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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps, and today, we have one from the archives about an African American woman coming face to face with history. In 1955, Ellaraino was a teenage girl growing up in Los Angeles. At the time, she was preoccupied with boys. So her parents sent her to Louisiana that summer to meet her great-grandmother for the first time.
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ELLARAINO: I was in love with Tyrone. My relationship was heating up, and my parents knew that, so they had to take charge. Mother told me we would be spending the summer in the South, and that's where I was going to be introduced to my great-grandmother, Silvia. She was 106 years old. And I just did not want to be spending my time with a senile old woman. But four days later, we were in Farmersville, La. Driving on this old road, I saw this log cabin, and I noticed on the front porch that was her. She had a slender, you know, almost frail frame. But I still found her to be regal-looking. And at night, she would tell her stories.
When the Civil War ended, she was my age. She was 16. She said even though she had freedom, not knowing how to read and write made her feel like a jigsaw puzzle with some of the pieces missing. And when she was 85 years old, she said it stops here. She got help from grown-ups, you know, and sometimes from children, and she would study on her own.
And then she told me that she had something special to show me. She went to a cedar chest at the foot of her bed, and she opened it up. And when I saw what it was, I was wondering, why is she bringing me this old, tattered church fan? But when she turned it over, scrawled on the back of that fan, she had printed Silvia. She told me that when she could spell her name, that was when she got her freedom. You know, she passed in 1965, but Grandma Silvia is living on and my heart.
MARTIN: Ellaraino talking with her friend Baki AnNur in Los Angeles. Their story is archived at the Library of Congress.
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