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Ann C. Searcy: WE BECOME OUR POSSIBILITIES by Guest Blogger, Agy Wilson

While we say good bye to Women’s History Month and welcome National Poetry Month, I’d like to welcome, a friend and a guest blogger, Agy Wilson, who shared with me the story - in both pictures and stories – the remarkable life of  Ann Cummings Searcy. A woman who lived like poetry in motion. 
annieCompress Ann C. Searcy: WE BECOME OUR POSSIBILITIES by Guest Blogger, Agy Wilson
Agy writes…
Ann Cummings Searcy lived and taught in the same town I grew up in, but I didn’t know her until I was nineteen and living in a different place. I used to sit at her table while she sang songs from another time and we’d talk about her childhood, careers, and the things she loved, especially her family.
    
Annie’s mother and father had divorced when she was five, a rare thing at that time. Rose, Annie’s mother supported her family by opening her home, the Cummings’ Old Homestead (also known as 110) in Old Orchard Beach, Maine to summer visitors. Rose charged $12.00 a week for meals (her specialty) and board. Up until this time, almost all hotels were "whites-only" For the first time, "colored people", as African Americans and people of other races were called at the time, could enjoy a world famous vacation spot. Many came with thoughts and hopes of what they’d find in "Vacationland", Maine. Though most of Rose’s guests were African American and personally approved, she hosted people of other races as well.
    
Annie met people from all walks of life. There were porters, like her father, and maids. But also famous folk came to stay for the weeks and months of the traditional vacation. Sociologist, W. E. B. Dubois, jazz musician Cab Calloway, and writer Countee Cullen enjoyed the hospitality of Rose and her family. Mr. Cullen had even dedicated his book MY LIVES AND HOW I LOST THEM, to "Pumpkin Cummings of Old Orchard Beach"– Annie’s cat.
    Anniecompressed Ann C. Searcy: WE BECOME OUR POSSIBILITIES by Guest Blogger, Agy Wilson
Duke Ellington would come every year from 1931 and on. He would take Annie down to the pier and give her treats and rides at the amusement park. Young Annie would often sneak around the corner and listen to him practice on the family piano before his shows, sometimes singing along. Mr. Ellington invited a grown Ann to sing with his band. But Rose and Ann decided she would stay in Maine and become a teacher. 
    
Annie and Mr. Ellington’s friendship lasted his entire life– whenever he came to New England, he left Annie tickets to see him perform. She always went.
    
Annie became the first African-American teacher certified by the University of Maine system, then known as Gorham Teacher’s College. Her brother Emerson, like many others, received his degree outside of Maine for reasons of racial bias, though Emerson came back. He and Annie taught school for many years in Maine; most black teachers did not return.
 agyw2a Ann C. Searcy: WE BECOME OUR POSSIBILITIES by Guest Blogger, Agy Wilson   
Annie’s other sisters became professionals, as well. Maud was detective in Washington D.C., two sisters worked for the Pentagon and on an artist in Boston. Rose sent all her children to college, except for Annie’s beloved brother Eddie. He chose not to go, instead he became a master carpenter.
    
When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, the Old Homestead was no longer necessary. Still, people who had spent lazy, bright summers and the service men far from home who Rose fed on Thanksgivings past, as well as Annie’s classmates from college stopped by every summer to visit. In more recent times, the place fell into disrepair. A woman who had stayed at 110 as a child, bought the home and is putting it to rights. The Old Homestead was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2004.
    
Annie sang all the while. She performed all over Southern Maine, her voice clear like liquid sunshine. Even after she developed multiple sclerosis and could no longer teach, Annie still sang. Those she knew inspired her, and then she inspired those who knew her, including me.
    
I’ve taken a few liberties, for instance, Annie always referred to her friend as "Mr. Ellington" and most of her family referred to her as "Ann". The reason, Duke Day, because I’m talking about Mr. Ellington’s arrival as an event. Many of her friends and I’m imagining as the youngest child, called her "Annie" and these are small familiarities.
    
