Civil Rights History: Meet the Hillsboro Marching Mothers


Health Editor’s Note:  I had the pleasure of knowing Susan Banyas while going to Chillicothe High School. She and I were on the same cheer leading squad for three years, although she was a year ahead of me in school.  Hey, a fun fact about Chillicothe, Ohio; This southern Ohio city was the first and third capital of Ohio.  I am pleased to see that Susan used her thespian and literary tendencies to write a socially important  play, “The Hillsboro Story“, and is now in the process of writing a book about this important time in civil rights history…..Carol 

Meet the Hillsboro Marching Mothers who helped change the course of history

Major, but not well-known, piece of American civil rights movement unfolds in Hillsboro, Ohio

by Alexis Rogers

Regardless of the Supreme Court decision mandating the integration of schools in the 1950s, racism was alive and well in Hillsboro, Ohio. It took a group of concerned moms — dubbed the “Marching Mothers” — to get black children in the community the educations to which they were entitled.


If you ask those who were there, like Teresa Williams or Joyce Kitrell, they can tell you that Hillsboro in the 1950s was a reflection of the nation’s deep-rooted disparities.

“You stayed in your place,” Williams said.

Susan Banyas, an activist and playwright, grew up in Hillsboro, just feet away from those like Williams and Kitrell.

“There had been rumblings, you know, but this was very early, before the civil rights movement got going. This is before Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) stepped up, before the Montgomery bus boycotting,” Banyas said. “I was 8 years old. I was in Mrs. Mallory’s third-grade classroom, and every day outside the window I would see Negro women arriving with their children.”

In 1954, Williams and Kitrell were two of those children outside Banyas’ classroom window. Williams and Kitrell went to the school for black children, the Lincoln School.

“There (were) about 30 kids to one room. The teachers did the best they could with what they had,” Williams said.

“We had never seen a map before. We never really (saw) a good book before. There are two or three subjects that we never before when we went to Lincoln School,’“ Kitrell said.

Hillsboro administrators and town officials refused to integrate the schools, the federal mandate from Brown vs. Board of Education meaning nothing more than a piece of paper to them.

Phillip Partridge, a respected county engineer, didn’t agree.


Courtesy of Susan Banyas


“No one was in the school. It was late at night. It was the day after the Fourth of July parade. So Independence Day, he was like, ‘That’s it, I am torching this school,’“ Banyas said.

Partridge attempted to burn down the Lincoln School in an effort to force administrators to allow black children into white schools. The town was in shock and pushed the blame in the direction that made the most sense to them.

“They tried to arrest a young black boy for the fire,” Williams said.

Partridge stepped forward, demanding equality for children whom he barely knew.

“By him being an engineer, he was something big in the town. That kind of made them wonder,” Kitrell said.

Partridge served 9 months in prison while the children stayed segregated.

“Came back, couldn’t get his job … Then went on to engineer out in (the) Fort Myers, New Mexico, area, then went to Akron. In Akron he became very involved in the anti-war movement,” Banyas said. “He and his wife eventually moved to the Lower East Side in New York City, where he continued being an anti-war activist all of his life and engineered major buildings in New York.”


Courtesy of Susan Banyas


“The school board fixed up the damaged school and sent the black kids back to their damaged school rather than integrate. That is when the women knew they had a case,” Banyas said.

Mothers like Imogene Courtis, Gertrude Clemons Hudson, Sallie Wiliams and Elise Steward Young refused to send their children back to the Lincoln School. Dozens of black families pulled their children out.

“Lady Quaker teachers would come from Wilmington, bring homework, and we did our home schoolwork in the homes,” Williams said.

Every morning from 1954 to 1956, the “marching mothers,” as they came to be known, walked miles with their children from their black neighborhoods to the white schools. Williams said 36 children joined their mothers every morning

“Everybody met down at the bottom of the hill. We marched from down at the bottom of the hill on Walnut all the way across town to Webster Elementary,” Williams said.

Courtesy of Susan Banyas

The reaction from the white establishment was visceral.

“There were a couple (of) crosses burned … I remember we were living across the street from them,” Kitrell said. “Mama would say, ‘You can burn the cross to try to scare us, but everything else, forget it, because we are going to keep on marching.’“


What began as a personal battle in this small town known as the “school fight” soon grew.

At 12 years old, Kitrell, then known as Joyce Clemons, became the central figure in a new court battle: Clemons vs. Board of Education of Hillsboro, Ohio, the first federal court case in Ohio challenging integration in Ohio schools under the direction of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

“My mother, she said, ‘Joyce, you are going to be the plaintiff in this case.’ She said, ‘That means that you might have to go in the court and they may be asking you questions and things.’ She said, ‘I am not going to tell you what to say. I want to you to be able to answer it yourself,’” Kitrell said. “I can remember they went to this one hearing and the judge told them, ‘Your children are delinquent because they are not going to school. We are going to take your children from you.’ The parents said, ‘Well we have Quaker teachers. He still said, ‘You are not doing your children right.’“

Kitrell said the judge threatened the mothers often.

Courtesy of Susan Banyas

“(He said), ‘We are going to put you in jail if you don’t put your children in Lincoln School.’ My mother told the judge, ‘I tell you what. You let me go home, do my work and get everything done. Then you can put me in jail,’” Kitrell said.

The “marching mothers” movement gained momentum and got help from the Dayton NAACP.

“We had so many different courts we went to. The judges, they had really (begun) to accuse the parents of different things,” Kitrell said.

The case caught the attention of national leaders like Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley.


Judgment day came.

“They were in there for a while. Everyone kept watching and wondering what was taking so long. The door opened. We all stood up because we thought we were going to go in,” Kitrell said. “(The attorney) said, ‘No. Stay right where you are. Y’all won the case.’“

The victory was historic: the first successful integration case in Ohio history to date. But the victory was also costly. The marching mothers and their children continued to battle entrenched racism.

Partridge’s desperate bid to end segregation changed the direction of his life.


Today, more than 60 years later, you can see the impact of the sacrifice of the marching mothers and Partridge.

Children of all colors share the hallways of Hillsboro schools, few of them having any idea of the steep price paid by a brave few.

Jim Smith, the current superintendent of Hillsboro Schools, said Hillsboro Schools work on diversity. Although the Hillsboro story is not in students’ curriculum, Smith recognized the impact of the marching mothers.

“The fact that a lot of folks don’t know about it is really something we could work on, on our end,” Smith said.


Banyas grew up curious, eventually becoming a historian of the marching mothers. Her research led her to write a play called “The Hillsboro Story“ that she brought to Hillsboro Schools to teach them about the marching mothers. Banyas is currently working on a book about the Hillsboro story that she hopes will bring national attention to the mothers’ bravery.

“I created the play and forthcoming book to bring national attention to the story, having worked on it since 2003,” Banyas said. “The play premiered at Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, Oregon in 2011 and toured to the National UGRR Freedom Center in Cincinnati, The Brown Foundation in Topeka Kansas, as well as to Hillsboro schools and Southern State Community College.”

Williams and Kitrell raised their families in Hillsboro. Williams graduated in 1963. She raised six children with her husband and was a successful homemaker.

Kitrell continued her education by earning her GED, then went on to college. She too came back to Hillsboro and raised two children with her husband.

Like different ships passing through the night, the marching mothers and their children never met Partridge, but shared a passion that led strangers to the same purpose.

“It is time, America. It is time, Cincinnati. It is time, Hillsboro,” Banyas said


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