In August 1963, Helen was working as an elementary school clerk/secretary/bookkeeper in Jacksonville, Florida. She didn’t consider going to the March on Washington because she didn’t have the money, and didn’t know anyone who was planning to go. She was aware of college students who were being sponsored by other groups, but she does not remember talking with her friends about attending the march. She was focused on working, and on the best course for herself and her children.

Helen was born in Obion County, Tennessee, but grew up in Detroit, Michigan. As a young girl, Helen experienced both the system in Detroit, where all of the teachers were white and the schools were integrated, and the educational system in Tennessee, where the schools were segregated.

Although she began school in Tennessee, beginning at age six, her family would send Helen during each school year from Detroit back to Martin, Tennessee, to help her great-grandmother. A white lady from the Travelers Aid Society in Detroit would put her on the train to Chicago (by herself!) where another white lady from the Travelers Aid Society would meet her in Chicago and turn her over to the care of a (black) Pullman porter. She then traveled by train, again by herself, to Tennessee, where she was met at the station by her grandfather. She lived with her great-grandmother during the school year, then returned to Detroit for the summer.