Featured Scholar: Ashley Richardson

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Featured Scholar: Ashley Richardson
Watson, Sara
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
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Source Institution:
University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Featured Scholar:
,-shley Richardson

2003 - 2004 University Scholar
Mentor: Brian Ward
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

It has been said that the civil rights movement in the United States was led by men but
organized by women. University Scholar Ashley Richardson won the 2004 Best
Qualitative Paper Award in the USP's annual Best Paper Competition for her research on
the nameless, faceless women who fought for racial equality in the South.

"Women were the glue that held everything together," Ashley says. "Since they were so
social, it was the women who got the word out about events that were going on in the
community, such as voter registration drives. When civil rights workers came down from
the North and needed a place to stay, it was women who took them in and fed them. If
women hadn't been there, nothing would have gotten done."

A history graduate, Ashley worked with civil rights expert Dr. Brian Ward, chair of the
history department, on researching the history of women in the Southern Regional
Council (SRC), a civil rights organization established in the South after World War II to
bring social change to the region. Formed from the remnants of other civil rights
organizations, the SRC was made up mostly of well-educated whites and worked for
racial equality behind the scenes.

"They were not so much of an activist group -- they weren't doing sit-ins or taking
freedom rides," Ashley explains. "They may have participated in events like that, but it
was never a SRC project. They were a much more reserved organization in that respect.
It was really an organization of Southerners working to make change in the South -- they
wanted to do their own internal facing of the problems, instead of bringing Northern
black and white people down to protest."

The surprising thing to Ashley was the number of women in key leadership positions in
the organization. Looking through original SRC documents at the Smathers Library,
combing through hundreds of papers including decades of membership rosters, Ashley
found that as early as the 1950s, close to one-third of SRC and their state affiliate
officers were women. "I found that really surprising for the 1940s, 50s and 60s," she
says. "You didn't usually see women getting recognition for their involvement in any type
of movement until the 1970s and 80s."

One of the biggest unsung heroines Ashley researched was Mrs. Modjeska Simkins, a
prominent figure and executive board leader from South Carolina. Ashley traveled to the
University of South Carolina to access library holdings on Simkins and the women of the
South Carolina SRC.

"I knew women were prevalent -- just look at the pictures of people on marches -- but
you never hear about these people," she says. "So when I started going through all these
documents, it didn't surprise me that there were so many women, it just was kind of like
'ah-hal There they are'."

Ashley's paper, "No One Knows Their Names: the Women of the Southern Regional
Council and the South Carolina Council on Human Relations," earned the top prize for
qualitative research in the USP Paper Competition. She received a certificate at the USP's
annual spring reception held at the Harn Museum of Art in April. Ashley submitted an
expanded and reworked version of the paper for her senior thesis, and in May she
graduated from UF with a BA in history with highest honors.

Ashley continues to work in the UF Honor's Office and helps run Preview orientation for
new students and teaches First-Year Florida, a freshman course that introduces new
students to college life. She has been admitted to law school at UF and is set to start in
the fall. She also plans to purse a master's degree in history simultaneously and continue
her research with Ward.

"I am so torn as to what I want to do," she says. "I have wanted to be an attorney since
I was 12 years old, but thanks to Dr. Ward, I have been sucked into the history vortex.
So I am going to also get my master's in history, as well as my law degree, and see
where life leads me.


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