(NOTE: The Gramblinite conducted several interviews with the daughters of Charles P. Adams over the years prior to their deaths. This article contains information from some of those interviews.)
Say the name Charles P. Adams in Grambling and everyone knows who he is. Those old enough can probably name his children, particularly the two who remained in Grambling, contributing to the family’s impact on the community and continuing to add to the Adams family legacy.
Mama Fi and Aunt Tut, who were Fidelia Johnson and Theresa Garner, respectively, were sisters, the only daughters of Charles P. Adams.
Aunt Tut was born Feb. 1, 1909, and Mama Fi was born April 17, 1905. Over the years, they shared their stories readily, with their love for the university and community evident throughout.
Mama Fi, the oldest child, described her daddy as a strong disciplinarian who loved and believed in his people.
Aunt Tut’s memories of her father were that, in addition to being strict, he was also a religious family man. She remembered his strength. “He had to fight off all the ignorance he encountered,” she said.
“He believed that (black people) could do and could learn and he was a very, very good teacher,” said Mama Fi, recalling stories about her father, Charles P. Adams, her family, the Grambling community and the early years of the university.
The sisters talked about how close-knit their family was and of the support their father received from the Grambling community.
“They shared whatever they had because everybody know everybody,” Mama Fi said. “There were many homes, but a distance apart because everybody had their own farms. But that didn’t stop them from sharing and caring about one another.”
Mama Fi called the people in the community “a source of strength.”
“If I had meat and you didn’t have meat, then you had meat.”
To illustrate her point, she said that people in Grambling didn’t kills hogs or other animals at the same time so that everybody could have some meat all the time.
“You see, we didn’t have refrigeration and couldn’t keep meat for too long,” said the retired GSU home economics teacher. “So somebody killed a hog almost every week. They shared a lot back then.”
When Mama Fi and Aunt Tut were growing up, almost every student at the university had somewhere to go to eat Sunday, thanks to Grambling community families.
In the early years, there were only four churches in the community – Mt. Zion, New Rocky Valley, Mt. Olive and Lewis Temple, Aunt Tut noted.
“Each church would hold services one Sunday a month,” Mama Fi recalled. “All the students would go to one church each Sunday. After church, they would all go to different homes in the area to eat.”
This caring attitude also existed at school, Mama Fi said.
“Many students came here with no money” and had to work for their tuition, fees, and room and board, she said.
“The students would farm, they would raise hogs and work around the school. They used to raise some really good food around here.”
Mama Fi also made not of how her father assisted those students in need.
“He helped many a young person get through school that way,” she said.
Before 1930, there were few structures in the area except for those on campus Aunt Tut said.
Martha and Charles P. Adams lived with their six children on campus. The two sisters recalled that the family lived in a big two-story house, which was then located near the present Lee Hall.
The house was donated to the Adamses by philanthropist Fedelia Jewett, who provided the money to buy much of the land on which Grambling State currently sits.
Jewett Hall was named for this white woman who took an interest in helping Adams build Grambling. Jewett was also Mama Fi’s namesake.
Being the oldest, Mama Fi would often help her mother care for her younger brothers and sister.
“I guess that’s why they started calling me Mama,” she laughed. “I’ve always been running things.”
“Still do,” Aunt Tut chimed in with a smile.
Aunt Tut was a school supervisor who worked for the Lincoln Parish School Board. She was proud of the work she did with black teachers during her career.
“We were giving standardized tests before they became popular,” she boasted.
“Most of the black teachers had master’s degrees and were well-qualified – more qualified that many whites at the time.”
As teachers, the women had a definite impact on education in Grambling and throughout north Louisiana. Both were members of Alpha Kappa Alpha and over the years hosted many sorority events at their homes.
The sisters were synonymous with Grambling State University, often expressing their pride in what their father initiated at Grambling. However, they were quick to share the credit with the community and the people who sacrificed to make the school work.
“The school has made excellent progress,” Aunt Tut said in an interview two years before her death, “and will continue to do so as long as those she supported support her.”
Mama Fi and Aunt Tut both died at the age of 91, Mama Fi in 1996 and Aunt Tut in 2000.