My students call her Mom, so I do, too. We have been friends more than 30 years. We have traveled the country together as HateBusters. She was honored at a recent Table of Faiths. This biography was written by one of my students, Jordan Barth, in 2004
2004 by Jordan W. Barth
Life is a journey full of many twists and turns. You rarely know exactly where the next day will lead you. I have experienced much in my life, probably enough to fill many lifetimes. Life is both precious and tender. Take advantage of the time you are given and live life to its fullest.
My name is Maxine McFarlane. I was born on March 23, 1926 in the town of Sunflower, about 125 miles south of Memphis, located in Leflora County Mississippi. I lived in Mississippi until I was about eleven years old. I have two brothers and four sisters. Unfortunately, both of my brothers and two of my sisters have passed on. The two living sisters are both older than I am. One is 89, and the other is 82. One of them lives in California and the other in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I rarely use my given name. I usually go by Queen Mother, Queen Mom, Mother McFarlane, or just Mom. I have a close relationship with God. One day he said to me, “Gather my people together in love.” That is what I did, like a mother hen gathers her chicks. The name Queen Mother comes from parts of Africa where men may have more than one wife. One of these wives is known as the “Queen” mother of the family. The Queen Mother kept the home running smoothly. She ensured that all the necessary work was completed and everything and everyone was cared for. Since my ancestry can be traced back to a queen mother, my husband Alvin thought that it was the proper nickname. I have been Queen Mother ever since then. When I think of what it means to be a mother and a wife Proverbs 31:10-31 come to mind.
My husband, Alvin Alonzo McFarlane, Sr. was born in Cuba and raised in Jamaica. Together we have twelve children. He was able to come to the United States working with a government agricultural program. He came with people from Venezuela, the Bahamas, and Haiti. Alvin worked very hard to be able to come to the U.S. As part of that government program, he was viewed differently than I was. He was government property, and I was just a “black.” This allowed him to go places I was not allowed.
I am the product of Alan and Martha Sykes. My father was a great man. He was from the Bahamas and he came over to the United States with his parents when he was young. My mother, Martha, was born in Mississippi. My father was a sharecropper. During this time black men worked for the white man, or “the man.” It was unheard of for a black man to own his own land and work for himself. My father never accepted the idea of working for someone who did not respect him, like white men did. He wanted something better for his family. He wanted his own land. Eventually, he was able to purchase his own land. This was during a time when white people did not like blacks to own anything, especially their own land. My father was killed because people could not stand the fact he owned his own property. “The man” was afraid he would influence other black people to follow in his foot-steps and better themselves.
My family has been through many tough times and seen some bad situations. When I was growing up most everything was segregated. Whites and blacks did not mix well. Even though we were hated by some for being black I was raised to be an equal with everyone no matter what race. I have love for every human soul.
I moved from my home in Mississippi to Kansas City in 1937, after my father was killed. I was eleven years old. We were unable to move as a family, all at once. It was mine and my sister’s time to go and we took a bus to get to KC. When my sister and I got on the bus it was empty. I went to the back of the bus and took a seat, but my sister took a seat towards the front, in the second or third row. This was during a time when whites sat in the front and blacks in the back because of segregation. We sat down and the bus continued. At the next stop a white man boarded. He approached my sister and said to “get-up.” My sister replied by saying that the bus was nearly empty and there were many seats he could sit in. Again, he told her to get-up, this time the bus-driver stopped and also told her to get-up and move to the back so the white-man could have her seat. To attempt to make sure the situation did not get out of hand I walked to the front and talked my sister into joining me at the back of the bus. We all sat down and the bus continued on its way.
Later we realized how fortunate we were to have completed our trip safely. While we were stopped from the seat situation we were crossing the Mississippi River. It would have been very easy for the two men to take my sister and me and toss us into the river. No one would have found us for a long time, if ever, and even then they never would have found out exactly what happened.
When we came to Kansas City we lived with some relatives, the Powells. They were from Mississippi, too. Their family had already moved to try and escape the hate and violence. They knew how bad it was down there and they took us in with open arms. It was a crowded home, but a loving home. We made it work. Eventually, Mr. Powell took his family and moved to a different house a few blocks away. They let us keep the house and continue to live there. Even though we lived in separate houses, we continued to be a very close-knit family.
Alvin worked for the Armour’s Meats Company. The plant here in Kansas City was shut-down, and my husband was relocated to a plant in Worthington, Minnesota. So our family moved to Minnesota. We moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. When the family moved out of the house we bought, the gas company sent a service-man out to turn the gas off while the house was vacant. While the service-man was there, our soon-to-be neighbor came over and visited with him. The neighbor told the gas man that the “spooks” were moving in. After we moved in the same service-man returned to turn the gas back on. Both my husband and I were there to greet him upon his arrival. He asked, “Are you the Spooks?” We did not reply immediately. He continued, “Your neighbor (pointing next door) told me that the Spooks were moving in. Aren’t you Mr. and Mrs. Spook?” He had innocently misunderstood our neighbor. My husband, realizing what had happened, replied, “Yes, that’s us, Mr. and Mrs. Spook.”
Fortunately, we were able to move back to Kansas City when the Armour’s plant reopened. We moved back in 1974, and settled into a neighborhood on the east side of Kansas City. We were the second West Indian family in the area. At the time, we were not considered “black” because we were not American blacks. Africans who came to the United States via the West Indies islands and the Caribbean were known as “West Indians.” Since my ancestors came from the Bahamas and Alvin’s ancestors were from Cuba, and he grew up in Jamaica, we were considered West Indians. The distinction did not last very long.
