Adele V. Holden

[ Age 87 ] English teacher and poet wrote a memoir about growing up on the segregated Eastern Shore

December 28, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Adele V. Holden, a retired English teacher and poet whose memoirs of her Eastern Shore childhood were published in 2000, died of cancer Friday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Guilford resident was 87.

She recalled in the book Down on the Shore: The Family and Place that Forged a Poet's Voice growing up in racially segregated 1920s and 1930s Pocomoke City, where her father was an auto mechanic and promised his children they would get a proper high school education.

Her father persuaded Worcester County officials to add a 10th-grade teacher for black students and later drove his daughter 20 miles to Snow Hill High School, where she graduated in 1936.

"She was quiet and at the same time outspoken," said Miss Holden's brother, Elroy S. Holden Sr. of Milford, Del. "We were poor, and our father strived to do his best and made sure we had exactly what we needed, plus some."

Miss Holden wrote of two lynchings that occurred not far from her home - but also of how there were times of black and white cooperation.

"I never doubted my worth as a person. My father was a good person, but he was very stern about certain things," she said in a 1999 Sun interview. "He taught us to value ourselves. We had enough guidance to know we were as good as anybody else out there, black or white."

Miss Holden moved to Baltimore in the 1930s, graduated from what is now Morgan State University and joined the city school system. She taught English at Dunbar High School for many years and later received a master's degree in writing from the Johns Hopkins University.

"She was an inspirational woman interested in all of her students," said one of them, Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. "She pushed us."

He called her 1961 book of poetry, Figurine and Other Poems, a "brilliant work" and said it drew him to read other works of poetry.

Miss Holden retired in 1982 from what is now Baltimore City Community College, where she also taught English.

She took up painting - and often recorded the scene outside her window in the Carrollton condominiums at University Parkway and Greenway. About a decade ago, she decided to write of her childhood.

"It always bothered me about the way we had to live down there on the Eastern Shore," she said in the Sun interview. "I know how it was, and I know how my mother and father had to struggle."

Services will be held Jan. 9 at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, 2109 McCulloh St., where she was a member. No time has been set.

In addition to her brother, survivors include a sister, Elizabeth Marie Holden of Lindenwold, N.J., and many nieces and nephews.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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