In celebration of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, we will share vintage pictures of twirlers and majorettes marching and performing in past Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades. The following post was published by the Freeport Memorial Library, Freeport, New York. Many thanks to their archivist, Regina Feeney, for preserving this story and sharing it on Facebook.
Dr. Pauline Viola Grissom (nee West) (1937-1994) was an educator and civil rights activist and trailblazer. Born in Freeport, she was Freeport High School’s first African American drum majorette. In 1959, she was among the first black teachers hired by the Freeport Public School District. She taught third grade at Cleveland Avenue School, the same school she attended as a child.
1954 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Grissom was chosen drum majorette for the 1954-1955 school year after winning a twirling competition. She led the Freeport High School Band during the 1954 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. During her senior year, she was voted by her peers “most popular and versatile” as well as “class wit and most talented.” Grissom received a $150 scholarship from the Freeport Junior-Senior High School PTA and was awarded the Cleveland Avenue School Student Council Award as well as the Freeport High School Band Mothers’ Club Award. After graduation, Grissom attended Teachers’ State College at Cortland, NY, where she majored in early childhood education.
After teaching in Freeport for a few years, she moved to Detroit, MI and taught elementary school from 1962 to 1974. Grissom received her Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Michigan in 1971 and 1975 respectively. Grissom became research assistant for the Detroit Public Schools Department of Evaluation and Testing, where she analyzed student achievement test results and trained educators in methods to improve test scores.
In 1986, Grissom defeated civil rights icon, Rosa Parks, to become first vice president of the Detroit NAACP. She served on the board of the Harmonie Park Playhouse, was a past board member of Detroit’s Legal Aid Defense Association as well as former board member of the Detroit Urban League.
She retired from the school district in 1988 after suffering an aneurysm.
As a child, Grissom was a member of the Bethelites, a church singing group and was a member of the National Honor Society.
Grissom’s parents, Solomon and Emily West were born in Virginia. She had a sister, Louise, and two brothers, Richard and Bertie. In the 1940s, the family lived on Mill Road and in the 1950s, the family lived at 63 Buffalo Avenue.
Grissom died of cancer at the age of 56 on January 13, 1994, at the Irvine Head Injury Home in Oak Park, MI. She was survived by her three sons, David Jr., Daniel, and Paul. Soon after her death, the Detroit branch of the NAACP established a scholarship fund in Grissom’s name.
The 1954 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New York