Leome Culmer: Female griot says women have come a long way
3/7/2013, 4:30 a.m.
Wife, mother, historian, church leader and much more Womens history was relatively ignored just a generation ago. But things have changed for the better, since 1980 when President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8th as National Womens History Week. As word spread across the country, state departments of education encouraged celebrations as a way of achieving gender equity goals within classrooms. By 1986, 14 states had declared March as National Womens History Month. Congress, upon the urgings of thousands of individuals and hundreds of educational and womens organizations, made the observance a national one in 1987. During this month, The Miami Times will feature one local woman who has contributed to the Black community in numerous and significant ways. This week we include an interview with Leome Frances Scavella Culmer, 87 the widow of Father John Edwin Culmer. Culmer was the rector of The Historical St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Miami for 34 years. I stayed pretty much behind the scenes when my husband was alive [Father Culmer died 50 years ago in 1963], she said. He was much older than me and was already a prominent clergyman both statewide and nationally. Women in those days were either teachers, secretaries or housewives. Even though I graduated from both high school and college [Booker T. Washington, 1944 and Bethune-Cookman University, 1949], my husband wanted me to stay home and take care of our children [five]. I guess my public life began after his death. I was no longer a pastors wife and had more time on my hands. I wanted to use my education and interest in history to make a difference. Women today can be whatever they want they can be doctors, dentists, lawyers even preachers. We didnt have such options when I was young. I also remember the days when Liberty Square was first built [243-single family units opened in 1937 near NW 62nd St. and 15th Ave.]. My husband was one of the leading voices demanding better housing for our people. Blacks lived in terrible conditions then. There was no room left in Overtown and most Blacks didnt have running water, indoor toilets, gas or electricity. Culmer mentions her work with the Black Archives as something of which she is most proud after her role as the matriarch for five children [one daughter, Francena, is deceased] and six grandchildren. Culmer, along with Dr. Dorothy Fields, is an Archives charter member. The two shared a unique experience in the early days of the organization. We were invited to Tallahassee when Bob Graham was Floridas governor because of our efforts to chronicle the history of Black Miami, she said. We stayed in the same room that President Carter once used and our names are listed in the guestbook right under his. Dorothy and I were excited and honored. Culmer is a consummate history buff serving as the church historian at her beloved St. Agnes and also developing scripts that are used by The African American Committee of Dade Heritage Trust during their annual Womens History Month Luncheon [scheduled this year on Mon., March 18]. The program honors pioneer women who are buried at the Miami City Cemetery. I still have a lot of writing I want to do including my memoirs and those of my husbands, she said. And since Im getting older, Id better get some of it done soon. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com