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NY100: Queens’ Mary Hughes Started Her Journey Teaching In Jim Crow-Era South Carolina

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As a school teacher in the South during the height of the Jim Crow era, Mary Hughes has come a long way from Kingstree, South Carolina. When the Queens grandmother celebrated her birthday, she said she's proud of her heroic journey. Cheryl Wills filed the following report.

"When I found out I was near 100, I just couldn't believe the time had passed. Where did the time go?” said Mary Hughes.

It's been time well spent for Mary Hughes from Queens, who celebrated her big 100th birthday in style at Antun's Catering Hall.

She dedicated most of her life to educating young minds in her native Kingstree South Carolina. Her first teaching job was during the height of Jim Crow, when segregated black children of all grades were taught in a one-room school house.

“One child was in fourth or fifth grade and you had another one that might be in first grade and of course you were given those children, you had to provide lesson plans and everything,” Hughes said.

Mary Hughes also remembers being harassed whenever she tried to vote.

"They wanted to know if I could read and I could read, read better than some of them,” she said.

Hughes hung in there as times changed and separate but equal laws were struck down in the South. A mother of three, she's always cherished education, graduating valedictorian of her high school class and graduating from Allen University.

She's never smoked, never drank and she eats small portions. A devout Christian from birth, she's always loved to sing, sometimes songs that were off-limits.

"What's her name used to sing, ‘sold my soul to the devil and my heart done turned to stone,’” she recited.

The missionary and widow of an Episcopal minister has lived a charmed life and is surrounded by friends and family who fondly call her “The Queen Mary.”

"I never thought I'd be here a hundred years,” she said.

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