“I can remember a bit about the boycott but it has been a long time. My mother, Muggie Murray, was the driving force for us marching and she pushed us to be concerned about our education and to strive to do our own personal best. That is my younger sister Charlette Murray marching with my mother and me.
Recently, when going to meet with the chairman of my department here in the school of medicine, I took with me a photo of my mother, sister and me marching. I had the picture, to remind me of the woman, Muggie, who taught me, by example, to stand up for what was correct, to not fear the opposition and to ignore the odds. I thought to myself as I spoke with the chairman, I have stood, marched and confronted while walking in the shadow of my mother and look at the results (product of the Chicago Public School system, first woman of color to obtain tenure and to achieve full professor rank in the University of Pitt School of Medicine). I think the conversation would have gone very differently if I had not been reminded of my past and been ready to bring out my marching shoes, once again. I thank you and your project members for reminding me of marching with Muggie and Charlette on that warm day in Chicago.
I wanted to boycott school and march but was also worried about my perfect attendance record (I wanted recognition at the graduation for perfect attendance). My missing a day would not be a problem but there were students in the class who were going to penalized for missing another day of class (I remember another student telling me that the Home Room teacher called his parent on Freedom day). There was a feeling that their would be retaliation for some for not attending school on the day of the march.
My parents were upset with the unequal treatment of colored (the term would change later) children by the education and medical system of not only Chicago but of the country. There was no question that my mother would march and that we (my sister Charlette and I) would be with her. My father would go to work but he was talking the boycott up to those who would listen. He was on his “soapbox.”
I was young but already knew that the books going to the Black students were old and used (many times written in and pages missing) while those going to the white students were new. I knew that at some schools the class size was small and that students got individual attention while at other schools resources were limited, classes were crowded and advice or individual help was hard to come by and not always good.
When I started high school, I was in the College Prep path. I wanted to be a research scientist. I therefore went to the school counselor/adviser and asked permission to take Latin (someone told me Latin was needed if you were going into science). The adviser became very upset and said ” I am tired of you people coming in here with your high ideas, after all you are colored and a girl…”. This ended with her taking me out of the College Prep path and putting me in to Basic Business Training path, where I would train to become a secretary. I was hurt by her comments but more hurt because I was no longer college bound and was instead learning to type (note: this would come in handy when the computers hit big some 40 years later), file and oh well – I never learned shorthand. I would be in the basic business training path for a year before I could sneak back into College Prep. Perhaps, I would have thought her (and other such) comments correct. Perhaps, I would have completed high school in the basic business training path. Perhaps, I would have not struggled but instead gone the path of least resistance… But hearing my father’s discussions of rights, boycotting, resisting, and marching with Muggie (my mother), to join the ocean of individuals all united in the belief that education was important and that kids, who looked like me, deserved to receive the same opportunities as all others, made an impact.
I think we met in front of St Matthew’s Methodist Church on Oak and Orleans on the Northside of Chicago the day of the march. It was warm. We had dressed up for the march, my mother in a wool suit (not necessarily the best marching outfit). I had put on my pearls (fake of course) and my sister’s braids were freshly done.
The walk from St Matthew’s toward downtown was fun. I was yelling “Ben Willis must go” at the top of my voice. There were workers coming out of places we were walking by waving and cheering us on (especially the cooks who stood and watched). I remember going by Moody Bible on LaSalle St. and many people standing and watching.
I saw people from the neighborhood who I knew and I smiled and waved between chanting, “Ben Willis must go/ 2,4,6, 8 we don’t want…”. I was in an upbeat mood. I was safe and happy marching in my mother’s shadow.
However, once we approached downtown, the meaning of the march and boycott and the need for change became focused and clear. The mood of the crowd turned more serious. The tall downtown buildings made the sounds of the crowd echo, thunder-like voice sounds that vibrated the body. In Downtown Chicago, surrounded by the power of people, united in a Freedom Day, felt good. This ocean of people were right (children should receive the best education possible). Boycotting school was right. It brought attention to the problems of a segregated society and the advisers, both those of the past and those today, who counsel based on skin color and gender are wrong.”
Sandra A. Murray, PhD
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine