Document: Mary Crosby Chappelle; Buffalo, New York; A Biographical Interview

By Y, Sharon; Yearwood, Lennox | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Document: Mary Crosby Chappelle; Buffalo, New York; A Biographical Interview


Y, Sharon, Yearwood, Lennox, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


DOCUMENT: Mary Crosby Chappelle; Buffalo, New York; A Biographical Interview

Mrs. Mary Crosby Chappelle was born in 1905, and has been a resident of Buffalo, NY for more than 65 years. Mrs. Chappelle come to Buffalo during the Great Depression, and for almost 25 years she worked closely with the editor of one of Buffalo's early African-American newspapers, the Empire Star, edited by Andrew J. Smitherman. As a reporter, women's page editor, and ad solicitor for the paper, Mrs. Chappelle was a keen observer of life in Buffalo's black community. She was one of the early African-American teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools. Mrs. Chappelle was also a popular speaker in the African-American community. In this biographical interview, Mrs. Chappelle talks about her early life and about African-American life in Buffalo in the early and mid 20th century.

This taped interview of Mrs. Chappelle was conducted on February 16, 1977, by Sharon Holley and Lennox Yearwood. Both Mrs. Holley and Dr. Yearwood were members of the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier. The interview was transcribed by Monroe Fordham. Handwritten notes for a few of Mrs. Chappelle's speeches are microfilmed under the title, "Mary Crosby Chappelle: Some Handwritten Speech Notes." The materials are part of the Buffalo Afro-American Microfilmed Collection at the North Jefferson Branch Library and Center For Local Afro-American History and Research, and at Butler Library, Buffalo State College.

Mary Crosby Chappelle Interview

Interviewer: Give your full name, tell us when and where you were born and something about your background and early life.

Mrs. Chappelle: My name is Mary Lee Crosby Chappelle. I was born March 12, 1905 in Milton, Florida. My parents were Tillman Crosby and Mariah Henderson Crosby. They had seven children, six boys and one girl. They called me "MaeLee", and the boys called me "Sister." I was the only girl and my mother gave me everything to read. She used to give me the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Bazaar, Grit Magazine, and the Chicago Defender. These things have been out of publication for a long, long time. I liked paper dons and everything a child likes, you name it. My mother took me everywhere she went. My mother washed clothes, she used to rough-dry them for .75 per bundle.

Interviewer: Was that your mother's main occupation?

Mrs. Chappelle: Yes. My grandmother was a cook. As a cook she would stay on the place where she worked and come home periodically, maybe every two weeks or something like that. My mother didn't work outside the home because she had to stay home with the children. My mother also reared my cousin Raymond. Raymond was my uncle's only child, my mother raised him because my Aunt Nancy died. At Christmas time Mama used to paper the house with pages from the Saturday Evening Post. I would read from the pages that she posted. I learned to spell and read from those pages. I would read everything. Mother also helped the boys to read, but they also did other things. We used to play mama and papa an day long. As youngsters we had a beautiful life, it was very simple but we thought it was wonderful. We never went out of the house after nightfall. My mother taught me everything. I learned how to tat, to knit, to crochet. My grandmother bought a Singer sewing machine. We paid .50 per week to pay for it, the total cost was $15 - $20. I learned how to sew on that machine. My mother could also sew. She made dresses without a pattern. My mother used to iron pillow slips and linen napkins for a hotel.

Interviewer: Can you give us a little background about your father?

Mrs. Chappelle: My father's name was Tillman Crosby. I don't remember him. My oldest brother Bob remembered him. I was told that my father worked as a contractor. My father was away most of the time, my mother kept the home base. My uncle did the same thing. I don't know much about the Crosbys -- sadly. …

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