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The woman, on the left, was the second of 20 children of Rev. Ira and Sallie Young, my maternal grandparents. I knew Aunt Irene well after she and grandmother came North in the late 1940's to live. On 8/30/98 while researching family history at Cincinnati's public library, I was surprised by something I saw about her in the 1920 census. She was listed as 23 year old Irene Hunter with 2 small children living in the Ellisville, Mississippi household of her parents. The surprise was seeing her occupation listed as "teacher" in a "private school." At no time had I ever heard about that piece of history.
That evening, I called one of her two surviving sons (of 4), Gene in Cleveland, to inquire about this new-found fact, of which I'd never heard, not even in informal family talks. Although Gene wasn't born until years later, he did remember his mother, grandmother and other Ellisville, Mississippi townsfolks talking about the days when his mother opened a school.
It seems that in the 20's, there was no "public education" available for Ellisviile's "Colored" or "Negro" children. So, Aunt Irene Hunter, started her own school which oft times, she told her children, classes were often held "outdoors." Gene remembers his mother saying the children, more often than not, "wrote their lessons in the dirt," especially spelling and arithmatic. There was no money for pencils and paper.
It seems the local Black folks would pay Aunt Irene what they could when they could (seldom money, mostly food or sewing goods). They simply wanted Aunt Irene to keep doing what she was doing. Knowing her as I did, there's no doubt in my mind that she never turned a child away for non-payment.
To me, as a child, she was a short, light, smiling, hugging, and loving aunt who wanted to feed anything that moved.
Gene also said that he and his brothers and sister spent their primary school years in what we would call "home schooling," today. He also said his mother once owned a "little store." Interestly, all her children went into some kind of consumer business.
According to my mother, Aunt Irene, who they all called "Sister" was her (along with other family and neighbor children) first school teacher. They held classes in a small Baptist church, across the road