A patchwork life that spans a century
Employees at the Greene County Nursing Home in Eutaw should roll out the red carpet for their oldest resident when she turns 103 years old Wednesday.
Born in Boligee on March 15, 1903, Lureca Outland began making quilts as a young adult to help keep her and her family warm. Over the next century or so,
she has used her quilting skills and knowledge to make herself a featured artist and local celebrity.
“She made all kinds of quilts,” her daughter-in-law Eunice Outland said. “She would even make quilts out of men’s pants and they called them the ‘britches quilts.’ She made ‘string quilts’ when she would piece together little strings of material.”
Although the task would seem time-consuming to many, Outland said it would only take her two or three weeks to finish her quilts.
“I was a folk artist for the Alabama Council of Arts and I taught the young folks about the art of quilts. It wasn’t work, it was a hobby,” she mumbled in her soft-spoken tone. “My son told me one of my quilts was up in that museum in New York.”
The museum to which she referred was the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, Eunice clarified.
Outland’s work is now on display at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts as part of the “Just How I Picture It in My Mind: Contemporary African-American Quilts” display from March 4-May 7.
But quilts weren’t Outland’s only homemade specialty before her recent stroke in February.
“She’s a great teacake maker,” Eunice said about her mother-in-law’s cookies. “Nobody made them like her. She’d make them and sell them at community events, and they’d sell out in about 20 minutes.”
When asked, Outland said she doesn’t have a secret to making her well-liked desserts.
“I’ve been making them since I was a little girl,” she said in a modest voice.
Growing up on a farm with her mother, father and two sisters, Outland attended Greene County Training School, which is now Paramount High School, until the ninth grade.
In 1927, she married the late Alfred J. Outland Sr. and started a family.
“My first job … I worked in my son’s grocery store.” Outland said.
“Outland’s Grocery,” Eunice chimed in, “before that she was a housewife.”
As a teenager, Outland spent most of her time tending to the family farm, and she dabbled in babysitting. From there, she earned a living as a beautician, before becoming a full-time folk artist.
Though her jobs have changed over the years, Outland has always been a loyal member of St. Paul Baptist Church in Boligee, where she is the oldest member.
“I don’t watch as much TV as I used to. I watch the news,” she said, “but I enjoy going to church.”
“She’s always been very dedicated to her church. She was president of the missionary society and she started the pastor’s aid society,” Eunice said. “She was chairman of the deacon’s wives and that group would bring all of wives throughout Greene County together for a big convention once a year.”
Growing up during a period when blacks struggled for equal rights, Outland can still remember numerous instances when she was treated differently because of her race.
“When everybody was first getting electricity, I can remember when the man was setting the electricity posts and there was a white man that lives down the way from us,” she said, “he wouldn’t let the man run the post across his land because he didn’t want the black folks to get electricity.”
Thus, the Outland family was forced to wait weeks before their neighbor allowed the power company to have the right of way.
“That man finally let the wires cross his land,” Eunice said, “Then they were able to have a refrigerator and all the other things that needed power to run.”
Outland can also remember the first time she had the opportunity to vote.
“In Greene County, you had to take the tests before you could vote,” Outland said referring to the literacy tests blacks were forced to pass before being able to vote, “and my children would help us learn the stuff,”
“Some way, someone secured the test answers, so the children would have these drill sessions with their parents,” Eunice said, “But they were prepared. They also had to find a white man to sign a paper saying they could vote.”
But Outland was ready and willing to take whatever steps she had to in order to use her voice.
“She registered the first time blacks were ever given voting rights,” Eunice said, “and she’s voted in every election since then.”
“We had to vote to get the things we want,” Outland said. “Now these kids can vote and they don’t.”
Although Outland said there isn’t anything specific she wants for her birthday, she can look forward to see her four children, 13 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in the near future.
“We had a big party for her last year,” Eunice said, “so I guess we’ll be doing something again this year.”
After 52 years of marriage to her husband who passed in 1979, giving birth to three boys and two girls ranging from ages 78 to 61, fighting for civil rights, passing the century mark of life, and suffering from a recent stroke, Outland has never lost her positive attitude toward life.
“It feels great to have her here all these years,” her son Alfred Jr. said, “Not many people my age can say their mother is still here.”
“Little things happen,” she said, “but I still feel good.”
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