Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden was born into enslavement in Black Mountain, North Carolina. She was 7 years old when she was freed.

Mary Stepp Burnette Hayden, about 1942, with her granddaughter, Mary Othella Burnette, and two of Hayden’s great-grandchildren. Courtesy of Mary O. Burnette.

Mary would go on to become a midwife in the Appalachian town, a practice she learned from her mother, who was sold to a plantation in Black Mountain at the age of 13 to treat sick or injured enslaved people. 

Mary died at the age of 98, at the dawn of the civil rights era. 

In her lifetime, she delivered several hundred babies… including her own grandchildren.

One of them, Mary Othella Burnette, came to StoryCorps with her daughter, Debora Hamilton Palmer, to honor the family matriarch.

Mary Othella Burnette and Debora Hamilton Palmer in 2015, Michigan. Courtesy of Mary O. Burnette.


Top Photo: Mary Othella Burnette and Debora Hamilton Palmer at their StoryCorps interview in Saint Clair Shores, MI, and Sparks, NV, on Feb. 6, 2022. By StoryCorps.

Originally aired February 18, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.