only half-way home and the other children lost items from their grocery bags.  They finally reached the apartment, but they had lost most of the items that they had bought at the store.  For the next five or six days we were stuck in the apartment.  We couldn’t open our doors because of the high snow drifts.  We couldn’t even see outside, the windows were covered with snow.  We spent all-day, every day just sleeping and watching TV.  Alex Haley’s Roots was being televised for the first time.  We waited anxiously each day for the next episode.

            The Carmen Street Duplexes, where we lived, were ideal for young families with growing children.  Our children had lots of playmates who lived on the same block and rode the same bus to Sweet Home Elementary School.  Our adult friends, and next door neighbors, were Don and Anita White, and Lawrence and Emily Payne.  “Monte” and Lawrence were both enrolled at graduate programs at the University of Buffalo.  Don worked as an engineer for Bell Aerospace. The six adults got together to play cards and talk sports when there was time.  The children rode their bicycles, played tag football, yelled, screamed and had a ball.

            Cynthia, our oldest daughter was in elementary school.  She was the only girl in elementary school living on our block.  The Paine’s had one teenage daughter named Sherry who was in high school. Cynthia and Sherry became friends, and they would sit on the porch and watch the neighborhood boys’ games.


            During the spring of 1981 I received a call from my sister that her thirteen year old son had died of a heart attack.  Michael had a weakened heart at birth, and he always suffered from that condition.  He and my youngest daughter Pamela were born during the same year.  My sister was devastated.  Michael was a loving, fun child to be around.  His teachers and everyone who knew Michael loved him.  He loved to attend a local church and sometimes members would come by and take him to Sunday School and youth programs. 

           “Monte” had to be out of town, and I booked my flight to Kansas to be with my sister and her family.  Cynthia and Barry were both in high school and Pamela was in junior high.  I felt comfortable leaving them for a few days for Michael’s funeral.  The pastor who preached at the services was the husband of one of my college classmates.  There were numerous people present from the neighborhood and Michael’s school.  My sister’s spirits were lifted as she looked around and saw her classmates and friends who had come to share in her grief.  I stayed in Kansas for a week before returning to Buffalo.  My sister was not ready for me to leave, but I had to get back to my three children and my job.  “Monte” returned from his trip about the same time.  The children were happy for things to be back to normal.



            Cynthia was in her junior year of high school when we took her to Howard University and Kent State to visit their campuses.  She liked Kent State and we were set on her applying to that school.  However, in the final analysis, Cynthia chose to apply to a college that she hadn’t visited--Michigan State University (MSU).  She liked the course outline for their journalism program.  In her senior year, she applied to MSU and was accepted.  In the summer, after her senior year in high school, she went to the new student orientation at MSU.  It was a special time for our family because Cynthia would be the first of the children to attend College.  I think that the visit to the campus during orientation had an impact on the younger children as well.  In the fall, our household would start to get smaller for the first time.

          We knew that Barry, our son, would be choosing a college in a few short years.  The time passed fast and Barry had fun playing varsity basketball for Sweet Home High School.  Coach Walko and parent Jack Green took a special interest in Barry and the other young men on the team.  Coach Walko often replied that they were a very coachable team.  “Monte” was also very supportive of Barry and his friends.  “Monte” drove them to some of their summer league games.  He also took Barry to the Masten Boys Club, Five Star Camp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Empire State games in Syracuse, New York.  They loved to play on the UB courts, in the school gymnasium, or wherever a hoop was available. 

           When Barry was a senior, he was recruited by many division one schools.  His heart was set on Georgia Tech.  Theirs was one of the many coaches that visited our home during Barry’s senior year.  Georgia Tech refused to offer an early decision contract.  “Monte” became concerned that Barry was going to end up at a school that was primarily interested in him as an athlete.   “Monte” wrote a secret letter to the Michigan State coach asking him to take a look at Barry because his sister was already a student at MSU.  The MSU staff was apparently impressed because they began recruiting Barry about a week later.  Jud Heathcote and his MSU assistant coach, Mike Dean, came to one of Sweet Home’s games.

            After the game the coach came to our home and offered Barry a full four year scholarship with room and board, and tuition paid for four years.  I was so happy for Barry and I was thankful for the scholarship.  Cynthia had taken a job to earn extra money.  Barry’s scholarship would free up some more resources for Cynthia.  “Monte” was very happy also, he knew that Barry was tough minded and would be up to the challenge of competing in the Big Ten Conference.

