Descending from several generations of quiltmakers, Lucy Mingo became one of Gee’s Bend’s leading spokespersons during the civil rights era. Since marrying David Mingo in 1949, she has lived in the area Gee’s Benders refer to as “Over the Creek.” Her work is in the permanent collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Rockford Art Museum.
I started in the fields when I was six years old with my brother, two years older than me. There wasn’t nobody but us two. My mother and father were Ethel and Earl Young. My daddy was a longshoreman and worked in Mobile most of the time. He farmed also. I stayed home and worked in the fields till I was thirteen. My mama always depended on me to do most of the cooking. I started when I was seven years old. We went to Boykin elementary and high school—they was together. We lived on Herbert Wilkinson’s place. We had to walk four miles to school in the morning and afternoon, and when I get home I’d have to cook for everybody. We had to work very hard, but my father always made the crops for us—cotton, corn, peas, potatoes, peanuts. He had us at home, and we did all the work for him because he was in Mobile. He worked on the riverfront. My daddy give us anything we want. My brother stayed around till he was fourteen and then went to Mobile and worked on the riverfront, too. He been there all his life since.
After I was thirteen, my uncle wanted me to go to Cleveland to go to school, but my mama only let me go to Mobile, to Allen Institute. I graduated from there and turned around and got married when I was seventeen. I moved right back here where I left. My brother didn’t want it to happen. He said, “You don’t need to go back to the country, you need to go to the city.” He said, “You going to be with Mama and Daddy all your life.” I really was with them, too. But he wanted me to be with him. He said, “If I live in a plank house, you gonna live in one.” He said, “If I live in a brick house, you’re going to live in the same thing.”
After I got married, I had to go back to the fields, and raised ten children. And I worked there until the civil rights movement came in ’65. Then I worked in the school cafeteria for ten years. After then, me and Mrs. Addie Pearl Nicholson, we got laid off. And we said we wasn’t going to mess around, so we went to Selma. I worked there a year, and then I went to work for the extension service for twenty-three years, and retired when I was sixty-nine. I was a P.A. program assistant. I taught people how to cook, can, and freeze, and I enjoyed every bit of it. I would’ve worked with the extension service much longer, but my mama got sick.
We had a really good father. He didn’t have but five children, and he gave us anything we wanted. He was really good to us. We was brought up on the white man Wilkinson’s place. As long as Daddy was vassaling from him, things was kind of rough, but when he stopped and got on his own, things got better. You know, if you live on a white man’s place, and he tell you to go over and hoe his place, you do it. We used to go over there and my daddy be crying. He say, “Sister, I’m not going to stay here.” So, he go to Mobile as a longshoreman and start on his own. Wilkinson kicked us off in ’65. See, he didn’t want you to march, but I really wanted to be registered to vote. After Dr. King came down, we marched and went to Camden, and we became registered voters. And then things changed. You could ask for a job when you were a registered voter.
The civil rights, well, it wasn’t what I thought it was. Sometimes people said, “Let’s go,” and when you got there, you didn’t know people was going to be active like they was going to be. The first movement I went to was with Nancy Brown in Camden at the gas company. And we got down on our knees, and she began to pray. And then I see everybody closing up the stores, and she said, “Don’t y’all run and don’t y’all move.” And I stayed in the movement. But I didn’t get in jail. When I see people getting in jail, I stay back because I have children. Civil rights took a long time. It didn’t happen overnight. I marched in Montgomery and over the Pettus Bridge, but I wasn’t in the one with John Lewis. Some people went to jail, but they didn’t let the old people stay in there overnight. My son Eugene, he stay in jail for a week one time. Schoolkids did. Peoples want to become registered voters. That was our main priority. After that, things got better. You could get a good job. Didn’t pay much, but it was okay.
Quilting in my family went way back because my mama’s mama was a quilter. My mama taught me how to make quilts, but I got my quilting on my own. I could look at things and see how it was done and do it myself. My mother, you know, they go house to house. I think it was ten of them. They quilt four and five quilts a day, helping people. They didn’t quilt like we did. They quilt them little bitty rows, about the size of my finger, with that old thread.
My mama’s parents were Lee Pettway and Nellie Pettway. But they was Irbys when they get here. But there was this guy came in called Van de Graaff. After he bought the plantation, he got them to change their name to Pettway. My parents’ people was from Orrville, Alabama, up the road a few miles. But I never knew Orrville. My sister got children there I don’t even know. And you didn’t call this Boykin then, you called it Primrose. And Mama and them, they was living down in Primrose. It was Gee’s Bend before then. Where I was born, you called it Rehoboth. I met my husband in 1949. I knew him before that because we didn’t live down the road too far from each other. He farmed and worked on bridges. He’s done a little of everything. He worked in Mobile some. David is his name. I had seven girls, three boys, and raised two grandchildren.