Americans all across the nation are turning their attention to Black History Month this February to honor the contributions, achievements and struggles of African-Americans and to inspire a new generation marching forward to create a better future for all citizens.
Here in Morgan County, we are remembering the life and legacy of Laura Wilson Butler, former president of the Morgan County Branch of the NAACP, to begin our month-long celebration of Black History Month. Butler, who passed away last September, served as a local voice for civil rights, social justice, and equality for decades.
Butler, who graduated from Pearl High School in Madison when segregation was still in effect, drew her inspiration from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who she regularly quoted to remind herself and others of the “sacred dream” she aimed to make a reality for this community.
“Dr. King led the way for minority peoples to have the same opportunities that everybody have,” said Bulter at the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, an event she organized every year with Source of Light Ministries in Madison. “He believed that all brothers and sisters need to come together hand and hand. One day we hope that all our little children will be seen as they are in the eyes of God, as one people. Just as Martin Luther King wanted.”
As the community celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and prepared to celebrate Black History Month in February, Butler’s absence stings all the more.
Community and Civic leaders have expressed their grief over the loss of this local civil rights icon.
Madison City Councilman Joe DiLetto choked back tears during this year’s MLK Breakfast as he acknowledged Butler’s passing.
“I am going to have a hard time getting through this,” said DiLetto. “You have no idea what that woman meant to me. She raised me up, kept me focused, she meant so much to me and I miss her. She did more for this community than any of you can realize and we worked together to do many good things.”
Other civic leaders publicly expressed their sorrow over losing Butler since her passing in September 2017.
“Laura Butler was such a great person because she believed in serving people,” Morgan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Harris. “You know, Jesus said the greatest among you must become a servant and she truly followed that. She spent most of her life trying to make this community a better place… She was the voice for voiceless. She never stopped standing up and speaking up for people’s rights.”
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Mrs. Laura Wilson Butler, a beloved colleague, mother and friend whom I’ve known for many years,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman. “The last decade Laura devoted herself wholeheartedly to the Morgan County Branch of the NAACP. We will always be eternally grateful for her loyal support, counsel, and the leadership she provided for his community. Laura was a good friend and a beloved member of the Madison Morgan County community. She was a strong leader who had a positive impact on our community. Laura leaves behind a long legacy of commitment to others and unwavering integrity. On behalf of the City of Madison Community, we extend our sincerest condolences to her family, friends and loved ones she leaves behind during this difficult time.”
In 2016, Butler was honored by the Morgan County African-American Museum’s (MCAAM) Living Legacy award for life of service and sacrifice.
“Laura Wilson Butler not only talks the talk but she demonstrates it in her walk. She is a phenomenal woman who is determined to stand up for the rights of others and spread the love of Christ abroad,” read a joint-statement from the MCAAM at the 2016 Living Legacy Gala. “As president [of the Morgan County Branch of the NAACP] she assisted in training voters in electronic voting, organized Black History Parades, conducted voter registration drives, served on the Georgia State Conference NAACP Executive Committee, attended various marches, rallies and countless meetings to speak up for the concerns of the citizens of Morgan County.”
According to Butler’s bio featured at the Living Legacy Gala, Butler, a lifelong native of Morgan County, lived a full life as she served as the matriarch of her and a dedicated community leader. She was the daughter the late Jesse and Viola Flounory Wilson, the seventh of nine children. Laura was married to the late Walter Curtis Butler Jr. To this union three children were born; Lavell Lemon, McDonough, Ga., Celeste (Jamond) Sims, McDonough, Ga., and Walter Curtis III (Quiana) Butler, Madison. Laura was also the proud grandmother of Terry Lemon Jr., Jordan and Caleb Sims, Jaden and Brandon Butler and Christopher and Michael Evans. Laura was a graduate of Pearl High School in Madison. She continued her education by attending Athens Technical College, where she received her nursing certification. She also attended the University of Georgia, where she received her Early Childhood Development Certification. She received her leadership training from the National Division of the NAACP. She’s certified with the American Red Cross in disaster relief and she received her Management Certification from Young Yu Inc. in Augusta, Georgia.