            Pamela was happy that her older brother and sister would both be attending Michigan State.  All she could think about was the fact that they would both be away from home at the same time.  Pamela was an excellent student.  She was on the honor roll through her high school years.  She did a special intern with a law firm that worked with high school students.  She applied for a part time job and she also did baby sitting for some of the young ladies at our church.  Pamela’s final two years in high school passed quickly.  I was not ready for her to grow up so fast.

            Cynthia had graduated from Michigan State and had decided to remain in Lansing .  The Lansing Urban League helped many young black college students to find positions in banks and other corporate jobs.  One of Cynthia’s friends named Regina Pitts helped her to secure a position at the First of America Bank in Lansing .

            Our attention again turned to Pamela who would be graduating from Sweet Home High school in May, 1986. We took her to the same colleges that Cynthia and Barry had visited.  She was a little impressed with Kent State .  She felt that Howard was too far from home.  She did not want to attend Michigan state because she wanted to go to a college where she was could be more independent.  Pamela later decided that Kent State was too far away, and she changed her mind about attending there.  We had signed her up for a Kent State banking account, but had to cancel the order and get our deposit back.  SUNY at Albany was very interested in Pamela because of her high SAT scores and over all high school average.  After talking to several of her friends, Pamela decided that she was definitely interested in attending Albany University .  She liked the idea of being able to ride the train or bus to the campus or home. We drove Pamela to Albany and she enrolled for fall classes.

            Barry completed his last year at Michigan State after a very wonderful basketball season and academic program. I flew to Kansas in 1986 to see the Kansas versus Michigan State game in the “sweet sixteen” tournament for the NCAA championship.  Barry was starter for the MSU team.  My heart cried out all during the season when I saw him maneuvering beneath the basket against players that were always taller than him.  He was six feet eight inches tall but some of the centers were six feet nine or seven feet.  Michigan State lost the tournament game to Kansas , and all of their fans felt that the Kansas time keepers had manipulated the time clock in a very close game.  Michigan fans were heartbroken and disappointed when they lost.  However, Michigan State had not gotten as far as the “Sweet Sixteen” since their championship season in 1979 with “Magic” Johnson.

          In addition to the other parents and fans, Barry had quite a routing section from his own family.  I was sitting nervously in my seat, his Uncle George, (my brother); my sister’s husband--Elmer Dyer; Barry’s cousin, Harla Dyer, and my younger Brother “Bobby”; were all there.  After the game, which had been televised, we returned to my sister’s house.  Her son Bryant had taped the game for me to take back to Buffalo .  My Kansas relatives were sorry to see me leave.  I had to return to my classroom.  We had one day before the beginning of Spring break.

            Barry’s basketball was not quite over.  His College Coach took the team to Yugoslavia for some post-season games.  Barry was later contacted by the Niagara University Coach, who took a team to Israel .  Barry’s first job after college was with First of America Bank.  Later he got management positions in the insurance industry.

            Pamela began her college education at SUNY at Albany , but transferred back to Buffalo State College after her freshman year.  She was always an excellent student.  She was an honor student at Buffalo State and received honor scholarships for two semesters.  During her graduation she was recognized for academic achievement.  After graduating with a degree in English, she was hired by the Fairfax County, Virginia Public Schools.  She taught in Virginia for several years before moving back to Buffalo .  She was a permanent substitute in the Buffalo Public Schools prior to taking a position in the English Department at Amherst High School .  She earned two degrees from Buffalo State —a B.S. and an M.S. in English.  She would later enroll in a second Masters Program in Library Science at the University of Buffalo .

            In 1987, we had an extra blessing because our first grandchild was born in September of that year.  When the two older children came home at Christmas they were delighted to see their first niece.  TaNisha was a beautiful baby who never cried.  There was no reason to cry because she had her five family members to give her lots of attention.



            Our children were busy making career changes; “Monte” and I were very busy with our jobs, projects, and other activities.  My mother-in-law had nursed her second husband, Johnny Jackson during his illness.  She had been an LPN for years and could not think of anyone giving him the care he needed.  She took care of him until he quietly passed away.  “Monte” went to the funeral to give his mother support. 

            Shortly after his stepfather’s death, Monroe received a disturbing call from his sister, Evelyn.  She told him that Mother Arie had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the esophagus.   “Monte” was visibly shaken by his mother’s illness.  She had raised her five children almost single-handedly after her first husband passed of the same colon cancer problem that Johnny Jackson had.  “Monte” and our youngest daughter, Pamela, made a special trip to Florida to see his mother. When he and Pamela returned home to Buffalo, he received the dreaded call telling him that his mother had passed. 

