101-Year Old African American woman reflects the qualities that are the essence of Mother’s Day.
(Above: Centenarian Mattie Markham pays a visit to the L.A. Sentinel. Photo Credit: Jason Lewis for Sentinel)
From the blistering hot cotton fields during the Jim Crow era where she picked up to 100 pounds a day for a measly $1, onto Las Vegas where she experienced desegregation for the first time and here to Los Angeles where she ultimately settled, 101-year old Mattie Markham has seen it all.
When she visited the Sentinel offices on Crenshaw Blvd. this week wearing a sharp white-laced dress with a matching pearl necklace and earrings, Markham was delighted to discover that a breakfast of grits, ham and eggs were awaiting her.
To top it off, she requested one cup of black coffee that she dosed with a couple of packs of sugar.
“I love to eat,” she said graciously.
Markham is the last surviving member of a family of nine, one of five sisters and four brothers from Pretence, Mississippi and the state of Louisiana. She was born on October 17, 1907.
If there is one secret that she shared of her longevity, it was that she’s never smoked or drank any alcohol.
Throughout most of her life she’s worked, from the dubious cotton fields, to Goodyear in the West and General Hospital and several jobs of housekeeping along the way. Markham has raised 11 children of her own, two of which are still surviving – 55-year old Carolyn Black and 61-year old Shirley Green of both of Los Angeles. She has 27 grand children, 50 great grand children and 20 great-great grandchildren.
Asked if she ever thought she’d live to reach 100 years old, her reply was quick and witty.
“Oh, no I never thought it, but I love it now,” she responded with a chuckle.
She ate lots of vegetables while growing up, maintained her own garden as an adult and, as she says, can still cook a mean peach cobbler.
“It’s so good it will make you eat yourself,” she quipped.
She loves to read newspapers, magazines and watch the Trinity Broadcasting Network and is not ashamed to add Jerry Springer to the list.
Since arriving to Los Angeles in 1949, she says that things are vastly different without necessarily pinpointing why.
“I’d just say they are different.”
Although she officially retired in 1979 and now resides with her daughter Carolyn in the Crenshaw District, she put in volunteer hours to work the phone bank for President Barack Obama’s campaign.
“I never thought I would see it. A Black man as President,” Markham added.
“They’ve always discounted us [Blacks] and wanted to cast us aside, but they can’t do that anymore.”
Markham has never suffered from any major illness and the only surgery she’s had was laser on her eyes, after which she told her family, “I was blind and now I can see.”
She uses a walker to assist her, but while marveling at the framed newspapers in the Sentinel conference room, she moved around without any assistance.
“There’s Johnnie Cochran, Obama, James Brown!” she observed.
Among her favorite people, she lists President Obama and Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
“Kobe, that’s my boy,” she said proudly.
Each Mother’s Day is a time for her to spend with her surviving children and the host of other relatives, but she really enjoys the grandkids.
“I enjoy the grandkids, they always want to give me their gifts and I just love it.”
Of course, seldom recognizing that she is the greatest gift of them all.