Alice Bernstein and mastheads

As published in the Tennessee Tribune, March 2005.

Barbra Pace Sears:
Activist and Person

With so many others, I mourn the passing of Barbra Pace Sears (1933-2005) on March 5th at age 71 in Fort Worth, Texas. She was one of the courageous and important women in America: a civil rights activist in the 1950s and '60s who worked as a secretary to Dr. Martin Luther King; an educator; community advocate; and managing editor for many years at La Vida News/The Black Voice serving Tarrant County, Texas.
        Barbra came from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four children born to Beatrice and William Pace. After graduating from Beaver Falls High, School, her parents sent
                  Barbra Pace Sears as plaintiff
her to Clark College in Georgia. I don't think the Pace family had any idea of how brave her quest for education would be--but, as you shall see, it was. That quest included her marriage to a minister whom she later divorced, children, and a journey west to Texas where she earned two master's degrees, and married Willie Sears, a man with a passion for community service.
        There are facts about a life and then there is the person who lived them. Who was Barbra Pace Sears I learned from Aesthetic Realism, the philosophy founded by the poet and educator Eli Siegel, that although a person has died, we still have the job of trying to know her and using her to honestly like this world we are in. The way to like the world on an accurate basis is to see that it has an aesthetic structure: it is a oneness of opposites. I see knowing Barbra as an ongoing discovery, a means of knowing all people, myself, the past, and life as it's lived this very moment. So I'll begin by looking at some opposites.

Hardness and Softness
In his essay "A Woman Is a Oneness of Aesthetic Opposites," Eli Siegel writes:
"Hard: Soft. Often a determination comes to women which can hold its own with that
of Napoleon or a boulder in a city park. And women are also pitying, sympathetic,
moved to give up their notions because of the plight of another."

These beautiful sentences describe Barbra Sears and many women throughout the centuries bent on changing injustice and, despite the odds, trying to accomplish what seemed impossible. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fanny Jackson Coppin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and others whose names we don't know, gave up personal comfort because they were affected by another's distress and wanted to end it. Kindness is a oneness of hardness and softness.
        In 1954, the US Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. That decision was also the start of a huge effort to desegregate colleges and universities. Barbra Sears' determination and kindness can be seen in a communication she sent last November, describing the impact on her life of these historic events:
        "It was my case that was actually fought and won in the Georgia Supreme Court to desegregate Georgia State (supported colleges and universities) in the 1950s. I had to face the KKK and the White Citizen's Council almost daily for approximately three years. I had to move my two children to 'safe' houses almost weekly, until my parents picked them up and took them back to Pennsylvania. The white lawyers refused to give me the dignity of calling me by my name--not even my first name. I became 'err-a'. My attorney was Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman to become a federal judge. Later two students: Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter Gault had to reopen my case in order to attend school."
        What Barbra and others were meeting was contempt--the desire to lessen what is not oneself as a means of self-increase--which Mr. Siegel explained is the cause of every injustice, from the mild form of a sneer, to the horrific forms of racism and war. Contempt is a corruption of opposites: soft on ego, brutally hard on others.
        And in terms of social life, hardness and softness are big things. I respect Barbra for telling me once in a conversation that she sometimes felt, as I did about myself, that she was too harsh or impatient with people. And then she could also feel too soft and a pushover. I wish we'd had more time to talk about this question as women, wives, and mothers and encourage each other to do a better job.
                                                      Passive and Assertive
As Barbra's communication continues, we see the strength of her resolve for justice without violence: "While at Atlanta University, and after my case was over, I was fired from my employment in the Registrar's Office. At that particular time, there were no Blacks sitting on any of the major boards in Atlanta. The White Citizen's Council offered the then president of Atlanta University the opportunity of becoming the first Black member on the Atlanta Board of Education if he fired me. Consequently, I had to go. I later went on to work in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."
        Some of the clearest logic I know, showing the aesthetics of nonviolence is a commentary by Ellen Reiss, in the international periodical, The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known #1629. Discussing the psychiatric term, "passive-aggressive," which is not understood, she states:
"It is quite clear that [Mahatma Gandhi] was forceful, assertive, acting, combating, through nonviolence or passivity. The passivity of Gandhi and those who joined him was so aggressive
that it was central in making India free, in forcing the British to leave.
"When black people in the 1960s sat at a 'for whites only' lunch counter in the South
and would not move when the police came at them, they were being courageously
'passive-aggressive.' A labor strike is [stating]: We will do no work, as a means of forcing you
to pay us more justly."
                                                 Laughter and Seriousness
Along with her powerful work, Barbra was a wife, mother, friend, and beloved teacher. She also loved animals, especially her pet birds and dogs. One of her pleasures was to send photos of these dear creatures via email. She also liked funny stories and had a lovely laugh.
                               Barbara Pace Sears
        It was in her role as managing editor of La Vida News that I first met Barbra and we became friends. I had sent her articles about what I learned in my study of Aesthetic Realism about the answer to racism. As a journalist, I loved her for being the first person on the press who so valued Aesthetic Realism that she wanted a column based on it. Despite the fact that this education had been boycotted for years by press people who were terrified of respecting anything they had to study themselves--Barbra welcomed informing others! That is how my column "Alice Bernstein & Friends" was born. I always considered her one of the "Friends." Barbra led the way, and was joined by others, including Jack Humphery, editor of South Carolina Black News, and newspapers in Kansas, Missouri, New York, Alabama, Nebraska, and Tennessee