              It was May, 1987, about five months before TaNisha’s birth.  I called our children in Michigan to tell them the news.  At the time Pamela was still in Albany, and I called her also.  “Monte”, Cynthia and I flew to Florida for the funeral service.  The three of us stayed in Mother Arie’s house. Cynthia slept in Mother Arie’s bed and was not afraid.  When we went to view the body, Evelyn, “Monte’s” sister, slipped Mother Arie’s wedding ring onto Cynthia’s finger. 

            Mother Arie’s five children, their spouses, grand children, sisters, Martha and Nannie Mae, cousins, and many neighbors and friends came to the services to say goodbye to a wonderful person. When the services ended, everyone gathered at the cemetery where Mother Arie had buried her two husbands.  The five children, “Monte,” Lawrence, Mancefield, Vera, and Evelyn, their spouses, Freddie, Jean, Elaine, Bobby and Russell; grand children Cynthia, David, Bonnie, Deborah, Angela, Ivy, Nivea, great grands, cousins

Reggie, Naomi, Rhea, Aunt Rose, Lois Hall, RoseMary Rucker all gathered for one last time to say good-bye. Family and friends gathered at Mother Arie’s church for dinner and all of the sorrowful good-byes.



            In June, 1995, Cynthia married Charles Woods in Lansing Michigan at Friendship Baptist Church . Pamela and Barry were both in the wedding. Other friends and relatives also participated in the ceremony.  A group of friends from our home church Bethel A.M E. drove from their meeting in Detroit to be at the wedding.  Joy and happiness flowed everywhere.  As parents of the bride, “Monte” and I were very happy for Cynthia.  As the bride and groom took their vows, people in the audience laughed, cried, and had a wonderful time.

All of “Monte’s” brothers and sisters from Florida , plus several of their children, came to the wedding.  We all had rooms at the same motel.  It was like a reunion of “Monte’s” family.  My sister “Pudd” and her oldest daughter, Harla, also came.  Cynthia’s sister, Pamela, wrote a beautiful poem about the wedding:


For My Sister on her Wedding Day


There aren’t many things that possess

true beauty.

Your dream bursting into life on this day

through your eyes

and your bright smile.

The harp’s chord,

eyes meeting again

for the first time.

Trading dad’s hand for another

the last letting







Clinking silver

Engaging the new couple

to a


as you float through familiar faces,

envying and in awe

of you

on your day.

In perfect white


holding the marriage of

fate and the future

in your



My Faith Is Renewed.        





            During the same month shortly after the wedding, we received some disturbing and unhappy news.  My brother George had suffered a massive heart attack. In my heart I wanted him to recover quickly.  We were almost like twins, and had spent all twelve years in elementary and high school in the same grade.  After high school George had enlisted in the army, gotten married and had five children.  Three of his children were about the same ages as my three children.  When we first left high school we wrote to each other often. 

           George and his family spent a lot of time traveling to various army bases in the United States and overseas.  He had brought his family and our parents to Wichita to visit us.  As I sat reminiscing about our early lives, I received the phone call that his attack was fatal.  I continued to think about my brother as I began preparing for another trip to Kansas .  My brother and I were very different, but we enjoyed each other.  I was thinking of how much George enjoyed life.  He loved to dance the latest dances, attend parties, go to clubs, take cruises, play all sports, attend athletic competitions, and any other event that pleased him.  In our Sumnerian high school year book, he wrote “I want to live, live, live, until I die.”

`           “Monte” and I drove to Cleveland and took a flight to Kansas City .  Then we drove a rented car to my sister’s house.  The three of us then drove to Kansas City , Mo. to the mortuary to view my brother’s body.  George looked like he always looked.  He had been dressed in a navy blue pin stripped suit, red tie, and a white stripped shirt. His sideburns had been arched and his hair had been colored black.  Our younger brother, “Bobby” came into the mortuary just as we were leaving. 

            The services were held at George’s home church.  His pastor was Rev. Clever who was, at one time, the Mayor of Kansas City, Mo. “Bobby” and I sat by each other, my sister, George’s children, DeWayne, Ricky, Christopher, Sherida, Tanya, and his wife Derline were followed by nieces, nephews, co-workers, church members, high school friends, army colleagues, in-laws and many, many friends.

