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Legacies Project Oral History: Sandra Wray-McAfee

When: 2020

Sandra Wray-McAfee was born in Durham, North Carolina. Her father ran a taxicab business and was a talented brick mason and carpenter. Her mother taught elementary school. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan and went on to teach in the Mathematics and Statistics Department at the University of Michigan Dearborn for 21 years. She retired in 2008.

Sandra Wray-McAfee was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2016 as part of the Legacies Project.


  • [00:00:10.47] SPEAKER: This is an interview for the Legacies Project, which has students gathering oral histories and putting them into an archive for future generations. To the best of your ability, please ignore the camera. While your eyes can certainly wander, mainly look at me, and please do not look directly into the camera lens. Each videotape is about 60 minutes long. If you are in the middle of answering a question and we have to change tape, I will ask you to hold that thought while we change the tape and will pick up where we left off on the new tape.
  • [00:00:41.80] OK. So everyone turn off or silence your cell phones, or anything that beeps or makes noise. And you can call for a break any time that you want one. Also, please remember that you can decline to answer any question or terminate the interview at any time for any reason.
  • [00:01:21.49] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I put my phone on airplane mode, so that means I-- that takes care of everything. I think that shuts it down.
  • [00:01:34.88] SPEAKER: OK. So I'm first going to ask you some simple demographic questions. While these questions may jog memories, please keep your answers brief and to the point. We can elaborate later in the interview. Please say and spell your name. My name is Sandra Wray-McAfee. It is spelled capital S-A-N-D-R-A, capital W-R-A-Y hyphen capital M little c capital A lowercase F-E-E.
  • [00:02:12.74] OK. What is your birth date, including the year.
  • [00:02:17.93] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I was born on Sunday, September the 30th, 1945 at 7:30 PM.
  • [00:02:27.08] SPEAKER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:02:32.74] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Today, I prefer being acknowledged as a black woman. However, I will just elaborate just a tad. When I was growing up, I was referred to as colored, then it became negro. So there have been those iterations.
  • [00:02:56.90] SPEAKER: What is your religious affiliation, if any?
  • [00:03:01.52] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I do follow the Christian principles.
  • [00:03:07.18] SPEAKER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
  • [00:03:11.38] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I have completed graduate school at the University of Michigan. I have earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree.
  • [00:03:19.45] SPEAKER: Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond what you completed?
  • [00:03:24.94] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No.
  • [00:03:27.13] SPEAKER: What is your marital status?
  • [00:03:28.90] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I am single. I was married, so I guess I should say I'm divorced.
  • [00:03:36.52] SPEAKER: How many children do you have?
  • [00:03:37.81] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Three.
  • [00:03:39.82] SPEAKER: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:03:41.92] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I had three siblings, two of whom now are deceased.
  • [00:03:48.80] SPEAKER: What would you consider your primary occupation to have been?
  • [00:03:53.03] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: An educator.
  • [00:03:55.09] SPEAKER: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:03:57.86] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: At the age of 62.
  • [00:04:02.38] SPEAKER: Very good. OK. Now we can begin with the first part of our interview, beginning with some of the things you can recall about your family history. We're beginning with family naming history. By this, we mean any story about your last or family name or family traditions in selecting first or middle names. So do you know any stories about your family name?
  • [00:04:31.34] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No, and the reason I'm saying no is that my mother's family name was Faucette, F-A-U-C-E-T-T-E. My father's family name was Wray, W-R-A-Y. However, I do not know how they came about, the names that they ended up using, all because the records of black people were not kept in terms of the original last name of the Africans when they were brought over to this land. So I do not know any of the history. I am interested in the genealogy. However, I have not pursued it. Yeah.
  • [00:05:29.59] SPEAKER: All right. Why did your ancestors leave to come to the United States?
  • [00:05:38.38] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: My ancestry, actually, is a combination of African and indigenous peoples. So coming to what we now call the United States-- because it was not called that when the Africans were brought over, it was just referred to as the New World. Yeah, so I would have to say that in terms of ancestors being brought over to this New World, it was through bondage. It was for the purpose of slavery, for free labor.
  • [00:06:25.02] SPEAKER: Do you know any stories about how your family first came to the United States and where they first settled?
  • [00:06:31.65] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No, but both of my parents grew up in North Carolina. And in North Carolina, there are two major indigenous tribal groups, the Ahoskie and the Cherokees. My mother's bloodline is Ahoskie, and my father's bloodline is Cherokee. Again, those two tribal groups are from indigenous peoples on this land.
