Pearl Henry Payne celebrated her 100th birthday July 12 with 120 family and friends at the Chateau St. Denis Hotel in Natchitoches with an evening of tributes, music and dinner from 6-8 p.m. She was born July 12, 1918, in Natchitoches and has remained here throughout her life.
Ralph Lawrence Payne Jr., grandson of Mrs. Payne, presided over the evening celebration which began with the grand entrance of the honoree, escorted by son-in-law Herschel White. “The evening captured the influence my mother has on not just her family, but also her church and the greater community as a whole,” said her daughter Carolyn Payne White. One of the many touching moments of the evening was having Samuel Lawrence Gaylor, Kristopher John Gaylor, Kendall Elizabeth Lynch and Priyah Tarver-Reed, representing the fourth and fifth generations of the Payne family, share memories and scriptures that showed how much “Mama Pearl” means to them. It was apparent that Mrs. Payne enjoyed the beautiful musical tribute from her church of 90 years, North Star Baptist Church.
She has been a faithful member since joining at 10 years old in 1928. She served as the clerk at North Star for over 40 years, started the first youth choir and is revered among members young and old. In honor of her lifelong dedication to children and youth in Natchitoches Parish and service to the church, the North Star Baptist Church established the Pearl Payne Scholarship Fund in 1994. “She attended both Sunday School and church on a regular basis until her health no longer permitted doing so,” her daughter said.
She was honored to receive special recognition from Gov. John Bel Edwards, as well as congratulations and commendation from the House of Representatives on motion by Rep. Kenny Cox, who presented them. Lawrence Batiste, City Council member and former student, presented birthday congratulations and an acknowledgement of achievement signed by the Mayor of Natchitoches Lee Posey. Edward Jones, mayor of Grambling, and his brother, Eddie Milton Jones, visited the honoree the afternoon of her birthday with flowers and Grambling memorabilia. She was delighted because the family connections extend many years. Mayor Edwards also brought a proclamation from the City extending congratulations and best wishes to her for reaching this milestone and a key to the city. He also brought a proclamation extolling best wishes for many more happy and productive years from the World Conference of Mayors and the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance Inc. Ralph Wilson, assisted by Grambling University alumni attending the party, made the presentations on behalf of Mayor Jones.
All guests enjoyed the dinner, comprised of spring mix salad with creole honey vinaigrette, marinated beef tenderloin medallions with grilled jumbo shrimp, a stuffed potato, grilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce, honey yeast rolls and sweet tea. Following dinner, a slide show prepared by her grandson-in-law Andrew Topps V was shown that highlighted Mrs. Payne’s glorious 100 years. Consistent with traditions of North Star Baptist Church, Bishop William Roberson personally sang a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Mrs. Payne, which she thoroughly enjoyed. The large birthday cake, with a shimmering rhinestone number 100 cake topper, was served to everyone.
Mrs. Payne’s pursuit of education is exceptional. She started her education in the rural schools of Natchitoches Parish near the Village of Powhatan and knew she wanted to be a teacher in fifth grade. In 1935, she was granted her high school diploma upon completing the 11th grade at Natchitoches Parish Training School. Her 12th year was spent at Natchitoches Parish Training School in the teacher training program provided by Grambling College and she began her teaching career at 17 years old. She earned her bachelor degree by attending class during the summer and specially designed at 17 Saturday classes at Grambling College, until she earned her degree in 1948. In 1956, she earned a master’s degree at Louisiana State University and is one of the earliest Black females to do so. Pearl Payne also earned over thirty academic credits above her Master’s at Northwestern State University. After 37 years of teaching, she retired, ending her career as a mathematics teacher at Northwestern State University Laboratory School and embarked on a second career in housing management for more than 20 years. Her teaching career was built on a philosophy of loving each student and believing in mutual respect, kindness and love. In her 37 years of teaching, “I never sent a child to the principal’s office,” she said proudly. She still enjoys having former students call, visit and share their life accomplishments.
Mrs. Payne has consistently been actively engaged in numerous civic, community, charitable and church activities in Natchitoches and is the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of a life spent “making a difference.” In 2008, she was among the first group of distinguished retired citizens chosen by the City of Natchitoches as a Natchitoches “Treasure” in recognition of lasting contribution to the community through generosity, service and volunteerism. She was an early force in the Natchitoches Parish Voters and Civic League as a tireless advocate in voter registration efforts. She also served for decades as Commissioner in Charge of the Parks Elementary School voting station. She was a charter member of The Ladies Auxiliary, serving in many leadership positions over the years and helping to raise funds for veterans. In 1993, she was one of the founding member of the Women of Faith, a group that provide services for senior citizens and contributes to various organizations that help others in the community. She is the mother of three, the late Lutrill Payne Jr., the late Ralph Payne Sr. and Carolyn Payne White, as well as the grandmother of seven, great-grandmother to 11 and great-great-grandmother to two and was married to Lutrill Payne Sr. Dec. 29, 1939.
They were blessed with 59 years of marriage. Although her husband, Lutrill Payne Sr., was the first African-American to attend Louisiana State University Graduate School in 1951, she too is an education pioneer and one of the earliest African-American graduates of Louisiana State University. In 2012, Pearl Payne donated a scrapbook to LSU, which documented his experiences with gaining acceptance and attending LSU. The scrapbook is now housed in the LSU Library. In 2015, Lutrill Payne Sr. was posthumously awarded a medal of honor by Louisiana State University for his efforts in desegregating the school and his wife accepted the award in Baton Rouge in his honor. Out of town guests attending included family and friends from: Fredericksburg ,Va.; Charlottesville, Va; Great Mills, Md.; Atlanta, Ga.; Waco, Texas; Jackson, Miss.,; Antioch, Tenn.; Houston; Hooks, Texas; Denver, Colo.,; Pine Bluff, Ark.; as well as Grambling, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, and Natchitoches.
Provided by Carolyn Payne White