Elnora Lofton Suggs was a woman of faith and fierce determination. That’s what her son Donald M. Suggs, publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American and president of the St. Louis American Foundation, remembers most. Mrs. Suggs passed away on Thursday, August 8. She was 106 years old.
“I-R-O-N,” Suggs spelled out when describing the willfulness of his “Mother Dear.” “I can only imagine the type of life she would have lived had she come along in a different time.”
She was a black woman born in the Jim Crow South seven years before women had the right to vote. Systemic racism and patriarchy were meant to hold her back, but her resolve and fortitude did not go to waste. Quite the contrary. She poured those most redeeming qualities into her family – and her faith.
Elnora Lofton Suggs was born to Berry and Frances Lofton born on April 16, 1913, in Mountpelier, Mississippi. One of six children, the family was among the first wave of Southern blacks to participate in what later became known as The Great Migration.
After a brief period in Arkansas, the family moved to East Chicago, Indiana, where Mrs. Suggs was educated in the East Chicago Public School System – and met her future husband Morris G. Suggs.
“I interviewed my grandfather and grandmother when I was a freshman in college,” her granddaughter Dawn Suggs said. “I vividly remember my grandfather telling me that he was really taken with my grandmother when he met her because she had such a great mind.”
Dawn recalled how her grandfather gave the biggest smile she had ever seen him give when describing what drew him to Mrs. Suggs.
“He stretched his arms out wide and stomped his feet in emphasis of how smitten he was with her after their first conversation,” Dawn said. “He mentioned that she was a good-looking woman, but he was really bowled over by her intellect – which was most important to him – as well as the way she handled herself and expressed her ideas.”
The couple wed in 1930 and remained happily married for the rest of his life: 58 years. Out of their union came three children, Donald, Loretta and Walter.
Mrs. Suggs was a homemaker and life-long member at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in East Chicago, Indiana. She committed herself to service and worship as a faithful missionary, Sunday School teacher and a member of the Mothers Board.
Her only daughter, Loretta Johnson, and son-in-law, John Johnson, cared for her until the very end. Mrs. Suggs lived with them for years until she went to live at The Villa at South Holland care facility in recent years.
The closeness of the Suggs family was especially evident when Donald would make one of his regular trips from St. Louis to East Chicago, and later to Harvey and South Holland, Illinois. She cherished those visits with her family.
“No one had a greater influence on me than my mother,” Donald said. “She will live on, as will all of the things she taught us over many years, in our hearts. She will always be there.”
Mrs. Suggs was also known for her generosity. She supported missions (especially in Haiti) and her church for many years, always helping those in need.
Dawn will particularly miss her grandmother’s way with words and the sound of her voice – which she said was so melodic that it was almost as if she were singing.
“She always sounded like a poet to me,” Dawn said. “Especially when she spoke with intensity and emotion about her family, or her love for the Lord.”
Mrs. Suggs is survived by one son, Donald M. Suggs; one daughter, Loretta Johnson (John) and a special son, Mr. Willie Parkman; seven grandchildren, Dr. Kenneth Johnson, Denise Sarpy, Danette Culver (Glenn), Dawn Suggs, Dina Suggs, Stephanie Wideman (Ronald), Stephen Johnson (Heidi), twelve great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren. She also leaves behind multiple nieces and nephews.
Her husband Mr. Morris G. Suggs, her son Walter Suggs and grandsons, Donald Suggs Jr. and Kevin Johnson, preceded her in death.