From the Richmond Free Press:
Carolyn Howard French, 82, educator, civil rights advocate
Carolyn Howard French was outraged when a company proposed to strip mine shale in Orange County just a few yards from the historic African-American community of Careytown and her home, Brownland, a farm where six generations of her family has lived.
Joining with neighbors in the rural Barboursville area, she waged an ultimately successful three-year fight to prevent mining operations and protect her family’s ancestral home and the rest of the community that newly freed slaves founded after the Civil War ended in 1865.
Refusing to give up when county supervisors approved the mining plan, Mrs. French and her neighbors went to court, finally winning their battle in 2005 when the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the county’s decision to allow a mining road to be rammed through Careytown.
For Mrs. French, a retired educator and genealogy buff, the fight over the mine combined her lifelong passions for history and civil rights.
In the 1960s, she drove the family van, converted to an ambulance, in several protest marches for voting rights, including the Selma-to-Montgomery March in Alabama in 1965 and the Meredith March in Mississippi in 1966.
As an active member of the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, Mrs. French encouraged voting as a lontime poll worker in the county and later as a member of the county Electoral Board, where she was involved in supervising elections.
Long involved in civic affairs, she established the Orange County Council on Race Relations and was a founding member of the Orange County African-American Historical Society.
Mrs. French died Monday, April 27, 2009, after battling cancer. She was 82.
She was eulogized Monday, May 4, at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., where she was born and grew up.
Mrs. French was married for 63 years to Dr. David M. French, a retired globetrotting physician who was a leader in establishing community health care programs in Africa, Asia and the United States, including Richmond, where he coordinated a health network program at Virginia Commonwealth University to funnel physicians to under-served areas of the state.
The couple, who had eight children, met while she was earning her degree at Mt. Holyoke College and he was a medical student at Howard University. While he pursued his physician carer, often moving the family, Mrs. French became a teacher.
She began at the Garden of Children, a nursery school her mother founded in Washington. She later worked with Head Start in D.C. and at day care centers in the Boston area, including the Crispus Attucks Day Care Center, where she was founding director.
She and her husband returned to her ancestral home at Brownland in 1986.
Along with Dr. French, her survivors include her childrench, Bertha Mae F. Harkless of Portland, Ore.; David M. French Jr. of Barboursville; Dorothy F. Boone of Richmond; Howard W. French of New York; Joseph B. French of Oakland, Calif.; Mary Ann French of Charlottesville; and Lynn C. French and James A. French , both of Washington, D.C.
From the Orange County Review
On Monday, April 27, Carolyn Howard French succumbed after a brave battle with cancer, surrounded by her loving family. The daughter of Dr. William J. and Dorothy Waring Howard, she was born in Washington, DC, but lived overseas for many years, traveling around the world, making friends and extending her warmth and hospitality to everyone.
French broke molds in all walks of her life: as an educator, family historian, political activist and a member of numerous civic and social organizations. She was a natural leader who enjoyed the process of creating and implementing change, and at various times was president of most of the organizations she joined. She also was a voracious reader and lifelong learner who continued her education at every opportunity.
Throughout most of her life French undertook extensive research projects that focused on the Howard, Waring and French families and involved all of her children and many of her grandchildren in trips to libraries, courthouses and archives in hot pursuit of information. At various times she was a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, the Historical Society of Washington, and the Orange County Historical Society. She was a founder of the Orange County African-American Historical Society.
A fifth-generation Washingtonian, French spent her early years in the historic Strivers section of Washington, DC. She attended the Garden of Children, which was founded by her mother, from age two until third grade, going on to Garrison Elementary School, Shaw Junior High School, the Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School and Mount Holyoke College. While at Mt. Holyoke, Carolyn met her future husband David M. French.
They married in 1945 and became the parents of eight children. French instilled in her children a love for the written word, precise language and intellectual curiosity.
During their 63-year marriage, French and her husband lived in Washington, DC; Cleveland, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Newton, Massachusetts; Abidjan, CâˆšÂ¥te dâ€šÃ„Ã´Ivoire and Barboursville, Virginia. In each place she and her family lived, her time and energy were focused inwardly on family and outwardly on creating social change.
Frenchâ€šÃ„Ã´s career as an educator began at the Garden of Children, and included teaching positions at schools, Head Start programs and day care centers in Washington, DC and Massachusetts. In CâˆšÂ¥te dâ€šÃ„Ã´Ivoire she served on the board of the International School.
In addition to her work in support of early childhood education, French worked in many capacities to ensure the rights of all citizens. She won the respect of civil rights leaders for courageously driving the family van, converted into an ambulance, during the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 and the Meredith March in 1966.
Frenchâ€šÃ„Ã´s last 23 years were spent with her husband at Brownland, her ancestral home in the Virginia Piedmont. She became an active member of the Orange County Branch of the NAACP executive committee, established the Orange County Council on Race Relations and served on the Orange Downtown Alliance. She was appointed to the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board and was recognized by the Orange County Board of Supervisors for her work. Additionally, she was elected an officer of the Orange County Democratic Committee and ultimately served on the Orange County Board of Elections.
As a founding member of the Friends of Barboursville, Carolyn was active in a successful effort to prevent strip mining in Barboursville, which resulted in preservation of the ecology, and a historic and thriving African-American community.
She is survived by her husband, Dr. David M. French; children, Lynn Carol, Mary Ann, David Jr., Howard Waring (Agnes), Joseph Blaine, James Albert, Bertha Mae French (Guy Harkless) and Dorothy French Boone (Elwood); as well as 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Click to read more
The Richmond Free Press (and separately) The Orange County Review
From the Richmond Free Press: