So many stories remain untold of the gestures of love and acts of sacrifice in the lives of thousands of people Joyce Blackmon touched in her lifetime.
Yes, she was lauded as the first African American and the first woman to serve as a vice-president at Memphis Light Gas and Water. But her former students remember her smile and tenderness as a teacher in Memphis City Schools for nearly two decades.
Blackmon, who was the widow of Lawrence B. Blackmon Sr., died on Dec. 16, 2019. Former students, long-time family friends and employees gathered days later to bid her a final “goodbye” and relive their stories of her love, care, and compassion.
But many people’s Joyce Blackmon stories extend beyond MLGW and teaching. One story worth remembering is the “Lucky Eleven.”
The year was 1973. Eleven high school football players at South Side High School in Memphis enrolled at Fisk University, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
The impact was profound and life-changing for those young men, who became excellent scholars, sportsmen and successful working adults. And Blackmon was key.
Filmmaker and Fisk Memphis Club President George W. Tillman Jr., one of the Lucky Eleven, reflected on the passing of Ms. Blackmon that same day as news spread quickly on social media.
“Today, one of the greatest women in my life passed away, Mrs. Joyce Blackmon,” he said. “I grew up with her sons, Larry and David. “She treated me like one of her own. Had it not been for Mrs. Blackmon, there would have been no ‘Lucky Eleven’ to talk about. She saw to it that all of us went to Fisk University to be educated, and now, we good products of society.
“I just lost the other mother in my life, but the good thing about it all was she lived to see us all become good men,” Tillman said.
“She truly loved her students,” said Tajuan Stout-Mitchell, a former student of Blackmon’s and former city council member. “Ms. Blackmon loved them so much and encouraged them so much that they began to believe that they could do impossible things.”
Later, Blackmon would become vice president of personnel and training at MLGW, leading the utility’s equal employment and affirmative action program. By the time she retired in 1996, she was SVP of administration and support. She was also president of her own consulting, JBlackmon and Associates, from 1994 to 2007.
A native Memphian, Ms. Blackmon graduated from St. Anthony Catholic School and matriculated at the University of Memphis where she earned both a bachelors and a masters degree.
She was active in many civic and cultural organizations, she is past national director of the arts for The Links, Inc., past president of Memphis in May, and immediate past chair of the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Board of Trustees.
“Mrs. Blackmon became one of the most accomplished women in this city,” said Carol Lumpkin, a former student. “We don’t take that away from her. She was a highly decorated, professional woman.
“But the best part of her was her humanity,” Lumpkin continued. “She was a mother to us back when teachers were your mother at school. And she loved us. Maya Angelou said that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
“I will never forget how Ms. Blackmon always made me feel.”