Gloria Blackwell

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Dr. Gloria Blackwell
Born Gloria Thomasina Blackwell
Other names Gloria Rackley
Ethnicity African American
Citizenship United States
Education B.S. 1953, M.A., Ph.D 1973
Alma mater Claflin College
S.C. State University
Emory University
Occupation Educator
Years active 1950s–1993
Organization NAACP
Known for Civil rights activism
Movement Orangeburg Freedom Movement
Religion Methodist
Children Lurma Rackley, Jamelle Rackley

Gloria Blackwell (March 11, 1927 – December 7, 2010) was an African-American civil rights activist and educator. She taught at Clark Atlanta University for 20 years and was at the center of the civil rights movement in Orangeburg, South Carolina, attracting national attention and a visit by Martin Luther King.


Gloria Thomasina Blackwell was born in Little Rock in Dillon County, South Carolina, the second of three children and the only girl[1] to Harrison Benjamin Blackwell (born 1889), a barber, and Lurline Olivia Thomas Blackwell (born 1895),[2] a teacher at the Little Rock Colored School.[3][4] Her mother's family was active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)[1] and her maternal grandfather was a Methodist minister.[5][6] Blackwell attended Mather Academy in Camden, South Carolina and graduated high school in Sumter, South Carolina in 1943. At the age of 16, she enrolled[6] at her mother's alma mater, Claflin College,[4] in Orangeburg. In 1944, she left to get married, living for a time in Chicago, Illinois.[3] The marriage ended in divorce and she returned to Orangeburg with two small daughters.[4] A third daughter was killed at the age of five in a car accident that left Blackwell with a scar on her face.[7]

She re-enrolled at Claflin, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1953.[3] Her second husband, Larney G. Rackley, a professor at South Carolina State University, adopted her daughters, Jamelle and Lurma Rackley.[4] Blackwell received a Master of Arts degree in education from South Carolina State University[3] and her doctorate in American studies[3] from Emory University in 1973.[4]

Blackwell became an elementary school teacher in the segregated Negro schools in Orangeburg, teaching third grade.[6] Fired because of her civil rights activism, in 1964, Blackwell then began teaching at Norfolk State College, now Norfolk State University. From 1968–1970, she directed African-American studies at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts.[4] in 1973, she began teaching at Clark Atlanta University, where she stayed for 20 years until retiring in 1993.[8]

Civil rights activity[edit]

Blackwell became active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s,[4] which in Orangeburg, had its base at the Trinity United Methodist Church.[5] In Orangeburg, protestors always prayed before going to a demonstration.[5] Blackwell had long been involved with the church, having been president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship on the state level even before entering Claflin, a Methodist college.[4][5] Later, she volunteered and recruited for the NAACP,[3] eventually becoming central in what became known as the "Orangeburg Freedom Movement"[6] and becoming an officer in the local NAACP.[1]

In October 1961, she was arrested for sitting in the whites only waiting area of Orangeburg hospital with her daughter Jamelle, whom she had taken to the emergency room for an injured finger.[6] She had been directed to the "colored" waiting area, which was a pile of crates next to a soda machine.[4][9] She thought it was a joke, so she returned to the whites-only area, which caused a stir, leading to her arrest.[4] She was defended in court by Matthew J. Perry, whose defense of her was so vigorous, he was charged with contempt of court[4] and jailed.[10] Blackwell and her daughter filed a civil lawsuit, Rackley v. Tri-County Hospital,[9] against the officials of the hospital, asserting that the operation of separate facilities violated her constitutional rights. Blackwell won her suit, the criminal case was dropped[4] and the facility was integrated.[9] Orangeburg attracted attention from both the nation and Martin Luther King, who visited the city.[3]

The Dillon County chapter of the NAACP made the integration of schools its priority and was visited often by Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall,[3] who had argued the landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, before the United States Supreme Court. Blackwell, then known by her married name of Rackley, began to participate and lead nonviolent demonstrations to desegregate the schools, hospitals and other public accommodations. Her daughters protested with her.[4] Once, she and her daughter, Lurma, missed a court appearance when they used the "whites only" restroom in the courthouse and were arrested.[3] Blackwell's conspicuous presence led to vilification in the press, where she was called "dangerously wild". Even some blacks avoided her for fear of being linked with her.[11]

