Greenspring Resident Shares Her Experience Fighting for Civil Rights Progress

Carolyn Pledger spent nine years volunteering with the Panel of American Women promoting an open dialogue about social and religious injustice

Carolyn Pledger(Springfield, Va.) - In 1932, Carolyn Pledger was born in Pennsylvania into a family deeply rooted in American history.  She is a descendant of abolitionists and her two great grandfathers fought in the Union army during the Civil War; one of her great grandfathers was an escapee from Andersonville Prison, a Confederate military prison that operated for only 14 months during the war.  According to the Civil War Trust, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined at Andersonville Prison.  When Pledger was just seven years old, her father’s job as a chemical engineer transferred him to Virginia and her family moved to Front Royal in 1939; a move that was quite eye-opening for her family.

In Front Royal, Pledger noted that her parents became friends with people of many different cultural backgrounds and religions.

“It was a small town,” said Pledger.  “Everyone looked out for everyone else.”

Pledger recalls one day when she and her mother ventured off to their laundress’s home in Front Royal and the black woman who lived there was in tears; she was worried about her child who was in school in Washington, D.C.  Pledger remembers the shock that she and her mother faced learning that there were no high schools for black children where they lived.  She never forgot this experience and to this day, it may be part of what launched her interest and involvement in the civil rights movement. 

Pledger graduated from Warren County High School in 1950 and went onto attend Walnut Hill, a preparatory school in Massachusetts, before attending Mount Holyoke College.  She married her husband, Richard, at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains and they lived together in New Jersey while he attended graduate school at Rutgers.  In 1964, Richard was invited to work for a private lab as a microbiologist in Falls Church, Va., so the Pledger family made the move to Annandale.

Not long after their move, Pledger met a woman whose family relocated to the D.C. area from Kansas City with President Johnson’s administration.  Through that contact she learned of the Panel of American Women, which was launched in Kansas City in 1957 and promoted open discussions on race, religion, and culture.  Pledger served and volunteered her time on this panel for nine years from 1964-1973.

“I felt I had no choice.  I was called to it,” said Pledger of her time on the Panel. 

There were chapters of the Panel of American Women throughout the country, which featured women of different ethnicities, religions, and belief systems.  According to the State Historical Society of Missouri, just three years after its establishment, panels were alive and well in twenty-two cities, including Washington, D.C.  Pledger participated in panels throughout the D.C.  metro area at schools, churches, clubs and other special events. 

“We talked about our histories, what we knew, what we didn’t know, what we had learned,” said Pledger.  “And we were frank about it.  It was a little dicey sometimes.”  Pledger even recalls her life being threatened at one point, which made her family justifiably nervous. 

After Pledger’s two sons were grown, she went back to school at the University of Virginia for a program in counseling therapy with a mental health specialty.  She volunteered with Haven of Northern Virginia and made regular visits to counsel the incarcerated.  In 2000, Pledger moved with her husband to Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, Va.  She relocated her private counseling practice from Fairfax to Springfield and continued volunteering in prisons until 2007.  Pledger also taught Fairfax County Adult Education courses for about 20 years and served on the Fair Housing and the Low and Moderate Income Housing Committees in Fairfax County for seven years. 

At Greenspring, Pledger started the Multi-Cultural Dialogue resident group about six years ago; the group invites internal and external speakers from a variety of countries, ethnicities, and religions to discuss their experiences in America.  At the community, she is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, teaches citizenship preparation, and founded the Socrates Café philosophic discussion group.

“I feel strongly that we are not finished,” said Pledger when discussing civil rights progress.  “But I do believe that there are islands of hope.”

ABOUT GREENSPRING:
Greenspring, one of 18 retirement communities managed by Erickson Living, is situated on a scenic 58-acre campus in Springfield, Virginia.  The community is home to nearly 2000 residents, many of whom reside in the community’s 1404 independent living apartment homes.  At Greenspring, over 200 resident-run and resident-driven programs promote an engaged, fulfilling lifestyle reflected in resident satisfaction levels that exceed the industry average.  Additional information about Greenspring can be found at www.ericksonliving.com.