Search
Wednesday 22 November 2017
  • :
  • :

Mayor Sutton-Ajoku: An African-American Amazon

 

CELEBRATING AN AFRICAN AMAZON -MAYOR MARY AJOKU “TEEN”

 

By Raphael James

 

I present to you Honourable Mary Lesteen Sutton-Ajoku “Teen” as she is affectionately called by those who know her. She is a former Mayor of the town of Cruger, Mississippi in the United State of America, Secretary of the World Conference of Mayors and Assistant Secretary, National Conference of Mayors Incorporated.

 

Mayor Mary is an African-American, in fact, her life style, her interest and her DNA have traced her to West Africa and probably Nigeria. She is a typical Nigerian woman. The blood running in her arteries and veins are not quite different from what we saw in Queen Amina of Zaria in Nigeria or even Lady Harriet Jacobs the very determined slave girl born in North Carolina that escaped to the North in 1842, after a friend helped her secure passage on a boat bound for Philadelphia. Mayor Mary like Harriet has the “never say die” spirit.

 

Her Great Grandfather, Bartlett Sutton was born in Virginia in 1810 and her Great Grandmother Ann Alice Sutton was born in Virginia in 1834 according to the U.S. Census 1870. Her grandfather Bertlett and all her great uncles including Paul and Silas were raised by Pa Jeff Walton alongside his own children including: Luinda Walton, Jeff Walton, Jr., Grandison Walton, Mary Jane Walton, John Walton and Milly Walton, they lived on the Archerletta Plantation in Cruger, Holmes County, Mississippi.

 

Grandparents Bartlett Sutton and Ann Alice Sutton, were born slaves, they got married and lived in Holmes County, Mississippi and were blessed with 9 children: Solomon Sutton born in 1850, Obodenice Sutton born in 1849, Juchas (Judeas) born in 1868,  Patrick Sutton born in 1862, a set of twins – Paul Sutton and Silas Sutton born in 1863, Nick Sutton born in 1864, William Sutton born in 1867, John Sutton born in 1871 and David Sutton born in 1873. They lived on the plantation in Cruger and worked in the Big House, mowed the lawns and worked in the cotton fields.

 

Mary’s father, Jim Sutton was born probably on January 15, 1885 and her mother, Ora Lee Howard Sutton (aka) “Miss Doll” was born on February 1, 1919.

 

Her mum did not finish high school as a child because her family was too poor to send her to school. She met Jim and they fell in love and got married, they had 8 kids: Robert Earl, James Louis, Gladys Ann, Mary Lesteen, Dorothy Jean and Linda Carol. The other two John Edward and Vernon Lee are late.

 

Mary was born on November 24, 1943, the 328th day of the year 1943 in the Gregorian calendar. 37 days to 1944. Her birth coincided with the realities of the 20th century – the World War II, which commenced 91 days before her birth on September 1, 1943. The war was pushing tragically towards German capitulation while Mary arrived. At birth she was named after her aunt, Mary Sutton who incidentally passed-on,  the day she was born. Her Creator, created her differently and prepared her right from birth with the gift of standing alone for that which is right. She was delivered by Ma Cooper, the celebrated midwife that delivered thousands of babies in the Cruger Mississippi area. When Mary was born, the first thing her mother noticed about her was her smile. Even when she cried, she was always smiling.

 

When she was nine months old, she fell on a red hot pot belly stove. Her parents did not have enough money to take her to the hospital. Her mother took care of those burns until they were healed. The burns were so bad that it delayed her from walking until, she was almost two years and when she started walking, she limped, it affected her steps.

 

The first scripture she was taught by her mother was Proverbs 22:1 “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” She grew up in life with the scripture and it guarded her life as she grew to become a woman, mother and grandmother. She considers this scriptural verse as an inherited epithet, a transmitted compass – “a calling card”

 

Her Mother, worked the cotton fields. She will leave Mary in charge of her younger brother, when she was five. The mother will leave home at dawn and run 3 miles back at lunchtime to check on her children and cook their lunch; then run back 3 miles to the fields to work until dusk. Ora Lee Howard Sutton, missed getting educated and she was never happy about it, so at the age of 48, she went back to school and earned a ‘GED’. Her heart desire was to graduate with cap and gown and with God, she achieved it. When the flagship program HeadStart came to Holmes County, she started working as a teacher’s assistant. She enrolled in college and at the age of 68 she earned the Child Development Associate Certificate that certified her to be a qualified teacher in HeadStart.

