We suffered slavery years after it was abolished –93-year-old African-American

With possible roots in Nigeria, 93-year-old African-American, Elizina Evans, goes down memory lane with Taiwo Abiodun, recounting some of the significant events of her sojourn in life, the civil rights movement and the downsides of longevity.

AT 93, her eyes remain relatively sharp. You could tell from the way they moved and took in virtually every movement that transpired in her immediate environment. Same for her ears. Even without a hearing aid, not a whisper escaped her. And her voice, though soft, remained distinctly clear as she responded to every question thrown at her, without mincing words – except for those she could not remember, which she admitted to without any pretence.

A very detailed lady, Elizina Evans, an African-American resident in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, would not guess. Little wonder she has come to be regarded as a human library on the history of her local St. Louis. Surprisingly, her dark skin remained unwrinkled and glittering, while her fluffy grey hair peeped from under her cap. She spoke in the typical American accent, baring intermittently, her complete set of dentition in the process.

On her table was a Holy Bible and reading glasses; and by her bedside, a four-wheel Walker Rollator, a mobility device she uses to aid her movement. On her king-size bed lay a remote control, which she uses to change the television channels. She loves watching television, she would later admit.

Her grandson, Thomas Lacy Bey, at this point asked if she had called her sister. But rather than reply, she grabbed her cell phone, glanced at the screen and said ”You mean Maltida? I called her this morning.”

”Maltida” she said, looking at this reporter, “is my younger sister. She lives in Chicago. She is now 81 years old. I call her every day.”

When this reporter was introduced to her as a journalist from Nigeria, Africa, her countenance immediately transformed. Her face became brighter; she smiled, chuckled, then pulled herself together. It was like her strength was suddenly renewed and you could literally feel her excitement, as if she had been expecting this visitor.

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“Africa? Good. Sit down my son,” she said, as she tried to adjust herself on her bed for the interview. Thomas Lacy Bey and one of her granddaughters, Tasha Evans assisted her.

Nonagenarian Elizina Evans could well be described as a Griot, being a woman with many stories to tell. Her last birthday was in October last year.

My life

“My name is Elizina Evans, I am 93 years old,” she launched into a self-introduction. “I know I am African- American but I was born in Tunica in the State of Mississippi. I lived in Mississippi but later relocated to St. Louis in the State of Missouri. I have three daughters and two sons, but my two sons have died.”

Speaking of her growing up, she said, “I lived and grew up in the countryside. The town is called Tunica in the State of Mississippi. I worked in a hospital where I retired when I was 62 (32 years ago).”

In her 93 years, Evans has witnessed the reigns of about 15 American presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45) to the recently sworn in Joe Biden.

“American presidents?… Oh yes, I knew some of them,” she said, pausing for a while. And then she attempted to reel some names. ”I can remember Presidents Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Truman, Bush, Carter, Clinton, Dwight, Obama… we have President Nixon, and yes, I know Obama and now a new President.”

Who’s her best president? This reporter wanted to know.

”I can’t remember now,” she said but added, ”I remember the president that was shot in Texas, he was loved by everybody, I think it was Kennedy.”

Asked to confirm her grandson, Thomas Lacy Bey’s statement that her roots are in Nigeria, Africa, she responded: ”I know I was born in Tunica. I heard about Nigeria, and that was a long time.”

‘We suffered lots of racism after slavery was aborted’

Asked what she remembered about slavery, the old lady said, ”I heard and knew about it. Slavery was abolished over a hundred of years ago but there was something close to it when I was working in a cotton company. We were forced to pick cotton in the dark! That was what the Whites made the Blacks do. There was no electricity in Mississippi for a very long time- I cannot remember the dates now. Black folks faced racism, especially those in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, down South Missouri and several towns. We experienced what we called racial discrimination. In the companies where we worked, we were made to go in and exit only through the back doors while the Whites only used the front doors. We had no right to pass through where the Whites took.”

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The nonagenarian also recalled the famous Rosa Parks’ incident when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955 in the thick of the civil rights movement. Those were the days when Blacks were regarded as second-class citizens and denied seats in the bus.

”We the Blacks experienced the height of racial discrimination from the Whites. There were cases of bus incidents, where the Blacks had no right to sit at the front but at the back and must even stand up when a White person comes in. Only the White people had the right to sit, especially in front.”

J F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jnr and Malcom X

Mama, who is fond of talking about human rights’ activists, praised JF Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jnr for rising up against White supremacy. She said: ”Kennedy was for the Black and White people. He brought them together. You can imagine how they deprived the Blacks from having formal education! The Blacks were not allowed to go to school to have education; most of them studied at home. He fought for the Blacks and made sure they had equal rights to education. That is what we are enjoying today.”

Of Martin Luther King Jnr, she said: ”Luther was a good man. He fought for equal rights for the Blacks. He tried to bring the Blacks and Whites together; that was why he was killed. He wanted everybody to have equal rights.”

Of Malcom X, another human rights activist, however, she said: “I can’t remember that name.”

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Mississippi massacre not fiction

Asked to talk about the infamous Mississippi Massacre of the 1930s and 40s, Evans said, “Oh that? Yes, it was true. It was because the Blacks didn’t want to be slaves anymore, so they refused to obey the Whites and the White people started killing the Black people. You see, they wanted the Blacks to do their bidding, but the Blacks refused; that was why they killed the Blacks in Mississippi.”

” The story is true,” she said, dropping her head.

Asked to describe her morning routine, she answered rather quickly, ”When I wake up in the morning at 5am, the first thing I say is ‘Thank you Lord.’ Then I will pray and read my Holy Bible. For my breakfast I eat cereals and drink milk and coffee. I like to do everything. I pray and read my Bible. I use my glasses to read the Bible.”

Downsides of longevity

While old age remains the wish of many and a privilege to those who attain it, Evans can we testify that it is not all rosy at the end of the pole. For instance, when asked about her friends and how she socialises, the 93-year-old simply said in a rather resigned tone, ”I don’t know where they are now. They’ve all have passed on.”

She also expressed deep sadness over the loss of her children.

”It hurts me when I remember that I lost my two sons, but I knew they didn’t come here to stay. They are in a better place now.’’

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