Addie Travis Brookins, an Ordinary Woman of Extraordinary Accomplishment

Addie Travis Brookins
April 21, 1909 - November 29, 2001

Addie Brookins in her late 80s
An Ordinary Woman of Extraordinary Accomplishment

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An Ordinary Woman
Addie Demiville Calhoun Travis was born April 21, 1909, to William Travis and Margaret Redmond Travis at Ebenezer, Holmes County, Mississippi. Addie was the fourth of eight children. Like many of their African American contemporaries, the Travis family eked out a living as sharecroppers.

One of Addie's early escapes from the punishing Mississippi sun and the unrelenting drudgery of working the cotton and corn fields was the few months of school then available to "colored" children. Addie was an apt pupil who soon became infected with the joy of learning. Addie dreamed of going to college and being a school teacher. Circumstances and the attitude of Addie's father that schooling was not a practical pursuit for a Black girl were major obstacles to Addie's achieving her dream.

Through extra chores, begging, and cajoling, Addie eventually scraped her way to a college campus. She succeeded in sporadically attending the Alcorn College High School where she completed the eleventh grade. Despite her lack of a high school diploma, Addie's ability to read, compute and think, qualified her to be a schoolteacher. She taught school for a few years before she met and married Oscar DePriest Brookins. They settled in Yazoo County, Mississippi between the Benton and Midway communities. Addie relinquished her incipient teaching career to raise a family.

Addie committed herself to trying to reach her dream of college through her children; she insisted that all learn to read and to compute. Addie taught her first born children to read comic strips such as Dick Tracy, Lil Abner, Gasoline Alley, Maggie & Jiggs, the Katzenjammer Kids, Dagwood & Blondie, Mutt and Jeff, Sad Sacků- there were no Pooh Bears or Doctor Suesses in their world.

True Grit
Addie probably would have lived her life as a dutiful wife and mother without our ever knowing the steel that was within her if her husband Oscar Depriest Brookins had lived longer. Oscar died in 1950 leaving Addie with seven children ranging in ages from 5 years to 18 years. Addie faced a situation and a world with which she had limited experience -- having always allowed her husband to negotiate their way. Even during her brief tenure as a teacher, she had never truly been on her own as she was back and forth to her family.

Addie had few role models of a single independent mother at hand. Addie's mother, Margaret Redmond Travis, was a very young woman when she married; she was dominated by "Poppa" Travis. Her three sisters were likewise married to men who dominated their households. Addie thought that it was virtually impossible for a single woman to support a family as a farmer. What was Addie to do?

Addie was determined that her children not be relegated to the mind numbing experience of poverty farming that she had seen too often. On faith born of necessity, Addie packed up her seven children and moved to Jackson, Hinds County, Mississippi where she knew there were better schooling opportunities.

Addie had few assets and slim job prospects when she arrived in Jackson. She applied for financial aid or "welfare" but refused it upon being subjected to personal indignities and learning that one of its conditions was unannounced visits at random times of the day and night by white social workers searching for boyfriends and male visitors.

Despite her near destitute status, Addie wanted to "own" something. She contracted to buy a tiny four-room house at "2315 Whitfield Mills Road" with no utilities.

The "2315 Whitfield Mills Road" property was physically located on a dirt right-of-way known as "Roots Alley" that was the physical extension of Detroit Street running West from what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Ludlow Avenue, North of and parallel to Ann Banks Steet.

She found work as a "private home" worker. For the next ten years, Addie worked long and arduous hours to keep her family afloat and to try to get her children positioned to get the college education that she was denied. Perhaps, Addie's -- and her husband Oscar's -- greatest accomplishment was instilling values of self-sacrifice and sharing in their older children. Berthene and Georgia, Addie's first and third children, not only earned money for their own needs but also contributed their earnings to the household. Hugh, Addie's second born, applied the carpentry skills that he acquired from his father and the Piney Woods Country Life School to expand the family house so that it had three bedrooms, a living room, a dining area and a kitchen -- all very small but livable. Mary, the fourth child, took on the role of caretaker for the three youngest children during Addie's 60+ hour work weeks. They were able to fill these adult-like roles and to complete high school. With the aid of Addie's tutoring, all were considered better than average achievers. The older children taught the younger ones to read, spell and compute. Addie's son Hugh joined the U.S. Army and the Korean War immediately after completing high school at Piney Woods in order to help Addie to support her family and to allow the girls to attend college.

