111-year-old Willie Mae Hardy is among the oldest women in the world who has survived various remarkable moments in history. In her lifetime, she has lived through 20 presidents in America but it would take her 100 years before voting for a black one.
It was, therefore, not surprising the joy she had when she recently met the former first lady, Michelle Obama, at a signing for her book “Becoming.”
“[Obama] was really amazed at how well she looked, how healthy she looked, and how she could still articulate and talk about things,” Veronica Edwards, Hardy’s granddaughter and caregiver, said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Hardy, who was the granddaughter of a slave, was raised on a plantation in Junction City, Ga. The oldest of seven siblings, she spent a majority of her days doing chores like picking cotton, ploughing the fields or tending to the family’s livestock. In 1939, she relocated to Atlanta, moved to DeKalb County years later to be with her daughter and grandchildren and now lives in Kirkwood.
Her meeting with Obama was arranged earlier this year with the help of local nonprofit Mother’s Legacy Foundation, which works with older residents in Kirkwood, Edwards said.
The co-founder of the Foundation, Carrie Johnson Salone, worked with Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Mosby Archibong and other community members to get Hardy free tickets to the “Becoming” book tour appearance in May.
The phenomenal aspect of Hardy’s meeting with Obama was that she “was able to talk about her background” with the former first lady, Salone said.
From her young days on a plantation in Junction City, Ga., in Talbot County to the disappearance of her cousin after he was kidnapped by the Ku Klux Klan, Hardy remembers it all.
In the 1930s, she met and married her husband Frank Hardy and nine years later, at the age of 31, with only a third-grade education, Hardy moved to Atlanta for a “better life”, alongside her husband and her only daughter Cassie Edwards.
She would remain with her husband until his death in 1979. Hardy would also work for Atlanta families as a housekeeper until the 1980s. By then, she had moved to her Kirkwood home with her daughter who only passed away last July at the age of 93, according to AJC.
A member of the historic Butler Street Baptist Church on Ralph McGill Boulevard in northeast Atlanta, Hardy witnessed the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. during civil rights rallies held at the church. These rallies would eventually give way to a first African American president of the United States.
“I first met Ms. Hardy in 2017 at the Annual Living Legends Cookout held in Kirkwood,” Atlanta City Council member Archibong recently said. “Her journey from being born on a plantation to living to see the first African American become president of the United States is inspirational.”
Her opportunity to meet former first lady Michelle Obama almost did not happen, however. In the days before the meeting, she had not been “feeling her best,” Edwards said. On the morning of the meeting, however, she started feeling better and all alert when she was reminded that she would be meeting Obama.
This May was her first time meeting the former first lady in person, although she had earlier received a birthday note from her and her husband in 2012.
In the note, the two said Hardy’s life represented “an important part of the American story.”
“As you reflect upon a lifetime of memories, we hope you are filled with tremendous pride and joy,” the former first couple added.
In Kirkwood, where she currently lives, the community comprised mostly black residents in the 1960s, but today, most of her longtime neighbours are no longer there.
Even though Hardy is aware of that change, she still plans to stay in the neighbourhood with her family as her home has been a significant gathering place for relatives, friends, and neighbours over the years and she has no plans to change that.