for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:
Alma Lovett stepped out of the crowd and took the lead when drug crimes, violence, truancy, and lack of day care screamed for attention in her community – Memphis’ public housing projects.
Mother of six children and herself a high school dropout, she moved into Fowler Homes public housing 16 years ago. Soon she founded the Fowler Homes Youth Club to organize, entertain, and motivate her young neighbors to make something of their lives. She was elected president of the City-Wide Memphis Housing Authority Resident Council five years ago.
Outraged at what was happening to children in her world where murder and drug running can seem a way of life, she coalesced housing project tenants who marched on City Hall and drew police response for more patrols. She created and personally runs a free day care program that now tends 100 children. She attempted a program with school officials and Juvenile Court to keep children in school by targeting truants lingering near the housing projects and bodily taking them to class. Since her march on City Hall in October 1987, her car windows have been shattered and she has received threatening phone calls. But she carries on.
In August 1988, she became the first resident manager of a Memphis housing project when she took charge of her 320-unit apartment complex. She says, “I used to be fast. Now I’m in a hurry.”
A profile of Alma in May 1988, in The Commercial Appeal was headlined, “Neighborhood Hero.” Tennessee Illustrated magazine last month chose her as one of 20 “Good Folks … the state’s unsung heroes who in their own quiet and relentless ways are building a better Tennessee.”
A young man who attended the Fowler Home Youth Club and calls himself one of Alma’s success stories, said of her new battle against drugs in his old neighborhood: “It’s going to be a struggle. But if she can overcome that, she’s going to be a hero. She’s my hero, anyway.”
Alma eventually left public housing and worked as a manager of privately-owned apartments.
Alma Lovett passed away on March 15, 2002 at age 64.
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:
“It is an American characteristic not to confront any problem until it becomes insoluble, and then confront it by turning it over to the schools.”
Joyce North came to that conclusion through the direct personal experience of sending nine children in her combined family to the turbulent public schools of the 1970s.
When she married Dr. William North in 1971, the two had children ranging in age from seven to 19. Busing was just beginning, and in the next few years of changing ages and changing school boundaries, the children were in a total of seven schools. Joyce quickly observed that the quality of public schools varied greatly. Believing that public education is the backbone of a democratic society, and being determined that her children and all children receive the best education possible, she quit her paying job and began the unpaid work of improving the quality of education in our public schools.
By 1980, this former president of White Station PTA was chairperson of the Memphis Better Schools Committee. In 1984, she was appointed chair of the local Commission of Excellence, a group charged with studying city public schools and making recommendations to the Board of Education. The recommendations emphasized that education is a community prowess, a point Joyce North always has taken to heart. Cutting through miles of red tape, she succeeded in getting the funds remaining from the study released to set up a Model School Program at Georgia Avenue Elementary School.
Joyce visited every agency in Memphis that deals with children, and organized an informal committee that met for breakfasts and after work to discuss how to best meet children’s needs. Health was identified as a priority and — fighting opposition — the group worked with the Health Department to establish a clinic at Booker T. Washington High School. She currently works to keep pregnant and parenting teens in school.
Initially concerned that her own children receive an excellent public education, Joyce North’s unyielding determination led her to do everything in her power to see that all children get the same opportunity.
Joyce retired in 1993 with a $650,000 Kellogg grant and three day-care sites in place to support pregnant and parenting teens with the schools’ mental health department. She and her husband are involved in national wildlife volunteering.
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:
From writing assistant in the Sports Information Office at Memphis State University to president of Coletta Brewer & Company, Inc., Carol Coletta has successfully made a journey through the business world that many envy. Along the way, she used her contacts and position to benefit the community — especially downtown redevelopment, tourism, and the arts.
After experience in entry-level corporate and government positions, Carol went to work in 1975 as marketing director for the Mid-America Mall project. She conceived and produced public events to bring people back downtown, including Octoberfest, the Memphis Heritage Festival and celebrations in Tom Lee Park. At the same time she was co-developer of the Timpani condominiums, downtown’s first residential renovation project, and owned and operated Magazine, the first new boutique downtown.
Starting as a public relations staff person at First Tennessee Bank in 1977, she rose in less than eight years to senior vice president for marketing and public affairs. Carol initiated the bank’s First Bravo Award, which provided $300,000 in grants to local artists; founded the First Tennessee Heritage Collection, a traveling exhibit of Tennessee art, and she organized and coordinated hundreds of citizen participants in the 1980 and 1981 Memphis Jobs Conference programs that won a $20 million capital grant from the State of Tennessee. She also was instrumental in the establishment of the public-private “superfund” which targeted promotion of tourism and the Uniport to boost Memphis’ growth.
