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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Up North, she found new world, same problems



Published: Thu, September 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



From little Edna Pincham's farmhouse door -- on the property left to her father by his parents and theirs, and theirs, who were slaves -- you could hear the "Star Spangled Banner" each school day. Fair-faced pupils emptied from school buses and scurried inside for lessons with new texts and materials.

But Edna didn't hear them, didn't see them. Edna was walking ... walking the four miles it took to get to HER school -- the church school black children were allowed to attend.

It won't surprise you to hear that Edna, who now resides in Youngstown and operates the Edna Pincham Resource Center, lived in Quitman, Ga., "seven miles north of the Florida line" in the late 1940s -- a time when Jim Crow laws and segregation extended to the Mason-Dixon line.

Her story is part of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society's exhibit: "Far From Home: Stories from Immigrant Children to the Mahoning Valley," opening Sept. 9. The first day is free as part of the Arms Museum's Founder's Day open house.

Philosophy: "You didn't even think about that," said Edna from her storefront center, where she now helps children pass their proficiency tests. "My parents always said, 'Make the most of what you've got.'"

"When we grew up we started to question. Why sit in the movie theater balcony? Why have to buy anything we tried on at the store?" she said. But even when she started to question, as the new decade began, she believed there were places segregation didn't exist.

"My sister and brother were much older than I and they spoke of a huge difference up North," Edna said. "They spoke of it like it was paradise." So after giving her valedictory speech after 12th grade, Edna arranged to join her sister in Ohio and study business administration at Youngstown College.

The trip: "At the train station [in Georgia], there was a separate place for Negroes -- in a little room where we could sit on our suitcases and wait. [The white people] had a spacious domed room," she recalled.

The streamline locomotive would have taken Edna north in a day, but she could only afford the whistle stop that visited every little town. "We had to ride on the back of the bus, but on the train, we had to sit in the first car," she said, where the soot and smoke came in the windows. "The dining room was closed to Negroes, so my mother packed lunch for me in a box a little bigger than a shoebox." Still, Edna was excited to make the journey.

After the train crossed the Mason-Dixon line, she dumped her box in a trash can and sat where she wanted on the train, spending some of her $100 starting-out cash in the dining car.

"My entire family, including cousins, came to meet me in the station," Edna said.

A struggle: Looking back, she said, "It has been a struggle, really. It wasn't the great utopia up north. People are people wherever you go." The neighborhoods were segregated. Employment for a young black woman was limited as well.

A local bank offered internships in 1955, but despite a year of good grades and recommendations, Edna was twice passed over. A black doctor from her church suggested she switch to medical technology, where he could help her get a job.

Edna since has worked at Youngstown Hospital, been a city board of education member, and an advocate for bettering education. She has logged 45,000 volunteer hours, not counting her proficiency training work at the center -- which she and her family fund themselves with a few private donations.

Despite the inequitable early years in Youngstown, Edna says without hesitation, "I love Youngstown. I love the people! Even when some people could be nasty and dirty, there were others I could trust, who made me believe in my own potential."

murphy@vindy.com




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