Ola Mae Ransom

Women of Achievement
1993

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Ola Mae Ransom

In 1986, Ola Mae Ransom’s son, a Vietnam vet who had been sprayed with Agent Orange, developed arthritis in the spine and an inoperable disk problem. He became unable to work. In search of services, she accompanied him to the Vietnam Veterans Center.

There she observed groups of men sitting around for hours on end. When she asked a counselor about the situation he explained that the vets were homeless. With nowhere to go, they came to the center in the morning for coffee and doughnuts and then slept on the streets at night.

Appalled at the public indifference to the plight of many Vietnam vets, Ola Mae mortgaged her own home, invested her savings and solicited donations to buy two duplexes and set up the Alpha Omega Faith Homes.

On February 14, 1988, Alpha Omega Faith Homes opened the doors to veterans in need of a home environment and assistance in getting back on their feet. Since then hundreds of vets have passed through the doors and back into useful lives in the community.

When asked about her motivation, Ola Mae says that she’s “done this work all my life.” Raised in Mississippi by her mother, who helped women deliver their babies in the fields, and her father and father and grandfather, who themselves worked with the homeless, she moved to Memphis and continued her family’s tradition of helping solve community problems.

Ola Mae Ransom’s determination to address the plight of the Vietnam War veteran resulted in the founding of Alpha Omega, an organization that continues to serve veterans’ needs. And, she continues to invest her energy in improving our community.

Edith Kelly-Green

Women of Achievement
1993

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Edith Kelly-Green

Edith Kelly grew from her grandmother’s house in Oxford, Mississippi to a position in senior management at Federal Express. Along the way, she is paving the road into corporate America for future generations of women.

Born into a poor family, Edith was raised by her grandmother, who worked as a maid at then all-white Ole Miss. She attended segregated high school until her senior year when the school system was integrated. Always an outstanding student, her interest in math led her into an accounting degree at the University of Mississippi.

With no professional role models in her family, she struggled to adjust in her first job in an accounting firm where she was the first black person and one of only three females on a professional staff of 60. She was once asked by a senior partner not to return to an audit because one of the firm’s clients did not want a black person working in his office.

In 1974 Edith sat for her CPA and became the youngest black person — and one of the first black women — to pass the exam in Tennessee. She became a leader in accountants’ professional organizations where she encouraged women to enter accounting and informed the public and the profession about the skills and achievements of women in accounting.

She joined Federal Express in 1977 as a senior accountant in the general accounting area, and moved to manager and then director. When she made a lateral move to manage Publishing Services, employees took bets that she wouldn’t last six months. She stayed 14 months, developing operational experience, and was promoted to vice president of internal audit and quality assurance.

Edith has been recognized by Dollars and Sense and Ebony magazines as an up-and-coming woman in corporate America. She remains the first and only black vice president at Federal Express. She speaks frequently to groups of working women and students to tell her story of success and to urge them on.

“I started from scratch, and many of them are,” she says. “At any point, on any day, or sometimes within any minute, discouragement can be such that it’s easier to give up … but the real importance of this to me will be an easier road for my children and other children to walk in Corporate America.”

Eunice Wilson

Women of Achievement
1993

COURAGE
for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

Eunice Wilson

Eunice Wilson has worked tirelessly for reproductive rights. From 1988 to 1992 she served as executive director of the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health (MCRH).

She has displayed compassion towards women and girls who chose to terminate their pregnancies, as well as unimpeachable tact in dealing with anti-choice picketers and the local news media. She has met with anti-choice leaders to share her convictions and to try to understand theirs. She has spent many hours meeting with pro-choice groups to plan strategies for public relations, political actions and building a safe environment for Mid-South clinics. Eunice cares about the staff, volunteers and, most of all, clients at MCRH and is always encouraging and optimistic.

Eunice Wilson has a long history of caring for others. She married Willard Wilson in 1947 and over the next 13 years gave birth to six children. While the children were young the Wilsons began foster-parenting children handicapped as a result of abuse at home.

In 1960, the family moved to Humboldt, Tennessee. While continuing to care for foster children, Eunice began working nights as a nurse’s aide at a local hospital. In 1967, the family moved to Memphis where Eunice began to study nursing and was soon working at Baptist Hospital. She earned her RN at Memphis State University in 1969. Two years later, she began correspondence courses and subsequently received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology and counseling.

