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A long life lived well

Though she was the offspring of a slave, Mrs. Violet Wilkins Duncan lived to witness the election of the first African American to service as president of the United States – and then some. Though she was the offspring of a slave, Mrs. Violet Wilkins Duncan lived to witness the election of the first African American to service as president of the United States – and then some.

 
Mrs. Violet Wilkins Duncan

 
Homegoing services for Mrs. Violet Wilkins Duncan were held last Saturday (Oct. 8) at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. A. McKinley Royal is senior pastor. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)

“Mother Wilkins” and “Miz Violet” to many, she was born on July 20, 1904 and died on Sept. 29 at 107. Services for her were held last Saturday (Oct. 8) at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church at 491 East McLemore, where the Rev. Dr. A. McKinley Royal is senior pastor, with burial in New Park Cemetery. E.H. Ford Mortuary Service had charged.

A deafening ovation at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church welcomed “Mother Wilkins” back into the Pilgrim Rest sanctuary a year ago (September, 2010) after more than a decade-long absence. (Her return and her life story were featured in the Sept. 30, 2010 edition of the Tri-State Defender and is available here.) She first came to Pilgrim Rest in 1960 when the Rev. C.M. Lee was pastor. She worked diligently in several auxiliaries until failing health forced her to resign.

When she learned that then-Sen. Barack Obama had been elected President, “Miz Violet” smiled real big and said, ‘Sho-nuff,” family members recounted.

Her many accomplishments include: receiving the “Keys of the City of Memphis” from former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton; The Women of Stamina Award from Comrades N Community, Inc; honoree at the Annual New Chicago Awards Appreciation Banquet; and centenarian recognition from former President George W. Bush and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

And Nov. 17, 2010 was declared “Violet Mare Duncan Day” by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Arthur Duncan Sr.; her son, Arthur Duncan Jr.; two daughters, Carrie Mae Williams and Erma D. Watkins; five brothers, Noah, Esau, Jacob, Philmore and Cleveland; and two sisters, Fanny and Myrtle.

“Miz Violet” leaves five daughters, Chasie Mae Dae, Emma Bufkin, Artense Williams of Memphis, Mattie Kimbrough (John) of Gary, Ind., and Martha Jackson (Richard) of Washington, D.C.; five sons, Luther Duncan, Elmo Duncan, Andrew Duncan, James Paul Duncan, and Larry Duncan of Memphis; 61 grandchildren, 117 great-grandchildren, 50 great-great-grandchildren, and host of nieces, nephews, and many, many friends.

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