Decades before Prince George’s County had a plethora of African-American leaders from affluent enclaves, Geneva Mays was working hard to organize a local chapter of Jack & Jill of America, a mother’s organization that was dedicated to helping Black children believe that anything is possible.
Fittingly, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks would be among the influential women to pay their final respects to Mays, who died May 1 at the age of 83.
Mays was eulogized Thursday, May 16 at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest as a pioneering mother and civil rights activist who dedicated her life for the advancement of generations of children.
“What an amazing woman she was, historic in many ways,” Alsobrooks said. “She was a person who inspired me and so many of the younger women. She has a spirit that couldn’t be fatigued. I loved her focus and commitment. She was very inspirational. Her body couldn’t do what she wanted, but her mind never failed.”
During the 1963 March on Washington, Mays was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as a field marshal for the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his speech, and she personally heard Mahalia Jackson say, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
In 1974, Mays was a charter member and first president of the Prince George’s County chapter of Jack & Jill of America, an organization of mothers advocating for rights and privileges of Black children. The group fought for fair treatment and access to places once deemed off-limits to Blacks, such as the Glen Echo amusement park.
Kimberly Hulsey, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of Jack & Jill, said Mays was truly a beacon as a working mother.
“When I have my tired days, I can still press forward,” Hulsey said. “She created a legacy that I can follow in her footsteps and I simply will not let her down.”
Born Geneva Wise in New York City on March 17, 1936, she attended elementary school in the city before her family moved to North Carolina, where she finished high school in Asheville.
Mays served for more than 20 years in the U.S. Department of Transportation as manager of its equal-employment opportunity division. At one point, she worked in the Office of Civil Rights, where she was known for her writing skills.
When integration came and communities across the D.C. area opened, Mays continued to push for social change, whether it was as an EEO officer at the U.S. Department of Treasury or as a charter member of the Prince George’s County Chapter of Links, Inc. established in 1979.
Mays was also a board member of the Coalition for African Americans in Performing Arts and a volunteer in the Prince George’s County Public Schools. In 2010, the Geneva Mays Merit Scholarship was established in her name.
Donna Graves, president of the Prince George’s County Chapter of Links, said Mays lived up to the virtues of her Friendship and Service organization and was “a servant” regardless of what she was doing.
Rev. Wallace Charles Smith of Shiloh Baptist Church, where Mays was a member for more than 30 years, compared her during his eulogy to the Prophetess Deborah in the Old Testament.
“[Mays] was a leader,” Smith said. “She was strong in her convictions and she showed the world with Deborah’s style of leadership.”
Mays is survived by her two sons, Paul Eric and Jon William, and their wives Germaine and Kendra, respectively, five grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one sister-in-law.