“I was born in Greenville, SC. I grew up in a poor family. I needed glasses but my parents couldn’t afford them. They had seven children. My father was a carpenter and he built our house. He could build anything; he was a very smart man. He was a good electrician too. I wish I had taken his smartness. My mother did laundry. She was a kind, sweet, loving lady and I think I have a lot of my mother in me, but I wish I had a lot of my father! All of my mother’s time was spent doing laundry for white people. We had to go get the laundry and bring it back. She had to do the laundry in a big old black pot out there. Can you imagine that?

I had a sister who was brave and very outgoing, but I just kept to myself and wished things could be better. I always wanted to buy a nice house for my mother before she died. I was in my teens when she died. She was about 50. My father died early too. I went to college for one year in Tennessee. It was through my church. I don’t remember what I studied. I studied being in college! I liked college. It is very important that you go to college. I didn’t continue because the church sent me but I didn’t have the money myself.

I came to NY when I was 19 because I wanted to make a better life for myself. I felt like people in Greenville were living better than me; they had more than I had. I always wanted to get away when I had a chance. I was able to come to NY because I had a sister-in-law here. She got a babysitting job for me taking care of a little girl. I stayed there for about two or three years, and then I got a job with some other people.

I got married when I was 28 and had two children. My daughter in lives in Montclair and my son in Augusta, Georgia. My husband has been dead 30 years. He was a good man. He was really smart. Everyone thought he was good looking but I didn’t. But he carried himself in such a dignified way. I got pregnant when I was with the family I worked for for a long time. They were nice to me and my husband, and we were able to live there. My kids were raised with their kids, especially my daughter. She got a lot of education from them. They had two girls and my daughter was like their sister.

I was born a Presbyterian but I don’t like that religion. Presbyterians are too stuffy and dignified. I still go to church, but not as much as I should. God is my everything. He takes care of me.

Overall I feel pretty healthy, although I am afraid to go out by myself now. They tell me I shouldn’t because I may fall. It is frustrating not being able to get around on my own. I need help now. I have a walker and a woman who comes in and helps me a few times a week.

My daughter, Philemona, comes on the weekends and sometimes she pops in during the week. I just rave about her. She is so smart and successful. My son-in-law is really dear and I love him. I loved him from the first time I met him. I feel they belong together. My grandchildren don’t come too often, but when they do come I love it. They are so nice. Noah lives in the city now and he comes over more. He will come by when he is in the neighborhood and give me a hug. He surprises me. I like to give him some money; he doesn’t ask me for it so it makes me feel better.

I like to go out for dinner and my daughter takes me out a lot. I also like see plays but don’t really do that now. I watch TV often; that’s my favorite thing to do. I love to read but my eyes are bad. I have a lady friend in the building who comes up some times. I like to go out and cash my check. I look forward to that!

I keep in touch with the family I worked for where Philemoma lived. She keeps in touch with them too. I also have one sister still living who is in Florida. She is 86. We talk every day. But she is bossy. She was always like that so I accept it. She was a nurse.

I am thankful to be alive and that I am able to walk and talk. I am thankful that God let me get to this age and I hope he lets me continue for a long time.

When I look back at my life, mostly I am very satisfied and I pray to God to let me continue to live. But I wish I had learned to speak in public. I sometimes feel like I can’t keep up with my daughter and her friends. She is so smart. It is so easy for her to talk. I wish I had had more education.

I think the world has improved a lot over the last 50 years. We have been able to invent things we didn’t know about. Things have definitely improved for Black people. I am from the South so I know about that a lot. I wasn’t a troublemaker, but it was really hard to live with the rules for Black people.”

Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax for this exhibition.