May 8, 2022
A Mother's Love
“Mother and Daughters” by Hubert Jackson
A mother’s love… a mother’s care… a mother’s concern… a mother’s hopes and dreams… we celebrate our mothers, grandmothers, and other mother figures today for their special relationships… special bonds… special roles in society. 
Vernon Jordan held by his mother, Mary Belle, undated
The late Vernon Jordan (1935-2021) spoke often during his life about his love and his admiration for his mother, Mary. Like many siblings, he competed with his brother for her attention: “My mother had a theory that a mother's love inexorably and disproportionately flowed to the weakest child. And so it's not clear that I was a favorite, but what was clear that Windsor, my brother, got a disproportionate amount of caring and loving because she thought he needed it most… she would always say, ‘I love all my children,’ and when some nice Christian lady would come up and say, ‘Which one is the smartest?’ …that really upset her, and she would just say, ‘All of my boys are smart,’ because that was a dumb question… And she also made sure that whatever sibling rivalry there was, it was a natural kind of sibling rivalry; it was not based on grades or achievements… we were all taught to be proud of each other.”[1] Author Jill Nelson and sister of noted filmmaker Stanley Nelson spoke of growing up in Harlem in a building owned by the legendary Adam Clayton Powell. Their mother took care to start their day off right with a home cooked meal: “We used to have great breakfasts as kids before we went to school. We didn't have cold cereal… we had pancakes or French toast or waffles or eggs… we lived on Riverside Drive… our apartment faced the Hudson [Hudson River]. My mother loved… the river and loved water…it was such a beautiful place to grow up.”[2]
A woman working in her kitchen, undated 
Michael Scott, former chair of Chicago Public Schools, was especially fond of his great grandmother and grandmother who lived in Bogalusa, New Orleans: “The minute I arrived… I felt like I was loved… my cousins would take my sister off to other houses, but I would stay with my great grandmother and…I was home… I'd wake up to the smells of, country bacon and grits and homemade biscuits. And they would sit me in this big chair with a little tray table… I swear I felt like I was a king. And they would just cater to me… And I would watch Roy Rogers and all of the westerns… And it was really a remarkable feeling… over and above the mother's love, it is the greatest love I ever felt.”[3]
Left, left to right: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Eunice Johnson, John H. Johnson, and Gertrude Johnson Williams cutting the ribbon on the Johnson Publishing Company building, Chicago, Illinois, 1972
Right: Gertrude Johnson Williams with her grandchildren John Jr. and Linda, 1972
It was the mother of John H. Johnson (1918 - 2005), CEO and publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, Gertrude Johnson Williams, who set the stage for her son’s success as one of the most influential African American publishers in U.S. history: “My mother never went beyond the third grade. And yet she had more common sense than anybody I've ever met. She knew what to do and when to do it and how to do it. And even when I was in business, I would call her and tell her what my problems were, and she would have good answers… one of the best advice my… mother ever gave me is… ‘as long as you're trying, you're never failing.’ (chuckle) And I remembered that… she said, ‘Son, don't let no one monkey stop no show now.’ (laughter)… she believed in herself… So… if she did all of that with nothing, what can I do with something? And… the thing I'm proudest of is that I didn't disappoint her, and that she lived to see thirty years of my success.”[4] His success and the success of many are attributed to a “mother’s wit” as noted by Councilman Wilson Frost (1925-2018): “My mother [Freddie Bond Frost] was one of the best homemakers you could ever find. And even though we were a single-parent family, she had what people use to refer to in those days as mother wit… Mother wit was considered common sense, and she used that as her approach in dealing not only with us, but with other people.[5]
Left: Joycelyn Harrison and her mother, Viola, at Jocelyn’s wedding, Hampton, Virginia, 1998. From the photo collection of Joycelyn Harrison.
