Ella Jackson Lewis Passes

Ella Jackson Lewis Passes


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Big Mama was a true servant of the Lord. She loved the Lord and accepted Him as her Lord and savior

at an early age. She was a faithful and dedicated member to Jerusalem Baptist Church.

She loved her church and Jerusalem loved her.



Memoriam for Ella Jackson Lewis

(August 11, 1910–December 28, 2009)


Remembering Ella Rena Jackson Lewis

Sister Ella Rena Lewis, age “99,” affectionately known as “Big Mama” quietly and peacefully surrendered to the Master’s call at her home on the evening of Monday, December 28 at Approximately 8:57 pm.

Big Mama’s journey began 99 years ago on August 11, 1910. Can you imagine what her eyes have seen and what her ears have heard? One of eight children born of the union of the ate Thomas Jefferson and Laura Mason Jackson in Sussex County, Virginia. Hers was an awesome journey. She was a history book all unto herself. She lived through Jim Crow, the Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Voters Rights, radio, television, and now the more advanced technology of computers and cell phones just to name a few. Imagine the joy in her heart when on January 12 our first black President of the United States was sworn in. Lord Jesus!

Big Mama was a true servant of the Lord. She loved the Lord and accepted Him as her Lord and savior at an early age. She was a faithful and dedicated member to Jerusalem Baptist Church. She loved her church and Jerusalem loved her. She sang in the choir to His glory and honor. She attended Sunday School regularly learning more and more of what saith the Lord. She was a member of the Missionary Ministry, Pastor’s Aide Ministry and a proud Deaconess.

She was educated in the Sussex County School system and employed at the Jarratt Motel Restaurant. Big Mama was a mother that was loved and adored by her children, grandchildren, and her community. A love for people kept her doors open on “welcome hinges.” Her grandchildren came home every summer and farmed with joy and pleasure alongside their “Big Mama.”

She was a great storyteller. Close your eyes and you were there with her seeing all as it was being told. Now that’s a great storyteller. As much as she loved home, she also loved to travel to see the world made by her God.

photo left: Mama, Buster Rivers, and Daddy

She was a great storyteller. Close your eyes and you were there with her seeing all as it was being told. Now that’s a great storyteller. As much as she loved home, she also loved to travel to see the world made by her God.

Big Mama’s longevity is attributed to her love of the Lord, her commitment to family and friends and simply being the kind of person God would have her to be. Happy is the person that has their hands in God’s hand.

Big Mama lived a full life. She was married for 44 years to the late William Norman Lewis (died January 1970). They were blessed with six children; four of whom preceded her in death; the late William Thomas Lewis; the late Virginia Rivers; the late Lucinda Reid, and the late Edith Taylor.

photo left: Jerusalem Baptist Church

She leaves to cherish her legacy of love, her daughters, Susie Threatt and Annie Givens—both of Jarratt, Virginia; 34 grandchildren; 31 great grandchildren; a cherished friend and her running buddy of 50 years, Lula bell Givens; and a host of relatives and friends.

But as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”—The Family

*   *   *   *   *

Balance Due, Always

                   For Ella Jackson Lewis

             (August 11, 1910—December 28, 2009)

The sweet loam of earth draws her walnut body like a magnet iron in a distant embrace as she tap-taps from room to room. Her memories of youth & hardship

are ever clear as a bobwhite’s whistle as humorous as the echo of a mockingbird’s song as refreshing

as the falling morning dew in drought.What heart forgets those sacrifices made— the steered course that freed me from the racial slights and clutches that bound her inevitably to the back porches & kitchens of other folk, to the cold cotton fields & scrub boards? Forgiven but not forgotten the horrid years of backbreaking sweat planting, chopping, picking

harvesting—no Xmas of gifts for five daughters against the bogus books of balance due.The sun is in its downward wing.

as the shades shorten in the open field.

Old pleasures and conquests recede heavily in bloated, sagging flesh.


Her suffering has not been unto death.

Her ship’s spirit still advances as the grave draws nigh. Praise-singers are now silent, as a burnish

leaf falls from ancient oak.

Without pity or pardon, earth reclaims

the flesh as her spirit climbs the heavens.

Rudolph Lewis

December 30, 2009

*   *   *   *   *

Friends Respond to a Poet’s Loss

Dear Rudy,

Thank you for letting me know about the death of your mama. She had a long and significant life, and left a tribe of descendants to remember her and continue, in their various and sundry ways, her legacy. You should feel no guilt or feeling of having abandoned her because you moved and remarried; I’m sure that she was unaware of your absence. She was ready to leave. Just think what her death would have meant to your precarious residence in her house—a house that now belongs to her daughters (and not you). Frankly, my dear, you got out of there just in time.

