First, the obvious: mothers deserve so much more than the celebration of one day. This year, that “official” day of observance is Sunday, May 8.
The May 5-11 edition of The New Tri-State Defender shares sketches of mothers in their myriad forms and with their varied and overlapping focuses. We share them here through TSD’s online extension, TSDMemphis.com.
Gale Jones Carson: ‘Strength through loss’
Gale Jones Carson knows painfully well that a mother’s son can be gone in an instant.
In 1999, her older son, Bryan, was driving on the interstate returning to college. His younger brother, Jason, was trailing him in his car.
And in one, devastating, unthinkable moment, Jason’s car swerved out of control. Bryan screamed in horror, staring, disbelieving, into the rearview mirror.
The crash was fatal. In a moment, Jason was taken from the Carson family.
“I grieved and grieved, and cried and grieved and grieved and cried,” said Carson.
“And then, I got up and went back to work. I got over my grief with work, work, and more work.”
A woman, who wanted to help Carson, shared her childhood experience with grief. The woman’s mother for a while had lost her will to live after the death of one of her two sons.
“Yes, you’ve lost your son, but you have one still here,” the woman told Carson. “He needs you, and you must be there for him.”
Since then, not only has Carson been there for Bryan, she has been then there for so many other youths over the years through her involvement in programs that offer young people training and mentorship.
Carson was a popular campus beauty at Hamilton High School. Life was somewhat “charmed” for the 1973 graduate. Success for the overachiever would be a career in broadcast journalism.
“My mother wanted me to attend LeMoyne-Owen College, but they did not recruit me very hard,” said Carson.
“But Christian Brothers College pursued me persistently because they needed more Black students. I attended my first two years at Christian Brothers, but they had no communications department.
“So, I finished my bachelor’s (degree) in broadcast journalism at Memphis State (now the University of Memphis).”
After graduating, Carson discovered several rewarding careers were available in communications. Besides, politics had begun to attract her attention.
“In 1988, I was working at FedEx,” said Carson. “Veronica Coleman was running for Shelby County District Attorney, and my mother was helping with her campaign. I wrote for the campaign, and I enjoyed it.”
Four years later, Carson ran for president of the Shelby County Democratic Party and lost handily. No woman had ever served in the office.
Her second run was against Jim Strickland, in his pre-Memphis mayoral days, of course. He won but asked her to serve as vice-president. She accepted, gaining experience in the administration of the local Democratic Party.
While her political star was rising and her career path looked bright, she got married along the way. The relationship did not work out and she pressed on with the two boys she adored.
The boys grew up in a wholesome, nurturing home with every possible advantage their mother could provide.
Carson, who has held several impressive posts, now is MLGW’s Vice President of External and Community Affairs.
“I am passionate about my work, my customers, and about my employees,” said Carson.
And Carson is passionate about the children who have benefited from her care and generosity over the years.
She has held on to the belief that looking to meet the needs of others is a pathway to healing one’s grief.
Velma Lois Jones: ‘A mother, indeed’
Velma Lois Jones is among those uniquely gifted women, who – although they never have born children – nurture young people with an instinctive ability to sense unspoken needs.
They mend broken villages of children, whose circle of safety and protection has been breached.
Jones grew up in Hyde Park in North Memphis, where impoverished families suffered great need. She witnessed their struggles all around her.
Her mother was from Brownsville, Tennessee. Her father was from Woodstock, an unincorporated community in northwest Shelby County.
The family moved to North Memphis in 1928. Jones’ father died when she was 8.
By second grade, Jones knew she would be a teacher because she deeply admired her second-grade teacher. The segregated school system was an extension of the community – a bonding ground for Black teachers and Black students.
“We went to the same church, we lived in the same community,” said Jones. “I attended Manassas, grades 1-12. It was like a great big family back then.”
Jones graduated from Manassas in 1948, completing her college undergraduate studies in 1952.
Returning to North Memphis, she wanted to teach in and serve her community.
“I have never lived south of Jackson Avenue,” Jones said. “I taught second grade at Hyde Park Elementary for 12 years, then moved to junior high school.
“I retired in 2002 after 42 years. I just loved it. I had so many adopted kids. Teachers were surrogate parents in those days. Those were the best and happiest years of my life.”
Jones would go into the community and ask for clothes that children had outgrown. She had in mind the children who came to school with no shoes or socks in cold weather, no coats to brave the cold.
