Shelda Washington and Laisha Washington

Recorded December 5, 2020 Archived November 19, 2020 40:42 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: atl004310


Shelda Washington (67) has a conversation with her daughter, Laisha Washington (40), about her childhood in New York, her education, and being a mom.

Subject Log / Time Code

Shelda Washington (67) says she was born in Durham, North Carolina, but she does not remember it. She says all of her memories are of New York. She says she did spend summers in North Carolina with her father.
Shelda remembers both of her grandmothers working and contributing to her upbringing. She says her mother worked for 30 years at B. Altman Department Store. She says her mother was also a waitress at Charleston Gardens, a restaurant within the store.
Shelda says she wanted to be smart in school. She says she knew she wanted to go to college. She talks about attending Catholic school.
Shelda talks about going to Boston University. She remembers living in Charlesgate Hall and meeting her best friends.
Shelda talks about her parents. She says her mother was very good to her.
Shelda talks about her pregnancy with Laisha. She says she had to have an emergency cesarean section on Halloween.
Shelda talks about having her second child, Jason, nine years after Laisha. She says she wanted to give them the best.
Shelda talks about the importance of forgiving yourself and says life is not easy. She says how you react to things is your character.
Shelda talks about missing her mother who has been gone for three years. She talks about her children being grown. She says her legacy will be how she related to her friends and family.


  • Shelda Washington
  • Laisha Washington

Recording Location

Virtual Recording

Venue / Recording Kit



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00:00 We are now recording.

00:04 My name is Lakisha Washington. I'm 40 years old today is today is Saturday December 5th, 2020. I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm talking today to my mother. She'll the Washington.

00:19 Good morning. My name is Sheldon Washington. Today is Saturday December 5th, 2020. I am 67 years a day. And right now I'm talking to my daughter like you sure from Harlem, New York.

00:35 So Mom, how are you doing?

00:39 I'm going pretty good. I'm trying to take each day as it comes as you know, we're in the middle of a pandemic and unfortunately, I haven't been able to do the activities that I normally do. I wasn't able to see my family for the holidays Thanksgiving holiday, but I try every day to remember to be grateful for the things that I do have which is a wonderful family. Thank God no one really very close to us as well as their life and hopefully at some point in time. We will adjust to a new normal 2020 is been a challenging year, but I want to go back way back. So I will love to hear more about how you grew up. And you know, where did you grow up and hot? What was it like

01:31 Well, I was born in Durham North Carolina. My father's name is John Washington Jr. And my mother's name was Johnny Laura Barnes. I don't have any recollection of ever living in North Carolina my mother and I moved to New York. I don't know. I don't know even know what age I was but that all of my memories are from New York City except for the Summer's I always spent the summers in North Carolina with my father's family. I would say I had an excellent child to monetarily. We didn't we didn't I didn't or none of my family. I think really suffered. We would definitely not rich. I guess you don't people would say we were middle class, but I think we would just you know living from day to day.

02:31 My family always work.

02:36 My mother worked two jobs. So most of my child said I had two wonderful grandmother's and they always contributed to my upbringing my father's mother. She don't really remember she probably worked in the factories and you know it Durham North Carolina. We used to have tobacco factories and Ligety Meijer. So most of my family worked in either one of those two factors except for my oldest Archie work to Duke University and my mother's grandmother. She sold Liquor on the side. So people would come to her house and drink with the Moonshine.

03:26 You know, I guess so, you know, I never really you know questioned it at that time, you know, I was a child so children stayed at a child's place and one of the things that I always respected as I got older that yes, she would have people come in both men and women enable go to the back in her kitchen and you know that good drink and she would serve food also, but we were never apart of it and no one ever said anything to us or anything like that, you know, nobody got out of place with us cuz she would have put a stop to it very quickly my other grandmother my mother's mother. I remember she worked.

