FAREWELL “MISS ALICE” AND “MISS HONEY”
Most people who know me know that I was born and raised in the south Macon County community of Armstrong, Alabama. Armstrong was a small village of families, mostly African American, economically poor; however, “salt of the earth” people rich in love, work ethics, caring and discipline.
Armstrong was a place where its inhabitants created a life of self-sufficiency for themselves as many African American communities did before the integration movement of the 1960’s. I told someone the other day, I was 11 years old before my first visit “to town,” meaning Tuskegee.
Our Mother, Mrs. Lillie Harris Mabson, took my sister, Dorothy, and me with her shopping. We were fascinated with the “big town” feel and the access to stores that we did not have in Armstrong (Armstrong had one general store and a weekly rolling store.) I remember how mischievous we were and almost uncontrollable. Mom quickly reminded us of our “home training” and told us if we did not behave, she will never take us shopping again! That was all we needed to hear to get us back in line.
This article, though, is about the two women mentioned in the title: Mrs. Susie Alice Jackson Williams and Mrs. Norzilla “Honey” Tolbert Jones. They lived in Armstrong, and were a part of the village that raised me. Mrs. Jones lived on County Road 2 and Mrs. Williams lived on County Road 45, each just up or down the road where the two roads intersect. I had known them since I have known myself.
“Miss Alice,” as all of the children in Armstrong knew her, passed on March 20, 2020. She was 91, having been born May 23, 1928. My fondest memories of her are at her home and in St. Paul Baptist Church in Armstrong.
She used to bake the tastiest cakes in the community. Their family had a large, fenced front yard where children would play and feel safe from the neighbors’ aggressive dogs.
Always prim and proper, Miss Alice was greatly admired. She was a full-time teacher at my Alma Mater, Macon County Training School (later South Macon High School) in Roba, and taught there for over 38 years in the elementary classes. Having attended Cotton Valley School in grades 1-6, I was not one of her students. She was one of the last, if not the last, of the Jeanes teachers in the county.
Mrs. Williams also taught in the County’s Adult Basic Education Program at The Armstrong School, the historic school on the grounds of St. Paul Baptist Church. After her health began to fail, she spent the last four years of her life, primarily in Montgomery, Alabama with daughter and son-in-law, Alice LaFaye and Lamond Avery.
Mrs. Williams is the last of the Elders of her generation in the St. Paul Baptist Church in the Armstrong community. I am grateful for the training I received from her as one of her Sunday School students.
Many of my lawyering skills were developed in her classes: studying and reciting Bible verses and Easter speeches; standing before church audiences and presenting during programs—all contributed to the person I am today. Thank you, Mrs. Williams. I will never forget you. May you rest well from your labor in Eternal Life.
“Miss Honey” was a special lady, too. Born January 12, 1921, she passed on April 26, 2020 at 99 years of age. What a life! In later years, with all of her grands and great grands referring to her affectionately as “Grandma,” I began to call her “Grandma Honey Jones.” She was smart and could read fluently up until the end. Whenever a story in the newspaper featured some accomplishment I made, I would share it with her. She would read it and always showed pride about my achievements with encouragement to do more. And, not just for me, though, she was that way with all of the youngsters of Armstrong.
She was an extraordinary seamstress who could sew beautiful clothing without a pattern. All she would do is look at a dress or shirt and she would make it. And, oh, those homemade tea cakes. They were the best. I can taste them now in my mind’s eye. Just like Miss Alice’s cakes, they were the best ever.
Always a lady, Grandma Honey taught us girls a great example of someone who respected herself, held her head up all while she endured many hardships in her life. She was widowed, experienced the death of her oldest son, the death of her oldest daughter and the death of that daughter’s daughter (whom Grandma had raised) and still had a commitment to live life to its fullest while loving and serving The Lord and others.
A great friend of our parents, Grandma Honey was there with our Mother and us when Mom was experiencing her last illness in 2002, to support us through that trying time and beyond. She always had encouraging words to share and expressed such love that I knew I was just as safe and as much at home in her presence as I was when I was with my Mother.
Grandma Honey Jones, the last of the Armstrong Community Elders, rest in Heaven and know that you left a great legacy for those whose lives you touched. Thank you; there will always be a special place in my heart for you.
In loving tribute,
Atty. Lateefah Muhammad