Interview with Louise Jordan

Nakeiha Primus 2005

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Interview Participants
NP
Nakeiha Primus, interviewer (female)
PE
Pearl, unknown surname, interviewer (female)
LJ
Louise Jordan, interviewee (female)
NP
So what was working in West Medford like? If you could paint a picture of what you're work schedule was like, what would you say it was?
LJ
My work schedule. When I was first hired, I went to, I was, I was appointed a, as third grade teacher at the Hervey School.
LJ
And, I, I knew the principal and he was a man that, my parents were friendly with and he was a wonderful man.
LJ
He was kind, he was supportive. He was the perfect principal for that school. He was wonderful with the children, he was on hands all the time. He would come around to the classroom every single day and check on us, see how things were going.
LJ
He had made his presence so that the children always knew that, you know there was someone in authority there and he had to behave. And he was a wonderful man and I loved it over there.
LJ
The teachers I met were marvelous. There was a, a nice camaraderie amongst them and it was a real family school. It was, it wasn't a large school, it was, it was a family community and that's how we felt about it.
LJ
It was like an extended family being over there. And it, it was easy to adapt. However, the first year teaching anywhere is very difficult. I have to tell you.
LJ
It's, you're intimidated by the young children; they're eight years old and this is you're first time out and you've learned all these things in school. But while they taught you all the methods, they didn't always tell you exactly how to be, how to keep them under control and things like that.
LJ
And I had an active first year, they were busy and it was hard and I know sometimes, oh, I, I thought, I thought, "I don't know if this is going to be my career."
LJ
But my wonderful principal Mr. Murphy would come around and he'd say "Oh Louise, you're doing a terrific job. Don't worry, everything's grand." You know and so it was wonderful. And I was fortunate that I had, I had a lot of boys and some of them were fresh and they really put me to the task.
LJ
But then I had, I had some other kids and, and like every teacher you know you have those that try you and those that are there to support you all the time, so it, it, it goes half way, you know. And a couple of the students I adored like, and I usually love boys, I shouldn't say love boys best, but I do love boys.
LJ
They're, they're interesting and I think I was a tomboy growing up so. But I had Susan Works and Denise Furry, two young girls. One is the daughter of Janice Works and oh, I loved her daughter.
LJ
I mean I just thought she was a fabulous person and I loved the family, I loved the kids and the two of them were cousins. And when I first started little Janice, little Denise, I had, I had her picture in my drawer and it was there for like ever and ever and ever.
LJ
It was funny, her, the first year when the children had their pictures done, I would, I put her picture in the drawer and every time I moved a classroom, every time I even moved a school, for whatever reason, she always was with me. It was funny.
LJ
She was like my first real love I think for a student. But anyway, it was fun and I enjoyed it and there was a school right up the street here. And.
[Pearl takes pictures]
LJ
[laughing]Will you sit down. Enough, stop, stop.
LJ
She. Oh what was I doing?
NP
The school up the street.
LJ
Oh the school up the street.
LJ
The superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the superintendent said to me, "Wouldn't you like to just teach and walk up the hill?" And I said "No, I don't, I want to stay here. I love it." And I think he asked me three years running because it was evidently an opening and I suppose he thought I could just stroll right up there and I wouldn't have to, you know, scoot across town and go through the, the city and the traffic and all that jazz.
LJ
Anyway, I loved it over there and I stayed. In time, Ada came along in the sixties. I was appointed in '63, Ada came in, I think in '66. She had been subbing over at the Brooks and then she was appointed as a third grade teacher.
LJ
We taught across the hall from one another and I, while I grew up in Medford, I had always gone to a parochial school. So I had not really been in contact with many minorities. I mean hadn't, I didn't know many because I, you know I don't recall at that time there being any in, in school with me.
LJ
And so Ada was really the first, she was my first friend. As I say we just, we shared the same recess, we shared the same lunch and we just got to know one another and respected each other and enjoyed one another.
LJ
And so she just opened up the world to me. I had one of my students was Debbie Dawson and her father was a drummer, his name was Allan Dawson. He was a drummer and Jim's niece was also a drummer.
LJ
She was a young kid, she was maybe ten years old and her uncle, uncle no her grandfather was a, I don't know if he was a drummer; no he wasn't. He played the saxophone I think, she used to go and watch him all the time and she was enthralled with jazz.
