On the scroll of African Americans memorialized for their dedication to upgrading the quality of life in African-American communities should be a spot reserved for the legacy of Catherine Faye Howell.
Born April 16, 1928, Mrs. Howell died last year on June 2nd after a long illness. In the intervening 85 years she evolved into an unrelenting advocate for South Memphis and an energetic reminder that unwavering commitment to community is fundamental to rooting out poverty.
Memphis Area Project (MAP), South, Inc. – a South Memphis nonprofit organization that distributes food to impoverished infants, children, women and senior citizens – is a jewel in Mrs. Howell's legacy. On Aug. 10th 1965, she founded the group, along with Rosa A. Robinson, James Wray, William Wheeler and Beulah Williams.
MAP South Executive Director Joseph Mullins met Mrs. Howell when he applied for a position there in 1968.
"We did a lot of projects together," Mullins recalled. "She had always been concerned about the poverty, trying to improve the living conditions of people. She was a warrior. She was dedicated, consistent, reliable and you could always count on her.
"If there was a struggle, any kind of struggle for black advancement in this city...she would...speak about that. She was a brave person."
Mrs. Howell was born in Gary, Ind., and christened Catherine Hardy. Her mother, the late Ethel Mayes, died when Catherine was nine months old.
With her mother's passing, the infant Catherine was relocated to Memphis to live with her grandparents, Lafayette and Katie Hardy. She sunk roots in South Memphis, graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1946.
By all accounts, Catherine loved being a "Mighty Warrior." Later, she met and married graduate Herbert D. Howell, who preceded her in death. The couple had four children, including the late Faye D. Howell and Kenneth O. Howell (Jean). She leaves two children – Reginald A. Howell (Kattie), and Gregory D. Howell Sr. (Myra) –19 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.
For Mrs. Howell, community service became a way of life. She served as the area council representative to the Community Action Agency (CAA) board, secretary of the CAA board of directors, and as chairwoman of Map-South, Inc. She also served on the National Citizen Participation Council, representing Memphis and later becoming vice president.
That wasn't nearly all of her involvement. She served as the secretary and chairperson of the Department of Human Services Board, and as a Scout leader and den mother of Troop 176 and Pack 176.
Her dedication didn't go unnoticed; a fact born out by a letter Mullins once wrote recommending her for the CAA Volunteer Citizen of the Year award.
"Mrs. Howell always presented herself to speak (on) behalf of the poor people in Memphis and Shelby County," he wrote.
"She fought for the Map-South/St. Jude Feeding Program to receive funds to continue feeding babies in the Map-South community. She has supported and fought for all community action programs in Memphis and Shelby County. She helped organize and distribute toys and Christmas baskets to needy families in the community. She distributed tons of food donated to the South Memphis community by a charity organization."
In addition to the feeding program, which helped combat mental retardation resulting from malnutrition, Mrs. Howell's beloved Map-South also advocated for the Memphis Health Center, the school lunch program, and to keep postal and food stamp facilities for residents nearby – all of which she detailed in the 1978 annual report.
In May 2012, Mayor A C Wharton Jr. recognized Mrs. Howell for her service. As she did with every honor that came her way, Mrs. Howell associated it with heavenly influence. Her funeral program includes the following statement, written in her own hand:
"Any successful achievements, service, or award given here can only be attributed (or attained by me) to the will and leadership of God and His influence in my life. When you read this, know that God was using me and I was the one he blessed the most."
Cherishing Mrs. Howell's memory also are her godchild, Janice Payton, and her best friend, Jewel Letters.