"Some people are so color struck. They think being light-skinned is better than being dark! Mama says that's nonsense and I think so, too. I love it when Mama tells about her grandmother. She had been a slave. After the war, because she was so light-skinned many people thought she was white. But when people asked if she was white, she'd always answer, "No, color me dark.""
—Nellie Lee Love[6]

Nell Lee Jennings (née Love; December 28, 1908 – 1991), often called Nellie Lee, was the younger sister of William and Erma Jean Love. She was the youngest child of Freeman and Olive. Nellie Lee grew up in Bradford Corners, Tennessee, where her family operated a funeral home. In 1919, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois.


Early life

Nellie was born on December 28, 1908 to Freeman and Olive Love, exactly ten months after her sister Erma Jean (born February 28, 1908). She came "way too early" and only weighed three pounds at the time of her birth.[3] Nellie also had an older brother, William.

She grew up in Bradford Corners, Tennessee at 300 County Road.[5] Her home doubled as the family's business, Love and Sons Funeral Home, which her great-grandfather Jasper Love built in 1879.[7]

Moving to Chicago

Her uncle Pace, a soldier in the Great War, returned home fatally beaten in February 1919. Erma Jean witnessed him dying, which caused her to be unable to speak. Nellie Lee was curious about what he said to Erma Jean, but eventually stopped pressing her sister for answers. After the funeral, their father took Erma Jean to Chicago, Illinois to be treated. Their parents later decided to move there permanently. In late May, Freeman returned to Chicago with his wife and Nellie Lee.

Nellie Lee quickly became friends with Rosie Hamilton, a girl in the same apartment building. Over the next month, Nellie Lee learned some details about her uncle Meese's job. She and Erma Jean skipped church in June to investigate, learning that Meese operated a supper club. Later that summer, race riot broke out in Chicago, forcing Nellie Lee's family to stay inside for several days. Erma Jean found her voice on the second day, finally revealing the circumstances of Pace's death.

In September, Nellie Lee and Erma began attending school. They were both placed in Miss Franklin's third grade class. She later met an old friend Alice Mary Simmons from Tennessee. Nellie Lee took her under her wing since Alice Mary's family was newly arrived. In October, she was terribly sick for two weeks with the measles. She recovered and returned to school within a few days. In late November, Nellie Lee's father was able to open Love and Sons Funeral Home, North following a long struggle with getting a license.

Later life

Nellie Lee graduated from Howard University and married a judge named Robert Jennings. She later worked closely with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who consulted her on matters of race and race relations. Nellie Lee passed away in 1991. She was eulogized by her granddaughter who quoted her saying "With a family behind you, standing with you, surrounding you with love, then you become an immovable force." Nellie Lee was buried with ancestors in Bradford Corners. Her gravestone reads "Color Me Dark!"

Personality and traits

One of her notable traits was her "mouth", which referred to her temper and tendency to speak out of turn. She was much braver than her sister Erma Jean, who she was protective of. Erma Jean was bullied because of her dark skin and Nellie Lee often got into fights with people who made fun of her sister. Above all, she hated that other people thought "being light-skinned [was] better than being dark".

Family tree

The Love Family Tree
Jasper Love
Lilly Tillman
Till Love
(d. 1926)
Honesta Pace
(d. 1926)
Freeman Love
Olive Love
John Willis Love
Boston Love
Celia Love
Beth Annie Love
Mitchell Love
Pace Love
William Love
(b. 1901)
Erma Jean Love
(b. 1908)
Vincent Trudeau
Nell Love
Robert Jennings
Three sons
Honesta June Love
(b. 1919)
Jeannie Trudeau
Leigh Trudeau

Behind the scenes


Makyla Smith as Nellie Lee