  • [00:07:08.30] SPEAKER: How did they make a living, either in the old country or in the United States?
  • [00:07:12.62] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: My mother was an elementary school teacher, and my father did not pursue education beyond the 8th grade. However, he was a magnificent business man. He was extremely skilled in different arenas. He was a carpenter, he was a brick mason, and in fact, in brick masonry he rose to the level of being referred to as the corner man, and that is a skill. And I had no idea until well after my father's passing.
  • [00:07:54.89] Also, my father started a taxicab business. The taxicab business was the business that I remember best because it was his primary profession when I was in my formative years. But his ending profession was that of stone work in the construction of major civil engineering projects.
  • [00:08:34.32] SPEAKER: Do you know how they came to live in this area?
  • [00:08:38.11] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: My parents never lived in this area. Yeah, they always lived in North Carolina.
  • [00:08:45.57] SPEAKER: What possessions did they bring with them, and why?
  • [00:08:51.99] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I would have no idea because each one was born here in the States, again, in North Carolina, my mother in Durham and my father in a town called Kings Mountain.
  • [00:09:09.23] SPEAKER: Do you know of any traditions that your family has given up or changed, and do you know why?
  • [00:09:18.43] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Well, that's a good question in that the traditions-- I do not recall anything in particular other than just loving to be with each other, and farming. So my paternal family has a lot of land, and we still have a lot of land. In fact, now I pay the taxes on the property, several acres in Kings Mountain. I do have some relatives who-- I'm not going to elaborate anymore because it's more on speculation than actual engagement.
  • [00:10:13.49] But one thing that really thrills me is that my paternal great grandfather and paternal grandfather, with all of this family land that we have in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, started a church. It's called Ebenezer Baptist Church. It is in Kings Mountain. And I absolutely love the annual gathering called the homecoming at the church. And when I go there, it's nothing but relatives, relatives I had no idea-- even though we are fifth or sixth degree cousins. But still, to worship at a church that my great grandfather and grandfather started is a blessed occasion. And I would say that that is now the tradition, gathering at the family church.
  • [00:11:18.72] SPEAKER: What stories have come down to you about your parents and grandparents, or even more distant ancestors?
  • [00:11:28.12] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No particular stories, other than just hard-working people. And you're just trying to do the right thing at all times. One story I have discovered on my own when I was looking at a map of the United States, I found out that one state in this country has a city that's actually named after an ancestor. The city is in Colorado, and it is called Wray, Colorado.
  • [00:12:18.37] SPEAKER: Do you know any courtship stories? How did your parents, grandparents, and other relatives come to meet and marry?
  • [00:12:27.84] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No, my parents, though, did meet in Durham and they married in Durham.
  • [00:12:41.90] SPEAKER: Now we're moving on to earliest memories and childhood. Today's interview is about your childhood up until you began attending school. Even if these questions jog memories about other times in your life, please only respond with memories from this earliest part of your life. Where did you grow up and what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:13:02.77] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I grew up in Durham, where I was born. And I guess my earliest memories-- oh, gosh. I still remember being put in the crib. I remember these vertical bars. It's this vertical-- being lifted up, and then placed back in the crib. I have no idea how old I was, but definitely younger than two. And I'm fascinated by that, that memory. I grew up on a street called George Street. It was the southern boundary of a college for blacks, even though it was called for Negroes, a state-supported college.
  • [00:13:58.82] And as I got older, I just remember having the best time playing. And we had a Chinaberry tree in the front yard. My father installed a swing. And just to just swing on this huge limb, it was absolutely thrilling. Also, the college had an indoor swimming pool, so I started swimming there at a very young age. Other things I enjoyed doing up to the age of six, learning how to ride a bicycle and just playing outdoor games in the summertime, hide and seek. You're just learning how to do these things and with very little traffic during that period. And also, the street, again, George Street, was unpaved, so that meant even less traffic.
  • [00:15:07.81] So we would play in the street all of the time and just think nothing of it. Eventually, I began, with my siblings-- because my three siblings are older than I am-- having fun walking across the street to the campus. And then the campus became my even bigger playground.
  • [00:15:35.22] SPEAKER: How did your family come to live there?
  • [00:15:41.90] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I don't know why that house was selected because my parents purchased the house long before I was born, and I never asked them why, other than it probably had a lot to do with the fact that my mother, who grew up on the north side of town, attended the college that I grew up across the street from. And it became my playground. And so she liked then that side of town, which was the south side of Durham.
