This blog, NYCBlinks.wordpress.com, will allow me to describe the journey of Ponsie Barclay Hillman, an educator, community activist, civil rights leader and labor leader.
Special thanks to my friend, a community resident, Suzanne Jacobson for her assistance in helping me to connect with community members and organizations.
A ceremony was held on Sunday, September 17, 2017, inside the Hargrave Senior Center. Project FIND’s Assistant Director for Community Services, Aaron De Broux arrived early, from New Jersey to set-up the room in time for the ceremony. At the same time there was the Columbus Avenue street fair in progress. Rev. Leo W. Curry shared a spiritual message. In attendance, there were Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Brad Hoylman, 10 sitting judges, 21 members from the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, 20 teachers and or administrators, 10 members from the Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club, other political clubs and Community Board 7 Manhattan Board members and residents. Assembly Member Dick Gottfried joined later. The National Dance Institute, NDI’s Celebration Team, wowed us with a high level of energy and joyful movements as they danced to the theme of “Spanish Harlem.” The Honorable Robert R. Reed, New York Supreme Court Justice kept the program moving smoothly. He did take a moment to introduce his wife, the talented Annette Gordon-Reed, who was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in History. Sonja Tennell, President of the North Manhattan Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. provided a brief history of the founding of the Deltas and asked the ladies in red to stand. Each speaker explained how Ponsie Hillman had a connection with their organization. Elie Peltz presented remarks from Jerry Nadler, U.S. Representative which are printed below. Shirley H. Smith, Ph.D and Jolean Manson read letters from Bill de Blasio, 109th Mayor of NYC and Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of NYS. Dr. Addie Butler from Philadelphia spoke eloquently as she shared the final remarks. She quoted from excerpts from David N. Dinkins, 106th Mayor of NYC and Barack Obama, 44th President.
We stand on the shoulders of giants who helped move us toward a more perfect Union. Our heritage was forged by men and women agitating, organizing, and advocating change; who fought to build a Nation where no one is a second-class citizen and no one is denied basic rights.
Sincerely, Barack Obama
Keeping with this theme, privately, this allowed me an opportunity to offer Mark Diller who wrote the Community Board 7 M’s resolution a cancellation stamp entitled “To Form A More Perfect Union.” Like Ponsie B. Hillman, Mark is committed in building a stronger community.
Photos: Patrick Julien, Laura F. Koestler, Stephanie Mack-Cade, Angelica Perkins and Michelle D. Winfield
I have received numerous emails/calls regarding the author who was in attendance. The information is below:
Moderator: The Honorable Robert R. Reed, Justice of the
Supreme Court of the State of New York
Rev. Leo W. Curry, Fordham United Methodist Church
New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal
New York State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman
CB 7 Manhattan Chairperson: Roberta Semer
David Gillcrist, Executive Director Project FIND
Sonya Tennell, President North Manhattan Alumnae
Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated
The Children of National Dance Institute
Jacques d’ Amboise, Founder
Ellen Weinstein, Artistic Director*
Traci Lester, Executive Director
Jerry Korman, Musical Director
Mary Kennedy, Choreography – “Spanish Harlem”
Received by: Jolean Manson and Shirley H. Smith, Ph.D
Jerrold Nadler, U.S. Representative 10th District
Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York
Bill de Blasio, 109th Mayor of New York City
Addie J. Butler, Ed.D
SPECIAL TRIBUTE CELEBRATING THE UNVEILING OF PONSIE B. HILLMAN WAY
HON. JERROLD NADLER
of new york in the house of representatives
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Mr. NADLER. Mr. Speaker, the newly-christened Ponsie B. Hillman Way
in Manhattan’s Upper West Side celebrates a woman who dedicated her
life to social justice. This well-deserving recognition will honor the
indelible impact Mrs. Hillman left on New York and underserved
communities around the country.
Having faced personal discrimination as a young African-American
teacher in Maryland, Mrs. Hillman’s earliest activism in the 1940s and
1950s focused on education equity. After Prince Edward County, Virginia
closed its schools in an attempt to evade desegregation orders
following the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Mrs.
Hillman traveled to Virginia with the American Federation of Teachers
to teach students without pay.
After moving to New York City in 1965, Mrs. Hillman immediately
stepped into multiple community organizing roles. She was elected to
the Executive Board of the NAACP in Manhattan, and worked on affordable
housing, education, and health projects. Mrs. Hillman also served as a
leader of the local labor movement. As a member of the New York City
Central Labor Council’s Black Trade Unionist Leader Committee, Mrs.
