Mattie Smith Lewis
Civil Rights

She was born in Dixie, Louisiana, to Garfield and Maggie Copeland Smith as the seventh of 12 children. The family lived on the Will North Plantation, but Mattie also grew up in Minden at the home of her grandparents, Zeb and Louvenia Smith. Mattie later returned to her parents, by then living in Belcher. There she chopped and picked cotton, and helped make cane syrup. They worked on the Section Six Plantation where they chopped cotton "from eight to ten hours a day." They picked cotton about those same hours, with seven- and nine-foot foot cotton sacks. Mattie picked about 225 pounds a day. To make her dresses, her mother traded eggs for fabric. She got about three yards of gingham material for three dozen eggs. Mattie started sewing at age 11, and also learned to piece and quilt. She recalls making a "Britches" quilt of old overalls. After finishing the 11th grade (she later earned a GED) Mattie married Clarence Philips in 1943. They would have three children. She moved to Shreveport around 1944, lived on Taylor Street, and cooked in a small restaurant. She married Guster Lewis on November 7, 1948. They would have four children additional children, and together, 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Mattie lived in Michigan in the late 1940s and 1950s. Later, she worked for a factory making hunting clothes in Magnolia, Arkansas. She also was employed in a munitions plant for nearly seven years. Guster was employed at Byrd Roofing Company for 41 years. Mattie remembers segregation days and the tensions of the civil rights movement. She believes the changes began when black soldiers, returning from World War II, preferred to remain in other, more open cities and sent for their families. "That's what changed it a lot," she says. For 60 years she has attended Bethlehem Baptist Church.