Honor Where It’s Due

In recognition of National Women’s History Month I honor my great, great Aunt, Inez McDale, known to our family as Bottie.

This is an excerpt from my book “Grasping At The Wind”.

“Bottie came to Chicago during one of the first African-American migrations from the rural South to the Northern cities. These cities promised relief from the stifling racism and backbreaking farm work, in the South.

Bottie, born in Colbert County, Alabama in 1886 lacked a formal education but she abounded with wisdom and common sense (aka street sense) - Proverbs 8:5.

Bottie ran a brothel during the Depression era and despite her lack of education, had a keen business mind. She could not perform calculus or algebra, but she could count and save money. She resembled Mary Bethune McLeod, the great African- American educator, with the same formidable stature and demeanor.

My older cousins tell stories of some of the famous people that frequented Bottie’s brothel, from Al Capone’s brother Ralph Capone to the famous band leader Duke Ellington.

Rollicking, rambunctious and rowdy, Chicago provided her with open doors to use her innate entrepreneurial skills. In another time or place, with the benefits of an education, she could have headed her own corporation

Bottie helped everyone in the family because she kept money and had a gigantic heart. My father respected Bottie along with most people that met her. The nature of her business gave her a tolerance for human frailty. She saw society’s elite during the day turn into perverted pursuers of forbidden flesh at night. Her non-judgmental attitude endeared her to many of society’s outcasts. I think, more than anyone, she understood my father who respected her tremendously.

Bottie did not have children of her own. She took care of the children in the household while our parents worked. She considered me her favorite and went out of her way to spoil me. During the day, we watched her favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs play. I can still hear her rooting for Ernie Banks to hit a home run.

On Sunday evenings, we listened to the Reverend Clarence Cobbs, Pastor of the First Deliverance Church in Chicago, preach the gospel. A flamboyant preacher, Reverend Cobbs, befriended the gangsters and numbers kings of Southside Chicago and had a huge congregation. Reverend Cobbs also wielded huge political influence in Chicago at that time.

Bottie stopped physically attending church because of her failing health but she never missed a Sunday broadcast and usually I would listen with her. I didn’t realize then the spiritual seeds Bottie helped plant in my young heart.

Bottie no longer ran a brothel and had obviously given her heart to Jesus.

Bottle died in 1962 leaving a huge void in our family. Her death especially left a huge void in me.

RIH Bottie! To me you were one of the greatest women on earth!