Remembering Rachel
Treasured Memories of Family & Friends

We are always looking to add more wonderful memories of our beloved Mae Rachel so if you have a memory you'd like to share or want to contact us about this site, email Info@Rachel-Freeman.com. We hope you catch a glimpse of this remarkable woman from a few of our treasured memories.

Rachel was the personification of the phrase “an iron fist in a velvet glove”.  She possessed a quiet strength that belied her delicate features.

Rachel’s husband, Bill, worked long hours and although she had five children and a house to care for, she often felt adrift.  Something within her was calling for more. She made a decision that the next time she had an opportunity to do something, no matter how scared or nervous she might be, she would do it to the best of her ability. One day, Willinor Eaton invited her to attend a YWCA meeting with her….. AND SO IT BEGAN …A life of service to her community and the youth of New Hanover County was launched. That YWCA meeting led to work on YW committees, the YW board and eventually, president of the board. From this position, she became very involved in many other community
agencies, boards and projects, culminating in her elected position on the New Hanover County school board.
Madeline & Evelyn

When Rachel’s daughter, Lisa, was a little girl Rachel had to lay down often because did not have much energy.

She would always try to take care of others even though she was not feeling up to par herself and did not want anyone to do things for her.  She carried her burdens on her own shoulders

Some days she would be run down and have trouble with her eyes.  When her daughter Sharon was little (in1964 or 65), we went to Atlanta to her sister Jeanette's house.  Rachel was doing too much getting the children ready for the trip and took sick. We had to soak her in the bathtub & help get her in and out. The next day her husband took the kids to Six Flags; then her sister and I got a wheelchair & took her shopping. Although her Joints were hurting and she was in a wheelchair, she refused to be sidelined.  The children were scared that she might die.

This was before school board.

I met Rachel in the 7th grade (Junior High).  At an early age after a stay in a tuberculosis hospital ,it was discovered that her lung/ eyes/joint condition was benign.  She was then diagnosed with Sarcoidosis.

This condition was very damaging to her eyesight, causing her to have to sit on the front row at school in order to see the board, demanding extreme caution when she had to cross the street and some stays in the hospital where she was in a darkened room wearing eye patches (covering)

She never complained - was a good student - & very well liked by her classmates & members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

In later years, her energy level & joint pain seemed to increase.  She also had to deal with diabetes.  At one point her eyesight was so bad that she was unable to distinguish what food was on her plate.  In spite of all of her health problems, she continued to be a devoted wife & mother, a special supportive friend & a pillow of her community..

How do I remember Rachel?  I remember Rachel as a “doer”.  If something wasn’t right, rather than talk about it incessantly, she would begin the process of doing something about it. The “doing” might be small steps but she had the patience and the faith to keep going in the direction of change. Her initial interest in the school board is an example.

Rachel loved her children fiercely. Imagine her pain when she learned that one of her girls had been knocked down by a boy at school and touched inappropriately. She sought redress by the school, but to no avail. When the school administration refused to address the issue, she went directly to the school board for action. She told me that she was appalled that her concerns were treated so casually and dismissed by the board. She realized that if her concerns were being treated so lightly, so were other people’s concerns---especially those without much clout—women, people of color and the poor.  So she considered doing what many thought unthinkable---she considered running for a position on the school board! She wanted to give the unrepresented a voice.

This was an especially difficult decision for her because not only was she a double minority—an African American and female----but she had not graduated with her high school class. She had later passed the high school equivalency exam, obtained her General Education Diploma and even enrolled in classes at UNC-W. However, she felt people still might think her unworthy because she had not taken the normal educational route. Despite her reservations, she made the difficult decision to seek a position on the school board---and eventually got one!  And as they say, “the rest is history”.

I also remember Rachel as a “lover of people”. She was warm, very caring, and kind. When you spoke with her, you knew you had her full attention. I’m guessing that each of her friends and family members felt that she/he was her favorite, closest or the most special! And they were right, because she had a way of connecting with each person in a way that tapped into what was different, unique and therefore special to that individual. Even for those that others may have considered “the enemy”, Rachel had a loving response. She would tell me about the board of education retreats where they would argue vehemently over issues. She would take a strong stance and would be “hopping mad” at some of the positions taken that seemed to overlook the best interest of the poor and racial minorities. However, when it was over, she was able to extend warmth and friendliness to her opponents. She had an ability to look beyond perceived faults to see the humanity of the person behind them.


Lastly, I remember Rachel as an “over comer”. She faced difficult life circumstances, yet was able to overcome them and succeed at being a loving, giving, active force in serving her community. She told me that at age 13, she went blind. She was treated and eventually regained her eyesight. She was diagnosed as having Sarcoidosis, a chronic illness that would affect her for the remainder of her life. She once confided that not a day went by that she was not in pain. She rarely, if ever, discussed her illness—in fact, most did not know of her condition. She just did not believe in complaining. At some point, she suffered with back problems, a broken rib, diabetes (brought on by the medication she had to take), and constant pain. A couple of years before her death, her eye sight deteriorated again and she was not able to drive. Through it all, she never gave up, did not complain and continued to serve the community.