            George was buried in the Fort Leavenworth Military Cemetery .  He received Military honors.  The ceremony was fitting because George took his life as a soldier very seriously.




            After attending Bethel A.M.E. Church since 1971,  “Monte” and I changed our membership to First Shiloh Baptist in 1997.  Our daughter and granddaughter were members there and we wanted to keep the local contingent of our family together.  “Monte” had been brought up in a Baptist church.  He felt very comfortable with the idea.  I was not totally convinced that this was what I wanted in a new church.  However, I did want our family to worship together.  After interacting with members of the church, I realized that many of us had taught school together in Buffalo .  I became relaxed and adjusted to the change.  It was a nice feeling for the four of us to be able to worship together weekly and during special holidays and religious events.  Our pastor was a very young Reverend Leslie Braxton.



            In 1991, “Monte” received a letter from the Emporia State College Alumni Association inviting him to return to the campus to receive an Alumni Achievement Award.  We were both excited about a trip back to Emporia .  We decided to spend one night in Kansas City to visit with my family.

            When we arrived in Emporia , we saw many bright eyed students who reminded us of our college years in Emporia .  We had walked up and down Cottonwood , Sylvan, and Commercial Streets many times.  We drove around the city and reminisced about the years we had spent there.

            The ceremony was held in the ballroom of the Student Union. Several of “Monte’s” former teachers and classmates attended the program.  Each honored alumni presented a short speech after being introduced.  It was a very inspiring evening.  We enjoyed visiting with our former teachers and classmates.



            Our next trip to Emporia , in 1993, was to attend the induction of “Monte” into the Emporia State Athletic Hall of Fame.  He had spent his undergraduate years playing basketball for the Emporia State Hornets.  He had also been a high jumper on the track team.  The special ceremony offered a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with former teammates and coaches.

            One of his former teammates, Ron Slaymaker, was now the basketball coach.  Slaymaker asked “Monte” to give a “pep talk” to that year’s team.  “Monte” told them to always give their best effort and have confidence in themselves.  That lesson would serve them well in sports and in life.  Slaymaker introduced “Monte” at the ceremony and the entire basketball team stood and applauded.  I could tell that “Monte” was moved by his visits with former teammates.  All of those former teammates will probably never get together again in the same room.



            After teaching for thirty-five years I decided that I was ready to retire.  I had spent my teaching career in Public school education in Kansas and Buffalo , New York . “Monte” was occasionally having difficulty with his balance during the last several years.  When I told him I was ready to retire, he also made the same decision.  All three of our children had completed college and were working.  We felt this was a good time to retire.  We decided to move from our home to a one-floor apartment.  “Monte” was having difficulty climbing the stairs in our two level home.  We offered Pamela and our granddaughter the option to take over our house. 

            “Monte” moved his computer and some of his books and other items that he still used to our apartment so he could continue his work in local history.  Our retirement was nice.  We both had things to do.  I took an elderly friend to the doctor’s office, shopping, and other places when she needed transportation.  “Monte” and I went to conferences, and went on vacation trips with our daughter and granddaughter.  We also went on trips with church and community groups. We kept busy with many of the same and different activities.



            Our family was growing rapidly.  For years we only had TaNisha to love as a grand child.  She was such a sweet baby.  We enjoyed taking her to the park in a backpack.  She enjoyed playing in the park, and riding with us on our bicycles.  As she grew older and entered elementary school, her grandfather and I would take turns taking her to school with us when her school was not in session.  She would take her colorful backpack and play quietly for hours as we taught our class.  She enjoyed going to the cafeteria when she visited my school.  One day after she had spent the day with me, I found the following note on my desk when I entered my classroom:


Dear Grandma,

                Thank you for all you’ve done for me.  For all the times you helped me with my homework, and all the times you let me stay in the room, for coming to grandparents' luncheon, for caring SO much about me, and for being such a great grandma. I love you so much that I can’t imagine living without you and I just wanted to tell you, and tell you thank you.

                                                                                                                Thanks a lot,



By 2003 the number of grandchildren had increased from one to six.  We now have five grand daughters and one grand son.



            In October, 2003, Monte and I decided to revisit Wichita , Kansas .  We had lived there for eight years after graduation from Emporia State College.  Our teaching careers had begun in Wichita at Ingalls Elementary, and East High School .  Our dreams expanded and grew as we went to our jobs each day and did all of the daily necessary things.  We were excited about seeing old friends and old landmarks that we had talked about often during our thirty-three years in Buffalo .  We landed at Wichita ’s small Midwestern no hassle airport.  The car rental was uneventful and we were on our way.  The first thing we did was to look for a motel as we cruised around the city looking for familiar streets and landmarks.

