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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Fannie Mae Corbett 1932-2019

My Aunt Fannie Corbett received her heavenly wings on Tuesday, February 19th, 2019. She was my last living aunt, my Daddy’s baby sister and the last of my grandfather’s children.

Sadly, all my aunties and uncles are deceased.

Aunt Fannie was born in 1932 to Sylvester Powell and Bessie Evans.  Her paternal grandparents were George and Fannie Sherrod Powell who raised their family in Nash, Wilson and Wayne counties, North Carolina.  George’s parents, Lawson and Dilaney (Laney) Taylor Powell, lived in the Whitakers Township of Nash County as far back as 1880. While her grandmother and namesake, Fannie Sherrod Powell’s family, lived in Wayne County, North Carolina since the 1840s.  Her family roots run deep in Eastern North Carolina.

Service to Her Community Was in Her DNA

Aunt Fannie lived her entire life in Wilson, NC and in service to her community. I like to think that she saw an injustice and spent her life trying to correct it.  Perhaps she inherited her activism from her great-grandfather, Jack Sherrod who was a United States Colored Troop Solider in the 135th Infantry.  And like her famous cousins, Charles Sherrod who was a member and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Civil Rights Movement and Black Panther activist Afeni Shakur, Aunt Fannie was fighting for equal rights in Wilson.

In the book “Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina,” by Charles W. McKinney, Jr., Aunt Fannie was quoted saying: “Somewhere down the line, we decided to organized.  We felt like we would be stronger if we came together, know what I’m saying?  If the people are going to win, and [city officials] see they can’t do nothing about it, they’ll get with the people.  That’s what we found out when we first started working.”

In 1968, Aunt Fannie and her colleagues established the Wilson Community Improvement Association and over the next three decades, low-income and elderly residents benefited from her activism such as the Gee-Corbett Village which was named after Rev. Cary Gee and Aunt Fannie.

Occasionally when I would meet an elderly person who said that they were from Wilson, I’d ask if they knew my aunt, a number of times folks would say “Yes, she has done a lot for Wilson.” Smiling ear to ear, I would say, “that’s my Auntie.”    

She was a very special lady to me

Since the day she died, an old Negro Spiritual has been playing in my head. It’s a song that I recall my maternal grandfather singing and it’s a song that appropriately describes Aunt Fannie:

May the works I’ve done speak for me.
May the works I’ve done speak for me.
When I’m resting in my grave,
There’s nothing to be said;
May the works the works I’ve done,
Speak for me.

May the life I live speak for me.
May the life I live speak for me.
When the best I try to live,
My mistakes He will forgive;
May the life the life I live
Speak for me.

May the service I give speak for me.
May the service I give speak for me.
When I’ve done the best I can,
And my friends don’t understand
May the service I give speak for me…

Lyrics and Song by The Consolers, 1968

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