Yes, you must write something about her. I have meant to tease you about the fact that now that you have a personal life, you don’t write as much. Remember all those long periods of silence when I seldom wrote, when you didn’t seem to understand that I was caught up in some weeks of joy or moments of family crisis? Well, now you know how it is, and I have to smile.—Much love, Miriam

So Sorry to hear Rudy—will remember her in my prayers—Pat

Rudy, my sincere condolences . . . and the best to you & yours this forth coming year!—bev

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy, just opened this.  Please, accept my family’s condolence on the death of your grandmother who had been a mother to you. You loved, and wrote about her so often  living in Jerusalem that she became a familiar figure to readers of ChickenBones: a Journal.

I remember that so much of your feelings for your Mama and mine for my mother Bessie Chiege Iwuji Okeke (d. Nov. 6, 2008) seemed similar.  Today in fact, there was in my hometown Umuediabali, Ahiazu – a one-year Memorial Service held for my mother (“Mama, I Still Think of You“).

May the soul of your Mama rest in peace.—Dr. Rose Ure Mezu

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Dear Rudolph


If we could see that endless point in time

when we shall know for certain that

our journey here has reached its final end


and in some way   reel in the flow of life

and from that soaring pinnacle

look back upon this state


when we  can live and  love

and walk and breathe and

sing and talk and eat and act


and then come back

remembering what we’d seen

no longer lost inside the crashing now


and now of world wave history

smashed in a broken compound eye

a shattered image of a breaking time


then with that timeless vision

we’d live each golden heartbeat

with such a fierce intensity


to drink the music of the  sky

study the winding ivy on the branch

feel the excitement of the water in the stream


dance to the rhythms of the wave

and learn to live in such a way

that joy is everywhere.


Richard Lawson


The spirit lives on. Love, Richard

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy, You have may deepest sympathy for your mother. Stay strong and remember time heals all wounds.—Craig A. Garner

*   *   *   *   *

That story “Conjuring and Doctoring” is wonderful. I love the phrase “sweet-water pants” and the language and the acts of conjuring. I see that the story was published. Did your papa ever stop “fooling around”? Whatever happened to Rebecca? Your mama endured a lotta crap—she’s a better woman than I am! As they say, “The Lord don’t like ugly,” so she had the best revenge: she out-lived him by a long shot. Which one of your aunts was Busta married to? —Miriam

painting by Kaki

*   *   *   *   *

Miriam, it is quite interesting the story of Rebecca and Daddy. Of course, I do not know the truth of the story; however as a boy I did know Rebecca and her children by John Parker, her husband. From a story told by Susie, Daddy tried to make it out that it was Mama and John Parker and that Mama’s youngest daughter, Ann, was John Parker’s child. Why Susie would make her mama out to be a whore I am unsure. But she was Daddy’s favorite and she was the only daughter who drank daily. I suppose the tear between Mama and her daughter had a lot to do with Susie’s public behavior of running a bawdy house. Mama often said Susie was going to Hell. Maybe it was that “tear” that prevented Susie, even in her late 70s, visiting her mama who lived right across the field in walking distance. As you know, I was there at Jerusalem three years and not once did she visit Mama. One could see her working in her garden in the mornings and afternoons. She did visit Mama a year ago at the hospital, shedding crocodile tears, when she thought Mama was near death. Ann thought such behavior was unseemly. As I recall, Susie, escorted by her oldest son Norman (my nemesis as a boy), shed no tears. I do not think they even clouded up. Well, Susie is 80 now and maybe with all she has been through nothing phases her.—Rudy

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy,  Our sincerest condolences on the transition of your beloved mother. May your memories of her, the love and wisdom she shared with you sustain you in the days and months to come. Keep your head up and allow the knowledge that death is not a final end, only a change in status lift your spirits as you continue your journey and life purpose. Stay strong!—Junious

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, what a lovely poem of tribute to your mama, a woman strong and loving, who left a wonderful legacy to her tribe of five daughters (at least one gone now), grandchildren and other kinfolk. You did her proud in this poem and the other words that you spun in her behalf.

I can see her strength and beauty in that magnificent portrait. She lived a long and valuable life, but she was ready to go. (Who is Buster?) I hope that the family will include your poem in the obituary. Will you attend the funeral? —Love and peace, Miriam

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy,     I join you in mourning, to the extent I can. “Conjuring and Doctoring” is a wonderful story, and scary. Wishing you and your new wife a happy and healthy 2010.— David

*   *   *   *   *

I so sorry to hear about your grandmother passing. She lived a long life. I enjoyed her hospitality when I visited your home many years ago.  She will be truly missed.  Please let me know the arrangements I would like to send something to the family.—Sheila

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, your grandmother suffered much hardship, but it is good to know that you made every effort in your power to ease her pain.— Wilson

*   *   *   *   *

Hi Rudy,

I was very sorry to read your email and learn of your Mom’s passing, December 27.My Mom died December 22nd, just 3 weeks short of turning 96.

Your poem was very touching and I know your Mom’s life was never easy. I think there must have been some happiness in her heart, from you and the care you gave her and from church and her faith. She did the very best she could under the extreme circumstances surrounding her in life and now in heaven, she will be an angel. Some people deserve so much more than the burden they carried on this earth. There is nothing fair on this earth, it seems to me.

 My Mom told my sister the day before she died, that her mother and father came to see her.She was so pleased to have seen them! When my sister asked, “How is that possible, they’d be 140 years old,” Mom said, laughing “I know, isn’t it crazy… but honey it’s true, they were here.”  

 It was her time. She used to say she would not live her life any differently if she could live it over!

I’ll never know where she got her perseverance! It didn’t pass to me! More later. Love and sympathy—Anita

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, I am very sorry to hear of the passing your mother.  Thank you for sharing that beautiful poem. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.  May God’s peace be your comfort during your time of mourning.  Please let me know the arrangements.  Praying with you—Jennifer

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudolph, we are so sorry to hear about your Mama. You have our sincerest and deepest sympathy. The poem, Balance Due, Always, is beautiful! Love never dies.—Elmore and Jerhretta Dafina

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy,  I enjoyed reading “Balance Due, Always.”  It reminds me so much of my own Mama.  She was 76. Raised 4 of her own and then me and about 9 or 10 more children. I remember her working in white folk’s homes so that we could survive.  What memories! She often told me of the fields and washboards and going without shoes and good underwear sometimes.  It was a hard life. She was born in 1932.  Her mom died after having her.  Thanks for reminding me that I, too, need to write more of Mama’s story in memory of her and her times.  I’m sorry for the loss of your beloved.  Hang in there.

I’m down in Southampton today . Actually, we’ve been here since Saturday.  My husband’s parents live at Cross Keys (an old stomping ground for Nat Turner-smile). Take care—Latorial

*   *   *   *   *

Greetings Rudolph…I am so sorry for your loss…my Mom joined the Ancestors four recent years ago in Nov….it’s still hard…you will have those moments that no words can console…one day at a time…and somehow time has a way of easing the pain…I love your poem and the photograph…what an incredible generation of Black Men and Women . . . guess this makes you an elder now . . . hold that torch up high . . . peace.—Tarika

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy, sorry for you loss. Hope all is well on other fronts. I have a check set for ChickenBones on 1/17/09. Unfortunately, it will be the last. it has been really challenging to keep this in place but I’m glad that we have been able to do it for the past year and hope that it has been helpful. All the best—Paul Coates

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy: My sincerest condolences . . . You hang in there . . . Later.—Louis

*   *   *   *   *

I offer my condolences.  Memories will keep her alive.  the poem is lovingly crafted.—Dorothy

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy: Sincere sorrow for your loss.—Ben

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, many condolences, my brother. My own mother passed Sept. 12, 2001; after the planes hit the twin towers. Your mom  produced a griot/fighter who expands our Memories. In Solidarity—Askia

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, “We shall all meet in heaven, white and black, white and black.” Andrew Jackson on his death-bed.” As you know, dear Rudy, I witnessed the death and home-going of my mother on her 90th birthday in July.

Like your Mama, she was born in poverty, hard poverty in SW Missouri. Her Mama died in child birth when she was 12 and she quit school to take care of that baby brother and two younger brothers. Their father was an alcoholic. I will forward from e mail my son Sam’s tribute to her, which was read as part of her home-going service.

May your health be as restored as Yvonne has restored your happyness in 2010!—Ralph

*   *   *   *   *

Familistic Condolences & Kwanzaalove 2 u/yrs Rudy . . .—eugene

*   *   *   *   *

What a beautiful tribute to your mother.  I hope they printed it on the funeral program.  She produced a world class poet.—Patricia Churchill

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, I am deeply saddened by your Mama’s passing, but grateful to have known you and your mother over the years even if its only by Internet communication. Your mother has done all that God had her to do, and now she can rest in peace eternally. I believe that there is a place where God awaits his children, where he will wipe away all of the tears of the years and give them laughter and youth again. Please accept my and my family’s sympathy as you go through this difficult time. No matter what, our mothers remain one of the greatest mysteries and the greatest blessing of life because without them, where would we be?

