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Shirley Segree Cuffee

Shirley Segree Cuffee

July 16, 1932 - November 10, 2018

Shirley G. Segree Cuffee was born on Saturday, July 16, 1932 in the woodlands of Varina, in Henrico county, Virginia. She was born in her grandmother's house on her 140 acre farm, to Native American (Powhatan/ Arrohateck, Cherokee) and African-American parents. <br /> <br /> Her mother, Inez Selena Baugh was indigenous to that land and her father, James Bethea, was born in Cherokee, North Carolina. <br /> <br /> Shirley was her mothers second eldest daughter (first daughter, Thelma "Nuni" Baugh [deceased]); and the eldest of her parents three children together. Before turning 2 years old, she moved to New York City with her parents where her younger brothers James Bethea, Jr., and Cleave Bethea where born. <br /> <br /> In 1937, she and her family moved into the first, then "experimental" project in New York City, the 'Harlem River Houses' located along the Harlem River Drive between 151st and 153rd streets in Harlem, New York. <br /> <br /> Her mother, Inez was a housewife, and her father, James, Sr. retired after working forty-one years as a longshoresman for Cunard Lines', ships Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth at Pier 92 in Manhattan, New York. Shirley was a proud daddy's girl. Her father always referred to her by her nickname, "Shu" very seldom calling her Shirley. <br /> <br /> Shirley's passion for reading books, writing and studying piano started very young. She went to elementary, Public School 46 on West 155th Street and swiftly advanced to the fifth grade after skipping the second and fourth grades. <br /> <br /> Shirley and her brother spent every single summer in "the country" at their grandmothers house on the farm surrounded by dozens of cousins. She admired her grandmother Elizabeth and loved sharing stories about her, the farm, there being no running water faucets, and the spiders in the outhouse. She would describe what it was like to be in the middle of the dense woods with no electricity and although, she cherished the memories, at heart she was a city slicker. <br /> <br /> Shirley attended Edward W. Stitt, Intermediate School 164 on West 164th Street. There she developed a special interest in learning how to speak Spanish and German, and taught herself how to fluently speak, read and write both languages before entering college. <br /> <br /> She had also advanced to studying classical piano at The Juilliard School for music between 1944 and 1948, mastering classical piano. <br /> <br /> Shirley graduated from George Washington High School in 1948. She was 16 years old. <br /> <br /> During the summer of 1948 she traveled to Los Angeles, California to briefly live with her aunt. There she attended the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) before hitchhiking back across country to New York, via Route 66 East, to be closer to the man that she would later marry. <br /> <br /> Upon her return, Shirley commenced her freshman year at Hunter College in New York City where she studied education, language and anthroplogy. In 1950, she pledged to the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. <br /> <br /> She graduated college in 1952 with her Bachelor's degrees in Childhood Education, Bilingual Education and earned her Masters degree in Anthropology. <br /> <br /> Shirley began her teaching career in 1952 at Public School 33 in Chelsea, New York City. She eventually directed the language department and taught many Greek, Italian and other European students how to speak English. She was also the schools assembly pianist there. <br /> <br /> In 1953, her parents purchased and moved their family into a three story house located at 32-36 106th Street in East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. <br /> <br /> Shirley married her sweetheart, New York City Police Officer, Wilbur Ralph Segree on May 23, 1954 at St. Phillip's Episcopal Church on 134th Street, between 7th and 8th avenues in Harlem, New York. Her lifelong, beloved best friend, Dottie Rose was her Maid of Honor. The newlyweds moved into the second and third floors of her parents East Elmhurst home. <br /> <br /> In 1955, Shirley began teaching English at Public School 101 in "El Barrio", Spanish Harlem. Sometimes she would invite her students to her home to do activities or take them on trips during the weekends. She traveled to Puerto Rico to work, creating English/ Spanish language programs for the Board of Education during her time at P.S. 101. <br /> <br /> Wilbur and Shirley had their first and only child, a son, Tracy Ralph Segree on Friday, March 15th, 1957. Although, she and Wilbur divorced in 1961, they remained great friends forever. Shirley continued to raised her son with the