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Karen Jackson (KJ) Gray

June 7, 2013


Hudson, NY


Recorded by

Kathy L Bailey

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KJ begins with her Childhood: her education at a Catholic school in New Rochelle in the 1950s where she was one of five African Americans out of 800 students; her inclination for mischief; her success at playing baseball and football with boys; breaking the color barrier on the tennis team; joining Sigma Beta Pi, a high school sorority of African American and Jewish girls; and her growing awareness of racial differences.

She talks about her surprise and sometimes discomfort with the open lifestyle at the experimental college she attended on Long Island in the 1960s and her successful work in theater and dance groups in NYC.  She reflects on her fears of self destruction and leaving that scene to get married. She eventually had nine children and moved to Mississippi with her husband. When her husband died, her children ranged in age from 16 years to 6 months old. She discusses how she felt the need to shut off all grieving and the subsequent repercussions of that action with her children. She later married her husband's brother and discusses some of the complications of that marriage.

She talks about societal aspects of Mississippi, including prejudices faced by blacks, difficulty in joining unions and the role of incest in families. She found it difficult to find a job with her college degree and worked for a time at a chicken factory and as a correctional officer.

She returned to New York when most of her children were grown and moved to Hudson. She talks about the acceptance and satisfaction she found working in correctional facilities, both in Mississippi and at Berkshire Farm, her current male friendship and her tendency to use different names at different times.

Interviewer Bio:
Kathy L Bailey

I have worked with various nonprofits in the areas of housing and education and, most recently, adult literacy and numeracy. I am presently an instructor in GED Prep and Adult Basic Education at The Dutchess BOCES Adult Literacy Institute in Poughkeepsie, NY. In my episodic life I have lived in Puerto Rico, Brooklyn, New Orleans and in Hudson from 2005-2009. I have served three years of national service with AmeriCorps/VISTA and have worked extensively with Habitat for Humanity in various locations. I have a Masters degree in nonprofit management from NYU. I am interested in architecture, photography, writing and the history of the Hudson Valley, and, of course, storytelling.

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This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.

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