Silhouette of African American female and text that notates Black History Month celebration

Voya Celebrates African American Pioneers: Oseola McCarty

This is an account of an amazing woman by the name of Oseola McCarty, an African-American cleaning woman from Mississippi who saved over $150,000 during her lifetime and then donated it to a scholarship fund at the University of Mississippi for deserving students who otherwise may not get the chance to go to college. She was also a Presidential Citizens Medal winner and inspired others to give. This is her story.

Oseola McCarty was born 1908 on a farm in Mississippi and lived there with her aunt, mother and grandmother. Together they worked the farm by growing vegetables and it was there she learned how to do chores, and washing clothes was her favorite. Her mother would use a large black cast iron pot where she boiled, rinsed and then hung their clothes on a line.¹

As a young girl, Oseola went to school and one day, her favorite teacher Miss Hill asked who ironed her clothes? Proudly, Oseola responded she did. Miss Hill had some clothes and asked Oseola how much she charged? Ten-cents. After returning Miss Hill’s clothes she received twenty-five cents. From there, word of mouth spread, and over time, minus a few years during a time which she cut hair, this would become her life. When her aunt became ill, she had to quit school and went on to not only help pay her family’s bills but saved almost every dime. “She trusted God to provide for her, so that she could provide for others.”

One day she walked past a bank, went in and opened an account and every week she would deposit what she had. Over time, she had amassed over $150,000 by the end of her working life, cut short at age-86 due to arthritis.¹ One day, an employee at the bank asked Oseola where she would like to direct her money once she passed on. She took 40% and directed it toward her family and her church and the other 60% was to go toward a dream she always held – to get a good education. She was unable to achieve that dream herself so instead she wanted to pay it forward – to help African-American children who were eager to learn but whose families could not afford to send them to school. She decided to give the remaining money to the University of Southern Mississippi so some deserving children could get a good education. ¹

When word got out in Hattiesburg, where Oseola was living at the time, over 600 people contributed with donations more than tripling her original endowment. The university now presents several full-tuition McCarty scholarships annually.² “Some people make a lot of noise about what’s wrong with the world, and they are usually blamin’ somebody else. I think people who don’t like the way things are need to look at themselves first. They need to get right with God and change their own ways. If everybody did that, we’d be all right.” “I am proud that I worked hard and that my money will help young people who worked hard to deserve it. I’m proud that I am leaving something positive in this world. My only regret is that I didn’t have more to give.”²

Her inspiration didn’t stop there, in addition to the many who contributed and tripled her endowment, Ted Turner, an American TV mogul donated a billion dollars to charity after hearing her story. He was quoted in the New York Times saying, “If that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion.”²

Origins of Black History Month

Black History Month began in 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African American, promoted Negro History Week in February and the good people at Kent State University first observed it in 1970. In 1976, Black History Month (BHM) became a national month long holiday celebration when President Gerald Ford recognized “the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” in a speech to mark the U.S. Bicentennial. BHM also coincides with National Freedom Day (NFD), which is the day that President Lincoln signed the 13th amendment to abolish slavery on February 1. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, believed that freedom for all Americans should have a designated day. NFD is intended to promote harmony and equal opportunity among all citizens and to remember that ours is a nation devoted to the ideal of freedom.

At Voya, we believe in honoring all Americans who came before us. In honor of Black History Month, join us as we pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who made immeasurable contributions to us all while demonstrating greatness, courage and personal freedom in the face of adversity.

Click here to read and learn more.

¹ Guideposts.com, Oseola McCarty, Oseola McCarty Created a Scholarship Fund—One Load of Laundry at a Time, January 31, 2017 ( original post was in same publication 1996) ; last accessed December 21, 2020; https://www.guideposts.org/inspiration/people-helping-people/monetary/oseola-mccarty-created-a-scholarship-fund-one-load-of-laundry-at-a-time; “She trusted God to provide for her, so that she could provide for others.”

Philanthropyroundtable.com; last accessed December 21, 2020; https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/people/hall-of-fame/detail/oseola-mccarty

Oseola McCarty quote: “Some people make a lot of noise about what’s wrong with the world, and they are usually blamin’ somebody else. I think people who don’t like the way things are need to look at themselves first. They need to get right with God and change their own ways. . . . If everybody did that, we’d be all right.”; “I am proud that I worked hard and that my money will help young people who worked hard to deserve it. I’m proud that I am leaving something positive in this world. My only regret is that I didn’t have more to give.” (Ted Turner) quote: He was quoted in the New York Times saying, “If that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion.”


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