Editorials

Civil rights leader Julia Hill leaves legacy for others to advance

Julia H. Hill, the first woman president of the Kansas City branch of the NAACP and former president of the Kansas City school district, overseeing the court-ordered desegregation, died Aug. 11. A memorial service for her will take place Wednesday morning at Centennial United Methodist Church, 1834 Woodland Ave.
Julia H. Hill, the first woman president of the Kansas City branch of the NAACP and former president of the Kansas City school district, overseeing the court-ordered desegregation, died Aug. 11. A memorial service for her will take place Wednesday morning at Centennial United Methodist Church, 1834 Woodland Ave. The Kansas City Star

Over the years, some people foolishly challenged Julia H. Hill’s commitment to civil rights and equality. They eventually realized they were no match for her commitment and unyielding strength.

Those and other qualities will be recounted Wednesday at a memorial service for the longtime educator and first woman president of the Kansas City branch of the NAACP, who died Aug. 11 at age 93. The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority service will begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 11 at Centennial United Methodist Church.

“She was a servant leader in our community, sacrificing for the education and civil rights of our people,” said the Rev. Jason Bryles, senior pastor of Centennial United Methodist Church, where Hill was a longtime member.

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“I truly appreciate her relentless nature, which made us a better church and made us a better community as well,” said Bryles, who will officiate at the memorial service.

Expect the church to be packed with Hill’s family, friends and allies in the struggle for civil rights. Hill’s life and career were shaped by growing up in segregated Kansas City. She graduated from Lincoln High School and received her bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City in 1943.

Hill received her master’s degree in administration and supervision from the University of Southern California-Los Angeles and her doctorate in education from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She spent 23 years as a teacher and school administrator and 16 years at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley as an administrator.

But Hill is best known for her activism outside of work. In the late 1950s she was vice president responsible for picketing with the Community Committee for Social Action. The group, forged from black women’s social clubs, organized hundreds of volunteers who for six months picketed downtown stores and restaurants that refused to serve African Americans. When the businesses agreed to no longer discriminate, Hill then worked to secure jobs for black people at businesses and as public bus drivers.

“She was a lady of character, consistency and strong will,” said Mary Long, one of Hill’s friends. “She was always for the person who was the underdog. She wanted her work to speak for her.”

Indeed it did. As president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1971-1980, she fought discrimination and secured jobs and promotions for minorities in businesses, colleges and the news media. She also fought police brutality — well ahead of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Hill was first elected to the Kansas City school board in 1984 and was board president from 1990 to 1994, overseeing the district’s court-ordered desegregation.

Hill helped make this city a better community with more opportunities for everyone. Her legacy includes the civil rights and other memorabilia she donated in January 2013 to the Black Archives of Mid-America. It includes correspondence, newspaper articles, photos, NAACP papers, awards, certificates and other material documenting the progress of blacks’ struggles to change this city, state and the nation to be more welcoming of the country’s growing diversity.

Hill’s work will help people to never forget and others to continue what she started.

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