Right: A woman and her daughters, undated
That sentiment was echoed by Southern University’s Executive Vice President and Provost chemical engineer Joycelyn Harrison: “My mom [Viola McKenzie] had a saying… because she didn't consider herself… [an] academically smart lady. So she would say… ‘you can get a lot of book sense, but make sure you have common sense… And that'll take you far in life.’[6] For mathematician Johnny Houston, his grandmother was his mother figure:Well, my grandmother [Ruth Heard Houston] … raised me the first… nine years of my life. I picked up a lot of what they used to call mother-wit from her. She was an excellent disciplinarian but she was a very gentle and kind person and she was also extremely religious and would take me to church with her.[7] For Judge Lillian Burke, the first African American woman to sit on the bench in the State of Ohio, mother wit and prayer were a winning combination: “I came from the little town [Duquesne, Pennsylvania], and we had a close-knit family… And in my time, the churches led the way to educate people and… help them to know what was good and what was not good. And… my mother [Ozella Daviston Walker], was a praying woman. And I'm sure right now I have the benefit of some of her prayers. And with that kind of backing, and feeling that you've got a personal relationship, you can't lose.”[8] Las Vegas performer Shelly Fisher warned of what can be lost when a child is mother-less: “My mom [Martha Ann Robinson Fisher] died two months after I was born, mostly from neglect, probably… an infection that a prescription would have cleared up… so I never knew my mom. And… a person that doesn't know… a mother's love… you got a hard row to hoe.”[9]
Dr. James Comer’s parents, Maggie and Hugh Comer, Chicago, Illinois, undated (left); and Dr. James Comer (center) and his younger brothers, Norman and Charles, Chicago, Illinois, 1941 (right). From the photo collection of Dr. James Comer.
Just ask noted Yale University child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer whose mother, Maggie Nichols Comer, protected him as he dreamt of becoming a doctor: “When I was four years of age… the doctor came to treat me and when he left I said, ‘I'm going to be a doctor when I get to be a big man.’ My parents responded to that by going out and buying me a doctor's kit… They played and encouraged and a neighbor came by and she listened and watched. She said, ‘Why are you all encouraging him to be a doctor? We're poor people. You know he will never be a doctor,’ and my mother's response to that was, ‘you can't say that, say that again, you will have to leave.’ And so… [I was] protected against the doubts that people were carrying within the neighborhood… and doubts that came from outside of our own community… we were always expected to succeed and protected against the doubts that we would succeed.”[10]
A mother holding her son, undated
CEO and Co-Founder of Essence Magazine Ed Lewis added: “My mother [Jewell Spencer Clarke] believed… that welfare was the greatest crime ever committed against black people… she believed that we became lazy, and didn't do enough for ourselves… but she had a genuineness about her, even though she may have talked too much, but you knew she was not trying to manipulate you. She had a sixth sense about human beings. I can say she could spot a phony a mile away. There was just something about her… an inner compass about how she judged people. And by and large, she was pretty good in terms of her conclusion about people… But family was most important.”[11]
Bishop T.D. Jakes hugged by his mother, Odith, undated (left); and Odith Patton Jakes, undated (right)
It was his mother’s strength and resilience that allowed Bishop T.D. Jakes to soar: “My mother [Odith Patton Jakes] is strong as an ox. I've only seen my mother cry three times in my whole life. My mother… faced challenges with tenacity and drive and commitment. And my mother was almost military… and she did the best she could with what life handed her. And we made it, and I learned how to cook, and I learned how to hem my own pants, and I learned how to take care of myself. There was no room in our lives for frivolity or foolishness. And at the core of my siblings [Ernest Jakes, Jr. and Jacqueline Jakes] and myself, there is something rock hard, that if you dig us down past personality and smiling and joking, there's something down in us that's as relentless and tenacious as they come because there was no room for anything else… if you fell apart on my mother, she would slap you right in the face… And she would say, ‘You get yourself together.’ And… she wasn't mean, but she was strong. And I'm glad… because for what life hands you, if you're not strong, you won't make it. And I understand her better with every passing day… that falling apart is a luxury that we could not afford.”[12]
A mother and her sons, undated 
Reverend Dr. Barbara Reynolds spoke, in her interview, of her mother’s strength, ingenuity and focus on education: “When I was sick, she'd go out in the backyard and dig around and get whatever it was, a root or something. And… I'd be well before the doctors got there. I remember… I stepped on a rusty nail, and she beat my foot with something… got the blood out… now you have to pay big bucks for what they somehow knew. But she knew I had to get an education. And she said, ‘You just get all the education. ’ And… I did get all the education I could get. But I still don't know if I'm as smart as she was (laughter).”[13] Automobile dealer Nathan Conyers spoke of his mother’s strength: “She [his mother, Lucille Simpson Conyers] indeed was a true matriarch of the Conyers family. She ran the household and everybody in it… It wasn't… until I was forty-five years old that I began to understand how difficult it must have been for Lucille Conyers, being the only female in a household of four boys and a husband [John James Conyers] But she ran the household and … was the backbone for all of us. And was the one who taught us our personal values.”[14]
Gladys Dorsey (center) with her four daughters, from left to right: Cynthia, Hattie, Joyce Morinda, undated. From the photo collection of Hattie Dorsey.
