Mom Bell: An Extraordinary White Woman!
Author’s note: The public is invited to the ribbon cutting and dedication services of ”A Collection of Books on the History of African-Americans from the Library of Mrs. Perra S. Bell” on Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. at:
Jack Hadley Black History Museum &
Douglass High School Alumni Association Complex
214 Alexander Street
Below, is a loving tribute from columnist, Andrea Giggetts:
Similarly, to the Langston Hughes’ poem, “Mother to Son,” life for me truly has not been a crystal stair. And, proverbially, it has had lots and lots and lots of splinters in it!
So, by the time I entered my second semester at Towson State University in 1975, I was torn, worn, and mentally, as well as, emotionally exhausted. If examined, I am sure that I could have been a psychiatric candidate for the criminally insane.
Born the eldest of four in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, I had spent my adolescence and teen years living in a down-trodden state. I was begotten as a result of a one-night sexual fling between a pretty high school teenager and a dashingly handsome college student who had a mother that insisted he “do the right thing” after learning of an impending pregnancy.
Regrettably, I was born from and into a loveless relationship, union, and marriage.
Yes, I would have loved to have had a Cinderella life, but it was not meant to be. Tragically, I was exposed and introduced to sexual abuse by my paternal uncle and step-father, escaped death from a multi-state serial killer, suffered from constant hunger, emotional starvation, domestic violence, alcoholic parents, child abuse and neglect, and other childhood maltreatment that if reported, would surely have qualified me as a ward of the state.
Like Oprah, I loved, cherished, and treasured three things: books, school, and teachers! Fortunately and unbeknownst to them, there were two teachers who were instrumental in saving my life.
The first person was my high school history teacher, Mrs. Ruth Davis. The second person was my college history professor, Mrs. Perra S. Bell. Without an ounce of hesitation, if it had not been for either of them, I would have committed suicide before reaching my adult years!
Has anyone ever met a Ragpicker?
Routinely, when we think of a Ragpicker, we think of someone scavenging from one pile of junk to another pile of junk trying to confiscate something.
But, today, I want you to reconsider the role of a Ragpicker.
To me, a Ragpicker is someone who specializes in rescuing. They come to fertilize our attitudes, our souls, our minds, our spirits, our emotions, and even our thought processes!
A Ragpicker visits us when we are at our valleys and rejuvenates us to climb up and over our mountains!
My first Ragpicker, Mrs. Davis, met me in my 12th grade history class. After dutifully completing two homework assignments, she wrote some encouraging words that provided the “ointment” for my weakened and disheartened spirit and inspiration for my soul.
Those kind and motivational words began my healing process and would be the “seeds” that enabled me to blossom into the successful professional that I am today.
Then in 1975, I encountered a “tsunami” that literally and figuratively transformed me from head to toe!
I met my second Ragpicker, Mrs. Perra S. Bell, in the spring of 1975 at Towson State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Enrolled in a black history course, for some odd reason, I was expecting a “black” professor to teach the subject. So, imagine to my surprise (or horror) when in walks a white-haired, Caucasian lady who was armed with at least 50 books, props, lecture notes, exhibits, and other paraphernalia—-all on the first day of class.
Give me a break, lady!
As quietly as I could muster, because I was sitting on the front row and near the professor’s desk, I whispered under my breath, “What the hell?”
Frankly, I don’t know if my reaction was to her or to the piles and piles and piles of “stuff” that she brought to class with her but my heart knew that it was going to be a very long, long, long 16 weeks with Mrs. Bell!
Though annoyed from the audacity of her conducting a rapid-fire lecture on the first day of class, (Hey, lady, haven’t you heard that students need to be weaned into the semester?) I was transfixed by her passion for the black race, culture, women, heritage, struggles, institutions, leaders, history, injustices, and omissions. Never in my life then, as well as, now have I met a white person who passionately and sincerely gives a “hoot” for black people!
Needless to say, Professor Bell was unfazed that this course was an “elective.” Like a drill sergeant, she fervently poured 75-notebook pages worth of information into a 75-minute class. Predictably, students were mentally punch drunk after leaving her marathon PHD lectures. Frankly, this course should have come with a disclaimer forewarning students to bring their first-aid kits so that they could nurse their broken, bruised, and sore fingers resulting from taking so many copious notes (laugh out loud)!
