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Kate Dudding: Voices From the Past: February, 2015
This is the twenty-fourth issue of Voices From the Past. My goal for each issue is to publish some highlights of one of my historical stories as well as an update on my activities.
The Remarkable Life of Ms. Oseola McCarty
When Ms. Oseola McCarty retired in 1994 at age 86, she looked at her financial affairs. She had no immediate relatives – she was an only child who had never married or had children. She had lived with her mother, her grandmother and her aunt, but they had all passed by 1967, over 25 years earlier. She consulted her banker and, as always when making an important decision, she prayed. Finally she decided to give over half of her life savings to start a scholarship fund at the U. of Southern Mississippi, a university in her town of Hattiesburg. This scholarship is for “capable and deserving students who have financial need, with consideration given to African-American students from the Hattiesburg area.”
University officials were astounded when this retired laundress gave them $150,000.
When asked, how did you save so much, Ms. McCarty replied:
I started saving when I was a little girl just to have candy money. When I got grown, I started saving for my future. I’d go to the bank once a month, hold out just enough to cover my expenses, and put the rest into my savings account. Every month I’d save the same and put it away. I was consistent.
I did have some advantages to saving money. My house was given to me by my uncle, and the people I worked for gave me clothes. I had to pay only for groceries and the other little things I needed.
I have led a simple life, but I let myself enjoy a few things. I have always bought the food I wanted, and I buy pretty things if they are useful. To tell the truth, I never could pass up a bunch of flowers. Sweet little things can brighten house and life.
I think my secret is contentment. I am content with what I have.
I visited a casino once and could not believe what I saw. People were lined up to put their change in those machines. I can tell you, gambling is like walking down to the river and throwing your money in the water. I don’t want any part of that!
When asked, why did you set up a scholarship fund, Ms. McCarty replied:
When my aunt got sick, I had to leave school, in the 6th grade, and start working. I just wanted to give somebody else a chance I never had.
When I leave this world, I can’t take nothing away, so I’m proud that I am leaving something positive.
My only regret is that I didn’t have more to give.
The first scholarship winner, Stephanie Bullock, met her and later said, “Ms. McCarty is very easy to love; she is just so sweet and so giving that you can't help but just give her a big old hug every time you see her. Our family has adopted her as our grandmother.” So Ms. McCarty wasn’t alone anymore.
When news of the scholarship was publicized, Ms. McCarty received much acclaim – she gave many TV interviews, she received an honorary doctorate from Harvard AND a Presidential Citizens Medal, from President Bill Clinton, the nation’s second highest civilian award.
As the news spread, over 600 men and women in Hattiesburg and beyond made donations that more than tripled her original endowment.
When Ted Turner heard about her scholarship fund, he said, "If that little woman can give over half her savings, I can give a billion dollars." And he did - he gave the billion dollars to the United Nations.
Ms. McCarty died four years after she created her scholarship fund, in 1999 at age 91. When Stephanie Bullock, the first scholarship winner and by then a graduate of USM, heard, she said, “Her gift was so much more than financial assistance. It told the world that good people with good intentions still exist. I hope to live a life comparable to hers. Miss McCarty was an inspiration, a blessing, a treasure to the entire earth. Heaven couldn’t have gotten a better angel.”
Since it started in 1995 thru the current (2013-2014) academic year, in those 19 years, FORTY-FOUR students have received an Ms. Oseola McCarty scholarship. All those lives were profoundly transformed by her remarkable life and gift.
Click here for more information about Ms. Oseola McCarty, including a video about her.
News about me
I'll be telling stories this coming Saturday at my local library: Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library in Clifton Park, NY:
For those of you who really plan ahead, I'm doing a program at Wiawaka on July 8: Fighting for Our Rights: American Women Mid-20th Century (4:30 PM - 7:00 PM).
Thanks for reading this issue. I'll be sending you some more story highlights in a few months.