Sidney, Dr. Audrey                 Tape 1 of 1      2/4/00

By:  Kimberly Lancaster


This is an oral history of the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta.  The interview is being recorded with Dr. Audrey Sidney on February 4, 2000.  The interviewer is Kimberly Lancaster.


KL:  I am Kimberly Lancaster.  Today is February 4, 2000.  We are talking with Dr. Audrey Sidney for the Delta Chinese Oral History Project.

AS: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri on March 5, 1934.  I grew up in Earle, Arkansas, which is in Crittenden County, [across the Mississippi River near] Memphis, Tennessee.  My parents moved from St. Louis [where] they were in the laundry business. They entered into the grocery business.  They moved in 1937 to Earle, Arkansas.  I come from a family that had eight children. There are five girls and three boys [in our family].  He not only had two grocery stores one at Earle, Arkansas, and the other at Black Fish Lake, which was on Highway 70 (said as seventy), but he also had a farm.  I am not sure of their level of education. They are immigrants from the Canton, [China] area.  The United States was the land of opportunity; thus, they came [to the U.S.] to make more money, and then hopefully go back to China, which they were never able to do.  I am not sure when they were married.  My oldest sister was born in 1930.

What conditions did they encounter?  They worked hard, and one thing they instilled in [their children]  was to get a good education.  [An education] was one of the highest priorities [for us] when we were growing up. Back then [many] Chinese people did not believe in girls getting a college education because they [believed girls] would get married and raise children.  My parents, believed that girls should be educated. Sometimes some of their friends would [ask our parents] why are you sending those girls to college and comment they don’t need to go to college.

KL:   Could you tell us a little bit about your family life?

AS:  As I said, there were five girls and three boys in the family.  My parents had three girls before they had a son.  Of course, as Chinese [people believe there should be] a boy in the family [to carry the family name].  My mother would always tell her friends that the girls are the ones who are going to take care of you.  Boys are not because they are going to marry and go [along with the girl].  I have always remembered this. I am very thankful that I do have two girls because whenever we need them they are here.  They are always willing to offer some kind of advice and help. I am the third child in my family.  When we moved to Earle, Arkansas, let’s see I was three years old.  I didn’t encounter racial barriers in Earle, Arkansas.  Earle, Arkansas, is a small town about three thousand population.  My oldest sister, she did somewhat.  Because, you know, sometimes back then in the thirties and forties some people would use the slur such as  “chink” or something like that.  I have heard her tell about some of the things she experienced.  The oldest in the family always has to bear the “grunt of things.” The parents are usually more strict with the first child than they are with the last ones.  When the youngest in our family came along, we would say mother would never let us do those things.  Or she never bought us those things, of course, when you have eight children; there was not enough money to buy many things. The church was a very important part to us as we grew up because people in the church cared for us.  They wanted us to go to church.  This was the Baptist church in Earle, Arkansas.  My oldest sister started singing when she was a teenager.  As a matter of fact she went on several revivals where she sang solos, and then she ended up at Baylor University for her first year of college. Because she got married, she ended up in St. Louis.  Her marriage was, you might say, a little bit on the match side.  My parents were very close to a Lum family in St. Louis.  When you talk about a match marriage, which I tell my friends, it is no different now than it used to be.  Because I have Caucasian friends who try to set up men that are bachelors or girls that are looking for a mate.  They say I have a friend that I want you to meet. That is what they used to do.  Of course I know in China, they did have match marriages and they never saw the other party until the wedding.   Over here the way the match marriage is done is if I had a son and we would just like for them to meet.  If it works out, okay, and if it doesn’t, well you know that is okay too.  It did work out for my older sister.  As for the rest of us in my family,  we found our own spouses. As a matter of fact the first time my husband, C. W., visited in Earle, they had to find out all about his background. Caucasians do the same thing, if they professional, they come from a good background.  A lot of things that they say Chinese historically will do, it is so true in many, many cultures, not just our culture.  All the children in my family were valedictorians and received good citizenship awards.  We got a lot of the honors.  There were no barriers there because we studied hard.  After school, we came home to work.  However, in our family the girls and boys played basketball.  We participated in sports.  My brother played football.  He got a dislocation in his arm.  Of course, my mother was very protective of him.  We were allowed to play basketball and participate in school and church activities.

