Civil rights activist speaks to district

The History Club presented civil rights activist and educator Theodora Smiley Lacey as a guest speaker on Wednesday, Jan. 13. She spoke to the district from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. through Zoom to discuss her activism, and the event was open to both PV and Pascack Hills students and faculty members.

Contributed by Leah Jerome

The History Club presented civil rights activist and educator Theodora Smiley Lacey as a guest speaker on Wednesday, Jan. 13. She spoke to the district from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. through Zoom to discuss her activism, and the event was open to both PV and Pascack Hills students and faculty members.

Ilmie Xhaferi, Staff Editor

After reading a story about a Teaneck elementary school renaming itself in honor of 89-year-old civil rights activist and educator Theodora Smiley Lacey, Pascack Valley History Teacher and History Club advisor Leah Jerome made it her mission to have Lacey be a guest speaker for PV. 

Lacey poses in a picture with her husband, child, and Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama. (Contributed by Leah Jerome )

“[Lacey] is from Alabama where she helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and eventually ended up in New Jersey where she participated in desegregating Teaneck public schools,” Jerome said. “I was like, ‘this woman lives in Teaneck, wow like what a person.’ It was  like an aha moment because I knew I had to try to get this woman to talk to us.” 

When Jerome mentioned Lacey to her history club, PV senior and club member Daniel Finch decided to help Jerome get into contact with Lacey after remembering his dad had Lacey as his sixth-grade teacher. 

“[Lacey] was one of my dad’s teachers in school, so I talked to him about it and he said [that he] can help [me] reach out to her,” Finch said. “We went through some Facebook groups to see if someone knew her better and we were quickly able to find some people that helped us get into contact [with Lacey].” 

The History Club presented Lacey as a guest speaker on Wednesday, Jan. 13. She spoke to the district from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. through Zoom to discuss her activism, and the event was open to both PV and Pascack Hills students and faculty members. 

“When you look at it, she really did have a huge impact on history, so to hear directly from her and to hear her own account of [the civil rights movement] is just amazing,” Finch said. 

The event began with Finch introducing Lacey to the district. After the introduction, Lacey displayed a slideshow as she told the audience about her life growing up in Montgomery, Alabama before she moved to Teaneck, New Jersey as an adult. In Teaneck, Lacey was a teacher at George Washington Carver High School.

Lacey stands with her family and Rosa Parks. (Contributed by Leah Jerome )

She also talked about her connection to Rosa Parks, who Lacey has known for her whole life. 

“[Parks] and my mother were childhood friends and I can recall them sitting around our dining room table, chatting about their early days in school,” Lacey said. “They continued to be friends and [Parks] even visited me here in New Jersey.”

While her mother knew Parks, Lacey said that her father was “responsible in many ways” for Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrival in Montgomery. Lacey’s father was the President of the Board of Trustees at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, located in Montgomery, and invited King to be a minister at the church. Lacey also talked about how her family helped King organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In addition, Lacey discussed her move to Teaneck and her efforts to desegregate its schools. On Sept. 17, 2020, Lacey was honored with the naming of a Teaneck school after her in recognition of her contributions to the civil rights movement. 

“The reason for Teaneck being so successful [in desegregating schools] is because of the coming together of people of so many different backgrounds, races, religion [and] gender,” Lacey said. “It was that coming together that made success in Teaneck schools.”