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Remembering Our Legends… By Cassiette West-Williams

There are many people that we have lost suddenly, on many levels. Locally, we mourned the loss of our beloved educator and community activist, Mrs. Kathryn W. Timmes. In Detroit, the beautiful songs of Stevie Wonder played in the background, as he remembered retired Congressman John Conyers. And simply one week before, Mr. Conyers, we lost Baltimore, MD Rep. Elijah Cummings, who was memorialized by President Barack Obama. Then an epic civil rights leader from Arkansas made his transition. Some say that our elders have created a path for our upcoming young leaders to contribute in today’s troubled times. As we reflect briefly on their lives, we are remembering some of their many feats during our lifetime. This list is not inclusive of everyone, but it covers some the prominent leaders of this century.

Mrs. Kathryn W. Timmes devoted her life to educating children to adults, in life skills, formal education and community involvement. Mrs. Timmes used her 88 years in a variety of ways to enhance and uplift people of all races, genders, classes and religions to think and work on the behalf of humanity. Mrs. Timmes was born in Ashland, Kentucky and graduated from Bennett College. She was recruited to Peoria, IL by Henry Harper, to teach young women classes at the Carver Center. She was encouraged to apply with Peoria Public School District 150, where she served as an administrator, teacher and counselor. She will be sorely missed.

State Legislator John Walker, D-Little Rock, was a first in many aspects of his life and never let segregation deter his goals. He was the first Black man accepted at the University of Texas, but never attended due to the Jim Crow policies of the time.  Walker, 82, had served five terms in the Arkansas House and was a member of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus. He was active in changing circumstances for the elderly, education for children, housing and military affairs.

The Most Honorable Rep. Elijah Eugene Cummings spent two decades representing the 7th Congressional District from Baltimore, MD. Rep. Cummings was the son of sharecroppers, who moved North for a better life. His parents emphasized religion and education to their seven children. Mr. Cummings was re-elected 12 times to the House and had previously suffered heart problems. Cummings was one of the first political leaders to speak out against the practices of the current American President and challenged his colleagues, this past February, about “Doing nothing”, in spite of allegations of misconduct on behalf of Donald Trump. President Trump spoke harshly of Cummings’ district, calling it  “rat infested” and Cummings lit into the President , like fire burning-up a building. Afterwards, President Trump stopped talking about the people of Baltimore and their fearless leader. Cummings had worked as a civil rights attorney before entering politics. He was married with three children.

U.S. Rep. John James Conyers, 90, was a U.S. Representative from Michigan for five decades. Mr. Conyers could always be spotted for his sharp suits, but he was known for his substance for paving the way for today’s civil rights leaders. The many speakers at his home going services said that he represented the common man to historical figures like Stevie Wonder and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Rep. Conyers is credited with writing and advocating for the federal law for the Dr. King Holiday, which came into being in 1983. Conyers never bragged or took the kudos for his work on this holiday, preferring to remain in the background. He was also the co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters spoke at his funeral, on the organization’s behalf. Conyers worked on the criminal justice committee and was a firm advocate for the poor. He also gave the late, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a position in his office, after her husband, Mr. Raymond Parks died. Former President Bill Clinton eulogized his colleague as a man who believed in his mission to help others.  Stevie Wonder called him a friend and mentor, as he played a song that Mr. Conyers enjoyed, which was “My Cherie Amour.”

Jessye Norman: Talking to Tom Hall
Photo by Jati Lindsay

Ms. Jessye Norman was a household name in many circles, as her defining soprano voice soared beyond our hemisphere. Norman mastered a variety of genres, which included jazz, Negro spirituals, German lieders, Broadway tunes and French chansons.

The 74 year-old singer was a Howard University graduate, who was internationally recognized for her variety or roles and depth in voice and range. She was featured by the Metropolitan Opera in the 1980s, a jazz vocalist at the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Chicagoland’s Ravinia Festival , Orchestra Hall and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Of her 15 Grammy nominations, she was honored in many categories including best vocal soloist. Norman was featured in Berlin in 1969, in the opera “Tannhauser” and went on to win audiences worldwide with her vocal gift. Norman was one of the first opera singers to open doors for modern singers in this particular genre. She was trained to sing gospel music in her church home in Augusta, GA, accompanied by family members. Her music scholarship to a HBCU, opened doors for her to study on a graduate level at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and the Peabody Conservatory. Norman could sing the classics such as Bach, Bartok, Brahms and Beethoven, along with Edward “Duke” Ellington’s famous pieces. 

Norman held honorary doctorates from Julliard, Yale and Harvard. Among her many honors, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

Norman’s family held a four day celebration of life, from October 10 to October 12, where her Home going service was held in her hometown of Augusta, GA.