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WYSO, the Dayton Metro Library and local social service agency, Rebuilding Together Dayton, have come together for a very special project. We’ve gathered the memories and wise words of Dayton’s elders for Senior Voices, a new series that is airing throughout 2018.Along with Dayton Metro Library staff, we trained nearly three dozen area residents to use digital recording equipment to interview local elders. Interviews took place at branch libraries, at selected Lobby Stop locations (Lobby Stop is a sort of book mobile for seniors), community centers, and in the homes of seniors who participated in the Rebuilding Together Dayton Fixit Kit program.We held three trainings at the DML Northwest branch this summer, and shortly after the new main branch opened in August, the volunteers began gathering stories. The full interviews will be accessible for generations to come at the Dayton Metro Library. At WYSO, Community Voices producers have been editing the interviews for broadcast. We present them to you in honor of the life experiences and wisdom of Dayton elders.This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation.Jocelyn Robinson coordinated this series for WYSO. Janine Kinnison is the Project Liaison for Dayton Metro Library.Editors include: Dave Barber, William Brown, Tess Cortes, Patti Gehred, Javis Heberling, Kateri Kosta, Zebedee Reichert, Jason Reynolds, David Seitz, Alan Staiger, Chris Welter. Interviewers include: Dana Kragick, Tess Cortes, Anna Omulo, Doug Bowers, Hadley Drodge, M. Alice Callier, Barbra Gerla, Jason Coatney Schuler, Linda Pitzer, Carol Jackson, Audrey Ingram, Susan Brenner, Nancy Messer, Christian Davell, Ken Standifer, Liz Anderson, Cynthia Wallace-King, Karen Maner, David Murphy Sr., Cynthia Rush, Alan Stagier, Debra Root, Pamela Waltrip, Jennifer Hicks, Brandon Ulman, Karah Power    

Senior Voices: Bennie McRae

Bennie McRae
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.