Lett family has deep roots in Selma history

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 31, 2003

After the Civil War and the end of the Reconstruction Era, tenant farming and sharecropping became a way of life for many black families in the Deep South. Within a generation, however, numbers of family members overcame earlier hardships through encouragement and training in work ethics, responsibility and discipline and entered successful and comfortable lifestyles. &uot;Learning by doing&uot; was a lesson learned well.

The early education of the children of these families began at home and in schools established by their parents and supported by the Missionary societies. Such a family is resident in Selma today, headed by matriarch Earline Lett, a native of Carrollton, and the Rev. Willie Lett, who was born in Burnt Corn.

Enrolling at Selma University on scholarships from the Women’s Convention, both graduated with associate degrees in teacher education. Already a minister, Willie Lett served as a chaplain in World War II. After his return from service, Earlene Washington and Willie Lett married and taught school in Monroe County.

On Sundays they pastored four churches, from Wilcox County to Monroe. (The Lett family church is Tabernacle Baptist.)

With the help of her parents, Alma and Frank Washington, the Letts continued their education, earning degrees from Alabama Teachers College and master’s degrees from Livingston College. The Rev. Lett was principal of the Rosenwald School in Franklin; Mrs. Lett taught at Selma University and for 20 years in the Selma City School System.

And while busily involved in their educational careers, they reared four children, who are strong and supportive members of this community.

Their oldest child, Verdell Lett Dawson graduated from Stillman College, attended Hofstra and Long Island universities and received a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama. In thanking her parents and grandparents for her training in Christian virtues, she says &uot;You must use all the talents that God gives you to give back to others, remembering you are standing on the shoulders of those who gave to you.&uot;

Willie James Lett is their oldest son, a young man who liked working on the family farm. After graduating from Hudson High and Knoxville College, he enrolled in Meharry Medical School, receiving a degree in obstetrics and gynecology. His wife, the former Patsy Johnson of San Antonio, is a kindergarten teacher.

Charles Lett, their second son, is noted in the family for refusing to eat &uot;wring-necked chicken,&uot; his siblings say. Motivated by his brother Willie, he also graduated from Stillman and Meharry Medical School with a degree in general surgery. He also became a minister, filling the pulpit at Aimwell Baptist Church as well as practicing medicine. His wife, the former Rita Micou, is a social worker.

Samuel Lett is the youngest child, and he, too, enjoyed farming, once telling his father not to save money for his education because he was going to farm instead of attending college. But, his involvement with school and the community when he was in junior high school changed his mind. Following the paths of his older brothers, he graduated from Knoxville College and Meharry Medical School, choosing the field of obstetrics and gynecology. He is married to the former Constance Bowman, a registered nurse, of Kansas City, Mo.

Earlene and Willie Lett are proud of their children’s successful achievements but will take little credit for them. &uot;We never suggested to them that they become doctors &045;&045; it just grew within them.

We are tremendously proud and eternally thankful that our children were called to serve and are doing so. And we hope they are glad that they had a happy and successful family in which to grow up.&uot;

On Sunday, April 6, at 2 p.m., the Letts will be honored by the Progressive Cultural Club at a ceremony to be held in its clubhouse at 15 Union Street.