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‘God’s goodness’ over generations powers birthday celebration for centenarian

Thursday, June 16, was one of those rare occasions when Inez Ayers goes out on the town for a party.

And with good reason — It was her 100th birthday. Family and friends hosted a party at Jim’s Place Grille in Collierville for food, fun, and lots of birthday gift surprises for Ayers.

“Aunt Inez is the descendent of a colorful cast of characters who left a great, family legacy for us,” said Lonnie Yates, Ayers’ nephew and family historian. “We love times like these when we all get together and share a few laughs. Our family has been so blessed over the years.”

Ayers wore a crown and gushed over pink roses, along with the gifts her family gave her. The fit-for-a-queen gathering was another opportunity to reminiscence about God’s goodness in generations past, Yates said.

Ayers grandfather, Henry Covington, was born a slave in 1845, Big Creek, MS. Covington had a number of children, including Henry, Ayers’ father. Grandpa Henry was a farmer, having acquired many acres of land after slavery ended.

In the 1890’s, Covington “ran into some trouble” with local whites, according to Yates. One of Covington’s sons, who was only 16 at the time, knew that night riders would come looking for his father. Tom drove his father to the next county and put him  on a train. Where Covington went is lost to the family because all of Ayers’ siblings are dead.  Covington was never saw him again.

Covington’s daughter and her husband would also have to flee years later. Her husband reportedly shot a gun. A white woman sitting on a horse fell off because the horse reared up, and she fell off. The couple went immediately home, gathered their belongings and children, and left.

“I’ve been researching our family history for 30 years,” said Yates. “I found the youngest of the couple’s children in Dyersburg. She is in her 90s and lives in a nursing home there. Her name is Anna. I called and said, ‘Anna, this is your cousin, Lonnie.’ She said, ‘I am not Anna.’ It’s funny. After all these years, she thinks someone may still be looking for them. She is the only one left.”

Covington’s children inherited the land and farmed, just as their father had. Henry, Ayers’ father, born in 1874, was about 18 when his father was forced to flee.

Ayers was born June 16, 1922, in Calhoun County, MS, the daughter of farmer who was born in 1874. When she was a teenager, Ayers left the farm and moved to Memphis to live with an older sister.

The sister and her husband owned Martin’s Beauty and Barber Shop. Ayers enrolled in Booker T. Washington High School. It is unclear how long she attended.

According to Yates, Ayers opened her own business for a couple of years. It was called Daps Restaurant, located on Wellington, in South Memphis. When integration came about, business slowed to a crawl. And like many other African Americans entrepreneurs, she was forced to close.

Ayers worked in a pharmacy on Beale Street, and later, she went to Memphis City Schools where she worked for 19 years as a teacher’s assistant.

She married Lynwood Ayers, an electrician, who preceded her in death. The couple’s only daughter is Ayers’ caregiver.

The “queen” for the day, Inez Ayers gets some help with her crown. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Ayers only leaves home for doctors visits and special occasions. She is a long-time member of Metropolitan Baptist Church, where she faithfully attended until health issues prevented her.

 “Discovering family history is important,” said Yates. “It doesn’t take long to look back and see how far God has brought us. Aunt Inez is living history. Her story is our story. We are grateful she lived to see this birthday.”

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