Choruses of “grateful, grateful, grateful” filled the air on Curtis Lane Thursday evening as a crowd of more than 50 people gathered to celebrate the late Imogene Curtis and the mothers and children whose peaceful protests in the 1950s helped end segregation in Hillsboro Elementary School.
Prayers and songs of gratitude and praise were offered up during a dedication ceremony for the lane, which was renamed to honor Curtis and other African American mothers who marched to the old Webster school each day in peaceful protest of segregation in the education system.
“I’m overwhelmed and grateful,” said Eleanor Cumberland, Curtis’ daughter.
Cumberland asked those in attendance to observe a moment of silence for friends and family members involved in the movement who have passed away, adding that children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren should never be allowed to forget the sacrifices of their ancestors.
“Never let them forget that there were large and small sacrifices for the privileges they enjoy today,” she said.
Several Curtis family members and friends sang songs, including Imogene Curtis’ niece, Karen Jones, and her son Derrek Jones, who performed “Grateful,” as members of the crowd joined in.
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings, who couldn’t attend the event due to a scheduling conflict, sent a letter expressing his sentiments, which wwre read aloud during the ceremony.
“Over the years, Hillsboro has named a number of streets for individuals,” the mayor wrote. “The ones that commonly come to mind are Governor Trimble, Governor Foraker, Harry Sauner, and most recently, Carl Smith. Streets are named after them because of their accomplishments while in elected office or in the case of Mr. Sauner and Mr. Smith, simply because they were landowners.
“In Ms. Curtis’ case, she was an ordinary citizen. An ordinary citizen who did extraordinary things. Really, it is people like her who should be honored in this way. The ones that make a difference that may not be large landowners or elected officials but still make their mark on history.
“Imogene Curtis would have been proud to have this simple, yet enduring honor bestowed upon her. Thank you for your effort in keeping her remembered.”
Later, Cumberland told The Times-Gazette she wanted to thank the Highland County Historical Society, her family, friends and all those instrumental in renaming Curtis Lane.
“And I want to thank my mother, who instilled in me that no one is any better than anyone else,” she said. “She was a strong, Christian lady.”
Elsie Young, one of the 18 mothers who took part in the marches, attended the event at the age of 101. Young and Zella Cumberland are the only two mothers who survive. Several people who marched as children were also in attendance.
The dedication was followed by a showing of “The Lincoln School Story,” a documentary telling the story.
After protracted battles and a refusal by the school to obey a ruling by the 6th District Court of Appeals to immediately integrate its elementary school, the nation’s highest court got involved in the case, called Clemons v. Board of Education of Hillsboro, and ordered school officials to comply and proceed with integration, which they finally did.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.