“I am turning 100 years old today. This week people have been calling and sending cards. It never crossed my mind that I would live this long. I almost died when I was in labor with my daughter. We were going to have a party at church, but there isn’t much you can do to celebrate because of the Coronavirus. My husband was a pastor at a church in Covington, VA for 23 years and I have been getting cards from people I haven’t seen in a long time. One mother sent me a card telling me she didn’t know anyone when she came to the church, but we made her feel welcome. Hearing those things so many years later makes you feel good. Kindness to others us just a part of who I am.
I was born in 1920 and grew up in Mobile. We took the streetcar and to Dauphin Street because was where all the shopping was. We walked everywhere else because Mobile was much smaller back then and everyone knew everyone. My father died when I was three. My mother raised my two brothers and me by herself. My father had been an insurance man and he left good insurance. My mother knew how to take care of then money, and she owned the house that her father had built. When she married my father they fixed it up and we stayed there all of my life. My nephew still lives in the house. It was a nice area then.
My brother lived in Birmingham and I lived with him to go to Parker High School, one of the largest black schools in the country. I came back home in the summers. My other brother was killed by a train. He had just finished his first year of college and he was making money to go back to school. That was a shock. My mother went to pieces over that.
The Depression was tough. My mother had money on the bank, but banks didn’t have insurance on the money. She had to go early to get to the bank to get a little of her money. People had holes in their shoes. There were bread lines, and people didn’t have anything.
I was in the first MAMGA Mardi Gras Court. That was 1940. I was in the first debutante group, too. They told us we could use our debutante dresses for the Mardi Gras Court. It was still the Depression and before the war. We were young and we had to learn how to do it. A lady who had worked with the big Mardi Gras court knew how we were supposed to act and dress. The white dresses stood for purity and no one could wear a train except for the queen. We also had a ball. We didn’t have much money to start, but we had a lot of pride. It is still going on I am the only one left from that first Mardi Gras Court.
I knew my husband, Marshall, since I was small. We grew up in Franklin Street Baptist Church and he was friends with my brother. I was a meddlesome little girl to my brother and his friends. Marshall and I started dating just before the war, in 1939. He went to the army in June of ’41 and we got married in November. The war started one month after that and he was gone for four months.
During the war, everybody was working, including the girls. Some of them went to Brookley Field and were paid big money for welding. I worked as an executive secretary and real estate agent for Perkins Development Company the whole time. Real estate was booming because so many people were rushing to Mobile to work in the factories. Mr. Perkins wanted us to work every day, seven days a week, even Christmas Day. He developed Trinity Gardens and Liberty Park. I worked at both. Mobile changed a lot during the war.
After the war, we had a daughter. Marshall entered Virginia Union Theological Seminary, and I get a degree in religious education to go with my elementary education degree. Marshall served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, VA, and I worked with the youth. I wanted the best for those kids. Marshall helped integrate the schools. The white schools had better schools. They had lockers, but our kids didn’t have any. We didn’t have a cafeteria or a gym. We served hotdogs and hamburgers to the kids every day to make sure they had something to eat. I made up my mind to do something about it and talked to the superintendant. We had the lockers in two weeks and later got the gym and cafeteria. It just shows if you ask for something, you get it. I guess he thought if I had that much nerve, he better help. I wasn’t scared of anybody. If I was right, I was going to ask. They couldn’t say anything but no. I also helped start the first African-American pre-school in Covington and the first African-American dance school. I wanted all kids to have opportunities and a good education.
In 1973, Marshall was called to pastor Franklin Street Baptist Church following the death of his father. I was surprised because he was a little devil when his dad was the preacher and they all knew that. I guess they had the confidence in him that he had grown up and prepared himself. We came home and I volunteered with the Red Cross and Meals-On-Wheels. I kept working with the church and the Mobile school system. There needs to be more training of young kids in what they are supposed to do and not supposed to do. They don’t know how to act anymore and don’t care. That goes back to the parents.
The hardest time of my life was 1987 when my husband and son were both sick with cancer and I was helping care for my mother-in-law. She was 102. I was also working. I cared for my husband and her during the week, then caught a plane on Saturday mornings to Winston Salem, NC to be with my son. He was 33 and had leukemia. Sunday night I came home and went work the next morning. You have to take it in stride, one day at a time. My husband died in July and my son died in October. You just have to keep going. I have had my own battles with cancer. After the last round, the chemo left me with neuropathy of the feet and the bottoms of my feet are numb. That doesn’t stop me, I still drive and get around.
I still start every morning washing my face, brushing my teeth, and combing my hair. My mother never let me come out of the bathroom until I had done all three. I can still hear her voice asking if I did it. I have gone from streetcars to computers. There aren’t many people left who can say that.
I don’t go around thinking about death, I just keep going. You can worry yourself to death worrying about the timing of death. I make the most of every day and when my time comes, I am ready to go.”
Happy birthday Mrs. Robinson