Over the years, Addie eventually had the tiny Roots Alley property wired for electricity and piped for water and gas. Addie eventually completed the purchase of the Roots Alley property after several prolonged defaults in payment. Joseph Roots, a Black man who owned the property, apparently recognized and appreciated Addie's efforts; not only did he agree to sell her the property when she had no evidence of an income but he allowed her to cure the defaults rather than foreclose and reclaim the property as he legally could have done. Addie and her family first gained the "luxury" of in-door plumbing in 1957 when the family moved to 828 Randall Street -- still in the City of Jackson.

By Any Means Necessary
During many of the years that Addie did "private home" work in Mississippi, she worked for socially prominent white families. Some were intimately connected into the segregationist power structure and supporters and entertainers of the White Citizens Council, the white professionals' version of the KKK conceived and organized following the "Black Monday" announcement of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v Board of Education declaring racial segregation unconstitutional.

In addition to housekeeping, child rearing and entertaining white segregationists and racists within the homes of some of her employers, Addie's duties included taking the children of her employers into the "Jim Crow" stores and establishments that denied service to Blacks. She either rode at the back of the segregated city bus or rode the rickety white-owned private Payne Bus for Blacks or her employer gave her a ride during the many times she worked later or earlier than bus service was operating.

Although Addie clearly suffered hurts and pains from her adult employers' actions and attitudes toward Blacks, she never exhibited or expressed any resentments toward the white children who were placed in her care. Addie forbade her own children from openly expressing resentments about the fact that these white kids were effectively receiving the mothering that they wanted.

One of the children that Addie helped to nurture later became a renowned playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner. The mother of this child invited Addie into her home as "an old friend" many years after Addie left her employ.

Addie endured and worked in silence until all her children had either completed school or were well on their way to being able to "stand on their own two feet." Then she quit. Addie never spoke about her self-sacrificing as anything uncommon or unusual. She often said that a true mother must always take care of her children "by any means necessary."

Addie's last years of outside employment were spent working as a kitchen helper in the food service department at the W.H. Lanier High School, Jackson, Mississippi, then an all-Black school that she said felt "more at home." She spent her later years up to her eighties nurturing and supporting her grand children.

Addie's Legacy: Extraordinary Accomplishment
Addie Brookins was born a sharecropper and spent most of her working life on menial low-paying jobs and never graduated from high school. Against the odds, Addie became a property owner and -- through her support of children, grandchildren and others -- earned no fewer than seven high school diplomas; no fewer than nine bachelor degrees; a dozen or more professional and advanced degrees including doctoral degrees; Fulbright, Danforth, Rector and other scholarships; and Phi Beta Kappa Keys. The list of colleges and universities from which Addie -- through children and grandchildren -- earned degrees is long and prestigious: American Intercontinental University, Brown University, Brown University Graduate School, Case Western Reserve University, Chicago State University, Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University, DePauw University, Harvard College, Harvard Law School, Harvard Graduate Schools, Howard University, Jackson State University, Lincoln Memorial University, University of Michigan , Morehouse College, State University of New York at Buffalo, Northeastern University, University of Pennsylvania, Tougaloo College, Tuskegee University, and University of Wisconsin.

It is said that the Black male is an "endangered species;" it has been written that one of the United States' most intractable dilemmas is how to nurture and raise healthy Black men; it is reported that one of every three young Black men will either die or be imprisoned before adulthood. Legions of articles have been written maligning and stereotyping the Black male as promiscuous and irresponsible. Addie Brookins raised four Black male children; all reached adulthood and remain untouched by the criminal justice system; all graduated from college; all have enjoyed productive professional careers; all have children and all remain married to their first brides.

During the decades that Addie's girls were teenagers, it was reported that Black girls were at high risk to have out of wedlock children before they reached adulthood. Addie Brookins raised three Black girls and all reached adulthood without pregnancy; all remained untouched by the criminal justice system; all had children and stable families; all earned advanced educational degrees; all enjoyed productive professional careers. Addie and daughters Berthene and Georgia are deceased. (3/1/08)

Addie Travis Brookins was an ordinary woman of extraordinary accomplishment.

Jackson State University hosts The Addie Travis Brookins Endowed Scholarship Fund named in honor of Addie Travis Brookins and the many woman of similar mold and character who literally clutched their children to their bosoms and pulled them to a better place in life.
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