KL:  What were your favorite subjects?

AS:  Math, I was a good math student.  I enjoyed English.  I was good in English grammar, but I wish that we were taught to write.  I think back then [writing] was lacking [in the curriculum].  I know in schools today, we teach process writing.  [Students are taught] how to write.  Back in the fifties, you had grammar, you wrote a term paper, and you had literature.  As a matter of fact, school did come easy for me.  We had to work in the store.  We worked all day Saturday from eight o’clock till I want to say ten or eleven o’clock.  Now the people who have grocery stores they don’t have the long hours that we had.  As far as my social life is concerned, I didn’t date in high school.  I tried to be friends with everybody and  I had no boyfriends.  But there were some boys that I liked.  We weren’t allowed to date.  Let’s see, now how did we maintain our traditions?  Well, with this being Chinese New Year week, I remember every Chinese New Year we would wake up to the popping of firecrackers.  Our parents would always have a real good meal.  Of course the popping of the firecrackers was to drive the evil spirits away.  They would always give us those little red packages with money in them, which we always looked forward to getting them.  We knew those red packages were something good.  We always welcomed that.  For customs, my mother, would listen to an older person, which we call Digoo, who was a great-aunt.  Mother would always tried to follow customs as much as possible. We grew up drinking the Chinese herbals to keep our body clean. Back then, I didn’t believe in them but now I do. I do believe in a lot of the things such as  there is a [Chinese] melon that detoxins your body.  [This belief is] just like you all believe that chicken noodle soup is good [for you] when you have the flu.

KL:  Is it a Chinese melon?

AS:  It is a melon that you cook.  We would also drink a tea that would detoxin your body.  As a matter of fact, when I went to China, I bought some tiger balm.  Growing up, if you fell down, Mother would always put that tiger balm [where you bruised yourself]. It smells horrible.  It is supposed to help your sinuses too.  It is supposed to be a cure all.  All of that stuff you think when you are growing up you think it is a bunch of nonsense, but it is not.  The most important thing that I learned at home is respect for elders, that a respect for education, and a high priority of having a good education.  They instilled that in us.  I think that is so true in today’s world.  That respect for your elders, and always speaking to them and letting them know that they are somebody and not to ignore them.  As matter of fact speaking of education, I will tell you how that influenced us.  Out of eight children, all of us but one has a master’s degree.  I have the doctorate degree.  My sister, Betty, is getting her doctorate degree in May.  All of the girls  [in my family] are teachers, except one and she is a school nurse. Back when we were growing up, you  were either a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher.  So all of us ended up in education. Three of us have retired, but one sister says that she has changed her career.  She is in investments now, and she is doing well [in this career].

KL:  What are your siblings’ names?

AS:  The oldest one is Helen, Norma is the school nurse and I am next.  Then [Waily], Miller, [Wilkie], Betty, and then [Tong]; and we are scattered all over the United States.  I have one in San Diego, two in Los Angeles, one in Wilmington, North Carolina.  [There are two sisters] in St. Louis and one in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

KL:  So there is a run of nephews and nieces.

AS:  Yes, we get together in St. Louis [at Christmas] and have had a family reunion ever since my mom died. It’s like four or five of us with our families will get together in St.  Louis.  My children love it.  As a matter of fact, last year when my children couldn’t come, my little grandson said wanted to go to St. Louis.  One of my sisters has a large home..  One year there was seventeen [sleeping] down in the basement.  Of course the basement is furnished.  It’s got carpet and everything.  There were seventeen sleeping down there, and my brother-in-law, Frank Chong,  said, “Well that’s the Great Wall of China.”  I love that. They would be on mattresses, beds, or sleeping bags [lined up one beside the other].  I just love telling people that he called it the Great Wall of China.

KL:  Your maiden name is Haw?

AS:  Haw

KL:  What was your mother’s maiden name?

AS:  She was a Jue.  My daddy was really a Jung. There are not that many of those in the south. (Tape was cut off).

KL:  In the store.

