In Memory of W. Kate Charley – Community Leader, Coy AL

Kate (right) marches with  Iris Judson in high spirits, March 1, 2010, Camden, AL

Kate Charley (right) marches with Iris Judson in high spirits, during the Martin Luther King Jr Commemorative March and Mass Meeting Camden, AL March 1, 2012

Willie Kate Charley of Coy AL, known to most simply as “Kate” or “Ms Charley, ” born in 1934, peacefully passed from this world on February 11, 2013 in her own home, of natural causes and on her own terms. She was unapologetic about her choice to stay single, and as a retired teacher and tireless community activist, Kate enjoyed the affection of countless students, many “adopted” nieces, nephews and grandchildren and her sister congregants.  She was devoted to her church and to her other causes which focussed on improving the lives of  youth. Often when I’d call she had just finished making a pie to take to a church event, including her famous her famous “stick to your  ribs” (and teeth!) coconut pie.

Kate was generous, wise, kind and funny.  She once told me, “I keep myself busy to keep me out of devilment.” Kate loved to view the Fall Foliage in New England, and to visit the successes of her students. She also liked to race around the back roads of Wilcox County in her “Dodger Blue” pick-up truck, always on a mission to do some good deed. About her truck, she explained, “I always liked the Dodgers. I had to get a new truck – so when I was picking it out I said, I believe I’ll take the blue one; you know I am loyal that way.”

Kate was proud of her parents, Leona Brooks Charley and Joel Wentworth Charley, direct involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, including the risky work of transporting people to register to vote and of housing civil rights workers, while Kate herself chose to uplift the community through a lifetime of teaching and mentoring young people.

I had the honor to meet and the joy to get to know Kate through my search for folks I lived and worked with when I served as an SCLC student civil rights worker in Wilcox County during the tumultuous summer of 1965. We visited in person in 2008 and again in 2010 for the 45th Commemorative March & Mass Meeting in Camden, and enjoyed many long telephone conversations over the years. Her contributions to my forthcoming book, This Bright Light of Ours, University of Alabama Press 2014, are invaluable.

All who know Kate will remember her lively wit, energetic spirit and her devotion to her church, Little Zion in Coy. Contributions in her memory may be made online to the Bessie W. Munden Playground [] and Frank Smiley Scholarship Fund at the Black Belt Community Foundation [}. W. Kate Charley was a true Woman of Valor, as we say in the Jewish tradition. May she rest in blessed memory and may all who mourn be comforted and inspired to move forward with the teachings of her exemplary life.


4 comments on “In Memory of W. Kate Charley – Community Leader, Coy AL

  1. John Golden says:

    I’m one of the civil rights workers who lived with Kate’s parents. That was when I met her. I can attest to her intelligence,wisdom, self giving nature, kindness, lively spirit, sense of humor and her deep spirituality.

    We kept in contact down through the years with visits, phone calls and Christmas cards. I have the honor and privilege of being one of those Kate asked to take a part in her memorial service, though because of illness, I was not able to be present at the service.

    Dear Kate, may you rest in peace and abide in God’s all embracing love for all eternity.

    Rev. John Golden.


  2. vanessa says:

    I miss my great aunt Kate she a great woman. I have fond memories of her she taught me a lot of things. I miss her dearly. Heaven has an angel. Rest in Peace Auntie. I love you.


  3. Evang. Janice Culver says:

    My fondest memory of Kate Charley was when she went to the Holy Land with us. She had so much energy. She absorbed the experience like a sponge. When we asked her did she want to go…she said “yes”, and was writing a check to pay for her trip all at the same time. From making the ascent up Calvary to being baptized in the Jordan River, Kate had the opportunity to solidify her faith and experience the sites and grander of where her Savior lived, bled, died, and rose from the dead. Anytime The Lord was ready for her, she would be ready for Him. What a great life!


  4. Miss Willie Kate Charley was truly a unique woman. She stood for justice and held all around her to the highest of standards. We can best remember her by emulating her values. She appreciated the finer things in life and worked to help other appreciate them as well.



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