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Monday, July 15, 2024

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Daughter finds mother seven decades later

From the moment Alice Faye Hudson knew she was adopted, she dreamed of meeting her biological mother. Now, 70 years after being born in Missouri and being handed off to a stranger, Hudson has not only found her mother but her five living siblings as well.

Hudson’s story starts with a teenage beauty named Willie Esther Jackson growing up in Tyler, Texas. It was the 1940s and the grip of Jim Crow held an oppressive stranglehold on life for African Americans. Amid the reign of racial tyranny, Willie Esther’s parents, Roy and Gussie Bell Jackson, worked hard to take care of their family.

“Roy was a brick mason, and Gussie Bell stayed at home with the children,” said Delphine Davis-Johnson, Hudson’s cousin. “When the children got older, I think she did some domestic work. Also, I believe she was a cook, working in the school cafeteria.”

Their daughter Willie Esther was a young teen when she first got pregnant.

“She almost got put out of the house for getting pregnant,” said Hudson. “But they decided against it. The young mother had a boy, and he was named Will Henry Lewis.”

By the age of 19, Willie Esther was pregnant with her second baby.

“I guess she remembered the first time that she was nearly put out of the house,” said Hudson. “She was pregnant with me and, I guess, decided to leave home before I was born. My mother was close to one sister who was real close in age to her. That is who she confided in.”

Details get a little murky after Willie Esther leaves home.

“Willie Esther tells the sister she’s close to that she is going up to Kansas City, Mo., to a home for unwed mothers and give the baby up,” said Davis-Johnson. “That sister told a younger sister, Jimmie Ruth. Jimmie Ruth is my mother, and she only told me when I got of age. It is unclear whether their parents ever knew about the second baby.”

But according to Hudson, family lore says that she was, indeed, born in Kansas City, but the “adoption” happened at either the bus or train station – not a home for unwed mothers.

“I was told that my mother was holding me in a bus station or the train station, and a couple stopped, complete strangers, and the woman said, ‘Oh, that’s such a pretty baby. Please let me have her.’ My mother told her, ‘You can have her.’ 

You know, back in those days, children weren’t actually legally adopted. My mother wrote a statement so no one would think the baby had been stolen. It simply said, ‘I, Willie Esther Jackson, give Alice Faye Jackson, to Edith Henry.’”

Alice Faye Hudson is pictured directly behind her mother, Willie Esther Jackson Washington, seated in front. Her two sisters are (l-r) Marilyn Sanders and Shirley Skinner. Her brothers are (l-r) Donald Washington, Carl Washington and Nathaniel Washington. (Courtesy family photo)

Willie Esther returned home to Texas.

And just like that, Alice Faye had new parents, Edith and Robert Henry. They had three other children when the baby was brought home to Evelyn, La., where Robert owned a 45-acre farm. They were devout Christians, who gave their youngest daughter a stable foundation. Like the baby in a typical family, she was doted upon by loving parents.

When Hudson was in junior high school, she found her birth certificate and a letter from her mother. Without her parents’ knowledge, she wrote to her mother at the address on the letter, but it was stamped “Return to Sender” and sent back.

“My parents said, ‘Why did you write that letter,’ and there was just so much hurt there,” said Hudson. “I decided not to pursue it any further because I didn’t want to hurt them again.”

Fast forward, Hudson grows into a great beauty like her mother, meets and marries the love of her life, and has three daughters.

A few years later, she began to wonder again about her biological mother, where she is and how she is. Her husband, Charles, encouraged her to look for her mother. The search was long and tedious. Eventually, she stopped looking – discouraged.

“I wasn’t really getting anywhere, and you just never know what you’ll find,” she said. “Who knows if they wanted to find me? I didn’t know how they would respond to me so I just stopped looking. And anyway, just by reason of so much time passing, I thought my mother had probably passed away.”

Hudson could not have known that her mother never forgot the child she gave up. Willie Esther was 90, suffering with dementia in an El Paso nursing home.

“That’s what is so miraculous,” said Hudson. “My mother had dementia, but she said to my sister one day when she was about to leave, ‘Did you find your sister? You have a sister named Alice Faye.’ And then another time, my mother told my sister, ‘Your sister ought to be 70 now.’”

Not even the ravages of time and debilitating dementia had robbed Willie Esther of Alice Faye’s memory.

Jennifer Hudson, the Hudsons’ youngest daughter, searched Ancestry.com and immediately, Davis-Johnson’s name pops up because she’s also looking for family connections. Jennifer didn’t tell her mother at that time as she wanted to find her mother’s family as a surprise for her parents’ upcoming 50th anniversary celebration. 

Bits and pieces fell into place. Little connections turned into big connections, and not only did Jennifer find her biological grandmother, but it was discovered that there were also five siblings living. Will Henry, the first baby, had passed in his 60s.

Charles Hudson gave his daughter a credit card and told Jennifer, who is already in Texas, to arrange flights for everyone to travel to El Paso to meet the newly-discovered relatives.

“I’m all about family,” said Charles, the retired golf pro of the Links at Pine Hill. “Not just my wife, but me and my children needed to go with her and meet everyone.”

And what a scene it was at the care home, meeting Willie Esther and her other children for the very first time. Such weeping for joy and thanking God. Alice Faye had come. The family was whole again.

“They kept saying, ‘That’s what was wrong with Mother all those years. She had to keep this secret and hold all that inside.’ My mother looked at me and thought I was Margaret, her sister who passed away. But we felt that on some level, Mother understood that I was Alice Faye, and I had come home to her.”

This weekend, all the Hudsons will return to El Paso for a family reunion. Their grandchildren will meet all the other grandchildren and great uncles and great aunts – aand best of all, their 92-year-old great-grandmother.

And Alice Faye will kiss her mother’s face once again.

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