Church Mothers: Mrs. Lillian Mathews

In honor of Mother's Day, we are celebrating a group of women in the Mississippi Delta who anchor their communities as only a mother can.

Story by Alysia Burton Steele
Mrs. Lillian Mathews
Photo: Alysia Burton Steele

Indianola, MS
Age: 86

Matriarch of: 1 child and 5 grandchildren

"Well now, I had one experience with voting. The first time I voted. Of course, they didn't want to us to vote anyway. Had us pay poll tax and all that, but still couldn't vote. We were the only two, my husband and I, and one or two other people here with good reputations, were allowed to vote. The mayor's wife and I were tallying votes, you know takin' the names down and puttin' it on the book and all that, and she always referred to us 'nigras.' She pretended she couldn't pronounce Negroes. She called us nigras and I stopped and I said, 'The word is Negro,' and she said, 'Well, I can't say that, I have to say like I say it anywhere else.' I said, 'Well, we don't like it like that.' So, I didn't take it any further, I just let her know I didn't like it. Just a lot we had to deal with. In the courthouse, they had the Black fountain for the water fountain and the one for White. Well, it said 'Colored.' Well, I just decided I wouldn't be thirsty. I didn't drink out of the place. I said I'll work all day without water. We couldn't use the same restroom. I didn't like that. I couldn't change it myself, but time did."