Trials and Triumphs

Trials and Triumphs

Starting a Family Tradition

One Family’s Story of the Trials and Triumphs

By: Susan Bowman

Family is the most vital human connection there is. We all have this connection somewhere in our history and many of us are fortunate to have a living family which brings us many occasions for this special human connection. Unfortunately, many families in this busy society, don’t take advantage of these opportunities and they are missing moments of real joy, moments that make lasting and precious memories.

Keeping in contact with family is simple, when we make the effort. It used to take a lot of effort to keep in touch before the computer age; now it is simpler, quicker, and many times, more effective. While we used to be limited to phone calls and letters, we now have email, text messages, document/photo sharing sites, mobile phones, Skype and Oovoo just to name a few of the electronic marvels available to many people.

The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Tx is a very popular destination, as is The River Walk,  for reunion  activities due to the variety of activities and beauty.

The best and the most enjoyable way to keep in touch with family is by spending time with as many members of the family as possible. If your family is spread around the country or even the world, this can be a real challenge; that is why my family has adopted the “Annual Family Reunion.” Usually, when thinking of a family reunion, you might think about a get-together once every 20 years or so. These are grand occasions and should definitely be part of the family plans. But, to really keep in touch and to be able to enjoy watching the children grow up and the adults grow older, there is nothing better than drawing together as many family members as possible every year.


As a “family reunion-er” of more than 30 years, I can attest to their value, not to mention all the fun there is to be had. We started over 30 years ago when my parents built a house on a lake in southeastern Virginia and thought it would be nice to invite family to spend their summer vacations on a lake for free. So they did and families streamed into Virginia on a weekend in early August, filling up my parents’ small house and the weekend homes of their neighbors. Some brought campers and by the time they all arrived and got settled in the various venues, we had our first feast together, caught up with each other until the wee hours of the morning, we were all exhausted and went off to our assigned places for a good night’s sleep.

These reunions were great fun, but after the first few years, it became clear that my parents could not bear the cost of everyone’s vacations, and the “share-the-costs-method” was born. Everyone who made purchases for food, beverages, gas for the boat, anything that everyone shared, put their receipts in a basket and at the end of the week, they were totaled up and everyone was presented with a bill for their share. It sounds crass and business-like but, it is by far and away the best way to deal with the group’s expenses. We did learn to make certain allowances for folks who had special diets and couldn’t eat or drink most of what had been purchased; they were charged less using a smaller percentage. Also, there were people who didn’t drink alcoholic beverages, so everyone who purchased any pooled their receipts among themselves and shared the expense.

As we prepared for the 3rd reunion, my father declared that he wasn’t interested in having them anymore if my mother continued to get stuck with all the work. It seemed that many people assumed that since it was her house and they didn’t know where things belonged, that she would prefer to load, run, and empty the dishwasher – something that had to be done at least three times a day. It was always falling to her and a few others to run the vacuum and keep the rooms straight and neat; my Dad said that unless people started pulling their weight, he was shutting the reunions down.

So we sat down and devised a way to share the work load and “The Schedule” was born. Everyone was assigned a chore/task – setting the tables, cooking, busing the tables, dishwasher duty, trash pick-up and disposal, ice replenishment (this was vital!), and what we called “House Police.” This entailed picking up the kids’ toys (although most parents were pretty diligent about making sure their kids picked up their own), straightening up the living room and deck, emptying ashtrays (in the early days, many people smoked and it became a huge issue in years to come), and vacuuming. This had to be done at night before retiring so the house would be livable for the next day.


We presented “The Schedule” to everyone at a “Family Meeting” soon after arrival and explained the reason we developed it (although no one ever knew how close Dad came to stopping the whole show!), going over the tasks and how we assigned everyone, and then waited for the explosion. It came but not like we thought – everyone loved it! They were unaware how much work it took to have 20-30 people in one place for a week and they were all appalled to discover how much of that work had been left for so few people. Everyone promised solemnly to abide by “The Schedule,” which was printed on a large piece of cardboard and attached to the side of the refrigerator. With only a few forgetful moments, it worked like a charm.

