Honoring The Women Who Made A Difference In Greensboro

Feb 26, 2019

The Ruth Wicker Tribute to Women is one of the first standalone exhibits in North Carolina to commemorate the specific achievements of women in the state. The interactive exhibit opened earlier this year in the Barber Park Event Center and documents 31 influential women from the 18th century to the present, including 10 who were “firsts” in their field or position.

Some of the women honored include Elreta Melton Alexander, the first African-American woman to practice law in North Carolina, and Mary Webb Nicholson, the first woman in the state to get a pilot’s license. 

  Host Frank Stasio talks to Shawna Tillery and Virginia Summey about the stories of the women in the exhibit and about how they chose the honorees. Tillery is the planning and project development division manager at the Greensboro Parks and Recreation department. Summey is a history lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

A. “Jean” Jackson also joins the conversation. She served as the first female and first African-American athletics director for the city of Greensboro, and her story is commemorated in the exhibit. The exhibit is on view at the Barber Park Event Center in Greensboro.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Tillery on making decisions about who is in the exhibit:

The [steering] committee had decided it to be a place of inspiration. So really, the women that were chosen were ones that were inspirational. And that younger girls — school groups [and] the community — will come and see the women selected in this space and really get inspired by what they had done.

What I wanted to accomplish was to make sure that everything was equal across the board. So I tried to make sure that not only women — but women too — would have space, officials and the same types of activities that everybody else did. - A. Jean Jackson

Jackson on how she became the first woman and first African-American head of athletics for the city of Greensboro:

In 1995, we had had a situation in parks and recreation where a young lady wanted to be on an all-star team for baseball. And the powers that be said: No, she can't be on an all-star team. So her parents did not like that situation and decided to take it further. And after all of that, I think everybody decided we need a big change. And ... I guess I was the “big change.”

Summey on one of the women honored:

Willa Player was the president of Bennett College. She came in the 1950s. And when nobody else in Greensboro wanted Dr. Martin Luther King to come speak, she offered him a space to come speak at Bennett College in 1958. Also in 1959, she allowed Bennett to host the NAACP meetings that planned the sit-ins that eventually took place on February 1, 1960. So she was [a] really important woman in the civil rights movement here in Greensboro.