Lillian Esther Bray-Armstrong
Lillian Esther Bray was born on August 2, 1903 in Marbury, Alabama, the fourth child of the eleven children of King and Frances Bray. The family migrated to Pittsburgh, PA in 1919 to find better working and living conditions. They made their home in the Hill District, residing first on Soho Street and then purchasing a house on Webster Avenue.
She attended Soho Elementary School as a young girl and graduated from Schenley High School. A Schenley she learned to sew quite well and used her sewing ability to make dresses for herself, her nieces, and later on her daughter and granddaughters. Lillian and her sisters ere always dressed very fashionably and Lillian loved to wear stylish hats. After graduation, she used her sewing ability working as a seamstress at the Penn Trousers Factory.
She married Artis Armstrong in the sanctuary of the former Ebenezer Baptist Church in one of most elaborate ceremonies ever held at the church. It was held on Sunday, June 20, 1937 after the regular morning service. So many people attended that they not only filled the balcony but overflowed into the streets. They were united in holy matrimony for fifty-five years until Artis’ death in 1992. To this union was born one child, Dolores Drucilla (D.D.) Armstrong.
As a girl she attended the Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church until the age of 15 when she was saved at a tent meeting held by Ebenezer Baptist Church under the pastorate of Rev. J. C, Austin. She was later baptized and “Filled with the Holy Ghost.”
As a member of Ebenezer she participated in many auxiliaries at the church. Along with her sister, Marteal, they founded a drama club. As a member of the Deaconess Board, she became one of the church’s youngest deaconesses. Lillian sang with a strong, notable alto voice and belonged to more than one of the church’s choirs. Even in her twilight years, Lillian loved to sing the old standard hymns while lying in her bed at night. Sine if her favorite songs included, “Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You ‘Round,’” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Only What You Do For Christ Will Last.”
Lillian was chosen to be president of Prayer Band No.1 in 1933 by Dr. T.J. King Soon afterwards, the Lord placed in her heart the desire to bring prayer groups together from not only Pittsburgh but from throughout the state. This event became known as the “Annual Hallelujah Day.” It was held the first Wednesday of every December for sixty-seven years. Many notable preachers, choirs, and prayer groups participated.
Along with members of Prayer Band #1, she visited individuals in their homes and in nursing facilities such as Lemington Home, Wilkins House, K. Leroy Irvis Towers, and Ebenezer Personal Care Home holding prayer meetings.
Mission work was very dear to her heart and an integral part of her spiritual life. Her compassion toward those serving on the mission field was evident when she founded the Gladys East Mission Society. As a young girl, she had desired to visit Africa to serve as a missionary but was unable to. That did not stop her from giving her support financially and prayerfully to Ms. East and other missionaries. In her senior years, along with her husband, pastor,, and other members of the congregation, she was finally able to visit the Holy Land and Haiti
Throughout the years she also held offices in various departments of the church. To name a couple, she was Supertindent of the Sunday School and Director of the Vacation Bible School.
She served as worship leader of the Western District Women’s Auxiliary of the Baptist State Congress for nearly fifty years. She initiated a time of worship and consecration before each monthly meeting, sending out hand-written reminders to each member of the committee to fast and pray.
She was also responsible for coordinating the “Seven Last Words of Jesus” program held every year on Palm Sunday for many years.
She was given the distinct honor of serving as the State Mother for the Baptist State Congress of Christian Education.
She was active in the AUBA for many years as well and was often a delegate to the state convention.
Lillian was a true prayer warrior. Her intercessory prayers were the primary reason that Rev. J. Van Alfred Winsett came to be pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
She loved Ebenezer Baptist Church and served there faithfully until due to illness she was unable to attend any more.
Concerning her family life, she and her husband Artis, were one of the first African-American families to buy a home on Hermitage Street in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. For over forty-five years they lived there together until his death in 1992. Their home served as the living quarters for many newly married relatives before they made the transition to their own homes.
Many of the neighborhood children came to know the Lord from the Bible class she hosted in her home on a weekly basis.
In her final years, her granddaughter Deborah took care of her in that same home until this past January when she entered the Westwood Nursing Facility in Wilkinsburg.
God truly satisfied her with “long life: and a sound mind. Until very recently, she usually recognized anyone who came to visit her and was able to recall many incidents that were particular to an individual’s past. She was always “instant in prayer” and ready to lift her voice in praise to the Father at all times. She adored her family and in particular her “grands.”
She was preceded in death by the following siblings: Calvin, Anderson, Sr. Emma, Marteal, Julius (King, Jr.), Robert Earl, and Alice Pearl (Dutch).
She leaves to cherish her memory: one daughter, Dolores Drucilla Armstrong-Rogers, one sister, Kathleen Bray-Givens, eight grandchildren, Esther Louise Spell, Deborah Ann Rogers, Miriam Denise Palmer (Norman), Johanna Lyndell Woodard (Mitch), who she also raised, Mary Ruth Bryant (Alvin), Micah Michelle Rogers, Lamar Douglas Rogers (Martha), Jr., James Lamont Rogers, 22 great grandchildren, 24 great, great grandchildren, a former son-in-law, Lamar Douglas Rogers, Sr. a host of nieces, nephews, other relatives, friends, and fellow Christian sons and daughters.