Monday, January 26, 2015

Ann Dearsley-Vernon: Making Your Mark- Starting the Sit-Ins

Ann Dearsley-Vernon (at far left) and 2 friends at the Women's College of North Carolina gave up their seats to African-American students at Woolworth's in Greensboro,NC, it helped to launch the sit-in movement in 1960 (Photo: National Civil Rights Museum)
As I have noted in various posts, what helped me beyond measure in rebuilding my social life and finding self-acceptance after coming out was to become involved in LGBT rights organizations.  Among the first endeavors that I involved my self was the Legends Committee for Equality Virginia.  The first honoree of the now annual Legends Gala was Ann Dearsley-Vernon, a wonderful LGBT equality ally and one who was in involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960's when she was a college student.  With the attention again being refocused on those days thanks to the movie "Selma" local WVEC -TV 13 recently carried a story on Ann and her courage and willingness to do what was right (I deem it a true honor to count Ann as a friend).  Here are excerpts:
Today, Ann Dearsley-Vernon is 76 years old. A stroke two years ago slowed her walking and her speech, but the memories of how she helped make history during the Civil Rights movement are still clear as day.

In 1960, when America was embroiled in the Civil Rights movement, Ann and a couple of friends from Greensboro Women's College walked into a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina up to the lunch counter to eat.  Ann was a graduate student in fine arts.

They noticed African-American students were not being served. Ann and her friends gave up their seats to African-American students.

This incident went down in the history books as helping to launch the sit-in movement -- a series of non-violent protests at other eateries across the South that refused to serve African-Americans. It rejuvenated Civil Rights efforts led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We had no idea it would be so important,"Ann said. "We thought it was the right thing to do."

Sticking to their principles led to tensions mounting at the Woolworth lunch counter. Ann and her friends were yelled at and were threatened by people who were angry at what they did. Ann says someone even pressed a knife against her back.

"At the time it was very scary," Ann said.  She and her friends were escorted out of Woolworth by a group of African-American student-athletes from the NC A&T football team, who linked arms to protect them.

Ann moved to Norfolk in 1973, becoming a key figure in the arts community. She also became heavily involved in community programs that encouraged celebrating diversity and eliminating prejudice, winning several awards for her work.
One of those awards was the first "legends" award for Ann's work for LGBT equality.  The husband and I saw her during the holidays and she is a great lady.  A truly great lady.   Again, my message to those coming out, especially later in life, is to GET INVOLVED.  It will change your life and you may be lucky enough to meet some incredibly amazing people along the way.  

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