Hillman dedicated many years of hard work to increasing leadership
opportunities for African-Americans in their union branches. Over the
course of her life, Mrs. Hillman was recognized for her activism by the
U.S. Secretary of Labor, American Federation of Teachers, and the New
York City Central Labor Council, among others.
I am incredibly proud to represent so many institutions and community
groups that were the recipients of Mrs. Hillman’s service. The renaming
of West 71st Street and Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side, Mrs.
Hillman’s long-time neighborhood, will stand as a testament to her
important work as an educator, civil rights activist, and New York
communal leader. I wish her family heartfelt congratulations on this
A Community Effort
With Thanks and Appreciation
Aaron De Broux, Abe Levine, Alan J. Gerson, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Andrew Albert, Angelica Perkins, Anne Strahle, Augusta Terzol, Ayaba Bailey, Bill Perkins, Blessed Sacrament Church, Carolyn McBain, Christine Merritt, Claude L. Winfield, Community Board 7 Manhattan, Daniel Goldner, David Kalal, Donna R. Miller, Eadie Shanker, Elaine Shulman, Ellen L. Rofman, Erica Sais, Erik Bottcher, Ernest Owens, Evelyn & Harvey Jones, Francesca Porter, Gail Lockett, Geoffrey R. Eaton, Georgette Gittens, Gilbert Jonas, Glenn A. Hunter, Grace & St. Paul’s Church, Greg Lambert, Gus Ipsen, Howard Yaruss, James G. Clynes, Joel J. Seidermann, Joetta Brown, John F. Small, Keith L. T. Wright, Kevin Russell, Leo Hoenig, Llewelyn T. Barton, Louise Dankberg, Lynda Hamilton, Lynette Lewis, Manhattan School of Music, Marie Winfield & Sophie, Marisa Maack, Matthew Rubin, Mercedes Terzol, Michael Wilson, Michelle D. Winfield, Mid-Manhattan Branch N.A.A.C.P., National Dance Institute, New York Central Labor Council, AFl-CIO, nycblinks.wordpress.com, NYC Council & Mark Levine, NYC Department of Transportation, NYPD 20th Precinct, Patricia Johnson, Patricia Levenson, Patrick Julien, Penny Ryan, Peter Ajemian, Project FIND, Ruby Cunningham, Sarah Batchu, Shah Ally, Shelia Laval Friedman, Silvia Bodden, Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth Foundation, Suzanne Jacobson, Tara Klein, The Tribune Society Of the Courts of the State of New York, Tom Dickson, Una Turner, United Federation of Teachers, Local # 2, UFT Asian-American & African-American Heritage Committees, U.S. Postal Service, Winston Silvera, and hundreds of petition signatures filed in support of this street.
“I am proud to support such an appropriate dedication in the name of Ponsie Hillman for her lifetime of service. I believe we must recognize our local heroes and would be satisfied to know that generations of young people will see the street sign, learn the history of its namesake, and speak of how special Ponsie Hillman was in the hearts of more New Yorkers than she ever knew.”
David N. Dinkins, 106th Mayor, City of New York
Thank you so much for allowing me to share in the celebration of the street co-naming for Ponsie. We all now what an amazing woman she was and continues to be. I am happy to count her among the mentors that I have had throughout my life. I have told many of my friends, club sisters and others of the corner at 71st & Columbus Ave. They will be visiting the corner and so will I. Many blessings to you and your family, Joetta Brown
Congratulations on yesterdays ceremony. What a pleasure to be with so many people touched by your mother. Best, Elie Peltz
I am sincerely grateful that you included me in the unveiling of the street in your mother’s name. Ponsie would have been extremely proud of you for all of the hard work that you exerted to obtain a street named for her. You should commend yourself for your extraordinary efforts during the day of the event and the many days and hours prior to the event. In addition, you organized and arranged a flawless program in honor of your beloved mother. You made an enormous undertaking look effortless as well as smiling throughout the entire event. Ponsie’s work ethics, love for her people, and activism have been handed to you which must be gratifying. With affection, Charles Jones
Congratulations to you and your husband for a job well done on Sunday for the signing of the street for your beloved mother. The attendance of so many on a Sunday afternoon spoke highly of her community Achievements. I assure you, your mother, “fully approved of everything if she had done it herself.” Thank you again. LVU Carolyn McBain
It was truly an honor to be present at such a historic event. Than you again for inviting me. Your mother would truly be proud of you. With all my love, Bailey
It was awesome! It was beautiful! Your Mother’s street co-naming ceremony couldn’t have been more perfectly done. I know she is smiling and proud of her talented daughter and lovely family. KUDOS! With love, Georgette Gittens
