Sunday, June 21, 2015

For Father's Day and Kentucky's Best Heritage

I'm a historian's child, and as a result, a big fan of the work of the Rosenwald Fund, and its long-time leader, Edwin Embree, grandson of Berea's John G. Fee.  Especially, this tale:
In May 1948, one month before the Julius Rosenwald Fund was to close its doors forever, Edwin Embree received a letter, posted in Lexington, Kentucky. It came from a guidance counselor at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Sadie M. Yancey. Ms. Yancey had just won a Rosenwald fellowship, one of the last to be granted. After thanking Embree, she reminded him of an incident involving his grandfather that he had described in Brown America.

Toward the end of the Civil War, when John G. Fee was at Camp Nelson, he entered the faculty dining barracks with a young black woman recently appointed as a student/ teacher. When they sat down at a table, several other diners—all white—moved away; a chaplain from Maine stormed from the building; and the waitress refused to serve the young woman. As the tense scene unfolded, Fee was given a filled plate. Immediately he passed it to his companion and insisted, vigorously, on another plate for himself. That woman, Yancey wrote, was her grandmother, Eliza Mitchell Jackson.

Often she had heard her grandmother tell that story and other stories demonstrating Fee’s “humanitarianism and great courage.” Her grandmother and grandfather, Yancey reported, became “two of the most outstanding contributors to the progress of their race in Lexington.” She told Embree this connection now, Yancey concluded, because she considered it “rather singular that your grandfather was instrumental in the continuance of my grandmother’s education, and you, though unwittingly, have been instrumental in the continuance of mine.”

 In a gracious note, Embree responded that the story remained vivid in his own family. Even as a small boy growing up in Fee’s home, Embree recalled, he had recognized he was “in the presence of greatness.” With his grandparent and Yancey’s in mind, Embree wrote, it was “especially fitting that the grandchildren of these two pioneers should find themselves in association.”
That's from "Living the Fee Legacy: Edwin Embree and the Rosenwald Foundation," published in the Winter 2006 Berea College Magazine.

Even if you don't know the Rosenwald fellowships, you  know the talent they nurtured.  Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial after returning from a fellowship-supported tour of Europe; Charles Drew's work on blood transfusions built on a fellowship-supported final year of medical school, and Mamie Clark's three years of doll-selection research led to the work she published with her husband Kenneth and the most important citations in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.  Here's what I found when I wondered about Ms. Yancey's later work:
Established in 1954, [The National Association of Student Affairs Professionals] has served as a vehicle for student affairs personnel to implement effective and efficient student services and programs for African American and minority students. The Yancey Award was established to honor Sadie M. Yancey, the first president and former dean of women at Howard University, who was instrumental in the development and growth of the organization. 
One more thing: this is post for Father's Day because the Embree article was written by Alfred Perkins, retired Berea dean and professor, known at my house as Dad, and because after pondering all week about how to do more to build up a community where all talents can bloom, I'm looking forward to asking his advice when I call him this afternoon. 

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