Their lives spanned two world wars; Jim Crow segregation; the civil rights movement which ended it and other legal victories; man landing on the moon; and the election of 18 presidents, including the first African-American one.
During the past two weeks two area African-American women joined the growing list of individuals who reach the 100-year marker of life and another one chalked up 101 years.
Although their memories are fading and their bodies slowed by time, these women and their works are still vibrant, and they are enjoying their centennial celebrations with families and friends.
Louise Artist Edwards, is a life time resident of Norfolk. Known by family and friends as “Aunt Louise,” she was born and reared in the Oakwood section during the days of trolley cars rolling down Chesapeake Blvd. She attended the old Oakwood Elementary School.
A graduate of Booker. T. Washington High School, later as a cafeteria worker at Norview Middle School, she witnessed four members of the Norfolk 17 usher in the era of desegregation in the winter of 1959.
She is a lifelong member Oakwood Chapel Churches of Disciples of Christ, where she is the Mother of the Church and a leader on the Usher Board and Ways and Means Committee.
She worked with Oakwood residents, including Evelyn T. Butts to end the poll tax, to register Blacks to vote and to acquire sidewalks in their community.
She was a proprietor of the Paradise Café, which once sat at Chesapeake Blvd. and Johnston Road in the 1950s. She retired in the late 1970s from the Navy Exchange at the Norfolk Naval Base.
Leronia Cecelia Mitchell was born in South Norfolk, which is part of the city of Chesapeake now.
She recalls that her parents sought to enroll her in the Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Berkley. But, since she was not a resident of Norfolk, she was un-enrolled and her parents, despite their modest income, paid the tuition, and enrolled her in St. Joseph’s Catholic Elementary. She graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in 1938.
A year earlier in 1937, she was the first Miss St. Joseph’s High School.
She married Ralph R. Jones and shortly after, landed a job with the military as an Inventor Liaison Specialist, acquiring parts for war planes during WWII.
She recalls having to stand before mostly White businessmen and Naval officers personnel to talk about the complex and intricate details surrounding the technical requirements for the parts for the planes.
She said she was the only one of her race and few of her gender tasked with such a job but “I was always prepared and earned their respect.”
She retired from that job in 1980, but continued to volunteer in various capacities at her St. Mary’s Catholic Church, including its soup kitchen.
Catherine Ward Epps celebrated 101 years of life recently. She was born in Nansemond County, Virginia which is now Suffolk, in the “Huntersville” section of the city.
She graduated from the all-Black Old Churchland High School and acquired a degree from Hampton Institute. She married her high school sweetheart, Harvey L. Epps and the couple had one child, Vincent I. Epps, an educator.
She worked in her father’s grocery business and later owned and operated a beauty shop of her own.
Upon reaching 101, she was asked what was her secret for longevity,
She said that she always tries to start the day with a positive attitude … regardless of what the situation may be.
NOTE: If you know a centennial, let us know so we can help celebrate their life. Email to email@example.com
By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide