Monday, January 19, 2009

My Trip to Mississippi

Some of you may have noticed the absence of any posts on Saturday and Sunday. This weekend, a co-worker and I traveled to Mississippi to attend the funeral of the grandmother of a dear friend of ours and to lend support to the family which has been so good to us.

It turned out to be an amazing experience. The grandmother was a woman named Ola Mae Bailey. Born in 1914, she, an African-American, raised ten children in the segregated south, living through the depression, both world wars, and the civil rights struggles which had Mississippi as the epicenter.

Through all the struggles, she taught her children about the importance of hard work and not letting the segregated society they were growing up in hold them back. All ten children went on to go to college and have had successful careers, a remarkable achievement especially in light of the fact that many colleges and job opportunities were closed to blacks at the time. Although the weekend was a sad one as family members mourned the passing of the family matriarch, it too was a joyous one as family members, children, grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces reunited and reminisced about the past that had brought them to the present. As a history buff, and as someone whose family was one of the first to settle Mississippi decades before it became a state, I found the stories fascinating.

One of the lines on the written tribute to Ola Mae Bailey at the funeral caught my eye. In addition to her proud family accomplishments, it was noted that she had been a registered voter in the county since 1971. By my math that means she did not register to vote until she was 57 years old. Although she would have been eligible to register to vote her entire life, Mississippi was one of the southern states that employed horrific discriminatory tactics to make sure that most blacks, although making up large numbers in the state, never were able to cast a ballot.

Today is a holiday celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., who played a major role in helping to break through the segregation and discrimination in the South that Ola Mae Bailey and her children lived through. Tomorrow is the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black President, a partial fulfillment of King's dream that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. While both days represent great accomplishments, to me Ola Mae Bailey had the greatest accomplishment of them all, raising and nurturing with love and devotion ten children in the face of extraordinary adversity. Although she will never have a holiday devoted to her, her character and spirit live on in her children, grandchildren and other family members, whose lives she touched and made better.

1 comment:

Diana Vice said...

That was a poignant tribute, and fitting that it would be shared on this day.