Living Testimony

October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

Living Testimony Audio Version

Who are these women all clad in white

Gari-Melchers-xx-Sketch-of-Young-Black-Woman-in-White-Dress-and-Hat-xx-Morris-Museum-of-Art-United-StatesMamas, Sisters, Friends

They marched today and sang their praise

For they are living testimonies.

Each all in white, each with brown skin

But each brown eye tells the difference within.

Who are these Mamas, Sisters, Friends

What stories have they to tell

Who will be their voice

Who will serve them well?

They call me little sister

Their lives will be my paper, their tears will be my ink

And I will write each story

As a living testimony.

When I wrote this poem years ago there was an image in my head of a church full of women wearing flowing white dresses, wide-brimmed white hats and just a touch of sass to let you know that they had lived the songs they sung.  I knew I had to meet them, these Mamas, Sisters, Friends, because they were as natural to me as seeing my reflection in the mirror.  I promised myself not only in that poem but in life that I would tell their stories because like many of us plain folk who never grace the cover of magazines or have history pages dedicated to our experiences, they are living testimonies.  As a scholar I have been fortunate to meet more of these women, along with their husbands, sons, brothers and nephews.  And carving fifty minutes out of a day to record their life stories has been some of the most rewarding work I will ever do.  Yet I find that the more stories I record the more stories I lose.  For every person I am able to interview there are at least ten interviews that will never be completed, and now my Aunt Mattie’s is one of them.

I recently learned that my great Aunt Mattie passed away last Saturday at the age of eighty-nine.  If you had met her and I told you she was in her eighties you would not have believed me.  I have so many fond memories of her, teaching me how to make fried corn in Jackson MS, mixing up her tonics and herbal remedies for good health when she came to visit the family in Los Angeles.  And one of my special memories is of her all clad in a deep pink blouse and skirt, like a beautiful spring peony, being escorted down the aisle at my wedding.  Aunt Mattie, like her sister, my Great Grandmother and so many of the other women I now imagine are clad in white and singing songs of praise to our God in heaven was a faithful woman.  Her faith at times sustained the faith of others.  She was a living testimony.

I will never get to record her story in her own words, but it is my hope that through the carefully placed memories of those who knew and loved her, that we can piece together a portrait of her life.  As many of our loved ones pass on, at varying ages for varying reasons I am reminded that their stories are worth writing down, even if only to serve as family artifacts.   After all, history has shown us that the person may pass away, but the testimony always lives on.

For tips on how to begin recording the life history of someone you know please write to me at  Or to share memories of a loved one you recently lost please post in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you.

In Sympathy,



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