Susannah Mushatt was born in Lowndes County in Alabama on 6 July 1899, the third child out of 11 children. Her parents were sharecroppers who farmed the same land as her grandparents (one had been a slave). Her grandmother, an ex-slave, reportedly lived for 117 years based on census data. As a young woman, she worked in the fields but she was determined to escape that hard existence. On 4 March 1922, she graduated from the Calhoun Boarding High School and the graduation roster recognized her for studying “Negro Music in France”. After graduation she wanted to become a teacher and was accepted to Tuskegee Institute’s Teacher’s Program. However, her parents did not have enough money to pay for her college, so in 1923, she moved to New York during the early stages of the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1928, she married Henry Jones but the marriage only lasted for five years. She divorced him in 1933 saying that she “didn’t know what became of him”. She had no children. She worked for wealthy families taking care of their children for $7 a week. During this time, she supported many of her relatives as they moved to New York. She also used some of her salary to establish The Calhoun Club, which was a college scholarship fund for African American students at her high school. She was also active in her neighborhood for almost 30 years, participating in the “tenant patrol team”.
In 1965, she retired and lived with her niece Lavilla Watson and helped care for Watson’s baby son. She later resided at the Vandalia Senior Center in East New York, Brooklyn and had more than 100 nieces and nephews. Mushatt Jones was in good health past age 100, serving as “hall monitor” at the Vandalia Senior Homes until age 106. In her last years, Susannah was blind, partially deaf, couldn’t say much, and used a wheelchair. She only took high blood pressure medication and a multivitamin. She became blind from glaucoma when she was 100. She refused cataract surgery and a recommended pacemaker. She never had a mammogram or a colonoscopy, but she did see a primary care physician three to four times a year.
Every day Jones would eat 4 strips of bacon for breakfast. Jones never smoked, drank alcohol, partied, worn makeup, or dyed her hair, and slept about 10 hours a day. She also attributed not being married long and eating bacon for her longevity.
Susannah Mushatt Jones died in her home in East New York, Brooklyn following a short illness on 12 May 2016 at the age of 116 years, 311 days.