COLUMBIA, S.C. _ In her 100 years, Donella B. Wilson has traversed the cultural and psychic landscape of South Carolina, moving from a poor plantation childhood to an urban life marked by professional and personal achievements.
Now, as she celebrates her 100th birthday, Wilson relishes looking back on a life that her mother and grandmother could scarcely have envisioned.
It's a life, she said, embellished early on by faith and by black educator Booker T. Washington's admonition to "reach down and bring somebody up."
"Those generations are the foundation that we have to go on now," she said. "I don't think we as a race have told our children enough."
Her earliest childhood memories are of life on a place known as Lang Syne where black sharecroppers and day laborers gathered in "the yard" each morning so the boss man could assign the day's labor.
In that first decade of the last century, there were a few old ones there, former slaves that included her great-grandmother. Donella's grandmother, Mary Bryant Weeks, a child of former slaves, was a gardener who served as the model for the central fictional black character in Julia Peterkin's novel "Scarlet Sister Mary."
"I can't tell you what a time we had out in the open, boiling clothes and making soap and canning in jars," she recalled. "You all can't see that, you don't know about that, so you can't get the feeling of what we went through."
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