True Love in Action

ImageMy children, our love should not be just words and talk;
it must be true love, which shows itself in action.
I John 3:18 (GNT)

Lots of words and talk have been emanating from the “big boys” in Washington these days. Some of the highlights include House Speaker John Boehner’s crass, caustic, contrived call for the Senate to get off their asses to avert this Friday’s self-imposed sequester[1] and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s retrograde amnesiac remark today (February 27) that the Voting Rights Act is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” for African Americans[2] (who as recently as the 2012 Presidential election have been systematically disenfranchised by discriminatory voting laws reminiscent of those that provoked Voting Rights Act of 1965)[3]. There’s no love lost in these words and talk from two prominent leaders of our land. Their word-filled lack of love is underscored by stifling inaction on legislative and judicial matters that will deeply impact the well-being of American citizens who are governed by these leaders.

In I John, the Bible endearingly urges us away from the false love flatulence of hot air words and talk that leave nothing but a bad odor behind. By contrast, “true love…shows itself in action.”

As Black History Month concludes with our nation bracing for the financial shock of the radical and reckless spending cuts of the sequester and at least one Chief Justice dismissing a pillar of our nation’s painful Civil Rights struggle as nothing more than unnecessary “racial entitlement,” I would like to hold up the life of one unencumbered courageous Black woman as a contemporary example of “true love, which shows itself in action.”

Oseola McCarty[4] was born on March 7, 1908 in Wayne County Mississippi near the little town of Shubuta. She was raised by her mother, Lucy McCarty, who worked as a cook and moved the two of them to live with relatives in Hattiesburg, MS when Oseola was a young girl. Oseola attended Eureka Elementary School in Hattiesburg until the sixth grade, when she dropped out to care for her aunt who was hospitalized with an illness that made her unable to walk. By the time Oseola’s aunt recuperated, “All my classmates had gone off and left me, so I didn’t go back [to school]. I just washed and ironed.”[5] For the next 78 years, Oseola faithfully washed and ironed washed white people’s laundry using a pot and scrub board, earning just a few dollars per load.

 “The white people would come and bring us their clothes. They used to not bring them. You had to go get the clothes. We washed them in a cast iron wash pot and a tin tub and rubbed the clothes with a rub board and threw them in the pot and boiled them, rinsed them, pinned them to the line, hung them up. We had starch pieces to starch them…We didn’t charge much– sometimes two dollars, sometimes a dollar and a half. After the War, it began to pay more… We worked all the time. We were never without work. There was plenty work to do.”[6]

Along with learning the value of hard work, Oseola learned the value of saving money from a young girl. “I’d put the money away and save it. When I got enough, I went to First Mississippi Bank and put it in. The teller told me it would be best to put it in a savings account. I didn’t know. I just kept on saving.”[7] When her mother died in 1964 and her aunt died in 1967, Oseola added the small sums of money they left her into her growing savings account. “I put the money in place instead of drawing it out. I let it stay so it would grow. That’s what they told me … ‘If you don’t take it out, it will grow.’”[8]

Oseola’s life was free from many cash-consuming responsibilities, encumbrances and indulgences. She lived in the same house where she grew up. Her uncle gave her the property as a gift in 1947.  Devoted to her grandmother, mother and aunt, Oseola never married or had children. She chose to live a simple life of thrift, walking rather than buying a car, declining to upgrade from her black-and-white television, and doing without air conditioning until late in life, when she bought a window unit so visiting guests would be comfortable in the summer months. Oseola essentially sequestered herself in a frugal lifestyle during her working years in order to build wealth to bless those who would come after her.[9]

Eventually, bank personnel noticed her sizeable savings and helped her invest in Certificates of Deposit (CDs) and conservative mutual funds to further augment her savings.  Even as her assets grew, Oseola was not a hoarder. She had a heart to help others. “I decided I had too much money, more than I’d ever use. And I didn’t have no sisters, no brothers, no children- nobody. All my family was dead. So, in the place of giving it to my relatives, I thought I’d divide it out so that all of them could get some of it—relatives and them what wasn’t relatives – everyone…anybody.” [10]

In a meeting with her bank officers, Oseola expressed her desire to leave something from her estate for her cousins and her church, with the largest share allocated to establish a scholarship fund for African American students with financial need at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). To confirm her intent, her lawyer laid out ten dimes to represent percentages and wrote out slips of paper with the names of the parties Oseola identified to receive a share of her estate. He asked Oseola to place the dimes next to each slip of paper to designate what percent of her estate she wanted each party to receive. Beside her congregation, Friendship Baptist Church, Oseola put one dime, a tithe of her estate. Beside her three cousins, Oseola put one dime each. She put the remaining six dimes next to USM, to establish a scholarship fund.[11]

I opened up the scholarship …[and] I decided on USM (University of Southern Mississippi). Long years ago, nobody didn’t go to that school but whites. And now colored go there just like the whites do. And I thought it would be a good thing to put it out there… since this was my hometown university, [to] give them the money and let them do what they know how to do with it.[So I told them] I wanted a scholarship.[12]

Through her thrift, Oseola built up a legacy gift totaling $150,000 for USM, presented to the school’s leaders on July 26, 1995. It was the largest gift from an African American in the university’s history. Her example of true love in action created ripples felt round the world. 
In Hattiesburg, the business community was so stirred by her unselfish generosity, that they matched her founding contribution, raising the scholarship fund to $300,000. Harvard University awarded Oseola an honorary doctorate degree in tribute to her extraordinary example of philanthropy. In September 1995, then President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal and, together with the Congressional Black Caucus, honored her with a dinner at the White House. Eschewing airplanes, Oseola traveled to Washington, DC for this honor by train in her first trip outside the South in 50 years.[13]

The final four years of Oseola’s life after The Gift (as her act of generosity is referred to in Hattiesburg), were marked by celebration, appreciation, fellowship and sharing. This quiet, diligent, simple courageous woman of faith and love in action became a celebrity. Her world opened up to new people, new places and new experiences. She enjoyed traveling and meeting new people. “I used to wouldn’t talk. I hardly ever said anything. I lived by myself and didn’t have anybody to talk to. But I really enjoy talking now, and I’m more braver than I was.”[14]

Oseola’s words are worth hearing. They have been seasoned by her long decades of silence, working hard, caring for others, saving faithfully, and building a legacy to pass on to those coming after her.  Oseola’s words are not hot air, but fresh air, filled with simple wisdom, practical faith and true love in action.

Since her decease in September 1999 at 91 years old, Oseola’s wisdom lives on in the book she published Simple Wisdom for Rich Living.[15] Her generosity lives on in the Oseola McCarty Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Southern Mississippi.[16] And her example of true love in action lives on in the hearts and lives of people around the world who have been inspired by her life. At this tense juncture in our Nation’s history, may Oseola McCarty’s life story call us collectively to order, to unity, and to true love in action.

 


[5] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[14] Ibid

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