Here’s a piece Ninety-five-year-old Wanda Bridgeforth wrote after her WGN Radio interview last weekend.
by Wanda Bridgeforth
The interview with Dave Hoekstra and Beth Finke brought back more memories of my happy days at DuSable High School. On February 1, 1935, it was a thrill to be entering a Brand-New building at the time my life was changing and I was on the first rung of the ladder of adulthood.
Dave asked about segregation. Yes, we were segregated, but we accepted the status quo, got on with our lives and were better for it. Parents of my generation encouraged us to get an education. They preached that “money and possessions can be taken from you, but learning is yours forever, and education will help you have a better life.”
We knew the new high school at 49th and Wabash was built to keep us “poor colored kids” in our neighborhood and out of their white schools, but we had the last laugh: our new high school had everything needed to make school interesting, educational…and fun!
It offered languages, science, business, fine arts, home economics, vocational shops, physical ed. And some I don’t remember.
I do remember decorating the Boy’s gym for proms, military balls, and formal dances. I remember the Friday Sock Hops and Mrs. T jamming a six-inch ruler between couples dancing too close. I remember watching the ROTC drill as Capt. Dyett rehearsed the Military Band, and I remember rooting at the top of our lungs for our football, basketball, baseball, swim and other athletic teams.
Every department had a student club to enhance classroom learning. Camera, Negro History, Drama, Creative Writing, Rifle, Service Clubs for the Principal and Assistant, Library, First Aid and I’m sure I omitted some. By taking electives, participating in clubs and working on staffs I received an interesting eclectic education.
Hey, I even joined the Rifle Club! No one asked why. They signed me up, handed me a pair of ear muffs, and I was off to the range!
Students came from every elementary school in Bronzeville. Everybody walked to school, and friendships that have lasted a lifetime were made inside as well as on the walks to and from school.
Our high school years were in the midst of the Great Depression. We were poor, but we banded together to get the most out of life. For me, DuSable High School and Hall Public Library at 48th and Michigan were havens that offset some of my undesirable living arrangements.
Through our Coalition for Action I have seen many disheartening changes in the educational system. Technology has shortened study and research time, increased solitary time with texting, mind games and instant answers to ninety-nine percent of their questions. I DO NOT envy their technological life! I am content with the see-saw life I have lived, and agree with Maya Angelou: “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey.”
Note: Commercial life was driven away from the area near DuSable in the 1960s when part of the neighborhood was flattened to make room for the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. Wanda helped found the DuSable High School Alumni Coalition for Action when Chicago city leaders first started discussing closing the school, and in 2012 the coalition’s efforts finally convinced the city to designate DuSable as a landmark. Thanks to the Coalition for Action and these personal essays Wanda writes for us, her beloved DuSable High School will not be forgotten.