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Fighting racism at 100.

A friend of mine in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has just celebrated her 100th birthday. She is Edith Blair Staton and she was born in Washington DC's Blair House, the last baby born there when it was still the Blair family home. Now it is America's official state guest house.

Edith's grandfather, Montgomery Blair, was in Lincoln's cabinet and was involved in the Dred Scott case before the Supreme Court. Blair lost the case for Scott's freedom but Edith is proud that he based his argument on the point that slaves were human beings not property.

Edith's husband, Adolphus, became an admiral. His father had run away from home, a southern plantation, at the age of 15 to join the Confederate Army.

Improving race relations has for years been a concern of Edith. When she was 97 she told her episcopal minister that she did not feel she was doing enough as a Christian. So she was named as a consultant to a new church committee for curing racial bias. The Cambridge Chronicle headlined an article about her, `At 100, she finds friends in fight against racism.'

When Edith was a child, the family had a black maid, Dee, who also looked after the children. The maid had been born a slave. The children loved her but she never sat at the table with them. `She didn't expect it and neither did we,' says Edith. Looking back honestly at this early experience helped Edith to face the depth of racial bias in herself. It led her to pray for forgiveness for her prejudice.

She says that a false pride and attitude of superiority was handed down over generations and had led to a low expectation of blacks. She is particularly concerned about the legacy of slavery in terms of the needs of inner-city schools and what she regards as the selfishness of wealthy suburbs.

There were three days of festivities for Edith's hundredth birthday. Her eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren made a birthday banner. The main morning service at her episcopal church was dedicated to a celebration of her life. Edith had founded the Brownie Scouts of America in 1922 and one woman came who had been a member of Edith's first troop. In the Fifties Edith's husband and another admiral had supported the foundation of a Christian club for African-American young men in Washington, DC. The founder was an exnavy sailor, Charles Brooks. At the service Charles Brooks and five young men stepped forward from the back of the church and spoke of what Edith had made possible. The Bishop of Massachusetts, Thomas Shaw, presented Edith with 100 pink roses.

The next day Edith was summoned to Cambridge City Hall where in the mayor's parlour a further birthday party was held. Meanwhile a video about racial healing in Richmond, Virginia, which Edith had been using widely, was being shown to the public in the city council chambers. The Mayor, Sheila Russell, then moved with Edith into the packed council chamber.

She introduced Edith, asking her to stand as a City Council proclamation saluting her was read. Then, to the mayor's surprise, Edith marched forward, grabbed the microphone and spoke about the good beginnings the city was making to improve racial harmony, particularly by following Richmond's example and putting up historic markers to identify significant African-American events.

Edith told her local paper, `A lot of us at 90-odd moan and groan about all the things we can't do but the answer is to stop thinking about ourselves and think what we can do for other people.'
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Author:Michael Henderson
Publication:For A Change
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:594
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