AS: Chinese families migrated down south along the Mississippi Delta, back in the thirties, forties and fifties.  The families would invest their money in the store.  It would be a family enterprise.  They lived in the back of the store.  Sometimes it would be three people sharing a bed, if it was a large family.  Maybe even more than that in some cases, but in my family some of the older ones got married or went to college, so for the younger ones it was not that way.  As far as our home life, we did not have a lot of frills.  We grew up.  The main thing that we knew was how to do is to work [in the store] and have the determination to succeed.  We wanted to do our very best.  I think that is the work ethic of the Chinese people.  You want to see a job that is well done.  Now I will tell you this.  I went to Mississippi State College for Women, it was M. S. C. W.  when I went there.  I was treated very nicely by the people in the school.  It was girls’ school.  Back then, I think the population of the school was around a thousand.  Of course now I think it is around two or three thousand. After the first year of college, I got married.  I married C. W.  who went into the Air Force.  We thought we would have an Air Force life. After he went through basic training in San Antonio, we were [transferred to] Scott Air Force base right across from St. Louis in Belleville, Illinois.  We stayed there and then he got his order to go to Korea.  He was gone for a year.  I had only had one year of college at that time.  And that’s when I couldn’t go to Korea because we were doing the Korean War.  So that is when we decided I would return to college.  That was in 1955.  Well I went back to the W.  I would take like twenty hours a semester, went to summer school.   I had had only a freshman year when C.W. left.  When he returned in December 1955, all I lacked was my student teaching. So I did it the next semester.  So I finished all my work in 1956.  I applied for a job at the Greenville Public School, because that was where we were going to live.  He had some job offers, but he decided to stay in Greenville and go into [the electronic] business with his brother.  I applied for a job when I came to Greenville and asked for an interview.  I had an interview with the superintendent  [Greenville Public Schools], [Mr. Koonce].  He told me that only Caucasians could teach in the white public schools in Greenville.  So he did not offer me a job.  Of course, this was like a “slap in the face” to me, because I had not had that kind of treatment in growing up.  Or maybe it would have good if I would have had that kind of treatment so it wouldn’t be hit so hard.  I am the kind of person that always wanted to work.  I enjoy working, I enjoy meeting people, and I enjoy doing something.  Staying at home is not my life.  I don’t get joy out of cleaning, moping floors, cleaning bathrooms, or doing the dishes.  Anyway, so I couldn’t get a job teaching in the public school, which was my major in college. I got a job at the Greenville Air Force Base.  I worked out there ’57 and ’58. I got pregnant, and I had a child in 1958.  When I got pregnant, C. W. and I were living in the back of his mother’s store.  We had one bedroom.  In 1957 we wanted to look for a house in Greenville.  Some real estate agents were nice to us, they took us around, and they went through the motion.  Finally, one of them told us he couldn’t sell us a house in any neighborhood. I was determined to get out of the back of the grocery store because I was getting ready to have a family. Of course C.W. was determined too.  We saw a newspaper ad where somebody was trying to sell a house.  He sold us his house for eight thousand dollars.  We bought the house and did a lot of the work to clean it up.  It was on [Watwood Street].  That was in the later part of 1957 because Cynthia was born in ’58.  We lived there for a while.  And then we decided that we wanted a bigger house.  We had two children.  We didn’t know where we were going to buy a lot because we felt we would still get the same kind of treatment.  We heard from the church back then.  I was teaching in kindergarten at the First Baptist Church.  Somebody at church told me that maybe the H. N. Alexander Lumber Company had some lots.  They might sell us a lot and build us a house. So we went to see Ebbie Alexander, who is still living, he sold us two lots.  In 1965 we built a house on Robert Shaw which is right across from [Emma] Boyd School. We stayed there till 1980.  Our children went to Boyd School, which was just across the street. The superintendent of [Greenville Public Schools] saw me at church one time.  He said, “Why don’t you come and teach in the public school?”  I told him I was [not] allowed to teach in public school.  He said “Oh yeah, because it was integrated.”  In 1965 I started teaching in public school.  I taught from 1965 to ’70.  I didn’t want to get hurt again. I said, “Are you sure I can teach in public school?”  He said, “Oh yes.”  So I made an appointment with the principal at [Emma] Boyd.  She did hire me to teach second grade.  I taught there five years. I wanted to get into administration, so I started working on my Master’s Degree while I was teaching at [Emma] Boyd.  I think I finished it in ’67.  Then I started hearing about Washington School.

