Mattye Foxx passed away on December 30, 2015 at age 89. It was a sad day, for she was one of the last grand dames of Southeast Kansas. I’m running the following column from 2010 in memory of her.
Most of my readers likely don’t know that I have a black mother.
In addition to my white one, mother Helen, that is.
Had one since 1971. That’s when I did my college social work practicum at the Crawford County Welfare Department (now SRS) on Pine Street in Pittsburg and was adopted by Mattye Foxx. (Also known as a member of “The Welfare Seven.” More about that later.)
From time to time we’ll run into one another around town — say at the grocery store, mall or hospital — and I’ll say, “Hi mom, good to see you. How are you today?” To which Mattye responds (in mock indignation), “Not well, son, I’m upset. There’s something wrong with a boy who can’t make time to come and see his mother!” We’ve gotten quite a few quizzical looks from those who’ve witnessed our exchanges — until they see Mattye chuckle and break into a beaming smile.
Mattye, who grew up in Pittsburg in the house in which she was born, is a grassroots social worker, advocate, organizer and all around W-O-M-A-N who has spent a good deal of her life working with the less fortunate and oppressed in Crawford County while, at the same time, raising a family of her own. All accomplished with strength and integrity — and a plainspoken gift for looking reality full in the face. One of her personal maxims is, “If you don’t know me … you will know me.”
It was back in 1979 that the proprietor of the Country Cove northeast of Pittsburg met Mattye and six of her fellow social workers at the front door and declared, “Caucasians only.” To which one of Mattye’s fellow workers — all of whom were white — responded, “Well I’ll be goddamn!” Mattye giggled a little at when she told me about it, as well as when she recalled that they named themselves “The Welfare Seven.”
Next morning, Mattye contacted Kansas Alcohol Beverage Control. They referred her to the Kansas Civil Rights Commission. The Morning Sun got wind of it and there ensued quite a local media storm. When I asked her about any second thoughts about taking on the challenge she responded, “If it’s right, it’s worth the fight!”
A friend from Pittsburg told her she had grounds for a lawsuit that could bring a sizable settlement. “I didn’t want to sue,” Mattye told me. “That would have been dirty money. What I wanted was an apology — and for everyone to be treated equally.”
She got both. After which she went back to being a social worker looking out for the needs of under priviledged families, children, and elderly of Southeast Kansas as well as volunteering for causes and organizations like the Pink Ladies at Via Christi Mt. Carmel, Meals on Wheels, the YMCA Membership Drive, the PSU Alumni Affiliates and more.
In 2010 I visited with Mattye about her retirement as coordinator of the American Red Cross blood drive — a volunteer post, near and dear to her heart, that she assumed in 1980.
Donated blood, as most people are aware, is extremely important as it is the primary way to maintain sufficient blood supplies for medical treatment. That's why the American Red Cross comes to Pittsburg every two months or so. In the past, a crew came in from Springfield but they’re now based in Wichita.
It’s no small task to coordinate a successful bloodmobile visit — as it requires a cadre of volunteers. There’s people who publicize the drive; unload equipment and supplies; register and escort donors; make sandwiches; pick up beverages; run the canteen; and more. Not to mention pack it all up when the two-day drive is finished.
Prior to being coordinator, Mattye spent 10 years as a board member and drive secretary. “I made a lot of sandwiches,” she said proudly, before going on to sing the praises of Jean Kennedy, Bea Lance, and Joe Beauchamp, who worked with her early on to make the blood drive what it is today.
True to form, when I asked her whether she preferred being referred to as black or African American, she said, “I don’t much care for either one, J.T. I just want to be known as Mattye Foxx.”
— J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Consulting & Training Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499.