BATAVIA – A hundred years ago today, on Dec. 13, 1922, Curtistine E. Matthews – now of Batavia – was born in Memphis, Tenn., the second of 10 children and the oldest of seven girls.
Now the only sibling left is a sister, “Number Nine – she’s still living in New York,” Curtistine said. “Eva, she’s in her 80s.”
Looking back on a century of life, Curtistine lived before there was television, let alone computers and the internet; she lived through the rise of civil rights, desegregation and women’s rights.
Women had won the right to vote just two years before she was born.
“As soon as I could, I voted,” Curtistine said.
She and her husband, William B. Matthews, moved to Chicago when she was 20, then to Batavia in 1974, where they had three children, two boys and a girl.
They were married 65 years when her husband died in 2008. He founded and pastored Trinity Chapel Church, 404 Lathem St., Batavia.
Her oldest son, William B. Matthew Jr., died in 2014, and her second son, Charles Matthews, 74, is now the pastor there – ironically not far from where she still lives independently on Church Street.
She has eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Growing up in Memphis, Curtistine said she went to an all-Black school where she did not feel anyone was superior.
“We did not have to worry about prejudice because our teachers were Black and we were Black,” she said. “We learned to love people whether they love us or not, be nice to them whether they are nice to us or not. We all God’s children.”
Curtistine said she was protected from the violence of the Civil Rights Movement.
“I was so blessed that I wasn’t exposed to living what you had to suffer and be mistreated,” she said.
However, Curtistine acknowledged that people are still pushing for human rights.
“It’s like they want to go back instead of forward,” she said. “Not everybody, but some. It’s creeping back in. But one thing about it, we knew God was our Heavenly Father and he cares for us – everybody. God loves everybody, even if they don’t love Him. He said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor heavily, and I will give you rest.’”
While Curtistine said they did not suffer from extreme racial mistreatment, they still encountered laws that declared that white business owners did not have to serve or sell to Blacks.
And that included land covenants in Batavia – clauses that were included in property deeds to prevent people who were not white from owning or occupying land.
“Lathem Prairie, the housing development, had a clause in there – not to sell to – ” then she turned to her son and asked, “What did they call us then?”
“Back then, it was colored or Negro,” her son answered.
“The man said, ‘Rev. Matthews, they said to me in the clause not to sell it (to you), but I’m going to sell it to you anyway,’” Curtistine said. “He sold us the whole block.”
“God almost fell out his chair – laughing – when they wrote that – knowing that one day, a Black would own it,” her son said.
The most important, steadfast part of her life is in the church, she said.
As she was raised Pentacostal, Curtistine has spoken in tongues since she was a child, probably about 9 years old. And the church her late husband founded in Batavia is also Pentacostal.
“We were all brought up in the church,” Curtistine said. “I found peace in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and was able read the Bible, and study the Bible and to pray. And the Bible is able to make us wise. You got to read it to know what it says, then you got to believe it.”
A birthday party for Curtistine with 200 guests is planned for Saturday at Enticing Cuisine in Batavia.