Ann Cummings Searcy passed away March 2, 2006 leaving three daughters, eight grandchildren, six great grandchildren, and a legacy of laughter, fun and her beloved music.

Agy speaks about her relationship with Ann…
 agyw1AB Ann C. Searcy: WE BECOME OUR POSSIBILITIES by Guest Blogger, Agy Wilson

Ann Searcy was an inspiration to me. She was my Friday night (sometimes Saturdays) in my art schooled youth. At that time she made her way to the table with canes or a walker, her ebullience and warmth were infectious. Her music scotched honey. She’d regale me with stories of her family, her youthful friendship, especially the one she enjoyed with Duke Ellington, and her many students. One of her most favored of phrase "We did have fun."

 

Later in life, when she lived at the Barron Center, I’d visit with my then baby daughter and eleven year old. Some days, she couldn’t get out of bed without aiding the use of her arms, or seeing. Still she inspired, and managed to go out, performing for other people at Barron’s Center. Moreover, no matter what her situation, I never heard a self-pitying, or negative word from her. Quite simply, Ann refused to let anything get in the way of what she wanted to be, do, not even the tragedy of Multiple Sclerosis.

 

She fought against sexism, racism, her debilitating disease, refusing to let anything but her vision of who she was, her love for her family, music, teaching, others define her. Some frazzled days, it’s Ann’s hard-to-pinpoint sunny drawl that motivates me to be better than circumstances. She taught me not how to make lemonade out of lemons, but quite simply how to plant and tend that grove.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Agy Wilson lives in Windham, Maine with her husband, daughter, and a passel of animals. She’s a children’s writer and illustrator, founding member of www.Yellapalooza.com, calligrapher and eggartist.

Comments

  1. Peter Grant says:

    “Mrs. Searcy” was my 1st grade teacher at Little Falls Elementary School in Gorham, Maine in approximately 1970-71.

    Her amazing voice, strong spirit and iron clad self confidence made her a powerful influence in my young life. Her class was an amazing place for a 6/7 year old and was filled with story telling and music.

    I knew nothing of her upbringing here in Maine but your glimpse into that life helps me see why our class was so fulfilling. Thank you.

  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    You’re welcome, Peter. I will certainly pass along your note to Agy. She’s on FB and I am sure will appreciate it. All the best!

  3. Agy Wilson says:

    Peter, thank you for sharing! She was a remarkable woman, and I had wished she’d been one of my teachers. She gave her students even the youngest ones, self respect and a belief in themselves. I remember her telling me at one point she couldn’t navigate the steps on the way to the cafeteria, so she told her students they were responsible for themselves. Alone with her encouragement, they were much better behaved than the monitored students! At one point there had been a petition going around Gorham, to NOT SELL TO THAT NEGRO. When one of the parents of a former student got wind of it, he sold her his home, because he KNEW what an asset to the community she was. Emerson, was brilliant, having tutored Ed Musky and finishing school at MIT and Harvard. He came back and BEGGED for a job teaching math at OOB, as an interim replacement. They reluctantly let him have the job. He kept it till retirement, served on the Council there, and a strip of road was named for him (E.E. Cummings). One other bit of info… Ann’s father was Shurtleff Emerson, relative of Ralph Waldo, and a staunch abolitionist. His wife, Rose’s mother was black and Indian. Shurtleff was lynched, and the family didn’t feel safe where they were (down south and then to New Orleans) and that’s how they made their way up to Portland and then Old Orchard Beach.

  4. Agy Wilson says:

    oops, that should have been GRANDFATHER, not father, sorry not enough coffee in the system yet!

  5. What a wonderful and inspiring story Agy Wilson tells about her friend Annie. I think Annie and her family were awesome for their time – for ANY time! I have also seen the artwork Agy did for this story, and it is a great pity that it did not show. Agy’s evocative drawings showed a delightful Annie that those who knew and loved her would instantly recognize. They were done with love, and a true knowledge of the woman Annie was,

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