On Friday, Jan. 14, 2011 a chapter of American History closed forever. Ms. Mississippi Winn, 113, believed to have been the oldest African-American, died at Shreveport, La. at Magnolia Manor Nursing Home.
The Gerontology Research Group, which verifies information for Guinness World Records, said Winn was believed to be the oldest living African-American in the U.S. and the seventh-oldest living person in the world.
And although Winn never acknowledged the fact, Winn was one of two known people left in the United States whose parents both were almost certainly born into slavery because documents show they were born before the end of the Civil War.
Winn’s family described her as “a strong-willed person, a disciplinarian” who believed that elders should be respected.
“She was living on her own until she was 103,” great-niece Mary C. Hollins said, cooking for herself and taking walks. “She just believed she could handle anything.”
Winn, who never married, was a caretaker of children and a cook.
She lived nearly her entire life in Louisiana, though she resided in Seattle, Wash. from 1957 to 1975, Hollins said. She had been a member of Shreveport’s Avenue Baptist Church since 1927 and used to say, “I am gonna stay here as long as he wants me to stay here.”
What a missed opportunity! Here is a wonderful and spry elder who had lived in three different centuries! I can only imagine the stories she would have been able to tell. The history she would have been able to describe. The lessons she could have taught. I am sorry I was not able to be apart of them.
After reading about Ms. Mississippi Winn, I decided to research her background and see what I could find out about her and her family.
Mississippi was born on March 31, 1897 in Bossier, Louisiana to sharecroppers Mack and Ellen Winn. She was the 13th child born out of 15 in which only eight lived to see adulthood.
The 1900 US Federal Census taken in Police Jury Ward 2, Bossier, LA., listed Mississippi living with her father Mack, 56 and mother Ellen, 40 and siblings, Mary 20, Julia Ann 18, twin brothers Isaac and Annanias 14, and younger sisters Cilla 8 and new-born Sarah 6 months. Mack and Ellen Stokes Winn had been married for about 22 years at the time of the census taking, putting their marriage at about 1878. The census reported her parents lived in a rented home and they were sharecroppers, in fact the entire family except for the youngest three children were all farm hands and expected to work the fields to help provide for the family. The census also tells us that Mack had been born in Arkansas, as well as both of his parents. Ellen is listed as having been born in Texas, along with her father but her mother is recorded as being born in Mississippi. Ellen was also recorded as having borne 14 children with only 7 of them living at the time of the taking of the census in 1900. Both parents are listed as able to read and write at the time of the 1900 census, but not 20-year-old Mary, nor the twins. Only 18-year-old Julia Ann is able to read and write out of all the children.
Mississippi and her family were living right next to her maternal grandmother, Julia Ann Lincoln, 61 who was a widowed share cropper who could not read nor write. We know grandma had been married at least twice. Once to Ellen and Frankie’s father, thought to be Warren Stokes (1840-bef. 1870) and then she married Tom Lincoln on Feb. 27, 1874 in Caddo, Louisiana, who apparently has also died before 1900. Living with grandma were daughter Frankie Smith, 39, who was also a widowed and unable to read or write and grandchildren Estelle, Cary and Davilla Lee, 18, 16 and 6 years old respectively, granddaughter Willie Ann 10, grandsons Aurie Lee 2, Dick Gates 11 and Johnnie Gates 17, niece Irma Johnson 12 and cousins Joseph and Mack Henry Pierson ages 4 and 2 years old. Julia is listed as having six children but only two living which means her only children are Frankie, who is living with her and Mississippi’s mother Ellen.
In 1910, we find Ellen Winn living with her daughter Julies, 28 and her husband Denver Hart, 33. Also living with the family is Scilla 18, Mississippi 13, Sarah 10 and now Elnora 8 and Carrie 1. Ellen is listed as widowed, leaving us to assume because of the age of Carrie, Mack is to have died during the past year. Ellen is also listed as being the mother of 15 children with 7 living. That has to be incorrect, as there are two more children listed that were recorded on the 1900 census. I believe she has had at least 16 children. This also means with two more children added and still only counting 7 as living, at least two other children have died. I’m not positive at this point whether it’s Mary or the twins. Also, an interesting note or rather discrepancy, is on the 1910 census, only Mississippi and Scilla are listed as able to read and write, not Ellen or Julia as reported on the 1900 Census. Also The children are listed as having both parents born in Texas and Ellen also lists both her parents as being born in Texas. Julie on the other hand, lists both of her parents as being born in Louisiana.
In 1920, Ellen once again living in her own home in Caddo, Louisiana at 922 Lake Street. She is 64 years old now and is working as a Laundress from her home. Living with her are children Mary 37, Mississippi, 22, Sarah 20, Elenora 17 and grandchildren Carrie Winn 10 and Mackey Winn 8 and 2 1/2 year-old Kenie May Sanders. On this census since Carrie is now listed as a granddaughter, instead of a daughter, that would put her total number of children borne at 15. Since Mary reappears on the census, it would also mean that one of the twins was the child who died. Mary’s occupation is listed as a cook in a cafe, Mississippi works as a maid for an office and Elnora is working as a private maid. All the children are still listed as both parents being born in Texas once again.
Also in 1920, her brother Ananias was found living in Sunflower, Mississippi. He was 35 and married to Mary 40. They had three children at the time, Mary Bell 17, Birdie Lee 15 and son J.C. 13. Ananias worked as a cotton farmer.
According to the Louisiana State Death Index Mississippi’s mother, Ellen, passed away on May 2, 1927 at the age of 70 in Caddo, Louisiana. Her oldest sister, Mary Winn, also passed away in 1927 on Dec. 10 at the age of 47.
In the 1930 Census, Mississippi is shown living with her sister Alma Wynn at 1520 Murphy Alley in a rented home worth $13. Also living with them is a cousin Della Stromer 35, and nephew Mark Blackson 18 and niece Katie Blackson 12. This census shows their birth and parents birth all being in the state of Louisiana. Alma, Mississippi and Della all work as cooks for private families. Mark is a porter in a barber shop and 12-year-old Katie is in school.
Although, it’s reported that Mississippi never married, she supposedly did have one child, a little girl named Lulu B. Lew born about 1915. She died Oct. 6, 1917 at the age of two in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Sister Elnora died in May, 1975, brother Ananias died in Lufkin, Texas in March 1981 and sister Sarah Winn Sanders died Mar. 16, 2000 in Louisiana at age 99.