Martha SparksSociety Editor
April 14, 2013
History records Teddy Roosevelt as president during the early 1900s. Mr. Roosevelt was succeeded by William Howard Taft. This was a time before air travel, a time before women in the US enjoyed the right to vote and definitely a time when African Americans had few if any rights. Racial tension in the state of Alabama was normal. Education in the state of Alabama ranged from more than 75 days for white students but only 35 for African American.
It was also during this time that Ross Hicks and Mary Spencer Hicks of Gordo, Alabama welcomed the birth of their twin daughters. The parents were hardworking sharecroppers. Their days started very early in the morning and often concluded well into the evenings. Farming was a way of survival. Life was hard living in rural Alabama.
Prior to this birth, there were no baby showers where friends and family members gathered to enjoy such a joyous occasion. There were no gifts registries for strollers, no cute little bunny toys or no cute pink or blue baby outfits, for that matter no hospital staff scurrying around spreading the good news.
Was there even an official recording of this birth? Not that anyone can remember, but family stories and a Bible provide information that this birth occurred in early April of circa 1900. The parents weren’t provided family leave to care for their small bundles. There were no young cousins vying to babysit. No, this was just a young, loving family that consisted of five brothers and these new babies.
With poor health conditions during this time one can only imagine the type of care provided for African American children. In a home where there were already several other children, little time was devoted to mourning when one of these small children did not survive the times. Yet, as the saying goes, only the strongest survived. Young Adell did just that. As time went by, Mary Spencer Hicks silently mourned the death of her baby. This mourning had a devastating effect on Mrs. Hicks and eventually led to her death.
Unable to bear the death of his wife, Mr. Hicks decided that he was not able to care for his family alone and decided to leave the upbringing of his children to his wife’s brother and his wife. Ben and Lula Spencer did all that they could to properly raise these children. They taught these young nieces and nephews the art of farming and raising crops that would sustain the family. Having children of their own, the couple needed someone to take care of their children while they continued to work the fields. Young Adell, at a very young age, was put in charge of watching out for these children. She did the cooking, washing and the overall care giving of her cousins.
This care giving left little or no time for Adell to continue her education. As she continued to grow, she and her cousins worked in the fields dropping seeds behind her uncle’s mule. She learned at an early age to plow and work very hard. She helped raise everything that could be raised on a farm.
During the following years, Adell was able to get a job outside of the home. She worked as a domesticated care provider for Dr. and Mrs. Coy at a rate 50 cent per week. It was during this employment that young Adell was badly burned over forty percent of her body while boiling clothes in an outside pot. Several months would go by before she was fully recovered from these burns. The limited medical care available during this time period and old family remedies aided in her recovery.
Spending a few more years working in this manner, the quiet young lady found little time for the “normal” girl type of activities. Little time for dates, parties, movies, or games that other youth enjoyed. Family vacations were out of the question. There was too little money and too little time to enjoy this type of youthful family pleasures. Adell continued to grow into a beautiful young lady.
However, seeing that others around her were moving on, Adell developed a desire to get on with her life. The young cousins that she had been put in charge of were growing up and moving on. It was now time for her to pursue something of her own. There were several young men from the community that had an eye for this young lady.
One gentleman from a nearby community, William T. Lee, often rode by the family home with his flatbed buggy and horse began paying close attention to Adell. Young Lee and Adell began a youthful courtship. The courtship blossomed into a romance that would lead to a marriage and the birth of their first child, Eunice. As the couple started their life together, thoughts germinated with plans to leave Alabama. The couple, along with some of Mr. Lee’s brothers decided to move northward.
At the time of the move, the bride was now pregnant with their second child. The move brought the young couple to the coal-mining community of Stirrat in Logan County. Mr. Lee and his brothers soon found jobs in coal fields. As her husband worked, Adell, in an effort to help provide for her family, did her part. To help provide food for the family table, a garden was planted with corn, peas, a different variety of greens, okra, sweet potatoes, squash, and green beans. Relying on her upbringing, the young wife became an avid farmer.
As the seasons changed, Mrs. Lee would turn her farming skills into preserving the products of her garden. To add fruits to the table, apples, pears, and peaches were preserved, and jellies were made and put away for the cold winter months. The family also raised pigs, ducks, and chickens to provide meat and eggs for the family table.
Adell learned the art of quilting and often spent many winter evening hours with ladies of the community quilting. Once these women returned to their own home, she often quilted late into the night, using scrape pieces from just about anything. She would save old feed sacks, pieces of ribbon, old shirts and pants to make her quilts. She estimates that through the years, she has made close to 500 or more quilts. Crocheting was another skill that kept Adell busy.
