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African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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Sharing Stories: One Family's Story
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STORYTELLER LOCATION YEAR TOOK PLACE TELLER'S PLACE OF ORIGIN HOW YOU HEARD
My grandmother and documentation New York, New York and Brooklyn 1921 Barbados, Bristish West Indies Oral history

My great grandfather, William Edmund Thomas Sinclair Nurse, called "Eddie," was born in the parish of Christ Church, in Barbados British West Indies in 1871. He was the oldest son of William Henry Nurse and Sarah Charlotte Gale. He immigrated to the United States in 1909 and lived most of his life on 137th St. off Lenox Ave. in Harlem. Most oral history accounts describe "Eddie" as difficult. My grandmother, his daughter Edith Nurse Prout, described him as being loud, opinionated and determined. His grandaughter, Sandra, in contrast remembers a kindly man who brought her chocolate and a pair of roller skates. This dual nature of his persona seems to have permiated his professional life as well. Although Eddie arrived in New York with a letter of reference that verified his teaching credentials, he was never able to secure a job in the field. After working many years as a clerk, he was employed as a policeman in the Commandant's Office in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1917. In 1921 he was discharged on the grounds of there being a "lack of funds." Eddie Nurse found this explanation unacceptable and immediately drafted letters of protest to his State Senator and to the Commandants Office. He continued to write letters and eventually the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the House of Representatives became involved in his case.

Transcripts of his hearing describe him as having "a sarcastic manner, antagonistsic and unjustly critical of others." In contrast his workmanship, conduct, punctuality and attendance were decribed as "Excellent." During World War I he had been assigned to the Observation Post, which was the "the most important site during the war." Eventually his job was reinstated in 1922, but on two susequent occassions, in 1933 and 1937 attempts were made to again terminate him. With tenacity and determination Eddie Nurse repeated his protests and won his case in both instances. On November 3, 1939 William E.T.S Nurse died, of an apparent heart attack, while on duty at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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