Dr. Clara Jean Mosley Hall, a native of Dover, is a professor in the American Sign Language and Deaf Interpretive Services Program at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio. DOVER — As the only …
DOVER — As the only child of deaf parents, growing up in Dover, Dr. Clara Jean Mosley Hall never had the privilege of shyness.
Dr. Hall was abandoned by her deaf African-American mother at a young age and forged a close bond with her father, James Paris Mosley, who communicated with her in American Sign Language.
“He would ask or talk to me through sign language and I would interpret what he said to people by talking and then I would interpret that information back to my father in sign language,” Dr. Hall said.
“My father raised me in the 1950s through segregation, being deaf and being Indian,” Dr. Hall added. “A person of color, being deaf, and raising a daughter during those tough times would have been hard for most, but my father was able to overcome it.”
Dr. Hall was able to share his and her story through her first book “Paris in America: A Deaf Nanticoke Shoemaker and His Daughter.” In the memoir/biography, Dr. Hall describes her many intersecting identities; Native American, African American, deaf and hearing, while sharing how she and her father overcame those challenges while growing up in Dover, which ultimately shaped her success.
Dr. Hall, is now a professor in the American Sign Language and Deaf Interpretive Services Program at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio. She has taught American Sign Language and other courses in deafness and interpreting for more than 40 years.
She has been recognized by the Ohio State Senate for her outstanding contribution of service and by Phi Delta Kappa as a Distinguished Educator. Dr. Hall is the recipient of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Distinguished Teacher Recognition Award, the Cuyahoga Community College Teaching Excellence Award, and the League for Innovation in the Community College’s John & Suanne Roueche Excellence Award.
Dr. Hall said she never considered herself a writer. Her two daughters was her inspiration for writing the book.
“I have two daughters and neither one of them knew their grandfather because he passed away when my oldest daughter was just a year old and my youngest daughter wasn’t born yet,” Dr. Hall said. “It was a way for me to make sure they knew the story and knew about their grandfather.
“But when I started to get into it, I realized that my father was a great man and would be a great positive role model for deaf students.”
Dr. Hall said her father was a well-respected shoe repairman and owned his own business called Mosely’s Shoe Hospital in Dover.
“My father was an amazing man,” Dr. Hall said. “My father didn’t go to school until he was 9 years old. Most of the students go when they are 4 or 5, so he was behind most students. His parents didn’t know where to send him because he was deaf. But even through all that, he was still able to overcome all of that and be a great man and father.”
Dr. Hall said the book is an autobiography and memoir because it tells the story of her father’s life from birth, but also talks about her life growing up with him until he passed away.
As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) in a time when no accessibility or interpreting services were available, she was her father’s sole means of communication with the hearing world.
Dr. Hall said she was one of the only family members to pick up sign language through teachings from her father.
“I lived and grew up in Dover,” Dr. Hall said.
“Dover is such a small town. I was always at my family’s house. His sisters lived across the street and down the street from us. They communicated with him through gesturing or mouth movements. I remember spending a lot of time with him in the shoe shop, which was next to our home in Dover.”
“I’m 4 years old and there was no one to watch me since my mother was gone, so I spent a lot of time in the shop with him,” Dr. Hall added. “I had my table and chair and when he wasn’t working on shoes he would teach me the alphabet, animals and numbers in sign language. He was my kindergarten teacher.”
Aiding her father
She said she would help communicate information between customers and her father when it was needed.
“Most of the time they would point to the heels if they needed new heels, or soles, but sometimes if it was more complicated than that and he couldn’t figure out with pointing, then I would interpret what they said and relay the information back to my father. “We were a team.”
But being her father’s only means of communication had its challenges. It was a heavy responsibility to deal with as a child at times.
“Back then there was no such thing as a professional interpreter like they have today,” Dr. Hall said. “For me that wasn’t the case back then. I was the only person who was able to communicate to him. Whatever his issues were to the doctor I would have to listen and interpret that information back to my father. Even if it was a personal matter that I shouldn’t know, I had to know.”
She reflected on one of these instances in her book when she had to interpret her parents’ divorce with her father as a young child.
“My mother was nowhere to be around,” Dr. Hall said. “It was a cut and dry procedure. But I remember going to the courthouse with my dad and the lawyers and remember they were using all this legal language that I didn’t understand. I had to try my best to understand it.
“My father was deaf and he didn’t understand some of the language either. I would tell him I don’t understand and he would just shrug his shoulders as if he didn’t understand either. It was a lot, but we always figured it out. That’s why I think this book is so relatable to everyone.”
A long process
Dr. Hall said she didn’t feel confident as writer, as the book took 10 years to complete.
“I would rather talk than write,” Dr. Hall said.
“But when you have children, you would do anything for them. It was for them and even somewhere down the line someone mentioned that if I didn’t publish the story that I should write the stories down for my children.”
“I just felt it was an important task to do for them,” Dr. Hall added. “Once I got started and it fell into to place, I had someone help me. If you notice on the book it says ‘With Gail Williamson’. She’s a colleague of mine in the English Department who really helped me out a lot. I didn’t feel confident as a writer. I have a PhD and I’ve written articles, but they were more along the lines of scientific readings. I didn’t want to bore my readers, so I enlisted her help.”
She said the book was years in the making due to working on it in portions.
“I didn’t take off from work to do this,” Dr. Hall said. “We worked together during spring break, or weekends or any breaks we had. Whenever we could, we got together.”
Dr. Hall said the response the book has received from readers has been overwhelming.
“The book has done very well,” Dr. Hall said. “It’s been more than I can even ask for. I did a book signing at the college that I work at and the same day that the book was released I gave a talk and book signing.
“The college has been there for a long time, but the college’s bookstore told me that they have never in the history of the college sold as many books.”
Dr. Hall credits the book’s relatability and inspiring message for all of the positive responses.
“I want people to see themselves in this story,” Dr. Hall said. “That’s what I want people to take away from the book and I think that’s been the case. I don’t want people to think that can’t do what they aspire to do by not growing up in the right family or not having enough money.”
“The ups and downs of life really are no different for any of us,” she added. “My father and I experienced a lot in my life and with this book I want them to see there’s nothing that can hold you back from your dreams and goals. I’m a living testament.”
For now Dr. Hall said she doesn’t plan to write another book.
“I’m done,” Dr. Hall said. “I think the book will continue to serve its purpose. I’m in talks of turning the story into a movie. I wrote the story for my daughters and once they told me they loved and enjoyed it, that’s all the satisfaction I needed.”
The book is available at Amazon.com.
Arshon Howard is a freelance writer living in Dover.