It’s hard to surprise Freddie Mae Barnett, but Saturday afternoon she looked at the intimate gathering of people who loved her through glistening eyes.
Eighteen people, mostly women, gathered at the Tacoma City Association of Colored Women’s Clubs to honor Barnett, 81. In nearly six decades on the Hilltop, she has registered voters and encouraged countless young people on their paths to college.
Members had lured her to the clubhouse with the ruse of talking about the club’s future over tea and cake. While they ruminated on their hope for a black cultural center in Tacoma, all had arrived to pay their respects to “Mother Barnett.”
Barnett had lived in the Jim Crow South. Her military husband was eventually stationed in Fort Lewis in the late 1950s. Landlords here didn’t roll out the welcome mat. She and her husband were turned away from more than half a dozen homes because of the color of their skin.
“It was a long time ago,” said Barnett, a woman whose birth is closer to President Abraham Lincoln’s landmark Emancipation Proclamation than today’s date.
Woman after woman said Barnett had been a source of inspiration whom they endeavored to make proud.
A row portraits of past club presidents, including Barnett, lines one wall of the Yakima Avenue clubhouse. As the group talked about the need for younger members, they seemed to feel the weight of their foremothers’ gaze. Next year is the national club’s 120th anniversary.
“We are a beacon on the hill, and we are carrying on the legacy of those women whose faces are on the wall,” said W. Joye Hardiman, former executive director of the Tacoma campus for The Evergreen State College.
Most people won’t ever know how much others cherish them, Barnett said as she thanked the group for honoring her: “Thank you for giving me my flowers while I live.”