Carol Bray-Johnson first experienced Camp Joy at the Wooster Pike location in the 1950’s. She was around the age of 8-10 and she returned each summer until age 14 when she was a teenage assistant to the counselors in her last Joy year. Marlene Davis attended Joy at both the Wooster Pike and Clarkesville locations in the early 60’s. She eventually became a counselor. Several Joy folks had the privilege of visiting with Carol and Marlene as they recounted some of their most cherished childhood and Camp Joy memories. We invite you to relish them along with us…
Carol: “The blatant racism of the fifties dictated where we could stay – the West End or Over the Rhine. We lived in the West End and had a strong sense of community. We had hairdressers, photographers, whatever we needed in our own community. There was racism outside of our community, so we bound together. This community of the West End raised us.”
Marlene: “I didn’t know what racism was until I was in high school.”
Carol: “I remember being in the classroom at Heberle School and the teacher asked the students input on where they might like to go for a field trip. One child mentioned Coney Island. The teacher replied, ‘THEY can’t go there.’ At that time, Coney Island* was a segregated amusement park.”
“Our parents sent us to Camp Joy. We were safe there and it got us out of the city. If we didn’t have money to go, the pastor of our church, Reverend Maurice McCrackin, would find it and give us scholarships.”
Marlene: “Reverend Mac was always there for us. We would walk to church and he would drive us – in the yellow school bus w, called the Jolly Rambler – to church picnics at Mt. Echo Forest. He also used it to drive us to Camp Joy.”
Carol: “We were a group of kids going to Camp Joy together – we rode the same bus. I didn’t understand racism as a kid. I remember we were having amateur hour the night before we went home from Joy. My best friend, Ella, and I and Patty, our white friend, were getting ready for the show. Ella and I, trying to be helpful, put our hair oil in Patty’s hair. We didn’t have any idea our hair and white people’s hair was different. We got in trouble for that!”
Marlene: “I didn’t see red hair until I went to college! We went to school with a lot of the kids that went to Camp Joy. We left together – we came home together. We met kids from other areas and we wound up seeing them again.”
Carol: “Joy was such a treat! We thought we were going outside of Cincinnati! We would and laugh and joke with friends and make new ones and get out of the city and have campfires. We’d do arts and crafts, swim, dig a trench for the bathroom, pick berries, eat smores and roast hot dogs! We’d learn songs. We would literally be hugging each other swaying back and forth singing ‘Kumbaya!’ I was shy and for me to get on the bus and leave my mom was a huge step out of my comfort zone. Camp Joy really brought me out of my shell. We did things that were just fun and hilarious!”
Marlene: “I never wanted to come home. A lot of us didn’t. We didn’t want to come back to the city. We had chores at Joy but that was okay because you got to do them with a lot of people.”
Carol: “I had two daughters and I taught them the old Joy songs!”
(At this point in the conversation, it was truly a delight to see Carol and Marlene laugh and croon songs they learned at Joy…and they remembered the words after quite a few decades, including the “I Am Camp Joy” song! A pleasure, indeed!)
Carol: “The spirit of Camp Joy is ingrained in me and part of who I am. I can’t really separate the West End/our church with Reverend McCrackin/the Neighborhood House/Camp Joy…they are woven all together…a state of mind. I am forever blessed to have grown up in that church and to have known Reverend Mac, to have gone to Camp Joy and to have had the Neighborhood House and to have lived in the West End with some of the kind, gentle and loving people I experienced. We taught our kids what we were taught – a sense of fair play – a sense of being equal – and a sense of pride in our culture that was fostered through Rev Mac and his/our West Cincinnati St. Barnabas Church – which was the nucleus of our West End neighborhood and the family.”
Marlene nodded her head in agreement, akin to a resounding and heartfelt Amen.
We Joy folks left with lumps in our throats feeling in awe of – and greatly enriched by – two such inspirational, fun-loving and gratitude-filled women. Carol and Marlene may not have been materially wealthy as children, yet they were extremely wealthy in what really mattered: love, cultural pride, faith, and joy. They are living proof that the best things in life…truly are not things. How blessed they were; how blessed we were to have met and shared time and memories with Carol and Marlene. Thank you, ladies, – a warm and heartfelt thank you from us at Camp Joy.
Please read the story “An Answer To Your Question: Just Who is Marian Spencer?” Marian was instrumental in the desegregation of Coney Island. Marlene worked with Marian’s son, Edward, when they were both at Camp Joy.