After working in the coal fields for about 10 years, Mr. Lee began showing signs of failing health. After up and down years of failing health, he was hospitalized. This action left the wife to be the sole supporter of her family which by this time had grown to six children.
While her children were in school, Adell continued to work her garden to provide food for the family. When she was not working the fields, she could be found in her kitchen; preparing one of her scrumptious meals she was known for cooking, collard greens, mouthwatering rolls, crispy fried chicken, potato salad, fried okra, and so much more, and for dessert — a slice of her three layered chocolate, caramel, or coconut cake.
With her children growing up, her husband hospitalized, Adell no doubt experienced many sleepless nights. A woman alone, she knew that she had to keep a roof over their heads and have food to eat, and with no family members of her own; the only option available would be to rely on her faith in God.
Even with life as it was, many neighbors came to this woman when their cupboards were bare. There were families with working husbands and stay at home mothers who often found it necessary to borrow a cup of sugar, or flour, maybe even a side of bacon to feed their children. With her limited supply of these items, Adell never felt the need to refuse anyone things that were asked. Once again, she stood strong having to rely on God to continue providing for her and her children to make it.
Regretting the fact that her education was cut short, Adell stressed that getting a good education would prevent her children from becoming farmers and having to work as hard as she had. She has always wanted a better way for her children. That is probably why she has often been heard stating that God has blessed and honored her to get by when times became extremely difficult. “If it is the Lord’s will everything will be all right”, Adell would say.
Right, some things were, when this proud mother was given an opportunity to see her youngest son, Eddie Lee, slip past opponents on the Logan High School football field. Though she may not have understood the game, she knew when her child took off, and she like many others in the stand would yell, “Run Eddie!”
As time went on, all of the Lee children graduated and moved from home. As children do, some returned with their own children to be left with their mother. Now, with some of her grandchildren to raise, there was still no time for relaxation. This new set of children had to be fed.
Still farming, quilting, and cooking, Adell never missed a beat to provide a loving home for her growing group of grandchildren. At a time when most people around her age were relaxing, Adell was seen going to her garden quite early each morning, not returning to well after the sun set in the evening. There is always work to do, she can be heard saying.
Now, past the time that she can rise early and work all day, Adell spends time thinking about days gone by. This still witty woman has a small backyard garden and her flowers that keep her outside while the weather is nice. Her winters still have her crocheting or knitting. Adell stays abreast of current events by watching the news and shouting out her opinions about what’s going on.
Her days consist of sitting with her two dogs and family members that she is with. These days she travels a lot. During the winter months this loving mother, grandmother, great-grand mother, great-great-grandmother can be caught flying from Charleston to Atlanta, maybe to New York, Philadelphia, then on to Ohio and Texas to spend precious time with one or the other of her children or grandchildren. While traveling, she is counting the days when she can go back to Logan.
“I just like being in my house,” Adell says.
There is still times when most — if not all of the family — gathers up in Hatfield Bottom for a good old fashioned “Soul-Food” gathering. Recently such an event was held to celebrate another birthday for Adell.
When examining the life of Adell (one that she states has been good) you see that she has lived a life that most would not have imagined, having lived through the age of the automobile (without learning to drive), the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, both World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, and this country’s move through the Technological Revolution (“I don’t know nothing about that computer, I leave that to the young folks,” says Adell) we would be amazed. But she quietly states that keeping God first has been her saving grace.
Never having the time to get involved in the political struggles of her day, Adell feels that voting in the elections is what everyone should do.
“I vote every time I can,” says Adell. “They take me down Omar, and I vote. Now, I never thought that I would see a black man as the president of this country, but I voted and we got one. Why not? I think he is doing about as good a job as the rest of them, maybe a lot better. I voted for him twice!”
When asked about things that she enjoys, her eyes take on a twinkle that can light up a room.
“Well, I love working my garden, I would be planting my collards and corn now, if my hands didn’t bother me,” says Adell. “My doctor says I have worn them out. I just can’t do it like I used to.”
Adell is such an inspiration to her family. She is their source of inspiration as a kind and loving motherly/grandmotherly role model. There is a unshakable and separate bond with each child and grandchild, having each one believing he or she is her favorite.
Adell believes the reason for her longevity has been her hard work — “When you are active your mind stays active.”
Adell’s family agrees that this remarkable woman is a very humble, praying individual who is still giving to help anyone who needs her help.
(Editor’s Note — The above article was compiled and edited using information supplied by family members.)