But I’m Still Here

“The doctor…made a comment, ‘Oh, the girl doesn’t have a chance.'”

This is part one of a two-part story.

Transcript for But I’m Still Here

This goes way back to before the Emancipation Proclamation. My grandfather’s father was born in Virginia, and he knew about sea plants and what you could eat and what you couldn’t. A whaler, a man who was captain of a whaling ship fell in love with George because–my grandfather’s father—because he was a wonderful cook, and no one who ate his food on the ship got scurvy. “George, as long as you are on my ship, you’re free.” He said, “But if you go out there, do you know what’s going to happen? They’re going to snatch you and want to take you to the plantation.” Now this whaling ship, it didn’t go too far out into the Atlantic because at that time, they would go up and down the East Coast, they would leave Boston and go all the way down to the Carolinas, and way down around to Florida, around the edge of Florida, sail out to sea a little bit, then come on back. In order to see his family, the cook would slip out at night and go to see his family in Virginia. And he’d have to hide in order to go, and sometimes, some of the seamen say, “George, come on with me. We’re going to take you back to the ship.” And so they would do that in the dark because they didn’t want to have to fight someone to, you know, because they would want to take George back into the plantation and put him back into slavery, you know?

My grandfather was, he was a Baptist minister, and he wanted to find a better and larger church so he was asking around, and he talked to a very well-known man called Booker T. Washington, and Booker T. Washington said, “George!” (Now, my grandfather’s first name was George.) “George,” he says, “go west. Everything, everybody’s going west. Go west. Go to St. Louis. They’re begging for ministers.” So Granddaddy packed up his family and they moved to St. Louis, Missouri. They had to practice because when they went to school, they would—these people were talking and they did not understand how they talked. The people were saying, “To-maaaa-to,” and they would stand in front of the mirror and say, because they were coming and saying, “to-mA-to” and then speaking, you know, and my grandmother was so angry. She says, “Just go ahead and you’ll learn in time.” Because she was provoked herself that she had to learn, too, you know.

I was born at my grandmother’s home in Saint Louis, Missouri. My mother fell down a back stairway at her mother’s home, my grandmother. And because she fell, it caused her to have delivery of myself and my twin brother—I have a twin brother, Henry. And because we were at my grandmother’s home, she insisted that we call the doctor, and he came. Delivered us, and he made a comment, “Oh, the girl doesn’t have a chance. She won’t live. But the boy, he might live.” We were two-and-a-half pounds. Mother said that she could slide her hand under both of us. One was in one palm and one was in the other. My grandmother was a Quaker and she used olive oil, and bathed us in olive oil all times. Because we did not go to the hospital, because in St. Louis, black babies and black mothers were not admitted to the hospitals there, but I’m still here. I’m 101 years old.

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