People who move others to become the best they can be, and people who change the world for the better sometimes go unnoticed as they tend to reside underneath the shadows of those they have inspired. A good deal of those leave us and bury with them the secrets of their impact, which can then only be seen through the accomplishments of the lives they have touched while they were here. Most who see those accomplishments never really know where they originate from.
For Flora Bell Malone this is probably how she would want it. No fuss, no accolades, no chimes about her life and how it has changed the very world in which we all live in, for Mrs. Malone is that kind of lady, you know, the ones that when you meet them for the first time you just know right away they are something special. The glimmer of honest goodness in their eyes and the wisdom that pours from their lips which should be shared by all who hear it. A blessing straight from God here on earth, teachers about living and loving despite obstacles, rising above the bad to greet the good that comes from everything, an example for us all to live by.
Of course you can start with Flora’s obvious achievements by mentioning her six children, five of which are college graduates and are all in very successful professional careers. You could go on and on about her kids (five girls and one boy) and their very fruitful lives, ones which I’m sure each and every one of them would trace back to their parents and their upbringing. They were poor, but they didn’t know it at the time. They were black and were reminded of it frequently by a society that held prejudice around every corner, but they were loved with a love that is steadfast, taught that the good Lord will guide your way, and were reinforced to believe that they were just as good as anyone else, and with hard work and dedication, the sky was the limit.
The many obstacles the Malone family faced throughout the years did not stop Rufus and Flora, nor did it stop their children. The obvious was food on the table, a roof over their heads, plenty of Jesus and a whole lot of love. But it’s the not-so-obvious of Mrs. Malone that I find amazing. Not that raising six children to become such honored and accomplished individuals isn’t extraordinary, but the unknown struggles Flora herself carries within her, which tell a story of a young black woman raised in a small southern town when times were tough, tough all the way around.
Flora never knew her mother, she died when she was young. She went to live with her grandparents, but they too died when she was just 10 years old. It was her aunt that took her in and raised her in Auburn as her own. Flora, who is now in her 70s, grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, a time that was particularly hard on black folks. She says as a child she never saw it as strange the way black people were treated — having to go in the back of a restaurant to eat or going to a different school — because that is always how it had been. Flora attended both the Auburn and Adairville Training schools, as well as Knob City in Russellville, all were for black kids, as segregation was a common practice.
It wasn’t until Flora’s children were born that she realized things needed and were going to be different. She said she wanted her children to have the best opportunities they could have and she was going to make sure they got them. When her first child began school they had to attend the same old worn down school she had attended when young. When it was time for a few more of her children to begin, she decided to do something that caused a great deal of turmoil in both the black community, as well as the white, but ended up being a great feat of equality in a rural area of Kentucky.
Flora worked for William “Bill” Coke at the time. Coke was a member of the Logan County School Board, but also a good friend of the Malones. One day Flora asked Coke if there was something he could do to better the “black” school in Auburn. Coke even wrote about her question in a book he wrote entitled, “McCutchen Meadows- A Family Story.”
“Logan County High Schools had been integrated in 1957, but the elementary schools for blacks were still in separate locations from the white schools. The elementary school for African-American children in Auburn was located in a two room frame building about two blocks from the white elementary school.
“Living close to the school was Flora Bell Malone, an energetic and progressive young mother of several school-aged children who ironed for us every Tuesday. One afternoon when I was driving her back to Auburn, she asked me if I could help the black community to improve their elementary school. I told her that the law allowed all of the African-American children to come to the all-white elementary school in Auburn. We didn’t need to say anymore. I alerted Jim Young, the Auburn principal that these children might be coming to his school when classes started that fall. Flora Bell encouraged everyone to send their children to the white school, despite the fact that her husband and other fathers were alarmed that they would loose their jobs if the children came to the white school.
“With great courage, Flora Bell brought her children to the white school on opening day. When the other parents saw that Flora Bell’s children were accepted, they brought their children as well. By the end of the day, Flora Bell had quietly integrated the elementary school in Auburn. Within the month all of the other black elementary schools in Logan County had been closed and the elementary schools were completely integrated,” said Coke.
“I remember I caught it from both blacks and whites,” said Flora for taking her children to “white” school. People were scared to change. They were worried they would lose their jobs or worse. But Flora wanted her children and all children to have that opportunity and that is what pushed her past the fear.
Although Mrs. Flora tells her story with quiet modesty and apprehension, her mark on society is extremely loud, through her life, through her children’s lives, and now through the changes that have come about because of her bravery. Changes are made by courageous people, ones who will risk harm to make a difference despite being quite about it.
There is irony in the fact that Mrs. Flora shares a birthday with Rosa Parks, a woman who refused to give up her seat and sit in the back of a bus, thus igniting the civil rights movement. Both women who were not afraid to stand up, so that we can all reap the rewards of their sacrifices.