LJ
And she started, she picked up the drums, I forget how it came about. But she picked up the drums and they used to take her into the jazz clubs and she used to sit in with some of the top name jazz players at the time.
NP
This is the niece?
LJ
Yeah, the niece, Teri Lynn Carrington.
LJ
And it was actually I think his great-niece. And she, she was, she was fabulous. She was so great that she was endorsed by one of the major drumming companies. And she went through high school in three years, all A's and went on to, I think Berkeley; full scholarship.
LJ
I think it was Berkeley she went to. And so, and Ada had her; I remember Ada having, having Teri and didn't play any favoritism with them. Ada was a wonderful teacher.
LJ
She was, she, first off, did you know that she came from? Do you want, what would you like me to tell you about where she came from and things like that or? What?
NP
Sure.
LJ
She came from Indianapolis, Indiana and she was, she was born December 17; it was 1929. And I remember her birthday because it was the same as my girlfriend's son and she always remembered that as well.
LJ
And my girlfriend, was the one I had spoke to you before, had taught with Jim down at the junior high school and she, she adopted him. And so it was the same, his birthday was the same date, so anyway she, she always.
PE
[coughing]
LJ
Can I get you something?
PE
No. It's good.
PE
[coughing]
[tape stops]
[tape resumes]
LJ
She, and she was an only child. Her parents were divorced, her mother's name was Charlie and her stepfather was Pasco Betty; that was his last name, Betty.
LJ
I'll never forget when, when I heard Betty, I always thought it was his first name, you know it was somebody's first name. I was trying to piece this together when I first heard because Charlie sounded like him and here I hear a Betty, and anyway.
LJ
And the mother was a darling, but she was a little bit of a thing. And the father, his name was Dupee, what was his first name. I can't think, I have it here. James, it was James, and I think he married too.
LJ
While Ada lived far away, she always kept in contact with, with, with her parents. She called them constantly, she wrote religiously. She sent, Ada, one thing Ada loved to do, was she loved to write.
LJ
It was, it was really an avocation, she, she adored it. Every single day she would write at least five letters. When she would leave school she would have all these cards, letters; stamped walking to the mailbox with them. Every single day. She would sit and write them during recess or lunch or whatever and she would go and mail them, every single day.
LJ
She kept in contact with a host of people and she really enjoyed it. Her penmanship was something that once you saw, you would never forget. It's like if you met anybody who knew Ada, it was picture perfect.
LJ
It was beautiful. There was never a letter that was, that was not perfect in size. She used to; I think she had the Palmer school method, when she was. And you know we used to. Do you know the Palmer school method?
NP
No.
PE
No.
LJ
No.
LJ
Well when we were in school it was called the Palmer Method and what you would do is, you would, you would take your little pencil and you would make these little circles. And you would go over and over and over until they formed a beautiful little tunnel.
LJ
Like, you know, like this [demonstrates]. And then you would, you would go up and down between the two lines, always staying within the lines push, pull, push, pull [demonstrates] and you would do this for hours and hours. And Ada definitely practiced.
LJ
And I remember when she would write her lessons on the board, in the forms in the third grade the children would be learning handwriting which they all looked forward to. It was their favorite thing; they couldn't wait to do cursive.
LJ
They thought they were grown up and she would put these forms on the board, you know for, for each one. And, you know, one form might be this and another form would be a straight line [demonstrates] and so on and then you would, you know group all of these different forms together and they would make this beautiful penmanship.
LJ
And Ada was terrific at it, she loved it. But she was a wonderful teacher. She was neat, organized. She believed in the basics. She taught, she was a stickler for language; precise, you know, use of the language.
LJ
She would, you know, would never let a child go by that she wouldn't correct them if they made a, you know, double negative or whatever. She would always correct them. She was a wonderful teacher. But one thing about Ada more than anything I remember was that Ada while she, she was so interested in teaching kids how to prepare them for life, she was as, she would follow through and always kept track of what they did and how well they did.
LJ
And she used to keep, I think, little papers that they wrote. And when they graduated from high school, she would,you know, stick them in a card and send them off to the kids with a, with a, you know, congratulatory note at graduation time.
