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[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
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Mary DeSaussure Sobers
Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan
January 21, 2009
Call number: 2008.031.6.006
0:01 - Pre-interviews discussion; viewing photos and recalling track teammates; receiving award from Albert Stern, who's working on hall of fame; press coverage on her & team
16:10 - Introductions; born in SC; grade school in Brooklyn; parents' background; father's poetry and his death; mother from Geechee people of SC; mother's revisiting; arguing 2008 politics
31:09 - Rude kids in 2000s; neighbor & family's crocheting; bilinguals and her learning Spanish; good deeds and multiculturalism, love in her youth; patience for cultural acceptance; clerical over factory work
50:04 - Encountering gangs; fellow runners in '40s; her running in 1st official youth track meet; discrimination for semifinal award (silver for 1st place); racism and sexism in the sport; lack of women's health education & store-bought tampons
67:30 - Needing bras for runs; bans on women in sports; Parks Dept.'s meet at Armory and instituted racism; accepting injustice as child; segregation on buses in the South; racism & rules in Girls' High School; school nurse's advice for cramps; discouraging teacher
83:52 - Appreciating her coaches, meet organizers (PSAL); thinking behind sexism in sports; old traditions of dating & marriage; love letters; boys being "pigs" in school; respecting adults
101:19 - Art contest discrimination in school; classroom pranks, bonding, cheating at Girls' High; sexism in childrearing vs. protecting girls
115:39 - Tragic story of girl and unwanted pregnancy; coming forward on rape, harassment; supportive colleagues at job; civil rights progress: from limited schooling in South for African Americans to President Obama
133:23 - Perserverance; calling a journalist to tell her story; prepping for youth track meet at MSG; advice on warming up and semifinals; winning final race in '45; naming girls team "Trailblazers" for PAL; emergence of girls track & father figures in PAL
149:24 - Building health & character with sports; PAL marching band; her self-esteem and survival skills; her sister's education & career; her shorthand training; looking in on a neighbor; Gates Ave. legacy
161:36 - Celebrating victory at MSG; balancing track with school; father's death and her sacrificing college; subtle racism at track meet; taking care of aunt; sense of giving; Jewish neighbor shared their food; interracial coupling; learning from others
178:47 - Dance class; teacher's heritage (Delaney sisters' "passed"); her family's Southerner ancestry (Gullah); research & book collection origin (National Geographic & teacher)
195:54 - Sense of her potential; friend Inge Auerbacher; family and travel photos; donating to BHS collection; reminiscing with photos
218:34 - Supporting Brooklyn youth in sports; her wartime (rationing) and post-war youth; ice cream; origins of Bed-Stuy's community; mother's Yamasee heritage, painful memories, Yamasee family, and plantation & genealogical research (link to Chris Rock's family)
237:22 - More links to family; DeSaussure and slavery origins; research and visiting Schomburg Center; link to Fula of Gambia; miffed at party re: her African heritage
254:38 - More family photos & links; at forefront of postwar, modernist dress; kids jumping rope; thrift shopping; memories of other Brooklyn neighborhoods
270:31 - Brooklyn politicians and Capitol Hill visit; places she worked; jazz clubs & musicians in her youth; days of mambo at Palladium
284:12 - Importance of being kind; friendship with Inge; legacy of Inge's synagogue; family friends with Levitz family and others
296:23 - Her boss, a wealthy doctor; being generous & encouraging; physical beauty, celebrity, & abusive or controlling men; meeting Horace Silver; appreciating acquaintances
Oral History Interview with Mary DeSaussure Sobers
Mary DeSaussure Sobers, a track runner from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, became the first African American female to run in a sanctioned track meet when she participated in the Olympic Carnival, sponsored by the New York City Department of Parks, in 1945. Sobers won gold medal for the forty-yard dash. She and her twin sister Martha were born in Utahville, South Carolina in 1931. They attended Girls' High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant and helped form the Trailblazers, the first girls track team under the auspices of the Police Athletic League (PAL) in Brooklyn. Both DeSaussure sisters went to the Olympic tryouts in 1948. Sobers went on to become a coach and adviser to the Queens Trailblazers Track Club. She worked as a secretary at a shoe-polish plant as well as a manufacturer of vacuum-cleaners, but her long term workplace was Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens. She retired in 1997. She married Lowell Sobers in 1958. The couple resided in the Springfield Gardens neighborhood of Queens when the interview took place in 2009.
In her lengthy interview, Mary DeSaussure Sobers recalls her life by way of many of her memories, press clippings, photographs and the people she's known. She tells about recently receiving an honorary award, and then shares biographical details about herself, twin sister Martha, and their parents. She connects the politics of the 2008 presidential elections to disrespectful children of the era. Sobers begins to tell the tale of her first track meet experience late in the interview's first hour, and comes back to that and an all-borough meet in hours two and three, with many offshoot topics along the way. The initial track meet experience was a personal success, but was blunted by racism in the awarding of medals. She also discusses sexism in sports as well as in her personal upbringing. She looks back at the historic arc of civil rights. Sobers shares details on people dear to her, like her sister Martha, and friend Inge Auerbacher. Sobers also speaks of her genealogy research on her family. Throughout, she is mindful of instilling children with a positive outlook and goals, using her experience as lessons for them. Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.
The Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Sports and leisure series features a dynamic range of narrators. Some are known public figures and others are well-known in their field, all having proactively contributed to the athletic pursuits or relaxing diversions of the borough. This ongoing series focuses on Brooklyn history and the experiences of these narrators, as well as documents local, national and international cultural events. The oldest narrator in this series was born in 1931.
CitationSobers, Mary DeSaussure, Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan, January 21, 2009, Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Sports and leisure, 2008.031.6.006; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Auerbacher, Inge
- DeSaussure, Martha
- Girls' High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- New York (N.Y.). Dept. of Parks
- Sobers, Mary DeSaussure
- African Americans
- Civil rights movements
- Discrimination in sports
- Education (Secondary)
- Family life
- School sports
- Sports for children
- Women runners
- Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidVoices of Brooklyn oral histories: Sports and leisure