It was an honor and a privilege to participate in the event on Sunday. I learned so very much about your mother (A force of nature!) and your extraordinary family. Thank you for including us. With my love and admiration, Ellen Weinstein
The event was fabulous. Everyone I spoke with was so elated about your mom’s story and meeting her Delta friends. The sign is beautiful and you deserve congratulations for making this happen. Linda Rosenthal is fabulous and she was honored to be a part of this journey! What a turnout! With love, Suzanne Jacobson
Wow! What a wonderful event. You out did yourself. Ponsie would be proud of you. Lynette Lewis *************************************
WOW! I don’t know what to say after reading this blog. She was a force to be reckoned with. Congratulations to you on getting the street co-naming approved. And many thanks to your Mom for teaching by example. Best wishes,
Alison Davis Hillen, Morgan State University, Office of Alumni Relations congratulations to your Mother, Mrs. Ponsie Marie Barclay Deal Hillman and your family. The Morgan State University family is very, very proud of your mother, Mrs. Ponsie Marie Barclay Deal Hillman and all of her great accomplishments. The blog of Mrs. Hillman is very impressive and we thank you for sharing this with the Morgan State University family. Again, we are honored that one of our Morganites has received such a prestigious honor and a place in history. Best regards,
Francesca Porter A Wonderful tribute to Mrs. Hillman! I remember Mrs. Hillman was one of my math teachers at Roosevelt Junior High School in Germantown in Philadelphia, PA., and I had some classes with Michelle and Alphonso in junior high and at Germantown High School. Michelle Deal-Winfield and her family must feel truly honored.
The Community Board 7 Manhattan, Transportation Committee: Andrew Albert and Howard Yaruss, Co-Chairpersons met and decided a better option for a street designation for a Secondary Street Naming in the name of Ponsie B. Hillman Way at the NW corner of W. 71st Street and Columbus Avenue would be considered.
Rationale: Mrs. Ponsie B. Hillman was a resident at 372 Central Park West, Apt. # 20 -U, 10025 and 15 West 72nd Street, Apt. 33 -A, 10023, from 1965 until her death in June 2008, respectively. However, Mrs. Hillman lived 36 years at 72nd Street & Central Park Wet and volunteered at Project Find, the Hargrave Senior Center at West 71st Street. During that time, her activism was within Community Board 7 Manhattan, citywide, as well as, wherever her talents were needed. Mrs. Hillman helped transform the labor movement and is a credit to her community. Ponsie B. Hillman should be celebrated as a daughter of the westside, her home.
The Community Board 7 Manhattan voted 39-0-3 to approved the secondary street co-naming to honor Mrs. Ponsie B. Hillman at the North West corner of 71st Street and Columbus Avenue.
Ponsie B. Hillman was a trailblazer in the civil rights and labor movement. Joel J. Seiderman, author of In Interest of Justice, referred to Hillman and her family: A list of achievements too numerous to detail and that the emergence in black America in the twentieth century is attributable, in a small measure, to the efforts and commitment of such families. Ponsie shaped her own destiny by standing up and building coalitions to fight wrongs in the society.
In 1939, Ponsie received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in mathematics from Morgan State College in Maryland. She had previously signed a five-year work commitment to teach in Maryland as a requirement to receive her scholarship. Discrimination reared its’ ugly head when she closely scrutinized the pay schedule. Whites were paid higher than blacks for the same work. After completing her commitment, she felt it had been a prison sentence.
In 1943, Ponsie moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she married and raised a family. Soon she began helping to organize the Philadelphia Federation of teachers Union (PFT) Local # 3. Ponsie forged ahead, even though the community did not understand the significance of her protests. She participated in a strike and other surrounding unions like the United Federation of Teachers, New York City stood side-by-side the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers on the picket lines.
During her summers, Ponsie attended and graduated from Columbia University, Teacher’s College in Mathematics Education, December 17, 1952.
Community action was important. Volunteering with Janes Methodist Church, N.A.A.C.P., National Advancement for the Advancement of Colored People and supporting activities in the Delta Sigma Theta, Inc, her sorority, helped strengthen her resolve to improve the human condition.
