Home: Eunice “Jackie” Vaughan Remembers Her Close-Knit Community

0
1294
Eunice "Jackie" Vaughan

Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.

– Maya Angelou
In 1927, Eunice ‘Jackie’ Daly was born in the basement apartment of a building in Harlem, where her father was working as a janitor. Mr. Thomas Daly was a longshoreman and entered New York through the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1912 from the island of Montserrat. He was in search of a life with greater opportunities. Jackie’s mother made the voyage soon after.

Weighing in at ten pounds at birth, Eunice was given the nickname ‘Jackie’ after the first African American world heavyweight-boxing champion, Jack Johnson. Although ‘Jackie’ was the youngest, she was the largest of her six siblings at birth. And now, having just celebrated her 91st birthday, Jackie holds on to all of the might of a true legend.

I recently had a chance to visit Jackie at her home. Birthday cards and photos of her family surrounded her: her two children, three grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. There were also photos of her husband Arthur who died in 1999. Pictures of the people (aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends) and the places she loves encircle her life. She was working on a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle; her ‘Kindle’ was close at hand accessing pages of her favorite mystery writers, and she was happy to show me keepsakes and bits of history from the pages of her book of life. Up and down the stairs, in and out of the kitchen, Jackie moved with the agility of an Olympic sprinter. “My doctor asked me if I was going out for walks; I told him I didn’t have to, I’m moving all the time.”

Jackie attended elementary school in Harlem and moved to the Bronx for high school. After graduation the country was in the midst of the second World War. “I graduated in 1944 and had to go right to work. None of us could go to college. My father had left us prior, so my sisters and I all had to find jobs. I worked in the war factories making caps for bullets. Then I made capacitors; then transistors for radios. I was in the electrical union.”

Jackie met her husband Arthur in summer camp and married young. Arthur joined the army and shipped out to Okinawa. “I had my son when he was away,” remarked Jackie. “Arthur was on the photography team for the Tuskegee Airmen. I still have his photo album.”

Upon Arthur’s return from the war, “I decided I wanted to go to college, so we figured out a plan. I would go two nights a week, and he would go two nights a week. I had two kids, worked full time and had just bought a house in Queens. But I did it; it took me ten years, but I did it!” Jackie and Arthur both became teachers in the New York City School system, teaching for over twenty years. “Arthur was a high school math teacher in Harlem and Jamaica, and I was an elementary teacher in Flushing. I was the only black teacher there.”

During her years in the city, Jackie was very active in the Urban League and the NAACP. In 1963, she rode a school bus down to the historic March on Washington. “Working with the NAACP, I have been very much involved in making positive change for the betterment of education, housing, health and employment of Black Americans.” Jackie was also the first black female vice-president of the United Parents Association of New York City.

“I first came to Sag Harbor as a preteen with my older sister. My brother-in-law had rented a house in Eastville for a month. I came out to watch their kids and take them to the beach.  This place was all woods. The house had no hot water. The next year we stayed in the ‘Ivy Cottage’ on Route 114. Little did I know that I was staying in history. That is where they found the tintypes.”

Back in the 1970’s, a resident of Sag Harbor was refinishing the floor of the ‘The Ivy Cottage’ when he discovered a series of small, metal objects nailed to the floorboards. As he pulled one of them up, he noticed that there was an image on the other side. They were photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries of people who had once lived in the Eastville community, which was historically an African-American neighborhood.

“I do remember meeting Olive Pharaoh when I visited in 1942, but then I didn’t come back until 1953 or 54. I wanted to show my husband the place. We stayed in the Johnson home, which was like a bed and breakfast. Anyone who came out to Eastville stayed there. We bought our house in 1975.” In 1987 Jackie and her husband retired from teaching and moved to Sag Harbor full time.

Jackie’s life has held many adventures. “I’ve been to South Africa, and I went to a bullfight in Spain. I rooted for the bull. We bought a VW van in Amsterdam and traveled through ten countries in Europe. Then we had the van shipped over here. We took two camping trips across the country.”

Jackie became involved in the Sag Harbor community and in 2014 became the president of the Eastville Community Historical Society for three years. The mission of the Eastville Community Historical Society is to preserve historic buildings and to research, collect and disseminate information about the history of the Eastville area of Sag Harbor. “From its inception, we attended functions and helped with fundraising. There is so much history here that we knew nothing about. The history of the black families and their contributions to Sag Harbor should be known. The society grew together; Kathy Tucker our historian dug deeper into the history and added new life to the cultural society. Georgette Grier-Key has been the director of the Eastville Organization; she increased our exposure throughout Long Island,” Jackie said.

Over the years, Jackie has been amazed at how the lives of her family, friends, acquaintances and herself have continued to be interconnected. The people whom she has met throughout her life in the city were often also connected to her Sag Harbor community. “Sag Harbor is unique in that many of our paths have crossed; our lives were connected in the city and out here. We had so many things in common; it’s a wonderment if it wasn’t in the plan.”

Jackie woefully reminisces about a time when everyone in her Sag Harbor neighborhood knew each other and looked out for each other. “Everyone called each other aunt or uncle, and brought you hand-towels or jam and jelly to say welcome. It’s not like that anymore. Folks are passing away; heirs aren’t able or wanting to hold onto to their family homes, and the newcomers don’t seem to be mixing.”

I began to wonder if that might be happening in many of our Sag Harbor neighborhoods.

When asked what makes Sag Harbor a special place, Jackie responded, “I like Sag Harbor because I feel safe and welcome here. Sag Harbor is as interesting as you want to make it. In other words, you can live in Sag Harbor and not be a part of it- if you don’t join in some of the activities. Or you can make Sag Harbor as wonderful as you want to.” And then I asked her what I had to look forward to in the next thirty or so years of life, and she said, “You can continue to grow, building on the experiences you have had, but also look for new things. There’s a world out there. There’s life out there. You can make of it whatever you want.”

Jackie is filled with the wisdom and memories of a full and wonderful life. “I have no regrets,” she confides.  Each day Jackie awakes with new energy and enthusiasm, and a deep love for her family and her community.  And so Mrs. Jackie Vaughan, we are all so proud that you have come to call Sag Harbor, HOME!

Comments