By Jennifer L. Warren
MONTGOMERY – “Women like these three women walked, so we could run; we need to stand on your soldiers.”
Phil Howard, son of one of Saturday night’s “Pillars in the Community,” Lillie Howard, who was honored at the Newburgh/Highland Falls NAACP Branch Freedom Fund Banquet, relayed these potent words when introducing his iconic mother. The now Newburgh Enlarged City School Board member, Phil Howard, along with City of Newburgh Council Member brother, Omari Shakur, have both been deeply inspired by the activist framework their mother laid years back to change the narrative of the place they love deeply, their City of Newburgh home.
“This is a very proud moment for me and my family; I can actually say I lived through the work I saw my mother doing as well as the other two individuals being honored; nothing happened to the oppressed in our City, without these three women knowing and doing something about it.” Phil Howard added, “My mother taught us injustice anywhere, is an injustice everywhere, and we fight for those who need us.”
That very fuel for equality and justice in the City of Newburgh was further ignited by two other female trailblazers: Roxie Royal and Sadie Tallie, both also honored for their strength, resiliency, courage and determination, all in the face of extremely challenging times. Their fighting spirits continue to serve as the ideal to which many in attendance aspire, committed to “continuing the work,” part of the evening salute’s theme.
“I thank God I’m still here and still care as well as for everything I saw in all of the cities where I performed,” said Howard, referring to her show business days which included being part of a million selling recording duo, but had the sharp contrast of exposing her to cruel, mean and blatant segregation and treatment along the way, during the Civil Rights Movement era. “All of that experience made me determined to see fairness and change for my own city, allowing them to have dreams.” The 83 year old, who still pursues truth and fairness for all who surround her, continued, “God’s not done with me yet,” before delivering a beautiful melody, celebrating that God and the epicenters of her life, Christ as well as her religion.
Another of the evening’s honorees, Sadie Tallie, could not be present due to medical issues; however, a large family contingent was on hand to accept her recognition. Much like Howard, Tallie stood up for anyone who needed representation and a voice. Deeply involved in a wide range of committees and programs in the City she too has adored, “Mother Tallie,” as she is lovingly referred to, has never been on the perimeter of any issue close to her heart; rather she carries 50 years of hands-on work, supporting all in her community.
“Sadie Tallie stood for the people; if you needed representation, you would do right to call her,” said her son Dennis Williams about his mom’s indelible footprint. “The woman we are honoring tonight is so much more than I can even say or explain here, but she wanted each of you to know how much she wanted to be here tonight and how much she thanks you for all you do for Newburgh.”
Roxie Royal, or as she is affectionately known by so many, “Mother Royal,” was the third City of Newburgh pioneer recognized. Whether it was social work, spirituality, social justice, community or education, Royal approached it with an unraveled passion, ensuring the very best of it was present in the City of Newburgh. Adamant about getting residents to vote, Royal extended that unwavering focus to the NAACP, where she held multiple roles as well as the distinction of being a member of the “One Hundred Club,” securing 100 annual memberships. As with the two other female City of Newburgh catalysts, her tribute was much deserved and long overdue. Unfortunately, she was unable to witness it, as she passed away during the Pandemic. Despite her physical absence, all could feel her spiritual one, especially her daughter Carol, who made the trip from North Carolina in her mother’s unforgettable memory.
“I wish this could have been done before she closed her eyes; I just wish so much she could see all of this tonight,” said Carol Royal as she lovingly surveyed the room of supporters. “It was in her to get everyone to vote; she would walk all around everywhere and carry different petitions to get people involved, just kept going no matter what.” Reflecting further, Royal’s daughter added that she recently started up Bible study, something ignited by her mother and she would have been proud to see, “We are all going to leave this world- no matter who we are- and it’s really all about being good to one another while we are here.”
Few can argue, this trio of women followed that road of goodness, along with priceless altruism, and the City of Newburgh is all the better for their remarkable journeys and lasting imprints on its core.
“Each one of these women is different but at the same time, the same; it’s one of the lessons here tonight,” said Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, who alluded to the mentorship Royal provided him as well as presented Certificates of Recognition to each woman. “If you want to get involved in your community, there are so many ways to do it and make a difference.”
The legacies of all three ladies will continue to live on for countless years. Funds raised from the Freedom Fund Banquet will be used to formulate scholarships- one in the name of each- to three deserving high school seniors who are prepared to be leaders and activists in their communities.