Pueblo County, Colorado
Contributed by Jean, Gracie, Phyllis and Karen.
Pueblo Chieftain 2-14-1993 – For Jennie, Pueblo Life is Busy and Full – Jennie Madison, 95, recalls her life in Pueblo. Jennie Biffle was only 9 years old when her parents died a month apart in their tiny rural Tennessee town of Erin. So it was a mighty big change in her young life when her father's brother, Primus Biffle of Pueblo, sent for little Jennie, her sister and three brothers. "My father had asked him to take care of us if anything ever happened to him," she said. But Primus Biffle was a bachelor, working at the old Corwin Hospital and living there too. Though he loved the children and wanted them near, he couldn't take care of them by himself. So Jennie and her siblings went to the Lincoln Home, an orphanage and one-time old people's home for "colored people." But that was a long time ago. Today, she is Jennie Madison, 95 years old, widowed for more than 20 years and, according to members of the Eighth Street Baptist Church, "the best cook in the county." "I'd never been to school in my life 'til I was 9 years old," she said last week, comfortably cushioned in her favorite chair inside her apartment at Mineral Palace Towers. She remembers beginning school here at Riverside School, going through eighth grade at Hinsdale and "maybe a month or two" at Central High. But mostly she remembers working in other people's homes – first, taking care of babies, then as cook and housekeeper as well. "Oh, they put us out to work whenever somebody needed us to take care of babies," while she was still at the orphanage, Mrs. Madison remembered. She also spent six years working at the old Jones Drug Store in the Thatcher Building. "I baked pies and cakes and sometimes cooked for people outside. They'd have me baking everything." Apple pies were daily fare along with a variety of others as needed, from lemon to berry. As for herself, she still likes burnt sugar cake best. Mrs. Madison met her late husband, A.J., on the streetcar one day. He was working at CF&I. "He asked me if I was any relation to the Maloneys; I was working for the Holmes of the hardware store at the time," she said, the names falling from her lips as if the memories were days rather than decades old. "I told him who I was and he said he knew the Biffle boys, my brothers." (One brother is still living, retired Denver fire department captain Nathan Biffle.) The chance conversation blossomed into a romance and they married. But they had one small problem. Mr. Madison – she always calls him Mr. Madison – was a deacon at Eighth Street Baptist, but she was a Methodist and attended St. John's right across the street. "Because he was deacon, he always went early and I stayed home and saw to things, then I went to my own church. We would meet afterward." Finally, though, there were so many additional activities at Eighth Street that Deacon Madison was involved in, she switched churches. "I decided `oh, well,' it's all one God and one heaven." That was about 1942, and she's been a faithful member ever since, generous with her pies and cakes at all kinds of church functions until lately, when she hasn't been able to manage so well. A woman comes in daily to help with housework and meals. Two framed pictures in her bedroom give a clue to the attractive young woman of her youth, a girl who loved to dance and who softly waved her hair in the flapper fashion of the day. She doesn't much want to talk about "how things were" for black people in her younger days. But her eyes flash alternately with anger and delight as she recalls the time a 5-year-old little girl defended her. It was before she met Mr. Madison. She worked for some six years in Canon City for Roy and Ruth Thomas, as housekeeper, cook and caretaker of their daughter, Eleanor. The two became very close. Eleanor, 5 years old, had been playing with neighborhood children. When she came home, Mrs. Madison got her ready for bed, then said "Let's say a prayer. She said, `I don't want to say a prayer 'cause I'm mad at God.' I asked why and she said 'What did God do to make you a nigger?' It seems that one of the children had a black doll and had told Eleanor it was "just like your Jennie. "Eleanor had never heard the word before, but knew she didn't like it and told the other youngsters so in no uncertain terms. "I told her God made everybody and I don't know why everybody makes so much about differences. Everybody is descended from Adam and Eve." Mrs. Madison still hears from Eleanor, who lives in Los Angeles. She may not like to talk about civil rights changes, but walk through her apartment and you'll see two mounted certificates of membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People proudly displayed over her bureau. Above the dining table hangs a "Presidents Plate," with the pictures of all the U.S. presidents through John F. Kennedy.
And mounted in an honor spot over the sideboard is the plaque presented to her by the Black History Researchers of the Pueblo Library District as "Outstanding Woman of 1992." That was the year the group presented its program on Lincoln Home.
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