Over the next few years, we learned who was good at what and who needed prodding to do certain chores. We began to add the youngest children in, pairing them with an older child or adult to teach them the “reunion ways” from the cradle! We also discovered an amazing opportunity to bring certain members of the family together who rarely got to see each other; we paired those folks together for chores, especially cooking. As the years went by, many a strained or distant relationship was healed and/or strengthened over hours in the hot kitchen cooking dinner for the whole family. We shared recipes and new ideas; we renewed relationships and we made many new traditions.

Favorite dishes became staple items on the week’s menu, those who had access to regional culinary delights (like Georgia peaches and South Carolina pecans and cantaloupes) came every year bearing their assigned foods, and some, like Cousin Bob became the cook to avoid cleaning up after when he began bringing frozen seafood for a Tempura feast. His ability to completely coat the kitchen with grease became legendary, making him the hero of the week with his fabulous feast but also the cook to avoid.

Our family reunions were yearly for a long time, but in recent years, the “middler” families (these are kids my son’s age and their kids) have had their activity level increased as their children get more and more involved in school, sports, and other community activities that continue into the summer or start up early in August. This depleted us several times and kept one or two away, it seemed, almost every year in the past 5-10 years.

We got it back together this year and decided that we love it but that we would begin opting for every 2 years instead of every year. Through it all, we discovered the importance of coming together – whether for a day, a few days, a week, or whatever amount of time enough people could spare. Some planned their entire week’s vacation to fall on reunion week and some found they could only breeze in and out for a few days. It didn’t matter, in fact it made it more fun when people would be arriving off and on all week. We all got to stop what we were doing drag out of the water or off the deck and greet the new arrivals or, toward the end of the week to say a tearful good-bye until next year. Of course, no family is perfect and we discovered that the foibles and faults of our relatives become more pronounced after a week in the same crowded house. We also discovered how to live with each other’s faults and shortcomings and that, no matter how pronounced they became, we loved each other anyway. We learned to overlook things of little importance and to soak in the important stuff – the pains of life, the joys of children and grandchildren, the gifts we knew nothing about, and the great little moments of insight into our heritage and our life as a family. These are the things we now cherish and what makes family reunions the absolute best way to keep in touch with each other.

Craven Family Reunion

Craven Family Reunion

The Craven Family Reunion 2014

Even though American families have intensely felt the pains of the economic downturn, the reunion business is still going strong. African Americans are taking advantage of the rise in the specialty travel niche of reunion travel. Major cruise lines have launched advertising blitzes marketing family reunion cruise packages and hotel and conference halls are courting the reunion client. Family reunions are big business nationwide and there is a marked rise in the number of families booking reunions nationwide.

Historically, family reunions revolved around the elders, funerals and memorials. Traditionally, the hosts invited family from all over the country to travel to meet around the best food and group events. This was the vacation centered around the convergence of family. However, the need to embrace the culture of family, both near and far, continues to motivate that family of four to pile into the family vehicle and hit the highway.

These days, travel by train, plane and automobile have seen families transverse the nation to enjoy Auntie’s peach cobbler, and big mama’s anything on the grill. But more markedly, Black families are spending millions of dollars on hotels, rental cars, even campers to embrace the comforts of the family nest. And not only are they planning traditional style reunions, but the creative souls have emerged to produce inventive and entertaining family reunion events and locales.

Planning a family reunion is a big deal. According to Nikki Jones, who lost her grandfather last year, and after seeing so many relatives at the service, realized her family had not held a formal reunion in years. When asked where to begin, her reply was, “we formed a committee and got to work.” The planning for the Craven Family Reunion 2014 began with a strong steward at its helm. Nikki Jones, a project manager by profession, organized her team and pulled off a successful large reunion in the Big Easy.

The Craven Family Reunion included a historian who presented a slide show on each participant’s family and some interesting and fun facts about each individual. The slide show served as entertainment during the family banquet. Venders were booked and 88 members of the Craven Family enjoyed three days of planned activities in New Orleans. One of the greatest treasures of the reunion was the enormous cache of photographs collected from the various events.

Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street

The Black Wall Street Of America

Black Wall Street

A Lost Black Township: Greenwood, Oklahoma

By Susan Bowman

Greenwood, OK was founded by O.W. Gurley, a black entrepreneur and landowner from Arkansas who moved from Perry, OK in 1906 to Tulsa and settled on land “to be purchased by Coloreds only.” He built a boarding house next to the Frisco Tracks, naming the dusty trail in front of it Greenwood Ave. Many blacks, fleeing the South and looking for a new life stayed there while finding jobs and land for a new home. He set up the “boundaries” of Greenwood, which are still well-known today: Pine Street to the North (Greenwood Ave turns into Garrison St. at Pine St); Archer St and the Frisco tracks to the South; Cincinnati St on the West; and Lansing St on the East. Gurley purchased and built numerous other buildings, all of which were lost in the 1921 Race Riot.

Black Wall Street was built on the backs of men like Simon Berry, an experienced pilot and astute businessman, who started the city’s first transportation system, Berry’s Jitney Service. Adding buses and chartered airplanes, Berry became one of the largest employers of blacks and, after the sale of his business, his uniformed drivers became a symbol of racial progress. He continued to make his mark well into the 20th century, even after the Race Riot of 1921 destroyed everything he owned. He was honored with a plaque and a tree in his memory at the Black Wall Street Memorial.

Another “founding father” of “The Black Wall Street” was James Henri Goodwin. With just a 4th grade education, he moved to Tulsa, encouraged by O.W. Gurley’s promotion of the Oklahoma “Promised Land.” Beginning as a variety store clerk, he eventually became the youngest entrepreneur on The Black Wall Street of America with interest in many businesses, including ownership of the oldest continuing business enterprise in North Tulsa, Jackson Undertaking Co., as well as The Oklahoma Eagle Newspaper, the 2nd oldest continuing business. He became an attorney after age 50 and was instrumental in saving the last few structures left on Greenwood Ave; he and his son are honored in the Greenwood Cultural Center as “illustrious examples of the best tradition of the Black Wall Street’s pioneering souls.”

A Black Day on Black Wall Street began like any other, until a white mob arrived at the courthouse demanding the neck of a black man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman in an elevator. Post-Civil War America had become a battleground between blacks and whites with the main weapon in the South and many other areas being the noose. Lynchings were common and became the single largest category of unsolved murders in the U.S. Many Blacks were lynched after being falsely accused of crimes ranging from stealing property to assault. It was a blight on American Society as mobs seeking their own brand of justice seemed to have free reign. The heated confrontation at the courthouse that day pitted two prominent black businessmen and a newspaper publisher against a huge mob preparing to assault the jailhouse. As attempts were made to quell the rising anger of the mob, a gun was drawn and fired and thus began the destruction of The Black Wall Street. It was horrendous as Greenwood Ave was reduced to a killing field surrounded by burning homes and businesses, many set afire by a well-planned aerial assault of planes dropping nitroglycerine canisters to destroy the black community.

One of the two businessmen involved in the incident at the courthouse was J.B. Stradford, the son of a runaway slave, who purchased his freedom from his master and settled in Tulsa, OK. He had become the first black attorney in the Territory and was defending the accused man being held in jail that day. Ironically, he and others who tried to avoid the trouble were indicted for inciting a riot, and several of them eventually became fugitives. Stradford was rescued by his son, and he lived with him for years in Chicago; he was ultimately pardoned by Governor Frank Keating, who also apologized to his family.

The Oklahoma National Guard saved what day was left, but it is thought by many that they could have saved more lives and property had they arrived and been able to take over sooner. The local law enforcement and guard units were later accused of joining with the white rioters who were rousting out blacks from hiding. While some white residents gave refuge to some blacks fleeing for their lives, most were sent to concentration camps for their own safety, but some were killed even while surrendering. 25,000 strong, the rioting white army destroyed the best that the Black community of Tulsa had to offer — the best and brightest businessmen, as well as the most successful and lucrative enterprises in the city.

It was a Black Day all around as the souls of many people, black and white, were blackened by hatred, the buildings and property of the people of North Tulsa were left in black, charred ruins, and the bright Oklahoma sky was blackened with the smoke of fires lit by the blackness of the human spirit – racism.

 Greenwood Avenue, known as The Black Wall Street, was almost completely destroyed that day in 1921, ultimately leaving only one structure standing, the Mackey House, built and owned by Sam and Lucy Mackey, and now operated as a museum by the Greenwood Cultural Center located next door. It stands in its new location as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the Black Community of North Tulsa, as well as to the indestructible spirit of Black America.

