‘Until God Calls Me Home’: Four Black Women Turn 100 Within Mere Weeks of One Another, Credit Faith for Holding Their Friendship Together

Lifelong Friends

Bernice Underwood is 99 years young, and she does the electric slide better than most people half her age.

“I like fruit, vegetables, and greens, anything,” said Underwood.

Fit, fabulous and fierce, Underwood is set to turn 100 in a few weeks on July 23.

Now meet her best friends – Gladys Butler and Ruth Hammett. They’re already 100 and have been best friends for about 94 years.

“We’ve known each other all our lives, and we’ve been close all our lives,” Underwood said.

When There Were Horses and Wagons

They grew up in Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s.

“Times have really changed ’cause when I was younger, there were horses and wagons,” said Butler. “We didn’t have bathrooms. We didn’t have telephones.”

The glue that has held their friendship together? Their faith.

“That’s the way we live and her parents and all of our parents were friends. Church people. Church-going people, and that kept us united together,” said Leona Barnes.

Barnes was the fourth member of the group. She passed away in May – just two months from her 100th birthday.  Barnes was a lively, witty woman with a memory as sharp as a tack.

“All of our parents were friends, church-going people,” said Barnes. “And that kept us united together…. We had neighbors that looked out for one another. If you were sick, they would reach across the fence and give you soup.”

Underwood, Butler and Hammett attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church as children. Barnes would join them in the evenings after homework and chores.

“I would have been a member of Zion had my mother let me attend,” said Barnes. “She said my place was at Mt. Moriah and that’s where I stayed.”

In those days, Sunday was a day of rest and worship.

“We used to play dodge ball, jacks — couldn’t play them on Sunday,” said Underwood. “Our parents said Sunday was a holy day. We played hopscotch, rope.”

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Robin MazyckCharlene Aaron