In continuation of WARE’s yearly celebration of Black History Month with weekly biographies of remarkable people, we will be celebrating local individuals by using their own words of wisdom as told in some cases over 30 years ago.
“Always express yourself. Speak. Never close your mouth because someone could take you down the river. Speak.”
Mrs. Winifred Hodge talks about her origins like her family was blessed by God. She could always hear her Mother singing in the yard when she was a child: “I want to be more and more like Jesus.” With a background in the Caribbean, she traced her family back from 17th century Virgin Islands to Fiji. She was raised in the rural South in a small hamlet of only 4 families, all related, and all helped to raise the children. The whole community wanted a good education for their children, so they hired a teacher from NYC, built a school, and supported that teacher by giving her a room in their home and brought her their chickens, eggs, and fish.
“As a child, I don’t know how I managed to keep my mind. My Mother was a civil rights worker. We’d be in the dining room and when they came down the street shooting, shooting anything, Momma taught us to go under the bed or in the fireplace.
When she moved to Lyons, she raised 6 children and 16 foster children, teaching them the same values she learned from her parents: ”Father is the King, Mother is the Queen, and the children are princes and princesses. We were a royal family. We shared everything. This gave me what I have today: pride and a feeling of importance. There isn’t anything I really want to do that I can’t.” Although raised as a Catholic, Mrs. Hodges would “attend any church because I believe there is one God. You had people to help you raise your child,” she said proudly. She even sponsored two European families during WWII.
“Government doesn’t realize they oppress people. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically. This is more important than your stomach. If you are hungry, you eventually will get food, but if you rob a man of his values, he is never able to achieve them again.” Always instilling dignity and pride in family, her children and grandchildren carried on the legacy of education, self-reliance, and dignity. A daughter ran the Meals on Wheels program in Wayne County, while her siblings became a teacher, a college professor, a Nursing PhD, a police detective, a school dietitian, and an international businessman.
Our elders’ voices, spoken with clarity and purpose, should be heard. When asked to talk about the horrors that surrounded her family in the Jim Crow South, Mrs. Hodges said, “Someday. (But) I’m not ready yet. I want to tell the world what I have witnessed. And now (after all this time), I’m (still) trying to get rid of it, but once in a while when someone ill-treats me, it surfaces.” Growing up in the rural South and moving to Wayne County, she carried the weight of the world, taught her children well, and still teaches us today.