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Widow of former TSD editor passes at 95

Emogene Wilson, former women’s editor and society-page writer for the Tri-State Defender, will be interred at Elmwood Cemetery next to her late husband, former Tri-State Defender editor, general manager and civil rights era icon, L. Alex Wilson, on Friday.

The homegoing service is set for noon (Jan. 10) at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 4150 Boeingshire Dr. A viewing at the church will precede the service, beginning at 11 a.m. A Thursday wake is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. M. J. Edwards has charge.

Mrs. Wilson, whose multiple talents also included teaching Spanish, was a little more than four months from her 96th birthday when she died on Christmas Day at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Woodlands, Texas.

These images of the attack on Tri-State Defender editor L. Alex Wilson appeared in the New York Times and reportedly spurred President Dwight Eisenhower to send the National Guard to Little Rock to assure order amid efforts desegregate schools.

Emogene Wilson (formerly Watson) and L. Alex Wilson still were newlyweds on Sept. 23, 1957 when Wilson went to Little Rock to cover the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of African-American students with the daunting task of integrating Central High School. He was attacked and beaten severely by members of a mob that left him with head and other injuries that family members believe caused his death in 1960 at age 51. That was after he had been relocated to the Chicago Defender and developed a form of Parkinson’s disease.

Emogene Wilson was left to raise her three-year-old daughter, Karen, alone. Now Karen Wilson-Sadberry, Wilson’s daughter and her husband, A. J. Sadberry, are the parents of new Memphian and Memphis Symphony Orchestra member, Adam Sadberry.

In her later years, Emogene Wilson went to Texas to live near the Sadberrys.

“She wanted to maintain her independence, so we found an apartment not far from the house,” said Wilson-Sadberry. “I could get to her quickly and vice-versa. When the lease ran out on her apartment, I said to Mother, ‘Why don’t you just come and live with us. We won’t have to worry each month about that rent.’ She agreed and moved in with us. We dedicated our den to Mother.”

In 2017, the National Association of Black Journalists honored L. Alex Wilson posthumously with a special award. His widow accepted during the organization’s confab in Washington, DC.

“We flew up there together and she used a wheelchair and scooter, and she just had a ball,” Wilson-Sadberry said. “I knew Mother had never been more proud of my father’s legacy than she was that night.”

Emogene Wilson (Family photo)

Emogene Watson: The early years

Emogene Watson was the oldest child of Johnny Robinson Watson (a stay-at-home mom) and Dr. Thomas H. Watson (a general practitioner) and was born on April 15, 1924. The Watsons would have another daughter and a son. They lived on Bellevue in North Memphis and Emogene attended Booker T. Washington High School.

After graduation, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Journalism at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Back in Memphis, she found little opportunity for a journalist, but an abundant need for good English teachers in Memphis City Schools. After getting her teaching certificate from Tennessee State University, she began a 35-year career in teaching.

One summer, she attended a journalism seminar at Howard University and landed an opportunity to write for Life Magazine. She spent three summers when school was out in New York City, writing for the national publication.

At home in Memphis, an unpaid opportunity to work in women’s news as the society editor became available at the Tri-State Defender, and for sheer love of the work, she took the job. She was working there in the mid-1950s when L. Alex Wilson was sent to Memphis from The Chicago Defender to take the helm of the Tri-State Defender as editor and general manager.

It wasn’t exactly love-at-first sight, said Sadberry-Wilson, noting that her father and mother were absolutely committed to their professions and the needs of the time for journalists with just such high levels of commitment.

(Tune in to “Where Do We Go From Here?” on TSDRadio on WLOK this Sunday at 5 p.m. to hear Karen Wilson-Sadberry and her husband, A.J. Sadberry, reconstruct the life of Emogene Wilson.)

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