It is with heavy hearts that we share the passing of Mamie Lang Kirkland.
Mamie was born in Ellisville, Mississippi on September 3, 1908, the second child of Edward Lang, a Baptist minister and Rochelle Moore, a housewife and domestic. Her four siblings including Rosetta, Elizabeth, Edward and Lucille have all preceded her in death as has her father’s children from his second marriage, Sonny, Marion, Richard, James, Evelyn, Benny and Ossie. Mamie would describe herself as an ordinary person, but she lived an extraordinary life, not only for its longevity but for her mastery of spiritual awareness and gratitude. She has attracted legions of friends and admirers from New York to California. In her later years she garnered national recognition for her courageous return to Mississippi made the front page of the New York Times.
When Mamie was born, slavery had only been abolished for forty-three years. It was the year the first Ford Model T was manufactured. In her lifetime she saw two world wars, the Great Depression, the Atomic Bomb and the first man on the moon. She lived through twenty presidents and the first black president, which she never imagined would happen in her lifetime.
She was a 4-foot, 9-inch spitfire, a living rock of ages who survived all manner of hardships with a forceful determination. When she was seven, her family fled Mississippi to escape her father’s lynching and that of a family friend. She lived through the 1917 East St. Louis race riots and survived the Red Summer of 1919, a period of the most violent anti-black terrorism in U.S. history. She and her family later survived a KKK cross burning on their front lawn in Alliance Ohio. She even marched with Marcus Garvey!
At the age of five she suffered a bout of “typhoid/malaria fever,” as she described it. The doctor was powerless to save her, and she testified that she died and went to heaven, experiencing its splendor. Her grandmother, Easter Moore, a midwife and herbalist, gathered herbs in her apron and administered a tea to her ailing grandchild. Mamie experienced a miraculous recovery. Her near death experience remained vivid in her memory and established her relationship with God at an early age. From that point her family called her “Gold Baby” because they said she was a miracle child.
Mamie loved to read, did well in school and aspired to be an English teacher, until she fell in love with Albert Kirkland, a railroad worker and boarder in her father’s house in Ohio. She married at 15 then moved to Buffalo, New York. She was still a child when she bore the first of her nine children: Richard, Mildred, Donald, Juanita, Beatrice, Carole, Margaret, Jeanette, and Albert Jr. (AKA: Tarabu), six of whom survived. Her husband taught her to cook, and the Great Depression taught her to manage, feed and house an extended family escaping the Jim Crow South.
When she was 49, she lost her husband of 35 years, 3 months and 16 days. In 1963 Mamie began her career as an Avon Lady, walking door to door in Buffalo, selling beauty products to support herself and her last child and only son, Tarabu. She was a loving listener and ministered to her many customers. It was during this time she developed her dynamic personal style as a “fashionista,” using her sparkle to light up a room until her final days.
In 2015, Tarabu convinced Mamie to return to Mississippi to confront the story that had haunted her family for a century – the lynching of her father’s friend John Hartfield, who initially escaped with him, but decided to go back. Her journey was capturedon the front page of the New York Times. It also inspired her son to tell her story in his film: “100 YEARS FROM MISSISSIPPI.” Since then, she has been honored by the Equal Justice Initiative in 2016 with their Lynching Legacy Award in New York City, and in 2018 receiving the Champion of Justice award at their opening of the Legacy Museum and the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Her story, photographs and oral history are on permanent display at the Legacy Museum.
Mamie was the living matriarch of six generations resulting in 158 grands and greats. At the time of her death, she was Buffalo’s oldest living citizen and the second oldest in New York State. At her beloved First Shiloh Baptist Church, Mamie was an active foundational member for over 85 years. She inspired everyone she met to be positive, and to use her favorite phrase: “don’t rush your life away, live it away with the Lord.”
We Will Always Love You!
“When she speaks, her words are wise and she gives instructions with kindness.”
– Proverbs 31:26
“Not, how did she die, but how did she live?
Not what did she gain, but what did she give?
These are the units that measure the worth
Of a woman, as a woman, regardless of her birth.”
News Articles on Mamie’s Passing:
NYT Obituary: Mamie Kirkland, Witness to an Era of Racial Terror, Dies at 111
WKBW Buffalo: Oldest Buffalo Resident Dies at Age 111
NBC 2 WGRZ: Oldest WNY Woman Dies at Age 111 (video)
NBC 2 WGRZ: Buffalo’s Oldest Resident, Mamie Kirkland, dies at 111
The Buffalo News: Mamie Lang Kirkland, Buffalo’s Oldest Citizen, Dies at 111