Laura was a faithful and active member of Calvary Baptist Church in Madison, Georgia, where Rev. Hoke Smith is the pastor. She served as a member of Calvary’s Deaconess and Nursing Guild.
Laura relentlessly volunteered for the following organizations: American Cancer Society, Morgan County Head Start, Morgan County School System, Family Connections, Department of Family and Children Services and Morgan County Empty Stocking Fund. Laura was a loyal Missionary for Morgan County and the surrounding area. She served on the Morgan County Habitat for Family Support Board, Madison Order of Eastern Star #165, and a lifetime member of the Pearl/Burney Alumni. She also owned and operated “Ma Butler’s Day Care” in 2006.
Laura received numerous awards throughout her lifetime, including Mother of the Year at the Morgan County Head Start and Calvary Baptist Church, the President Award for outstanding service as President of Morgan County Branch of the NAACP,The Walter Curtis Butler, Jr. Leadership Award, 2008, NAACP Million Dollar Club for nine consecutive years, second runner-up for Queen of OES #165, 2005 NAACP 100 Club Winner for work done with membership drive, Henry County NAACP 2006 Woman of the Year Award, an award for her loyal and dedicated service to the Morgan County Branch of NAACP, Earl T. Shinhoster Award, Georgia State Conference President Award, Harriet and Harry T. Moore State Conference Award, 1997, Georgia Summit of African American Americans Business Organizations Supporter of the Year, Morgan County Outstanding Citizen, Southeast Conference Regional Director Award, Voter Empowerment Award, The Georgia Informer 2004 Top Fifty (Most Influential Black Men in Georgia), Outstanding Georgia Citizen Award from the Secretary of State and the Southeastern Regional NAACP Medgar W. Evers Award in 1999 and 2008.
One of Laura’s most fulfilling contributions was her job as President of the NAACP Morgan County Branch. She was elected President in 1998. As President, she assisted in training voters in electronic voting, organized Black History Parades, conducted voter registration drives, served on the Georgia State Conference NAACP Executive Committee, attended various marches, rallies and countless meetings to speak up for the concerns of citizens of Morgan County. She was the Honorary Youth Council Advisor and a lifetime Gold member of the NAACP.
Butler’s children hope Madison and Morgan County continue their mother’s legacy by working together to improve the quality of life for all people.
“Keep my mom’s legacy alive,” said LaVelle Lemon. “She definitely was a freedom fighter and a warrior for the kingdom of God. The think I want to see most is for our community to get our and be more active and involved in making a change. As my mom used to say, one person can make a difference and everyone must start somewhere. It’s not just for black people but all people. She worked with everyone and would always say, “your journey is just as important as your destination.’ Madison is such a great place and I hope people carry on my mom’s work to create better opportunities for all by working together with everyone for the same goals.”
Celeste Sims, Butler’s other daughter, hopes the community will follow in her footsteps
“I hope they are going to attend all the meetings like she did,” said Sims. “My mom would always say ‘I don’t want to hear no one complain if they didn’t go to the meeting,’ remembered Sims. “People need to be active—make sure you go and find out what’s going on in your community so your voice can be heard. That’s what my mom wanted people to do.”
“I also hope people remember that my mom wasn’t just about civil rights and getting people to the poles, but helping her fellow man in the everyday simple things, too,” said Sims. “She was always helping elderly people get their groceries and medicine and just looking out for people. My mom believed in serving.”
Butler’s son, Walter Curtis Butler III, urges the people of Morgan County to follow his mother’s example and carry on her life’s work.
“I hope the community can learn from her life that there needs to be equality for all. That is what my mom stood for. She wanted the entire community to be involved and treated equally,” said Butler. “I hope Morgan County can live out her legacy by keeping the community all together and treating each other equally. That’s what we need.”