04:10 Basically taking basically work taking care of white people's homes. And I remember I used to go with her sometime and once there was a little boy there he and I you don't play together while my grandmother cleaned up my mother when she was a young woman. She wanted to be a nurse, but she said that I guess it's part of her training. They locked her in the psychiatric ward and from that point on she knew she never could be so she worked at the office for about 30 years, which was a very high-end department store in New York City and she was a waitress and what they call Charleston Garden on it was on the 8th for the top floor of the department store and she made a good living from the tips were excellent. And you know. I always had what was necessary.

05:13 The Mom Song more about you like can you recall your happiest childhood memory, you know, I can recall my I think they were all good, you know.

05:30 What is tell me a happy memory then? It doesn't have to be the happiest, but tell me you're a happy memory cuz you talked about and what they did. But what was your happiest memories of them?

05:41 Well, my happy happy memories of them was, you know going to work with my grandmother.

05:47 I'm going south every summer to be with my cousins at because I was an only child. So that was exciting for me to go down south and we go to camp and we go to the baseball games that was held by across the street from my from my grandmother's house and my happiest memories with my mother is you know, she would always come and get me she would take me to give me a lot of places and she loved me and you know, I remember I had a dog and Christmas time was, you know, one of the happiest memories of childhood.

06:34 So when you have a little what do you think about your life would be in as you got older? What what did you wear with your goals at that time in your life when you were young?

06:45 In life when I was young my biggest goal was just you know, I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be smart in school, you know, which I was and I always studied hard. I knew that it was expected that you know, I would go to college and do things like that. And those are the things that I wanted for myself as well. As you know, my family wanted for me.

07:09 So tell me more about like your high school years like, you know, you spent a lot of time in New York like how high school there's no point in going into that and tell me more about that experience.

07:25 Well, you know that it's funny that you say that cuz high school has been a very very long time ago, but I did go to one of the best Catholic high schools in New York City Saint Michael's Academy. It has since closed and I got a lot of friends and it's so funny because it was a school that was predominantly white but we all got along and you got to realize that was like at night. I would High School in 1968 and graduated in 1971. So I had a multicultural they came to my house and I went to their house and one of my Fondest Memories is, you know people to me back then people had this concept of what Harlem was the water with the white and in the beginning, I guess I did live it. I live in a tenement on the fifth floor was a walk up but then probably

08:25 My sophomore year we move to a new development call Esplanade Gardens and it was brand new very nice and everything and like I said all of my friends Hispanic and white came to my house, I was never ashamed of where I live and then I went to their house is but one of the times when I went to their house, which was probably in lower Manhattan, the one of the girls had a bathtub in her kitchen like in the kitchen was Lodge in the bathtub and I had never ever seen that before but apparently it was common in New York City back in the day to have a bathtub in the kitchen and I was so shocked I was like, why would they have a bad? I was like, I thought that I was living when people talk about Holly.

09:15 So then after high school you went to college and you went to BU where you met, you know, you had a very unique experience. So tell me about how it was being in Boston during the 70s.

09:27 Yeah, I graduated. I went to Boston University. I really wanted to attend Tufts but in my family no one has really ever attended College. I had one on who had started but you know, she lived in North Carolina. So I really the only thing that I knew about college when I was in high school and I was a member of the church which I'm still a member of st-charles Borromeo church. We used to have what we called to see why I always was the Christian Youth Organization. So at one point, I guess probably when I was in the 10th or 11th grade, which was if you know, it wasn't it wasn't part of my high school belonging to the club at the church. They brought in a group of black students from Boston. And so they talked about the colleges there and trying to get more on black representative. So I decided I would apply to colleges in Boston cuz I didn't know anything.

10:27 About applying to college what causes Supply to an all that stuff that I hope that I was able to help my children with that. My mother was not able to help me because she was a high school grad, but you do know anything about colleges, so they talked about myself, so I decided that I was going to I remember applying to both tough and Tuff University in Boston University, and I really wanted to go to test because it was small and it was more out in the suburbs and I saw it, you know, it would be a different experience for me, but I applied to Boston University also and then very early I guess in the process. They sent me a financial aid package. That was so wonderful. I was like, okay, maybe I should take this, excuse me, but I really want to go to test so I called and they said they couldn't give me any information.

