Ms. Beatrice Minkins was born December 1, 1913. She was the youngest of five daughters born to Mr. John Clayton Minkins and his wife, Rosa. Mr. Minkins, a native of Virginia, came to Rhode Island in the 1890s. The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame describes him as “the most important African American in local journalism for more than 70 years.” He was owner, publisher, and editor of the Rhode Island Examiner and later became editor-in-chief of the Providence News Democrat. Mr. Minkins was also a renowned public speaker and staunch human rights defender. Together with three of her sisters, Ms. Beatrice Minkins was among the first African American women to graduate from Pembroke College, now part of Brown University.
Commuting from their small, clapboard house in Pawtucket, the sisters rode the trolley and electric bus to College Hill. Ms. Minkins participated regularly in sports and studied history and English. In college and shortly after graduation, she traveled throughout Europe and Asia on various study abroad programs. Ms. Minkins worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during WW II, then for the R.I. Employment Service for nearly four decades. Her main work was with the WIN Program, providing job training and locating day care for mothers with small children. It could be draining and difficult work, but she found helping people in a moment of great need to be very fulfilling. In 1986, 50 years after her graduation from Pembroke College, she was a marshal at Brown University’s graduation ceremony.
One of Ms. Minkins’ older sisters, a member of Pembroke Class of 1920, had been my grandmother’s librarian at Pawtucket West Senior High School. Several years later, the two women met up again and forged a friendship. My grandmother then got to meet the entire Minkins family. I came to know Ms. Beatrice Minkins, whom I called “Auntie Beattie,” when my family moved to Rhode Island in 2003. She would come to see me dance in the Nutcracker in December around the time of her birthday and then return to our house for a Sunday dinner.
After dinner we would eat cake and play Old Maid, and she would regale us with stories of her time on College Hill. She always spoke about the privilege of education, the necessity of mutual respect among learners, and the need for self-respect.
She was a pioneer for all the African American women, and women in general, who follower her, and she fondly remembered her time in college. There were moments when she felt others judged her by her gender or the by the color of her skin, denying her opportunities afforded to other students. She specifically recalled wanting to write for the newspaper, like her father, and being denied the chance. We were eager to listen as she recounted her joys, trials, and hurdles. They always served to inspire us and to highlight how very special Auntie Beattie was.
One of the last times I saw her before she passed away, I went with my mother to bring her back home after dinner. Once she had gotten settled in a chair with her glasses and a book, she asked me to get her a glass of water from the kitchen. On her refrigerator door was a piece of paper held on by a magnet. The paper had a quote on it that read, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
This intelligent and compassionate American woman was a trailblazer, and her example continually encourage me.
Ms. Beatrice Minkins died on January 7, 2014, at the age of 101.
49 incredible women to go!
Grace Miner is a junior at East Greenwich High School.