KL:  Delta State?

AS: I have a bachelor’s from MSCW.   I have a Master’s [and] Education Specialist  Degrees from Delta State, and then a doctorate from Mississippi State University. Washington School started organizing in ’68 and ’69.  Well, I knew that they needed an administrator, and I wanted to get into administration.  I wanted my children to get a good education. My older daughter would have had to go to Coleman Junior High.  At that time, I didn’t feel like it was going to be safe for her.  So we went to the private school.  I was hired as the elementary principal.  The first year I was a second grade teacher and the elementary principal.  We had three hundred and twenty-three students [the first year at W.S.] in one building.  The people that founded Washington School wanted a good quality school.  Many people in this part of the Delta [have always] sent to their children off to a good prep school.  There was a group of people that didn’t want to send their children off to a prep school.  They wanted to stay right here and go to school.  So that is how Washington School got started.  At first, they thought it might be just an elementary school, but there were people involved in the school like Dr. [Nino] Bologna and Dr. [Robert] Lee who had children that were in high school.  They said, “If we are going to have a school, we [should] make it first grade through twelve grade because they had older children that they wanted to go that school. We worked hard, and we worked long hours.  You know it is a very successful school now.  It was founded on the basis that it would be a college prep school.  The founders of the school wanted to be sure that it was accredited. We were accredited by the State of Mississippi, and we were accredited by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  It was one of the first private schools that was accredited by Southern Colleges and Schools.  Washington School and Heritage Academy in Columbus were the first two schools that got [accredited by] the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. I was elementary principal until 1989, and then I became the headmaster of the school.  The school has been good for a lot of people, not just for me.  I know, at first, there were colleges that didn’t want to have a lot to do with private schools because they were public education facilities. Well, now I know they want our graduates because they know the caliber of graduates that we graduate.  They know that they have a really good [educational] background.   The Washington School [faculty] has a lot of Delta State graduates. [Many of our faculty members] have their Master’s Degree from Delta State.  We have like sixty-five percent that has Master’s Degrees [Washington School has always had] high standards.  I think that [Washington School] is the one thing that can draw people, executive people, to Greenville.

KL:  That is a big part of your life.

AS:  Yes,  it is a big part of my life.

KL:  Now you are a consultant?

AS:  I am doing some consultanting.  I am chairman of the Accrediting Commission for the [Mississippi Private School Association], and I am on the Accrediting Commission for the Southern Association Colleges and Schools.  That is my involvement into education at this point in my life.  What is our relationship with Afro-Americans [at Washington School?]  We do have Afro-Americans at Washington school.  We have had them since 1990.  The first family that applied at Washington, I talked them, and I told them what it would be like coming to Washington School.  Just because they may hear something, it doesn’t mean that it is going to be a racial slur.  They have to be able to accept some of the things because I have experienced some of those things myself. So they can’t always say it is racial. I think now there is probably ten [Afro-Americans attending WS].  I think there is a good mixture of students at Washington School because there [several] Indian people there, Chinese people, Afro-Americans, Jewish kids, but the Jewish population is not as great as it was when it first started.  A lot of them have moved from the Delta as a lot of the Chinese families have left the Delta.  But for the most part the Chinese in Greenville, most of them have businesses that deal with Afro-Americans.  The grocery stores are in the black sections of town. Even Johnny Choo who was a successful businessman in Greenville, the majority of his patrons were Afro-Americans.  I did my business down there, and I would say eighty-five percent was Afro-American too.  However, he did have some Caucasian business.

KL:  A time to gather.

