By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published (via Facebook) on November 26, 2017; Republished on May 23, 2018
In June 2015, I traveled from Atlanta to the family home of my girlfriend Angela Leslie on Dawes Road in Mobile County, Alabama. It was my first trip to the place where she was raised.
Angela is a brilliant and beautiful woman whose intellectual acumen is exceeded only by her amicable personality. While we had talked extensively about her childhood and family, I did not fully understand how special her parents were until I arrived at my destination on Dawes Road.
Angela was there to greet me at the family home where her parents, Mary and Juderson Leslie, raised their eleven children. The elegant home sits off of Dawes Road on a scenic, multi-acre site that is adjacent to their cousin’s 10-acre horse farm. Juderson, a local housing contractor, built this immaculate, five-bedroom home for his family with his own hands in 1964. The home is just as beautiful and structurally sound today as it was when Juderson, a military veteran, built it in the small town of Dawes, Alabama five decades ago.
Mary, a homemaker, and Juderson groomed all eleven of their children in this home to become successful, responsible, and caring members of society. Even though Mary and Juderson never progressed beyond the tenth grade in their formal education, they pushed educational excellence within their family. They also stressed the importance of God in their daily lives.
The Leslie’s oldest child, Juderson Leslie, Jr., joined the military after high school graduation and served with distinction in the Air Force for 26 years.
Beverly, the Leslie’s second child, worked in my father’s office when he was president of Alabama State University and she was an ASU student. Beverly and her husband (Bill Truss) enjoyed long and highly successful careers in corporate America.
Merion, the Leslie’s third child, graduated from the University of South Alabama (“USA”) and worked for the State of Alabama for many years. Today, Merion and her husband (Dr. M. Allam Baaheth) operate an innovative environmental research and development laboratory in Mobile.
Delbra is the fourth child of Mary and Juderson. She is a prominent Dallas, Texas attorney and former administrative law judge.
Doris, the couple’s fifth child, received her Bachelors and Masters degrees from USA. She is a distinguished educator at a magnet school in the Mobile County School System. Her husband (Jonathan Yates) is a prominent minister in Mobile.
Kelly is the Leslie’s sixth child. After attending Bishop State Junior College, Kelly became a quality control manager for a large manufacturing company on the West coast. Her husband (Jeff McCondichie) works for the City of Mobile and is also a minister.
Annease is the seventh child. She obtained her undergraduate degree from California State University in San Bernardino and a Masters from USA. Today, Annease and her husband (David Petway) run several successful businesses in Mobile.
Angela is the couple’s eighth child. She graduated from Talladega College with a degree in Business Administration and Eastern Michigan University with a Master degree in Logistics and Leadership. She works for the U.S. Department of Defense as a logistics manager for a major military command, at home and abroad.
Cassius, the Leslie’s ninth child, graduated from Bishop State Junior College. He is a residential contractor in Mobile County. Like his father, Cassius built his family’s spacious home not too far from the Leslie family home on Dawes Road. His wife (Diedrel) is a teacher in the Mobile County School System.
Machelle is the Leslie’s tenth child. She received her undergraduate degree from Stillman College and her Masters degree from The University of Alabama. Machelle has held a number of management jobs in government and private industry.
The Leslie’s youngest child is Tyra. Like Angela, Tyra received her undergraduate degree from Talladega College. Today, Tyra works as an eligibility specialist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The college-age children of the eleven Leslie siblings have also achieved highly successful careers. They are engineers, lawyers, corporate executives, educators, entrepreneurs, government employees, insurance and finance executives, and post-doctoral interns.
Mary and Juderson Leslie produced and raised eleven children who have favorably impacted the quality of life for thousands of Americans. They did it quietly, with dignity and class, and with a deep and abiding faith in God.
Mary Leslie, the matriarch of the Leslie family, died of cancer in 2003. She lived long enough to see each one of her children achieve remarkable personal and professional success in life.
Juderson, whose skilled hands, strong work ethic, keen mind, entrepreneurial spirit, and devotion to his family provided the household income necessary to feed, clothed, house, and educate his eleven children, is 91-years-old today. In 2008, Juderson married his second wife Mattie. He still rides his tractors, plants and harvests the fruits and vegetables in his gardens, and works in the shop located on the home property.
What I found at the Leslie home on Dawes Road was a remarkable incubator for the development of class and character for a little-known but highly successful and truly inspirational African American family. Everything Mary and Juderson Leslie accomplished with their family was achieved against the backdrop of Alabama’s difficult racial environment of the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s. Yet, they, along with their eleven children, overcame it all.
PHOTO: The Leslie family portrait, circa 1988. Mary Leslie (standing third from the left) and Juderson Leslie (standing third from the right) raised eleven highly successful children.
PHOTO: Angela Leslie (in the photo below with Donald V. Watkins) is the eight child of Mary and Juderson Leslie. She is super-smart and plays a vital role in America's national security.