Carol is a summa cum laude graduate of Memphis State University, pursuing her degree over a 10-year period while building a career and parenting her young daughter. Her personal civic involvement includes service as president of Memphis Planned Parenthood; chairperson of Mayor William Morris’ Economics of Amenity Task Force, and member of the Tennessee Committee for the Humanities and the Memphis Arts Council board.
All the while, Carol Coletta’s energetic leadership and dedication to both her career and her community built a model of initiative that inspires us all.
Carol, principal of Coletta & Co., is coordinator of The Community Compact, appointed by Mayor W.W. Herenton and Mayor Bill Morris to plan for the 21st Century.
for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:
Josephine W. Burson, the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants was taught by her parents that America is the land of freedom and opportunity and that there is an open door for everyone.
Josie’s involvement with the Democratic Party began in the traditional way — she did her share of telephoning and mailings. She went on to head the Democratic Women’s Committee to elect Senator Estes Kefauver. Despite opposition by the newspapers and with her hard work, Kefauver won the election, ending a long hold on politics in Memphis by the Crump forces. She also headed the Women’s Division of the Tennessee campaign for the national Kennedy-Johnson ticket.
Prior to 1960, political campaigns in Memphis had been just as segregated as water fountains and restaurants. The Kennedy-Johnson campaign signaled an end to that division. The campaign was being conducted by an integrated group, but when it was announced that Lady Bird Johnson would appear in Memphis, it was assumed that there would be two meetings as there had always been — one white, one black. Josie, however, refused to participate in a segregated event. At that time the only place that would accommodate an integrated meeting was the MWCA, which was too small. Challenged to find a larger location, she succeeded in signing the first contract for the newly-renovated Ellis Auditorium. Thus began a new, more open era in Memphis.
Josie was the first cabinet appointment announced by Gov. Buford Ellington and she served as Commissioner of Employment Security from 1967 to 1971. As a volunteer in Hadassah, Burson rose from chapter president to national vice-president. In these positions she has worked for the welfare of the State of Israel. Since 1981 she has been an employee of Senior Citizen Services, where she has worked with the deinstitutionalized elderly.
In 1975, Josie was selected National Mother of the Year by American Mothers. The 50th mother to make a presentation, she spoke movingly of being a first generation American. Her parents came to America seeking the American dream and their children achieved it. Taught by her family the history of persecution of European Jews, Josie Burson has worked with courage to live in a land where persecution of any segment of the population should never occur.
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:
Mary Treadwell, Georgia Harry and Patricia Walker Shaw
To the casual observer the similarities in the three women honored this year as recipients of the Heritage award may seem superficial. But Patricia Walker Shaw, Mary Harry Treadwell and Georgia Harry were alike in many different ways.
First, they were all three insurance businesswomen. Mary Harry Treadwell and Georgia Harry were the first women in the world to establish and successfully manage an insurance agency. Two generations later, insurance was still generally considered a man’s world when Pat Walker Shaw started at the bottom to learn the family business. In 1983, she became the first woman to head a major U.S. life insurance company.
As young women, Pat, Mary and Georgia expected their lives to follow very traditional patterns. All three married. Pat and Mary had children. Pat attended Oakwood School and went to Fisk, where she majored in business administration and became a social worker. Mary and Georgia attended Miss Higbee’s School and made their debuts in Memphis where they expected to live comfortable and traditional lives. But Mary’s husband died, and Georgia’s marriage failed.
After Timmons Treadwell’s death in 1909, Mary and Georgia continued to manage the family business, a cotton factoring and wholesale grocery establishment. But their banker pointed out that the popularity of the automobile would create a demand for insurance. So the two young women who had never ever written a check got a rate manual, read it and began writing insurance through Chubb and Son and Fidelity Casualty Company.
At first, people gave them business because they felt sorry for them — all alone, trying to educate two young boys — but their customers soon developed respect for their frugality and business acumen. Treadwell & Harry wrote the surety bond on the Harahan Bridge, guaranteeing that the work would be completed on schedule. As their business flourished, they were able to hire male secretaries and in 1920, after writing insurance for almost everyone else of note in Memphis, Mary wrote a policy on her own automobile. It was a good idea. A police officer observed at the time that Mary always had her foot on the gas, never on the brake.
After World War I, George and Tim came into the business, but their mother and aunt remained active until 1935. Mrs. Treadwell died in 1946. Mary Harry, the quiet intellectual, lived to be 92. In 1971, the agency they founded was sold to Cook Industries, but the family regained control in 1983.
The same year saw Pat Walker Shaw’s untimely death, a tragedy in every sense of the word. She was head of one of the largest black-owned businesses in the South and had risen to national prominence as the first woman president of the National Insurance Association. Her accomplishments were remarkable: she held memberships with nearly 25 organizations, boards and commissions, including two government appointments. She was the first woman ever to serve on the Memphis Light Gas & Water Board.
