Saturday, August 30, 2003

Virginia Coffey fought against discrimination



By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo]
Mrs. Coffey

COLLEGE HILL - Virginia Keys Jones Coffey, who spent the better part of the 20th century fighting against segregation and discrimination in Cincinnati, died Tuesday at Llanfair Retirement Community. The College Hill resident was 98.

Wherever Mrs. Coffey saw discrimination, she worked to end it.

She started the first Girl Scout troop in the city for African-American girls in the 1940s and helped desegregate Coney Island in the 1950s. Once, she and others laid down on the ground in front of the entrance to the amusement park.

And she was undaunted when white boys poured molasses on her head from atop a shelter while she was attempting to integrate the city's swimming pools.

Mrs. Coffey served as assistant director of the Mayor's Friendly Relations Committee from 1948 to 1962 and was the first black woman to serve as executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, from 1968 to 1973.

Born in Wheeling, W.Va., in 1904, Mrs. Coffey moved to Grand Rapids, Mich. with her family at age 4. Her father moved them there so the children could attend integrated schools.

After graduating from Western Michigan University, she moved to Cincinnati in 1924 to teach at the all-black Stowe School.

She had believed Cincinnati to be a progressive city but found it to be otherwise.

She considered leaving before Theodore Berry, then-NCAA president, persuaded her to join the local chapter. That's when she jumped headlong into the effort of integrate the city.

Mrs. Coffey endured the indignities of jeers and thrown objects while standing in line to buy tickets at whites-only theaters. After she and others had integrated the movie theaters, they moved on to restaurants and public facilities.

She left teaching after a couple of years to enter civil rights work full time. She was a secretary at the West End Branch of the YWCA from 1926 to 1931 and became its executive director in 1932.

She accepted the position of director of religious education and youth activities for Carmel Presbyterian Church, then field director for the Girl Scouts.

Mrs. Coffey also worked as community relations supervisor for the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses Inc., director of the Memorial Community Center and human relations consultant for the University of Cincinnati.

She served on the advisory board of the Hamilton County Welfare Department, on the president's council of Xavier University and the advisory council of the Cincinnati Community Chest.

She was a member of Cincinnati Links, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Woman's City Club of Greater Cincinnati and the Walnut Hills Area Council.

She received numerous awards and honors and was an Enquirer Woman of the Year in 1968.

Her husband, William A. Coffey, died last year.

Survivors include a nephew, Sidney Joseph Jones.

Visitation is 11 a.m. Tuesday at Carmel Presbyterian Church, 3549 Reading Road in Avondale, followed by the funeral at 1 p.m. Interment is at Spring Grove Cemetery.

E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com




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