help of her mother through his teenage years and when he wasn't spending time at his dads house. She enjoyed frequent trips with her son to Martha's Vineyard, her brothers lake house Upstate, New York and traveled with him to the caribbean. Her favorite island destination was Aruba. <br /> <br /> In 1974, she purchased a Co-op apartment in Northridge, at 32-45 88th Street in East Elmhurst, a mile away from her mothers home. By then, Shirley had also transferred her work to Public School 14 in Corona, Queens, much closer to home. She taught the first and fifth grades but, beside being classroom English, Spanish and ESL teachers, she was also the choir conductor and school' assembly pianist. <br /> <br /> Shirley also belonged to writing and poetry organizations and would frequently recite her short stories and poems at various venues. In 1979, she wrote and published a book titled, 'Black Smoke, Blue Flame' as alias "September Miles", co-authored and about her brother, "Deerfoot Miles" aka Cleave Bethea, a New York City Detective who survived a shootout at, "The Big T Lounge" in Brooklyn. <br /> <br /> In early January, 1983 Shirley's first grandchild, a girl, Simone was born. She continued working at P.S. 14 often bringing her granddaughter with her to her office classroom. In 1988, Shirley retired after 35 years of teaching for New York City's Board of Education. She then with grace and pleasure took upon the responsibility of helping raise her first two grandchildren, almost full-time. They attended all grade schools in her neighborhood and lived with her Monday's through Friday's only to return to their mother on the weekends that she wasn't planning to take them somewhere. <br /> <br /> In 1987, Shirley executive produced and hosted a television show titled, 'A Touch of Native America' that aired twice a week on Queens and Manhattan' Public Access stations. In 1998, she was honored an award for her production by the network. The show regularly hosted special guests speakers from within the Native community and introduced Native American awareness to a diverse community of New Yorkers. In 1988, she created the slogan, "We are still here" and printed it with a picture of Sitting Bull on t-shirts and bumper stickers to vend at a stand that she shared with her beloved friend, Ernie Mitchell. <br /> <br /> Shirley married her second husband, Kenneth Cuffee [deceased] in 1990. They both enjoyed writing and reciting their poetry together, fine dining and traveling with her two grandchildren. Shirley was proud of her Native American, eastern woodland culture and faithful in passing down the traditional lessons of her grandmothers down to her grandchildren. She loved to share stories with them, attend traditional ceremonies, and travel with them to powwows all along the east coast. Always begin sure that they had their books, paper and pencil in reach if not in hand. Shirley was a an active voice and respected elder in the Native American community. <br /> <br /> Our family, friends and community sadly lost a pillar and beloved elder on Saturday, November 10, 2018, when Mrs. Shirley Segree Cuffee, favorably known as "Morgana", passed away from complications with her health. Her contributions to the lives of so many include her service and dedication to New York City's Board of Education, Queens Public Access Television for "A Touch of Native America", activism in the Native American community, New York and the borough of Queens especially in Corona, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. Shirley will always be remembered for her good humor, her fashionable sense of style, her great wealth of knowledge and wisdom, her beauty and last but not least, her loving heart. <br /> <br /> Shirley Segree Cuffee is survived by her ex-husband, Wilbur R. Segree; son, Tracy R. Segree; grandchildren, Simone Santos (her husband David Santos), Taj Segree, Dakota Segree, Hunter Segree, and Tyla Segree; great-grandchildren, Chelsea Santos, Kyleigh Santos, Chayton Segree, Cali Segree, and Stone Santos; brothers, James Bethea, Jr. and Cleave Bethea; nephews & nieces, Tawana Bethea, Donna Bethea, Tori Bethea, Cleave, Jr. Bethea, Stacy Bethea and Kelly Bethea; cousin, Marian Jonathan; an abundance of cousins, great- nephews and great-nieces and countless loved ones and friends.

Services by
Cobbs Funeral Chapels

98-08 Astoria Blvd, East elmhurst, NY

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    I remember watching the show "Touch of Native America" with her co-host Ernie Mitchell. Both of their contributions to the Native American community were greatly appreciated. I feel quite confident that their insight into Native American culture was a great aid to those of Non Native Ancestry as well. They will both be missed. R.I.H.
    Anthony Wheeler Feb 24, 2019