Mother’s Day is May 8, which is only three days from now, and many families will be paying tributes to their mothers. The glory of my boyhood was my mother. I remember “Ma’Dea” as I used to call my mother, Viola Hill-Lipscomb, during my early childhood while growing up in Marion, Ala. and Cincinnati, Ohio.
I will always remember “Ma’Dea” because she played the dual role of mother and father (Later, at age 14, I met my father).
Marion was strictly Jim Crow, and Cincinnati was segregated in many public places, except the public schools. Ma’Dea carried herself with great pride and was resolved to stand on her own feet and make a way for herself. “The dual role” added a double burden that black women like Ma’Dea bear in striving for dignity and fulfillment in life at that time in a legal, suppressive environment raising a family.
Not once did I hear her complain of poverty and misfortune during those years, especially in Marion, where we had an “outhouse,” no running water, only the well water, no electricity, an icebox an iron stove for cooking that required wood, and coal for fuel. The fireplace needed wood in the winter and fall to keep us warm. Not one word of bitterness ever came from my Ma’Dea, in fact, even in pain and agony, I never saw her cry. She brought to our country household the blessings of laughter and warm good humor.
Serene, undaunted, Viola struggled to earn a livelihood by washing and ironing white folks clothes in Marion, and nursing, baby-sitting, cooking and tutoring white folks’ children in Cincinnati. Performing her heavy workload, Viola also saw to our education. My late sister Marva Jean was the oldest of Viola and Isaac Lipscomb’s five children. Followed by Victor, Elizabeth, Isaac Wendell (the baby) and me.
My mother was loyal to her convictions and unbending. Due to early operations at age six months, Viola devoted more care and attention to me; that bound us closely together. How proudly, as a boy, I walked at her side, my hand in hers or holding on to her long dress, as she moved among the people in Marion and Cincinnati.
Ma’Dea was demonstrative in her love toward us, but she was not quick to praise. The family values mother taught us were done not so much by her preachment, but rather by the daily example of her life and work. We knew, for example, when to come home from play, our duties in the household, and our time for study. We had to be inside at 6 p.m. every day, and our playmates would laugh at us, especially in Cincinnati, when I was 12 years old.
I disobeyed Viola one time too many. I was 6 years old, and we were living in Marion. Mother daily would tell us not to steal fruit from our neighbor’s property going and coming from the Baptist school and also to stay together as a group for protection. One day I climbed a pear tree and ate pears. When we got home late, the group told my mother what happened.
I answered, “A … a … a … no … no … Ma … Ma … Dea!” Juice ran down my chin from the unchewed pears still in my jaws and my stomach was bloated out from too much fruit.
Viola said, “Go outside and bring me a switch, you hard-headed dummie!” I have never forgotten the sense of shame and fear that overwhelmed me after that whipping. Never did she have to admonish me again for lying. (I received many “whippings” later for not following directions, but I was truthful.)
A few wealthy white families she worked for in Cincinnati recognized my mother’s dignity and exceptional skills and accorded her respect. The Moffits of Avondale, a suburb of Cincinnati, hired her as an after-school tutor and to help raise their youngest daughter, Misty. (She took me with her over the weekends.) But how remarkable that was and what a tribute to her character can be appreciated fully only when one recalls that the Cincinnati of my boyhood was in many ways like any small town in the deep South. Despite the rigid social and economic patterns of white supremacy, Viola Hill finished high school at Lincoln Norman in Marion, the same school from which Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, graduated from.
Ma’Dea possessed many skills: She could read music and played the piano and autoharp. Mother could sing, acted in plays and was a supreme baker of bread. My mother possessed that rare gift of working with children. She was a strict disciplinarian and perfectionist. If you worked with Viola, you knew her expectation: What she expected of her blood children and students alike was to work hard, mind your elders, never say bad words, never tell lies, and never miss Sunday school. She also taught children to do their best and honor God.
My mother told me when I visited her my second year in college that success in life was not to be measured in terms of money and personal advancement, but rather the goal must be the richest and highest development of one’s own potential.
A love for learning, a ceaseless quest for truth in all its fullness, and putting God first were teachings instilled in me by my mother.
Viola united with Garfield Park Baptist Church in 1962. “Mama” Lipscomb, as she was called by her church family, loved her church and her children. In 1965, she started the day care center at the church, where she served as director until 1982 when her health began to fail.
She died in July of 1998. So I ask you, St. Peter, if I pass through the golden door, give me mother’s number, so we can meet once more!
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma’Dea. I love you so much and miss you.