October 31, 1938 - February 16, 2021
State College, Pennsylvania - Beautiful Bernice, brilliant Bernice has walked on, joining the council of the ancestors on February 16th, 2021. Dr. Bernice Bates Black was born on October 31st, 1938 in Autaugaville, Alabama, a small rural town, near Prattville. In the early 1940's her family was part of a historic wave of migration in which thousands of African Americans fled the violent, repressive, and restrictive South making the hopeful trip North to big cities pursuing the optimistic promise of better jobs and opportunities. Settling with her family in Buffalo, NY, Bernice grew up in the shadow of World War II and came of age in the era of historic civil rights legislation including Brown vs the Board of Education. She was an excellent, enthusiastic student participating in theatrical and literary pursuits. She loved going to the movies, especially musicals, acting in plays, and spending time with friends, her cousin, and her younger siblings. It was her dream to go to Howard University where she received a partial scholarship but settled for a less expensive local institution. Like many women of her generation Bernice's education was interrupted, in this case temporarily, by marriage and children. In 1960 at a party full of poets, writers and radicals, Bernice was introduced to John Black, a significantly older union organizer with revolutionary politics who had emigrated to the United States from Berlin, Germany. Within one week they were engaged. New York State law dictated they had to wait 30 days after filing for their marriage license to tie the knot, thus they married on September 1st, just five weeks after meeting each other. A happy, full, and interesting marriage, John and Bernice raised three children together, moving from Buffalo NY, to NYC, Montclair, NJ, and settling in State College, PA. They stayed together lovingly until John passed away in 2006.
After her last child started elementary school Bernice attended to her own unfinished education. Always the conscientious student, Bernice adeptly balanced the demands of family, school, and work, completing a bachelor's degree in Labor Studies, a master's degree in Special Education, and a PhD in Educational Theory and Policy from Penn State University where she taught until retirement.
Bernice is preceded in death by her husband John Black and son Mark Christopher Black. Also: beloved grandmother, Addie Caver Hall, parents Ernest Bates and Luzilla Mack, and stepmother Dorothy Bates. Additionally, three brothers: James Mack, Ernest Bates Jr., and Kenneth Bates. Preceded also by sister Cynthia Ingram, and cousin (who was more like a sister) Orvetta Mack. She is survived by two children: Doug (Tammy) Black, and Jennifer Black. Also, two dearly loved grandchildren: Shango Black-Smith and Jules Black. In addition, seven siblings: Sam Webb, Deborah Bates, Gregory (Teresa) Bates, Asheya Ibim, Yvette Mack, Ricky Mack, and Sandra Mack.
Bernice will be fervently missed and remembered by all who knew her for her extraordinarily gracious, generous, and loving temperament. She was intensely devoted to her husband and children and showered oceans of love upon them. Bernice was gentle yet make no mistake she could be fierce and formidable in the face of injustice. Sweet, yet fierce, she was a champion of the underdog: the tricked and evicted, the hungry and homeless, those brutalized by police and terrorized by government. She marched, she chanted, she sang songs of freedom, and raised her children to exalt justice and reject inequality. In lieu of flowers please consider donating to one of the charities she supported: Prison Radio, Doctors Without Borders
, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
, and the Osaze Osagie State High College Scholarship fund.
If you want to remember her, remember her warmth and her smile, her sacrifice and strength. If you want to honor her memory, fight for justice. Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Justice for Osaze Osagie, a mentally ill Black man killed by the State College police. Justice for all, in the name of Bernice, especially for the most vulnerable.
May she rest in peace and rise in the whirlwind.
Published by Centre Daily Times on Mar. 4, 2021.