Spotlight: Alyce Bowers-Sanders-The Orlando Times
Women’s History Month Spotlight: Alyce Bowers-Sanders
Despite Discrimination A Woman Triumphs
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, Alyce Bowers-Sanders was the fifth, and second youngest, child of George and Ghonnie Bowers. A social butterfly, she enjoyed talking during study hall just like other teenagers at Scipio A. Jones High School. Little did anyone know at the time, but she would go on to build a distinguished career that spanned over three decades and be instrumental in furthering the success of African-Americans and women in the field of education and beyond.
After graduating high school, she married James A. Sanders on December 27th, who she met in grammar school. He joined the Military and became a First Sergeant meanwhile she pursued secondary education during the onset of integration. She spent one year in Business College before deciding to enroll at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas where she graduated with a B.A. Degree in Education in 1962.
After being stationed in Fort Eustis, Virginia her husband returned from overseas and they were transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia. It was there that challenges regarding discrimination began to rise. Racism was so ramped in the area that her husband was instructed to wear his uniform during their trip to Georgia for their safety.
“When I applied for a teaching position in Ft. Benning they had five schools on post (or base), we lived on post, and when I applied they said they didn’t have a vacancy, only for substituting, and I told the person who interviewed me, who was the superintendent, that I didn’t want to substitute I wanted a full-time job,” said Bowers-Sanders. “Out of the five schools they didn’t have a single black teacher on staff, and then they gave me a teaching position."
In 1963 she became the first African-American to have a teaching position at Ft. Benning, Georgia. After teaching for a year at Wilbur Elementary School, a two-day teacher’s meeting was scheduled. Being that she was the only African-American teacher at the school, they instructed her to attend a different meeting with black teachers from the city. When she questioned their reasoning and claimed discrimination it was decided that she did not have attend the meeting at all, in fact all the teachers were told they no longer had to attend.
“When my mom was killed in a tragic accident she stepped up to the plate and helped me out,” said Sherry Rhetta, her niece. “She has always been the person to give me insight on different things. She’s been very giving and very supportive, and I admire that she is never afraid to speak her mind. I love her very much.”
Never one to hold her tongue in the face of injustice, she went on to question the principal of the school after he would come to her room daily to watch her. After she confronted him he never came back to her classroom or gave her an evaluation for the remaining 3 ½ years she worked at the school. During this time, she also taught Sunday school on the post.
Conditions outside the post were even worse. In addition to being refused services or even to use the bathroom, her and her husband had to fear for their lives.
“We always encountered discrimination,” she said. “Once the ladies that I was working for were talking about going to the beach in Panama City and it sounded like they were having so much fun. My husband and I drove down and when we got there we were surrounded with people that were on the beach and they were just about to attack us. We had to leave, and we stopped along the road and I put the table cloth on the benches by the road and that’s where we had out picnic. It was a lot of discrimination going on when we were in Georgia.”
Regardless, Bowers-Sanders remained focused.
“Every place we went I would always get involved with education, going to classes, and getting credits to occupy myself. I would always go to increase my knowledge in my field,” she said.
Later, they went to Chicago where she started teaching at Parkside Academy, an elementary school, where she would teach for a total of 27 years. For 21 of those, starting in 1972, she was removed from the classroom and began teaching and tutoring students who were deficient in certain areas via a reading lab.
In 1978 she earned her Master’s Degree with honors from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, Illinois. After which, she continued to pursue her studies with forty-eight hours post graduate work.
“She’s the most social and ambitious person I’ve ever known,” said Gerri Lostlen, her friend. “She’s a wonderful friend, very educated, and she thinks of others so much. She’s just a very nice person.”
Bowers-Sanders has also written several poems that were published during her career.
“I’ve always liked to write poems and short stories, ever since I was a teenager,” she said. “There used to be a magazine called “The True Confession” and it was a big thing for all the teenagers to read so I’ve always been interested in writing. While I was in college I would always recite different poems.”
Additionally, she was instrumental in helping to elect the first African-American Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. Via the Women’s Network they divided the city into sections and organized the women who were willing to help; she was part of the South-side division. Unfortunately, for supporting him she received further discrimination, including damage to her house and refusal of services but that did not deter her efforts.
“We had many women involved and we raised funds, did activities, had parties, and had dinners,” she said. “We went to different hotels and had fundraisers and twice we worked with him, helping him to get elected both times.”
She belongs to several organizations: she is a member of New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, NAACP, The Southern Poverty Law Center, National Red Hat Society, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and she was elected as a teacher representative for the Local School Council Board in Chicago for four years.
“It’s amazing to see when they come to you they don’t have knowledge of very much and just to see the progression of how they can grow and learn so quickly,” she said when asked her favorite part of her career. “I always thought that if I had an opportunity to make a difference I would do it. Even if it just helped a few, although my goal was to help a lot.”
After a 36 ½ year career, the now 85-year-old, retired from the Chicago Public School System as a Reading Consultant in 1992. Despite retiring she spent some time working for the Chicago Literacy Program in which she taught adults how to read during the mid to late-90s.
Since she and her husband visited Florida as snow birds since 2004 they finally decided to move to Orlando on April 15, 2016.
Less than a month from their 63rd anniversary, on Nov. 7th, 2017 her husband passed away. He had three services before being given a military burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 29th.
“I was on one airline and his body was on another on our 63rd anniversary,” she said.
Despite her loss, she tries to remain positive and stay busy. This month she is preparing to attend a cruise around the St. Johns River via a yearly pension meeting for members of the Chicago Retired Teachers Association, Group One.
Throughout her years as an educator she has seen many changes in the school system, with parents, and with children. For her, things have not progressed the way she wanted them to and she feels more work needs to be done to give students equal opportunities.
When asked what advice she had for young women she said, “First of all, they need to be motivated and have a desire to go into the field they are going into, don’t just go into something because of the salary. Go into something that you feel you will be dedicated to, comfortable with, and something you enjoy. I would also say to watch your character when you’re trying to get where you’re going. Be careful about your surroundings and association. Just how you carry yourself and how you dress will get you more respect.”
She went on to share the importance of families spending time together, especially now when technology often distracts its members.
“I’ve always been for my people,” she said. “When I say that I’m talking about my Black people, my brothers and sisters.”