During this time she became charge nurse in the Baptist Hospital Emergency Room. It was work there that led Eunice to her current convictions concerning a woman’s right to a legal abortion. She saw women arriving for emergency treatment following complications from abortions done outside the state, and she questioned why women in Tennessee were unable to have safe, legal abortions. Without this experience, Eunice would have remained on the other side of the issue, instead of being the pro-choice activist that she is today.

Taking an early retirement in 1984, Eunice began part-time work with St. Peter Nursing Home. At the age of 60, she became clinic coordinator for MCRH. In 1988, she became director.

During her tenure as director she worked actively to preserve the rights of women to informed health care and a safe and legal abortion. All the while staff, clients and the clinic itself were subject to threats and abuse by anti-choice activists. Throughout it all this woman of courage remained a calm source of strength and resolve.

Anne White Kenworthy

Women of Achievement
1993

HEROISM
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:

Anne White Kenworthy

Anne White is a rape victim who heroically fought back and spoke up.

In 1991, at the age of 26, Anne was a Memphis City Schools teacher and past director of the Memphis Urban Mathematics Collaborative. Her love of math, statistics and teaching kept her busy on the public speaking and grant-writing circuits.

Early one October morning her world was suddenly changed when she was brutally assaulted at gunpoint in her East Memphis home by a man who had stalked her for several weeks. After a two-hour assault, he tied her with telephone cords, gagged her with pantyhose and shut her in a closet. Her 17-year-old rapist said he would be coming back to return her car, which he said he was borrowing.

Left in the closet, Anne tried to calm herself with mundane thoughts as, inch by inch, she pulled on a loose end of the cord. After four hours she was able to free herself and half roll, half hop out her front door and to the street to seek help. A passing neighbor stopped to help. Before Anne got in the car, she had the presence of mind to close her front door and pick up the telephone cords so the rapist wouldn’t know she had escaped.

That was just the beginning of Anne’s battle to regain control of her life and to fight back against the man who assaulted her. Her attacker did return in her car. With the help of alert neighbors, the young Arkansas parolee was caught the same day. Anne’s description and evidence helped police make the arrest. Then she painstakingly helped authorities make their case against the young man.

After the trauma of the rape and an aftermath of nightmares, Anne had to deal with many trips to court. But she was determined to see it through. The prosecutors gave her veto power over plea bargaining negotiations. Finally, her attacker pleaded guilty and got a 20-year prison sentence.

The need to act heroically didn’t stop there. Anne White has stepped out of the secret, silent world of rape victims to speak publicly about her experience. In a front-page story in The Commercial Appeal, she talked frankly about what was done to her, how it injured her life and how far she must go to reclaim her life.

“I kind of want my little moment of acknowledgement that I survived this,” she said. “This happened and it was horrible. Let’s just put it out on the table, learn from it, and move on.” Anne has a new job and is slowly working her way back into a normal life. And she is working on ways to teach people about rape and rape survival.

Anne White heroically stepped out of society’s shadows to shine light on the crime of rape and its effects on victims’ lives. All of us are indebted to her.

Cora Price Taylor

Women of Achievement
1993

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Cora Price Taylor

When Cora Price Taylor was appointed principal of the Manassas School in 1909, the facility provided education only through the eighth grade and was housed in inadequate, overcrowded facilities. When her tenure ended some 20 years later, the school had been through two major building projects and had expanded to offer high school diplomas.

Concerned about conditions at the school, Cora worked with leaders in the community to purchase land across the street from the school. In 1918 a sixteen-room stucco building was erected. Determined that students in the community would have the programs and facilities they required to obtain an excellent education, Cora once more went to friends and patrons for financial solicitations. Using student labor and help from men in the neighborhood, a two-story frame building was built to serve the industrial departments. In 1924, the first high school class graduated.

Cora obtained support from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Money from this foundation was used to secure equipment, hire more teachers and staff, develop a library, chemistry and physics laboratories, and purchase machines for home economics. Manassas was the largest school supported by the Julius Rosenwald Fund in the nation.

