Fifty years ago this month, two Randolph-Macon Woman’s College students made a decision that placed them at the forefront of the civil rights movement in Lynchburg.
On the evening of December 14, 1960, Mary Edith Bentley Abu-Saba ’61 and Rebecca Mays Owen ’61 joined two Lynchburg College students and two students from Virginia Theological Seminary and College at a local drugstore lunch counter where African Americans were not allowed to eat. They wanted to convince the owner of Patterson’s Drug Store to allow people of all races to patronize his counter. They ended up in jail.
The decision of those six students, dubbed the Patterson Six, prompted subsequent sit-ins from classmates and divided people throughout the city and the College. It was a troubled time, and the students paid consequences for their actions. Their decision to protest the mistreatment of African Americans in Lynchburg did not, by itself, bring momentous change to society. But it did matter. Like so many graduates from the College before and after them, they saw something wrong and did something about it. Many did not agree with their actions, but few doubted their courage, their heart, and their strength.
From its inception, this College has always taught its students the power of the individual to make a difference. That philosophy and mission still ring true today. This fall, a group of faculty, staff, and students, led by sociology professor Brad Bullock, gathered around the flagpole on front campus at lunchtime to commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Standing together in a circle, individuals of different races, backgrounds, and religions repeated Dr. King’s profound words. That emotional reading did not change the world. But it did matter. Together, our community stood for something it believed was right. Together, we made a proud statement.
Half a century ago, a group of students had the courage to stand up for something they believed was important, thanks in part to the lessons and confidence instilled in them by the College. Our motto, vita abundantior, is not limited to an individual’s ability to live the life more abundant. It also reminds us of our potential to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
John E. Klein