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Rosie Lee Thomas

She was born in Cedars, MS. She is accomplished in the area of Business.
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Rosie Lee was born in Cedars, Warren County, Mississippi. Rosie, the youngest of the six children born to Anna Stewart Pinkney Owens, has a divergent background. Anna's father, Dennis Pinkney and Anna's mother, Dollie Ann Stewart Pinkney (Purthy Durthy) were slaves. Under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, Pinkney fought on the side of the Union from 1861-1865 in the American Civil War. He engaged in the Battle of Vicksburg in 1862 and in 1863 which ended in defeat for the Confederate General John C. Pemberton. Both he and his wife Dollie were freed from slavery with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, by the then president Abraham Lincoln; but, Pinkney continued his service until the war officially ended on April 9, 1865. As compensation for his services in the War, he received land in Warren County and a government pension which enabled him and Dollie Ann to raise and support eight children.

In the late 1960's, Vicksburg, Mississippi, was expanding its highway system which comprised this land that belonged to Pinkney and of course his wife Dollie. To actualize its plans, the City needed to purchase the land from the living heirs, all of Anna Owen's children: three sons, (Joe, Eddie and Octavius) and three daughters (Bethena, Marcella and Rosie). Five of Anna's children had moved away, no longer residing on the land; Eddie to Yokena, Mississippi, Joe and Octabius to St. Louis, Missouri, and Marcella and Rosie to Niagara Falls, New York. Only Bethena still lived on the land itself. In order to sell the land to Vicksburg herself, she needed exclusive property rights. Therefore, she travelled to St. Lois and Niagara Falls with the necessary documents granting her exclusive rights. Projecting her unselfish and considerate nature, Rosie assured her sister Marcella that they should give Bethena the land because God had blessed both of them with "nice homes," "good husbands," and "healthy children." As did the brothers, both sisters signed over their property rights to Bethena. The city of Vicksburg bought that property from Bethena Pinkney Scott Lewis. Thus, that was the end of Mrs. Thomas's land holdings in Mississippi - land that had been owned by her grandparents Dennis Pinkney, who had fought so fervently in the Civil War, and Dollie Ann Stewart Pinkney (Purthy Durthy).

Dollie Ann Stewart Pinkney, Rosie's grandmother, was an educated, intelligent slave who was half white and half Indian (Black Chautauqua). The name Stewart was the surname of her white slave master in Warren County to whom she was sold at the age of twelve in Virginia. Stewart changed her name from Purthy Durthy to Dollie Ann Stewart. She used her own learning to teach other slaves to read, to write, and "to do figures" as math was called back then. After the Emancipation Proclamation she was hired by the United Presbyterian Mission to teach ex-slaves. It is alleged that she named one of her grandchildren, a boy, Mrs. Thomas's brother, "Octavius," and one of her granddaughters "Marcella," Mrs. Thomas's sister, after Shakespearean characters. Mrs. Thomas received her basic learning from Dollie, her grandmother, and from her own mother, Anna. Later, James Owens, her father, who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad in Vicksburg, enrolled her and her sister Marcella in McIntyre School in Vicksburg where she completed her education.

Rosie Lee Stewart Pinkney Owens married Deacon Henry Clark Eastman Thomas on November 7, 1937, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. They lived in the house in which he rented at 505 Magnolia Street where they started their family: Mary Jane, Sarah Louise, Lizzie Mae, and Ada Lucille. They adopted three boys after they moved to Niagara Falls, New York, many years later: James Edward Giles, Michael Anthony Thomas, and Frank Erlando Thomas (Pablo).

A stay at home wife and later a stay at home mom, Mrs. Thomas's first job was at Carborundum in 1945 after she joined Deacon Thomas in Niagara Falls, New York, who had gone before her and the children to secure employment. Bear in mind that she supported his political beliefs and his ideas for protecting and enhancing their children's lives through leaving the segregated South.

For health reasons, she left Carborundum, did domestic work for the wives of Dr. Richard Saunders and Dr. Charles L. McDermott. She described those years of domestic work as a "positive learning and rewarding experience, becoming good friends with both. Mrs. Saunders and Mrs. McDermott kept in touch with her the many years after she left their employment, up to her demise in 1988. Both families attended her funeral services, sent the Thomas family caring cards, and sent impressive arrays of flowers to Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church where her Home going Service was conducted.

