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People Lost In 2019: Gracie Williams Jamison


This weekend, we're hearing from you about people who passed away this year who lived exceptional lives outside the spotlight.

CAROLE WILLIAMS: Well, I lost my best friend, Gracie Williams Jamison.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is Carole Williams.

WILLIAMS: She was one of the unsung leaders of integration in central Pennsylvania and in Massachusetts.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gracie Williams Jamison was born in 1934...

WILLIAMS: ...In a small cabin in Maryland that had belonged to her great-grandmother, who was a slave who got it from her master, who was the father of Gracie's grandmother.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And she eventually moved to Pennsylvania with her mother, who'd taken a job as a head cook at a high school.

WILLIAMS: That got her enough money that she could give Gracie baton lessons. When the majorette at Gettysburg High School broke a leg, the principal came to Gracie and said, I think the uniform will fit you. And that's how Gracie became the first black majorette at Gettysburg High School.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After high school, Gracie went to Shippensburg State Teacher's College. William says she was one of the school's first black students. That's where they met. William says she was struck by Grace's beauty, her singing voice and her kindness.

WILLIAMS: She was sort of amazed that I wanted to be her friend that - because I was a white person. I just admired her for all her good qualities. And so we just became very close friends.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gracie went on to earn a master's degree. She moved to Massachusetts to teach kindergarten.

WILLIAMS: She was the first black teacher in Andover, which is a pretty lily-white community. And several parents asked that their child not be put in her class.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Williams says the children who stayed thrived. The next year...

WILLIAMS: She had so many requests for children to be in her class that she couldn't take them all because she was an excellent teacher.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gracie Williams Jamison also organized the first black wedding, her own, in Gettysburg's main Methodist church.

WILLIAMS: So those were the kinds of things that she did that on her own initiative to get what she wanted and to equalize things anywhere she lived.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Gracie retired after three decades. But she didn't stop teaching. Williams says she would go back to the Andover schools and talk about her early days pushing for integration and civil rights. About 10 years ago, Gracie developed Alzheimer's. Eventually, she couldn't even recognize her best friend. Gracie Jamison Williams (ph) died January 31 at the age of 84.

WILLIAMS: What is remarkable about her life is she came from a very disadvantaged background. And she affected so many people. She was probably the most important person in my life outside my family. And I just wanted someone to know something about her. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.