Mary Ethel Hunnicutt, who was part of the historic Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North, and who made the South Fork her home since the 1950s, died two days shy of her 94th birthday on Friday at Southampton Hospital. She was in declining health for the past year.
Born to Wesley Powell and the former Estelle Ridley in Emporia, Va., on Dec. 29, 1919, she attended the Adam Grove Elementary School in Emporia, Va., which ran 1st through 11th grades. She walked to school every day, when she was not working as a sharecropper. Later in life, she was always very proud of being the only one in her family to graduate from school.
She had one brother, Harry Powell, and one sister, Cherry Lou Myrick, and worked with them as a sharecropper in her younger years.
She married William Hunnicutt, who was in the military, but they eventually separated.
Her family had its own field and raised peanuts there, keeping a certain percentage of the money they earned, but turning much of it over to the owners of the land. Her parents are buried in the family cemetery in Emporia.
In the early 1950s, her father came north to Bridgehampton to explore life on the South Fork. “He brought the older grandsons with him,” Sheila Hayes, Mrs. Hunnicutt’s great niece, said Tuesday.
Mrs. Hunnicutt came north, as well, to work for a season. When the extended family regrouped in Virginia that winter, they made the decision to leave their native state for the South Fork. “They loaded up two station wagons. It was a convoy,” Ms. Hayes said.
At first, she worked the potato fields in Water Mill and Bridgehampton as a migrant worker. But, eventually, she found opportunities away from the fields.
“She did a lot of house cleaning,” Jennifer Stephens, another of Mrs. Hunnicutt’s great nieces, said Tuesday. “She was an entrepreneur, back in the day. She worked for the Strong family, then for Sag Harbor Industries.”
While she never had children, “We were all her children,” Ms. Hayes said, about Mrs. Hunnicutt’s nieces and nephews and their descendants.
Never a homeowner, she moved, over the years, living in Bridgehampton and Water Mill. She always had a cat or a dog, her great nieces recalled. “She loved animals,” Ms. Stephens said.
She enjoyed reading from the Bible, as well as the newspapers. She also loved playing cards.
She was particularly proud of being a founding member of the Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton, going all the way back to its early meetings at St. Matthew’s Chapel on Three Mile Harbor Road. She was part of the “Kitchen Crew,” volunteers that would prepare the food for church fund-raisers.
She lived the last few years of her life at the Windmill Apartments in East Hampton.
Visiting hours are today from noon to 1 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church on Spinner Lane in East Hampton, with a service to follow immediately after. Mrs. Hunnicutt will be buried at Cedar Lawn Cemetery in East Hampton.
The family has suggested donations to the Dominican Sisters Family Health Services, 103 West Montauk Highway, Hampton Bays 11946.