Lulu Hardesty, who died recently at the age of 91, was one of the quiet civil rights warriors. She was not a militant, nor was she very political. Yet simply by her example, this Annapolis school teacher did more to improve relations between blacks and whites in Anne Arundel County than all but a handful of other activists.
Mrs. Hardesty's life was a virtual road map of civil rights history. She got her first job teaching at a dilapidated one-room, all-black elementary in South County. Then, in 1955, a year after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, she became the first black to teach in a white school.
"If ever there was a person who was perfect for integration, it was Mrs. Hardesty," said Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden, one of her students.
One of Mrs. Hardesty's great gifts was that, in spite of whatever repression and prejudice she faced, she never had a chip on her shoulder. If she ever felt resentment, she never showed it. "She was never angry," Mr. Snowden recalls, "even when she should have been."
Teaching in a one-room shack was simply the way things were, and white children were no different from black children. To her, they were all the same. In her later years, she always said her biggest thrill was having her old students spot her on the street, rush up and give her a hug.
"To me," she once said, "we're living in a world of people, not black, not white. We're living in a world, and we've got to get to know each other."
These beautiful, simple words were the essence of Lulu Hardesty's civil rights philosophy. Intelligent and well-educated, she believed the cure for racism lay in showing people why they were wrong, based on facts. Even in the last years of her life, Mrs. Hardesty was committed to fostering "total integration and understanding among all people." When she was awarded the first Morris Blum Humanitarian Award in 1989, she put the Annapolis community on notice that her civil rights work was far from over.
Mrs. Hardesty did not live to see that work completed. Perhaps if we remember her words -- "We're living in a world of people, not black, not white" -- we will not have to wait another lifetime for the day when different kinds of people can get along.