Willie Mae Hardy was born on a plantation in 1908 in Talbot County, Junction City, Georgia. Her grandmother had been enslaved. After the Emancipation Proclamation the family remained on the plantation as tenant farmers. She recalled life on the farm as being hard. Her days were spent doing chores such as picking cotton, plowing the fields, caring for the hogs and chickens, and tending the garden. Despite her limited education she taught herself to read and write. One of the most frightening memories she has from her childhood occurred during the Jim Crow era. The Ku Klux Klan came to their family’s home and took away her cousin, Dan. She never saw him again.
In 1939, Willie Mae moved to Atlanta with her husband in search of a better life for her only child, Cassie Nell. She joined the Butler Street Baptist Church where she became a devoted member. She also worked as a housekeeper for various families over the years. Cooking was a passion and collard greens were her specialty. In 1966, Willie Mae’s daughter lost her husband unexpectedly, and Willie Mae moved to Decatur to help care for her seven grandchildren. She has continued to live in the same house with her daughter ever since. Today, Willie Mae’s granddaughter, Veronica Edwards, also lives in the house and cares for Willie Mae and Cassie, who is 91-years-old. Willie Mae’s secret to a long life is, ”Stay out of trouble, get a job, and if you do the right thing the Lord will bless you.” At 109 years old, Willie Mae is blessed.