11:27 I didn't want to turn down the be you and not be able to go to college because my family didn't have the money to send it. So I accepted Boston University and basically that's how I got there. And then later on Tufts did send me an acceptance letter was a very good financial aid package, but I wasn't even smart enough at that point to know that I can turn around and accept their packages just tell me you know, and they would just you know allocated to someone else. So I went to get you I was kind of anxious because you know, I didn't know anybody that was going to Boston University but in the back of my mind I said to myself listen, you don't know anybody today, but you will know someone in a month in 3 months and 6 months. So I went on I don't even remember. I think I got on the plane and went by myself. I don't even remember if anybody even went with me. I don't remember them. So

12:27 Durham Co-op charlesgate and bu is a very large campus is like two miles long is Charles gate is at one end and and the school is like a mile away. And then another by the way, I've been doing and Charles cake didn't even have regular electricity. So we just have to buy oh my God, I can't be converted to live there but it was a beautiful place is like it's like an old, you know historical place that used to be at the hotel and they put people that so we really, you know, we loved it and I had a roommate and she and she was okay and I and I had all female or was it but it was all female but my roommate she didn't like it so she moved out and then so I was by myself and I but which was fine because I'm used to being you know, an only child so then I met

13:27 Two girls Martha Beverly and Valerie Meadows and they loved it was a year ahead of us with some kind of way. They decided that they were and then right next to them under the Jordan room was small and I want that moving in there and the three of us became fast friends and then another one was from marvelous from the Bronx values from Queens and then I met another young lady Lynette Brinson is she was from Brooklyn and we all became fast friends and we hung out together and you know, we just enjoy college life and we still friends to this day were you partying too?

14:16 We were studious but yes, we party all the time that you know what we were there for their first report card. They got like .1, you know GPA and stuff like that. Like what the hell is wrong with that? We were not going to be able to keep those grades up to get those scholarships so bad about Boston busing was very racist at that time extremely racist and a lot of the times you had to hitchhike we had to hitchhike to get the college or time cuz like if you had classes early in the morning and your class was, you know, a mile and a half away, you know, we have and it's cold and snowy and the trolley didn't start like where we live that you have to walk about 20 blocks to the trolley for a lot of times we were

15:16 States rights which was not a good thing. And at one point one of those fellows that we were acquainted with he was hitchhiking for another reason and some white guys pick them up and they want to cut him up and stuff like that at one point or another young lady and I were friends. She and I decided cuz we spent a lot of time in New York is a lot of us had boyfriends that were in New York. So we would fly, you know, we would fly back and forth and at that time to Eastern Airlines was in business and they had a shuttle so the shuttle only cost like I think $18 one way and then $15 if you didn't make a reservation, so a lot of the time and you paid when you got on the plane like now and they could tell immediately what your credit was the stuff like that so I didn't have money to get on the plane and write a check.

16:16 Be back as we knew our parents would give us 15 or $18 to get back to to college because they wanted us to 6.

16:24 And then one time someone wrote at in the Boston University paper that all and people should go back, you know where they came from, but we did have a Martin Luther King Center and the coals was supportive, you know, so we made it through, you know, they were like ten thousand so we were all very supportive of one another and we made it to family members ever visit you there.

16:57 I do not remember that they they may have but I know they all came for my graduation. I guess I want to like now go into something a little more deeper and I want to talk about Grandma and you know, I know you might get a little emotional but I think you know this be great for the recording so like and you can tell me more about your relationship with Grandma on Johnny beavers and like it. What do you miss most

17:31 Well, you know she was Johnny Washington for a long time before she married my mother and father. I never remember them living together my father. I don't know what he he was. You know, I don't know. I think he was a hustler. That's what I like the best thing that I can say about him and he loved women and you know, that's you know, I think that a lot of just call those womanizers now that's a modern time. So I think was him is that I've always been told that he was a very smart person and I think with him because he was a black man back in the thirties forties and fifties. I think you know, he was just disappointed about life cuz he wasn't able to go very far into the army when they came home there was nothing really really

18:27 In my life, I don't like I said, I don't remember him saying I love you. I don't remember him taking me anyplace and I know you know, he really did but I try everyday to try to forgive him because you know, listen it is what it is. But my mother she was very very good to me. She like I said before she worked two jobs to get to make me make me be able to go to Catholic school to go to Catholic High School and she never complained and she loved me and that's what I remember most of all that

19:05 I've never had anybody to love me more than my mother and my grandmothers.