Blackwell's protests and arrests led to her dismissal from her job as a third-grade teacher in the Negro schools[6] and her husband's contract at South Carolina State University was not renewed.[8][11] After Blackwell received a letter relieving her of her duties, blacks boycotted Orangeburg's seven Negro schools. There were demonstrations, including one where 57 minors marched in protest and were arrested for breach of peace and spent a night in jail.[6] Rackley's firing led to an invitation from the United Federation of Teachers in New York City to speak at a civil rights rally in December 1963, along with author James Baldwin.[12] In the letter firing her, the superintendent of schools wrote that Blackwell was "rabid in her zeal for social change and was unfit to be a teacher."[11] Blackwell filed a lawsuit against the school district for her dismissal and won.[13]


At her death, Congressman James Clyburn called her "fearless" and said, “She was just a tremendous spirit.”[4] Richard Reid, president of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society, said, "The actions taken by Mrs. Rackley by far placed her in the same class as that of Rosa Parks and South Carolina's own Septima Clark and Modjeska Simkins. Around Orangeburg, the name ... Gloria Rackley ... was pretty much a 'household name.'"[6]

In January 2011, Blackwell was honored posthumously in Dillon County with a Martin Luther King Day Lifetime Community Service Award.[14]


Blackwell was married five times. Her third husband, Louis C. Frayser, whom she divorced in 1970,[4] became her fifth husband in 2007.[7] During the civil rights era, she was known by her then-married name of Rackley. Later, to avoid confusion, she chose her maiden name as her professional name.[7] Known for her beauty, Blackwell was often asked why she didn't get plastic surgery to remove the scar on her face from the car accident that killed her oldest daughter. Her reply was that having lost a child, a scar was unimportant.[7] At the age of 60, Blackwell and then-husband Charles DeJournette adopted a son and five years later, his brother.[4][7] In retirement, she spoke to groups about her experiences in the civil rights movement[7] and worked on the restoration of Martin Luther King's boyhood home.[4][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, p. 92 Google Books. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  2. ^ About Yeefah J.P. Snyder: Discussions From a Global Perspective. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Gloria Blackwell (Rackley) Biography" The History Makers. Retrieved June 3, 2011
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Carolyn Click, "Orangeburg civil rights icon, and Claflin alumna Dr. Gloria Rackley Blackwell dies" Claflin University (December 10, 2010). Retrieved June 2, 2011
  5. ^ a b c d Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, p. 103 Google Books. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Richard Reid, "The Gloria Rackley-Blackwell story" The Times and Democrat, (February 22, 2011). Retrieved June 3, 2011
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Martha Barksdale, "Civil rights pioneer Blackwell dies" Fayette County News (December 14, 2010). Retrieved June 6, 2011
  8. ^ a b "State civil rights leader dead at 83" The Augusta Chronicle (December 10, 2010). Retrieved June 3, 2011
  9. ^ a b c Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, p. 104 Google Books. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  10. ^ "S.C. Lawyer Insists on Right, Cited for Contempt" Jet (November 30, 1961), page 8. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  11. ^ a b c Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, pp. 105-106 Google Books. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  12. ^ Jack Schierenbeck, "Class struggles: The UFT story, part 9" United Federation of Teachers (February 27, 1997). Retrieved June 3, 2011
  13. ^ Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, p. 5 Google Books. Retrieved June 6, 2011
  14. ^ "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration Held" The Dillon Herald (January 17, 2011). Retrieved June 6, 2011


  • Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, editors. Southern women at the millennium: a historical perspective. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri (2003) ISBN 0-8262-1505-X
  • Barbara A. Woods, "Working in the Shadows: Southern Women and Civil Rights". In: Melissa Walker, Jeanette R. Dunn, Joe P. Dunn, editors. Southern women at the millennium: a historical perspective. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri (2003) ISBN 0-8262-1505-X

External links[edit]