Barbara Jones has lived on the 1000 block of North Leclaire in Austin for 12 years and during that time she’s considered her neighbor, Lethea Crump, to be a grandmother figure. 

That’s why it seemed natural for Jones to be the one to plan a special commemoration for Crump’s 100 birthday party. 

Community leaders and neighbors gathered on Crump’s porch on Sept. 22 to celebrate the woman many described as Mother Crump — a West Side matriarch. 

During Thursday’s gathering, Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, said although Crump never had children of her own, she’s been a surrogate mother to “many in our community and across the country.” 

Lethea Crump in her younger days. | Provided

Crump was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi and moved to Memphis when she was 18. She came to Chicago when she was 35 and has lived here ever since. 

Rosemary Douglas, 79, said she met Crump when she was 18 years old and has moved across the West Side with her. 

“We stayed on Kolin together, side by side, then she moved on Washington and on Washington she stayed down on another block from me, then we stayed on West End together,” Douglas said. 

“Then she came on LeClaire and I came on LeClaire and bought the building right next to her,” she said. “I learned from her to always love people. Help them and God will always help you.” 

Nowadays, Crump can’t hear well but she still lives an active life and has the mental clarity of someone much younger.  As 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts read a resolution honoring Crump, the 100-year-old seemed to jump for joy while in her seat. 

“The Lord brought me all the way,” Crump said. “I never missed work unless I was sick, up until I retired … I got up early every morning and took care of my mama for 14 years before she passed away when she was in her 80s.” 

Jones said Crump lives with her nephew and is pretty independent. 

“She does everything on her own,” Jones said. “Yesterday she was cleaning up the kitchen — all the cabinets, all of that, all on her own. She’s out here doing her yard. She tries to pick up her weeds.  She sweeps inside and outside the gates. One day she saw me out there doing my weeds and said, ‘Baby let me tell you how to do these weeds.’ Yea she’s not one for sitting around. She’s very alert.” 

Rev. Ira Acree and Ald. Emma Mitts were among those celebrating Crump’s birthday Sept. 22. | Shanel Romain

Rev. Acree said Crump’s “resilient life story must be told and celebrated,” before mentioning all of the world-historical milestones she’s lived through. 

“She survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Lynch law era and the ride on the back of the bus period in our history,” Acree said. 

“For this centenarian to witness the election of the first Black president, the first woman vice president who also happens to be Black, and the appointment of the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court should give America hope, especially in this era of intense social unrest,” he added. 

Crump attributed her longevity to her abiding faith in God and people. 

“I love people,” Crump said. “I fed them, I took them in my house, they lived with me if they had money or not. When you live for the Lord, God will bless you. Don’t go around saying ‘I’m living for the lord and you don’t like people.’ It doesn’t work like that. God don’t work like that.”