Ponsie felt it was a travesty – that children were denied a public school education. In the south, to counter a racial backlash, towns/counties established separate schools for whites and blacks. This practice was challenged in the courts. The Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 was a United States Supreme Court decision that declared separate public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional. They were ordered to integrate. In Prince Edward County, (PEC),Virginia the officials ignored the landmark decision for years. The PEC refused to comply and chained their schools shut. The children had not received an education for four years. The American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO initiated the “Freedom Schools Project.” AFT’s call for action was answered by teachers and college students. Hillman was the only teacher in Pennsylvania that volunteered to teach in Virginia for 6 weeks without pay. During the summer of 1963, Ponsie joined 53 teachers, leaving family and friends to go off to an uncertain racial climate. To be safe from a hostile community, the teachers organized car pools and walked in groups. Hillman was the record keeper and maintained lists, housing schedules and banking documents. She received mail donations in support of their noble cause. On their second day, newspapers reported, “Prince Edward Students in School again, eager to learn.” The white community gathered, gawked and whispered. An official gave the teachers permission to use the library. Hillman retrieved some books but did not take the students into the library. During the summer she assisted Richard Parish by writing various organizations including her own church for monetary support of AFT/UFT’s “Freedom Schools Project.” Letters were received from across the country in support of their work. Hillman often spoke to reporters.
Hillman, an African-American, standing 5′ 1 and 1/2″ tall, possessed a bright smile. She had a pleasing personality and made friends along the way. When she returned home, Sidney Harris, Richard Parish and Albert Shanker encouraged her to come to New York City. Members of the United Federation of Teachers, UFT, had walked the picket lines with her prior. The NYC teachers liked Ponsie’s style. The UFT had received Collective bargaining and needed her expertise in organizing teachers to participate in the union. Hillman took the mathematics teachers exam and passed it.
Ponsie B. Hillman was named Teacher of the Year in 1964!
Arriving in New York City in 1965, Ponsie lived in Community Board 7 area at 372 Central Park West, apartment 20-U, 10025, and later moved to 15 West 72nd Street, Apartment 33-A, 10023 for a total of 43 years. During the late 1960’s, she met Bill Green, President of the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the N.A.A.C.P., then located at 93rd Street and Broadway on the second floor, above a pool hall.
She was elected to its Executive Board. Rolling up her sleeves, she set out a table on Broadway encouraging people to register to vote. Later, the branch secured a building on 96th Street by writing a proposal for ex-offenders. Project Rebound was funded to assist ex-offenders where Ponsie volunteered as an educational consultant. In addition, she participated on the national level of the N.A.A.C. P., meeting with Benjamin Hooks and Bill Pollard to outline strategies to move the agenda on affordable housing, health and education. Gilbert Jonas, author of Freedom’s Sword, states…”Ponsie Hillman of the AFT, together with scores of labor delegates protected organized labor’s agenda…described as labor solidarity, at the NAACP conventions.” President Hooks presented Mrs. Hillman with the N.A.A.C.P.’s Keeper of the Flame Award.
Always a community activist, Ponsie joined the North Manhattan Alumnae Chapter, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Hillman’s love for Harlem was evident by her work with the Delta’s. She established the Committee of Education which she chaired. She interviewed and recommended women for scholarships. For many years, on Saturdays Hillman mentored girls taking them to museums and to view exhibits at the Liberty Science Center at her own expense. Sorority sisters Ruby Cunningham and Jolean Manson met with Hillman to develop strategies of how they could inspire the community during an annual event, May Week.
Hillman’s impact on civil rights/labor movement was felt when she joined the Black Trade Unionist Leadership Committee, BTULC, sponsored by the NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. There she worked with John Burnell, Charles Faulding, Thomas Scotland, Dr. Annie Martin, Raleigh Banks, Fredericks O’Neal, James Smith and Jasper Payton. Each committee member represented their respective unions. Their mission was clear: Encourage blacks to seek elective office and assume leadership positions in their local unions. Hillman used ideas learned from the BTLC and returned to the United Federation of Teachers, to implement a host of activities. She herself held one of the most coveted positions as Vice-Chairperson and then Chairperson of the Progressive Caucus at the American Federation of Teachers., annual convention.
Hillman’s efforts continued while she chaired the UFT’s Black Heritage Committee. Teachers and paraprofessionals filled the meeting spaces monthly. They planned an annual festive event which included music, African dances, a buffet dinner, guest speakers and always a donation to an organization. Below, Nanette Bearden founder of the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theatre, accepts a donation to defray expenses.
Some speakers included Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, now referred to as the 106th Mayor of NYC; Dr. Joyce Brown, Dr. Annie B. Martin, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, Roman Foster and Dr. Robert Simmelkjaer. In addition Ponsie organized the summer camp program for all children of UFT members and established the UFT Asian American Committee. Hillman was also known as being a ‘top notch’ negotiator at the contract bargaining table.
