91-year-old Victoria woman has witnessed lifetime of changes in black community

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Feb. 14, 2012 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 13, 2012 at 8:14 p.m.

Juanita Delaney, 91, looks through old photo albums at her home in Victoria. She has been an advocate for black rights through her years as a teacher and social worker.

Juanita Delaney, 91, looks through old photo albums at her home in Victoria. She has been an advocate for black rights through her years as a teacher and social worker.

Juanita Delaney is as quick on her feet as she is with her mind.

The 91-year-old Victoria resident relaxes on her couch, as her elbow jabs into the cushion, exposing sculpted upper arms that could challenge the upper arms of any 20-something-year-old.

Despite her age, Delaney is still sharp and educated about the changes the world has seen, not only with black history, but with history in general.

"I don't think I'm that interesting," Delaney said, laughing. Her voice is still filled with life.

Social worker's life

Most of Delaney's life can be told through the photos stowed away in a cabinet in a small mini-living room inside her home.

Stacks of photo albums line the inside of the cabinet. Delaney lugs out a photo album and plops it onto the table, sweeping her aged hands over the black and white photos stuck behind thin plastic.

"There was 14 of us, one died in infancy," she said as her eyes passed a photo of her and some of her sisters.

Delaney is the second youngest. She has one sister living who is 85 and lives in Arizona.

Delaney grew up in an all black Texas community close to Jacksonville and lived on a farm 12 years of her life. It was there that she kept active and learned the importance of eating right.

But living on a farm in an all-black community taught her other things.

Delaney never experienced the harsh racism some others felt - and she considers herself lucky.

Even her father, who lived through the Emancipation Proclamation in the 1860s, didn't experience much racism. However, her grandfather was a slave, but word is that he had a lenient owner, she said.

"I just don't remember my father talking anything negative on race," she said, shaking her head. "I was not exposed to the tension that some others were at such an early age."

This changed years later, after she attended school at Atlanta University for social work. After graduating from University of Texas with her masters, she pursued the social work career.

She worked in particular with black children, trying to find them proper foster homes. Some were even adopted.

"I made the most valuable contribution to the children of Smith County," said Delaney, who lived in Tyler much of her life before moving to Victoria in 1991.

She finally began to feel tension after nearly about 20 years of social work with the state welfare department and another 20 with medical social work.

It was 1965, right in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, and suddenly, she became a threat to her supervisor because she had a degree.

About the same time, she was told to exit an elevator by a sheriff because she stepped in before a white woman.

Still, these experiences did not make Delaney falter. Even today, racism still exists; she has seen it, she said.

"I know there are pockets," she said. "I've had some exposure to that too. I just don't think I am as deeply embedded in that as some other people."

Life after social work

After retirement, Delaney kept going by working through her church and staying active in community organizations.

One she became heavily involved in was the American Cancer Society. This involvement came after her diagnosis with breast cancer in 1988.

The experience was a scary one. Delaney pushed through it, and continues a healthy lifestyle.

"I feel all right," she said with a hearty laugh. "I do water aerobics at least twice a week, usually three times, because I do upper body work."

Though she still stays active, she sometimes thinks back to her days in social work and wonders what came of the many black children she helped through welfare.

She knows how some have turned out, but really hasn't kept in touch with any.

Though Delaney never experienced many of the black hardships others faced, she has certainly seen a change for the betterment of all races - from the increase of educated blacks to the United States' first black president.

Even then, Delaney doesn't feel the focus should be on race; we should be past that, she said.

"I don't think of President Barack Obama so much as a black man; however, it is a step forward," she said. "I think more about personality. I forget sometimes what color somebody is."



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