- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Remembering a hero
The death of Michael Jackson was the top story last week. The entertainer made headlines around the world, praised for his talent, his ability to bridge the gap between blacks and whites with his music and his philanthropic endeavors. He was, almost everyone agreed, a hero.
Such talk had me thinking about someone I had the opportunity to interview years ago, when I was the editor of the Faith & Values section of The Atlanta Constitution. While she had her 15 minutes of fame back in the mid-1990s, not too many people would recall Oseola McCarty today. A quick reminder: She was the Mississippi washerwoman who amassed a small fortune, then gave away much of it to the University of Southern Mississippi.
This is her story. It’s worth repeating when talking about heroes.
Oseola McCarty’s life was filled with grace, a quiet hymn to goodness. She managed to skirt the complex, focusing on three core beliefs that filled her life with meaning – God, family and work. Link these beliefs with compassion and love and you have the makings of a hero, maybe a saint. You decide.
Oseola McCarty was a washerwoman. Not a maid. Not a domestic. A washerwoman. For more than seven decades she carefully washed and ironed the dirty laundry of the rich folks of Hattiesburg, Miss.
But it wasn’t just a job, a way to make a living and keep a roof over her head. Washing clothes was her passion — something she did well, something she enjoyed.
Each week she would set aside a little money. The weeks grew into months, the months into years.
The fabric of time was filled with family and God, blessings that brought her peace during moments of doubt and sadness. After all, Oseola McCarty was a poor black woman growing up in Mississippi during a period when society was filled with hate and rank with fear.
The work continued. Her overhead was low. Her needs were few. In 1994 she retired. And these were the telling numbers in her life: Started work at 12. Retired at 86. Bank balance: $280,000.
That’s right. Oseola McCarty had managed to save over a quarter of a million dollars. That in itself was a remarkable achievement, a gift that speaks of sacrifice and commitment and the ability to face challenges that most of us hardly comprehend.
What she did with the money was breathtaking and captured the imagination and wonder of the entire country. While planning for her retirement, she told her banker she wanted to give a little money to her church and family, and $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi.
It seemed such a magnanimous gesture. And for some people that’s what it would have been. But Oseola McCarty was a quiet woman. A shy woman. A humble woman. Her gift was from the heart. These are her words:
“Some people make a lot of noise about what’s wrong with the world, and they are usually blaming somebody else. I think people who don’t like the way things are, need to look at themselves first.”
Oseola McCarty looked at herself and acted. She saw a problem and solved it. And sometimes the willingness to act is the difference between the commonplace and the transcendent.
A footnote. Oseola McCarty spent the last few years of her life being honored for her gift. She met with government officials and world leaders, received hundreds of awards and citations, including the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian award, and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. She was thrilled and excited by the recognition, but remained humble to the end. She died in 1999. The Oseola McCarty Scholarship fund at the University of Southern Mississippi continues to aid needy African-American students today.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
As it says in my by-line, in the several items I've posted previously on "Like the Dew," I recently ran for Congress. But I am not a politician, nor possessed of a personal ambition to hold public office. I ran, rather, because for the past nine years I have had a message that I regard as so urgent that I've been willing to do whatever I can to spread it far and wide in order to persuade my fellow citizens of its truth and importance. I believe that for the past decade or so America has faced a crisis as pr Read on →
If you're a head of household in little Nelson, Georgia, you're about to be required to have a gun and ammo. If you want to, and if you can afford it. But not if you're a convicted felon or have certain physical or mental disabilities. The law is just a stupid as the reasons for it. The police chief, also the town's only police officer, said he hoped the law would make Nelson safer. But he didn't have any stats on just how unsafe Nelson is now, before the law. "Very minimal," he told ABC. "I couldn't even give you a percentage." Read on →
When I sat in that old church built in the Gothic style surrounded by the music that the organist was playing, I was thankful to be in such a peaceful setting, far away in body and spirit from the violence that holds so many lives hostage in this world of cruelty and tumult. In a church where people pray for peace, forgiveness and love--all of which seem so lacking in our world--I wonder at times how we manage to reconcile what we wish the world were like and how it actually is. Sitting there in such a calm and safe spot, Read on →
Last Thursday, just before I took my daily two-mile run/walk hunger struck. A few bites of watermelon did the trick. When I bit into that cold sweet watermelon a flood of summer memories rushed in. I recalled the great tastes of summer and with those memories came warm images of youth in the Georgia countryside. I saw stacks of dark green, striped watermelons, red, ripe tomatoes, and heard the beautiful grinding of a hand-cranked ice cream churn. Recalling the great tastes of summer I thought will make a good column. I created a document and titled it “The Tastes of Summer.” I’m Read on →