February 27, 2010

USA: Retired teacher offers her views of civil rights

. CHICAGO, Illinois / The Chicago Sun-Times / Lifestyles / February 27, 2010 'Sometimes I don't like to look back' A perspective of 110 years By Maudlyne Ihejirika, Staff Reporter "I have a scar on my back I got when I was a slave. . . . You got people out there with this scar on their brains. . . ." -- from the 1974 movie "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,'' now on DVD Throughout this month, we asked Chicagoans and prominent visitors their thoughts on Black History Month. Most said it is still relevant, though many questioned relegating the celebration of a people's history to any specific period. We close the month with 110-year-old Ethel Darden of Hyde Park, tied with another supercentenarian as Illinois' oldest resident. Born in Dallas, Texas, on Feb. 17, 1900, to Ella Mary Allen and Charles Boswell, two schoolteachers, she is a pioneering educator who helped establish the city's first private, nonsectarian school for blacks, the Howalton Day School. Photo of Ethel Darden courtesy CBS Founded in 1947 by her sister Doris Allen-Anderson and two other women, the school operated until 1986. It was responsible for educating many of Chicago's black elite, including the children of boxer Joe Louis, U.S. Rep. Ralph Metcalfe, historian Timuel Black, Judge R. Eugene Pincham and Mayor Eugene Sawyer. In 1996, she donated the school's archives to the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library's Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection. "There were five of us girls. The whole darn family became educators," said Darden, laughing as she smoothed out a brown ruffled dress with her long, slender rhinestone-ringed fingers. "She's sweet as pie, always full of smiles and laughter," said her caretaker and close friend, Betty Miller. "She still has that southern genteel. Occasionally, she'll ask me, 'Honey, is he colored or white?' " Darden outlived her siblings and husband, Lloyd Darden, a successful accountant she married in 1942 before the couple moved here. She lives at Montgomery Place, a retirement home staffed by University of Chicago Medical Center physicians. Her doctor, William Dale, said he's in awe at the health of Darden, who occasionally enjoys a glass of wine. "She has no diseases, takes no prescriptions and looks decades younger," he gushed. "And while her short-term memory is poor, her long-term memory is very intact." Darden attended Dallas Colored High School, graduated in 1921 from the historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas -- featured in the 2007 movie "The Great Debaters" -- taught 20 years in Dallas schools, then 40 years here. Here's what she had to say: "You know, sometimes I don't like to look back. It's hard enough to look front. When I think about the past too much, it knocks me down. "I came up with Jim Crow. But I didn't let it bother me. I was just living. We didn't have money, anyway, to go places they didn't want us. In the South, we knew where we could go and couldn't. Didn't have to hear them say it. It was written loud and clear, 'Whites Only.' 'For Colored.' "It was terrible what they did to black folks those days. Lynched them. Burned them. I don't want to talk too much about that. "Dr. [Martin Luther] King came to our church. My twin sister and I sang a duet for him. I liked him. He wasn't afraid of anybody. Marched up to Washington. He asked our help. We collected money in jars at school. I did march. One time, we put on buttons to protest, marched right downtown and had breakfast. I wasn't scared. "I honor all those who tried to make it good for us, so we could come downtown and have lunch if we wanted to. The Civil Rights Act was a great day because I felt free at last. That I could walk with my head up, that we were free to go to any school at last. I did feel good. "Black president? Didn't think so soon, but I felt we'd eventually have a black everything. I don't like to say 'black' history. It's just history. "I don't know why I lived so long. I never thought of it. Just tried to do my work and treat people the right way. There's a road you have to take, and you take it. It's been a good life. I wouldn't say a 'fine' life, just 'good.' Could have been worse. "A white man is a white man. Let him be white. A black man is a black man. Let him be black. Just watch the way they treat you as a human being. Treat folks right, and respect them the way God would have you do. Let history take care of itself." [rc] © Copyright 2010 Sun-Times Media, LLC