Greenwood, Oklahoma Lives On!

Sam & Lucy Mackey built a white two-story framed home for $5,000 at 322 North Greenwood Avenue. When their family home was destroyed in the race riot of 1921, the Mackey’s rebuilt their home – a two-story, handsomely furnished brick house that became the center of Greenwood’s social life and ultimately the last surviving structure of the original Black Wall Street of America.

 Replicated brick by brick at a cost $375,000, the Prince-Mackey Home was renamed by its restorers. Now known as the Mabel B Little Heritage House, it was expanded in 1995 to the Greenwood Cultural Center, which was dedicated on October 19th, 1995, honoring “pioneers whose resilience sparked the area’s regeneration after the 1921 race war. In the aftermath of the destruction, rising from the ashes, Greenwood Avenue reclaimed its glory as The Black Wall Street of America.”

 After being destroyed by hatred and greed, Greenwood experienced a renaissance as black-owned businesses once again flourished on Greenwood Avenue. In 1941, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce described it thus: “Today, after some twenty-five years of steady growth and development, Greenwood is something more than an avenue – it is an institution. The people of Tulsa have come to regard it as a symbol of racial prominence and progress – not only for the restricted area of the street itself, but for the Negro section of Tulsa as a whole.” Far from dead, Greenwood Avenue was touted as “unquestionably the greatest assembly of Negro shops and stores to be found anywhere in America.”

This success continued for more than a decade. According to one youngster, given the grand tour in 1953 by his stepfather, “One red brick building after another was linked together by neon signs and sidewalks crowded with people.” He remembers the many drugstores, theaters, billiard parlors, grocery stores, restaurants, churches, variety stores, and hotels, “All owned by Coloreds,” his stepfather proudly announced.

 The historic area had survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, but in following years, the area deteriorated until the last business left was the Oklahoma Eagle, owned by E.L. Goodwin. Taking an option to purchase the great avenue’s final remnants from the City of Tulsa, he was instrumental in saving the last few buildings, which were renovated in the late 1970’s. By the early 1990’s, many of the pioneers and older residents of Greenwood, faced with the loss of their legacy, met with supportive civil rights activists and city officials to recall the tragic lost fortunes of their people and the hopeful resurgence of the greatness and heritage of The Black Wall Street.

 According to Cultural Center records, “Members of the group expressed the need to have something left in their memory for the generations of children who will live under the shadows cast and the indelible scars from the riot. The meeting led to the preservation of the Prince-Mackey House and its expansion into the Greenwood Cultural Center. This facility is dedicated to all children of Tulsa, to the pioneers and entrepreneurs who made The Black Wall Street of America a vibrant boulevard, and to the generations to come.”

Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs

Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs

Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois, Sociologist

Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs

From Du Bois… to King… to Obama

A Legacy of Progress in the Civil Rights Movement

by Anita R. Paul,


The concept of civil rights is at the very core of the United States of America. Founded on the principles that a government should serve the will of the people and provide protections of the basic God-given rights afforded to all, America has experienced a remarkable transformation from the days of declaring its independence from Great Britain in the 18th century. Through numerous battles and civil disturbances, the citizens of this country have sought to uphold the standards set forth in the Declaration of Independence; that when a government does not represent the will and rights of the people, those people have the right to replace or correct the government to ensure their own rights to pursue happiness and a secure future.

The document which declared the independence of a nation has since been scrutinized, canonized, and criticized over centuries and yet still stands as representative of what this country is destined to become — a nation representative of all citizens. Even as the founding fathers excluded blacks as human beings and citizens worthy of experiencing and enjoying the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, history and justice would affirm the undeniable inclusion of African Americans in these most basic of human and civil rights. Yet, in the pursuit of civil rights in this country, African Americans have experienced centuries of civil wrongs.

Rights Denied

Civil rights, at their very core, are those undeniable legal or moral entitlements designed to protect the freedom of individuals from government or private interference in enjoying the privileges to exist safely and participate fully in a society, free from the threat of harm, discrimination or repression. Despite what American history teaches, African American history did not begin with slavery and end with the Civil Rights Movement. Black people created and enjoyed a way of living, a history and a legacy for themselves long before slavery came to the shores of this land. For the majority of the existence of Africans in America, there has been a struggle to partake in the human and civil rights upon which this country was founded. Numerous voices have cried out through the ages and countless others have fought and struggled to declare and insist upon these civil rights for African Americans.

One of the most notable among them is W.E.B. Du Bois. Born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he would become a vocal and intellectual force amid a tumultuous effort to gain an understanding of how blacks would achieve equality and civil rights in America. An intellectual on all fronts, Du Bois graduated from Fisk College (now University) in Nashville, TN, studied in Germany and became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Trained in social sciences, Du Bois developed the view that the condition of the American Negro was a symptom of racism rather than a result of the long-held belief in the innate inferiority of blacks. He believed the way to position Negroes on equal footing with whites was through higher education, political power and integration. 

North Carolina Bus Depot
North Carolina Bus Depot – 1951

Differing Views

Du Bois’ approach to equality among the races clashed publicly with several notable characters in the movement for civil rights, namely Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Washington’s belief was that blacks should forego political aspirations and academic achievement in favor of industrial education. Rather than force their intellectual prowess on white society, Washington believed that hard work and economic gain was the way for blacks to win the respect of whites. The differences between Du Bois and Washington polarized the leaders of the black community into two wings—the “conservative” supporters of Washington and his “radical” critics who supported Du Bois’ notion of “educate and agitate.”

Similarly, Du Bois’ approach was at odds with that of Marcus Garvey, the Jamaica-born Pan-Africanist, who created the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which sought to unite all descendants of Africa from around the world. Garvey was a popular organizer who had tremendous influence among the masses and was able to rally massive support for his cause. The striking contrasts among these camps of thought likely contributed to the ongoing civil wrongs — discrimination, racism and violence against blacks — on the one hand, and the birth of a progressive new Civil Rights Movement on the other.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A King on the Horizon

Undoubtedly, Du Bois was an influence on the thinking and the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Taking up the mantle from Du Bois, King was well aware of the impact that Du Bois had made on the black intellectual, economic and self-determination movements.

Ironically, just 40 days before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at an event marking the hundredth anniversary of Du Bois’ birth, at Carnegie Hall in New York City, at which he stated:

“We cannot talk of Dr. Du Bois without recognizing that he was a radical all of his life. Dr. Du Bois’ greatest virtue was his committed empathy with all the oppressed and his divine dissatisfaction with all forms of injustice.”

As the Civil Rights Movement progressed into the 1960s, Dr., Martin Luther King Jr. led the way, insisting that peaceful protest was the best way to gain the attention of whites, and passive resistance the most effective method to achieve civil rights denied. Yet, throughout the King era, many civil wrongs were experienced, not the least of which were the countless lynchings, bombings and beatings experienced by numerous men and women who fought on the front lines and the sidelines of the war against racism and discrimination.

For King, the focus was on righting the wrongs perpetrated against disadvantaged Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. This stance attracted whites and other sympathizers to the movement, although poor whites, mostly from the south — many of whom would stand to gain just as much as disenfranchised blacks — were among the greatest resisters to the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the violent tactics used by Southern whites, the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum and eventually resulted in the demise of the Jim Crow laws of the south, leading to integrated schools, businesses and public facilities. The hard-won victories were attributed to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of average African Americans who wanted a better life for themselves and their children.Strategic Efforts: Plessy and Parks

The road to civil rights victories has been paved with the efforts of those who fought strategically to test the laws of the land. Civil rights gains did not just happen, they were often planned, tested, and rehearsed to ensure the greatest outcome. However, even some of the best laid plans resulted in less than victorious results.

Even before the term “civil rights” became a part of the American lexicon, blacks sought the equality they believed was their right. The Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson stands as a critical incident in the examination of civil rights strategies. In 1892, civil rights activist Homer Plessy, a New Orleans, Louisiana resident with 1/8 African heritage — nearly white in appearance — refused to give up his seat in a whites-only streetcar. He was arrested and charged with violating the Separate Car Act of 1890. Judge John Ferguson ruled against Plessy, as did the Louisiana Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court in 1896, thereby ushering in the era of formal, legalized segregation known as Jim Crow laws.

