As I rang the doorbell, the door opened and I was greeted by one of Helen Webster's sons. I walked inside of the of the 3 story house filled with pictures of her family, and different gifts that were made or bought for her, hanging on the walls. As I put my things down, there sat a small woman in her black, four wheel, walker-wheelchair. I was greeted by a smile and a joyous voice saying, "Hey baby, come on in". Sitting in front of my face was a woman who is the definition of black history.
At the beginning of the 1930's, more than 15 million Americans were unemployed. This period was known as the Great Depression. In the year of 1931, the United States suffer the worst drought ever, leading to the Dust Bowl years. Francis Scott Key's "Star Spangle Banner," was officially name the United States' national anthem. On top of that, the Empire State building was completed in New York City. Things were happening in 1931, that would shape our nation's history. Deep in the south a young woman would be born during this same year, where her life would add to the timeline of our history.
Helen Webster was born on February 24,1931 in Leland, Mississippi. Leland is located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, on the banks of Deer Creek. Webster was born to Watt Winder and Sadie Dixon, who were both sharecroppers. She is the fourth of 14 children. She grew up on a plantation where she she chopped and picked cotton for her living. Leland, Mississippi was known for its crops such as cotton, soybeans, rice, and corn.
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction".
66 years had passed and still the state of Mississippi was not abiding by 13th Amendment, that was adopted by the United States in 1865. Webster started picking and chopping cotton around the age of six. "You didn't have a certain age to start working in the fields,"stated Webster. "You could start at 5 years old as long as somebody was out there with you picking," Webster said as we continue to talk about her childhood. "It didn't matter how hot it was outside, if there was cotton to be picked, you had to go and pick it. "We had coca sacks tied around our necks, where we would put the cotton in". "We didn't have shoes to pick cotton in, sometimes it was so hot, we would stand on one foot to get the other foot cold," said Webster.
Imagine chopping cotton in Mississippi's heat without any shoes and the next thing you see, is a snake staring right back at you. "It was so hot down there, you could see where the snakes had crossed the road trying to find a cool place," said Webster. Everyone had a job on the plantation, including the youngest boy: his title was the water boy. His job description was to pump water into the cup and take it to everyone working out in the fields. "He would bring the water to the field, and we all drank out of the same cup", shared Webster. "We were so glad to get something to drink", She continue to talk about the working conditions in the field as a young girl. "There were times that it was so hot outside that everyone in the field would get under a tree to keep cool, but you couldn't stay under there too long, because the boss man would have something to say".
Helen went to school at St. Mary which was the same place she attended church. "There were times we would get home from school and go right into the fields to pick", said Helen as she fixed her center piece on her table. She enjoyed going to school like any other child. That was her chance to be a kid but eventually in 6th grade her life would change. "I became pregnant at 15 and couldn't go back to school", Helen said. After she had her son Lacel, she could not return back to school because they would not allow young girls to finish their education, after they had given birth to a child. That didn't stop Helen though, she continue to handle her responsibilities.
"If the white man didn't like what you do, he would let you know. If you didn't do no better, you would have to move because you wasn't paying any rent, you was staying on the white man's plantation",
Living on the plantation was hard work for everyone who had to stay there. Their day started early and ended late. "We were in the fields early in the morning. The women had to be in the fields at six and the men were in the fields at five", stated Webster. When it was eleven the women left the field to prepare lunch for themselves and the men. The men would leave the fields at noon to go home and eat. Everyone had to be back on the truck at one, to head back into the fields to pick cotton. Their day would end at five and six in the evening. Being lazy was not a option for Helen and everyone who was working out in the fields. "If the white man didn't like what you do, he would let you know. If you didn't do no better, you would have to move because you wasn't paying any rent, you was staying on the white man's plantation", said Helen. Webster shared that your work was your payment and access to everything, even including seeing the doctor. "When we got sick we had to go to the white man for a order to the doctor, if you was a trifling worker you wouldn't get it".
"Momma ran to Bum, knelt down and touched her, she got back up and kept running".
One day out on the plantation, Helen was in the house with her mother helping her with some work. Helen was pregnant with her second child Jimmie Lee, who was by her husband Jimmie Lee Webster. Her mother needed someone to deliver Helen's father lunch to him. He was out in the fields overseeing the cotton pickers. Her father would make sure that everyone was picking cotton in the field and picking the right amount for the day. He was the straw boss. It was noon and the John Deer tractors had started coming in for their lunch break. Helen's mother gave her father's lunch, which was smoked sausage to Helen's younger sister Eunice, whose nickname was Bum. Bum took the lunch out to the fields to her father. To make Bum's journey a little quicker, a young man by the name of Jett T. offered Bum for a ride on the tractor. She accepted and climbed on board to deliver her father's lunch. Bum never made it to her father to deliver his lunch. "When the tractor pulled off, Bum fell and the tractor behind ran her over and broke her neck", Helen said. Helen's mother left the house and ran to her daughter but it was too late she was already dead. That was a day that Helen would never forget, for she had witness the death of her little sister living on the plantation.
"Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works".
During the 1950's, America was experiencing the Civil Rights Movement. In 1957, Webster and her family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana for a change. She moved from the hot South, where she lived and worked on a plantation, to living now in the cold North. She provided for her family and did everything she could to make sure her children had a better life. She worked at the Columbia Club, Lincoln Hotel, and retired from the Indiana University Hospital. She understood that education was important, therefore she finished and received her General Education Diploma in 1968, at the age of 50. Through all of the hardship she encountered, Webster never lost her faith. She had a total of 14 children, two who are diseased and one who was still born. She has 11 children still living today.
"I wouldn't take nothing for this Christian journey, I'm happy and God has blessed me".
Helen talks about how the grace of God has kept her through these years. She experienced poverty, abuse, and other turmoil in her life but she never stopped believing that everything would work out for her good. She shares her story with plenty of women to encourage them not to give up. She brings the light of Christ wherever she goes. She is the mother and grandmother to everyone who she meets. Prayer and her relationship with Christ is what has kept her during the years. She was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2016 and has been cancer free since her surgery. She is a faithful member at Nu Corinthian Baptist Church, where she is the chaplain of the Nursing board and participates in the Season Saints Ministry. Small in statue she may seem, this woman is courageous, has a huge spirit, and filled with a lot of wisdom. This is why Helen Webster is the Fly Girl for February.