After Deacon Thomas opened the grocery store at 2513 Highland Avenue in 1959, Mrs. Thomas quit her jobs with Mrs. Saunders and Mrs. McDermott, ran and operated the store for over twenty years. Although the legal name of the store was Rosie Lee's Delicatessen, the Black community called it "Mrs. Thomas" or Thomas Store." While operating this store, the Black community became aware of her "good" qualities. Although she was far from a "push-over," she was an amiable, emphatic, and compassionate woman, seen in the treatment of her customers. Besides extending credit to those in financial distress, more importantly, she gave away food to those who asked, who did not have the money to pay. Furthermore, she hired people from the Community to help her out, when needed, in the store. Needless to say, Mrs. Thomas was well-liked and well-respected in the Community.

A vibrant and energetic woman, Mrs. Thomas supported and, when she could, participated in activities conducive to the growth and development of her children. There were activities designed to enhance their moral and spiritual growth: weekly BTU, choir participation, regular church and Sunday School attendance, and all youth activities offered by New Hope Baptist Church. To supplement their spiritual growth, her children attended Tuesday afternoon religion instruction at Pierce Avenue Presbyterian Church which was offered to students from Centre Avenue School.

She was instrumental in her children's participation in organizations designed for youths in Niagara Falls itself: Y-Teens, Girl Scouts, the Community Center, and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a "must" organization for the entire family. In fact, in 1960 her daughters were active in the sit-ins led by that Organization and CORE under the leadership of the late Otis Cowart which led to "token integration," ie. The hiring of a Black based on "skin color" by a retail store. Besides these organizations, Mrs. Thomas engaged her daughters in other ways to enrich their growing years: The library, bike riding, roller skating, playground activities, and after school sports (track, bowling, and swimming at North Junior High School). Additionally, she gave her two oldest daughters (Mary and Sarah) classical piano lessons, purchasing them a piano so that they could become proficient players. Moreover, her efforts to teach her girls to be thrifty were realized in their first bank accounts. When Marine Trust started a student-banking program at Centre Avenue School at the school itself, she opened accounts for all the girls in their own names, gave them money for weekly deposits.

As a Christian mother, she instilled in her children the values of "charity" and helping those in distress. For example, in 10957 there was a grief crisis following the aftermath of the Moonglow Hotel fire that claimed the lives of 15 Black children and one adult - Sanford Reed's children, Mary Ewing's children, and Mary Ewing herself. Mrs. Thomas and her daughters joined in with the rest of the Community to render the surviving family members food, clothing, and moral support. As many in the Community, she contributed money to purchase the fifteen little caskets in which these children were buried. Further, on many, many days and for many years, she graciously fed children from the neighborhood at her own table with her own children.

Serving as an example, she taught her children "cleanliness" and good hygiene.

Mrs. Thomas believed in promoting the self-actualization of Black women in the Community through supporting their business endeavors. For years she used their hairdressing services: Mrs. Virginia Wesby, Mrs. Pearline Burnett, Mrs. Ocile Jesse (founder) and Mrs. Doris Banks (niece and founder). For years she supported Mrs. Hill's and Mrs. Louise's restaurants, both located on Highland Avenue. Moreover, she shopped at Mrs. Hayes's Dress Shop when that opened on Highland Avenue. Both Mrs. Mattie Chappel and Mrs. Loretta Tillman were her seamstresses at one time or another. Although she herself was an excellent cook, she regularly paid for the catering services of Mrs. Susett Allen (Deacon Thomas's niece) and the catering services of Mrs. Beatrice Davis (founder and best friend). For years she used the child care services of Mrs. Ada Williams (best friend and founder).

Convinced that part of empowering Black women was their education, Mr. Thomas was 100% behind the education of her own daughters; all of them graduated from college: Mary Jane Thomas Shavers, BS and MS from Syracuse University; Sarah T. Scott, Virginia Union University BS from New York University; Lizzie Mae Thomas Golden, BA from Michigan State University, PhD from SUNY at Buffalo, and Ada L. Deans, Virginia Union University, BS and MS from SUNY College at Buffalo.

Financially speaking, Mrs. Thomas supported several organizations: the United Way, the Girl Scouts, the Community Chest, the Community Center, the American Red Cross, the United Negro College Fund, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Baptised at an early age at Hopewell Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Mrs. Thomas joined Mt. Givens Baptist Church under Christian Experience after she married Deacon Thomas who was an ordained Deacon and the church treasurer. Again, under Christian Experience, she joined New Hope Baptist Church after she moved to Niagara Falls, New York, in the 1940s, again, where Deacon Thomas was an ordained deacon and church treasurer. At New Hope, as at Hopewell and Mt. Givens, she continued to be an active devoted member, singing in the choirs of all three churches. Along with her husband and four daughters (Ada, Mary, Sarah, and Lizzie), she was among the original founders of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Her daughter Ada L. Deans, who volunteered her services, was its first secretary.

Indeed, Mrs. Thomas was an asset to the Church, was a positive example for the other women there, and a positive example for the Black women in the community as a whole.