Post Best Banquet
|Education legacy extends beyond classroom|
|Roddey 2012 Post Best Luminary|
|Published Friday, June 8, 2012|
|Dr. Bertha Roddey
Bertha Maxwell-Roddey’s two-story condo in South Charlotte is filled with certificates, photos, plaques and awards - all celebrating her achievements.
And those are only the accolades she has in Charlotte, as she also has a house in Seneca, S.C., she shares with her husband Theodore.
One of her most memorable awards is Johnson C. Smith University’s 2010 Arch of Triumph Award. Another is the Thurgood Marshall Award.
Roddey, a 1954 JCSU graduate, has worked in education since earning her degree from the Charlotte institution. Initially, Roddey wanted to be a nurse, even passing the entrance exam at John Hopkins University, but she ended up becoming an education activist.
Roddey is a former elementary school teacher at Alexander Street School, corrective reading teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, assistant principal of Villa Heights Elementary School and former principal at Albemarle Road Elementary.
She is the founder of the Africana Studies program at UNC Charlotte and co-founder of the Afro-American Cultural Center (today the Harvey B. Gantt Center); former vice-president for administrative affairs and planning at JCSU and of ethnic studies at USC Lancaster, past president of the Charlotte Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and the sorority’s 20th national president.
Roddey, the 2012 Charlotte Post Best Luminary, will be honored by The Charlotte Post Foundation Sept. 15 at the Hilton Charlotte Center City.
“I feel honored and I am very, very grateful that they somehow feel that whatever I’ve done in my 82 years of life that people see something worth honoring,” Roddey said. “I’ve always felt like I’ve just been in the right place when something was happening. I hope it inspires someone to do something if that is what it means for myself to be honored.”
Gerald Johnson, CEO of The Charlotte Post Publishing Company and president of the Post Foundation, said the Luminary Award is given to individuals who have tirelessly given of themselves in helping others obtain equal access, equity and inclusion in institutions that influence lives.
“Dr. Roddey’s exemplary record in education and community service makes her an ideal and deserving candidate for this prestigious award,” Johnson said.
Born in Seneca to a midwife, Roddey came to Charlotte at a young age. She finished high school before turning 17 in 1947 and went to work in Washington, D.C., at an officer’s club as a waitress. She decided to enter the medical profession, but with no money to pay for schooling, returned to Charlotte.
However, she had enough money to attend JCSU for a year, and landed a job working for a dentist.
“I worked as a dental assistant and at that time there were sit-ins going on everywhere,” Roddey said. “(The dentist) would send me to get lunch and I would have to go to the back of the restaurant to get it. There was a lot going on but I never felt intimidated.”
Roddey’s first job out of college was at the Alexander Street School teaching middle school students.
“I was poor, but I was not as poor as some of my students,” she said. “Everything that I’ve seen I lived to do something about it.”
In the 1960s, Roddey went on to earn a master’s degree from UNC Greensboro.
“I wanted to compare what I had learned at Johnson C. Smith with what I learned at an all-white school and I learned I was taught very well,” she said. “When you’re in an all-black environment some people think a black education is less than, but I was taught by the best.”
Roddey continued to teach before becoming an assistant principal, but she set her goals higher.
“They wanted me to be an assistant and I said ‘I didn’t go to school to be an assistant,’” she said. “I would have as much prestige scrubbing floors. So I went to Europe for the summer and when I came back they offered me a principal position. They also decided to desegregate the school.”
Roddey became principal of Albemarle Road Elementary School, where she is credited with helping to desegregate the campus.
“(Roddey) is one of the finest people I’ve ever worked with,” said school board member Richard McElrath, an Albemarle Road teacher during Roddey’s tenure. “She was instrumental in desegregating the buses. She didn’t do it by herself, but they sent her to that school for that purpose. We all came back well and alive. I consider her a good friend. She’s a strong person and she’s fearless.”
Moving on to the collegiate level, Roddey taught at UNC Charlotte and later started the Africana Studies department.
“They wanted someone to try to create the discipline and so I left the College of Education and went to the arts and science department,” she said. “It took me seven years to complete the discipline. I had a very highly innovative program.”
While Roddey was at UNCC, Charlotte civil rights leader and attorney Julius Chambers served on the UNC Board of Governors.
“(Roddey) was the one who started the black studies program at UNCC and that is when I first became involved with her,” Chambers said. “She was an active teacher and a great research person for parents and friends in the community. I would talk with her frequently about the problems that students were having in the city and she was always very helpful.”
Charles Love, dean of the school of education at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C, said Roddey was his advisor at UNC Charlotte when he was a master’s candidate. She was also the summer school principal at Villa Heights Elementary when Love was a teacher.
“(Roddey) has been a mentor and a very good friend,” Love said. “She encouraged me to go to graduate school. I really appreciate her. She wouldn’t listen to my pity party and would not let me off with any excuses. She told me to keep my eyes on the prize.”
Roddey, a 25-year breast cancer survivor, earned her doctorate from The Union Graduate School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Roddey taught at USC Lancaster until a couple years ago when a benign brain tumor forced her to stop.
Roddey has been a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church for over 60 years and served at the national president of Delta Sigma Theta from 1992-96. Under her leadership, the sorority helped build Habitat for Humanity houses, including homes in Ghana.
“I think she is still the ultimate Delta,” said Desiree Rew, the Charlotte Alumnae president of DST. “She’s very astute and very analytical and involved in whatever we need.”
Through all her accomplishments, Roddey is still humble.
“There’s so much out there that needs to be done,” she said. “You’ve just got to get up and go do it.”
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