  • [00:16:24.02] Also, she had earned her teaching certificate, and the school at which she was assigned to teach was in that area. And for that reason, I think it became a convenient location for her. But it's a question I'm only speculating about because I never ever asked my mother why she and daddy purchased that house.
  • [00:16:53.77] SPEAKER: Could you provide a few more details about what your house was like?
  • [00:16:58.53] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Yes, it was a two-story frame house painted white. We had a living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms upstairs, one full bathroom. My father, again, long before I was born, annexed two rooms to the house. As I have already mentioned to you, he was a carpenter and also a brick mason. So he did some upgrades to the house, and thereby adding a pantry, a back room that became the laundry room, a back porch that was more of a stoop, a beautiful construction. And also, the front porch had been a wooden porch, that is, the floor of it.
  • [00:18:04.04] But he took out the wooden floor and constructed a very, very solidly well-built brick porch. Oh, it was wonderful. It spanned the front of the house, the length of the house. And he installed a swing, a porch swing that was suspended from the ceiling of the porch. And oh, what delight to just sit on the porch and swing, swing, swing.
  • [00:18:43.68] SPEAKER: How many people lived in the house with you when you were growing up? And what was their relation to you?
  • [00:18:50.76] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, the six of us, my parents and my three siblings and me.
  • [00:18:58.46] SPEAKER: What languages were spoken in or around your household?
  • [00:19:03.50] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Americanized English. My mother began studying French, and she began teaching me that language at a very young age.
  • [00:19:20.67] SPEAKER: Were different languages spoken in different settings, such as at home, in neighborhoods, or in local stores?
  • [00:19:30.36] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No, not in my community. My community was-- well, I grew up during the period when segregation reigned supreme. And we only, at that point, spoke in the language of Americanized English.
  • [00:19:57.26] SPEAKER: What was your family like when you were a child?
  • [00:20:07.71] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I don't know how to answer that because it was my family and I saw things, as a very young person, I had no idea if that was just how families functioned or not. Yeah, but I had two parents who worked very hard. And there were times when one of our neighbors would come to the house when my mother and father could not be at home. I called her Grandma Johnson, and so she would take care of us. But I would say that it was a family with nothing out of the ordinary as far as I was concerned because I was the last child to be born, and our ages cover a period of 10 years. My oldest sibling, a brother, is almost to the day 10 years older than I am.
  • [00:21:36.30] So there comes this pecking order. And being the youngest, I just had to learn how to fit in.
  • [00:21:45.08] SPEAKER: Well, were your parents strict with you or anything? Or were your siblings nice to you?
  • [00:21:51.30] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, no.
  • [00:21:52.61] [LAUGHS]
  • [00:21:54.56] I think they could have done without me. I think about that so often. And there were times when it was difficult all because I was the youngest. And I was still trying to figure out-- and this is in retrospect. Now that I'm older, I realize that a family is the first organization to which I belong. And I had to learn how to function in that organization. But again, this is my adult mind reflecting upon what it was like for me as a child. But yeah, my siblings teased me endlessly.
  • [00:22:48.15] My oldest sibling, as I said, is a brother, being 10 years older, we had nothing in common. And my sister was eight years older than me, and I think she could have done without a baby sister who just couldn't get it together but who always wanted to tag along. But she was eight years older. She didn't want her baby sister always tagging along. So I know I annoyed my siblings a lot. And it was never something that we worked through.
  • [00:23:35.27] SPEAKER: What was a typical day like for you in your pre-school years?
  • [00:23:44.01] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Playing, and I did go to nursery school. So when you say pre-school, I am going to respond under the assumption that you're referring to when I started the first grade. Yeah, so I was enrolled in nursery school at the age of two and a half, which I attended until I started the first grade. And nursery school was a lot of fun because it was located on the campus that was right across the street from me. And I enjoyed being there, learning, and just having a grand time.
  • [00:24:34.77] SPEAKER: What did you do for fun?
  • [00:24:41.00] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Well, there's that four-letter word again. I just had a grand time playing. Play, play, play. And also, learning how to work in the yard, take care of plants and all, which is something that-- a passion that I did not realize would last as long as it has lasted. But I have found it is the enjoyment that is just so grand, just so fulfilling to me to this day.
  • [00:25:25.52] SPEAKER: Did you have a favorite toy? And if so, who made it slash them?
  • [00:25:34.04] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: I do not remember any particular toy. We had pets. I enjoyed having the pets that we had, cats and dogs in particular. I really liked them, and just great companions.