 

Mama Ora Lee, Mary’s mother had a daily routine, she will wake the kids up early as usual, fixed breakfast, straighten up the house, heat water in their big black water pot in the backyard, she washed the clothes for the 10 members of her household, in a wash tub using a wash board. She washed, rinsed, boiled the white clothes with bluing in the big black water pot. She hung the clothes on the clothes lines.

 

On June 11, 1953, while Mary was nine years old, the mother after her normal routine, called on Mary to go and get Ma Cooper. Mary ran a short distance up the street and summoned Ma Cooper. That was the arrival of her  6th sibling, Gladys Ann, was born on June 11. That was the day that Mary backed her first cake for her mother.

 

Mary attended ‘Alcorn A & M College’, a one room school, which was the best her parents could offer her at that time. She would always remember her Freshman English teacher, Dr. Marie Gadsden, whose quality teaching provided her the fabrics out of which her oratory is woven.

 

Reading Culture

 

She never saw or had access to a library until she was in the 11th grade. She had an insatiable desire for reading and devoured every book she laid  her hands on. The lady who lived next door to theirs stole a paperback novel from the people in whose house she worked as a maid. She could not read but she stole it for Mary. Amazingly, the first book she read was stolen. She taught herself to read by reading the King James Bible.

 

During the racist Jim Crow Era, while Mary was at Alcorn A&M College, her 2nd year because of the tumultuous marches, Freedom Riders, Bull Conner and his dogs and George Wallace spewing hatred, she was not awarded a National Defense Student Loan. Her mother picked 400 pounds of cotton a day at $2.00 per hundred pounds to pay Mary’s tuition at Alcorn. When the students at Alcorn were marching for their rights, President John Dewey Boyd aka “Uncle Tom” rounded them up in the stadium and from there Trailway buses were lined up and took them home as they were unceremoniously expelled from school.

 

Although, unofficially she was expelled from Alcorn, her father took her back and when Uncle Tom President Boyd refused to speak to the father, the old man kicked the door open and spoke full of the Holy Ghost “In the Name of Jesus, let my daughter back in school.” He didn’t say a word, but humbly signed Mary back to school.

 

After school, Mary came out in flying colours and continued her life in the education circle but as a teacher. She commenced her teaching profession in 1968 at Western High School. The same year she received a song by divine inspiration on March 7, 1968. That song remained her inspiration in life and it goes thus:

“I believe I will make another round for Jesus

I believe I will make another round for Jesus

I believe I will make another round for Jesus

I believe I will make another round right now.”

 

She went on making yet another round for Jesus even as a teacher for decades until she retired from teaching in Washington, D.C. and moved back to her home in Cruger MS. Upon her return, she realized that there was a need for change in the small town. So, she contested for the position of the Mayor and won. She took over an office that had no fund and no resources only with a vision and believe in God that she can make it happen. She had a  vision, a purpose and a passion that with God she can do all things and let the world see it that, “This is the Lord’s doing, It is marvellous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23)

 

Becoming Mayor

Cruger a town in Holmes County, Mississippi with a population of about 500 people, 161 households, and 112 families residing in the town. The racial makeup of the town stood at 74.16% African American 25.61% White and 0.22% Asian, 2.23% Hispanic/Latino, this is based on the census of year 2000. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.5 km² (1.0 mi²), all land

 

Before year 2000 and the census result, William “Grownman” Jackson was appointed the first black Mayor of Cruger, Mississippi. He did his best but even with  that the people of Cruger lived in poverty waiting for miracle and a saviour.

 

A year after the census result, in 2000 came Mayor Mary on July 1, 2001, a woman who understands the fact in Psalm 75:6-7, that ‘promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another’.

 

She became the Mayor at a period of time when the people of Cruger was faced with numerous challenges. Cruger was relegated to be worth only $0.27 and it was described as a city without defense. Cruger was known at that time for its potholes. In fact the Greenwood Commonwealth called it “A land of potholes”. The last time a house was built in Cruger before the coming of Mayor Mary was in 1984. The town streets had not been paved for over 20 years.  There was not even a grocery store in the community. Cruger account was last audited in 1995.