“We maintained the clothes closet at church,” said Jones. “When children were in need and we didn’t have their size, there were always people in the community we could ask to help.
“I have always loved babies and children of all ages. I loved all God’s kids. I never understood it when teachers said they didn’t like teaching this grade or that. I would think, ‘How can you not love a child? They are just babies.’”
Jones would bring children home for the weekend.
“We would play games and have such fun,” said Jones. “I would take them to church with me. We’d come back home for Sunday dinner and then take them home later. I just enjoyed them so much. Kids are so lovable.”
On Fridays, Jones would bring gifts and games for prizes to students who won spelling bees and math contests.
“After I retired, I still wanted to be around children,” Jones said.
“So, when I left the classroom, I went to work as vice-president of the Tennessee Education Association. The TEA is the teachers’ union. I served in that capacity for two years and then as president for six years. In all, I spent 50 years serving children.”
Jones finds great satisfaction in seeing “her children” grown up and doing well, raising families of their own
“I see my babies everywhere,” Jones said. “They were my life for so many years. Those were good years, fulfilling years. I have traveled to many places, and my life is full. Children still make me happy.
“People always ask me why I never married,” said Jones. “Well, it wasn’t because I wasn’t asked. I guess you could say that the ones who wanted me, I didn’t want, and the ones I wanted didn’t want me.”
The quip makes her laugh.
“My life was rich and full without marriage. I always had my children.”
Barbara Cooper: longevity has its place
At 92, Tennessee state Rep. Barbara Cooper has been on the receiving end of many Mother’s Day salutes.
She appreciates every embrace, drawing upon her parents as anchor points for her understanding of fundamental motherhood values – caring and sharing.
A state representative since 1996, those values are rooted at her core as a community influencer and fresh on her mind as she prepares to observe Mother’s Day 2022.
Cooper’s mother, a teacher and principal in the old Shelby County Schools system, grew up in Bartlett when it “was the country.”
Her father came from Kerrville, an unincorporated community in the northeast portion of Shelby County. She was born in Memphis at the old John Gaston Hospital.
“I grew up in New Chicago (in North Memphis). That’s how I came to graduate from Manassas High School,” said Cooper. “I played the trombone in the school band. The Tennessee State University band director came to Memphis looking for a trombone player. That’s how I got to TSU.”
After earning both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education, she began teaching elementary students in the legacy Memphis City Schools in 1950.
Later, she taught adult education, GED and literacy.
Barbara Ward married John Cooper the same year she began teaching. A Manassas graduate also, he set his sights on LeMoyne-Owen College. Unsuccessful in his bid to become one of Memphis’ first African-American police officers, Cooper then applied to the Memphis Fire Department and was hired.
“My husband was a private for 21 years,” said Cooper. “Blacks did not get promotions. Policy said anyone passing the 20-year mark should be automatically promoted to captain. John sued, won, and was promoted to captain.”
In 2006, John Cooper died. Later, their son died, leaving the couple’s two daughters.
Grieving prompted Cooper to immerse herself in work, leaving the classroom for the Title 1 program.
“Title 1 federal funds are used for children who are reading on a lower level than their grade,” said Cooper. “I was the Title 1 parent coordinator. I instructed parents on what they needed to do to help their children.”
Learning that the state was using Title 1 in white schools that did not qualify, “We sued, and they had to give that money back,” she said.
Cooper was leaning toward politics by that time.
“My mother would vote and register other people,” said Cooper. “Once I registered to vote, I have never missed an opportunity to vote.”
She entered the state House race for Dist. 86 race, which encompassed Westwood, Coro Lake and adjacent areas where she lived.
“I had worked with parents in their homes on Title 1 and I knew what the needs were.”
Cooper ran and lost four times before meeting success on her fifth effort. She has never lost another re-election bid.
A few weeks ago, the entire Tennessee House surprised Cooper, honoring the legislator not only for her longevity in age, but also for her keen sense of governance as a savvy stateswoman.
Still driven to build upon the lessons she derived from her parents, particularly her mother, Cooper is seeking yet another term later this year.
“I’ll be 93 on Aug. 4 (the day of the county general election and party primaries for state House seats). Some people came to me and told me I should step down and let a younger person have my seat. They said I was too old. Well, I’ll step down when I’m good and ready.”
The TSD’s Mother’s Day salute concludes with these sketches:
Dr. Carol Johnson Dean: In service to children
TaJuan Stout Mitchell:
The intersection of motherhood and advocacy