108-year-old great-granddaughter of slaves receives state award for lifetime of service

(Source: Wilson Family)
(Source: Wilson Family)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - At 108 years old, Donella Wilson is the newest recipient of the Order of the Palmetto.

Governor Henry McMaster delivered the award to Ms. Wilson on Wednesday in her downtown Columbia home. The governor awards citizens of South Carolina who have exhibited extraordinary lifetime service in their communities.

Wilson is a longtime educator and community activist.

"Her grandparents and great-grandparents, all of them would be very proud of something like this," said Jackie Whitmire, Ms. Wilson's grandnephew. "You know your little girl grew up on a plantation and now the governor is at your house to give you the Order of the Palmetto, that's a very powerful statement."

Donella Wilson grew up on Lang Syne Plantation in Fort Motte, where her great-grandparents were slaves. She taught herself to read, before becoming a teacher after graduating from Allen University.

She taught in rural South Carolina counties for years, and she hasn't missed voting in an election since 1947. She's a staunch advocate for organizations like the NAACP and the Eastern Star.

"All these organizations are organizations that have lifted up their people," Whitmire said. "Lifting up people in the community. Giving them light and giving them empowerment."

According to Wilson's oldest daughter, 82-year-old Shirley Wilson-Clinton, empowerment is something her mother passed along to her kids and grandchildren, too.

"She always told us to use the golden rule as a measuring stick," she said. "These things can be done with determination."

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