One sunny morning in 2006 I visited Daisy Stroud, and she took out photos and shared the story of her life. Every tale was an illumination of the times in which she lived, of the life she made with husband Gerson and the woman she came to be.
Her story was an apt illustration for a book I was working on called “Thriving in the Shadows.” The book, published in 2007 by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library’s Novella Festival Press, recounted first-person stories of how blacks lived through segregation, triumphed over adversity and created thriving communities filled with civic-minded and accomplished people.
Daisy helped pull the shade back on a time many prefer to forget but that remains instructive. I can still hear her talk about the importance her mother and father put on family and education: “Every Sunday afternoon, we’d assemble in the living room. We only went into the living room on Sunday, no other day. We’d sit around and there was a program that was on the radio, and it was classical. It was called ‘Arabesque.’ We’d have to sit there and listen to this symphonic music. My mother would say [it was] for us to uplift ourselves.”
Daisy’s impish, ever present smile, often hinted at a bit of mischievousness. It was present in stories she told. Take the one about how her family came to live in a neighborhood that was white. “When we came to Charlotte, we were in luck because my father heard of a place in First Ward. It was all Caucasian.... They had gorgeous homes. Our neighbor’s name was Thad Tate. The word was out that Thad Tate was the son of a wealthy white family. Evidently his mother was very fair, and could have passed for white. Anyway, Thad Tate’s father wanted his son to be raised in a place that was comparable to what he had. So he built these big, big houses. When the neighbors found out Thad Tate was the son of a black person, they all put their homes up for sale. My father was able to get a 13-room house for a song.”
When she talked about her wedding, she got that twinkle in her eye again: “My husband was my brother’s best friend. He was of the same ilk as my brother: My brother was what he called sophisticated and I was the opposite. Gerson was not the sort of person I thought I’d be interested in. But when he asked if I would marry him before he went overseas, I did. We were married July 24, 1944. My mother got the wedding together in 14 days. My husband’s friends were in the Army so the men in my wedding picture were just people from the community. We just drafted men to be in the wedding. I was with Gerson for four days, and from that day until 1946, I did not see my husband.”
Daisy and Gerson’s marriage was a true partnership. People took notice – including Oprah Winfrey who featured them on her show in 1996 to get their “Secrets of a Lasting Marriage.”
They were both educators. Their post-retirement years were filled with volunteer work and community activism, and they received deserved recognition for their contributions.
Gerson died in 2006 after living with Alzheimer’s. Daisy was never far from his side. After his death, she continued an engaged life of accomplishments. In 2008, at 86, she was one of 10 winners chosen from more than 14,000 applicants to be AARP “Faces of 50+ Real People” models. In 2010, she received the Maya Angelou/Elizabeth Ross Dargan Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual UNCF-Maya Angelou Women Who Lead Luncheon.
Daisy died last week at 92. I smile in remembering her. Her vivacious personality and graceful demeanor sometimes masked her fierceness. But she had the kind of tenacious spirit that served her and this community well.