To add insult to injury, students were also required to read several reference materials, submit numerous “theme” projects, book reports, as well as, voluminous homework assignments. Again, all of this work for an elective course!
Gee whiz, lady!
By the end of the term, I was battled fatigued from family issues and equally burdened by a history professor who didn’t understand the word “overkill.” Having missed the final exam in class, Professor Bell graciously allowed me to take it at her home. I think that was the “tipping point” and the moment that I fell “madly” in love with her!
My goal was to hurriedly take my exam and then finally celebrate my freedom from this mad, mad, mad Professor. However, I think Professor Bell had other plans for me. She warmly welcomed me into her home, introduced me to her distinguished husband, Professor James F. Bell, and then began lecturing me (Hey, lady, maybe you forgot, but the semester is over) again about black history followed by touring me throughout her massive home. Eventually, she led me to her study which housed her incredible black history book collection.
I was hooked!
To this day, I am so thankful that I was given my final exam at her home instead of at the university. There, I was able to witness, first hand, that this wonderful person was genuinely the embodiment of what she taught. In addition, I had never seen a home that rivaled the Smithsonian Institute!
As mentioned, that was the day that I truly became transfixed with Mom Bell and knew that I desperately needed her love, her presence, and her frequent reassurances in my life and for the rest of my life!
By the way, I EARNED an A for the course! Not too bad coming from a Professor who proudly boasts that she rarely metes out A’s (laugh out loud for the second time)!
Anyway, please be forewarned——when you visit Mom Bell’s home, be prepared to leave in an “intellectual drunken” state!
Why? Because from one wall to the next, you will be in awe of the thousands and thousands and thousands of black history books, artifacts, articles, magazines, posters, cards, memorabilia, pictures, post cards, tapes, recordings, movies, records, bookshelves, summaries, notebooks, file cabinets, closets, baskets, shelves, boxes, tables, drawers, and paraphernalia on, for, and about blacks.
It’s a fact—–there is no shame to her game—-Mom Bell just loves black folks!
In addition to this impressive collection, she has all of the aforementioned on other various subjects of interest, too, because of her innate curiosities as a world traveler and as a historian. Frankly, I don’t think there is a subject that she doesn’t have an intellectual patent on (laugh out loud for the third time).
Under Mom Bell’s tutelage, besides having an increased and deepen awareness and appreciation for my black heritage, she has taught (lectured would be apropos) me about so many facets of life to include men, parenting, relationships, self-esteem, careers, love, heartache, betrayal, travel, foods, culture, calories, sorrow, education, love, exercise, forgiveness, womanhood, death, sadness, lost, languages, children, sickness, marriages, money, security, obesity, and an array of other subjects that are just too many to cite and to elaborate on or expound upon.
However, there is no doubt that she has had a positive imprint on every facet of my life and my choices! Regrettably, she has also been in my day-to-day life as an active and involved “parent” more than my biological mom and dad combined!
Nevertheless, as a result of her love, I have had an illustrious career as an educator, Human Resources Vice President of a 3 billion dollar company, politician, television commentator, radio personality, newspaper columnist, motivational speaker, renowned trainer, consultant, and business entrepreneur (Giggetts and Associates in Jacksonville, Florida).
Soon, I will be adding “author” to my list of accomplishments as I am writing a book detailing my rise from poverty and despair to the ranks of corporate America and beyond! Not too bad coming from someone who once did not possess a sense of self-esteem or a sense of self-worth and who was constantly reminded by her family that she would never “amount” to anything!
Using football analogy, I am in the fourth quarter of my life—55 years of age. With increased frequency, I am facing the probability that my life has an expiration date sooner versus later. Although my husband, Nicholas, and daughter, Mantha, are aware of my personal sentiments regarding my personal effects, rarely have I voiced my thoughts to them as it pertains to Mom Bell’s book collection and legacy in the event I died prior to her. To say that I have not worried or fretted about the permanent placement of her awesome collection is an understatement!
Then fate answered my prayers!
My 12-year old “favorite” daughter, Mantha, is “required” to visit several museums across the United States monthly. In November, 2011, as I was gathering information about museums in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, I became intrigued about the Jack Hadley Black History Museum and its founder, Mr. Jack Hadley.
