Mrs. Willie Nell (Fail) Avery
was born on Friday, April 9, 1937 as the eighth child of 10 to the union of the late Mallory Fail and the late Georgianna Butler Fail in Selma, Alabama. She had great compassion and zeal for life from birth in this world to her celestial transition on Saturday, June 12, 2021.
Willie Nell attended Providence School in her early years and later graduated from Keith High School in 1954. Willie Nell completed the two-year program at Selma University and transferred to Alabama State University to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree. After participating in the workforce for several years, she went back to Alabama State University and earned a Master of Education. She accepted and professed Christ as her Lord and Savior at a young age while attending Providence Baptist Church in Orrville, Alabama and later joined Oak Grove United Methodist Church as an adult where she served faithfully until her ascension.
While caring for her ailing mother, Willie Nell met the love of her life, James Avery Sr., and they were joined in holy matrimony on June 5, 1960. Together, they built an amazing legacy that has touched the lives of so many people across every facet of life from the political, educational, agricultural, and spiritual agendas, to every single person she met. Willie Nell loved helping anyone and everyone, and truly lived to fulfill the Word of God found in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might;…”.
Willie Nell found her hands working in the political arena at an early age. A voice for freedom and equality, Willie Nell became an advocate for civil rights and marched alongside great leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jessie Jackson, Mr. Albert Turner, Sr., and other fellow foot soldiers. As a civil rights activist and one of the original Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, she was met with opposition during historic events such as the raid that led to the demise of Jimmie Lee Jackson, Bloody Sunday, the March from Selma to Montgomery, and countless other peaceful marches. Throughout her lifetime, she remained an active civil rights activist, encouraging people to vote and to not let the work of our forefathers be in vain. In her latter years, Willie Nell worked as a registrar in the Perry County Board of Registrars, was a charter member and later Vice President of the Perry County Civic League, a member of the organization Beyond Fifty Years, a recipient of the Freedom Flame Award as an Igniter of the Flame in 2013, and always a freedom warrior to which she was inducted as a Foot Soldier in the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in 2018. The highlight of Willie Nell’s long public service career was her journey to Washington DC in 2015 where she was able to see the fruit of her labor when she entered the White House as a guest and recipient of formal recognition from the 44th President of the United States, President Barak Obama, during the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
As an educator, Willie Nell was a member of the Hale County school system where she taught AP Chemistry, AP Physics, AP Biology, and Earth Science. After school, she also tutored students in Math and taught Adult Education to assist several people in receiving their GED. Willie Nell was the Chairman of the Science Department, a Student Counselor, Senior Advisor, Organizer and Advisor of the Scholar’s Bowl and mother to many students during her 25 years in the education system. Her passion for children translated to a house full or car full of youth who received tough, but always consistent and genuine love.
Willie Nell was a longtime member of Oak Grove United Methodist Church of Newbern, Alabama. She served in many roles and capacities as a servant for God Almighty. Willie Nell was a member of the Alabama West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Organization and the United Methodist Women Organization. During her membership at Oak Grove, she served as the Chairman for the Administrator Board, Trustee Board Member, Sunday School Teacher, Organizer of Vacation Bible School, VP of Adult Choir, Director of the Youth Choir, Lay Leader, Organizer of Oak Grove United Methodist Church Food Bank, Hospitality and Food Committee and wherever she saw a need to serve.
Willie Nell was a member of Alabama State University Alumni Association, one of the founders of the West Perry – East Hale County Volunteer Fire Department where she was also a Volunteer Fire Fighter, and a facilitator of sharing the story of the Legendary Walk of the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights movement. Willie Nell was involved in and accomplished so much more, but lived by the mantra, “Let the work I’ve done speak for me.”
Willie Nell was preceded in death by her parents, Mallory and Georgianna Fail; four brothers, Fred, Sidney, Wilbur T., and Albert Fail; three sisters, Alberta Fail, Pauline Smith, and Marie Hunter Pope, three sons, Roosevelt Carlisle, Norman Pair, and James Avery, Jr.; and one grandson, Michael Lindsey.
Willie Nell leaves to cherish her life and legacy: her loving and devoted husband of 61 years, James Avery, Sr.; one son, Harold (Patricia) Perry of Baltimore, MD; four daughters, Cynthia Hunter of Montgomery, AL, Brennetta (Randy) Vaughn of Oak Ridge, TN, Lisa Brunson of Gadsden, AL, and Cassandra (David) Hooker, of Barstow, CA; two daughters-in-law, Dollye Carlisle of Fort Wayne, IN and Tametria Avery of Newbern, AL; two sisters, Georgia Pearl James of Cleveland, OH and Velma Perkins of Atlanta, GA; 25 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, 5 great-great-grandchildren; a host of brothers and sisters-in-law, relatives, believers, friends and colleagues.
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