MARCH 7, 1908
Black philanthropist Oseola McCarty was born in rural Mississippi and grew up in Hattiesburg, where she was raised on a farm by her grandmother, aunt and mother. She dropped out of school to help care for her ailing aunt and began washing and ironing for friends and neighbors. Each nickel and dime she made, she tucked underneath the pink lining of her doll buggy.
In a profile, The New York Times wrote, “Oseola McCarty spent a lifetime making other people look nice. Day after day, for most of her 87 years, she took in bundles of dirty clothes and made them clean and neat for parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never saw. She had quit school in the sixth grade to go to work, never married, never had children and never learned to drive because there was never any place in particular she wanted to go. All she ever had was the work, which she saw as a blessing. … She spent almost nothing, living in her old family home, cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit right and binding her ragged Bible with Scotch tape to keep Corinthians from falling out. Over the decades, her pay — mostly dollar bills and change — grew to more than $150,000.”
In 1995, she contributed her savings so that Black students at the University of Southern Mississippi could receive something she never did — an education. Her philanthropy received international accolades. The United Nations honored her with the Avicenna Medal for educational commitment, President Clinton awarded her the President Citizens’ Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian award, and Patti LaBelle sang a tribute to her at Madison Square Garden. She died in 1999, and on the 25th anniversary of her gift, Southern Mississippi unveiled a statue of the woman who embodied generosity.