Delany Sisters, the First Hundred Years by Kayo Kimura

CSE 095 Kayo Kimura

Spring, 2001

Dr. M. Glick


Elizabeth and Sarah Delany

1. What is the person saying about this book and about the lives of the Delany sisters?

The author is telling how the Delany Sisters had been living to be more than one hundred years old, and through their lives we can learn difficulties to being born colored people.

Because of just being born colored people, they faced discrimination in many places. As a child, they saw many segregations in public between white and colored people, such as bathrooms, bus and train. It was called Jim Crow Laws. But nowadays, it is a far away history for our generation. Sometimes they experienced that they were insulted or treated badly by white people.

They moved to Harlem in New York before they enrolled in Columbia University. The reason why they moved from Raleigh to New York was for freedom and they thought it might be something different there from the South.

In spite of their expectations, they had a hard time in Columbia University, because a professor at Columbia University was unfair to their grades or some classmate of Bessie brought her down. Anyhow, they graduated from university and got professional occupations.

It was not an easy life in Harlem, but they overcame and they had some advantages to live there. For living in Harlem they met some famous people like Paul Robeson.

According to their story, Harlem might be a flourishing town. It is now like a fantasy place.

Otherwise, we found some of their relatives or friends were lost by diseases, such as tuberculosis and typhoid. Today we have advanced medical cures, so no one would die from those diseases.

2. (A) What influence or effect did Reverend Delany have on the lives of Elizabeth and Sarah Delany?

A - He was a great father for the Delany sisters. He was intelligent and a hard working man and what is more he was generous, but otherwise he was strict for his children.

He made sure everybody in the neighborhood got a special meal. One time he helped a man named Uncle Jessie. He used to be a slave. After that, he was unemployed and looking for food. Because of Delany's father's sympathy, he gave him a job as a mail deliverer. He supported him until the end of his life. At his funeral, he and his family had a special funeral for him without spending money. I was deeply impressed by his manner. Delany sisters also helped a lot of people as he did, because they learned from their father.

(B) What influence or effect did Mrs. Delaney (their mother) have on the lives of their daughters?

B - Mrs. Delany was a great mother. She took care of their children as much as she could. She helped people in her neighborhood who had no food, in a different way from the father. Her gentle character took a part of Sarah. Because they had a great mother as she was, when they were hurt by discrimination from white people, they could ease their broken-hearted feelings to be with their mother.

Another point they learned from their mother was dignity. Even thought she could pass as a white person, she never tried to be one, because she was proud of being black.

Once Bessie had an opportunity to have a part time job as a housekeeper, but her mother contradicted her not to work under white people.

Another thing, on the way home from grandmother's home in Florida, their mother was tried to be seduced by a white man in a train. He thought that she was white. But their mother refused him by calling their father, who was a "colored person" like herself.

3. NAME and Discuss one or more very important obstacles [difficulties, problems, hardships] that Elizabeth and Sarah had to face and to overcome [defeat, conquer]. How did they overcome of defeat this problem(s)?

Bessie was close to being lynched when she was going to her new job in Brunswick..

She was in the colored waiting room at the station and she was combing her hair there.

Then a white man who was drunk and smelled badly appeared in front of her. She told him to go away. Then he started to scream, "That Nigger bitch insulted me".

Bessie saw the crowd of white people. She was afraid the white people were going to lynch her. She just continued combing her hair as if she had nothing with the white man.

In Columbia University days, it was hard for Sarah to get good scores, even if she was an excellent student. Also, Bessie was hard to prove herself in Columbia University. There was one instructor who failed her. There was an assignment which she failed. She gave her paper to a white girl, who submitted it. The white girl passed with Bessie's assignment!

Once one classmate named Rose made Bessie as a thief. But she was not a thief. When a detective checked Bessie's locker, Rose threw a dentist's instrument inside. Rose was the one who stole those things. Bessie did not miss what she did, and she told the detective.

Otherwise, this was a good chance to show how Bessie's locker was organized as a good example for classmates.

They overcame through these hard times because they believed in their father's words. "Don't ever give up. Remember, they can segregate you, but thety can't control your minds. Your minds are still yours."

4. Both Elizabeth and Sarah became professional women.

(A) What career did each select?

Elizabeth was a dentist.

Sarah was a domestic science teacher in high school.

(B) Discuss what made the selection of each of their careers so special?

1. Elizabeth - She always dreamed she would be a medical doctor, and her brother Harry became a dentist earlier than her. That encouraged her to be a dentist. As a dentist, she was a tough one, because no matter how a patient was sick, she took dental medical care.

2. Sarah - She helped her mother's work since she was a child. Naturally, she learned how to cook and clean in a house. Also she took the part of mother, so she liked to take care of people. For these reasons she was fit to be a domestic science teacher.

(C) Were they successful at their chosen professions? Explain and give examples.

Elizabeth - Yes. Although she was discriminated against as a woman or a colored person sometimes, she was famous in the black community in Harlem. A letter to her would be delivered even if it was only written to "Dr. Bessie, New York City".

Also, she was respected by the black community, because she always tried to help and took care of her patients as much as she could. Once she took a patient for dental care who had no money to pay for it, or who was kicked out by a white doctor.

Sarah - Yes. She was hired as an elementary school teacher at first. Before she got the job, there were two whites in competition for her place. She overcame as she demonstrated her role to work teamwork. Even though the other preliminaries did not show well how to bake cookies in the domestic science class, she recovered. And that gave Sarah credit from the white people.

After a couple of years of work at the elementary school, she applied to be high school teacher.

She knew she would not pass the interview as a colored person. She just skipped the interview and sent them a letter. She showed up for the first day of classes and it was too late to refuse her because they had already registered her name. She was the first colored domestic science teacher in a white high school in New York.

Since then, she kept that job. She continued her profession until 1960, at the age of 71 years old.

Kayo Kimura

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