Her Mother Took Desegregation Into Her Own Hands
SHEroes you don’t know
Editor’s Note: SHEroes is Covey’s salute to those invisible women who haven’t made the history books, but who affected meaningful change in their lifetime. Through their efforts, these women forged paths for the benefit of future generations with the inherent knowledge that big changes start small.
At 86, Ethel B. Hill is up for re-election. She’s running for another four-year term to the Howard County Democratic Central Committee, the county branch of the Maryland Democratic Party responsible for getting Democrats elected.
Hill credits her mother, Ethel Mae Brown, or “Mother Dear,” as everyone affectionately referred to her (including even Hill), for teaching her about civic engagement; she was a force within the community.
Brown may not have made it into the textbooks, but she was a change-maker; she may not have achieved the level of notoriety of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks, but she did impact history.
Brown helped bring about desegregation in the Chester, Pennsylvania public schools.
Though the General Assembly of Pennsylvania passed a law on June 8, 1881, that legally ended segregation in Pennsylvania’s schools, it was largely ignored. More than a half-century later, in 1947, Brown’s children were still attending segregated schools in Chester, Pennsylvania.
According to Hill, her mother’s legacy of civic engagement began at the Watts Elementary School.
“PTA’s were what you had in the white schools,” Hill explained. “But [because] our schools were [still] not integrated, our mothers organized the Watts School Mothers Club at the elementary school we attended.”
Hill says her mother and a friend, Frinjela Bond, organized a strike, “the first time anything like that had ever happened.” The strike at Watts Elementary School turned into a city-wide strike that eventually involved all of Chester’s “black schools.” Despite having the law on their side, the strike lasted an entire year.
Ethel Mae Brown’s legacy is three generations strong. Her granddaughter (Hill’s daughter) Terri L. Hill, 59, has also embraced her grandmother’s dedication to civic engagement. She currently serves as a Member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
A SHero in her own right, it’s important to note that Ethel B. Hill has received many honors and awards for her own service, which includes (but is not limited to) a stint with the Board of Election Supervisors, the County Board of Appeals, and the County Executive’s Transition Team. Hill is a charter member and past president of two chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the oldest international organization of college-trained African American women. In 2005, she was inducted into the Howard County (Maryland) Commission for Women Hall of Fame, three times The Daily Record named her one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women, and in 2015, Hill was inducted into “The Circle of Excellence” in 2015 for sustained achievement professionally, in the community and through mentoring.
As part of a personal documentary, Hill, told me the story of her mother’s crusade that inspired her own lifetime of service to her community. Watch Hill tell part of her mother’s story here:
Debbie Brodsky is a three-time Emmy award-winning television producer with more than 25-years experience in documentary video production. Her company, DMB Pictures, tells the stories of families, nonprofits, and businesses. Brodsky is especially passionate about passing on the important stories of the past and present so they will not be lost to future generations.
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