A century ago, on Sept. 24, Ella Breedlove Speed was born in Apalachicola and raised on the corner of 12th Street and Avenue J.
Just a few blocks away at 183 13th Street, a few years ago renamed in honor of her late husband, she sat, masked in per portico, waving as a rolling parade of cars and golf carts looped in front of her home Saturday morning.
The weather was glorious, as was the moment, 100 years of life for a symbol of devoted faith, community spirit, and now, still spritely and energetic, the oldest living citizen of city, if not the county.
In a proclamation issued by Mayor Kevin Begos, it is noted that Speed graduated from Dunbar High School (not Quinn, as it the all-Black school would later be known), and was married to longtime education Willie Speed for 68 years, in a union to which four children were born, Willie Speed Jr., Allyson Speed, Oryan Speed and Gayle Speed Ringo, which led to eight grandchildren and three great- grandchildren.
Members of the Speed family, wearing masks and exercising social distancing, helped welcome the morning parade, and receive flowers, balloons and gifts and returning the favor with cupcakes.
“Ella Breedlove Speed poured her heart into not just her family, but the whole community, and was tireless in helping those in need,” reads the mayor’s proclamation. “(She) was a tremendous force in the community, but also humble, loving, kind, and truly devoted, using her life to help other people find peace.”
For more than two decades, Speed worked for the school district as a bookkeeper, and was active in the church her entire life, serving as a missionary in the Holiness Church of the Living God and as an elder and bishop in the Love Center Church here in Apalachicola.
“The city wishes to give recognition to Ella Breedlove Speed for all the contributions she has bestowed on the city, and to congratulate her on her 100th birthday,” reads the proclamation. “(We) take this opportunity to express deep gratitude and appreciation for her service.”
The parade featured police department vehicles and fire trucks as they served as escorts of the lin-up that began in front of the former Apalachicola High School.
In a Zoom celebration later that afternoon, Beverly Scott recalled what so many others shared, about how Speed’s commitment helped steer them in the right direction.
“You had to come over and ask grandmother to let us come to the Holiness Church. You convinced my momma to let us go.
“We had a rich history there. I’ve been blessed by the Speed family,” she said. “You always had a smile. I love you and my sisters love you. You are a demonstration what a godly woman should be.”
Kittarah Mitchell offered that “you are truly a blessing. I love you more than words can describe, you are the epitome of living history and legacy.”
Great niece Regina Smith shared word online as well. “I thank you for the legacy she has. I thank you for the mantle of prayer,” she said. “This a great day, this is a day that’s been recorded in heaven.”
Speed was effervescent in her reactions to all the well-wishing she received.
“Everybody, I thank you so much. I’ve had a beautiful day,” she said.
There was no question that Speed’s faculties are still sharp, as she recalled by name, relation and connection the many guests online.
“Through the years, I have loved people who always visited me and came to see me,” she said, recalling one person who sent her food from St. George Island.
“They sent it to this old lady; I don’t forget those things,” she said. “You all continue to pray for me. You pray, I pray, we pray.
“The same thing He’ll do for me he’ll do it for you,” Speed said. “Glory and thank you God, for all He’s done for me. I thank God for saving me, hallelujah.
“Thank you all,” she said. “You be cool.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Celebrating with centenarian Speed