On May 12th, the world’s oldest woman, Susannah Mushatt Jones, passed away in her sleep within her apartment at the Vandalia Senior Center.
Often hailed as a community icon, Jones was just two months shy of her 117th birthday when she passed away this month. Her reign as the world’s oldest person was a title bestowed upon her last year by the Guinness Book of World Records—a bittersweet title she bared humbly.
Born on July 6, 1899 in Lowndess County, Alabama, Jones was often celebrated, admired and even envied for her longevity. But for Jones, being 116 years old was unbelievable. She often told family that she couldn’t be the oldest person alive—the world is just too big to give her that title.
Every year, since she turned over a century old, the Vandalia Senior Center celebrated her birthdays with balloons, catered meals, cake and cards. Hundreds of admirers, students and politicians were in awe of how kindhearted Jones, nicknamed “Miss Susie,” was. In attendance to these parties were Brooklyn Borough President, Eric L. Adams, Assemblyman Charles Barron, and City Council Member, Inez Barron, who often presented her with proclamations and Certificates of Appreciation. “When you live in Brooklyn, you live a long time,” said Adams last year when he declared July 6th as Miss Susie Day.
Jones lived a life for her family. She always cared for the needs of others, often spending her time providing for her family and persevering despite the hardships associated with the social and political ills of segregation and challenging work environments during the early 1900s.
She experienced the oppression of segregation, the cruelty of racism, the weight of gender barriers and struggle of poverty, but despite these obstacles, she persevered for her family. At the age of 17, she was accepted into Tuskegee University, but decided not to attend college so that she could help to support her 11 siblings. For 45 years, she worked as a nanny for wealthy families in Westchester County, New York where she used her income to assist her siblings and their children.
Although she did not have children of her own, she had dozens of nieces and nephews that she treated as if they were her own. Jones was an inspiration to the younger members of her family, encouraging them to get an education and to work hard doing what they love.
Bettie Mushatt-Parker credits her aunt with influencing her decision to pursue a teaching career. “She always said to stay in school, be caring and help others,” said Mushatt-Parker who teaches art at Gateway Intermediate School 364.
Jones was blind, partially deaf and wheelchair bound, but her physical limitations never stopped her from being a strong willed woman—a role model in her community.
When she passed away on Thursday, May 12th in her sleep, she was in her bed within her one bedroom apartment with its wall plastered with posters and drawings from admirers, family photos and many awards and certificates. She often said that her most treasured belonging was a congratulatory letter from President Barack H. Obama wishing her Happy Birthday. This single letter was significant for her because her grandparents were slaves, and after a lifetime of Jones’ family facing discrimination, she was very happy that she had the opportunity to vote for the very first AfricanAmerican president.
Jones was a shining star whose light will always burn bright in the East New York community. Being surrounded by family, friends and living a clean and healthy lifestyle was what kept Jones going for 116 years.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Brown