When Rachel died, in spite of my immense sadness, I felt a sense of exhilaration….because I had witnessed the accomplishment of what I felt was one the highest callings of life……to take difficult circumstances and in spite of them, become the person God wants us to be….to become our higher selves. Noted author Wayne Dyer describes this much better. In a foreword to a book by Richard Carlson, he says:

Many people mistakenly believe that circumstances make a person. They don’t. Instead, they reveal him or her. Our circumstances don’t define us; they represent our unique curriculum…our tests, challenges, and opportunities for personal growth, acceptance, and detachment.  Our success as a human being does not lie in our collections of possessions or accomplishments.  It does not lie in the details of our predicament, but in how we deal with what we have and how we face our challenges, how we transform our unique curriculum into growth and into a life filled with love.

If her hardships/life circumstances were her “curriculum”, her “course of study“, she passed her tests with flying colors!!


For 10 years, from 1984 to 1994, Rachel Freeman was a voice for black voters on the New Hanover County Board of Education.  Yet admirers say her energies were devoted to better schools for all the county’s children.
Born in Elizabeth in 1941, the former Mae Rachel McKoy attended Williston High School in Wilmington but did not graduate; she later earned a high school equivalency certificate and attended classes at UNCW.



  She valued a good education, however, and as a mother of five, she became active in PTA’s at her children’s schools.  Appointed to an unexpired term on the school board, she was elected and re-elected.  Earl Sheridan, a political science professor at UNCW and former president of the New Hanover County [and later a city councilman], called Mrs. Freeman “the conscience of the board.”

Tannis Nelson, first vice president of the North Carolina PTAs, praised Mrs. Freeman as a consensus builder with a “broad vision” of education.

While on the school board, Mrs. Freeman helped organize and led a local committee that lobbied local legislators and even traveled to Raleigh to support such statewide initiatives as increased school funding, higher pay for teachers and extra money for school facilities.  Most planks of that platform were eventually enacted, Mrs. Nelson noted.

Mrs. Freeman died Sept. 26, 1996 after a long battle with the lung disease Sarcoidosis. After her death, a Morning Star editorial commented: “She argued for what she believed was best for all children, black and white.  Often disappointed but never without hope, she encouraged blacks and whites to talk honestly about the deep-rooted issues that often divide them.

…(F)ew people accomplish as much in a long life as Rachel Freeman did in a short one.”

Star News article written by Ben Steelman for Black History Month.

The many faces of Mae Rachel Freeman:  Wife, Mother, Politician, Friend.

She was called Mae by many who knew & loved her, Mrs. Freeman by her constituents, but to me, one of her many friends, just “Rachel”.  There are enormous memories a few that are forever etched are as follows:

Our crazy almost all day shopping sprees in downtown Wilmington.  We would hit all the now defunct or relocated dress shops.  If memory serves me, we hit Mademoiselles, Sally’s, La Mode, Wonder Shop just to name a few.  As the day passed, we would ponder where to eat lunch.  One of our favorite places was Ballentine’s Cafeteria which was located at Long Leaf Mall.  Our meager purses always seemed to feed & clothe us well.

Other Saturdays were girlie movies.  Most of the time it was the 3 of us:  Rachel,  Madeline & Alease.  The movies we saw back then are now considered classics: The Same Time Next Year, The Other Side of Midnight, The Way We Were, Beaches, Twiggy & the Good Bye Girl.

Then there were our many retreats at Linda’s condo on Carolina Beach.  Rachel & Evelyn entertained us reading poetry.  Lots of time was spent just watching the ocean from the balcony.

Another Saturday we were off to Evelyn’s condo at Myrtle Beach, also Barefoot Landing & Paulie’s Island.  Later, a Tina Turner Concert in Charlotte, N. C.  Boy did we have fun!!  And even though Rachel’s eyesight was sorely compromised, SHE ended up giving US directions when we got lost!  The next day off to Duke Hospital in Durham NC for a consultation with Rachel’s lung & eye doctors with three of her friends at her side….Madeline, Evelyn & Alease.
What a Time.  “Memories Forever Etched” 

I remember one Halloween mom decided to do something different.  We lived in a two-story house that was the tallest on the block; white and spooky looking (to me anyway).  It was during the early 70’s and people were getting funny about letting the children go out on their own.   The neighborhood children would pretty much stay in the area where we all knew the residents.  When it got dusk, mom went into her room and shut the door.  When a skinny black witch came out her room, cackling and screeching – we scattered about the house screaming and laughing, banging doors closed as she somehow seemed to stay close on our heels.  She had put on a long black dress and a tall, black witch hat that bent over at the top.  Her nails were black, crinkly razor looking things attached to skeletal hands with protruding veins (her own) maximized by dark ink.  Her chin was protruding and elongated by cotton or tissue stuffed down inside it and coils of hair straggled from underneath the hat in  raggedy little strands. 

When the neighborhood children knocked she stayed in witch character and ordered us into silence with an intense order from her eyes....   Knock, knock.....  She stared at us from underneath her hat and put her long crisply looking finger to her mouth, then to her throat in a threat for us to not make a sound.  Then, after the silence had made its impact on the children outside, she cracked the door open just far enough for her long, skinny finger to creep between the gap and stuck her black fingernail out and crooked it into a silent invitation into the dark house.   “Come in little sweeties,” she half whispered to the children, then screeched an  eerie cackle as they bolted down the street, screaming.  We laughed so hard, but momma kept on going.  After all of them had come and gone several times, she turned on us and locked the front door and began chasing us around the house. I kept telling myself it was just momma, but she was smart enough to keep the game going until you were scared to death of her and ran us around the house until she collapsed on the couch laughing until tears were streaming down all of our faces, chests heaving with exhaustion and relief that our momma had come back………or had she? 


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