Fighting Racism Is A Family Tradition At 36, Benjamin Todd Jealous is the youngest president in the history of the 100-year-old NAACP. But he has a legacy to live up to in his own family when it comes to battling racism in America.
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Fighting Racism Is A Family Tradition

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Fighting Racism Is A Family Tradition

Fighting Racism Is A Family Tradition

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The people listening with intense interest, to the president last night, would've included Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP. Before the anninversary, Mr. Jealous was listening closely to his mother, and his grandmother, at StoryCorps. This project has been recording conversations between loved ones. The three of them talked about their own experience fighting for civil rights.

Benjamin's mom is Ann Todd Jealous. His grandmother is Mamie Todd. In the 1930s, Mamie taught at an all-black school in Virginia. Her students lacked basic school materials like pencils and paper, so she took the matter into her own hands and to the white superintendent of schools.

Ms. MAMIE TODD: I went up to the secretary's desk and said, I have an appointment. And she says, well, the colored teachers come around the back. I said, beg your pardon? She said, colored teachers come around the back. I said, well, there's his desk's right there, and so I walked on through and went to his desk. He was sitting there. He didn't stand up.

And there was a chair in front of his desk, so I sat there. And he and I had a conversation, and I just told him how I felt. How I really felt about it. He was a human being; I knew we had that much in common. And I wasn't afraid of him, and…

Ms. ANN TODD JEALOUS: Were you ever afraid of anybody?

Ms. TODD: Well, I don't know. I have to think about it. I have to think about it.

Well, anyway, the next day, about 10:30 in the morning, a pickup truck came to school laden with materials. I mean, blackboards hanging over the sides. And I had everything I could think of that I had told him that school needed.

Mr. BENJAMIN JEALOUS (President, NAACP): While we're talking about protests, mom, tell me about desegregating your high school.

Ms. JEALOUS: When I first went there, I remember being assigned a seat and there was this other girl sitting in my seat. So, I went up to say to her, you know, you're in my seat. And she fell onto the floor, she was so terrified. And then I was…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEALOUS: You're really not very scary, mom.

Ms. JEALOUS: I was not. I'm probably more scary now than (unintelligible). The rumor was that we all carried knives, and she was afraid that I would stick a knife in her for sitting in my seat. And actually I was asking her to move because I was afraid of the teacher, you know, being upset.

Mr. JEALOUS: Mimi, what was it like for you to watch her go through this?

Ms. TODD: It was very difficult but she kept a lot of it to herself.

Ms. JEALOUS: I did not want to burden them. I was an only child and my parents taught a lot. And I grew up with their stories. And so I was very, very conscious of the great deal that they carried as a consequence of racism. So, I kept as much as I could to myself.

Mr. JEALOUS: Well, thanks, mom.

Ms. JEALOUS: You're welcome, Ben. Thanks for being interested and for asking.

Mr. JEALOUS: Thanks, Mimi.

Ms. TODD: Good luck to you, darling.

Mr. JEALOUS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TODD: There's a lot to be done.

Mr. JEALOUS: Yeah, that's right.

Ms. TODD: There's a lot left to be done.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Those good wishes went to Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, with his mom, Ann Todd Jealous, and his grandmother, Mamie Todd. They recorded their interview in Pacific Grove, California, and it will be archived at the Library of Congress, as well as the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. You can get this project's Podcast at NPR.org.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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