 

Cruger struggled with an outbreak of Hepatitis – inflammation of the liver cells. The people of Cruger suffered from Hepatitis A and hepatitis E virus (HEV) which was probably caused by consuming contaminated food or water. This could be attributed to the fact that Cruger fund fall so low at that point that the State of Mississippi was planning to take over the town because the town was facing the throes of death.

 

At the same time ‘Entergy Mississippi’ an integrated energy company engaged primarily in electric power production and retail distribution operations in the Deep South of the United States which was also the major energy supplier for Cruger was ready to turn off the entire street lights in Cruger because of accumulated debt. This would have increased the water challenges that the community was already facing for the town’s water well was fuelled by electricity.

 

Cruger town was out of chlorine for the treatment of their only water well.

 

The Landfil organisation at the same time threatened them to stop dumping garbage until their bills were paid.

 

Cruger was facing calamity, it was a time that the citizens needed miracle and Mayor Sutton-Ajoku became that miracle. She landed from the sky, even the people that she grew-up with, her own people did not expect wonders from her not because she was not good enough but because they knew how bad things were and never believed she could pull it through.

 

Work to be done

Mayor Mary Sutton-Ajoku had a vision. On becoming the Mayor on July 1 2001, she kept on hearing the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. in his August 28 1963 sermon:

 

“… I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

 

She played it in her head over and over again but with some amendment, her version was “I had a dream, that day has come, that the town of Cruger sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I believe I can do it, I know with God nothing is impossible” With this, she was ready for work.

 

She asked her mother to bless her, ‘Miss Doll’ as she was popularly called was the happiest mother on earth, she gave her blessings to her daughter and assured her that she can do it, she told her to plan, study and execute. The first time Mayor took time off to attend the Mississippi Municipal League where she gained knowledge of how to govern her people. At the end she received commendation from the Mississippi Municiple League as a ‘Certified Municipal Official’.

 

She spent days planning and outlined her plans to make a difference for her people. She started the ‘Cruger Gazette’ a publication that helped her to communicate effectively with her people in Cruger. She built a  network of communal conversation, exploring the coast of knowledge and tracking challenges of varying degrees through participatory governance. her success was a testament to a divine “Midas Touch”.

 

She wrote her vision plainly so that all readers could comprehend it. The vision that was written in the Cruger Gazette was so powerful that when Mayor Sutton-Ajoku sought help from the Mississippi Development Authority, they were ready to help her achieve her vision.

 

On assumption of office she declared that she was going to work ‘free’ of no salary and for her first three years in office she served with all her might with humility and without collecting salary.

 

She brought in Certified Public Accountants (CPA) – professional financial auditors, who undertook voluntarily and without payment the auditing of the town’s books. This action enabled the town to get grants for administrative and maintenance purpose. She was able to secure about $4 million in grant money for a town that was without a cent in its treasury. She executed lots of projects among them:

 

*          By August 2012, she had constructed twelve new homes and renovated        several others.

 

*          She built a Convenience Store with an ATM machine for her people.

 

*          Built a gas station with an ATM machine,

 

*          Built a restaurant,

 

*          She built a Post Office

 

*          Built a Fire Station

 

*          Constructed  streets that are properly paved on both the White and Black sides       of             town. Street pavement. With a street grant in the amount of  $600,000, she            changed the land of potholes to a beautiful smooth road.

 

*          Built a modern City Hall, now often used by the citizens for repasts, birthday parties,             voting, etc.

 

*          She build a beautiful walking trail and clean park in            the Town of Cruger, where the             kids play, run around        and have fun.

 

*          She set up a garbage pick-up operation, which makes it safer for the citizens to       throw             away their garbage           properly.

 

*          She moved Cruger from a debt infected town to a debt free town.

