A walking tour with Mayor Vickie: Mace’s Lane School

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Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley visits with volunteers at the Robin Hood Shop on High Street during our walk through Cambridge.

In Wednesday’s paper we took a walking tour of Cambridge with Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley, where on a hot Saturday in June we walked from Long Wharf all the way to nearly Pine and Washington Streets. My interest was in places in Cambridge that the Mayor loved, enjoyed, or was concerned about, and it soon became plain that very little of the town escapes her interest.

But she mentioned Mace’s Lane, early and often, so when our walking tour of downtown was finished I asked her to take a drive down to her alma mater and tell me some more about it.

Our visit to Mace’s Lane turned into a discussion of school days, life, ambitions, growth and change, a microcosm of life in Cambridge today.

“Here’s a building that means a lot to me — the old Mace’s Lane High School,” the Mayor said. “It opened in 1954. This is the entrance way. This was the cafeteria door.

“The full spectrum of professionalism came from Cambridge. We’re very proud of our community. The Mace’s Lane Alumni Association is an offshoot of the alumni of that era, saying, ‘We want to commemorate our history. We want to keep that alive, and we want to encourage the children who are following us, with scholarships and whatever we can offer.’

“Every year, the second Saturday, the second weekend in July, Mace’s Lane alumni come back to Cambridge. They have a party on Friday, they have a party on Saturday, they have a golf tournament. They have a program where they honor kids who are going off to college with scholarships, and they honor former teachers, or cafeteria workers, or all kinds, everybody who made us who we are. Saturday night, there’s the big soiree where you get all dressed up. Sunday, they go to somebody’s church. Sunday afternoon, they have a picnic, and then on Sunday night they come back to the Elks and they party until they have to go home, or people like me have to go to work.

“It’s a weekend we all look forward to. I know it’s got to be 20 years, if not longer, that they’ve been in existence, just continually empowering people to do the right thing, so it’s a good thing.”
Returning to the present, to the entrance to the old Mace’s Lane School, Mayor Vickie reminisces.
“I remember thinking this was the biggest school ever. I attended this school — it would have been middle school age. I would walk. I didn’t live far from here. I lived on High Street in a little teeny two-bedroom house with my two brothers, sister, and my mom and my dad. I came to this school from three or four blocks away, going east that way.

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They Mayor at Mace’s Lane School, her old alma mater.

“I would walk in here scared to death. It was seventh grade, eighth grade, and all the big, cool, beautiful people attended this school. This was still during the segregation period — Brown vs. Board of Education had already happened, but we were moving toward that when I was still going to this school.”

Mace’s Lane was still a black school in the ‘60s?

“This was still an all-black school when I went to seventh and eighth grade. St. Clair Elementary was from second grade through the sixth grade, then you transitioned here to Mace’s Lane during that time. I remember I was a brownie. The seventh graders were considered greenies, and then the eighth graders were considered brownies because we were maturing, and then the ninth graders — I never got to ninth grade here. I was sent to the white school.

“My father was a Civil Rights lieutenant during that time. Gloria Richardson Dandridge was the general and he would have been considered her lieutenant. He wanted to make a point that his children were going to be one of the first groups to integrate the schools. We were not the first blacks to go to the integrated schools, but we were a group. There were four of us, my sister next to me and then two brothers, and we all went to different schools. I went to Cambridge Senior High in the ninth grade. Hated it. Oh, it was the worst year of my life. All my friends were still here having fun at Mace’s Lane.

“Cambridge Senior High was where the YMCA is now. It turned out to be the best thing for me, technically, because it gave me an opportunity to expand my world. It began the expansion that I needed to use to grow to pretty much who I am now, because I had to deal with different people. Some of my best friends turned out to be some of the white girls I played field hockey with, or the thespians.

“There was one girl who was sort of like me, sort of a book worm person, liked to read. She was an only child, I was the firstborn, so we were used to being on our own. We gravitated toward each other, and she’s the one who brought me out of my shell of ‘I hate this school,’ because we learned that we were just kids and we just wanted to get out of school and become our own adult person.”
That’s a good thing, I pointed out, but look at what happened to Pine Street. In the ‘60s and earlier, it was a thriving black commercial community, shopping district and all that.

“Shopping, entertainment, education, church … ” said the Mayor.

Then we all became integrated, and it stopped. What happened?

“Integration is not a bad thing. When you integrate, it’s supposed to be a coming together. It’s all in how you take it, in my opinion. I have some friends and I have some of my senior citizens who say, ‘That’s the worst thing that ever happened to the black community.’ I don’t agree with that. I think that integration was an opportunity, and if you take that opportunity, it works — but it’s a choice we make in life. I chose to take the cards that were dealt me and use them. There are those who don’t agree with me, and that’s cool. Whatever. There are those who do.”

I point out that I know a lot of white people who think there’s great comfort in just being around white people.

“Exactly. Exactly. I know black people who feel the same. That’s okay too. You gravitate to people who are like you, and being like you is not necessarily a color.

“My father used to tell us that. He used the N word, and he said, ‘That word does not define a color, it defines an attitude.’

“If you want to be a troublemaker, you can be a troublemaker of any color. I had to hold on to that. I do find comfort in being around my peers, who look like me. Black women together — you can’t beat black women when they’re together. We are powerful.”

You can’t compete, that’s for sure, I offer.

“You can’t out-think women. Putting women together of any color, you cannot overcome the power of the woman, because we just don’t think like men.

“The male-dominated world that we live in, we have to remember that we’re all equal. We are all equal in God’s sight. I hold on to that also. If it weren’t for my belief in God and how God has brought me to a point in my life for a reason, not just a season but a reason. I have a purpose. I don’t understand my purpose half the time, but I say, ‘Yes, Lord,’ and I just move on.

“Okay. I pray on everything. When I was asked to run for mayor back in ‘08, it’s like, ‘Why? Let some other person do it, or she wants to do it, or let him do it. Why get me involved?’ It’s like, ‘No, Vickie, you can do this.’ It’s like, ‘But I have no money.’ ‘We will find money.’ ‘I have no political prowess.’ ‘We’ll work that out.’ I prayed on it and I talked to my mother, Betty Jackson, I said, ‘Ma, what do you think?’ She said, ‘Try it. What’s the worst that can happen?’ I lose, or what’s the worst that can happen? I win.

“The point is, if I didn’t try it, then I would always wonder should I have done it. You never know if you’re going in the right direction until you make the first step. My first step started at Mace’s Lane. I became culturally aware of the differences in people, and not so much race but society. The seniors had more power than the brownies and the greenies, and the cheerleaders were popular, and I was just a little quiet wallflower over here. I’m very shy, basically. I do not mind being the wallflower. Then when I moved to Cambridge High, that was a difference, but Mace’s Lane was the root of the success of many people that I admired. Some of the teachers here were women who turned out to be the members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority that I now have joined, and I love my sorority. It turned out, the teachers that I admired the most were part of that sorority. They were role models.

“Everybody needed a role model, and this is where it started for a lot of our black kids. Then when we integrated the school, a lot of the white kids that came through these doors have done well, as well. It’s all about assimilation, integration, all off those social work-y words that I could probably pull off the top of my head. The bottom line is, we’re about people, and if people don’t want to come together, they won’t.”

I wondered if she was comfortable with all people now, acting as Mayor of Cambridge.

“My comfort level is based on how I feel about the person. There are people I love to work with and people I have to work with. As the Mayor, my job is to work for Cambridge’s future.”

Okay, so this building now, Mace’s Lane School, is vacant, somewhat derelict. I asked the Mayor, what would you like to see happen to this? Do you have a vision for this?

“I do. I would like to see this building come alive again with activity. We have two schools within a stone’s throw of here. I’d like to see this building evolve into a community center or a destination for our kids where they could, when school is out, come here for after-school programs, or for holding community meetings. We’ve got a whole community, children, old people, everybody, just across the street. Use this building as a focal point, as some place you can go. A recreational center, where for example children can take dance class or piano lessons or just play their favorite sport. There’s no limits.

“Just look at this shell, because it’s good bones. The architects tell me these are good bones, because it was built in the ‘50s. Let’s change it into something that would be a meeting place. That’s my vision. Just use it and change it; it’s right in the heart of this community.”

It’s clear that Mayor Vickie’s experiences at the Mace’s Lane School molded her for the rest of her life. She turns from the entrance, from the cafeteria door, and looks up and down Mace’s Lane, and across the street at the all the homes that have been built there since she moved on to a grown-up world.

“This is a neighborhood. This is a community. Look at all the houses. There are people. Isn’t this beautiful? Working folk up and down the street, senior citizens, children. These are our neighbors, these are our residents and these are our friends.

“Cambridge. It’s a little city,” she says.

“A little city that thinks big.”

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