LJ
And she, this girl I told you, this girl, the Denise Furry that I had in class, many years later, oh it had to have been twenty plus years, I was talking with Ada and I had her picture still in my top drawer and I was now over at the Brooks school and I said to her, I told her I said "Ada this Denise is following me wherever I go", I said "I'd love to know how she is and what's she's doing".
LJ
And she said, she said "don't worry." She said "I'll get you her address." Came back to school, gave me her address, told me she had gotten married, was living in Boca Raton, FL and you know, and I could, you know, write to her.
NP
How did she manage to do that?
LJ
She always knew where the kids were. She kept in touch with the families, always inquired about the kids. She always knew what was going on with the kids. Always. It was really interesting. So, anyway she was a wonderful girl and a wonderful teacher. What else do you want to know?
NP
I want to go back to you as a teacher and like I remember a lot, because education is something that I'm into myself: the study, the history of it. Teaching was considered a woman's thing to do.
LJ
Oh back then? Right. If you were to ask why Ada chose education, because back when we were growing up, you had three things you would do. You would become a teacher, become a nurse or become a secretary and that was that.
LJ
So, you know, I loved children, she evidently did too and that's why she probably choose, you know, that profession. I don't know.
NP
How long were you a teacher at the, the Hervey School?
LJ
I was there until it closed and I don't know how many years we were there. The school became a magnet school and it was predominately black and there were, there were many white families that lived in the neighborhood.
LJ
However, they decided to apply and make it a magnet school and in order to do so, what they wanted to do was, they wanted to bring in more white students into the, into the neighborhood.
LJ
And so it, they, they had voluntary bussing at that time. You are not going to keep this up, please. You make me nervous.
LJ
She, so, they sent out questionnaires and they asked students, you know people, if they would be willing to voluntarily bus their students into the school and what they did was, they offered them some perks such as all day kindergarten, they, busing, free busing from door to door, it was like cab service.
LJ
They went around in little vans and picked up the kids right at the door. And they, they had a media center in the school, when none of the other schools had that.
LJ
They had a hot lunch program and so these were some of the things that, you know, attracted the parents to bring their kids to our school and we had a great response and the school was racially balanced by this voluntary bussing of kids, you know.
LJ
Some of the districts got changed; some of the, some of the children who were in the district went to a white, predominately white district over in West Medford. But it worked lovely; I mean it really worked well.
LJ
At the children, they got along well. The parents loved it over at the Hervey school, the new parents that came in and I think anytime you, you know do something that's voluntary it works out so much better than, than, as opposed to the forced bussing, like in Boston you know.
LJ
That was always, that was doomed to be a problem from the beginning when you, when you force people to do something. It's not that people, I don't even think it's that people are bigoted as much as when you don't, when the unknown, you know when you don't know about people then, you know, I think you have to, I think that's what the problem is.
LJ
I think that people need to learn about the culture of one another. And what Medford finally did do was, Gwen Blackburn came in later at the Hervey and she started this multicultural program.
LJ
And what we did was we used to pair up with a class in another part of the city and we would go over to their school one month and they would come over to our school the next month.
LJ
And we would have little goodies for the kids and that way kids from different parts of the city were able to interact with one another, get to know one another, their culture and hopefully ward off any racial problems down the line when they got to junior high and high school age. You know?
LJ
And Ada was one of the ones, she was in that program. And I forget she was, I think she was teamed up with a girl from the Dame school and we, she used to, she really enjoyed it. She was really, she got into it and I got into and basically the two of us did. The other girls did too, I won't say that they didn't.
LJ
But Ada carried on after the program ended, I think she carried on with it for a couple of more years and I went on with it for about 15 years, doing it.
LJ
The girl I got paired with was Italian and so I would go to her school for meatballs and spaghetti and bring the kids and whole Italian dinner and we would do Italian art, music and all the rest and she would come to my school and I'd do corned beef and cabbage and Irish step dancing and you know all that stuff.
LJ
But what we did was we made the kids understand the different cultures you know and every single month we used to work on a different ethnic group, so Ada did that all the time and set up this wonderful program and so that's when our, our multicultural program really got going.
LJ
And we at the Hervey School were religious in, you know, exposing the kids to all different ethnic groups. I mean, you know, it, it, it was. That, that was what we were interested in doing.
