Today is the last day of February. This would be a good time for me to admit that I haven’t been as thorough in keeping track of Black History Month events in Columbia/HoCo as I intended to be. The bad news: I got overwhelmed. The good news: there were so many interesting events to choose from!
Yesterday I made it over to the Columbia Art Center to see the Beyond the Blues art exhibit and the Columbia Archives exhibit on the life and legacy of Millie Bailey. The young women who greeted me as I entered were so friendly and welcoming that it would’ve been worthwhile to make the visit for that alone.
I started with the life of WWII Veteran and community activist Millie Bailey. I did not know her in real life but became aware of her through social media and the news. The exhibit is entitled “A Life of Service: Journey Through the Legacy of Vivian “Millie” Bailey.”
For some background on the exhibit:
Columbia exhibit documenting legacy of WWII vet and activist Vivian C. ‘Millie’ Bailey open through end of February, Ethan Ehrenhaft, Baltimore Sun
Bailey’s estate transferred her personal papers to the Columbia Maryland Archives, which curated the exhibit in honor of Black History Month to showcase Bailey’s legacy to the community. Her military records are housed in the Library of Congress.
The exhibit was so beautifully presented and so rich with information about Ms. Bailey’s life and times that I found myself photographing everything so I could go back later and explore it at my leisure. I see now from the Baltimore Sun article that a digital replica of the exhibit will be available in March. It’s definitely worth your while if you haven’t already seen it.
1. Bailey’s life really is as fascinating as you might imagine.
2. Erin Berry, archivist and Director of the Columbia Archives, has done an excellent job in curating the materials in a way that brings Ms. Bailey to life and makes the wealth of materials easy to navigate and enjoy.
There are two things that I wanted to share with you today. One was a poem.
THIS DAY IS MINE TO MAR OR MAKE,
GOT KEEP ME STRONG AND TRUE,
LET ME NO BYPATH TAKE,
NO DOUBTFUL ACTION DO.
GRANT ME WHEN THE SETTING SUN
THIS FLEETING DAY SHALL END
I MAY REJOICE O'ER SOMETHING DONE,
BE RICHER BY A FRIEND.
LET ALL I MEET ALONG THE WAY
SPEAK WELL OF ME TONIGHT,
I WOULD NOT HAVE THE HUMBLEST SAY
I'D HURT HIM BY A SLIGHT.
IT THERE BE SOMETHING TRUE AND FINE
WHEN NIGHT SLIPS DOWN TO FELL
THAT I HAVE LIVED THIS DAY OF MINE
NOT SELFISHLY, BUT WELL.
I stood looking at this image for a long time. It wasn’t just the words of the poem that drew me, but the handwritten words of Ms. Bailey across the top of a old and yellowing piece of paper: from Mother. The fact that this piece of paper survived for so long is an indication of how Bailey valued not just the words of the poem but also the giver.
It would have been easy to showcase Bailey’s life with the host of honors she received and her professional achievements. Including this item in the collection tells us about love and relationships. It shows how the love of a mother continues in her child.
Looking at (the image of) this old piece of paper took me back to the days in my teens when I used to plunk away on my mother’s old manual Royal typewriter. It evokes memories of stuck keys, typewriter ribbons, the odd erasers that didn’t erase as well as you hoped they would, with the attached whisk brooms to sweep away the resultant mess.
It takes concentration to type something on a lined piece of paper and stay on those lines all the way through. You have to line up your paper just right. You have to make sure that when you advance that you are again even with the next line.
Not everyone who views the exhibit will bring to it the memories and experiences that I did. And not everyone will stop to focus in the same places. The display encompasses so many things that I truly believe it will connect with viewers in many different ways. But the humanity of a mother typing those words as a gift for her daughter - - and of the daughter saving those words in a long and eventful life - - moved me.
Here’s the other thing that caught my eye.
I like to be busy. but I want to do something that has some meat in it, has some depth. - - Vivian Bailey, Her Mind Magazine, 2012.
Ms. Bailey came to Columbia in 1970 when she was 52. She retired as division director of the Social Security Administration in 1975. When she was interviewed for the article in Her Mind Magazine she was 94. So Columbia was the place where she spent her retirement years, giving of herself in numerous local projects.
It’s almost a cliche to hear about “senior citizens who want to do volunteer work.” Ms. Bailey’s words, in the middle of an exhibit about her talents and achievements, are a reminder that each of those older volunteers is a real human being with a rich and interesting life who may be looking to do significant work and make authentic human connections.
No, we will not all come to our golden years with the kind of memories and accomplishments that Ms. Bailey had. But all of us will have the yearning to be appreciated for who we are and to involve ourselves in engaging and meaningful endeavors.
People who recruit and deploy older volunteers (and do it well) already know this. After reading Ms. Bailey’s quote I thought about it all the way home.
Many thanks to the Columbia Art Center for the warm welcome and to Erin Berry of the Columbia Archives for her expert (and insightful) work on this exhibit.