Camden Courier-Post - March 27, 2005
Lady Eased N.C. Blacks Into Northern Life
When Rebecca Somerville-Wortham passed away last week, a piece of Camden - make that, American - history went with her.
"Becky," as folks fondly called this 104-year-old lady, was a cog in a mighty engine that transported many of today's city residents up from North Carolina, back in the day.
A granddaughter of slaves, she got here in 1920, becoming a housekeeper for the Hurley family, owners of one of the city's leading department stores.
But it was as an unofficial way station for black folks from back home, those who, like her, sought opportunities unavailable in the South, that Becky became beloved in the community.
She opened her South Camden home to newcomers, providing home-cooked meals and tips on jobs, helping ease the transition for those who came north seeking a better life in a segregated era.
No surprise, then, that Becky's viewing on Friday at the Boyd Funeral Home in Camden was so well-attended.
"Without her, I wouldn't be here," declared city councilman and mayoral candidate Ali Sloan El, who was speaking figuratively (he was born in Camden) as he spoke to Mayor Gwendolyn Faison on a cell phone.
A proud Tarheel herself, Faison likewise had kind words for Becky, as did everyone else who spoke to a columnist who, sad to say, never had the privilege of making the lady's acquaintance.
"It was her kindness," said Andrew Thomase, a longtime Camden activist and distant cousin of Becky's. "She never hesitated to help . . . She gave of herself to her community."
According to Becky's niece Ethel Simpson, a longtime Camden resident who now lives in Bear, Del., her aunt "never stopped working until she was 85."
One of nine siblings, Becky moved to Camden from Coley Springs, N.C., in 1920, and settled at 755 Walnut St., in the heart of the city's old Seventh Ward.
Simpson described Becky as "a real tall African woman," a person who inherently commanded respect.
"She was always giving, and willing to help," Simpson said. "She came here from the South without anything . . . she was a good-hearted person. I think that's why she lived so long."
Doreen Boyd, the proprietor of the funeral home that bears her name, said Becky represented a link with a somewhat forgotten past.
In the eloquent program for Becky's services, written by her granddaughter, Demetria Wyatt Choice of Cincinnati, the lady was described as having moved to Camden in search of a better life.
"Rebecca often told the story of how her grandmother, Martha, ran after and caught up with a wagon that carried her mother to a new slave master," Choice wrote. "She was beaten all the way back and never saw her mother again . . . Rebecca's mother made her promise to always keep family members together. Remembering this, she always opened her home to relatives when they migrated north . . . Rebecca often took in strangers until they found work and a place to stay. She loved . . . preparing exquisite meals for her guests."
Becky was buried Friday in Sunset Memorial Park in Pennsauken.
May she rest in the peace she so thoroughly deserves.
Camden Courier-Post - March 24, 2005
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