SHREVEPORT, Louisiana (AP) — A Louisiana woman believed to have been the oldest living African-American and one of the last children of U.S. slaves has died at age 113.
Mississippi Winn, an upbeat former domestic worker known as “Sweetie,” died Friday afternoon at Magnolia Manor Nursing Home, said Milton Carroll, an investigator with the Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office. He said he could not release her cause of death.
Winn was believed to be the oldest living African-American in the United States and the seventh-oldest living person in the world, said Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group, which verifies information for Guinness World Records.
Young said Winn was one of two known people left in the United States whose parents both were almost certainly born into slavery because documents show they were born before the end of the Civil War, though her great-niece Mary C. Hollins says Winn never acknowledged that. The Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the southern U.S.
“I don’t know much about that,” Hollins recalled Winn saying when asked about her parents’ early years.
Young visited Winn in July 2010 and remembered her being much more fit than others her age.
“When I asked her how old she was, she knew she was 113 but she thought she was young,” he said. “She always thought there would be a next year. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. That was just the thing — she had a very positive attitude.”
With Winn’s death, Young’s Los Angeles-based gerontology group has verified Mamie Rearden, 112, of South Carolina as the current oldest known living African-American. He said Eunice Sanborn, 114, of Texas is the world’s oldest known living person.
Hollins said Friday evening that Winn was in good health and mentally sharp until recently.
She described her great-aunt as “a strong-willed person, a disciplinarian” who believed that elders should be respected.
“She was living on her own until she was 103,” Hollins said, cooking for herself and taking walks. “She just believed she could handle anything.”
Winn, who never married, was a caretaker of children and a cook. She lived nearly her entire life in Louisiana, though she resided in Seattle, Washington from 1957 to 1975, Hollins said. She had been a member of Shreveport’s Avenue Baptist Church since 1927 and used to say, “I am gonna stay here as long as he wants me to stay here.”
“One of the reasons for her longevity was that she just kind of took things as they’d come, everyday life and living. She didn’t let nothing upset her and get all hyped up by some of the things as we do,” Hollins said.
Carroll said Winn was well-known in Shreveport. Last spring, the mayor declared “Miss Mississippi Winn Day” on March 31 when she turned 113.
“She was just a vibrant lady,” he said. “Once you came in contact with her, you were impacted.”
According to a biography released by the city, Winn was one of eight children, including a sister who died in 2000 at age 100.
“Her father named her Mississippi but her mother always called her Sweetie,” the bio said. “Her favorite hobby is sewing and favorite book is the Bible.”
Her favorite quote from the Bible: “Be ye kind one to another.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.