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Lillie's Legacy

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Pictured from left to right (back): Ira III, Velma, Joyce, Rhodis

Left to right (front): Karen, Lillie, Ira Jr.

Lillie Johnson Walton was born in Phoenix, Arizona, during the Spanish Flu Pandemic on November 17, 1918. The daughter of a Jewish and African American couple, she survived the racism of the segregated south, in her hometown of Lexington, Mississippi. After her mother, a circuit teacher, took ill, Lillie was raised by her maternal uncle, aunt, and grandfather, Lewis Johnson, whom she loved dearly. The wealth of nurturing and wisdom received from her maternal relatives would lead her through a long productive life.


To focus on her education, Lillie moved to Memphis where she attended Henderson Business College and joined St. Andrew AME Church.  Lillie resided with her cousin and concentrated on school. While sitting on the front porch enjoying the summer breeze, Lillie met her future husband, Ira. Walton, Sr.  They were soon married, and she started the lifelong career of being a loving mother and dedicated housewife.

Lillie and Ira, Sr. accomplished a lot through their marriage and family of nine children (Shirley, Dorothy, Ira, Jr., Joyce, Jimmie, Frederick, Velma, Charlie, and Rhodis). Ira was President of the North Memphis Civic Club and member of other community organizations. Lillie and Ira volunteered and were very active PTA members throughout their children’s education in Memphis City Schools. Positioning their children for academic and lifetime success was their goal.

Ira Sr.

In 1958, Lillie became a single mother when Ira, Sr. passed away from complications of a car accident. Giving birth to her 9th child on the day Ira, Sr. was buried, she poured her entire life into her family. Lillie took on several jobs and ultimately worked as a CNA to support and educate her children.  She was known for teaching and advising her children, their friends, and others in the community. Lillie used such colloquialisms as, “Go to school and get what the teacher’s got;” “You can be anything you want to be;” “It takes 6 months to take care of your business and 6 months to leave everybody else’s alone;” and “Do what’s right.” 

Lillie enrolled twice at LeMoyne College, but her duty to family didn’t allow her to earn a college degree. By the grace of God, Lillie managed to educate her children, which lead them to successful careers. The Walton home was always open to relatives and friends to eat Lillie’s delicious food, rest, and receive her wise counsel and support. Lillie lived a full life and went to her spiritual home on April 5, 2002.

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Pictured from left to right: Rhodis, Karen, Charles, Velma, Joyce, Jimmie, Frederick; Not Pictured - Dorothy, Shirley and Ira Jr.

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