Black History Section: A Celebrated Life


Longevity has its place was a statement eloquently spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in August 1965.

Mrs. Gertrude Fredd, a widow, aunt, godmother, neighbor and friend who lived at 30 W. Cermak, a Hilliard Homes senior building, found that place, longevity.

In December 2000, Mrs. Fredd died after spending her life in three different centuries: she was born in 1897 and died in 2001 at the age of 103. Not many people ever get the chance to know a 103-year-old person.
Mrs. Fredd was here before automobiles, movies, refrigerators, airplanes, escalators, television, outer space travel, mini skirts, platform shoes, bell bottoms, jazz, rap music and school integration. She lived under the administration of 17 presidents, the list of names of which would be stunning. She was there when discrimination came to a beleaguered halt as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King led the nation in peaceful demonstrations of the validity of the full right that all men are created equal as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Mrs. Fredd was married for 72 of her 103 years and a widow for only nine years. For 25 years of her life, she made unheard of strides in the field of costume design. After teaching herself to sew, she rose to the ranks of professional seamstresses and was acknowledged her rightful place as a pioneer in her field being a Black woman.

Her talent as a costume designer enabled the firm she worked for to expand from making simple outfits and accessories to producing costumes for numerous stage shows that were produced in Chicago during the 1920s, including the “Ziegfield Follies, according to her obituary.

Even with all the energy and the time spent designing and sewing, “Aunt Gertrude,” as she is fondly referred to, gave her life to her church and community.

“Through her faithful service to the A.M.E. and the C.M.E. Methodist churches, she and her husband interacted with untold numbers of youths in organized activities, including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, softball teams, sewing bees and other activities,” recalled Juanita Nauden of Memphis, Tenn., during a telephone interview when she heard of the death of her long-time godmother, mentor and friend.

This reporter had the honor of being at Aunt Gertrude’s “home giving service.” No one in attendance was sad because Aunt Gerts very presence here on Earth for so many people for so many years was a living legacy in its own way, as expressed in terms of grandeur, human connections, love and strung spiritual beliefs.

As an example of the faith she exhibited throughout her life, Mrs. Fredd attended – almost to her last days – a Bible study group sponsored by St. James Catholic Church along with other residents of the Hilliard Senior buildings. Even at the time of her final days, the doctor at Mercy Hospital reportedly marveled that the only medicine Mrs. Fredd ever took was aspirin. Here is truly a faith-filled, active life to celebrate.

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