Woman, 100, recalls Jim Crow South

February 28, 2014

From Jim Crow in the Deep South to the election and re-election of the nation's first African-American president, Elatric "Patsy" Smith has been a witness to more history than most of us as she celebrates her 100th birthday.

She may not move as swiftly as she once did, but at 100 years young, Smith still lives independently and says she feels pretty good.

"I don't feel like I'm no 100," she said. "I feel like I'm maybe about 60 or 70."

Smith was born on February 18, 1914 in Brasfield, Arkansas. She migrated to Chicago in search of job prospects. Her first job was for the Pennsylvania Railroad where her starting wage was 75-cents a day. She quit after another worker died on the job.

"She was crossing and she stepped on the wrong rail," Smith said.

Smith was married twice and considers her great niece, Tina Battle, as the child she never had. Battle says hearing stories about life under Jim Crow still gives her chills.

"She told me that as an adult, if there was a white kid, 6 years old or 3 years old or 15 as a grown adult in her 20s and 30s she had to stop and put her head down and let them walk past," said Battle. "That was amazing to me to have to say, 'Yes ma'am,' and 'No ma'am,' and they not have to respect you."

Smith has witnessed the tenure of 17 U.S. presidents. The election and re-election of President Barack Obama is her political highlight.

"Not too many things get her excited at 100, but when he won the presidency she was just out of her mind with excitement," Battle said.

When asked what advice she would offer younger people, she doesn't hesitate.

"Keep love in your heart and you'll be more happier in your older days than you were in your younger days," Smith said.

Smith says she is often asked the secret to her longevity. The breast cancer survivor says it is keeping a strong mind and treating others well.

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