She’s The Civil Rights Leader

There are unwritten rules about living in the Ohio Valley. Among the most important is this: Never run afoul of Delores Wiggins.

There are two reasons for that. First, Wiggins is a formidable adversary. Ask anyone who’s ever crossed swords with her.

Second, if Wiggins is upset with you, you’ve probably done something wrong. At the very least, you’ve convinced her you need to be educated about some facet of equality.

Wiggins was honored recently by Steubenville City Council. Council members adopted a resolution recognizing her and agreed to place a plaque honoring her in city hall. She deserves a statue.

For more than three decades, Wiggins has been the civil rights leader in our region. She founded the Ohio Valley Black Caucus. She’s been president of her local chapter of the NAACP. She served on Steubenville’s Civil Service Commission for 35 years.

But who is she?

Wiggins is the kind of civil rights leader who gets things done because local people know her, usually respect her, and sometimes are afraid of her.

One of her strengths, as some Steubenville council members noted, is her sense of fairness. Mayor Jerry Barilla summed her up as, “by the book, honesty and fairness.”

Wiggins encapsulated her philosophy by telling Steubenville officials, “This country belongs to all of us. No one owns it. For the people, by the people, with liberty and justice for all.”

I suspect many national civil rights leaders are great men and women who think much as Wiggins does. She’s accomplished more for civil rights in the Ohio Valley than any of them — simply because she’s local and people know her. Speeches by national leaders come and go. So do campaigns for civil rights.

But Delores Wiggins is local. She’s not going away. If she hears of something she believes to be wrong, she’ll fight it until she sees a change. That’s her power.

I wonder how she feels about the controversy this week regarding a gigantic mural, “Highlights of American History,” at a school in Canton. A relatively small part of the painting, depicting a black man being whipped by a white man, was covered up after a complaint was made about it.

My knee-jerk reaction was that it should be shown, so young students today would understand the evil of slavery. A more thoughtful friend pointed out to me that the image by itself, without any accompanying education, could convey the wrong message.

I suspect Wiggins would agree with that. She might offer some good ideas about how to provide that education. If so, she ought to let the folks in Canton know.

Clearly, they could use a Delores Wiggins in their town.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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