January 25, 2014

Georgetown church members recall their human rights leader

The lives Minnie Kennedy touched in her 97 years came from far and wide Saturday to honor the woman they saw as a human rights activist who had an ear for friends, family and strangers alike.

The lives Minnie Kennedy touched in her 97 years came from far and wide Saturday to honor the woman they saw as a human rights activist who had an ear for friends, family and strangers alike.

A service for Kennedy, who died Tuesday, was at her church, The Parish Church of Prince George Winyah. The winter sun shone through the large windows of the church that was once owned by slave owners. Details like that didn’t bother Kennedy, friends recalled, because she loved people for who they are and not their social status, race or age.

“It was never about her,” said Almena Kennard, Kennedy’s niece. “It was about others; how they felt and how they wanted to feel.”

Kennedy was remembered as one who enjoyed parties and making greeting cards for her friends. She insisted family and friends stop by if they drove by her home.

“She would say, ‘Stop, get out, knock on the door and see if I’m home,’” Kennard recalled. “Everyone who came to her door was welcomed.”

Kennedy was born the granddaughter of slaves on a vacation plantation owned by wealthy and powerful whites.

Died at a Georgetown nursing home. She was born at Hobcaw Plantation, owned by presidential adviser and financier Bernard Baruch. Her mother, Daisy Jenkins Kennedy, was a cook for the Baruchs and her father, William Kennedy, was a handyman and waterfowl hunting guide on the plantation. Kennedy was born on Christmas Day, 1916. She graduated from Howard High School and what was then S.C. State College.

She went back to Howard after college and taught for three years, but decided she wanted more than the $50 a month she was paid. She went to New York City just in time for World War II, and became a Rosie the Riveter.

During her New York years she became drawn to the Civil Rights Movement and efforts to assist Southern blacks to register to vote. While in Louisiana on one of those missions, she and some companions were thrown into jail for three days for refusing to stay in the black section of a ferry boat.

Kennard said she admired her aunt for still keeping her head up despite going through tough times in life.

“It still didn’t break her spirit,” Kennard said. “She was still strong.”

Kennedy attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. She retired in 1984 as a professor of education at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

In 2001, she was part of a committee that brought the replica slave ship Amistad to Georgetown, and in 2007 she traveled with a group to London to participate in a ceremony of apology for slavery. Ramona LaRoche took that London trip with Kennedy.

“Miss Minnie walked that walk,” LaRoche said Saturday. “We’re going to miss Minnie.”

Kennedy received a special invitation from former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint to attend the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009.

Little of that more about her kindness and her love for walking was discussed at Saturday’s celebration of life.

“She was one that didn’t want a normal funeral,” Kennard said. “She wanted people to be joyful, so she planned everything herself.”

Another thing that Kennedy planned was treating her family members and friends on her 90th birthday in New York. Kennedy requested a list of all attendees and bought them gifts to open on her birthday.

“She went out and bought presents for everybody on her birthday,” Kennard said. “That’s the type of person she was.”

Rev. Paul Fuener said Kennedy wasn’t shy to let her opinion known and had always wondered why it was so difficult for people to treat each other right.

“You could always count on Minnie to speak up,” Fuener said. “She would often ask ‘Why are people so mean to each other? Why do people hate each other? Why did that person do that to that person?... One of the most memorable things about Minnie is her desire to treat one another with dignity.”

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