In a cemetery where more than 30,000 souls have been laid to rest over almost two centuries, The Woodlands truly is a garden of biographies. It is a place where stories are rediscovered and retold daily; where imagination, reality and memory converge. And while it should never be a surprise when we learn of the amazing lives many of our residents lived, it is a constant and astonishing reminder of how special this place is when another chapter of the story of The Woodlands is told.
This month’s Trailblazers are a husband and wife with strong ties to West Philadelphia who were laid to rest at The Woodlands in the recent past. To help us celebrate Black History Month, their son, Richard Carter, shares the legacy of his parents, Delores Inez Pollard Carter (1927—2008) and Louis H. Carter (1926—2011).
Delores was a musician, social worker, educator, and artist. As a public school teacher for over 30 years, she was one of the first African American educators in Wilmington, Delaware, and also taught at Bache Elementary School and Hamilton Elementary School in Philadelphia. During her retirement, she volunteered at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for more than a decade, tutored illiterate adults, and also gave her time to Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired [ABVI] by recording books and periodicals. In 2006, one of her paintings was featured on the poster for the Flower Market (the annual flower show held in Rittenhouse Square Park in Philadelphia). Although she passed away in 2008, her legacy as a teacher lives on in the countless lives she influenced over the course of her career. To her family, “her examples of humility, perseverance, kindness, strength, and faith continue to inspire.”
Louis also left behind a teaching legacy when he passed in 2011. Educated as a teacher and a social worker, he served in the US Army during WWII, and worked in child and public welfare, criminal and juvenile justice and mental health. In 1970, he joined the faculty of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, where he became the first African-American tenured professor of social work at Penn. Professor Louis Carter “carved his own niche at the School of Social Policy & Practice via his extension of the scholarship and practice surrounding the ‘functional approach,’ application of Otto Rank’s human engagement theory of will, and his commitment to critical analysis of institutionalized racism and its destructive impact on the human condition. He creatively used his life experience as course content to examine critical issues facing social work practitioners invested in efficacious practice,” said his son Richard Carter. After his death, Penn established the Louis H. Carter Endowed Lectureship, a program that invites speakers to the University annually to lecture on issues of race and racism. (Learn how you can contribute to Professor Carter's legacy at Penn at the end of this post.)
The legacy and impact of Delores and Louis continues in the professions chosen by their sons: Mark, a social worker, and Richard, an educator. Richard generously provided us with the incredible history of his parents’ lives and told us more about the impact their work and accomplishments have had on him.
What is your current position or profession?
I am an educator having served on the post-secondary and K-12 levels. Currently, I am a middle school principal. Mark is licensed social worker who has served in leadership positions in various non-profit agencies. He currently engages families and communities in Baltimore, Maryland via the organization Elev8.
How did you get to where you are today?
Our mother and father offered my brother and me strong examples of supporting underserved populations through professional practice. They also provided us with resources and opportunities to be well educated. Our mother took great care to expose us to the broader world around us. Dad and Mom provided us with structure and expectation throughout our childhoods.
How has the work of your parents influenced or impacted your choice of profession and your personal interests?
My brother pursued social work as a career and I am an educator. I would say that our parents had a huge impact on our professional priorities. Their examples made great impressions on us both. Mark is very creative and collects African and African-American art. I enjoy signing. Mom and Dad impacted the development of those interests as well.
What is your favorite part of their work, and why?
This is a difficult question because there are multiple favorites. With respect to my father, I am most proud of his accomplishment of being the first African-American professor to earn tenure in the School of Social Work [now the School of Social Policy and Practice] at the University of Pennsylvania. His practice there positively influenced and inspired generations of social workers. Dad sacrificed a great deal to reach his professional goals. Regarding my mother, I most admire her courage and humility. Each time that I imagine her boarding the train from Princeton to New York to attend classes at New York University as an undergraduate [and later as a graduate student] beginning in the 1940s, I am struck by her determination as both a woman and as an African-American. She was a "first" as well; having integrated the public school teaching ranks in Wilmington, Delaware. Mom was humble and rarely spoke about her vast accomplishments.
If you could ask either (or both!) of them one question today, what would it be?
I would ask them what Heaven is like and what things that they would most like for their 3 grandchildren to understand and remember about them.
You can rediscover the biographies of our permanent residents everyday. Visit The Woodlands anytime of the year--the gates are open from dawn 'til dusk!
If you'd like to make a contribution to the Louis H. Carter Endowed Lectureship, visit Penn's website, select Schools under the General Area option, Social Policy and Practice under Programs, and select Louis H. Carter Endowed Lectureship under the specific fund.