19:13 So, how did she show her? How did she still love besides like you are working really hard for your house another way to show love to you. I mean she you know, she didn't leave me alone. She did run the streets, you know, she was always there for me. We had you know, we had a good family life. She had friends and we would go to her friends and Brooklyn and they would play cards and I would play with her friends and you know what her friends children. I mean and we had you know, we just had there was nothing negative about my relationship with my mother, of course, you know as

19:53 As a teenager used to make me in so far as used to make me want to drink milk, you know, cuz she thought that you know milk was the American way or whatever you want to stay for. Everybody had to drink milk and I hated milk. So so so the way I got out of it, I just pretended to have like an asthma attack and you know of

20:22 She was there for me if I if I needed something emotionally or physically she was there for me. I remember one time I went to be off this was back in the day when I was reading in the inside and has like fur and my mother is going to come back and get it and she said of course she wouldn't got the coat for me. That's cool. I teach you how to cook.

21:07 Not you know I formally but you know watching her and you know talking to her and stuff like that. You know, I don't have baking cookies together, you know, like, you know what I did with my kids and my grandkids but yeah watching her in and you know, she telling me that you know, this is what you do and stuff like that.

21:29 Was she always has such a strong person? I always will call the people try to rob her and Harlem and how she likes you. She fought back and stuff. I didn't know if he was such a strong woman.

21:42 My mother knew she was strong. She knew what she wanted and you know, and she was going to get it. I remember, you know, like I said, she she married a second time and he used to drink a lot in at some at some point. I believe you started using drugs and you know, she got mad because you know, he was taking his check into another thing is like no, I'm not having it so she went she went to family court and even though he was living in the house she meant they made him send her a check and she didn't care if he was still living there and if she got mad with him and I love him and I got to take him back and roll it up.

22:34 My mother said he was going to take care of his child cuz you subsequently had another child and he and he said she was going to make sure that he took care of that house and paid that I know you and that but I would say like what do you do when you think of her? What makes you smile the most?

22:55 The fact that she was always on my side.

23:01 Although, you know, I might I don't think I was you know, I was strong head hard headed and I always thought that I knew you know, what was best. I remember her friends used to talk about it as a child. Like I said this person on Amsterdam Avenue and they would say like no it's like a Saint Nicholas and I would never back down even if they must have changed the name of the street is that you know, she was always there for me for physically and emotionally and I've never felt

23:46 Since she died. I've never felt that somebody was really on my side that you know that they would go to the mat for me.

23:57 I think when I think the grandma I think I think she was very funny strong-willed and you know a lot of queen or something cuz no one would mess with her and she definitely has power how she felt all the time. And so I looked back that bad and I think you know, I would like to be like that.

24:19 So the only thing that I have to be with negative about my mother, she could not keep a secret. So I didn't tell her a lot of of my secrets cuz I knew she was going to shoot her. She just couldn't keep a secret.

24:43 What else are we going to talk about?

24:48 So I guess now you know, let's talk about us. So, you know, I'm your first child. So, you know when you first had me the first thing that came into your mind when you first time as a baby when your iris first born

25:06 Well, I was very excited to be pregnant and I and I wanted a little girl so much so that my friend said that they were a little concerned.

25:23 That if I had a little boy but I would do but I was like it's not even a thought in my mind because I know I'm having a little girl. Tell me tell me tell me the story of my birth cuz it's a very interesting story as bunny anybody to do so.

