HOBSON CITY — On Saturday, Hobson City celebrated the 120th anniversary of their town — and one resident that has seen 100 of those years.
A ceremony was held Saturday for Willie Maude Atkinson ahead of her 100th birthday on Tuesday, in which Draper Street, the street where Atkinson has lived all of her life, was rechristened as Atkinson Drive in her honor.
The ceremony was part of the Hobson City Heritage Festival, a week-long celebration of the founding of the city that culminated in a Saturday reunion in J.R. Striplin Park and the ceremony recognizing Atkinson.
Throughout the ceremony, which was held under a small tent outside Atkinson’s house, family and friends of Atkinson reminisced about her life and told stories. Attendees spilled out of the tent and packed nearby covered porches to hear about their town’s oldest resident.
Oxford Mayor Alton Craft was on hand as Saturday was declared Willie Maude Atkinson Day in his city.
David Satcher, who grew up in the area and attended Calhoun County Training School before serving as U.S. Surgeon General and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, attended the festival.
“This day is not about me,” Satcher said. “I’m just here to contribute to our recognition of royalty, really.”
Atkinson, who grew up one house over from her current home on what used to be Draper Street, is the oldest living resident who was born in and has stayed in Hobson City.
Atkinson has three children, five grandchildren and five great grandchildren, many of whom were at the ceremony wearing T-shirts with her face and name printed on the front.
“She got me on the right track when I was running around like I was a bad boy,” said grandson Eric Atkinson.
Atkinson’s son, Alfonza Atkinson, served as the dean Tuskegee University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health before his death in 2004.
Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory said the renaming of the street is in honor of Atkinson’s entire family.
“It gets mother, father and the son,” McCrory said. “When people come by and want to know who Atkinson is, we’ll all remember, and their legacy will not be forgotten.”
Willie Maude Atkinson also boasts several other “oldest” designations, including the oldest member of New Hope Baptist Church in Hobson City.
“I’m so proud to be her pastor and to witness a street being named after a living person,” said Dennis McKinney, pastor of the church. “Sister Atkinson is in overtime. God has blessed her to see 100 years on this side of heaven.”
Saturday’s celebration at the city’s park offered food, inflatable activities for kids, and live music set to begin in the evening.
The heritage festival recognizes the founding of Hobson City in 1899, after Oxford redrew its city limits to exclude what was then known as Moree Quarter. The city became the first all-African American town to be incorporated in the state.
“For me, it started here. This community has been a major part of me,” Satcher said. “I’m so happy to be a part of today. The worst thing we can do is forget what Hobson City is and what it has meant for so long.”