Mama Brown, also known as the “Sweet Potato Pie” lady, was well known throughout the city of Tulsa and state of Oklahoma by people of all ages, socio-economic status, races, and religions because of her unequaled love and compassion for any and everyone. A devout Christian, Mama Brown (along with her husband of 42 years, William “Daddy” Brown, Sr.) firmly believed that to truly love Jesus and the Gospel, one must do the work of Jesus and the Gospel.
Born in Catoosa, Oklahoma shortly after Oklahoma statehood to a poor sharecropping family from Mississippi. Mama Brown’s youth was hampered by the bleak days of the Great Depression and overt racism of Northeastern Oklahoma. In fact, due to life circumstances not uncommon for Black families of the era, Mama Brown was forced to quit school after the 8th grade and begin working to help support her family. So, she clearly understood the negative impact poverty, hunger, and injustice has on one’s self-esteem, morale, and opportunities for success. More importantly, however, Mama Brown knew that regardless of one’s situation, it could be overcome if that person was tangibly loved.
Therefore, she made it her life’s mission to feed, nurse, cloth, pray, and house thousands of needy individuals and families during her forty-five years working at well-known Tulsa establishments such as: The Tulsa Club, Thompson Drug Store, Charles’ B.B.Q., Mohawk Grocery Store, Peevee’s Grocery Store, Seminole Hills Lounge, The Pepper Pot, Big 4 Drive In, Mama Brown’s Snack Shop, Pat White’s B.B.Q., Gibbs Grocery & Laundry, and Mama Brown’s B.B.Q.
Mama Brown won many formal accolades and awards during her illustrious career serving the community, including receiving the key to the city of Tulsa and having April 12, 1984 declared “Mama Brown” day by then Tulsa Mayor Terry Young. However, Mama Brown always remarked that the award she cherished most was the overwhelming love that she received wherever she went in the community. Everywhere Mama Brown went she would encounter multitudes calling her “mama”, “auntie”, “grandma”, as if they were blood relatives—and would fight you to the death if you tried to tell them otherwise. To be honest, for most of my childhood I would be so upset with these individuals (many who were strangers to me) that I witnessed approach Mama Brown thinking “this is MY grandma not yours” and not wanting to share her. However, once I reached adulthood I could actually appreciate the love that Mama Brown earned from living the Gospel and understand that she had enough love in her to go around.
In closing, Mama Brown was truly the definition of love, compassion, and unselfish living. She believed in and worked hard to improve Tulsa and its residents in any way possible, and is still loved and missed by thousands. Yet, she would always say that the best way to remember her when she was gone was to “pick up her cross,” and carry on her legacy of love, compassion, and service to her fellow citizen. Through this noble excise, she would explain, “one will not only improve and impact the lives of the many you will encounter, but Mama Brown’s legacy and spirit will be alive and cooking!” Grandma I will always love you for who you were and all that you did, and will seek to always honor your legacy through all that I do!
Damario Solomon-Simmons, Esq., M.Ed. is Of Counsel at RiggsAbney law firm and an adjunct professor of African & African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. His life’s mission is to inform, inspire, and empower and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @solospeakstruth.