Sunday, July 31, 2016

She Was One of Twenty Three Children

Ms. Maxine Knighten
I saw this petite and certainly neat lady several places in the community. She has strongly resembled by maternal cousin Wille K. Gordon, Jr., wife. One time I thought that was my cousin's wife. Mostly, I've seen her in the library with young children. Today I finally got a chance to sit down and talk with her.  Her name is Ms. Maxine Knighten.

After her church service, she stopped over to tell me about her experience at Tangipahoa Parish Training School for Colored. She graduated in 1952 from the school and went on to become an educator herself in Chicago. She was so beautiful in her blue suit and with her matching blue hat and happy to tell me that she was in her mid-80s.  "Could it be in the Kentwood water?" All the elders in the Town of Kentwood is very healthy and their mine are full of history.

When she started telling me about things that happen in the 50s, I could do anything but listen and write. She told me that she was one of twenty- three children and that she was one of seven sets of twins.  "Twenty-three babies, I said!" I thought about a classroom of twenty-three children.  Several of the children didn't survive and died during childbirth.

Mahalia Jackson

Ms. Knighten survived all of her siblings. I could imagine  being born in such a large family and surviving  all my sibling. She still has a lot of nieces, nephews, and other relatives.  She recalls  hearing Mahalia Jackson and gospel singer Joe May sing at Tangipahoa Parish Training School for the Colored. She remembered paying her dollar to get in to hear the concert.  That was one of the questions I had to ask her. "Mahalia song so beautiful," said Ms. Knighten. I never forget that day,
it was so nice.

We started talking about the teachers who worked there during her time at school. She talked about Mr. Thornton and how hard of a teacher he was because he expected only the best from you. I remember Mr. O.W. Dillon using that left hand because he was left handed. The subject of use books was the next things she pointed out to me. She couldn't understand why all the white kids got new books and the negro students had to get the used books. That was the way it was when I was in grade school as well.

Two other people said that they were there that day with Mahalia Jackson came to the school. As she reflects on days that she probably had forgotten about up until now. The hardship of life is one thing she stressed to me. "Yes it was hard and I mean hard," she said. "We alway had food, because daddy grew produce and we had milk cow," she said.

But sometimes we had to go and work in the fields picking cotton, beans, and other produce. "I hated and I mean I hated because I wanted to go to school," said Ms. Knighten.  But daddy did want us to go to school.

I can't wait until Thursday for another history lesson for Ms. Knighten. Click below to hear gospel singer Joe May and Mahalia Jackson youtube,

Joe May

Mahalia Jackson