In 1972, Ponsie, an Assistant Treasurer of the UFT, spoke at a rally opposing the mistreatment of Jewish men and women in the Soviet Union, Women’s Plea for Soviet Jewry. Thousands attended the rally at Hunter College in Manhattan. She “opposed the cruel forces around the world that sought to suppress the freedoms of others.” After members from many organizations spoke, thousands marched to the United Nations.
In 1973, Ponsie Hillman received the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO’s Distinguished Service Award for promoting the free trade union movement and for her community service. The award included a union sponsored trip abroad where Ponsie met with labor leaders in Israel, Greece and Africa.
After retiring from the public school system at 77 years of age, Ponsie became Professor Hillman, teaching mathematics at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. Finally, at the age of 79, Ponsie devoted her time between Project Find Hargrave Senior Center at 71st Street off Columbus Avenue and the New York Blood Bank. Ponsie helped organize the Center’s boutique, raising sums of money to supplement their programs. Because of her impeccable hand writing, she also assisted other seniors in filling out housing applications and other documents. The New York Blood Bank had a special meaning after the 9/11/2001 disaster for her. Ponsie made calls to her family and friends to encourage them to join her volunteering. Hillman received an award for her work.
In 2005, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. archivist committee interviewed Ms. Hillman.During that interaction, Ponsie talked about her commitment to building a strong community by providing scholarships to students to receive lessons in basketball, golf, dance, tennis and other physical sports. Ms. Hillman’s legacy continues as students benefit from scholarships in her name at: Manhattan School of Music, Sophie Gerson Heathy Youth and a scholarship she established in her son’s name, Alphonso B. Deal at National Dance Institute, NDI.
In 2006, Mrs. Hillman was named an AFT Everyday Hero for her work in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Her name and story can be found in an AFT traveling exhibit. In 2010, the late Ponsie Hillman, former Assistant Treasurer was named as one of the 50 people who helped build and further the work of the UFT, during their 50th year anniversary. On May 29, 2014, Congressman Fattah from Philadelphia, PA commemorated Mrs. Hillman’s journey, by placing her name and deeds in the Congressional Record, Extensions of Remarks which are recorded in Washington, D.C.
The late Ponsie B. Hillman has two daughters that followed in her footsteps, by working in the New York City school system. Her son, Alphonso B. Deal, predeceased her. In his memory, the Harlem Community, the United Federation of Teachers and many other organizations made charitable donations in his honor.
During my journey, collecting signatures, I have had an eye-opening experience. Silvia Bodden declared, after affixing her signature to a petition said, ” I am now a part of history, I signed for Ponsie B. Hillman.”
In conclusion, Ponsie B. Hillman has obtained many awards for her activism. She quietly served others working cooperatively and demonstrating at every turn to be selfless but unyielding in her fight against racism.
Ponsie often said, “I do what is needed to be done.”
I urge you to support naming a Secondary Street in the name of Ponsie B. Hillman at the NW corner at W. 71st Street and Columbus Avenue.
Thank you for your consideration.
Support letters in honor of Mrs. Ponsie B. Hillman:
Update to all supporters: Letters were received by: the New York City Council Member Bill Perkins, Jacques d’Amboise, founder of National Dance Institute, NDI; 106th Mayor David N. Dinkins, Major Ernest Owens from NYS Court Officers, former New York City Council Member Alan J. Gerson; District Leader Georgette Gittens, District Leader Louise Dankberg, Suzanne Jacobson, Geoffrey E. Eaton, President, Mid-Manhattan Branch NAACP; Erica Sais, Project Find, Abe Levine, former Vice President of Elementary Schools, UFT; Blessed Sacrament Church, NYC; Cafe Tallulah, NYC; NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, Hon. Keith L. T. Wright, County Leader, New York County Democratic Committee; list forming (kindly submit letters for the NW corner at W. 71st Street and Columbus Avenue designation) to: email@example.com. by May 8, 2017. Thank you!
Petitions containing 375 signatures have been submitted. A special thanks goes out to Llewelyn Barton, Christine Merritt and Dr. Shirley Smith for encouraging supporters to sign. Those attending the CB 7, M. meeting on April 11, 2017 were: Silvia Bodden, Jim Clynes, Esq., Winston Silvera, Dr. Shirley Smith, Claude L. Winfield and Michelle D. Winfield.
All letters sent to Community Board 7 designating the Secondary Street Naming in honor of Mrs. Ponsie B. Hillman at the NW corner at W. 71 st Street and Columbus Avenue, will be bound. Please send me a copy of your letter. Again, we are stronger together!