Although my mind had decided to take Mantha to several museums in South Carolina, my spirit told me to change my course and itinerary and instead go to Thomasville, Georgia.
I obeyed the spirit!
In November, 2011, while the world was indulging in the “black Friday” sales, the Giggetts family was enjoying a personalize tour of the museum being led by Mr. Hadley!
Words can not express how honored we were to have had four hours of uninterrupted time with him. His magnetic eyes matched his effervescing spirit as he talked non-stop about black history and the love for this museum. I was swept away! I also quickly came to the conclusion that I had finally found someone who mirrored Mom Bell’s passion, pride, and possessiveness about their respective historical collection!
Upon conclusion of the tour, I told Mr. Hadley that someday I would, along with Jane Kiester, (Mom Bell’s daughter) have the awesome task in deciding the fate of a book collection totaling thousands of black history books and a vast memorabilia collection. And, of all the places that I had travelled and visited across the United States, I knew that I was being “led” to place Mom Bell’s collection at this museum!
With giddy excitement and with solemn honor, Mr. Hadley expressed an interest in the pursuit of this invitation which has now evolved in tonight’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication services of ”A Collection of Books on the History of African-Americans from the Library of Mrs. Perra S. Bell!”
Although I am “peacock proud” to know that Mom Bell’s black history book collection and memorabilia will someday be housed in this fine museum and library permanently, sadly, it will also mean that I have lost my treasured “mom” to the “sands of time.”
Even though I have suffered lost many times before, to think of not having Mom Bell’s presence is unbearable for me to fathom. As I write these words for the much anticipated ceremony and program booklet, please know that I am inconsolable.
However, I will muster the strength then, as well as now, to tarry on knowing that this collection will inspire and motivate thousands and thousands and thousands of the Andrea’s of the world—-students, scholars, historians, and visitors who are desirous and hungry to learn about achievements, contributions, and significances of black Americans!
I am also thrilled that fate has intervened once more as this ribbon cutting ceremony and dedication service is occurring on Mom Bell’s 93rd birthday!
Happy Birthday, Mom Bell!
Years and years ago, to commemorate one of Mom Bell’s previous birthdays, I took her on a three-day museum excursion from Birmingham to Tuskegee, Alabama. At the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I saw lots of whites visiting this museum. Out of curiosity, I asked a white soldier why he had an interest in visiting this black history museum. He quipped, “This is my history, too!”
His answer took my breath away!
Like me, I suspect many visitors, black and white, will walk away asking themselves why a white woman would collect so many books and memorabilia on black people? Without a doubt, I can envision Mom Bell conducting another marathon “lecture” by validating black’s contributions to the world.
Then, I can visualize her “lecturing” about social injustices that blacks have endured followed by her substantiating each point and counterpoint with documentary evidence somewhere embedded within and among her thousands and thousands and thousands of books—–these same books that she lovingly preserved for you—because its your history, too!
You are invited to open and browse through each of her books as I have done over the past 37 years! As you peruse each book, be sure to remember that Mom Bell has personally read each one and personally noted in the margins of these books her critiques, her commentaries, and, of course, her unsolicited advice (laugh out loud for the fourth time) to the author! Remember, we are talking about her personally reading and writing comments regarding the merits of each and every book!
Isn’t that phenomenal?
Therefore, it is my distinct honor, my pride, and my exceeding joy that, like me, you will have an opportunity of a lifetime to learn from this “white-haired” lady—-the same one who entered my life in the spring of 1975!
Words can not express my deepest appreciation to Mom Bell for “rescuing” me. The imprints that you have made on my life are immeasurable. Please know that I love, love, love, love and love you so very, very, very much.
Also, it’s not lost on me that my two Ragpickers were history teachers. Yeah, for teachers!
In closing, I am blessed to have shared the warmth, the admiration, and the love of a friendship that started out as a professor-student and then quickly evolved into a mother-daughter relationship that has spanned over the decades.
So, from my heart to yours, thank you for coming. I hope that you will not make this your last trip. And, be sure to tell others how much you enjoyed learning about my dear professor—–Mom Bell!
Fellow Historian, Collector, and “Daughter” of Mom Bell