Senior Voices: Bennie McRae
Now in his mid 80s, Bennie McRae grew up in Alabama. During high school at Knox Academy in Selma, he met a teacher who would inspire a lifetime pursuit - exploring history that sometimes is not made available in school textbooks. He spoke with Dayton Metro Library interviewer, Brandon Ulman for this Senior Voices web extra.
Bennie McRae: When I was at Knox Academicy in Selma, one of the teachers I remember was a man named Mr. John Shears, a civics and history teacher, and he was a very good teacher, and I remember, on any given day her would close the textbook up, sit on the side of his desk and lecture us about Black history, and he would tell us about things that happened during the Civil War and back during slavery, and of course, if they had known about it he probably would’ve been fired , because that was a no-no back in those days.
Even today it is kind’ve like that, you didn’t about stuff like that in school. He used to tell us, this was back in 1948, he used to tell us about Selma and this was before the civil rights movements, and he said if there was any reason or any cause for Blacks to gain equal rights, that Selma would be the hardest place in the world to crack. And the reason he stated, he talked about the Yankees coming in in 1865, he said that when they burned Selma and they destroyed everything Confederate in the city, a request went out for the Confederate soldiers to surrender, and they refused.
According to Mr. Shears, a lot of them were backed up to the banks of the Alabama River, and rather than surrender, they fought to the end, and a lot of them were shot, died in the river, drowned in the river, or shot or whatever, and he used that analogy to state that if the time ever come for a movement, now this was long before the movement had started, what would happen, and sure enough, in ’65 and the Civil Rights Movement it was tough, if you know anything about that period, it was a tough time in Selma, but they finally gave in…they never gave in, they haven’t given in today, you know, it still, Selma is still segregated in different schools and so forth.
Bennie McRae later enrolled at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute and served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He moved to Dayton in 1958 after he began working for the Civil Aeronautics Adminstration which later became the FAA. After retiring he continued to study history—publishing a newsletter and later a website which explored aspects of black history including the civil war. He lives in Jefferson Township with his wife of 54 years, Virgiline.
This interview was edited by Community Voices producer Dave Barber. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation.