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Life of St. Mary’s grad Willie Mae Young Hart worthy of celebration

By Yolande Robbins

And speaking of St. Mary’s…

Mrs. Hart will be 102!

The black Catholic school established at St. Mary’s in 1906 taught black children German, trained them in Latin liturgy, created a library for them to take the place of the civic one they could not access, nurtured them in play and in a vibrant social life, and literally went with them from the cradle to the grave.

Mrs. Willie Mae Young Hart, indisputably the Grande Dame of St. Mary graduates, will celebrate her 102nd birthday on April 4 of this year.

She graduated from St. Mary’s in 1932, only nine years younger than the school itself.

And come April 4, I hope that her hometown, her hometown newspaper, and the school that she’s cherished all these years will be loud enough to carry to Portland, Oregon, where she’s lived most of those years.

It’s tempting to think of living long as just a sequence of things, of one thing after another. But I think it’s more an arc of things, and of time, coming back again.

I look at that picture and try to imagine that beauty at 102!

That picture is at The Jacqueline House, and Mrs. Hart saw it herself when she and her son came back to Vicksburg 13 years ago (when she was just 89).

She cried when she saw that picture, and her son later wrote to us, “My mother is in that picture standing in the middle.”

It was proof of the story she’d told him many times and for many years: that she and her teammates had gone down to Alcorn to play their college girls’ basketball team – and beat them!

She loved telling that story.

But over her life, she did so many things and accomplished so much. During World War II, she worked at the shipyards and, with her husband, co-owned Portland’s first black-owned cab company.

“During the Vanport flood of 1948,” her son said, “she used their taxis to help people escape the devastation free of charge.”

And after they sold the company, he said, his mother fulfilled a lifelong ambition to work in medicine by becoming a licensed practical nurse.

In times that were dangerous and uncertain, she worked for justice and change, first with the NAACP and then with the Urban League, The Council of Negro Women, and Women in Community Service.

Her efforts have lasted as long as I’ve lived. My debt to her is that personal.

For a list of articles written about her, Google “Willie Mae Hart – Portland, Oregon.”

But most of all, on April 4, send her a card, flowers, greetings, and gratitude!

Help make sure she knows she’s remembered — and cherished.

She has dementia, her son, David Hart, wrote, “but her long-term memory of her years in Vicksburg as a youth remain fairly intact…She still remembers the school (and that’s us) to this day!”

Very few of us have such an unrelenting life.

Or one so heroic and graceful.

So her address is:

Willie May Young Hart

3817 NE Mallory Avenue

Portland, OR 97212

Happy birthday, Ms. Willie Mae!

Yolanda Robbins is a community correspondent for The Vicksburg Post. You may reach her at yolanderobbins@fastmail.com.