AS:  I always tell people that weddings, babies, and deaths draws the Chinese people together.  This is when we see each other.  We really believe in those three things.  This is when you see your friends.  You find out about their family life and what has been happening.  Those things are very important.  There are still a lot of people that have big Chinese weddings.  In the last decade, you would see all Chinese people with an exception of maybe a handful of about ten at the most Caucasians unless they invited the mayor and some of the dignitaries in the community.  Now there is a lot of mix marriages among the Chinese.  It is just like any ethnic group, there is going to be a lot of mixture.   Predictions are saying by 2020, that there is not going to be one race.  We are all going to be intermixed.  I hope I am living to see that. (Tape cut off.)  One thing that I feel that the Chinese people are different is the fact that they are patient they’re reserve, we haven’t banded to say we want yellow power.  We take it, as it is going to happen.  Actually, too, we have had some advantages by being on the coattail of integration. We have never marched or boycotted.  We work hard, and people realized we have the ability.  We can do and perform.  Our group is not as large as the Afro-Americans group. But I think through hard work, endurance, and believing in yourself we will get there.  I think that is one thing that has helped the Chinese people.  Sometimes, we are mistreated.  We may go home and talk about it.  We may have a conference about it, but we don’t demonstrate.  I think that is a good quality of the Chinese people.  If we were in San Francisco it would be different from in the delta, I think that a lot of people respect us. Respect what we have accomplished. One thing that I will have to say about Greenville, in a way Greenville is blue blood, but in a way Greenville that has a lot of people that are liberal. When I applied for the job at Washington School, I was dealing with a lot of people that may have been liberal. (Tape cut off.)

KL:  With Washington School, you don’t think that they looked at your ethnicity?

AS:  This was back in the seventies.  They looked at qualifications and they were looking for somebody that they felt [could do the job.]  That is the way that felt.  The personnel committee was looking at that.  Well, when I became headmaster, I went through the process. There was only one female on the committee.  You know this is a man’s world.  As President Clinton said he would like to get those [women’s] salaries up to the hundred percent that the men are making. I am a minority by being Chinese, and I am a minority by being a female. There are not many women who are superintendents.  I feel like we are very thorough in what we do.  We don’t just look at the bottom line.  I think we are more detailed.  We look at all the facets.  Then, of course, we look at the bottom line too.  But I think we have to consider every angle.  Some of the men that I have worked with have been bottom line [people]. (Tape cut off).

I have two daughters.  One graduated in ’76 and the other graduated in ’77.  Both of our daughters [graduated from] Mississippi State University.  When Cynthia went, we were told to encourage her to go out for sorority rush, which she did.  She did not get a bid.  She got invited to all the parties, but did not get a bid to join.  Then, of course, it hurt her, and it hurt her friends.  Many of friends were at State.  There were probably about thirteen of them.  They convinced her to go out for “open rush,” in which she did.  She got into a sorority.  She was a pledge chairman, and got model pledge member.  Cynthia ended up her senior year of being president of the Panhellenic, which was over all of  [sororities].  When Cheryl went to State, Cheryl’s problem was different because Cynthia had paved the way. Cheryl got invited to all the parties, and when the bids went out it was which one shall I pick.  So it was quite different for her. Both of our girls did very well at Mississippi State.  They participated in many activities. They were selected for [Who’s Who Among American High School Students].  Cynthia got Miss MSU.  Cheryl got Homecoming Queen and she was a cheerleader.  Education was the primary focus. Cynthia majored in Computer Science. She graduated in 1980. Cheryl graduated in accounting, and she graduated cum laude.  She worked for Arthur Anderson in Houston, Texas, for a year and half.  Then she decided to get a master’s degree, so she went to LSU and got her M. B. A. [and the same year she got her CPA.]  Cynthia graduated in the [first computer science class] at Mississippi State.  There were twenty-three in her class. When she went to California, she was a [regional] manager, but now she is a vice- president of C. G. I. International.  She is also on the International Cybase Software [Board].  She will go to Australia for their meeting the end of February. (Tape was not able to understand.) All of us are Mississippi State graduates.  My husband, my two daughters, my two son-in-laws, and then I got my doctorate at Mississippi State.  I had no choice.  Really and truly I did go to Ole Miss to check into it, but then when I put everything down, I considered the drive to Mississippi State was going to be an easier drive than driving from Ole Miss at night.   Mike, my son-in-law in Jackson, is one of the vice-presidents for Stuart Irby.  [My other son-in law, Mike, is with shopping. com, an Alta Vista Company].

KL:  They started in elementary school?