  • [00:26:00.11] SPEAKER: Any special memories about these dogs and cats?
  • [00:26:03.59] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Well, we had so many. I guess the longest living pet we had was Max, a mix of chow and spitz, those two breeds. Oh, and a little collie. Max was a devoted dog, to the point that one time, the younger of my two big brothers was angry at me over something which I do not remember, and he lifted his arm as if to hit me out of anger. Max interceded, jumped up and bit him through the lip. So Max was a devoted companion.
  • [00:26:58.35] SPEAKER: And I don't think I got your siblings names.
  • [00:27:01.66] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: My oldest sibling is Frank Junior. My sister-- let me back up a little bit. I will see Frank Dewey Wray Junior. My sister was Ana Yvonne Wray. My third sibling-- and I'm giving them to you in order of birth-- was Joseph Stanley Wray.
  • [00:27:37.52] SPEAKER: Did you have a favorite game?
  • [00:27:41.86] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: No, just outdoor games. Periodically, we would play card games, but not on a regular basis. There was a card game called Canasta, and then, of course, Solitaire. Yeah, but otherwise, I liked games or activities-- it's triggering a recall, puzzles. I liked jigsaw puzzles.
  • [00:28:20.69] SPEAKER: Did you have a favorite book or books?
  • [00:28:27.02] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, yeah. I guess one of the earliest books that-- and this is a major novel, but of course, there were books that were assigned for reading as a student, and I read those. That was so routine, and some of those books are still being assigned today because the stories are so revered and the literature is so rich. I read Gone with the Wind at a pretty early age, and books of that genre were the ones that I liked.
  • [00:29:28.38] SPEAKER: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from this time?
  • [00:29:35.71] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Yeah, annual dinners, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's. Food in abundance, so delicious, the aromas. Yeah.
  • [00:29:50.06] SPEAKER: Do you remember what you did for these holidays?
  • [00:29:52.49] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Well, we were always at home, yeah, just being together. And I enjoyed cooking the meals or learning how to cook the meals. I did not do them myself. But there's something so special about those meals that even to this day, I enjoy cooking them. The aroma is so rich and all.
  • [00:30:24.52] SPEAKER: What meals were these?
  • [00:30:26.56] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Again, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's.
  • [00:30:30.05] SPEAKER: But what foods did you--
  • [00:30:31.96] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, the traditional ones. Thanksgiving, oh, yeah, the turkey, the stuffing, collard greens. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. And virtually ditto for Christmas. New Year's was a bit different in that we always had to have black eyed peas for wisdom. And my mother was a fantastic cook, and too bad I did not tap into her brain to learn certain skills. The amazement as I think back to my youth, people did not use recipes, or should I say, recipe books. Everything was stored in their heads. And I marvel at just how much they knew how well they cooked.
  • [00:31:37.80] I refer to a person whom I call Grandma Johnson who lived just a few doors down the street from us. Grandma Johnson had a wood-burning stove in her kitchen. But oh, my god, she could cook. She cooked fantastic meals. And it's knowing how to monitor the heat, timing everything. We take modern conveniences for granted. So we could set a gas stove or an electric stove to cook for a certain length of time at a particular temperature. But it's different if all you have is a wood-burning stove and you have to learn how to cook everything that way.
  • [00:32:32.42] SPEAKER: Do you know how these traditions were passed down?
  • [00:32:37.27] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Well, that's just how-- back in those days, that was the technology for a number of people in my community. Remember now, I grew up many, many years ago. A lot of people still did not have electricity or running water. And we can't imagine that now today because we have these building codes. A dwelling is not certified as being livable unless it has running water or electricity or gas. Yeah, but back then, no, not everybody had the conveniences that we have today. So it is difficult for us to imagine, well, how did they survive? But they did.
  • [00:33:36.25] SPEAKER: Did you have electricity and running water?
  • [00:33:39.00] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Yes, in my house. Yeah, but just-- Grandma Johnson's house, as I said, was about five houses between her house and my house. But she did not have the features.
  • [00:33:57.55] SPEAKER: I'm going to go back to one question. To your knowledge, did your ancestors make an effort to preserve any traditions or customs from their country of origin?
  • [00:34:14.34] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: We were not-- according to my ancestry, we were not allowed to continue any African-- our tribal traditions from Africa. We were stripped of our dignity, stripped of our identity. So I don't even know from which of the African countries my ancestors came. In terms of my indigenous tribal customs, well, the Europeans stripped the indigenous cultures of their traditions and their dignity because we were to conform to what the dominant countries in Europe wanted and said it had to be.
