William "Mac" Pinckney, who was once declared the oldest man in Prince George's County, celebrated his 116th birthday Sunday in southeast Washington.
Pinckney was born into slavery shortly before Emancipation in southern Prince George's County, where he lived for more than 90 years. He has been a sharecropper for most of his life. Pinckney helped build the first log cabin church in Croom, Md., in which he was later married. His 17 children have given him grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren who live throughout the Washington area. Relatives say there are so many of them that no one has kept count.
Pinckney's birthdate was traced back as far as 1863, according to relatives. They said the family of Pinckney's former owner declined to cooperate with the search because they felt they might find that Pinckney was related to them.
Pinckney's youngest daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, 56, said that having a father 116 years old is like having a walking history book. "We had gotten a firsthand account of what 'Roots' was all about before it was written."
Another daughter, Edna McKinney, said, "He used to tell stories of the past when he and his mother were slaves. But after a while, it began making some of us bitter, and I asked him to stop."
Pinckney described his past as "a horror story." He said, "They used to beat my mother when she wouldn't do what they told her... and I better not have gotten mad when it happened."
The harsh treatment, long hours and hard work in the tobacco, corn and wheat fields often included indiginities such as "putting our food -- usually milk and flour -- on the floor and making us eat it."
After slavery, there was the Ku Klux Klan. They "came and took our women and did with them what they wanted," he said, "and you couldn't do nothing about it."
The elderly man, who suffers from leukemia and a recent kidney ailment, said he is no longer bitter about the cruel treatment he received. "If you don't know why I'm not bitter," he said, "read the Bible."
His daughter added, "They (those who mistreated her father) may have gotten by, but they didn't get away."
In the small Capitol Hill home of his youngest daughter, where he now lives, Pinckney said he looks forward to his birthday every year because he is able to see his large family together. Relatives said they have celebrated Pinckney's birthday as a family reunion since his wife, Betha Lee, died in 1955.
"We are a very close-knit family. We are always on the phone to one another," said his youngest daughter. She added, "My mother always wanted us to stick together. She taught us when one was in trouble, all of us were in trouble. We promised that we would take care of Daddy if we were ever able to."
A woman from a local church came to visit Pinckney during his birthday celebration, which included a red-and-white birthday cake with "Happy Birthday to Papa from all your children" on it. The woman told him, "Three women from church said to give you three kisses for them." She kissed him three times on his forehead and then handed him a small birthday card.
A smile crept across his face, and he winked.
Pinckney said his secret to old age is simple. "As long as I walk upright and keep his (God's) command, He will lengthen my days."