One day shy of the 62nd anniversary of the Hillsboro elementary schools being integrated, the group of African American mothers and their children who were responsible for bringing that integration to fruition were honored Monday by the Hillsboro City Schools Board of Education.
School board member Larry Lyons said superintendent Tim Davis nominated the group for an Ohio School Board Association Proud Products of Education award. The school board presented certificates of appreciation for each of the 22 mothers and 36 children who spent two years from 1954 to 1956 marching to Hillsboro’s elementary schools in an attempt to have the school integrated.
Davis said it would likely be the middle of the year before the school district learns if the group has been selected as a recipient of the award.
Only two of the mothers are still alive and one of them, Elsie Steward Young, who will turn 102 on on June 30, was at the meeting. The other surviving mother is Zella Mae Cumberland.
Eleanor (Curtis) Cumberland, whose late mother, Imogene Curtis, was the leader of the group, thanked the school board for all those deceased or not able to attend the meeting.
“By honoring them, you honor us,” Cumberland said.
School board president Bill Myers said, “I love this and want to thank you for what you’ve done. It’s not just for our school, it’s for our community.”
In 1954, Hillsboro High School was fully integrated, but there were two all-white elementary schools (Washington and Webster) and one all-black elementary school (Lincoln).
In 1954, the group of African American mothers decided to enroll their children in Webster Elementary, but were denied because of what school officials said was overcrowding. Their only remaining choice for a public school education was the Lincoln School, which was built in 1870 and was severely deteriorating, Lyons said.
“Under the leadership of Imogene Curtis, this group of mothers began a daily walk with their children to the Webster School, and each day they were turned away at the door,” Lyons said. “This went on every school day for two years. This activity got the attention of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, who sent Constance Baker Motley to Hillsboro to help the mothers and their children with their endeavor. Also during this time several Quaker teachers from Wilmington College came to Hillsboro to teach these children in local homes.
“The importance of this activity was highlighted as the first northern challenge of the renowned Brown vs. Board of Education decision and in a landmark legal decision the Hillsboro School Board was directed to open the doors of Washington and Webster elementary students to the African American elemtary students in April of 1956.”
In October of last year, the Lincoln School “Marching Mothers” and their children were inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
“We are honored to recognize this group. They played a great role in public education,” Lyons said.
In other news from the meeting, longtime hunter education instructors John Kidder and Tim Schlater asked the about the possibility of an archery program being started at the school. They said that a few years back the Highland County Rod and Gun Club donated some bows and arrows to the school. They said that if Hillsboro was not interested in starting an archery program, they would like to have the equipment back so it could be used elsewhere.
Davis said there was archery instruction at one time for sixth grade students in the school district, although the program has been discontinued. He said he would look into the matter and get back with Kidder and Schlater.
During the meeting’s committee reports, Davis said that with help from Hillsboro Police Chief Darrin Goudy, the school district has been able to place a school resource officer at the elementary school for the remainder of the current school year. The district already had one resource officer. Davis said the district plans to upgrade its security cameras over the summer as another safety measure.
At the beginning of the meeting, Hillsboro Middle School Principal Kim Beam recognized middle school students Eden Edenfield, Abi Koogler and Sara Newsome for awards they have won this year at robotics competitions. Beam said 15 middle school students are involved in the robotics program that is in its third year. She said the group qualified for state competition at a contest in Hillsboro, won a design award at a Great Oaks competition and won a judge’s award at a competition in Milford.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]