In 1927, Cora began a new campaign to build a school auditorium. So determined was she that this project be a success that she personally hauled bricks from Millington. The 1,200-seat auditorium still bears her name.

Cora died in 1932. Addie D. Jones, in Portrait of a Ghetto School, wrote that Cora’s administration was marked by initiative, profound planning, and an indomitable will to make her educational program succeed. In 1941, National Education Association Field Director Charl Williams described Cora as one of the truly great teachers, an inspiration to students and teachers both at Manassas and throughout the country.

Cora Taylor’s life represents years of devotion to the educational needs of African American youth. She worked tirelessly with the members of the black community and through foundations to realize her dream — that students would have access to an excellent education in their own community.

Selma Lewis

Women of Achievement
1993

STEADFASTNESS
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Selma Lewis

This quiet, modest woman has spent her adult years making life better for Memphis and Memphians, along the way affecting the entire nation. Championing the causes of better race relations, better social services and the arts, Selma Lewis has led with grace, sureness and compassion.

Always concerned with the quality of life for children, in 1964 Selma and her friend Myra Dreifus gathered 10 people together to discuss the development of a fund that would be used to purchase school lunches for children who would otherwise go hungry. Working with Vista Volunteers, Selma surveyed Memphians for their support. Their research found that thousands of children were unable to purchase a lunch. Armed with patience and determination, Selma and other volunteers were able to successfully overcome a lengthy legal battle that allowed the Memphis Board of Education to set up the Fund for Needy School Children. So successful was the undertaking that the federal government used it as a basis for today’s National School Lunch Program.

Interested in both the spirit and body of the child, Selma also founded the School Concerts Program, which brought the Memphis Symphony into the public schools.

In 1962 she became the first female president of the Jewish Family Service, an organization that provides social services for the Jewish community. Her growing concern for the homeless led her to champion the Memphis Coalition for the Homeless in 1977. The next year she went on to co-found the Mental Health Society of Memphis and Shelby County. During her 10 years on the board, Selma organized the Community Family Conference and was co-editor of the “Directory of Mental Health Services of Memphis and Shelby County.”

While working to improve her community, Selma also worked to improve herself. Having earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt in 1942, she returned to school at the age of 50 to obtain a PhD in American history. With Marjean Kremer, she co-authored “Historic Black Memphians” and “The Angel of Beale Street: A Biography of Julia Ann Hooks.” Currently she is at work on a “History of the Memphis Jewish Community, 1840s – 1960s.”

Independently nominated for this award by several groups as well as individuals, each nomination speaks of Selma’s modesty and willingness to give others credit. Selma Lewis’ steadfastness in serving Memphis, in helping those in need and in recording the history of our community truly makes her a “woman of achievement.”

Audrey May and Vickie Scarborough

Women of Achievement
1993

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Audrey May and Vickie Scarborough

Audrey May and Vickie Scarborough opened Memphis’ first feminist book store in September 1990 — but their vision has always been that it would be much more than a place to browse and buy books. May, the social worker, and Scarborough, the research chemist, named their enterprise “Meristem.” That literally means the cells of a plant that carry its memory and enable it to regenerate.

The name symbolizes the ability of women to “remember who we are and pass on information from generation to generation, to grow and flourish,” Audrey says. Vickie adds, “There’s a whole women’s culture out there that most mainstream, white, male society doesn’t know or put much value on. We want to make that available here.”

Meristem, in the redeveloping Cooper-Young neighborhood in Midtown, is a place where women and their friends can go for information, entertainment, socializing and networking. “We want to be inclusive, multi-cultural and to reach out to men, women, gays, lesbians, families, the ecology movement and others,” the owners explain. “That’s why our tag line is ‘Books and More for Women and Their Friends.’”

In addition to an inventory of books on women’s history, feminist theory, parenting, sex, body imaging — plus “non-sexist, non-racist, non-homophobic” children’s books and more — they offer an outlet for women’s crafts, jewelry and art.

In its two years, Meristem has become a place where women artists and authors display their talents. It is a gathering place for local women writers, for women planning National Women’s History Month events, for book discussions and music.

A one nominator said, “Audrey and Vickie have not only begun to achieve their vision, but are also nurturing the visions of other women.”