I lost my own mother more than nine years ago at the young age of 63, and I continue to grieve, laugh, and ponder each moment of the time I knew her nearly every day. I am sure your own mother has left many great memories with you that will keep you strong and joyful about the one life that she was given and how she took care of it for so long. Thanks for sharing one of the best poems I have ever read from you. There is power and passion in the poem even as it remains a poem. Blessings, and please let us know how we can be of support as a community. Much love and hugs—Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

*   *   *   *   *

You have my  sympathy. My father used to tell me “There is nothing like a mother’s love.”—Sandra L. West

*   *   *   *   *

Sorry to hear this news. Sending prayers and love.—Ethelbert

*   *   *   *   *

My Prayers for comfort are with you, Rudy. In this your time of grieving, you have my deepest sympathy–there are no words for grief—surely, your tribute let’s me see her, feel her life. Thank you for sharing. Live. Red Beans and Nicely Sad with You—Mona Lisa

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy, I am sending you my sincerest condolences at this your most personal and private loss. Please know that you will write of many strengths and sacrifices that she showed you in the course of your life with her. Value these memories and embrace them as an important part of your OWN great existence.  Prayers, peace and victory—Beverly Fields Burnette

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy, just beautiful and timely. I am pleased she is at rest and I thank God as an eight year old or younger I got to know your aunt Sal’s baby sister. I will never forget the young woman in her early forties to the woman I reacquainted all but two decades ago. I treasure the time I spent with her this year and  the promise I kept to her while others doubted my intentions. She was most happy after the birthday party given this year and I thanked God for my daily prayers as her body of clay made a prisoner of the physical but could never imprison the true Ella within. My brother, Rudy I am sad but relieved her daily suffering is over. I will see you on Thursday, Lord willing—Buggy

Photo right: Lucinda , me, Mama, my sister Theresa, 1997

Rudy, you have my utmost sympathy and that of the entire Baraka B’day Committee. There are no slick words or phrases that can fill the void. Be glad you had her as long as you did—Brother Ted

*   *   *   *   *

Mama’s funeral

Miriam, the funeral for Mama was last Thursday. Yvonne and I drove down to Jerusalem, taking a room in nearby Emporia. The grave was dug in the traditional way, namely, by shovel and hoe wheeled by human hands. They reached water at 3 feet and you need at least four for the vault. A removable green grass rug kept the mud off our shoes. Buster (Samuel Rivers)—the husband of her oldest daughter, who died sometime ago—gave directions to the gravedigger. Mama was buried on Daddy’s left side. Daddy died January 1970.

The ceremonies in word and song from the pulpit and choir stand were dominated by voices that truly loved Mama and appreciated her measurement of her own life and others when faith is at the center of one’s life. There was a family car that followed the hearse and it included Mama’s two remaining daughters, Ann (70) and Susie (80), their escorts (Norman escorted his mother Susie), me and Yvonne.

It was a nice service led by two female religious persons—one was a well-known local pastor Albertine Mason and the other Vanessa Rivers (Mama’s niece in law) in training.  Clarence “Peter” Williams led one song of praise, “If You Love Jesus,” and Sandra Rivers Turner led Mama’s favorite “Walking in Jerusalem Just Like John.”

The “will” has yet to be read. The legal handling of Mama’s death will probably begin Monday following her burial. In short, Mrs. Lewis no longer lives at Jerusalem.

Ann remains in legal charge of the estate. She is not easily moved when it comes to nonsense. Susie seems to have had two insurance policies on Mama valued at $30,000. Mama left an estate of 20 or so acres of land. Plus there is the house and property at Jerusalem, whose disposition is very unclear: it’s a “family home” and the person who owns it is the person living in it paying the taxes.

They included my poem in the obituary notice.—Love always, Rudy

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Rudy,

You and your family put your mama away beautifully, so I know that she’s smiling, up there with the angels. I didn’t realize that you have only two aunts left, and that their mother outlived three of them and outlived her husband by almost 40 years. That’s amazing!

So, with water at 3 feet, were they able to bury her? I’m happy that they included your poem, which is lovely.

Take care. She died happy because she knew that you loved her, and it was so good for both of you that you were able to spend those last couple of years together.—Love, Miriam

*   *   *   *   *

Family Stories

Black Mama, White Son

                A Response to “Black Mama, White Son” by Lewis Lawson

The Confessions of Walter Cotton

Conjuring & Doctoring  

Driving the Blues Away: Or Dying by Degrees  Responses to “Driving the Blues Away”

Dwarf’s Lament

Father Son and Mary

The Herbert Lewis Family (photo exhibit)

Letters of An Abiding Faith ( Table of Contents)

Me & the Devil at CrossHairs  

Tale for Sam Williams

TeeJay’s Song: Shadows at Midnight  

Driving the Blues Away: Or Dying by Degrees  Responses to “Driving the Blues Away”     Home to Jerusalem  

Mockingbirds at Jerusalem

(poetry manuscript)

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 7 January 2010 




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