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Nora’s Place: Fayette County woman hopes to honor late mother’s legacy by creating safe haven for women in need

Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 2:30 PM CST
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FAYETTE COUNTY, Tenn. (WMC) - Nora Brooks Lewis and Albert Sylvester Lewis worked as sharecroppers in Fayette County, raising seven children in a two-bedroom shack.

“They were advocates for civil justice, civil rights and just human success stories,” said their daughter, Irish Lewis-Massey.

Massey says her parents worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference helping African Americans register to vote during the Civil Rights Movement -- a dangerous task back then that could have cost them their home, even their lives.

“It was an area called Tent City where a lot of people had to live because of their courageousness to, you know, be humans during that time,” Massey said.

But on Sept. 3, 1965, Massey’s family was forever changed after her father was killed in a tractor accident, leaving her mother to pick up the pieces.

“She had to actually gird up everything she had to put her pain away, try to plan a funeral, grieve her husband tend to her seven children and the conditions of her to stay on that farm was that she had to harvest a crop that was due to be ready.”

From then on, Nora was determined to have a place to call her own: Something she owned.

She was given two acres of property by her mother and worked for three years trying to convince the county to help her qualify for a construction loan.

From a two-bedroom shack to a three-bedroom home, today the small white house sites on Highway 193.

“She got funding and it was unheard of unprecedented, never heard of in the history of Fayette County, Tennessee, that a woman of color, single woman with seven children be able to perform such a surmountable feat, but she did,” Massey said.

Nora moved her family into the home and eventually shared her knowledge with other Black sharecroppers, so that they too could leave their landowner’s home and have a place of their own.

Massey’s mother paid off the home in 1999 before passing away in 2005.

She was honored by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change for her work.

“She was a woman of the movement.” Massey said.

The home was put up for auction in 2021, and Massey made it a point to purchase it.

Now, she wants to continue her mom’s legacy by providing shelter for women in need.

“I want to repair it so that I can bring it back to the glory that it was when she was alive and offer it as an opportunity for other mothers, single mothers that are dealing with homelessness or escaping abusive conditions so that they will be able to have a new beginning as we were given so long ago when my father was killed,” Massey said.

She’s raising money to do just that and says she hopes her mom’s legacy will live on forever.

“My mother, when she was alive, she would always say to me that ‘Irish, if I can help somebody as I travel this earth, then my living would not have been in vain.” Massey added.

To donate to help rebuild “Nora’s Place,” click here.

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