Church members and friends drove by with painted signs and honking horns to wish Mrs. Artressa Malone a happy, 102nd birthday on Palm Sunday (April 17).
Malone’s nieces and nephews staged a drive-by birthday party for “Aunt ‘Trit,” who still lives in her home.
“We go by and check on her several times a week,” said Earlene Walsh Duncan, Malone’s niece. “… My aunt was thrilled with the party and thanked everyone for coming by to wish her a happy birthday.”
Malone was born in Eads, to sharecropper parents with nine children, according to Duncan. She came to Memphis as a young mother of two in search of better opportunities, like so many others in rural, Southern communities.
“Her brothers and sisters also left Eads, but everyone did not come to Memphis,” said Duncan. “They scattered all over. But my father, who was Aunt ‘Trit’s brother, also came to Memphis.
“He would talk about how bad life was working in the fields. My daddy said if he saw a mule in Memphis, he wouldn’t say anything to that mule.”
Eads is an unincorporated, rural community in east Shelby County, where sharecropping eventually replaced the slave system as a way of raising large crops in the South.
Parts of Eads have been annexed to the city of Memphis and parts of Eads extend into Fayette County.
While Malone was still living in Eads, she went to school up to the 11th grade. According to family lore, fees were assessed to attend school at that time. Her parents just did not have it, and that was the end of Malone’s education.
Duncan was not sure when Malone came to Memphis. But a teenage Artressa married “Mr. Hayes” while still living in Eads. The couple had two children, but later divorced. After her divorce, Artressa came to Memphis with her children.
Like many African-American women, said Duncan, Malone found work in the home of a white family. The Thayer family employed Malone as a domestic employee for decades.
“Mr. Thayer built many of the schools here in Memphis,” said Duncan. “The Thayer children and grandchildren, when they come to town, always get by to see Aunt ‘Trit,’ bringing her gifts and money. She is always happy to see them again.”
Duncan said her aunt never talked about how she met her second husband, Ed Malone.
“She didn’t talk very much about her past,” said Duncan. “But we did know that Uncle Ed’s people were from Ripley, Tennessee. Ed Malone worked for Firestone, and that was a good job back in the day. My aunt had a third child after she married again.”
Malone’s first two children preceded her in death, Duncan said. The third daughter is in her 70s.
“My aunt always talks about how good God has been to her,” said Duncan. “Although two of her children are deceased, she is still so grateful. She thanks God all day long for all he has done for her.”
Malone raised her children in Pastor Frank Ray’s church, back when it was just a small church in Binghamton. That’s where the family lived back then.
Later, Malone joined St. James AME Church, located at 600 N. Fourth St., where other family members also attend. Malone has been a member there for decades.
“My aunt hasn’t been to church for two-and-a-half years, not since the pandemic,” said Duncan. “She was going to return on Easter Sunday, but she didn’t feel well enough to get out.”