American Press

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Southwest Louisiana ,

'Oh yes we are': Mother remembered as fierce fighter for civil rights

Last Modified: Sunday, May 14, 2017 8:13 AM

By Emily Fontenot / American Press

Although Rosie Glapion won’t get to spend today with her mother, who died years ago, she’ll spend it honoring her a memory — a woman who, like many others, lived to support her loved ones without receiving any accolades.

Glapion is a local activist, former nun, author and past president of the local NAACP chapter. She described her mother, Ethel Floyd, as a nurturing and fiercely loyal woman — a light-skinned African-American whose civil rights activism often put her in harm’s way, even in jail on one occasion.

“My mother was one of the most significant civil rights people in Lake Charles,” Glapion said. “A lot of people know that, but I don’t think she’s gotten the recognition she deserves.”

Her father, Florce Floyd, was the one in the spotlight. He’s listed on the Wall of Tolerance at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala., and was once president of the local NAACP. Even so, Glapion said, her mother was the real backbone of the family.

“My daddy was fearless. My daddy did a lot of things I couldn’t believe, but my mother was the one who kept him fearless,” she said. “I think, without her he wouldn’t have done as much as he was able to do.”

She recalled a time when her mother stepped in to strengthen her father before a rally in Leesville in 1969. The rally sought to shed light on the mistreatment of black soldiers and others by the Leesville police.

“People were coming from all over the country to march on Leesville when the word got out,” Glapion said. “People told my daddy, ‘If you show up at Leesville, we’re going to shoot you on sight.’ ”

He decided not to go, she said, but her mother wouldn’t have it. “My mother said, ‘Oh yes we are,’ ” she said.

Glapion said she and her parents rode to Leesville in a school bus; it was her first freedom ride. She remembers being nervous because the large windows left them exposed.

“We were just sitting ducks,” she said. “But I said to myself, ‘If they’re going to die today, I may as well die with them.’ ”

They made it through the march, which turned out to be a huge success, she said, inspiring legal action and improvements to the jail.

Not long before the rally, her parents were among 18 people arrested for setting up a temporary help center at Fort Polk for African-American soldiers.

“My mother said everywhere you looked were police cars, tear gas, Tommy guns — everything,” she said. “They arrested my daddy, and my mother — she was always very vocal — asked, ‘What are you arresting him for?’ They told her, ‘You keep quiet, or we’re going to arrest you too.’ And they did.”

Glapion said conditions at the jail were horrendous. Her mother grew sick and had to vomit repeatedly in her cell, she said, but it only made her parents more resolute in their decision to see the jail torn down and replaced, which it soon was.

Glapion said one of the most defining periods of her mother’s life was when she sat on the steps of Sowela Vocational Technical school until she was allowed in.

An American Press article from Sept. 18, 1962, documents the day her mother and cousin applied for nursing school. The school director, Rex Smelser, was being prosecuted, along with 12 other educators, for failing to carry out a federal court order to integrate Louisiana trade schools.

The application went unheeded for a while. Glapion said her mother spent weeks, maybe months, on the steps of the college until she was finally allowed in.

She was the first African-American to graduate from Sowela Nursing School.

Floyd worked at the Chennault medical facility and other area hospitals. But, Glapion said, she found her “life’s work” as a nurse in the Calcasieu Parish Head Start program.

“She became such a powerful force in that program. There are people grown up today walking around saying, ‘Mrs. Floyd took such great care of me when I was a child,’ ” she said. “She thought of every single one of those children like they were her own. If one of them sneezed at school, she knew.”

Glapion said her mother worked until she had a stroke in her late 70s. Her mother died in 2003, followed by her father in 2016.

Glapion published a book in 2014 in which she recounted her childhood in the segregated South. She starts by talking about her mother and how she made sure her children knew their worth despite what people said about their skin color. Glapion recalls in the first chapter how her mother forbade them to ride in the back of the bus or cower to a white person.

“My mother made it very clear to us that no one was better than us and that we were all the same,” Glapion writes. “She would say that we were not better than anyone else and that we were not less than anyone else.”

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