How Ever Lee Hairston Overcame Racism, Poverty And Disability To Realize Her Dream
Ever Lee Hairston was determined to leave her sharecropping Southern childhood behind and forge her own path. “I looked at sharecropping as another name of slavery.”
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Ever Lee Hairston has faced many roadblocks in life. However, instead of being worn down, she’s emerged stronger, shining bright like a diamond.
The Hairston name is famous in the South, a family of fortune predating the Civil War. They were wealthy landowners of plantations, at least for half the family. Ever Lee Hairston’s side wasn’t so lucky.
“My parents and my paternal grandparents, we all lived, some people called it just a wood cabin,” Hairston told CBSLA’s Suzanne Marques. “All of us, at that time, there were six children, and two sets of parents, and we grew up in this house and didn’t have running water.”
She attended school but also had to work in the fields, taking time off in the spring and fall for harvest.
“I looked at sharecropping as another name of slavery,” Hairston said.
However, a scare one day changed her path forever.
“I leaned forward to pick this beautiful cotton out of the cotton ball, I saw a long black snake on the ground. And I was crying and I had my head in my hands and I was saying, ‘oh God, there has to be a better way of life for me.’”
She decided it was her last day on the plantation. She was the first in her family to leave. She applied to nursing school, but the entrance exam revealed a painful secret.
“I took the exam and failed the eye exam, so I was not a candidate for the nursing school,” Hairston said.
Hairston has a rare genetic eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa that was slowly taking her vision.
“But I didn’t want to be defeated, I didn’t want to go back to the plantation, so I wasn’t going to be defeated,” she said.
WATCH BELOW: Hairston reminisces about marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.
She enrolled at Duke University, where she faced racism.
“I applied for a job at the New Jersey Bank, and just got totally shocked when the manager said to me, ‘I would love to hire you, but the policy in this bank is that we cannot hire Blacks.’ I was devastated!”
She went into teaching, but then lost her vision completely. However, every time a door closed in her face, she found a window. This time, it came in the form of an invitation to join the National Federation of the Blind.
“When I reached the registration desk, I was asked, would you like a braille or print agenda? Oh my goodness. A light bulb went off in me. I could no longer read print. And I had not been taught braille. Tears just started rolling down my cheeks because, I thought, here I am a college grad, but yet illiterate.
As she learned to navigate her new dark world, she worked her way up, and is now on the board of directors, of the NFB.
She did it, while raising a son, who says his mother is the strongest person he knows.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s this idea of unwavering faith, number one, and just maintaining who you are in the face of adversity,” her son Victor Hailey said.
“Believing that with God all things are possible,” Hairston said.
Hairston has penned a book called “Blind Ambition.”