Marie Wilkinson was a lifetime social and civil rights activist who fought against poverty, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, and injustice. Marie founded the Aurora, IL Food Pantry in the 1950’s after a near-death experience that caused her to make a personal commitment to helping the less fortunate.
Driven by a new life purpose, Wilkinson began giving out bags of food to those in need from her bungalow on View Street. She was known to invite complete strangers into her home for meals and help them solve their problems, and she believed strongly that “people needed to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” recalls her daughter Sheila Scott-Wilkinson.
“Her God gave her a second chance at life and she made good with her promise to always serve the less fortunate,” — Sheila Scott-Wilkinson.
Wilkinson recruited friends and neighbors to help, and soon she had a started a soup kitchen and food pantry. Today, the Pantry continues to serve the community.
“She doesn’t like to see anybody hurting for anything,” said Rose Marshall, who has worked for decades at the Food Pantry Wilkinson started.
“She has a love for people, and her love just spreads through everybody else.” —Rose Marshall.
Community Activist and Aurora, IL Legend
Marie Wilkinson has been a well know name throughout the Aurora area. If you mention her name, everyone has input on how she has impacted their lives. Mrs. Wilkinson has strengthened her community through her activism and leadership as an advocate for human and civil rights in Aurora. Her legacy continues as a beacon of light for women, children, and minorities striving to improve their quality of life.
Education and Marriage
Born Marie LeBeau in the French Quarter of New Orleans. She was raised a devout Catholic and studied business at the former Straight University (now Dillard University). She visited Chicago at the age of 20 and met her future husband, Charles on a blind date. She moved to the State of Illinois in 1927 for good and married Charles shortly after in 1930. They had two wonderful children, Shelia Scott-Wilkinson and Donald Wilkinson. More than 60 years of volunteerism and prayer kept them bonded in faith and community before Charles passed away.
Marie’s House a Place of Welcome
Mr. & Mrs. Wilkinson moved into a modest two level home on Aurora’s North View Street, now bearing Mrs. Wilkinson’s name. The home was simply known as Marie’s house, where the poor, hungry, the displaced, the unemployed, the sick, and the mistreated were welcomed. Many have wandered to Marie’s place and they always found the door open. Mr. & Mrs. Wilkinson were always quick to give away their last pennies to a person in need.
“God chose me not to sit around, but to help people. As long as I’m living on this earth, I’m going to keep doing what I have to do.” — Marie Wilkinson
She also established college funds for underprivileged children and inclusion guidelines for the disabled.
Victory in Discrimination Suit
In the late 1940′s when Mrs. Wilkinson was refused seating at Hart’s Drive-In, because she was African American, she won her case before the State Appellate Court.
Aurora Human Relations Commission
Through the Human Relations Commission that she founded in 1964, she is credited with the first Fair Housing Ordinance in Illinois. She served for over 30 years on the Aurora Human Relations Commission and worked to implement local equal rights and program dealing with drug abuse, lead poisoning, and other health issues.
Child Development Center Established
Thirty years before the trend, Mrs. Wilkinson realized the many needs of single mothers. In the 1970′s, Mrs. Wilkinson raised $46,000 for a child-care center in Aurora. The Marie Wilkinson Child Development Center, which thrives today after 40 plus years.
In 1999, Mrs. Wilkinson was presented the Service to God and Fellow Man Award from the Aurora Kiwanis Club. In October 2002, Mrs. Wilkinson was honored with the Catholic Church’s highest honor for missionary work in America, the Lumen Christi Award, meaning Light of Christ.
Mrs. Wilkinson turned 100 in May of 2009 in which many people of all walks of life joined in her birthday celebration to wish her many thanks for all of her hard work and accomplishments over the past years in the Aurora community.
Wilkinson Biographical Timeline
From Gentle Spirit, the Biography of Marie Wilkinson
(compiled by Kathy Snow)
Sources: The Beacon News, August 14, 2010