Leola Maddox (Photo courtesy of Teaneck High School)

Whenever I spoke at the United African Movement (UAM), it was Leola Maddox who insisted I take the offering. She refused to take no for an answer, believing my time there was important and had to be recognized with some sort of honorarium. Remembering those honorariums and other gifts she gave us, I move to honor Leola, the wife of Alton Maddox, who joined the ancestors on April 23, 2023. Alton defined himself as the “attorney-at-war” and lived up to this title, and Leola was right with him on every step of his activist career.

Leola joined the ancestors in March 2017. She was 71 and a native of Manchester, Georgia. In a statement sent to the Amsterdam News, Alton Maddox said, “The cause of death of Leola W. Maddox is a work-in-progress. The investigation will include a motorcade to and from Meriwether County, Ga. There are multiple crime scenes between New York and Georgia. The death certificate will be published at the end of the investigation.”

Leola was always interested in my books and made sure the latest one was available to be sold at an event. It was only later that I learned of her background and profession as a librarian. She had a long and dedicated interest in the world of books, although I have little else to relate about her early years.

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What we do know is that for 30 years, first at Teaneck High School and then at Thomas Jefferson, she maintained a quiet place to study or a sympathetic ear for the concerns of the students. They were invited to share their homework and other problems as they heard her soothing words and read the multitude of books under her jurisdiction.

“You went in there and it was her space. She kind of made it a home for everybody,” said Angela Taylor, a history teacher at Thomas Jefferson, who worked with Maddox for 20 years. “She was like the heart of our building.” She joined the Teaneck school district in 1987.

Activist and educator, Leola Maddox (second from left) has passed away. (235412)
Leola Maddox (second from left) with Nayaba Arinde (far right) Credit: Bill Moore

To the students and her colleagues, she was known affectionately as “Mama Maddox,” and made everyone feel welcome, former students said.

Co-worker Ellen Wrightfondly remembered Leola: “It was my privilege to work with Mrs. Maddox for many years at Teaneck High School in New Jersey. Leola was a mother in the struggle to many of the African American teachers here, and she was respected by everyone. When she worked at the high school, she was instrumental in the establishment of the African-American Center and our annual Kwanzaa celebration. Mrs. Maddox was never afraid to speak her mind or to stand up for what is right. She was compassionate and strong, tenderhearted and courageous, diminutive and a giant in her own right. We will miss her sagacity, her wit and her passion for learning.”

That same warmth and compassion resonated at UAM meetings, where after introducing the speaker or speakers, she dutifully assumed her position at the door, greeting guests and often escorting them to a seat.

Leola’s death was stunning news to her associates and comrades, and Linda Gillbeaux, presiding officer of the weekly UAM forum at Brooklyn Christian Center on Atlantic Avenue. Alton said, “We intend to write ‘Lee’s death certificate’ and preserve her legacy. This means settling the cause of death.” 

A funeral service was held at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, on April 3, 2017. Dr. Calvin O. Butts officiated over the homegoing services. Roscoe Jenkins Funeral Home, in Newnan, Coweta County, Georgia, prepared the body for ascension. She joined Rev. Alton Maddox, Sr. and his wife, Mrs. N.S. Maddox, in the family plot at Sunshine Cemetery in Newnan, GA. A repast was held at the Clay-Wood Community Center in Newnan.

She is survived by one son, Charles Maddox; two grandchildren, Malaysia and Cee Jay Maddox; two great grandchildren; three brothers; one sister; and several relatives and friends. The remains lay in state an hour before the service. Interment was at Sunset Cemetery, Newnan, GA 30263. 

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