'We had to hide to go to school'
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''In front of the College of Charleston there was a long alley,'' she continues. ''My grandfather went back in that alley and started a school for blacks. It was against the law to teach blacks to read and write, but he did it anyway. When I go to the College of Charleston today I can feel something - that's right.''Skip to next paragraph
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She and her husband of 49 years, Bob Fields, saw to it that their own two sons received a good education, sending them to private schools. One is now an architect in Washington, D.C.; the other is a social worker in Charlotte, S.C.
''The people who emancipated us were educated people. Blacks weren't afraid of the white man when they saw they could do what (whites) did. Education means freedom, as I see it,'' she says. ''I wanted my children to be free.''
In her own teaching career, Mrs. Fields took over dilapidated rural schools with no desks, books, or blackboards. With humor and determination she turned them into respectable places to learn.
''Never mind the hardship,'' she writes in her book. ''Most of the children who came did their best to learn, regardless. The wonderful part for the teachers (was that) we could see even the little things we did spreading through the community, and we were rewarded that way.''
In 1919, Mrs. Fields joined the Federation of Colored Women's Clubs, but it wasn't until she retired from the Charleston County School system in 1943 that she plunged into community projects and became active in other organizations. Among her accomplishments, she helped found a home in Charleston for runaway and homeless girls. She also initiated a campaign to beautify the city and drew government attention to the warehouse slums on Charleston's Cooper River to lobby for better low-income housing.
''I always worked with the mayors of Charleston. When I wanted to do a project I always went to them first - I think that's why I was so successful,'' she says.
She also had support at home.
''My husband - he was the dearest in the world,'' she says gently. ''We were friends all our lives. While I was married to him, I was always a queen. Whatever I wanted to do, he helped me do it. If I had to go to a talk, I'd come home to have dinner prepared for me. That kind of cooperation helped me succeed as a public figure.''
In 1969, Mrs. Fields mobilized city churches to establish Charleston's first public day-care facility. Today she continues to work for women's and children's rights, serves as director of the Sunday School at her church, and speaks for various educational and civic groups around the country. She is also working on a second book, a pictorial history of the South Carolina Federation of Colored Women's Clubs.
''We have borne our burdens in the heat of the day in Charleston. We had to fight for everything good we had - it wasn't handed to us,'' says Mrs. Fields, sitting erect with her eyes straight ahead. ''We did a great deal to make Charleston a better place to live.''