One Black Woman’s Legacy of Higher Education

We look at old photos and wonder whatever happened to those people? How did they live? Who knows about them? I know about one of them – she was my grandmother, whose graduation picture I discovered recently on the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s web site. In the accompanying photograph, my grandmother is sitting at the far left.

Class-of-1894

Estelle Livingston Stansberry, a native of Philadelphia, was a descendant of slaves. Estelle’s father, the Rev. John B. Stansberry, was a prominent African Methodist Episcopal preacher in New York and Pennsylvania who sent her to Princess Anne Academy. After her 1894 graduation from the forerunner of UMES, she became a nurse at Philadelphia’s Douglas hospital, an institution later led by her son, Haldane.

Estelle married Charles King in 1905, and they had seven children, four of whom died young from disease and accidents. The three survivors, John, William and Haldane, inherited Estelle’s love of education. She recognized the transformative power of knowledge and insisted her sons go to college, even though that often seemed impossible for young black men in the 1930s.

John B. King, the eldest, chose education as his career. He earned a Ph.D. and became Deputy Superintendent of New York City schools in the 1950s.  John B. King Jr., his son, is currently New York’s Commissioner of Education, overseeing all public schools and universities.

William “Dolly” King was a prominent athlete, leading Long Island University to national basketball championships in 1939 and 1941. He and Pop Gates became the first blacks to play professional basketball. Dolly King also played professional baseball for the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.

Haldane King also attended LIU, but World War II interrupted his education. He volunteered for flight training at Tuskegee and graduated in Class 43-J as one of the first bomber pilots. After the war, Haldane joined New York City’s fire department, becoming one of its first African Americans. He left FDNY when recalled into the Air Force during the Korean War, setting him on a 26-year career path in the military with assignments in Europe, Maine, California and finally, the Pentagon. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.

I followed in his considerable footsteps as a U.S. Air Force pilot, serving in Vietnam. He and I are honored to be subjects of an exhibit in the Air Force museum.

My grandmother’s example confirms the impact an education can have on generations that follow. Her children and grandchildren hold degrees from Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Penn, Yale, Stanford, Howard, Rutgers, UC Santa Barbara, Northwestern, Penn State and Arizona. There are doctors, teachers, business owners and corporate executives who owe their success to the legacy of the remarkable Estelle Stansberry.

Author: Haldane King Jr. is chief executive officer of a California marketing firm.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. A beautiful and inspiring story. It has inspired me to go ahead and enroll and complete my doctoral degree in business administration!

  2. This is a GREAT story of the legacy of education in African American families. Considering the social times…it was a struggle yet your grandmother forged on. You beautifully describe the love of education that was past on in your family (in spite of the difficulty) and how it changed the economic and social landscape. This story will inspired those who read it to start and/or complete unfinished degrees and instill the importance of education in the lives of our young family members. Thank you!

  3. This is an awesome story, going to print this article out for my kids, we have so many struggles with our black youth and education thank you for this article

  4. John B King was my Principal at PS 70 in Brooklyn, NY. I was the valdictorian of my graduating class in 1946. So much to share. Mr King was my hero! Hope to hear from you.

    Sincerely,
    Costanza (Stan) McQ

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