CELEBRATING 100 years!
My father's aunt turns 100 today. Her name is Lillie Mae Ushery. And let me tell you, she is as vibrant and funny and boldly intelligent as she was when I first remember her as a kid.
She was born in Union Point, Georgia. The daughter of Martha Mitchell Jenkins and Allen Jackson. Her mother, Martha, was a twin and the second-to-last daughter born to former slave parents. Lillie Mae and my grandmother Beatrice spent a lot of time with their former slave grandparents and remembered them very well.
When she was only five or six, a black man from a neighboring town was accused of stealing goods from a grocer and was on the run. Several white men decided to scour Union Point for him, knocking on the doors of black residents and demanding to come inside and search for the fugitive. Well, when they arrived at Charlie Jenkins' house, Lillie Mae's 26 year old brother, they were not allowed inside. Charlie would not have it. And that's when things got dangerous. Charlie told the white men they had no right to come inside or to be on his property. They were trespassing. Later that night, a mob of white men returned and hung Charlie from his tree as his young wife and children looked on.
The courage and bravery of her brother runs thick through the Jenkins clan. Martha Mitchell Jenkins, the matriarch, was a bootlegger who later moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia where her independence infuriated and inspired many. Lillie Mae also stands high on bravery. She openly speaks her mind about politics and/or the foolishness of a fool's behavior. And she's always in support of another's desire to be themselves, to live how they wish. Several years ago, she even came to my defense. My father's much-older brother insisted the only way I could become a man was to join the Army [not an uncommon destination for midwesterners], but within seconds Aunt Lillie Mae rose up from her chair and said to my uncle: Why? So he can turn out like you?" And the YOU she stressed carried the weight of a laugh and a dismissal.
There's big celebrations in Cincinnati today for Aunt Lille Mae. So if you have a few seconds, toast Lille Mae Ushery. At 100, she's still thinking strong!
Until next time,