Mary Elizabeth Johnson Smith celebrates 100th birthday

November 18, 2021

Staff Photo

During the past 100 years, Mary Elizabeth Johnson Smith has been an eye witness to some significant historical events. Born in rural Mississippi in 1921, she lost her mother at age two and the grandmother who raised her at age 12. Shortly after World War II, she and her husband moved to heavily segregated Milwaukee where they tried to build a life and family together before the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Laws passed during the 1960s. But when you ask Mary about these events, she brushes aside any questions about hardship with a wave of her hand. “As time went on, things got better,” was the most controversial comment she made during her interview.

It’s not that she has forgotten the struggle of raising nine children. It’s just that Mary is naturally a cheerful person, according to her granddaughter, Kennedy Smith. “When I was growing up she was always fond of saying: ‘Don’t let anyone steal your joy’,” Kennedy said. “She is always calm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her upset. She firmly believes that God will always find a way.”

Mary was married for 58 years to Hyman Smith until his death in 2003. She celebrated her 100th birthday with her children and some 40 grandchildren on September 24, 2021. She was so excited and having such a good time that she did not go to bed until 3:00 a.m. that day.