CNN U.S. News

Paying tribute to Bessie Delany

September 29, 1995
Web posted at: 1:40 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Norma Quarles

NEW YORK (CNN) -- More than 500 people gathered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York Thursday to say farewell to Dr. Annie Elizabeth Delany.

The woman affectionately known as Dr. Bessie died this week at the age of 104, leaving behind her older sister Sarah, now 106. The remarkable lives of these two women -- born to a man who had been a slave -- were recounted in their book "Having Our Say."

Bessie Delany was the second black woman licensed to practice dentistry in New York state. And in an interview two years ago, she talked about defying the old rules of segregation.

"So I just took my dipper, and I said I'll reach right over and get some white water and see if it makes you feel any different," she said. "I took the water and I said I don't see any difference in it." (130K AIFF sound or 130K WAV sound)

Their story was made into a hit Broadway play. Actress Mary Alice, who portrayed Dr. Bessie, was among those paying tribute at her funeral.

"The overwhelming challenge was to capture her indomitable spirit, her sense of integrity, her pride, her righteous anger, her graciousness, her sense of humor, and last but not least, her vulnerability," Alice said.

Gloria Foster, who portrayed Sarah in the play, read a letter from First Lady Hillary Clinton, who had visited with the sisters.

"The President joins me in sending you our heart-felt condolences," Mrs. Clinton wrote. "I feel so blessed to have known Bessie...Bessie's life was an example for us all."

Former New York mayor David Dinkins urged those at the funeral to remember Bessie Delany as she was in life.

"I think these moments are best spent celebrating her life," he said. "A life filled with purpose and passion, with courage and daring, a life filled with joy, love and giving."

Some of her 14 nieces and nephews also paid tribute to this remarkable woman, and it was a frail Sadie Delany who said her final farewell to her younger sister -- the lifelong companion who had been by her side for over a century.


Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.