5 Questions: Jeanette Briscoe

Jeanette Briscoe, 88, taught for more than 20 years in the Beacon City School District. Her memoir, From Duck Hill to Fishkill: A Journal of My Life, was published last year.

jeanette briscoeYou are a native of Mississippi. How did you end up in New York?
I was born in Spring Hill and grew up in Duck Hill. My grandmother was a slave, and the master impregnated her mother. That’s why I carry Irish [ancestry]. In the ninth grade, I went to Chicago, where my Aunt Hannah finished raising me. She kept me going to church — I was in the choir and traveling to different places to sing. I got scholarships to North Park University and to Wilberforce University. I got married in Chicago and my husband, Percy Briscoe, got transferred here, with IBM, in 1965.

When did you begin teaching?
My husband wasn’t getting much money, so I went out and got a job in Beacon. I started at the South Avenue School in 1967 and then went to Sargent Elementary. That’s where I retired from in 1989. Fourth grade was what I taught most of the time. The students were beautiful. I had everybody, and I treated them the same. I had one bad boy, so I took the whole class to Poughkeepsie court so they could see what happens to people. I started a science fair and my fourth graders brought in all kinds of stuff. One boy brought a snake, but he had it in a cage. I enjoyed teaching, and my kids are now grandparents.

Did you experience racism?
One boy came into the classroom [when I was teaching] and he called me the N-word. I said, “You remember, this [N-word] has to give you your grade.” We rented a house in Poughkeepsie, and then my husband found a house in Fishkill. We were the first Blacks, and they picketed outside and burned a cross. My husband went out and bought a gun. A doctor who lived there brought us cookies, so there were some good people and some bad people.

What did you do after retiring from teaching?
I went into real estate. I had a company, Roots Realty, in Wappingers Falls. My husband got it started. He was always starting something. He couldn’t get anybody to run it because he was trying to do law at the same time. He said he didn’t know that, right in his home, he had a person who could run his business. When I retired from teaching, I took over. I sold houses in Beacon, Wappingers and all over Dutchess County.

Why did you write your memoir?
When I was about 9 years old, I started taking notes to write this book. When COVID-19 started and we had to stay in the house, my son was here. I said, “Would you help me with my book?” He would work late at night putting it together. My journey has had profound pain, but I’ve had a good life.

Leave a Reply

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.