Marcella Hubbard smiles as she stands and cheers as people drive by in celebration of her 100th birthday. (Pendarvis Harshaw/KQED)
Marcella Hubbard has a purple house with purple flowers. A purple wardrobe and purple bedding. She used to drive a purple car, and now owns a purple cane.
On March 28, 2021, Marcella Hubbard wore all purple as she celebrated her 100th birthday.
To help celebrate the occasion, I rode with my family as my mother (a neighbor of Mrs. Hubbard's) drove in a procession of cars decorated in plum, grape, and fig colored streamers. Our parade began at Mosswood Park and ended in the parking lot of the New Hope Baptist Church in West Oakland—people honking and waving banners the whole way. Upon arrival, violet ‘Happy Birthday’ balloons were sent sunward, and lavender butterfly-shaped confetti fell to ground.
Mrs. Hubbard, dressed in the most royal shade of purple you’ve ever seen with a fly hat to boot, stood on the far end of the parking lot waving at people. Around her, family members dressed in periwinkle tutus and pastel shirts passed out cake and packaged lunches to cars passing by.
Some folks, like ourselves, stopped to get a few photos and soak in the moment. When face-to-face with the lady of honor, it hit: what do you tell someone who is turning 100?
“Happy birthday!” I said, before proceeding to to hide behind my camera and document the occasion.
Family members assembled around her. Five generations fluidly moving. No easy feat to get them organized. But in the scope of all that a matriarch and the five generations of her African American family have faced, getting together for a group photo was cake.
Mrs. Hubbard was born in Louisville, Mississippi, on March 28, 1921, the second oldest of a family that would eventually grow to 22 children. Her father, William James Eichelberger, and her mother, Sarah Coleman Eichelberger, had 10 children together before Sarah passed. After her father remarried, he had another dozen children.
Mrs. Hubbard worked on the farm, picking cotton as well as flowers—the latter of which planted a seed that’s still yielding fruit to this day.
“I just loved to pick violets,” Mrs. Hubbard tells me during a phone call earlier this week. “I just loved the color purple; it comes from the flowers that bloomed in the yard.”
In 1943, Mrs. Hubbard came to the Bay Area for the first time, landing a job in a factory in Sausalito during World War II; in 2014 she was honored for her work there as a Rosie The Riveter.
In the mid-1900s, she traveled back and forth between the Bay Area and the south, eventually graduating from Mississippi Valley State University with a degree in education. In 1946, she married Rev. B.C. Turnipseed. The two oversaw a church in Mississippi, where equity was preached and voters were registered.
In 1963, after her husband died, Marcella and her only child, Angeline Eichelberger West, moved to the Bay Area permanently. First living with family on 60th Street in North Oakland, she eventually bought a home on 63rd Street, where the family has lived since the 1970s.
Marcella got re-married, this time to a man by the name of M. L. Hubbard. She worked a number of different jobs: in addition to being an educator, she was a seamstress, a social security administrator, and a longtime employee at a local office for the Internal Revenue Service. Active in her North Oakland community, she was an early pioneer in urban gardening through her involvement with the Golden Gate Community Garden on 62nd Street.
She joined the New Hope Baptist Church in 1964, and through that institution has worked with young folks who were incarcerated at Juvenile Hall, off 150th Avenue in East Oakland.
“A lot of time they would bring the boys to the church with them, they’d give them gifts and bibles, and talk to them,” says LaTasha Mitchum, Mrs. Hubbard's oldest grandchild. “A lot of the boys, once they got out of trouble, they’d come looking for her.”
Marcella Hubbard's life has been so storied that at her 70th birthday party, family members chose parts of her life to depict in theatrical form, according to her youngest grandchild, Rasheeda West-Johnson.
“She is walking history,” says Rasheeda during a phone call on Monday. Rasheeda says in her grandmother's older years, she’s been more transparent about her life’s experiences—especially as they pertain to racism.
"I didn’t know that her first husband who was a preacher had to move out of Mississippi where they were because of Jim Crow, and that they were trying to lynch him because the church that they oversaw was trying to preach and teach equal rights," says Rasheeda.
Because her children like to be in "grown folks' business," Rasheeda has been very intentional to have the young ones present when her grandmother feels like talking.
"I make sure that the boys are around so that they can get firsthand knowledge of what’s going on," says Rasheeda, questioning how much society has progressed in the decades since her grandmother was her children's age. "I don't even know if you’d call it an evolution... We’re still experiencing a lot of the same things. But for my children, it’s just acknowledging who she is and what she’s gone through. And having the utmost respect for her, because she’s lived a life that’s been extremely full."
With COVID-19, the family was concerned that Mrs. Hubbard wasn't going to be able to have the type of party that she envisioned, as she's grown accustomed to having sizable celebrations at the end of each decade. But they managed to bring everyone together in the safest fashion possible.
Samauri Ware, Mrs. Hubbard's middle grandchild, says that when they pulled up to the church last Saturday, Mrs. Hubbard kind of "bounced" out of the car. Samauri says, "It was just shocking to me. I was like, 'She’s excited!'"
Up and active is how I've usually seen Mrs. Hubbard. Over the years I've talked to her through my mom's backyard fence, as she's often gardening, growing purple peas, purple greens and, of course, purple flowers.
When we last spoke, she told me she feels great being 100. The key to success? Mrs. Hubbard says, "Well, I try to be an honest person, and I like to work and help others. And I love God."
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