‘Out of the Past’

Camelliaettes Club honors teachers as it celebrates black poetry, music and food

Camelliaette Jacquelyn Hart honors teachers during “Out of the Past.” Hart is adorned in ceremonial African attire and a headdress she purchased years ago from a vendor while attending a conference.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.

The contributions made by African-American teachers took center stage Sunday at Out of the Past, an annual cultural event hosted by the Historic Camelliaettes Club of Gainesville.

The event — Out of the Past: An African American Renaissance of Great Foods and Culture — was held at the D.R. Williams Fellowship Hall. The theme was "Honoring Our Past: The African American Educational Legacy."

Nearly 100 men and women attended "Out of the Past," which honored African-American teachers and celebrated the rich African-American culture with a sampling of music, historic displays, storytelling and soul food.

Founded in 1949 as a social club by a group of teachers at historic Lincoln High School, the Camelliaettes have grown into a social and service club with membership by invitation only.

Camelliaette Jean Kiner presided over the program and Camelliaette Sandra Bradley delivered a powerful rendition of "The Lord's Prayer." Ora White, also a member, offered the welcome and occasion.

"We're honoring African-American teachers," White said. "All those educators that dedicated their heart and soul to teaching our children. Teaching students to achieve great things and dream great things. Today, we honor teachers for helping us preserve our legacy and our history."

The event featured Vivian Filer, a celebrated storyteller and community activist, who recited "When Malindy Sings" by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), an African-American poet, novelist and playwright. Kiner recited "Bring That College Home" by an anonymous poet and saxophone solos were performed by Abajah Bertrand, a young Gainesville musician.

Camelliaette Gladys Alexander presented a look back at pioneer teachers and teaching.

"My job is to take you back," said Alexander, who also is a retired educator. She spoke about rules of conduct for teachers in 1872 in Monroe County, Iowa. The rules controlled teachers in the classroom and outside of the classroom. For instance, an unmarried man could go out one or two evenings per week for courting; otherwise, he was expected to stay home in the evenings. The rules in 1915 stated that teachers could not dress in bright colors, dye their hair, or travel outside the county without permission from the school board.

Alexander shared her experiences as a pioneer teacher. She said textbooks were not provided, so teachers purchased their own material to develop their curriculum. She praised teaching opportunities offered by a world globe, which she called "an asset to pioneer teachers."

She said teachers looked at Ebony magazine to teach students about black culture and history, such as a story published in Ebony about Mary McCloud Bethune, founder of what is now called Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

She recommended investing in a world globe. "One of the greatest teaching tools is the world globe," said Alexander. "Buy one for your children."

Camelliaette Jacquelyn D. Hart offered a special tribute during "Honoring Our Pioneering African American Teachers," where she read Psalm 133:1. The honorees were past and present Alachua County educators, who also received certificates of appreciation.

"Our teachers were in charge," Hart said. "They connected with students and their families."

Participants were then invited to sample soul food, which was prepared by club members, and to browse the historical table displays, which featured antiques, old family photos, hats, figurines, a porcelain tea set, telephones, typewriters and hand-made items, including a quilt and dolls.

In closing, Bessie G. Jackson, president of the Camelliaettes, thanked the honorees for their contributions and also spoke about the goal of the club.

"Our goal is to provide civic, cultural and education activities," Jackson said. "This is an outreach."

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