She has lived more than the Bible's promise of three scores and 10. In fact, Sarah Jackson Bobo, born April 28, 1924, in Hookpur, Ark., is poised to celebrate yet another milestone. On Sunday, April 27th, her children will help celebrate her 90th birthday at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel at 185 Union Ave..
"My mother has lived almost a century," said Derome Bobo Sr., the 11th of his mother's 17 children and chairperson of the Sarah Jackson Bobo birthday gala. She birthed five daughters and 12 sons. One of them, Sgt. Edward Lee Bobo, was killed in August 1967 while serving his last tour of duty in the Vietnam War. He was scheduled for discharge that year in October.
"She's the oldest remaining member of the family and, I believe, the oldest African-American living in Elaine, Ark. She only has cousins left, and she's the oldest of them all," said Bobo, operations manager for the Memphis Postal Service.
In 10 years, Ms. Bobo will be ranked a centenarian and eligible for the Smuckers birthday salute with the "Today's Show" Willard Scott. Until then, the proclamations and citations that she's received from the U.S. Postal Service and the following luminaries will suffice: President Barack Obama, William "Bill" Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodman Clinton, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, Arkansas State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.
Ms. Bobo is unaware of the slated birthday gala in her honor or the attention she's receiving. She lives alone in Elaine, about 90 miles from Memphis, and continues to live life to the fullest without assistance from her children.
"She has a memory like a book and walks without a cane," her son said. "She washes her own clothes and takes care of her house. She's self-sufficient."
Ms. Bobo was still driving at age 88, Bobo remembers, and would still be driving her vehicle if her children hadn't taken the keys. She has glaucoma and her eyesight is quickly growing dim.
Ms. Bobo lost her husband, Leroy Bobo Sr., when she was 56 years old; he was 60 and the father of 14 of her 17 children. They were together for 36 years. She never remarried. The years, however, seemed to multiply, but the matriarch remained strong in character and the family pillar, her son said.
She is the grandmother of 61 grandchildren, the great-grandmother of 142 and the great-great grandmother of 20. "She is kind, gentle, understanding and has stood the test of time being the back bone for her children, grandchildren and extended family," Bobo said.
He recalled stories his mother often would tell about times when life was a little unbearable for her and the family in the segregated South when Jim Crow reigned.
"When she was a younger woman, there was a boy who supposedly liked a white woman. My mother smuggled him back to his parents, driving him to his parents' home in another small town outside Elaine. Back in those days, you didn't mess with white girls.
"She had another experience with a white man. He thought my mother couldn't read or write," said Bobo, retelling the story about an abusive white man whom his mother worked for in the cotton fields.
"She worked for 75 cents a day and they paid by the pound. He tried to cheat her. But my mother was strong and vibrant. She stood up to men and women."
Strength and courage...
Ms. Bobo's parents, the late Robert and Grover Kelly Jackson, worked as sharecroppers on the Green and Demoret plantations. She joined them in the fields after withdrawing from Elaine Industrial School. She was a ninth-grader then and would soon marry at the age of 16.
After giving birth to twins – one would survive – Ms. Bobo moved to Chicago determined to be successful so she could support her siblings (one sister and three brothers) by supporting her parents. She worked in a box factory and lived with her great aunt. One year later, she moved back to Elaine and birthed another child.
On May 28, 1944, she married Leroy Bobo Sr. The children kept coming. She raised them to be independent and successful. Several have earned college degrees and are successful entrepreneurs, managers and high-ranking officials in various government agencies.
When the children were young, Ms. Bobo worked various jobs – as a field worker and maid – starting each morning at 4 a.m. She also worked in the home cooking, washing, ironing and cleaning, often ending her "day" at midnight.
Living in Elaine in the 1940s was challenging, Bobo remembers his mother telling him. Everything was segregated – blacks living on one side of town, whites on the other. Long before school integration found its way to Elaine, black parents were permitted to sign a parental consent form for their children to attend Elaine's all-white middle and high schools. Bobo said his mother, although apprehensive, gave permission for three of her children to attend those schools. Her own educational pursuit had been cut short due to the daily grind and the need to eke out a living.
In 1965, Ms. Bobo drove a school bus for Elaine Industrial School (renamed the Elaine School System) and continued to work as maid. She also became a study hall instructor for grades 9th through 12th. While working, Ms. Bobo opted to get her high school diploma, having relayed to her children that a good education was the key to success. She set the example by enrolling in Phillips County Community College at night.
She retired from the school system after 39 years.
Tragedy struck in August 1967. That's when her son, Sgt. Edward Lee Bobo, was killed in Vietnam. Two other sons were serving active duty in the United States Army during this time. One of them was sent to Vietnam immediately after the funeral.
In honor of her son's sacrifice, Ms. Bobo was given the Purple Heart. On Sunday, her remaining children – and a few dignitaries who admire her strength and courage – will pour out their heart with a special birthday salute arranged to acknowledge her excellence and to simply say, thanks.