The Dart: Living with Jesus

Published 5:08 pm Monday, April 30, 2007

When she got a little peckish on Friday afternoon, Thelma Brown decided to fix herself okra, tomatoes and onions to go with some cornbread.

Brown — a Vidalia resident who still lives in the house in which she was born — will be 97 on May 6.

Born in 1910, Brown lived the first 28 years of her life in “Old Vidalia.” In 1928, the entire town was relocated from the riverfront to its present location so that the U.S. Corp of Engineers could widen the Mississippi River and build new levees.

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Where Brown’s house stands now was at the time the Carter plantation, she said.

“It was terrible when we first moved out here,” she said. “It was dark, and there weren’t any electric lights or anything like that.”

Raised by her older brother, Brown attended high school in Natchez — by ferry. Before she finished school, Louisiana implemented a high school program, and so she graduated on that side of the river.

Brown was the first of her generation to go to college, she said.

“I didn’t have to work while I was at Southern University,” she said. “My brother and sister paid for it.”

Brown lived in Los Angeles and Chicago with her husband Walker, a member of the U.S. Navy, but she has spent most of her life in the area, where she taught for 37 years.

Brown taught in Clayton, Ferriday and Vidalia, she said.

“They said that I was a good teacher,” she said. “The country teachers — the ones who didn’t teach in Ferriday or Vidalia — would sometimes come see me teach so they could learn.”

One year, Brown said that students stood wall-to-wall at Ferriday elementary because they wanted to take her class.

“They told the students that they’d just have to find another teacher,” she said.

Brown still sees old students, she said.

“I’ve got one down the street,” she said. “She’s 80 years old.

Though she has daily help and several family members nearby, Brown lives alone.

She doesn’t see it that way, however.

“I have Jesus with me,” she said. “Yes, I have him, and it makes me happy.”

A church member for 81 years, Brown is a deaconess at Zion Baptist Church in Vidalia.