LJ
We wanted them to know all cultures, understand them, appreciate their heritage and not fight and not be bigoted. It was, it was a great program. It really was.
LJ
So it was fun working with Ada. We, we, we used to go on field trips together and we always. I can remember going down to Salem with her, we, we did the, and having a picnic down on the Salem witches or the park down there.
LJ
Oh [chuckling] had us sitting in McDonalds with a, down in Medford Square, we took the kids there afterwards, I don't know how, I don't know why, but we did.
LJ
Oh we went to the Museum of Science and all over. But we used to, it was a small school and it was yeah, it was a family school, so you just, you know, it was easy to become involved in each other's lives. I became involved in hers, she in mine. So it was great.
NP
I just, do you remember the first, the first time you ever met Ada Sherwood, Mrs. Ada Sherwood?
LJ
[groan] I remember her coming into school. Yeah, and I was and Mr. Murphy introduced her. And she was a beautiful girl. She was about five feet six I'd say. She had the most gorgeous black shiny, thick hair.
LJ
I envied her to death. And fine features, she was really a pretty woman and she, she carried herself well. She always was appropriately dressed and she used to wear these cute little hats and gloves.
LJ
Can remember her, and she, back then of course it was before we were allowed to wear pants suits, it was dresses, you know. And I can remember her, she used to wear heels all the time and she had nice thin legs and she stood in those heels, well I guess we all did back then, we did all day. We taught in heels all day long.
LJ
Yeah, she was, she, Ada had a real sense of moral values and she was very polite and she could have taught a course in etiquette, you know.
LJ
When she grew up, I think, I used to think she went to a, I think in her early years, I'll bet you, she went to an all girl's school. I'm not sure.
LJ
Later on she went to Crispus Attacus High School which was had a fame of its own. And she, she went there. And then, as I say, she went on to Fisk University where she met Jim and they later got married and moved back here.
NP
Is Jim originally from?
LJ
Jim's from here.
NP
Okay.
LJ
Yip. Right. So, but she was on the. What else do you want to know?
LJ
I was just thinking about her, her food. She was hysterical. She, Ada ate so well. She, she used to, she used to serve about five vegetables with every meal; it was hysterical.
LJ
Serious. I couldn't believe it. I'd meet her after the weekend and I'd say, "What'd you do this weekend, you know what was for dinner?" Oh she said, "Oh I made a nice... " She made a southern, southern fried chicken, that's what she made.
LJ
And she would have had potatoes, sweet potatoes or yams and then she would have beans,and carrots and tomatoes, and she, and onions. It was hysterical.
LJ
I said you never cooked all that, I mean I'm thinking, jez I'm not that good, I'd give Bob maybe two, you know. And, you know, alright and a starch, two vegetables and a starch. She would do all that and she would do it all the time.
LJ
But we would sit at lunch time and she would be going through the magazines: Family Circle, Woman's Day, Better Homes and Gardens and she'd be ripping out all these recipes and she would take them and walk uptown after school to Giant's Foodmaster, buy all the ingredients and go home and cook 'em.
LJ
It blew me away and it made me feel very inferior. It was really funny. And she had one vegetable, one day she came in she told me about these fiddleheads. I said "What in the world are fiddleheads?" Have you ever heard of them?
NP
No. A fern?
LJ
Yeah, it's like fern. It's like an asparagus and it scoots up and it goes around in a little circle.
LJ
So she sent some home to me and, and my husband had had them years before, but he didn't know what they were called and he didn't know how they were cooked. Anyway she told us what to do. I called her up and said, "What do I do with these things?" So, she told me what to do and since then we have bought fiddleheads every single year.
LJ
They only come out seasonally. And there's never a year, and it's like we have them until we can't buy them anymore and so we think of Ada all the time because I never saw them and I would never have bought them; never. She, she was totally responsible for it.
LJ
But, so and the worst of it, her wonderful diet. Her son Jimmy said to her one time, he said "Well Mom, one thing I know you'll never have colon cancer." And by golly, wasn't that what she got and died. So here you go with a healthy diet and that's what she had and that's what she died of. So, it was sad, you know. But, I don't know, what else do you want to know of?
NP
I was told that the Sherwood's always had parties and things like that. Were you ever at one?
