Julia King McFarland, 1923–2021

JuliaJulia King McFarland was a mother of nine and a matriarch in every sense of the word. Nurturing the members of her large family, doing herself what many parents today might outsource, she created waves of opportunities for everyone she loved.

A resident of Natchez, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, Julia died September 15 of complications from COVID-19 at her family’s home in New Orleans. She was 98.

She was born Julia King in Sibley, Mississippi, on April 27, 1923, to the late Jonas “Papa Jake” Jake King and Mary Jane “Mama Sissy” Goings King. She was the sixth of eleven children and helped raise her youngest sister, perhaps the genesis of her being a mother to all as she was known most of her life.

In her early twenties she married her childhood friend, the late Reverend Dr. Clifton McFarland Sr., and together they had nine children.

Though, like many African Americans of her generation, she didn’t have a formal education beyond primary school, family members agree that she was a domestic engineer with a triple degree in finance, sociology, and theology—her passions being God, her family, and community. She loved being needed, and she was there not out of obligation but because she wanted to be.

Julia emphasized education to the children in her life (it was mandatory) and commonsense, admonishing that there were plenty of educated fools out there. She never missed a graduation or a chance to show how proud she was. Her support for education extended beyond her children to grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and the broader community. She often housed college students, including young women who attended Natchez College.

She accepted Christ in the 1950s and was baptized in a small creek in Sibley, Mississippi, with her children and extended family and community present. By 1965, Julia and her family relocated to New Orleans. She eventually joined First Zion Baptist Church and was a dedicated member of the Deaconess Board for more than thirty years. She was later honored as the “Mother of the Church.” Though not a showy person, she maintained elegance and grace, wearing white suits, a white hat with lace and rhinestones, and pristine white shoes. There was no guarantee how long the church services would last, but one thing for sure was that she always had mints and candy in her pocketbook—and the children knew it. One grandchild remembers sitting next to her in the service, holding her hands which were remarkably soft, like her heart.

Julia’s dedication to Christ paved the way for dozens in her family and inspired their faith. First Zion became a “family church.” She began her prayers with “Father I stretch my hands to thee, no other help I know.” Those around her instantly felt the power and sincerity in her prayers—felt encouraged when she prayed and could sense God’s presence. She rarely prayed in the open or addressed large audiences, but when she did it was impactful.

As a young woman, she worked at the International House (business club) in New Orleans in their culinary department and managed a home-based beauty salon. She also worked in childcare and opened her home to children after school. She was there to lend an ear, to help with sewing projects, provide tuition assistance, and for endless meal making. Julia served her family as a pillar of strength.

Though she herself started most days with coffee and a banana, you could always find Julia making something delicious in the kitchen. She was known for her stuffed bell peppers, mirlitons, greens, potato salad, cornbread, smothered chicken, german chocolate cake, pound cake, lemon pie, sweet potato pie, and, banana pudding. Julia’s cornbread stuffing was the center of holiday meals, and Julia’s family learned to make it via Zoom during the pandemic. Julia fed everyone—no exception, and everyone LOVED her food. If you were near at dinner time, there was a plate ready for you—whether you had already eaten or not. You couldn’t turn her down and you wouldn’t want to. She served others first before partaking in the meal. In her presence, you could find laughs and candid conversation. Her dishes were a staple at family gatherings, church events, and community celebrations.

Julia enjoyed tending to her garden, which included a pecan tree, peppers, a lemon tree, okra, sugarcane, and the most beautiful rose bushes and lilies. She invited family and neighbors to enjoy. She would also redo upholstery for fun.

Julia managed tight budgets, tracked every penny, understood everything about her money. She managed it so very well that she was never lacking. After Katrina, she remodeled the house where she raised her family in Natchez and purchased an additional property in the community for family—all self-financed. She reunited with Mt. Sinai Baptist Church where she was on the Mother’s Board and upheld her position as the top fundraiser. She consistently raised the most money for the church’s annual homecoming celebration. Many friends and family looked forward to her annual phone call for donations.

True to her name, which means youthful, she remained sharp and energetic. She was proud of the fact that she could live independently at her age, without medication. She loved gameshows and phone calls from family members checking in. She made you feel special.

One of her favorite sayings was “I’m still here.” While Julia has departed earth, she is still here. Her rich legacy of love lives on through her family and community.

Julia was preceded in death by her parents, nine siblings (Willie King, Jessie King, Dora King DeFrance, Laura King Thompson, Bernice King Conner, Jake King Jr., Calvin King, Tom King, and Frances King), three children (James McFarland, Rosie McFarland, and Earnest “Popeye” McFarland), one grandson, and two great-grandchildren.

Julia leaves to cherish her memory her last surviving sibling Mary (Robert) King Dixon and her children who she affectionately named and nicknamed: Clifton “Sonny” (Rita) McFarland Jr., Reverend Dr. Autry “Shorty” (Joe) McFarland Aidoo, Reverend Abraham “Lil Man” McFarland Sr., Elexezine “Ree” (Edmond) McFarland Nodd, Brenda “Cat” (Keith) McFarland Evans, Reverend Jonathan “Johnny” McFarland; sixteen grandchildren; thirty great-grandchildren; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, church members, and neighbors.

There will be a celebration of her life Saturday, September 25, 2021, at Mt Sinai Baptist Church, 1634 US-61 Natchez, MS 39120. West Gate Funeral Home is responsible for the services.

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