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June 2024
1min read

When I first came to New York, I was so green I don’t know how I survived. I was shy, but I was determined. I just kept hearing Papa’s voice: “You are college material. And if you don’t go, shame on you.”

One problem was that I was lonely. There were just two of us colored girls in the domestic science division at Pratt Institute when I enrolled, and the other girl dropped out. I had a difficult time at first, because I really had to scramble in courses like chemistry. At St. Aug’s there were no chemistry labs, so I was weak in that area.

I remember that I got an A on the chemistry final exam, but then the teacher gave me a C for the course. He said it was because I wouldn’t raise my hand and participate in class. He said I was lazy! But I was a little shy, and I found chemistry hard, and I was afraid I’d give the wrong answer. So I kept my mouth shut. I protested the grade, though, because I felt an A on the final exam spoke for itself! They compromised with me, and I got a B.

Way back then Pratt was a two-year college. I graduated in 1918 and enrolled at Columbia University’s Teachers College. I was set on getting a four-year degree. I was very happy at Columbia. Bessie had a harder time there. I did not encounter as much prejudice, maybe because I was less noticeable; I was lighter. Or maybe it was because I was quieter. Maybe it was easier to accept a colored woman studying to be a teacher than one learning to be a dentist.

When I was a grown woman, after I got my master’s degree from Columbia University, there was a white teacher who used to say this about me: “That Sarah Delany. You tell her to do something, she smiles at you, and then she just turns around and does what she wants anyway.” Just like Papa.

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