By Earnest McBride
Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor
It came as no surprise to learn that Mrs. Ezell Marie McDonald had traveled to Birmingham to cheer on her grandson Devon in the AAU basketball tourney two weeks ago Thursday. Celebrating age-appropriate and intergenerational cultural events was something she did on a regular basis, not merely as a consumer, but as a purveyor also.
What came as a surprise, however, was the news that Mrs. McDonald had departed this life a day after suffering from a heart attack and being rushed to Merit River Region Hospital where her all-too-brief journey on Earth was pronounced at an end on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. She was 64.
Funeral Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, July 29, 2021, at the Vicksburg City Auditorium, with Dr. Alphonso Butler, Pastor of Christian M.B. Church of Gulfport, MS, officiating; with Pastor Joseph Wallis of Mark Christian Church of Vicksburg; and Ms. Debra Robinson Goodman, Program Guide. Lakeview Funeral Home Directors of Vicksburg are in charge.
Mrs. McDonald practically introduced the greater Vicksburg area to the idea of the “rites of passage,” an almost forgotten notion in a bland, petty-bourgeois culture of the “me-first” era. Thanks to the constant work she and her family indulged in many years ago at the Heritage Center and throughout her hometown, the flame of Black culture in Vicksburg remained a reality from year-to-year for most of the past 30 years.
Life in Vicksburg would have been quite different if there had been no Heritage Center, first on Openwood Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard), then on Washington Street in the center of downtown Vicksburg. Vintage books, well known, but hard to find, were there or easily ordered. The fine-arts studio and gallery, the musical venues offering everything from live Jazz to Blues to Gospel to poetry were all a part of this gathering place where the open-minded could come and shoot the breeze with friend and foe alike.
This was the place where Black Choctaws from Oklahoma; Hebrew-Israelites sharing their glowing reports about life in their very own kibbutz in Dimona, Israel; and descendants of the Maroon culture of Louisiana were encountered. That was the Heritage Center. Not to forget that here, too, was one of the two marketing and merchandising centers for world-class artist William Tolliver, husband of Ezell’s younger sister, Debra – both deceased.
Somehow the arcane necessities of Vicksburg’s 2002 Urban Renewal Plan necessitated closing down most of the Black-owned businesses along Washington Street, which in effect pulled down the curtain on the Heritage Center, snuffing out that wondrous flame of culture and beauty that had shone so bright in the heart of the city.
PILLAR OF CITY
Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs called her one of the “original inspirations” for a great part of the cultural life in Vicksburg.
“I worked with Mrs. McDonald for many, many years,” he said, “where she was always in service to the city and her beloved Kings community here. I will always treasure this relationship that began long before I became mayor,” he said.
“We were developing a plan to enhance the life of the people in the King’s community. And we’re going to complete it, just as if she never left.
“She was nothing but a joy to work with. She did tremendous things for the Kings community. She was a solid citizen and a businesswoman committed to so many affairs that engaged and included all the people here. We are a better city because of her.”
Bobbie Bingham Morrow, a fellow employee at the U. S. Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, praised the leadership qualities Mrs. McDonald always showed in the workplace and in society at large.
“We worked together at the Corps of Engineers for years,” Morrow said. “That’s where we met. And over the course of that relationship, she invited me to take part in the first Juneteenth Committee that took place here in 1999. We have been doing Juneteenth ever since. In fact, just this past year, we went to the Secretary of State’s office to institute the Juneteenth Heritage Festival Committee as the/an official committee in the State of Mississippi that operates out of Vicksburg every year. The one we had this year was the first one that was – I hesitate to use the term – legitimate, because all of our festivals were legitimate. But this was the one that was recorded through the state government and we have to process the paperwork annually.
“She will be missed, indeed.”
The Heritage Center played a vital role in the advancement and development of important Black cultural programs in Vicksburg, said Mary Ruth Galtney, Program Coordinator at the Jackson Street Center.
