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InterGen Dinner Brings Back Memories

May 2, 2012

The Intergenerational Dialog in Marcus Foster on April 25 was like a relaxed supper with extended family at the Intergenerational Dialog in Marcus Foster on April 25. It was the kind of supper where  grandparents reminisce about the "old days" as they enjoyed a leisurely dinner together.  Undergraduate students listened with rapt attention to stories told by "elders" Dr. Clarence Harris - retired Professor of Communication Studies, Cheyney University; Hoyt Beulah  - resident of South Media, PA; Eugene Flemming - retired Cheyney University Police Officer and WWII Veteran; and Annette Harris - Cheyney University Alumna, Class of 1992. 

Some colorful memories emerged when the Prohibition era was brought up.  They recalled a time when the police raided a speakeasy - the whole block was cordoned off while the police rounded up the customers and took them away in the paddy wagon. To get alcohol back then, people out in the country would make moonshine in drums from corn, raisins and hops. According to Annette Harris, "It smelled awful, but it made them happy on the weekend."

Ms. Harris also remembered her school days in the segregated South. "Nothing we learned was practical, but served as functional models. It was the role models in the neighborhood who taught us survival so we could maintain the thread for the next generation.

"In the classroom, supplies were limited. We got old books the white schools didn't want any more. Pages and covers were missing and we had to share them with classmates. Some children learned how to read upside down as they read from other students books because they didn't have their own copies."

Stories about the hardships during the Depression came out. "Work was hard to find, but a neighbor would never let you suffer - they would help you out. Families took care of their neighbors to make sure they had what they needed. There was always something you could share from your garden.   We raised poke weed  for the rabbits. We would eat the poke weed and  the rabbits. Everyone had chickens in the yard we ate them too. There were soup kitchens and people sold apples on corners. Rent was $15 a month and you could earn $17 a week if you were lucky. You just learned to get along with what you had."

"The War brought an economic uplift to the country as it moved out of depression into the boom years of World War II. An executive order set aside mandated employment for African Americans. That pivotal mechanism was needed to make the change - it wasn't altruism that drove integration. Many African Americans joined the Army - even lying about their age to get in. The war years were hard too - people made sacrifices to support the troops and the war effort.  Meat, milk, most foods were rationed. Gasoline was rationed and you could only buy it on certain days of the week. You could always get things you needed from the black market."  

"After the war ended and the soldiers returned home, they moved north to work in the steel mills or on the railroad. There wasn't any work at home anymore. Those jobs up north allowed them to make money and buy houses."

Eugene Flemming had found memories of his time on campus.  "In 1940 it was just the Quad at Cheyney. It was beautiful. People were so well dressed.  We came here to learn and make a better life."