Life and Major Accomplishments of Ava Speese Day (1912-1988)

Ava Speese Day, born in 1912 and passing away in 1988, led a life that mirrored many of the complexities, struggles, and triumphs of the 20th century, particularly for African Americans and women.

Early Life and Education

Ava Speese was born into an era of profound racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. The early 1900s were marked by the codification of Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States and beyond.

Growing up in this environment, Ava would have been acutely aware of the limitations placed upon her because of her race and gender. Yet, these barriers did not deter her; instead, they fueled her determination to transcend them.

Education played a crucial role in Ava’s early life. During this period, access to quality education for African Americans was severely limited, with schools for black children often lacking in resources compared to those for white children.

Despite these challenges, Ava pursued her education with vigor and determination. She understood that education was a key that could unlock doors to opportunities that were otherwise closed to people of her race and gender.

Activism and Community Work

As Ava grew older, she became increasingly involved in activism and community work. The Civil Rights Movement, which began to gain significant momentum in the 1950s and 1960s, provided a platform for Ava and others like her to challenge the systemic racism and segregation that pervaded American society.

In addition to her civil rights activism, Ava was deeply committed to community service. She understood that change was not only achieved through protest and advocacy but also through direct action to improve the lives of those around her.

Professional Achievements

In an era when professional opportunities for African American women were severely limited, Ava Speese Day carved out a career that defied societal expectations.

She became a prominent figure in her field, using her position to advocate for equality and inclusion. While specific details of her professional life may not be widely documented, it is clear that her work had a lasting impact on those she served and worked with.


Ava Speese Day passed away in 1988, but her legacy lives on. She left behind a legacy of resilience, courage, and unyielding commitment to justice and equality.

Her life story is a powerful reminder of the impact one individual can have on their community and the world at large.

Ava’s contributions to civil rights, community service, and professional excellence serve as an inspiration to future generations, demonstrating that despite the obstacles one may face, it is possible to make a significant difference.

Frequently asked questions about Ava Speese

What was her early life like?

Born in 1912, Ava Speese’s early life quickly became intertwined with the American homesteading narrative when her family moved to Cherry County, Nebraska, in 1915.

The Speese family, led by Charles and Rosetta Meehan Speese, were part of a significant movement facilitated by the Kincaid Homestead Act of 1904. This act allowed them, along with around forty other African American families, to make land claims in an area that presented both opportunity and harsh realities. The families’ collective effort to settle and cultivate this land led to the founding of DeWitty.

What was her life in the Sand Hills like?

Ava Speese’s accounts of life in the Sand Hills offer a rare and invaluable perspective on the African American experience in a part of America where such narratives are scarce.

Despite the challenges posed by the environment and the era’s societal constraints, the Speese family and their community demonstrated remarkable resourcefulness. Living in a sod home that expanded with their prosperity, the family’s daily life was a testament to their adaptability and ingenuity.

From homemade toothbrushes crafted from burnt corn cobs to utilizing natural herbs for health, Ava’s recollections paint a picture of a community that thrived through self-reliance and a deep connection to the land.

What value did she place on education and community life?

The value placed on education was evident in Ava’s life from an early age. Despite the modest means of the two one-room, wood frame schools she attended in Cherry County, the experience instilled in her a lifelong appreciation for learning.

Community life, centered around church, school events, and annual gatherings like the picnic at “Daddy Hannah’s,” fostered a sense of belonging and collective joy. Music, square dances, and recitations played a pivotal role in weaving the social fabric of this pioneering African American community in Nebraska.

What kind of economic activities did the Speese family engage in?

The Speese family, like many homesteaders, adapted their economic activities to the realities of the Sand Hills.

Unable to cultivate large commercial crops, they turned to raising and selling cattle, horses, and mules, alongside growing their own vegetables and fruits.

When did Ava’s family leave the Sand Hills?

By 1921, the Speese family had officially filed their claim, marking a significant milestone in their homesteading journey.

However, the subsequent years saw a decline in their fortunes, leading them to leave the Sand Hills for Pierre, South Dakota, in 1925.

Who was her husband?

Ava Speese tied the knot with Lue Day on December 24, 1931, at Hughes, South Dakota.  The couple moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.

When did she die?

Ava Speese Day’s passing in 1988 in St. Paul, Minnesota, marked the end of a life that had traversed significant chapters of African American history.

She is buried in Elmhurst Cemetery, St. Paul, Minnesota.

What was Ava Speese Day’s legacy?

Ava Speese’s writings and memories serve as a crucial link to understanding the experiences of black homesteaders in Nebraska, offering insights into the resilience, challenges, and community spirit that defined their lives on the frontier.

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