Story By Dr. Yvonne D. Nelson Mary Elizabeth Mitchell grew up in a caring and loving environment in the quaint community of Orange Mound, a mostly black subdivision of Memphis, TN established towards the end of the 19th Century. Surrounded by her paternal grandparents, aunts, and uncles, Mitchell was never without the nurturing that can and will make or break a child. “I had a great time growing up,” said Mitchell, 83, who was born August 25, 1936, the first born to the union of Dora Foster Jones and Willie Duckett Young ‘DY’ Jones who married December 25, 1926 and lived on Marechaneil Street. “My paternal grandmother was just good. We just loved each other. We just respected each other. It was like a magical life that I lived.” Mitchell’s neighborhood bonds included relatives, friends. and many people whose descendants still reside in the Orange Mound area. “All of these were my houses,” said Mitchell referring to her home and those of her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other generational Orange Mound family’s life hers. “Jacqueline Randolph, a member of New Era Baptist Church, has been in the same house for over 100 years. Frank Hurt has lived on Baltimore for the past 107 years and so has the Stevenson House on short Hamilton which was purchased by John Chandler.” As she reminisced of days gone by, Mitchell talked about how magical life was growing up in Orange Mound. “The adults were good to us,” said Mitchell. The kids didn’t always get along, but we never got bricks or guns or anything like that. The older children had to take us to the park and watch us to make sure we were safe.” During those years, Melrose was a 1st through 12th grade school. Mitchell remembers her aunt, who she fondly called a surrogate mother of hers, taking her and Stump Daddy George Brown, who became a really good golfer, to Melrose to enroll them in the first grade. “After we got registered my auntie took us to Crawford’s Sundry,” said Mitchell explaining that the building was the site of the Photo credit: Jamie Griffin/Whitehaven Branch Library first post office in a black community in Memphis, is still standing on Carnes Avenue and still owned by the same family to this day. “We got a wire tablet and pencil.” After graduating from Melrose, Mitchell needed a job, but she had no desire to perform domestic work. Her home room and home economics teacher, Ms. Fraser, knew she didn’t want to cook or sew because Mitchell had told her that her grandmother had already taught her those skills. Fraser told Mitchell that she could be her assistant and help her with her grades. Fraser lived in North Memphis and made a trip to Orange Mound to speak to Mitchell’s father and auntie since her grandmother had died by that time. Fraser knew a white family that had a store and Mitchell would be a good person to employ there. “Well, they didn’t hire me in their store, but they did hire me in their house,” said Mitchell. “I could walk to work, but I chose to and went to nursing school right after that.” Another neighbor, Ms. Purnell then approached Mitchell about a different job. “She said Mary Elizabeth, what do you know about sizing hats?” said Mitchell. “I didn’t know anything about sizing hats, but Ms. Purnell worked at this cleaners – Evergreen Cleaners, it’s still there – and she told me that she knew I could learn it. They need somebody to size hats. See, people in the neighborhood would take you to a job, that’s why I love this place! She took me down there and I learned how to size hats. Then I took the test and made a score that allowed me to enroll in nursing school to be a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). “Clara Goodall’s aunt Mattie knew we were in school and needed money. Ms. Mattie was in charge of the nursery at Bellevue Baptist, the church we know as Mississippi Boulevard today. You didn’t have to have an application. All we had to do, if Ms. Mattie Sanders said that Mary Elizabeth worked, that’s how we got our jobs. After the service was over, I had never seen a church that big with auditorium seats, we would have to go and lift every seat so the grown women could come with those big dust mops and clean up under. We told Aunt Mattie that we wanted her to tell the people that we wanted them to leave a nickel on the arm of every seat because they know they’re supposed to tip. It didn’t work, but they had big kitchens with lots of food in them and Ms. Mattie would just get all of us that food for our families. They may not have known it, but Bellevue Baptist church fed the hood. They fed some babies in Orange Mound!” Mitchell got married in 1962, but it didn’t work out. “Even at 83, I’m not the marrying kind!” she exclaimed. By this time, the Universal Life Insurance Company had opened. Mitchell took and passed the test and was hired as the first African American keypunch operator for the Tennessee Department of Safety in Nashville, TN. She grew tired of Nashville and wanted 7

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