“(King) shook my hand, and told me things were going to get better.”
Mary Redmond was born in Yazoo City Nov. 16, 1938, and grew up in the segregated South during a time when African Americans “could only buy goods from a blacks-only grocery.” One particular trip to the store was different when Redmond had a confrontation with a white family.
“On the way there, my arm hit a little white girl’s arm,” she said, “and she told her dad, ‘That black girl just hit me.’ Her mom and dad started to hit my dad, and that’s when my dad told me to run home.”
As she raced home in the shadow of fear, adrenaline pumping through her veins, Redmond briefly turned back to see a group of white people beating her father.
“I was scared,” she said. “I kept running until I got home, and I told mama. Mama got a call. That was the last time I saw my daddy.
“Mama never told me what happened that day, but at the funeral, I heard some people talking, and they said that they had beaten my daddy so bad, and still threw him in jail, and that’s where he died.”
Redmond eventually moved to Chicago after the death of her mother, but she returned to Mississippi in 1964 at age 16. She later graduated from a training school, a professional accomplishment for a black woman in the South in the 1960s.
“Things seemed a little better, but not much,” she said. “… I grew up in times when being black was a crime, a crime that we could not correct ourselves of.”
Redmond later met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“When I was 25, I met Martin Luther King at a march he had in Benton,” she said. “He shook my hand, and told me things were going to get better. I had already had one child and had another one on the way. But those words were touching. Later that year in March, I had my baby girl, my only girl.”
That year was 1968, and King was murdered a month later. However, his words lasted a lifetime, providing hope to the hopeless, especially for Redmond.
“He gave the black people hope and a dream,” she said. “And it did get better. Hell, I lived to see a black man become president. That was one of the best days of my life. I’ll never forget it.”
Redmond has witnessed change personally and nationally. Her grandson, Carl Tart, is a standout student at the University of Mississippi, a school she could have only dreamed of attending.
Carl describes his grandmother as a hero, saying, “She took care of me when I was younger due to the fact that my brother was born with a hole in his heart, and my parents had to move to Cleveland, Ohio, to be at the hospital with him until he was old enough to have surgery.”