Community activist remembered as bridge builder across racial lines

COLUMBIA - Family and community members throughout Columbia are remembering and honoring long-time activist Beulah Ralph.

Ralph worked for Columbia Public Schools for 58 years and played a large role in the desegregation movement of the late 1960s. She helped create the home-school communicator program to make the transition easier for students and families. 

"She was someone that families and students could look up to and could come to for support, for information," said Monica Naylor, Ralph's daughter. "It wasn't an easy transition."

The program initially helped black students and families transition into the formerly all-white schools. Under Ralph's direction, the program expanded to include connecting with families who might otherwise not visit the school and tracking frequently absent students.

Naylor said her mother was perfect for the job because of her dedication to improving the lives of others.

"She represented those families that didn't always have a place at the table, or who weren't always heard," Naylor said. "She was the person people would come to, to help them not only make transitions, but to make successful, peaceful transitions."

Carla London, the Homeless Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said Ralph hired her in 2002 and had an immediate impact on her life.

"Mrs. Ralph's integrity, compassion and empathy for students and their families, along with her no-nonsense attitude, high expectations and advocacy for what she believed in have had a major impact on the way I carry out my job and responsibilities on a daily basis," London said. "She has left a permanent imprint on the lives and in the hearts of everyone who knew her and especially those priveleged enough to work with her."

Mary Ratliff, president of Columbia's NAACP chapter, said Ralph helped bridges, not only between the achievement gap between black and white students, but between the races throughout the city.

"Anything having to do with civil and human rights, Beulah was was always right there in the mix," Ratliff said. "She was always involved in trying to tear down barriers and trying to help build bridges."

Naylor said Ralph's dedication to the people around her motivated her to stand up as a community activist.

"She loved her community. She loved the people in her community. And she supported her community," Naylor said. "And it's important to know that that was across racial lines. Whenever someone needed her support, she was there."

Last year, Columbia Public Schools decided to name a new elementary school off Highway KK after Ralph. Naylor said she was proud of her mother, and said she was deserving of the honor. She said Ralph had an impact on every student she met, and she's happy people feel compelled to honor her this way.

"Anybody who grew up in this community and left, when they came back they would always come to Douglass High School to see Mrs. Ralph," Naylor said. "They came to let her know they they were doing a good job and it was because of her support and the things she did for them."

"She gave love, kindness, support and hope to countless students within CPS, and she was a cheerleader for and designer of programs that encouraged inclusion of all students," London said. 

Ratliff said people respected Ralph so much because they knew she cared for them. She said the school's name makes sense given Ralph's contributions.

"I don't know if there's anyone in Columbia more deserving of recognition than Beulah Ralph," Ratliff said. "She not only talked the talk, but she did the walk. She was devoted to trying to bridge the gaps between races, and her love for children is unmatched."

London said naming the new school after Ralph shows how prevalent her legacy is in the community.

"It reinforces that her work and the importance and impact on the many hundreds of lives she touched in this community and others, will live on," London said. "Many people speak to a student's mind during their years in school, but Mrs. Ralph spoke to minds and hearts."

Ratliff said Ralph was never afraid to stand up for issues that needed to be addressed in the community. Naylor said her mother would appreciate the state the community is in now, but would never give up on a fight for progress.

"She would be happy with things that are happening in our community, but she would also be a part of those things that aren't so good," Naylor said. "That's just the type of person she is."

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