My Life, My Stories: Sam Alicia Duke on renouncing Catholicism
“Sam” Alicia Duke was born in Nebraska but moved with her mother, who she refers to by her first name, 'Chris,' and older brother to California in 1942. While her teachers commended her smarts at school, her education was interrupted due to childhood illness.
Sam was a spirited child who made up her own path in life, even if that meant deviating from the norm. Now, at 85-years old Sam still possesses the same rebellious nature. She lives in SOMA and is a member of Senior and Disability Action. Though mostly confined to a motorized wheelchair she can still be found at protests and rallies fighting for the rights of disabled San Franciscans.
Here she recounts the consequences of renouncing Catholicism and the dramatic response of her maternal parent Chris.
SAM ALICIA DUKE: I had always been put into Catholic schools although I was a non-believer from the time I was a baby. And all these years I had been going to this youth group at the church and so on. Well, I just up and told the minister, the pastor of the church who had the youth group, I said “I was sick and tired of being Catholic. I had never believed in it, I had argued against it from the time I was in first grade when I was four years old,” and I said, "I'm going to renounce Catholicism, can I do it at your church?" And he said, "Well, why do you wanna renounce Catholicism?" And I said, "Basically, because I never have believed in that particular concept of Christianity and I was never really sure about Christianity anyway." And so he said that I if I wanted to renounce Catholicism I could do it at his church, which I did on the third Sunday of May in 1949.
So anyway, I publicly renounced Catholicism and went to the beach and came back home, and Mrs. Yurki calls Chris, One of the members of the youth group had told her about how exciting it was to see someone renounce something that they didn't believe in. And Mrs. Yurki happened to be a very staunch Catholic woman. So she called Chris to tell her that, "Did you know..." and of course Chris didn't know. And so that Monday morning I did not go to school. Chris had taken me down to the juvenile authorities. And told them I had done this absolutely horrible thing, and that I was incorrigible and I wasn't recanting it and blah, blah, blah. Just so happened that the juvenile court judge was a Catholic man that my brother knew, and so they wound up...I never did finish going to the last two weeks of school at my junior year. And I wound up the last week of June being put into what they called juvenile hall in Los Angeles as an incorrigible, delinquent child. And so I was made a ward of the court taken away from Chris and finally, October 31st of '49 I was placed in a work-home, which in the system they had then, you could go to school four hours a day and then work in the home as a cook, cleaner, babysitter, et al, and you would get $5 a week cash and the people who you lived with gave you your room and board.
So in April, I had a complete collapse at school and ambulance called, blah, blah, blah. So I left my high school that I had started in November, I left in mid-April, and was taken back...after I got out of the hospital, I was taken back to juvenile hall. So I was in juvenile hall, May and half of April, all of May, and my social worker had asked me what I wanted to do. I said I was going to be finished with high school so I told her that I really, really, really would love to go live with my father if he would have me, and I didn't know my father at all, but he had been very kind to me when I was a child living in Omaha.
So the social worker, my father, and his wife negotiated that I would, when I got out of juvie after all the paperwork was done, I would go to my father in Minnesota. So that was arranged and a court hearing was held and I was going to go to be with my father in Minnesota. Of course, Chris and my brother were having fits about this, but too bad.
I was delighted to be having a chance to go meet my father. I was delighted to be getting out of Chris's house. And so that was fun, end of May all of this was going on. All of a sudden the first week of June the judge who had originally put me in juvenile hall miraculously reversed the other judges hearing that I would be go to...and I was going to be sent back home to Chris. I'm 17-and-a-half years old, and so that's what happened. I did not go to my father's. I was sent back home to Chris. And the only thing you could do back then when you were going to be 18 years old, a girl could get married at 18 without parental permission in California. A boy couldn't, but a girl to get married at 18 without parental permission. So I set up on determining that I would somehow or other get married when I was 18 to get away from her.
I started work at a dime store and I worked and met some nice boys. Okay, you know, this one, maybe I can talk him into getting married. And as it turned out, I was successful in finding a boy that I could marry. I moved out two days before my wedding day. I was already 18 and so I moved out on January 26th and I got married on January 28th. I had spent those two days at the minister's house of the church that I had renounced Catholicism in. And so that was the end of my high school career.
My Life, My Stories, founded by Brittany Bare, is a local non-profit working to gather oral histories of Bay Area seniors -- with a larger mission of engaging elders in general. You can contact Brittany at email@example.com or at (510) 671-5875. To find out how you or someone you know can get involved check out My Life, My Stories.
My Life, My Stories is hosting a live event at 7pm on November 11th at Adobe Books. Seniors will have a public platform to share their memories and stories with audience members. The evening's theme is focused around the question, "What brought you to San Francisco?"