Mary Elizabeth Vroman

(d. 1967)

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(192?–1967), short fiction writer, novelist, movie script writer, and first African American woman member of the Screen Writers Guild.

Born in Buffalo, New York, sometime between 1924 and 1929, Mary Elizabeth Vroman grew up in the West Indies and graduated from Alabama State Teachers College, determined to make a difference in her students' lives. She taught for twenty years in Alabama, Chicago, and New York. Vroman's “See How They Run” focused upon the experiences of an idealistic African American first-year teacher in a third-grade rural Alabama school. Published in the June 1951 Ladies' Home Journal, the story elicited five hundred enthusiastic letters from readers.

Praised as the “finest story to come out of the South since Green Pastures,” “See How They Run” won the Christopher Award for inspirational magazine writing because of its humanitarian quality. It also appeared in the July 1952 issue of Ebony.

The protagonist, Jane Richards, describes her interactions with children in a school with a leaky roof and a potbellied stove. Many youngsters come to class without breakfast and share tattered, outdated textbooks. They help their overworked, underpaid teacher haul water from a well down the road, not far from a foul-smelling outhouse. The story serves as an excellent primary source showing the difficulties and joys of educating African American children in the segregated South.

In 1953, Vroman wrote a movie script of her story for a motion picture entitled Bright Road, featuring Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. She became the first African American woman member of the Screen Writers Guild.

Vroman's first novel, Esther (1963), features a dignified grandmother, Lydia Jones, who saves her money as a midwife to purchase some land and uses her savings to encourage her granddaughter, Esther Kennedy, to pursue a nursing career. Shaped to Its Purpose (1965) told the history of the first fifty years of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority of forty thousand college-trained professional African American women to which the author belonged. Vroman's third book, Harlem Summer (1967), was intended for young adult readers and features sixteen-year-old John, from Montgomery, Alabama, who spends the summer living with relatives and working in Harlem.

Mary Elizabeth Vroman honestly depicted African American lifestyles during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s without becoming cynical. In spite of adversities, her characters are proud and resilient. They retain their sense of humanity, finding joy in happy experiences with loving family members and understanding friends. Mary Elizabeth Vroman died in 1967 due to complications following surgery.

Saul Bachner, “Writing School Marm: Alabama Teacher Finds Literary Movie Success with First Short Story,” Ebony, July 1952, 23–28.Saul Bachner, “Black Literature: The Junior Novel in the Classroom—Harlem Summer,” Negro American Literature Forum 7 (Spring 1973): 26–27.Edith Blicksilver, “See How They Run,” in The Ethnic American Woman: Problems, Protests, Lifestyle, 1978, pp. 125–143.

Edith Blicksilver.

Subjects: Literature.

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