It is quite possible that the Plessy case of 1892 influenced that of Rosa Parks in 1955. A 42-year-old Parks refused to move from her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to allow a white patron to sit. In both cases, the collaboration among members of civil rights groups was critical to the implementation of the plan. In the case of Plessy, the group behind the effort was the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law. In Parks’ case, it was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Although the cases resulted in different outcomes, it is important to note that each incident included a strategy that considered the background of the chosen representative, the laws of the day, legal representation and grounds for opposing the law.

Other strategic efforts were made during the Civil Rights Movement, much to the chagrin of whites. Many whites feared immediate and excessive changes to their safety and overall lifestyle as a result of the end of Jim Crow. However, America as a whole discovered that change occurred slowly and that the damage done to the psyche of blacks as a result of hundreds of years of slavery and segregation would take generations to undo.

A Time of Change

What seemed to be the final frontier of black firsts in America occurred in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.  A change had come to a nation that still holds memories of the Civil Rights Movement, remnants of separate but equal, and psychological scars from “isolated racial incidents” that occur throughout the country even to this day.

While the election of President Obama for not just one, but 2 terms, symbolizes a new era in America, there is still work to be done. As America has experienced throughout its history, change takes time. During the time of change people learn to accept what is new, release old ways of thinking and embrace a vision of what the future holds.

Soldiers in the struggle for civil rights could be easily forgotten as time progresses and new milestones are reached. Yet, reminders of the history remain a testament to the multitude of cases, incidents, and brave freedom fighters who fill the annals of the civil rights struggle in America. As we celebrate the successes of today, the struggles and victories of generations past shall not be forgotten.

President Barack Obama

Family Reunions

Family Reunions

Increasing Success & Reducing the Stress

Family is the most vital human connection there is. We all have this connection somewhere in our history and many of us are fortunate enough to have a living family which brings us many occasions for this special human connection. Unfortunately, many families in today’s busy society, don’t take advantage of these opportunities. They are missing moments of real joy, moments that make lasting and precious memories.

Keeping in contact with family is simple, when we make the effort. It used to take a lot of effort to keep in touch before the computer age; now it is simpler, quicker, and many times, more effective. But, by far the best and the most enjoyable way to keep in touch with family is by spending time with as many members of the family as possible.

This can be a real challenge and there is a great solution – The Family Reunion.

Our Heritage Magazine is responding to your interest in this topic with an ongoing series on Family Reunions – how to plan them, how to pull them off, how to enjoy them, and how to do all that and still love your family.

In our series, you will discover things like quick and easy methods of contacting family members, gathering contact information, preferences as to dates, places, etc., as well as some tips on planning meals, assigning community chores, organizing outings, great ways to keep in touch between reunions and much more.

We want to hear from you!

Have tips you would like to share with our readers?
Want to share your traditions?
Have pictures from reunions you would like to share?

Complete the form below and submit any photos you would like to share. Heritage is all about Who We Are, What We Bring to the World, and Where We Came From. We look forward to sharing your special memories and enriching our heritage together.

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    Jean Pollard

    Jean Pollard

    Jean Pollard

    Both Jean Pollard (left) and her goddaughter, Lakhita “Nikki” Banks (right), attended the Ford Unsung Heroes Award Banquet where each received an award and recognition as Unsung Heroes for the work that they have done.

    Removing Roadblocks to Our History

    Jean Pollard has been making history since she was in elementary school in Texas, where she was one of only two black students in her class. From the day her highly acclaimed picture of a classmate was hardly acknowledged by her teacher, she began to experience discrimination. At 11 years old, she was too young to know the definition of the word but she now says, “I may not remember what was said, but I know how it made me feel.”

    As she struggled with the phonics method of reading, she was placed in a low-level reading group, even though she was bright, raising her hand eagerly to answer the teachers’ questions. Again this discrimination was hurtful and Pollard acted out, resulting in several trips to the principal’s office during elementary and middle school. In the 6th grade, she suffered a further blow as her newly discovered love for playing the violin was deemed to be an inappropriate waste of her time. She was abruptly transferred to a study hall.

