Search This Blog

November 30, 2017

Remembering Ms. Emma Kelley

This is my dad, Cecil Baker Egerton, ca. 1930, with Emma Kelley who worked for the family as cook and nanny from the 1920's until her retirement in the early 60’s. I believe my earliest recollection in life is of sitting on the kitchen counter at my grandparents’ home in Knoxville, Tennessee, dangling my feet off the edge watching Emma prepare a meal. I remember her speaking softly to herself as she worked. (My mother later told me that Emma’s name for me was “Cecil’s boy.”)
Emma and my dad had been especially close due to his poor health as a child, which kept him at home and in her care much of the time.

In the 50’s Dad began pastoring a church in a small town in North Carolina whose population was about 60% white and 40% black. In 1954, in Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. A year later, schools were ordered to begin desegregating. In the late 50’s, the public officials of that small North Carolina town shut down the public schools rather than permit desegregation. And some of those officials were deacons and Sunday School teachers in the church that Dad pastored.

Just months after I was born, he left that church and the pastorate and launched a new career teaching history. He was to return to his first calling 10 years later to pastor a multi-racial congregation in a small town in Oklahoma and, years later, an Asian-American congregation in California.

Seen as history, this photograph has a lot to say – yet, they’re different messages to different people. With my personal recollection of Emma very dim, I see it primarily through my dad’s eyes. It suggests the intimacy between two people from a different age in my country’s history. It was a gift of love that indelibly marked Dad’s life and foreshadowed choices that would impact many people and families from coast to coast for generations to follow.

Born in South Carolina in 1893, Emma Kelley died in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1966.

No comments:

Post a Comment