I, Too, Sing America* I, TOO, SING AMERICA. I AM THE DARKER BROTHER. THEY SEND ME TO EAT IN THE KITCHEN WHEN COMPANY COMES, BUT I LAUGH, AND EAT WELL, AND GROW STRONG. TOMORROW, I’LL SIT AT THE TABLE
BY JUDY JENNIFER HUNT ’67
WHEN COMPANY COMES.
I recited this and two other poems during a 1966 spring morning chapel service at the new Anna Head School on Lincoln Avenue. “I, Too, Sing America” became a metaphor for my experiences at The Anna Head School for Girls from 1963 through 1967. In September 1963 my journey began at the original Anna Head School campus on Channing Way in Berkeley as the only African American girl in the upper school’s freshman class. There were two African American girls, Trudy Crawford and Susan Swan in the sophomore class, and Cynthia Watson in the junior class. Joyce Boykin, an eighth grader, was the first African American “lifer” who attended Anna Head School first through twelfth grades. Thyra Riley and Denise Saddler were the two African American girls in the seventh grade class. Mary Katherine Huddleson, the freshman class president, met me in the library the first day of school. She was my confidante and friend, who helped me to navigate the daily schedule,
NOBODY’LL DARE SAY TO ME, “EAT IN THE KITCHEN,” THEN. BESIDES, THEY’LL SEE HOW BEAUTIFUL I AM AND BE ASHAMED — I, TOO, AM AMERICA.
*From Selected Poems of Langston Hughes © 1926 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. © renewed 1954 by Langston Hughes.
Head-Royce School ··· Spring 2014
she introduced me to other girls, ate lunch with me, explained school traditions and shared some insights into our teachers’ pet peeves. Her most meaningful unspoken gift to me was her nonjudgmental quiet support that conveyed: “You are not alone.” My first year at Head’s, 1963, was a significant year in several aspects: »» The touch-tone telephone was introduced and the bikini came into fashion; »» Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space; »» Congress passed Title IX and the Equal Pay Act that broke legal barriers to women’s professional success; and »» Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have A Dream speech at the March on Washington in Washington, D.C.
I recall the chaos at school on November 22, 1963 when we learned while changing classes that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Amid tears and prayers, faculty and staff provided comfort while we students waited for our parents to take us home early. Daniel and Catherine Dewey, headmaster of Upper School and headmistress of Lower School, were fair-minded and steadfast in their courage to admit girls of color, whose families wanted the best for their children and who held similar values as the white families. All girls wore uniforms: seersucker dresses in summer and green tartan plaid pleated skirts, white blouses and green wool sweaters and blazers in winter. Penny loafers and saddle oxfords were the preferred shoes. Every sport had its uniform. There were no scholarships. The 1960s was a decade filled with turbulent social and political changes. Phyllis Hill, history teacher, and Sara McGrath, art history teacher, captured my interest in how they taught subject matter, simultaneously sharing how history and art were reflected in current events. I still have and utilize my books from their respective classes. During my sophomore year, the year that UC Berkeley students ignited the Free Speech Movement and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, I was selected to be the class country fair chairperson. I learned some valuable lessons about human nature, teamwork and leadership. I also learned that nothing beats determination and hard work. My father built the wooden tripod for our country fair booth’s spinning wheel. Several teachers and friends bought tickets to play the spinning wheel game and our booth was one of the most successful. The school’s custodian, Mr. Jenkins, was a special friend to me. He often shared life lessons and insights through disappointments and he always found a way to lift my spirits with humor in tough moments.
I served as class secretary in my junior year, participated in French Club, the newspaper staff and varsity basketball. There was one English teacher who refused to acknowledge me in the classroom. Whenever I raised my hand to ask or answer a question, the teacher ignored me. After a month of dismissive behavior, one day I left the classroom and sat in the headmaster’s office to discuss the matter with Mr. Arthur O’Leary. Following a discussion with Mr. O’Leary and my parents, I returned the next day to a reluctant teacher, who asked me every 10 minutes: “Do you have a question or wish to say something?” The teacher never said my name. Shortly thereafter, the teacher left the school. Charles Steingart, senior English teacher, integrated English literature, philosophy and good humor into his lectures and pop quizzes. A wonderful writing and public speaking coach, he was always available to help me refine my presentations for school projects and invitations to speak at community events. My most inspiring teacher was Dr. Irvin C. Feustel, a retired international chemist, who taught chemistry. A warm and gentle man, Dr. Feustel provided a supportive class environment and he recognized each student’s contributions. Even if one’s comments, questions or answers were “off the mark,” Dr. Feustel found a way to integrate those responses into the chemistry lesson. He also encouraged accountability and responsibility through individual and collective tasks. Each girl “signed up” for a duty in preparing experiments, setting up or cleaning the vials, stands, trays and Bunsen burners. Extra points were given to students who committed additional time to the
tasks, and teams won a treat for excellent teamwork during pop quizzes. Dr. Feustel was a life-long mentor, coach, cheerleader and friend through my undergraduate days at Pepperdine College, graduate school years at Case Western Reserve University and throughout my career as a nonprofit executive. He and his wife encouraged me in many ways and they were role models for how to live with integrity and purpose despite all the noise around you. In May 1967 graduation day was very special as we wore our long white dresses and carried yellow rose bouquets. I celebrated this milestone with family and friends. I also waved my diploma before three classmates. Those classmates were particularly unkind to me during my freshman year by pouring salt into my hair while taunting: “When are you going to leave? We don’t want you here!” My response was: “On graduation day in 1967.” I kept my promise. Whenever I visit my alma mater, now Head-Royce School, I smile as I encounter little “Madison,” a feisty, smart, energetic African American girl in Lower School, who greets me with self-confidence and joy as she leads me to my Alumni Council meeting. I stand and embrace the moments when I see “Madison” and other students from the rainbow of diverse communities engaged in activities, lively discussions, and walking across the campus or sitting engrossed in their technological devices. Students carry our hopes for the future, shaped by events in their lives, skills honed through academic preparation and life experiences — both successes and failures. My hope is that students will realize that their time at Head-Royce is time to know that being different is not being deficient; to develop fine leadership skills in order to travel a road where others will not always like you and may undermine your best efforts; and to know that success is built on failure, resilience and humble perseverance.
Head-Royce School ··· Spring 2014
Published on Apr 23, 2014
Alumnae article about her experience as one of few African American students at Head-Royce in the 1960s. Companion to the Spring 2014 magazi...