In Case You Missed It: Last night, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) honored the life and memory of Ohio civil rights champion, Elsie Steward Young, on the Senate floor.
“Miss Elsie is a legend in Southwest Ohio. Her courage and her leadership made a difference for children not only in her community, but all over the country.” said Brown on the Senate floor. “Our thoughts are with her three surviving daughters and two surviving sons, her 36 grandchildren, and all her family and friends and loved ones. We know her legacy will live on, through both the lives of all the students whose education she made possible, and through the future generations of young people she inspires to stand against injustice, wherever they see it.”
Brown’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, can be found below.
Last week, we lost an Ohio champion for civil rights, Miss Elsie Steward Young, of Highland County, Ohio, just after her 105th birthday.
Miss Elsie is a legend in Southwest Ohio. Her courage and her leadership made a difference for children not only in her community, but all over the country.
In 1954, after the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision and ordered an end to segregation in America’s schools, the two all-white primary schools in Hillsboro, Ohio refused to integrate.
The district continued to send Black students to a single all-Black school, which was in shambles.
I remember the stories my mother would tell me, of growing up in Mansfield, Georgia – she said she knew all about busing.
They would bus the Black students past the newer, better-kept white schools, to the segregated Black schools that were falling apart.
That’s what was going on in Hillsboro, Ohio.
And Elsie Steward Young wouldn’t stand for it.
Miss Elsie and a group of mothers took matters into their own hands, and became the Marching Mothers of Hillsboro.
Every single day for two long years, they marched for miles to the town’s all-white primary school.
Every day, they were sent home.
But they carried on, and eventually, the community and the state and the country noticed. They joined with the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the Hillsboro Board of Education, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court – and they won.
Because of Miss Elsie and her fellow mothers’ advocacy, the Court ordered the schools to integrate, and paved the way for integration in other northern cities.
Her activism shows us what ordinary citizens can achieve, when they join together to fight for justice.
It’s a reminder of how far we have come – and how much work we still have to do, to achieve justice and opportunity for ALL children in our country.
Three years ago, Elsie Steward Young was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame. And that fall, we honored the Marching Mothers of Hillsboro and the children—now adults—who marched with our office’s Canary Award, at our annual Ohio Women’s Conference.
Then-Senator Harris, now Vice President Harris, was supposed to speak, and we were going to present Miss Elsie with the award. But we both had to stay in Washington at the last minute, because of Supreme Court votes.
So many Ohioans at the conference told me later that, frankly, I’m not sure I was missed that much – not with Miss Elsie there. She not only filled the void, she provided so much energy with her forceful, inspiring words.
And that was at 102 years old.
Throughout the conference, people were lining up to get pictures with her. When a video played, depicting the bravery and determination of the marchers, and when Miss Elsie spoke accepting the award, there was scarcely a dry eye in the audience.
She talked about how she and the other mothers only did what any mother would have done for their children.
So many Ohioans will miss Elsie Steward Young. Our thoughts are with her three surviving daughters and two surviving sons, her 36 grandchildren, and all her family and friends and loved ones.
We know her legacy will live on, through both the lives of all the students whose education she made possible, and through the future generations of young people she inspires to stand against injustice, wherever they see it.
I ask all my colleagues to join me in honoring Miss Elsie Steward Young – Ohioan, mother, determined champion for civil rights.