Dorothy Croghan is an 82-year-old retired teacher, mother and Reno resident. She attended a recent peace vigil in Reno held by Black Lives Matter organizers protesting police brutality. In this audio postcard, she shares her memories growing up as a Black woman in the United States. Her story begins in North Carolina.
Editor's Note: This story contains racial slurs.
Church On Sunday
Dorothy Croghan was raised by her mother, someone she describes as a strong woman, a person who carried everything on her shoulders and worked Monday through Saturday. Croghan grew up the second youngest of eight siblings.
“Sunday we went to church. [My mother] raised me up with a great work ethic. All of us, all eight, no one ever got in trouble, even though we were in the backwoods. No one ever got in trouble," Croghan recalled.
No one in Croghan’s family at the time had achieved an education higher than the seventh grade, and she was determined to change that, but it wasn’t so easy.
“As soon as we got large enough to go into the fields, that's where we had to go because the cotton was ready and everybody was going out there picking cotton that was Black,” Croghan explained.
Croghan was 16 years old when she decided she wanted to pursue higher education. She asked her mother if she could go work in the cotton fields with the men to earn $5 a day rather than $3. Her mother gave her permission to do so as long as her brother took care of her.
Sunup To Sundown
Her brother was well respected out in the fields, but Croghan said her fear didn’t rest at the hands of the Black men working around her; it lived in the homes she was sent to clean, the homes of the White men.
Croghan needed $500 to enroll in a university and, ultimately, she saved up just enough money for her first year. "When I was in school, we got the leftover books from the White schools. Pages missing, pages all torn up, pages written on, all this ugly stuff,” Croghan said. “When I was at the university, I worked every hour that I wasn't in a class.”
Croghan picked up as many jobs as she could to make ends meet. Every summer, she went off to work as a housemaid or at cleaning companies just so she could have enough money to return to school each year.
“The trials and tribulations came, but God blessed me to persevere,” Croghan said. “The first job I went to, it was in a newspaper in Virginia, and I called to make an appointment for the job, and [the receptionist] said, ‘Yes, come on in for the interview.’ I went there, and I sat just about all day long. People went in and in and ahead of me; all White people. The secretary came out at five o'clock, and she said, 'Gal, why are you still sitting here?’ I said, ‘I'm Dorothy Holloway, I have an appointment for an interview, and it was supposed to be at three o'clock,’ and she said, 'Gal, we don't hire niggas here.' ”
That was her first experience trying to apply for a job out of college. She went on to join the Peace Corps for two years, where she met someone she would go on to marry. Together they raised six children, two biological children and four foster children, and they lived in California for 45 years.
“I had five boys, and my nights were restless because I didn't know what would happen to them when they went to high school,” Croghan said. “I never knew whether they were coming home or not because we were in a small community, and there were, like, three Black families in that community. While my boys were great athletes, everybody just loved them to death, but when they got hurt and couldn't play, nobody really cared about them anymore.”
Croghan has fought a lifetime, breaking down racial barriers in the U.S. Decades later, she said she can’t turn off the TV because watching the protests around the nation and world against police brutality and systemic racism gives her so much hope that young people will have a life of equality and justice.
“This [feels like] so much hope, so much hope that things will change. And that people, young people coming on behind us, will have a better life. Will have a life of equality and equity and fairness and justice, and be able to have decent homes and send their children to school, get a good education. We all deserve equal privileges and opportunities," Croghan explained.