By Natalie Bell
Like their “colored,” educated and middle-class forerunners, who saw that they were no better than anyone else until the whole race of black people worked together to pull one another up, new inductees of the National Association of Colored Women Clubs continue to pick up and proclaim the club’s motto: “Lifting as we climb.”
Established in 1896, NACWC is the nation’s oldest African-American civic organization and in 2010 still reigned among the country’s top 10 non-profit organizations, according to Ebony magazine.
On Feb. 20, the Eureka Arts Federated Club, of Prentiss – a unit of the Mississippi State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, as well as the NACWC – inducted new members: Queen Ester Sutton, Minnie Magee and Maxie Laird, all from the Prentiss area.
The ceremony, held at Lucas Tabernacle Church of Prentiss, was part of a program honoring Eureka Arts founder, Bertha L. Johnson, who started the local club in in 1927. Johnson was also co-founder and second president of Prentiss Institute. Moreover, she was the first Mississippian to serve as president of the southeastern regional association of Colored Women’s Clubs. She also headed the business department of the national organization.
The Feb. 20, program in Prentiss also saluted black-owned businesses, acknowledging and showing appreciation for their service to the Jefferson Davis County community and surrounding areas.
The program also recognized African Americans who have shaped local and national history. The former group included Joella Moore, a widely respected midwife in the first half of the 20th Century, in Jeff Davis County, whose image was captured by news photographers and sent all over the world, when she became the first black person to vote following passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Prentiss.
Pictures of Moore, who is now deceased, were displayed at the program, alongside black artwork, books, antique dolls and hats. Her youngest son, 82-year-old Curtis Moore, who still lives in the area, said his mother’s midwifery work kept her away from home sometimes for 11 or 12 days. “The whole time an expecting mother was in labor, my mother was there with her,” said Moore. “She would lay down and go to sleep for two or three hours – and then get up to go about doing her work.”
Two of Moore’s granddaughters are members of the Eureka Arts Club, twin sisters LaWanda Formisano and LaMildred Oatis.
“She never lost a baby,” said Formisano, of her grandmother, adding, “Now, that’s saying something.”