When Mosie Amos Burks tells her story, nearly a century is peeled away as she recounts her childhood exploits as a cotton-picker on the big plantations of Mississippi and surrounding states in the area well-known as the Delta. Born the third in line of thirteen siblings in 1933, Mosie’s then nineteen-year-old mother Stella Bounds traveled with her father, from plantation to plantation picking cotton, having babies, growing older and watching the fate of other children and families mired in poverty, living hand-to-mouth on a daily basis.
By age twelve, Mosie could be found under the sweltering sun, in the harsh atmosphere of the cotton fields, wiping her sweat-laden brow with bloody, calloused hands alongside other siblings old enough to share the burden of bringing in a few pennies to support the family. By year’s end, they would make seventy-five bales of cotton to pay their debt to the sharecropper and clear $1,000 to keep for the family, then borrow against the next year and begin the cycle again.
Though Mosie’s mother was small in stature, a mere 5’5”, and was only a young woman herself with very little formal education, she firmly stood her ground and insisted that her children go to school. So, against all odds and in spite of moving from one plantation to another, all of her children, meagerly clad, went to school in the fall and winter, while other young black children continued to work in the fields. Perhaps it was her mother’s ability to swim upstream toward a desired goal that gave Mosie just the tenacity she needed to keep her brothers and sisters together after their mother passed away at age forty.
Mosie was twenty-one when she buried her mother and the mantle of motherhood fell to her as she cared for the ten siblings younger than she, ranging in age from four to fourteen. Mosie puts it like this, “I knew it was my lot to take care of my brothers and sisters. My dad wasn’t very good…and I was too close to my mother for it not to be mine. I believe the Lord lined it up for me, aunts and uncles were lined up to split them up like little chicks, but I said ‘no, you’re not having any of them.’” So she raised them as a mother would, helped to see them each through school, kept them in church and eventually went on to marry and have three children of her own.
For Mosie, faith played a big part in her ability to raise her siblings in the face of severe poverty and hardship. At age twelve, she received the Holy Ghost, attending church years before her parents did and always remained connected with God. To her, faith was KNOWING that God was with her and would always provide for her and her family. The following story depicts this belief perfectly. “I remember we had this ten dollar a week house, and I was making twenty dollars a week and it was in the winter-time and I would usually catch the bus to get home. Some days the man of the house asked me to stay late and he gave me one dollar so I could take the cab home (because it was cold and dark), but instead of taking the cab all the way home, which was more expensive than the bus, I would take a thirty-five cent cab ride and then walk a few blocks to catch the bus for ten cents and keep the fifty-five cents extra and buy what groceries I could with it. Then I would cook dinner and they (the children) would eat and they would go to bed not knowing I didn’t have anything to cook for breakfast. I would get on my knees and pray and someone would come to my door in the morning and say Mosie, here’s some eggs, here’s some bacon, and the children never knew that the situation was like this.”
Mosie’s life has not been without its obstacles, but, she says, “You have to have obstacles or you become a very dull person, if you have no obstacles, oh phooey! You have no tale to tell, you’re just sailing through. I like some wind now and then, test the boat, test the sails, test the motor…” She prays every day and has asked the Lord how to make it through the obstacles, how to come out on top. She learned that life is a system of three parts that need to be in balance with each other: physical, mental, and spiritual. It’s a daily task to stay on top, but it is a journey she relishes. Mosie says that when Satan rings the doorbell to get in her body, she tells him to get out, she won’t have any part of it and judging from the fruits of her labors, she is doing an excellent job.
After retiring from her twenty-three year stint at the telephone company, Mosie was ready to assume her role as a little old lady traveling with her husband, visiting historic sights, enriching her life with family and laying low. Apparently, this was not God’s plan! Music was always an integral part of Mosie’s life, having sung solos in church since she was a little girl and learning to accompany herself on the guitar. Later, singing with the church choir, people grew accustomed to seeing her in front of the congregation, singing with the heart of an angel who knew God personally In truth, she moves people whether they know her story or not, her presence is forceful, her spirit, infectious.
When Frank Williams was organizing the now world-renowned, award-winning Mississippi Mass Choir in the 1980s, she was contacted to audition, but declined the invitation. In 1995, Mosie once again received an invitation to audition for a spot to sing in the choir. The choir was re-grouping itself, preparing to record the album, I’ll See You in the Rapture and needed a few more voices. Once again, she declined the invitation. A few weeks passed and she was invited once more, yet once more she declined. As a follow-up to the last phone call, Katrina Williams called her personally and told her the date and time of the audition and that she expected to see Miss Burks there. Again, Mosie told her no, but changed her mind at the last minute and showed up for the audition. Three months later, she received a letter congratulating her on her acceptance into the choir.
With a strenuous rehearsal schedule, many nights the choir practiced until midnight, and a new husband, Willie Burks,(her first husband had passed away in 1984), she felt the strain on her marriage and considered dropping out of the choir. Then she learned that the rehearsal schedule would end as soon as the recording was finished so she stayed with the choir and was invited to audition for a solo. Stunned to hear the news that she was chosen as the soloist for “This Morning When I Rose,” she was even more surprised as the song climbed to the number one spot on the Billboard Charts as did the album, remaining in the number one position for more than a year.
Humility is one of Mosie’s strong suits and when it comes to her singing, she tells songwriters who wish to write for her, “It better be simple! Don’t give me no curves and hills!” At seventy-one years of age and her first solo release (as of yet, untitled) on the horizon, Mosie gets around. With several Asian and European tours behind her and numerous trips and tours nationwide, she is about to embark on another European tour with Jerry Smith, minister of music for the Mississippi Mass Choir and Director of the Children of Israel, an offshoot of the Mass Choir.
Her album will contain a couple of original gospel songs written by friends, but mostly will consist of her favorites from decades of singing to congregations as a soloist and with various church choirs. Her heart is on this CD and she is excited to be blessed with the opportunity to share it with so many.
Recently, Disney produced a movie called America, Heart and Soul which releases in July, 2004 and spotlights Americans nationwide. Mosie Burks from Jackson, Mississippi, soloist in a world renown choir and little girl who picked cotton all across the Delta, has this to say about the experience:
“They shot the movie [my part] in three locations, the first one was with the Mississippi Mass downtown Jackson and it was outside in the summer, so the Mass was in full and I did “This Morning When I Rose.” Then they did settings from a small church, so we went there and I spoke and then I sang. The third part was done at home where they interviewed me.
You should have seen the neighbors, Jenny, it was one Sunday afternoon, huge trucks with great big lines, they had to stop traffic, people had to cut off their air conditioners, it was like…I didn’t realize what they were doing, they did some taping here inside the house, they wanted me in a house dress, I don’t have a house dress, I was a career woman, the man went through my closet and picked something for me to wear and they got my life story. I can see him sitting out there now, the white people were fanning me and the other one was giving me water and redoing my face, I wouldn’t let them make me look or act like a little old lady.”
About life she has this to say:
“I have found favor in the Lord, he has granted me to do so many things. I have a ball living, I have a hearty living, I wake up happy, I’m still here! Yahoo!”
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