Letha Ridley (1911-2015), second ever African American principal in the RCSD anda 1958 photo with Martin Luther King.

Letha Ridley (1911-2015), second ever African American principal in the RCSD anda 1958 photo with Martin Luther King.

Letha Ridley (1911 – 2015) had quite a life. Born in the Taft Administration that followed Theodore Roosevelt, Mrs. Ridley would live to see Barack Obama speak in the White House’s Roosevelt Room.Screen-Shot-2015-11-25-at-12.24.37-PM


1955 University of Rochester Yearbook [courtesy of the Rush Rhees Library Rare Book Room. Original in the general stacks.]

In 1963 becoming the second ever black Principal in the RCSD, Mrs. Ridley dedicated her life to primary school education. In 1955, she also received a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Rochester.

At the same time, her retirement was quite the second act. Mrs. Ridley celebrated her 100th birthday in China!

Mrs. Ridley may also have been present at a noteworthy event in Rochester history.  In January 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King spent the evening at the home of Dr. Charles T. Lunsford after having given a talk at the Colgate Divinity School.


Martin Luther King during his 1958 visit to Rochester. Dr. Lunsford is to his left, kneeling. Woman # 6 may have been Mrs. Ridley [Photo: Charles Price]

A couple of years ago, Charles Price, who in 1948 became the first African-American police officer in Rochester, showed me a picture he took of King, Lunsford and company. (Incidentally, 1948 was the same year Mrs. Ridley began teaching in Rochester.)

While Charles’ memory is keen, he said it was possible–but could not recall for certain–that Mrs. Ridley was in the photo. Maybe # 6.  There is a definite resemblance. She may also have been among the guests who did not appear in the photo.

On a less bright note, having retired in 1973, Mrs. Ridley also lived through 1971, the RCSD’s most tumultuous year when mandatory busing failed.Untitled

Whether or not Mrs. Ridley was there at the Lunsford’s home, she had quite a life full of good works.

When Martin Luther King was at the home of Charles Lunsford

Reflecting on the RCSD’s most tumultuous year, 1971

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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