The wings of a worker bee stilled
There is an unusual quiet in the air as the wings of one of Nashville’s busiest “worker bees” has been stilled. She worked tirelessly to help Nashville’s many needy children. Frankie Blakely, born Frankie Mae Butler on March 28, 1932 as the fifth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee Butler and Rosie Lee Matthews of Bolivar, Tennessee.
Frankie accepted Christ early in her life and as a willing vessel made providing service to others as her mission.
She attended Bethlehem Elementary School in Bolivar, Tennessee and later enter Central High School in Alamo, Tennessee, where she graduated in 1951.
The unpredictable life of sharecropping—moving from shack to shack and often missing school to work in the fields did little to deter Frankie’s determination to get a college education and serve the Lord. She juggled the demands of sharecropping, big sister duties, band, basketball and track while attending high school.
She was a leader from the onset, showing early promise and it was only fitting that she was awarded a 4H scholarship to attend Tennessee A & I now Tennessee State University. Frankie continued to lead an active lifestyle while in college. She became a key member of the Tiger Belles championship team. She became a star on the relay teams.
This Belle became active in the Civil Rights Movement beginning in the late 50s and lasting through the early 60s, which led to the passing of key Civil Rights Acts in 1964.
She was also a Freedom Rider from Nashville to Birmingham and to Mississippi. Her participation in the Freedom Rides set the pace for her to implement the 1974 transaction analysis to explore racial attitudes and got the national Conference of Christians and Jews, Inc to sponsor it.
After graduation from TSU, she settled in Nashville and married Bill Blakely. One of the chief complaints that led to their marital separation was that she kept bringing home people who were homeless. He came to understand however that this was just a part of her “call” and mission.
Her son Keith Blakely was the first of many special needs children that she would care for at a time when few were willing to take on the demands of children with special special needs. “Because of her love and generosity,” said her nephew, Tony Carter, “there are not many people in the North Nashville area whose lives she did not touch.”
Although she gave tirelessly of her time and resources to anyone, the primary focus of her work was children. She believed firmly however that “one can only help the child by helping the family unit of which that child is a part.” Therefore, through God and Frankie’s faith in him, she helped anyone who needed her help by implementing programs to clothe and feed the hungry in her community and the surrounding communities.
Even as she was involved with the various “helping” activities, this Belle was the first African American to graduate from Vanderbilt University’s first MBA program in the early 70s. At that time she sported a short, clean-cut Afro hair-cut; and was not allowed to march because she would not “straighten her hair.”
It is written that “Service is the means by which mankind leaves the footprint in the sands of time.”
These words seem to have been stamped in the mind, heart and soul of one Frankie Blakely. Frankie believed in approaching human problems in a comprehensive manner. In 1974 she did a transaction analysis to explore racial attitudes; and got the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Inc to sponsor it. She also implemented the Jesus is Lord Outreach Ministries/Bread Ministry in conjunction with the Kroger grocery chain. This program also supports a gas station, some neighborhood stores and a church. Anyone who knew Frankie could understand the remark made by a family member, “that if Frankie didn’t go to heaven, aint’t no need of me trying.”
Many felt she was too gracious, but the family knew that this earth was her ministry. Her church had no walls, no benches. She truly lived “the word” everyday. How she, one woman of modest means, could help so many people in this day and time is truly amazing. “Farewell, we know God is with you.”
Loretta Floyd is one of the nieces of Frankie Butler Blakely.