Bernadette Whitsett Hammond

Phyllis Leffler: There were very few African American teachers, but one of those teachers was Esther Vassar.

Bernadette Whitsett Hammond: Oh, yes.

Phyllis Leffler:  So, can you talk a little bit her?

Bernadette Whitsett Hammond: Oh, she was wonderful.  She was like, I would say, a breath of fresh air.  We had never had a Black teacher to come in who dressed in African garb, and she wore the headpieces, and it was like, ”Where did this wonderful lady come from?”  She presented herself as the queen she was, and she was very active in including Black students in all aspects of the school.  You know, making sure that we got involved in these programs, whatever, because, a lot of times, parents didn’t really know, who weren’t that on top of things, what their students could be involved in.  For example, the ecology club.  They had an ecology club.  There were kids who never would have thought of participating in that, and she might have said, ”Well, why don’t you get involved in that and consider that?”  So, she was very much a promoter of us.  She brought Black studies to the school, and that was not anything we’d had before.  She just was a very positive influence, and, unfortunately, I think there were a lot of people who didn’t like the fact that she was as active in and really stood her ground and spoke her mind.  I don’t think a lot of people regarded that very highly.  And so, she did encounter quite a few challenges when she was at Lane High School, but, yes, she was just a wonderful, wonderful individual to have as an instructor and as a role model.