Because of the segregated schools of Memphis, the Walkers sent their young daughter to a Quaker boarding school in Poughkeepsie, New York. Pat graduated from Fisk University and moved to Chicago, then later to Nashville where she was a social worker. In 1966 she, her husband Harold and their young son returned to Memphis where Pat took an entry-level position at Universal Life, an insurance company founded by her grandfather in 1923. The facts belie the popular notion that she “inherited” her job at the top. She worked in the data processing and the accounting departments, and she developed new marketing strategies for the company.
When the board of directors chose Pat to be the CEO in 1983, A. Maceo Walker said in an interview, “Girls can do the job just as good.”
Pat Shaw’s unique leadership abilities were recognized and appreciated by all Memphians; however, let us not forget she was a powerful black woman. Her deepest loyalties were to the black community. She said, “Most of the people we serve, the people who are our major customers, are grassroots folk who make $15,000 and below. We are, first of all, responsible to them.”
As we hold in our memories these three extraordinary women who mastered the insurance business and left their marks on this community, let us listen to the words of Pat Walker Shaw: “Women have to accomplish more; we have to prove ourselves over and over.’
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:
When Althea Banks Price arrived in Memphis in 1941 she was the young wife of a new dean at LeMoyne College and the mother of a four-year-old son. She hated leaving Tuskegee Institute’s cultural environment but she quickly settled into a different life and began pursuing the college degree that her working class family had been unable to afford.
After two years in the Bluff City her husband, Hollis Freeman Price, became the first black president of LeMoyne College. The young mother, “First Lady,” and teacher had many responsibilities. Until the passage of public accommodations legislation, no restaurants or hotels would accommodate integrated groups visiting the college so Althea served as their hostess in Memphis.
She cared for her parents until their deaths, earned her Master’s degree in guidance at Memphis State University and returned to Booker T. Washington High School to guide hundreds of students to outstanding educational opportunities all over the nation.
She joined the graduate chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Memphis Chapter of Links, which along with her membership in Second Congregational Church of Christ provided her with many opportunities for community service. She served on the Better Schools Committee, Memphis Volunteers for Youth Counseling, St. Peters Home, and worked in inter-racial and interdenominational groups. Often she and Dr. Price were the only blacks at local gatherings. She also supported the NAACP, the Memphis Urban League and the YWCA, to name a few.
Althea has endured the humiliation and spiritual erosion of segregation, the premature separation from her only child so that he could be educated outside a segregated system, and lived the life of a public “Super Woman” long before that term was born. She struggled through the conflict and confrontations of the ‘60s and now, despite declining health, receives a steady stream of visitors from all walks of life.
We honor Althea Banks Price for her steadfastness, which changed the lives of those individuals with whom she came in contact, and the city in which she has lived.
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:
Carol Lynn Yellin
Author, editor, activist, mentor — Carol Lynn Yellin has been part of the Memphis community since she moved from New York in 1964.
While editing Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, she quickly became active in civil rights, joining the black and white women in the Saturday Luncheon Club who tested desegregation laws by dining in various restaurants. Three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her husband David founded the Memphis Search for Meaning Committee. She obtained grant funds and worked with volunteers in the massive job of documenting Memphis events of 1968. A National Endowment for the Humanities grant turned their labor into the Memphis Multi-Media Archival Collection at Memphis State University.
Carol Lynn’s commitment to women’s right is long-standing. From 1975 to 1977, she participated in the International Women’s Conference in Mexico City, the Tennessee Women’s Meeting and the National Women’s Conference in Houston. For the Tennessee meeting she helped to write and edit Tennessee Women: Past and Present.
Before the demise of the first campaign for ratification of the ERA, she organized pro-equality luncheons and helped organize a citywide celebration of the anniversary of women’s suffrage in Court Square, featuring the man who cast the deciding vote in Tennessee in 1920 that led to voting for women. She has marched on the county courthouse, pressing for women on juries; helped found the Memphis Chapter of Women in Communications, Inc., the Economic Justice for Women Coalition and Women of Achievement, Inc. Her article on the suffrage movement, published by American Heritage magazine in 1979-80, is regarded as source material by scholars. She is comfortable dealing with “old-timers” in the women’s and civil rights movements as well as with young women who are just beginning to understand the sacrifices of those who came before them.
Carol Lynn Yellin has a vision — a vision of equality and opportunity for women of all ages, races and backgrounds.
Carol Lynn incorporated VOTE70 Inc. with Paula Casey and Joan Horne Lollar in 1989 to celebrate the 70-year history of women’s suffrage. She is working on a biography of Mahatma Gandhi.