- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - Give up? Quit?

Never! Those words are not even a part of Zulee McManus Samuels’ vocabulary.

The strong-minded, independent woman, who turned 100 on Dec. 18, recently shared memories of her long life with The Times and Democrat.

A childhood filled with abuse and hardships did not defeat her. It only made her more determined to fulfill her dream of getting a college degree and becoming a teacher, she said.

“I had a very hard childhood,” Samuels said. “But it just made me more determined.”

Getting her education seemed to float just beyond her grasp, and it wasn’t until 1983, when she was 68, that Samuels finally earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Claflin University.

Getting an education was a battle from the time she was a small child, she said.

Beginning when she was 8 years old, her father kept her home to plow the fields, plant crops and do other work. But he also kept for various other reasons, she said.

“He was a very selfish father,” Samuels said. “I don’t know why he hated education. I just can’t figure it.”

One time when she played in a basketball game, her father told her if she was going to play games, including chorus, she wasn’t going back to school, she said.

“I wanted to go to school so I didn’t play basketball,” she said.

Samuels remembers one report card that showed she’d attended classes only one day a week. She didn’t graduate from high school until the age of 20 because she’d been held out of school so many days.

“I was a good high school student,” she said. “But my father, even though he was a minister, said I didn’t need any more education.”

However, she was determined, Samuels said. “I didn’t like the idea of being told I didn’t need any more education. I said I’m going to get an education, regardless of that,” she said.”I just kept trying and trying.”

During grade school, she had two champions — her grandmother, Mariah Frances Miller McManus, and her principal, Dr. G.W. Long.

Her grandmother, who had been born into slavery, wanted her to be a teacher, Samuels said. She loved school herself, even though she went only to the third or fourth grade.

Her grandmother was her second mother and nurtured her, Samuels said.

“She was always on my side,” she said. “She took care of me when I was sick and needed help. She took care of me when my ankle was hurt.”

At that time, a nail came through her shoe sole and cut into her foot, Samuels said. The wound was further inflamed when the strong cleaner she was using to scrub the floor got into it. Working outside in the dew also made the injury worse, she said.

The wound got worse and worse, but she kept going to school until Long told her parents she couldn’t come to school like that, Samuels said.

She said Dr. Long told her parents that he couldn’t stand seeing her “carrying her books on one shoulder and pulling herself up the stairs with the other one.”

Her parents finally took her to the doctor, who put a cast on her leg for six weeks. Her dad didn’t take her back to have it removed, Samuels said. It just stayed on until Long asked one of the teachers to have it removed, she said.

Samuels remembers another time when she developed pneumonia and was out of school for a time. When she got well, her father wouldn’t let her go back to school, she said.

“I cried my way back that time,” she said. “I cried and cried until he finally let me go back. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have got to graduate.”

More than 80 years later, Samuels remembers the wounds inflicted by her father, but she says the injuries have pushed her to find success in her life.

She recalls a time when she canned peaches by herself until 2 a.m. She fell into bed exhausted. Her father called her four hours later to get up and cook breakfast. He wanted her to get up and cook breakfast before going to the fields to work, Samuels said.

“I really didn’t hear my father,” she said. But he went outside and broke a switch off a bush.

“He came in and pulled back my bedclothes and my gown midway to my thighs and started whipping me, and I was screaming,” she said. “My mother didn’t even come in and say anything then.”

Her grandmother cried silent tears because she knew it was brutality, Samuels said.

Her memories of abuse are still fresh in her mind, but the wounds have healed, she says.

“I’m a Christian and I’m glad of it,” she said. “I believe there is a God. I believe that Jesus Christ died for me.

“You know the man who was blind from birth? Somebody led him to Jesus, and Jesus healed him,” she said. “Jesus loved him and healed him.”

“That’s me,” she said. “I think of that, and that’s me.”

Even though her father was a preacher and abused her, it didn’t diminish her love of God, Samuels said.

“I got my strength from my principal, not my father,” she said.

Long was more a father to her than her own father, and she saw a picture of God in him — one that she could never see in her father, she said, adding that whatever was wrong inside his heart, he took out on his children.

Her dad, however, could really preach, Samuels said.

“I give it to him,” she said. “He could get up and preach on Sunday, but on Monday, you wouldn’t think he was the same man. You wouldn’t believe it.”

The abuse she went through and never having her mother defend her only made her more determined to succeed, Samuels said.

After high school, she studied tailoring and science at St. Paul Polytechnical Institute in Lawrenceville, Virginia. She worked her way through school and over the years took whatever jobs she could find, mostly in sewing rooms. She was an expert seamstress who also sewed for people on the side, she said.

While at Claflin, Samuels was an excellent student who was liked and respected by her peers and teachers. She was chosen as Homecoming Queen in 1983.

Samuels still remembers the day she was crowned. It was a thrilling time for her.

“I was carried into the auditorium on a float by two young students on each side and one at the front and one at the back,” she said.

They took her to a chair that had been especially decorated for her, Samuels said.

“I stood up and gave my acceptance speech,” she said.

The alumni and the president each handed her a dozen long-stemmed red roses, Samuels said.

The next day, she was saluted all day by the radio station and when she walked on campus, students — including South Carolina State University students — saluted her.

Samuels’ classmate, Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler, said that in spite of the wide age difference, “she kept up with us. We were 18, 19, 20,” he said.

Samuels did her school work, her work studies and belonged to a number of clubs. During the 1983-84 school year, she was named to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Schools.

After graduation, Samuels taught literacy classes in churches and the community. She was also a substitute teacher in Orangeburg, usually at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.

If she could go back and do things over, the only thing she would change would be to go to college when she was younger and teach school full time.

“That was in my heart to teach,” she said. “I would have gone on to get my master’s. I love school.”

While at Claflin, Samuels worked under the direction of Angelia Jackson, who was administrative assistant in the Division of Institutional Advancement. At the time, Jackson was in her 20s, but she and Samuels got along well and have maintained their friendship over the years.

Samuels was an excellent worker with great writing skills, Jackson said. Both the students and the administration loved her.

“This is my friend and I come over here at least once a week, but most times two or three a week,” Jackson said.


Information from: The Times & Democrat, https://www.timesanddemocrat.com

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