Sarah Lee Brooks Greenlee was born and raised in Inverness, Florida, primarily by her grandparents, a grave digger/morter mixer and a homemaker. Because there was no local high school for blacks, she moved to Lakeland, Florida, after eighth grade and graduated from high school there in 1943. She then studied elementary education at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, for one year.
Greenlee joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944 at Camp Blanding, Florida, then was sent to Des Moines, Iowa, for basic training. Greenlee attended cookery school in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and was then assigned to Tucson, Arizona, where she worked as a nurse’s assistant and in the supply room. While in Arizona, she was married. She was transferred to Sacramento, California, where she was discharged as a private first class in early 1946.
Greenlee lived in Detroit, Michigan, for three years, attending Lewis Business College and working in a nursing home. She and her husband divorced, and in 1951, she returned to Bethune-Cookman on the GI Bill. Greenlee taught in Florida until moving to Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1975, where she received a master’s degree in early childhood education from North Carolina A&T State University. Greenlee worked as a teacher in Greensboro until she retired.