  • [00:35:23.79] SPEAKER: Well, thank you for coming today.
  • [00:35:26.53] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: OK. Thank you.
  • [00:35:29.92] SPEAKER: --between the high school and the college periods.
  • [00:35:35.75] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, wow. Do you want to cover six to eight years? I'm trying to understand how broad the time line is.
  • [00:35:52.12] SPEAKER: What did you do for fun? Just anything that comes to mind.
  • [00:35:55.02] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: OK. Well, things that were very enjoyable were always of the nature of my being physically active. I enjoyed riding my bicycle, walking-- a whole lot of walking, and going to the movies, and periodically attending house parties. Yeah, because we had a limited number of community-wide facilities for us to go. And for that reason, we tended to just have parties and friends would get together in each other's homes, which is not at all unusual. Even today, people do the same thing. People still go to the movies.
  • [00:36:58.66] And things that I did not do on a regular basis but I did enjoy were just going on short trips. A long trip was considered New York City. Oh, and by the way, I drove my mother to New York City at the tender age of 15. I had my learner's permit, and she wanted to go to New York City. I drove all the way there. Yeah. So I did learn how to drive and I found it so much fun. So that was definitely something. And even today I enjoy driving. I love long distance driving trips. I've driven coast to coast. Yeah.
  • [00:37:53.83] SPEAKER: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
  • [00:37:59.68] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: None that I can think of above what I've already said. My mother did invoke the Bible a lot. So she was well-versed in many biblical verses. So those were some things.
  • [00:38:22.28] SPEAKER: Any changes in your family life during your school years?
  • [00:38:27.61] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: My father died in 1963, and that was shortly before the end of my senior year in high school. And my other family members, in terms of changes in family structure, did not die until after I had finished graduate school.
  • [00:38:53.36] SPEAKER: How did your father die?
  • [00:38:55.28] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: My father died of absolute kidney failure. The poison had begun to consume his body.
  • [00:39:11.61] SPEAKER: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from this time?
  • [00:39:16.98] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, yes, just preparing the traditional big holiday meals. Enjoyed those a lot. My father made some of the best pancakes. Oh, and I just loved it when he would cook pancakes for breakfast, or fried chicken. Also, he loved oxtails. Oh, wow. Oh, he could cook some mean oxtails and oyster stew. And with respect to my mother, she made some of the best pound cakes. So whenever there was a major holiday, I just loved the festivities in terms-- it was the gaiety of it all and the aromas from all of those delicious foods as they cooked. And they were delicious as I consumed them.
  • [00:40:29.09] SPEAKER: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:40:38.55] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Yes, well, keep in mind that the sit-in movement to begin desegregating businesses kicked into high gear beginning in 1963. And that was a monumental change that even continues to this day because it's being discussed as it pertains to a different matter that has evolved in very, very recent months. I'm thinking of Rosa Parks and her refusal to get up and move to the back of the bus. That's something that occurred during my youth. And the desegregation of schools in Little Rock. And also, I remember George Wallace's stance, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," that in-your-face type of resistance.
  • [00:42:03.93] So the social changes that were most profound for me, yes, always pertained to the desegregation and trying to get this country to stand true to its ideals, and that is that all men are created equal and we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. But this country talked a big game, but did not live up to it because of that staunch deep Southern resistance. The assassination of Dr. King occurred during my first year of graduate school, and it was so emotionally devastating, for a person to just be killed for telling others how to be fair in the treatment of other people.
  • [00:43:30.72] You have something in writing, but you're not living up to it. So at what point are these policies of inequity going to be eradicated? And again, that's still an issue that we are dealing with today. Those were the two major events because they did occur during the time that I was in school, whether elementary, all the way up to graduate school.
  • [00:44:12.96] SPEAKER: That's very good. I think that's all the questions for today.
  • [00:44:15.70] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: Oh, really? Oh, OK.
  • [00:44:17.45] SPEAKER: We should probably head down.
  • [00:44:18.96] SANDRA WRAY-MCAFEE: OK.
  • [00:44:19.88] SPEAKER: We want to get--
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Length: 00:44:24

Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library


Native Americans
Children's Games
Southern Cooking
Civil Rights Movement
LOH Education
LOH Education - Desegregation
Oral Histories
Legacies Project
Sandra Wray-McAfee
Rosa Parks
George Wallace
Kings Mountain NC
Durham NC