By Cara Zarecor
This past Saturday I had the honor of meeting and sitting down with one of Kenton’s rarest jewels, Mrs. Sarah Skinner, who was recently chosen to lead the White Squirrel Festival Fourth of July Parade as the honored grand marshal.
Sarah Elizabeth Warren Skinner was born to Eck and Estella Warren in 1935. She was the second of nine children: four boys and five girls. Her grandfather, Lewis Warren, had migrated from Mississippi to Joe Penn’s farm, which was located east of Kenton. Penn was friends with Sam Young, who gave Warren assurance that he would be able to stay on the Penn farm as a sharecropper, so he sent for his wife, Georgia, and their children.
Skinner spent her childhood moving all around the area due to her father’s work. She started elementary school in Kenton, then by the time she was in fourth grade she attended Dyer Rosenwald School. She graduated Rosenwald High School in Trenton in 1954 as valedictorian of her class and received several scholarships.
Skinner wanted badly to attend college in Nashville after high school, but her father was strict. The South was still segregated, and she’d only ever been to Nashville one time at that point in her life. She married instead and gave birth to three sons: Michael, Rodney and Anthony Alford. Anthony passed away just this past March.
In 1965, Skinner started working for Rutherford Garment Company, which later changed its name to Kellwood, just shortly after the company began hiring Black people. She loved working for the company and met wonderful people there, she said. She was promoted as a supervisor there and retired in 1998.
In 1971, Skinner married her lifelong friend, James Skinner, who worked in law enforcement. The two had lived in the Goodluck community and were childhood friends, and they also attended high school together. She and James had one child, Michelle, who holds a doctorate in pharmacy and works for Novo Nordisk Pharmaceutical in Nolansville.
Throughout the years and even now, Skinner has played crucial roles in her church and her community. Besides serving as church secretary for the past 20 years at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Kenton, she also is an active member of the choir. Skinner has served on the Gibson County General Hospital Advisory Board, Gibson County Library Board, Gibson County Food Pantry Board of Trenton and is still a member of the Area Office on Aging in Bradford. Before Kenton lost its high school, Skinner worked hard as an advocate to try to save it.
She is currently a member of Kenton Women’s Club and is also finishing out the term of Dolores Agee as one of the city’s alderpersons. Skinner was the best fit for the city, since she’d already served on their city board for 30 years beginning in 1987, and also served as vice mayor for one term.
“There were so many things in which Black people were not represented and I wanted to not only be that representative, but to be a part and help do what I could for everybody,” Skinner said. “Also, I’ve always had a desire to go to college and since I couldn’t, I wanted to get out there and learn all I could so I could teach my children to be better.”
I asked Mrs. Skinner if we could talk about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and she gracefully imparted her thoughts and feelings to me. She truly feels that all lives matter but wants everyone to know how much Black mothers worry about their children every time they leave the house because not all people in authority have regard for the lives of Black children.
Continuing the BLM discussion, Skinner reflected on having lived through the Civil Rights Movement. She said that even though schools were segregated when she grew up, Black and white children around this area still played peacefully with one another. When the schools integrated in Kenton, Skinner’s three sons were scared, but she told them, “Don’t be afraid. We are all the same inside, just differently colored on the outside.”
She always tried to instill confidence in her children.
Skinner loves Kenton dearly and is proud that it’s a different kind of place where Blacks and whites never seem to have any trouble. She commended former Kenton High School Principal Randy Pitts and all the wonderful teachers at Kenton High School during integration, who she said treated all the Black students just as well as the white students. After youngest child Michelle graduated, however, Skinner told her daughter she’d have to “be twice as smart and work twice as hard” because of her color.
Skinner said that she was honored and surprised when White Squirrel Festival Committee members Nathan and Demetria Spencer came to her door to tell her she’d been chosen as this year’s grand marshal. As a citizen of Kenton myself, however, I will attest to the fact that we are far more honored and made better by her.
After a small breakfast celebration July Fourth at Kenton City Hall, Skinner was paraded down Poplar Street in a car provided by Kenton Chevrolet.