25:50 Had a very nice doctor and towards the end of my pregnancy. I would go had to go in your last month. You have to go to the doctor every month. So, you know, every time you got me every week. I'm sorry. Thank you so much. So you were supposed to be born on October the date was October 25th. And so after October 2015 and you know, you're still wasn't, you know, if she'll appear that you aren't ready. You weren't moving down the birth canal and all the stuff. So he decided that he was going to send me for an ultrasound and get a 24 hour urine.

26:38 Both my testicles on 77th Street and Lexington Avenue little baby Shop wedding outfits and I go to the hospital so they weren't quite ready for me when I got there. And so I got on the phone talking to somebody that doesn't alter sound now so when they found your heartbeat went down so they so they called the doctor and it was Halloween so they called the doctor and he said, okay, I'm going to come in so he came in and he was like, oh, you know, I was getting ready to go trick or treat with my with my kids and here you come so I was like, well, you could go back home trick-or-treating at and I can go back home and I'll come back tomorrow because I had bought some fish.

27:38 In day and I wanted to eat eat fry this fish and eat it. So he was like no no. No, he said you probably going to have this baby like sometime, you know, like in the morning we're going to start the Towson again and you going to have the baby it'll probably within 24 hours. So they start the pitocin again and your heartbeat goes down really deaf all start running around like this baby right now to another doctor he runs into the room.

28:10 I know people that work at that porch, so they started running into the room and it's in the darkness. Like what will my doctor cuz he he looks so bummy. So they decided that I was going to have the baby if you call your father and he he came to the hospital and then I told him I said, well don't call my mother because you know, if you called just tell her I'm getting ready to have the baby. But you know, please don't tell her that the baby is in distress or that I'm in distress or whatever. He does the total opposite of what I saw him. So my mother this is a funny on the bus and she's like, you know in Harlem the hospitals all the way down to 77th Street. So she said she cried all the way to the hospital on the bus. So anyway, you can do they give me this emergency.

29:10 In and I had wanted to be asleep because I didn't think I could handle it if they had just given me the medication to numb, you know the lower half because if you were dead or whatever I didn't think so. I needed to be asleep. I needed to be asleep and then they could wake me up and tell me grad. It's really say why they woke me up and I was like, okay, you know what happened and they told me I had a girl and then your father was there so so so nice. So who does she look like she says that she looks just like me I said no cuz I'm like, I'm the one who's pregnant for 9 months. I've had a cesarean and now you can tell me this track.

30:00 And then when I see you, I'm like this is the ugliest because I know I know what happens if you were overdue so you had started but they told me that you had started to lose weight in 2 in interview. I can't think of the world right now. It's starting to lose weight in the moon and you also and you were starting to shrivel and so you have like really like it was like dead skin was around. Can I put some lotion like so they will like know it will you know disappear after while as she know she gets into her way and it didn't you turned out to be a very beautiful baby. I remember my aunt my mother's sister came and so you were sitting you if I can search analysis and I put you in the a carrier cuz she was coming over so when she comes

31:00 She says what where's the baby? Sounds like she's there right there. She's like all I thought that was a dog cuz you were so tired of me. I had you know, and then 9 years later. I had another child and I wanted to have a child another child when you were about four or five years old, but for whatever reason I was never able to conceive again and then when you when you bout nine years old at some point I thought about adoption during that time, but when I went to the place, they wanted the expensive and I just couldn't afford that and then a few years later. I just got pregnant again and had another job.

31:45 Wait, I guess so now we have in that year age gap between me and my younger brother Jason right? I didn't want more than two children. That's funny cuz I really wanted to be able to give them everything that I could especially educationally and I wanted you to go to the best schools that I can possibly afford. And so, you know, I didn't feel I could do that with more than two children look like much a Twitter.

32:18 Loved dearly because you know what? I had him. I was like 36 and you were nine. So you you know pretty in you also a pretty independent child. And so I was still able to do the things that you know, I wanted to do, you know, I still took you to dads in school and you know that make sure you know, I just did my work hours so that I could be there in the evening, you know, like I usually got off sometimes I got off at 3 sometimes at 4 and then I had a very good babysitting. My mother had work with this woman. I think believe that and she volunteered to take care of Jason and you know, I paid her and she was wonderful to hear she loved him. So, you know about the two of you two of you and then didn't like I said your father work that night. So he was there, you know to take you to school and to you don't make your breakfast and stuff like that.

