Every once in a while, we will have an encounter with a person that goes beyond meeting someone for the very first time and from that point forward, becoming lasting friends. How do I know? Because in 1992, at a Saint John District Association training session at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Sacramento, CA, I was introduced to Sister Gussie Reese.
Soon to be 95 years old, her memory is sharp and likened to the prized reference books located in my personal library.
What, I do is, mention a general topic, and she provides all of the first-hand specifics. Taken from, an article by, Alex Breitler, January 18th, 2009; reported in the, Stockton Record, newspaper, titled, ‘Journey Of A Lifetime,’ “Sister Reese and her classmates, in the segregated, Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama, learned to read from schoolbooks whose binding were broken, whose pages were scribbled upon and torn. The books were castoffs from white-only schools.”
An only child, Sister Gussie has a fond and vivid memory of her mother, Lula B., and grandmother, Anita, who she talks about them with great passion. She was brought up attending Saint James Baptist Church in Birmingham, as well as Dunbar and Industrial high schools.
After receiving a scholarship to attend Miles College, her first teaching position after graduating was at a Church School in Greensboro, Mississippi.
In 1951, Sister Reese worked at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento, where she saw a poster, announcing overseas placement opportunities. With a chuckle, she says, “I went directly to the personnel office and requested and application.”
The personnel clerk was baffled by the request and informed Sister Reese that there were no positions for her current classification, with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute, (USAFI). Following a brief, but stern discussion on the matter, the clerk surrendered the application.
After submitting the completed application, and without a response, a few weeks having passed; Sister Reese, returned to the personnel office, and asked, ”Had there been any discrepancies with my submitted app?” The young fellow searched, but could not locate the document.
Sister Reese, pointing her finger toward the clerk, said, “I submitted my app to her, weeks ago!” Needless to say, another application was completed that day, and within two weeks, she was assigned to Japan, a first and only.
Quoting from the earlier mentioned, Alex Breitler article, “She broke her own color barrier in Stockton in 1956, when she became the city’s first secondary-school black teacher at Edison High School.” She retired in 1979. In this writer’s opinion, Sister Reese is an extraordinary human being.