Detroit Woman Turns 104 Years Old in Grand Style

“She said out of all the birthday parties we had given her, this weekend’s gathering was the best one,” Carol Ellsberry-Williams stated of her 104-year-old mom, Ann Williams.

The matriarch of her family was “just taking it all in” as she was surrounded by 100 guests of friends and out-of-town family members who couldn’t miss out on her special day and historic moment.

Before moving to Detroit in the 1940s, Williams was a native of Hope-Hull, Alabama, just outside of Montgomery.

Born Oct. 1, 1919, she was often perplexed at her life experiences, living in an era of racial tension, while being a mixed-race Black young woman who grew up on an 80-acre farm owned by her white grandfather who was a slave owner.

Carol recalls her mother – at the ripe age of 90 – wanting to visit her sister living in Alabama. The family took a trip down south where Williams would revisit the small town she once called home.

Williams had Black and White relatives and recalled a time when her White cousins owned a gas station in the small town. Seeing the old pumps from an era of the past sparked a troublesome remembrance during their visit down south.

“My mother had vivid memories of going to the gas station. Because they were supposed to support family, she was next in line to have her gas pumped and a White customer came and pulled in front of her and they were serviced before her,” Carol says.

The situation infuriated Williams so much that she waited in line no longer and pulled off.

Williams’ mixed-race background was no substitute for the racial injustices she endured. She was met with the struggles of an Alabama era, which forced her to enter a movie theatre from the back door and could only be seated on the balcony.

Williams comes from a family tree of being raised on a farm owned by her white grandfather, who owned slaves, to the 80-acre property being passed down to her father of mixed race. The story of her identity and reality is being passed down as well.

“She would say people would come from all over to buy fruits and vegetables and canned fruit that her mother would make from honey to milk,” Carol describes.

Williams’ family upbringing on the farm with so many cows created an opportunity to sell milk to the local dairy farms.

To most, seen as a Black girl in an era faced with racial discrimination in law and reality, Williams also enjoyed an upside to life during these times, as her daughter explains.

“I feel like they were very blessed to grow up with the privileges they had during that time even though there was racial tension.”

The longevity of Williams’ life means she has certainly witnessed a lot, including progressive changes that brought the country through slavery and the Jim Crow era to the advancement of the nation’s first Black U.S. president, Barack Obama.

“She was elated and says that was a moment she thought she would never live to see. Still to this today she loves Barack Obama and cherishes a gifted memorial plate” featuring the 44th president.

So how does someone like Ann Williams keep moving in these special golden years of their life?

Williams’ daughter Carol describes her mom as being independent as they come.

“It’s the sitting that gets you,” Carol says of what her mother says quite often. “Every single day, my mother gets up and does something. She keeps her bedroom clean, and even though she’s not asked or expected to do it, she still gets up to wash dishes if they haven’t been washed in a timely manner as she wants them done,” Carol laughs.

During Williams’ birthday celebration, young and tech-savvy family members featured a video played amongst guests, showcasing Williams’ life history, aimed at teaching the younger generation the shoulders they stand on for a true living matriarch of the family.

The family describes Williams as someone with perseverance, determination, and strength, and just doesn’t believe in giving up but rather pushing through.

Pushing through is something she had to do when she lost her husband, Everett Williams, in 1998. The two love birds enjoyed traveling, fishing, and gardening together. And it was Williams’ time on the family farm that gave her the gardening finger of keeping her children and household supplied with fruits and vegetables all so many years later. But gardening isn’t the only skill she embraces.

“My mother is known for being a flawless seamstress,” Carol says. “She still sews to this day. She was known for making bridal dresses and bridesmaid dresses.”

Williams also spent the time making the majority of her children’s clothes and taught adult education with classes that specialized in sewing, earning her associate degree during her time in Alabama.

At 104 years old, Williams is still cooking and baking, as well as teaching and providing wisdom, and as her daughter describes, “she has taught us all how to treat others well.”

“She often says she never imagined she would still be here, so she understands that it’s by God’s grace that she’s still here.”

Her daughter Carol recounts her mom’s often-uttered phrase, “I must’ve done something right.”

Williams was one of 12 siblings. Her sister and last living sibling, Lula Davis, passed away at the age of 99 in 2021. Williams currently has ten grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and eight great-great-grandchildren.

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