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Annual Black Heritage Event Honors Ruth Loving

Ruth Loving in an undated photo
Ruth Loving

An annual Black History Month observance in Springfield, Massachusetts was dedicated this year to the woman known as the city’s “mother of civil rights” who died late last year at the age of 100.

    This was the 29th annual ceremony to raise the Black American Heritage Flag over Springfield City Hall. It was the first one held without Ruth Loving.  The local activist for civil rights, healthcare for the poor, and libraries died last November.

    State and local officials attended the event. There were about 25 children from the area Head Start program and 25 students from the Westover Job Corps in the audience.

    State Rep. Benjamin Swan, who participated in civil rights marches in the 1960s with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., talked about the importance of passing black history from generation-to-generation.

    Swan, who said he knew Loving for 65 years, said this annual ceremony was important to her.

   " She was like a mother hen," said Swan. " She wanted to make sure you did it right."

    Mabel Sharif, another long-time friend of Loving, said she saved the last voicemail message she received from Loving. It was a reminder to attend the Black History Month observance and a directive to remain on the advisory board for the Mason Square Health Center, an intercity health clinic Loving helped start.

      Loving, who grew up as a child in Connecticut, explained in a 2012 interview that she first became aware of the segregation of the races in the South when blacks migrated north after World War I in search of work.

      Loving joined the NAACP after moving to Springfield in the 1940s. Her first foray into social activism came when she petitioned city leaders to form a parent-teacher association at her son’s school. Loving served as president of the Springfield Chapter of the NAACP during the 1960s..

She met both Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks on separate occasions.  When King was assassinated, Loving , drawing on a background as an accomplished singer, worked with churches to organize a citywide choir that  performed at a memorial service.  Now called “The Freedom Choir” it remains active still.

Loving was a delegate to the White House Council on aging during the Clinton Administration. She said the highlight of her life as a civil rights activist was the election of Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States.

      " I never thought I would live to see it. A great thing"

     Springfield City Councilor Bud Williams, who took on the responsibility of organizing the flag raising ceremony last year after Loving’s health started to fail, said she insisted the flag, which is a symbol of black pride, must fly for the entire month of February.

     Williams said the flag was raised at city hall on February 1st, but the ceremony was postponed twice because of snowstorms.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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