Shirley Anita St. Hill was born November 20,1924, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the oldest of four sisters and daughter of Charles and Ruby St. Hill. Described as a "proud black man" who was a voracious reader, Charles St. Hill worked as a baker's helper and eventually secured a job in a factory. He became a staunch union man and a follower of the black independence principles of Marcus Garvey, instilling in his daughters a strong work ethic and pride in their race. Her mother, Ruby Seale, when not at her sewing machine, would assist neighborhood women many first-generation Jews from central and eastern Europe."Because she was English-speaking and could give advice about bills and other legal pitfalls of city life, she became a kind of neighborhood oracle and leader".