And the teaching of values is something that Hattie Dorsey, founder of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP), spoke lovingly about: “Now there was a candy store that was up the street and they always had the kind of candy my mother [Gladys Alderman Dorsey] wasn't gonna buy for me. She had… ten dollars—and that money was on the mantel… and I went to the candy store but I didn't buy the candy just for myself, I treated my friends, and so the man called my mother said ‘Hattie is down here treating the neighborhood to candy and ice cream and sodas…’ So my mother came and, I said ‘Oh no I'm gonna get it’ and she was friendly as she walked me back home… she wasn't jerking me or anything. So I said ‘Maybe I might escape.’ When we went through that vestibule and there was a tree limb waiting for me and I got the worst whipping for borrowing that money. I learned a lot and I would say that a lot of my strength, my strong will, my ability to lead came about because of the fact that I got all those lessons growing up.”[15]
Ann Marie Samuelsson and her adopted children, from left to right: Fantaye, Anna, and Marcus Samuelson, undated (left); and Ann and Lennart Samuelsson with their adopted children, undated (right)
Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson whose Swedish mother, Ann Marie Samuelsson, adopted him and his sister out of Ethiopia, told of his mother’s strength against the stares of strangers: “Going shopping was like an event for us, just going to the local store-- because everybody came up to touch our hair, to touch our skin. So… it was very annoying for my mother. She just wanted to get milk or she just wanted to get fish, and it became an event; so she was very aware of her appearance and our appearance. In doing my sister’s hair, she used to have Essence Magazine in one hand--you know this was a white woman, she had no clue how to do black hair. She used to have maybe a two-year-old Essence that she got from a friend that went to London [England] and… I'm listening to them screaming because she burnt them or (laughter) whatever she did wrong, and she had no clue how to do this. She wanted to just raise a family and have normal kids… it was very difficult.”[16]
“Madonna” by HistoryMaker Elizabeth Catlett, 1982
In the eyes of activist and comedian Dick Gregory (1932 – 2017), “there is no day you can celebrate on this planet that's more important than Mother's Day.”[17]

Today is Mother’s Day and there is nothing like a mother’s love.
[1] Vernon E. Jordan, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2003.019), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, January 24, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Vernon Jordan discusses his mother's relationship with her sons.
[2] Jill Nelson (The HistoryMakers A2016.085), interviewed by Harriette Cole, November 11, 2016, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 6, Jill Nelson describes the sights and smells of her childhood.
[3] Michael Scott, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2004.021), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, March 12, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 3, Michael Scott remembers his childhood summers in Louisiana.
[4] John H. Johnson (The HistoryMakers A2004.231), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, November 11, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 11, story 2, John H. Johnson relates his mother's influence on his life.
[5] The Honorable Wilson Frost (The HistoryMakers A2003.227), interviewed by Larry Crowe, October 9, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 3, story 6, Wilson Frost describes his mother's personality.
[6] Joycelyn Harrison (The HistoryMakers A2012.173), interviewed by Larry Crowe, July 14, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 2, Joycelyn Harrison talks about her growing up.
[7] Johnny Houston (The HistoryMakers A2013.046), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 25, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Johnny Houston talks about his grandmother's influence on him.
[8] The Honorable Lillian Burke (The HistoryMakers A2004.082), interviewed by Regennia Williams, June 17, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 6, The Honorable Lillian Burke talks about serving on the Commission on Accreditation.
[9] Shelley Fisher (The HistoryMakers A2013.317), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, November 23, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, Shelley Fisher talks about his mother's death.
[10] Dr. James Comer (The HistoryMakers A2004.132), interviewed by Robert Hayden, August 18, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Dr. James Comer recalls his earliest childhood memory.
[11] Edward Lewis (The HistoryMakers A2014.224), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, October 7, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Edward Lewis describes his relationship with his mother.
[12] Bishop T.D. Jakes (The HistoryMakers A2010.106), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, August 25, 2010, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 10, Bishop T.D. Jakes talks about his parents' divorce.
[13] Reverend Dr. Barbara Reynolds (The HistoryMakers A2005.156), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 30, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 8, Reverend Dr. Barbara Reynolds describes her step-grandmother's background.
[14] Nathan Conyers (The HistoryMakers A2002.149), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 19, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, Nathan Conyers discusses his mother's leadership role.
[15] Hattie B. Dorsey (The HistoryMakers A2007.259), interviewed by Denise Gines, September 13, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 2, Hattie B. Dorsey recalls her mother's strict discipline.
[16] Marcus Samuelsson (The HistoryMakers A2014.166), interviewed by Harriette Cole, July 18, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Marcus Samuelsson describes his adoptive mother's parenting.
[17] Dick Gregory (The HistoryMakers A2007.220), interviewed by Paul Brock, July 29, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 12, story 5, Dick Gregory reflects upon his life, pt. 1.