            We drove down East Ninth Street where we had rented our first apartment.  The area surrounding the apartment had changed dramatically.  We hardly recognized the neighborhood.  Next we drove to our first house at 2314 Gentry Drive .  Our former next door neighbor, Laura Jackson, still lived in her same home with her mother.  Her husband had died many years earlier.  The mother informed us that Laura was at bible study and would return in an hour.  We drove around the neighborhood and looked for the home of Betty and Leonard Wesley.  Betty and I had taught together at McLean Elementary School for two years before I left Wichita .  “Monte” suggested checking into a motel and taking a few minutes to look up addresses and telephone numbers of some of the people we had known.  We were able to locate the phone numbers of several people, but Ruth Autry, a former teacher at Ingalls, was the only person who answered my phone call.  Other people had their answering machines on, or were not at home.  I talked to Ruth for about three or four minutes.  The time span of the last thirty years had left us with very little to discuss other than polite pleasantries.  After my experience with Ruth, “Monte” decided not to call any of the people he had known.

            We decided to make a return trip to Mrs. Jackson’s house to see if she had returned home.  This time she was there.  We did get a chance to talk with her for a few minutes, mostly about our children and other small talk.  I felt reluctant to talk about her late husband, or the times that we had shared as neighbors.  We informed her that we had come to get pictures of our old house, the schools our children had attended, and pictures of the neighborhood.  We told her we would be returning to the motel. 

           As we were leaving we saw an old neighbor who lived two doors from our old home.  He recognized “Monte” and came over to the car to say hello.  It was nice seeing him again.  It seemed like time had stood still.  Mr. Feary had a mop of white hair and a long white beard.  He was one of the only white residents that stayed as the neighborhood changed to all-black.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, he was still here after all these years.  His wife had died years ago.  He and “Monte” exchanged small talk, then we returned to the motel to have dinner.  Just as we had finished our dinner, we received a call from Mrs. Jackson inviting us to breakfast the following morning.  We declined because we wanted to spend the day taking pictures, and packing our belongings for our trip to Kansas City .

            During our brief conversation, Laura explained that she was working in a program tutoring children who did not speak English.  I told her that most of my involvement was with the Senior Ministry at my church.  I mentioned briefly that I was writing my autobiography for my grandchildren and wanted some special pictures of Wichita .  We ended our visit with that phone call.  I told her I would keep in touch.

            The following day we took pictures many of the sites that we were connected to during our years in Wichita .  Wichita State University (where “Monte” had taught for one year), Buckner School (Cynthia’s first school), the 25th Street Y (where Cynthia had gone to summer day camp), Chet Lewis’ law offices (where “Monte” had attended many civil rights meetings. Chet had died several years ago.), McLean School (my last teaching assignment in Wichita ), and St. Paul A.M.E. Church (our family church),

            We drove by Ingalls Elementary School .  I went inside to see the building that had been so important to me.  The people were very friendly.  One of the supervisors thought that I had come to be a substitute teacher.  I saw one of my first students that I had taught when she was in first grade.  She was now a teacher at Ingalls.

            My visit inside Ingalls was very pleasant. The friendliness of the staff reminded me of the Ingalls I had known in my first teaching assignment in Wichita in 1962.  I was given a visitor’s pass and the freedom to explore the building at my leisure.  I left Ingalls feeling good about the return to my old school.  I had to smile to myself at the thought of the regular teachers thinking that I had come to work.  I said to myself, “Not today.”

            Monte and I looked in the phone directory for St. Francis Hospital .  Barry and Pamela had been born there.  We were not able to locate the building and assumed it had been torn down, merged with another service, or relocated under another name.  We did find the Phyllis Wheatly Nursery School building that Cynthia had attended at age ten months.  The building was vacant and had been boarded up.  We went by the old East High School building.  The building was still there but the neighborhood was hardly recognizable.



            As we prepared to leave Wichita , I asked myself: What had the trip to Wichita revealed to me?  More than anything it reminded me that Thomas Wolfe was right; “You can’t go home again.”  The past is over.  There is no going backward.  One’s dreams must always be for tomorrow.


The past should inspire us, to strive for dreams, hopes, and possibilities, which can only be found in the future.


Freddie Mae Harris Fordham


bottom of page