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Emma McFayden

She was born in Crawford, MS.
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I was born fifty six years ago in Crawford, Mississippi, a town so small you will not find it on any map. The total population was about 2000 people. We lived on a small farm, so naturally we grew most of the food we ate. I started working on the farm at age 6. In addition to growing our own crops, we were farmed out to plantation owners to help them harvest their crops. Yes, I chopped and picked cotton from sun up until sun down, earning no more than $4.00 a day. We were paid 2 cents for every pound of cotton we picked. This labor of love became a way of life for me for eight years. When a child reached a certain age (6 or 7) in my community, he or she was expected to work in the field. Today it is hard for young people to believe that only fifty plus years ago I was only a few steps away from slavery. Actually, the hard work and long hours that I put in, prepared me for future trials and tribulations. For me, there is no job too large or too small. Students today do not want to work at McDonalds or Burger King. Forty five years ago, I would have loved to have worked at one of those establishments. Instead, my job consisted of dragging a fifty pound sack of cotton, or chopping the grass from around the cotton or corn stalk that would eventually produce a crop. The wage and length of the day was established by the plantation owner.

Education was important to my parents, but it was not a priority, survival was. In order to accommodate the wishes of the plantation owners, students were allowed to miss 40 days of school during a school year. I loved attending school, but during harvest time, my attendance was based solely on the condition of the weather. Rainy days prevented one from picking or chopping cotton, so clearly when I went to bed at night and it was raining, I looked forward to going to school the next day. There were nights when I actually prayed for rain, especially if there were events or activities going on in school that I wanted to participate in. I don't ever recall starting school when everyone did. The worst thing about starting school late or missing so many days, aside from the fact that my education suffered, was that by the time I actually started school all the clicks had already formed and all the front seats had been taken, but just as important, I felt like an outcast. Those students who were fortunate enough to attend school on a regular basis had no idea what had to transpire in order for me to attend school on the days that I did. I truly enjoyed school, and because of sheer determination and by the grace of God, I managed to graduate from elementary school with my class. Once I reached high school, my attendance was a bit more regular.

During my sophomore year of high school, my father passed away at the age of 39 leaving behind my mother and her nine children. Shortly after my father's death, my mother moved our family to Buffalo to live with her older sister. Moving to Buffalo from rural Mississippi was a cultural shock. I cried daily for my mother to return to Miss., but today I am thankful she stayed. There is always a reason why things happen in our lives. We don't always understand them at first, but when we look back over our lives and put things in perspective, a lot of what has happened in our lives has made us a better, stronger, more determined person. The transition for me and my siblings was difficult, but it was especially difficult for my mother who wanted desperately to provide a better life for us. My mother never finished high school, and her work experience dealt solely with domestic work, so the only employment she could find was housekeeping. The small salary she received plus the Social Security check allowed us to rent our own home in one of the poorest section of town after six months in Buffalo. Prior to renting our own house, we lived in a two bedroom house with my mother's sister.

Attending high school in the big city opened up a whole new world for me. This was the first time I had ever attended an integrated school. I begin high school in my junior year. I found the experience enlightening, pleasant, and challenging. For the most part everyone got along. Occasionally there were disputes, but they were soon dispersed. My two years of high school at Bennett were over before I really made plans for my future. I knew I could not afford college, so I enrolled in the Educational Opportunity Center. While attending the EOC I attended a workshop that discussed ways of attending college if your parents could not afford to pay. That particular workshop gave me a wealth of knowledge on how to go to college and get it paid for through the Educational Opportunity Program. I seized the opportunity, and as they say, the rest is history. My drive, determination, and motivation, landed me at Fredonia State College where I earned both a B.S. and M.S. degree in elementary education.

I enjoy sharing my background with my students, because it enables them to put their own lives in perspective. None of them have experienced the hardships that I endured, and I make it quite clear to them that no one can hinder their success but them. Sharing my story has allowed me to reflect on the past as I prepare for the future.