Willie Kate Charley of Coy AL, known to most simply as “Kate” or “Ms Charley, ” born in 1934, peacefully passed from this world on February 11, 2013 in her own home, of natural causes and on her own terms. She was unapologetic about her choice to stay single, and as a retired teacher and tireless community activist, Kate enjoyed the affection of countless students, many “adopted” nieces, nephews and grandchildren and her sister congregants. She was devoted to her church and to her other causes which focussed on improving the lives of youth. Often when I’d call she had just finished making a pie to take to a church event, including her famous her famous “stick to your ribs” (and teeth!) coconut pie.
Kate was generous, wise, kind and funny. She once told me, “I keep myself busy to keep me out of devilment.” Kate loved to view the Fall Foliage in New England, and to visit the successes of her students. She also liked to race around the back roads of Wilcox County in her “Dodger Blue” pick-up truck, always on a mission to do some good deed. About her truck, she explained, “I always liked the Dodgers. I had to get a new truck – so when I was picking it out I said, I believe I’ll take the blue one; you know I am loyal that way.”
Kate was proud of her parents, Leona Brooks Charley and Joel Wentworth Charley, direct involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, including the risky work of transporting people to register to vote and of housing civil rights workers, while Kate herself chose to uplift the community through a lifetime of teaching and mentoring young people.
I had the honor to meet and the joy to get to know Kate through my search for folks I lived and worked with when I served as an SCLC student civil rights worker in Wilcox County during the tumultuous summer of 1965. We visited in person in 2008 and again in 2010 for the 45th Commemorative March & Mass Meeting in Camden, and enjoyed many long telephone conversations over the years. Her contributions to my forthcoming book, This Bright Light of Ours, University of Alabama Press 2014, are invaluable.
All who know Kate will remember her lively wit, energetic spirit and her devotion to her church, Little Zion in Coy. Contributions in her memory may be made online to the Bessie W. Munden Playground [http://www.bessiewmundenrecreationalpark.com] and Frank Smiley Scholarship Fund at the Black Belt Community Foundation [http://www.blackbeltfound.org/}. W. Kate Charley was a true Woman of Valor, as we say in the Jewish tradition. May she rest in blessed memory and may all who mourn be comforted and inspired to move forward with the teachings of her exemplary life.
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