It quickly became obvious that our neighbors did not exactly welcome us with open arms. None of them came around to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood. So I went door to door and introduced myself. The surrounding families were primarily white. I guess we made them feel uncomfortable, but it did not make any difference to me what color of skin they had. They were all people, and I love all people.
We had not lived there very long before I started a neighborhood prayer group. Both blacks and whites attended our sessions. Soon the whites gradually decreased in numbers. As more black families moved into the neighborhood, the white families started moving out one after another. This was my first experience with what would come to be known as “white flight.” The blacks move in, and the whites move out.
During this time, my husband was working nights. This left me at home with the children from the late evening until early morning. We only had eight kids at this time. One night, somebody threw a gasoline bomb into a house down the street. They thought it was our house. We never did find out who threw the bomb. This marked the beginning of open hostility towards the black families in the neighborhood. Some people were unable to tolerate change.
Soon the whites began to refer to blacks collectively as “you people”. They acted as if we were a completely different race of being; we were not equal beings in their eyes. It was tough, but I continued to have our prayer group through all that was happening. By now, there were only a few white folks involved. One day, my main prayer group leader told me that she was going to move out of the neighborhood soon. I asked why. She told me that her children did not have anyone to play with anymore. I was bewildered and amazed. At that time, I had four children in the same age group as hers.
Another West Indian family moved in, and more white families moved out. By now, nearly all the white folks had moved out of the neighborhood. The prayer group was still active, but I turned my focus to other issues that needed attention in our neighborhood. We needed to keep our streets free of litter and the vacant lots clean. People had started hauling trash and unwanted junk into our neighborhood and dumping it in our streets and empty lots. They used our neighborhood as a trash dump. There were city ordinances against littering and dumping, but it did not prevent people from doing it. The police did not enforce those laws in our part of town.
We needed to organize ourselves to make an effort to stop the degradation of our homes. We needed to keep our streets clean and our neighborhood respectable. I organized a neighborhood club. Participating residents met regularly and addressed common concerns. We began collecting annual dues from each resident to go towards the clean-up efforts. We particularly enjoyed getting the neighborhood kids involved. We were able to get them involved and soon they took pride in where they lived and who they were. Before long, we had litter-free streets and clean lots.
I will always hold a special place in my heart for one of the Powells, Bernard. He was my nephew. Along with me, Bernard was a Civil Rights activist. He was very active in our community. He made some great progress. Unfortunately, he was killed in 1979. His death was a loss for everyone. He was shot in club, here in Kansas City. He was murdered for political reasons. This was cause for a very sorrowful time for my family. Bernard would have accomplished much in his lifetime. The whole community, both blacks and whites, were cheated of something great when his life was taken. I knew we had to do something about Bernard’s death, but I did not know what. It would have been an even greater travesty to do nothing. As I have said before, I was raised in the church and have a strong relationship with God. I talk to him, and he talks back to me. I prayed about Bernard’s death and for an answer to what to do. One night, I awoke from my sleep with a vision, a vision to create a memorial to my wonderful nephew, Bernard. It was so clear what needed to be done. God told me to erect a statue in memory of Bernard. I could vividly see the statue in my vision. I knew exactly how it should look, every detail.
When we came to Kansas City we lived in a house on the corner of 28th and Brooklyn. There was a park directly across the street. It is still there. We used to play in that park all of the time. It was and remains to be a special part of my family’s lives. It was decided that Bernard’s memorial statue would be erected in that park. I took on this project wholeheartedly. It was my job to get Bernard’s memorial established, and I could not stop until it was accomplished. Finally, we were able to get a statue built in memory of Bernard. It is now called the Bernard Powell Memorial. In the center there is a statue of Bernard Powell. He is standing with his arms crossed in a blazer jacket, just as he did when he was alive. It is a very accurate depiction of Bernard. It even has the little ear-ring he used to wear. The statue itself is situated atop a beautiful fountain. The water flows from the base of the statue down over all four sides. The water flows into the drains at ground level. Surrounding the memorial is a low concrete wall where people can come and sit. On the outside of the wall there are various shrubs and plants all around. On the inside of the wall there are memorial plaques placed all around. Some talk about Bernard and the work he did in the community and some have the names of the people involved in the memorial. Behind the statue in the ground there is a time capsule encased in the concrete. It has various objects from when the memorial was built. It will be opened around the year 2050 or 2051. At that time it is my wish that my family descendants will be present and they will then place some items of their time in the capsule and reseal it for another fifty years or so.
Bernard will live immortally in our childhood playgrounds. It is a beautiful statue, and it makes me very proud to have been a part of. He deserves it. A statue in the park does not bring Bernard back, but now he will never be forgotten. Generations to come will see his statue and hopefully hear about his life and what he did for their community.
I was asked why I do not get depressed from the years of separation and distinction based on the color of my skin. The types of persecution that last for years you have to leave to God. God gives you power and strength to overcome whatever may come, anything that comes. His word says that you can call on him for anything. You cannot relax or become content with your problems. You must keep praying. You have to keep reading the book, God’s Word. You have to keep contending for the faith, and keep praying for more faith. There is a Spirit called the Holy Ghost that is a Power that will overcome any other power. The Spirit comes from God, when you let it inside of you, you can overcome anything. I think of Mark 11:22-24:
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I assure you that you can say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and do not doubt in your heart. Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it.”
God is able to deliver his people from their troubles. He can do it, but you have to believe that he can and will do it. This kind of faith has carried me through many trials and tribulations.
I continue to be active and make progress. I am an activist and leader in the community. I am an Evangelist and I work in the church. I also give time to the Outreach Ministry and the Food Pantry. I serve as the President of the Action Committee.