    Pollard was in high school when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and she watched the news about this historic event on TV. Four days later, she sat at the kitchen table pouring out her feelings in a poem she titled “Road in the Sky.” Many of her classmates also expressed their feelings in poems, which were published in the school newspaper. Pollard’s didn’t appear, and she was told that the adult sponsors of the paper weren’t convinced that she had actually authored the poem. Whether teachers thought it was too good to have been written by a young child or whether it was too good to have been written by a black child, Pollard only knew how bad it made her feel. In retrospect, she is grateful that her mother encouraged her to continue writing and saved her poems so they would not be lost.

    Throughout high school, Pollard continued to be frustrated by such treatment. On the day a guidance counselor told her that she was not college material and that she should find something to do with her hands, something inside her broke and she made up her mind then that she would indeed go to college. She proved the guidance counselor wrong many times over as she received a bachelor’s degree as a secondary English teacher and multiple master’s degrees. She continued to write, and is now a published poet.


    Digging Up Buried History

    Pollard led a full life as an educator, teaching in elementary, middle and high school before retiring as a middle school counselor in 2011. She prided herself on teaching the truth about history but soon discovered how far some would go to suppress the positive contributions of black people to American culture. After retiring, she saw a documentary about the building of the Alaska Highway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Fascinated by the report, Pollard tracked down Lael Morgan, who had been hired in 1989 by a major publication to write about the soldiers who built the highway and was considered an expert on the subject. While writing that article, Morgan had discovered that there were more than 4,000 black soldiers who worked on the Alaska section and that the 7,000 white Canadian soldiers only worked on the Canadian portion. Although all the soldiers endured hardships working on the highway, the white soldiers were protected from the frigid weather by heated Quonset huts while the black soldiers lived in tents with temperatures reaching 70 degrees below zero.

    When Pollard finally located Morgan in Maine, she was astounded to learn that Morgan’s original 1989 article about the black soldiers had not been accepted by the magazine when she submitted it. The editors did not appreciate a white woman writing such a “positive account of Negro soldiers” and both she and her boss were fired. Since she had contracted with the magazine, she was unable to publish the article elsewhere. Appalled, Pollard immediately offered to bring this historic information out, and Morgan offered her help.

    At this point in her life, Pollard found herself again writing poetry about meaningful historical events. This time it was about the Alaska Highway, which the Federal Highway Administration referred to as, “The Road to Civil Rights.” According to Ms. Pollard, her poem, “Two Roads to Civil Rights,” about the soldiers who built the road, was close kin to her long-ago poem honoring Martin Luther King as the first to march on the road for civil rights.

    As a result of her exposure to Morgan and her historic discovery, Pollard is now working under a grant to add this piece of missing Alaskan history to the Anchorage School District curriculum. Her team has also received funding from the Alaskan state legislature to erect a monument in Anchorage, honoring the African-American army engineers for their contributions during World War II. Pollard, along with Bishop Dave Thomas, started the “Alaska Highway Project” and for the next three years Thomas and Rev. Dr. Ronald Myers traveled Alaska and Canada organizing celebrations commemorating the building of the highway.

    The “Alaska Highway Project” team continues to move forward, thanks to the work of Jean Pollard (coordinator & curriculum writer); Lael Morgan (resource consultant); Bishop Dave Thomas (veterans’ coordinator); Shala Dobson and her husband Jim Dault (building the monument and donor wall); Russell Pounds (documentary production); Pam Orme (history coordinator); and Andrew Knoll (webmaster of

    History-Making Is Rewarded

    Pollard has been an educator most of her adult life and for more than 30 years, she has volunteered in her community to help kids at risk to find hope and a bright future. In 2013, she received an award from a multi-cultural group called “Bridge Builders” for “Excellence in Community Service.”

    This year the Ford Foundation announced that Pollard had been nominated for the Ford Freedom Unsung Heroes of Alaska Award. Although Pollard modestly denies that she was making history with this project, she continues to remove roadblocks to our history so that we may better appreciate our heritage.

    Jean Pollard (second from the left) received the Ford Freedom Unsung Heroes Award.

    Jean Pollard and fellow recipients, including her goddaughter, Lakhita “Nikki” Banks (3rd from right).

    Wanda Greene-Laws,President of the Anchorage NAACP,
    (2nd from left) & Ashley Gaines, Youth Assistant for the NAACP,
    (3rd from right) showed their support of the Unsung Heroes.

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