This Day in History

Sept. 22, 1954: Hillsboro’s “Marching Mothers” Sue to Desegregate Schools

Time Periods: 1945
Themes: Education, Laws & Citizen Rights, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in May 1954, many school districts defied the court order, including the Hillsboro, Ohio, elementary schools. High schools in the area had been desegregated in 1946, but the three elementary schools in the district remained segregated, with Lincoln being the only elementary school for Black children.

(From left) Joyce Clemons Kittrell, Teresa Williams, Myra Cumberland Phillips, Caroline Steward Goins, Eleanor Curtis Cumberland, and Virginia Steward Harewood, who marched with their mother. Photo by Aaron Roan. Source: WVXU/NPR

On September, 22, 1954, the “Marching Mothers” of Hillsboro sued the school district and began a pressure campaign that continued for nearly two years before successfully desegregating elementary schools in Hillsboro.

As John Keisewetter writes for NPR’s All Things Considered,

The Hillsboro school board refused to allow Black students to attend all-white Webster or Washington elementary schools in the fall of 1954, after the Supreme Court ruling. School officials insisted they stay in the old two-room all-Black Lincoln School, an 1800s two-story building with two classrooms — one for first, second, and third grade and another for fourth, fifth, and sixth. The Cincinnati Post reported that Lincoln School had 60 students and two teachers in October 1954.

So five mothers sued the school district with the help of NAACP attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley.

And every school day the mothers and children marched through town with picket signs for two years, until they won the lawsuit in April 1956. [Read more.]

The picture book Step by Step!: How the Lincoln School Marchers Blazed a Trail to Justice by Debbie Rigaud and Carlotta Penn and illustrated by Nysha Lilly “tells this story from the perspective of 12-year-old Joyce Clemons, now 81, one of the women who marched for integration as a child.”

The Lincoln School Story Documentary Trailer

Produced by filmmaker Andrea Torrice, The Lincoln School Story documentary highlights the role of these courageous mothers in the early Civil Rights Movement. Watch the trailer below.

Additional Resources

Marching On, the full story of the Lincoln School by Aaron Rovan and Melvin Barnes. Photos by Shellee Fisher.

Black History Comes Alive with Drama and Heroism — in Trump Country by Gary Abernathy (Washington Post).

Lincoln School Marchers: How Black Moms in Hillsboro, Ohio Toppled Jim Crow by Monica Day (NBC4).

The Lincoln School Story, featuring the film, a children’s activity book, and a coloring page (Ohio Humanities).