LJ
I was at her house. I used to drive her home a lot, not that I had to she lived around the corner. I don't know, maybe we'd go someplace. I don't know but I, I enjoyed, I don't know, I'd drive her home.
LJ
But she did. They lived down on Harvard Avenue in a wonderful stucco house, it had a grand yard. It had a great big apple tree and I want to say her father, her father-in-law lived with her; used to climb the apple tree and one day I know he fell out of it.
LJ
And she, but she'd make the apple pies. And yeah, they loved to party. Now see that's where I feel badly that you can't talk with Bob Kane and some of these. They had another friend Arthur Moore, who has, has died. But these, these two, these two couples, if not this Al Frazer too, I'm not sure, used to party and chum with them all the time.
LJ
And I know Jim used to love to dance and, and I know that the music was going from the minute they got there and Ada too. And, but she was such a great cook so they loved to have barbeques. They had a place down at Martha's Vineyard, and they used to go over there and she would pack up a lunch and, but they, they really enjoyed their friends, they enjoyed parties and they would have good groups of people together.
LJ
I know Jane and Bob Kane told me that they used to go there all the time and they, I mean, they loved to party. They loved it. They, they really enjoyed the music, and just the camaraderie among, you know with their friends and everything else. And May used to go. I didn't, I, I, I went to visit Ada at her house. I used to go visit her when she was sick.
LJ
I can't remember. I went once I think to her house. She came to my wedding, she came to my house. But, I don't recall.
NP
Well when you guys were out, you know it didn't have to be at a party or anything, just out, you know on your own doing whatever you guys did, what was that like? You know what, talking just about the community.
LJ
Yeah, the communities, the kids, she'd keep me in, you know, in touch with all the kids that I had or she had or you know, I was interested in.
LJ
And family, she was always, she loved my husband, she, you know, was always inquiring of my mother. She had her mum and I had mine and you know we were, talk a lot about family and stuff like that.
LJ
I don't know. One thing Ada, another thing Ada used to do all the time was, Ada used to, I told you she used to love to write notes and things, she used to, in the morning many times, we'd go into school and you'd pick up your mail in the mailbox and you'd find an, an inspirational note that she, that she, you know, she might have read that was a beautiful thought for the day.
LJ
Sometimes it came at the right time when you needed that little extra boost to get yourself going. Or she'd, a poem or something about Martin Luther King or it could Abraham Lincoln, it could be Memorial Day. It could be anything like that or a recipe, one of her famous recipes.
LJ
She'd stick it in all our mailboxes and I felt so bad because when I retired I had all these things and I gave my poetry to my niece because she was a second grade teacher and I forgot to retrieve those things of Ada's and she'd always sign her name, Ada. Her name was Adalouise. Adalouise, all one word.
PE
So you don't have any of those anymore?
LJ
You know I, I have to call my niece and ask her if she has them. I, I sent an email to a couple of the girls, but I just did it, like a couple of days ago. And what has happened is, we moved, they have moved four times since we first started with Ada, so when you move, you know, you lose track.
LJ
I had everything though and I will ask my niece if I can, if she can retrieve any of it. I don't know what she did with it when she, she might have found it, you know, not pertinent and got rid of it. I don't know. So.
NP
I just have some legacy type of questions. If you wanted anything to be remembered about James and Ada Sherwood what would it be and why? Like specific, like James.
LJ
Well, you know, two different things. It's funny I, I told you I kind of wrote up this little thing here when I was thinking about the two of them.
LJ
And Ada, I don't know what her legacy, you know, I don't know what she aspired to. But all I know was she was a great daughter, she was a great wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, writer, cook, friend. She was a lady and a caring, loving child of God.
LJ
And I remember, Easter season's coming and she used to attend the Episcopal Church down there and religion was an important part of her life. So, I say that remembering how, how she felt about it, you know. It was very important to her.
LJ
And as far as Jim goes, as I say I didn't teach with him. I just feel that Jim Sherwood has made a tremendous contribution to the community and I, I, Medford has had wonderful teachers.
LJ
They've really been super fortunate, but one thing the Sherwood's, I felt stood apart because they were real pioneers, pioneers in integrating that teaching staff in the city of Medford.
LJ
And had it not been for Jim, to, you know, apply to Medford in, you know, I think that is, that's the legacy that, that he leaves here.
LJ
As I say, he grew up here, and, but I just think it took a tremendous amount of courage to apply as the first black teacher in an all white teaching, you know, community and I think it must have been very difficult in those days.
LJ
He came before, he was appointed, I think, in the early fifties that was a good 11, 12 years before Martin Luthers King's march in Washington. It was, he taught during the sixties when there was that forced bussing in Boston and that was such, it was chaotic in those times.
NP
Did he teach at the Hervey School?
LJ
No. He taught in, at the Roberts Junior High. [phone rings] And he had probably, I don't know if he, how many black students he would have had down there. I don't know if he had any, you know.
LJ
So, my husband is home I don't know why he's not answering. Anyway that's why I think, I think Jim was...
NP
One sec, one sec, one sec.
LJ
Ooops!Ooops! Oh I'm sorry honey, wait a minute, you know all I was going to do was this. There you go, jeez all of a sudden I think it was dark. It was just, I think, that he experienced so many difficult times, you know.
LJ
I'm sure that he was exposed to a lot of bigotry, you know, from people. I mean it had to have spilled over, and so I think it took tremendous courage for him to have pursued the career that he did. And so, I think his legacy is set in stone.
LJ
I think that thanks to his love and devotion that he was able to expose his children to the heritage of different ethnic groups and I think that they were able to appreciate his, you know, all ethnic groups.
LJ
You know, I think, I think he made them aware of, of so many other ethnic groups that I think he was just really important. I think his contribution was tremendous. So that's, that's about what I know about.
LJ
But I really feel it would be, you know if you could, I think it would be great if you could get in touch with Jimmy first off and secondly maybe some of, some of the teachers who taught with them. Because I'm sure they have so much to share about Jim's early years in teaching and the experiences that he had in the classroom.
LJ
I told you about my friend who taught with him and thought he was wonderful. I also talked with a number of girls who had him in school. My sister-in-law for one had him. She said, "Class-act." She said that no matter what happened he maintained his composure and he was just, he was just a real class act.
LJ
I know another girl, even Jean Kane, Bob Kane's wife, who I grew up with her sister, and she too went to parochial school and hadn't been, you know, in the company of many minorities and she said she felt so fortunate that the first one that she really got to know was Jim Sherwood.
LJ
She said it just, you know, just made her feel so good and, you know, she felt that she had missed out on a lot and she felt really happy to have had that experience, you know, with Jim. So.
NP
If they were alive, how do you think they would handle being nominated for something like this?
LJ
Oh, they were such simple people. It's certainly, I think, something that they would have ever thought was in the cards for them.
LJ
I don't think they would have ever considered that they would be that important that somebody would honor them. I mean they really. I just can't imagine it.
LJ
They were just good simple people, you know, and I, I'm sure they would have, they would find this an honor certainly and they would be pleased that they had made such a wonderful contribution, but at the same time I think it's something that they certainly didn't foresee happening, you know.
LJ
I just, I just don't see that. Other people in the community, they were low-key, you know. They were just doing their job and you know, being good kind, good people, you know. So, I don't know.
NP
They were good parents. They have a son.
LJ
Oh yeah, yeah. One son and, and, and I was happy they had had, I think two, I don't know if they had two grandchildren when Ada died. I don't know if the second little one was. They actually, have three grand, grandsons, grandsons.
NP
So they only had one, one child.
LJ
One child.
NP
Ok.
LJ
But, but if you leave me your number I will see if I can't.
NP
Do you have anything else you want to say about working in the West Medford Community?
LJ
Oh I loved it! Those were the happiest days of my life. I loved the Hervey School. We all loved the Hervey School; we hated to leave that school. When that school closed, it was like, I don't know. It was, it was a difficult thing.
LJ
We only moved up the road into West Medford Square at the Brooks, but we loved the Hervey School. It was a family school and we all loved it there. We didn't want to move, it was not a choice it was simply they closed it.
LJ
And then they opened it later and made it a developmental type of school. But it, it, I loved the West, I loved it there, those were the best days of my life. Those are the kids that I remember, forgive me. All my kids at the Hervey, I do, in my early classes in particular. I really, I remember them all, It's funny.
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