 

In October 2012, in the West African country of Equatorial Guinea, mayors and other international delegates participating in the Municipal Leadership Conference, in Malabo (Equatorial Guinea), including delegates like: Dr. James L. Walls Jr., Mayor of District Heights, Maryland (USA), who is the President of the World Conference of Mayors, U.S. Mayors: John McGowan, of Union Springs, Alabama; Thomas Masters, of Riviera Beach, Florida; Mary Ajoku of Cruger, Mississippi and Adam McFadden, councilman of Rochester, New York. Among the U.S. mayors and councilmen are also representatives of cities such as Dayton, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware; Eatonville, Florida; East Orange, New Jersey; Columbus, Ohio. Participants from companies and institutions such as the Republican National Committee of Washington D.C., Blacks in Government, Washington D.C.; ChildFund International and other African delegates and representatives of different States such as Trinidad and Tobago, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia and Gambia, and among them were mayors, professionals, businessmen and artists. From Equatorial Guinea, practically all the municipal councilors of the country’s large cities: Malabo, Bata, Mongomo, Mbini, Luba, Evinayong, Ebebiying, Moka, attended. It was at this occasion that Mayo Mary was elected as the Secretary of the World Conference of Mayors. She is also the Assistant Secretary National Conference of Mayors INC.

 

Mayor Mary served for a total of 12 years, from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2013, she served for a period of 4 year terms, 3 consecutive times.

 

Mary’s mother was her best friend and confidant – Mama – Ora Lee Howard Sutton (aka) “Miss Doll” was a woman of great poetic energy, who loved singing para-rhythmic melodies; conveyed in her soothing voice, a unique tone with ancient metrical verse that could remind us of the Victorian symphony orchestra. Miss Doll had her favourite song that had often caught the morning Angels in the web of a definitive opera “One Morning Soon” she sang it while making up the beds, every morning:

 

One morning soon . . .

One morning soon . . .

One morning soon . . .

I heard the angels singing!

All in my room . . .

All in my room . . .

All in my room . . .

I heard the angels singing!

All round my bed . . .

All round my bed . . .

All round my bed . . .

I heard the angels singing!

Up above my head . . .

Up above my head . . .

Up above my head . . .

I heard the angels singing!

 

At 87, Mama suffered a clinical stroke on Thursday, June 22, 2006, but providence played out a dual script; she survived it and 8 more years was negotiated to her life as she later passed on, onto eternal glory on September 1, 2014, at the ripe old age of 95.

The day her father, Jim Sutton, passed on an Eagle swooped down and light shone under the Chinaberry tree in the front yard of their compound. The Eagle looked at Mama – Ora Lee Howard Sutton, to the left – to the right, like a beacon of restoration. Then the Eagle spread its wings and soared upward in quick response, Jim exhaled his last breath.

 

In her Daddy’s final days on Planet Earth, his favourite song was:

I’ll fly away, fly away

Oh Glory I’ll fly away

In the morning when I die

Hallelujah, by and by

I’ll fly away!

 

Mary is tall, beautifully made with an amazing African dark completion, her beautiful white set of teeth radiates even in darkness. She loves dancing, in fact when she had the choice to sit it out or dance it out, she will dance to the very end, the dance of King David, glorifying God. Her secret: Psalm 144:1 Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. An African beauty even at 70 plus, She is a sports lover and she attends “Senior Aerobics Class” 3 times a week and also attend her personal trainer class, twice weekly with Chris Wilson.

 

We are proud of her legacy, she belongs to a great family, that had  fought for every bit of ground that they stand on. She left a mark that in years to come, when the story of Cruger will be written, No one will complete that story without writing about the commendable work of the woman who came, saw and conqured. The woman whose impact left smile on the faces of her people. The pride of Cruger. God bless Honourable Mary Sutton-Ajoku – The Mayor of the town of Cruger, Mississippi in the United State of America. She remains an indisputable phenomenon in the universal mayoral assessment.

 

As a multi-dimensional personae, though I am yet to meet Mayor Mary in person, I can foretell with certitude that her full story, when finally written would create a multiple thesis for intellectual research in both Science and Arts Faculties at the Doctorate degree level.  She was married to Martin Uzoma Ajoku  from Owerri, IMO State, her husband was a Nigerian Attorney, though he now rests in the bosom of his creator.

 

My quick deduction from her life is that Jim-Crowism cannot alter Biology and history, she is an American by birth, African be descent, West African by origin and a Nigerian by DNA and marriage. The image of an African Amazon trails her footpath – ‘Teen’ her achievements that transcends generations would remain a watershed.

 

Dr. Raphael James is the Publisher of The National Biographer Magazine and The African Dame magazine, he is also the Director General of the Center For Research, Information Management and Media Development – CRIMMD, A blogger and international Tourist

 

Comments

comments




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *