Sardie Jones liked to laugh at herself. One day she had the doors and windows open as she worked around the house. She giggled as she told the story. “I was just singing and praying out loud around the house. Now, I don’t sing real well,” Her ever-smiling eyes twinkled. “My neighbor called out, ‘Mrs. Jones are you ok?’ I said I was just fine! My neighbor said, ‘Well who is over there with you?’ Just me and the Lord!” And she laughed with all the joy in her heart.
There are many things Sardie loved – her family, her friends, her neighbors, her community. But nothing superseded her love and her faith in God. Love defined her life. She was taught from a very young age that love was the most important aspect of living. No matter what names she was called, how she was treated or what she faced, love must conquer all.
At the age of 101, Sardie Jones had witnessed enough negativity to make anyone bitter, angry and hateful. Relying on her faith and her belief in love, Sardie chose to be a positive voice in the murky mix of life.
Sardie remembers as a child she was given a pair of beautiful patent leather shoes. She loved those shoes and they were her favorite possession. She worked hard to keep them clean and shiny. One day, it had been raining, and the streets were muddy. She was walking down a sidewalk and a white woman was walking towards her. Sardie knew her place, but this time it was different. This time she was wearing her shoes. Still, Sardie did what she always had been taught: she stepped off the sidewalk into the mud to let the woman pass. Sardie cried all the way home, fearing that her beautiful shoes were ruined.
The days of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and blatant racism were things Sardie and her family faced on a daily basis. The idea of “separate, but equal” meant nothing to most people of color. It was hard to feel equal when everything — transportation, education, even the facilities — were harshly inferior by comparison to those used by white people.
That’s when Sardie practiced loving people the most. And when it was hardest.
At age 14, Sardie began looking for a job outside the home. She answered an ad in the local newspaper for a mother’s helper. As soon as the woman opened the door and saw Sardie standing there, she informed her that she did not hire “colored girls” and sent her on her way. Sardie loved the word “colored” because it just shows how different everyone is. In her mind, “colored” was a beautiful thing because “the Lord made us all. He made all the flowers and birds different colors, and he made all the humans different colors, too. He just made a human garden,” Sardie said. “It was man who turned it into something different.”
Sardie never let adversity keep her down. At age 19, she moved to live with her aunt in Washington, D.C. Her first job after graduation was in a private school for the daughters of diplomats. During World War II, Sardie took nursing classes and volunteered at the Red Cross and the USO. After the war, Sardie worked for the Army Map Service, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Mines. After her distinguished 35-year career, she retired in 1971.
Sardie disputed the notion that as a society we have not made much progress in race relations. The significance of having an African-American President was powerful for Sardie. “This country was founded on the basis of desiring freedom from oppression and it took too long to get true freedom for people of color. There will be those that don’t think they can continue working towards progress. I tell them ‘Oh yes you can. You have no idea how far we have come. You just got to have faith.’”
Sardie worries that today, however, there are not enough people in communities of color rising up to be leaders. She sees everyone today is worried about being called this word or that word and today’s community leaders stir up more trouble instead of trying to be leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Kids today just don’t know how far we have come. We have climbed so far up the ladder, and so many people died for the cause of freedom and equality. We have to start teaching kids these things again.”
One of Sardie’s favorite quotes is from one of the most powerful speeches of all time—Dr. King’s march on Washington speech in 1963.
“With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day…when we allow freedom to ring…we will be able to speed up the day when all God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing…’Free at last, free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.’”
Sardie added her own loved-colored wisdom to that speech, “We’re like a bunch of crabs, trying to climb up by pulling others down and climbing over them,” she said. “Don’t be a crab. Be a soldier. Climb the ladder, help others, and when you get to the top, stay at the top.”
And most importantly, “Love. Love everybody.”
Sardie Jones went home to be with the Lord on December 21, 2017 at the age of 101. May her legacy of love never die.
Photography by Brian Miller