AS:  At [Emma] Boyd [Elementary School]

KL:  At Greenville public school

AS:  They went to Washington when I did.  One was in the sixth grade, and one was in the seventh grade.  At Washington School they had no [racial] problems.  People say W.S. has cliques.  I have checked with some friends that went through Greenville High, and they said there were cliques back in Greenville High.  They always have cliques every school.  They have cliques in churches. Going through Washington School, my girls were very active in extracurricular activities.  They were cheerleaders.  Cheryl was the Homecoming Queen.  It seemed like Cheryl had the easy way.  All she had to do was to be there. In Cynthia’s class there were more girls that were very popular.  She was a cheerleader, and she did a lot of extracurricular activities. I would tell the Chinese kids that went to Washington School to participate because for the most part they wanted to be study and that’s it.   They didn’t want to participate in any of the extracurricular activities.  So I would tell them that they need to participate because colleges now days not only look at your academic record, but they look at the extracurricular activities because they want you to be a well-rounded person.  So I would try to convince them that they needed to do other things beside make straight A’s and have a 4.0 average. It’s important that you can interact with people.  You have to have good people skills.  As far as my life in education, I feel very humble with the experiences that I have had.  I have been on a lot of committees and so I feel it’s good to network with all the private schools.  I don’t feel like I have been ostracized by being an administrator in a private school sector.  A lot of people think by being in the private school that you want to be segregated, but I never felt that in private school business.  At first, I was the only Asian teacher in private schools.  Then now I do see a few, but not that many.  Let’s face it, the money is in public schools now.  As far as being an administrator, I was one of the few female minority administrators in the private school, but I never let it bother me.  Cause I think a lot of it has to do with the way you feel about yourself.  You can’t let those things bother you.  You have to go for it, and that is the way I feel probably because I was born and raised in the United States.  If I were born in China, I may have a different feeling.  I know my husband doesn’t feel exactly the way I do because he grew up in Greenville.  Born in Greenville. He went to Chinese School.  He didn’t go to the public school till his senior year.  Then he went to Mississippi State.  So his background for growing up is quite different from mine.

KL:  Does he talk much about school, the Chinese mission?

AS:  No, of course you know we do have a Chinese mission here in Greenville.

KL:  At the First Baptist Church?

AS:  At the First Baptist Church, we meet on Sunday afternoon.  We used to have a larger Chinese community here in Greenville, but so many of the Chinese have moved to where their children are located.  When the students get their education in college, they go where the job is offered.  So when you get older, you want to get close to your children.  Your children can help take care of you, your needs, and your health needs. I am not going to move to California.  It is too far.  I would have gone to California in the fifties, even in sixties, maybe the seventies.  Now, in the new millennium, I love it out there. It is nice to visit.  It is always nice to come back to where there are not so many people.  Of Out there it is a hodge podge of ethnic groups.  You don’t even feel like you are different.  Of course I don’t feel like I am different.  Matter of fact one time when C. W., and I went to Hawaii and we got off the plane.  The islanders that greeted us said,  “welcome home.”

KL:  Have you been to China?

AS:  Yes, in 1996, our family went as a group with four sisters in my family,  some of their children, and my two girls.   I am really thankful my sons-in-laws for allowed my two girls go.  They took care of the children while their wives went.  My children have a great respect for their background and their culture.  They don’t feel like they need to do away with their Chinese culture in which I am grateful.

KL:  You daughters, your sons-in-laws?

AS:  My sons-in-law are Caucasians.  When our children were growing up, we tried to instill the Chinese heritage in them.  We did not speak Chinese to them, but [we expected them to] the different traditions.  We would take them to the Chinese and Chinese functions. They not only went to the Chinese Missions but they went to First Baptist Church, and did the activities at the First Baptist Church.

KL:  Morning and afternoon?

AS:  Morning and afternoon, on Sundays they went to Sunday School.  They left on 9:30 and got home at 8:30 that night.  You would be at church from 9:30 to 12:00, come home, eat and go to the mission at 2:30 to 4:00.  Then, they had choir practice, training union, and finally church.  So it was till 8:30 at night.  We knew we couldn’t do homework on Sunday.  (Tape cut off.)