Celebrating Black History: The life of Willie McBride

Celebrating Black History: The life of Willie McBride
source: Alleta McBride

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When we think about Black History month, we think of those that marched on the front lines and protested for their rights.

However, many times people forget about the unspoken heroes who didn't march but still faced prejudice and managed to keep moving forward.
Hattiesburg resident Alleta McBride said her grandmother, Willie McBride, experienced prejudice every day on the job working in retail.

"Just imagine having to everyday get up and go to work and no matter what they said to you, you just had to take it," Alleta said.

Born in the Pine Belt, Willie started working as a maid. While on the job, she was asked to work for Fine Bros.-Matison in 1964.

"Mamma was serving and Mr. Fine and Mr. Matison asked her that night would she come to work for them before they started the boycott," said Sandra McBride-Jones, Willie's daughter. "His brother had talked to him from New York and told them they should hire a black before they start the boycotting."

So, Willie traded in her cleaning supplies for clothing, but her family said it wasn't easy for her, especially being the first biracial woman to work there.

"One of the things that I always remember her saying is that it was hard dealing with white people and black people," Alleta said. "Because to the whites, she was too black, and to the blacks, she wasn't black or either she was trying to be white."

Sandra said one lady told her "they didn't want that 'N' waiting on her."

Randy Price of Randy Price and Company worked with Willie at Fine Bros. and said despite her struggles, she was a favorite among customers.

"She would tell you if you could get somebody to remember your name, then the next time they come in, you build those customer relationships like that," Price said.

According to Sandra, her mother never showed her frustrations to her children. Instead, she taught them how to respect others.

"I remember one time she told me, she said just because you're light skin don't you think that you're no better than nobody else," said Sandra. "But she said you're my child and don't you ever think anybody else is better than you."

Willie continued working in retail after Fine Bros. closed in the 90s and worked until January of 2010. She later died in November of that year from pancreatic cancer.

Family said Willie, like many other African-Americans during that time, did what she had to do for her family and faced prejudice in the face every day without complaining, adding that she taught her children to keep moving and the importance of equality.

"I tell everyone that I meet, we're a rainbow coalition," Sandra said. "I don't just claim light skin or dark skin. I just claim it all. I'm black before anything."