Nancy Harriette Hemings Butler Lee was born in August, 1904 to parents still mourning the death of her sister Fannie J. Hemings Lee.
Fannie had died at two years of age in April, 1904. Her death would have a life-long effect on Nancy who died in 1995.
By age 3 years, the family realized Nancy was a gifted child and greatly affected by the death of her sister Hattie born in 1907 and died in 1910.
The death of her siblings we believe generated a great desire to devote her total life to the cause of social work, ... especially children among the poor.
Small in physical stature, she perceived that physical and mental well-being were achieved by working one's body and mind in goal oriented hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly civic minded life.
Like her friend Dorothy Height, she inherited from the Booker T. Washington generation of functional believers in applying the body, mind and faith to all endeavors, including Sunday worship services.
Right to Left (picture of some Lee siblings) taken in 1970s:
It was via Nancy, her parents, siblings (including my parents) that I came to realize at an early age that a philosophy of living nurtured on the teachings of Jesus was a lot more than the tenets of organized religious practices of most African-Americans (singing and praising, ... not studies and practicing)
And, she also articulated the reality that most White Americans opposed integration with attitudes and behaviors they considered to be inferior to their own. As a believer up from the trials and tribulations of her own ancestors, ... she tried to model her life after Messianic minded educated professional women like Mary McLeod Bethune and Mary Church Terrell. She was inspired by parents (Mary Elizabeth Butler Lee and Thomas Findley Lee) and grand-parents in what Jesus urged his disciples to do.
Her life of scrubbing floors and other menial jobs in Pittsburgh as a "Cinderella" daughter of the American Revolution was like that of thousands of other daughters denied and ignored in the aforementioned struggle and after-math for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness (her ancestor William Lee was crippled as a soldier in the war).
Nancy went out into the world around her to shared her observations of what she had "seen and heard." The motivation necessary for a young African-American woman in the 1920s ... to get a higher education grew out of this desire to propagate knowledge among "the least of us."
Nancy would date but never marry having devoted her most productive days, weeks, months and years as a woman with a sense of mission like her long-time good friend Dorothy Height also living in the Greater Pittsburgh area:
Urban fiction writers like August Wilson would never see or imagine possible as to what enlightened and educated young women like Nancy Lee and Dorothy Height (image on right) helped inspire and motivate men in their lives and that of others to: hold onto their faith and help others, especially suffering relatives "down home."
Both these young women were life-long "Delta Girls" sisters in Christ to them, and they worked hard at being so with projects too numerous for us to know or count. They certainly shared in common generations up from slavery in and around Richmond, Va. who were there when RICHMOND was Fallen.
Their known grandparents were there and saw the functional ending of chattel slavery in Virginia. For this reason, they were born to become sisters in Christ: "If not for HIM, we should have been fallen and not able to get up" [Rev. Chester H. Byars, 64th Generation]. Believe it or not!
Delta Sorority was a splendid example of enlightened, gifted and talented young women who built foundations for of community based survival in at least a hundred Pittsburgh area towns;
and "the least of us" came in from places like Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia to be helped by families of working relatives in the coal mines and mills. And, functional faith working men as providers of cash, housing and food; admired and cherished them for their caring. But, not all men or women were the same.
Women like Nancy and Dorothy did it almost via faith alone in urging local formation and activation of women's clubs that cared not simply about themselves; but even relatives in economic distress from far away places suffering during the economic depression.
The of two of them, like thousands of other educated and enlightened women during and after the Great Depression saw and heard the Living Christ in their thoughts, or at least that is what we think. Otherwise our reasoning will not allow us to imagine how else they could have coped with the challenging environment of their times.
Even before the depression hit in year 1929, Nancy was determined to help her parents and siblings relocate from the impoverished status of poor dirt farmers in Ohio scratching out a living in the Woodrow Wilson era when anti-African-American sentiment was at its highest level at any time since the Civil War.
Her father, Thomas Lee had been born a slave on the great Custiss Estate in Arlington, Virginia on the day John Brown was hanged, and like other Lee offspring from William Lee had a love affair with training and using horses and mules.
The 19th century descendents of William prospered in the world of horses and mules as the primary means of transportation. We think perhaps it was hereditary dating back to at least William Lee and his Lee ancestry.
As a social worker, many years before she received a degree certifying her as such, ... Nancy Lee was very skeptical that a few years of progress did not mean the ending of racism and anti-Black sentiment around the world.
America in the first decades of the 20th century had a large influx of people from Europe who came to find a better life; and, she applauded their efforts to do so.
However, she observed that many of the same immigrants came with the attitudes and behaviors to uphold and even enforce racial segregation and discrimination approaches to African-Americans. Not all, she was quick to add, but many were so anxious to be Americans, ... they adapted attitudes of the people they sought to emulate.
Nancy would later observe that much of what she read about German propaganda, she had read in the American press and seen in movies like "Birth of a Nation." In actuality, the Jews of Germany were far more integrated and respected in German society than African-Americans were or would ever be in American society in the 20th century. The big difference of course was that perceived "threats" in the German press were the so-called non-Aryans, particularly the Jews in Europe and Americas.
Adolph Hitler was a mad man, but Nancy recognized the difference between him and many other tormentors of humanity was that he had been able to amass the power to inflict a terrible pain on the people of Europe.
For her the racism that had dominated so much of what was in the world press prior to World War II had helped impoverish her hard-working mother and father unduly categorized and classified as undeserving.
Click following link for more of her story.
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