Activist Thomas Muhammad’s reaction to news of the passing of Eva Catherine Partee McMillan summed up expressions from around the city from those who knew, loved and respected “Mama Mac.”
Mama Mac, was an affectionate deviation of “Mama McMilitant,” as she was fondly referred to during her years of community activism and community service.
“This was a shock,” said Muhammad, who has known “Mama Mac” since the 1960s, growing up in Dallas. “That woman and her son, Ernie, are who turned me into who I am today. I learned from the best and so did so many others.”
Currently the president of the National Black United Front-Dallas, Muhammad remembered Mama Mac as “articulate, passionate and always humble.”
“She showed raw courage and she was not afraid to step up and stand up. She showed me how to stand up and speak out. And she was beautiful, too!”
The McMillans, of Dallas, have a long history of activism. Mrs. McMillan, whose 100th birthday was celebrated in May, believed in speaking out about injustices. She spent the better part of her life trying to right wrongs, including the injustice she felt landed her son in jail for “destroying a watermelon.”
Reports vary about whether it was a watermelon or a bottle of milk that was dropped during one protest, leading to the arrest of the co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Muhammad remembers that protest and others as if it were yesterday because some of the same issues still exist today, despite all the efforts of people like the McMillans.
“Ernie recruited me and a few of my friends to picket OK Supermarket because they were selling stale meat and groceries,” he recalled. “Ernie got arrested at the one (OK Supermarket) on Pine and Oakland (in South Dallas) because he was demonstrating.”
Next thing you know, continued Muhammad, a felony charge landed “Mama Mac’s” son in prison for 10 years, but he ended up serving three.
According to Muhammad, Ernie’s mother was out in the community rallying support, speaking in churches and sharing her son’s story.
And she was known for showing up time and time again, and not just for her son, but for the benefit of others. Whether it was voter education or anti-discrimination, you could count on Mama Mac or “Aunt Eva” to be involved and vocal.
Her talented granddaughter, Anyika McMillan-Herod, in a tribute to her grandmother, said that Mrs. McMillan was her “favorite person.”
Calling her grandmother “one tough cookie with a righteous bite, who also oozed extraordinary sweetness,” the writer, actress and co-founder of Soul Rep Theatre Company; talked about how the family witnessed her activism and compassion “propel her onto frontlines and into courtrooms, church pews, boardrooms, soup kitchens, voting booths, and messy streets to raise HELL & HOPE!”
Wonderful stories have been shared about “Mama Mac,” a woman who lived life to the fullest and was known for making the “best hot water cornbread,” while also teaching so many lessons to empower others.
Married to Pastor Marion E. McMillan Sr., she had four children (Katherine, Marion Jr. “Ernest,” Jacqueline and Karen),10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. She also had a twin, Neva. A former bank bookkeeper, election clerk and community organizer, she was highly regarded and respected for facing adversity, the Ku Klux Klan and racist, inhumane systems.
Journalist Norma Adams-Wade wrote in The Dallas Morning News: Eva Partee was born a twin on May 7, 1921, in Bradford Tenn. Her mother died soon after the delivery, leaving her husband to raise the twins and five siblings (Mildred, Gracie, and Faye, and her big brothers Clifton and Cecil) alone; a sixth sibling had died.
During her 100th birthday celebration, the milestone was recognized by citizens across the metroplex, in addition to special resolutions and letters from President Joe Biden, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Information about the Celebration of Life for Eva Catherine Partee McMillan is forthcoming. Black and Clark Funeral Home will be handling services.