“She was a very determined person when it came to the history of our people. She brought an awareness and consciousness to the community that wasn’t there before. We met through our involvement with some of the same organizations that promoted social causes. It was because of her constant effort that the community has embraced its history. She would take on the leadership role, rather than to just stand by and let things evolve without any goals or plans.
“When she opened the Heritage Center, that was the first time we had something like this in Vicksburg.”
BIRTH AND CAREER
Ezell Marie Matthews McDonald was born on December 20, 1956, in Vicksburg, MS, to the late Victoria Rider Kline and Arthur Mayfield, Sr. She was the second oldest of five children. She confessed Christ at an early age and was baptized at St. Mark M.B. Church under the leadership of Pastor W.M. Randle. She attended Kings Elementary School and graduated from Warren Central High School. While in high school, Ezell became a Student Temporary Clerk in the Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District.
Ezell and Albert Lee (Jack) McDonald were high school sweethearts. And they sealed their bond in marriage in 1983.
After graduating from high school, Ezell attended Mississippi Valley State University and later transferred to Alcorn State University. As a “Brave” Alcornite, Ezell pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA). While attending Alcorn, she continued to work at the Vicksburg District as a co-op student in the Office of the Comptroller, Finance and Accounting Branch (F&A). Ezell graduated from Alcorn with a bachelor of science degree in accounting and became gainfully employed with the Vicksburg District and other branches of the federal government. Ezell worked in practically every department in the F&A Branch, as well as both the Budget Branch and Manpower Branch. After she moved to Germany with her husband, Albert, and family, Ezell worked in the Government Finance Office. Upon returning to the States and being stationed at Fort Stewart, GA, Ezell continued to work in Internal Review of the Government Finance Office. Her career spanned 32 years. Ezell pursued a master’s degree from Mississippi State University.
She was preceded in death by her biological mother, Victoria Rider Kline; her mother, Mary Claudia Collins; her biological father, Arthur Mayfield; two fathers, Joseph Matthews and Theodore Collins; three brothers, Clarence Sutton, Jr., James Bailey, Sr., and Arthur Mayfield, Jr; and two sisters, Salley Davis and Debra Tolliver. She will be greatly missed by those she loved and those who loved her.
To cherish her memory, Ezell leaves her devoted and loving husband of 38 years: Albert Lee (Jack) McDonald; five loving children: Shawn Nigel McDonald, Serena Marie McDonald, Manuel Buchanan, and Tony Neal, all of Vicksburg, MS; and Abram Lee McDonald, of Dallas, TX; six grandchildren: Imani LaShawn McDonald of Memphis, TN, and Davian McDonald, Shanigel “Shay” McDonald, Davon O’Neal, Tony Neal, and Tonea Neal, all of Vicksburg, MS; one great-grandchild: Javian Jones, of Memphis, TN; her mothers: Bertha Mae Carson and Irene Mayfield, both of Vicksburg, MS; one sister: Sonja Coleman of Lansing, MI; four brothers: Eddie Kline, of Lansing, MI; Kelvin Mayfield, of Atlanta, GA; Charles Earl Mayfield, of New Orleans, LA; and Robert Mayfield, of Dallas, TX; three godchildren: Tyrone Hughes, Lisa Hughes, and Roosevelt Smith, all of Vicksburg, MS; one uncle: William “Man” Rider, of Vicksburg, MS; one aunt: Ida Mae Rider of Lansing, MI; five brothers-in-law: Charlie Davis, of Lansing, MI; Billy Ray McDonald, of Vicksburg, MS; and Arthur Lee Carson, of Lorman, MS; and Woody McDonald of Las Vegas, NV, and Kenny McDonald, of Tallulah, LA; four sisters-in-law: Ruby McDonald and Annie Mae Carson, both of Vicksburg, MS; and Carla McDonald and Luvern McDonald, both of Tallulah, LA; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives, including the Rider, Terry, Wildee, Butler, Murray, and Mayfield families and friends.