The story of James and Ada Sherwood began long before they met each other. Although they grew up in different environments and in different parts of the U.S., these two walked similar paths. Hailing from the tight-knit community of West Medford, MA, James Sherwood was born on September 7,1925. As a teenager he was a renowned Medford High School athlete, and he grew up to be a dedicated man whose wit, generosity, and fun-loving nature were well known. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and served during World War II as an airplane mechanic. After his term in the Navy, he enrolled as a student at Fisk University in Tennessee. It was here that he and Miss Adalouise DuPee became acquainted.
Affectionately known as Ada, Miss DuPee was born on December 17, 1929, in the bustling city of Indianapolis, Indiana. She was a kind, devoted, and extremely giving woman. In a family endowed with strong women, particularly Ada’s mother Charley, Ada’s selflessness and willingness to help others were easily nurtured. Always a good student at Crispus Attackus High School, Ada was admitted to Fisk University. There both Ada and James acquired a motivation for learning and knowledge that influenced their decisions to enter the field of education as teachers.
After graduating from Fisk, James and Ada married and settled into James’ family home on Harvard Avenue in West Medford. Their son, James Jr., was born in 1952. Walter Sr., James’ father, his niece Judith Carrington, and her family all lived in the same home, while other relatives lived nearby, creating a very close family dynamic. The Sherwood family and close friends often took vacations together; visiting Indiana to spend time with Ada’s family or going down to Martha’s Vineyard, where James and Ada owned a home. This type of bond was extended to others in the community, among whom James and Ada were famous for their hospitality and parties. The community of West Medford was very much a part of the Sherwoods’ lives, and they were very much a part of the community.
James Sherwood made a pioneering contribution to the City of Medford. In the early 1950s, long before Civil Rights legislation was enacted, he applied to teach in the city. He was accepted at the Roberts Junior High School, and as the first African American teacher to join an all-white staff he faced many challenges and forms of discrimination. But he remained steadfast in his role as an educator and had an impact that extended beyond the lives of his students. Upon retirement, James Sherwood was the second most senior teacher in the City of Medford.
For Ada, the West Medford community was the setting in which she shaped and nurtured the lives of children. In 1966, after years of substitute teaching, Mrs. Sherwood was appointed as a Third-Grade teacher at the Hervey School in West Medford. Her enthusiasm and dedication to students was evident. Louise Jordan, her former colleague, remembers that “while Ada was so interested in teaching kids how to prepare for life, she followed through and always kept track of what they did and how well they did.” Ada Sherwood maintained relationships with many of her students long after they left her classroom. She was an invaluable presence in the Hervey School and the community it served.
Because of James and Ada Sherwood’s trailblazing efforts and their dedication to children, the library at the Roberts Junior High School will be memorialized in their name. But describing their joint contributions is almost impossible. What they gave to their family, friends, community, and city go beyond words. Although no longer with us in body, James and Ada Sherwood will remain as indelible marks on each of the lives they touched and on future generations.
Nakeiha Primus, May 2005
Resource persons: Mr. James Sherwood, Jr., Mrs. Judith A. Carrington, Mrs. Louise Jordan