War Mothers to hold Veterans Day program
Sarah Byrd keeps a copy of a nearly 76-year-old article in the Woodford Sun that is a sign of the times.
The headline in the Nov. 19, 1942 issue is “Negro Mothers Met At Courthouse Monday.”
“Woodford County now has three live-wire organizations composed of war mothers. Twenty-one Negro mothers met at the courthouse Monday afternoon and formed an organization for their race, which they hope to make 100 percent within the next weeks.”
The article states that a local group of white mothers of servicemen had been meeting for several weeks, and that the Negro war mothers selected the third Monday of each month as their regular meeting date. The story was written less than a year after America entered World War II, and nearly six years before President Harry Truman issued an order that fully integrated the armed services.
Two years after they began meeting, their “Jimmie Robinson” chapter, named for an African-American soldier who died in World War I, was recognized by the American War Mothers.
“We were still segregated,” Byrd said.
On Saturday, Nov. 10, Byrd and several long-standing members of the Jimmie Robinson chapter will gather at 10 a.m. for a 30-minute Veterans Day ceremony at the old African-American Steele Cemetery, off Tyrone Pike, near the Ledvance plant.
“We’re mainly there to honor the mothers of the veterans who fought in the different wars …” Byrd said. Byrd, 70, went to the all-black Simmons School through ninth grade. She graduated from the then-new Woodford County High School in 1965.
At the Steele Cemetery ceremony, seven members of the Jimmie Robinson chapter, some of whom are in their 80s, will take part, Byrd said. The youngest will be Fannie Carter, 65, whose son William is a Marine. One of Byrd’s brothers served in the Navy, and another in the Army.
The cemetery was given to First Baptist Church by a biracial man named William Sharpe Steele, who Byrd described as well-known and “kind of wealthy.”
One of the highlights will be a song by the Young Sisters, whose great-grandmother, Georgia Smothers, is buried at Steele Cemetery. Taps will be played, a granddaughter of Smothers, who was born in 1883, will lay a wreath on her grave, and American War Mother Josephine Carr will read a poem. Each of the living American War Mothers will be given a flower in a vase, and an exhibit will feature two photos of men who died in combat, Byrd said.