33:18 I remember what time someone told me all you know, like she went to school shoes on the wrong feet and then once and then he told me he took you out and you didn't have any tights on because he didn't he didn't go to check things before. I thought she was warm enough outside so you didn't put them on.

33:51 Any idea where my hair I wanted you. I was little it was a little stubborn, but it was very easy to get over him.

34:03 So, you know, I know we're wrapping up Mom. So I wanted to say are there any like last like last memories or any other fun memories you want to talk about growing up or with us as a family that you like to like the audience know about?

34:21 Well, I'd like the audience to know that I have two children not only you but also your brother Jason and then I'm proud of both of you that.

34:37 You know, I like we were we were middle class and thank God I was able to send you to better schools. I wasn't able to send it to the best schools, which I would have loved to have been able to do but you know the best schools in New York off the private schools in New York. They charge College tuition, but wasn't able to do that. Your name is the best school though, cuz I had a great experience. So I would have to say both of you to talk to one of the

35:17 Elementary and high school and high school you did go to a good school, but both of you are good people.

35:33 Your employ I will still have two wonderful grandchildren.

35:40 And things have not always been perfect. I don't want anything anybody to think things have been perfect. My son having a child when he was 17, which was a very big disappointment to me and you know and looking back on it. I blame myself for a lot of things. Maybe I should have been more on him stricter on him. Then I then I was but you know what you just have to say one of the things I want you to know that whatever mistakes you have. You just have to forgive yourself and you know and and and and live and adjust to life as it is because you know, you look at television is that all you know, look at those people, they're so happy and you know, I wish I was like that but that's not real and if it is some people have it's just a snapshot of life life is not

36:40 And you going to have a lot of good things you'll have lot of disappointment, but it's how you react to those things that that is your character how you get older do snakes and so, you know like right now in my life like I said before

36:59 A lot, you know I miss my mother she's been gone for three years. I miss my children also because they no longer live in New York and I miss my granddaughter because of personal circumstances. I'm not able to see her anymore. But you know, like what I feel now is that you know, you have the memories of your life you I wanted the two of you to grow up and be independent. I never wanted you to cling to me or I want to clean clean to you. I wanted you all to have your own lives and and that's what you have right now. And so I think that I've done the best I could in life and for those things that maybe I didn't invite I forgive myself and every day. I'm just going to let you know be grateful and cannot move on.

37:57 And I would encourage everybody else to do the same. That's not on you. Yeah, you don't you don't have to forgive yourself with a decision that he made a challenging time over came in and it's not it's not like you know, he shot somebody is either he's a good person and she's been a great addition to the family and all is well.

38:32 But I wanted to say but my last question before we go is what do you think? What do you want to be your lasting Legacy?

38:42 I don't know. I haven't even thought about that. I think my legacy is you know, how I

38:51 Related to my family and my friends and that you know, I did the best that I could I think I know we didn't talk about that much. But you also have to say, you know, you went through the ranks in the New York State Corrections Facility in advance to a superintendent and that many women or women of color have done that so besides I thought your shoulder and I also want you to realize that made alcohol assessment outside of our household.

39:19 That's very true. And I am very proud of as having to achieve the title of superintendent because you are very right. The Department of Correction was not easy especially, you know, during the time that I was there, you know, you didn't you know, this is an all-boys Network and you know those things you have Passover come but and yes, I am very proud of myself for them. Well, thank you so much. Thank you so much for taking Saturday mom and I hope you know you you know, we will share this recording with JJ and other family members as they get older and this is this recording will be a lasting Legacy of the Washington household and family. We want to share with Jason Junior and with Live Edge because she right now those are the two shining stars of my life.

40:17 Thanks a lot Dad. Thank you so much. And your husband dad is difficult as I thought it would be and you know if this helps someone else in the future, thank you.

40:40 Variety