“I hear the clock ticking as it hangs on the wall. Tick, tick, ticking the time away from us all. As it ticks you dream, dream. If you don’t get up and do something about your dream, your dream will die and you will die, but the clock will keep ticking on. I was born on February 6, 1912 and I just turned 108 years old. I learned that poem, ‘The Clock Ticking on the Wall, in first grade and it has guided me my whole life. Ticking time away from all. Tick, tick, it will take your dream, dream. Get up and make your dream live because the clock will never quit ticking.
I grew up in Bentonia, Mississippi. My parents were farmers and owned the land. I was an only child and played by myself. I stayed at the window watching for my parents to come home each night. We ate food from the field and had a good time eating. That was one of the best times of my life, but leaving the country and moving to Yazoo City was wonderful. In the new house, I could try new things. I started a crochet class. We made bedspreads and coats. My crochet work is on display at the Yazoo Library. I still crochet. I make mismatch shoes. You should see a pair I made lately, one shoe was way bigger than the other. I am also a reader.
We lived on Brickyard Hill. My children had to go outside and use the toilet. That would not do. I went to City Hall and they told me to stand in the back and they would send someone to talk to you. I told them I needed sewage. They had me take a paper to get others to sign it. My children got sewage. We needed a playground and I went to City Hall again, they wouldn’t let me come up to the glass, but they did come to talk to me. I told them I needed a place for my children to play. They told me to find the plot and they made us a beautiful park. They gave me money to hire someone to keep it clean and someone to work with the children. Years later they named it Leola Dillard Park.
Being a black woman wasn’t too hard because everyone liked me. I understood the system and treated everyone with kindness, but I stood up for what I believed in. At the movie theater, the black people had to sit upstairs. I wouldn’t allow that for my children, so they didn’t go to the movies. I registered to vote and they took my name off the list because I was black. He said if you know what is good for you, you will take your name off. I went right back and registered again.
I was a teacher and assigned to a whole school. Later I taught 7th grade. I retired and then was hired to teach an all-white class. I guess I did okay. I was the first black to work at the Mississippi State Employment office in Yazoo City and helped many kids get into Job Corps. I gave as many people I could a job so they could have a little money.
I thought about who needs the most help in our community. Old folks and children. I started the Yazoo City Community Club with some of the senior citizens. We helped needy kids and took them on trips across the United States. Kids who had never been out of Yazoo City. I bought school supplies for children. I had free flea markets in my yard for many years and gave it all away to blacks and whites. People gave me so much stuff, including furniture and clothes to give away. People even sent me things from the North. Giving made me feel so good. I did events each year for Make a Difference Day and was honored in Washington D.C. with Ted Kennedy and Usher.
I worked three jobs to put three of my kids through college at the same time. I taught school, worked at the employment office, and at First Baptist Church. It was hard, but my dream of an education for all of my children worked out.
Kindness is one of the purest traits of the human heart. Everyone should be kind. They talk about Trump. I say pray for the man. We have to love each other.”
(Three of Mrs. Dillard’s daughters were in the room and spoke about their mother)
“Mother always taught us be the change that you want to see. Be it, don’t just speak it. She taught us to love and support each other. Mother loved people and wanted to be fair to everyone.”
“Mama believes in the Fruit of the Spirit and wants to make sure we do not just know it but live it. We had a skit at her 108th birthday about the Fruit of the Spirit and how mama lives them. We also had a Jeopardy Fruit of the Spirit game. We all put on pairs of her crochet slippers as we sat around her. We had a birthday card reading
“Let me leave you with a funny story. While mother was being honored in Washington D.C., Usher was also honored. He sent mother a note across the room and asked her if he could take his picture with her. Mother said, ‘Oh yes, isn’t that nice.’ She told my sister, ‘the usher on the door wants to have his picture made with me.’ Usher came over with his photographer and entourage. He wheeled mama around and gave her a lot of love. He sits down and talks and talks and talks to her. Finally, mother tapped Usher on the shoulder and said, ‘Okay baby, you had better go back to your door. You don’t want to lose your job.’ What do you think User said to mother? He said, ‘yes ma’am.’ After she realized who he was, she was mad that she didn’t ask him to help with her projects.”
(Mrs. Dillard says goodbye)
“Thank you for coming to see me, baby. Always remember that the clock keeps ticking and it is ticking time away from all. Get straight on your dream and your dream will live on after you are gone. The clock will keep ticking on.”
(I turn 50 in April. For my birthday I am spending a week in the Mississippi Delta interviewing the oldest people in the smallest towns to help save their stories and get life advice. I had to start early with Mrs. Leola in my hometown.)
(I turn 50 in April. For my birthday I am spending a week in the Mississippi Delta interviewing the oldest people in the smallest towns to help save their stories and get life advice. I had to start early with Mrs. Dillars in my hometown.)