#52Ancestors – Photo: Kate Lassiter Jones, 1906-2006

Kate Lassiter Jones Aug 2006 celebration
Kate Lassiter Jones, 26 August 2006, A Celebration of her 100th Year

I chose this photo not so much because it is a favorite, although I do like it, but because it portrays the strong, determined, woman that I loved (and love) and admired, whose drive for justice led to her being dubbed the “Rosa Parks of Randolph County.” Kate was not one of my ancestors. She was my 2nd cousin three times removed on my mother’s side. She was my friend, my mentor, my genealogy/local history buddy, and Kate, well, Kate was a force of nature. On this Martin Luther King Holiday and Day of Service, I wanted to reflect on Kate and her commitment to social justice and civic responsibility.

Kate was born Katherine Martitia Lilly Lassiter on 23 November 1906, in the Lassiter Mill area of southwestern Randolph County, North Carolina, one of 12 children of Ulysses Winston Lassiter and his wife Ora Priscilla Kearns Lassiter.[1] They were a close-knit family that valued God, family, education, and community. Kate was educated first at her church run school in nearby Strieby. She learned early the lessons of sacrifice when it came time for her to attend secondary school. There was no local secondary school for African American children. If she and her siblings were going to continue their education, they would have to leave their family and community. Kate, like others of her siblings and friends before her, did just that. She attended Columbian Heights High School in Winston-Salem.[2] She told me she missed her family terribly, but understood the great sacrifice they were making to see to it that she got an education, so she was determined not to disappoint them.

After finishing high school, she attended Bricks Junior College, in Enfield, North Carolina, now the Franklinton Conference Center of the United Church of Christ.[3]  During summers she earned money for tuition by going on church sponsored missions to Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana. She earned degree in Social Work from Schauffler College (loosely affiliated with the Congregational Church and now part of Oberlin University) in Cleveland, Ohio, and another Bachelor’s degree in Curriculum and Teaching as well as an MA in Rehabilitation Counseling from Columbia University in New York.[4]

Kate’s career was illustrious. serving as an elementary school teacher in Roxboro, NC; Director of Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City; the Director of the YMC in Montclair, NJ; Dean of Women at North Carolina A & T University; Director of Special Services for the Third Army at Fort Benning, Georgia; and an Extension Social Worker for the US Army Southeast Region, to name a few.[5]

Kate was a tireless church worker all her life. She was proud and active member of the United Church of Christ. She was the member of numerous committees, went on endless mission trips, was active with every congregation she ever belonged to, as she moved around the country. She was a moderator, trustee, and historian of her home congregation, Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ, in the greater Asheboro area of Randolph County. She also helped organize the fundraising program for the new church building when the historic building was condemned, saying “How can I turn my back on such a towering symbol in my life and see it sag and decay and cease to be?”[6] Her commitment and dedication would lead to her being ordained a Deaconess in the 1980s. I remember being disappointed that I could not make the trip from Maryland to North Carolina for this wonderful occasion.

Kate’s dedication was not limited to her vocation as social worker or even her commitment to church and God. Kate was a political animal. It’s odd that I don’t remember what she told me she was doing specifically during the Civil Rights years, but what I do know is that all the years I knew her, she was politically active and committed to the betterment of her community and state. Throughout her 80s and up to her early nineties, Kate would criss-cross not only the county, but also the state participating in voter registration drives. She would hold fund-raising parties on behalf of candidates she believed in, especially African American candidates. She was a delegate or alternate on several occasions to the Democratic National Convention. Even when she was not a delegate she was keenly interested. During the various campaigns, whether congressional or presidential, after some announcement was made or update given on the late-night news, I would call, and we would talk for hours about a candidate’s prospects, worry over the state of affairs of a campaign, or rejoice over hard won victories.  Her dedication led, in the 1990s, to being given the Kate Hammer Award as State Democratic Woman of the Year. She was thrilled. Thus, years later, I remember being sad and even frustrated that I could not talk with her when then Sen. Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic candidate for President, and again when he won the Presidency. Oh, how I wished she had lived to see that day!

Kate was involved in many other community affairs. She was a President of the Randolph Black Leadership Conference; a member of Leadership Action of the Randolph County Social Services Department; a Vice President of the Eastside Improvement Association; Treasurer of the George Washington Carver School Project; and a member of the Executive Committee of the State Democratic Party. Over the years she was give the Randolph County Social Service Award, the Randolph County Mental Health Association Award, the Randolph County Commissioners’ Award, and the Randolph County NAACP Service Award. True to her interest in local African American History, she was also a Committee member for the Heritage of Randolph County (Volumes 1 & 2), making sure that the stories of local African American families were included.[7]

There are two stories that I remember that exemplify Kate’s spirit. The first I was reminded of earlier this year when Hurricanes Harvey and Maria hit. When Hurricane Hugo hit the coast of South Carolina in 1989, Kate watched the updates on the news like the rest of us, but her response was pure Kate.

In those years, Kate and her sister Ave were constant companions.  However, while Kate was fully retired, her sister, a nurse, had taken a job in a nearby nursing home.  Kate was watching the news the night after Hugo hit and learning about the devastation to Charleston. I don’t remember if we talked that night, but Kate called me the next night telling me she had just returned from Charleston. “Just returned?” I asked. “Yes,” she responded. She explained that when Ave came in that night she told her she thought they should go to Charleston to see for themselves and to see what they could do to help, which is just what they did. Now back she told me she was starting to organize trucks of food, furniture, clothing and other items that people would need to pick up their lives and start over. Kate was a doer, not just a talker. I have no doubt that if she was alive, she would have traveled to Texas or Florida and spear-headed a fundraising drive in support of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

I was reminded of the second story this week when listening to an interview with Dr. Benjamin Chavis.[8] He was talking about how he became involved in the Million Man March. Like Dr. Chavis and others of us, Kate heard Minister Farrakhan speak about having a Million Man March as a call to action to African American men. Kate was impressed. Kate was persuaded. Kate went into action.

Kate was not a man, but Kate believed in the message and she wanted to make sure that African American men from Randolph County understood how important the message was and the importance of participation in the March. Kate began calling men in the community she believed could and should help organize a contingent to join the March. Her enthusiasm was not met initially with equal support. She had to convince those she called that this was not about the Nation of Islam, or even about Farrakhan, it was about supporting fellow African American brothers in their efforts to commit to be the best men, fathers, husbands, community members they could be. It worked, and Randolph County was represented by 2 buses of men traveling to Washington, D. C. to participate.

Advancing years finally took their toll on Kate. Cancer, heart valve replacement, arthritis, a car accident, and dementia marred her nineties and slowed her activism though not her fervor.  At her 99th birthday celebration and again at her 100th, she challenged younger family members to make a difference, to find ways to give back, to be an example to younger generations, to be the change. It was very moving. Those who were there still talk about it.

Kate was blessed to see her 100th year. Since her birthday was in November, I pushed to have her birthday celebration in August during the Strieby Church Homecoming weekend, because so many family members would be able to take vacation and come to join us, and they did. Family and community gathered to celebrate her life and recount the many contributions she had made. She received numerous greetings and proclamations in her honor.[9] As another cousin said later, she was so glad I pushed for the summer celebration rather than her actual birth date which was on Thanksgiving Day that year, because on Thanksgiving Eve, just three hours before midnight and her actual 100th birthday, Kate went home. A week later, family and community gathered one more time at Strieby Church for her funeral, after which she was laid to rest next to her husband (George Jones), parents, siblings, cousins and ancestors in Strieby Church Cemetery.[10]

This Monday, as I attend events in honor of Martin Luther King, I will be thinking about, and be missing, Kate.

[1] 1910 US Federal Census; Census Place: New Hope, Randolph, North Carolina; Winston Lassiter, head; Kate Lassiter, age 3. Roll: T624_1128; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 0087; FHL microfilm: 1375141.

[2] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[3] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[4] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[5] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[6] Williams, M. (2016). From Hill Town to Strieby: Education and the American Missionary Association in the Uwharrie “Back Country” of Randolph County, North Carolina (Crofton, KY: Backintyme Publishing), 375.

[7] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones; and Reflections. (1 December 2006). Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

[8] Dr. Benjamin Chavis on The Rock Newman Show. (21 December 2017). PBS (WHUT – Channel 32). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2E_mTGws6s

[9] Lassiter Family Reunion and Margo Lee Williams. (26 August 2006). A Celebration of the 100th Year of Kate Lassiter Jones (Program Booklet).

[10]Celebrating with Honor the Life of Mrs. Kate Lassiter Jones, 11-23-1906-11-22-2006 (1 December 2006 Funeral Bulletin) (Asheboro, NC: Strieby Congregational United Church of Christ).

8 thoughts on “#52Ancestors – Photo: Kate Lassiter Jones, 1906-2006”

  1. Beautiful….November is always Bittersweet for our Family with our Parents. My Parents would of enjoyed Mrs. Kate and I would of had to. These are the Women you want to spend all day with watching , listening and learning. Thanks for sharing her with us all.

    Like

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